After consulting my spice cabinet and discovering I had no paprika or garlic cloves, I’ve decided to spare the replacement cat. But if she gets me up before the alarm just one more time she will be featured in a recipe. For those of you who don’t trust my change of heart (and you shouldn’t. I don’t even have a heart), here’s a picture for you.

Note the green tinge; that’s either from the seasoning or bad lighting. I’ll let you decide.

I usually just go there for the pictures, but Wende wrote a(nother) brilliant post about labels – the ones we give ourselves, the ones we want others to give us, and the ones we give other people. It gave me quite a pause.

Years ago, I was in a kind of encounter group where one person was chosen and everyone else wrote a positive thing and a negative thing about that person. Then those comments were combined into two lists and given back to the sacrificial lamb person. Since it was supposed to be anonymous, some of it was vicious. Day after day I watched people fall apart as they read aloud what other people thought of them.

I’m not a morning person. Even at my happiest, I’m not an effusive person. One morning I walked to the common kitchen to get some coffee and one of the guys (who happened to be gay, which always made me wonder if that played a part in what happened later) greeted me with a very happy, very chipper “Good morning! How are you!”

I was half in a coma. I just stared at him for a second. Since my brain was not fully functional I was unable to trip that switch that filters out unacceptable responses and prevents me (sometimes) from saying the first thing that pops into my head.
My response was, “Fuck you.”

He looked horrified. Then he looked hurt. And then he laughed uproariously. My coma-brain didn’t register the first two expressions until later – much later. All I heard was the laughter and so I didn’t apologize because I thought it was okay.

But then it was my turn on the “hot seat” as they dubbed the emotional feeding frenzy. And that guy was furious – and waiting for me. That person’s counselor ran the “hot seat” groups and I happened to have a younger, less experienced counselor.

Her first mistake was to hand me the lists before everyone had arrived, so I had a chance to see what was coming. Most of it was things like, “has a temper,” “sarcastic,” “doesn’t think about other people” but a few of them were pretty bad. I don’t remember what they were – mostly because I have the ability (if you can call it that) to blank out emotionally. I can turn it off, get through the situation, and then later, I don’t recall what was said. I’ve always been that way. I’ll remember the general argument, but never the specifics. It’s a defensive mechanism that I’ve always used.

I read my list of “liabilities.” The counselor asked me if I would like to comment on it. I said, “No, not really.” She asked me what I thought about it. I said, “I guess that’s what people think.” So the counselor started around the room, getting everyone’s input. I never acknowledged the truth of any of the “liabilities” – I would simply agree with whatever the person said to me. “I can see how you could draw that conclusion” – stuff like that. Then the happy fag attacked. He said I was rude and gave my comment to him (and lack of apology) a few days earlier as an example of my lack of respect for other people. I let him lash me. Then I asked him why he laughed and asked him how I was insensitive when he never let me know his feelings were hurt. Even though I knew I was in the wrong, I turned it all back on him and acted surprised by his anger.

And I survived it.

Afterwards, the counselor told me I had to do it again because I had taken control of the group, hadn’t participated fully, and never allowed the discussion to get personal. I told her I had done everything she asked me to do and it wasn’t my fault if it hadn’t gone the way she thought it should have. She told me she was going to take it to the director of the program and I agreed that she should – if she really wanted him to know that she had lost control of the group and wasn’t able to do her job. She dropped it.

Yeah, I was kind of a bitch back then. On the other hand, it was merely self-preservation.

Which is what it has always been about for me.

The problem is that now those labels – bitch, selfish, impatient, rude – are working against me. They aren’t even really true anymore, if they ever were. How hard is it to tear off those labels and let people see who I really am? It’s harder than it looks. Even when I grit my teeth and straighten my spine and let it all go, no one really believes it anyway.

I’ve played a lot of games in my life, keeping people at a distance and refusing to let anyone know what I feel. What I think is usually out there – but sometimes I make you look for that, too.

Sometimes self-preservation is a real killer.