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Knocking Down the Walls

April 15, 2008

In college I took an Interpersonal Communication class for the sole reason that it fulfilled my public speaking requirement without involving much public speaking. It wasn’t my most favorite class (the professor and I had “creative differences”) but it was worth every moment regardless. One of our first assignments was to design and create a collage that represented us – and then we had to present and explain that collage to the class.

I think that collage maybe told more about me than I had realized at the time. Sure, it held all the things that I considered important, with things representing my loved ones, interests, and values, but it also had a ribbon border completely encircling everything else. The ribbon was pretty – decorated with flowers and bees – but what it really represented is not so pretty. It represented the wall I’ve built around myself to keep out things that might hurt me, and that wall isn’t nearly as pretty.

It’s painful for me to think about why I built that wall. As a young girl, I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and so unsure of my own worth. All I wanted was to be valued by somebody. I tried so hard to be what I thought I needed to be in order to be liked, or loved, or just accepted, and everything that I tried just pushed people farther away. One of my most painful memories of childhood is of me, lying in my bed and staring at the ceiling, praying fervently to God that if He could just let one person like me, even a little bit, then I could die happy.

One of the saddest truths in this world is that the people who often need the most help and kindness from others are often the least likely to get it. It’s hard to love somebody who doesn’t love themselves. It’s hard to be a friend to somebody who doesn’t know what real friendship is. It’s hard to willingly be around desperation.

As I got older, I took all those hurts and scars and turned them inward, building a wall around me. Ironically, it turned out that the wall was good for me, at least in the beginning. I learned how to function in a world that was harder than I had been, and I learned how to deal with problems with a colder heart than I had ever known possible.

Maybe it’s a bit telling that when I went to college, people assumed that I had grown up in an urban area. Apparently I didn’t fit anybody’s idea of a country girl. Granted, that may have had something to do with the punk clothes and multiple piercings I exhibited at the time, but not entirely. I had experienced the pain that comes when idealism and reality collide, and most people in college didn’t have that opportunity.

I can honestly say that going to college was one of the best things to ever happen to me. In college I excelled, and was usually at the top of my class. My experiences as a child only seemed to give me a different perspective than most of my peers, which gave me an edge, both in relationships and in academics. In a sense, I discovered my niche, and was kind of surprised to find that all the things that had once separated me from people now connected me to people. And I gloried in the study of people, both as individuals and as part of a larger society. I reveled in learning how humanity works.

In college I also found myself letting people into my life. I met my husband there, and I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I realized he had walked right through my wall and into my heart. I made friends who are as dear to my as sisters, and who I consider a part of my family. I finally had all the friends (and more) that I had craved as a child, and I had learned not only the benefit of friendship, but also the responsibility of being a friend.

But, for the first time, I started realizing that my wall wasn’t just an asset, but also a liability. It kept me separate and isolated from hurt and pain, but it also kept out the good stuff that comes with that. People who can hurt you can also touch your heart in a good way. My cold heart wasn’t so much fun anymore.

I’m trying to knock down my wall, a little at a time. There is no way that I can go back to the child I was, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. But I’m a little more willing to acknowledge that she exists than I used to be. Maybe all that means is that I have learned how to value myself, and I no longer need the wall.

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