I woke up this morning not feeling my best, to be quite honest. I had a thousand things on my mind and no one to talk to about them. I reached out to a few people and even made a phone call with tears in my eyes, ready to pour my heart out. But when the person answered, it was evident that the person didn’t have any availability to handle all the things I needed to release. It’s crazy because I swallowed all that for a few seconds then fell on my knees and began to talk to God and pray about it. Honestly, there was so much that I couldn’t even form the words. I mean, I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get it all out. So, I laid there and cried it out after the few things I could formulate to God. The good thing is He already knew what I wanted but didn’t say, and he understood my tears, whimpering, and snotty, barely spoken utterances.
When I went from my knees to sitting on the floor beside my bed, I said, God is this really what strength looks like? I started thinking about what strength looked like for women and, more specifically, Black women. What had I been taught strength meant, looked like, and felt like? Examining that, I realized that I had misconstrued the meaning of strength all my life. I told God I have been taught to be fiercely independent, hold it together at all cost, and never let them see you at any level of vulnerability. That has been my definition of strength! An everyday fight with life, myself, and the people in the world. Imagine what that can do to a person’s capacity to love, be loved, experience trust, be vulnerable. All those things are thought of as being weak. I now sit and think on all the things I’ve missed out on, the people who’ve tried to get to know me, yet I’ve shut them down. All the friendships I’ve passed up on, the doors that may have been open to me, but I closed them. All the healing that could have taken place but couldn’t because I was strong. Or at least that’s what I thought I was doing.
Today as I sat and talked to God, I said, “God, I don’t want this type of strength anymore. It’s lonely and unforgiving. It’s limiting, disparaging, and I have found no comfort in being this type of strong.” I sometimes wonder what God thinks about me when I’m pouring my heart out to him. He is the ONLY person I trust with all of me. I guess that’s the way it’s meant to be. He doesn’t talk about me behind my back, he doesn’t judge me, he doesn’t look at me with reproach, he’s so forgiving, and he chastises me with so much love and understanding. But now, as for “strength,” yes, that word. I need to find a way to redefine it for me. I have grown up thinking holding in emotions, physically fighting for everyone, crying alone, being alone and closed off, and carrying the world’s weights on my shoulder is being strong. That is a death sentence, actually, or as a nursing diagnosis would put it, a “MI” (myocardial infarction) or heart attack waiting to happen.
I cannot change my past, but I can move forward differently to develop a new outlook on what I consider strength. I will be intentional in finding ways to recreate a better narrative so that true healing can take place, and I can demonstrate strength in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling desolate and in despair. I share because I’m sure I am not alone in this feeling. We mimic what we see, hear, and experience as we grow. I always say everything is learned behavior. So, for those who are like or similar to me in this definition of strength, let us relearn what it is to be strong and redefine our definitions of strength. The term shouldn’t be associated with everything wrong. It is good in it so let’s find it.