Going Back to Places I Left on Purpose
This summer marked the ten-year anniversary of my graduation from high school.
It overlapped with children I started forming relationships with as a middle school and high school student graduating from high school themselves.
I’ve felt compelled to revisit many of the things I was connected to then.
Songs, tv shows, places and people.
I’ve been revisited by thoughts and feelings that I stepped away from because of their intensity and volatility, and asked a lot of questions about my experiences.
I recalled a conversation with an adult after I graduated asking me about my thought process with some of my decisions, hoping to spark an insight that would caution me.
Instead I replied, “the thing is that before something feels dangerous it feels fun”.
I started my weekend leading a workshop for thirty five ninth graders on their scripts and associations for consent, feeling cataclysmically the walls we all had up.
I could feel in myself an urge to disconnect from my younger self’s views of adults like myself, and the urge to overcompensate that realization created in me.
I could see in myself a quieter side coming out.
I strive in my relationships to represent my beliefs with integrity, and a lot of the time that means I follow and start each sentence with a lot of silence.
It’s not quiet that characterizes my internal experience of those moments, it’s some kind of tension about what I want to say, and secondarily, what I want to say that feels true.
I’m careful to not diminish how much thought I put into decisions as a child and teenager, even as I bring together truths that affect each other that I couldn’t see as related at the time.
There’s an angst springing up in me this afternoon that I recognize as ten years old, far from a phase or a short-lived reaction. Instead of dulling, it sharpens as time reinforces conclusions that I made unconsciously, and kept making with more information about patterns I could observe.
Reuniting with those old but intense feelings leads me to shut down and need a lot of alone time, and yet I am now not only a young person in these scenarios. I am my present and my memories and my desire to operate differently as a person with authority. I am what I represent and what is represented for me, and sometimes those are the same thing at the same time.
It matters more than I realized that silence is not silent to me, because I’m left with limited thinking room, and a faulty sense of how long or short interactions are as they are happening.
It matters as much as I realize because I know that no interaction is only the present experience of it.
To be someone who helps younger parts of us heal and contributes to less harm for others means that we have to better understand what causes us to shut down, and what happens in the periods where we lose consciousness from the outside looking in.
To be someone who acknowledges unhealed areas takes additional consciousness.
I was stopped on Friday by ninth grader after ninth grader who wanted to apologize on behalf of their peers. Each one would qualify disengagement by assuring me that what I had to say was important to them, seemingly waiting for me to become defensive or annoyed.
I had a five-hour car ride immediately afterwards to replay the two-hour workshop and that walk through the hallway, and I felt again an urge to shut down.
What I realized by hour four as I started to feel calmer was that my emotion was not for the adult who was reacted to with some disengagement. It was for myself the teenager needing to disengage, resonating with that response, and observing the sentiment of needing fun and danger to be simultaneously acknowledged and affirmed.
Being a young person who would make many of my decisions again, and being an adult who has amassed more bad nights than she planned on or saw coming.
Being a young person who rejected attempts to control me or instigate a seed of self distrust, and being an adult who is in tune with when I represent that for young people during a conversation we’re having.
Being a young person who is sensitive to being given baggage that wasn’t mine, and being an adult who doesn’t want to displace my own baggage.
Being a young person and an adult who are afraid of more of the same things than I realized, and still approach safety and control dissimilarly.
Being an adult who is triggered by other adults more often than I see our perspectives as similar.
Snow days leave a lot of busy schedules quieter, providing a vantage point for elongated power dynamics within our relationships, and leaving those examples fresh if only fleeting.
The emotions thaw with the snow, but the clarity doesn’t have to.
Time doesn’t have to mean that more information will change our mind, or that what we’re afraid of will definitely happen.
Experience doesn’t mean that the same monsters are in every closet, and inexperience doesn’t definitely mean immaturity.
Anything can be dangerous, even if it isn’t dangerous for everyone.
And everything can be made safer for a time.
As I sort through the loudness of my self-imposed silent responses, I confront that time has passed, and disengagement looks a lot like absence.
It also feels a lot like absence, which leaves no one with more support or acceptance of explanations that rang as stale with or without more words.
At any age we can tell when someone is holding back, and when they are giving us something that is not for us.
We can’t always tell when we are giving something that’s not ours to someone younger, because the release of not holding it anymore feels too good.
Our body’s impulses can be manipulated, and our brains want our bodies to feel content.
When we coach each other to disregard how an experience felt, we allow our brain to ignore hugely relevant factors. Factors like the ones that made us shutdown in the first place.
We get to avoid whatever it is that’s too intense, but the impulse to disengage will never shut off completely, and it won’t resolve what has become triggering.
We will have to find a balance that feels truthful for those speaking and those listening, and we will come into contact with a lot of stressors we thought we’d gotten over.
We will catch ourselves speaking out of wounds and our fear that those will be replicated, but teaching each other to fear those things won’t leave us more equipped to cope with feeling that stress.
We aren’t stressed by the same things, and we don’t react to feelings or logic similarly.
We can understand something that we don’t believe enough to accept.
We can agree with a value but not the explanation for it.
We can be hurt by different and similar things.
If we can’t start there, then we can’t share anything truthful.
And if we can’t share anything truthful, then we can’t really share at all.
“How many moments of other people’s lives have we been in?” I heard a character ask in a show I watched in high school.
Let’s start there, my brain and body can agree. How can I today orient myself to not shutting down when I’m confronted by diverging experiences of the same moments?
How can I today negotiate making quiet less loud and more manageable?
What patterns can I break instead of avoid?
What has avoidance given me that I wanted?
Do I still want that?
Maybe, is my answer so far. But I don’t know for sure.