by: Shiloh Whatley
Often the walls that we build to keep out the pain, also keep out the joy….
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
The Man in the High Castle. That’s what I call myself sometimes. And when I think about how I view my ability to interact with people, a simple analogy comes to mind: I’m up in a castle with extremely high walls and the rest of you are locked outside, gazing up at me. On your faces are expressions of love and compassion, friendship and camaraderie. But the look upon my face as I glare down at you is one of anxiety, and confusion, frustration and hurt. Not because I have been wronged or injured by any of you. But because I am simply waiting for this to occur.
This is an irrational thought. I know that now. But for a long time I did not. I’ve lived far too many days amongst the littered remnants of relationships that I’ve walked away from. Rather than merely confront, resolve and move forward from the misunderstandings and arguments that I’ve experienced, I’ve historically chosen an inward retreat, a circling of the wagons and a tersely offered “Fuck you!” to those who I felt slighted by.
For a long time, calling upon a friend to offer up a simple “Hey, this is bothering me. Can we figure this out?” was beyond my capabilities. The fear of engaging someone on an emotional level and showing that I was vulnerable frightened me. I’ve lost countless friends and tainted many a relationship because of this handicap. Its reach is long. Extending beyond my friendships to taint the connections I’ve had my family. With my parents. With my sister and with my wife. They’ve all been pushed outside my castle walls at some point, left to gaze up at me within my stolid tower. Thankfully, a few dedicated souls haven’t let me off the hook so easily. Deciding instead to lay siege to my fortifications rather than pack up camp and go, and for their resolve I am grateful. Others, unfortunately, have chosen not to fight. Not to press me to raise my castle’s heavy gate and let them in. They’ve chosen instead to turn their backs, count their losses and move on. I don’t blame them.
It’s not an easy thing going through life knowing you have walked away from the people you cared about because of unrealistic expectations you have placed on your capacity to forgive and forget. It’s like a prison sentence without an end. You can’t escape it. The regret and sadness and wonderings about how these people are doing run circles within my mind and I am haunted by the fact that this is all my own doing.
For a long time, I did not like myself. I did not like the fact that I was weak and unwilling to confront the people I’d had a disagreement with. That I shied away from exploring a part of myself which I did not understand. That I did not want to acknowledge. And that I put too much faith in the infallibility of Man and the goodness of people.
For the first time in my life I’ve been in therapy for longer than a couple of sessions. I’ve been putting in the hours, peering deep down within myself and shining a light in all those darkened corners I was afraid to look. It’s been hard work, but I’ve begun to understand where my fascination with building walls lies. It resides in my childhood. In my overworked and overburdened parents inability to engage me on an emotional level and ask me how I was doing. To let know that they understood when I felt helpless and everything seemed impossible. That someone had my back. But that never happened. So I became an incredibly frustrated and reserved person. I looked inward to myself for answers and threw up high barriers against all others. I became an expert on walling myself off. On insulating myself from what the world around me was feeling.
My walls are thick and high. They are borne of massive stones quarried and floated down the river by legions of skilled laborers. As I grew into adulthood and got a taste for the world, I pushed past my anger and frustration with my upbringing and found my short fuse and my fuck-it-all mentality. I believed that if I had myself and my mind and the high walls of my castle, that that was all I ever needed. Anything else would only end in hurt. Sure, I’d occasionally let a few people in. Feed my hunger for human interaction. Maybe make a new friend, reforge a floundering relationship. But eventually, they’d all go back outside the walls.
This is how I’ve lived my life for thirty five years. It hasn’t served me very well. It’s been difficult to live with all the regret that I have amassed inside me. The weight of it all has become suffocating at times. You can only push so much down before you start to run out of places for it to go. This is where I am at today. I’m full. I’m fed up. I’ve become tired of being unable to move on from all this hurt that I’ve engineered. When I talk to my therapist Bernie, we discuss the future. About how it looks to me. About how I envision myself within that realm.
The other day he asked me: “How do you see yourself tomorrow? Next week? Next year, even?”
“At peace.” I said to him.
“And these stories you’ve been writing? The things that you describe with your words? What are they all about? What is their underlying theme?”
I paused and pondered this question for a second before I answered. Not because I didn’t know what to say….because I did. But because I wanted to have one more moment with the word before I said it to him. It was one of my biggest secrets.
“Hope.” I finally said. “My writings are all about hope.”
“You see?” Bernie leaned in and said to me, an eager smile upon his face. “All isn’t lost. There’s a reason why you built a door within those walls. It’s not because you believe that all is lost. It’s because you believe that this is something you can overcome.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“I’m sure you didn’t. But some deeper part of you did. Some intangible that exists within you future-proofed your outlook and we just needed to find it. To shine a light on its power. You know, we can figure this all out. Get you to tear down those walls and become comfortable with being vulnerable and sharing your emotions again.”
“I’d like that,” I said to him. And as the words flowed from my mouth, in my mind I began to imagine all those workers tearing down those massive walls. “I’ve become tired of building….”