The Big Bang of Self-Awareness

Sunset view of the pier and restaurant in Berkeley, California.

By Angela Noel

February 16, 2017

Twenty-three and recently single after a painful break up, graduated from college but still waiting tables, I pretended to myself that I was already both confident and self-aware. I needed neither parents nor boyfriend, my ego told me, I could figure this “being an adult” thing out on my own.

One night, I finished my shift and decided to meet my friend Reggie at the little bar he managed. Littered with mismatched throw rugs and comfy couches, Kingman’s Lucky Lounge on Grand Avenue in Oakland, California seemed as good a place as any for me to spend my time and a few of the dollars stashed in my apron pocket.

My own personal Big Bang awaited me inside the mirrored walls of the Lucky Lounge. 

The Man in the Bar

I parallel parked then walked in to the bar, scanning the room. Scattered patrons lounged, drinks in hand. Reggie nodded at me and smiled. He held up ten fingers. I returned his nod; I’d have to wait for him.

Kingman's Lucky Lounge (now closed)
Now closed, Kingman’s Lucky Lounge brought me luck of a curious sort. Photo from www.eastbayloop.com

A man, a friend of Reggie’s, sat at the bar drinking scotch. His elbows surrounded the glass like the paddles on each side of a pinball machine, waiting. His shoulders hunched, eyes forward. I took a seat next to him.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Angela, Reggie’s friend.”

“Yeah. Hi,” he replied.

 A “Conversation”

The bartender hadn’t noticed me yet. I had no drink, no shield. The break up had shattered me–my first real boyfriend. I didn’t want to admit it, but it was true. I’d moved to Berkeley to be near him. Now that was over. The ten minutes I’d have to wait for Reggie, were ten more minutes I didn’t want to spend alone. I spoke to the man to be doing something, to hide how out of place I felt, how lonely I was.

“Boy, what a night! I got slammed at work, and some jerk stiffed me on a three-hundred dollar tab. Can you believe it? I mean, whatever.”

“Uh huh.”

“And yesterday. . . remember that guy from Reg’s party last week? The one with the nose ring? He was like, totally wasted. Not cool. Isn’t that him over there?”

“Don’t know.”

Now I was running out of things to say. We’d never had a conversation one on one before, and this exchange was no exception.

A Miserable Person
Lucky Lounge and self-awareness
A scene from the bar.

Still no drink in front of me, still lonely and out of place, I tried again. “God, getting over here was a pain. Ashby was backed up like you wouldn’t believe.”

“You know,” he began, looking over at me for the first time, his eyes level to mine. He turned his body, his knee angling toward me. I leaned in, hoping now, maybe I’d feel less alone, less vulnerable.

You really are a miserable person, aren’t you?” He raised his glass to me, before drinking the contents down and setting it back on the bar.

When the Student was Ready, the Teacher Appeared

The background noise covered the click of my jaw as I snapped it shut. My knees pressed together. My cheeks reddened. I stood up. Stuck on the word miserable, my brain had no more instructions for me than “get out.” Those words flung me out of the bar, out of myself, and into the Oakland night.

I unlocked the door of my Saturn sedan. My ears felt plugged, full of a white, deafening nothingness. I drove home.

I felt collapsed, like a paper doll.

I didn’t examine what had happened right away because I didn’t understand it, not yet. At that moment, all I wanted was to be home, safe, in bed. I slept, awoke and went to work the next day.

But the words continued to burn. What did they mean? Was I a miserable person? I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t sure. If I wasn’t a miserable person, why did he think so? Asking him what he’d meant was out of the question. I’d have to find the courage to both listen and observe instead.

Curiosity is the Key to Self-Awareness

A few days later, I began to hear myself differently. What stories was I telling? Why was I telling them? Was I listening or just waiting to talk?

I began to notice people’s eyes glaze over when I told them about the latest petty drama in my life. I saw them turn away with a quick word, uninterested. They wanted to get away from me and my tales of woe. I had nothing they wanted to hear. Worse, they had nothing I wanted to hear, not really. I heard only the silence between their words as opportunity to wedge in my own. I started to understand.

Costume party in 1999
Reggie and I at a costume party at his house weeks after my break-up. I called my costume, “Black Widow.”

Though not a monster, incapable of human connection, my insecurity, self-absorption, defensiveness, and fear, made drama, gossip, or self-riotous rants my go-to conversation topics. I appeared miserable because misery had become my exoskeleton, my Iron Man suit. But, did I need it anymore? Now began the work of deciding what to do next.

That night at the Lucky Lounge my ego crashed, like a hard drive with too many programs running. The man’s words offered me a chance to reboot. I took it. In 1999 I learned both that I had been a miserable person, and that I had the power to become a better one.

No journey of self-awareness ever ends, it only evolves

I’ve had many big bangs in the almost twenty years since that night–many moments of creation brought on by extreme circumstances. I’m grateful for them all, and to the essence in me–in all of us–capable of accepting the invitation to change.

Your turn: What big bangs have you experienced?  What did you do when it happened?

Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

14 thoughts on “The Big Bang of Self-Awareness”

  1. Wow. That really was explosive. I find myself doing the “isn’t life just full of bad stuff”. And you’re right – no one wants to hear it and I don’t either. Let’s raise a glass to focusing on the positive!

    1. I agree! Sometimes life hands me a lemon or I feel melancholy for one reason or another. I still might need to talk about that–because it’s life after all. But the difference is, as you point out, I don’t want to take them with me on my pity-party I want to constructively find my way through to feeling productive again. Becoming aware of who we want to be and the impact we want to have makes great leaps towards actually living it. Thank you so much for reading- I’m looking forward to raising a glass with you soon! 🙂

  2. This is so true. One of the (many) reasons I love my wife so much is that she has not only mastered the art of listening, but she’s also taught me how to step away from myself when I get caught up in my own inner turmoil. Unfortunately, its a lesson I need to relearn far too often. Fortunately, she (and others) are there to help remind me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Your wife sounds like a fantastic partner! You make a great point about the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who encourage the best in us, even when the best doesn’t happen to be showing at the moment. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  3. Wow, fair play too you for turning it around, I’ve been there, its difficult to use these things as a wake up call but ultimately freeing…(and maybe its a sign I am not a fully realised person…but he sounds a bit miserable himself…)

    1. Hi! Thank you for reading the post. I’ve found in the years since this first rather pivotal wake up call, I’ve needed less blunt reminders to invite me to take notice and adjust. But I still need reminders!
      What’s interesting to me is he may very well have been miserable or he might have been a saint– I didn’t notice. I was too wrapped up in myself at the time. That, too, was something I reflect on. How much have I missed in understanding others when I’m so wrapped up in myself? Ah. . . so much still to learn. 🙂

  4. I went through this situation a couple of times when I was a young woman of that age. I’ve also gone through more recently as a woman with children who are that age. Personally, I think this is a characteristic of introverts. We send our emotions inward. They then churn and bubble inside and eventually come flow back out. I used to tell people that my misery was coming out my ears. And it was.

    I think we become better at coping with crisis situations as we age. But it still happens although the root causes might be different. And, I don’t think that there is any magic way of coping, it just requires some time and often some adjustment of the environment. But once you get through it, you try to learn something from it just as you say.

    1. Hi Marian. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I agree there isn’t a magic way of coping. Maybe the magic is in the act of coping itself? We humans are resilient creatures when we choose to be.
      My own child is still elementary age, so my hope is I’ll be aware enough to guide him when his Big Bang occurs. I appreciate your insight!

  5. Holy cannoli, Batman! That’s one heck of a big bang, wake up call from the Universe! I can’t even being to imagine what I would’ve done in your shoes (though I’m pretty sure it would’ve involved a puddle of tears). Kudos to you for recognizing the message, and reprogramming your hard drive (LOVE that analogy, btw!). While I’m sure I’ve had a number of similar experiences over the years, none come to mind at the moment (mostly likely thanks to copious amounts of mental White-Out), but I appreciate the reminder to focus on the positive!

    1. Thanks, Traci! Even twenty years later, when I think back to that moment I’m surprised I didn’t cry. It was almost an out-of-body experience. I think a part of me just KNEW he was right and I was waiting for a reason to change. A different day, a different night . . . who knows?

      Mental white-out! I need some of that to block out many of my hair styles from the 80s, but that’s a different post. 🙂

  6. Great story! I’m impressed that you took that guy’s comment and used it as a way to reflect on yourself, and to make positive changes! I probably would have just gotten pissed off or cried, and then complained about it later. 😉

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it! Honestly, I’m sure in other circumstances I’d have done just that. This message happened to hit me at just the right time and in just the right way for me to actually hear it. It’s one of the reasons why I try to listen better for less dramatic signs that I need to adjust something in myself–kind of like noticing the drop of rain and getting inside without needing to wait for the downpour!

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