I eventually learned who my own self was and how to present that self to the world. I learned the only way to be an authentic human in the world is to figure that out and to do it. I’ve found that to be one of the most terrifying experiences: to really speak up about who you are and what you believe. I’ve found that anything else is empty and never-ending and soul killing, and that anything else tells the world that they must fake it just the same as you.
I’ve also found out that all those therapists are right when they tell you all the crap from your childhood walks right into your adulthood and keeps on. I spent so long anticipating the rejection of others that it is near impossible for me to believe someone’s acceptance. I walk around the world expecting rejection. Constantly. Always. Even from most interwoven, most secure relationships. It’s my hardwired default.
Here’s what I mean:
As I write this I am staying at my friend Emma’s house. I always get up at the crack of dawn so this morning I sat on the couch, coffee in hand, computer on lap, awaiting Emma’s arrival to the world. It was a perfectly average spring morning in Portland. Then the ohmygodineedtogetoutofhere rushed down me. It was like a odor that engulfed my lungs. This is what I told myself: “Emma is going to get up and she would of course definitely rather go about her day without me, yet here I am like the first thing she see when she walks into the living room and I am going to be such a drag to her morning. Maybe I should go on a run or find an excuse to go into town or go make other friends so that I can split up my time between all of them so then none of them have to deal with that much of me (and at least none of me in the mornings) —and then maybe, in smaller doses, I will be more manageable. I gotta get out of here. Suck that coffee down and get rollin’, Jared. Go. Go. Go.”
I told my college mentor once, “I am pretty sure that no one really likes me this much, but they must have all like had a meeting and decided to all pretend to be nice to me, to all scream and hoop and holler when they see me from across the quad, to post all these super nice comments on my social media —when really they are disgusted to see me ~because they know~ that the one thing worse than rejection is rejection masked as approval.”
For a decade while in the closet, I taught myself that all of my relationships would one day end. I taught myself that I carried something inside of me that would make other people vacate my life. To spare myself the pain of their future rejection, I rejected myself ahead of time. I told my teen self that even though I had smiling faces around me then, those faces were not genuine. Once those faces saw in, they would no longer smile. They would purse their lips and furrow their eyebrows and they would reject.
What I taught myself was that love did not exist. That relationship was temporary and conditional. That it was something to be earned and something that could easily be taken away. That there could be words and gestures and actions, but the underneath could still be rotten. I taught myself that trust would lead to pain.
What I realize now is that I was preordering my rejection. Someone didn’t have to be a jerk to me. I expected them to be. What I became was unsafe to myself. I became the biggest jerk to myself. What I thought would spare me from future pain instead ensured that I felt it. And that I carried with me, everywhere and always.
I don’t regret any of this. This protection method protected me from a lot of bullshit. It kept me to from talking with my conservative church of christ pastor, and with my parents and with others. I think my story would be worse if I was naive to the realities and just came out as a teen. I know the stories of my friends who did that and their unfoldings have been brutal. My decision to not believe love may be the reason I’m still here.
But the baggage it demands are a boatload of trust issues. It’s the asterisks I assign to every good friendship. It’s the belief that no matter how good today is, tomorrow holds the potential to burn down the barn. It’s the constant street fight to accept accept accept accept —myself.