“Your brothers are weird!”
“You are the only normal person in your entire family!”
Those were the sort of things that people said to me as I was growing up. There were other insults too, but those were the ones that chilled me to my bones. They hurt because they made me doubt the value of my entire family. They made me feel like I had no safe space to go. After all these years, there is still an empty hole in my heart where a sense of belonging should be.
Ostracism hurts. It particularly hurts when you’re young and trying to find your place in the world. Life would be so much easier if we could all be born into families and communities that welcomed us unreservedly, and with open arms. Sadly, for many of us, that is just not the case.
At the time, I responded to those comments with a bashful smile, just grateful to be acknowledged as “the normal one”. But really, I felt anything but normal. I was terrified. If the rest of my family was considered weird, then how could I possibly know what normal was? I figured I was most likely “weird” too. The only reason why it wasn’t as evident was because I was so quiet. As a result, I became afraid to speak, to act, to live. If I actually showed up, then people would realize that I was weird too, and I would be just as excluded as my brothers were.
Staying quiet may have been the safer route, but it wasn’t any less painful. Because if you don’t speak up, you are never heard. You are also never seen. No one ever knows who you really are. I might as well have been a ghost during all those years and I certainly felt like one a lot of the time. My brother once told me that he admired my courage in leaving home so young. But it wasn’t courage that led me to leave. I was dying in my hometown. I had to find a way to escape. That’s not courage; that’s fear.
It’s taken me a lot of years to break down the walls of isolation and fear that I built up during my childhood and adolescence – and even into my adulthood. Because when I escaped from my hometown, I didn’t really escape the problem. I just brought it along with me. Marrying into Mike’s family seemed like a good solution – a brand new family, just like that! – but eventually brought to light all the destructive coping strategies I’d been too distraught to notice before. The people-pleasing, the fawning, the co-dependency. What a mess! The only good news is that I now feel like I finally understand the problem. That’s a big milestone, in and of itself. Along the way, I’ve also learned a lot of things, and picked up tools to help me on my continued journey.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been one of them. I never knew how closely linked my emotions were to the state of my body until now. Somatic yoga is another. I needed to learn to feel into my body, and listen to what it needs, and somatic yoga has a particular ability to bring you back inside your skin. Meditation is another good tool. I’ve sat and rocked myself through the force of a lot of old emotions, with tears streaming down my face until they finally cleared. Finally, and most importantly, there’s compassion, both from others, and from myself. Healing really only works if we feel cared for, seen and understood. Crucially, I had to learn to love myself, and it wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly if my husband hadn’t been there to light the way.
Which is why I am working on opening up a yoga studio here. I want to create a place of support for others who may be struggling like I did, but who may not have the same level of support. A place of caring and community where a stressed and dys-regulated nervous system can finally begin to regulate itself. A place of calm and healing. If you’re interested, stay tuned for updates. We’ll be getting started in the months ahead.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.