When I was in my teens and early 20’s, I had a small group of guys that I hung out with. Friends, if you will. We were primarily drinking buddies, but since we had gone to high school together there was that little something that held us together. When we weren’t hitting it hard at the bar, or hitting on the ladies, we were at least hitting the books together (note: we succeeded at the first, failed miserably at the second, and survived the third). We were together because frankly, no one else would have us.
We were the school’s lower caste, the Untouchables, Drifters of the Hallways without the cool factor to anchor us socially. We were misfits who shared misery with a pint of ale and a cup of moaning. Although our Gang of Losers badge kept us connected, there was also an unwritten code that pervaded our little Shire and kept us sickly sticky with one another. It was silent code, but absolutely saturated with quiet rage. It was a virus that was always active in our collective psyche, and ready to strike with viciousness that left its victim paralyzed. It was deadly stuff.
Growing up, I had always been good at school. Loved it. Loved writing essays, taking tests, studying, answering questions…it spoke to me at a deeper level than just trying to look good or getting attention. In fact, I didn’t like too much attention, so I was rather quiet about my above average marks. When I moved to a new school in Grade 7, things changed dramatically. The kids in that school didn’t appreciate a new smart kid entering their midst, it would seem. These kids were almost twice my size and anything outside cars, rock’n’roll and pounding one another was seen with equal parts confusion and disdain. I saw all fists and no handshakes that year. Teachers got into the fray as well, berating me in front of the class for my advanced status in the school system. They too were unprepared for someone like me. But there was something I learned there.
You see, I was good at equations, and did well in adding things up. And here was an equation I learned that year…possibly the only thing I was able to retain that year, and it didn’t come from a textbook:
Being yourself = pain.
And there were some variations, of course:
Showing your hand = pain.
Opening your heart = pain.
Living to your potential = pain.
So it was in my best interest to go underground, to shield myself, to turtle and live in a den safe from the predators. I was, for the first time, wounded deeply. And when I tried to address it to adults, it got worse. So I hid. I kept replaying the new equations in my head, just in case I dared venture into trying something new, or opening my beaten down clam shell to let someone in. You can keep knocking, but you’re not getting in. Ever.
So years later, when I was hanging out with my pals, it was this dangerous game all about who could get something on who. It was the unwritten code that you could not make mistakes, open up, or show any kind of vulnerability at all. You know what I mean? If one of us messed up in any fashion at all, big or small, and it was witnessed by one of our roving Eyes of Judgement, then that transgression was immediately banked and used against the person for life. We never let up or let you forget what you did. If anything, we turned the tourniquet even tighter if the person bemoaned being reminded about whatever happened. There was no need to have resentments, because there was always someone there to relive your painful and embarrassing moments to you all day and night.
So if I showed a tear or if I was upset, or if I verbalized that I was lonely or anything like that, it was insta-torture by the boyz. We stunted each other’s growth with inhuman welts of the cat-o-nine-tails tethered to us at all times. We couldn’t show each other the slightest tinge of humanity, lest it be beat out of us. And these were my friends, for goodness sake. At least that is who I thought they were. But I was no victim – I was just as ruthless, if not the most vengeful of the pack. My way with words ensured that I could flail you with flowery prose and let you still feel the sting. If I could make you cry, even better. Way to go, ol’ buddy ol’ pal of mine.
Deep down, I pined for the relationships the other people around me had – supportive, enjoyable, relaxing, brotherly. The only time I felt arms around me was when someone was giving me a Wrestlemania-like take down on the concrete during recess. So it was be tough, be a little shit, or get hurt.
Remember the equations. Stay clammed up or get shut up.
So drinking entered the picture and I realized that I didn’t need those guys any more. I didn’t need them to beat me up and tell me what a rotten deal I was for being human…because I could do that on my own. And I was better at it than they ever could be. I become jailer, inmate, warden and in-house torturer. The executioner came to play every day. And we know the ending to this story…alcoholism thrashed me around until I cried “Uncle,” and couldn’t imagine life with drink and couldn’t imagine live life without drink.
Fast forward to my recovery. Among the many things I have learned is that I am actually alright the way I was made. I have a lot of work to do still to get to my true core, but that’s with the Creator now in my life, running the show and me doing what I need to do to help myself and more importantly, to help others. I have learned to show and express that little boy who just wanted to be who he was meant to be, who wanted to play, who wanted to be seen. I have learned new equations and have met some wonderful new teachers and guides and mentors in my life. I am back in school and loving it.
But the one issue I have had lately is that I have been getting slowly back into my old ways of protecting myself, of not making myself vulnerable, of not letting others in. I am closing the clam shell a bit. I am trying to look like I have all the answers when I don’t. I am still a child in recovery, and while I am teachable and honest, I still feel that I can do more.
So here’s my homework (ooh! I love homework) for this week: Write a post every day. But not just a regular post – one where I have put a lot of thought and effort into it, where I have spent time coming up with the topic and focusing on the delivery and syntax and all the writer-y things that I am used to doing. But rawer stuff, showing that I too am vulnerable to fears, and hurts and uncertainty. That I am not so composed all the time. I am taking off the power suit and putting on my yoga sweats. I am cracking open the clam shell and letting everyone see that amongst the pearls are sand and pebbles…lots and lots of pebbles.