I almost allowed them to stop me.
Even the most stubborn of people will crack. They will allow that seed of doubt to fester and they will stop. Quit. The ones that do quit will become bitter. Always wonder why they didn’t finish a project or travel the world or not have as many kids. Most of them will become the very person or people that stopped them from pursuing their dreams. A vicious cycle.
That was almost me.
When I say ‘them’ I mean the people closest to me. The kind of people you’d think would be rooting for you, not one plotting your demise, not one secretly jealous of your God-given talent, and definitely not a husband or a mom or a dad, or a best friend you’ve known for over a decade.
I am not perfect, and that admittance doesn’t justify or validate my actions. I’ve done and said my share of fucked up things. But one thing I’ve always done was try to be the best version of myself, whatever that meant at those integral times. And, I’ve always stayed in my lane. People called me selfish when, really, I was just an empath protecting my vital energies.
I think as you get older, not just older but wiser and more self-aware, you began to float above yourself and others and dig deeper for understanding, meaning and purpose. As a thoughtful person, I have to evaluate all of the relationships I have with people. Because everyone isn’t meant to ride with you to the end. Even in Islam, says the same thing, nothing is permanent.
As I started to evaluate my life in relation to others, I began to see a pattern. Many people tried to discourage me from being my true self. That’s crazy, you’re probably thinking. Why would someone want to stop another person from being themselves? There are so many different reasons why humans stifle or oppress other humans, but the one I found most common was a shift in power. A hyper-masculine man doesn’t want you to become your true self because you would no longer have to lie under his thumb. Same for a jealous friend, if you truly reached your highest potential then she’d feel left in the shadows. So many people wear these masks, several masks, and are so caught up in the false perfections of social media or being a ‘good’ Muslim or a perfect mother that they are angered when you ditch those masks and become a rebel. When you no longer have those mental constraints, those physical constraints, people who are still trapped began to envy you, hope for your downfall, because you’ve tapped into a power source in which they’ve never seen and cannot get to.
It makes me angry when I think of all the times someone has stifled my creativity. Caused me to quit something that I truly loved. Made me feel as if I couldn’t just be. But in reality, I have only myself to blame for being weak enough to allow them to guide my life. I stopped writing for many years because I allowed others to dictate how it was done. I only wrote on certain topics to appease my ex. I allowed the Muslim community to dictate what I shared on my timeline. I allowed White fragility to stifle my Blackness and my voice. I allowed those things because I thought I was trapped. I thought that I had nowhere to go. Not a left or right in sight.
If you take nothing else from this, know that there is always more than one route to take. I solemnly promise that. The only entrapment we face are the ones that we create for ourselves.
Recently, I was flown to Canada to speak at the Muslim Identities Summit at the University of Ottawa, which was such a huge honor. There, powerful women of all shades spoke about anti-Blackness, feminism and Islamaphobia. I couldn’t contain my joy. The energy of that day was intoxicating. And, as I looked out the window from the 13th floor, I couldn’t help but reflect on my journey up until that point. I had wanted to quit so many times. I had quit so many times and came back each and every time. And, I can only attribute the comebacks to Allah (God) because I alone am not that powerful. Obviously, I’ve been chosen to do something because every time someone trolls me or causes me to rethink my value or makes me feel like I’m not Muslim enough, He somehow sends a sign, a message to keep going. Keep pushing against the waves.
Eyes were attentive. Smiles were large. I looked at each face over and over again during the Q&A. Was it all a dream? That every little thing I’ve done and didn’t do led me up until that exact moment. All the pain and trauma and accomplishments meant something. Those the zero-budget photoshoots, the messy divorce that almost derailed me and my words, my art had got me to that point. Where I sat in front of a packed room of educated Canadians to talk about being a Muslim rebel.