24 March 2012

Inside the Batcave: Opening Up to Others

There I was, 10 years old and seeing Batman in the theater. It blew my mind, which I've addressed often in this blog (and anywhere else I've had the chance!). The one subplot that 10 year-old Travis didn't really get into was the romance between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale. Mind you, I totally got why Bruce wanted to get with Vicki. I even understood his trepidation about exposing his dual identity, and that it wasn't just being Batman that he risked sharing. It meant opening up to Vicki and letting her share in the torment he had carried ever since the night his parents were murdered and all the anguish that had driven him from that day to this. For years, he had struggled to manage the guilt and anger, and this would require him to articulate things that had gone unspoken for ages.

That can be very difficult for someone who is trying to cope with emotional distress. It's hard enough to get hold of oneself; actually saying the words to explain it to someone else can be excruciating. In fact, if you recall the scene in the movie where he goes to Vicki's apartment, his feeble attempt to explain the duality of his life is pretty awkward and confusing. He can't organize his own thoughts enough to make it make sense of Vicki. When she finally leaves the room, he's able to mouth the words, "I'm Batman." It would have been easier for him to confess being the masked vigilante than it would be for him to start sharing with her all the emotions he's carried--and buried. Think about that for a moment. Being Batman is almost immaterial in this context, because that's not the real secret he's trying to share.

I got all that, even at 10 years old. What I didn't get was why Bruce was goaded into it by Alfred. I always chalked it up to a plot contrivance, to spur on the subplot. There's no obvious or easy way to get Bruce there on his own, so we have Alfred broach the subject. After Bruce agrees that she's "tenacious," Alfred hedges by adding:
"And if I may say so, quite special. Perhaps you could try telling her the truth."
Why is it any of Alfred's business? Is he trying to live vicariously through Bruce? 10 year old Travis couldn't wrap his head around it.

The Travis who spent a year staving off suicidal depression, however, gets it.

It's normal, and perhaps even prudent, to not share all of our demons with just anyone. Some things are best kept private. There comes a point, though, where not sharing becomes unhealthy. I've written previously about the importance of building a support network. I can attest from firsthand experience that it does help to know there are people who are on the inside, who know the truth of my duality. Yes, this blog is public and I don't hide behind anonymity here, but you'd be surprised how many people I know--including blood relatives--who will never bother to even look at this blog. In some ways, Dear Reader, you know me as well as, and perhaps even better than, people who've spent time with me in person.

Sharing our burdens helps alleviate some of the stress of carrying them. Obviously, Alfred loves Bruce and wants to see him lose some of that stress. And, on a selfish note, it would be nice to not have to be the only one helping Bruce with such matters. It's important to remember that no matter how much our closest friends and family love us, it can still be isolating for them to be the only ones who know what's going on with us. After a while, they're not just in on our secret; they're keeping it, too. That can become difficult. I know. It cost me my marriage.

It's one of the scariest things in life to do, opening up to someone new. It requires a tremendous amount of faith and trust. It means allowing someone to know we're not just a millionaire playboy, but also a traumatized orphan whose means of therapy consists of nighttime vigilantism. In my case, it means explaining not just that I live with Crohn's disease and that I've fought severe depression, but also having to share all the myriad ways they have set my life completely off-track. I have to explain numerous aspects of my life, many of which are embarrassing and even humiliating.
At present, I'm in the roles of both Bruce and Alfred. I'm sharing my own dark side with someone new. In that context this blog has been my Alfred, sharing things for me to break the ice. It's a bit of a cheat, I suppose, but it's also one of the most rewarding perks of being so candid here. As Alfred, though, I'm trying to be supportive and encouraging to a dear friend who is embarking on a new romance of her own. I know how difficult it can be to open up about things, and I know how shallow a relationship feels until you do.

Being her friend at this time has really given me new insight into the subplot of Alfred, and now I understand something that 10 year old Travis couldn't have. It may have served as a plot contrivance, but it's also the truest element of the character. Keeping the secret of Bruce Wayne being Batman isn't the greatest sign of Alfred's love. It's wanting to see him find the peace that comes from sharing his secrets with someone trustworthy who will also love him.

I'm not advising you to share everything about yourself with just anyone. Caution is always advisable, for obvious reasons. But we need to surround ourselves with people we can trust to help us carry on with our lives--and we must also be there for them, in turn. The best way to have a friend, after all, is to be a friend.

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