So I have this alter ego.
I think it began as a defense mechanism, honestly. Im an extroverted introvert to the core. And if you are too, then you know we behave in one of two ways in social settings: we either turn it on or shut down completely. I’m the former. And when I say turn it on, I mean I go balls to the walls. Carol, my alter ego, is filterless. She is demanding, attention seeking, loud, and quite frankly- obnoxious. Carol is obnoxious, even to me.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I can also be extremely self deprecating. And I think it comes with the territory. I have been doing a lot of work on self love and grace since stepping into my new roles as wife and mother, and I’m learning to really love Caroline…but I don’t love Carol. And for some reason, still unbeknownst to me, she rears her annoying little head any time I get around a crowd of people. When Caroline is uncomfortable, she retreats- leaving too much room for Carol. And that’s bad news.
We learn really early on how to interact with our world. And I wish I could say there was some life altering event that made me so incredibly uncomfortable with vulnerability. But there isn’t. I chalk it up to the fact that I was born with just a little more drama and a little less self control than most. I also internalized at some point that to exist is not enough- one must constantly earn their spot in this world. I’m not alone in that thought, by the way. Many religions centralize around the idea that the love of the higher power must be earned. The problem? That belief is so, so backwards. And it’s that exact striving that has left me unsettled my whole life.
Growing up, I went to an elementary school that was also a middle school. Basically, I was with the same kids every day from kindergarten to eighth grade. Not the ideal place to reinvent yourself. There was a natural shift though, around 6th grade, as we crept slowly towards the people we were going to become. All I knew at that time, during those formative years, was that I wanted, needed, to stay right in the middle of everything. I wasn’t the prettiest, the kindest, or the most creative, so I landed on the funniest. Not just another class clown, either: I had to be the funniest gal on the freaking planet. God forbid the world continue turning without me at the center. (I still have a tendency to behave this way, actually. Old habits die hard.)
There was a particular table in the cafeteria where a close knit group always sat. Because popularity shifts as quickly as the weather when you’re 12, this crew was on the rise that particular month. Of course, I had to be at that table. But I knew it wasn’t enough to simply ask to sit there. I had to be the funniest person they had ever met. I had to make it the best lunch ever. So what did I come up with? I slammed my fist down on a ketchup packet. In the middle of a crowded lunch period. Best case scenario? It would result in a few laughs. Worst case? Stained clothing and serious trouble. Both ended up being true: I went to the principal’s office and spent the better part of that day scrubbing tomato paste off of the cafeteria walls. But I was in. I continued this way all the way through grade school, y’all. Bleeding myself dry for feeble attempts at connection, and nearly letting Carol completely take over in the process.
Freshman year of high school, I was nominated for homecoming court. That was the only time, never again. I’ll tell you why- I think my reputation preceded me. Everybody knew my name because I was just so MUCH. They had heard stories, been around me for brief periods, or glanced at my Myspace a time or two. (Which was truly a work of art, by the way.) But when they were actually around me, the newness wore off and they weren’t nearly as enamored by the real Caroline. I developed this deeply engrained belief that friendship was earned by being the most of something. That you have to bring something to the table that is revolutionary. I had to bring the humor, the drama, the shock factor…something. It was not enough to just bring myself, and certainly not enough to level with anyone about things like feelings or emotion. It worked much the same way in relationships. I floated from boyfriend to boyfriend, sure that if there wasn’t passionate drama and constant lovers quarrels, then he would see that I was actually kind of boring. The problem? This mindset and behavior deflects authentic connection and relationships. It certainly does not attract them.
I don’t want that for my boys. Every time I watch Gatlin interact with other kids, I feel a sharp pang of worry. I want so badly to protect his tender heart, and to make sure he and Brooks truly believe that they are enough and complete just the way they are already. Because living the way that I have, with something to prove, leads to shame. A whole lifetime full of shame and regret and feeling completely misunderstood. And all of those feelings lead to defense mechanisms…which led me to Carol. And I hate Carol and sometimes I can’t separate her from Caroline, so I feel like I hate Caroline. And that’s the biggest tragedy of them all, really. We were meant to be fully known- that’s why human beings long for relationship. But here’s the kicker- by presenting a phony version of myself to others, I haven’t given them a chance to know me, and therefore haven’t given myself a chance to feel understood. And I have a sad feeling that others may feel this way too.
I don’t have some grand solution for this problem that has plagued my life so often. Just the other night I came home from an event and cried to my husband that I would never be able to shake myself of Carol. I had let her win again, and I stayed up all night replaying every cringeworthy interaction that took place. The only difference now is that I don’t dwell on Carol for long. If she manages to escape one night, well then shit happens. I get pissed off about it, process those feelings, and then lock her back up and remind myself who is in charge of this body. My soul’s name is Caroline. She is kind, compassionate, strong, and resilient. She is someone worth knowing, and every day is a new opportunity to introduce her to others.
What is your soul’s name? Have you let your alter ego take over for a bit? Well, take back the reins. Each day is a new chance- a new opportunity. And what’s the alternative, honestly? I mean what choice to we have other than to press on? And since I do have to continue on, I might as well try to find the good in the one person that will be there with me every step of the way- myself. Caroline, not Carol.