I Know With My Whole Heart

I know with my whole heart that if people are not honest about who they are, they will suffer – even if revealing who they are is distasteful or offensive or ugly or scary to others.  You must do it or you will lose yourself.

I know this because I have been hiding myself all my life.

I never felt I could be myself with my dad because I felt never quite good enough for him.  I was a needful, dramatic hurricane of a child who never felt at home unless I was on a stage or on a page.  So the sensitive, emotional, soft-hearted Cancer  shell thickened over the years deflecting the horns of the Aries ram coming at me with “I want you to be someone else.”

All through my career as s stripper, I struggled with telling people the truth about who I was.  Brian was a man that I had my most serious relationship with before I quit dancing.  He was 8 years younger than me and still lived at home while he went to college and worked.  I always wanted to tell Brian’s mom who I was because I hated lying to her.  I knew she and I could never have a real relationship because she thought I was somebody I wasn’t.  That Brian continually asked me to deny myself to her meant that he and I couldn’t either.

And that denial pried us apart until the gap between us was so wide we couldn’t really see each other anymore.

When I first met my husband Lloyd’s mom, I told her right off the bat, the first time I met her- in fact I think I actually wrote her a letter even before I met her so I could just relax and be me and not worry all the time about being found out.  Even though I could admit my past, I had to bundle it up and put it away.  I hid that past in the church.  “I’m a good girl now, you can all love me now.”

This past year has been equally difficult in discovering that I don’t believe in my faith anymore.  For years as I saw this happening, I’ve been too afraid to break it to Lloyd because I knew the consequences would be like a hurricane ripping through our marriage.  But sitting at the dinner table every night crossing myself, thanking the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for my meal was killing me.  Going to church and saying the Apostles’ creed when I didn’t believe it made me hate myself.  I was shrinking in my own hypocritical skin.  Trying to shed it – but so afraid that he would hate the woman underneath.  “I’m not a good girl anymore so I guess you don’t love me.”

It was only when I hated the hypocrite more than the fear that I was able to finally say “I don’t believe this anymore.  Come what may.”

And the hurricane ensued.  My daughter has called the past year “The Season of Fights”.  It has been ugly and I have cried more this year than any I can remember.  The winds seem to have died down, thank god, but we are only beginning to figure out how to be with this stranger who is me.  But at least I can start to breathe as she.

Paula Howley writer stripper memoir


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2 comments on “I Know With My Whole Heart”

  1. chelsea Reply

    your rawness and honesty moves me in a way that all i can say is ‘thank you.’ thank you for being brave and becoming your true self to all – especially those closest to you, even when you knew it meant storms. thank you for sharing this process paula – it gives me courage and i appreciate you!

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