I've misunderstood courage my whole life until now. I thought courage meant lack of fear. Or at least less fear. I thought that my fears made me weak and that I'd be courageous the day I conquered fear.
I had an image in my mind of an incredibly confident superhero when I thought of courage. Something like Super Woman and Oprah all mixed up into one badass poster woman for "BRAVE" - hands on hips and clear eyes full of confidence and determination. I didn't realize that courage is being terrified and acting anyway.
In fact, courage looks like someone who's sweating, shaking, and gasping through the hardest things life throws her way.
It looks like someone who gets up every morning and makes breakfast for his kid even though he's now alone in raising her and even though he's exhausted.
It looks like someone who's heart has been shattered but opens once again anyway to let someone new inside even though it feels like leaping into the unpredictable currents of the air, hoping to be carried and not dropped.
It's staring someone in the eyes and saying "I love you" even though you might not hear it back and feeling your heart stutter in anticipated terror.
It doesn't feel brave. It feels exhausting, reckless, terrifying and unpredictable. And it's undeniably courage. There's so much everyday courage happening all around us. So many people surviving the death of their spouse, their child, their future. Rebuilding, picking up the pieces, on their knees begging for the next right step. Begging for their pain to ease, to see their loved one in their dreams.
And if that's courage, then I'm courageous, even though I never feel brave at all. What's also missing from the equation is what I thought went along with courage - exhilaration. I don't feel exhilarated, I feel scared and exhausted. I want to feel the exhilaration of knowing that I've been brave enough to let someone new into my heart. I want to feel the thrill of surviving and finding happiness on the other side of the deep dark valley I was in.
But I'm not quite there yet. I'm still so scared all the time. Guarded and vigilant for more heartbreak coming my way.
I know that that mindset can kill my chances of happiness now and that future tripping* does me no good, but this is what my brain does. I can fight it and I do. But sometimes I just wish I didn't have to fight it so much. I wish I could relax into faith and imagine only great things happening. Or at the very least just stop projecting into the future at all. I wish I could stop scanning for signs that heartbreak is coming my way again.
I wish I could fully believe, as my therapist does, that more good stuff is headed my way because I've suffered enough already.
And then I realize that this is me. This is how my brain works, and rightly so. I have suffered greatly. But, I'm doing my best to not let it guide me. I can have these thoughts but not act on them. I can do what scares me. I can love again. I can have compassion for myself even though I struggle with this fear and this mind-habit of preparing for disaster. I can allow for the idea that I'm worthy and loveable even though this is how my brain works. I can entertain the idea that it's not that I'm inherently leave-able, it's just that the life I've been given has included lots of abandonment by death and that doesn't mean that everyone else I love will leave me.
I can admit that I am courageous, resilient, and worthy.
I can admit that I do deserve good stuff.
I can understand that while the universe takes away, it gives too. It can be incredibly generous.
Maybe it's my turn for some of that generosity.
*What my old therapist used to call worrying about the bad things that might happen.