Clarity Is Always On time

Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash

Life is a journey not a destination.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before. Its one of those phrases that we believe to be true, but can’t actually make sense of. The meaning of this aphorism finally kicked in as I was reflecting on something my counselor said about clarity taking its time.

I was trying to unpack what love is and how I experience it. Do I feel a different love for my wife than I do for my family? Do I love my adoptive mom the same way I love my biological mom? Is romantic love different than platonic love? Even a question as simple as what is love, gives me pause. I don’t know if everyone struggles with these questions, but I’m certain my tumultuous childhood did me no favors when it comes to understanding them.

A child’s connection to their parents heavily influences how they process and connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me, that emotional development was repeatedly interrupted by abuse and neglect. As a result, I’m still doing the messy work of deconstructing my emotional foundation twenty years later.

I want answers to these questions and I want them now. How can I be a good husband, friend or son if I don’t know how I understand or experience something as basic as love? Some days it feels as though my entire web of relationships hangs in the balance as I wait for the right epiphany.

Though clarity can’t be rushed, I try doggedly to speed it up. I want simple answers and I want them quickly. Every fiber in my being craves the comfort that certainty brings, and the longer I go without it, the more unsettled I feel.

If clarity evades me long enough, the internal tension lingers and I become convinced I’m doing something wrong. Its as if the discomfort is an indication of trouble rather than a reminder that I’m on the right path.

When I become focused on resolving the tension, I miss what I’m actually supposed to be learning. I miss the journey that takes place between the question and its answer(s) because it is difficult, uncomfortable and a bit nonsensical. In some ways, its not that different than the journey of pregnancy. (Its been on my mind a lot lol).

Photo by Kewei Hu on Unsplash

For 40 weeks a woman’s body is changing in ways that are also difficult, uncomfortable and a bit nonsensical. (I’m certain only pregnancy and marijuana make one perpetually crave frosted flakes and pizza puffs). She takes the stretching, cravings and discomfort in stride and soon begins to marvel at the miracle taking place within her. She learns that her body is capable of so much more than she ever imagined and thus so is she. All of this learning and growth happens before the baby is even born. Pregnancy is the time between the question “what is happening” and the audible cries of new life that are its answer.*

The same is true for us. The time between our questions and answers is both challenging and wondrous if we’re willing to embrace the journey and forgo our demands for comfort. Sometimes it feels like my world is crumbling while I wait on clarity, but the truth is, though I don’t fully understand love, I know I still experience it.

Brooke and I have been through some trying times over the last decade, but somehow we always come out of it having grown as individuals and as a couple. Why? Love. Not the mushy-gooshy love you see in the Notebook (I hate that movie). Its more like the love you see in P.S. I love you. It’s messy, painful at times and hella persistent. It’s a love birthed by the tension and discomfort of the journey.

While I still wish clarity would come a little sooner, I also recognize that I’ve come this far because of the discomfort the journey produces, not in spite of it. Life is a journey and our travel guide is clarity. She cannot be rushed and is always on time.

Truth is in the Shadows

“I don’t trust that people are going to accept all of me.”

“And yet you can’t even accept yourself.”

My counselor’s observation caught me off-guard, but before I could get defensive or wonder what she meant, the truth of her words seeped into my consciousness. I am hidden. There are parts of my identity that have been relegated to the shadows so I can pretend they don’t exist.

One holds all of my shame. He reminds me of the ways I’ve failed and is certain I don’t deserve to be loved. Another carries my overpowering fear. His head is on a swivel; constantly searching for danger and disappointment. Still others hold my rage, anxiety and doubt. These shadow-selves lurk in the backround of my awareness because I refuse to accept them as the real Ben Tapper.

They don’t align with the person I’m trying to be, and yet they are probably the most authentic parts of me. I want to be this bold, outgoing man who has healed from his childhood trauma. I want to wake up with no residue of the pain I’ve experienced. Yet as my eyes open each morning and I take that first conscious breath, I feel the same fragility that plagued me the night before. I’ve assumed this fragility was meant to be overcome, but perhaps it is meant to be embraced.

I can keep pretending, or I can face the discomfort of my invisible truths and invite my shadow-selves into the light. I reconize the shame, anxiety, doubt, rage and fear that are embedded within me. These aren’t defects I need to improve. They’re responses I hope to understand.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Healing isn’t about becoming the ideal version of myself. Healing is about seeing and accepting my truths, so that I might love who I am in this moment. For better or worse, who I am includes shame, insecurity, anger and a host of other emotions I don’t want to acknowledge.

There is something especially terrifying about accepting my whole self. It triggers a miniature identity crisis as my true self comes face-to-face with the partial persona I’ve constructed and put on display. I feel vulnerable and exposed when all I want to do is feel safe and comfortable. However, the journey I’m on demands growth, and growth requires discomfort. So here I am.

I’m not who I want to be, and that is ok. This. Is. Me. Vulnerable and Resilient. Bold and Terrified. Confident and Insecure. I’ve been hiding from myself for years because I wasn’t ready to accept my complexities and shadows. Now I understand that there is no other to get where I’m trying to go. I have to tell the truth. If I don’t accept myself, I won’t ever now when someone else does.

What parts of yourself do you push into the shadows? What version of you are you working to keep others from discovering? Even if you’re not yet ready to take the step into acceptance, at least write down or name these shadow-selves. Once they’re named, they’re much more difficult to forget.

The work of Radical Self-Awareness is not easy by any means, but it is worth it. As much as we like the light, remember that the truth is often in the shadows.