The "Steeped" series is an opportunity for us to "steep" in long dialogues with women who themselves have been "steeping" in the soulful journey for 40+years (occasionally a late 30s will sneak in).
Pop culture idolizes youth, but young teastained women need to take time to sit still and receive from those who are well past their 20s. We don't know what we think we know. We don't have all of life figured out. And neither do these women; they've merely endured long enough to let us know we too can Journey Soulfully.
I met Ms. Sheila almost 10 years ago. We connected almost instantly in innumerable, mostly unnamable ways. All that mattered is that she became my older sister. Not soon after our first sleepover (I begged to spend a weekend at her place and she put me on her couch and demanded that she not be bothered. I agreed like an obsessed younger sibling.) I soon realized that Ms. Sheila is pretty much an an older version of me. We think alike, we're very introspective, we're both avid journalers, we thrift a good percentage of our clothes, and we're still figuring ourselves out as nonconforming old souls (she's been an old soul for 40-something years longer than I!!) in a world that doesn't have any place for us.
Fun fact: Sheila's an identical twin.
Talking with her always leaves my mind reeling and as you read below you'll most likely have the same experience. We spoke over the course of 5 or 6 days, and I transcribed viciously in the passenger seat of her Mini Cooper, on her work commute,in her office, and reclining on her bedroom armchair as she laid out her clothes for church.
What has deviating from your life path cost you?
My emotions. How I think. Sometimes money. Mainly it has cost me my emotions and my heart is tampered with. And these are things you need to survive. And when I say it’s cost me something it’s shifted these things in my life. It causes things to shift.
Can we ever recover these things?
Hmm. Let me think about that… No, we can’t get them back. We can only learn and then go from there and hope that we never have to travel down that road again.
How do we stay in our processes and learn the lessons?
It’s easy for me to refocus myself because I remember the pain.
There’s a memory that stays in front of me me because of the pain.
Write down what you’re trying to accomplish, coincided with the lessons you are learning.
Keep that goal, that purpose, that direction at the head.
Let that marinate at the core of your heart because when you do that,
when you remember this is a journey and a test
there is no way [you will be stopped]- even if you miss a step-
you will refocus and keep on climbing.
Keep a journal. Journal the process. The lessons. How you feel.
It’s important. When you get to where you need to be you can recall yourself and no matter how small you will see the growth, no matter how big or how small-- or if you haven't grown at all!
...And don’t put a time on it. You can't put a time on [learning] a lesson.
Meditate on where you’re going.
Can you talk about what it's taken to become yourself at age 58?
Learning the price of disobedience.
What do you mean by disobedience?
When you know the blueprint for your life and you allow either people to take you off your course or you reroute the plans that have been laid out for you.
I've had to repeat many of my lessons because I was given the map and I did not stay the course.
The road has been long for me because I've always gone contrary to what the plan of God is for my life. Some would say the "gut" but I would call it God's plan.
So it's taken learning that lesson?
It's taken falling, getting up, a lot of tears, a lot of resistance.
And now where are you?
I'm in a good place. Still growing. Learning to listen more. I won't say I'm learning to follow my heart because the heart can't be trusted at all. I would just say I'm in a good place... forever learning.
What makes this place good?
There’s no more resisting.
Resisting the purpose, the goal, the plan for my life. God only has to tell me one time to focus, to not be distracted.
What makes us deviate from our course?
Not having the patience to go the direction paved for us.
Not [being] willing to wait and take the journey.
...Not [being] willing to go the route that has been laid out for you.
Thats what makes us deviate.
We want things "now".
A lot of people from my generation feel life has to happen before age 30, or at least a substantial part of it. Is there something wrong with this?
One thing I've learned is to not measure one person’s yardstick by my yardstick of life. When you grow up too fast in terms of wanting to get there you’ll be so exhausted that you won’t get the full benefits of enjoying it. It is going to wear and tear on you.
You need to glide into it. Because it’s a burnout if you get it too early. You won't enjoy it when you get older as much as you would had you taken the time to get there. You need to glide into it. Let it take its course. Stay your purpose. Walk into it. Pay the price and take your your time. When you get there you will enjoy it because you took your time, you allowed yourself to learn the lessons, fall and get back up, to second guess yourself. All of this is on the way to purpose. You have to allow yourself to fail. If we fail on the way to destiny it’s ok. Because it’s...our failures and missteps that make us, help develop our character on the way to purpose.
...I have worked all my life to be better than what I am. All. My. Life. And it’s not until now at age 58 because I’m back on track that I’m enjoying who Sheila is, that she’s evolving. I can look back on my life and remember that I’ve always kept a journal. I can finally say "I am a writer!"
I was rushing all my life to get where? Where was I going except to be better for other people. What about Sheila? And so I learned that the hard way...
The way I was reared it was a survival mode: "If you don't go out there and get it you won’t get it. Work hard no matter what you have to do." I’ve always been a person who knows how to survive. I did it all wrong because it was such a rush that it burnt me out. Now I have a clear picture of [my] direction-it’s so clear! I know that I'm different. If you ask me to do something and I don’t want to do it, I say "No".
Old Sheila wouldn’t have done that.
...Do people have nothing to say because your book addresses things like incest, molestation?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for them
Were you expecting anything to change?
People’s opinions of me. Because people have a tendency to speak on what they see or have been told about you it's different when you tell your story. When you tell about yourself. When people say they know her no you don't "know her" you know OF her. When you speak about your own life it's different. It’s different from people’s guessing. Some people can’t get past me writing the book, putting all that out there like that. My relationships with a few people have changed because they feel I’m sharing a lot of business that should have been kept [to myself].
What have you learned from your family's reception of the book?
I will not be silenced. I don't give a fly. I will not be silenced. Thats what I've learned and I gotta be able to deal with that. I don't care what you think of me. What you don't like. I didn't draw anything from them. No strength no energy. Nothing.
When I get to my destiny I won't miss them as much because they're not part of my future. I will not be attached; I really want to go, to expand my voice in the best way I know how, broken English and whatever. I want to be a voice for people who don't have a voice or don't want to use their voice.
You now have this organic separation from those who you grew up with as family. What have you discovered makes people to be true family outside of blood?
People that are in my life that hold me accountable and know what to say and when to say it and regardless of how I feel.
So you don't look for your family to be "family" anymore?
I would like that but I stopped wanting it. Personally I don't think they like me. I don't know [why]...they're not willing to try and there's a part of me that doesn't want to try if they don't... I will accept the family that has been given to me.
Do you think there’s ever an appropriate time to share certain parts of our story? And a time to keep it to ourselves?
Yea, it is...I think there’s a certain time where we should share and there are certain parts of our lives that should never be shared.
What do you mean?
Some parts of our story, of the lessons are strictly privy to us. There are individual lessons that all of us play part in at some part of our lives and they are not for everyone to know about.
How can one know?
You’ll know. You'll get such a burning sensation to tell--especially if you're not a storyteller anyway. You’ll get an urge: “it’s time”.
I was consistent in writing my book every single day because the story had to be written.
To start writing that book now 2 years after [my mother's] death wouldn't have the same effect.
I couldn’t write the book now.
To ask God for the book now?
If I would put pen to paper now I wouldn't get the results because the thoughts,
the pain aren’t in me now. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
I feel nothingness now. In a good way. Absolutely in a good way.
When I was writing the book I could feel my mother with me.
Do you think we all have a book inside of us?
Yes. I think every one of us has the ability to tell a story.
And it doesn't matter if you think you're capable or not.
I think words are very powerful, especially when they're put on paper.
What goes through your head when you hold your book in your hands?
I feel that it's such a precious gift to be able to write such a powerful story.
I don’t take that book lightly at all. I don't care if the whole world
feels differenly but that book right there is probably one of the
best things that I have done in my entire life. I hold my book and I say,
"You did something firstly you didn't think you could do and
secondly people didn't think you could do but you did it anyway."
Such a precious gift to be able to write and put your feelings on paper without any remorse.
You going to write another book. Why?
I have lots to talk about.
What are you doing differently with the approach to book 2?
I'm not as cautious as I was with book one. I don't feel like I have to be because book two deals mainly with my experiences so I don't have to gage who it's going to offend because it only affects me.
Let's talk about the next level. With going to the next level there are lessons. What are the lessons you've learned about the road that leads to the next level?
What I've learned the most is the ones you care about...once their season is up, you have to leave them behind. That's a lessons that took a while for me to grasp. It's better for me to get it now than for me to get where I'm going and tell them they're not invited.
I feel God is removing them now and allowing me to go through the separation anxiety, the hurt, the pain now because there willl be no time for this when I get there. No time for me to have emotions or try to fix things when I'm trying to move forward. He's moving the rocks and gravel from my foundation because there will be no time for doing that when I get there. That will be a hinderance. He's...removing people now even as we speak.
You’re an identical twin. What has the process been, learning "Sheila" and putting up boundaries with the fetal connection you have with your twin?
To realize that even though we share the same DNA and we grew up exceptionally close she has her life and I have my life and I can nolonger life in the shadows of my twin. I nolonger need her to be my voice.
So you once lived in her shadow?
I didn’t have a voice. She spoke for the both of us many times. Not because I was afraid but because I allowed her to be the forerunner. When we were young we were seen and not heard so I became silent. I think that's how I began journaling.
What was the thing that officially “separated” you?
My mother dying. I could nolonger let her speak for me, just give in, be quiet or live in silence. And that itself was very hard for me, because she’s been a part of me my whole life...
I didn't think it to be important or necessary if we both talked so I remained silence for years. But after my mother died it was like I was emerging and I could no longer be quiet. I had a voice. Feelings. And I could nolonger allow [my twin] to speak for me.
So you’re talking finding your voice at age…
56. Mom died 2014. I was 56.
Do you ever feel like all those years were wasted?
No. Absolutely. Not. In my silence I became an observer of things. I got to see people for who they are and not judge people. I was always an old soul in my thinking. All those years I never knew my voice,my thoughts mattered. You don't miss something you never thought you had. All those years I never knew I was missing anything. All those years I didn’t realize I didn’t have a voice. I just didn’t feel the need to speak up. Part of it could have been because I was so afraid of not being believed in. One of the reasons I stayed quiet was because I didn't believe people wanted to hear anything I had to say so just kept it all in.
You and your twin used to live a few minutes apart; now she's almost an hour away. How has it been adjusting to the new distance?
It feels like part of me has died. But I feel that’s part of the plan when you're on the journey. Like if I had to move right now I'd be ok because the excruciating separation anxiety has already taken place. I would miss her but because I'm already missing her right here and now when it's actially time for me to leave I'd have already gone through the process of the hurt.
Sometimes I don't know if she knows how much I really need her.
I don't think so.
How did you love yourself after making painful mistakes?
I had to first realize that i was lovable and I think for me I had to see myself as God saw me.
How do you deal with people who don’t know who you really are and treat you as less than who you know yourself to be?
I ignore them. I used to go out of my way to explain myself to people. People's perception of you...no matter what you say or do people will think whatever they choose to think
How do we love those who seem “unlovable”?
Carefully. Love them and also be aware of what put the wedge between you. I have spoken on the phone with people with whom I have wanted no reconciliation with, and have had no memory of the hurt, the pain they caused… but building up to that point I loved them carefully, I spoke to them carefully...and before I knew it we’re able to talk and I don't feel any residual of the pain they cost me, or that I may have cost them.
I do believe in investing in people. You have people that will take advantage of you but you have to know those people and still be able to do what you do. Love.
How do we love people that don’t know how to love us?
I think we meet them where they are. It doesn't matter if they don't love us: meet them where they are. And if you can’t, then live on. I will not open myself to compromise, I just can’t do it. Bending over backwards just to try to make it work. You never accomplish anything because you try to gauge how they feel about you...I won’t minimize myself in order to get along with someone. I spent my whole life compromising myself and that will make you stagnated...I can’t do that.
Can you talk more about learning to letting go of feeling like you have to prove your value to others?
Back then I was trying to let people know how important they were to me. I got tired. I don’t need to do that. It takes too much time and energy and it doesn’t get you anywhere.
How do you cope with people who pull energy from you when you're a loner and don’t have many people to get emotional support returned?
I withdraw... I've learned how to save myself. I withdraw from people when it gets overbearing for me. And I refuel, and then I'm ready again.
Is withdrawl important?
Very much... [But] my withdrawl periods are not long. I know not to stay long.
Is resting your spirit important to you?Oh my God. Now, at this period of my life its severely important. I need time to refuel. Recharge. I cannot carry a full load like i used to. I need to drop off some stuff. My brain needs to recalibrate.
How has having lupus impacted how you see the journey?
It has taught me how to persevere, and the meaning of it. You keep going.
Even though they say lupus plays a great part in your emotions I don't relate the two at all. I deal with each separately.
There is no partnership there because lupus was never invited in.
So why am I bringing Lupus into the way I think?
Who invited her?
Ok, get out. I’m tired now.
How are you different than at age 20, 30, 40, 50?
20: I was married at age 20 and I had no clue
of who I was, how to be a wife.
30: That was a tough year for me.
My 2 sons were born and I was headed for divorce.
40: Forty was very hard for me because my young men were very young and I was feeling very old.
My sons were now teenagers and so I had to step into another challenge because they were older.
And being Black African American males that was a challenge in itself.
Everything that was in me, I had to use to make sure that the streets didn't get them.
So the 40s were hard for me.
And now you’re in the last year of 50s. What was 50 like?
The first year of being 50 I was so happy!
Oh my god I didn't know 50 could be so happy.
You could not tell me I was not grown, even though I still had the insecurities,
still had issues...I felt liberated because I felt like I had arrived.
Now, arrived at what, I don’t even know.
What are your hopes for age 60?
To do as much as I can do to contribute.
To travel and to tell bits and pieces of myself all around the world.
Anything else you'd like to add to close this interview?
No...I think that's everything.
**the next day**
...Do something! I don't care what it is... Do SOMETHING!!
I get bored when people say "I coulda-shoulda-woulda."
Don't sit and wait. Even if you fall on your face!
And if I fall on my face at least I could say "Sheila, you did something."
Make a move. Yess!!
I thank God for that determination
You can purchase Sheila Garner's first book, Taking Care of a Stranger here!!