On Becoming Real

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” wrote Anais Nin.

For me that day happened last July.

I was vacationing with my family in Corolla, South Carolina, when all the pain I had been feeling for the last year bubbled to the surface. It was like the sense of suffocation or drowning that William Styron describes in his classic Darkness Visible, but even messier. The experience was more distressing than any mood cycle of my past because I knew it wasn’t primarily physiological, and that a tweak to my medications wouldn’t deliver me from the panic.

To know peace would require the kind of change that was terrifying, a step into the unknown where I would have to pull off the mask of my false self and embrace the scared little girl within me. I would have to face my addictions to alcohol, nicotine, shopping, and approval and identify the ache that was feeding them. I would have to bring into consciousness the pain that was driving self-destructive behavior.

This task required getting honest in my marriage and in all of my relationships, risking the hurt feelings and rejection that I was so scared of. It entailed being bold in my career — chasing after my dream of being a mental health advocate. And it demanded that I begin discerning the faint whisper of wisdom from within me and follow my voice of truth toward healing and wholeness.

One night in Corolla I sat up ruminating until four in the morning. I could hardly breathe through the pain.

I realized I had choice but to get real.

Exposing our humanity is a risky stunt in our smiley-faced culture. Pain is regarded as a symptom of neurosis or disorder. There is nothing noble about it. To express the range of human emotions, including despair, is often met with aversion. In living authentically I have repelled certain people from whom I craved acceptance and approval.

However, continuing the facade wasn’t an option for me.

The bud had to open.

We get to our real selves when a death, divorce, or illness pulls out the foundation from beneath us. All the defining features we once ascribed to ourselves no longer fit, and we look into the mirror and ask, “Who the hell am I?” Mine happened as part of a midlife crisis when I suddenly approached every facet of my life with a curiosity that severed the ground beneath me.

In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes this process as “falling upward” into the second half of our life. We spend our first decades building “containers” or sources of identity for ourselves: I am a government contractor, a wife, a mother of two teenagers, a Catholic, and a really irresponsible dog owner. In the second half of our life, we find the contents that the containers were meant to hold.

Fr. Rohr calls it “shadow work” because it is full of humiliation.

I call it getting real.

“Generally, by the time you are Real,” explains the Skin Horse to the Rabbit in The Velveteen Rabbit, “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

That’s right, once you are real you can’t be ugly.

Becoming your true self is uncomfortable but beautiful.

To blossom is worth the pain.

 

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12 thoughts on “On Becoming Real

  1. Love ? this piece. Something that I must strive to do. Thank you for your extraordinary way of expressing this difficult transition, Therese, and
    I am very sorry for the loss of your close friend
    from the site. Jane

  2. I wrote a comment on your other post re suicide and afterwards deeply regretted what I had said.
    Last night I was ruminating till the early hours.
    It was strange as I had had a good positive day.
    I took Pirton to help me sleep but I spent the night in the half life of tossing and turning and woke up worn out with the reflections of the night.
    I too have tried to come real. In the journey of trying to be well I spoke up when people put me down. I used the cbt to assert myself and made my voice heard.
    I found friends didn’t like this person who gave as good as they got.
    People who I had supported for years fell by the wayside.
    In trying to get well and stay on top I feel I have lost myself in a sea of self help books ,yoga,meditation ,acupuncture drugs and the rest. I don’t know what is normal anymore.
    In trying to fit in I feel like I am a tiny grain of sand in a desert.
    If I can sleep I can blossom too and embrace the joys of the world. But when sleep evades me with ruminations and obsessive thought the tight bud becomes tighter and clenched muscles become painful.
    It’s the unpredicatabily of sleepless nights that drives me insane and vulnerable to changing moods. And making plans difficult.
    I would like friends who could accept that I too blossom even though I have negative thinking and deep thoughts.
    That within us all there is something beautiful in our existence. Believe in yourself Therese.

    1. I found your comments to be more succinct than the original blog. I totally get your ruminations and how painful and difficult and life sapping they can be. I have been very open about my Bi-polar diagnosis for years. I have now a support group so large that it’s sometimes embarrassing on my part to bring it up when I hear of others whose whole families have rejected them. I don’t feel that I am special in any way to deserve this, like me being a Christian is the reason for it, but I do appreciate those who wish me well and say thoughtful things to me. I also try to pay it back, not as an obligation, but it just feels right and important. In conclusion, in line with what you said, I do believe that honesty is the best policy. Jeff

  3. I agree. I got real when I chose divorce, had breast cancer, and kids sided with their dad. I was honest with everyone because I figured that meant less gossip; I was right. I am a pleaser and still accept more guilt than I should but now I don’t want any superficial relationships in my life. Thank you for another great piece.

  4. Good morning, Therese!

    Kinda sassy in that article, aren’t you?! Or should I say, sparky? Enlivened? Determined? A bud buster?! It is Great to hear you starting to roar a bit!

    Our country is in desperate need of Mental Health Advocates! So much harm, so much death, so much pain and sadness has happened, and is happening at this moment. Because the pursuit of mental health is pushed aside for the next cancer treatment discovery, organ transplant, plastic surgery, or wherever there’s money to be made.

    Wow, was that cynical! By all means, our physical health as a nation is of utmost importance! But we need to be able to identify mental health issues as quickly and with as much certainty as we can a tumor. And, as with the physical, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis. Mercy! Look at me splattering those -osis words, huh?!

    Therese, you go ahead and bloom!! Before you know it, there will be a beautiful, fragrant bouquet of Mental Health Advocates, healing and enriching the lives of Americans, and around the wide whole world!!!

    Remember, you and your family are prayed for by name…

  5. Oh Therese….. I posted a comment and it didn’t go through! I just don’t have the energy to say it again! Loved your piece…. as always!! I admire your determination about life and ways to keep going. I’ve been severely depressed and now severely anxious yet once again! Many losses and changes past 5-6 years. Just moved again and feel like a stranger in the midst of another change. Pray for hypo mania symptoms again and my giddiness for the little things/ especially children and animals! Yet, all I feel is NOTHING, absolutely nothing. And, I’m terrified!! I try desperately to hang on for my son and grandson’s. I don’t have a partner…. which I feel could be so helpful….. even if they don’t really understand. They could be there!! I have some family support, yet they are understandably frustrated with me. I want to hang on…. because my father killed himself when I was 8 and I know the ultimate damage that causes!! Yet, I’m getting so close to sneezing. I’m exhausted…. so tired! Any words of wisdom. I’m really trying. I know you understand.

    1. You are not alone Debbie. Hang in there. Things will not always be this way. You are among many who understand how you feel. Many hugs to you. (((((❤️)))))

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