"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..." (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)
Sometimes, it really feels this way. Sometimes, it feels as though life is made of polar opposites vying to occupy the same place in space and time.
Earlier this year, I thought I had discovered my tribe. My peeps. A group to which I could genuinely belong and not fear what would happen if I showed up as myself.
I have good reason to fear showing up as myself. I've done it before and lived to regret it. I'm sure I'm not alone in having had this kind of experience. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I started at a very young age.
Here's some backstory...
A gregarious, curious, talkative little girl of about five years old who hears consistent variations of "Go away, you bother me," from the key people in her life is going to start believing that who she is is unwelcome.
At age six, most nights she lies in bed crying herself to sleep and wondering if anyone would even notice if she died. How would her mom and dad react to her lifeless body? Would they just shrug it off? Would they be relieved that they don't have to deal with her any more? After all, the message they have spoken into her life is one that says, "Go away."
Her parents divorce when she was 11-years old. Her dad, who hadn't wanted anything to do with her beyond a very short span of time when she was 3-years old, now says "I love you," and tries to woo her to his side as he wages war against his former wife. The girl is smart, and knows how to take advantage of that. She doesn't believe any words of affection that come from her father, but she'll let him take her to get her ears pierced since that's what she wants and her mother is adamantly against it.
Her mother, who had so frequently been detached and focused elsewhere, now turns to her for emotional support, saying, "I have nobody else to lean on." At least, now, her mom sees her and needs her. It's better than hearing, "Go away," even though she's still just a child.
Jump forward into the junior high and high school years and this little girl has grown into a chameleon. She knows how to interact with all of the cliques but she doesn't belong. She goes home from school and it feels like running into invisible walls. All the pain from early childhood has turned to anger. She acts out, pushing and pushing, just to get some sort of honest reaction. Her mother looks at her, coldly saying "Well, if you can't positive attention you'll take negative attention."
Almost anything is better than being invisible. Almost...
When she is older, she'll find herself in the role of the mediator between her parents, and between her brothers and her parents. She does it because she can, because someone has to and because she's learned how to look at things from others' perspectives. What she thinks, feels and believes is irrelevant. She knows this. She's known this for a very long time. She's learned to live inside her own head and how to hide her true self; not completely but more than enough to survive.
Factor in the sexual molestation she experienced at the hands of an older child when she was about 6 or 7-years old, and then the fondling by the family dentist when she was 9-years old.
Tell me, would such a child, have any real understanding of what belonging, being welcomed and loved in this world is like? Why on earth would she want to show up as herself in her own life and in her interactions with others?
Yeah, I'm that child. I'm that girl.
I am going somewhere with this, so please be patient.
To be continued...