Now would be an excellent time for me to be able to speak in metaphors, but I just can’t do it. Three things happened in my mind last week, and so I think it’s a good time to talk about how I handle uncertainty:
I’ve already worked through the specifics of these literal issues in my trusty journal, but what I’m very interested in are the qualities and patterns that are trying to be worked on.
There’s a line from Jung that goes
We know that the mask of the unconscious is not rigid – it reflects the face we turn towards it. Hostility lends it a threatening aspect, friendliness softens its features.
– Psychology and Alchemy (1944)
So the unconscious, or the Other, in my mind, is everything I have not yet realized is mine. And I am terrified of it.
It is Medusa, ready to turn me to stone and reduce me to that split second moment. Any proof of my life, of my shame, will be used against me.
Breast pain? You had cancer coming. Pregnancy? You slut. You careless human. What did you think was going to happen if you had casual, unprotected sex? That was stupid of you to think NFP would work. Teeth hurt? You’re going to lose them all.
I’m not terrified of pregnancy, I’m terrified of consequences.
I’m not terrified of my appetite, I’m terrified that something that is mine but is not under my control could become visible. I’m afraid it could control me.
I’m not terrified of getting crowns, I’m terrified of what it means for me to have tooth decay. I’m terrified of the permanence of it.
I’m terrified of being reduced to a single, visible moment. I do not trust what I can’t control because I can’t predict how I’ll look in that frozen moment.
Of all the ideas I had on the subject, it was a line from the TV show GIRLS that brought the most comedic reassurance. Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, receives the results of an STD test and discovers she has HPV. She’s upset, and has to reconnect with several sexual partners to figure out who infected her. This does nothing to assuage her about having HPV, and her friend Shoshanna says:
Jessa has HPV, like a couple of different strains of it. She says that all adventurous women do.
I love that line. I always have. And even though I’m not interested in pushing down my emotions with shallow declarations about how worth it I am, that line is so lighthearted, so casual, it almost makes me laugh. It reminds me that there’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy, and that line is dignity.
I’m holding on to the very last shred of my dignity, trying to maintain my contortions so that I’ll save face and still be “acceptable.”
Because some people might see a pregnancy and see an irresponsible slut. But the pregnancy might also be a sign of a healthy, fertile, jubilant body that enjoyed the hell out of sex with a man she desired.
Losing teeth and needing crowns might make some people think I’m a dirty slob who eats terribly and can’t take care of herself. But it’s also very fortunate that I have the means and medical progress to get the help I need. My teeth are also, symbolically, the most powerful tool I have to take the literal and metaphorical food that comes into my life and start breaking it down so I can digest it. They are proof of a lifetime spent coming back to the table, cultivating a relationship with nourishment, desire, and the ability to assimilate both food and life experience.
Right now I’m coming up with stories and justifications, which, although these are more loving and positive that the ones Bitch Boss comes up for me, are still defensive. I’m holding them up to my mind and saying, “Isn’t this also true?”
Eventually I’d love to get to the place where I don’t need the stories or justification because there’s nothing to defend.
But I know that my default, from a lifetime of looking for safety, is to assume the worst, to assume that people are going to think the most unkind things, so that I can protect myself. It’s an excellent coping strategy, and it’s worked for a long time.
So if I know that the face I turn towards the unconscious is one of fear, of dread, knowing that is powerful. The most powerful thing I can do is find my pattern and own it. I am afraid of what I can’t control, and the opinions of others top that list.
And now that I know my knee-jerk reaction, I can start to find space in that reaction. I can remember my patterns and also try to turn a different face to the Unconscious. Maybe curiosity, maybe presence, maybe being Radically Pro-Kathryn. I could treat the Unknown the way I treat new clients that come into my gym, as though we’re already great friends and there’s no need for that I-don’t-quite-know-you awkwardness. I could remind myself, when faced with the proof of my humanity, that “All Adventurous Women Do.”
If the Unconscious is a mirror, any of those reflections would feel good for me. How about you?