Over the last year, really two, I’ve been wrestling with a lot. I’ve been to counseling, read countless books, talked with trusted friends, and delved into my faith. Through it all, I’ve worked to not only address the accident and Rylie’s death, but I’ve also been digging into other aspects of my life that have shaped me into the person that I am.
One thing I’m realizing is that I don’t have to earn love or attention. I am worthy of it, just the way I am. As I look at those words on paper, I know them to be true, but I also find them hard to believe. I can’t honestly say why I would have believed otherwise, but my soul searching has proven that I have - for a long time. It seems that for as long as I can remember, I have equated my performance with how much love or attention I am worth.
I am someone who always has to be busy. I find it very hard to just sit and be still. I’m realizing that there’s a lot underlying this need for busyness and much of it is tied to using busyness to hide from challenging emotions / feelings. But I also know that I see being busy as being productive and contributing to the world around me.
Generally the only time I’m sitting still is when I’m at my computer (and then my fingers and brain are busy), or I’m reading a book.
Growing up, I read voraciously. I could always be found tucked away in a corner, or up in a tree reading. It was my happy place. I could visit worlds without leaving the comfort of my home. I could transform into people that inspired me. I could learn new things. My book friends were consistent. It didn’t matter if we’d moved to a new state, or if I was dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up, they were always there. I spent a lot of time in the land of story.
As I’ve gotten older, my love for reading is still strong, but I don’t do it nearly as much. It’s rare for me to leave the house without a book in my car or bag, but it’s also almost equally rare for me to actually read it.
It’s ridiculous really, but somewhere in my brain, I feel (although I’m moving in the direction of felt) that if I was working on my computer, I was at least “doing” something productive. In that same place in my brain, I feel that sitting on the couch and reading a book, regardless of the content, was too much of a luxury. It feels like something that should just be squeezed into awkward pockets of time (hence the book that’s always with me). Somewhere along the line, reading transformed into something that I needed to earn.
If I could hold up certain accomplishments, then I earned the right to just sit and relax. If I’d completed all the items on my to do list, then I could justify being swept away. The only problem is that the accomplishment list and checkboxes never seem to end, or I’m just too tired by the time they do.
I’m not sure how / why that transformation happened, but it did. Over the years, I became driven by this need to perform, to earn, to show that I am worthy. I am just now realizing how destructive this belief has been.
I am trying to retrain my brain, my being, to know and really believe that I am worthy. I don’t have to earn the right to read a book. I don’t have to earn time to relax on the couch and watch a movie. I don’t have to work out extra hard to earn the chocolate chip cookie.
Clearly, all of this has to be done in moderation and there is some element of ‘earning one’s keep,’ but it is definitely not an all or nothing equation.
I envision this need to earn things as a cape with badges (almost like Girl Scout badges). I am realizing, in just about every part of my life, I feel the need to wear this cape and wear it proudly flowing off my shoulders. As I’ve thought about it more, I realize that pride and performance are part of it all - I’ve worked hard for all those badges and have a right to be proud, but I also find myself clutching that cape tightly around my neck.
I’ve begun to wonder what would happen if I let that cape go. What would be left standing underneath?
In a way, my cape has been my suit of armor. I see it as what makes me worthy. I use it as a way to ‘prove’ that I’ve earned ‘fill in the blank’. It is also what has kept me from letting people see what I am underneath it all.
In many ways, underneath that cape, I am hiding a scared little girl. One who is afraid to admit if she hasn’t done something productive. One that is afraid to admit that she doesn’t have it all under control. One that is afraid to show how heavy that cape, with all those badges has become, and how hard it is to hold it up.
So I’ve been working to loosen my grip on the cape. I’m still terrified to let it go… I’m not sure if I’ll like the person that’s left underneath it, much less if anyone else will. But I also realize that if I don’t loosen the grip and let it go, I will be crushed beneath its weight.
There are some days when it’s easier to undo the clasp of my cape and let it flap in the wind. There are other days when I get scared and I revert to holding it so tightly that nothing could get it away. But I also realize that it is a process.
I know, that the more that I can loosen the grip and realize that the world hasn’t fallen apart, that I can read the book, or watch the show, or just sit still - the easier it will become.
I may not be able to fully let go of the cape yet, but I’m getting better about not trying to earn the badges at least. Each morning, often several times a day, I try to find ways to remind myself that I am more than what I do or how I perform.
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.