Yesterday it happened out of the blue and it happened so fast. This wasn’t the first time with this particular student, either. During Advisory, a teenage boy unleashed his inner beast and raged on me like I had just insulted his momma. Even though I realize this is always a possibility, that entering these halls everyday brings a certain level of risk, I didn’t see it coming once again. The risks are high here and quite frankly it feels that the rewards are low. At least recently. It’s been a tough year of teaching to say the least.
But back to the incident. Imagine one of the most popular boys in school. He is always smiling in the hallway, he creates energy wherever he goes. He is magnetic, friendly and just fun to be around.
But he has a major character flaw: He freaks out when he doesn’t get his way. Like really freaks out. To add to the tension and the frustration of the moment it just so happened that NO office worker in the whole FREAKING building was answering their phone so I couldn’t get Campus Support to my room to escort Rage McRager out of my room.
After the dust settled I had some time to reflect on the whole ordeal. The way he acted towards me and spoke to me certainly hurt, I’m not gonna lie. But I realize that deep down it wasn’t him. It was like he was acting. It was a scene that his rage forced his body to be a part of – and he happened to have an audience!
When I was in high school I was a good actor in my own right. I participated in plays on stage but also learned to act a part socially if I needed to impress people or shield myself from hurt or judgment. Over time this mere coping mechanism morphed into an all out identity crisis. I lost who I was because I was so busy playing the part(s) that I needed to maintain a certain façade. My addiction led me to play different roles depending on the situation and who else was in the “scene.” I also would act a part in order to control my environment and people’s perception of me. If I could not control my environment then like my students, I too would freak out. Freaking out usually led to either acting out or rage.
The Fearless Leader
Ever since junior high I have been either asked or compelled to serve in leadership positions. I have been appointed, elected or applied to all kinds of leadership roles. As a teacher and coach I feel like a certain amount of leadership skills are necessary and I feel comfortable putting these skills to use. I have often been a leader among my peers as well. Somewhere along the way I used this character to play a major role in my façade. The reality was I was not fearless at all I was full of fear. The reality was if many people knew of my secrets then they would not follow and I would not even be able to lead. The reality is I liked the feeling of being a leader, there was safety in it. There was power. In my life there was so much powerlessness that being a leader gave me my power back. But I lost track of what effective leadership is all about: service and authenticity. Those two things took a back burner when I was playing the part of the strong leader. Being a leader amidst my disease was all about me and that is the tragedy of it all. I missed out on my full potential as a leader because of that.
The Golden Boy
I’m the first born in my family. The first grand child on both sides. I was an only child for 8 years. Growing up I put a certain expectation on myself to be the good son. I wanted to be recognized for my devotion to my family, for my good nature and pure character. I honestly felt that if I messed up and people knew about it, it would be the end of the world. This character has stayed with me and I still struggle with thinking I have to come across as having it all together. The truth is I have some fairly impressive accomplishments in my life so far but many of them fueled my false thinking of pursuing the perfect life.
The Uber Christian
This character might have been the most prevalent during my addiction. He would pop up unannounced to quote some scripture or tell about some spiritual experience. I know that God has used my faith to impact others for the good. I don’t deny that. But looking back at it, this character – driven by pride – was everywhere. A scene in front of friends, at church, at Bible study, at the lunch room, you name it. The need for spiritual affirmation was so strong and I figured “Well since I’m probably not on good terms with God himself I better try extra hard to impress others with my spirituality.”
There were many more. Supporting roles such as the Sweet Guy, The Jock, The Sarcastic Jokester, and of course – The Chameleon.
Now I’m not saying that the last 20 years I have been living an all out lie. A lot of the “characters” I have played have had traces of the real me. But in all honesty very little of what I projected to others was truly me. It was almost always diluted and masked.
One of the amazing things about recovery is getting to know the real me again. It’s sometimes raw and scary and when I look in the mirror I see a lot of flaws. But I’m me. I’m authentic. What you see is what you are getting now.
Clearly, that has not always been the case. But clearly it is the most important role I will ever play.