For 15 years, I tried to avoid the pain of judgement and shame.
I buried my true self underneath the thick armor of perfection.
Believing that if I just tried hard enough, I could escape the pain. Striving for all.the.things out there in an attempt to find happiness. Attaching my self-worth to my productivity.
Afraid to break the rules. Afraid to make mistakes.
Afraid to be seen. Afraid of being found out.
Believing the armor would protect me.
The pain found me anyway.
The me underneath held captive from living the life I deeply desired. Protected only from the very things I desired: fulfillment, deep joy and inner peace.
Four years ago that armor was shattered.
"Let her rest," she said, peeling my eyes away from the carefully orchestrated chaos in Room Two. "Let them help her."
Asking for help was a sign of weakness. Rest was bad.
Her words pierced straight through me. Everything inside of me shifted in that moment.
I had no other choice. My body knew.
Let them help her. I told myself.
Rest baby girl, rest. Rest. I whispered over and over and over again.
Her heart did heal. Miraculously. And 41 tumultuous days later, we walked out of that hospital with her in our arms.
Brutal truth? I thought I lost her that morning, just hours after her open-heart surgery. I felt her soul soar high above me while the flatline echoed throughout her room. Three attempts to defibrillate. I didn't know that a machine called ECMO could literally buy her time to heal - enough time to save her life. I thought she was gone.
That pain is the most unimaginable pain.
There's no amount of armor that could ever protect you from feeling it.
For months after we were home, I sat in my therapist's office blaming myself - if I had just tried harder during my pregnancy, this wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't forced her into surgery, this wouldn't have happened. If I had just... the illusion of control consumed me.
What I wanted was for this whole experience to never have happened. Beating myself up for the things I should have done was less painful than accepting the reality that I couldn't actually control the fact that she was born with a congenital heart defect - or the fact that her identical twin sister wasn't.
Accepting that I couldn't actually control all the things the Universe hurled my way - and embracing the discomfort of uncertainty was beyond brutal.
Over these last four years, I've learned how to ride the wave of triggers that come with PTSD. There's no amount of trying harder that can prevent the brain from being rewired by trauma.
As I started to process and heal, I was left with a choice: If I wanted to live my dreams, I had to be seen. All of me. Not an armored up version of me - pretending on the outside that I've got it all together.
This is our one life. This is all we've got. We don't have time to let fear drive.
I've learned to choose love when my natural instinct is to choose fear. To run. To hide. To stay frozen. To numb.
With support, I chose the hard that opens up the doors to deep joy. And FREEDOM.
I've opened myself up to the pain. I've surrendered to Universe.
And, I started sharing.
All of me. Not just the parts I thought people wanted to hear.
I trusted that I was strong enough, brave enough, worthy enough to ride the wave. Because, I am.
And so are you.
Life isn't about avoiding the falls. It's about falling, and standing up a truer, braver, more resilient you.
My natural instinct is still to armor up, protect and fix - especially in parenting.
And, I know that's not my job.
My job is to hold space. With love. Empathy. Compassion. To collaborate and problem solve. To help my girls to develop their rising skills.
It's brutally hard work at times.
But, we can do hard.
And we need to remind them - and each other - that we can do hard things. Doing hard things builds the confidence that we can do hard things.
If we want to live our dreams, we must be willing to walk through the pain.
We must be willing to be seen - to fall short - to fail - to disappoint - to feel deeply.
This is our one life. It's time to put fear in the back seat - so we can start fully living. It's time to step out from underneath the protective armor - because the only thing it's protecting us from is the very thing we're seeking.
Go do the things your inner magic pulls you to do.
It's worth the discomfort.
Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four. She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.
You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com.