When we run from pain, the source of it doesn’t go away, but hides in the deep places, waiting. As my friend Shirlee says, “Whatever in you needs to be healed, God will keep bringing it to the surface, like a bobber on a fishing line.” How do we do set ourselves free from old wounds? We can use emotional pain to identify what idea is causing the pain and then examine our part in creating the circumstance that brought the pain to the surface.
Case inpoint: I was cast for a second appearance on a TV series on my birthday. The AD (assistant director) phoned with an 8AM call time in San Diego. I only had two short scenes and thought, Great! I’ll be back in the evening to celebrate my birthday. I mentioned to him that I would do my own makeup. Shortly after I arrived in San Diego, there was a knock on my trailer door. There stood the head of the makeup department who had done my makeup for the first episode. “I understand you want to do your own makeup. Why is that?” she demanded. Oops. Confrontation. Not my forte.
I started a verbal tap dance. “It’s not anything you did wrong, believe me, it’s just that I saw the last show and I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. There was nothing wrong with the makeup. It’s that the camera angles and the lighting were very harsh, and there were shots where I looked grotesque.” I topped it off with an apologetic little laugh, like “ha-ha, I looked grotesque, isn’t that humorous?” She and I politely commiserated about how little time they have for lighting and we parted pleasantly.
Then AD informed me there was rain forecast for the afternoon and they would shoot the outdoor scenes first. At three in the afternoon they filmed my first scene. As I walked past the makeup lady, I heard her comment “if some people around here weren’t such a b****.” Her words spread cold chills around my heart. I knew she was talking about me, but why?
By the time I got to my dressing room, I was sobbing, anguish pouring from me in the soft, high voice of a child, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person. I try to be a good person.” After the years I’d spent mending my wounded sense of self, it was still there: little Gloria’s secret – that she’s stupid and bad.
I dried my eyes, gathered my courage, and went to the makeup trailer. The makeup lady was ready for battle. Holding back tears, I talked to her until I got to the source of the venom. She spit out the words, “You said my makeup job made you look grotesque.” I reminded her of our morning conversation about the harshness of the lighting. She finally conceded, “Yes, that was what was said.”
Discovering my painful idea wasn’t too difficult. I kept repeating my defense of it like a mantra, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person.” Often a verbal attack, a loss, a circumstance will bring up one of these negative ideas about ourselves, accompanied by tears or anger. We’re fighting a battle that happened long ago.
There’s the story of the young boy shoveling into a big pile of horse manure. His father asks him what he’s doing. “Dad,” he says, “with this much poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.” I knew there was pony somewhere in the pile of poop that had become my birthday, and I actually figured out how to be grateful for what had happened. This gratitude came all at once. For days, I tried to blame her, How could she? I didn’t do anything to deserve…. my “woe-is-me, I’m the victim, he/she is the bad guy” byline, but blaming her would not restore my peace of mind.
The key to restoring peace of mind is knowing where to look. The true cause of my upset was what she reminded me of: I’m not good enough. This idea was within me, and that was where I had to look. It’s always easier to shine the spotlight of blame on someone else. Less frequently do we want to see how we contributed to the mess, hence the old saying, “Clean your face instead of blaming the mirror.”
As I examined our conversations, I saw that she and I had a similar personal myth: I’m not good enough. We each looked for, expected, and found reminders of our unworthiness. But we each had an opposing strategy: hers was offensive, mine was defensive. She got to be angry, I got to be hurt… once again.
I hadn’t listened to and decoded my uneasiness around her. When I first worked with her, she had been pleasant, but I must have intuitively recognized the anger that prowled below her surface. Because I was afraid of her, I said too much. I treated her as if she were a trusted confidant (big mistake), using a “just between you and me” posture to place the blame elsewhere, even using the word “grotesque” to heighten that effect. If I had simply said, “It’s my birthday and I feel like doing my own makeup this morning,” her verbal attacks would not have happened. Yet the good news was that I uncovered the vestiges of painful internal messages, and I could now divest them of their lingering power.
I didn’t get home until 10PM that night and missed celebrating my birthday, but it was still one of the best birthdays I can remember. During my twelve hours on the set, I read Neale Donald Walsh’s Conversations with God from cover to cover. And when I got home, a birthday card was waiting for me from my former husband, Alan. In it he expressed appreciation for what had been, for who I had been to him, and regret for any hurt he had caused. When we had divorced ten years earlier, there had been some hard moments. His words erased all that. Big sissy that I am, I cried big tears, (again!) and said, “Thank you for this day.”
This is an excerpt from Gloria’s book, Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous, published by HCI Books.