Invisible Woman to Stage Performer: How I Dared to Live Courageously

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“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

Well, here you are. Your life is not going as planned.

Maybe you’re stuck in a rut, unable to take that essential next step.

Maybe your life has come down around your ears.

Or maybe it’s anything in between.

You may not know what to do next, or if you do know, you’re bogged down and can’t move.

What holds you back?

Afraidness.

Not fear; sensible fear keeps us alive.

Afraidness is nonsense fear.

Afraidness says, “You shouldn’t do that … you might fail, or people might talk, or you might rock the boat … here, dear; better to sit by the fire and have another cookie. It’s less risky.”

Less risky, but in the end, you are still sitting there eating cookies while the world passes you by, and one day you’ll realize that your afraidness has all but made you disappear.

I felt afraidness too, and this is the story of how I overcame it.

The Turning Point

Taking one day at a time was a luxury; for months I felt successful if I managed ten minutes at a time in a world turned upside down by my husband’s alcohol and prescription drug abuse.

I had lost myself in our couple-ness and faded further into invisibility as our relationship derailed. The script in his head left no room for me except when blame for some perceived wrong needed somewhere to land.

And then I couldn’t be invisible enough.

Working the Al-Anon program helped me find the strength to tell him we should separate as I could no longer watch his self-destruction, and he promised to use the time apart to get clean and sober.

Instead, he got a girlfriend, and that was pretty much that.

Starting over can feel so overwhelming. You feel broken, without worth, and you wonder how in the world you’ll ever find the bravery you know you need.

Start Simple

Whether rebuilding or getting back on track, you can easily become overwhelmed by looking at the tasks ahead.  To counteract the paralysis this point of view causes, take a breath and come back to where you are now. Pick three things that you know for sure and write them down.

There.

You’ve started, and that’s half the work.

I was totally shattered, so my life started over with “My dog and cat liked me … When I waved, people waved back … I was a good nurse.”

When I looked at these ordinary bits of goodness, gratitude flooded in, and the next step was a no-brainer.

Practice Thankfulness

Begin with appreciation for the simple things in your life, and be grateful for your small accomplishments. No matter how insignificant they may seem, write them down in a notebook.

Call it your “Gratitude Journal,” or “My Little Notebook of Why Things Don’t Suck,” or “Building Blocks.”

Whatever.

But get them out of your head and onto paper; it makes them real, and you can re-read them when you need a boost.

Find Your Teachers

I found that my marriage had left me raw and questioning almost everything. I had lost my bearings trying to cope with the crazy world of addiction and came to find safe harbor in the one constant of my life: my work.

I have always loved my nursing career but suddenly felt renewed gratitude for it. Not only was it something I knew how to do but it also provided me with perspective — the patients in my oncology clinic would trade their problems for mine in a heartbeat.

These people were ordinary folk catapulted into extraordinary circumstances, and most learned to “live like they were dying,” unknowingly setting an example for me. If they could live like that, why shouldn’t I? What did I have to lose?

Dare To Do

Remember this quote from Yoda?

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Nothing is mentioned about doing it perfectly, or even well, or without mistakes.

But try… try sounds whiney, like you are making excuses before you even start; try will keep you by the fire with your cookie.

I finally started to feel less like an invisible woman in a broken marriage and more like the brave woman I knew I could be. It was time to step out of my comfort zone and DO something to help squash my afraidness.

But where to start? I picked something I knew and loved (music) and dared myself to sign up for a complete unknown: a performance workshop in opera. This sounded like a fun way to learn about a different music style with the added bonus that if I flailed and floundered, I would never see those people again.

With this realization, I discovered my recipe for deciding if doing something was worth my time (or not):

Will it be enjoyable?

Will I learn something new?

If it doesn’t go as planned, will it matter in a day, a week, a month?

What has afraidness kept you from doing to create the changes you need in your life? What do you really have to lose if you take that step?

Dare yourself to do, and you will find people who will encourage and cheer you on.

Fire the Critic in Your Head

Each time you challenge yourself, resist the urge to be too critical of your efforts. Becoming brave enough to do will take most of your energy and make it almost impossible to be objective about the situation. Do you have someone you trust who can provide feedback?

Performing in the opera workshop was more fun than I thought possible, and it gave me the courage to audition as a bodhran player for a local Celtic group — and I made it!  On stage at last, I was no longer invisible, but I still tried to hide, standing in the background and avoiding audience eye contact.

My daughter gently mentioned that I might want to actually appear to be having as much fun as I said I was; her input helped me realize the critic in my head was holding me hostage in afraidness.

Send your inner critic packing, and when you hear the first whispers of doubt trying to weasel their way back into your head (because they will), toss the critic out again, and keep tossing, for as many times as necessary.

Feel ALL the Experiences

I began to feel indomitable, and I had the courage to begin fiddle lessons. During my first recital, I shook so badly that my bow bounced as if possessed, and I had to start over. I was surprised how terrifying that experience was.

It’s okay to be so scared you shake when trying something new. You are pushing your boundaries. You will know more about yourself as a result of being scared, and understand that scared is different from afraidness. You will have had the courage to leave the cookies and the fire.

It’s been a year of fiddle practice, and I am surprised how much I love it; maybe in another year others will love it, too. My goal is to become good enough to play simple accompaniments with my group. I keep that scene in mind and call myself a musician, without apologies.

Name yourself: are you a writer? Painter? Runner? Musician? Resist the urge to add “but,” or “except,” or “almost.”

Say it.

Write it down.

Post it where you can read it every day.

Start Here. Start Now.

I wish I could tell you that living a courageous life is a piece of cake and that you will always “go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”

Not so, but still go. Carry a clipboard, and look like you know what you are doing.

Every day you have to find your courage; fortunately, it gets easier with practice.

The time to start that practice is now, from where you are right here.

So put down that cookie, channel some John Wayne, and

Saddle up, pilgrim!

Photo by ChrisHaysPhotography

Claire Wholam

Claire Wholam writes when she can, works when she must and secretly wants to learn to write computer code. You can find her online writing about her kids (human, furry and special needs) and building her blog at www.dancesintherain.com  (Still Standing!)

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