How I Lost My Smile To Find Myself

Behind those lies we tell, the hair dye we buy, the makeup we wear, the clothes that hide our flabby bits, the shoes that define us, the cars that please our hierarchical lizard brains, still remains the real us, the actual naked self we truly are, inside, outside or upside down who we are self.

That essence of real has been something I’ve sought almost my whole life.

I am 52, I bike 30 minutes to and from work, I awake well before dawn, I write, I research, I watch, I listen. I create. I contemplate. I find joy in simple things, just like I always had, but now with something, I don’t know, but something else. Vigour maybe. Truth?

This was not always me. This me came to be maybe just over a year ago, maybe more, but the she/her who writes this today was not the she/her who first started upon this writing journey, this me I am, this dichotomy of damned if I do, or damned if I don’t, that I began in the fall of 2012.

So, this year will be the 7th year, oh, a journey of a thousand miles I’ve been on, and this last was the last set of lessons, hurtles, fears.

Anyway, I do the thing, or I don’t end up doing the thing, but I challenge myself today more than I ever have before. I walk more in a day than some will walk the entire week. I lift approximately half my weight or more sometimes my entire shift, twist and turn, squat, climb, reach, a hard slog, every shift.

This me was not always me.

Oh, and I swear like a trucker as well, I mean, I speak truth to bullshit and go to work to work not to socialize, and I define success in completely different terms than I once did.

My nickname at work is Mighty Mouse.

Actually, I’m thinking of requesting that be etched on my gravestone.

Ok, and I’ve been dancing around this post all week, fiddling, fumbling, looking away from.

So, to one degree or other I suppose all of us live in horror of someone seeing them truly as how they are, or have at points in our life, of someone, maybe a stranger, maybe a friend, but fear them seeing behind the masks that we have devised, of caring too much about what other people think of us, controlling the narrative, focusing on the details, becoming obsessed with being perceived as weak, or vulnerable, or not pretty, or perfect, or manly enough, not smart enough, not, not, and more nots that tie us up in knots.

It is I think really a kind of superpower that our fears try to mask, because our flaws are our power, and being wrong, being vulnerable, is what I believe separates the wheat from the chaff, the fundamental element that makes a strong, maybe why, ahem, self-proclaimed chosen ones seem weak.

The more we hide, the more we fear being exposed, the weaker we become, the weaker we are.

For the rest of us, for the plebs down here in the cheap seats, the truth is that it is much easier to just try to fit in. It is easier to fly under the radar, to go along with the herd. The whole middle class suburbia engine runs on mundanity and sameness, and within that maze of sameness many become lost, even forget they are hiding as it becomes habit. Buying their way out of their boredom, their purchasing power replacing all the parts of themselves they’ve hidden from the world. I mean, with more money you can buy better hair dye, better cloths, better makeup, better cars, bigger houses, TV’s, consumerism replacing our sense of self, masking our inadequacies.

We grasp at things as a panacea somehow for our flaws we fear being exposed.

Yet, I began to wonder what if those flaws are our superpower?

Sure, some people want to stand out, but by and large, the rest of us generally prefer anonymity and sameness, not rocking the boat or being caught out as different, or weird, or, god forbid, ugly.

So, when my front teeth began to loosen a couple decades ago, and dentist appointment after dentist appointment, year after year, I began to accept the fate of my teeth, that one day like my Mom, Grandmother and Dad before me, I would one day lose them all and have to have dentures.

The thought of that was terrifying, and I would have nightmares about my teeth falling out. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that day would dawn, and even with all the money spent on cleanings and Dentist appointments, the fate of my teeth was set, it was just when, there were no ifs.

So, for 20 or so odd years I lived in terror of the inevitable.

Up until I met Tim and moved to the cottage with him I had a dental plan, and I went every 3 months or so for cleanings. But dentists are expensive, and since I had been laid off from my corporate sales job, with no other means of income but my buyout, we lived very simply on that money for a bit. Well, until Tim found out he had cancer, and then he couldn’t work anyway (not that he did) and because he was dying he qualified for a government social assistance program Canada has.

Anyways, long rambling story shortened, I didn’t got to the dentist, which was when the first tooth fell out, it got fixed, but it was the beginning, and I was horrified by it all. Helpless, without any means of stopping it.

After Tim died, after I’d got my life back on track, I went to the dentist again, but my plan was far less than it had been, and not enough to save my teeth. When I quit my horrible no good awful call centre job, even that measly crap plan was gone with it.

A few more months went by. Tooth got knocked out again, and back in went another fake.

It was sometime, maybe a couple years ago, that I began to see this inevitable horrible thing may have a silver lining, and I’m a complete sucker for silver linings, crave a good challenge, and generally if bad things happen, I don’t know, guess you can say I roll with it, find an upside.

Unlikely though it would seem to some, but I saw an opportunity.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating just letting your teeth go. But I smoke, I inherited my crap teeth from my mom, and try as I might, I was not going to save them.

So, about a year ago it began, and one by one, they fell out. Each one, at first, was accompanied by tears, and horror.

But I endured. I lived. I adapted. I sucked it up, I hardened a little more, came to terms, took a sigh or three, and moved on.

But, at the same time, I was working on this blog, working at my writing, working at the things I loved that I had put aside for years and years and years.

I was focused, I was determined, I was inspired.

I was awake at 3 AM writing, researching, watching, reading, thinking, like a hermit on the path on some walk of the soul, for the spirit, finding my inner core of courage and strength, finding my voice, at the cost of my smile.

Before, I had always being sidetracked by one relationship after another, each ending in failure. Drunken nights out at some bar, drinking too much, partying too much, chasing this thing that had eluded me, and it was killing me. Physically and mentally.

I was dying a little more every time I fell, every time I failed, every time I went out seeking the thing that had always eluded me.

For so very long I had hidden myself, my true self, the person I was, the weirdo artist creative writer photographer designer of words and images that had roamed around in my heart and soul for years, stuffed into the closet, always on a back burner to the elusive relationship I’d chased, and never caught.

So my idea was – let it happen – let it be. Let go. Let them go. Deal with the aftermath, but let them go. Let myself be ‘ugly’. Let myself be thought of as weird, or some addict, maybe, by casual strangers I met day to day as I went about all those mundane things we deal with. You know, the shops and malls and all the strangers.

And, you know, bit by bit, piece by piece, I found myself.

I embraced who I was, flaws and all.

Now, I didn’t stop altogether drinking, or going out to bars, because I enjoy it and everything in moderation. Now I mostly just get together with a couple friends for a few beers, and rarely venture out. It just doesn’t interest me as much as it used to.

My teeth were a sort of gateway to who I really, really was. They provided a way for me to push away the shiney veneer I’d faked like everyone else, and see for myself what lay inside.

That pursuit of something, er, someone, that I thought was going to fill in all the blank bits I had carried inside for so long, that was a cop out.

In time, I began to fill those blank bits in myself.

It’s not a perfect scheme, its not that I don’t feel a bit ashamed of my teeth, or that I don’t care what people think, because I do. However, I have learned how to put it aside, as the fact is that strangers don’t know me, and so there opinions are of no real worth in how I establish my own self-worth.

Now, I haven’t lost them all. Right now it’s the ones on the top on the right side, and I have a false one in front, braced in by the real front one.

In all honesty, what really surprised me, is how people don’t say anything. They may notice, but by and large I feel, have learned, that those who know and care about me see past these things – and that has been more valuable than all the gold and expensive hair dye, or whatever, shitty teeth and all.

You have no idea. No idea. I was so shy when I was young. I am still very reserved, and shy at times, although now I know it has more to do with my introverted nature. With this process I’ve learned to get outside my hyper-conscious world I used to live in, to be exposed, to see that for the most part people really don’t pay THAT close attention, or at least in as minute detail as I did.

Actually, it was the devil-may-care attitude that really first attracted me to Tim, and it was a characteristic of my grandmother, and it is a thing I have long admired, but just couldn’t wrap my head around. Message? Don’t friggin’ think so much, PaulaB. Just let it go.

Yet, who I am today, pirate smile and all, is much happier. Go figure.

This me, this REAL me, can sit for hours on the stoop watching the light dance through the wabi-sabi garden I’ve created. I can say no to going out for drinks with a friend, and only because I have no desire to, I have other things I’d rather be doing. You know, like waking before dawns even yawned, before the birds, on my own, writing, looking, watching, listening, creating.

But, the real value, the gift, has been my ability now to love who I am, love my own company, and have learned how to give myself value, not wait around for someone else to give me my worth. You know? People come and go, but I remain.

I guess its balance.

Since I knew it was going to happen anyways, why not just let nature take its course? Not like I’m NEVER going to fix them.

The company I work for today has a decent plan, and we have profit sharing, so between the two I think I can get it all sorted this winter. The experiment has run its course, the lessons have been learned, time for the next step.

I remember back a couple years ago when I met BealArt guy again, when we did that little dance again, and he asked me what my favourite book was, and I told him it was the Velveteen Rabbit. Old Stoic with a broken heart that he was, that completely confused him. He said he read it 3 times and still didn’t get it, had to get a friend to explain it, and it confused him cause being real was just not something he understood. Well, other than being a real arsehole.

But, like I said, I like a challenge, I am a soul diver, a seeker of truth, and the only path to enlightenment is inward, there really is no other way. To let go of those physical things that hem us in, define us, imprison us, let them go. It is that reality of the worn and loved rabbit, the life well lived, the letting go of all the things I thought defined me, all the things I thought made me real, or a facsimile to suit the crowd. Yet that was never, ever, who I was. Pretending otherwise became a lie, and everyone saw through it, but I. Thing is, before all this I couldn’t have put my finger on what it was, but with this experience of dealing with one of my worst fears, I have, em, I guess I have become that old Velveteen Rabbit.

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

** Photos used taken a couple days ago down at the old abandoned orchard, on a walk with Irish. Hadn’t been in a while and it was magical being back. Love it down at the Coves in late August, all my favourite wild flowers and grasses are in full show, sunny day with a nice temperate breeze, and no humidity, no sweltering heat, so we meandered, took our time, both with smiles on our faces.

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