The Girl in the iron mask

Ever self-sabotage? Ever think you’re doing something in the name of progress only to discover you’re not? This reminds me of the 1998 movie adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ novel, The Man in the Iron Mask.

The story goes that identical twin boys are born. The older brother becomes heir to the throne, while the other is secreted away and raised by peasants. Neither child knows about the other.

One day, the younger brother is imprisoned and fitted with a solid iron mask and remains this way for years. The older brother becomes king. He is lavish and cruel and rules France to almost ruin.

Enter the famous Musketeers. Of them, one is a loyal mentor and protector to the rightful king. While the other three detest their king and plan to replace him with his identical twin.

After the brother swap, however, it’s evident to everyone that the king is different. He is kind and sweet and slowly returning hope to France. Despite his success, the younger brother is overwhelmed and, when alone, returns to wearing his iron mask. At the movie’s climax, the Musketeers fight a battle over morality. 

I love this movie, and every time I see it, I find new meaning. Recently, the scene that comes to mind is when the imposter king is free and ruling his country, yet he still puts on his torturous iron mask.

I think I do that!

For years, I’ve struggled with depression exacerbated by the abuse I suffered as a child. I don’t like to talk about the abuse. It took me years to learn the language for it and even longer to recognize what it meant. 

My bad experience seeps into whatever I’m doing, slipping into a story I’m writing or blocking me from writing one. It’s there when I’m awake, asleep, as I eat, drink my coffee, and get dressed. My childhood trauma has its grim fingerprints on every relationship I have and often blindfolds me from recognizing joy in my life. It’s frustrating that I can’t simply ignore it!

Instead, I view my past as a kept dragon I constantly slay and downplay. I starve it and pretend it’s a shadow of a pet puppy I don’t want to remember. My strategy is to push it as far away as possible, even while knowing it’s an impossibility. I think, so this happened, what does that have to do with me now? I’ve accepted it, and now it’s time to move on! Or at least, I thought that’s how I dealt with it. Now, I’m not sure.

What if, when things are going well, instead of seeing a dragon threat, I slip inside that dragon suit? What if when opportunity comes knocking, I’m so uncomfortable with my ability to answer that I immediately strap on my iron mask? 

It doesn’t matter that the suit’s too small for me now, that it’s cramped, and hasn’t aged well. It doesn’t matter that my old iron mask makes it hard for me to see or hear, nor that once inside it, I can’t speak or even breathe very well. Why do it?

I do it because it’s an iron mask that’s so intertwined within me that it’s home. It’s what I know. The idea that something so uncomfortable might be the reason I seek it is unnerving. I mean, how many times do I self-sabotage?

How often do I stop myself from progressing and truly ruling my own life by swapping it for the security of something torturous but still known? I don’t know!

Another horrifying thought is, what if it’s easier to be confined? I don’t have to stretch myself, challenge myself, I don’t have to try. In not trying, I’m also not failing. There is safety within that confinement. How terrifying is that?

I worry about what it means if I indeed do this. I worry about what it means if I have to stop. What kind of protection will I have then?  And worst of all, if I don’t have a dragon to crawl inside or a mask to hide behind, and I can finally stretch and move and breathe and see, what will I become then?

What’s your iron mask? How often do you wear it? What do you do to stop putting it on? I’d love to know! Write me!

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