Shame is a bear, hiding in a cave, hibernating. Biding its time.

Shame stalked me for years. My flop sweat made me easy to track.

I scrambled over rocks; it stepped over them. Huge bear legs. Huge bear claws.

I climbed trees; it tore them down and ate them.

Bears have a secret weapon. They seem cute. It's their fur. It's their army of snuggly little stuffed clones, stuffed deep under the covers, stuffed into the arms of big-eyed innocent children. We feed them shame.

You are such a spoiled brat! I can't take you anywhere. You're always late. You just do the bare minimum, every time. Why do you always act like this? You got a 94? Where are the other 6 points? I don't know what's wrong with you.

I lied. I didn't scramble over very many rocks. I hardly ever climbed a tree. I ran to the bears.

I guess I thought I was climbing trees, though. I told myself that. Affirmations. Pride. Feminism. Our college motto: "Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!" Yes definitely: proud, smart, strong, deserving. Intellectually. Pride is important. But it was a defensive pride, a shield I claimed against the bears. I didn't understand, then, that the bears were inside me.

Intellectually: pride. Emotionally: bears. I ate lunch in the cafeteria, surrounded by friends making plans to hang out. I shriveled inside, sure that at any moment they would acknowledge that they didn't mean me, that the invitation was only for a select group of them. I got into their cars, went to their dorm rooms and their houses, convinced that they didn't really like me, that they had only allowed me to tag along because it would have been more awkward to flat-out say in front of everybody that they were excluding me.

Bears attract bears. I created situations that fed my bears. I couldn't do otherwise. When you are so afraid of your own unworthiness, you can't set boundaries. You don't deserve (in your mind) to say please don't eat me. You don't know there are people who aren't masquerading bears. When you don't know that not everyone is a bear lying in wait, you can't choose people who aren't bears. You need people. You don't know that some of them are people, and not at all bears; you think so, but you can't be sure. You can't winnow them out. Some of my friends were friends; some were werebears; and some were just plain bears, manipulating and clawing at the rest of us with glee.

"Werebears" sounds cuter than it is.

Werebears, I think now, are people whose shame and rage have eaten their insides, like the boy with the fox, until they are so full of pain that they don't know how to interact with you right anymore; they stumble through social interactions like a drunkard stumbling through a dark room full of chairs, sometimes successfully sitting in one, sometimes falling over one and knocking over a little occasional table and breaking a vase. One of my werebears never got any help with the pain, tried for so many years to drown it out with therapy and prescription drugs and illegal drugs, until it killed her. Dead of pneumonia at age 31, officially.

Unofficially, she had been assaulted by someone she may have been dating, from whom she was almost certainly buying drugs. Unofficially, even without that, her heart had been weakened by all the drugs. Bears do weaken your heart; always emotionally, sometimes physically too.

I might have been a werebear, myself. So much rage in one small package. So much fear. I was caught always between my deep-seated belief that I was not good enough and doing everything wrong, and my deep-seated need to hide it from others. Sure I was late everywhere, but it was your fault for... getting mad about something so stupid! Sure I made out with a boy who I knew liked me, who I wasn't interested in - but I needed to bribe him to get a ride home! Sure, I had a huge fight with my boyfriend and tried to strangle him - but it had gotten physical already, and I couldn't see any other way to end the fight!

Bears want to make you one of them.

The bears among us weren't any different; they were just farther along in the process. Crazier, with fewer checks on their craziness.

Close the loops. Make the connections. BEAR equals FEAR. Just sloppily written.

All I can tell you is that shame equals fear. Shame, terror, guilt, nervousness, anxiety, procrastination, control issues, hopelessness, codependence, stress, avoidance, dissociation, anger, they're all faces of fear.

Fear will kill you. Bears will eat you.

I wanted a cave full of bears. I thought it would be warm to sleep in. Just a big pile full of bears. I used to want all my living arrangements to resemble the dorm. Just a big pile full of friendly people. The fewer boundaries the better. I wanted people around like I wanted love. Seemed like basically the same thing; where else do you get love from?

I sought them out. I always had a somebody on the back burner. A list of somebodies, and my eyes out for more. People I had crushes on, people who had crushes on me; people who might be easy to call upon if I got lonely or if the relationship I was in ended. I needed the high of new relationship energy to hide the fear.

It was the same sweet hit I got from noding, oddly. From posting something late at night and returning the next morning to gather my XP and C!s. That brief, intense, whiskey-like burn of approval. Acceptance. What felt like love. But with noding, it didn't last as long.

I stacked 'em, too. It was the same principle, for me, as the bear cave of a dorm. I wanted to surround myself with people who could care for me and love me and be the warmth and sunshine that you don't get in a bear cave.

That abusive boyfriend was one of the biggest bears, and I the worst with him. He seemed so soft and sweet, when we were alone - which was the most annoying part, because then none of my friends believed me about him. It was like dating Snuffleupagus, if Snuffleupagus were also Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Big puppy-dog eyes. He just can't help coming off as snarky and supercritical! He's only that way around YOU! I see the real Damien!

It was my bears who dated him. I was already dating a perfectly lovely woman... all right, an unrecovered alcoholic and drug addict (among other problems) who had as much passive-aggressive desperation as I did. But in comparison to Damien, a perfectly lovely woman. And then, after some desultory making-out, Damien professed his love for me. I told him that I didn't feel the same way. He was so disappointed and saddened, so flattened out. I caved in. Oh, just kidding, really I realize that I totally do also love you. The things that people will believe when it suits them.

I was such a codependent. I had "permission" to be poly, with the one caveat that she wanted to be my primary partner. But Damien insisted on the same thing! And I couldn't bear the darkness of the cave that I imagined would result from losing one of them. So I lied, blithely telling both of them whatever they wanted to hear, lies upon lies. They bore it. Eventually I crumbled under the pressure of maintaining two dysfunctional relationships at once, each of whom hated the other, while trying to graduate a semester early, while taking over my roommate's parenting duties while she detoxed from heroin, while trying to change my major. I abandoned the nicer one, sticking with the one I was more frightened of for six more months. Natch.

It wasn't the first time I had been in a poly relationship, nor would it be the last. But it was the manifestation of a long-held belief that a triad or V-shape, three people dating each other or one person dating two, would be the most stable configuration for a relationship. After all, I reasoned, a stool with three legs is stable where one with two legs is not. (A totally irrelevant metaphor I had read in several poly articles.)

It would take me several years to realize what my real reason was for wanting to date two people at once. I wanted a family. I wanted parents, really: people who would love me unconditionally and pay a tremendous amount of attention to me. I was willing to give all my love in return. I wanted my bears to protect me, to fend off attackers with their claws, ideally to rip their heads off and possibly eat them.

Bears hide under the rug, thinking you cannot see them. Living haunted by bears is like living in a house in which the rugs are mounded up over the various mysterious objects that have been swept under them.

Auspice says Oh man. I tend to be like, either overly clingy/open with people
or scared of imposing. It's the worst thing. And then my bears come out once they open up and such.

I laughed so loud when I read that. That is exactly how it was for me. And I never had any particular control over whether I was wide open beyond what boundaries we were supposed to be having, or terrified to share myself with them. It was like being drunk.

I live somewhere else now, where there are no bears. They hibernate, though, it's true. They can wake up and sniff the trail. Bears can travel hundreds and hundreds of miles, back to the start.

In AA they say something like if you're not moving forward you're moving backward. This is why the first nine steps are for cleaning up all of the baggage from the past - those boulders the bears like to hide behind, those trees they like to climb to get you - and the last three are ongoing actions you take all the time. Cleaning as you go, instead of sweeping under the rug.

If you keep doing it, the bears stay asleep and you stay away from the bears. You notice when fear, anger, dishonesty, or selfishness crop up, and you tell somebody about it, turn it over, and focus on how you can be of service in the world instead. You connect with a higher power, whatever that is for you - God, Goddess, your intuition, the Universe, synchronicity, whatever - and let it lead you to the next right action. You find other people who are suffering from bears, and help them out of the woods. You can get remarkably far this way.

If not, the fear keeps coming up, in all its forms. The bears can smell fear. They follow you, trap you into all your old anxieties and patterns, all those tangled masses of thorny underbrush that never worked for you.

You only ever need to get twelve steps away from the bears, because you're taking those steps with seven-league boots. It's like having a flamethrower for emotional crap.

I've tried other things... therapy, self-help books, blah blah blah.... Nothin'. In high school I was caught in a tangled web of control and emotional abuse with some folks I roleplayed with. I read all the books I could find about Clear Communication and Making "I Statements" and Setting Healthy Boundaries. I was sure that if I could just get them to understand my side of things, all the drama would disappear. It was like... well, talking to a bear. Nothing. Just meaningless roars and claw-swiping. I did therapy off and on, for stints between a day and a year, with an equal amount of change in my life. More self-awareness, perhaps, a few different decisions, but no difference on the whole, because the same bears were still lying underneath the carpet.

So I have to tell you about things like Codependents Anonymous and Emotions Anonymous. Going to meetings, getting a sponsor, and working the steps. Bear repellent. It's the only way.

And an epilogue I have to add, after the Damien story: I got into recovery about 4 years later; so did ammie. We got married in 2010, after three years in the first healthy, joyful, sane relationship I've ever had.

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