Turning The Struggle Into The Gift
This is a guest post by my incredibly inspiring friend, Erin Leach. I hope you are as moved by her story as I was.
The wound is the place where the light enters you. ~Rumi
Three years ago, my marriage was falling apart. I felt as if I had given up my own values and lost sight of my sense of self. I was acting in ways that weren’t me for the sake of saving the relationship and I was desperate for something to change. I remember lying in bed one night pleading the question “Is this all there is?”
Shortly after my marriage ended, my confidence and self worth were further put to the test when the universe dealt me an experience I least expected.
I developed a condition called Alopecia, which is the sudden loss of hair due to stress. My hair shed in handfuls, followed soon after by my eyebrows and eyelashes. Within one very short month, I went from having the most gorgeous red curls, my most prized physical feature, to nothing at all.
Who am I without my hair?
Losing my hair, amidst the loss of my relationship, presented a challenge at a much deeper core level. I felt completely stripped down, naked, and exposed – literally. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I had never even heard of Alopecia.
I went into a downward spiral of low self-esteem and insecurity. I was devastated, and didn’t feel like I fit into the world. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and confused about who I was without my hair. I felt embarrassed, and feared judgment and rejection from the outside world.
I couldn’t leave my house without feeling high levels of anxiety. I avoided eye contact, and shied away from most social situations.
My world became small and scary.
I coped by wearing a wig and skirting around the truth about what had happened and what I was going through. For months, I chose to keep the condition private. Nobody was going to know. On the outside I carried on and continued through the motions of my life in much the same way as before.
On the inside, however, I was overwhelmed with the shame and fear of being judged and rejected. I had created a very lonely inner world for myself. I had decided that holding on to my secret would keep me safe and shut off from any potential outside pain.
I was scared of being seen. After all, who could ever love me again if my hair doesn’t grow back?
Over time, I realized that something was missing and it wasn’t just my hair. My inner spirit was yearning for more. It was trying to create space, trying to emerge. Something had to change, and it soon became evident that losing my hair was an opportunity for me to look “within”.
I started to discover the real truth about myself. I sought help in a group-counseling program. For a while, I chased solutions hoping that my hair would grow back, but soon realized that it didn’t matter in the context of how I decided to live my life.
Einstein said that the most important question that a human being can ask is, “Is the universe friendly?”
I decided to put this question to the test. I worked hard on changing my perspective. I took the risk and faced my biggest fear of revealing my bald head to my peers in my counseling group nearly a year later. In my moment of complete vulnerability and surrender, I was truly seen.
I was cracking. The light was entering.
From that moment of revealing my truth with those around me, I made the choice to start trusting the outside world again. I began to open up to close family and friends, and share my story with others. I stopped hiding.
A truly magical and beautiful thing happened in this place of honesty and vulnerability: I felt validated, expansive, and powerful.
The more I let people in, the more connected I felt to my authentic self and to those around me. My relationships deepened and become more meaningful. I learned that in honoring and accepting myself in the middle of my struggle, I could explore the fullness of who I truly am. I began to unfold and discover qualities of myself that I never knew existed.
My experience with Alopecia is my evidence that the universe is a friendly place.
As I’ve adjusted to my new perception of the world, I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m doing incredibly well now. I’ve been taking a transpersonal counseling course, which has helped me tremendously in dealing with the change. I now hope to help others in the midst of their struggles. I lost a ton of confidence and sense of “who I was” in my failing marriage and even though my identity took a hit with the loss of my hair, I am feeling more self-accepting and confident than ever. I’m feeling beautiful and strong and fabulous in my own skin again.
It has been quite the journey and I am now able to see the gifts in the struggle.
I am no longer attached to the outcome of my hair growing back. My hair is not who I am anymore. That is a true gift.
Perhaps the biggest gift of all is to support others, to share my journey, and to be a soft place to land in a scary time in someone’s life.