Turning Eleven

The Year of Honesty is kicking my ass. I was not prepared for how unpleasant this would be. Notice I didn’t say hard. I knew it would be hard. I assumed there would be discomfort. I didn’t know it would be so damn ugly. That I would be shocked at how sickening it would be. How much I would want to look away. How I would feel physically ill to finally face — as in square up to — truth. I am all the things I never wanted to be. Think of your favorite cinematic scene of an addict going through detox. Sweating, shaking, nausea, diarrhea, chills, pain, loss of faculties, hysterical emotions. You’ve seen this depicted by actors, right? The shattering. The scattering of human shrapnel when someone breaks. The weeping, anger, remorse, desperation, helplessness, and finally sweaty, snotty, shitty, stinking exhaustion to segue into the grande finale of shame.

Maybe you have lived it, and if so, this metaphor is meant to underscore the parallel of someone (me) emotionally detoxing from a persona. It is not intended to trivialize or dishonor your experience. With chemical dependence all of this happens all at once and I stand in awe of anyone who has ever had to survive it. In my case it was a psychological dependence and although all of these symptoms were real and truly experienced, it was over a period of weeks. It is not the same and I do not claim to know or understand anything other than my own experience. I use the metaphor with respect because I simply have no other frame of reference for it.

My shrine has a new element because (inhale/exhale) I don’t ever want to go back. Well, that’s not completely true. Part of me does want to go back. Part of me hates the question of never going back because I was incredibly good at that persona. Expert level. I created an amazing character and brought her to life. A walking, talking fictional character authored by me, played by me, and fully developed into legend. And oh, I really liked her. Lots of other people really liked her and many only knew me as her. Scratch many people and make that most people. When those people reach out with I miss you I can’t help but muse That wasn’t me; You never knew me, or more truthfully, I never let you know me.

The photo is a small painting from an artist whose art is part of her spiritual practice. This style of painting is done as a form of devotion. The painted image is the Hindu goddess Durga. I finally see the practicality of having a pantheon of spiritual cues. When we want to do specific work it helps to have an identifier and placeholder for that work. I bought it as a visual talisman. The image is a prompt or a cue. My uncle once let me drive a boat when I was a kid. When he wanted me to make a steering correction he called it a bump. Just a small bump back into alignment rather than a hard turn or a wild veering swerve. Just a bump. Back on course. The painting is a bump.

So the ass-kicking. How do I even write this? Do I even need to? Who would want to read it? For weeks I’ve been saying I can’t but I keep having dreams with messages in them like birthing a baby named Martin and winged helmets made of clouds. I don’t want to write this and tears are welling as I admit it but someone else may need to read it some day. If that someone is not you, click away in respectful silence, please.

I’m guessing as to the math but ballparking it I would say I’ve been lying to everyone I know and everyone I ever met for the last 40 years. Somewhere around age ten I began crafting a persona to override my authentic personality and then honed it to perfection through puberty, adolescence, adulthood and middle age. I am not embellishing when I say I fell in love with her and became so attached/enmeshed/dependent upon her that it functioned as a form of addiction. I can’t name the exact moment I acknowledged this and began grappling with what to do about it but I noticed it was happening last December (2020). Since then to now (March 2021) I’ve been reluctantly deconstructing her and I HATED what I found underneath her.

Breaking her? Hard. Awful. The detox metaphor with the real-life real-time physical illness. With witnesses who worried I would pass out from the effort. But after that, gazing upon the hidden self she was shielding from view? Worse. I hated what I found. And that, my friends, is why she was created in the first place. Why she was nourished and supported and grown to perfection. To hide what I hated from the world and from myself. I never had to look at who I really was because I became someone else. And in truth, I am astounded at my brilliance in doing so. No joke, creating her was greatness. She was my life’s work. A work of art. But born of hate. I didn’t want to let her go and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss her now because she was easier after all these years of familiarity and expertise. I wanted to keep her because she was evidence of my genius and without her all I have is everything I hated. I have to pause here and cry about that for a while.

Why would a ten-year-old child hate her personality badly enough to make this necessary? The opposite of my personality was prized and valued in my home. More importantly, many aspects of my natural personality were openly reviled and declared wrong/bad and something I should strive NOT to be. I was admonished to stop being this way and that way. Don’t like those things; like these things instead. Be this way instead. Be this kind of person instead. People with my personality were mocked in my home, which is particularly cruel for ten-year-old kids. The lesson learned through cruelty was people like me were not tolerated. People like me were not good and not worthy, which to a child means not loveable. I wanted to be loved so I adopted the personality traits which were preferred and learned to live as if they came naturally to me. This is a form a self-harm but self-harm was also normal in my home and not hidden from the children.

This became a survival skill. I repeated this process of creating, recreating and modifying a worthy loveable persona from that point forward. I applied this process to making friends, seeking mates, and choosing occupations, right down to hobbies, interests, and preferences. All crafted to be seen, known, and recognized as someone who does those things. I forced myself to learn to like and love whatever it took to amplify the effect of the persona. Multiply times 40 years until I forgot the original personality ever existed. I forgot that I once was/am all of those hated things. I lived my persona so completely and effortlessly I believed my own ruse. Once the fakery felt natural and normal I no longer remembered I was ever anyone else.

Looking back now there were glimpses through the years. I heard her scream once. I’ve heard her singing. She came through in the poetry I used to write. She had a strong connection to birds and I hated her for it. I can’t remember why. There’s nothing wrong with liking birds. The horrible part of it all is that I did the most damage. I did most of it and I allowed the rest of it. To the innocent authentic part of my self I was a fucking monster. When I stop to cry that fact out of hiding there is a tremor in my chest from mid-abdomen up to the throat and that’s a bell toll of truth. The irony is that gorgeous rockstar of a persona. Who created her? The original person created her, which means the genius was not in the character but within the author and yet I ceded sovereignty to the character through a process I liken to addiction. What awesome, fearsome forces these brains of ours carry, y’all.

Now I have to learn to live the original authentic personality. Or rather, to let it/her live. Let her be seen, felt, experienced, all without the benefits and privileges of the persona. I was taught to hate what comes naturally to me so each thing that comes up as true about me isn’t automatically embraced or celebrated. This was illustrated in February when embroiled in a conflict I wrestled with the fact that the persona was tough, confrontational, and oriented to war, battle, and fighting. The real me is not so the real me was shitting her pants and needed a two-week nap. The real me is super sensitive, easily wounded, oriented to peace and harmony, calm, lover not a fighter, but I only have the skills of the warrior persona. How do I learn not to revert back to the persona and stay in the discomfort of being something I never wanted to be? Vulnerable, frightened, resistant to violence; how do I learn to believe it’s okay to be those things? This is my new wellness practice.

In light of this change the blog will probably change too. I’m questioning the future of the highlight reels. Other things are crumbling left and right. For instance, I was never allowed to be a person who doesn’t play sports. My entire life I must be someone who plays some kind of sport. Truth? I like exercise but not competition. I became a competitor to be that kind of person but I am much happier as a participant than as a competitor. The pressure of winning is too stressful but how do I learn to embrace being a person who doesn’t want to win? Give up sports? Or just give up competing and then have to explain why winning doesn’t make the stress worth it? Deep sigh. Those questions are rotten with fear. What would be the kindest, most respectful choice for the person I really am? I owe a debt of kindness and respect to the person I really am. Do I have the courage to make the kinder choice? This is my new line of questioning.

There is also the scary stuff rushing in at me. Feels risky. The prejudices and stereotypes I deliberately avoided. Some of it is secretive and some I didn’t fully know, understand, or grasp before, like HSP (didn’t know this was a thing). Strongly considering social/recreational sobriety (that’s going to be a big one). Having a more fluid sexuality than previously allowed (I’ve always known) and to stop joking about it. I never feel like a good fit anywhere because I should be working in the healing arts to use my natural gifts (d’uh). The woo-woo New Agey metaphysical psycho-spiritual dream stuff is who and what I really am and that’s also not a joke anymore either. My marriages failed because my spouses married a fake and I have no experience with authenticity in relationships. Longtime readers are nodding because some of this has always been leaking through but the persona would not allow me to fully or openly claim it. That’s done now. Every time I deny, joke, or make light of these things I’m showing disrespect to who I really am. It’s still self-harm no matter how passive it may seem.

Acceptance in half measures is not acceptance but I’m not up to the task of overhauling my whole life all at once. I’m starting super basic. The smallest change I can make to keep this manageable is to pause at each opportunity to ask the kindness question. What is real? What would be the most kind? How can I respect who I really am and what I really need, choice by choice? It’s the only skill I’ve got at my disposal right now. Maybe once I feel strong enough with this I can move on to what I have offer others. I’m putting out lots of bird seed. I’m taking alcohol off the shopping list. What’s left in the house will be the end of it for a while until I can flesh out the best way to change my relationship with it. I told my team captain to only use me as a sub for the rest of the tennis season. I never started a highlight reel for March and today is the 20th. I’m not going to start one now. I need more rest than most people, especially to be more creative. Creativity is joy and joy is holy.

If you needed to read this for the same reason I needed to write it, you are not alone and it is not too late to start over. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t heal her shit until half of her life is over. There is still half of it left. It wasn’t a waste. It was a huge task. I obviously needed this long to get it done. Some traditions say when you heal shit like this you energetically heal it backwards through previous generations as well and we choose this before we are born. From that perspective no amount of time was too long for a job this big. Nonetheless I think next February I’m not going celebrate turning 50 years old. I’m going to celebrate finally turning eleven.

— Mercy

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