What Fear & Shame Stole From Me For Over 20 Years and How I'm Taking It Back

I’m not sure where to begin with this one, so I’ll just jump in… with the hope that you might receive a little infusion of courage for setting your creative spirit free from any fear or shame you carry around.

For me - and maybe for you - the thing I have carried is something that is, for most people around me, rather… well... ordinary, assumed and taken for granted.

Here is the bones of my story, about taking back and re-writing my journey with an ordinary joy+skill I once had, dearly loved, and that just... seemed to disappear...

mermaid paint-sketch art journal page

It starts with swimming.

I have carried a helluva lot of confusion and shame around this simple thing most people learn as children. Even more so, maybe, because when I was a kiddo, I, too, learned how to play in water, dive and swim like a fish - and I loved it.

And then… it's like... something blocked that knowing and experience.

I’m not sure what exactly… there are threads of connection to PTSD and anxiety from childhood sexual abuse, among other hard things, and a subsequent fragmented memory system for me… but the timeline for a connection between this swimming-loss and all of that doesn't totally add up.

The bottom line is that I seemed to have simply “forgotten” how to swim - or buried the part of me that knew how.

The usual swimming basics disappeared from my abilities: how to be comfortable with my head immersed in water, how to not breathe the water in and choke, how to relax into the watery environment that felt so good, trusting my own ability - mind, body and spirit - to not sink, to respond to the flow and to re-surface as needed.

How does one forget that, once it’s learned? I honestly have no idea. 

But I spent a great deal of time hiding it, playing it off, avoiding water activities, not bringing attention to the fear and inability I was experiencing. Well into my twenties and through my thirties. I rationalized the loss, and nobody seemed to know any better... Ehhh… who really wants to deal with the body image issues that swimsuit shopping bring up anyway? Besides, I sunburn sooo easy. I'll just wade a little, play it cool and hang out in the shade.

I spent even more time internally over the years trying to understand what the heck happened. How did I go from swimming so joyfully to simply too scared and paralyzed to even try?

And with no solid answers or incidences to pinpoint or blame, I resigned myself to never being able to really swim again. It was a joy I no longer seemed to have access to.

And I felt defeated about it - in my soul. Ashamed. Incapable. Embarrassed. At a loss.

So I just put it on that long list that I carried for way too long - of things that are just broken, weak and unfixable about me, without hope.

That kind of list is total bullshit, by the way, when it comes to things we are physically able to do… it brings nothing but shame. So if you have one, love, do burn it, promptly… because fear and shame sure know how to multiply and steal our creative joy and sense of confidence and engagement.

This year, though, something shifted in me.

Many things in life and my perspective have been dissolving and changing over the last two years. All related stories, but layers for another time.

The picture for today, though, includes the spring morning when I woke up and decided with unexpected, revived determination: I will swim again.

This has been my summer courage project, you might say. It’s still underway - and I’m making soul-infusing progress!

It ends up that more adults than I suspected don't know how to swim, and that there are stellar videos on Youtube that teach swimming techniques and steps. Perfect for a person who faces fears and learns best solo-style. My hubby happens to be a great swimmer, and eventually I was ready to let him guide me a bit further, too.

I’m happy to report I am no longer plugging my nose to immerse my head, dear friends! That’s so easy and simple to some of you, I’m sure - but trust me - it’s huge for me, especially as a double Pisces girl who knows nothing about anything, really, except that we’re made to go deep, love what we love with everything we've got, and swim freely with the spirit of life.

A few bobbing-practice, water+breath sessions in... (go ahead, take a second to imagine a forty-one year old woman doing that and giggle - it's OK)... and I realized pretty quick that a huge part of my embodied fear was actually triggered very strongly at the moment of closing my eyes to immerse completely underwater. Interesting - and super important to notice that trigger.

mermaid swimming, art journal paint-sketch

Still determined, not deterred - I bought a nice set of goggles, and have moved past that hurdle and beyond. Underwater somersaults and all. One day in the water at a time.

And the water calls me now. Again. Like it always has, really. Like a long lost love. But now I can answer the call, go and engage with it.

The stagnant, missing, 'stolen' energy is back; whatever was paralyzed incapable is moving again.

And the water relieves me like nothing else right now.

I am slowly building strength with this, and swimming my way home to forgotten and 'lost' parts of me - not to figure them out, or explain or understand why they were 'turned off,' but to see, feel, revive and set them free NOW.

It feels like reclaiming some of what was taken from me along the way, some of what got left in a torrent of survival mode, some of what CAN be taken back and given new life now. Some things can't, sure - but this can.

I have plans to know myself more in the water, and to swim many, many laps while I am able. It helps me feel whole and strong as I walk my path.

Here’s what I want you to know:

Every chance to learn what you are made of, and how you can more fully explore and express YOU in this life is part of your Creative path. Paying attention to that, with care, takes practice and courage. And it gives back love and resonance that reaches far beyond just you. It’s a strength worth cultivating.

You can forget things - or quit things - and then remember or re-learn or re-start, even when you think you missed your chance or can’t do it. Sometimes that’s a blessing. Sometimes it’s hard work. It's probably both.

And sometimes the thing you re-awaken or reconnect with is so much more precious than you dared to imagine the second time around.

You can face what may have grown into paralyzing fears or shame in your life experience. You can sift what perceived limits are true and which ones are simply outdated coping mechanisms. You can reclaim what is yours to claim.

You can also take your time and do it as gently or boldly as you need to.

But... you WILL need to get in the water of that discomfort eventually, hold your breath, practice stamina, do hard things you gave up on or don’t believe you can ever do, and maybe get creative with your approach and perspective to trick yourself right into making progress.

It will feel raw and shaky, and you will need to stretch yourself just a little bit further each time you practice communing with your fear - get to know it and what makes it tick. It's the only way to reach what you envision, to set any stuck or hidden creative energy free in the midst of the reclaiming, discovery process.

And this communing, my friend, feeds the curiosity of one of your greatest allies - your precious inner child… who, by the way, is also paralyzed and hushed by the weight you carry over the years, but not lost... and is the best companion in fear-facing adventures when s/he gets the chance to come out to play and let loose.

Which she'll gladly do, if you make decisions that let her know she's safe and worth the time.

And... she IS, because YOU are. Got it?

Take it to your creative {living} practice…

For your reflection and activation...

Is there something your inner child misses - an activity or dream or state of being that made you feel free and alive - that you gave up, was taken away, or that you just found you could no longer DO for whatever reason?

If possible, how can you give yourself a plan to re-member, explore or possibly revive that experience, hope or set of senses & skills in your life again?

Stand on the edge of a fear or shame you carry, or the place where something seems lost.

Name what you’re missing because of any gap, perceived or real.

And remember this: Often, what is missing is not altogether lost... it's just waiting for you to believe, breathe and be with it again, in a new way.

Then, beloved Creative, enter the wilderness of your fear, take a deep breath and jump in - it's OK to go feet first.

You don't need to look like you know what you're doing.

Breaking the surface of that fear, though, and making contact with yourself in new ways in that scary ‘off-limits,’ feel-y space, is the first an hardest step.

You can keep your head above water as long as you need to. Get a feel. Orient slowly.

But I bet the freedom of those quiet depths will call you under eventually, and into new and familiar parts of yourself... to immerse and reclaim more more fully what only you and your maker know to be true, holy and needed for your path.

May you continue to discover and explore ways to keep your Creative Soul feeling accessible, resilient, connected and Alive.