After time traveling, a shift in my energy occurred.
Before that serendipitous evening, I had been completely numb. I walked through life just trying to survive it. If I hated work, I forced myself to swallow it and move on. If someone said something unkind to me, I would remain polite but come home and emotionally beat myself up for being a loser. I developed a painful anxiety of social situations. I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I needed to say the right thing, look the right way, and be anything but myself in order to survive. You can get away with this in your teens, but in your thirties the pain of inauthenticity is excruciating.
I had developed a constant tape that played out ever insecurity I ever had. It played in my head seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In my head, I was never worthy enough. I was too ugly to be loved. I had convinced myself that I was a bitch that no one liked. I would sit and cry for hours, some days I wouldn’t even get out of bed. I ate fatty, sugary food to numb myself of the pain. I smoked dozens of cigarettes for the illusion of some sort of pick-me-up. I felt so bad that I often wondered if being dead was not better.
In my night of time traveling, I began to understand that I wasn’t so worthless. I began to feel a little joy. It felt good, considering that it had been so long since I had felt it. My companions in crime, Max and Alex, decided that it was the right time to try and push me a little farther….
They looked at each other and looked at me. I thought, “oh god, I did something wrong.”
Alex began, “Mimi, you never really tell us anything.”
What? Max and Alex have been my friends for over a decade. We have been roommates, neighbors, best friends, and at times…frienemies. No one was closer to me in my world. They knew what I liked and didn’t like. I told them things I didn’t tell anyone else. I considered them to be my family, my sudo-husbands, and my life. There is no place in the world I would rather be than right by their side. Often times, I define hell as anytime I am not with them.
To think that they would think I was withholding something from them was like a blow to the gut.
Max and Alex continued. They realized that I often told them about stuff only after it went through some careful filtering process in my head. The result was that they got this disconnected information that wasn’t tied to my rationale. Also, my actions often suggested that they weren’t the most important thing on my mind. Sometimes they would feel insulted because I would do something and not tell them. It felt as if I didn’t think about them when I weighed things out in my head, and that hurt. In many ways, they felt that I was always thought about in their heads before they made any decisions together.
I had to think about it. First of all, the previous me would not have been able to hear this conversation without going to a place where I was unworthy of love and connection. I would have run out of the house and sulked on my couch at home. That sounds dramatic, but it is totally the truth. I knew that if I wanted to start living, I had to start listening.
I thought about it. Wasn’t this what I always wanted? I knew that deep down, the only thing I wanted was someone I could be 100% authentic with. I just wanted to know that I was loved unconditionally, and that someone had my back. Even if I acted a fool, that person would be able to separate the crazy from the real me. In many ways, the boys did this. So where is the disconnect? If I feel like I already tell them everything, what was I missing?
I asked them to describe what they meant. As they did, they were basically begging for that internal dialogue that goes on in my head. It is that little voice that listens to all of my thoughts and ideas and decides what to share and not share. As I began to understand what they want, I became concerned that they wouldn’t be able to handle it if I did.
There was a part of me that had a tough time deciding, when I was growing up, what I should share and not share. I remember that my mom would often use my words against me in arguments. This made me just close up tighter than a knot. I would never know when I would get jumped on, and I just decided that I would add fuel to the fire. This continued in middle school. I was horrifically bullied for my weight in middle school. My nickname was the “Titanic.” I remember a dozen boys who rode my bus, who made my life living hell for three years. No one wanted to befriend me in school. I might have well been the mentally challenged student with drool dripping down my chin. I felt that radioactive. During these times, I said so very little because I knew it would be used against me. Almost any time I did, my worst nightmares were proven correct. It felt like my words would be twisted and fly through the school as the dumb ass thing Mimi said today on a daily basis. It would provide a running banter as they tripped me, kicked me, touched my chest, grabbed my crotch, pull my hair, etc.
When I lost a bunch of weight and entered high school, it was as if the whole matter had been erased. I was prettier. People wanted to get to know me. I was still convinced that I had to be painfully aware of what information I gave. I had to keep up appearances. No one was interested in the “real me,” they were just looking to see if I could conform to their standard or normal. I tried hard to become a chameleon. You like this? Well, so do I. You hate this? I guess I have to then too. I had no problem conforming, because it seemed to help me make friends. As you become an adult, you realize that you can’t do this forever. The more I realized that I couldn’t just be something I wasn’t, the more anxiety would build. I began to just pull away from friendships, instead of explain what my problem was. I didn’t want anyone to dislike me. I already hated myself enough.
So, when Max and Alex told me that they wanted me to share this level of information with them…I was intimidated. They semi like me now, wouldn’t this just ruin our friendship? Yet, they were my closest friends. If I couldn’t tell them, whom the hell could I tell? I told them, okay…. I am willing to do this, even though I have great misgivings about it, but you have to promise me something. If I say something you don’t like, hold back from going off the handle. If you yell at me when I am telling you the process of my thoughts, I will immediately stop, pull up the drawbridge, and avoid doing it ever again.
At first, it felt excruciating. Being high helped. I would have to consciously think about what I wanted to say. I would be so incredibly scared of their judgment. Every time they surprised me with their compassion and understanding. Often, my willingness to disclose something helped give them the courage to disclose more about themselves. Even though I had known these boys intimately for years, I began feeling like I was even closer to them than I was before. I also felt that my love for them was so deep that nothing could ever sever it. As time went on, I knew that if I felt a knot in my throat when I was around them, I knew that I needed to state something that was on my mind. Even if I was initially nervous, the joy in knowing that I had nothing to hide gave me so much joy and contentment.
Around this same time, I discovered a TED talk from Brene Brown. The heading stated, “The Power of Vulnerability.” As I watched it, I became floored. She was describing the struggle that I had been going through. Our courage to show up and let our whole selves be seen is what being vulnerable is really all about. For some of us, it is so excruciatingly painful that we avoid it at all costs. What ensues is our inability to connect with others.
Through the boys, I learned that my inability to share what I really felt made me seem conceded or at least made my intentions questionable. I told them that the last thing I would want to be is cruel or unkind. I never wanted to hurt anyone, and would often jab myself before anyone else. The problem is, I never told anyone this. I just assumed they knew. I also assumed that the boys knew that they were the apples of my eye. I thought they had no question of my love for them and how I placed them on a pedestal above all others. They didn’t know, because I didn’t tell them.
Dr. Brown puts it this way, what keeps us from being vulnerable is fear and the shame of not being worthy enough. Everyone has it, and the more you don’t talk about it, the more you have it. Fantastic! I was buried so deep in fear and shame that I only assumed the sun shined; I couldn’t see it.
As we avoid vulnerability, we do everything we can to numb ourselves from it. We spend more than we earn. We eat and medicate ourselves to alleviate the discomfort. But, you can’t just numb one aspect of your life. If you numb pain, you also numb joy. Sooner or latter, you start looking for meaning and purpose which makes you vulnerable again. You feel the discomfort and down a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin, as the cycle begins again.
How long have I been living life this way?
If you are feeling disconnected from life, one of the first things you need to do is listen to Dr. Brown’s talk. It doesn’t answer everything, but I found that it had a profound impact on my life. I have two other links to materials that I recommend from her. It is powerful information to think about.
Daring Greatly – A book from Dr. Brown on the power of authenticity.