Rip off the mask, tear down the walls. Show the world your beautiful self!

Posts tagged ‘masks’

Pain Won’t Respect Our Walls

Pain and Trauma Make Repeat Performances

At one time or another, we all suffer some kind of pain or trauma. It might be a broken friendship or relationship, the death of a beloved family member. For many, it’s far worse, and to many of us unimaginable. Yet regardless of what caused our suffering, most of us have one thing in common; we try to wall away the pain and get on with our lives.

We might or might know the best thing to do is work through the painful event, but life and society, and a host of other excuses make it easier to shove our feelings into a box, and get on with our lives—or so we’d like to believe.

The trouble with pain is it has a nasty habit of re-introducing itself into our lives at inconvenient moments, and it does it with insidious regularity. It isn’t really coming back at us to punish us though. We are meant to both deal with our painful moments and learn from them. When we wall them away, we guarantee we’ll be revisited; our own personal version of the Ghosts of Traumas Past.

The Masks We Wear

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katsexagesima01/3612047773/in/photolist-6vbFXK-7mfHK5-82q4rd-7Ku82r-7xTufQ-7xTvNm-noV2nx-8v7yLg-7xTtxw-b5JoM-awiDbx-74ofjQ-4xTEyL-aFUvSc-2nJqV-pnUS3J-UZSY-KSCvY-q54hFw-74jkL8-57r2Za-rXWSV-RAqoKt-wCAn3-74jkCt-459Ltf-8VkKtr-jrTTpy-7Mx4vz-9gJ6Hm-q2BAZF-A1eTBs-4sLmnj-7hJteh-nDn5BQ-98W5r7-4oJBHP-FUYqD-66WsR1-aaLTe-9gF1wt-7AibaD-cof4ks-bKGrY-7pamwZ-9yY17Q-2QEkGc-qtnpn9-qUrb5H-5EB1gvThere are so many people we meet who seem to continuously wear a smile on their faces. Some of them even make us smile just to see them. But what’s really behind those smiles? The positive exterior? What does it cost them to maintain the mask and the ruse that everything in their life is perfect?

I’ve learned so much about that in recent years. We all have our secrets and things we choose to hold in rather than inflict on others. We all smile when we’re hurting inside at one time or another, telling anyone who asks we’re “fine”. The general public accepts our words and looks no further, but what about the people closest to us? Do they listen to the words and ignore what lies closer to the surface than we’d like? Do they look into our eyes, see the pain lurking in their depths and offer comfort though we don’t, and would never ask?

Letting People Down When We Hide From Our Pain

I think about my dad and all the times he ignored my mom’s pain while at the same time, walling away his own. Some, I know was years of habit. I think at one time, he was conscious of her inner turmoil, her need to be loved and accepted without qualification. But when her need wasn’t met by her family, she sank deeper into herself and only in those moments when they were alone together and her defenses dropped, albeit deeply, might he have seen the quagmire of her soul beneath the carefully constructed facade.

Coming from a family where emotions were rarely displayed and where stoicism was highly valued, I don’t think he knew how to deal with raw emotion in himself or anyone else. I suspect it was even terrifying for him when mom’s masks slipped and he saw the raw and bleeding soul beneath. I’m not surprised he developed defense mechanisms and responded with anger or disgust. So much of the way he responded was self-directed too.

The tendency to hide from our emotions and pain is perpetuated into adulthood. I remember a female manager taking me under her wing when I was working in aerospace. One of her most oft-repeated lessons had to do with hiding your emotions. Women had to work harder to be taken seriously in that environment, and showing emotion was the quickest way to kill any upward momentum you might have achieved. I took her message to heart, embracing the lesson with the zealousness of a religious fanatic.

Hiding and Re-living: An Endless Cycle Until We Learn and Accept

Through a divorce, the death of my mother, and the challenges of juggling career, self-care, and two young children, I kept my struggles to myself. The result was what appeared to be a rock-hard exterior and few I could call “friend”. The false front prevented anyone from getting close. No one ever figured out that a slight tap on that exterior would have cracked it into a million pieces. I even convinced myself I preferred the solitude and the isolation.

As the years have passed, the painful moments were triggered over and over. Often they led to periods of even more isolation as I tried vainly to shore up the eroding walls. Ultimately I learned to face the reminders head on and find the lesson in the pain. And I learned to be more understanding and compassionate of others.

We Are Never Truly Alone

Part of learning to manage and accept our own painful past is the realization we’re not alone. Everyone suffered a setback, a loss, or a trauma at some point in their lives. Yet comparing ours to theirs isn’t the answer either. It’s easy to say “I shouldn’t feel so bad. This other person has suffered far more than I.” But we all suffer within our own contract; our own capabilities. We all have challenges which help us learn to become the person we were meant to be.

It’s not a matter of comparing. It’s a matter of empathizing and connecting. Sometimes we connect through our propensity to wall away the pain. Other times, we connect because of similarities in our experiences. The best connections, in my opinion, are those made when we understand it’s not the level of pain or how we’ve worked through it, but that we all have. It’s an unspoken understanding that at one time or another, we all need to straighten our spine and go on, even when we’d rather crawl into a hole.

Yet, it’s also that moment when we truly accept we weren’t meant to soldier through alone. Sometimes, it takes some life-shattering moments, much like the ones I experienced before we accept that we deserve to ask for and receive help. Even there, we find connection with others who believed themselves unworthy. We connect with the isolated, the hermits, the ones who for years believed themselves to be oddballs. We find our community where we least expected it—with the ones who are connected through being different.

Finding Our Community in Our Differences

Perhaps it’s easier to find comfort in a community where everyone thinks like we do, and shares all the same values, beliefs, and visions. It’s harder when your world-view is a unique combination of pieces and parts gleaned from what you’ve read, seen, and experienced as an isolated soul on its own journey. But the very fact we hide our feelings and thoughts away to blend in is what ultimately brings us together. When we have the epiphany and realize we were never meant to blend in and doing so is stifling the unique and beautiful butterfly of our soul, we find ourselves in a garden with thousands of other unique and beautiful souls.

The hardest thing in the world is to come out from behind the walls we spent a lifetime building—the walls which make us appear to belong. Yet there comes a point when we can no longer maintain a construction which was never structurally sound. For some, it comes with the force of an earthquake, stone, mortar, blood, and tears flying everywhere with no hope for containment. Others may voluntarily take down their walls as they allow themselves to see past the smokescreens and preconceived notions.

However it happens, finding the garden beyond where uniqueness is valued instead of squashed is worth the effort and even the pain of the journey.

Do we ever completely release our painful and traumatic moments? Probably not. There will always be some which come back to haunt us in one way or another. But there will also be those which fade into distant memory as we deal with the pain, embrace the lesson, and move onto other things. Some of those become our ability to relate and help others through their own which I believe was the purpose of the experience in the first place. I know my own life is richer for the opportunities I’ve been given to be there for someone with whom an experience we in some way share is still fresh, or returning in full force to bring them to their knees as it once brought me to mine.

Knowing We Always Have Something to Be Grateful For

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I’m grateful for the experiences which have made me stronger, but even more for the ones which taught me compassion.
  2. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back now that I’ve learned my walls only kept me from experiencing joy and connection.
  3. I’m grateful for my friends and family who teach me every day to be a kinder, more compassionate Divine Being having a Human experience.
  4. I’m grateful for love. Without it, we’re incomplete.
  5. I’m grateful for abundance; love, life, lessons, compassion, kindness, beauty, peace, harmony, health, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Love and Light

 

About the Author

Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats, suicide survivors, mental health, and depression. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She specializes in creating content that helps entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author

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Not Another Suicide!

The Dance Community is Loving and Giving, Yet We’re Not Immune to Suicide

The word came out yesterday that another member of our dance community took his life. Of course those closest to him are devastated, and many who knew him are baffled. This was another guy with a ready smile and so much to live for, or at least so it appeared to the world outside his own head.

I find it especially disheartening in a community where, at least to the naked eye there is so much love and affection. Many of us share our humanity, our broken pieces as well as our shiny, sparkly ones. Perhaps we need to be more conscious and aware of those who share only the sparkly ones and not the ones in desperate need of a polish.

I didn’t know the most recent casualty, and even the one before him, I knew only on a superficial level. Did either of them share their troublesome thoughts, their feelings of unworthiness, or the belief that everyone would be better off without them? Did anyone notice when their ever-present smiles didn’t reach their eyes? Or did we all accept the image they portrayed of a happy guy with a perfect life?

Learning to Look for Signs

I know from experience that constantly showing the world a cheerful, unblemished exterior takes its toll.https://www.flickr.com/photos/swampa/8512656992/in/photolist-dYeAm9-5MBAS5-4wH48T-5M2k2z-9j9QT2-8RVu1X-6juK2V-a18M9W-5taS34-fMS1SQ-cDQLUb-6GZmA2-oUv5Wv-5AvF8V-paqKFx-4LicMW-s48LVr-57gaP7-39DFEc-nu6Svm-bCRkBB-21uvr7L-7H9fXU-h4hoeh-8kP7PC-3F7yE-AXQ82E-RCHfaj-ftXr8F-6agM2v-pCAFRA-57uGKU-5qGnVx-gYU9Q-6aCF6B-7SC734-5hDawR-6pT1cL-58x9Gg-7tPaUX-pfNVHB-7BnSAE-a56YeV-83T4NJ-6wgZex-e58EmP-9tnDYY-gmjSdW-55pwGE-4CCrfb I’ve traveled down that road where I began to believe the world would chug merrily along whether or not I was there to provide some momentum. In fact, there were times when the only thing that kept me getting up every morning and putting one foot in front of the other was the two little girls who depended on me.

As the latest victim had a child, is it only mothers who feel that responsibility to their children? I don’t think so, given the number of mothers who either suicide or simply leave their families.

For those who do find a reason to stay and protect their young despite the miserable world their mind has drawn for them, what happens when the responsibility is gone? Children grow up and move away. They start craving their independence from a fairly young age, at least in my experience, long before they understand the responsibilities which accompany their independence.

I was one of the lucky ones. I found my way out of the depths of unworthiness before I got sucked completely under. Through a fortuitous combination of luck, kicks in the butt from my daughter, friends who were willing to pull aside the curtains and see the sometimes ugly mass of protoplasm I tried to keep hidden, and most of all, my writing, I was able to escape from my wallow and learn some painful but healing lessons. Too many lack the right combination of factors with which I was blessed to help them climb out of the hole they’ve fallen into.

Helping Each Other Dispose of the Masks

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katsexagesima01/3612047773/in/photolist-6vbFXK-7mfHK5-82q4rd-7Ku82r-7xTufQ-7xTvNm-noV2nx-8v7yLg-7xTtxw-b5JoM-awiDbx-74ofjQ-4xTEyL-aFUvSc-2nJqV-pnUS3J-UZSY-KSCvY-q54hFw-74jkL8-57r2Za-rXWSV-RAqoKt-wCAn3-74jkCt-459Ltf-8VkKtr-jrTTpy-7Mx4vz-9gJ6Hm-q2BAZF-A1eTBs-4sLmnj-7hJteh-nDn5BQ-98W5r7-4oJBHP-FUYqD-66WsR1-aaLTe-9gF1wt-7AibaD-cof4ks-bKGrY-7pamwZ-9yY17Q-2QEkGc-qtnpn9-qUrb5H-5EB1gvThe question is, if we noticed, if we looked into their eyes and really searched for the person behind the mask, would we be able to help them before it’s too late? Would we, could we be the lifeline they grabbed to haul themselves out of their personal pit of despair? Could we or anyone convince them it’s all right to let the smile slip sometimes and show what they, what we believe is the ugly underbelly where life isn’t perfect? Would we be able to make them believe people want to see their soft, imperfect side? Could we convince them people need to be needed and that by only helping and not allowing themselves to be helped, they’re denying others the opportunity to give?

Too many of us have been raised with a hearty dose of independence. We believe we are only valuable and worthy if we stand on our own two feet. We are taught to look down upon those who are so weak they must seek help outside their own insular world, and in the worst cases, even scorn those who, in reality are strong enough to let others see their imperfections.

Finding Engagement in Our Communities

Yet we all seek some kind of community, even if we fail to share the most integral part of our being. Whether it’s church or, like me, the dance community, or one of the other interest groups I see my friends involved with; jeeps, dune buggies, horses, charitable groups… we all need to be near those exuding human kindness even if we haven’t figured out how to allow it into our own lives.

These days, we’re even more detached as we build communities virtually. We come to the dinner table with our cell phones, and play games or text friends rather than talking to the people in front of us. If we do share, it’s either a rant about someone or something far removed from our own inner demons, or superficialities meant to keep the conversation light and falsely cheerful. In some ways, I believe this is the single biggest factor contributing to the increasing suicide numbers.

Detachment is More Deadly than Disease

According to the World Health Organization, 9 of the top 10 causes of death worldwide in 2015 were related to some kind of organ failure (heart, lungs, brain, etc.). The 10th was road injury. If you ask me, the largest cause of death has nothing to do with our physical body, except as it’s affected by our mindset. The question is, how do we measure the deterioration our minds are doing to our bodies? How do you quantify how detachment sends us into a downward spiral which all too often ends in suicide?

Save.org offers a chilling menu of statistics on suicides globally:

  • 10th leading cause of death in the US
  • 2nd leading cause of death worldwide for 15-24 year olds
  • 4th leading cause of death for ages 18-65
  • 1 death by suicide every 40 seconds

On a lighter note, 80-90% of those seeking treatment for depression find success with the prescribed medication and/or therapy. But how many don’t seek therapy because they either don’t see they need help, or have been conditioned to avoid asking for fear of being perceived as weak?

Again, neither of these sources is able to measure or quantify how our mental state can cause deterioration which leads, if not to suicide, to death by mindset-induced disease.

Doing Our Part to Help Humanity, One Person at a Time

Admittedly, we are not our brother’s keeper, and yet, we are all part of the same pool (some may, at this point call it a cesspool) of humanity. So wouldn’t we be helping all of humanity if we started paying attention to those pasted on smiles? Wouldn’t taking time to look beneath the surface and offer a heartfelt hug to those among us who, for their own reasons aren’t ready to share their pain be an act of kindness the entire world would feel?

I don’t know about you, but if I could prevent a single suicide by looking deeply into a friend’s eyes and letting them know I’ve wallowed in the depths a time or two myself; that asking for help was the strongest thing I ever did, I’d do it every chance I saw. If I could save other families and extended families the pain of losing someone to suicide even once, I’d drag my introverted self out of my self-imposed hermit hole and do everything I could to help educate, to inspire. Kind of like I’m trying to do here, but on a much more personal level.

Yes, I write extensively about suicide and especially how it affects those left behind with a million questions, a grain silo full of blame, guilt, and regret, and a gut-wrenching sorrow that seems to have no end. But I know the real solution lies in connection and community. Without them, we will all find too much time to wallow in our own misery and believe the voices in our heads telling us we are unworthy, unloved, and undeserving.

Think about it, and spread the love.

Gratitude Helps Me Find My Way Out of the Downward Spirals
  1. I am grateful for my friends who have learned to see past the masks I still try to wear.
  2. I am grateful for my daughter who continues to encourage me.
  3. I am grateful for the people who have come into my life to teach me asking for help is not a weakness.
  4. I am grateful for the people who make me think really hard about who I am and what I want to be when I grow up, and who give heartfelt advice even when they know it isn’t what I want to hear.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; friendship, joy, sorrow, dancing, love, humor, laughter, community, challenges, lessons, opportunities, new directions, stretched limits, peace, harmony, health, prosperity, and philanthropy.

Love and Light

About the Author

Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for ghostwriting to help your business grow and thrive. Her specialties are finding and expressing your authentic self. If you’d like to have her write your expert book with you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author

My Computer, My Mask

Breaking the Mask

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katsexagesima01/3612047773/in/photolist-6vbFXK-7mfHK5-82q4rd-7Ku82r-7xTufQ-7xTvNm-noV2nx-8v7yLg-7xTtxw-b5JoM-awiDbx-74ofjQ-4xTEyL-aFUvSc-2nJqV-pnUS3J-UZSY-KSCvY-q54hFw-74jkL8-57r2Za-rXWSV-RAqoKt-wCAn3-74jkCt-459Ltf-8VkKtr-jrTTpy-7Mx4vz-9gJ6Hm-q2BAZF-A1eTBs-4sLmnj-7hJteh-nDn5BQ-98W5r7-4oJBHP-FUYqD-66WsR1-aaLTe-9gF1wt-7AibaD-cof4ks-bKGrY-7pamwZ-9yY17Q-2QEkGc-qtnpn9-qUrb5H-5EB1gvI write a lot about authenticity. I even get up on Facebook Live and talk about it and myself quite openly. But after attending a conference where people got up in front of a live audience and talked about their lives and their struggles, I learned a really difficult lesson about authenticity and openness. Writing in a blog or even doing a live broadcast is just another kind of mask.

Even when I get responses from people, the dialogue is after the fact when I’m safely behind the wall. They can’t touch me or see me falter. They (or perhaps I should say you) don’t see my insecurities and vulnerabilities laid out on the table. Any tears I shed or frustrations I express are hidden from your eyes. In other words, I’m still safe.

A Prison of My Own Making

In some ways, I still believe I need that protection, that safety net, the barrier between me and thou. But in others, it has become my prison, my place of disconnection, my lonely isolation. It is real, but only to a point. When I close my door behind me, there’s no one to hold me when I hurt, celebrate with me when I triumph, or just sit quietly sharing the moment. I am, for all intents and purposes, alone.

Even in a crowd, my invisible barriers soar to the skies. with only a few do I show what’s behind the curtain.

When the Time Comes to Step Outside

Yet lately, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep that curtain in place, to hide the tears, the pain, the sorrow, and the fragility. My emotions are closer to the surface, reflected on my face, in my posture, and in the tears that spill despite my best efforts to contain them.

It seems I’m being kicked out from behind my walls, at least in certain cases and places. Yet I scamper back behind them to write stories like this one, or to talk to my own face while recording a video. The more I fight it, the harder it becomes to feel safe and protected. The more I try to stay behind my walls, the more uncomfortable I become. I’m feeling edgy and discontented. I want more, but it scares the shit out of me. I take baby steps outside which turn into giant steps whether I like it or not.

I’d say mysterious forces are at work to push me into another dimension of my life, but I know better. They’re the same forces which ended jobs, relationships, and other situations for me at just the right time. They are my own internal butt kickers who know when I’ve sat in one place for too long and need to move before I grow roots and try to stay where I no longer belong.

A Move is a Move, No Matter How Small

It isn’t necessarily about moving physically (I’ve lived in the same house for over 30 years). It’s about evolving, growing, expanding who I am into who I’m meant to be. Sometimes, the steps are small and manageable like the initial steps we take while learning to walk. Other times, like now, they’re huge, frightening, and meant to turn my safe, cozy world on its ear. Times like now when I’ve become blase about the little 2- and 3-point earthquakes that rattle my world and the Universe decides it’s time for an 8.7 bone rattler.

I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, and I’ll be honest with you. I’m terrified on several levels. But at the same time, I’m excited about what the latest upheaval will bring with it. I’ve lived through my share of them, and in all honesty, it always turns out better than I expected or imagined. This time will be no different, and will probably be even more amazing because my fear levels are off the Richter scale right now.

Easy Steps are Stepping Stones, Not a Place to Rest

I’ve discovered that opening up to people via Facebook Live is just a walk in the park for me. It was the natural progression from what my friend Lucia calls “raw Sheri” in my writing. I even broke down in front of a stranger yesterday and don’t feel completely humiliated and ashamed today. Granted, I declined when she asked if she could hug me. I wasn’t ready to go into full melt-down in front of her and a room full of strangers. But perhaps that time will come.

In the movie, The Grinch, there’s a scene where tears are falling and he says “I’m leaking.” I feel like I’m leaking too, but the salty tears are the outward manifestation of the leak, not the leak itself. I’m leaking humanity; something I’ve kept bottled up most of my life. Sure, I’ve been letting it out a little at a time for the last couple of decades, but my cracks are widening and I can no longer seal them back up as I used to. I no longer want to be on the outside looking in.

Am I ready to come out from behind the last of my walls, take off the last of my masks? Changing the name of this blog is probably my answer. I changed the name because it felt right. But I think it was that inner voice telling me it’s time to walk the talk instead of just paying it lip service.

Embracing What’s Uncomfortable

I sit here now, typing these words, feeling anxious, afraid, and close to tears (which seems to be my natural state of late). Dylan seems to sense it as he rarely leaves my side when I’m home lately. His comforting presence slows my rapidly beating heart and gives me a place to go when the fear overwhelms.

Still, I look forward to long talks and sharing my red Adirondack chairs. This is not a time for isolation. My new word is “community”. My goal is to recognize the one I already have and to build and expand on it. I’m ready to open myself up to new experiences and people, and new ways to strengthen my wilting finances. My new motto (or one of them) is “Why think outside the box? There is no box!”

“Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.”

I heard something from one of the speakers yesterday which made me stop and think. He said “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” How often have we been told the opposite? Sometimes we really need to get off the hamster wheel and spend time simply being. We need to take time to pause and reflect; to allow all of the experiences and thoughts we’ve been having to swirl around and put themselves together in ways they won’t find if we’re busy pushing the pieces around.

What I’ve been doing lately isn’t working, or at least it isn’t working well. I’ve been pushing the pieces around, but the resulting patterns are simply variations on what I’ve always known. It’s time for me to allow new patterns to emerge, and to not toss them away simply because they’re unfamiliar.

I’m taking time this weekend to simply sit there and allow the ideas to form without my interference. Who knows where I’ll be next week, but life is an adventure, if we’re willing to accept the challenge.

Sitting Quietly in Gratitude

My gratitudes today are:

  1. I am grateful for discomfort.
  2. I am grateful for fear.
  3. I am grateful for the bloodletting that comes with lowering walls and removing masks.
  4. I am grateful for the community I’ve failed, to this point to recognize and appreciate.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; challenges, lessons, friendships, dreams, goals, spirit, love, tears, honest emotions, peace, health, harmony, prosperity, and philanthropy.

Love and Light

Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. She believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. She specializes in finding and expressing your authentic self. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information.

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