I recently started therapy. On our first meeting, the therapist told me how uncommon it is in our country for someone to choose to undertake therapy of their own accord. I told her I knew and added that had someone told me I would be where I was just a year earlier from then, I would have told them they were crazy. Truth is, had someone told me this even 8 months earlier, my answer would have been the same. 5 to 7 months earlier I might have said “perhaps”. More recently than that I was already looking for a therapist.
Half-assedly, I might add. I stepped up my game when I decided I would let loose a wrecking ball through my marriage and, unwittingly, quite likely through every other aspect of my life. Maybe that’s what I wanted. It is – after all – a continuation of a pattern that I have seen established long ago, though on a much lesser scale. I would open a profile on a website on the Internet and then do something I would later regret with it and then I would delete that profile, or leave it behind if it could not be deleted and create a new one. To my credit, each new profile lasted longer than the last, but to my dismay, each was also less noteworthy than the last. This briefly reminded me of a dream I once had when I was practicing lucid dreaming. Whenever my dream became lucid, that is I became aware that I am dreaming, I would quickly wake up, I assume because of the rush of thoughts in my head. One such dream was of me being locked up in some kind of room that looked alright given that it was essentially a cage. Then I realized I was dreaming and I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself free, but because of the rush of thought I had already felt was waking me up, I had no time to finish my imagining before opening my eyes. So, when I opened them, I was in the same room, except it was not as nice as the one before. Granted, I was no longer chained like before, but I was still locked up. This happened a couple more times and unmistakably each time, the room was becoming more and more nondescript and uninteresting. Back to my present wrecking ball, this time around it was stayed, for better, or worse. (I suppose I have yet to see.)
During my second session, my therapist discovered about me something that was quite obvious to me for quite some time now, although I did not know what to do with it: I care about what others think of me.
When watching those movies where couples fight in public, I often find myself surprised about how – during the fight – both partners stay focused on the fight and don’t care so much about the people around them. I knew that – were I to fall out with someone in public – I would prefer to continue the fight in private. I suppose partly it’s because at some level I’m aware of the errors I made that led to the fight and would rather keep them away from public scrutiny. Because I care about the conclusions they will reach and because I am ashamed to have made those errors and because those errors might point to a fault within me that I would rather have left undiscovered. It was my wife who woke me up to the full reality of this when she mentioned how I’m always glancing at others when we’re on the beach, talking about us, or talking to our kids. I still catch myself doing that, even though I don’t like that I’m doing it.
The therapist began by having me make a list of things I would say to someone I have never met about myself – how I would introduce myself to them. She mentioned that that person could also be an extraterrestrial and I took that a little too literally and “introduced” myself first as a human from Earth. Eight other things I said about myself were mostly about what I do, who I am in relation to others. One thing she impressed upon me that was the only thing really about me is that I am a nudist and a barefooter.
So we dove into that. I don’t remember the exact way this conversation went, but at some point she asked me about school and I told her how I felt I was always in the good grace of my teachers because of my parents who were known by many people, including the teachers. When I told her more about this, she said she found nothing unusual in the way I was treated by my teachers and that it was quite common for them to have their favorites (to which I said that I was their favorite favorite – not in these exact words, but it certainly says something now I put it this way).
I was always a good pupil, but much of the time people said to me how this or that teacher was going soft on me because of my parents. This was said to me by many different people, mostly classmates, and the narrative was picked up by my wife. In fact, all the criticism – in my head – had the voice of my wife. I concluded that it was because “she was practically there” and the therapist agreed that hers would certainly be the loudest at the moment. As “homework” she told me to think back about this criticism. Who are my critics? Not just about my schooling, but also about any other aspects of my life.
As I thought about this, I realized something that went unnoticed during my first session. I was trying to formulate the reason for why I live a barefoot lifestyle, one that was much in line with what I have written previously here. She interjected at some point and introduced the word “statement”. I realized that this was not the word I would use. I prefer that it is an act of defiance, or disobedience. This could be construed as a kind of “statement”, but “statement” is far too abstract. This is more tangible. This is something like “I don’t want to do what you tell me to do any more, so instead I’m going to do something that I like and I don’t care what you say.”
But I cared.
And that’s why my transition from “regular shoddie” to “barefooter” lasted a couple of months as I was testing out how people would react to me being barefoot. That’s why I put my shoes back on when my wife told me to do so until recently. And the reason I cared was because I was worried about their reaction. Would someone throw me out of a store? Would people ridicule me, confront me, physically attack me even? This could be why my therapist decided to check out how much criticism I’d received in the past, starting with my schooling. And she was right to do so. I’ve received plenty of it. A simple search resulted on the Internet and this sentence that I found on Psychology Today blew my mind:
Criticism and punishment lead to anger and defiance or secretiveness and withdrawal; this leads to more criticism then more defiance and withdrawal.
I have long been secretive and withdrawn towards my parents. I have continued this pattern in all of my relationships, until … I already said being barefoot was an act of defiance, though having injured myself might have given me a push towards making that defiance public. A lyric from “Let it go” from Frozen just popped into my head and it seems very appropriate at this point:
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway
I actually cry when I listen to this song.
I guess I really should “let it go”. But here’s where I hit another snag.
What do I let go?
If anything, this session has proven that there is a lot of who I am that I keep buried within me, having withdrawn as far as I have thanks to the criticism I received. At this point I’m thinking about how my barefoot lifestyle is generating a lot of attention, much of it in the form of curiosity, much of it positive, some bewilderment, very little of it negative. This is something I have long sought, as I have written before, but now I have it, I have no idea how to make use of it. Should I just bask in its glory, or is there some way I can make it into something even better, something more productive, something positive? The question isn’t as much “what do I do with it” as much as “what do I want to do with it”. What I certainly don’t want is to do nothing and become just that weirdo who walks around barefoot.
The therapist made an impression on me that the only thing she read from the list of things I would say to introduce myself to an ET was that I am naked and barefoot and I realized that that’s not what I want to be. I even said as much to her, surprising even myself a bit. But really, I do want to be naked and barefoot. I just don’t want that to be all there is to me.
As I thought about all this, driving from my therapist to a shopping mall where I was to meet with my wife, an image popped into my head, much like the lyrics to “Let it go” popped into my head earlier. It was an image of a man, deep under the surface of water, holding for his life to a straw he was breathing through. The only way to pull him out of the water was by that straw. He was afraid, though, of someone noticing that straw, because they could as well plug the hole, leaving him to drown. But someone had to notice it in order to pull him out.
How this relates to my situation is quite obvious, I think.
I have, as a result, given more attention to my “last straw”. I have worked out an exercise routine which involves me riding my bike to a hidden location, taking my clothes off, and exploring the area naked. I run in areas that are well hidden, jumping over naturally occurring obstacles in the forest. I pause when I reach an area that is unknown to me, or where there is a chance of running into other people. I rest and listen. Then I continue. Sometimes I just walk, usually if I’m too tired to run. I let myself get dirty. If there’s been rain recently, then there will be muddy patches of ground in my path. I take some care I don’t slip and fall, but not as much as I would normally. I push my limits this way, by trying to maintain balance even if I do slip, surprising myself occasionally at how well I do this. I jump off elevated terrain, which is something I was very careful about before, stopping and studying carefully where I would land. I do that still, but quickly, making a very rough estimate of what it is that I would land on, making adjustments while airborne and upon actually landing. While my jumps would usually be quite rigid and calculated, they are now “soft” and done “on the fly”. Not as much as I would like them to be, but still better than they used to be.
I rode my bike across a stream. I used to get off the bike and push to the other side, because I thought I would fall over. But I managed to stay on the bike, defying my previous expectations. On my return trip my bike swirled in the mud of the stream and I had to stop and get off, but I didn’t fall over. I managed to maintain balance, stepping into the stream with my bare foot, something that would be very uncomfortable with shoes on.
Why do I do this? Because in order to do anything with the attention I’m getting, I need to become a risk taker. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’m not going to do anything by continuing to nurture the part of me that is holding me back, the part of me that I have previously labeled with “coward”. And what better way to kill that coward in me than to confront it with the part of me that blasted through my social anxiety and made me adopt a barefoot lifestyle in the face of all imagined and real (but mostly imagined) peril?
This part of me that refused to be snuffed out under the weight of criticism that I have been receiving throughout my life; the part that refused to die and instead woke up something else in me, something that dared to go against the negativity it received in its path; that last straw that may just save my life.