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Breaking the Legacy of Silence #26 : How to Obtain and Practice Self-Awareness | Kim D. Bailey

Kim D. Bailey,

“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”

-Paul Valery

I think it’s safe to say most of us have dreams and ambitions for this thing we call life.

Unfortunately, many of us never realize them, nor do we understand why.

In view of that conundrum, I would like to offer you some personal insight about how I overcame my fears and got unstuck, and began to realize my dreams within the realities of this life.

I knew when I was a young girl that I wanted a different life from what I saw around me. My goals were not unlike many out there. I wanted to escape family dysfunction, overcome a legacy of failure, live outside the box created by my family and their ancestors, and become a happier, healthier human being who contributes more to this world and its people.

In many ways, I did overcome some of the dysfunction I cut my teeth on. Even though I married relatively young, at age 19, and had my first child just shy of 20, I accomplished many goals that took me out of a poor, southern, blue-collar, and insular mind-set and into middle-class territory. I married first a Jewish man, then a Catholic. As a girl brought up Baptist, that was a huge departure from expectation.

In 1998, I earned an undergraduate degree. To my knowledge, other than my sister and my uncle, we are the only people from my family of origin to earn any college degree. My uncle earned an associate’s in business and my sister earned an education degree.

When I married the first two times, I married men who were “above my life station.” Each had earned college degrees, and the first one was in veterinary medical school when we met. In fact, he was instrumental in encouraging me to go to college, and assisted me in navigating the frightening process of application, paying for my first college class, and developing better study habits.

My degree opened some doors, of course. Not a lot, but some that made the difference between a life of manual labor and possibly state assistance to feed my kids, against a life of scraping by but sustaining a decent living, as a single mom. Also, the fathers of my three oldest children were good fathers. We were able provide them with everything they needed, monetarily and emotionally, at least to a greater degree better than I had received growing up. Therefore, I broke a cycle of poverty and poor education for my children.

Some changes came with living in a different part of the country, being exposed to different cultures, going to college, and being open to another person’s point-of-view and beliefs.

However, most of the change in my thinking and life legacy have come from my hard work on myself, that which I took to in earnest. I went to therapy, sexual assault survivor groups, and attended a 12-Step group for several years for an eating disorder. I refused to keep playing the victim.

Although it took a long time for me to glean wisdom from some of those activities, life being what it is and me being human and so tragically flawed, I finally came to a place in my life where I refused to remain unaware of myself. I refused to stay caught in the past, and living in a dream of what the future may hold no longer cut it for me. Furthermore, I refused to be unaware of what was going on around me, whether in my immediate bubble or in the world, because burying one’s head in the sand only engenders ignorance, which engenders repeating mistakes made by our ancestors, even if disguised as successes.

My encounters with so many people have also taught me what I do not want to be. I’ve met some nice people who have absolutely NO self-awareness, or if they have any, they refuse to be moved by the pain of staying stuck in a cyclical dynamic rather than go through the process of self-reflection and change.

A good friend of mine once told me an excellent analogy to the cliché, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.” This quote may or may not be attributable to Albert Einstein, but I digress.

She said, “Kim, imagine you go to a pop machine (in Oklahoma, we call soda “pop”) and you put in your money and press the orange pop button, but get a grape pop instead. You get annoyed, so you try again. You press the orange and get grape. You start to kick the machine, bang on it, try to tip it to get your money or something different back. Meanwhile, you’re acting like a nut job. Instead of going to a different machine, or just going into a store and buying grape pop, you stand there and fight with that stupid machine until all your money is gone. That’s what some people do with their lives.”

She may not remember telling me that little anecdote, but Robin Spears has been a wise woman since she was born, because she said that to me when we were both only 20-years-old.

Robin said this to me so she could speak to how I was handling my relationship with my first husband, as we were already split up and I kept going back for more misery and heartache. She helped me wake up and see how I was choosing to stay stuck rather than learn to move on, which I did very slowly (see my column from last week, “The Art of Letting Go”)

Just because we change how our lives look on the outside, we don’t necessarily change how they look on the inside. We still repeat our past until we learn the lesson. So what that I married men who were educated and from middle-class roots. I was still looking to men to save me, to be the anchor I held onto while I deluded myself into believing I was evolved. Some of the men I looked to were abusive, and some were simply self-centered. They were still emotionally unavailable, just like my parents, and they were still a means to an end I expected to help me rise above the muck of self-loathing or the fear of living this life on my own terms. They may not have beat me up or had a drinking problem, but they still provided me with the familiar while I allowed myself to believe I had deliberately chosen to rise above my upbringing.

What does it take to transform oneself to a higher plane, to that place where we not only see who we are, but how life really is?

It takes courage and a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone.

Courage is not fearlessness, it’s moving into unknown and unchartered territory while scared out of one’s mind, but refusing to back down.

Willingness isn’t simply thought, it’s action.

Self-awareness is an uncomfortable and life-long act of being afraid, doing the thing anyway, and repeating the process.

Here are a few tips on how to become self-aware so you may realize your goals and dreams and affect true change for yourself and your life:

  • Journal. Write down everything. Even if you never share it with anyone else, do it.
  • Draw a picture, if you’re artistically inclined, or paint.
  • Play an instrument, sing, or listen to music. Especially music that evokes catharsis through its lyrics.
  • Play. Life is too short to stay in a place where all we do is bemoan our circumstances. Do things that make you feel better. Mine are writing, playing my guitar, working out, watching movies, going to see my favorite bands, having a sense of humor, watching basketball or football, going to an art museum, going to a bookstore, teaching my grandsons how to hit a baseball, coloring with them, etc.

(Note: all the above require allowing energy to flow from our bodies via our hands, eyes, ears, mouths, or all over when music or action moves us. This is how we empty ourselves of pent up emotion and thought and can begin to make sense of them. It empowers us to take control of ourselves and redefine our life story.)

  • Read. Read all kinds of books, fiction and nonfiction. Read stories that show how the main character or the author undergo transformation, and how they come to understand life and death, and the in-between. Some books I recommend are listed below.
  • Listen. What do others say? How did they change? Where did they find their strength?
  • Learn. Watch the news. Yes, some of it is misinformed and/or propaganda, but much of it is information we all need to be aware of our world, and how to cope with the messiness of life on this planet. What are the statistics of domestic abuse? Rape? Suicide? Childhood depression? Alcoholism? How do these and other societal issues affect the lives of those caught up in those dynamics? Don’t accept DELIBERATE IGNORANCE for a life compass.
  • Don’t be complacent. This ties in with the last bullet, but also speaks to how our unwillingness to be fully aware of, and learn, the world around us can lead to some terrible consequences. Take this year’s presidential election, for instance.
  • Go to therapy. It’s okay to do this. Really. Talking things out with an objective person can be the best thing you do for yourself. As with any relationship, it’s important to find a therapist who is respectful and does not abuse her or his power.
  • Laugh. Read a funny book, watch a funny movie, go to a comedy club. It’s okay to get out of the doldrums of everyday living and do this. We need it.
  • Be open-minded. Stop letting your preconceived ideas about life, how to live it, and how to be accepted in this society, dictate how and where you go from here.
  • Ask yourself the hard questions: Who am I? What do I want? What will make me happy? I say these are hard questions because most people ask them while considering what others may think or want for them, instead of what it is they think and want for themselves.
  • Be willing to accept the answers to those hard questions and ACT ON THEM.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Life is a series of changes. Being comfortable is to die a slow death of sameness rather than realizing the beauty of a life lived in all its unexpected, and unpredictable, glory.


I’ll leave you with a quote I read from Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty. Although I had heard of this quote before, it never resonated with me until I came across it in Jackson’s memoir. Being a diehard basketball fan, and a sports enthusiast in general, I have found sports to be a form of Zen, while playing and while watching. In Jackson’s pursuit to help his team rise above competitiveness to a higher wisdom of teamwork, he speaks of how knowing oneself leads us to know others better, and this leads to a mindset that “me becomes the servant of the we,” wherein all self-awareness leads to growth.

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” -Heraclitus

The following books I recommend:


Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson

Sum It Up by Pat Summitt

Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg

Night by Elie Wiesel

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

Love’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

img_4953Kim D. Bailey, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and a weekly column for FIVE:2:ONE. She is currently writing a third novel. She’s published in several online literary journals and print magazines. Kim lives in her hometown of Chattanooga, TN.  To connect follow at www.kimbaileydeal.net and on Twitter @kimbaileydeal