I took a wee break from the Lords of the Underworld series to whip through Molly Harper’s latest offering, Big Vamp on Campus. As you know, I love Half Moon Hollow, Kentucky, and all its wacky inhabitants. This installment of the series focused on Ophelia, the scary 400-year old teenaged vampire who used to run the Vampire Council. Ophelia was a bad vampire, and now she’s being creatively punished. Ophelia has been sentenced to college to learn how to live among humans and her fellow vamps in something approximating harmony. Either she is brought down a notch and learns to co-exist or she will get a stake in her heart which provides sufficient motivation for her to at least try to go along to get along. Her defenses were higher than the ice wall in Game of Thrones, and breaching those walls is going to take considerable time and effort. I could relate.
Most of us spend a goodly portion of our childhood and young adult years getting hurt and trying to figure out how to avoid getting dinged again. No one likes to get hurt, so we meticulously build our walls, brick by brick, channeling Pink Floyd until there isn’t a big bad wolf out there who can blow our houses down. We’re protected and we’re safe…. But also we’re separate and alone.
Interestingly, those fortresses are constructed without a lot of conscious effort. At heart, we are pleasure-seeking creatures who try to deflect pain. This is smart; pain hurts and pleasure feels good. And when something hurts, we want to protect ourselves from it. So we add another brick. We condition ourselves, like Ophelia, to assess what others want from us, what they can do to us and for us. We look for weaknesses to exploit, and strengths to fight against. We work to out-maneuver those who are trying to beguile us. We raise our hackles and don our armor. We go on the offensive, knowing that this is often the best defense.
And through all of these machinations, we insulate ourselves. I am a rock, I am an island, I touch no one and no one touches me. No wonder someone wrote these lyrics. These are very effective techniques. The problems come when we begin to realize that while we may not feel the pain of vulnerability, we’re not feeling much of anything else, either. And not only that, we often discover that we are increasingly exhausted and our reserves of energy are being systematically depleted to the point where we don’t want to go on. Alternatively, we may be forced into a confrontation with our defensive natures by virtue of the fact that others are tired of being skewered by our pointy parts.
I’ve written before about how there’s no variable speed button on our feelings. They are either on or off. Most unfortunately, we can’t choose to feel the love but not the pain, the joy and not the sorrow. Numb is numb at every level. And sometimes that numbness grows so gradually, that like that poor, overheated frog, we don’t understand that we needed to jump out of the pot until it’s too late—we’re cooked.
Sometimes the wake-up call comes in the form of a major health crisis, brought on by our consistent but unconscious efforts to sublimate pain. All of that unconscious work to protect ourselves saps our energy and depletes us to the point of sickness. Auto-immune disorders, the bane of twenty-first century existence, comes immediately to mind. What is an autoimmune disorder but our bodies’ way of saying, “Hey, this way of ‘living’ isn’t working! Wake up, dude, before it’s too late.” That happened to me; it took getting so sick that life was almost not worth living to reassess my priorities and get with a program that fed my soul and nurtured my body. The Universe definitely needed to knock me upside the head with the very bricks I’d used to build the defenses that were killing me. Poetic justice. Thankfully, I was finally able to listen and change, taking down my defenses, brick by brick, until I could feel again.
When I started making the changes necessary to live a healthy life, I noticed that others began to respond very differently to me. Ophelia learns this too. Turns out, when we’re not constantly on the alert for danger, we give off a much nicer vibe and others react accordingly. When I’m open, others can be too (well, at least those who are doing their own work to live awakened lives). When we drop the gauntlets and lay down the swords, we become more approachable. What a concept. For Ophelia, this means making friends among humans and vamps alike. For me it meant being able to accept the love and support my friends and family had been trying to provide over my objections. Turns out it’s nice to let others help us. Who knew?
Not Ophelia. Not me. But, we both came to learn, life without the guards is actually lovely. And while taking the walls down necessitates letting in occasional pain, the joy and pleasure are worth it. So I say make like those immovable men at Buckingham Palace and allow a changing of the guard. It’s fun, it really is. Just ask Ophelia.