Monday, October 18, 2010
Open the Door
I'm a pretty open person. This should not come as a surprise given some of the content of this blog. But I was not always so open.
I once had a clinical instructor when I was completing my nursing degree tell me in my final evaluation that I had a knack for developing superficial relationships with people very quickly. I've never forgotten that remark, and at the time I took it as a complement, but in retrospect, I don't think it was intended that way.
I wrote elsewhere about how I went 16 years without making any new real friends. I was good at the superficial -- I've always had the charm and the flair for that -- but not so good at taking my connections with people to the next level and developing those kinds of friendships where you could trust the other person with anything.
I remember one time being at a social when I was in my early 20s and I was having fun goofing around with a girl I barely knew but was working with for the summer. We were at the bar getting a drink and she said, "You're awesome. I'll have to get your number so we can hang out more."
I avoided her the rest of the night. A sad but true story.
I didn't let people in. I kept my personal life to myself. I hid things that I thought people would criticize me for. I was afraid that if I let people see who I really was, I would turn out to be someone they didn't like, or worse, would laugh at me behind my back. To be honest this fear hasn't entirely left me but I'm working on it.
Once when I was still working on a hospital unit, I told a few coworkers I was working on a Master's degree and I watched how that news caused some to start treating me differently -- and I don't mean kindly -- and how it created "talk" when I wasn't around. I didn't like how people I hadn't told personally came up to me and said: "So I hear..... " I mistrusted their curiosity and read it as snideness because of the few people who seemed to, overnight, start scrutinizing my every clinical move as soon as I revealed that information.
So I moved to a new unit and I told no one. There were a few people who already knew of my educational aspirations, and word did get out and my coworkers on this unit, being a culture of calmness and security (it was, in general, a more pleasant place to work), were more supportive.
And that's just a couple of examples. I had girls who called themselves my friends in junior high who simply spread my secrets to embarrass me out of spite and jealousy, and I suppose my reluctance to open up originates there too.
I've talked about how writing my book was a catharsis. The writing in itself was life changing, but ultimately it was talking to people about writing my book that changed everything about how I connected with people. The first person I told about my book by choice rather than by obligation, was a male acquaintance of mine I had known for a little over a year, and I was astounded at how that conversation changed the nature of our friendship in a matter of minutes.
That first telling was the hardest. On a Wednesday before I was to head out to Brandon for my final mentorship meeting, he asked me what I was doing that weekend.
I very nearly lied.
But instead I made a choice and offered to tell him about my "secret life." This made him laugh. Awkwardly.
And he and I talked about many personal things after that and he encouraged me to not be so shut down when things bothered me. He also taught me how to listen to and really hear other people. And I thank him for that gift. For that I will be eternally grateful.
That conversation was a turning point for me. There were many to follow with other people. Writing my book and talking about it gained me many new real friendships.
Then I walked out of my book and waltzed straight into marriage breakdown and talking about that has saved my life too. Although, paradoxically enough, I probably never could have left my marriage if I hadn't developed the ability to open up. I can remember one memorable day when I was sitting at my staff Christmas lunch and some distressing conversation had happened at home the night before and I blurted out my frustration and pain in front of 7 other people and it caused one of my coworkers to get up and walk around the table and give me a hug.
That day also brought me Deb. Deb and I had shared an office for 5 years and I hardly knew her. And I don't know what made her do it but she looked at me at that luncheon and said, "We should really go out for dinner sometime and chat about things." And this time, instead of brushing her off or making lame excuses, or bolting and avoiding her I said, that would be great. Deb and her husband did a lot to take care of me during that 8 month period of time that I continued to live with my now-X until he found a place to live, and during the period of time after he moved out, which was equally distressing. Aside from listening, she reminded me that I knew how to relax and have a good time. She has forever done more than I can ever repay her for.
I have various other friends who read my rambling confused emails and willingly validate me, just read, or tell me when I'm being stupid. Whatever may be necessary. Lisa especially who I've dumped on a lot in the last year through two breakups, who read my list of 25 things about me nearly 2 years ago and said she could have written more than half of them herself. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She's on that road ahead of me and I'm working hard to catch up.
And of course to all my friends who let me focus on other things like bike rides and triathlons and who let me focus on their problems for a while. Some of you have been through worse hurts than I. To those that walk beside. And to my friend who I thinks I am so very brave for writing things like this while I admire her for bravery in other things. The world wouldn't be a very interesting place if we were drawn to each other's sameness too much.
I may be a much more open person now but, even with this blog, I am a little bit protective of what I write -- some of it is pretty benign but some of it is really personal. I post new entries on Facebook (95% of the time anyhow) but I don't talk about it in general conversation out there in the wilderness of my life. People are welcome to find me by accident.
You know there is a fine line between talking to people about the things that bother you and tear at your soul and feeling addicted to the sympathy. Admittedly, I'm not sure where that line falls some days. I try not to make it all about me. The fear of burdening others on some days holds me back. But I've found value in leaving my door open a crack and inviting others in for a look. My life is a whole lot richer now for sharing than it ever was when I was hiding in my shell.
I am thankful for the people in my life who are there for me always. But friendships aren't worth much if there is more taking than giving. So if you've opened the door for me, I hope I've always been there for you.