Authentic seems to be word of the weekend. The authentic self.
Authentic implies truth. Embracing one’s true self and allowing others to see it, unedited.
I have a hard time with that – I edit my public personae when it comes to a few things that I keep close to my chest. There are things I have spent most of my adult life keeping private. Nothing wrong that. One’s skeletons are their own. Right?
Interestingly, one of skeletons emerged from the closet very publicly last May when I was interviewed by Ann Curry on Dateline in regards to the work I am doing with my non profit, Mountain 2 Mountain.
Some hard questions were asked, and I found it difficult to answer. Since then, the same questions have arisen again and again in interviews, discussions, and heart to hearts with good friends. One of the most common runs along the theme, “Aren’t you scared?” “Why do you do it?”
This comes up because my non profit focuses on Afghanistan and I have travelled there three times in the last year. Its is not the safest place for a 5’9 blond American woman to work to be sure. I have a 5 year old daughter who needs her mother to come home to her.
I have struggled with these two questions over the past year, coming up with vague answers that are less than fully authentic, but seemingly unable to articulate the grains of truth that would make the answers resonate with clarity.
Then recently I was asked to rewatch the Dateline piece with a good friend and a stranger. Uncomfortable with this for two reasons, the first is that I don’t love seeing myself on television. Its a little painful and no one is a stronger critic than one’s self. The second reason is that one of skeletons emerged unexpectedly under the gaze of Ms. Curry. Nearly two decades ago I was was raped. A dozen or so people knew of this around the time it happened, close friends and family and eventually serious romantic relationships would be told. But it was never discussed per se, and the majority of my close friends I made later in life never knew.
I never felt it defined me. I never allowed myself to feel the victim. I never met with other survivors. I never considered the role it played in my life and my development. It was simply an act that I endured in the past. Chapter closed.
Until last weekend. Watching the Dateline piece alongside a stranger, watching their reaction, and the consequent discussion that followed, I felt myself acknowledging a few home truths.
It did define me. How could it not? While I vowed not to let it define me, I really meant that I would not be the victim. Without my realization, it has led me down a path towards the work I am now fully committed to in Afghanistan. It was an integral part of the reason that I was determined to work to empower the women and children of Afghanistan.
The question again came up. “Are you scared?”
To which I’d normally reply some vague answer of the risks versus benefits, etc. I now know the authentic reply is admitting the authentic, deeply personal reasons. “Because I am more scared that we won’t raise the money to allow us to continue our work than I am of getting hurt.” “Because my daughter is safe with her father and those that love her, and I can endure anything that may happen to me. I already have.” “Because women are often victimized and in Afghanistan its acceptable and tolerated and it infuriates me.”
to the question oft asked, “Why do you take the risks, when you have a young daughter?”
“Because these girls deserve the same opportunities that she has. They deserve to be protected. Their lives are just as valuable as hers. They need someone to advocate for them and fight for them.”
Being able to answer authentically, instead of worrying about how to answer in a way that explains its best in its careful thought-out way, is both scary and freeing.
While I’ve never been ashamed of my rape. I’ve also never voiced it publicly. Even know I find that I am not comfortable saying the word, or hearing it. So my authentic self must acknowledge that nearly 20 years later I need to share so that its not a skeleton in my closet, but simply one of the many experiences, good and bad, that has played its role in creating the life I lead.