My mother and me. I absorb the image of my four-year-old self and this perfect moment. As I time travel backward, I enter a container of grace where I am filled with peace and comfort. I melt into my mother, resting in her safety and warmth, and I know all is right with the world.
In my lifetime I have evolved through stages of neediness. In my teens and early twenties, I expected my friends and partners to complete me. To make me feel whole, worthy, and enough. I lived on other people’s perceptions of who I was and who I should be. As I moved toward thirty my focus shifted to my children. I was clothed in babies, responsibilities, and have-to’s. I rejected help because somewhere along the way I took on the belief, I could do it all. Not only that I could, but that I should. The social conditioning of my younger self, the one who insisted I was not pretty, skinny, or smart enough, was still there. Only now she had bigger fish to fry. Motherhood. I was up for the challenge. Cape, tights, and a lasso; I was freaking Wonder Woman. I fell into the cycle of being a human-doing, taking care of everyone else’s needs and forgetting my own. Within the daily grind of work and mothering children, it was easy to hide behind the badge of business.
During those years, teachers stepped in. Other women helped me learn to love myself, encouraged me to take time for community, solitude, and reflection. I started to ask for what I needed and let go of old resentments I held close to my chest. I learned the anger I felt towards my spouse, or other people close to me was misdirected. My resentments whispered a quiet truth. I had abandoned myself. As the sharpness of this awareness pierced my chest, I fell to my knees. I saw the vastness of my neglect. Years and years, I sold myself short and the searing fact was, I was responsible. It was me all along.
As I broke the surface of a new perspective, I pulled at the threads to understand. Unraveling the truth, the reasons underneath, so I could change. I began a practice of healthy living with the intention of loving myself into wholeness. I took suggestions from mentors and practitioners. I filled my time with circling up with other women and lined my shelves with self-help books. I absorbed the information like a first-grader, eager and open. I spent time in nature, sought guidance from a nutritionist, and began to say “no” to opportunities that were depleting and unnecessary. I redefined my beliefs and edited to-do lists. During this time, I found and began to practice meditation. The concept of meditation was not new to me, but I had avoided it like the plague. I made excuses about my busy schedule or the impossibility of finding a location conducive to such a pastime. I resisted becoming quiet because I thrived on the chaos, noise, and control. But when I reached the end of myself, the place where I could no longer deny the need for stillness, I surrendered.
As my behaviors shifted, I noticed my resistance to be a receptor for love, kindness, or to ask for help from others. My lack of receptivity was rooted in my concept of personal value. My productivity was my currency. My worth was the sum total of how many items were ticked off my list for the day. To ask for help was to be vulnerable and if I was vulnerable, then I had failed. If I were to ask, then I was admitting my lack of competence and shame would show up to reiterate my present and past disappointments. Shame was a formidable opponent. I dove into the work of Brene’ Brown and became educated in the social conditionings of scarcity and shame. I learned to identify my armor and began to peel it away piece by piece. I forgave myself for the past; the ways in which I trespassed on my heart and it has been liberating. By tapping into compassion and forgiveness I have rewired negative thought patterns. Patterns of fear-based dialogs, which served no one. Within the process of radical forgiveness, of being vulnerable with myself and others, I have fallen into the womb of compassion. I view myself and my missteps with kind eyes and find I see others in the same light.
I am a work in progress. At times I still become stuck in the rules of how to love, when to show love or how to define boundaries. I remember when my dearest friend, Linda was dying of breast cancer. I brought my newborn son over to meet her and she was so weak, she could barely hold him while lying in her bed. It brought me immense sadness to see her this way, and I was uncomfortable in the loss of her dignity. A part of me wanted to crawl into bed and spoon her, but I was afraid. What were the rules? Would she accept me? If I crawled into bed, would I shatter the illusion of denial, of how sick she really was? Wouldn’t that be unkind? These head games brought many lessons in hindsight. If I have one regret, this would be it. Today, I would crawl into her bed with baby in tow and snuggle her hard.
I’ve had the experience of motherly love; from my own beautiful, soft-hearted mother, to loving my own children. To the love of Linda who loved me like one of her own, to my Nana who adored and spoiled me rotten. These facets of mother love, as well as my devotion to blessed Mother Mary, have taught me. For the women who show up week after week and allow themselves to be seen in my women’s circles, I am incredibly grateful.
Melt into the arms of love. Be vulnerable and take risks. Know you are worthy—just as you are—in this exact moment. Get out of your head and into your heart. Forgive yourself and heal your past. Surrender and allow grace to lift you. As we collectively raise our awareness, become aligned with giving and receiving love, we cultivate compassion, and it ripples around the world. As we practice the mother love, we become whole. We become one.
Nicole Hendrick Donovan is an author, reflective storyteller, and speaker who offers personal essays, memoir, and workshops as a container for others to seek their inner wisdom and truth. Her memoir, A Life Suspended: A Mother and Son’s Story of Autism, Extinction Bursts, and Living a Resilient Life, brings the reader into the home and heart of a family in crisis. Donovan’s vulnerable storytelling cultivates compassion and understanding, opening a door where acceptance and empathy expand. Nicole is a contributing writer to The Mighty, Autism Parenting Magazine, Finding Cooper’s Voice, and Herself360. As an extension of her offerings, she is the owner of Rose Ray Healing Arts and curator of her signature Rose Ray Surrender Spray. You can connect with Nicole on Facebook and Instagram @nhdwrites, as well as nhdwrites.com