As a survivor of infant surgery without anesthesia, suffering pushed me to dig deeply, looking for answers. In the process of writing my memoir manuscript The Autobiography of a Sea Creature, Coming Home to My Body after Infant Surgery, I hit a vein of precious stones: I didn’t work. This core belief had been misinforming me about myself for decades.
As a baby, my stomach literally didn’t work. Pyloric stenosis, or a swelling of the pylorus muscle between the small intestine and the stomach, caused a blockage, making it impossible to digest food. In order to live, I had to be fixed. And I was. But the operation didn’t fix the belief I’d unwittingly subscribed to: I just didn’t work. Deep down, I believed I was broken and as I grew, this belief expanded into many areas: school, sex, sports, friendships, career, and more. Whenever I hit a snag or a challenge, my unconscious belief kicked in: I just didn’t work. It explained things. It was like, oh, that’s why I can’t do it.
Trouble is, this belief is downright untrue. And it caused a great deal of suffering. Why had I subscribed to this idea in the first place? Because even after I’d physically healed from the operation, my pediatrician and my mother believed I wasn’t entirely fixed. As a toddler lying on an examination table, in answer to my mother’s question about whether I would have stomach problems later in life, I heard my doctor say, “She shouldn’t. We’ll keep checking, of course.” And this “We’ll keep checking,” along with my mother’s worried looks and fear-filled hands, kept me anxious for decades. At any moment, I may not work.
Beliefs formed early on in our lives are tough to change; oftentimes, we aren’t even aware that they exist. We may think, that’s just the way we are. It’s our personality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve had the privilege of corresponding with many people who formed self-defeating and just plain wrong ideas about themselves due to their experience of birth trauma or early illness. As adults, we are finally beginning to understand the origin of these misconceptions that have often caused serious physical and mental health problems over the years.
Once we know the cause of our misunderstanding about ourselves, something immediately changes; simply knowing causes a shift within. Compassion kicks in. Relief. Acceptance and peace. Sometimes anger–a feeling of having been betrayed. Grief. These types of feelings are the beginning of healing, ushering in the possibility of allowing our true identity to emerge.
Prior to writing my memoir, lack of confidence created huge walls within. Nothing was ever much fun. I felt that I had to put out huge amounts of energy to simply stay in the game, whether it be high school studies, college, a job or a relationship, eventually leading to depression. Life was exhausting!
Now when I face something new or challenging, I allow myself to feel the anxiety generated from this old core belief that I don’t work and simply override it. I can do it, I tell myself. I can even enjoy it. In the past, repeating a phrase or an affirmation has not had a lasting effect on me, but EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which I’ve blogged about this past year, is helping me to believe in my power. I really am capable, smart, funny, wise, courageous, loving. A good person who, most importantly, works!