For many years my value and self-worth felt inextricably tied to others. I felt this inner need, this constant pull, to do and help and support and to prove, constantly prove, that I was good, and of service, and selfless; that I was not needy, but needed. I learned the art of bending and contorting for others. I spent so much of my life propping other people up while fearing and denying the burning need to take up my own space. I spent so much time as the supporting character, when deep, deep down I knew that I was meant to be the main character of my own story.

I started dancing when I was 3. It was always my thing—my hobby, my passion, my release. I took a break during college, but at 24 I enrolled in dance classes again. I was single and searching for myself, and there in that studio, with girls a decade younger, I danced and moved and took up space. Maybe, because some life had happened to me by then, my body told my story in ways that my words could not. We were doing ballet, but to me, it was therapy. I had not yet done the deep inner work of healing. But our bodies cannot lie. They reverberate with our pain, with our trauma, and with our stories. As the music would play, my body would bend and turn and move with all the familiarity of a lifetime of dance, and all the pain of a young, broken woman who did not know that her value existed outside of others.

My instructor took notice. He would ask me to repeat the combinations for the class. “Watch,” he would tell the younger dancers, “She’s not just doing the steps, she’s telling a story.”

I felt seen and understood in a way that a million therapy sessions couldn’t accomplish.

There was no shame in the story my body told in that studio. There was no timidity, no shrinking. There was expanding and stretching and extending, taking up more and more and more space. Lengthening—we were always told to lengthen in ballet. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much—because it was telling me to take up even more room.

One day, my dance teacher called me into his office. “I’d love it if you’d join our company,” he said.

I was shocked. “What? Really?”

“Yes,” he replied. “There’s a bit of travel involved but we could work with you and I really think you’d be a good fit.”

“I’ll think about it,” I lied. I walked out of his office and never stepped foot in that studio again. Not once. I wasn’t ready. I was afraid. I so desperately wanted to be seen and known and understood AND I so desperately didn’t want to be seen and known and understood. The ambivalence was too great. He was inviting me to take up even MORE space—to expand even further. Looking back, I am so grateful for his invitation, and so sad that the woman sitting across from him didn’t feel worthy of it.

A dozen years have passed since then. I still battle that inner voice that says, “What if they think I’m too much? What if I AM too much? What if I’m offensive?” But I am learning to take up space: space in a room, space on a page, space on the Internet, space in a relationship, space in a conversation. Space for myself.  I started taking a dance class again. And that feeling of being truly alive hits me every time I am in that classroom. I was made to take up space. And damn it—I am going to.

Lyndsey Amen Ribble lives in San Antonio with her husband and four sons (aged 5,4, 2 and 2 mos). She loves reading, writing, traveling, food (cooking it, eating it, taking pictures of it…), wine, hole in the wall anything, and forming community in unexpected places. She has a heart for bringing restoration to broken people and loving the unloved. She writes about all of these things and attempting to find balance at inlamensterms.com.