My office is once again in (mostly) office form–instead of guest room form–so I decided I should use it this morning to do what I claim as my profession, and to write down some words.
The thing that has been most striking, and on my mind, in the past several hours remains the reactions that I have seen from people in particular contexts. Some of the reactions I anticipated, and some of them I was taken aback by, but the thing that kept popping into my mind this morning was a vaguely remembered expression of C.S. Lewis that said something about the true nature of a person being shown when they were surprised or scared. That idea stuck with me. If you sneak up on me and surprise me, I yell, potentially cry, and sometimes punch you. I have a lot of fear and unresolved pain on the inside, so that comes out. Cursing also comes out. I’m a woman who uses “vulgarity” with regularity, so it isn’t a hidden part of me suddenly exposing itself, but just my daily self being repeated before you.
But last night I watched the Chicago Bears miss out on their big game hopes by one point with a field goal kick that should have sailed through between the posts, but for a timeout called at the most inopportune moment. And when that loss, which was felt deeply by many, happened, there was one woman in particular whose inner self became an outer self. I’d love to know C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on what football exposes, because WOW.
Now, I’ve not had a good vibe from this woman from the start–for the record. I think she is dishonest, manipulative, self-aggrandizing… But other people seem to like her just fine, so I generally keep my vibes to myself. Last night, however, she started yelling at the television, and not just at the general disappointment toward a team but directly at a young man who did his absolute best under tremendous pressure, and didn’t meet the expectations of the whole world that was watching. She called him a “fucking bastard” repeatedly, and demanded that he be traded by morning or … I don’t really think she is in a position to make threats against the franchise given that she is an unemployed, 50-something woman who lives in shared housing and drinks every night, so I’m not sure what she would do if they didn’t trade Parkey today. She doesn’t seem to have much influence over the team.
Nevertheless, I made deescalating comments, like, “he’s just a boy”, and “you know he can make the kick, he just did it 10 seconds ago”, and “you’ve not kicked a field goal in your life, so it really isn’t fair to judge so harshly”. She persisted, despite my objections, so I took a different approach and praised the Bears for the best season since 1985, and commented on how excited I was for next season, when they would come back even stronger. That positive outlook didn’t dissuade her either. She just kept cussing out a boy on the screen for being a complete failure.
I kept thinking to myself, “This is the truth of who she is. This is a variation on Lewis, and I am seeing the heart of this woman exposed. No wonder she gives me the negative vibes! Her heart is hate-filled, fearful, bitter, and angry.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, please. I’ve been in that space. I’m not judging her for being in that space. I’m just ruminating on what is inside vs. outside, and what brings the inside out. She probably has a reason that holds some validity for being as she is, currently. And I wish her all the best in working through that and coming out the other side with a better outlook and more love in her heart. I suspect that her current situation, with the shared housing and the inability to hold down a job, are key factors in her unhappiness, and I hope that she finds a way to gain more stability. But the thing that I am so challenged by is the lying that is required to pretend that you feel one way when you so clearly feel another.
At some point in my history I was so good at feigning “okay” that my mind literally walled off years of abuse. Complete repression of years of my life and experiences is the ultimate in lying, I suppose–even if it is subconscious and you have no idea that you are doing it. But once that stuff started to come out and be remembered, the need to let it out was too great to ignore. Anger, pain, abandonment, neglect, betrayal, and more were all swirling around inside, and the ability to contain that was not an ability I possessed. Of course, it came out at the wrong times and toward the wrong people, more often than not. I had trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check and would have outbursts of rage or tears in the middle of situations where such things made no sense. It was a crazy time, and it was made especially challenging because I didn’t have good mental health care during that stage and didn’t have anyone who could effectively help walk me through that chaos.
There were times when I worked to hold in all of that stuff and just “pretend’ life wasn’t plagued by these issues. I could do it for a short time, but then the chaos would come out and things would spiral and I would find myself alone and broken once more. It wasn’t until I started to let the chaos live on the outside that things started to balance out. It wasn’t until I started to accept that this was a part of who I am, and a way that I will always be, in some sense, that I could live without having a different person emerge when I was scared or surprised.
Now I am the same person all of the time.
Granted, we all have moments when we don’t speak honestly. I might have a bad headache, but still go to your party–pretending it isn’t a big deal because I want to participate in your event. But that isn’t what I mean. I mean that the fundamentals of who I am are on display all of the time.
I am boisterous, stubborn, intelligent, brutally honest, compassionate, a great listener, an over-sharer, and I will cry, yell, curse, or whatever else I feel moved to do in the course of everyday conversation without reservation. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one to back down from a fight. And I will talk to anyone and everyone present to try to make connections, because I am in love with community as and ideal. Oh yes–and I am extremely idealistic.
But if you have met me, you probably know all of that, because I wear it on my sleeve. I don’t hide any of that. You don’t need to root it out or search for it. It is standing right in front of you.
I had a conversation last night with a woman I just met. It became very in depth very quickly, and we were arguing a bit about hunger. She didn’t believe my statistics about hunger related deaths in the U.S., and she felt that homeless/hungry people here are being too picky. “If you are hungry you would eat anything”, she said. And I disagreed.
Obviously, my disagreement didn’t make sense to her, and this caused a mini argument. I hold to the idea that no person should be put in a position where they are hungry enough that they would eat anything, and that it dehumanizes people to say that they should take whatever they can get, when the rest of us clearly choose only our favorites from a fancy menu of curated items. Why shouldn’t the homeless and the working poor have options like the rest of us? Are they less human because they have less resources? Why not make certain they have resources, instead of demanding they suck it up and take what they clearly do not want?
At one point in the conversation, she said to me, “I’ve never been that hungry and you have never been that hungry, so we can’t understand.”
“I have been that hungry. I’ve eaten my meals out of dumpsters.”
And there it was … I put my inside firmly on my outside.
She looked at me wide-eyed for a moment and then said that she was sorry that I had been put in that position. The conversation turned and we discussed something else. There was little else that she could say because the experience of taking whatever I could get trumped her thought experiments about what might be.
But again I was thinking about the instincts. I was thinking about the way that she made assumptions about who I am and what I have experienced because here we both were watching the Bears lose in a bar in Edgewater. Very different lives have brought us to this moment. Very different experiences have shaped us. But she instinctively believed, by my dress and my speech and my position in the world, that we shared so much more than we actually do.
I didn’t disclose that I eat because of Meals on Wheels and foodstamps programs. I didn’t disclose that I don’t care that the IRS is closed because I don’t need to file a return due to a lack of income. But I did disclose that I am writing about racism, childhood trauma and abuse, and a history filled with challenges. I did disclose that I had surgery in November and that I manage a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia. I did disclose where I live, and what I do, and the birth order that puts me into middle child territory. I didn’t hide who I am or how I am. So I don’t need to be scared or surprised for the real Christy to pop out. She is always here.
I wonder, at times, why we all feel so much need to hide our true selves. Are we so terrible, at our core, that we won’t find love and life and friendship and care if we are honest? Are our issues so complex that they cannot be dealt with or resolved?
I don’t believe that is true.
In fact, I think that being genuine and true affords us more room and more time and more energy for developing strong bonds and working out what challenges us. I believe that my life became less complicated and more positive once I started seeking to live without hiding and holding up a facade for others to view.
Granted, the woman at the bar who was tearing the proverbial flesh from a young boy whose best wasn’t good enough to win a game doesn’t seem like the kind of person whom you want to have “out and proud”. But at least if her true nature was out there, something could be done to guide her into a healthier and happier space. Right now, everyone around her just feeds into the lie that she is doing fine–when she clearly isn’t feeling balanced and happy and good at all.
Those gut reactions are telling you something about yourself and where you are and what you need. But if you keep your instincts hidden and locked behind doors, only letting them out when you are shocked, scared, or mad at football, you cannot hear what they are saying. You cannot listen to what they are saying about you and your position and your needs if you keep them bottled or boxed.
In order to hear and see and cope, you need to start wearing those inner things on the outside. You need to start letting the instincts flow out.
It isn’t an easy process, assessing the inner workings and letting them become a part of your persona, out there for everyone to see. It is actually a very challenging process, that leaves you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, often, wounded. But I believe that the work is worth it.
I believe that having the deep things become visible in the shallows makes you better, stronger, and more beautiful. Because working on those inner things is what offers your the opportunity for transformation. Doing that is what can make what was instinctual become obsolete, and change the way that you interact with the world.
I still have moments of rage on occasion, but for the most part, that is gone. That instinct isn’t strong anymore, because I have spent years working through why I felt that way–what brought it on, what left me out of control, and how I could change that. I don’t need to rage at football players, because I don’t need to rage at all. Or if I do feel enraged, I know that something needs to be changed in my life, immediately, because I am being triggered in extremely negative ways–which is why after a particularly angry night a couple months ago, I broke off a relationship that was not healthy.
Had I not embraced this instinct, however, and gotten down to the root of it, I wouldn’t have the insight to know that I was being triggered and that relationship needed to end. Had I not let my rage become a part of me, and accept it and understand it and cope with it, I would not have been able to make such an informed, wise decision.
So, let your inner stuff come out. Work your way through it. (Preferably with a qualified professional.) And live as a whole person, without hiding parts of you somewhere inside. Let your instincts out, and be who you truly are–even if that is a vulgar, stubborn woman with a huge heart and too many tears.