There was a huge barrier to writing–and see, here I am writing about writing again, despite my noblest of intentions–that had its roots in a pressure to perform. One could say the same for living, for being. The pressure to perform draped my existence much the way a wet wool sweater might: heavy, weighing down. Don’t do this, person A might take offense. Don’t say that, Person B would find it too personal. Don’t chase after your heart, don’t live fully as you are, don’t step on toes, don’t rock the boat, and above all, don’t let your true self be seen.
Abuse, even single incidences of abuse, can hardwire these patterns of thinking into the brain. Of course, these patterns can form on their own over time due to a number of variables, be those variables personality, parental example, religious expectations, culture, what have you. But abuse comes along and bim-bam-bang, the pathways of the brain are traumatized into stances of defense. Performance, for me, was one of many protectors; performance both in the sense of fulfilling a task, and in the sense of acting a role.
My fingers have hovered here over the keys for minutes now, between that last sentence and this. I’m not sure what direction to take this, suddenly. I knew exactly what I was going to say, and now I don’t.
During last year’s military deployment, the demands on my person reached a capacity such that I could no longer perform for anyone. What that really means is that I couldn’t carry other’s expectations–real or perceived–inside me any more. There was a breaking point. I could only be me; I could attend to my far-away husband, the baby in my womb, and these five rambunctious children, but I could, quite literally, do no more. I could be an intentional friend to no one; I had nothing to give. I could not invest in relationships, in community, in self-education, in hobbies; I was pressed down and could only stand before God and man quite stripped of all my ornaments. And if others loved me, they loved me, and if they turned away, they turned away, but I no longer had it in me to make an influence in either direction.
Perhaps an easier way to say this is that there could be no more carrying of anyone else’s stress. Until I reached that breaking point, I didn’t even know that’s what I did.
So the deployment served as a type of chrysalis, perhaps. I went into it as one person, was stripped and changed, and emerged quite another. Though even that is a dramatic presentation. For aren’t we ever the same people, just growing or shrinking, revealing or hiding? But sometimes there does come a point where we stop and look at ourselves and say, “What are all these things attached to my being? Am I seriously trying to please my elders like I am four years old? Am I honestly cowering before the church like I am ten? Am I actually this concerned with what strangers think when we interact? Why in the world am I holding back words, gifts, talents–why am I not pursuing interests, philosophies, relationships–why am I carrying all these things that aren’t even mine, and probably aren’t even anyone else’s anymore?” There comes a point where one just ceases to care about the things that don’t need caring.