I felt empty and hollow again, like a shell. I couldn’t find myself anywhere and it seemed worse this time. Suddenly my pants are two sizes too big and I’m so weak I can barely move. Sadly, it’s a very familiar pattern, and one I usually catch before this extreme outcome. It happens when I’ve been giving so much there is nothing left of me that I literally feel I am wasting away.
The worst part is that I rarely know when or how it started, was it last month? Six months? How long have I been feeling so empty? Why did this happen again? And I know the answers immediately. I said yes too many times, I didn’t spend enough time feeding myself or making sure my needs were taken care of. I offered to help with too many things and did too many good deeds in hopes of earning someone’s love. I blame it on being a 2 on the Enneagram, but then remember I am anyone and everyone who feels they have to earn his/her (though usually a her) right to be here.
I have always questioned the Biblical adage “It is better to give than receive.” As I think it was meant for people whose natural inclination is to take. Instead, I have decided to amend this thousand year-old (more than likely misquote) saying to: “It is better to give AND receive.” This quote has caused so much pain and pressure for us to put others before ourselves, often to our own detriment.
Though ultimately I realize, giving isn’t it the issue…it’s receiving. As receiving is vulnerable...far more so in my experience than giving. As women (or men) when we give too much we don’t practice enough of our receiving muscle. Truthfully, I give out of fear. That and to know my needs and ask for them frightens me more than almost anything. A vulnerability that few seem to have mastered, or at least few women.
Receiving often requires we do something even more vulnerable and scary…asking. With a friend’s recommendations (thanks Michelle), I picked up Amanda Palmer’s new book, The Art of Asking (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help) and couldn’t put it down. Here was an artist, a woman, a TED speaker who could ask strangers for money, but couldn’t accept help from her husband. Her book points out that asking for help seems to imply we aren’t enough or that we are weak. The paradox being that the not-asking only perpetuates this false idea and shame.
Palmer led the world's most successful music Kickstarter raising more than 1.2 million dollars in 24 hours. Whereas in my own case I started a crowdfunding campaign and quickly lost my courage. I couldn’t bear to be so exposed and vulnerable, the asking was too much, too painful. So, I only raised half of the amount I needed and felt a huge sense of relief to take down the page.
"Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world.”~Amanda Palmer
As Amanda points out, being afraid to ask for help paralyzes our lives and relationships. Tired of feeling somewhat paralyzed, her book inspired me to start asking. Recently it was Facebook post about needing a car and then escalated to I asked for a car and got it, then I asked for a free meal and got it. Heck, I was feeling so bold I even asked a man I barely knew to make out with me (something I haven’t done in a decade and I hadn’t been touched in quite a while). Suddenly, I began to feel like a queen and not just a measly servant attempting to earn love and begging for worth from others.
Almost overnight, the act of asking transformed my low self-worth into power and a firm belief that for the first time in my life I could have everything I wanted…if only I were willing to ask. I felt love from others and no longer felt I had to make them love me. I began turning down favors and really sitting with how much I have intertwined my worth with kindness. (Instead of allowing myself to lead with my feminine receptivity and asking from that place for the things I want to receive, which is much more fun.)
“Giving love is easy, receiving it is the hard part.” ~Anonymous
Each time I flex the asking muscle it gets easier and easier. Each time someone says no, taking it less and less personally. The deeper message of Art of Asking is of course a question of exchange, of our relationships to giving and receiving that run much deeper than just money and help, but love itself. Receiving rides or food it one thing, to fully receive love from another human being is perhaps one of the scariest things any of us have ever done. The word itself to me comes from Latin recipere, “regain, take in" and implies something we lost and get back. Perhaps love, perhaps power, perhaps anything we don’t believe we deserve.
This balancing act between giving and receiving is the sacred dance of the masculine and feminine forces in all of us. The art of asking and then receiving are perhaps two of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and yet the rewards have never been greater. My life works when I remember the act and art of asking…and then receive.