Letting the Demon Out for Training
And feeling less like a ghost.
Writing to read never seems to produce a quality product so I’m just going to go for it and see what happens.
I’ve had a long weekend and it feels like I haven’t had much room to myself to think, feel, and process. This is a bit of my own doing as I’m getting to know a side of myself that I set aside when I left my previous life.
There’s a more assertive, forceful, analytic, and focused side of me that I swept under the rug in order to do regular emotional processing and not be so grumpy in my everyday life. The challenge is that as this energy comes back it’s kind of like wielding a sword possessed by some unruly demon that I can’t get a handle on. He’s aggressive, seeks conflict, is obsessed with the numbers, and frankly, relentless.
I’ve had this part as an aspect of my life for a long time. You could say he’s an internal protector but he’s typically on the offensive. The closest I can define him as is the unchecked Enneagram SX1 aspect of myself…critical, direct, deflects judgment, righteous, self-focused, and has a pretty crude sense of humor.
So why is he back? I guess it’s time for him to be back. It’s like when you’re cleaning out an attic, you’re going to come across older stuff the more you clean it out. And I guess now it’s time to deal with this aspect of myself, examine it, and see what’s worth keeping.
There’s an aspect to this side of me that has addiction attached to it. It’s very difficult to break out of this mode. I feel superior, I feel alive, I feel on fire, and I feel like I can build or destroy whatever I want. I feel like I can take on the world. Sounds like mania to me.
As I’ve gotten more comfortable in how to navigate the more dysthymic and depressive side of myself, this manic aspect is like “heeeere’s Johnny!” and now we gotta see what we can do here.
I do feel prepared to now tackle this and explore where it came from…and as Alan Watts says “give the devil a job to do.”
So as I personally am becoming way less judgmental of my own relationship to good and evil or I should say that my feelings around what is considered good and evil are way more specific and that most things are actually fine. Because of that, I feel there is a wider range of myself, my programming, and my history, and whoever I feel I am can come out more often and be of use in some way shape, or form.
I made a joke with Molly recently that if I’m the master of anything it’s that I’m the master of conflict. And I think that’s what has been coming out of me more so these days, is a person willing to move energy by whatever means necessary. To highlight within myself or others that what is assumed to be bad, evil, or uncomfortable…is actually nothing compared to some of the worst things that we’re capable of and if you’ve done the inner work to develop core principles for how to operate in the world then some of those bitter aspects can be held.
I’m exercising my demons, in a sense, and by exercising I mean putting them on a treadmill to get in some cardio.
This protector got me through a lot and if I’m going to be of any use to this world or to even just navigate it then I am going to need some aspects of this side of myself.
An example of that was in Catholic school, where it was the first time I had experienced being around a 95% white population. I grew up in a mostly poor or lower-middle-class area where there was a diverse set of kids and even the white kids identified more with their ethnic culture...Italian kids, German, Polish, Irish, Russian, English, etc. Their families were very proud of where they came from. But when I got to Catholic school it was like a homogenized sea of Caucasians that had a more collective identity like The Borg and that collective identity of kids was persistent in their bullying attempts at assimilation. Resistance seemed futile. Suddenly everything about me was weird, off-putting, and wrong.
Having come from public school I had a pretty thick skin and could see right through what these kids were doing. Hierarchy games are par for the course when you’re a bunch of poor kids jockeying for resources. These Catholic kids as a unit were the boss in their mind and I was the fish at the bottom of the barrel not even welcome into the hierarchy game itself unless I was one of them. I wasn’t having that. My internal protector wasn’t having that.
I rebelled so hard. I wanted nothing to do with Catholic school but my parents were afraid of the violence in public schools, which I ironically was more comfortable with. I knew what to expect and I knew what to stay away from. In a Catholic school, I was clueless and often froze at how I was perceived. It was like being a saltwater fish versus a freshwater fish. I was in the wrong tank.
Catholic school was just nuts to me. They were intense with their discipline but the insidious parts like rape stories and kids doing coke in the bathroom were hidden instead of faced and it felt like they had it out for me as someone who now stuck out like a sore thumb. I don’t want to get all victimhood about it but it was very distracting to be distracting.
Race wasn’t an issue or something I thought much about until there was such intense contrast. Ironic when surrounded by a bunch of people who are constantly saying “I don’t see color” and are doing so conveniently when they’re the predominant culture and the ones pushing for assimilation.
It’s tough to talk about this stuff when so many people are on edge about their repressed prejudices on any side of the proverbial aisle. Right-wing or moderate-right just think I’m being woke for sharing my stories, being sensitive, and immediately defending themselves at being accepting because they were at a Christian camp when they were a kid with like 1 ethnic kid to every 10 white kids so they couldn’t possibly be racist. And the left-wing or moderate-left is too busy being worried about their own white guilt, reparations agenda, and activism causes ignoring stories like mine as if they don’t count towards the quota.
It was lonely then and it’s lonely now.
It comes up too because my step-kids are Caucasian and some of their behaviors are reminding me of that time period. I think the phrasing of “white supremacy” is extreme but there’s definitely a superiority complex and it makes sense given the numbers game. They’re mostly surrounded by white evangelicals who all seem to think they’re saviors of the planet holding golden spears for God by some divine right. Doesn’t leave much room for humility and curiosity. I haven’t experienced much humility with those folks despite them being quite kind in the moment and I do love those moments. When we have a family gathering or their other parents are around the kids act differently towards me, trying to push me around more and when I’m exhausted I feel outnumbered. I notice myself freeze because the other extreme of how I want to react is grizzly and terrifying.
I remember my own parents wanted to fit into American culture and adopted some of those traits. Often being prejudiced against Puerto Rican people themselves, doing the feigned ignorance thing that white people do to not remember ethnic names or treat ethnic food, people, music, or celebrations like precious pet ideas to take or dismiss for themselves. I was mad at them for that, too, though now I understand they decided that’s what would get them through. And I eventually took on some of that myself, which felt like self-betrayal in order to get through that time period. I lashed out a lot and felt terribly unwitnessed, which I know is not unique to me as many of us feel unseen.
I don’t have extreme examples of being profiled by the police though I have a few basic ones and have had plenty of similar fears. I don’t and have never felt that government, law, schools, or churches are on my side. And honestly, I don’t want to talk about it much which is why it all comes out when I’m writing. I would honestly rather sweep it under the rug but it keeps popping up. I’m not good at betraying myself, apparently.
I know that talking about my racial experience is like a minefield of intellectual labor and I don’t need to go on some crusade to change people’s minds but I do know that I’m in charge of how people treat me and this is a major boundary element that I haven’t figured how to elegantly handle in my life. So, I default to being on the defensive, and perhaps why I find intellectual labor to be incredibly off-putting. I can’t and don’t try to force someone to be curious versus judgmental. I don’t have the time or patience for that. Their loss.
Maybe that’s why this protector is coming out and I’ve gotta find a way to elegantly address these things and be honest about my experience in the moment more often. Self-advocacy and standing up for myself seem weird as an adult, and to still feel like I’m being bullied as an adult feels weird as if this both shouldn’t happen anymore and I shouldn’t be sensitive to it anymore. I’m dad and dad shouldn’t be sad or show weakness.
I noticed myself being judgmental around being a bit of a baby about this and I don’t want to make myself a victim around this. I don’t need anyone to feel bad for me so much as I’m processing to figure out the tools to navigate this aspect of my life for myself.
I think I have to take the time to map out what I’ve seen as the pattern of white people’s responses to my experience and what are the most beneficial responses to me that aren’t reactive and attacking because I don’t care to do that either. I went into Catholic school completely unprepared and the only tool I had was this protector to just deflect, deflect, deflect. There’s only so much I can take and I don’t feel like I’m getting stronger in that regard (hence the treadmill).
The difference nowadays is that I’m much older and wiser (I think). I’ve developed some principles since then and I have a better sense of how I want to navigate the world in many areas. Sometimes people do need to be disturbed in order to move their energy, which means calling upon this harsher self to stir things up but also sometimes the wrong kind of disturbance locks them in even more and my wise calm self needs to be in control in those moments. That can be scary and off-putting but I’m a bit used to that at this point.
So, I need to learn how to elegantly switch between the two a bit more quickly, especially if I’m helping to guide these kids who, at times, represent what was once an antagonist to me. I don’t want to project that repressed hurt teenager onto them and bully them back.
So, what are some of the patterns I’ve noticed?
When I tell a Caucasian person that I’m Puerto Rican I usually get a well, you look white…kind of response. This is usually when I freeze and don’t know what else to say. What I should probably say is that it’s not about how I look, it’s where my family came from, and put a period at the end of that sentence. I mean, that’s just the truth, right? I’d rather default to that and let that be what it is.
“I don’t see color” is a favorite. To me, that means or sounds like I see you as white like me as opposed to an acknowledgment that I’m an American of Spanish descent because American doesn’t equal white contrary to what many people believe. I’m not a puerto rican American. I’m an American born in Philadelphia, PA, the original capital of our country and I love this country despite its flaws and because we’re allowed to have those flaws.
That phrase “I don’t see color” feels like a symptom of a larger problem that isn’t just unique to white people but it’s a denial of prejudice in American culture. I trust people who are forthright about their prejudice even if I disagree because then I know what I’m dealing with. I don’t trust many people these days because they’re not honest with me and they’re not honest with themselves about how they react to different people or unfamiliarity.
You can see it on both sides of the aisle and so much vitriol and projected self-hatred is broiling under the weight of a lot of people pretending to be good people or denying any bias or prejudice for fear of being cast out of their own culture. I get that aspect, it’s natural to not want to get kicked out and I’m not going to change the culture, so how would I respond? This is another freeze point. It feels like a snarkier response here is necessary to point out how silly that statement even is. Not to put them on the defensive but how not seeing color isn’t typical of how people see. Most of us see color in the literal sense so to say you don’t see color isn’t anything special. It just highlights a deficit and that you don’t recognize the beauty of color. That you’d rather live in a monochrome world. Right now it just makes me angry so I’ll have to think about this one a little more.
A behavior I’ve also noticed is deliberate ignorance. Pronouncing a name wrong (Riviera versus Rivera) or not taking the time to practice someone’s name if it’s not something they’re familiar with, conflating their name with another similar generic Caucasian name (Rivers versus Rivera), or being dismissive of the name altogether and giving them a more American nickname (Cindy versus Syieda). Yeah, there’s a layer of just being human here but the lack of attempt to try and get it right or even make fun of a name for not being white enough sucks. In this case, I just correct the name calmly and persistently. Another example of just pointing out what it is and reinforcing that. If I catch my kids doing that with a character on a TV show or something then I can also correct them in the moment and ask them to not be intentionally ignorant.
And I guess that the last bit that’s coming to my mind around all of this is the aspect of respect and finding this balance between respect and fear for me as a father and human navigating the world. I don’t want to rule my house or my life with some sort of iron fist but I don’t want to be a pushover and just tolerate what comes to me or what happens around me. I’ve always made the joke that I’m a ghost but really I’ve just been hiding and avoiding the need to set a boundary around how I’m treated, perceived, or thought of.
This protector is saying that if we’re going to go back out there and participate in life then you’re going to need me and I think they’re right.