What many might only describe as a nightmare became my salvation.
Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash
In year two of my business, I had a heart-to-heart with my life coach about my difficulty with self-image, confidence and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (both physical and mental).
This took many different forms at that point in my life.
I struggled with losing weight despite being overweight, because growing up self-image was so focused on the fear of being too fat, rather than being healthy. The way I looked was about whether or not I was good enough to fit in with the popular crowd at school.
My mother, to this day, does not love her body. Never has — and has always been vocal about this.
And thus I, as soon as puberty knocked on my front door, followed suit.
Adding to the pot was an abusive relationship and an attempted sexual assault, in which my physical image was constantly being berated and critiqued, because my boyfriend at the time expected me to fit into his expectation of what a woman should look like.
These insecurities were now affecting me, years later, from every direction and were trying to sabotage not only my life, but also my career. I needed to get a handle on things.
I couldn’t continue living this way.
Putting a face to the beast within.
My coach asked me to entertain an exercise with her — I was skeptical at first, but was willing to do anything if it would help.
She asked that visualize my insecurities and struggles in the form of a living being, whatever that may look like.
Even though I’d never considered this exercise before, the creature appeared seamlessly to me in my head, as if it had always been there and I’d simply never noticed before.
The best way to describe this creature is a mix between a werewolf-type being, and one of those thestrals from Harry Potter that pulls the carriages to the castle. Add to this nameless creature a pair of piercing red eyes and saliva dripping from its muzzle, full to the brim with pointy teeth. Its claws could slice your skin in one foul swoop, causing your insides to gush out.
This was the monster I felt I was up against, and it was living inside of me.
My coach asked me to close my eyes and visualize myself coming face-to-face with this creature.
I described myself walking towards its lair — a dark, wet and dank cave where the creature dwelled within. I expressed my fear of encountering it, and at that moment, bright red eyes opened and appeared through the darkness, staring directly at me in menacing slits.
My coach stopped me when she realized I was getting extremely upset.
Changing the name of the game.
“What’s happened that has you so upset?”
My coach asked, with delicacy and compassion.
“Take deep breaths, and tell me what’s going on in your mind to make you so fearful.”
I took a few deep, cleansing breaths, calming my building anxiety long enough to communicate my panic. “I’m afraid that this creature is going to attack me.”
Her voice was reassuring and calm.
“But it hasn’t attacked you yet, has it?”
I shook my head — imagining myself standing my ground and staring into the darkness at those red eyes, rather than running away like I would expect myself to. “No — it’s just watching me. Almost… curiously.”
She asked me to take another breath, so I did.
“Okay. I’m going to ask you to trust me right now. Can you see that creature slowly, unthreateningly, stepping out from its cave?”
I nodded, goosebumps forming on my arms, and tears building in my eyes. “Yes.’’
“Good, very good. Now, this creature is not snarling at you. It’s slowly and cautiously walking towards you, feeling just as anxious as you are.”
My breathing slowed as those red eyes approached, staring into the depths of my soul. “Okay… it stopped in front of me, and we’re just staring at each other now.” I can still hear its steady panting and smell the stench of its breath on my face.
I heard a smile form on my coach’s face, even though my eyes were closed, and her voice cracked somewhat.
“Gillian, do you know why this creature is not attacking you?”
I shook my head. “No… it doesn’t make sense.”
I heard her smile become wider.
“It's not attacking you because it’s part of you, Gillian. What if this isn’t an inner demon — what if you’re looking into the eyes of the part of you which has protected you from the world until now? What if you’re looking into the eyes of the beast which has taken every blow, violation and abuse on your behalf to keep you safe from all of the trauma you’ve endured?”
“Wait” I began, choking up. “Is that why it looks this way? Because of everything that's happened to me?”
I began to weep — not for myself, but for the part of me which had been so beaten by the darkness in the world that it embodied itself into this dangerous, grotesque, seriously misunderstood creature.
No, not a creature. A beast.
A strong, unyielding beast ready to defend me at any given moment. Ready to act as a living shield to save the fragility of my human flesh and soul.
In my visualization, with this new perspective of the beast, I reached out a tentative hand and placed it on its snout.
It didn’t snap or snarl — rather, it endearingly leaned into my hand like my family dog does when I scratch behind his ears.
I remember cracking a laugh through my tears at the comparison.
My inner demon became my greatest ally.
When spring hits, I start jogging again, after a long and rather lazy winter.
In the moments when I feel like I’m losing my energy and am about to bow out, I imagine running through the forest at full speed. I hear a noise to my left and turn to see that beast running on all fours, not for me, but with me.
Its piercing red eyes meet mine. We share a look for a brief moment.
And I smile — gaining speed and picking up the pace to go further and harder than before.
The moral of this story is that there is a seriously misunderstood beast inside each of us.
We are not immune to the darkness which is constantly attacking us from the world. This doesn’t even need to really be said, as most people have some sort of story about how the world has attacked us and beat us down.
There’s a beast inside all of us — a damaged, grotesque-looking creature living in a lair or swamp or somewhere forsaken. They live there in solitude, and yet no matter when we need them, they pounce into action to take the brunt of the hit when life launches an attack against us.
Most of us are afraid of this creature— and why wouldn’t we be? Every piece of it is threatening and scary.
But that’s what our inner strength looks like. A fierce, terrifying beast that will fight back against anything that is thrown our way, and will rise above any obstacle.
Our biggest mistake is that we have not extended a hand to accept the beast as, not a broken piece of ourselves, but an embodiment of our endurance and fortitude.
My coach ended the exercise asking me to complete some homework — she asked that I write a journal entry thanking this beast for all it has done for me throughout my life, and for all it continues to do.
While I completed this exercise years ago, I’m reminded of why I need to do it again. So here it goes:
Thank you, to the Beast inside of me, which has protected me and taken the beating from every trauma I’ve endured in life so far.
Thank you to the Beast who continues to fight by my side and run at my pace as my protector and shield.
Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.
When I picture you, I no longer cower in fear — I feel stronger and braver than ever before.
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