Thursday, October 19, 2017

Emotional Self Defense...a memory

Yesterday, I was reminded of a moment, a hard moment, in my past that contributed to a pattern of defensiveness that I carry even to this day, even with the people I love most. Perhaps especially with the people I love the most.

I strongly believe that in order to make progress, real progress, in society and the world at large, we have to be able to relate to each other emotionally. It's the one thing, the one language, if you will, regardless of our individual stories, that we all speak and have in common. Even if, for some, emotional language recall is a little rusty.

Relating to each other emotionally leads to compassion, which leads to the possibility of communication, which leads to the possibility of understanding each others perspectives (even if we don't agree). 

In this light, I've decided to start sharing some of my own experiences that represent, not just the emotional pain that has contributed to my own perspectives and defenses, but experiences that represent the human emotional defense response which arrives by default when life hands us more than we are capable of processing. 

Not unlike the adrenaline that kicks in to protect us from the worst of the pain when we are physically wounded, our emotional defensiveness acts to protect us from the worst of our emotional pain. 

Eventually, though, the adrenaline wears off and we feel the pain of our physical injuries while our wounds heal. Eventually too, our emotional defenses should come down so we can face the pain of our emotional wounds, equally real, in order to also heal those wounds. 

A memory...
I was a 13 year old living with Wendy; a teacher and a single mom at my junior high school who took me in when she heard I was living in a shelter.
I had been doing really well, living in her home with her and her 9 year old daughter, Lacy. It was a different life, and a good one. One I couldn’t have imagined after being kicked out and spending time hungry on the streets, or in the shelter; a depressing place full of kids that either didn’t have, or had been rejected by, their families.
Wendy cared, somehow, about me, and I was starting to feel, if not secure, at least less vulnerable in my new environment.
Buffered from reality, and having stuffed the pain of being rejected by my own family far enough into the shadows I could pretend it didn’t hurt, I was back in school (going to class even), and had laid off the drugs.
Wendy had taken me shopping for clothes that weren’t black, covered with heavy metal band pictures, or torn intentionally to shreds; and I wore them.
I may have even liked it. My new self.
She took me to the grocery store. Asked me what I like to eat. Told me to pick my own box of cereal; whatever I wanted.
Alphabits, I remember, with the little marshmallows.
I have no idea why this made such an impression, but it did. To this day in the grocery story I remind myself that I can have whatever I want.
She helped me with homework. Actually made sure it was done and that I turned it in.
She showed an interest in me.
It didn’t take much.
I don’t remember how or where, but I ran into my sister one day, whom I hadn’t seen since right after we were kicked out and had gone our separate ways.
She was still on the run, robbing churches to buy food, and probably drugs, sleeping who knows where. We spent a few hours together, she and I, with another friend, Lee, who overdosed, on heroine a few years later and died.
My sister.
My family, who I missed desperately but had no one safe enough to admit that to. Not even myself.
We probably smoked a joint, drank some booze illegally purchased, no doubt, by an of-age friend. I don’t remember the details now.
While we were together she re-shaved my mohawk, which I had been letting grow out along with my attitude problem and my drug habit, reconnecting in the only way we were capable of at the time; through the catastrophe of our mutual emotional deprivation.
Fuck “progress” and my “new self.” This was bigger.
We might be fucked up but she... she knows me. It was a relief to not feel, not be alone.

By the time she dropped me off at Wendy’s, a place that had felt like a safe haven, I was high, had a newly shaved head, and, having been reminded of how far I was from home, had retreated to the safety and familiarity of my epically bad attitude.  
Wendy’s was the last place I wanted to be.
A place reminding me of how isolated I was from my family who no longer wanted me. Helplessly sad to leave my sister not knowing when, or even if,  I would see her again, guilty knowing I had a place to sleep while she didn’t. The separation from her was unbearable, the loneliness unfathomable and I, being 13, was so, so far from having the emotional maturity to recognize or process any of it.

I arrived at Wendy’s house an intruder. This was someone else’s home. Someone else’s life. Not mine.  
I didn’t belong anywhere.
Wendy could have given me all the love in the world, and she tried, but hers was not the love I needed.
She knew something had changed the moment I walked in.
My demeanor. My attitude.  
When she asked, “Are you okay?” I was defensive.
Angry even.

But only because there is no way for an unwanted child to safely say, “I want to go home.”