Sometimes Saying No is How We Say Yes to Our Inner Light

My hands were shaking as I reached for the phone, my body buzzed with nervous energy. Despite my fears, the time had come to stand up for what I believed in and advocate for my child.

 My firstborn, Sydney, came into the world shortly after my 21st birthday. She was beautiful and tiny.

 As her first year of life progressed, she delighted in the world and her intellect grew. But, physically, she wasn’t growing at the pace of other babies her age. After many tests, doctors diagnosed Sydney with dwarfism.

 For the first few years of Sydney’s life, her paternal great-grandfather, Howard, made comments about taking Sydney to the Shriner’s Hospital to get her “all fixed up.” As if she were a car in need of repair. I found this hurtful and unnecessary, but I bit my tongue, hoping he would come to see that Sydney was perfect just as she was in her little body. A happy child accepted by others regardless of her physical stature. Her father and I trusted that she came into this world with a visible difference for a reason.

Howard meant well. He came from a generation that hid away their children of difference. Out of love, he wanted to protect his great-granddaughter from social rejection. Plus, he had his own agenda. He’d invested his time, money and passion into the Shriner’s organization for decades and here was an opportunity for his family to be on the receiving end of the Shriner’s good works.  

 Around the time Sydney started Grade One, when her younger brother had become a head taller than her, Howard became more adamant about his plans for Sydney. He wanted her to receive treatment at the Shriner’s Hospital in either Seattle or Montreal, where the doctors would do multiple surgeries over many years to lengthen her limbs. He said that she’d receive an education while living in hospital, as if that were a bonus feature. Ever the salesman.

 And everyone kept silent, hoping he’d back off and the whole thing would go away. But it didn’t. He had it all worked out in his mind, and he began propagating his intention for Sydney.

 People didn’t say no to Howard. He ruled his family. The joke in the family was that Howard had a little black book in which he wrote names. He had a Good list and a Bad list. There was no inheritance for those on the Bad list.

 I was twenty-something with low self-esteem, putting myself last in every way, taking on more than my share of responsibilities, trying to be a good mother and wife. I was terrified of being judged. I was trying to hide my self-perceived flaws by expecting perfection of myself. And I was afraid to speak up.

 But the Mama Bear inside of me was roaring! If I didn’t stand up to my grandfather-in-law, no one else would.

 The issue came to a head. I had to advocate for my daughter and stand up for what she needed.

 I summoned the courage to pick up the phone and call Howard.

My whole body shook with the clashing energies of my inner Mama Bear and my frightened, insecure Inner Child.

 And I did it! I let the Mama Bear in me do the talking. Although I was shaking, I got the words out.

 I explained to Howard that Sydney would not be going to live at the Shriner’s Hospital.  We would not separate her from her family. She was healthy and happy and fully accepted in the world in which she lived.

 I explained that limb-lengthening would not change the fact that Sydney has dwarfism. It would be a very painful, confusing and traumatic experience for a little girl who has nothing wrong with her. She was visibly different, and that’s how she’d live her life. Our role was to love her and nurture her. Our role was to teach her she is wonderful and that she could do everything others can do, she just needed to find her own way of going about it.

 I said NO.

 And do you know what? He respected my stand, and he did not raise the topic again from that time onward. The world didn’t end because I said no to the patriarch, and my relationship with him didn’t suffer either.

 I learned so much from that experience. Advocating for others builds self-esteem. Your self-esteem is your engine. It fuels your well-being, your ability to step out into the world and live the life you were meant to live.

 Now Sydney is in her twenties. A while back, she sent me a meme that says, “I hear a lot of people say how they would hate to turn out like their mother. If I became half the woman my mom is, I would be so grateful!”

 I get teary whenever I think of her sending me that message. Sydney is a strong, kindhearted, amazing woman. I am proud of all three of my children.

Look how far we come when we advocate for others, when we become dedicated to healing ourselves, when we rise to the occasion and become greater than our fears. With each step, we are that much closer to becoming our authentic selves, shining our light for the benefit of all.

When Asking for Help is a Strength

Newly divorced, I’d just moved into a cute bungalow with my three children. Most of the furniture I’d left with my ex-husband because I wanted a fresh start.

So I started at IKEA: new beds for the kids, closet organizers for me and a bookcase for all my books. I felt strong and liberated. I was doing it — making it on my own.

Then, when my kids were out for the day, it was time for me to assemble the furniture.Something I'd never done before.

As I stood there, alone, looking at those big IKEA boxes stacked upon the floor of my unfurnished living room, overwhelm arrived. Big time overwhelm. What was I thinking?

I took a deep breath and started with the simplest thing to assemble; the bookcase. I first arranged the boards on the floor and then counted and set aside the screws. Hours passed as I then pieced it all together, referring to the instructions at every step.

Once the bookcase was complete, I was proud of myself for a moment. But then I realized I'd made a mistake — I’d installed a shelf backwards. The outcome wasn't perfect. I screwed up. And, so, I was no good.

As I contemplated the other IKEA items requiring assembly, it was too much: The weight of responsibility, being a homeowner on my own. If I couldn't even assemble a basic bookcase properly, how was I going to manage?

Within an hour, I stuffed down an entire container of ice cream, a family-sized bag of potato chips, a grilled cheese sandwich and plenty of other things. I ate and ate until I couldn't fit in any more. And then I stuck my fingers down my throat and forced it all back up.

I had a total relapse of bulimia, which I'd thought I'd overcome years earlier. But the purging wasn't how I remembered. Instead of giving me relief, it felt exactly like what it was, self-abuse.

I sat and considered everything I'd been through, where I was at, how far I'd come. Instead of treating my relapse as a failure, I learned from it. After acknowledging with compassion that I had put too much on myself and was expecting perfection, I decided to ask for help with the remaining furniture assembly.

In that moment, I decided that taking care of myself sometimes meant being vulnerable and asking for help. The damage to my self-esteem would be much greater from self-abuse than from risking rejection or appearing weak because I asked for support.

That was the first time I consciously practiced self-compassion after self-harm, and the last time I've had a relapse of bulimia.

More than a dozen years have passed since then and I’ve learned to catch those moments when I’m heading into overwhelm and could use some support. I’ve become better at asking for help when needed. It’s not easy for me, but it’s not as hard as it used to be.

As one of my mentors says, Aim for progress, not perfection.

Autonomy is important. If we want to have a sense of freedom, we need to trust ourselves to manage our own lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. We are social beings wired for connection, and we thrive when we’re supporting each other. We thrive when we can share our joys and triumphs with each other, and we thrive when we can share our hardships and have the courage to be vulnerable.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. We all need help now and then. You are worthy of support. We all are.