I used to live in the shadows.

There was safety in the shadow. It was a place of seeming comfort and quiet where I was seldom noticed or heard. Sometimes I felt like I could talk on and on and not be heard, just a little bird making background noise to somebody else’s life. At other times, I couldn’t talk at all. Noises would flitter out of my throat in an attempt to share what was really going on inside, but they would quickly die down and settle like dust on the ground. My words were a jumbled mess that couldn’t find their way out and neither could I.

Within the shadow, I could hide. On the one hand, it felt terrible to not be seen, but on the other, it seemed terrifying to have to show myself. I was stuck, and not only did I not know how to get out, but I didn’t want to get out. I was scared of this seemingly big, bad world.

As far back as I remember I was afraid of making a mistake in public, worried that I would be singled out for it in some way that would harm me. I recall being in a bike race as a young girl, maybe six or seven. I was winning but as we approached the finish line, I realized I wasn’t sure where it was, where the actual race ended. Instead of making a potential fool out of myself by not stopping at the appropriate point, I slowed to allow another to cross before me. That second place trophy was a constant reminder of my cowardice, my inability to take risks or show myself in any way that might not be perfect.

I don’t know where it came from; I don’t recall ever being pressured to lead an impeccable life, but it was always there, and if I couldn’t be perfect, it was preferable to not be noticed at all. I strove to excel at everything that I did, and if I wasn’t great at it, I just wouldn’t do it. I was incapable of showing myself as the girl that I actually and authentically was. Even as I shined for an accomplishment, I felt myself drift further and further away from the light and into the shadow. I was trying to capture it in those moments of “winning”, only it couldn’t be integrated as it wasn’t emanating from within.

As this happened, my genuine voice remained completely hidden. I could share with a few close friends only, and even then I kept pieces of myself tucked away, little mementos of my less-than-perfect self that created cobwebs in the corners of my heart. The critic in my mind continued to harp on my inability to be enough in any area of my life and I shrank and shrank until I almost disappeared.

Making my way back into the light happened in little spurts. I’d stick my toe out to see what happened. At first it was scary and I’d pull it back in, but at some point I just started persisting. The healing work started paying off. Soon I could stick my head out and then at last my heart followed. That has been the true blessing. My heart runs the show most of the time these days. Fear still crops up but I’m onto it now. I can give it a wink and smile at it. I’m not hiding from myself anymore and when I look in the mirror, I like the image I see reflected back to me. More people seem to hear me now and I’m pretty sure it’s because my voice is comfortable and confident rolling out of my throat.

For a long time, I played the blame game: If only (fill in the blank), I would be (fill in the blank). There were hundreds of scenarios and not one of them involved me stepping out of my comfort zone. But as I fell back into my body, as I healed and got to know myself, as I stretched myself in ways not before imaginable, I started claiming my worth. I finally understood it; I finally felt it.

Now, I just AM – every little bit of me, even the pieces that I’d sometimes rather not see or deal with. The light is stronger than the shadow and it always wins, it always pulls me out, it always shines right where I need illumination.