An Unbearable Nakedness

The Nightmare of Being ( the album The Nightmare of Being by At the Gates

My Real Memoir

I had a recurring nightmare, beginning around age eleven. It evoked a landscape of dark red “hills” made of organs inside a diseased body. As I wandered alone, the ground would shrink away in pain, leaving me in constant fear of disappearing beneath a fold of flesh, never to return. My only hope was to lay hold of a tiny two-pronged sort of tuning fork. But I could never get close enough to grasp it.

What did it all mean?

Looking back, I believe it stemmed from a deep-rooted fear of rejection. While I don’t think it started with my father (I was born a bundle of feelings and impressions), his efforts to teach me to “be a man” and face life’s challenges, instilled a deep sense of conditionality in me: If I did what was expected, I would be accepted, praised, even loved. If I didn’t, I would be rejected, unloved and alone forever.

In second grade I underwent a personality transplant, turning first into class clown, and then artist and official storyteller. What changed? I’d woven a magical cloak from the things I could do that impressed people, and discovered I liked wearing it, craved the praise and—here’s the key word— acceptance it brought me.

But that magical cloak wasn’t me. Without it, I was naked, exposed for what I really was inside. Without the cloak, I would be rejected forever.

The recurring nightmare began, I suspect, following a familiar rite of passage. Like all pre-adolescent youths, I’d discovered it felt good to touch a certain part of my budding anatomy, and did so. But one morning, I left my bedroom door open, thinking I was alone in the house. I wasn’t. When my father spotted me, all he said was, “We have to talk.” I assumed he was disgusted, finding my actions shocking and utterly unacceptable. Of course, that assumption would have been put to rest if we’d talked. But he never brought it up again.

Result? I believed he was so disgusted that he no longer wanted anything to do with me. I waited weeks, months, expecting him to announce that he and Mom had decided to make me leave and never come back. That didn’t happen, so the nightmare gradually faded, disappearing altogether by the time I’d turned into a cocky, colorfully-cloaked actor and would-be rock star.

The nightmare made a final reappearance when I ran out of rent money in my early 20s and moved back home with Mom…and Dad.

My father never meant to teach me these things, of course. Just as I never meant to teach my oldest daughter something I’ve learned traumatized her for years. But, alas, what we mean to convey, and how our kids perceive those things, sadly, are often the stuff of nightmares.

And that “tuning fork”? I’d say one side is cloakless self-acceptance. And the other, the unconditional love and adoption of the One who made me…

Naked and cloakless.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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30 Responses to An Unbearable Nakedness

  1. Beautifully put. We definitely share the experience of challenging fathers. Your words spoke to my heart.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What an important message you have here, Mitch. As a parent, I feared having the necessary talks with my kids. As a great-grandmother still teaching, I’m working to figure out how to protect kids from the vast sources of exploitation that surround them. One of the features that’s most protective is for parents to welcome those conversations and help their kids feel the acceptance such openness provides. Wish my parents had gotten that. Wish I had gotten that for my kids’ sake. Maybe that’s what I need to pass on to my kids–that they can provide that openness to theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That was brave, Mitch, yet it’s something or similar we’ve all been through and for which we suffered too much; and since my own (adult) daughter might be traumatized by something I (under/)texted back the other night, this post suggested I shouldn’t even risk that — I sent an apology. ❤ Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. ejstoo says:

    Interesting. Where it can cause trouble for you with others is if you project that onto others and decide to come on like gang busters. That would indeed bring your fears to life as many would not accept being treated like the enemy. Hopefully through life you’ve learned to accept yourself. You don’t say what your father’s talk was about…I take it not positive. We can live our lives with what others have done or we can learn to accept who we are and move on to learn happier and healthier ways to cope. Very courageous to tell the story. .

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Yes such a difficult private topic. Having two sons all grown up and now with grandchildren I am sure with the new openness they will talk more comfortably. For me I prefer not to and feel embarrassed and sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love what you’ve shared about the tuning fork. Makes me feel beautiful peace. . . like striking the right note.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Abe Austin says:

    Have you ever read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge? I think you would particularly find that his parts about “the wound” and “the poser” resonate strongly with the experiences you are sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. AllenW says:

    My first thought about the tuning fork is that is your unconscious saying that the way to be “saved” from being absorbed into the flesh is through the perfect performance; a tuning fork gives you the perfect pitch every time. In that sense, you’re only hope of “acceptance” is perfection. It makes sense for an artist/performer/musician. The problem you faced though is that you were at that point still reaching out for the tuning fork and true to theology, your efforts fell short. At the same time, I can see the allusion to THE Savior because he is that perfect performance in your place.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dang, sorry you waited for the talk that never came😢

    This make me me want to attempt to explain my childhood repeating nightmare one day🤔

    I actually can understand it now. Thanks for sharing yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Me hace retroceder a mi niñez, sueños que nunca realice en mi infancia. Gran escrito, felicidades. Saludos

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hopefully, you found comfort,understanding, and forgiveness when you opened up your heart to the Word of God.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I suspect every parent has regrets about the things they wish they hadn’t done and those they wish they had with their children. We do the best we can at the time. I remember sitting in a seminary course as we talked about our families, thinking that someday my children would be talking about the places I had messed them up, just as I was on that day about my parents.

    Liked by 1 person

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