Yesterday was Mother’s Day, a day I more or less have ignored since my mother died when I was 14 years old.
My mother was only 39 years old when my father killed her in cold blood in the middle of our driveway. The music that morning was me screaming, “Please Daddy, don’t,” as he proceeded to shoot my mother twice and then use a third bullet to kill himself.
As the only witness, I walked away with my spirit barely hanging on. I mean, who wants to live after that? Or should I say, I didn’t think I deserved to live since I did such a poor job saving my mother.
For the next 20 years, that day haunted me. I was either trying to pretend it didn’t happen (I lied about how they died for years — I mean, who wants to be a daughter of a murderer?). Or, I was acting as if it was no big deal (I can hear me telling anyone who would listen, “No, really, I’m fine”). Or, the emotions of guilt, shame and blame were so overwhelming I’d do anything to push them away (drinking a fifth of vodka under the guise of being social).
Until I got mad at my mom. That’s right: I got downright angry.
You can imagine how long that took me to do. Twenty years to be precise. For the first 20 years, I spewed all my rage on my father and any poor man I happened to be dating. (Sorry guys.)
But then I realized something: My mother had stayed. She had stayed in a marriage that was filled with neglect and emotional abuse. She had stayed in a marriage that had infidelity. She had stayed and, in turn, she had put my two sisters and me in harm’s way. Me especially. I was the one that my father tried to kill when I was 12 years old. And even then, she stayed.
When I got angry, I shoved my mother off the victim pedestal I had placed her on and, in that act, made her a real, flesh-and-blood woman who needed love (just like me) and didn’t know how to get it any other way. My mother stayed because she didn’t know how to be fearless.
My life changed the day I made her human, faults and all. We became equals. Both of us needing love, and nurturing and care. Both of us not knowing how to get our needs met. Both of us pretending nothing was wrong when everything was. Both of us doing the best we could do.
My mother had a choice on how to live her life. And I have one, too.
When I got angry, I quit displacing my anger on everyone and everything and instead started to deal with it. I no longer wished things were different. I realized I had to make them different. I took my life back. And I forgave my mother for staying. And I forgave myself for failing to keep her alive.
When I got angry, it broke the invisible ties of martyrdom between my mother and me and woke me up to a deep truth of personal responsibility, not as a theory or cliché but the life-altering “people die” sense of responsibility.
Now, I am not advocating getting angry as a strategy to become more fearless. And I am definitely not blaming my mother for my father picking up the gun that day and shattering my life.
My father is the one solely responsible for the murder-suicide that day. He had a choice every step of the way, from loading the bullet to aiming at my mother.
Yet just like my mother who didn’t have the skills, support and awareness to leave my father at the first sign of abuse, my father didn’t know how to manage his overwhelming feelings fueled by his fears, so he blindly directed them toward my mother, killing her in the process.
What I now know is he probably didn’t even know he was being driven by fear. (Most people don’t.) And just like most people, my father took the easy way out and focused on blame, keeping himself the victim of circumstances.
This is why I do what I do. This is why “being fearless” is my mantra. This is why I have spent my life showing others that they too can become fearless by giving them the skills and tools to see their fear at every turn and not be seduced by it — and most important, show them how to be fearless in their own life.
The power of being fearless is not reserved for the lucky ones. Anyone can harness its power. You just have to decide right now that your life is your life, no one else’s, and that you are fully responsible for that life. Just like my mother is responsible for her choice of staying with my father, and my father is responsible for pulling the trigger. But I get that it’s easier said than done.
It takes great courage to truly own your life. Every single ounce of it. And no one can do it alone. No one can be fearless without support. Fear is just too darn tricky. It’s too darn invisible. And it doesn’t discriminate.
Fear doesn’t care if you have a genius IQ (like my dad) or are working as a bank teller (like my mom). It doesn’t care if you are single or married, or if you have kids or no kids. It doesn’t care what you do or who you are. Fear has a job to do and wants to do it. (We will get into all the neuroscience research in another post.) But without support, it’s virtually impossible to save yourself from the clutches of its siren song.
I am very clear my mother didn’t have to die that day. My father didn’t have to kill. And I didn’t have to stay stuck for 20 years. I just didn’t know any other way (and neither did they). And maybe there are some areas of your life that you aren’t sure how to shake loose.
In the weeks ahead, I will be sharing with you the tools of being fearless. Tools I developed and refined in my quest to become fearless in my own life. Tools that I absolutely know will support you. Until then, here’s to Fearless Living!