“It’s a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found” – D. W Winnicott
We were watching a documentary the other day that featured Mariel Hemingway and her family. “Running From Crazy” spoke to the brokenness of the Hemingways, which of course included the legacy (or anti-legacy, if you will) of her grandfather, the great Ernest Hemingway. It hooked me early in, like one of Papa’s famous fishing expeditions. This wasn’t a Hollywood tell-all type film. This was just about a family. One that clearly had its issues, burdens and open sores. Anger and resentment, shattered dreams and familial animosity punctuated the story, with an underlying sadness that comes with the territory of such histories.
The one thing that Mariel spoke about often was the fact that she felt invisible when she was growing up. It seemed to anchor her emotional landscape and fuelled her isolating tendencies. It, alongside her sisters’ issues and the call of acting, robbed her of her childhood. She had a sense of longing for something that seemed to be missing from her childhood. This carried forth into her adulthood, where at one point she found herself getting angrily jealous that her own kids were laughing and having fun. Her own children.
I mention this because I very much identified with her. It reminded me of the wonderful quote off the top of this post. It’s a quote I have used often in my writings here, and that’s because it strikes home more often than I care to admit to. It was the cornerstone of my own off-kilter emotional and mental scaffolding and has driven me in all sorts of haphazard directions. In many ways, it still clings to me lightly and yet tenaciously, like a cobweb or burr. A stowaway on my unchartered flight.
The idea of not being seen is of course enticing to a guy like me. Especially as a kid who was often bullied, staying in the shadows of safety was a hard place to land, but it kept me away from fists and folly. At the same time, I wanted others to see that I was just like them – wanted to fit in, play, have friends and show off what made me special and unique. But the fear of getting hurt was too much, and so I packed away the gifts given to my by the Maker and slowly shrunk away from others…and myself.
There is nothing worse than the flavour of self-betrayal. It stings in the mouth and brings toxins to the blood. The heart is corrupted and the mind fills with self-loathing and distorted views of self and the world. To shy away, and even slam the cell door shut, on what we were meant to share to the world is a wound that is always self-evident and gaping. It hurts. And so drinking helped to soothe that laceration. It was if I decreed “If you can’t have me, then I can’t have me!” and then chug-a-lug, F-you all. My life was always a stone in my own shoe.
But here’s the thing, the fly in the ointment: no matter how much I tried to pull away from the light of recognition, of love, of blooming, I was always attracted to it. Like a cat pawing away at a dancing flashlight on a wall, I was always having the glow of being seen for who I am slip between away. I so desperately wanted to be seen. I wanted others to see that I wasn’t this strange, isolated, death metal kid who wrote and drew violent and nasty stuff. I was a boy who was hurting and wanted to be held and told “I see you. You are frightened, but I see you. I know what you can do, and how you can effect others. I SEE YOU.” But of course, I would have pushed you away if you tried to do that. That friction between wanting and not wanting were the sparks that fuelled the fire of my alcoholism, amongst other things.
And so while I was partially happy to be a wallflower at the party, I was partially unhappy. While I was partially happy to have someone be interested in me in some way, I was partially unhappy. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted. And in some ways, that’s me today. It’s like a gazelle wanting to spring forth and alight along the grass and bask in the sun and showcase the blaze of speed and grace it was given. But it also knows that there are predators out there waiting. So it dissolves into the pack, unseen, or hides out on its own. I couldn’t tap into what was really in my heart, because it was cloaked with so many years of mistrust.
So it truly was a disaster not being found. I felt it through me and it reflected in my choices and actions. It ran rampant in my isolation and my anger and resentments towards others. I raged against the girls who rejected me and went dancing with those jerk guys. I raged against the teachers who picked the dumb guys in the class to shower praise on. I raged against anyone, anywhere who didn’t hold me up on high like a rare chalice, to be cherished and preened over.
Wow, sounds like a lot of self and ego in there, doesn’t it? Sure does. Self-centered fear, to be more exact.
And that is what I struggle with at times even these days. Nowhere near the extremes, thankfully. I am not a swinging pendulum of pain and distraught, but certainly more along the lines of “What’s holding me back from being visible? What am I getting out of playing small?” Am I playing victim or martyr? Do I get to blame bullies in softer, gentler clothing? Is false humility or even false pride at work? I’m good with words, for example, so what do I gain by playing dumb and talking down to myself and others? Why do I deflect praise and swallow up criticism?
No easy answers, but the questions are key to this.
Because one thing I have learned in my recovery, and on this journey, is that we weren’t meant to be hidden in the herd. We weren’t meant to play small and hide out. We weren’t meant to sabotage our greatness and ability to touch the sky. We were meant to shine. We were meant for the distinction of our soul to break on through. The illustriousness of our spirit was meant to rise above the pack and radiate. In whatever way that is meant to be. It doesn’t mean that I am going to be a rock star, or a spiritual guru or the best runner on the planet. Those aren’t in the stars for me. But what it does mean is that in some way, I have gifts that were meant to be shared. Even if that means I make the meanest chilles rellenos, or make the kids laugh until they cry, or just listen like a champ.
And hey, this sounds all sweet and light and could be ripped out of any Oprah magazine, and in some way, it’s true. Bumper stickers here we come. But I have to keep something aloft, a carrot stick of some kind, when I get the pull to check out momentarily. When the though of just throwing my hands up in the air and just saying “To hell with you all – I’ll just sit out the rest of the game here,” sound appealing. When I just want to be hidden and hope that someone finds me. Or not. I have to remember that the only one who needs to find me is me. My Maker put His stamp on me a long time ago, so it’s never He that is lost, it is me. He knows what He’s done. I am the one who runs away from my true callings. Scared witless.
As Mariel alluded to in her documentary, we weren’t meant to be invisible. We weren’t meant to dull the shine of our souls, to sully it and cover it up with dirt. Or let others do it for us. It’s like holding our breath under water. It’s painful after a while and it’s not natural to do it for so long. Being seen is such a powerful and basic need of ours. Being seen, namely by ourselves, is a validation from within of who we are meant to be. When I see me, I see what the Maker has seen in me. I can shrivel up under the noise and hubbub of others. I’m introverted, so while I can easily be shouted out or out-talked of a conversation, I need to know that I am okay, even if I don’t say my piece.
In the end, I can only be seen when I show up and play the part of me – a part no one else can play. And throughout this whole journey, I have always been sure to do my best to see others for themselves. Not always, as I get caught up in my crap, but I do my best. Perhaps that is one of the things I am meant to do. Or maybe there is a still a chance at being that rock star…