I agree to offer a gentle embrace to the anxiety arising in my coaching relationship with Leo.
I see now, in the darkness and space of ten hours in flight, the strength of this belief: There is something wrong with my body for its anxiety. I need to fix it.
My body carries the pain and confusion of anxious attachment. I am not sure if I fully understand in my body the concept of object permanence: when somebody goes away, they are not gone forever. I am afraid of being unloved, not good enough for love, not requiring love because I am too capable, too much. I am afraid to turn off my “signal cry” because it will mean I am self-sufficient and thus okay to leave alone. I don’t like saying goodbye because I don’t know if I will be abandoned.
I am ashamed to carry the scars of anxious attachment because I see the love of my family, the gentle embrace of my mother since she carried me in her womb, and the love of my father too despite his silence. In my baby books, in car rides and homemade dinners, I see such overwhelming and beautiful love from my parents. I have difficulty reconciling this love with the fear I have of losing it. With the visible ways in which anxiety arises in my body now, signaling that the relationship I had with my primary caregiver was often not consistent, too much or too little in attention, even frightening at times.
Recognizing anxious attachment in my body feels like betraying my mother.
I want to tell my body that I will take good care of it. There is nothing wrong with you, dear body of mine. You do not need fixing. Your anxiety is welcome.
Dear body, I will fight for you. I will ask for agreements that ease your fear, by building consistency and trust into the relationship. I welcome what you have to say.
I see how deeply entrenched my fear of comparison is, how tender the wounds of my childhood. I perceived my parents favoring my brother in so many ways. He was born on my father’s birthday, the first boy in a Chinese culture that prizes them. He was a fragile child, born with severe asthma and sleep apnea, requiring a heart monitor and constant supervision. I imagine my parents were hyper-vigilant with my brother because of his health, and were more relaxed with me. My mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house in Newark for the day to care for my brother. I loved my grandparents and yet also acknowledge my fear of my grandpa, his anger. I was left at a place where I sometimes was afraid, unsure when my parents would return for me.
When I was two, my mother gave birth to my brother Anthony, who lived for just one day. My parents grieved for years, grief which I imagine was confusing to me as a baby.
My brother Daniel was in delicate health, my mother sad, my father always away on work or angry at home. Of course I was confused. Of course my body carries the fear of not being loved, of wanting to please. Of course I am afraid of abandonment.
Can I accept that my parents loved me and did the best they could, and that I have an imprint of anxiety? Both are true: my anxiety does not displace the idea that my parents loved me. They did then and do now, and were and are caught in their own difficulties.
As I grew up, the fear of being less loved was an unspoken current in my body. I wondered half-consciously why my dad would attend my brother’s sports events but not mine, or why my parents didn’t laugh at my jokes they way they did his. I saw my brother excel in school without trying, passing the gifted and talented exam with ease, while I failed the exam twice (and managed to excel anyways through hard work and an ambition and drive that still guides me today).
When I uncovered an attraction to women in my body, I felt a deep shame, worried that I would be disowned if found out. I resented my brother and the ease of his belonging in our family for years. I never quite forgave my parents for what I perceived as their favoritism.
As a child, I kept wondering why I didn’t belong. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough, funny enough, fragile enough. Why couldn’t I be like my brother? This is the narrative of my child self, settled in my adult body.
Of course my heart is tender when I hear comparisons, especially about my success in work.
Of course I’m afraid of disappointing Leo.
Of course I’m sad about my father’s silence, for it reinforces a narrative I constructed many years ago.
The intimacy and depth of the coaching relationship with Leo has brought to light how many of these beliefs I still carry. We are in relationship, and I want him to like me and think I’m good enough, smart enough, successful enough.
These thoughts often arise where I perceive a power differential, where I see myself as less powerful than the person I’m in relationship with. Perhaps this perception of power is really a marker for who has the power to abandon me. In relationships where I have judged myself to be “more successful”, “cooler”, I am less afraid and resort to conscious comparison with less frequency and intensity.
There are a few relationships with beloved friends (Ellen, Hannah, sometimes Joann) which feel safe: I trust in the consistency of the relationship over years of observation, and thus I am not afraid of abandonment. I can show up as my full self. I can operate from a place of power, and meet the other in their power without needing to compare. I don’t wonder if I am good enough, I accept that we are bound together by commitment and love. The grace of even having a few of these relationships startles me into gratitude.
It is more than okay that I'm sometimes afraid or anxious in my coaching relationship with Leo. Of course fear arises, for we venture to the darkest places in my soul, and I trust him to help me navigate out. Of course I want to make sure we have a shared sense of direction, because I have chosen him to offer guidance when I'm lost.
At the same time, I recognize my own power in this coaching relationship. Leo cannot lead me into a direction I do not wish to go, because I will not follow. I have the power to say yes or no to suggestions, to offer my own perception as valid, to question and pause, to lead myself.
And what of the idea that Leo thinks I'm an imposter taking up too much space? I want to question this belief too. Dear one, Leo has given you the gift of allowing you to pay $10,000 for six months of coaching. Since October, he has consistently met you in difficulty, with loving speech, writing, and presence. Can you allow this acceptance to enter and rest in your body, dear Melanie of the future?
There is no way to waste this time together: every thought and fear that arises in this container is valid, worthy of your attention and love.
You are not broken, dear body. Every thing you wish to say is welcome in my conscious awareness. I will do my best to offer you a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, to sit down beside you in your anxiety and fear and place a gentle palm on your shoulder. I will listen and honor you with my attention, without trying to fix you.
So too, I welcome your tendency to fix, to please, to be lovable. You are a part of me too, and have kept me safe for so long. Thank you for looking out for me.
When it's too much, I may take a break from our conversation to steady my heart. There are crates of flowers outside the door waiting for water, and I may step outside with handfuls of flowers to plant in the gentle embrace of the rain. You are welcome to stay in the warmth of my home or to dance with me in the storm, and I will outfit you with a raincoat or socks if you need.
I will always return to you with love.