Saturday, March 27, 2010

Can You Be Wounded and Not Know It?

Probing for Hidden Obstacles

Well I have to admit that it feels really good to have my 2010 list of goals blogged about and out there and out of the way. I have a copy of them in my room, as well, written in black sharpie on a large piece of sketch pad paper and taped up to the wall with white duck tape. It's rather funny, because when I first mentioned this blog on my writing blog, it was as a writing goal for the month of March:

"12 blog posts on my "Fixing my Life" blog (going swimmingly by the way, thanks for asking)"

If we wanted to be super duper analytical about it, I've only crossed off 3 of 126 bullet points from the list and we're already almost a quarter of the way into the year. Even with the 3-4 I might knock out next week, and two year long goals I can measure by income and say I'm ahead of schedule, that's still WAY on the low percentage scale.

But that's the funny thing. I'm firmly convinced you need solid, distinct, concrete goals that are actionable to work step by step on the huge things that aren't so tangible. I can say "I want to be less shy," but that's so general and overwhelming that there's no way to attack that (as opposed to a goal of something like 'talk to 20 pretty young ladies this month at Barnes and Noble - which is something concrete that still makes you take a small step to the bigger goal). BUT that also means that with a concrete list the numbers checked off often don't come remotely close to accurately gauging "how it's going."

The comment I made on "fixing my life is going swimmingly" was a bit of a snarky joke, but it was all meant in fun and honestly, that's the way I feel. Maybe the steady commitment alone has been enough to begin to turn around some major things, but part of the process that's not going to be revealed by those goals on the wall is working out of the inside rubble.

So before diving into the thoughts I've really been wrestling with this week, let me set up some framework that might bring some background and organization to this post before I ramble away. The ground rules, so to speak.

  1. I'm very reflective and introspective by nature. I also know I can be a really complex person, so when I start digging through the emotional dirt, sometimes discoveries come in layers.
  2. I tend to have a pretty strong understanding of what influences me both big and small, so what is simply subconscious to some people is something I explore instead of letting it be.
  3. I'm aggressive. Once I figure out there's something to work on, I keep digging no matter how ugly it gets or how much most of me really doesn't want to do it.
  4. My life is complex and can often appear like a paradox. Those of you who know me well understand this easily, and are probably even laughing at me right now, thinking of classic examples you've witnessed.
  5. I'm not a surface person. Hypothetically, assuming most people never go more than 30% deep into who they are, what they believe, and why - it's a pretty safe bet I go 60, 70% or more - or at least understand those extra layers are there and try to deal with them.
Those 5 pretty much lay it out. After that, as my friend Gabe once said: "I'd describe you as the most ridiculously well adjusted train wreck I've ever seen." I thought that was a pretty exceptional and apt description. A lot of people think I'm remarkably well adjusted, and as far as being functional and being able to cope with trauma, yes, I've gone through the gauntlet plenty of times and here I am being rebuilt and becoming stronger than ever. On the other hand, is it because my life is in order and I actually am well adjusted and not at all affected by past traumas? Not even close.

Absolutely no question faith plays a huge role in the coping and strengthening process, but I don't know what you call the rest. Functioning in spite of trauma and dysfunction? So used to both that they just become a permanent part of the background in my life? Is being unbending and obsessive with dealing with my problems, past, and personality the same attitude that simply makes me strong enough to deal with everything because I pull it out into the open?

I have no answers for that because I don't know. But I liked Gabe's quote. In many ways I am an absolute train wreck beyond what even my closest friends can imagine, and it would take all my fingers and toes to count the number of times a good friend has told me they couldn't imagine going through what I had been through and coming out anything but scarred, destroyed, or something else. And none of them get more than bits and pieces. But on a day to day and week to week and in a life in general way, I function very well and outright excel in many areas of my life. And at the worst, I always keep going. It ain't easy, but I don't recall anyone telling me that life was. So I'm a ridiculously adjusted train wreck. I like that.

So a question that I've been wrestling with while trying to deal with all the past junk (we all have it to some extent, my closet just might be deeper than a lot of others) was wondering if I could be wounded and not know it. I mean emotionally or mentally. Obviously I would recognize a knife sticking out of my leg, so that's a non-issue...unless it happens then at the time that probably would be a pretty big one.

But I wonder. Many, if not most, of us have major parts of our personality that are probably very strongly dictated by past events or reactions to past events that maybe we don't even think about any more. Maybe it was conditioning from a childhood embarrassment long since forgotten, but that conditioning remained and affected so many other things along the way. Think the domino effect. Just push one, and the others keep on falling.

There are definitely memories that were hard that have a strong emotional impact on me, but I wonder if some of these problems and obstacles I'm finding in myself have a deeper root that just isn't that easy to identify. I can vividly recall being absolutely verbally and emotionally destroyed by one of the very few women I ever loved. It doesn't surprise me to know how that affected me, and I don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that those memories have a very direct influence on me being defensive and careful on letting certain people in, and in my overall view of dating. But what is it that's made me shy since I was a young kid? Why do certain memories from say the college years stick with me as minorly embarrassing or odd, (or even a moment without an emotion attached) but it has no obvious connection to my life as being something that should be important or still having an effect on me?

Are those wounds that I don't even realize I have, or is that just something else entirely? Why do certain memories seem embarrassing now when they didn't in the past? I wonder if that's a red flag to what I'm saying...or if maybe I'm way over-analyzing the whole darned thing.

I suspect that no matter how self-aware we are, there's always more buried from our conscious understanding of who we are. To go way back to the first point: the list has barely been scratched, but the irony is taking solid small concrete steps is leading to a lot of this personal reflection, working out past memories or troubling emotional responses, getting my personality back more to where I want it, and maybe seeing work going on in me that I didn't expect to happen - or didn't understand that I needed.

Case in point: previously afforementioned heart breaker who definitely turned me off from dating for quite some time - after spending way too much time brooding and being bummed and overly sentimental in my reflecting (something I think most of us can relate to), thinking about her or what happened hasn't been an active emotion thing for me in a couple years, and fuller healing even came after that. In other words, it doesn't hurt to think about her, there isn't the regret, the anger, the "what ifs." In fact, I hit the full acceptance and the emotional release that comes with that well over a year ago. So I figured all my healing from that was done and there was nothing else to heal.

So one more quick story from a couple weeks ago and then I'll wrap this novel up: I walked to Barnes and Noble because working 12-20 hours a day at a computer 7 days a week is much harder in the spring than the fall. At the book store I looked around at the new authors, enjoyed just walking through the place, and just like a cabin fever released writer who was enjoying the day out way too much to pay attention, I bumped into someone coming around the corner and knocked the books out of her hand.

She was a George R.R. Martin fan and so it was very easy to start chatting because we already had that one huge thing in common. At first I was nervous, then comfortable, then simply enjoying a conversation with someone who could really hold their own. At the end, and for most people this is no big deal but for me its a pretty bold move, without even thinking about it (and that is the part that encourages me about this the most), I asked her if she wanted some coffee. She had to go, and the look of regret seemed pretty genuine, so a little nervous I asked for a phone number.

A got a gentle hand on my shoulder, a smile, a thanks for the great conversation, a brief explanation about not being ready for anything even close to a date, and one more thanks for the list of books I added to her reading list.

So in the end I walked out with one new book, and the lingering touch of a hand on my shoulder, and was happy to know not only did some real healing take place, but what I left with really was more than enough to make that a beautiful day.

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