My daughter recently had her braces taken off. After two years of nightly headgear and metal on her mouth, she was finally free. Since she had them put on, she would talk about how much she missed her “freedom”. Yes, the freedom of eating sticky candy, whole apples, and corn on the cob could only be found on those who have no metal “barriers”.
When the braces were finally off, I asked her what it felt like to be free. Her immediate response? “I want them back on. I don’t like how this feels.” Fortunately, within a few more minutes, she adjusted to the feeling of smooth teeth and ate the bag of Skittles that represented her newfound freedom.
This situation made me think of the difficulty so many of us can face when we begin walking a path of recovery. We begin to understand that in order to recover, our lives must represent something different than before. We may begin to verbalize our needs and wants, set boundaries with ourselves and others, and believe that we are worth fighting for. We set ourselves up for a life of freedom. And freedom should feel good, right?
The truth is, our journey to freedom can feel good, and at times, terrifying.
For example, if you are someone who grew up with the ability to express your thoughts and feelings freely, ideas like stating your needs and setting boundaries may come easily. However, if you were taught at a young age that self-expression commits you to ridicule or abuse, stating your needs and setting boundaries may feel dangerous.
In fact, the idea of freedom itself can be terrifying when familiarity is what feels safe – even if that familiarity is toxic.