I come from a hard background. Like many people, my parents were divorced, and Dad didn’t hold up to his responsibilities. Mom had to do it on her own, and she was not capable. Maybe it was the schizophrenia. She drank too many rum and cokes, took too many prescription pills, and chased too many cowboys. There was often no food in the house. Mom thought boiling a cabbage with a bouillon cube was a good dinner. He doesn’t remember it but I remember my brother Kelly saying to me, “I wish I had more of the green stuff.” He won’t even eat cabbage anymore. I often would go into the restroom at the rec center and unwind toilet paper to take it home. This was during the time people were trying to save money so you could only get a couple of sheets at a time. It took a long time to steal that toilet paper. I learned to shoplift, and I was very good at it.
I spent the first 40 years of my life being very ego-centric. It was like I was in one of those plastic bubbles, alone, looking out at everyone else. All these people and their perfect lives! As a youngster, I scrounged for pennies to buy food. I once found enough pennies for a carton of eggs. I boiled them and my brothers and I ate them all. Mom just laughed at us. I still have nightmares of Mom laughing at me. Often in slow motion. “Ha…Ha…Ha…Ha…”
Everyone was healthy and sane, but me… They had clean clothes, food, good families. They were able to get involved in activities at school easily. They knew stuff. They were smart and competent. They knew how to behave. They had nice teeth. No one cared about my teeth. I wasn’t taught basic things. I was an introverted, feral child. With bi-polar disorder.
I felt unclean. I felt like I was unworthy and undeserving. How dare I even be alive! I was filled with anger, and envy, and jealousy. Those people screaming at you on the street? The one’s that are so scary? That was me. Stuck in a bubble of pain, angry at the world.
A Way Out?
I remember the day I decided to become an extrovert. I was standing in a long line at the grocery store, going over my miseries, yet again, when I decided that this is all a bunch of bullshit. I forced myself to open my mouth. I started talking, to everyone, everywhere, about anything and nothing. It didn’t matter. That hasn’t stopped and it’s 35 years later.
I decided I was going to become like everyone else and I took action:
- I became an extrovert
I talked to everyone. I became bigger than I felt inside. I made jokes and told stories
- Put on a mask
I put on the mask that I saw from inside my bubble. The mask I thought the world wanted me to wear.
- Started learning and knowing stuff
I studied, a lot! I was convinced that other people knew so much more than I.
- Became hyper-competent
I felt I needed to be the best at what I did to prove my worth. If I were the best, I would be accepted.
This all seemed pretty rational to me, but it was coming from an unrealistic view from my pain bubble. It did nothing to “win me friends or influence people”. I was confused by it. Haven’t I done everything I could? Don’t you see me trying here? I felt even more alienated.
When I was 41, I ran off to L.A. to become a working actor. Now that experience will have to be a different post, what is important here is that I made so many mistakes that I hit pretty close to bottom. I didn’t have a savings and ran out of money. I was depressed and a bit suicidal. L.A. is hard. Actors can be such a negative lot.
I tucked in my pelvis and rushed back to Seattle, a town I understood better, and after some time in rat-traps on Aurora, I managed to pull myself back together.
I went to a Tantra class where I met a man who was a facilitator of something called “ecstatic dance” in Portland. I Googled it and found them in Seattle.
I was suddenly a part of a community. I met so many people. I sat in circles. I held people as they cried. I fell into puppy piles. I danced.
I was taken by the hand and led in by Scot, the facilitator of one of the dances called “Turtle”. I went to parties. I participated in benefits, sometimes even being the MC. My life changed. I felt the need to belong and I threw myself into it. It was a place to start healing.
I stepped out of my bubble and started really seeing other people. I saw the masks that they all wore. Their need. How they deceive themselves. Their dreams. Their fears.
I saw the pressures of belonging, the expectation of conformity. The vulnerability. The angst. The hope.
I felt like I was back in high school, but this time I had more knowledge and understanding.
The biggest thing I learned was that people are not healthy and sane. They all have their own problems; it was just a matter of degree. Their outsides don’t reflect their insides. I learned that envy is useless. Why be jealous of someone’s outsides when I have no idea what’s going on in their insides?
It all seemed pretty rational to me. But of course, much of who I am came from my past and my pain bubble. I still wasn’t winning friends and influencing people.
My Own Mask
I was on the massage table of a friend of mine from the dance community, rattling on about chakras and energy systems, when I realized she had no idea what I was talking about.
I was still expecting that everyone else had more knowledge than I had. That somehow everyone was still above me, rather than standing beside me. I had gained most of my knowledge out of a need to feel worthy. Most people don’t do that! Yet, despite everything I have learned, deep down, I still believed it and felt the need to study even more. At this writing I’m still studying! I may never stop!
After the massage, she was acting a bit weird. When I finally got it out of her, I found out that she found me intimidating. I was shocked, I mean, my own view of myself is still that small child scrapping for food. How could anyone find her intimidating?
But that little girl wasn’t who my friend was seeing, was she? No, she was seeing the Karin who was trying to prove her worth by being extraverted, knowledgeable and competent. By being bigger than who I felt myself to be. The Karin everyone saw, and who no one could believe was actually shy and introverted.
I have a lot of work to do.
I often think about my massage therapist friend and what she said. It’s been over 30 years since I put on that mask. I don’t even know what the truth is anymore.
I keep trying to move forward. I still feel the need to study and be competent. I still need to feel big. I still need to prove myself. I find it hard to convince myself otherwise.
How do I convince myself that I’m worthy as I am? How do I figure out who I really am? How do I find my way into the world of other people?
It’s a work of a lifetime, I suspect. If only there were a pill… Or another class…