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First Timer

I sat down across from her as she put the dog away. This time in her white walled house. She no longer uses the office.


Sunlight shone onto me through a square of stained glass above the couch and I felt my eyes start to water before I could even talk.

I swallowed away the thickness forming in the back of my throat. Then I heard her ask how old I am now. 


“I’m only 24,” a small, pitiful voice responded. 


How embarrassed I felt. Hearing that size of a number spoken in that size of a tone begging, ‘don’t expect much from me, I’m just a kid.’ I don’t know exactly why it came out like that. I only sort of knew I felt that way about myself, about my capacity, my ability to hold myself accountable. Maybe it was because I was living back at home with my parents or maybe because I had a masters degree and no job.


Trying to grab a hold of who I think I am, I justified my reaction to myself: I can’t be expected to be an adult until those things change, right? A temporary moment to be small within a lifetime of living larger than life. It kind of felt the same as sitting amongst the baby toys and then on top of giraffe-printed exam table paper for check ups with my pediatrician since I never found my own doctor after leaving the house. Or middle school. 


I’m sure there are people who agree that 24 is still quite a young age. Full of potential. I know this too, I hold this as well. But even if I'm proud to admit that I never want to stop getting Dora the Explorer band aids, at that moment, on that couch, with the sunlight hitting my eyes just right, hearing a helpless kid come forward wasn't a welcomed feeling. The most unsettling part was recognizing her as me. As me in this moment in time 


I’ve seen my family’s therapist three times in my life. Once when I was fourteen with both of my parents and my brother. Then when I was nineteen with my mother. And now, again, on my own. After another five-year period of life. 

We sat together, trying to make sense of what brought me here and where I hope to go. I heard myself try to summarize my moment in life and in response I heard her say some things I understood, some I didn’t agree with fully, and some that scared me. Surely, I had a better grasp on my self-esteem than she was giving me credit. Defenses aside, it was interesting to hear someone I hadn’t seen in five years perceive me, so I listened as best as I could.


I wasn't sure if this session felt good or not yet, and then I heard her say the word ‘introvert,’ a word that has never come close to contact with my name. I had to truly focus to make sure we were still talking about me, and when I confirmed, I really had to keep it together. 


A grin ripped across my face. I left it plastered there, knowing if I tried to pull it back, an actively restrained and rowdy cackle would follow. Focused on not allowing my mouth to reveal more of my expression, by the time I was able to actually start listening to her again, it wasn’t funny anymore. Well, it was definitely still funny, but her description became worth examining. Could it be true? Have I been misrepresented as the epitome of an extrovert my entire life? 


Not to fear, my whole identity didn’t crash down so fast. The currently dejected, yet always cheeky part of my mind went straight to the benefits: a new secret weapon to yield against future disappointments. 


“Sorry, I can’t make it tonight. I’m actually an introvert.” 

“Sorry I’m not in a good mood right now, did you know I am an introvert?” 


What a joke. 


Eventually, my ego relaxed and soon after the session finished. I headed out the door without a clue of where to go. Nowhere felt right to process the last hour and a half and I wasn’t ready to be around anyone else.


Maybe I am introverted.


I ended up sitting in forty five minutes of traffic and eventually going to my childhood park-turned-teenage smoke spot.


I definitely need to move out. 


The week went by and soon enough I was back on that couch, back with the sun through the stained glass in my eyes. This session felt easier. I knew more of what to expect and I left energized instead of depleted. Affirmed even, despite some certified put downs, or perhaps, what someone else might refer to as, "reality checks." Yet, unexpectedly soon, deeper things started to come forward.


As I moved through life outside of the couch, the exhaustion of the first session reappeared –– yes, I experienced more substantial noticings than my newfound identity as an introvert. Just like that large, large child getting their blood pressure checked while an infant with their first fever cries in the next room, I was once again hearing myself say things in an unexpected way. But this time, my voice didn't change. I sounded the same, I was my 24 year old self, but I was talking without agency.


**dialogue? example?*


The new awareness was both freeing and suffocating. I now could see the discomfort, but I learned I had that it in the first place. I never knew it was there. The reactions, the voice, the language that was always just normal, wired into my brain in a way I didn’t have to spend time thinking about or filtering through because it was just right, I was suddenly questioning. I never knew to stop and think about if my response was actually how I felt because it was automatic. But now, I am stopping. Noticing. And you can’t notice until after the fact that your programmed responses don't align with your core. 

^combine these

When I heard how I sounded in truth for the first time, heard the manifestation of behaviors that weren't genuine to me, but became genuine to me through repetition over time, I ached. Small pains in new places I never felt before. I realized I've never paused to consider how something makes me feel, or puts pressure on my sense, my capacity to achieve. I never paused to consider if I’d hold this expectation for someone else, or consider if it’s even appropriate to act on or ask. And yet I saw in myself a willingness to do that very thing, attempt that very expectation. Subconscious submissive behavior from the dominant themself. Can I still be a dominant if I am an introvert now? I’ll put that to rest soon I promise, but it's the only through line of comedy I have here. 


What happened very quickly is that parts of my identity did come crashing down. Who I thought I was or who I might actually be in other spaces and places in my life, I learned I am not here. At home, I lack consistency. I function in another way of life. It's not just a habit, its another way of life. Habits we can recognize and often desire to stop performing –– whether we can or not is another question –– but this is not that. For what I am talking could only be considered a habit if I was aware of it and I wasn’t. The behavior that seemed suddenly so obviously separate from myself was too built in, non-differentiable to my being, my core, as I said initially.


And so the came crash as follows:


You wake up in the morning, you have your own thoughts, your own feelings, and with each choice, decision, action, you begin to move through the motions of the smallest parts of your belief system. The simplest things, like the choice to make coffee, how to get dressed, how to make a bed. Of course the context is important. Where are you at that moment and what are you making these choices in relation to? But put that aside, what’s at the front is that you’re capable of acting out your personal belief system easily and making adjustments accordingly. In these small moments, you only think about your own processing, not how another might. At least you feel like that. 


Until someone points out other options. 


How quickly do you change your mind? Alter your smallest choices? Do you notice that you changed your mind? Did you even realize that a part of your belief system, a tiny pact you already made with yourself, is now abandoned on behalf of someone else's tiny ecosystem of connected assumptions, beliefs, and needs?

Maybe not. Maybe when it's small like that you don’t. Maybe not even when it's huge, when there’s a massive adjustment influenced by someone else’s perspective. But perhaps when it's huge, even if you don’t notice, your body tells you. Your heart pounds, your pits, sweaty, or suddenly your voice sounds different. An attitude, a yell that doesn't belong to you, but somehow comes out. And you find out you know this person, they live inside you. That makes you feel bad, confused, lost. 

So what does happen when it is just a small change, a small influence of a seemingly insignificant choice? So small that you don’t notice it your body doesn’t react when you break your own system. No stomach ache, no headache. What happens then? 

Perhaps nothing, perhaps this is just a part of life. Learning new things, intaking new opinions and experiences, and altering our beliefs accordingly.  

Yet sometimes, 

I’m learning that, sometimes, 

the altering of small beliefs can have formidable impact. 

Eventually, enough pile together that it is noticed – maybe not by you, maybe by someone else again – but nonetheless, they reveal themselves as attached to and stemming from you. So slowly, as you increase your awareness of them, they become quite meaningful, quite powerful, because they force you to question the strength of your own being. They reflect back a permeable foundation that you thought was rock solid. A foundation you thought belonged to you, but wasn’t actually made by you at all.

Now I understand the phrase rock solid. It's a beautiful metaphor or picture to paint. Imagine rain, pouring pouring pouring down into the earth, soaked up by the soil, small puddles building as it sinks and finds its place as the ground drinks. And yet the same rain throws itself on the rock and it slips right off. Falls down into the ground next to it. The inside of the rock, the dense, non-hollow core, protected, dry, intact, impermeable. It remains the same irregardless of the weather. 

Sure, someone is thinking about the negative aspect of this. Of not letting anything touch you, not letting anything near your core. Maybe you call it your soul. I can acknowledge this. I can acknowledge the extremity of soil permeability and a rock. But understanding where you are on this scale in relation to where you thought you were can feel destructive. 

After all this, I couldn’t wait to go back the next week. To tell her what I learned, what I saw in myself, and to admit that she was right about some of the scary things. It only took a couple weeks, but I felt I was starting to understand and uncover some ways to build myself back up, to find some agency within my actions, to grant myself a stronger future. But, then she dumped me so I’ll never know for sure. I guess I need to get my own therapist and also my own doctor. I moved out so I’ve got to be on the road to somewhere. Hopefully somewhere quiet where I can be reflective and comfortable being alone, the way I was intended to live my life. 

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