If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
― T.S. Eliot
It seems the Colorado sun has taken its toll. I had to visit the dermatologist today for some suspicious patches that need attention. As a person of English heritage, my skin didn’t turn out the olive tone of some, with an even distribution of color. The golden summer hue of youth has been replaced with pigmented spots and clumps, with no concern for my vanity.
I had a bump excised on the border of my upper lip and the numbing agent has worn off. Smiling hurts. I like to smile. It is my tried and true greeting, my main way of revealing my friendliness. Just as my dog bows her head before another in greeting, smiling is my pronouncement of submissive goodwill.
While skin concerns and dermatologist visits seem to be the collateral damage for an active, healthy lifestyle in this great state, I don’t like to lose my way of being me in the world. Smiling works for me. People succumb to my kind face. I don’t want to lose even for a moment the way I operate as me, no matter how small.
But there come times we all need to challenge and face our coping mechanisms. We have to ask ourselves why we do what we do and if it’s actually helpful or harmful.
I’ve resumed counseling these past couple months, participating in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. For those of us (all of us) who’ve experienced trauma, this practice is used to shift the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, re-forming these beliefs through reprocessing. We all operate from maps constructed to navigate through trauma, but as we mature the maps are no longer useful and in fact can become harmful.
While each session has left me somewhat disoriented and worn out, I know my brain is doing good work – pushing and striving to function as it was designed.
While I’m still in the middle of the work, I’ve noticed my negative beliefs about myself are waning, and the coping mechanisms I’ve clung to are lessening. As I trust my senses more, listening to my body, I notice that I am responding to desires and longings rather than the old recycled messages that bump around like sneakers in the wash with nowhere to go.
But this, oddly, comes with a sense of loss. How I operate as me in the world, while not always helpful, is familiar. Am I now destined to a life of laziness, without purpose as I set aside striving and proving? What if I don’t choose to compete anymore? Will I lose all motivation? There is so much blank space here, that has left me with more questions than answers. And as far as I can tell this is a risky business, disrupting that which seems to work – for now anyway.
To lay down the proving and striving and scarcity is a risk. I thought I had to be that Yes! person, the one who was game for a challenge. The one who was envied. The one who won. And now being the Yes! person makes me cranky and tired, resentful. There is so much for me to do in the world that involves me being myself, searching and waiting for that which delights. I want to be how I was made, serving who I’m built to serve, loving who I’m built to love, feeding who I’m built to feed.
Maybe it’s maturity that comes with age, the cycling and recycling that happens when we live long enough to see similar patterns in the lives around us. Maybe it’s the letting go. But my belief that I’m not enough, that has pushed and prodded me for decades, is on its way out. And the blanks are filling with a person who seems to be more rested and renewed, committed to life and love and beauty and wholeness. A person desiring to discover herself.
Our coping mechanisms – smiling, eating, drinking, pleasing, proving, you name it – they get us through. Thank God for them. They’ve served us well, keeping us safe in uncertain and frightening times. But a day will always come when these coping mechanisms become tools of division, separating us from the people and the work we love, as well as separating us from our own true selves.
I have too much to do in the world, in my home, in my person to get by with just coping. Now is the time to live, to truly live. I will not give up smiling, but for now it hurts, so I might curtail it some. And in the meantime, I’ll rest up, heal my body, and continue the good work I have begun.