Last weekend was a big weekend.
On Friday night, I attended a dance performance by the Eliot Smith Company at Dance City, at which Eliot Smith and I launched our new book ‘Martha & Me’. There I was, holding my own in a world that had been completely alien to me less than two years before. I felt confident, proud of what I had achieved, and happy to be surrounded by some of my people. People who were there to support me and celebrate with me. People I’d lived alongside when I first moved to the North East twenty years ago. Friends who loved dance and/or loved reading. My tribe.
On Saturday night, I took to the streets of Newcastle for a culture crawl courtesy of the Late Shows. My friends and I started with a salsa lesson at Dance City. Same venue, different friends. Different vibe, different outfit, different me. This night, I felt abandoned and carefree. I felt childlike and adventurous. I was wearing a CHOOSE LIFE T shirt, after all. And this was a different tribe, the group of friends who’d all witnessed our kids growing up together and who all felt comfortable to be ourselves together and express ourselves in our own way. We drank weird cocktails and explored the Happiness Project and listened to a story in a dark cave and live music outside under twinkly lights and danced the night away to 80s music.
On Sunday, I was at a Christening, celebrating welcoming little James into the church family. I was with my people again. These people feel like family. Like my tribe. But a different tribe, a different family. And a different version of me to the one talking about my new book on Friday night and giving it my all on the dance floor on Saturday night.
This weekend left me pondering. Wondering which version of me was the real me, something I’d been digging deep to find for a long while now. A kind of holy grail. Each one of these versions of myself felt real. In none of these situations was I pretending, putting on an act, trying to be something I was not. I had a place in each of these each of these environments, with each of these tribes. Each version of me was the real me.
I can feel it now, just sitting here writing this. I can simultaneously experience conflicting thoughts and feelings. I can feel happy and sad at the same time. I can feel excited and nervous at the same time. I can feel confident and undermined at the same time. There’s a crowd of people inside this head and heart the whole time – all wanting to be heard and recognised and cared for. Not a single one of these voices is the real me, the only real me. Each one is part of the internal family that makes me me.
I wouldn’t have said that I suffer from dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), but I glimpse an understanding of those that do. In extreme trauma, from what I understand, these internal personalities become disassociated from one another, detached. They take on a life of their own. Anyone who’s seen James McAvoy in the 2016 film ‘Split’ will know what I’m talking about. There but for the grace of God, go I. Or you. Maybe we all have the potential for that within us.
This has all become a little clearer to me since reading the fantastic book ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ by Bessel Van Der Kolk. There’s a whole chapter in this insightful book called ‘Putting the pieces together: self-leadership’, which introduces a therapy I’d not come across before called internal family systems therapy.
The mind is a mosaic. We all have parts. right now a part of me feels like taking a nap; another part wants to keep writing. Page 282
Life is all about listening to our different parts and making sure they feel cared for and stopping them sabotaging each other.
In the chapter, the author describes that when we are hurt or in danger or suffer trauma, we employ extreme behaviours (aggression, depression, anxiety, obsessions, arrogance etc) as strategies for self-protection. It’s all about finding a way to cope, to get through each day in one piece. Strong figures within us step up and take control. They’re the managers, the fire-fighters, the ones that protect the vulnerable version of self.
And so I have embarked on a new journey to acquaint myself with my internal family. A few of them came out to play last weekend. I’ll take the time to get to know and understand the managers and the fire-fighters, even if I don’t like the way they’re behaving. They’re being difficult or rude or stubborn or selfish or obnoxious for all the right reasons: they’re trying to protect me from getting hurt. Sometimes, I need to encourage them to stand aside though and let me see the ‘me’ they’re protecting. The vulnerable, compassionate, creative, affectionate, loving, tender me. I’m particularly loving my inner child. She hasn’t been encouraged to play nearly enough. To her, I say this.
Come with me. Let me get to know you. I’ll look after you. Show me what you need, what you want to do. Let’s play.