My mind is gnarled. It seems the unwelcome revelations won’t stop coming, cutting away who I thought I was mercilessly. I told MCF in the past months that I was finally moving beyond some of my immature desires, such as to have absolute control over anything, let alone everything. I used my new job as the context and he readily agreed that my success would not be possible in such a position if I hadn’t truly learned to let go of the desire to do everything myself and the need for everything to be done perfectly, according to MY standards. While this revelation was a positive one, I’ve continued to struggle to integrate basic truths of who I am (even after thinking I’d wrapped my self portrait up for the moment).
Due to the abuse my body has endured combined with my autoimmune disease, for the past couple of years the only form of exercise I’ve been able to participate in without the risk of further damage has been swimming. Last night during my laps I realized something consciously for the first time – something tragic.
Although my zodiac element is earth, I was born with a deep love of water. Where I grew up it frequently rained nine, ten, even eleven months straight. My bedroom was on the top floor of the house, which had a metal roof. The sound of rain was a balm to my wounded soul as I fought to survive. I rejoiced in the rain in times of happiness, took solace in the rain as I fought depression and abuse in later years. There was a river nearby in which I played and swam as a child; at summer camps I spent all my time in pools and lakes. Water was always this sensual, powerful beauty to my struggling mind. Rain gave me hope and courage when I could not find such resources anywhere else.
Then came E. Although he lacked the power to abolish my fascination with the beauty of water, he stole the innocent love within me and replaced it with fear. I am still missing the majority of my memories from that period of my life, but I do remember the first time he nearly drowned me. We were in his shower and he used me however he pleased for what felt like an eternity. I remember screaming in fear as he allowed me less and less frequent chances for air. At some later point his roommate made a comment about hearing my screams. And yet he never did anything. Nobody protected me. No wonder as things escalated I chose not to fight when I believed E was finally going to end my life. What point would there have been?
I grieve this loss, this fear which was forced upon me and obliterated the wonder which water was to me. When I go to the gym to swim my laps, I love the peace of finding the place empty, the water undisturbed and tranquil. However, my fear skyrockets the moment contact is made. I immediately wish there were others there, a safety-net in case something goes wrong; I don’t want to drown. I of course have no control over whether or not other people are using the pool area. And, in contradiction to my desire for others when alone, my fear also skyrockets when I enter the water with others present. What if one of them attacks me!? It would be so easy, so quick for someone to drown me. Moral of the story? I clearly have a phobia in place of what was once a beautiful love affair.
Although this realization deeply saddens me, it is far from the top of the list of shocking truths I’ve been working to integrate and accept. How do I embrace my mission to live passionately, authentically, unapologetically when I have spent my life seizing self-delusion as my number one tool? I told myself I bowed to fear, that I was not an adrenaline junkie. I believed myself responsible for the abuse I endured. I determined that not only was I impossible to love, I was unworthy of love. In spite of my extreme lack of self-esteem, I also believed I could change. I spent much of my formative years identifying specific things I found lacking in myself and focusing on changing to become better in specific ways. The fact that this method appeared to produce positive results again and again deepened my delusions of control.
The list goes on. Now I find myself struggling to accept my strengths. Why, you ask? Because these strengths are innate, unchangeable. I’ve had to, quite suddenly it feels, accept that these five strengths are my top five strengths and I have no control over what they are, no choice in the matter whatsoever. The analytical, pattern seeking processes in my brain are a card I was dealt and good, bad or otherwise I have to accept it. I’ve been trying to embrace my strengths this year, but I continue to feel as though this knowledge only highlights my weaknesses. Communication of a personal nature continues to be a significant struggle in my marriage (and all of my other relationships). Through the lens of knowing that analytical thinking is my top strength, it is reasonable to assume I will struggle my whole life with even understanding, let alone communicating, that which does not fit logical patterns such as my emotions. Any hope I once had of overcoming this difficulty with time and practice is dashed; this will never be easy or natural for me.
I have spent my life never feeling good enough. Nothing I ever did was enough; no accomplishments meant anything to me because I constantly compared myself to others. No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone out there who is better. I have always held myself to that standard, that I was responsible for being the person who is better than everyone else, at everything. Childish, right? Immature, certainly. Sad, even. No wonder I had no self-esteem! This is so clearly the down side of having responsibility as my second top strength. I assign myself more responsibility than is appropriate, than I actually have, than even remotely might make any sense at all, all subconsciously. To me, being responsible for things is as unthinking as breathing. I could no more chose to not feel responsible for something (everything) than I could decide to no longer require air. Again, I have no idea what to do. Is there anything I can do other than remain conscious of this trap and continue to work on letting myself off the hook sometimes?
My third strength, input, is less distressing but still ought to be mentioned. Primarily this strength reinforced my low self-esteem in two ways:
- My core craving to know more has repeatedly led to restlessness and boredom. If I’m not learning I’m not living, which quickly leads to my acting out at a wide variety of levels. I’m not proud to admit it, but often I essentially throw a fit like a child. I am not proud of this, but I seemingly could not help but relive this cycle over and over and over again.
- Because I have invested myself in learning so much across such a wide array of topics, it is extraordinarily easy to discount myself as insignificant, unimportant, worthless. After all, what is one life out of the billions on our planet? What does my knowledge, incomplete on every topic, matter? How could I possibly live a meaningful life when comparing myself to all of humanity? My analytical mind responds with a simple answer: mathematically, one obviously means nothing in a group so large. I have no expertise; the more I learn the more I realize just how much I do not know.
So, while input is perhaps not as dangerous as some of my other strengths, the inherent negative is clearly still present and has been exploited throughout my life.
Achiever is perhaps the most obvious trap.
Constantly driven by the need to achieve, no achievement is ever meaningful in the long term because, once accomplished, the former goal is immediately eclipsed by new, often higher, goals. I feel as though every day (every single day) starts at zero, and by the end of the day I must have accomplished something tangible. No matter how badly I may need (deserve, even) a day of rest, if a day passes without some form of achievement I am dissatisfied, off balance. This internal drive that I have always pushes me to do more, to achieve more. No achievement could ever be enough, I will always seek more. This relentless need for achievement is not logical; not even focused sometimes, but it IS always present. I now realize that the bubble of discontent which is always pushing me is something I must learn to live with; I will never be rid of this…no wonder I seek inner peace and feel the task is insurmountable.
My final top strength, significance, surprised the hell out of me. From the influencing domain, this strength describes how one takes charge, speaks up and makes sure others are heard. These individuals want to make an impact, to make the world a better place, to be admired. Knowing how important humility is to me, I was at first unsure how this strength could possibly describe me. As I gave it further thought, however, I discovered an obvious path driven by this piece of myself – my career. I have always excelled in whatever I’ve done, but I was never content for long. Once I’d learned how to do my job, I was no longer satisfied. I wanted to do something other people can’t do; I wanted to find a place where I would always be learning, where my particular skill set would be in high demand. Although this could easily be confused with ego and a superiority complex, it was heavily tempered by humility. My analytical mind simply reported that every individual has their own unique strengths and it is logical to seek a position in which I could be utilized to my utmost ability. This in no way detracts from the contributions or strengths of others; thus, it was okay to always aim higher in my career, this alone did not make me egotistical.
I was once told how conceited I was in high school and was shocked. Even then, I had long devoted time and attention to understanding and improving myself and was well aware of my many weaknesses and failures. This was a turning point for me, as I immediately began to work on changing my interaction with others to avoid this misconception. However, it is worth noting that this occurred in an advanced math class, and I was two or three years younger than every other person in the class. So, in hindsight, I probably was arrogant when it came to that specific subject – I had the highest grade in the class. Although I was not conscious of this at the time, I took this lesson to heart subconsciously and endeavored to never make anyone feel less than me from then on.
I have discussed on more than one occasion my high level of discomfort with receiving recognition, pomp and circumstance and the like. It is true that I find little if any meaning in awards, certificates, diplomas, trophies and so forth. I eschew symbols with very little exception in my life. However, when it comes to people I respect I absolutely seek recognition. I do not wish public recognition, but individually delivered praise is deeply meaningful to me. Offline, with no chance of motivations aside from a genuine desire to express appreciation, I take recognition to heart. The desire to please those who matter to me is ever present in my life and my motivations, but tempered (at least occasionally) by the knowledge that perfection is unattainable.
Another aspect of significance is being self-focused, which I certainly could never deny. Although this tendency could easily lead to negatives, I believe I have used it more to positive effect than negative. I wouldn’t claim all of the self discovery I’ve engaged in has been fun or made me happy, but it has helped me learn and grown. I’ve even improved in some ways thanks to this tool. This, combined with input however, definitely leads to a haphazard configuration at best within my mind. My mind is always busy, always self evaluating, always adding new information, always theorizing, always always ALWAYS. I won’t lie, it’s exhausting in here at times. But that’s part of who and what I am. Accepting the important role recognition plays in my life is a necessary part of striving for authenticity.
While every person’s engagement in BDSM is unique, I think it’s fairly clear why the need to submit is so strong within me. To have a chance to release the unending responsibilities I carry at all times, to truly clear my mind, to have a break from constant analysis, to have a safe pocket where for a time I can be content and released from the forces inside always demanding more of me, what could be better? Yes, in analyzing my top strengths I have definitely gained additional clarity on how to describe what it is I seek from submission – what is forever out of reach on my own (and all of this without even touching on my trust issues!).
I wish I could truthfully claim to have come to terms with all of this, but alas, that would be dishonest. Possibly the most significant of my realizations is the extent to which I have used self-delusion to allow myself to feel more in control throughout my life. I may not be comfortable with just who and what I am, but at least now I’d truly rather know instead of believing something else instead. I have finally moved from determining I no longer wish to lie to others to genuine motivation to be totally honest with myself, for the first time in my life.
Although I had one conversation with MCF about my top strengths, when I explained that they compliment one another professionally, he of course asked about personally? What happened at the time (unintentionally) is that I ended up discussing the discord I was experiencing between my values of growth and acceptance rather than the conflicts which arise from my top five strengths. At the time I don’t think I was able to illustrate the difficulties as I have finally done in this post…perhaps I will share that piece with him. Confession: I can be a coward. I have frequently communicate with MCF in writing, not always in a straightforward manner. For a time I left him quotes which I felt could give insight to who I am and all that I hide behind my masks on a daily basis. I left them anonymously when he was away from his office and we’ve never discussed them, but I am confident he knew they were from me. The thing I love about quotes is that the focus is easily placed on the person being quoted rather than the person bringing up the quote. I’ve often felt quotes allow me to say that which I do not have the courage to have attributed to myself.
Back when I asked him to review my leadership class feedback he mentioned that my bill is getting long with him. I responded that I would be pleased with any opportunity to serve him in response to which he said, “No, I’ve got to have something to hold over you!” Although he was joking, I quickly assured him that his having something to hold over me would never be a problem. When I saw him briefly last week, he was asking how my job is going and teased me about my flexible schedule and ability to work from home by saying, “How do you look at yourself in the mirror!?” “I try not to.” was out of my mouth before I could think better of it – damn my weakness when it comes to him.
When I went to him to escape the meeting my boss had with two other managers regarding my leadership class feedback, I walked in saying, “I don’t know if I’m a troublemaker or an idealist.” He assured me that I am both, and I had to agree that this is quite likely the truth. Submitting my honest feedback could certainly be viewed as purposefully attempting to make trouble for the two trainers who lead the class I so viscerally disapproved of, but this was not my true motivation. I honestly believe we should be training employees only using methods with integrity. Is this likely? I’m forced to say ‘no’, but I will continue to advocate for what I believe in; I can do nothing else. Frankly moral difficulties and inconsistencies are an area with which I am greatly familiar with; I do not point out problems out of superiority but rather because I walk through this valley of darkness and know, whether an individual or an organization, all must stand for what they believe in or they will crumble from the slightest pressure. I didn’t explain it exactly this way, but MCF understood; he always seems to understand.
I finally had a chance to tell MCF about running in to my former math teacher not too long ago. I shared my hypotheses that I traumatized him so thoroughly at about 12 years old that he raced from the room, or that I somehow managed to traumatize him so thoroughly in the less than two minute conversation we had that he was compelled to run in spite of the fact that the breakout session had just begun. MCF of course suggested that he may have had something urgent to attend to and that it had nothing to do with me. I acknowledged this possibility and admitted that I’d thought of a hundred other possibilities, but that they were all very remote possibilities. At the time I still wasn’t sure why I wanted to talk about this with MCF; now I’ve figured it out. My instinct that I was looking for reassurance was correct – I was seeking reassurance that if I were to run in to MCF after 15 years or so he wouldn’t run; I’m still deeply terrified of scaring him off. I of course received no such assurance; that would be a bit tough for MCF to discern since I hadn’t even figured this out yet myself. Now I’m faced with a choice: ask MCF directly and admit why I was so bothered by this, or let it lie and continue in fear.
I’ve been thinking about fear quite a lot. My fear of water is sincere, yet I choose to do lap swim for exercise, I choose to go boating with family, I choose to swim and ski in lakes. I choose not to let my fear hold me back in these ways in spite of the struggle inherent in doing so. My pervasive fear of never being good enough is perhaps actually a fear of not being worthy of love, a fear of others not being worthy of my trust, a fear of emotional pain and abandonment. These overarching fears have been present and consciously acknowledged pieces of me for many years. I assume that if my trust is broken, if someone does not return my love, if someone departs my life that it is my fault. There’s that responsibility theme again. Can I “fix” this? Probably not. But, perhaps being more aware of the forces at play can help me mitigate the fear.
There again is me choosing things in spite of my fears. Certainly I have also at times made decisions because I was afraid (and still do sometimes). This leads me to my real question: is my life based only on my fears? Do I do anything which is not motivated directly by fear or by overcoming fear? Thinking back through my life I couldn’t find any examples of major decisions which did not fall in to one of these two categories. I am deeply troubled by this. In the last few years, as I’ve allowed myself to be held back by fear less and less, I believed that I was finally beginning to live a life without fear. Now I’ve realized that the fear is still there, I’ve just been choosing to overcome rather than submit to it more often. Does fear rule my life? Does fear rule everyone’s life? I honestly don’t know. It feels as though my fears still have power over me, even if I am consistently choosing not to be held back by my fears, for a simple reason – it’s hard to do things in spite of fear. Overcoming fear is real work; it is tiring and sometimes I just don’t have it in me. Is it possible for me to ever live a life free of fear? Is it possible for anyone?
I have long given up trying to deny the strength which which I am drawn to MCF. I can only hope at this point that, should I choose to continue to confide in him and bare my needs, he will continue to choose to honor me with his time and attention. When I saw him last week he said, “Well, you finally decided to come visit!” It was gratifying for him to immediately express that he’d noticed my absence of late, but the truth of the matter is my new job is going so well I really don’t have anything work-related to discuss with him. Which leaves the burning question – do I continue to seek him out knowing full-well I am doing so for personal gain only and free of any excuses of professional need? This question has been occupying my mind, but once again I realize the lack of truth in this question I’ve been focusing on. I already know I will not willingly stop seeking MCF out. I know that I want to share more of myself with him. The REAL question is, will I admit to him that I’ve been around less because I have finally run out of work-related excuses to use when I come to him?