Right in the feels

I wasn’t the most popular kid in school—especially middle school, where kids are especially good at being dicks. High school got a little better—I found a small niche in the theater crowd; but I never really found my stride. I was always on guard from the jocks or the wannabe gang bangers (was around DC, so there were a lot of kids trying to play the game). There were always people ready to shove me, knock the books out of my hand, get a group to laugh at me in the halls, make up names or spread rumors. Now sometimes I wouldn’t just take it. Haha, I had some pretty gnarly standoffs that my boy James could tell you about, if he was on here. Whew.

But I had to keep my heart bottled in—keep it away from the name calling and teasing.

College was a tad similar. I ran into a brand of Christian legalism and put-on piety that I didn’t really vibe with. Nearly got expelled from the Baptist school I attended, though that’s another story. Still, I had to keep my heart bottled in—away from the judgment of people I thought were my brothers and sisters. If they knew the stuff I did or wanted to do, I might lose my place in the club. That was my mindset at the time.

Military was along the same lines. They wanted me to be all hard and ready to die for my buddies or my country. There were good times and bad. Made lots of friends; lost a couple of them. Largely, I had to keep my heart bottled in. No time for feeling when there’s war about, you know? Weakness and all that.

But after the military, I started to let my heart out a bit. It was hard at first. I focused too much on work. Especially at my last job in North Carolina, I lived at the office. It was a startup, we all did, but after some initial loosening, I realized I was bottling in my heart again, keeping who I was locked behind the mountain of stress and responsibility.

Since on this quasi sabbatical after leaving my last job, I worked on my heart more. I talked a lot with close friends. I dated around—another area that was new for me, as some older friends can attest.

And I found that my heart has the propensity to feel deeply. Now, I’ve never been a cold person—I’ve always had friends and held a great interest for charity, helping others and fighting for causes. But when it comes to relationships, especially, I was surprised at how ready my heart is to charge off…and invariably get itself banged up from rejection. Ha! Silly little dude.

Yes, it hurts like a mofo every time I hear “just as friends” or “you’re not for me,” but it’s great at the same time. For all the emotional hangups I’ve had—the sessions with the VA, talking through deployment stuff, medicine and the like, it’s great to feel like I’m finally growing in these areas. After a lifetime of keeping my heart bottled up, it’s nice to see I didn’t kill the thing.

I sometimes describe it as rediscovering my naiveté—not in an ignorant or mindless sense, but in an effort to again hold the world as new. It’s painful and exhausting, but also pretty rad.

So to my vet friends who are struggling with rage or dreams or guilt or crap from our lives, talk to someone. I did and I’m better. Took some time, but it’s all gravy.

I’m reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis that my friend Nan shared with me a few weeks ago. I’ll leave you with that.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis

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About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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