I want to talk to you about building a wall. Not that wall. I’m talking about the walls we build inside of ourselves. The ones we create believing they will protect us. We feel loss, hurt, deceit and betrayal so we build a wall around that pain trying, hoping, and doing our best to avoid ever feeling that again.
For me, these walls are often accompanied by old tapes so familiar I could recite them in my sleep, and actually do on occasion. When those tapes of not deserving respect or kindness, of not being worthy start looping in my head I know old wounds are being triggered. That pain from the past is no longer valid yet it continues to inform my actions and reactions. When I feel these old hurts being poked my natural instinct is to shut down, run away, close my heart, and build a wall.
But shutting down and building walls of protection and distrust is exactly what created this deep pain that sends out tendrils of despair, discouragement and doubt whenever it is, even by accident, pinged. It’s ironic that in our thinking we are protecting ourselves by not allowing more pain in, we actually create a situation in which pain from old wounds isn’t able to get out. In reality, the wall stops the flow of life and keeps the bad stuff locked up inside and all the good stuff locked out. The walls I build, assuming they will protect me, actually become my prison that keeps me locked up with all that old pain from which I now react, often over react, because I’ve lived awhile and have a truckload of that shit just waiting to be dumped.
That stuck pain can become deeply embedded thorns that are easily bumped, brushed and tweaked during life with fellow humans. Like a thorn wedged under your skin, the only way to heal the wound it causes is to locate it then yank that mother out! Is it painful? Yes, but only temporarily. Once opened up and exposed this pain can move and heal quickly and easily, while the pain created by the festering thorn is ongoing with little hope of relief and can infect self-esteem and the way we relate to others.
It feels counter intuitive when we’re in the midst of feeling any of the old hurts we carry with us, to not close down, to not run away when they are poked. I know this, because going dark is one of my specialties. Often when I feel hurt, I close up and stuff it down inside of me. I’m too fearful to bring it up. What if I make the other person mad? What right do I have to express my feelings anyway and if I do, what if they aren’t accepted? What if I’m wrong in feeling what I’m feeling? What if it is discovered that I am sometimes weird and needy? That last one is likely already known, but it can rejoin the list when I’m on a roll with fear as my frosting. And the other “What if’s”? They too are old stuff that have become habits of thought that may have once felt like protection, but now worrying about what other people may think or do just creates more bricks in our prison walls.
Until we begin to ferret out these old patterns and habits of thought and reactivity, and gradually begin training ourselves in new ways of being and relating, our basic need will remain self-protection and preservation. That’s why I build the damn walls, right? That’s why I shut down.
I spent over 10 years not talking to a couple of my good friends. They pissed me off. And they may have deserved a meeting with Jesus because of their behavior, but I never arranged that meeting. I never brought it up. I went dark instead. As a result I lost over 10 years of time with my friend Phil, who recently died.
And, sadly that is not the only time I’ve done this.
One of my life’s greatest regrets is shutting out my friend Margaret. I met Margaret playing “Old Lady Softball” when we were in our 40’s. We hit it off immediately and soon were cracking each other up with only a look or a glance. We spent hours together playing all kinds of sports – softball, volleyball, racquetball, horseshoes, we did it all – but golf was our favorite. We played in several leagues and tournaments every year together and never failed to make each other laugh so hard leaving a puddle was a possibility. (Did I mention we were middle-aged women? Then you understand puddles were definitely a possibility.) God, we had fun. Finally, in my 40’s I had found a best friend. We were like childhood playmates, getting into more trouble than we could have ever gotten out of alone. I was having the time of my life!
Then we had a silly falling out, nothing more than a misunderstanding really. But we never talked about it. In fact, we never talked at all for almost two years. Two years! I thought about Margaret often; daily on warm days because I knew we should be playing golf. I wanted to patch things up; I wanted to heal our friendship more than anything. Well, more than anything except apparently actually talking about what had transpired between us. I didn’t want to bring it up, I was scared or maybe just self-righteous, so I stayed quiet and kept my distance. Finally, I got very brave (insert whatever emoji denotes sarcasm here) and “friended” Margaret on Facebook; we restarted our conversation and eventually reclaimed the magic of our friendship.
Then, about a year later, Margaret was diagnosed with some serious shit cancer. She fought like the warrior she was and tried many things including a stem cell treatment, lots of chemo, whatever she could to win this battle. But, the cancer won and I am deeply saddened at having lost those two years of laughter, fun and companionship.
The moral of this story could be we’re all going to die, because, yes, we are all going to die and we don’t know when that might be. That too is part of the moral of this story. We not only don’t know when we’re going to croak, but we don’t know when someone we’re not talking to because, whether correctly or not, we feel they did us wrong, may croak either. If we never said the feeling-words then we deprived them of the opportunity to do so as well. We also denied them their chance to clarify, to explain and to be understood, and we robbed ourselves of who knows how long we might have celebrated their presence in our lives.
Those lost years with Margaret and Phil are reminders of what I lost because my fear – of expressing myself, of rejection, of looking at the old wounds – kept me from being present with them and sharing our most precious commodity in friendship and life – time. I built a damn wall instead of taking the risk to trust and open my heart, and to allow our friendships the opportunity to grow even stronger. That happens, you know. Sometimes when you tell someone how you feel, when you risk letting someone else see who you are; when you trust the other and open up letting them in and you out, you find those people who love you even more. It can happen. After all, if you aren’t who you are, does anyone really know you? But if you take the risk and show your authentic self, others can relax into their true selves. It’s a win-win, really.
But there’s no denying that taking that risk to say it, be it and not hide behind the wall feels imposing the first few times. It’s new territory and new behaviors are scary. The other humans may not like it. They may get mad. But instead of closing down in an attempt to protect ourselves, thereby ensuring the wounds remain active, what if we open our hearts so those old hurts can be released, so we can be released, and can welcome all the good stuff in again?
Honestly, these days, I’m not that fond of the impenetrable walls I’ve built. So I’m taking those suckers down. I’m tearing them down by saying the words, expressing my hurt or anger or feelings of being misunderstood. I’ll do my work first. I’ll do my best to determine if this is an old wound being triggered, and if so, I’ll find that thorn and its lesson then set my jaw and wrench that sucker out! I may have to pull some thorns multiple times to become completely liberated from them, but each time I do I allow myself the freedom to act and react from a place of strength and courage grounded in the present. I’ll learn as I go to sort out what part of the hurt is old and needs to go and what part needs me to pull up my big girl panties and say the feeling-words.
Every time I tell my truth without blame, shame or playing the “poor me” game, I gain more balance, harmony and freedom to be who I am now – a grown ass woman with a wild heart, an expanding compassion for herself and others, and a high blue belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Who needs a frickin’ wall?
This is such an eloquent discourse on a deeply personal experience. Deeply personal but shared by all. Thank you for saying!
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Dear Lou Ann,
Wow! I am inspired by how open and honest you have been sharing very personal refections on your life. Your writing is refreshing, clear and straight to the point. I can ‘feel’ what you are saying.
We all have our own walls that need to come down. You help me believe I can be more brave- hopefully face more of what I have been hiding. Actually accept humility and do what is necessary to heal a relationship. We all are being lifted, we all are benefiting from this kind of honest conversation and actual forgiveness in action. Thank you for sharing,
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Thank you so much, Clark!
LouAnn, this is a courageous piece. Thanks for inspiring me to be less guarded.
Thanks so much Stephanie! I appreciate you reading the piece and responding. Sure means a lot to me!
LouAnn…courageous, vulnerable, strong, determined, self-aware, loving, tender. You shared how pain can help us grow and that you can do something with it, not just wallow in it. Glad you and Margaret reconnected before it was too late. Thanks for sharing this lesson and helping all of us recognize those walls in ourselves. Love and hugs.
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Thanks Moss! You are so kind and I appreciate you, your support and friendship so much! Yes, yes, I will be eternally grateful Margaret and I reconnected and some more fun before she passed. That was truly a gift! Thanks again!