Part 1 – Origins
Since our fire our family has been struggling with middle of the night panic attacks. Most likely mine are brought on by the realization that had we just stayed asleep, we would have been dead from carbon monoxide poisoning long before smoke alarms could have woken us. The fire started in the AC HVAC unit in our garage and spread through the AC Duct work. We were told by the fire chief that there is no many toxic substances that the fumes would have knocked us out before the smoke entered the house. I was woken groggily by my wife shouting, I never even heard the loud knock on the door that woke my wife from her chemically induced slumber at midnight.
For about 2 years my wife and I have had this way of saying “this is my issue” when we are catching strong emotional reactions to something that kicks our fight instincts into high gear. We call these feelings “old Smurfs”.
Why “Smurfs”? ( Aside from the fact that we are the same age and this was one of our favorite Saturday morning cartoons as kids).
An odd source of inspiration for a word of the day I would say, however my wife and I have discussed the idea of the word not mattering as much as each other since we first met. We still have “our people”… the close group of friends we keep in spite of diving into a world where we have a new center of attention outside of ourselves. She is the inspiration I have to create something beautiful that expresses what she means to me… In this regard, we came up with some safe words… Smurf is probably the one we use the most. They are an interesting band, and somehow does in fact relate to us…
The way we use our safe word “Smurfs” (normally we call it “old smurfs” when we say it…) to us means “this is not you, it’s me”. it is a way to explain that we are wounded and we know it wasn’t the fault of the other.
Why Smurfs? These little blue creatures exist as facets of the human psyche… Each one assigned a specific emotion and human trait or necessary job. Jokey with inappropriate humor that often hurts others without intent. Clumsy who by no true fault of his own, his carefree distracted and upbeat personality always causing calamity and disaster which he feels terrible about. Dreamy, who’s always lost in his own little world, frequently forgetting to complete a task or failing to fulfil his duty. Greedy smurf who takes without giving back… he cares for his family, yet his own needs become more important… Vanity who gazes longingly at his own reflection and sees no beauty in the world apart from himself. Liar who’s constant need for hyperbole sends him into spirals of lies to cover lies to cover lies until his house of cards crumbles and to save the day he must admit the truth… Panicky, who’s constant overreacting to situations causes more problems then it solves, who’s fear and neurotic nature drive him and all those around him into a state of constant high energy frantic and manic avoidance… and Weepy, who is either so depressed about life’s little problems that he is miserable, or is so overjoyed he is moved to tears at every turn. Each one of these creatures representing what Sigmund Freud called the “id” of human emotion or pleasure seeking and avoidance drives. The id is the meat machine. The Superego the conscience, and the Ego the part of the body that decides which to listen to in any given moment. They are all entirely lovable still, each one of them entirely predictable, yet each one has strengths that allow them to help and even save the others when their unique emotional skillset is put to good use… Each capable of providing needed levity, or insights, entertainment, or relief. Smurfette providing them with a muse, a damsel in distress, a nurturer, a “raison d’etre”, she is often the catalyst for them uniting in action, the reason to put their own lives on the line and risk everything.
Papa smurf acting as the proverbial superego overseeing each of these little demons and angels with compassion, patience, love… Papa capable of loving each and every one of them for exactly who they are without trying to change them… He coaches them, and tunes their skills, attempts to channel their strengths into positives, and when they cause a mess he helps them clean that mess up. He is kind, loving, gentle and understanding… and even he has moments of weakness, where he becomes frustrated, and his controlled anger comes out. In the end he finds the little ones who’s feelings are hurt and embraces them and tells them he is sorry, and shows them love once again.
Part 2 – For My Love
Today scaredy smurf came knocking at the door of your mind listing all the ways I could hurt your children. He told you that he thought you should defend them from me, and while the idea was one that neither of us thinks is necessary, panic smurf had his back all the way begging and pleading with you to step in and do something. I met those as papa would have… with love, understanding, respect, honor… promised to keep them safe… helped them see that not everything that could hurt them would happen… I am the kind of step father who loves, and wishes to be loved in return… The way the man you now call “dad” has protected you and been your rock and source of comfort over the years.
The reason we chose “SMURF” as our safe-word as we embark on life’s risky adventures… is to remind us that in moments of distress, all our emotions are facets of us… To remember that “anger is not a real emotion” . Anger is the defense mechanism we tend to place on other emotions in order to mask our weakness. Anger can replace pain, it can replace fear, it can also easily stand between us and anxiety or panic. Anger can be substituted for tears. It has this amazing ability to mask over anything… including the feeling of loss we all have from the fire, and the questions in our minds that have flowed through us for these past few months… All those “what ifs” an unnecessary defense mechanism we have in order to feel like we can avoid some kind of accident and near death experience the “next time” it happens. The chances of this ever happening again are slim, and if it were to happen again we are far more prepared with carbon monoxide detectors and several full sized fire extinguishers distributed though the house. It unfortunately though, does not quiet all those “old smurfs” that run around us screaming we are in trouble and we need to act.
All of these defense mechanisms evolved to save us, protect us, help us overcome our trepidation and our pain, act as armor to shield us, and even force us into action when our conscious mind has shut down in fear and doubt, preventing us from making use of our time and pushing our lives towards fun, play, and discovery. Each of these Smurfs is a member of the family of our soul, and worthy of all the love the little blue guys got from us as kids laying on the floor in front of our “huge” 20 inch television sets with feet crossed behind us, resting on a pillow and looking up at the few hours of cartoons we got every weekend through our fuzzy and rarely perfect TV antenna signals on one of the five channels we had, during those precious hours on Saturday morning where we could sit and watch shows made for kids.
I want us both to be able to use this word when one of our inner-smurfs is banging at the door and too noisy for us to ignore… I want to try to put away our anger, and just isolate the true emotion, listen to it, appreciate what it is trying to tell us, validate it as real and necessary and recognize the risk that it is pointing out as REAL and TRUE… Assess if this is one of those times when we should listen to our little blue inner Smurf and alter ourselves to accommodate the fear or stress… Or perhaps to even exit a “relatively safe” situation that could in some way make that poor little blue guy more damaged.
So we can sit down with him and comfort him, and let him know that our love will survive or thank him for helping to protect it. I never want an army of smurfs at the door of our minds saying “I told you so”. Murray and Joel (the names we give to our subconscious protectors) will be our Papa Smurfs… and they will unleash them on us when they are needed, and we should always listen, never ignore… We don’t want to go through life suppressing pain or fear. That is not the answer to this. There is nothing silly about catching emotional feelings during a moment that reminds us of a major childhood stress or trauma. For me they are those things the bullies forced me to do which created these Smurfs for me:
Spreading rumors, spreading lies, calling me names, forcing me to be “normal” in a world where normalcy would most certainly drive me insane. Locking me out of inner circles where I belong and could accel. Holding me back so that my talents didn’t overshadow them or others. Stipping off the “girly” things I loved to do like sing, dance, act, even my desire to wear nail polish… all things you “saved” and gave back to me when we met.
Most importantly we should love each and every cute and cuddly one of ours and the others Smurfs fairly, equally, and with designed intent. We recognize their shortcomings and their faults but we don’t discount them. No single emotion or trait should ever get all of our focus or we will spiral into anger, fear, doubt and anxiety that induces panic. They can’t be pushed away or stomped on. We need to pick them up and hold them close and tell them “i’ve got you”.
We are both strong enough to defeat our anger… we are both strong enough to defeat our doubts an our fears and run head first into these challenging situations (or in your case… stand in the middle of the road like a bull demon, with your horns down and feet firmly planted, and rip the oncoming car in half). Each of these strong emotional reactions deserve attention, they each deserve time and effort. We should always be patient with them even when we don’t want them around, like little children crying at our door when we would rather be swimming in pleasure…
Today we have come to frequently use this term in conversation. I notice your tight lips and sad eyes and ask “What’s Wrong”. You are usually quick to respond
“it’s not you… just old smurfs”
Often you don’t want to discuss it, and over the years I have learned not to pry that little blue guy out of your hands in order to comfort him myself. When they belong to you, the only one who can return him to the safety of their little home, is for you to see it… for exactly what it is, and tell it everything will be alright.
We use the term “Stepping on old smurfs” often as well. This means that one of us is doing an action that in some way is hurting the other. We recognize that this is never our intention… How could anyone avoid stepping on cute little invisible beings running around our feet? Even though we both know our past is filled with trama and we tread as lightly as possible, sometimes those guys freeze in fear like a deer in the headlights and we still manage to stomp on one. Sometimes hard. It is inadvertently attacking the other. The firsts step towards coming together so that we can put that feeling to rest and return home… is to admit it is real, valid, and being triggered by something we are doing. I believe we have gotten quite good at this. The safe word “old smurfs” has worked very well for us… especially since the fire… as that fire has dug up massive old wounds and created several new ones (like losing every karate belt I ever earned a stripe on… or losing the fencing gear I have had countless fencing matches wearing). We lost a lot of stuff… but luckily in spite of the feeling that we might lose each other as a result of so much loss… our smurfs have not only pulled us apart, but in many ways have held us together.
Part 3 – More than Unconditional Love
We know today that our bond is more than just one of unconditional love. We have a bond of trauma that we both share with one another openly. This bond makes us immensely vulnerable so it comes with unconditional trust as well. This radical openness that began the day we met means we can understand each other’s Smurfs so well. We both have carbon copies of each and every one of them swimming around in our souls and occasionally they escape and run around wreaking havoc on our love and our life, home life, or in my case… my work. If we allow them to take over, we may end up in a situation that is difficult to overcome with nothing but our defense mechanisms converting scary emotions into anger… but we both know the moment they are truly seen, recognized, and understood… they are calmed… We can then share their origin story, brought to the surface of our conscience through remembering where that feeling first entered our lives as we lost a piece of our childhood innocence and replaced it with a cute little blue child we call a “Smurf”. This is not a fight between our super-ego and a giant scary demon. It is a fight against the child who was hurt so badly that they became a demon. We can sooth them back into their homes where they feel safe only by stripping them of their weapons, and then seeing them for what they are… a frightened, scared, and often deeply wounded child on a battlefield they should never have been on to begin with.
One important reason to view our demons as Smurfs and not giant unwieldy devil-like character, is so that we can put a cute gentle face on those fears. They are truly us as children. A small flashbulb memory of the defenseless child. What we all tend to do, is take these snapshot memories and remove ourselves from them. We replace ourselves with someone far less vulnerable in those memories… I take the moment of being smashed across the head and face with the butt of a wooden toy rifle for entering a neighbors yard to watch the teenagers skate on a half pipe… I take that moment and I see myself as the bold and dangerous fire dragon. He can take a blow to the head without ending up in a hospital or crying home to mom. I light myself on fire in that moment, and I take that rifle in my teeth and I coil around and choke that bully… squeeze the life out of him… and breath blazing inextinguishable dragon fire into his face…. that was how I used to replay these memories… the regrets of “what I should have done”… Rather than be a victim. Today when I feel that attack coming, that wooden bat-like weapon swinging towards my face… I imagine all my skills and all my power that I have earned since then, and I replay it as if it was me as an adult… with anger, rage, honed chaotic adrenaline mainlined and channeled into singular purpose “Destroy”. This is not a healthy outlet… it is not a way to overcome… So with Smurf… I pour water over that dragon in my mind… I steal his pearl (chinese dragons are lucky coi fish who find a pearl and metamorphosize into a dragon)… He becomes small and helpless coi once again… I then turn him back into the little defenseless boy I was… A frightened 5 year old… and I let him become wheapy smurf… I pick him up and I hold him in my arms and I comfort him, and tell him “yes… I know that happened. I know that was scary, and I know it hurt… I know you want to make sure no bully ever beats you that way again just for being you. No one will ever hurt you that way again… I promise… you can put the dragon away, he is not needed anymore”. Then when he has been comforted enough, I hold him closer… say “you are loved exactly as you are… be that weak child and I will protect you from now on… “. I let him swim back into my soul… the child of 5… stripped of the weight of carrying that demon dragon armor with him. A small piece of my childhood healed.
Your smurfs all matter to me, each and every one of them as important as the others… I will never discount them, I will never be angered by them, I will never wish they weren’t there or be frustrated by them. All your pain deserves to be there. I would never tell you to “get over it”… I will listen to every smurf of your heart with patience and kindness… you will never need to hide them from me, or pretend they don’t exist… no moment in life will ever be more important than our hundreds of little blue demons. They are us… as children… crying for help in a world where we felt no one seemed to listen. So they grew strong… We stockpiled them in our hearts and they escape from time to time to be stepped on by each other or anyone who happens to be within stomping range of us. They don’t need to be squashed, or hunted down, or killed, or used and manipulated into something else… they just need to be heard, understood, validated, and sometimes heeded.
I will honor all the pieces of your heart, mind, and spirit as a protector of the elements that make up this beautiful creature that I love all of. I will listen with intent, and I will act without resentment, I will leave any pleasure behind for the security of your soul. Nothing matters more to me than that.