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Day 17 - Strength, Weakness & Prison Shanks

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

I know. What am I even talking about?

I was thinking about how I am in relationships. I am not needy. In fact, I pride myself on not needing much of anything. But in reality, if I am honest, this is a trap. For both people. For you, because you will be led to believe that I don’t need anything so you will not think of me in those terms. You will be blindsided when I really do need something, won’t be able to ask for it and then become a mess when you fail to read the signs. For me, because I will portray a pretty congruent picture that I am fine, have it all locked down but there will be this part of me that will need you to help me but will have no voice...until the passive aggression is launched.

Totally counterproductive way to live.

Somehow, a very long time ago, I made some decisions. I decided to do it myself. The “it” didn’t matter. I would tie my own shoes, dress myself, make my own breakfast, walk to school on my own, stay home alone after school, etc. Now, those are good independent things that a child should aspire to do. Perhaps not in first grade...but still. What I think I was trying to say was that I was ok on my own. I didn’t need someone else to help me. I was competent so look elsewhere for a victim or target. My independent streak was a cover for feeling less than. Hyper competence a disguise.

I became strong not because that is really how I felt, but rather, because I needed a cover to hide all the broken parts so that you would not see or at least not look too closely. Now doing a completely contrary thing is, in fact, a strength. One could make the argument that taking the completely opposite reaction to one's feelings and needs is super strong but in my case it was all smoke and mirrors.

I needed things that, for whatever reason, I decided were weak or dependent or “needy”. I decided that those things were not good things and that I would not allow myself such indulgences. Like most decisions children make, it was based on binary, black and white decision making. “Brussel sprouts = bad; Ice cream = good”. There were no shades of grey - there was no real analysis done. It was just decided.

What happened next was an unintended outcome...I did not realize that this decision at 5 would forever alter my life and course. I just knew that at 5, I wanted to be ok. I wanted people to leave me alone and let me be. I wanted to take care of things myself so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wanted things within my control so that I could manage life, instead of having life manage me.

Little did I know, that this decision made by a child, would set a course for me that until now would make all of my decisions for me without my knowledge or consent. I did not know that I was doing this way back then. I just knew that, as a child, I felt powerless and I was trying to give myself a boost. Trying to make some sense of my world at the time.

What I can see now, upon my decades of review, is that I developed strength to cover weakness. I honed competency as one might hone a shank in prison. I would become uber competent so that those around me would look elsewhere for someone to help, assist, control, manage or hurt. What bad stuff could happen to someone who was a self contained unit and needed little?

Turns out, a lot. A lot of bad things can happen. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen is that one is forever left on the outside of the human being circle. People need people. We are not solitary animals meant to live a reclusive life. We are interdependent beings that need companionship, friendship, support and kindness. In making this early life decision, I can see now how I placed myself on the outside of that need and then resented all of you for failing to provide me things that I said that I didn’t want or need.

Worse still, if you were not as competent as me, I looked down on you. I pitied you. I would magnanimously “help” you. I would take you into my home (I did this many times), give you money that I didn’t really have (I did not have the ability to admit that I was really scraping by myself), give you advice about life that I was, upon careful examination not using myself, and turn the conversation away from me to talk about you because I knew exactly what you should do (if I was focused on you, then I could pretend that I was just fine).

What occurs to me now is that I was a user. I used other people to make me feel better about myself. My years of collecting friends and boyfriends who were damaged and broken all evincing my own damage that I could not accept or own.

I became the gal in the prison yard who is not being threatened but is still carving shanks whenever she can. There is no real threat but she is going to be ready if one ever comes her way. She will show others her weapons to prove to them she is guarded and ready for an attack at all times. She will live life on hyper alert feeling like she is maximum security when in reality she is on a work furlough.

It makes me laugh as I write this because, now, I can see that the truly strong people can be weak. They can lean on others. They can own their needs. They can be hurt and scared and not have their shit together. They can admit that they are wreck instead of only being able to own the wreckage in the past tense. Strong people have a wide range of emotions they can feel, own and deal with. They are not slaves to decisions made decades earlier. They can be weak because that is the most true expression of strength. Fragility is something they can own and allow in others.

While recognizing this in myself is helpful, it is going to take a lot more work to change. Awareness is important. Acceptance of this comes harder. I like my super competence and lack of neediness. It is going to take a great deal of effort to reframe that into a defect for me. It is going to take a lot of strength to allow myself to be weaker, needier and vulnerable. First it starts with my thinking and then, maybe, I can begin to take action. Today I start with sharing this discovery. Today the action is writing about it which is a far cry from really allowing myself to be weaker, more vulnerable, more raw. But it is a beginning. A metaphorical surrender of the emotional shanks to the warden. In my story, the warden is me. I will give myself time served and will not send me to the hole. In my story, I have already spent enough time there.

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