I clearly recall being about 4 years old and standing in front of a lime green dresser with a large mirror atop it. I was teaching myself how to look happy. I wanted to perfect that happy look so that nothing else would ever show.
This happy look couldn’t look TOO happy, smug, or contented. It just had to look pleasant. More importantly? That look needed to convey nothing at all.
When tears would come to my eyes, I’d walk to that mirror and force the tears to go away and make that blank happy look again. If I was afraid, in pain, my feelings were hurt, I was hungry, thirsty, angry, upset, content, pleased or in any other state beside blank happy? I’d go practice.
Emotion was used as a weapon in my life.
Show displeasure? You’ll get more of whatever made you displeased.
Show fear? That will be used to keep you quiet.
Show anger? Don’t you dare!
Show happiness? Well now we know what to take away.
Show sadness? That one is so fun!
Allow tears? That is even better! Tears are such a great motivator for evil.
At first blank happy was impossible. Blank happy would still have tears. Blank happy still had genuine happiness. Blank happy still showed fear. Blank happy could be in pain, in love or as angry as heck. Blank happy didn’t always win.
So I practised and I practised. Blank happy eventually started to become very convincing. I could go through almost any situation with blank happy plastered on my face. After awhile, I didn’t even need the mirror.
The worst or the best things imaginable could happen and blank happy would stay with me every moment with hardly even a crack. My eyes would not show a reaction, my face would never flush, my mouth never knew a pout. My breathing remained calm and steady no matter how crazy my heart was going inside of me. Even if I eventually passed out. I’d never allow more air. That would show fear.
This practice paid off.
No different from bullies in a playground, the kids that don’t even flinch aren’t so much fun to bother. They like the criers. The ones that react.
It never reduced the severity or the consistence of my abuse but I did take away some of their pleasure and that was good enough for me. One tiny win!
So now here I am at 45 years old and blank happy is still with me. I have gotten somewhat better about trying to allow for genuine happiness but it gets caught somewhere in the back of my brain.
I have tears that need to fall but they are stuck under cement that I poured myself in the centre of my chest.
Pain is felt yet hidden behind the perfectly uncrackable blank happy.
I can feel for OTHERS. If someone else is sad? I feel for them. If there is laughter in a room, I can follow in tune. I feel compassion for other people and their stories. I follow their emotions like they are bread crumbs leading down the path to “normal”.
I can not feel for myself though. I want to. I try to.
This was made incredibly clear to me last week when I was used willingly as an example for a doctor in training who did not understand the concept of emotional numbing. I was asked to tell him the outline of my story and then as I recounted things the look in his eyes began to show a whole new understanding. I had just told him horrors that should have knocked me flat for a week but I spoke of them like I was reading a shopping list.
Now he knows what emotional numbing is and I am reminded once again at how incapable I have been in learning to attach my emotions back to me.
Any real emotion that is shows now is thanks to the Helpers. They can be more emotional because they were not the one that stood in front of that mirror 4 decades ago. I hope one day they will share some of those emotions with me.
I will learn eventually. I was able to allow myself to feel a touch of anger last week and I expressed displeasure. SHOCKINGLY? The world did not fall apart.
I finally cried a little a few weeks ago after receiving additional details of my son’s death. Those tears only lasted a moment though so I went on YouTube and watched people’s stories about their dogs that had to be put down. I could cry FOR THEM and their pain but not my own. I just needed to let some of those tears out though. Whatever I had to do was what I did.
I want this wall of glass to shatter and leave me alone with my real thoughts. I want to have reactions that come without needing a huge amount of external stimuli. I just want to react without thought. Like others can breathe without planning for each breath. I want the occasional emotion that is not planned for, forced or felt for someone else.
I matter too. I know I do. I just wonder if that little girl in front of that mirror will ever hear me and allow her tears to fall right where she stands…