by Woody Forrieter
Mine, I suspect, is a common story, but it seems unique to me because I'm living it.
You see before you a fool. A genuine fool. Some people think I'm a pretty cool fool, but cold is maybe closer to the mark. I've worked hard for many years to develop a persona comprised of nothing but wit and wisdom, talent and tenacity. And for the most part I think I've been successful at portraying that image. But today on April Fools Day I'm going to do something that I've always considered very foolish. This morning I'm going to tell you the truth. I'm going to tell you the truth for two reasons. It's the only way out of the prison I've built. And, it might help you a bit if I let you take a look inside me.
I am afraid of you.
It seems silly to say it, but it's the truth. In this congregation there are some of the most beautiful, warm, friendliest, most loving people I've ever met. People who's greatest happiness is to see other people be happy. People who wouldn't hurt a flea. And I'm afraid of you.
I'm afraid that you want to hurt me. I was crying as I wrote this because I thought, my God, it's almost an insult to say such a thing to such wonderful people. And I also realized just how pervasive this feeling of fear has been in my life. I was crying for another reason, too. I am not only afraid of you, I also love you.
The data associated with my fear toward you is that you smile and laugh a lot and for the most part have pretty calm dispositions.
My judgement is that your lives seem to be on a pretty even keel, and that you've got your act together. My judgement is that you're not struggling, the way I feel I am. My judgement is that if you knew how tenuous my hold on success was, you would attack me as being unworthy to associate with you.
I know, intellectually, those are pretty low probability statements. But I'm tired of living intellectually. It really hasn't done much for me.
My want is to share this with you and in so doing diminish its power over me.
Up until a few months ago I would not have told you I was afraid of you. I would not have shared anything about the inside of me with you. However, I have spent the last few months looking at my shadows and bringing out into the open. In the past, I didn't even want to acknowledge that they were there.
On the surface, you would think I'd have nothing to be afraid of. I'm very talented. I'm very musical and have superb communication skills. I can hold my own in any conversation. I have a wife and family who love me. I'm extraordinarily good looking. And I'm brave. I've done things most people wouldn't dare to do, including jumping out of an airplane and talking in front of 20,000 people. None of that has made any difference in how I feel. None of that makes me any less afraid of you. But for years I believed that it would. I thought if I could just be even more talented, braver and even more good looking (if that's possible) the fear would go away. And when I accomplish something good in my life, it does go away. For a few hours.
How could I possibly think that you would want to attack me?
Well, it started a long time ago.
As a child I felt ashamed of who I was. And that shame deepened as I got older. I wasn't as good at sports as the other boys. I couldn't identify makes and models of cars as they drove the way the other boys could. I didn't know what was cool and what wasn't. I didn't know as much about popular culture. I didn't have the kinds of toys they had. I couldn't fight as well as them. I wasn't as brave as the other boys.
I remember being 12 years old riding my bike home from school and wishing I was normal.
I did not want to grow up. I was scared of turning 13 because it meant I was on my way to being thrust into a world I didn't feel prepared for. That's not to say I didn't have any fun when I was a kid. I had some good friends with whom I had great times. But I thought everybody else figured I was an a unlovable little creep.
Now, I wasn't really aware of those thoughts as such. Even as a kid I couldn't show those kinds of feelings to anybody because I probably would have been attacked. Plus I was always trying my hardest to fit in. And to me that meant trying to act like I was the same as what I thought everybody else was - confident, happy, everything going my way.
There was one group in which I really did fit in. I was a youth leader in the Lutheran church. When I was 17 I got the chance to be a councilor at a church camp that summer, and it was magic. I'd just learned to play guitar, and I could sing and act and tell jokes in front of an appreciate audience. I thought this was the secret to happiness. When I went back for my final year of high school, I started doing the morning announcements on the public address system and used all the comedic skills I could muster.
Well, I was a big hit. People who knew me couldn't believe it. People who didn't asked me where I'd been hiding.
I had discovered a major suit of armor. I could wear this amazing, shining protection - the funny guy - and nobody would ever see the fear and shame I felt about not being as good as everybody else. I literally planned my life around those performance skills. I believed in them. I had complete faith that they would save me. I even told people that one of the reasons I wanted to get into radio is so I could walk into a room full of people and have them recognize me. Now, I didn't want them to actually recognize the real me. If I showed them that, they'd hate me. I wanted people to recognize the image I was trying to portray as a confident, funny and fun loving guy, and have them accept that as me so they wouldn't start probing any deeper.
I worked real hard on that image. It seemed like a wonderful defense. People believed it. I was on the air in a small town of about 75,000 people, and I was a star. People would ask my wife what it was like to live with such a wild and crazy guy. Everybody thought it must be loads of fun. Well, it was actually somewhat less than ordinary for her, because I was afraid of letting anyone get close to me, including her.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am kind of crazy. And stuff is always popping into my head that I think is terribly funny. I'm not all pain and sorrow. I'm not trying to say that. There's a center of genuine joy in me from which the funny stuff springs eternal. The problem is I don't believe that it's really safe to feel that joy. At least not for long periods at a time. And again, I know intellectually that's not true, but the part of me that believes it is true is very good at convincing me that knowing something intellectually is the same as feeling it in your heart. But it isn't. And so the feelings in my heart have continued, unabated. Many
times I thought that I had been freed only to drift back into self loathing yet again, because I'd only grasped intellectual truth, not emotional truth.
Instead of feeling the joy that's inside me, I used the stuff that sprang from it to build a defense so that nobody could see my sadness and fear. I used my humor and other attributes as distractions. They have been baubles I could hold up and say, "Here, look at this. Look at how shiny it is - but for God's sake, don't look at me."
I put almost all of my faith into that defense. It was going to save me from ever having to reveal what a shameful creature I was. I learned all kinds of little distraction techniques, and put them all together like bricks, one by one, until I had built a wonderful fortress around myself. Nothing was going to crack those walls. They were practically impervious. I was so proud of what I'd built. People would say, "Oh you're always so calm, so in control." Not too many people suspected I was so scared I was practically screaming. And that's why I built the walls. I didn't want them to know. I thought if they knew I was scared they would attack immediately, just like my parents and the kids in my neighborhood.
I'll show you what the fortress is made out of. The outside layer looks nice and shiny, like this: "Hey, how are you doing? Say, here's an amazing fact. Did you know in the world today there are almost ten times as many toes as there are people?" And when I say shiny, I mean polished to the point where you can see your reflection. And that's part of the protection. I've always tried to mirror you back to you, so you can't see me.
Now, the shiny stuff doesn't offer a whole lot of protection in a sustained attack, so it's bolstered underneath by tremendous anger, that looks like this: "What do you want from me! Get away! Don't even try to hurt me or I'll kill you!"
It takes a tremendous amount of energy in the form of fear and anger to keep those walls solid. So, even when I'm not with other people I make sure the fear stays constant by imagining various people disapproving of my actions or attempting to humiliate me in some way. And I don't need to schedule those practice sessions. They became automatic many years ago.
You now, I could have probably lived like that, secure in my fortress. I could have been OK with that existence. But I made two errors in judgement. I thought the key to happiness was to eliminate any possibility of attack. I thought once I had built a fortress so mighty that nobody could ever attack me, that I would at last feel safe and I would finally be able to relax.
The second mistake I made is that I thought that I could live without love. I thought that admiration and approval could take the place of love. I thought if I had that, I didn't need love. I've hated love. And I'm not talking about romantic love. Admiration and approval is a big part of romantic love, so I'm all for it. In fact, I come from a family of great lovers. My uncle wrote a book called,"30 Seconds Over Tokyo Rose." So, it's OK to be in love with me, but don't try to actually love me.
Love is so probing. It wants to know everything about me. And I was sure I knew why it wanted to know everything about me. So it could discover my weaknesses and then attack and kill me. Honestly, those are the first thoughts I have when people start asking me questions about myself. I think they're trying to find my weak spots.
Admiration and approval didn't seem to need to know anything about me. At least, nothing too deep. And so I thought they would be perfect substitutes for love.
Turns out they're just cheap imitations. It's like giving bubble gum to a starving man. Most of my life I believed admiration and approval was actually nutritious. I believed that bubble gum was the answer to my starvation, and so I tried to get and more of it. I was still starving, but I was convinced I just needed more gum.
My friends, I have many times sought your approval instead of your love, and I am very sorry about that. I thought that's what I needed.
I have now come to the realization that the love in me needs to unite with the love in you. So, guess what? My wonderful strong little fortress is suddenly a prison. What's up with that? After years of constant labor building this fortress, I discover that it's killing me. I'm dying in here. That wasn't supposed to happen. This fortress was supposed to protect me and keep me safe from attack and thereby ensure my survival. But the stuff I need to survive can't get through.
My happiness and even my survival actually depend on a genuine loving relationship with you. Since that love can't get through, I feel unloved. And feeling unloved hurts. In fact, it hurts like hell. So my fortress has actually created what it was designed to prevent. Pain. I want my money back!
You know, I do believe it's possible there's a spiritual aspect to all of this. I continue to refute the notion that we are nothing but a bunch of inert chemicals reacting in such a way as to produce awareness and emotion. I don't think chemicals have any feelings, and I don't think we would either if that's all we were. I think it's possible I might have set myself up, even before I was born, for the kinds of experiences that would compel me to create barriers between you and I, and ultimately between God and me. A Course In Miracles says that we are part of God, and that together with God we're all that really exists. Despite that, there is a part of my mind that wants to be separate. However, it can't create a reality apart from God, so it has to imagine one. And if you want to imagine a reality without God, you have to go for the opposite of God, which is fear.
Any way you look at it, it's a stupid set up. So you see, I really am a fool. And now, I'm faced with the task of having to dismantle all that hard work. And to me it feels like I'm taking a big risk by doing that. I'm kind of damned if I do and damned if I don't. And I think I might be more damned if I don't. I hope dismantling my fortress isn't going to take as much time as it took to build it, 'cause I could sure use some fresh air.
You realize, of course, that just by telling you this I've removed a few bricks from the wall. And I've discovered the only way those bricks come out is if I make you aware of them. You're magic for me. All I have to do is show them to you, and they start to disappear. I thought for a long time I could do that trick all by myself, but I can't. I need your help.
I know I'm not alone in this work. Men and women everywhere have built the same kinds of fortresses and are actively working with other men and women who are helping them dissolve the defenses. One great organization is called the Mankind Project. I participated in one of their weekends last December that I found very helpful to this process. Imago therapy is another great avenue. If you've built a fortress like I have, and you're trying to get out, I'd be happy to talk to you more about my experiences with those processes.
I said at the outset that mine was not a particularly unique story, but what gives my shadows their power is that I think it is a unique story. I think I'm the only who's got something to hide, and so I've kept it hidden. I'm discovering I'm not so unique after all, and that has helped give me the courage to stop hiding. If you feel like you're hiding, I hope this has given you a bit of courage, too.