"I hate me, because I'm an asshole."
My therapist frowned.
"Let's reframe that," she said, as she has hundreds of times. Then she proceeded to find a more positive way to express what I was feeling, and we moved forward.
She is trying to help me to be kinder to myself, and justifiably so- as a therapist, the last thing you want to do is join in on the berating session to which I regularly subject myself. Unfortunately, I find that it is one of the hazards of what I call "Life on the Third Ring." You see, I believe that we all are encircled by three rings of truth.
Most people, if asked, will say that for them, there is most decidedly an absolute truth about at least one thing in life, be it God, nature, love, etc. But compare those truths, and you will see that they are anything but absolute.
Therefore, most of us create an 'expected truth', which we share with the public. This is the first ring. It is the truth that we know to be acceptable. The truth of who we would earnestly LIKE to be, or feel we SHOULD be, presented as if it was already made manifest. Kind, generous, unbiased, strong, positive, happy, well-adjusted and (generally) sane exteriors greet us in the workplace, marketplace and school. And these adjectives litter the biographies of dating sites the worldwide web over.
However, once we are in a social situation that is populated with intimates, we allow ourselves to dance on the rim of the second ring. This one is the 'truth we can live with'. Perhaps we are not so positive and happy; our jobs are not satisfying, but we're taking steps to make a change. We are less than kind and generous; that person whom we consoled earlier in the day with so much warmth we really find to be an overdramatic drain on everyone. We are not adjusting well to life's hurdles, and our sanity feels like it hangs in the balance, due to our traumatic pasts.
The second ring is where many people stop. The truth they can tolerate is, in effect, the absolute truth to them, and the truth they are usually willing to share. It is the truth they wish to improve upon, and, while sometimes unsettling, the truth that seems universal.
But the third ring…This is the province of artists and demons. This is the place where we face the fact that we are negative and angry, petty and jealous. On this ring, we admit with disgust that we are weak and prejudiced, unhinged and insane. And we know, deep down- this is truth.
Out of this mire is born anguish and verse, pain and salvation. Because only once these horrors are mined, can they be understood and molded into warnings and awakenings, confrontations and comforts.
I have lived on the barbed wire that makes up the third ring my whole life, and the artistic spoils of it have upset my mother, embarrassed my husband, and alienated my friends who do not understand why I've had to drag them out into the light with my 'truth'. My ring is not theirs.
So, I've worked to be covert. I've developed a knack for metaphor and euphemism. I've cultivated a love for poetry, which can be cutting and pithy, while sounding soft and simple. But the times when I've truly tasted the value of a life on the third ring have been when I have laid all bare and someone said "This! This is my truth, too. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone."
It is lonely and barren in there, and sometimes I venture out to the second ring, just to stretch my legs and warm my hands by the fire of camaraderie. But I know my time is limited, and that, even unwillingly, I will return to the third ring, because someone has to live there, digging in the dark, and I know, it is my home.
And even as I type that, I can hear my therapist say,