When I was a kid, I tried to be invisible. Not in any metaphysical sense. But literally.
I skulked, shadow-like, around corners and along walls, one arm stretched out ahead, like an antenna. My 5-year-old mind believed if I pressed myself close enough to the wall, I could pass by without being seen. I thought that’s what spies did.
When my mom and step dad didn’t look up from the TV, I was convinced it worked.
I also spent hours playing Cowboys and Indians in the backyard. Mostly, I was the Indian. In the movies, Indians could creep through the forest silently, without disturbing so much as a twig or leaf. I practiced this for hours but failed utterly. Beneath my feet twigs snapped and leaves crunched. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get it. I must have been doing something wrong.
I wanted desperately to learn to creep around the edges of things, silent and unseen. If I didn’t upset anyone, if I didn’t ask for anything—if I were silent and invisible—then everything would be okay. When that didn’t work, when things broke and fists flew, I wanted to melt into the wall. I longed to disappear.
Paradoxically, I also craved attention. When I got older, I learned to get attention from boys. If I did things other girls wouldn’t do, I thought it would make boys love me. And sometimes they did. But their conception of love was as distorted as mine.
I adapted to my surroundings, became a chameleon. I gave up everything I wanted and instead wanted whatever my current boyfriend did. I threw myself into their lives completely. I made them my life. In a different way, I made myself disappear. I wanted to.
Until I didn’t. Eventually, I mourned all the things I gave up and resented the person I gave them up for, even though he had never asked me to. Then I would insist on doing everything my way. There was no middle ground.
The only love I witnessed involved drama. So when things got too quiet, I made noise. I was like a manic-depressive, swinging between extremes. I shouted, wailed and beat my chest. My highs were high and my lows were low, but at least I was feeling, I told myself. I thought I was Living Out Loud.
When I made such a mess of things I feared they could never be fixed, I ran. If I left, the other person couldn’t leave me. I had control. I left relationships, careers, states. My life became one long series of fresh starts and new beginnings. I told myself I liked it that way. I longed to keep moving and never stop.
My biological father was a runner, too. I decided that running must be genetic. I had inherited the restless gene along with his eyes.
Eventually, I came to Al-Anon, and began to listen. I heard pieces of my own story when other people shared. It began to dawn on me that the traits I thought were “just who I was” were things I had in common with all these people. I began to understand that they were self-defense mechanisms that had once served me well, but had outlived their usefulness. Now they got the way of my happiness.
These character traits had been passed down from generation to generation. But it wasn’t the restless gene I inherited, it was the family disease of alcoholism.
Like someone with bipolar disorder, there was no cure for my dis-ease. But Al-Anon assured me there was a solution. If I were open and willing, and did what was suggested I could be restored to “sanity.” Not permanently. But I could receive a daily reprieve according to my spiritual condition. Suffering was optional.
Eventually, I stopped looking to others to fill the hole I felt inside. Instead, I strained to hear the small, still voice of my Higher Power. I had to learn to be quiet, to silence the voices in my head. But I didn’t have to be invisible.
Blessed Titus Brandsma – July 27
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