One trick I have when walking into a challenging social situation is to pretend I am someone else. The someone depends on the situation. Usually, it's a fictional character. I don't do this all of the time. More often than not, I am me, but if there's a room full of challenging personalities, or some sort of overwhelming interaction in the works, I might reach back into a Cormac McCarthy novel and wind myself around one of his characters:
"Officer, I do agree I was moving with a certain marked intensity. Just tryin' to get clear of my history...keeps snappin' at my boots. I reckon if I were to keep on, I would only run into the back end of it eventually. Here's my license and insurance."
Or Kathryn Hepburn:
"You are an absolute gift! Cherish the energy you must have to speak so clearly and for such duration without hardly a breathe! Such a strong voice...clarifying the clarified so we are not left to the random, unbridled peace of our own thoughts. What a waste that would be. Care for a toffee?"
There are, however, situations in our lives that demand the authentic us and nothing but. To venture in with anything other than our truth and vulnerability is to cheat ourselves and squander the opportunity to make ground in our struggle forward. I found myself, recently, laid bare, open and honest, having shrugged off the usual pleasantries and tired conversation that I now find suffocating. From deep, deep inside came words that should have been said well back in my history. I felt them coming. I stood down and let them come, all the while terrified. It was like an exorcism, something more powerful than me. Once the words were out, I stood amazed that I had said them. Stunned that I had had the courage, finally, to get this out, to demand another to be accountable. This would never have happened years ago, deep in that history, but I am not the person I used to be. Not even close.
This event shook me. I felt like I had been in a fist fight. I was almost sick. I figured myself unravelling and tumbling into chaos, rolling towards my ultimate demise until an objective third party, wise, thoughtful, made the observation to the contrary. I had stepped up. I had done something new. This was a big deal for me. Very big. McCarthy could not have done this. Hepburn neither. This was pure me.
In the words of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), "The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you."
I do believe he was on to something...and I ain't done yet.