When I was young I was painfully shy. I actually remember having my mom write my name down once because I didn't want to say it to the “older” kids on my block. As I got older not much changed. I started to say my name but found it difficult to join conversations. I felt I didn't have anything relevant to share or if I thought of something, it was about what people had talked about ten minutes ago.
I was in high school when I made the first step toward coming out of that shell. It was finding my ability to laugh at myself. If I could laugh at whatever stupid, embarrassing thing I did, somehow it wasn't so embarrassing. Instead of feeling that awful, heart-pounding dread and the desire to sink into the ground, I felt kinda silly, made light of it, and moved on.
Around that same time, I started to really think about cliques. I couldn't understand why people only seemed to hang out with people who dressed like them. To investigate this phenomena, I started dressing differently every day. I would come in one day dressed like the perfect “prep”- neat hair, those V-neck sweaters with a striped button-up underneath, pretty little necklace, nice brown loafers... The next day would find me looking like a total “goth”- all black clothes, usually in layers, ratted up crazy hair, white makeup with dramatic orange eyeshadow, massive black liner, and red, red lipstick, masses of heavy silver jewelry- basically a female Robert Smith (lead singer of the Cure). The next day I would be a “burn-out”- ripped jeans and concert-T's, leather jacket, hair ratted up but less chaotic, sometimes flannel (which I “accidentally” wore before grunge had arrived at my suburban school and was called a farmer, till a few months later...). Then I would come in dressed like a hippie. There weren't any hippies at my school. I was not in a “clique” in school, I was one of those loose, unclassified kids with a few friends. I don't know if it was my own rigid perceptions of those groups that changed or that people were curious about what I thought I was doing, but I ended up with friends from every clique eventually.
After high school and out into the real world, I started to have different issues when it came to social interaction. I had a hard time knowing what to share with people. Sometimes I went through social-anxiety wondering why I had shared something with someone. Or just back to that feeling of stupidity over something I had said. I think it usually came down to my fear of being judged by someone. What would so-and-so think of me now that I had shared that? Would they tell other people? Obviously fears like this helped me to establish some boundaries. Having been through some friendships that caused me to loose trust, I started to gravitate towards different types of people. I learned about establishing trust and mutual respect. I learned how to find safe places to share the things that I need to share.
I keep moving through new ways of seeing my interactions in the world. I've hung on to that ability to laugh at myself, which is crucial to me. I've started to realize that it's not important that other people understand me. Knowing that is a deep and necessary piece of my growth and my path. I have to be able to speak my truth. I have to feel free to believe what I believe regardless of what the world tells us. Trying to fit the world into what we think we know about it will never work for me. I know there is more to this than what we see.
So now I've gone from a six-year-old girl who couldn't bring herself to say her name to a 34-year-old girl who tells it like it is. I still have moments when I can't make my words work. I get the biggest kick out of that after the fact, the writer with no words. It's at those times that I remember that I'm also very emotional and sensitive. I may show the most prevalent emotion like a beacon on my face but there's too much going on inside to work through the words.
What I'm learning about now is the delicate balance of transparency. There are so many things we waste our time hiding that are simply human experience. We have built up so much shame around things as simple as bodily functions. I'm not sure how to shed that but it seems so silly when you think about it. We're ashamed of our desires and habits, sometimes of our strengths. We find it so difficult to say what we feel, what we think. It's fear of rejection or fear of exposure, fear of vulnerability, fear of hurting others, fear of having an unpopular opinion. Do you see the recurring theme?
What I want to keep working toward is a loosening of all that fear. My life is about being loving, that's the change I want to be in the world. I truly believe that the opposing forces, in the grand scheme of things, are fear and love. Fear feeds greed and our perceptions of “different”, two unhealthy human habits that contribute to suffering. If I am willing to let go of that fear and live, out loud and up-close, maybe some other people will see that and open up too. I don't want to hide who I am. I need to be able to communicate how I'm feeling and what I think. We all need some things in our lives to be private. That's healthy and gives us a sense of self and security. But how much do we hide that isn't serving us in the hiding? How many times do we bite our tongues when we should just let them fly? Who do we really hurt when we hide how we feel? What can we do to allow and encourage those around us to feel more free and open and safe? It sounds like a big idea again but to me it all seems so simple.