I used to be afraid. . .
I was afraid all the time. If I’m being honest, I was afraid of everything, which is literally crippling. And I laugh when people tell me that they’re not scared. I laugh when people say, “Who cares what they think” and yet, they go on and on about what other people say. But as for me, I was afraid that someone might not like me. I was afraid to be picked last. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid of shame and humiliation. I was afraid to be left out and afraid to be involved because what happens if I’m involved and I fail?
I used to be afraid of being “Found Out,” as if I were an imposter in a professional’s uniform and one day, in front of everyone, the curtains would pull back and there I’d be: Exposed!
Do you know what I mean by this?
This is humbling for me to admit. And, in fairness, as I type, I can feel the hairs stand up on my arms as a response to old bouts with bad memories.
There was a saying that I remember.
“Never let them see you sweat!”
I took this to mean never showing emotion. Never give somebody an “In.” Never show weakness. I took this as if to say, hide your truths. Keep your secrets with the other skeletons in the closet because if someone knows who you are, they will look to use what they know against you and pull you apart.
I used to try and pull off my stroll. I would walk into a room and act “As if.” I would try and dress the part and do my best to pull off a great James Dean or a rebel without a cause. Everything was about image to me.
Think about this question:
Who are you?
You are what you wear.
You are who you surround yourself with.
You are a job title or a label or a description.
I was all of the above until I grew tired of being this and feeling like I was nothing at the same time.
I admit that this might be limited to me. And, I agree that not everyone is mean-spirited. Not everyone looks to feed the gossip mills or the rumor factories. There are good people in this world. I know this because I’ve met them.
However, there are mean people as well and with that being said, like anyone else in this world, I have scars that were hard to heal and wounds that dug too deep. I have my own science. I have my own pathology and my own challenges, which may or may not exist anywhere else but in my head.
I understand the feelings of betrayal and the aftermath of foolishness. I understand how this leads to the ideas that say, “Shame on me.” I get it.
I am imperfect. I am human. I have faults and flaws and feelings, emotions, fears and secrets. I have all of the above; yet somehow, I had to find a way to break free from this way of thinking. Otherwise, I’d be trapped for the rest of my life. And dig it, I laugh when people fold their eyebrows and scrunch their face as if to believe none of this applies to them.
The truth is we all have vulnerabilities. We all have weaknesses. We all have an Achilles heel. We all have a weakness in spite of our greatest strengths, which we hide because hey, someone might look to shoot us down.
For the record, there is a difference between paranoia and anxiety. There is a difference between paranoia and depression as well. Although characteristics are the same, the resounding fears come from lack of worthiness, which is why at my worst, I believed the worst was going to happen to me. This is not because I was paranoid. No, this was because I never believed that I deserved anything better.
I had to change this. I had to break away so that I could be free. I needed to be better and release myself so that I could stop this constant flood of internal judgment.
I remember telling someone, “What can I tell ya, I’m only human.”
I told my friend, “The last person who walked on water died a long time ago,” to which my friend replied, “Yeah, and people didn’t treat him too well either.”
I had to think about this . . .
I decided that I wanted to be brave enough that any truth about my faults or misgivings was no longer a threat; but instead, this was only a small piece of me. I make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make me.
This became my mantra. I don’t think I’m alone here. I don’t think that I’ve cornered the market on shame or guilt and regret. I think there’s enough of this to go around and this does go around (to everyone).
I had to find a way to get rid of my social doubts and anxiety. This way, I could breathe. In fact, I saw a picture of me from when I was a small boy. I was in preschool at the time this was taken. However, when I saw my picture, the first thing I noticed was the different shape of my eyes. This is something that grew more noticeable in my later years. My smile is crooked. One of my ears is shaped differently from the other. I’ve never had six-pack abs. I’ve never been a model or anything like that. I was raised with ideas about my imperfections and up until my recent adulthood, I had to find a way of letting this go.
I had to stop worrying about the flaws of my appearance and focus on the benefits of my spirit. I am not ugly by any means. As for ugliness, I go back to a helpful suggestion I lent to a young friend of mine. She was in high school at the time. I suppose she is grown now and married with children. According to her accounts, her figure was not as toned as her friends. She did not have the same level of popularity nor did she receive the same level of romantic attention. She told me that she thought she was fat and ugly. However, I assured her that this could not be further from the truth.
We talked for a while. She was the daughter of a man who I knew well enough to earn the title, “Uncle Benny.” I offered her this idea: No matter how pretty someone is on the outside, if they’re ugly on the inside then they could only be average at best.
“Nothing about you is ugly,” I said.
“In fact, you couldn’t be ugly if you tried.”
I had to learn to take my own advice. I had to learn to strengthen my weaknesses with a special brand of reassurance. But for me, this had to come from within.
It is true. People will look to use what they can for ammunition. People might see ambition as a threat. They might view desire and enthusiasm as a light that exposes the darkness of their truths. My comfort for openly discussing my truths might trigger the discomforts for someone else. But either way, my life is mine. Their life is theirs. And me being me is not meant to hurt anyone. Therefore, I cannot control or change people, their actions or their interpretations. All I can do is be me, consistently and persistently. Anything else is beyond my reach.
The most comfortable and freeing feeling that I’ve ever earned for myself was the time that I stood up from a table, pushed my chair back in and then I walked away. I thought to myself, “To hell with what they think of me.”
I need to be reminded of this because I often find myself seeking approval or looking for acceptance as if I have to bring my report card home again. But I don’t.
I have grown comfortable enough in myself that I can call out my fears and not be afraid they will come back to haunt me. I am comfortable enough to talk about my flaws and realize this does not make me weak.
The truth is I’ve grown since the days of bullies in the schoolyard. I understand there will be agents of peace in my life and brokers of disruption. This is why I choose my circle of friends very carefully.
Aside from this, no one is going to hurt me because I have learned how to protect myself. Not physically, but emotionally. There is no need to live in fear of a constant attack. Simply put, the day that I stopped fighting these old demons was the day that I felt free. And to me, it only makes sense to keep this going.
Again, I get it. What I write is subjective and specific to me. I understand that not all topics are relatable. However, the one thing that we all relate to is the need to be happy.
This is why I write these journals:
- To prove that I am not alone in this world
- I write this because I believe there is growth in humility
- And above all, the kind of brave I want to be is brave enough to say anything truthful about myself without regret, fear or shame
And who knows?
Maybe someone like you will read this and think, “Thank God I have you as a friend.”
(At least I hope so.)