I am still a little bit terrified of being wrong. That derisive tone my mom inherited from her father made even the littlest mistakes a personal failure on my part to the point where not achieving perfection out of the gate was a good reason to quit sometimes, depending on what I was trying to do. At some point, I learned to do things over and over again in a “sandbox” environment so that I could at least appear to be getting it right the first time. Much, much later – one might even say recently – I learned that the whole world is a “sandbox” and that our mistakes are just learning experiences.
But I’m still afraid of them. I’m afraid because while I scrambled to learn this lesson especially, thinking I was behind the curve, that the whole world was way ahead of me on wisdom since I’d spent so much time as a “nerd” and “geek”, it turns out that the vast majority of people didn’t learn this lesson. They’ll still crucify or demonize people who make mistakes, but worse than that, they’d eviscerate those who point out their own mistakes. I’ve learned to say, “Oh, yeah, I already fucked up like that proper, you might want to not do that,” but no matter what, someone is poised, it seems, to turn my mistake into a definition of me.
That’s the hardest part of it. We are not the sum parts of our mistakes or of our triumphs. These are just things that happen. I am not a bad mom because I get utterly frustrated and furious at children whining at me after six hours straight of it – in fact, as I understand it, that’s kind of a distance record before hitting the frustrated stage. I’m not a bad cook because I screwed up a batch of caramels, and I’m not a bad person because I didn’t put a dollar in every homeless person’s cup.
I thought we weren’t supposed to judge – that’s what I was told – so I worked really hard not to, but then no one else did. Am I supposed to do what they all do, even though it makes them miserable? But being the outsider is to be under the magnifying glass of scrutiny, all those people who are supposed to be better than I am, who are supposed to know how to “do it right”, watching and waiting for me to fuck up all over again, and when that happens, it’s all over.
I accept other people as much as I can. I let things go even after pretty massive fuck-ups, as long as there’s some kind of effort to make right, but that is not a courtesy I often feel returned. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, just that the fear of being judged as imperfect-and-thus-unworthy-of-love gets in the way of seeing if that latitude is granted to me. Maybe “being wrong” isn’t the whole terror, more of being imperfect, because while I’m perfectly okay with being imperfect on the inside, I suspect it’s a holdover of years of abuse in a variety of forms that has me fearful of the rejection and pain that comes from being found lacking and unwanted by those who are even less perfect. Ironic that it’s their imperfections, their damages, their illnesses that rendered them unable to see my beauty, but now that niggling fear in the back of my mind will always be there, wondering if they were right, that their rejection and abuse was because I really was less than, really was weaker.
And now, here’s the funny thing about fear: it only runs your life if you let it.
Of the two wolves that live in us – the dark one and the light one, the fearful angry one and the loving kind one – the one that will win the battle is the one that you feed. The battle goes on every day, and the outcome is not always what you expect, but the more you feed one of them, the more power you give it so that one day, even if maybe you’ve forgotten to feed it, it’s strong enough to stand up and defend you on its own.
I like to think I’m there sometimes, but not often enough to think I can stop consciously feeding it for long. When I forget for a while, this is the fear that comes up first.
That’s my confession. It’s not a surprise, I’m sure, but there it is.