Are You Holding Back?

Am I holding back? This is a question I ask myself every day of my life. The next question, because the answer is usually the same one, is, why? When I was younger I held back because I didn't want to look stupid. I don't mean unintelligent, I mean foolish. "If I  _____  they'll think I'm stupid..." That's how kids think. There was an event in my early life, however, that set me on a path to healing this erroneous thinking...

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone, even between the different schools. We were judged by what neighborhood we lived in, if we had a horse or not, and what our dads did for a living. In a valley of wealthy dairies, sprawling cattle ranches, award-winning equestrian events, country clubs, and upscale rural homes, my personal background didn't count for much. My dad was a television repairman; he didn't own the shop, he made the service calls. He fixed everyone's TVs and all those kids had at one time or another seen him on his knees on their floors, working behind their sets. We lived in a rental and I didn't have a horse. Added to this mix was the fact that I was a redhead. If you're not aware of the abuse red-haired kids struggle with, just do a little web research. I also was little: I stood no taller than 5'2" and never weighed more than a hundred pounds; I suppose it goes without saying that I was pretty flat-chested as well. And being a fair-skinned girl in "California Girl" country didn't help any, either.

Life got a little easier in high school because many of the kids who'd made my life a living hell didn't
have time to mess with me, although they still seemed to enjoy giving me the stink-eye, throwing gum at my hair from across the classroom, or laughing at me when I walked past them. I don't really know why they hated me, actually. When I look at my pictures back then, I was, well, cuter than I believed I was, in a gamine sort of way. I in fact believed I was the ugliest mutt on the planet because their nickname for me was, "Beautiful", which of course implied that I wasn't.
"Hey, Beautiful!" 
"Wanna go out, Beautiful?" 
"Where did you get that figure, Beautiful?"
Me at 16. Wish I could tell her a
few things about life.
That shit hurts. What they didn't know was that my home life was about as abusive as it gets. I was lucky, though. I found solace in music early on and by the time I reached 13 I was already writing music and playing piano and guitar. When I started dating the lead guitarist of one of our favorite bands, the kids started looking at me differently. I even started getting invited to parties at the "better" homes.

But what made me acknowledge how I held myself back was the occasion of my junior year drama final. Our teacher, Sherman Black—a wonderfully sensitive, free-thinking man—told us we could do whatever we wanted for our final as long as it was onstage. Some kids did Shakespeare soliloquies (oh, the obligatory Juliet scenes!), one guy did a stand-up routine in which he compared getting a kiss from a girl to pulling a pickle from a jar, and some did not-so-improve scenes with each other. I decided to put on a little concert. I got a friend to handle the lights and the curtain, and I decorated the stage á la Donovan and sat on the floor with my guitar on a Persian rug, surrounded by cushions, incense, and flowers. I dressed the part as well, wearing a kurta shirt, jeans, and love beads, and going barefoot. Very 1968. I did songs like "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" by Donovan, "Today" by the Jefferson Airplane, something by Bob Dylan and Judy Collins, and even a few of my own. You could hear a pin drop.

After that, my non-existent popularity took a giant step forward. The very kids who had made the previous 10 years so miserable told me how cool I was, saying things like, "I never knew you did that. Wow!" My phone rang with invitations to parties, shopping trips, movies, dances, and dates. But it was too late for them. My family was already in the process of moving south to Ventura; a month later I was gone and they never saw my ass again. Good riddance, I thought as we drove past the high school.

I went on to pursue a musical career, but I still held myself back—the ugly words I'd grown up with both at home and at school still echoed in my head. The pain eventually drove me into self-medication, promiscuous and self-destructive behavior, and terrifying bi-polar episodes. Finally, in 1980, I sought help.

Most of those old tape loops have been erased, but I still find myself holding back. The other night as I sat out on the front porch enjoying a rainstorm, the song "Don't Hold Back" by the Alan Parsons Project came on my MP3 player. I thought how much I'd like to just dance in the rain, but there was that old voice again: "If you do that, they'll think you're stupid."

"Who are 'they'?" I asked. "Who's going to see? It's three in the morning for crying out loud!"

I took the cat off of my lap, went down the steps to the front walk and... I danced. I spun. I sang. And it felt awesome!

How are you holding yourself back? What voices still nag at you, and how long have you allowed them to do this? The next time you want to do something and you hear that voice, tell it to shut the hell up, and do what you want to do. Don't hold back!