In response to a comment I made, a friend asked me yesterday in some shock if I was afraid of them. The question staggered me to a point that I've spent most of the time since sorting out why, and I have finally sussed out the reason that it rattled me so: I was astonished that the person even had to ask. Of course, I'm afraid of them! I'm afraid of everyone! How could this have escaped everybody's notice? And then I realized how much of my interactions with others is guided by this principle, and how unfair it is to all of you not to make you aware of this if you don't already know it. Without this key to the way my mind functions, my behavior must often seem bizarre, baffling, and infuriating. I need to rectify this. Today.
One reason it has taken me this long to start actively seeking a job again is that bosses and customers terrify me, to a PTSD flashback level. I can tear up just at the thought of facing some stranger who expects things from me, and may react harshly if I can't meet those requirements or do so in a way that does not satisfy their whims. I am afraid of everyone I've ever known. If we've met, then you terrify me. Those of you who are kind enough to consider me a friend, we are friends because I eventually came to love you enough that the love outweighed the fear, and I refused to deny myself the joy of your friendship any longer. That doesn't change the fact that I expect you to hurt me, to decide that you hate me for something about myself that you don't like, at any moment. I expect you to leave me.
You may be wondering, if all that I've just said is true, how on Earth did I end up so damaged? My fear that those I worship will suddenly become angry with me began with my father, at whose shrine I certainly always did worship as the most adoring "daddy's girl". It was a mutual admiration society that we had, and he was a kind, gentle man with a big heart. He certainly never demonstrated any violence toward me or anyone else in my presence. But he did have a temper sometimes, and I have been reliably informed that when he was younger, that temper could be dangerous to those around him. He changed dramatically when he accepted Christ, and I never knew that angry version of him, but he could still lose his temper at times, raise his voice occasionally, or demonstrate a bitingly sharp tongue. These times were what my brother and I have come to refer to as the "go silent and pretend to disappear into the backseat of the car maneuver". Since Dad's slightest hint of disapproval crushed me, his actual anger was a fearsome thing for me to behold, even though I knew intellectually that he would never harm me.
Dad mellowed as he aged, but I soon found a whole new fear of both my parents through no fault of their own, when they were each diagnosed with a fatal illness. Suddenly, the two people at the center of my life had become ticking time bombs, and I knew that when they finally died, they would carry my whole world out from under my feet with them, which they have now done. I am still rebuilding a life that doesn't center around feeling responsible for them, worrying about them, dreading and waiting for their deaths. So many people have died in my life. In my battered emotional head-space, I'm afraid of everyone I love, because everyone I love will die. I'm dating someone right now, and one reason I feel very safe in that relationship is because I know she'll be moving away soon for her job. I already know how this will end, what the worst will be, and I know within a narrow margin when it will occur. I knew going in when the patient would die. That's a luxury so rare that, having found that safety, I joyfully lose myself in it for as long as it will last.
They say you marry someone like one of your parents (which I specifically leave gender-neutral, as a member of the LGBTQ community), and I certainly married a man like my father in one major area--volatility, only much more so. Again, my ex-husband never raised a hand to anyone in my presence, but I spent a good bit of our life together worried about what innocuous comment or query of mine would annoy him and therefore draw verbal barbs with which I wasn't prepared to deal. The addition of a child only exacerbated this for me, as he was often irritated by her being a child--making too much noise, watching that same show one too many times, making a mess--and then we would get barked at, and I felt the need to protect her while at the same time feeling as if I was failing if I allowed some action of hers to annoy him. As I said, my father was such a good man, and he mellowed in the 25+ years that I knew him, but I no longer had the resources to start that process of mellowing all over again. Besides, I didn't want my daughter to have to grow up knowing when to meld herself into the backseat.
I am even afraid of my own daughter, because I fear unintentionally harming her, disappointing her, being unable to soothe her tears or meet her needs. I think every parent has these feelings, and I do manage to overcome them, because she needs me to and she comes first. But they would still be debilitating if I let them.
And of course, being homeless brought a whole new type of fear into my existence, fears for my basic needs and those of my daughter, fears for my comfort, because I am a creature of comfort when allowed to be. I won't attempt to deny it. But it also brought whole new levels of fear into my relationships. So long as you are my friend, and so long as I have to be surfing friends' couches, then you potentially hold my life in your hands at some future point. What if you become fed up with me? To whom will I turn for help until this nightmare is over? Where will I go? And if you're thinking no one would leave me stranded like that, three friends already have, one of whom was my brother. If you're NOW thinking that there must be something really wrong with me, if that many people had to throw me out, you're absolutely right. The whole point of this post is to admit that I have issues, and pull back the curtain so you can see what those issues are, in preparation for the next time that my fears drive me to unwittingly hurt or disappoint you. Still, when a friend is ready to throw you out, you become ever more fearful. I'm afraid you'll become angry enough at me to say horrible, hurtful things to me, even if that was not your initial intent. After all, my own brother reached that point with me eventually.
Most importantly, I've been stark raving terrified of God since my first conscious thoughts, because He might become angry with me and send me to Hell. So, if I'm afraid of my Sustainer, the two people who created me--one of whom carried me in her womb--the person to whom I used to make love, the child I carried in my body, and the only other person my parents ever produced, can you think of anybody that I wouldn't be afraid of? Indeed, the closer I grow to someone, the more afraid I am of them, because their power over my peace and happiness becomes ever greater.
If I've ever not responded to a phone call, a letter, a text, it wasn't because I didn't want to--it was because the fear defeated me that day. If I've ever hurt you by doing something inconsiderate, something seemingly out of character that was painful, you could probably ask me what I was afraid of and running from, and I could probably tell you without much hesitation for thought. I'm not saying any of this excuses my mistakes, nor am I asking you to like these things about me, because I don't like these things about myself. The past year has been about working on correcting these things. I am only asking for patience, and forgiveness. The mere fact that I've begun seeking work again indicates how far I've come, but I'm fighting a lifetime of habits, and I will regress.