Freedom: the state of being free, unrestricted.
I am mindful of the freedom I have that has been denied to so many others for a multitude of reasons.But before my large intestine was removed I felt enslaved to an illness that brought fear and feelings of powerlessness.
The feeling of freedom I felt when I regained my health was tentative at first. Hopeful, although watchful and cautious. But once I had explored it more, it was an exhilarating feeling to be healthy. A different state of being.
One of the most restrictive elements of being ill before I underwent my colectomy, was my diet.
I reacted badly to foods that were high in fat; to high-fibre foods, foods containing artificial sweeteners, to caffeine and alcohol. It was really challenging not being able to drink coffee or tea without my intestine becoming acutely inflamed. Not being able to drink alcohol was very restrictive. Living in London as a young adult, unable to drink alcohol at work-drinks or any social functions made me feel isolated by my difference and my limited choices.
Eating my first handful of nuts a few months after surgery felt like I had gained so much freedom. I chewed every mouthful of the raw mixed nuts that my colleague and I had bought on our way back from a home-visit. And going out in London became even more thrilling. It was amazing to go out for “two-for-one’ cocktails and have the same choices as each of my friends and colleagues, our drinks being determined by preference rather than health limitations. The feeling of freedom was particularly exhilarating when travelling in the US and Mexico seven months after my surgery. Being healthy was amazing!
But what I have come to realize is that my freedom, although affected by my health, is not dependent on it. It has been far more greatly influenced by other factors.
While doing some reading for work, I came across a book called “Nurture by Nature”-How to Raise Happy Health Responsible Children through the Insights of Personality Type (Tieger and Barron-Tieger, 1997). They talked about how self-esteem is, at its core, about self-love and acceptance. They also talked about how when self-worth is undermined, it erodes our sense of ourselves as strong, capable and resilient.
Those words resonated with me and I realized what a massive impact self-worth has had on my life. My childhood, although happy and functional, included bullying and conditional acceptance. When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that is associated with shame and concealment and underwent operations that have left very ugly scars on my body, my self-worth was further eroded. This left me imprisoned.
But through life circumstances, supportive relationships, therapy, prayer and doing lots of reading and questioning, I feel as if I have had numerous revelations which are beginning to bring me true freedom as I develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of myself. I have realized that I felt unacceptable, unworthy and a fraud. My biggest insecurities and failures were my greatest sensitivities and I felt as if I needed to defend myself for protection. But it seems to me, that being defensive more often highlights our insecurities and makes us vulnerable to having our fears about ourselves confirmed.
What I truly want is beautifully articulated by Tim Keller in his book on “The Meaning of Marriage. “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
And that surely brings great freedom.