An introverted peace

For as long as I can remember, I have identified with with my thinking, and being thought of, as a naturally extroverted, gregarious, outgoing person.

It wasn’t a conscious choice, it just happened somehow that I caught onto the facts that a) I did well at creating myself as the center of attention and b) that people who are noticeable are the ones who receive the affirmation and encouragement I wanted.

I remember a specific interaction I had as a very young person, as I began to withdraw in response to the pressures of significant dysfunction and tension in my home life. A no-doubt well-intentioned, somewhat concerned figure of authority and reverence to me, probably my Dad or one of my favorite teachers, took me aside and mentioned missing the bubbly me.

In that moment, I determined that the quiet, introspective me, wasn’t good enough. That being that person made the people I cared about hurt and worry, got me in trouble, and being available and seen was what was best for everyone. Through this and other observations, over time nurturing my fledgling ability to communicate my desires authentically and effectively was overlooked.

It is true: I have magnetic, charismatic social talents, and I do occasionally truly and fully enjoy going out into the world and sharing them. Coupled with my intuition and understanding of people, I’ve experienced amazing, even transformative social interactions that I highly value as part of the life I’ve lead, and I am certain I will again.

However, I have habitually, and with potentially misguided examination, met my more frequent tendencies toward solitude — though intense and from a deep place — with shame, and all too often with a vehement self inflicted emotional punishment.

In my teens, my deep desire for a quiet safety and security was under constant, incessant attack. Though eventually recognizing the wisdom in doing so, I left high school an angry, guarded, self-perceived social failure, even though I passed the equivalency exam with ease at the age of 15, immediately and very successfully joining the work force.

Due to many factors I spent years in an agonizing isolated depression, in pain, online; a constant pressurized stream of my fears, my weaknesses, and my disappointments lurching passionately from my mind into IRC channels full of people ready to commiserate and affirm my negative beliefs, which were carefully constructed to appear as though I thought they were completely and utterly right. And I probably did.

It took me until 27 years into my life to be able to say, compassionately and authentically, that I didn’t enjoy loud live music, crowds, and bars so packed I’d find myself having to scream in order to be heard speaking. Due to other facets of my personality as well as prioritizing social interaction, it was scary and incredibly hard to ask for the closer one on one and small group connections my soul was really seeking.

Until my 30’s I met the physical disturbances in my body, and the numerous emotional hurdles present in most of my preparation for social events, with blame and negativity. For years, I’d get churning nervous shits while preparing to go out, holding onto the promise of inhibition annihilation by way of drugs and alcohol to power through it.

I have often been assuming that those responses were just me being weak, and seen my anxiety an unnecessary obstacle, or worse, a fundamental psychological flaw. I have scorned myself for wanting to be alone, for wanting to hide, for wanting quiet around me, when I feel scared or threatened or off kilter or tired.

Self scorn, and more frequently now self-doubt, is still my first response toward wanting to be with myself, in many cases. It’s a long road back from it being nearly impossible to trust when I need to be alone, and when I am trying to withdraw to punish myself in silence. Over time, they had simply become the same thing.

As I’ve aged and learned more about how and why to be alone, I’ve started to embrace alone time, usually in the form of travel. For a long period of my young-adult life I forced myself to constantly value expressing connection over taking time for myself, in part for fearing that if I took that time my job/lover/friend/parent/insert-connection-of-value-here would be gone when I returned, and as such often undermined the limited time I had so boldly and bravely taken.

Boldly and bravely may even be an understatement. Even now that I am beginning to master recognizing my need for solitude in wilderness, and having felt the amazing freeing power in listening to that call, prioritizing it is still incredibly challenging. Over these last few months as I’ve been frantically struggling, I’ve known and even proclaimed to others repeatedly that I desperately need to get away for a while, even just a few days, and have yet to make it happen.

There are many, many pieces to this puzzle of worth, of connection, of belonging and feeling accepted, for every one. What this woman said helped me find another one of mine:

In health and otherwise, my introversion is where my revelations come from. It’s where the meaningful, impactful words I write, the ideas I share, and my awareness of the connection I feel with humanity comes from. It’s where my performances come form, it’s where the layers upon layers in my shows come from, it’s where the compulsion to create Vita Arts came from. It’s where my paintings, my music, and every self photograph I’ve used in this post comes from.

My introversion is the birthplace of my extroversion. It’s how I communicate with my soul.

Hiding isn’t always a lie.

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