In my early and mid twenties I relied heavily on my titles. I wore them around like verbal nametags, hoping that their attention-grabbing words would detract anyone from getting to know the real me. I'm an activist. I'm an international photojournalist. I'm a social entrepreneur, I would say. Heck, the nametags should have all just read “I'm Mother Theresa,” or at least that's how some people referred to me anyways. This was my life–boasting about my courageous career and taking pleasure in being labeled “the heroine.”
“You're so inspiring.”
“You're so brave.”
“I want to be just like you,” people would reply.
Yet I always shied away from the backstory–the reason for why I became a photojournalist for women's organizations in conflict countries, or why I was an advocate for sexual assault prevention, or the path that led me to ministry school and becoming a staff member at my church. I skipped over the circumstantial events that brought me to where I was, because of shame and guilt. Because I believed if anyone knew the truth about my messy checkered past, they'd surely hate me (although I eventually learned it was really just me who hated myself). So instead I presented a pigeonholed image of my life to the world.
But after a few years, I started to feel like I was a fraud, someone living a double life. It was around the time that we all stumble upon, when we realize that life is supposed to be lived with our happiness in mind, and that the only approval we should be seeking is from God–not the world. I was tired of putting on a show, all the while suffering inside. I was trapped, or so I thought, in my own cage of shame.
As the modern world became evermore pervasive, I realized I wasn't the only one living in their own cage of pain and self-ridicule–all thanks to social media. Social media quickly became the new-aged masquerade ball, where everyone dressed in their best and never took off their masks. Where everyone suffered in silence. I was sick of it–the hiding and the pretending. So at the age of 27 I unveiled the truth to the world. I bared it all–that my shiny “humanitarian” reputation came from a downright ugly past.
I felt–free. Empowered. Vulnerable. Strong. Weak. Terrified, yet brave. All of the above. But most of all, I felt. And I felt it all–the good and the utter worst. For the first time in my adult life I stopped numbing my emotions and suppressing my feelings of sadness, grief, and anger. Before I knew it I was transformed.
People often ask me when I found “it”–the ultimate healing I had been quietly and desperately searching for nearly all of my life. My response is never the same.
“I found it in bible school.”
“I found it in my work.”
“I found it when he was sentenced to 60 years.”
“I found it in my marriage.”
“I found it in Jesus.”
These answers are never the same because I never truly had that authentic “aha I'm healed” moment. Healing to me is a lifelong journey, filled with amazing bliss and gut-wrenching pain. Like a crumbled piece of paper, I realized that my life would never be the same, that those creases from my past would always be visible. It took me too many years to understand that the path to healing is not about grabbing a fresh sheet of paper and starting from scratch. Instead it's about embracing those creases and utilizing them to add depth and layers to the beautiful portrait God has created for your life. In simple terms healing is not getting over it, but rather trudging through it.
To courageously thrive in all of our life's mess, we have to learn to feel. That means no running and hiding, no numbing, no masks–for if we run from our traumas, God can't sculpt them into the goodness He intendeds to use them for. I believe that when we give our pain permission to change us, we realize that healing isn't about overcoming so much as it's about integrating those experiences into our new sense of self. This is what is means to experience and know self-love at last.
What traumas and painful experiences have you had in your life that have caused you to put a mask on?
What are some ways you can start to remove that mask?
Write down the things below that allow you to find self-love.
Written By: Brittany Piper