First things first:
This is not just about me.
Within this article, you’ll find references of several periods of trial within my life and I want to communicate the meaning behind it. This is a combination of something I need to do for me and something I need to do for you. My battle with anxiety, confusion, insecurity, you name it has been completely and utterly self-inflicted and it’s time that I rise to the occasion to take ownership of what owned me. I also understand that someone out there reading this may be carrying around some of their own deeply-rooted baggage. Although very difficult to discover on one’s own, I’m banking on the likelihood that maybe, just maybe, they see a little bit of themselves in me — hoping they hold up the mirror to find a wound they didn’t know was exposed.
Courage is such a simple, yet difficult concept to embody. Common thinking suggests to be courageous or brave, you must ignore and overlook fear. Like it somehow doesn’t phase you and you’re not rattled by it. The truth is actually quite the opposite. Courage, real courage, acknowledges fear. It tips its hat to fear and moves on. It notices fear headed its way at full speed and rears its head forward anyway.
It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It’s NOT fun. And it certainly doesn’t look good.
But there’s a certainly benevolence to it. A humaneness that makes one appreciate all that there is to be joyful about it in life. Like life is happening for us, not against us.
For me, a kind of hopeful calm arises right before I step into the realm of conflict. That truth, that hope that what I’m about to do may stand for something greater than myself, puts me in a place of not addressing the outcome. Moreover, “failure to produce a result” is not the same as “failure”. It’s the act that defines us; not the outcome.
“It’s not the fruit of the action that’s important. It’s the action itself.” — Ghandi
Now, this isn’t perpetual or automatic by any means. We all have to be deliberate in whatever it is we want to be successful in. I’m as imperfect as anyone so trust me when I say, I put myself in state to be able to practice real courage and write this article.
So here we go.
When you’re a kid, your concerns are minimal. You may get hungry or tired or thirsty but generally speaking, you’re pretty much happy to be there. Our view of the world is full of curiosity, joy and wonder. It’s like we get to watch a Disney movie and then immediately go live it. This can last years.
Eventually, however, something will appear to be wrong.
An experience won’t align or will be inconsistent with the beliefs we’ve formed from the experiences we have to draw from. It’s different for everyone. For some, it’s arguing parents. For others, it’s someone leaving. For others, it’s much darker instances.
For me, it was feelings of shame and embarrassment. I can remember going to grocery store regularly with my mother and one of the bonuses to coming along with her was a piece of candy at the checkout line. She generally did all the grocery shopping, as my father’s law career was taking off and demanding more and more from him. There was one day, however, where Dad and I went along to the grocery store together. Like clockwork, I placed my choice of candy on the conveyor belt. My father, through no fault of his own, wasn’t aware of this general practice of mine and asked me what I was doing placing the candy bar down as if it were on purpose. I viewed my father in the highest of regards. He was the man of the house, someone I looked up to. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint him or have him question me. I wanted to be perfect for him.
So here I was, a child who’s head had just exploded from being asked a simple question by his dad relating to a subject as arbitrary as chewing candy. But in that moment, a cascade of emotions overcame me. I was unsettled, overwhelmed, and completely uncomfortable in my own skin. I never wanted to experience this feeling ever again. From that day forward, I avoided feelings of shame and embarrassment like the plague.
DISCLAIMER: I love my father (and entire family, for that matter) as much as anything in this world and this is no way to create him as an antagonist. This is also not to create a reference point of comparison to anyone else that has gone through a serious life trauma. At the end of the day, the degree is relative to the human being that experiences it. The reality is, a five-year old kid made a decision that day that would never again be revisited for more than twenty years. The boy shaped the man.
I had no idea. I had no idea that the decision that was just made would end up having a ripple effect that would rival the likes of the Chaos Theory. Not only that, but the person that I felt at the time was the source of my shame and embarrassment was the one I looked up to the most. I would do anything to never experience that level of chagrin ever again, especially in relation to Dad. I began to process who I would have to be in order for that to take place. I decided that had I not assumed it was okay, this never would have happened and Dad’s view of me would never have come into question. Moving forward, I needed to be certain of myself before acting. I needed to submit.
At this point, my dad never had a chance. I created a story that lengthened a relational fulfillment with him seem so impossible for me, it didn’t matter what he did or said. During adolescence however, I wasn’t aware of this. He did his very best with me and still, I never felt I received his love. Being unaware of what script that little boy had written (and more importantly, never challenging it), I began to experience all kinds of emotions ranging from anger to confusion to feeling incomplete.
I bottled my emotions as an adolescent. Due to my commitment to never experiencing shame and embarrassment again, I knew that sharing what I was feeling was far too great a risk to take on. Those feelings began to mount and develop into far more unhealthy burdens. With the copious amount of emotion I was unable to interpret beginning to boil over, I had to find outlets. I had to be a good example for my brother and sister, so any immoral behavior was out of the question. I knew that anger issues ran in the family so I figured it seemed like the most rational form of release. I mean, it was in my blood, right?
From then on, I wrote more to my story. I became an “angry” person. Hockey, my favorite sport growing up, became more about racking up penalty minutes and hurting people than trying to score goals and win games for my team. Doors went from an entrance to the next room to something I could break down. Loving and sharing turned into shouting and yelling. And if I lost at anything, I tied the result directly to my self-worth and snapped at everyone involved.
I was breaking down inside and I knew it. My commitment to never experiencing shame and embarrassment drove me so deeply however, that I knew I couldn’t possibly show signs of weakness. Naturally, the next question became, “How do I appear stronger?”
I had already been teased in high school for being the skinny kid. My dad was a muscular guy. People that appear strong externally often got a hall pass on consideration for being strong internally. So I decided to head to the gym.
Fitness became an outlet for me. An area to check out from life and focus on releasing pain. Again, I had told myself these stories for years and years without questioning anything so as far as I was concerned, pain and suffering was who I was. This became worse as my sexuality was called into question. I didn’t know my ass from third base in terms of what I really wanted. Compensation for so many perceived inadequacies had such a profound presence in my life that I couldn’t even fathom sustaining an actual relationship with another human. I could barely handle myself.
Objectively, I found women very attractive and connected with them on an emotional level. However, the unfinished business with my dad and craving that male presence I felt I never got so deeply caused me to experience more and more uncertainty. Half-hearted attempts in both directions ultimately left me feeling more and more alone.
As human beings, we can’t stand uncertainty. This is the realm of possibility where our brain kicks into full gear and hi-jacks any potential positive outcome. Survival mode is the default mechanism of the brain and it pounces on every opportunity to show you something may be wrong. Commonly used is the analogy of the amygdala as the barking dog: the dog will bark like crazy when it senses something going on outside the door. Sometimes it’s for good reason and there’s actually a threat beyond the wall. However, most of the time, it’s simply a car driving by in the opposite direction.
I leaned into this like a winning lottery ticket. I created an elaborate “woe is me” theme regarding confusion, uncertainty, and non-commitment. What this did (which, again, I didn’t know at the time) was free me from any responsibility of truly committing and contributing to someone. I was “confused”. How could someone so unclear with themselves possibly create a lasting, prosperous relationship with another? This became my trump card.
After twenty-something years and rigorous reflection, it became clear to me that my view of reality was completely and utterly collapsed. The stories about what took place in my life held far more value than just the events themselves. Each moment had its own narrative, an elaborate backstory that culminated around me being justified for both my action and inaction. On top of that, everything I created for myself in my life was consistent with the avoidance of shame and embarrassment. Every happening became another chapter in my book of life. Life isn’t fiction, however; and unlike a great non-fiction book, my life was all story and no substance.
Just like your views, my views as to why my life occurred the way it did were real to me. They were so real, that I was actually stuck inside the pages of my production and was unable to recognize that I’m the one who penned the script, resisting with all my might to take responsibility for doing so.
“Heal the boy and the man will appear.” — Anthony Robbins
We often create a rhetoric for areas in life we feel are imperfect. An explanation for why we don’t have what we want yet. Intricate themes consistent with why a person may have treated us a certain way. Constructed reasons as to why things didn’t quite work out.
When in fact, the reasons had nothing to do with the experience. As far as the universe is concerned, nothing internal is going in the history books. We can save the energy we expend avoiding responsibility and instead, focus our attention elsewhere.
Sometimes, things just happen — and that’s all the explanation necessary.
Bringing it back to the introduction, this is not about me anymore.
I got what I needed now that I’ve shared this. I’m now free to operate in whatever realm I choose because I have the discernment and the wisdom to know the difference between my story and my life. I’m not even looking for a particular response from anyone as many people are just too guarded to receive the message.
What I want from those of you that got it, however, is for you to return to that little kid you were before something went wrong.
Full of joy and full of wonder.
“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.” — Tyler Knott Gregson
Originally published at medium.com