Lizard Strongbox

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

In a meeting with a flack, my big boss told her that my boss was being promoted. She was surprised, asking “Who knew?”   He assured her that nobody knew, but she had seen my stoic reaction and was puzzled.   “They knew!” she cried, pointing at me.   He was clear: this was the first time I was hearing the news.

She was impressed that I didn’t flinch, understanding how useful that kind of face was in dealing with the press and public.   No tell from me, no leakage of difficult and nasty emotion.

That armour was developed because I from a very young age, I needed to appear to have a thick, tough masculine hide, no matter how much my emotions were visceral and intense.   Only one person was allowed to spew feelings, lashing out at how she was not only misunderstood but also tortured by everyone, including (especially?) her very young children who should know and behave better.

I had to be able to put my heart inside a strongbox, locking away my earthy, primal lizard brain for protection.   With it hidden, I was protected from showing my feelings in a way that left me vulnerable to wild & painful attacks, and it was protected from being shredded by being exposed as tender & feminine.

Being seen as a porcupine, all sharp observations, all cerebral edge, a phobogenic object, too cutting for the room, became my lifemyth, became the way I understood my place in the world.

All it cost me was the price of hyper-vigilance, of always having to be on guard for danger, ready to toughen up to take the blow which was sure to come.  I just had to always be on alert for the next shot, never trusting my own heart and my own nature, the nature so queer it called me to cross gender boundaries in a way that was sure to stir up the shit from others.

In the long run, it wasn’t just me I was protecting.   As a kid, I took the blows for my siblings, and in the end of their life, I was here to take the hits my father could no longer stand, helping him stay safe from tough demands on his co-dependent habits.

The body keeps the score, though, and the cost of a lifetime in instant response armour shows.   Playing the smart one who can take the hits has shaped my life and my character.   My hermit choices come from only feeling safe, from understanding that my frustration, pain, rage and other feelings need to be concealed or softened so as not to inflame others who couldn’t understand how someone so tough could also be so tender, couldn’t see how they are two sides of the same painful experience, the foundation of a wounded healer.

Everything about me seems so very stout, from my memory to my shoulders to my voice, that it is inconceivable that inside lurks something so very delicate and fragile.   I, though, am reminded of that truth every time I fear opening an envelope, hear a surprising sound or feel myself step out into the simple vision of others.

My lizard brain knows safety, and from my youngest days that safety only existed when I was alone with myself.   Slowly — very slowly — I learned to go deep, to first control and then to engage & understand my own feelings, working out a context for living with myself.

That context, though, has left me being the one who has to understand others, to enter their worlds, to take the blows of their own acting out deep fears & feelings.   Expecting to be understood, let alone soothed by others is off the table, so I am always ready to hunker down, to hit the deck, to toughen up, to take the blows, to lock my own heart behind compassionate armour.

It is a gift to be strong, smart, empathetic and understanding, but like every gift, it comes with a cost.   People who are still looking for someone else to blame, to lash out at “them” haven’t yet come to grips with the profound and painful lesson of sharing continuous common humanity, of needing to make others seem inferior so they can feel superior, even if that is the narcissistic vision of superior martyrdom and entitlement.   You suffer because of them, so you deserve whatever you can grab.

When you lose surface connection, all you can do is go deep to find the undercover currents that flow between, connecting all.   Visualizing depths, though, offers views of emptiness, pain and unhealed places that most often go unexplored, undiscovered and unhealed.   See too much and it often becomes easiest to just pass on the play, no matter how much possibility or potential is on the line.

All this bouncing between my deep cognition and my lizard brain leaves one bit of me isolated, unseen and untouched by others.

I know how to take a hit.   I learned that very, very early.

I also learned not to like taking hits, no matter how important the fight was.   The action may have been crucial, but it damn well was never fun.   That’s why I worked so hard to learn to fight fun and fair, taking care of others, even if they didn’t know how to use playful wit & empathic love to soften the fury of their expression.    It was always my job to figure out meaning, to find truth, to address feelings, the designated whatever in the family.

Answers always lie in connections, in process, in interplay, in conflicts, in liminal ambiguity.   That’s where I had to learn to live.

That doesn’t mean I ever, though, stopped waiting for the “third gotcha.”

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