Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Impostor Syndrome

Have You ever Experienced that Desperate Loss of Self? …

I read this quote recently by, shame researcher and author, Brene Brown:

“Every single day, our feelings show up in our bodies, they’re shaped by where we come from and how we were raised, they drive how we show up, and each feeling has its own unique backstory. Understanding these emotions and experiences is our life’s work. The more we learn, the deeper we can continue to explore.”

Life’s work. It has taken me a lifetime to begin to unravel and understand why I made the choices I have made. Why the forces guiding me never took me on a straight and understandable path but rather a circuitous and painful journey. And I am still not done, but I am learning and willing to explore. Are you?

Erin B HambrickThomas W Brawner, and Bruce D Perry in their research paper Timing of Early-Life Stress and the Development of Brain-Related Capacities suggest “One reason for the diversity of outcomes following stress exposure is that although each month of a child’s life comprises an equal amount of time, the influence that an experience can have on development in a given month changes as a child ages. Tiny changes in a fundamental process can have a potentially lifelong echo.”

Recently, friends, that lifelong echo showed up again for me in the form of “Imposter Syndrome” and all the flares of anxiety roared in like a lion. Let me know if any of this rings true for you.

I was asked if I would accept a temporary position doing what I am very good at. Given the finite nature of the position and the pleasure it would give me I said “yes”. Part of the onboarding process involved a ton of paperwork querying nearly every aspect of my life. Alone in my office, I patiently weeded my way through the endless paperwork. Having lived a lot of life, there were a lot of questions to answer and a lot of memories to wade through. Sitting at my desk, I noticed my body slumping into the chair. I became overwhelmed with fatigue and wanted to go take a nap. I felt my interior countenance mimic my outward slump. I was confused by this shift, not recognizing its cause.

Knowing a break and pulling my toolbox out would be best, I left my office and headed outside. I walked the neighborhood in search of a mental and physical release. I breathed rhythmically to the timing of my steps as I took a personal inventory of what I was feeling. I silently checked the facts.

The warmth of the sun on my face along with my breathing was not calming my racing heart and knotted stomach. I returned from my tour around the trouble tree (a term I lovingly call the space I go to let go of my troubles and ground myself) only more anxious. I wanted to share what I was feeling with someone/anyone, but I felt too embarrassed and ashamed.

This was all quite confusing to me as I stared at the myriad of application questions on my computer screen. I was a perfect candidate for this position. I am highly qualified with decades of experience, but as I stared at the screen, I realized I was afraid. Afraid I would be found out. Scared I was not good enough. Scared everything would be taken from me. I did not feel safe.

I have faced these paralyzing fears more times in my life than I care to admit. Childhood adversity (physical, emotional and sexual abuse) determined how my emotions showed up in my life and it was not pretty. I have been successful at many different jobs, passions, sports, academics, and every time I was about to leap forward; I found a way to sabotage that success.

I had a young career in acting that I abandoned just as I was being recognized in Hollywood. I ran a successful exercise physiology business in Los Angeles and New York City that I walked away from as it was exploding with popularity, and running towards something I thought would make me legitimate: an MD, PhD. in Psychoneuroimmunology (the science of how our emotions affect the neurotransmitters in our brain thus influencing our immune system). I was top of my class in that MD, PhD program while also being the first female scientist in the Ph and Conductivity Lab at the National Institutes of Science and Technology. I left that position and academia because I was pregnant, and the smells of the lab were hard to bear. I was running marathons, even while pregnant, but I discovered that there were no supportive maternity exercise clothes to be found. So, I created a unique support system for pregnant women and built it into athletic wear so pregnant women could continue to exercise in comfort. I wrote and applied for a patent on this internal performance system and was awarded a patent on the design. It was clinically tested for its efficacy at the Cleveland Clinic and written up about in the Scientific Journals. I built a highly successful maternity athletic wear company around these garments only to lose it.  And there are more times where I have been at the top only to find a way to pull the rug out from under my own feet. This is all so embarrassing and difficult to share, but I think I have gleaned something deep, that I want to share with you. In repeated situations in my life, my subconscious actively sabotaged my repeated successes and mercilessly drove home the message that I was not good enough. This was the message that I had heard since childbirth.

The torturous abuse I faced as a child and young adult was deeply woven into the fabric of my being. I responded to the world through the yoke of my brokenness. The abused, lifeless child walked into the room before me wherever I went. Rarely did I feel safe. Despite this constant state of dis-ease, I did succeed, for a while, in quite a few careers.

Timothy K Lin, Leadership Coach Helping Dismantle Imposter Syndrome, says “anxiety is often rooted in our very identity and beliefs about ourselves.” He suggests it is when we are in a state of fear, and we do not feel safe that it roars like a lion. He goes on to counsel that we have an “Inner Critic: a part of our psyche that dictates what is acceptable or not acceptable in our experience. It watches and polices our behavior. It judges who we are and tells us how we should be.” My Inner Critic was yelling so loudly, as I stared at that computer screen, I could not hear anything beyond my worthlessness. Or see beyond my nakedness.

At the end of the day, filled with shame and fear and anxiety, I hit the “submit” button for my application. And that button released an emotional torrent of triggers raining down on me and in me and around me. I did not sleep for the next several days. I walked around with a cloud over my head. I was grumpy. I was in a cave. I checked out of engagement. It was not fun.

Have you ever experienced that desperate loss of self?

And just as this started, I woke one morning and Brene Brown was quoted in my daily meditation. She shared a lesson passed down from her mother. I would like to share it with you, friends.

“Don’t look away.
Don’t look down.
Look people in the eye even when their pain is overwhelming.
And when you are hurting and in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye.
We need to know we are not alone-especially when we are hurting.”

I was hurting. That little girl whose swimsuit was stripped off her exposing her nakedness to the world inviting ridicule and embarrassment and shame was sobbing in her loneliness. I had not been able to separate that scared small part of me, and the messages I had vigilantly held on to as a result of the abuse I had endured for so long, from who I have grown into as a woman.

Throughout my life, I did not know how to reach out. Reach out and say my truth. I just lost things. I allowed myself to fail, not knowing there was a way outside of this sense of worthlessness and fear. A way forward towards healing and growth.

But today was the day when I would. I desperately wanted to be seen, heard, loved, and feel connection. I wanted something new. Something different. I did not want to soldier on anymore. No more soldiering on! It was time to reach out and say my truth. Express the fear and accept the love from the person who did look me in the eye, as Brene Brown’s mother told her. Who looked into my heart. Who looked into my spirit. Who saw my soul and held me. I had to say “yes” to each moment of truth by trusting.

Trusting the gift of having someone/others in my life who can hold emotions for me: not “handle” or “fix” them. Simply make space for them and for me. Breathe it in with me and breathe it in with the emotions. Not rescue me. Just hold me.

Is there someone in your life that, when needed, will hold space for you? Are you someone who can hold space for another?

Father Richard Rohr, founder of The Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque New Mexico says that transformation is “changing our mind toward love, changing our heart toward community, changing our body toward living in the present moment.” 

Speaking my truth that day, being heard, being held in that space of silence, and accepted as I am, allowed me to return to the present moment calming the fires of discontent in my mind and body. Those voices, for the moment, were completely released. They did not live in me anymore.

This was a HUGE victory, my friends. HUGE. I have lost so much in my life due to those voices that convinced me I was not good enough and never would be. Those voices who made the person in the mirror staring back at me a stranger. I learned the power of love that day. The power of connection. The healing power of holding space and being held just as I am with all my warts.

I went on to take the job. I went on to owning my gift. And I went on to making a difference, for a moment, in a few people’s lives.

I wish this for you. Let us add “holding space” to our toolbox, whether you are the one holding space or the one being held.

Let me leave you with this last thought from Spiritual Thought Leader and Poet, Mark Nepo: “We are born in this corridor of aliveness between the song of life and the pain of life, and it’s up to us what music we will sing.”

Until next time, friends.

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