I woke before dawn. In the pitch black of winter. I fought my way out of the tangle of blankets, bolted upright and tried to steady my breath. The fear and anxiety that were my constant companions lost their grip as memories of my nightmare slowly receded.
As I lay back and snuggled under the covers to watch the sunrise through my bedroom window, I pondered over the day ahead with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. I’m a winter solstice babe. I was born on the shortest day of the year, and my eighth birthday had arrived. I’d survived another year around the sun.
Eight years is such a brief time to be alive yet I’d seen and experienced far too much for one so young.
My birthday fell on a school day that year so I rose and dressed with the sun. After breakfast and birthday gifts, I set off for school with a knot in my stomach, desperately trying to come up with an excuse for the events of the day ahead.
You see, my class at school had a tradition of a singalong to celebrate every pupil’s birthday. The teacher would call you up to stand on top of a chair at the front of the class while everyone sang happy birthday just before lunch break. I know, a little girl should look forward to such an experience but, for me, it was my idea of hell.
So, I found myself in class that morning, counting down the minutes to lunch break, feeling sick to my stomach. Perhaps she’ll forget, I thought to myself. No such luck. My cheeks began to turn red and my legs started to shake, as I watched her pull a chair out from under a desk and place it in front of the blackboard. “Come on, Sammy. It’s your special day!” she said with a big, beaming smile. I felt my breath catch at the back of my throat and my hands began to sweat. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole.
By the time I’d made it to the front of the class, it’s fair to say my cheeks were a shade of scarlet red. I managed to stand on top of the chair, but my eyes were already smarting, and I could feel a sob at the back of my throat.
It was all too much. I burst into tears and fled from the room before my classmates reached the second line. Worse still, I couldn’t even begin to explain to my teacher why I’d had such a reaction that was completely out of character.
I was a confident little girl in most ways, despite my childhood experiences. Yet there was something about being the centre of attention, with all eyes on me, that absolutely scared me witless.
I would encounter the same problem, again and again, throughout my childhood and adolescent years. I have vivid memories of being chosen to speak at a school assembly aged 15 and, I swear, I wanted to die. I got through it this time but make no mistake. Every person in my school heard the tremor in my voice, watched my hands shake, and my face turn the colour of puce. Mortified. I was absolutely mortified.
I had no problems in a group setting. I was a bit of a chatterbox, you see. I could be a little bossy, shall I say. I guess I was too young at this stage to try to understand why this happened to me, especially as the experience was completely at odds with my character.
My school days were over when I made the decision to become a lawyer and began the extensive studying and training to make my dream a reality. I qualified when I was 25th and soon found my first Court appearance booked in my diary.
As a young lawyer ready to cut her teeth, it was only a short hearing in the Judge’s Chambers, yet I felt excited as the big day arrived. I’m certain I put on my best black suit and bounced along to the Court building. Finally, all the years of hard work had paid off.
As I waited outside the Judge’s Chamber, I wasn’t banking on the first stirrings of fear in the pit of my stomach, nor the slight tremors in my hands and legs. I guess the heat coming off my cheeks was another sign that all wasn’t well. I took a deep breath, walked through the door, and got on with it.
I remember that the Judge kindly smiled at me while I mumbled my way through my lines. I guess I wasn’t the first lawyer to experience a little stage fright. At the end, I was out of there like a shot.
After the hearing, I sat in my car in the parking lot with my head resting on the steering wheel, cursing under my breath. I couldn’t believe it. I’d spent years training to be a lawyer and I was certain that I wanted to work as a litigator. Which meant going to Court most days.
Over the next couple of years, I struggled through the Court hearings. I felt sick for days beforehand yet soon found that my strength lay in the written word. My big breakthrough came because of a change in the English legal system. The advent of telephone hearings. All I had to do was talk.
Oh my. What a game-changer. I was absolutely on fire as I tied my opponent in knots with my tongue alone. After putting down the phone at the end of the hearing, for the first time, it was clear that I had the verbal assertiveness skills to do the job. Indeed, it’s fair to say that I have the gift of the gab. My non-verbal assertiveness skills were the problem. I wasn’t owning my space. I had to tackle the remaining issue head-on instead of struggling to get by.
By this time, I had already begun to unravel the after-effects of my childhood. I was a victim of sexual abuse living in a home with an alcoholic father where domestic abuse was a regular occurrence. My experiences left me with the feeling of wanting to be invisible to keep myself safe.
I guess I had my light bulb moment. Whether I was stood on a chair in front of the class, on stage during assembly, or in the Courtroom, any situation where I felt all eyes were on me triggered my fears around safety, and my body acted accordingly. This affected my ability to verbally communicate.
For this reason, I wasn’t holding my right to exist in the space I occupy. My experiences had practically forced me out of my own body to give me a feeling of safety.
As my confidence in my verbal skills increased, I overcame my fear of the spotlight, and went onto become one of the best litigators in the firms that I worked for. I owned the floor of the Courtroom because I had to work so hard to overcome my fears.
I mastered the art of being verbally and non-verbally assertive in my professional life. I found my roar and was able to use it effectively. For everyone else, that is. I struggled to assert myself and my needs in my personal life. I was codependent in most relationships, as I developed a saviour complex, running around trying to rescue everybody else. I would swing between passive and aggressive behaviour, all fuelled by anger.
It’s fair to say that my life and my relationships were incredibly chaotic at this time.
So, I became a workaholic to avoid fully dealing with the emotional wounds of my childhood. This brought up many challenges, as I completely ignored my needs in terms of my health, well-being, and happiness. I went on to suffer from acute burnout symptoms and a devastating case of apathy for life itself.
I had no time for relationships and my social life was non-existence. Worst of all, I was angry. I was angry to the very core of my being. Anger tends to act like a poison to a human’s system that spills out onto other people from time to time.
I finally reached rock bottom when I knocked a cyclist off a bike on my way home from work because I was so burnt out. Put it this way. By this stage of my journey, I was ruined. I was a hot mess.
Yet my ruin was to be a gift. I completely changed my life in a heartbeat, as I gave up my legal career and homeland of the UK to begin again in Andalucia, Spain.
Over the following eight years, I went on a journey to learn how to own my space and reclaim my power to assert my right to be me.
I healed the wounds of my childhood to open up to a heart-centred way of living based on kindness, compassion, and empathy that allowed me to be fair in my dealings with the world.
I rewrote my life story based upon my truth and found courage in the vulnerability of sharing my experiences with others.
To say to the world “This is my truth. This is who I am. This is how I feel. These are my needs.”
I dealt with my deep-seated anger from my childhood experiences.
I unravelled my codependency issues, created new ways of being, and learnt how to effectively communicate.
I found my roar to speak my truth and went on to use my voice for the benefit of others.
I became a feminine force to be reckoned with. The Queen of of my own life. I absolutely own it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
In my Find Your Roar:Feminine Assertiveness e-book, I share stories of my journey, and the knowledge I gained to help you to develop your feminine assertiveness skills to find your roar. Download your copy today by clicking the link below.