When I arrived in New York City in 1974 at age 21 from Trindad, I was scared of my own shadow and had the maturity of a 14 year old.
It took 10 years of living in New York to develop some basic skills to fend for myself, but my emotional well-being was still stymied. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I was unable to speak to those in authority with any true maturity. I had a boss who took great pride in screaming at me in the hallways with staff listening and watching. The moment I entered the building in the mornings, I would have tremendous anxiety, suffer from panic attacks and even experienced excruciating stomach pains. I cried and hid from my boss. These screaming fits happened multiple times per week and I reacted like a child.
How then, did that scared person have the courage to say what was on her mind when she met Barack Obama face to face nearly four decades later?
After dedicating my life to helping empower victims of gender violence, my work led me to an incredible opportunity where I got the chance to meet and converse with the 44th president of the United States. I had been invited to participate in a private event with approximately two dozen individuals who were making an impact on the lives of others. I showed up to that meeting fully formed and called upon all the bravery and courage I had been honing over many decades. I spoke my truth and President Obama listened. He even remembered me and praised me for my courage and my aspirational approach to solving a serious issue affecting so many women in our world.
I have learned to look at my past and reflect on painful experiences I have encountered in my life with empathetic eyes and ears. Despite the trauma I suffered as a child, I continually incorporate five important things that have helped me become an independent and empowered woman despite being a victim of domestic violence. As a result, I have learned to love myself in ways that I could never have imagined.
Here are five ways to confront your fears and be brave in any situation:
- Devote yourself to self-care. Practicing yoga and meditation for many years has allowed me to stay calm in the face of fear and uncertainty.
- Tell your inner child that they are safe. In the past, whenever I felt afraid, I would allow my fear to take over my whole being. I forgot about my chronological age and became the small scared child that lived inside of me. I allowed the energy of that frightened child to make decisions and consequently, I dug deeper holes for myself. My scared inner child only wanted to be loved and accepted and to feel safe. She allowed people to take further advantage of her. When I began to truly comprehend what domestic violence did to me and how it made me unable to think clearly, I began to see what actions I needed to take. One of the first things I started to do was to tell my inner child that she was safe. Oftentimes, I imagined her scared in a corner, cowering in fear from the abuser and begging the abuser to love her. I would whisper soothing words to her such as “Don’t worry about this thing, I am all grown up and I will handle it.” It took a very long time to believe in myself, but I never gave up.
- Write a letter to your younger self. When faced with a stressful situation or experience, I would write a letter to my younger self at various ages, telling her what great things we had accomplished. I made my inner child aware of the time I traveled to Europe with very little money and survived on cheese and apples. I told her that we went to graduate school and people thought we were smart and nice and kind. I told her that no one screamed at us when we were pursuing a Master’s degree. I allowed her to witness our growth from a safe place and I constantly told her that I would protect her.
- Say “No” without raising your voice. I began to learn about boundaries and how to say no without screaming and yelling. Raising my voice to another person only made me feel worse and I found myself apologizing for my behavior over and over again. I explained those new skills to her and imagined that she would have been a more confident person if she could have understood boundaries. I began to use my new skills in difficult situations with different people. I learned that people treated me differently and respected me as much as I was beginning to respect myself.
- Try something new and push yourself to do the unthinkable. I pushed myself to do hard things like learn to swim at 50 and do an Olympic distance triathlon and marathon in the same year. Every time I took a chance on something that would have sent me running for the hills in previous years, I became stronger and more confident in who I was becoming and who I was never going to be again.
My final piece of advice is to practice the small skills that will help you be brave in your own life every day, every month and every year of your life. When you need to employ these skills at full force, you will be able to do it with courage and with grace. But first, you must believe that it is possible.
With the wisdom I have gained throughout my life, I was able to believe in myself and achieve the unimaginable. By having the strength and the confidence to face your fears head on, you can do it too.