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Stop pretending to be normal

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

I have a serious hang up. (I’m down to only a few and they are all pretty benign).

I am blessed – I get to do stuff I love both personally and professionally. I go a lot of places and meet a ton of people. I try hard to hold on to first names and faces, but I often lose track of who I know. I worry that I’ll hurt their feelings by asking, “Sorry, can you tell me your name again?”

If I were a more reasonable person, I wouldn’t have the ridiculous conversations I so often initiate to figure out how we’re connected. I ask about work, family, and other aspects of their lives in the desperate hope that I’ll remember them.

I attended a seminar recently in which I ran into about a dozen such folks. They seemed especially uncomfortable in talking with me and it took me most of the day to figure out why.  I was more than a little bemused to realize that all of them still work for organizations that fired me many years ago.

It’s funny to recall this. In both cases, I quit my job and then they fired me. It became, “You’re-not-breaking-up-with-me; I’m-breaking-up-with-you.”

Social services agencies are generally f@cked up organizations full of mostly pretending-they’re-normal people.

The sad thing is, they’re good people and they mean well. They’re just hiding the simple fact that they’re mentally ill and that limits their effectiveness in serving others. You can’t overcome what you hide from the world. The inevitable outcome is that you lose sight of yourself.

I’m not in denial. I’m shouting it from the rooftops.

I’m a wounded healer. I’m not in the healing and helping professions because I’m altruistic. I’m here because I’m in recovery from trauma and mental illness. I’m here because I’m trying to be the person who could have helped me as a child, as an adolescent, and as a young man. The good news is, I’ve been getting better for a long time now and I’ve received a lot of truly excellent therapy.

Since that seminar, I’ve been reeling in the years. It’s almost 15 years since that point in my life. It doesn’t seem to me that those folks have changed all that much. I can barely recognize the person I was then.

In the long term, bearing witness to suffering will make you or break you. You either get good at self-care of you experience frequent compassion fatigue. Ultimately, you either grow spiritually or you burn out over and over again.

By choosing not to hide, I open doors for others. By choosing to be vulnerable, I find frequent opportunities to connect with kindred spirits. I get to be a life-long work in progress and I get to see the parallels and lessons in my life:

I did a thing this weekend. I got two new tattoos. That’s not all that remarkable. It’s more about where I put them – the symbolism is important to me. I inked up both of my hands.

When I was new in my field, I hid my tattoos. When I became self-employed, I eventually got visible ink on my forearms. If I ever wanted to hide them, all I easily could.

By choosing to tattoo my hands, I’ve forfeited my ability to hide.

So, whether it’s tattoos, mental illness, or being a survivor who learned how to live, I’m an open book and that makes me free.

I wish the same for you in whatever manner works for you.

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