By Morgan Lee Cataldo
When I Was A Warrior: Hanging Up My Armor
A few years ago as I was sitting in a counselor development workshop, I felt a sharp jolt of sadness when my partner reflected, “It sounds like you’ve understood what happened intellectually, but it also strikes me that you perhaps haven’t let yourself feel it yet.”
“How could that be?” I wondered. I’ve cried so much about all the things, you see. But I don’t think I had truly seen, and as I wept, what came out of me was, “I wish I didn’t have to feel this way. I don’t want to cry anymore. I don’t want to have to grieve.”
So much of my life has been like this: getting angry about feeling hurt. In some act of resistance, I hadn’t realized that for such a long time, I had built intricate armor around myself in the hopes of not letting anyone in – including myself. It worked devastatingly well.
Late last year, something came loose inside me. It felt like something huge broke off inside my chest and dropped down somewhere in my guts.
At around this time, I wrote – “There’s only so many times my heart can keep eating itself.” I also wrote, “Love doesn’t feel like this.”
It took courage for me to come to the realization that the true ‘enemy’ in all my relationships, was in fact, me.
All the expectations and conditions I wrapped around things had become so knotted, I couldn’t breathe. Conflict would send me into throes of self-flagellation that I was completely unlovable and everyone would surely leave me in the end. I think these thoughts came up to mask my own fear of true intimacy and connection with others. I thought I understood vulnerability, until I realized I didn’t.
It struck me that it didn’t matter anymore where these patterns of behavior came from. That my father was too much of this, or my mother too much of that – it didn’t matter how much I understood my attachment style, or how I had gotten the way I had – the only thing that seemed to matter was that I was this way and it wasn’t working anymore.
The armor I had crafted over the years had become intertwined with my own skin – and I didn’t know where the armor ended and I began – because it was all one.
The stories fuelled my behavior and my behavior pushed me away from those I loved the most, including – most importantly, myself.
Trust me when I say I think the whole concept of ‘self-love’ is some kind of bullsh*t – what does it even mean? How does love yourself look, exactly?
What I’ve learnt, up until very recently, is that love is a process.
Getting to know who I am and what I truly believe – outside of everything I have been told to believe, is a process. Looking at photos of little me and beginning to feel the warmth of familiarity, is a process. Looking at myself in the mirror and getting to know who I am now, is a process.
I believe that it takes countless, small, but intentional moments like these to get to un-know who we thought we were and become acquainted with who we want to show up as now.
For years, I was a self-proclaimed warrior. I have typically been labeled by others as ‘strong’, ’empowered,’ and ‘honest,’ and I had grown a skin believing that this was so.
What I didn’t realize, is that true strength lies in the ability to be vulnerable, in a commitment to fierce authenticity despite judgement, and in daring to give other people a chance beyond the labels (oh, the labels).
If I claim to be someone that works to bring these aspects out in others, then I damn well need to make sure I’m walking the talk. What lies in true vulnerability, is risk, and for a long-time, I allowed control to take the driver’s seat. I do not believe that you can be truly vulnerable with others, whilst still thinking you have control of the outcome. I’ve realized I have absolutely no control over anyone, only my reactions to other people’s behavior and being mindful not to allow behavior to completely define how I see others or trust in their capacity to grow.
Consciously taking this armor off has been painful, and wondrous. I no longer feel like I have to define myself as much other than Morgan who comes with a litany of experiences and past-identities. What gets me through my days with a sense of some sort of peace is asking myself, “Does it have to be this way? Could I show up any differently here?” The answer to those questions, for such a long time, was a strong and loud, “No.” No, I couldn’t show up differently because he was an asshole, or she was selfish or they didn’t understand.
I lived, worked and loved through those lenses daily until something came falling down and I realized that I had imprisoned myself, and others, through ‘good-and-bad’ type filters that were stopping me from connecting intimately with those around me.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still people I’d rather not be around and I still feel like I see certain structures for what they are, the difference now is the space that has opened up inside of me. My capacity to say, “Speak up, and see what happens,” has allowed me to dry-clean my armor and hang it up for when it might be necessary.
Now I prefer to live in the risk of the freedom of self-expression – particularly given my privileges in being able to do so – and support others in doing the same in ways that feel right for them.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment.