One is Not Always the Loneliest Number

I read a fantastic book over Thanksgiving weekend called Love Warrior, written by Glennon Doyle Melton. It had me up until 2am, eyes wide open, sobbing. It left me bruised, and resolute. She’s long been an influential author/leader for me. Her writing has helped me validate my own voice and path. She bravely offers unparalleled honesty, humor, naked vulnerability, insistence on her own power, and ambitious sisterhood community building. She shares the fights she has with herself in all their scary truths. She writes very clearly about being a woman and having to re-define what that means in her terms, not society’s. She also has a faith in God that I can relate to in its messy questions and reassuring confidences, both.

The book is her realization that most of her life she hid herself behind a facade that was designed to be pleasing to others and is her quest to go behind the facade and bring the inside her out to the light of day. She created a “representative” to go out into the world and cover for the real person she was afraid to let talk. She was afraid of her need to be seen and understood, and afraid of asking anything of anyone, so instead she sent her representative to do it for her. The representative was bold and “fun” and kept her inside scared little voice quiet and punished through bulimia, alcohol, drugs, and sex. The rep was “fun,” “game,” funny and no work for anyone, while her inside self was just human; vulnerable, embarrassing, sad, anxious, timid, tender, and longing for attachment and genuine connection. She was afraid to be just human, and thought she couldn’t share that with people, that she had to share something easier, this made up rep. She also gave her body to other bodies because she was detached from her own, and resented her body’s perceived imperfections and requirements.

I don’t want to tell the whole story, because I think you should read it. Everyone can relate to it, absolutely. Hiding ourselves out of fear, sending an inauthentic version of ourselves forward to cover for the scared little guy left behind..we all do that, don’t we? This particular book is also about her marriage, how she and her husband were two people who met as intoxicated representatives of their actual selves and built a life and family together but never really knew each other. He cheated, she got ill, they separated. Across this span, she learns to write and express herself and require that she is heard and understood. She finds God through Mary, and learns that women are warriors. She becomes healthy and marries all the parts of who she is, even as her marriage to her husband is combusting. She finds strength in sharing the splintered parts of herself, and holiness. And her husband becomes his own hero, as well. They both learn to stop sending their representatives and to actually live with their inside selves out.

It resonated loudly with me, as I ache to be brave enough to pack away my representative and share my inside self with people. I’m so much closer than I’ve ever been, but I still slip in and out of it. Writing, therapy, and some new close friendships have helped me. In my case, I am not hiding behind substances, but definitely lean on being the silly clown, the servant, the polite peace maker, the low maintenance one who listens but does not share.

Since I was reading this over the holiday weekend and everyone I knew was scattered across the country with their families, it got me thinking about what we expect from our family relationships. Who gets to see our real inside selves? Our romantic partners? Our friends? Our families?

Holidays are hard. Everyone says that. We miss the people who are gone, we worry about money, we stress over the added activities and traveling and chores, and the pressure to be excited about all of it.

And, we feel lonely.

We’re lonely, wishing for a connection sturdy enough to reveal our inside selves and to not have to wear our representative.  For a lot of people, being WITH family is just as lonely as being without. A lot of people dread going home. It’s an obligation, an expectation, an energy sucker. I heard SO many people this year, preparing the week before Thanksgiving with their tactics for ‘surviving’ time with their families. I think it’s because we know with family, we have to send the representative they expect, and it’s exhausting to wear that costume. (And also because we were afraid everyone in our family would be “Drunk Uncle” this year).

I’m afraid that lot of people feel lonely in their family relationships. We revert to old roles and tendencies and feel like we’re cheating on our inside selves we’ve so carefully cultivated because we can’t trust it with our families. Our struggle to identify and empower our inner selves may not be noticed by family because it doesn’t fit the mold they have for us, or may even be perceived as a threat. We may not feel like we can trust that they’ll treat our vulnerable selves with tenderness. There might be too much distance or old hurt. Is the fusion that holds us to our family made of just ancient anemic cords? Is that enough, or should it be of real, blood-carrying, thriving vessels that will help us both grow stronger, better, together?

It’s a lot to ask. BUT this book affirmed that, for me, I want to push my inside self out and ask that the people who love me, love her.. I’m tired of sending a representative who feels safe but lacks substance. I want real, hard, deep relationships.

I think…but I could be wrong…but I think that it’s OK to insist that your people only get the real, inside you. Maybe we can try to reveal more of our inner selves to our families this year and ask them to do the same for us? If they can’t or don’t want to, and this is the hardest part, we may have to stop trying so hard with them or let them go.

Again, still trying to figure this out, but I think as adults  we are allowed to decide who to give our time to…those who strengthen and build us and remind us of who we are trying to be, not those who suck our energy or doubt or demoralized us. There are certain requirements in family relationships, but if we are not being fed by them, we can limit them. I know a lot of people who have had to create their own, new families, composed of friends and adopted family, who do make them feel safe and good and valuable. This never happens easily or without drama, but you have to protect that inside you. She matters.
Eesh. Scary.

Sorry if I just fucked up Christmas.

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