Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.
NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.
I realized a couple years ago that feeling self-righteous indignation is a breath away from identifying as the victim. For me being self-righteous is about feeling I’m being wronged, misunderstood, mistreated. It is not an empowered position, because it stems from a belief that the other person’s opinions or actions are what is most important; I have given them power over me. And in giving them power over me, I am agreeing that I am the victim.
Of course we don’t live in a utopian society, and there are people who truly control, subjugate, and abuse others; they victimize others. And the victims may have no clear avenues out of that victimization. This is not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the times things aren’t going my way and I fall into a familiar role of being angry, defensive and indignant about what they are doing to me. I’ve given my power away. A more powerful position would be to find strength and sureness within myself and hold fast, despite my detractors and outside activities. This does not mean I will suddenly get my way. Sometimes I will, sometimes I still will not. But I stop a pattern of behavior and regardless of how it turns out, I maintain my power.
I was talking with my therapist about this feeling that my heart is opening. I do not feel like this means I walk around with my heart on my sleeve, opening up to everyone in every situation, expressing every thought and feeling that comes up. I decided that what I really mean is that I am living more authentically. With the people who are important in my life, I strive to be more vulnerable with them: share more of myself, give away my love freely, and offer my unconditional support and love to them.
Being authentic means that I assess every situation on its own, and no doubt many times I will not choose to be vulnerable. I have an acquaintance who does not seem tuned in to others’ moods. She will routinely over-share about her life struggles without assessing if she has the right audience or the right time, yet will interrupt another who is sharing about a personal struggle. When Simone was diagnosed with cancer I cried every day – regardless of where I was. But I was very selective in choosing those with whom I shared the news of her sickness and ultimate death. And this acquaintance did not make that list. I had examples from past interactions that led me to believe that she would use my news as an opportunity to over-share about her past unresolved traumas, and I didn’t have the emotional capacity to listen to that. By making the choice to withhold from her, I was being authentic. I was fully present, and I determined that being honest and vulnerable with her would likely be hurtful to me.
I have a short list of things that can completely consume me, and in which I lose myself for a while. Gun violence is one of them.
(I was never involved in gun violence, however during my years with parks there were numerous law enforcement officers in Washington and Oregon who were shot; some were killed. How those tragedies played out while I was enduring my own struggles lodged them firmly in the part of my brain that is traumatized. For the past few years, any time there has been a new episode of gun violence or any accident involving substantial loss of life, I have become consumed by it: I could expect my evenings and weekend to be spent on the couch desperately seeking updates and crying, crying. I have become so overwhelmed by my feelings that I am unable to partake in my life. It has taken intensive therapy and retraining to learn that at the first hint of a new tragedy I must turn off the news source and refocus my attention; often I will need to completely avoid the news and social media for a few days; and I need to tune into my body in case it starts displaying signs of panic and overwhelm.)
Until recently I have felt powerless to stop others when they launch into retelling tragedies; combined with my likely reactions (above), the mere prospect of being held hostage to someone else's recounting of a tragedy has filled me with anxiety and dread. Recently there was another school shooting. On this day as the news was breaking, this same acquaintance started reading the news aloud from her smart phone. Typically I would attempt (unsuccessfully) to tune her out, numb out (dissociate), or if possible leave. For the first time, I reacted differently: I told her, “please don’t talk about that right now.” She stopped, but within the span of ten minutes she launched into the story two more times, and each time I again asked her to stop – each time more adamantly. And she did.
I have a theory that others’ compulsion to share horrific stories is a result of their own unresolved traumas. I also believe that is what’s behind people insensitively sharing their own past tragic stories when someone else is clearly in current emotional pain.
But the point is, I was authentic. I did not shut down; I did not go away either physically or mentally. I did not censor myself, putting my concern for her reaction before my own need. I spoke my need. I spoke it clearly and strongly, neither apologetically nor rudely. I was able to react to what was really happening in the moment, and do what I needed to do to take care of myself. Being authentic does not mean that I am willing to be vulnerable with anyone, at any time.
The question of “what does it mean to live authentically” has come up around writing this blog. I share from the heart, and through my writing I am completely authentic and vulnerable; I have found that immensely healing (and I thank you all for being on the other end of my sharing). But what about the times my story has intersected with others’ stories? I could insist that I have the right to share my story, and that in order to be authentic I should share everything.
But a thought keeps surfacing: a desire to do no harm. If I write about times others’ stories have intersected with mine, sharing their personal information, that may have an impact on them. Parks is a very small, tight-knit community; additionally many of the individual parks reside within very small communities. If I were to share personal information about people I worked with, it is likely that despite changing names and small details others would know who I was writing about. If I’m writing about people I care about, even if I’m sharing only fond memories, I risk exposing their vulnerabilities. In other cases some peoples’ actions dramatically and negatively impacted me and my experiences as a ranger. But even in these cases, I cannot proceed without care for exposing them. Even though I state in my disclaimer that the truth is never absolute, I write in a way that I hope will be compelling – and telling my truth could negatively impact those I write about. But if I accept that the truth is never absolute, I have to accept that my interpretation of things that happened may be enormously skewed by my prior experiences. How do I know that my truth of what someone else did is really what they did at all? But there is another reason to not proceed with sharing personal or harmful information about others…
I have to be brutally honest with myself. My motivation for sharing about the horrible things that others have done to me is a quest for validation. I want all of you to read about the horrible things people have done to me, realize that I was wronged, and join me in feeling indignant and outraged.
I want your support in acknowledging that I have been a victim. And if I am seeking your validation, then I am still clearly giving away my power.
So yet again, in yet another surprising way, writing this blog is helping me to heal. By investigating my emotions and motivations around sharing aspects of my story, I have unearthed deeper beliefs that I am a victim. And in choosing not to play the victim anymore, I choose not to share that story.
How does this translate to writing my blog, particularly the RANGERING portion where I go back through my experience of becoming a park ranger? It means that I will focus primarily on the experience of being a park ranger, and not as much on the things going on in my personal life. It means that I will leave out chunks of my story and trust that there will still be value in what I share (I believe there will be!). It means that I will need to be even more creative in how I retell my story, to find ways to share my struggles without putting a spotlight on a real person. This, I believe, is known as “artistic license.” And I will be utilizing it wholeheartedly.
I want to deliver an authentic story, but I will not do so at others’ expense. And regardless of the ways that I spin, stretch, and twist the truth, I promise to share an authentic portrayal of the feelings, struggles, and achievements of my journey; plus I will be authentic in honoring my desire to do no harm.
This is being authentic.
Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!