When I was a kid, one of my favorite Halloween costumes was a homemade jack-o-lantern pumpkin head costume. I got dressed up in my dad’s orange, hunting sweatshirt. Then we zipped it up all the way and placed a plastic jack-o-lantern on top of my head and tightened the hood to hold it in place. I could see through the gap between the zipper and the drawstring, and not a single neighbor in the homes we stopped by knew it was me under that get up. I was a tall, pumpkin headed mystery. It made me invisible and I fooled everyone.
I spent a lot of time trying to be invisible while growing up. I got really good at it too. It wasn’t hard to understand that if I stayed out of the way and didn’t get noticed, I didn’t get hurt as much. I didn’t even realize the real me was fading away in the process.
I trained myself to believe I didn’t matter by doing my best to not have any needs. I diverted attention away from me by becoming a people pleasing chameleon. I hid away inside my body, using food to numb myself and using my size as a buffer between me, the world, and all the people in it. I dissociated and escaped into books to hide from my thoughts. These coping skills worked really well, but in a really damaging way. I avoided some of the abuse, but didn’t get to establish a true sense of self in the process.
As an adult, I continued with the same coping skills, but they didn’t do me much good anymore. I became extremely independent as a way to control my environment. I really did have needs, but I behaved as though I didn’t matter. In my need to feel safe, I had built up a great big wall to protect myself. As a result, I felt more and more alone. I wasn’t vulnerable or visible enough to let people into my life, and I ended up with huge needs that had never been fully met. I truly felt invisible at times and believed that no one cared about me, but that wasn’t the truth at all. What was true was that I had hung on to my old coping skills for too long and, by my behavior, I was constantly communicating to the world the idea that I was invisible and didn’t matter.
It has taken a conscious, painful effort to become more visible. For me its about being physically, emotionally and spiritually present in the world. I am visible when I take up space or ask for what I need and want in an assertive way. Visibility is about facing my fear of people by getting out of my apartment and taking a walk, even though I may feel panicky or anxious about being seen. Being seen also means showing the world I matter by not letting everyone walk all over me. Visibility is me being brave enough to write a public blog about my abuse and healing experiences. Being visible means that I’m vulnerable to being hurt by the world and the people in it, but it also means that I’m vulnerable enough to connect in a meaningful way. For me, visibility means that I’m showing the world who I really am for the first time, regardless of what anyone may think.