When I was a teenager, I idolized Cyndi Lauper when she came on the scene. She was SO OUT THERE. She had crazy, chopped-up and wildly colored hair, she wore what she darn well pleased, and her makeup declared, “Here I am! Like it or not!” In my teenage fantasies, I longed to dress just as outrageously and daringly. My spirit longed to be as zany and colorful as Cyndi’s dared to be. It didn’t happen.
I wore boring, conservative shirts, blue jeans, and—it being rural Texas and all—conservative yet heavy makeup and hair plastered securely with hairspray. Not much wild going on. Of course, there were reasons for the mismatch between my outward appearance and my inner desires. One was my conservative parents, who expected me to look, think, and behave in a certain way. Failure to do so would result in a withdrawal of love, I knew, so I dutifully attempted to conform. The second reason was the narrow societal box in which I found myself. When my parents moved to a rural Texas town, I was already out of my element and was widely considered an oddball at best, and a hell-bound sinner with Very Bad Ideas at worst. So I climbed willingly into a box circumscribed by Rejection; if I stayed in, I might not get rejected, but if I poked my nose outside of it, I surely would be. And I often was.
While my outward appearance gave solid lip service to the box, my inner world was my own, and as I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the widening gulf between who I was and who I was pretending to be. Still, the “safe thing” to do was to hide my true self as much as possible and keep on pretending. I became very good at pretending, but the more I pretended, the more unhappy I was.
In college, I started to break out a bit and put more of myself outside of the box. A toe here, an elbow there. I wore tie-dye bell bottoms to school. I grew my hair out and stopped using makeup and hairspray of any kind. I decided to follow my heart and my own spirituality, wherever it would lead me. When I married my ex-husband, who was an atheist, I temporarily put my spirituality back in the closet, since it made him uncomfortable. Alas, this only made me uncomfortable, so after a few years of this, I took it back out again and began to do my own thing. He adapted, and I adapted. No big rejection occurred.
Still, there were some things that made my spouse extremely uncomfortable. I had always wanted to get a tattoo, and when I mentioned this, I got the nonresponse that meant, I’m really not comfortable with that. So back in the closet it went.
As I have written in my the prologue to my book and elsewhere, I was able to more fully express myself once I married my wife, Ahnna, ten years ago. I told her I wanted a tattoo one day, and she was supportive. I had hoped to do it on my 40th birthday, but money was tight, and there were genuine needs to spend it on, so I put it back on the shelf. Each year, it went on the shelf. This year, however, Ahnna said she wanted me to get it as her birthday present to me. And I agreed.
I mentioned this to a friend, who was more than a little surprised, and, bless him, he couldn’t keep the unhappiness out of his voice. So I wavered. Maybe I should spend the money on other things we needed. Ahnna called me on the carpet about that, rightfully. This is something you have long wanted to do, she said, so do it. I agreed, but my inner child had taken note.
I had the tattoo done a week ago, and it is beautiful. It is certainly striking: a raven flying among the stars. Raven is my power animal, and the stars signify shamanic journeying, so this tattoo is a spiritual bond with my totem, and very meaningful for me. I was very happy with the work, but I have to say I never expected my inner child’s reaction to it.
The first night after getting it, I woke up about 1:30 and began to have a panic attack. You know how your lizard brain awakens in the middle of the night and begins to worry over things that wouldn’t bother you in the light of day? That was me. I began to sob. My inner child was deeply afraid that this new, “out there” statement of my spiritual self would result in being rejected and unloved by others. Worse, my inner child now felt that with this statement, she had lost the capacity to “hide” and “pretend,” which had long been her primary means of defense against rejection and her only means of blending in with everyone else. In short, she was screaming at me, “ARE YOU CRAZY?” This fear was deep and primal and completely unexpected by me, Asha the grown-up. Wow.
Fortunately, my wife woke up and talked me down off the ledge, so to speak. This is why a good relationship is so incredibly important in healing: you need to have someone who has your back, and who can love you unconditionally. You need that core of care. I am very blessed.
Although it was a difficult few days with my new tattoo, it was all good. A healing crisis is no fun in the moment, but it’s so much better once the wave has passed and the old pain is resolved. I am stepping into my power, very visibly, and it is now safe for me to do so. And it was a growth experience for the entire family. I cannot imagine a happier outcome for any situation.
The aftereffects were not all negative, either. After I had the tattoo, my spirit father (an old Native American spirit), came to me in a vision. He was sitting by a fire smoking a pipe. He beckoned to me, and I sat with him. He said, “You have chosen the old path.” And so I have. My power animal and I are more integrated than ever, and Raven is teaching me a great deal about healing and taking me to new places, within myself and in the Universe at large. Combine that with a strong, loving family unit, and there is simply no more need for my inner child to fear our Power. Our Power is freedom, healing, and love. It is ours to keep and nourish. And so it is for everyone. Do not fear it; celebrate it!