Self-Made Prisons

Martha StewartI’ve spent some time in these, haven’t you? And it’s nothing like Orange is the New Black, wouldn’t you agree? There’s so much less witty banter and gut-wrenching excitement. Mine were more about living under a system of strict self-imposed rules that governed every aspect of my behavior. That whole desperate to fit in thing I struggled with for (honestly) decades was either a cause or effect of that particular prison. I think the rules kept me from reacting authentically, and made me impossible to know, rendering me uninteresting as a potential friend. Do you ever do that thing of replaying the day’s conversations in you mind and taking a fine-toothed comb to everything you said, checking for lice? Not one (perceived) wrong word escapes your notice. And they were all wrong. A self-made prison where every utterance rings off the walls until your head is filled with static, a total confusion about how to react. Free yourself!

And see, that’s the best part of this special prison system, where you’ve created the structure. You’re free to dismantle it and liberate yourself at any time. Who knew?

I’m not sure I knew. It’s especially hard to see that fact when you’ve externalized yourself. It’s that inside out person thing. I’ve for sure lived extended periods of time where I’ve obsessed so much about what my experience looks like from the outside I’ve stopped living it from the inside.

I’ve had friends tell me about becoming so internally embedded they took in no information from the external. Locked away with no word from the outside. Can’t see much in that state.

Let’s not make either a life sentence, shall we? I just discovered I’d been living out what I think will turn out to be a nine year term. I’d confined myself to a small, comfortable space, which wasn’t so bad. It was kind of a white-collar resort prison, better than some of the lock-ups I’d seen before. I had the essentials, I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

It’s too easy and tempting to set up these ultimately claustrophobic and stifling places. Some of us take it further and create a torturous dungeon, and not in an exciting sexual way. I did it because I need a certain level of structure. Yeah, I know I’m all “fuck authority!” but someone has to keep my outrageous impulses down, and I’m the only one from whom I can accept direction. Sometimes I’ve clamped down too hard and created a prison. Sigh.

I really want to be better about this. I want to be able to spot when I’ve begun building the cell, before I put too much energy into it and have to live in it in order to meet the cost-benefit analysis. Wait, that makes no sense. Neither does constructing a prison and throwing the book at yourself. For me, this is going to begin with a decision to pay less attention to my environment, and more to my perception of it. That will mean I’m living in the world, rather than taking a deep dive into the details from which its constructed.

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6 thoughts on “Self-Made Prisons

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