Thoughts: Self Sufficient

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“You were always so self-sufficient.”

That’s what my mother told me. I was a couple of years out from my divorce. No longer in the dark place that had consumed me for so long, but not yet fully emerged from that place either.

A strange thing happened after my divorce. My mother and I grew close. We had always loved each other, but as the divorce unfolded, I was honest with her at a whole new level. I talked to her of my struggles and my failures and she opened up to me about her own as she never had before.

We had been talking about the relationship between my father and I. He and I had had a love-hate relationship for much of our lives. There were periods where, between his drinking and his underlying anger, he was abusive.

I didn’t see it that way at the time. I didn’t see it for a long time in fact. It was just what life was. It was not until I went into therapy after the divorce that it started to leak out. And too, others began telling me what THEY saw. They saw it far more clearly than I did.

I know now how broken he was. And in his last years, not and then, the sources of that brokenness leaked out. I came to understand him better. We came to a peace in my late twenties, and as he edged towards his last years, we came to something more than peace.

“You were always so self-sufficient.”

Those words have rattled around in my head ever since my mother said them. People have accused me of that for most of my life.

Employers and business partners have used that self-sufficiency to turn me loose on projects that had nothing to do with skill sets or position. They knew whatever they threw at me, I’d figure it out. I became pretty good at succeeding when I didn’t have the resources or background to succeed.

In my church work over the years, people put my self-sufficiency to work as well. Time and time again I found myself in situations that were beyond my preparation. I lived in waters over my head. That is no less true now that I am a pastor.

The woman I love says at times that she does not know what to do for me. I am too self-sufficient.

It comes, I think, from a lifetime of not having people to help me. I do not doubt that people would have. All in all, people are good. They want to help others. But they can’t if we don’t let them know where we need help.

And often, we don’t know how to do that. At least I didn’t. I grew up in a household and a culture that said basically “deal with it.”. “Never let them see you sweat.” (Another of my mother’s favorite sayings.).  So we pack things into their proper boxes and hope the demons stay quiet long enough to get through the next day.

The problem though, is that those demons don’t stay quiet. Lock them in a box and sooner or later, when they break out, they are worse and angrier than before. Demons it seems, only shrink when we face them. Then they show themselves as the cowards they are.

“You were always so self-sufficient.”

I was. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t dealing with things. I was just adept at putting them in boxes for a while. As a kid, trying to make sense of a father that alternately seemed to love me and hate me, I didn’t deal. I put it in a box and just didn’t deal. As an adult, when I felt fear at being in over my head (A place I lived), I put that fear in a box and went on anyway.  As a spiritual person, struggling to make sense of faith in what was, even then, an angry world, I put that struggle in a box and plowed on. I had quite a collection of boxes by the time I was fifty.

Mostly, they lay dormant. But at times, the beasties would get restless and the boxes would shift and move and rattle as they tried to escape. At times they did escape, but never for long. I was adept at chasing them back to their boxes and adding new locks and chains.

Letting people in was risky. Seriously, would you invite company to your living room when it was full of boxes and crates rattling and growling? So you move the boxes to the attic and hope they won’t take too much noise. Maybe the company would just think I had squirrels in the attic. (or maybe bats in the belfry?)

It was my divorce that blew it all up. I didn’t have the emotional or spiritual strength to keep them locked up and under control. The whole army of them escaped and took over my house for a time. I was a prisoner.

No longer self-sufficient.

It’s been a long battle back. Longtime readers know something of that journey. Others have made it too. There’s not a lot new or even unique to my tale. The demons escaped, angry, rabid and out to put me in my place. They came close.

I learned to fight instead of locking things in boxes. I learned that most demons are cowards, at a loss when I fight back. I learned not to mistake their mishapened lies for the truth. I learned demons bleed like the rest of us. I learned they shrink with exposure. I learned that when I invite others to meet my demons, the demons cower.

Frankly, I think they’d rather go back to their boxes sometimes. To hide. Exposure is painful to demons. Light is deadly to them.

But I’ve locked up my boxes and trunks. Instead of locking those beasties in, I have locked them out. My life may be messier. There may be blood on the carpet (Some of it mine. Some of it theirs.), but they’ve become weenies.

And it is only now, when I have learned to share them, ask for help, and lock them out of there boxes that I have become what my mother always said I was. Self-sufficient. With a little help from my friends, a counselor or two, a pastor or two, and family and friends.

OK. Maybe that’s not self-sufficient. But it’s way better.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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