“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? …

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…

It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

– Marianne Williamson

A lot of the time when you mention power, people think of authoritarian power, of dictators, of control but we all have power.  Power is not good or bad, it’s all about how you use it. You can use it to oppress people or use it to empower yourself and others. The key is you and your intention.

Side note: I have just been through this post and added in the word me where I had been using you or a general term.  This is one way I give away my power.  I distance things from myself.  I had a job interview a few years ago for a management position.  I spent the whole time trying to remember to say me instead of we.  As a team, us sharing the power instead of me claiming it worked really well but in the job interview, it was going to devalue what I had done.  Similarly, in this post, all about reclaiming my power, I need to speak specifically about me.

My short journey (so far) towards embracing my power

First step, acknowledge that I surrendered my power.

I surrendered it to my eating disorder, my depression, my pain, my mother, a lot of people around me, to my circumstances.  To be honest, I gave my power to whoever or whatever would take it.  I was not forced to give my power away.  I chose to.  Perhaps not consciously, but the key is that I surrendered it so I can reclaim it.  We all have power (except in very extreme situations), even if we’re in a difficult situation with lots of external forces at work and we have very little say in our lives, we have the power of our thoughts and how we approach a situation.

Second, consciously decide that I want to reclaim it, embrace it.  

Parts one and two happened for me during a new moon ritual which was going to be about letting go of bad relationships, including anorexia, and stepping into a world of creating, learning, of balance and rhythm, of logic and intuition. But I guess this was where I needed to go instead.

Third, how the hell do I actually do this?!

This step involved a tarot spread which turned out to be quite an intense, interesting spread with some super strong synchronicities going on.  I’m going through the process of writing it up and collecting journal prompts based on my observations and ponderings.

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The spread considers:

  • what my power is (ten of wands, wheel of fortune and the moon)
  • what holds me back from embracing my power (mother of cups)
  • what can help me overcome this (father of cups)
  • what can help me to embrace my power (two of wands)
  • what can I do right now (ace of wands)
  • what does owning my power look like (the world)

I think these would all work well as journal prompts on their own, without the tarot, although the cards do add a good starting point and help me think about things which I wouldn’t get to without them.

Uh-oh…

Then came a glitch. My mother visiting.

My reaction to her visit could easily been seen as disempowering; I hid a lot of what makes me who I am (tattoos, tarot, crystals, art work, reading material etc) and I became quite passive whilst she was here.

However both of these things are currently really important for my self protection. I know that I am not ready to have her pick my life and identity apart. Maybe one day I will be. In the meantime, I did make some small progress; instead of lying to avoid difficult conversations, I just didn’t respond to questions or comments that I knew would go down a bad route if I responded truthfully. And yes, she did say some hurtful things and I didn’t stand up for myself but I do feel I maintained more integrity that I have on previous occasions.  Small wins are still wins!

And life is full of times when it is harder to do the thing you want to do, ideally these are challenges which you can overcome, the thing which tests if you’re really embracing your power.  But it’s also ok if you aren’t ready to face that particular thing.  For me, I weigh up how far back doing something will set me.  Facing my mother would probably put me back to where I was pre-therapy right now.  Not a good plan.  Let’s keep building my foundations and once I have a more firm standing, then maybe we’ll try that.

Getting back on track…

See where my power currently goes.

For me, my power currently goes to my neighbours, my care agency, my disability, organisations/buildings etc which are not accessible, the government who are taking my money.  It still goes to my eating disorder, my anxiety and my depression but a lot less than it did.

Is your power going to your depression, to your partner, to your narcissistic mother? You can’t reclaim your power till you know where it is. Examine the relationships you have. It’s not always obvious when someone is sucking your power. It can be in the form of blatantly putting you down. It can also be treating you as if you aren’t worth much but in a much less obvious way. It can be through constant moaning or expecting you to be there but never reciprocating.

Tell my story (over and over again).

tell your story

In my case, and a lot of other cases I think, my eating disorder and depression kept their control and power by keeping me silent. Talking hurts. It makes you feel horrible and vulnerable. But it also is a huge fuck you to whatever it is that’s oppressing you.

And as yukky and self obsessive and whiney as you may feel, talking does help.  But part of talking is having to face the vulnerability hangover as well.  But that’s the sign that it’s working.  It’s the sign that your eating disorder or whatever it is for you is in panic mode.  They’re losing control or power over you and the nasty feeling is a way of stopping you from talking again so that they remain in control.

Brene Brown talks a lot about shame and vulnerability, if you’ve not come across her, do watch her TED talk.

Listen to my needs.

This means all my needs; emotional, physical, spiritual… We all have needs and shutting them off and not hearing them is a way of invalidating yourself. Meeting your needs is a powerful act. Especially in this world where we’re told what we should want or need and when and how and even if to meet that need.

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Or good, or powerful.  Look at what makes you feel good or powerful and do more of it. Make it a regular part of your life.

For me, this can be advocating for someone or something. Sharing my opinions in consultations etc.  It can be finishing a piece of art or writing. Doing something which stretches me a bit. Doing something that I’ve tried to stop myself from doing.

I’m full of “valid” excuses (accessibility, weather, pain, energy) and I know I use them to avoid doing things. But I’m getting better at noticing and calling myself out on it. This doesn’t mean I always do the thing but at least I’m being more honest about why.

Look at what messages my surroundings are giving me.

Surround yourself with people, things etc which empower you. My Twitter feed is a mix of friends, activism, body positive people, eds people, tarot people and such. It’s not all sunshine and roses and I don’t want it to be. That would really irritate me.  But equally I didn’t want it filled with body shaming, gossiping, backstabbing and hurting people. The same goes for things i read and watch and listen to.

I talked a bit about this over in my post about peace including some examples of newsletters etc which I find support my re-embracing of my power.

I no longer have a TV license because I found I was watching anything and everything including a lot of programmes which made me feel bad about myself.  I now have to make a more conscious choice about what I watch on netflix etc because leaving the channel on and watching whatever comes up next isn’t an option.  I still watch a lot of mindless, cheesy stuff but I’m making the decision to.

“The more aware you are of what you’re absorbing and thinking, the less likely you are to burn out” – Girl Boss Woo

Embracing my power doesn’t mean doing everything myself. Indeed, I can’t do everything myself, I can’t dress or wash myself.  Embracing my power means being able to delegate, letting others help me and asking for help when I need it.

Whilst you’re looking around, take a look at your personal, emotional boundaries.  Are they there?  Are they too strong?  Too weak?  Find your own way to set, maintain or strengthen them. Maybe visualisation works for you, maybe not. We’re all different.  Again, I’ve mentioned this in a bit more detail in my post about peace.

Remind myself that I do not need permission from others.

I am giving myself the permission to do things, I don’t need other people to give me permission to do something, go somewhere or even to take up space.

Similarly, I don’t need external validation. This is a HUGE HUGE HUGE thing for me. But I don’t need external validation.  Instead I’m going to work on finding ways to be able to validate my own feelings, experiences etc.

And the obligatory self care mention…

Yes, I know, it’s the buzz word.  But it’s also genuinely important.  Take the time to look after yourself. Put your needs first. Without your needs being taken care of, you aren’t any good to yourself let alone others.

Self care isn’t just about having a bath.  It’s much much more and you need to find what works for you.

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For me, it’s about making sure I keep some balance in my life, plan in rest time, plan my meals ahead so I eat reasonably well (but also don’t stick rigidly to the plan, flexibility is good).  I know from a lot of reflection that I feel better if I have done at least one thing creative, one thing intellectual, something restful, gone outside and checked in with myself each week.  My friday check ins allow me to keep track and ensure I keep balance in my life.

Make yourself a self care checklist, make some of it habit, that way when things are tough, you’re more likely to the things on your list.  Some of the things on my body image post are ways I look after myself so that might give you some ideas if you’re looking for them.

Recognising who you are, your strengths, your beauty is a powerful act, especially in a world which is set up to make you feel bad about yourself* 

*so you then buy the magic fix…

Taking up space*

The issue of taking up space is one that seems to come up time and time again in my life.  As a young child, I was quiet and well behaved and easy to miss.  As I got older, my depression convinced me that I was worthless, useless, a waste of space.  I withdrew, I would withhold opinions, I wouldn’t challenge things I knew were wrong.  I dumbed down my intelligence.  Older again, and this time it would be anorexia that would convince me I took up too much space.  I was literally too big.  I was metaphorically too big.  Fast forward again and this time the culprit is my disability.

Something happens when you start to use a wheelchair you take up more space literally and this isn’t always an easy thing to do.  In this society we are told that women should not take up space.  (If you’re a male wheelchair user, I’d love to have a chat about this with you, especially if you’ve not always used a wheelchair and can compare the difference.)

There’s no denying it. The chair takes up space. It doesn’t fit it a regular car, it doesn’t fit in some shops, in cafes people have to move for me. And all the time I’m apologising for it. I can’t reduce the size of my chair or the space I take up so instead I am constantly stuck in apology mode.

I’m so sorry that my existence is having some impact on you. I’m so sorry you’re having to adjust your path to get past me. I’m so sorry I’m trying to get a table in a restaurant and you’re having to move to accommodate me. I’m sorry I embarrassed you when you came out of the disabled toilet and got ‘caught’ by a disabled person**. I’m so sorry for existing as a disabled woman.

And yet I feel I can’t stop apologising. As a disabled woman my chance of having a crime committed against me is quite high. I’ve had people get annoyed (thankfully only in that British way of grumbling loudly to their friend so far) when I’ve not played the game and not apologised for the few seconds I inconvenienced them. I’ve had people grumble that I shouldn’t go into town on a weekend because it’s busy. I try to avoid this anyway as I hate crowds but that is my choice.

My wheelchair takes up space but I should still be able to go where I want when I want. Except again, this isn’t a reality. Because there are places where no amount of apologising will help me. I can apologise all I want but I’ll never get into the corner of the shop which is crammed full with displays in the aisles; “If you tell me what you want, I can get it”…”I’m sorry… I don’t know what I’m after…” and I leave.

 

With every half-finished sentence, every statement ended with a question mark, with every apology we offer to someone who has wronged us, minor or major, we deny ourselves, we deny our value.

With every tentative whispered proclamation, with every “I think…” when we know, we deny ourselves the space we are owed.

We are so socialised to believe we are not allowed space that we are complicit in our own erasure.

We make ourselves small so others are more comfortable. If I make myself small, people don’t have to face my disability and with it their own mortality, their own imperfect infallibility, the imperfection of me, the guilt I seem to impose on them. If I make myself small, they don’t have to face themselves, their lack of consideration when I turn up at the party and there’s a step into the house or the bathroom is upstairs.  “I didn’t think…” they mutter…as if I’m the one who should be embarrassed.

 

Every time I tell a shop that it’s ok when they don’t have a ramp, I’m letting them off.  I’m telling them that I’m not important and it’s ok that they aren’t accessible.  I’m giving them permission to reduce the amount of space I can take up.  Whether that’s in their shop or in their minds.

Every time you have to ask for the key to the disabled toilet or get a stranger to go into a shop to ask a member of staff to bring out a ramp or get told to go in the back entrance by the bins, you are told that you are not important.  You are not as valued or as worthy as other people.  You are told that you are a burden, a nuisance, an ‘other’. That you should not be there.

Letting yourself be who you are and owning that in a society which does all it can to prevent this is a powerful act.  Without it, the issues which make us feel unable to take up space will be perpetuated and will continue to reproduce.  We need to challenge the physical issues which keep us “in our place” but also the attitudinal issues.  Why should I apologise because you need to let go of your boyfriend’s hand in order to pass me on the pavement?  Why should I be embarrassed when I ask you to pull a chair in so I can get past?  All I have done “wrong” is to exist with a disability.  If you can’t deal with it, you should be the one apologising to me.

Taking up space is a truly political act.  When I was at my worst with anorexia, I had no capacity to question or object to the way society treats women, the patriarchy was having a great time. When I can’t access buildings or facilities because of my disability, I can’t easily or effectively object – I can’t physically get to the people I need to complain to.  I can’t make them see me.  They’ve engineered that well.  Preventing us from taking up the space we’re entitled to is a fantastic tool of an oppressor.  Let’s try and break that.

Take up your space and take it up proudly.  We are all human. We all deserve to take up space.

Check out Vanessa Kisuule’s “Take up space” for some excellent poetry about women and space.


 

*I’m going to use the word space a lot.  I mean literal space as in the physical footprint I have when I stand or sit or lie down.  I also mean audible space – the space that is inhabited by noise.  Like all ‘spaces’ there is a finite amount available. In this case, people who are shouting take up more of it.  Similarly, I might be referring to the space in societies’ consciousness.  Or the space for ideas and thoughts and opinions.  This idea of space as more than physical is talked about by Rosalind Jana.

**not all disabilities are visible but I’ve had a lot of cases of people who misuse disabled toilets, normally because they are getting changed or want a shit…