When my oldest son was a baby, we used to read him bedtime tales. Simple, repetitive, quick books to read. While we tired of them quickly, he was endlessly fascinated by the zesty words, the radiant pictures, the playful inflection in our voices as we tried to razzle dazzle him with these little stories. He would ask for the same ones, again and again. And we gladly obliged.
As he got older, the stories would change. They got more involved, and the pictures were in sharper detail, and the tales would grow and they would get more involved. A for Ant soon turned into Curious George chasing bunnies which turned into dinosaurs attacking other dinosaurs. Rawr.
I mention this because for me, I know that there are stories that I have told myself over and over again. Except that they weren’t always at bedtime, but certainly bedtime was when they flourished most because it was easier to let the tape play out in full Technicolour Majesty, complete with Gore-Tastic Smell-O-Vision. Nothing like lying in the dark letting the bogey-man from within rip me apart. Again and again, like Prometheus getting his liver plucked out and eaten while alive, day after day.
We all have these stories, of course – the lies we tell ourselves, the fantastic creations that we buy into, the garbage that we polish over and over again that still remains rubbish. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m never going to amount to anything”, “They’re all after me”, etc. The self-sabotaging beat down that we bring down on ourselves. The old idea of half of our brain manufacturing bullshit and the other half buying it. I was a Grand Wizard at that stuff. And hey, why not really punctuate all that by getting hammered and showing the world what a piece of shit we are?
Self-fulfilling prophecy, n’est-ce-pas?
One of the stories I have always told myself, and still go on to this day (with intermittent frequency, mind you) is that I don’t need anyone else. That I am fine on my own. I am a steely and wily wolf, a Charles Bronson-esque archetype, a Duke of Badass-ery. This worked perfectly in my favour as an active alcoholic, prolific introvert and avoider of social situations. I got to play that role which ill-suited me and I suffered for it. I couldn’t pull off the trick, and found myself miserable and unable to survive much on my own, although I found being alone was my default.
There is no darker spot for me to be in when I both crave community and yet fear it like I would a crate of snakes. That was the great friction in my life – I so wanted to be with others, and yet they scared the living daylights out of me. The tall tale I told myself was that I didn’t need them after all. Look at how great my life was without those people getting things messy with their needs, their weaknesses, their wanting, their drama.
But wait. Was I not just projecting myself onto others – the neediness, the weaknesses, the wanting, the drama? That was me. And still can be. My stuff. Perhaps it was me that I feared – that part of me who was a scared little boy wanting safety. The part that never grew up. The part that alcohol anaesthetized.
And this has played out all my life. Even now.
For example, consider my race a couple of weeks ago. I had started to get to “know” a few folks online via Twitter – folks who had raced before and were going to be at the race. We would share tips, or talk shop or whatnot. I knew what they looked like by their running pictures, and they each had their personalities slowly show. I was excited to be a small part of the community and looked forward to perhaps even meeting them.
Then the story started to play out – “Why would people want to meet YOU?”, “What do you have to offer?”, “You barely know them”, “You suck as a runner – they’ll laugh at you,” etc. Typical of how my ego (in reverse) likes to put me in a chokehold and squeeze the air out.
So when it came time to go to the expo the day before to pick up my bib, I avoided. I took snapshots of some of the folks I had intended to meet (they were on stage doing talks) but didn’t approach them. I shrank back. I played small. I felt like an imposter being there. I recognized some others from their own pictures but blended into the shadows. Somehow I mustered some courage to meet with and speak to a fantastic woman and runner while there. She shared some wisdom with me and it was great to talk to someone face-to-face. I felt like I had warm blood running through me again.
Later on, I mentioned online about my reticence in meeting people, mentioning names, and I was met with some distance and even anger – “Why didn’t you come up to us?”. “What’s wrong with you?”. “Don’t be a wiener” one guy wrote (I love that now, looking back at it).
This is exactly how I used to approach all the other parts of my life – stay at distance, avoid the sharks and keep low on the radar. But boy did I ever want to jump in and play ball with the other kids. Still do. And so my challenge is to be aware of my lone wolf tendencies and pray for the courage to change the things I can and push through the fears. What may be ferocious in effort for me is painfully easy for others. I get that. But I am not them. I am me learning to grow.
I have cocooned myself for the last two months. Very little human contact. Isolating. Playing possum. Other than some online presence, I have delved inward and played a character that is very tiring to play. Lone wolf.
But I can see myself getting out of this one now. Slowly. I have recognized my need to breakout lately, in that when I would talk to the neighbourhood parents, I would yap a mile a minute. Over sharing. Getting stuff out that perhaps is inappropriate. I laugh as I recall keeping one mother hostage in the produce aisle as I regaled her with countless tales of this and that. Minutiae of my life that was uninvited. Poor woman wanted to buy pears and pomegranates and leave.
So here’s the takeaway – I need folks. I need them. I need you. I need family. I need neighbours. I need recovery people. I need runners. I need friends. I don’t want to need them – let’s be clear on this. But I need them. And that’s the new tale that I have been allowing Creator to tell me. I am no longer in charge of my stories – I leave that up to Him. And He speaks to me through others. And they tell me that I am needed too. Who would have thought that – people need me too? That goes against the lies of my 44 years on this planet. That flies in the face of my ego which would rather be simmering in self-pity.
And here’s the deal – I have taken on a coach for running. That involves me joining his running group, which is nearing 40 people. That means I have to talk to these strangers. Once a week, if not more. And to be vulnerable in my slow speed and newcomer status. I also reconnected with an old timer friend of mine from the program, who yesterday actually leaned on me and shared things that are going on with him and who hasn’t shared with anyone else. I felt useful. We are going to meet more regularly. I am reconnecting with my sponsor. Maybe hit some meetings. I am making plans for my birthday to actually dine with others. I have made a vow to meet other runners at the next marathons and races I have already registered for.
All of this scares the living shit out of me.
Part of me would rather be Prometheus there. Pluck pluck ouch ouch. But this is the only way I can change. And it’s going to be slow, and I will resist. I guarantee it. But I will persist. I have no choice. The only way I stretch and grow is with others. I will be honest and wish I didn’t need others. I wish I could be that seemingly cool badass canine. But I do need others. I need you. I am a human social animal like y’all.
I love being part of these communities – recovery first and now my running one. Well, I love the idea of being part of them, and yet I am already ensconced in them, even if I don’t see it or feel it. So they are stuck with me. In a good way.
What I am learning is that it’s possible to change the stories we tell ourselves. It’s possible and very likely to break out of our self-imposed prisons and facades. It’s possible to see that you are meant to be something greater than you imagine. It’s possible to live in a new way, an authentic way and be part of something greater than self.
And hey – wolves travel in packs. They howl to assemble their group, to find a mate, to communicate their position, to show love.
They aren’t so lone after all.