Did you ever acknowledge something about yourself that you wished wasn't true?
I am a Reality Bites, moody, Eeyore, Lydia from Beetlejuice type of person. My frustrations and irritations ride just under the surface. They often seek to overwhelm me.
I spend a lot of time wishing to be different. I wish I was sunny and Pollyanna.
Or do I?
I'm often told to lighten up. Calm down. Stop worrying so much.
There's darkness to me. I've been invisible, ignored, unseen for large portions of my life. Because that's the way I wanted it. Easily folding myself away into a space out of the way. Out of the way of conflict. Out of the way of awkwardness. Out of the way of confrontation.
As you grow up and live through days and weeks, months and years, it seems you come to a point where you begin to examine "you."
Who am I and how did I get here type examinations. Often the answers lie not in where we are, but where we've been.
My answers lie in myself as a child.
Do you ever feel oddly close to your childhood thoughts and feelings, even though you are an adult many years removed from the hazy days of childhood? I don't know if that's a universal thing or not. But for me, I remember vividly how it felt to be a child. And in my life, the best times were when I remained invisible, out of the fray. I was an expert at disappearing when things got ugly, tense or weird. I forced myself to learn to fake sleeping, and I became so convincing at it that never did anyone think I was faking.
I played by myself often, and when I did spend time at a friend's house, it was often to observe. Who were these people, who seemed so different from myself and my family? My friend's homes were often loud and chaotic. Mine was quiet and filled with routine: dinner at 6 pm with the network news on (usually CBS, a lot of Dan Rather), sitcoms until bedtime. Rarely did we go out to eat. Never did we visit other people's homes unless it was me staying over at a friend's or when we visited family.
I knew, early on, that my family wasn't like other families. We were closed, contained. Other families, I knew from all my observing, were like open doors. I became closed and contained, too.
It was a safe way to exist as a child. I was awkward and shy. I developed elaborate routines on the playgrounds on the days my friends were absent to make it appear as though I wasn't alone and friendless. Spend a couple minutes lingering near a groups so it looked like I was involved (but not too long), move to underneath a tree where I could act like I was waiting for someone to meet me. (Where is she? And I would peer around, impatiently.) Five or more minutes wandering from place to place like I was looking for somebody or some thing.
By the time I was out of 6th grade, I had mastered the art of being alone in a crowd without looking like I was alone. It was a skill I would draw upon often later, as an adult. Alone in plain sight, but not weirdly so.
All that odd coping, all that examining of families not like mine, led me to conclude early on that my family wasn't quite normal. But, not having much to compare to, I just accepted my hardworking, quiet, mostly anti social, routine-oriented parents as my parents, and I adapted. Never too loud, too defiant, too annoying. Do chores, read, get good grades, and there is never a problem.
Assert yourself, bring up awkward subjects, go against the grain?
Talk about things that may bring about unexpected emotions? No again. I waited almost 15 years to tell my parents I had been molested beginning at age 8 by a relative. All those years, I was so proud of myself for not causing a problem by telling what went on and possibly getting blamed or causing a scary situation like divorce of my relatives or pressing charges. I avoided all of that, they divorced anyway without my help, and I finally talked about it when enough years went by that it was no longer an issue that could cause problems.
Oh, but I was so very wrong. I shouldn't have been proud. Because little girl me had no idea the kind of damage that comes from holding a secret like that for so long. For fading into the background, staying invisible, creating no chaos, expressing no emotion.
You reach a point where you can't hold that darkness any longer, and it begins to leak out. At first it's just like a paper cut. But soon, it becomes an open wound, and suddenly you're bleeding darkness everywhere and no tourniquet can stop the gush.
It's no wonder I'm not sunshine and light, that I worry, and that I started feeling anxiety and depression in my 30's. I had no outlet. I had no way to release the bad feelings. My only way of coping was to stuff them all in, over and over, but it eventually became so crowded in there that they had nowhere left to go.
And then, they came out. Like a tidal wave, they destroyed much of what they found, and I was no longer able to cling to that safe little shell I had been given. I was released into the bigger world and left to cope, and to realize that when we get to the point in our lives where we wonder who we are, where we're going, and why we're here, we must acknowledge all the little moments that led to this point.
All the choices we made.
All the things we observed.
And then, we take all the pieces left after the tsunami is gone and begin to put ourselves back together. Differently, I'm sure. I'm still not sunshine, but I am learning that it's okay to be what I've become. It's what she chose at 8, and she chose at 12, and she at 17. I can make different choices now.
I think it's why art is as much a part of me as my hair color or the shape of my face. Art is how I coped when I didn't know any other way. It's a meditation, a daydream and a skill practice all together in one.
Art is what I do, it's who I am becoming, it's why I am the way I am.
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