Hi, I’m Ana, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I love foreign languages, humans and animals and have been working as a freelance teacher of English and French (though I prefer to call myself a guide) and as a translator for 15 years. Beside creating my personal “dogese” and “catese” languages, I am now working on a language called “selfese” (not to be mistaken for its homophone).
“He lived at a little distance from his body,” writes James Joyce at the beginning of Dubliners.
What if we started thinking of success in terms of living inside ourselves more often? So that, the more we befriend ourselves, the more we can also pour into other people’s cups. A truism, I know, but if only our brains can read that, while our hearts remain illiterate, we will keep stuttering and feeling depleted without understanding why.
What had been the last thing I did for myself? Something free of charge, but priceless. Something that made me feel cared for, that made me feel worthy.
This question hadn’t crossed my mind in a long while. It was alien, it was useless, but somewhat dangerous.
All I knew was I could un-break, heal and love somebody like I didn’t love me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have been a loner all my life. What I only realized in my late thirties was who I was actually running away from was myself, not the world. It may seem counter-intuitive, but we only truly get to know ourselves in relationship to others.
I was brought up by a mother who never learnt what self love and self worth meant. Who had never been taught that herself, obviously. It would have been a miracle for me to learn differently.
Disguised as a little tragedy, late in my life, but not too late, the miracle occurred, though. Seemingly shy at first, my husband was my poison, the toxic cocktail I thirstily drank just like I had been gobbling down my mom’s full plate of loveless behaviour.
He therefore tasted, looked, sounded and felt so familiar. And I was so addicted to those feelings of desperation and abuse that for a year and a half I thought love was supposed to be that – hard, controlling, painful, cruel.
One evening he threw a container with herbs prescribed for brain activation on the floor. It broke and with it my brain cracked open. My heart followed suit.
Later that night he hit me just like my mom used to. And again, it felt so familiar… After I left the house running, barefoot, just to free myself, he brought me back inside, I lay down in bed beside him, with yet another sick feeling of familiarity, holding a bag of frozen something against my face, just like I used to do when my mom would hit me and then would put some frozen chicken on my bruises, to stop hurting.
A neighbour had tried to help me the moment I got out of the house, in the freezing cold, that night. I told her I was fine… and later found out she had the same name as my mother. How ironical was that? I was forced to come full circle and relive my childhood, in so many ways.
Having broken free from the castle where my beast had never turned into a prince, I was offered an enchanted rose, just like the one in the famous story. By a student who obviously didn’t know what I had been through. I remember being once again baffled by the way the Universe had decided to communicate with me.
I had been married for 20 days. I remember being unhappy the day I got married, too. But nobody had promised happiness served on my wedding ceremony menu, had they?
All I knew was I had to obey. Just like I had obeyed my mother, just like my father had blindly obeyed my mother. Just like my grandfather had obeyed my grandmother. Few people get out of such childhood patterns undamaged. I was not one of them.
It took me 40 years and a 20 day long marriage to wake up and start choosing myself. “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” Tom Robbins ruled.
It took me 40 years and a 20 day long marriage to start re-parenting myself. Start forgiving myself. Just as I had forgiven my mom many years before.
It took me 40 years and a 20 day long marriage to understand my father’s obedience was mine. So I first silently then outspokenly raged against him, just as I had done with my mother in the past. The abused is not less responsible than the abuser…
I then began the process of forgiving my father, too for not loving himself.
Was I now ready to promise to love myself, comfort myself, honour and keep myself for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, be faithful to myself, for as long as we – me and my newly discovered self – both shall live?
It’s been eight months since I’ve embarked on the journey of shedding old skins, burying old habits. It’s very hard to let go of 40 years of life, but the joy of clumsily carrying light excitement and hope weighs heavier than all the burdening past dripping from my backpack as I’ve been going on my way.
It’s difficult to fully digest my lack of self forgiveness for believing I was flawed as a child. Otherwise, why wouldn’t I have deserved love?
I had already started having therapy sessions and much of the homework I had to do was ask my mother, my father and my brother questions or things we had never truly talked about or done before. They opened up, we talked about what we were feeling, about synchronicities, about responsibility and for the first time, I felt listened to, I felt visible, I felt reclaimed.
The irreplaceable support, love and help of my brother, of S., of my two best friends, of my uncle and his wife have helped me immensely and I’m forever grateful to have them in my life.
My parents’ suffering for what I had gone through was filled with love, with willingness to see me and listen to me, the winner, despite my apparent defeat, my pain, my wounds. I had broken through the obstacle of my own being, I had left the person whose energy my parents had felt and worded as being “not good for me.”
Dear mom and dad, thank you! I love you…
Sitting with the rage and the compassion, the hope and the desperation, the chaos and the suffocating contradictions, the freedom, the silence and the noise in my head has helped me to start letting go, to start not swimming against the current, to do away with much of the resistance.
It is hard and many times painful to sit with ourselves, especially in a culture where people wear obedience and self neglect as a crown. What my life has taught me is serving others without serving ourselves is both unsustainable and crucifying. Let ourselves become curious about who we are and love each shadow we’re confronted with, each light we fearfully step into.
Understanding we must marry our authentic selves first, before marrying anyone else, believing Jesus’ story is about the resurrection, not the crucifixion, have helped give meaning and purpose to my personal and professional journey.
I’m now in the process of making my work as a teacher more visible. I’m pitching myself at different companies in Romania and abroad and helping the children, teenagers and adults I teach to also celebrate their worthiness as human beings.
I have created and will soon publish a questions card game that helps know and connect to ourselves and others authentically.
Undoubtedly, all apparent failures used right make way for victorious new beginnings.
Becoming a teacher and preacher of the language of self love, above all languages, has proven to be the sensible next stage of my journey, both professionally and personally. The more I commit to not running on empty anymore, the better I can serve as a teaching guide and as a friend and that is exactly what I’m inviting every human being to do.
Cherish yourselves so you never feel unloved,
Contributors of this story: Ana Roman wrote this gem, Oana Filip provided feedback and edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development.