“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense…” ~ Robert Frost, Mending Wall
When I was younger, I was a tomboy.
My father had always wanted a boy, and I was the closest thing to it as the female only child. Besides, my neighborhood consisted primarily of male spawn, and so it helped me assimilate.
I could throw a spiral, shoot marbles, was a force on a bicycle, and could craft a mean snowball on the rare occurrence of snow. However, one particular activity that occupied the majority of our non-school time was the building of forts—forts complete with glorious walls. Walls to protect, to surround, to attack from…they were vital to the “survival” of our village.
We constructed these walls from boards, brooms, bicycles, or whatever leftover element we could scavenge from nearby construction sites. Even then, we somehow knew to construct these divides. Were we taught to do so? Or was this innate—a leftover survival mechanism from our neanderthal ancestors? Either way, the walls were built.
Sometimes, wall-building seems like our only defense or a precautionary offensive move to save ourselves. Distance. Space. Privacy. When vulnerability is a weakness, we build walls. But why?
What are we walling in?
So often we forget that when we wall others out, it also means we are walling ourselves in. We are enclosing ourselves. Perhaps we feel it is a necessary means of self-preservation. We don’t want to appear accessible because that means we have to be honest with not only others but also ourselves.
When we allow ourselves to be open, to share, to be a part, we create intimacy. This intimacy can be used to hurt us, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves when we build walls.
And I should know, I was the queen of a good wall.
I understood its value in my life. It was easy to live inside of my construct and be an image of what I thought I should be—a happily married, successful, confident woman—which was the furthest thing from the truth. And the wall I thought was protecting my image was alienating me from realizing my own truth and allowing others to truly connect with me.
I will never forget the day I finally let down the wall—when enough was enough. When I finally felt so lonely and isolated and misunderstood that, in a moment of either insanity or clarity, I picked up the phone and called my good friend and neighbor and simply said,
“Would it surprise you if I told you I was absolutely miserable?”
And so my wall came crashing down. Finally, I owned my reality and allowed myself to share it with others. No more perfection. No more throwing the bigger and better party. No more happily married and smiling outwardly but crying myself to sleep at night. No more going over and above all reasonable expectation for no other reason than to protect the image. It took a trebuchet of truth to finally allow me to own my story.
And it was ugly.
The tearing down of things usually is. It’s messy and loud and full of unexpected events. Building seems so much more enticing; I spent years doing it to protect my secrets. I even papered it with flowers and moons to make it pretty. In the process, I walled myself away from every kernel of truth until eventually I was encapsulated in this tiny space with no room to breathe. Alone behind my wall.
What are we walling out?
So what was it I had been afraid of? Was I worried I’d disappoint my parents? That I wouldn’t live up to others’ standards? That I wasn’t a great wife, daughter, friend? That I wasn’t enough? Building the wall allowed me to hide, but it did not allow me to escape from those nagging insecurities.
Somehow, even with this mile-high concrete creation imposed, they managed to find their way in; they creeped into the crevices and encroached my safe space. Filling it with questions, doubt, and fear.
Honestly, the lies our brain will concoct in the name of self-preservation are hard to accept as falsehood sometimes. I created this divide to wall it all out when I should have had the self-awareness to understand that the insecurities were within me the entire time. Building the wall had simply given them power because it kept me from sharing these truths with others and accepting myself despite them.
“It comes to little more: there where it is, we do not need the wall.” ~ Robert Frost, Mending Wall
When we realize we do not need the walls, when we allow ourselves to crumble, to fall apart, and to speak our truth, we free ourselves.
I took a leap of faith by divulging my truth to a friend. It was horrifically scary; I felt exposed. It also was beautiful and cathartic and real.
Tearing down the walls we’ve allowed ourselves to create is no easy task. Could you get hurt in the process? Of course. Is honesty terrifying? You bet your ass it is, but so is living a life of walls.