Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am today, versus who I was even five or ten years ago. It seems my life and my approach to adversity has changed; I know I own the scales and armor that I wear every day as a result of having the rug pulled out from under me so many times. There is a part of me that can look with compassion at the girl I used to be, the woman I thought I’d grow up to be. Trusting. Kind. Generous. Optimistic. Idealistic. Open. These are all facets of my personality that have enriched my life experience, but also left me vulnerable to things that hurt. Rejection, criticism, and miscreants who look for someone like me, walking around with what I imagine to be a big flashing beacon on my forehead:
“Hi, I want to be loved and accepted, and have a connection with others. I’ll trade or give you anything, for that.”
It is difficult to reconcile the part of you that is gentle, and loving with what the world expects you to be. If I am gentle and loving in my business decisions, frankly, I get screwed. I work long hours and get paid a fraction of what other equally intelligent, but perhaps more savvy and hardened personalities get. I don’t value my talent all the time, and I under value my contribution to teams frequently. I think that what comes somewhat easily to me (writing and marketing strategy) also comes easily to others. And often I fight off this voice that says that I am not nearly “good enough” to be doing this, full-time as a business.
Until I see other people providing half the quality that I do, at three times the price. Then I have a secondary infliction of feeling inwardly stupid. They are not being “as nice” as I am to their clients, but they are driving a Lexus. I love my new Jeep, and if you tell me it looks like a minivan, I’ll be inconsolable, but still grateful to have it. It’s not the Audi I wanted, but it is after all, still red.
The arrogance to think you are the best, the biggest and the brightest has never been part of my personality, in truth. I can’t even take a compliment without shifting uncomfortably. One of the things I learned in years of therapy with Dr. Deborah Duggan (psychologist) in Toronto, was that my more challenging interpersonal experiences led me to build this impermeable wall. I want to be accepted and valued. I want to have someone say “you are quite a talented writer Lori!” but if they do, I’ll debunk it. We sat for hours while she complimented me, and I rejected her attempts to find positive attributes to praise me for. She called me one of her more challenging clients: “so in need of warmth, assurance and emotional security, and so unwilling to ever let a teaspoon of it in, when you find it Lori”.
She got in. She changed me, I just tried to hide that fact from her. Things shifted after she was done with me, that allowed some of the bricks in my wall to give way. Kind of like, little peep holes through which the odd compliment might enter, or the concept of being truly understood, loved and accepted, might be considered. But I’ve never felt it was safe to dismantle the wall as she suggested. I feel like, if I let people know how deeply I feel things, how easily I can be hurt and how long I am capable of ruminating over disloyalty and rejection, well… that makes me a sitting duck doesn’t it?
Or incapable of being really loved, as Dr. Duggan liked to point out in an ominous way. I found ways to love people on the other side of the wall quite well. From my perspective anyhow. From their perspective, maybe I never loved them at all. If I had, there wouldn’t have been a need for the wall right? I’m tired of explaining or justifying the need for the wall, without throwing myself into some weak and pathetic victim like state. I could never afford to have too much empathy for myself; if I dwell on it, my feet start sinking into the quicksand of memories and things I’ve tried so hard to grow up, through and out of.
And I hate sympathy. It’s the most useless human emotion on the planet. It makes the person bestowing it feel like you are less, or a burden, or in need of help. It makes the person receiving it (if you are a cranky, stubborn bitch like I am) feel even worse, that you had to spend that emotion on me. If I was a real grown up, I wouldn’t need the validation at all. I would be enough within myself, to self-medicate with tea, or maybe one of those new Duncan Heinz mug muffin things I like so much (try the blueberry).
I guess why I love children and animals so much, is that I never feel the need to have those walls when I am around them. Absolute love asks nothing of you, but simply being in the moment, and sharing time, joy and laughter together. I think I am my most real person, when I am around animals and children. They are uncomplicated in motive. They are clear about their wants and need to be loved, and they bask in it so openly, when you provide it for them. Instant gratification. Complete acceptance. Now you know why we have four dogs, a cat, and twin step-son’s. My biggest happy, is being buried on the couch when all seven of them are clamoring for my arms, my voice or my touch.
I don’t remember cuddling on the couch with my Mom or my Dad. Ever. I strain my brain and try, because it seems incredulous, and sometimes I will ask an Aunt or a cousin if they remember my parents embracing me, holding me, or just sitting quietly with an arm wrapped around me. They have stories about feeling bad for me (and Kim) that end up making me feel worse, and wishing desperately that I had never asked the hopeful question. I always hope though, that it did happen, and that maybe I just forgot. Most of the time I pretend that this shit shouldn’t matter anymore, even though it does.
The wall I built was to hide the fact that there never seemed to be any arms around me, ever. That I never felt safe, or understood, valued or protected. And over time, as I constructed it brick by brick, I helped them forget that I was a kid that ever needed it. If you cry only in the shower, your eyes don’t stay red, and people can’t hear you. Try it. It works every time.
The walls now aren’t as needed to protect myself, but they are messing up other facets of my life. They make me angry, when they prevent me from unleashing my potential. They make me fearful when I sense someone wants in, but I am too scared to really show them who I am, vulnerabilities and all. Let me be the mighty fixer, the problem solver, the innovator, the hard working “take nothing from no one” type of person, because it allows me to hide the truth that I need people. That I miss the people I love so much, and I am so far away now from some of my favorite people. The few that took the time to get to know me, or see something in me, and the patience to endure a long-term relationship with me, at any level.
I have to realize my worth. And sadly, I don’t even know where to start, but I know that I am not living to my potential as long as I feel the need to hide behind this wall. I feel like I am the most disconnected and lost bird, trying to break through a shell that wasn’t of my own creation. And I worry about wasting my life, without the bravery to bust something so hard that was made to protect me, but what is in all probability, keeping me from feeling alive.
And if this made any sense to you reading this… here, grab my hand. It’s sticking out of a little tiny brick I remove on special occasions.
PS: What if Rapunzel was never in a tower? What if she was just this smart chick, afraid to try again, who kept tripping on her own damned hair? Or some lady who figured, she wasn’t someone’s open wound to heal? I’m not your kid after all, and I’m not your problem. I own this emotional checkmate, I’m just not sure how to win.