Saturday, July 30, 2022

Real Me in relationship

     I wrote a couple of months ago about the gift of "unmasking" in solitude. In fact, if there has been one major theme for this blog from its beginning until now, it has been all about learning to distinguish between Fantasy Me and Real Me. Solitude has been all about seeing myself more clearly, letting go of the drama of trying to be the person I wish I were, and embracing the person I really am.

    This week marks a new phase in my journey, that of unmasked friendship. My spiritual director has been visiting me here in Spain. He of all people (outside my immediate family) knows me as I really am. But our relationship until now has been more or less formal, vertical: I talk and he listens, and occasionally gives feedback. This visit has marked a definite change to a real, horizontal, friendship. I know that I can still count on him as confessor and mentor, but this week has also given me the opportunity for some concentrated practice in taking Real Me into relationship with another human being. 

    This is an easy relationship to start with. Besides the fact that he already knows my heart and mind very well, and has shown that he accepts and approves of me as I really am, the abbot is a very easy house guest. I'm pretty amazed at how comfortable I have been with having another person in my space for a whole week, and spending just about every waking minute together. We pray the Office together, and we can have conversations about things that matter. It has been so easy that it makes me wonder how much of my introversion is about a real need for solitude, and how much it is just the strain of maintaining the constant social mask. 

    That is not to say that it hasn't required some effort on my part. Ever since he said he'd like to come, back in May, I've been in a tizzy worrying about planning the perfect holiday for him. I've definitely fallen into Fantasy Hostess mode! I've put all kinds of pressure on myself to be a perfect tour guide, for a place I hardly know my way around myself. Early in the week, I really had to coach myself down from letting my own moods swing around with every sign of his disappointment or pleasure in whatever activity, tourist attraction, or even weather conditions we encountered. But I have coached myself down from that, and after all, it has been a delightful week. 

    My ADHD coach, Kristen Carder, talks about learning to tolerate the "vulnerability hangover" of opening oneself up to a new friendship, or a friendship moving to a deeper level. Remembering her talking about that really helped me to get through the rental car screw-up, his camera getting dunked while sea-kayaking, and a few other snafus. My own ongoing meditation practice also helps me to roll with the moods, accepting the disappointments and enjoying the good parts. 

    In addition to this friend, who has been with me through the whole evolution from Fantasy Me to Real Me, I'm beginning to make new friends in the neurodiversity world. Again, it takes a deliberate intention for me to enter into these new relationships, as far as possible, without taking back up my old social mask. I am making the effort, assuming the vulnerability, to show up as transparently as possible as my real self. To the extent that I am able to maintain that posture, more space is freed up for me to pay attention to the other person, to get to know Real You. 

    Wearing a mask, keeping it up, takes a hell of a lot of energy. It's all been so unconscious for me, for all these many years, I never knew what it was costing me. Whatever vulnerability there is in taking it off, whatever hurt I risk in real relationships, I expect it's less than the hurt my defenses have ended up inflicting on myself. If I am to grow into the whole unique person I am destined to be, I have to learn to love, and that means learning to let myself be seen and known and loved in return. 

    Being a hermit is not the same as being a misanthrope. A hermit, understood in the religious sense, must be open to the love of God, which means also being open to the love of God's beloved humankind. Not only humankind in the mass, in the abstract, but actual individual human beings. Friends. Thanks be to God for this amazing journey I am on, for my teachers and mentors, and for friends and companions along the way. Amen.

 ⊹⊹⊹ PEACE ⊹⊹⊹

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