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The quietly raging war inside me

Luba Kassova | May 26, 2024
The quietly raging war inside me The quietly raging war inside me

Inside me there is a war quietly raging. A war between a dictator and a loving rebel. The dictator is sitting on a heavy oak throne. He was born many generations ago and his raison d’être is to “protect me”. But he holds me captive to his belittling beliefs that are there to keep me feeling small and unworthy of being seen or heard.

The loving rebel is a revolutionary who demands to be heard, who grapples with dismantling the barbed-wire fence the dictator has put up to surround a pulsing heart that contains thousands of repressed stories and important truths. The rebel loves everyone and everything, passionately and wholeheartedly. She not only wants to tear down the barbed-wire fence, but to put up a dance stage instead, where everyone who has been timidly hiding at the sides of the fence is now invited up to dance frivolously, gracefully or playfully to the soft rhythm of joy-inducing songs like Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.

The dictator, filled with a fear of getting hurt, quashed, dismissed or eliminated, dismisses, quashes, eliminates and hurts me first.

The war inside me is between fear and love. The law of my current existence prohibits them from being in the same place at the same time, from peacefully cohabiting. Where there is fear, there is no love and where there is love, there is no fear.

The fear of being violated, humiliated, of being unsafe, of losing those I love, my livelihood, my freedom or even my life for speaking my mind goes very deep. It is a shipwreck, anchored to the bottom of the ocean by the millions of intergenerational tragedies that weigh it down. Generations of Bulgarians before me loved someone who lost their freedom or their life for speaking up during the five centuries of Turkish Ottoman tyranny and the almost half-century of Communist repression. You speak up, you die. This has been the belief that we Bulgarians have internalised at a cellular level. It has also been the subject of many a reflection and proverb, as this quote from my own journal at the age of 17 attests: “those who speak up before their time, spend their life in very uncomfortable places.”

In Bulgaria and probably across the Balkans, the formula for survival has been anchored in submissiveness, in maintaining silence and rendering yourself invisible. There is no place for expressions of love in that space because love is expansive, it celebrates, it is free, all-embracing and, most of all, it bravely looks you straight in the eye. When your gaze is down, love can’t make the eye contact it needs to grow.

Love is courageous and wise. It too has been passed from generation to generation of Bulgarians going as far back as to when the world began.

“God is love and love is God”. My mother channelled this millennia-old wisdom, crafting the internal compass that now helps me navigate my way through this confusing world. Love brings meaning to anything and everything, to suffering and joy, past and present, birth and death.

But I wake up every day not knowing who has gained advantage in the war inside me. Is it the silencing dictator or the loving rebel? Today, 18.05.2024, it is the loving rebel! I embrace those I adore, I write, I kiss, I caress, I care, I act, I dream, I hope. I feel strong, purposeful, optimistic. I navigate what feels like sensual energy seeking to burst out of me. No depressing global, national or local news can crush me. I am a conduit.

Today, 24.05.2024, the dictator has taken over. I am starved of sleep, submerged, if not paralysed, by worries, insecurities and anxieties. I am a vessel of despair. My eyes are burning, my voice is faint, my chest is tight, a fire alarm is waiting to go off or, wait… it is already blaring but I don’t know where to evacuate to. And even if I did know, I don’t have the energy to do it.

The silencing dictator inside wants to force-feed me because he knows I feel empty when he is around. When he takes over the narrative in my head, I fill myself up with chocolate, Nutella or any other ultra-processed food I can get my hands on. I feel immobilised, exhausted, clumsy, heavy. The more I eat, the more the despair engulfs me.   

When the loving rebel takes over, I am propelled to exercise, run, plank and stretch, to eat my five-a-day, to hug, to look up at the sky, to listen to the birds singing and give way to the ants. I feel nimble, elastic, bouncy, receptive and alert. No amount of Swiss or Belgian chocolate can tempt me.

Will this war quietly rage inside me for the rest of my life? I ask myself wearily sometimes. “It probably will”, replies the soft, wise, well-informed voice inside me, the one that has read some books and interviewed some experts “You will always carry the voices of love and fear inside you, but maybe the war between the dictator and the love rebel could be resolved”, adds another, more optimistic, even wiser, voice.

I feel curious and a touch sad that I can’t hope for a definitive win for the loving rebel. No victorious arm will be lifted by a sweaty referee, unleashing a triumphant roar from the exalted spectators surrounding the boxing ring.

So what does success and progress look like? Well – if I am being kind to myself – although it’s hard to accept, having awareness of these different parts of yourself is progress. Not suffocating the rebel with self-directed insults is even grander progress. Befriending the dictator and acknowledging that he arose from the deep anguish of the human ego, while negotiating his diminishing reign, would be a triumph.

Might this very act of empathy end the war inside? It’s up to the loving rebel to end the war by stretching her love that much further to include that nasty dictator who is so cruel, rigid and debilitating.

Hmmm… I realise that I have a long way to go. But at least I know where I am going and for now I feel grateful for that.

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