On experiencing the full range of being human.
What is it about the truth that we find so compelling and so repellent all at once? We admire it in others and run from it in ourselves. Sure, we’re good with our happy truths, our feelings of love and affinity, good will and generosity, bravery and selflessness. But not so much when it comes to our despair, fury, righteousness, self-doubt, jealousy, and shame. As if experiencing these things is forbidden and uniquely our own. This past weekend, I had the privilege of facilitating a journaling workshop for 7 courageous women. Each of them wanted to journal, to privately express their intimate thoughts and concerns and ideas, but most were stopped by a common fear of having their darker side found out. What will people think? What if my kids see this?? I understand this fear. I often experience the grip of this fear. It is the fear of being misunderstood, and, ultimately, of being fully human.
This may sound strange coming from someone who airs such intimate laundry every week, but then sharing is part of my recovery. I am unwilling to be stopped by my fears, and since I cannot fight them or wish them away, I can only face them. Just this week, after confessing my curse bomb in last week’s blog, I was faced with a misunderstanding. A friend offered an alternate explanation for the emotional hangover I wrote about. It was a reasonable and valid explanation, but it wasn’t mine. And because it wasn’t true for me, I had to drop everything and immediately clarify. I didn’t just want to explain, I had to. I had to eliminate the nervous feeling I get in my chest whenever I am misunderstood. And while I don’t like the feeling of a loss of control, the feeling that I don’t have a choice in the matter, what I’m absolutely clear about is that trying to fix this feeling doesn’t work. I cannot suppress selective portions of my humanity. I can only make progress by accepting them and continuing to nurture my growth.
I used to have a hard time with my foibles, always comparing myself to other people. I would try to fix myself in the images of others, believing I was insufficient. As if I was some kind of factory second. I was sure I was missing key components that would prevent me from ever functioning fully. The best I could do was try to compensate. But when you think like that, nothing you ever do or say can make up for the fact that you’re incomplete. There is always this striving for, reaching for, longing to find an imagined missing piece that the box never came with. In reality, the opposite is often true: we don’t use the parts of the package we don’t deem appropriate or useful. We don’t always give ourselves permission to think dark thoughts, let alone to express them. Obviously, we don’t want to be irresponsible and hurt people, or damage or even destroy relationships. But it’s also not healthy to suck it up. Swallowing the poison is no better than serving it up.
In my journal, I can let my demons express themselves like petulant children having a temper tantrum. It’s loud and grating, but eventually they run out of steam and quiet down. Then, but only then, my better angels rise up. There is now room for them to authentically and lovingly say, Okay, sweetheart. And where can you take responsibility? What part did you play in this? What “could” you have done — even if you did nothing wrong? Angels never say “should” because that would point to something wrong with us, and angels love unconditionally, accepting us for who we are and who we’re not. That’s not to say we don’t make mistakes. But that is vastly different from being inherently broken. Most of us have a fear of expressing the truth of what we feel and think because we don’t want to look like fools or monsters. What we forget is that we’re all the same underneath. Light and dark. Angels and demons. Whole and complete.
For me, expressing the truth is no longer a “should” or even a desire. It’s a need. I can no more withhold it in my writing than I can stop myself from crying when I am upset. (Though I sometimes wish I could.) I suggested that the workshop participants write a caveat at the beginning of their journals. A declaration that the journal was a dumping ground, followed by a personal manifesto of who they really are. Perfectly intact and loving human beings who sometimes need to vent. This was a great reminder to me that I am not broken or missing parts because I have a dark dimension. I must accept all aspects of each quality in myself — in this case, a need to be understood. That means that while I have freedom and facility in expressing what’s real for me, I will sometimes have to deal with the pain of doing so. I can trust in the fact that I am not a manufacturer’s reject. I am, like all of us, simply working without a manual. Sometimes it seems like others were given proper instructions and mine came in Japanese. But if that’s my make-up, then all there is to do is to spend my life learning to translate. I suppose that’s what I’m doing here. Sharing what I figure out as I go. Ah so desu ka.
From A Run In My Stocking: Confessions of A Recovering Perfectionist