In this week's session, my therapist and I talked about the emotional plateau I've been on for a little while now and the difficulty I've had truly freeing myself up emotionally.
I likened it to the notion of emotional scar tissue, tissue that is somewhat malformed yet is in some ways much stronger than the original tissue it replaced.
As I have thought back through the years to the memories of my childhood, there is a distinct line that seems to indicate where my childhood effectively ended. In pictures I have of me as a three-year old, I am laughing and smiling at the world around me. In pictures of me as a nine and ten-year old, the smile is gone, replaced by a sort of grimace intended to represent a smile but falling well short.
In-between, I all but shut down emotionally, only displaying emotional in the most intense moments, when I could no longer hold them in. It was a defense mechanism designed to protect me from what was going on around me, but it became a prison, a barrier that kept me from being able to fully engage with the world around me.
In discussing this with my therapist, I have come to think of it as something akin to my growth (emotional in this case) being stunted. I either forgot or never learned how to play with or interact with others. My world became what I read in books, heard in songs on the radio or stereo, or made up in the fantasy worlds I created in my head as a means of escape and of holding onto hope that there was a better life for me somewhere else.
I guess one could think of it as a sort of emotional fetal position which protected me, but the fallout of this was that I remained distant from people. I was not able to get close to them and did not let or encourage them to get close to me. Fear of rejection and of abandonment were at play here, the reason for which could fill another several posts, I suspect.
I recently connected on Facebook with someone I worked with many years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. In an exchange of messages, she mentioned knowing that I was sad while I lived and worked there. And I was, although I foolishly thought I was hiding that so well from the world around me.
I was sad because I wanted to get close to people and have them get close to me. I was afraid at the same time that people would reject me once they knew what I was really like because I had tried so hard and for so long to suppress that. Beyond that, I lacked the emotional tools to encourage or develop meaningful friendships.
I have moved to a better place these days. My therapist says I can go back, through the scar tissue, to retrieve those emotions buried since childhood. I expressed the concern that in retrieving "good" emotions from that time I would end up bring back all of the "bad" emotions I tried so hard to bury. She says i can choose which emotions to bring into the present from that time, but a part of me still isn't sure.
In the meantime, I continue to inch forward, become more aware of who I really am, where I've been and where I want to go. Who I am is a sometimes funny, sometimes introspective, and sometimes absent-minded middle-age man who is learning to better enjoy life and learning to like himself a little better on the way to perhaps one day loving himself.
Where I have been is the emotional equivalent of bumper cars, a ride that has left me bumped and bruised and slightly impaired but still here. As Elton John sang, "I'm still standing."
Where I want to go is a place and time where I am able to freely express my emotions and not hold them in until there is no more room and they burst out in some sort of explosion. I hope to reach a place where I feel free to feel or not feel instead of sometime thinking I can't feel. I haven't quite gotten there, but I think I can see that place in the distance.
I am not quite ready to commit to the notion that I am happy (that just sounds too hopeful), but I will say I am fairly content these days, and for me, that in and of itself is a big victory.