I have known for months, really years if I am honest, that I was lost, somehow broken. By all outward appearances, I am happy and grounded, successful, but deep inside, the battle rages, bearing the flag, “not good enough”. From my earliest memories, I felt the push to be the “good” child, to not cause my mother any heartache, as she had been through so much already. To prove to my distant father that I was worthy of his attention and love. I never was and never will be perfect, but the understanding I took away from this period was that I needed to try as hard as I could to be the perfect child.
My personality melded all too well with this mandate, and I began to crave the praise that came when I did ‘good child’ things; straight A’s, praise from my teacher for good work and good behavior, praise for doing what I was told, praise for making first chair. It became like a drug to me, and I worked harder and harder to achieve that praise. I began to wear a mask, one that covered the pain, and projected to the world that I was what I wished to be. Realistically, you can’t sustain that level of intensity and lack of authenticity in a healthy way, and I didn’t. Food became a reward, an escape, when things didn’t go as I had planned, and the tendrils of fear and doubt began to lodge themselves in my heart and mind where they would stay….”you are not good enough…you will never be good enough.” Seeds of a problem that has haunted me all of my years.
My mother’s death last August seems to have been a catalyst for change- either change or I would go over the precipice and be lost. This year has been a time of reflection, of struggle, and of determination. I see all the times I have reinforced my demons by connecting myself with people who seemed bent on pulling me down into the mire. My first husband was not a bad man, just the total opposite of me, and so very much like my father in his emotional distance and the own personal demons he brought into our relationship. It was a slow-burning recipe for disaster, and by the end I had reached a crossroads- either I continue down the path, completely losing who I was and believing the negative messages swirling around me, or I had to break free and take control of my life. A reservoir of inner strength that I didn’t realize existed inside me welled up- along with anger at the way I had allowed myself to be treated- and I chose to break free, crawling and stumbling my way through difficult change and growth in the process. I went through a divorce, left a job that I loved for a fresh start in Birmingham, bought a house to restore….so much to handle at one time, but it all gave me what I needed to begin the process of leting go of the nagging sense of failure and loss. And still the words echoed in my mind…”you failed, you are not good enough.”
So much happened over the following years; I met and married Dan, finally learning what a healthy relationship was supposed to be. I began to journal, to focus more on making myself healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. I kept putting myself into situations that scared me, and with each one I grew- even when I was not successful…probably more so when I was not successful. I surrounded myself with positive and encouraging people, and I felt a new seed begin to sprout in my heart, one that whispered, “you are good enough just the way you are.” I heard the whispers and felt hope, but still the demon of fear kept taking precedence.
When the opportunity for the trip to Madrid came along, I saw hope before me, shining brightly….but I also felt paralyzed by fear. I talked with my wonderful grief counselor about an epiphany that I had had- that I sometimes shut down and avoid or procrastinate in doing the things that I know will make me successful because- and this was big for me- what if I do all the right things, and still…still I am not good enough? This moment of realization hit me like a lightning bolt. I have been my own worst enemy all these years. My heart ached with the knowledge and the sense of betrayal.
I was determined to do things differently for this trip. It would be my first international performance as a member of the Board of the International Clarinet Association, and I would also be representing my clarinet maker, Backun Musical Services, whose artists roster is filled with the finest clarinetists in the world. I would have to travel alone to Europe, facing my fear of not being able to manage the trip by myself, of getting lost in a country where I speak very little of the language. I would have to present a report at the General Meeting of the membership. So many things that made me feel the familiar tingle of fear that I would fail and be embarrassed on the international stage, letting down the people who had placed their faith in me.
Playing clarinet is where the greatest fear has manifested itself. So much of my self-worth and confidence has always been tied to my success as a performer and teacher. For me to truly move forward and break the self-defeating cycle, I had to prove to myself that I could do this. I put together a plan of action; a practice schedule (“Failing to prepare means preparing to fail” or, as my mentor used to say, “Practice and hope…but never hope more than you practice.”). I meditated each morning, visualizing a successful and positive outcome, I did yoga, walked, lost over thirty pounds so that I would feel healthy and strong, and I continued to talk through strategies with my counselor. I had the unwavering support of my husband and dear friends, and….I began to believe in myself as the seed of hope continued to grow.
As I look back on the experience of ClarinetFest in Madrid, I see what a gift the trip really was in ways that I may not even understand completely for years to come. I performed my very best, I was strong and confident in Board meetings, speaking up and sharing my ideas, I traveled with confidence and wasn’t afraid to ask for help when I needed it. I walked the streets of Madrid and enjoyed the beauty I saw everywhere, both in the buildings and art, and also in the people. By the end, I felt my heart expand with love for myself that I had not accepted before. I was not perfect, but I never really had to be. There is beauty in imperfection – I can see that now. I am good enough…damn good enough All that ever mattered was doing my best, giving my all, and now I see a whole new exciting path stretching out before me as I take the hand of this new Denise and begin walking toward the beautiful light.