Earlier this week, I was in conversation with one of my students about class presentations. She was telling me how little she liked getting up in front of people. I confided in her that I, too, hate standing up in front of people. She was surprised by my words because I am sure lectures seems to her, as it seems to me, a major component of my job.
I have a ton of social anxiety. I have told this to many people over my lifetime, but it always seems to be discounted with a wave of the hand and a, “But you’re so outgoing.” But its true. Somewhere along the way, I think I just got good at faking it. In fact, I think alcoholics are good at faking all sorts of things: our lives, our feelings, our personalities.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (21).
Robert Louis Stevensons’ Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was publish in London in 1868. Dr. Jekyll (who for most of my life I thought was the bad guy because his name reminds me of jackal) is actually the good guy. As a character, Jekyll is well liked and successful. The problem is that there is a sort of stain on his soul- the kind of thing that makes him crave to do less than noble deeds. Jekyll fears that if he indulges this baser portion of his personality, someone will figure out. He will ruin his reputation. Thus, he creates a transformation potion. When he takes said elixir, Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.
Unfortunately, as with life, after Jekyll takes the potion a few unforeseen consequences happen. First, Jekyll doesn’t realize the extent of the monster he would become- a man whose bad acts become increasingly more sinister up to and including murder. Second, Jekyll doesn’t anticipate that he would be unable to stop himself from changing. Initially, Jekyll cannot stop transforming due to an mental obsession on his part to be Hyde- a constant thinking followed by an eventual lack of willpower and an indulgence. But after a while, the transformations happen even when Jekyll doesn’t want them to, and even more importantly, without ever taking a single sip of the potion. By the end of the novel, the transformations are complete and involuntary. Knowing he will soon turn into Mr. Hyde permanently, Dr. Jekyll commits suicide.
I feel that recently I have become increasingly isolationist. I didn’t really intend for it to happen. My husband and I moved away from our homegroup and friends, and then we got married. Meetings turned from a jaunt across the street to a long drive, a need to make the time count by seeing friends and family, eating dinner, shopping, and suddenly my meeting becomes a day or a night out. And as I entered grad school, the nights out became less frequent. It became easier and more productive to stay home and work. It became easier and more comfortable.
I don’t think that the story of Jekyll and Hyde only refers to the more literary metaphor of a man who drinks and changes, becoming an uglier version on himself with greater frequency until he kills himself- though this is the reference the Big Book is clearly making. But I think this Jekyll and Hyde transformation can happen when we are not drinking too. I can see how someone can make the voluntary decision to stay home or to engage in character defects. At first its just an occasional thing but then the occasional becomes routine. Before we know it, its just who we are. Involuntary. The transformation is complete.
I think that is the real lesson of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think in society we mostly talk about Jekyll and Hyde as if they are two people, but they’re not. Hyde was always a part of Jekyll’s being. Jekyll just stopped listening to his conscience. He stopped fighting the fight.