A Joy To Be Hidden


My version of hide-and-go-seek.  An iced mocha mint low-fat no whip half caf frappucino and a straw would make it even better.
My version of hide-and-go-seek. An iced mocha mint low-fat no whip half caf frappucino and a straw would make it even better.

“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.

If I had seen this growing up, I would have either been saved, or drank sooner
If my parents had owned this record, I would have either been saved, or drank sooner.

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.

Oh, he's got an eye on you...(I know, too easy, but I'm just eyeballing this post.  If you don't like it, you can just socket to me later).
Oh, he’s got an eye on you…(I know, too easy, but I’m just eyeballing this post. If you don’t like it, you can just socket to me later).

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.

 (Note - not to scale)
(Note – not to scale)

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.

That's terrible.  Just terrible.
That’s terrible. Just terrible.

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…

Now THAT'S Rock'n'Roll, baby.
See ya after the show, baby.

32 Comments Add yours

  1. mommyx4boys says:

    Dont doubt yourself, you could totally still be a ☆roackstar☆, and I will come see you in concert. 😉

    1. Ha ha…thanks. I will keep the paramedics busy, as I probably wouldn’t get past the first song without twisting, spraining or breaking something in my body… 🙂

      Thanks for being here 🙂

      Paul

  2. mishedup says:

    You ARE a rockstar!!
    I loved this post…so reminded of how I drank to hide and the weird feeling when I came out of it of how many people didn’t really think I had a problem. Obviously I did that well. And how only now I am able to be the true me, shining my light when appropriate, dimming it when I need to listen and re-charge, but owning that light and being willing to live in it.

    1. “shining my light when appropriate, dimming it when I need to listen and re-charge, but owning that light and being willing to live in it.” <—this. Wow. I love that, M. Listening – something I probably need to do more of rather than ramping up my brain figuring out what to say next before the person is done talking! But the idea of shining when appropriate – bang on. Sometimes I dim when I shouldn't be dimming – that's another topic altogether!

      Thanks for bringing your light over here today 🙂

      Paul

  3. NotAPunkRocker says:

    “…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. ”

    Yet it feels unnatural to come out of the shadows, even temporarily. Just have to keep trying…

    1. I do agree Jeanette that it does feel unnatural at times. I have had to struggle with this a lot. My tendency is to shrink back. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, or my old ways of “not rocking the boat” kind of thing kicking in, but I can be easily shaken at times. We’ll keep trying, my friend! 🙂

  4. byebyebeer says:

    I’m definitely checking out that documentary. I’ve felt invisible my whole life, at first from shyness and fear, later when I was overweight. I’ve always felt mediocre and afraid, born without that coveted instruction manual everyone else got. Ha. This post made me think of that song ‘this little light of mine’ which I heard just last week and it made me tear up because I am a big baby. This is something I can do well. Tear up. I can feel excited about things that for some reason I never allowed myself to feel at all before. Little by little, more meaning and light.

    1. We haven’t finished watching the doc (it’s two hours) but I really enjoyed it so far. She and her boyfriend are 50+ and look 20 years younger – amazing! But they are very active and down to earth. Hollywood is barely mentioned, and it’s hard to reconcile her in the doc with her profession and fame. It is pretty good.

      Yes – the coveted instruction manual. Very common amongst us to have that same feeling, isn’t it? And don’t worry about being a big baby – I cry at the drop of a hat on my “good” days…ha ha. Those pent up feeling we buried and drowned – they never leave us. So it’s healthy to express them appropriately. Cry on, my friend…I’ll lend you my tissue box 🙂

  5. I really relate to this! Great post, Paul!

    1. Thanks Jeni! Glad it resonated with you 🙂

      Have a wonderful day!

  6. This post made Kristen think of This Little Light of Mine, and it made me think of Mexican food (I wonder if I was focused on the right things?) Hmmm, methinks I have some work to do!

    When you say you will never be a rock star, well, I must respectfully disagree with that statement. Because you are a rock star, both to me, and I would imagine all of the other followers of this amazing blog. I can already hear your brain forming the words, “Yes, but…” But nothing. You are soaring, each and every time you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, whatever!), and every time you take the time to insightfully comment on all of our blogs.

    You are already a rock star. That being established, I could really go for some chilles rellenos right about now, so if you were serious about that skill… 🙂

    1. Yes but…

      Thanks Josie for your kind words. I am glad you are on the Mexican food kick now. Love the stuff – don’t eat enough of it though! Now you have ME thinking about it 🙂

      Thanks fellow rocker 🙂

  7. Spot on, as always, Paul. That push/pull you’re describing plagued me for a long time. I made a point to fly under the radar because it was safer to not be noticed but then I’d engage in really dangerous behaviors to get attention. The hiding might have served me when I was a kid but it followed me into adulthood and I became the queen of self-sabotage. You are absolutely right that we’re not meant to be invisible but I didn’t understand that while I was drinking. I drank to both hide and to get attention, a counterproductive combination! If it wasn’t for sobriety, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate being seen.

    1. ” I made a point to fly under the radar because it was safer to not be noticed but then I’d engage in really dangerous behaviors to get attention” – you nailed that perfectly, Karen. As usual. Drinking was just like you said – to hide and to get attention. Not a good combination, as you never knew what frame of mind I was going to be in. Ugh. In the end, I was a hider. I hadn’t been to a bar in years, and drank quietly, secretly. I couldn’t even stand being with other drinkers. But thank God you and I and so many of us are here, talking about it, sober…happy, joyous and free 🙂

      Thanks for the insightful comments, Karen. Have a groovy day 🙂

  8. I so totally understand this post. I have however worked out that even though I yearn to ‘shine’ and stand out in the crowd so I could be ‘seen’, I am more afraid of not being good enough or that people will reject what they ‘see’. It takes courage and a degree of arrogance to do ‘rock star’ well. I am now just happy to be who I am and it may be more cowardice than anything but I prefer to just let people ‘find’ me! Great post. Really love the way you worked through your thoughts. You already ‘shine’ through your blogs!

    1. I enjoy what you said here….got me thinking. The idea of having others “find me” is a great one. There is an expression in 12-step recover that talks about “attraction, not promotion”. It covers a lot of ground, in terms of what it could mean, but in the end that is how I try to see myself in some ways. I am not a carnival barker in any way, but I try to allow my truer self to come through, without that arrogant rock star mentality. Humility and being true to ourselves / quiet strength can certainly walk hand-in-hand. I know guys and gals who are confident, charismatic, gregarious and yet are gentle, humble and think of others first. Tough combo for a guy like me to wrap his head around, let alone pull off, but it’s attractive to me.

      At any rate, I am glad I “found” you! 🙂

  9. I certainly recognise that being invisible thing – I felt that a lot as a child, and also as a mother at times – sometimes it feels like something I do out of choice, hiding myself away and isolating myself because that feels safe, and sometimes I rage against it. But mostly it feels safe. Though you’ve made me question that in this post, why I do it and who or what I am hiding from. What I might be losing, what I may have lost already… I think you’re right, though, it’s not how we’re meant to be. More food for thought 🙂 xx

    1. Thank you for this, MTM – got me wondering about the choice thing. I think you’re right – it IS a choice, although at the time when I shrivel up, it doesn’t feel like a choice. Feels pre-ordained or something. But I know that on the other hand, I am not a blaze of glory every second. Sometimes I just need to fold socks 🙂 But the challenge is when I am faced with others or situations which threaten me in some way (emotionally, mentally) and whether I stand my ground / don’t play small or slink away into safety. Ugh. But that’s growth, no?

      Thank you.

  10. “What’s holding me back from being visible?” You’ve really hit the nail on the head here. We certainly share this natural bent. Thank you for making the connection between visibility and isolation. You’ve certainly helped this alcoholic today.

    1. Thank you for being here! And welcome to the sober blogging community 🙂 Glad the post resonated with you. Hope to see you again (I just visited your blog)

      Blessings,
      Paul

  11. Write the damn book already! It will be a best seller.
    The idea of being visible or invisible can be tricky. I always felt invisible and that I didn’t matter growing up. Later, as I drank, I did so to be invisible, but then I always felt like no one was paying any attention to me. So, I would create drama, chaos, anything to get attention. Then, I would be pissed because people would retell what I did (which I may or may not have recalled) and feel dumb because I was the butt of the joke. Stop the roller caster, Mister. I want off! I wanted to shine, to be famous to be somebody damn it! But, my disease was holding me back because a part of me felt I didn’t deserve recognition; not that kind anyway. Now, I am less worried about being visible as I am living an authentic life. I feel like if I do what I am supposed to do – be a good wife, mother, teacher, friend, daughter, neighbor by living sober and continuing to work on myself to better the life of me and those around me- I will be “famous”. I’m so new to this that to project where I will be in a year is impossible. Today, I am grateful to be sober because I FEEL like being visible without alcohol, without pretense, and without recognition.
    Sure hope this is making sense. In my mind, I get it. But putting it out there is quite another story.
    Hugs,
    Linda

    1. Thanks Linda…you’re too kind! Roller coaster indeed – I think you explain what the rest of us were like – want the attention through drama, and yet wanted to be invisible. We’re egomaniacs with low self-esteem.

      The idea of feeling visible without alcohol – what a new and scary and exciting thing to be. Almost, you know, *normal*…whatever that means…ha ha.

      Glad you’re shining away Linda…I gotta wear my shades when you come here 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

  12. CH says:

    As far as he album goes, I am going to have to go with drank sooner. Great post!

    1. Ha! You should see some of the other creepy and crazy album covers I have unearthed from my friend Google Images…ha ha. Thanks for stopping by, Chris 🙂

  13. Your writing is always so spot on. I can relate to that push/pull of wanting to be seen wanting to hide thing. I always viewed this as part of the walking contradiction that is me, along with plenty of others. I feel like if we can accept that we have both longings within us and can somehow be OK with that, life gets easier. Our light shines without us having to push it out there.

    Also, thanks for mentioning the documentary. I’ve been reading so much Hemingway lately and I need to check that out. It’s interesting how many great writers have also been great drinkers. I wonder how his writing would’ve been had he been sober. On that note Paul, I have to agree with Linda: Please write your book. It’s gonna be amazing 🙂

    1. The walking contradiction – love that. So very true. I do like what you said about being okay with both parts. Who says it has to be all-or-nothing (oops, another alkie way of thinking, no?)

      I went through a Hemingway phase many, many years ago. I do enjoy his work. I think only he could get away with that style. (Raymond Carver is a bit similar, but a genius of a different ilk). I think the drinker/writer combo is overplayed and romanticized…I imagine for every Joyce, etc. there are thousands and thousands of shmucks like me who utterly failed in keeping that ideal in play. Writing drunk is just terrible writing…lol. I should know!

      Anyway, thanks for your insightful words as usual, my friend. Shine on 🙂

  14. mike says:

    I relate to underlying self centered subconscious fear that directs all. Pure and simple son, is we lack the power. You got the education, now where you go to get the power is entirely up to you. The rest is subjective mental masturbation.

    Rock star? Dude, you have arrived and you don’t even know it. Trading all the current heads of state for like likes of one Bill Wilson, wouldn’t even be close to a fair trade. You are helping to redeem lives here, Paul. And you are doing a damn good job of it.

    1. Lack of power, that is our dilemma…of course! That has always been my problem, no? Oh, I *thought* I had power, Mikey, but it was self-seeking and delusional. Paper thin, compared to what juice we get to plug into now. I get that juice when I align myself to His will, pure and simple…and when I forget that, I get nuts. As I was not too long ago. But I am back on the power surge and realize just how simple things are. It’s a trip!

      Thank you for the too-kind words, Mike. In my time “knowing” you I know that you’re plugged in, and you have that shine from within. Thanks for pointing me in the right way when I go off the tracks.

  15. fern says:

    This alcoholic can relate to your post!

    I’m working on finding the authentic me. It’s like peeling back the biggest f’ing onion you ever saw. Will there be no end to my shortcomings, addictive thinking and negative thoughts. I gotta believe the me that has been me all along 🙂 is hiding somewhere. Come out, come out wherever you are. 🙂

    You, my friend, are crystal clear. You are kind, unselfish, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent, well-written, long-winded in running and writing (which is a good thing), lovingly committed and true to yourself, God and all the rest of us hiding in the wings.

    Luv you,

    xo Fern

    1. The real you is in there, Fern! I know it. I have sensed it and seen it in your words…so I can’t imagine how it is in “real life”.

      And thank you for the overly-kind comments – it’s about ego strippin’, not ego trippin’ !! 😉 But thanks…I’ll be hiding with ya in the wings sometimes 🙂

  16. Chris says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.

    1. Thank you Chris…very much appreciated! Thank you for the read and comments. Made my day!

      Blessings,
      Paul

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