When I'm Not Hiding, I Am Living

I have been without a hat for months at a time because, for various reasons, most hospitals and residential facilities don’t allow people to wear them, but Annie’s House did not have a policy like that. Without a doubt, my hat came with me to Utah. It has literally been everywhere I have been for the past 15+ years. I love that thing (Yes, I have more than one, but I have a favorite.)
Wearing my hat makes me happy, but most of the time I wear it because I feel hidden and safe. As much as I have treated my hat(s) as just another article of clothing, I knew I needed some separation when I went to Utah. I traveled across the country to plunge into some heavy vulnerability, and wearing a hat would have been a physical sign that I was not truly ready to do the work I needed to do. But, I confess I did wear it twice.
My First Offense
On one particular Friday, I put my hat on and walked into the dining room with my coat in preparation to leave for a high ropes course. It was Fun Friday; I had no reason or intention of hiding. As I stood there waiting, a fleeting thought became a full-blown conversation in my head about why I should take my hat back off and put it in my room. Why question such a powerful dialogue about something so inconsequential? My hat came off after only five minutes of being worn and sat on the shelf in my closet while I enjoyed my time in Provo, Utah on low activities and a swing that dropped me from forty feet in the air. Truthfully, I didn’t miss it – or think about it.
A much more serious offense occurred a few weeks later.
My Second Offense
My therapist, K, asked me to write a letter I would eventually read out loud that included anything and everything I needed to say that hadn’t been shared before. The intention was to write the letter, read it to K, and then read it to the intended recipient. I wrote the first five paragraphs without hesitation or struggle. Paragraph six took almost a week to put on paper. Three or four words written in blue ink and then flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and body sensations. The process was slow, I felt nauseous and fought dissociation each time I sat down and wrote, and I was terrified by the idea of sharing details of a traumatic event that I feel I had caused.
It took over a week after I finished the letter to let K know that it was complete. In my next session following that confession, K asked me if I had brought my letter to read to him; I had left it in my room, so we arranged for me to read it in my next therapy session. I knew when I wrote the sixth paragraph that I needed to process some trauma before reading my letter to the intended recipient, but I was also not excited to read it to the therapist who was already helping me process trauma. I felt shame about what happened – and still do.
My choice of clothing the morning of my next session was carefully planned and indicative of the shame and fear I was already feeling. In a premeditated act, I pulled a hoodie and hat from my closet and prepared myself for my 9:00 am appointment with the blue chair in K’s office. The hour had come. I carefully set my notebook down on the floor next to me and sat silently, hidden under a hat in K’s office. He compassionately asked me to pull out the letter and begin reading.
Paragraph one: I can be a difficult person.
Paragraph two: I am grateful.
Paragraph three: I am learning.
Paragraph four: I am afraid.
Paragraph five: I am willing.
I stopped breathing while I tried to choke down the pain and shame I was feeling. The first word of the sixth paragraph was benign, but it was the start of a memory that I painfully relive continually without speaking it out loud. My head was down and my eyes were hidden by my hat, but I quickly ducked inside my hoodie just in case my face was still visible as I said, “I can’t do this.” I was sobbing by that point and trying to figure out how to escape – or – take the leap and silently capture the words while audibly speaking them.
“If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. When I believe I can, I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”    ~ Mahatma Gandhi
With my hat on and head still tucked inside my hoodie, I took a deep breath, then another. I told myself that it was nothing more than another step up the steep hill, and then I pictured how close I was to reaching that next telephone pole. I thought about an analogy that K had used a few days before when I faced several major triggers in two or three days. When lifting, your trainer sometimes encourages just one more rep when you are sure you can’t do another. Whether your muscles fail or not, the trainer is there to catch the weight. I pictured myself laying on a bench with a barbell, trainer standing over me, doing one more rep. I picked my head up, took off my hat, looked directly at K, lifted the letter, took another deep breath, and began to read one word at a time.
When I finished reading, there were tears still streaming down my face. I looked up at my therapist who was looking back at me. He said nothing. There were no words of encouragement, attempts to convince me of my innocence, or empathetic facial expressions. It almost seemed like a blank stare, and it was really uncomfortable. Either way, I took my hat off and shared a really difficult piece of one of my traumatic memories, and I didn’t need to hide. I don’t NEED a hat.
I’ll say it again: I DON’T NEED A HAT!
I met an incredible person (several, actually) while at Annie’s House. This particular young woman I am talking about was dealing with some incredibly heavy things as well, but her way of hiding was lying. Her hat was a list of substantial lies that affected her and everyone around her in ways you couldn’t even imagine. She wrote a list of the lies that held others at an arm’s length; the people she loved and who loved her. These lies were keeping her stuck just as my hat was symbolically keeping me stuck. When she finished that list, she read it to her therapist, then our group, and then the people she had been hiding from. On the day of her coin out, her song choice was Stand In The Light by Jordan Peterson. It could not have been more perfect for her, but it felt pretty relevant to me as well. The two of us had made a commitment to stand in the light.
This is who I am inside
This is who I am, I’m not going to hide
‘Cause the greatest risk we’ll ever take is by far
To stand in the light and be seen as we are
To stand in the light and be seen as we are

One thought on “When I'm Not Hiding, I Am Living

  1. Pingback: Happy | Burn the Boat!

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