Locked up without being locked up
In the course of my travels as well as everyday life, I see chains. When I am at my local Starbucks, restaurants, gas stations, grocery store, Target, movie theater, malls, schools, hotels, standing in front of a mirror…the list goes on and on. Chains on adults, chains on teenagers, chains on children. These chains are no respecter of social status, financial standing, level of education, birthplace, skin color, or political party. Something has become increasingly evident to me – so many of us are incarcerated without being in a physical prison.
I believe that there are one of two prisons that each of us have done hard time in – the prison of what others think about us and the penitentiary of being on lockdown to the picture in our minds of what we thought our lives are supposed to look like. The thing about both of these places is that we are the warden and could be set free anytime that we want. There is absolutely no one else holding the key; it is a self-imposed incarceration.
Thanks to many years of hearing about other people’s expectations (and developing plenty of our own), we’re prone to having fixed ideas of what life “should” be like. However, this mentality can be toxic for numerous reasons. First, it imprisons you, prohibiting you from thinking or dreaming outside the boundaries you previously set for yourself. Second, it leads to a tendency to be painfully hard on yourself, harshly criticizing your actions and goals when your life doesn’t match up to your image of how it “should” be. We can miss joy because we’re looking around or looking back but we can also miss it by looking too far ahead.
When we have been under the power of any influence for any period of time, that influence becomes our identity. Interviews with former actual inmates reveal this principle to be true. The personality change that most dominated their accounts was an inability to trust others – a kind of perpetual paranoia. “You cannot trust anybody in the joint,” said one of the interviewees, a man now aged 52. “I do have an issue with trust, I just do not trust anybody.” The prisoners described a process of “emotional numbing”. “It does harden you. It does make you a bit more distant,” one said, explaining how people in prison deliberately conceal and suppress their emotions. “It is who you become, and if you are hardened in the beginning then you become even harder, you become even colder, you become more detached.” Another prisoner stated: “I kind of don’t have feelings for people anymore.” You do not need to have spent time in an actual prison to be able to relate to these sentiments.
When we realize that we have been imprisoned in our mind or chained to trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, its up to us to choose to break free and stay free from the chains that so easily bind us and keep us down. During my time away from writing this column and producing the show, I realized I needed to draw up divorce papers. I want dissolution of the marriage that I have been in for the majority of my existence – this picture perfect life in my mind -- to be free to live the life in front of me. I want to be free of the image in my head of what so many, including myself, have thought my life should look like. How about you?
Many of us know exactly what we need to do but we don’t want to do it so we pile more knowledge and information on top of the thing we know that we’re supposed to do. We don’t need more clarity; we need courage to step out. Do we want out of the prison we locked ourselves in? Do we want a divorce from the idea that we’ve been married to of what life is “supposed” to look like? We can stay stuck in an old story or embrace a new truth.
We don’t always get the ending that we want, the one we dreamed of for so long. But sometimes the ending we get creates a space large enough for a new beginning – and we can learn to love that new beginning. That new life we want so bad is going to require us to let go of the old one – completely. Let’s let go and grow together!