you die, all you do is die, and yet you live

I never intended ther­apy to take such prece­dence, but it’s become the re-occurring event around which I work all my other plans. I’m still learn­ing how to be an emo­tion­ally healthy per­son, while unlearn­ing the destruc­tive habits I devel­oped to sur­vive the rela­tion­ships of my past. They affect me every sin­gle day, and I know I’ll be doomed to recre­ate the dra­mas of my ear­lier life unless I have out­side help. At the same time, it’s not a process I can rush. Every ses­sion leaves me emo­tion­ally exhausted, and I need a healthy dose of happy to recover1. It also takes time to process what I learn, reflect on ongo­ing behav­iours, and put new tech­niques into practice.

I’m for­tu­nate to have found a com­pe­tent ther­a­pist with whom I’m com­fort­able, espe­cially when doing cog­ni­tive work that often leaves me unsafe2. After so many months, he knows enough about me and my his­tory to under­stand the kind of guid­ance I need. There’s no struc­ture, but he always lets me start. As a per­son who’s spent his entire life being socially sub­mis­sive, the role rever­sal is a wel­come change. It’s a reminder that the time is mine, that I’m free to be myself, that I get what I want out of our hour.

Sometimes, I catch myself wish­ing he would val­i­date me with­out the need to explain myself, but he con­sis­tently remains the neu­tral ally (albeit one with plenty of com­pas­sion). I’ve learned that it’s impor­tant he never side with me out of loy­alty the way a friend might, so I can trust his opin­ion is always bal­anced and fair. Other times, I wish he would sim­ply tell me what I need to know, but he lets me come to real­iza­tions by myself, to make sure I’m always in con­trol, and to avoid influ­enc­ing me by the act of mak­ing a sug­ges­tion. It’s a unique role in my life that he plays well.

I dread the pain, but still look for­ward to every ses­sion. So much of my progress is tied to the mem­o­ries I’ve kept in the back of my head and the emo­tions I’ve left to expe­ri­ence. It’s an oppor­tu­nity to show myself com­pas­sion, while flex­ing men­tal mus­cles I don’t get to use often enough nowa­days. Not to men­tion the grat­i­fi­ca­tion and hope that comes with uncov­er­ing long-seated, self-defeating thought patterns.

Heather hasn’t been com­ing in with me lately, but she still comes with; I don’t need her as a wit­ness as much as a sup­port when it’s over. It’s com­fort­ing to know I have a part­ner who accepts me now amid all this uncer­tainty, and will con­tinue to no mat­ter who I become. She’s the one who tends to my wounds at home, the love I’ve been miss­ing my entire life, the rea­son I’m strong enough to do this work. The least I can do is strengthen my bond with her by learn­ing to be more a trust­ing, patient, and accept­ing person.

  1. Something that usu­ally involves turn­ing into a blitzed-out her­mit for a few days. []
  2. I’ve always won­dered what other people’s expe­ri­ence with ther­apy is like. I don’t know a sin­gle per­son who goes on a reg­u­lar basis. []

soft with scars

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It’s hard to imag­ine what life will be like when I’m still try­ing to sur­vive from one day to the next. I’ve never been more dis­con­nected with real­ity, but dis­tance is what I need. At first it was days; now weeks have started blend­ing together. Stretches of time feel shorter as they get longer. It’s been more than a month since I took a step out­side, and about as long since I’ve seen any­one but Heather. I can’t even remem­ber the last time I answered my phone or made a call.

Every day, it feels like I’m falling deeper into a hole I can’t seem to escape as I slip fur­ther away from myself. I used to enjoy being inspired and cre­ative, but some­where along the way I stopped dream­ing. The lines in my face tell me my body has paid a price of it’s own. It’s left me unsure of who I’ll become; if only I wasn’t so fond of the per­son I used to be.

My new ther­a­pist is shock­ingly young com­pared to the man who retired and forced me to look for some­one new. Every few weeks, we care­fully explore the thoughts I keep tucked away in the back of my mind. Heather often serves as wit­ness, to under­stand what I’ve been through and have to re-experience. It’s exhaust­ing to go into a past that pains me so much, but impor­tant work that I hate and need and want all at once.

girl and cat

 

Not quite two years ago, her stay with me began as refuge from an abu­sive part­ner. She was a frag­ile girl back then; pan­icky dur­ing heavy winds, blind to her own bur­geon­ing nubil­ity, uncom­fort­able around any­one else for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, my inse­cu­rity hap­pened to man­i­fest itself as a need to take care of oth­ers, and I found both val­i­da­tion and hap­pi­ness when I had the chance with some­one so deserv­ing. It’s hard to believe how quickly our roles have reversed. Now I’m the depen­dent, a posi­tion I have a harder time accept­ing than she does1, and one I’ll likely have for the rest of my life.

Through my strug­gle, I’ve seen her grow into a con­fi­dent young woman who knows how to cook a steak medium-rare (even though she’s a vegan), enjoys every chance to exert her sex­u­al­ity, and often under­stands more about my med­ica­tion than the doc­tors who pre­scribe it. I thought I knew what love was, but every day her unwa­ver­ing patience shows me how much deeper it goes.

Guild Wars 2 character with Eternity

Totally not compensating.

This is the face I wear most often as of late, while explor­ing a world large enough for me to get lost in. I can set goals at my own pace, whether they’re sim­ple ones that leave me sat­is­fied enough to sleep, or com­plex, long-term ones that help me feel accom­plished enough to do big­ger things. Every day, I’m given the chance to be kind, gen­er­ous, and pos­i­tive to vir­tual strangers, while keep­ing a dis­tance from the real world. I even started a lit­tle guild with my friends, and we recently claimed the hall which we’ll call our home; even if I’m not emo­tion­ally avail­able to them, this is how they stop by and spend time with me.

It’s hard not to hate myself when my issues are pre­vent­ing me from being the per­son I want to be. I’m in a rush to get bet­ter, when time to heal is what I need most. Heather reminds me that the suf­fer­ing I’ve been through is the rea­son she feels under­stood and safe. I tell myself that this time is just a chap­ter in the book of my life — a stop on the way to who I am — and that there’s more left to write.

  1. I keep remind­ing myself: she knows what she wants, and what’s best for her. []

laying low

At some point, the most I could do was sit by the win­dow and face the lawn. It’s hard to say how many hours were spent look­ing out­ward, inter­rupted every now and then by food I could barely taste or swal­low. For a per­son who needs to stay active to cul­ti­vate a sense of worth, it was a sign I was beyond her reach, and at a point where I was no longer able to help myself.

When she began to cry, I asked what was wrong. “I didn’t think you’d give up”, she explained, some­thing made appar­ent when I couldn’t man­age a veneer of pleas­ant­ness for the sake of being polite to friends or strangers alike. I once told her I would stick around for her sake, but in that moment we both under­stood it was a promise I couldn’t keep.

Self-portrait

 

I won­der if I’ll ever be able to. It’s hard to remem­ber what life was like before I was so emo­tion­ally exhausted. Even when the exter­nal sources of stress are far away and my head is above water, it still feels like I’m drown­ing. When that gener­i­cally redo­lent scent of taxi leather hit my nose, it used to mean I had a plane to catch, a flight to take me out of the coun­try, an adven­ture await­ing; now it’s a por­tent of deaf­en­ingly silent wait­ing rooms, and psy­chi­a­trists who know too lit­tle and talk too much.

I keep my fret­ting fin­gers trim but the cal­luses keep heal­ing over, cause I can’t con­cen­trate long enough to improve (also why it’s taken me so many months to write this). The house is a barely con­tained mess. My phone is over­flow­ing with notes, texts, voice mails, things I can’t keep on top of. It’s been for­ever since I talked to Darren, even longer since I made a trip out of town. I’ve grown sen­si­tive to loud noises. I barely rec­og­nize my own face.

That’s how I know I’m not ready to process parts of the past yet. Going so many years with­out a reprieve has left me drained of cop­ing resources, and when I’m barely man­ag­ing my needs for safety and sur­vival, there isn’t any room left for growth or improve­ment. I need more time to heal, to replace upset­ting mem­o­ries with new expe­ri­ences, to be in a sta­ble place before revis­it­ing the most trau­matic parts.

Heather by the window

 

For the moment, that means work­ing with my nat­ural energy pat­terns and momen­tum as I try to develop healthy habits. It’s left me up at odd hours, eat­ing irreg­u­lar meals, and largely house-bound. Heather tends to my needs and never leaves my side for more than 15 min­utes. I’m for­tu­nate to have a small sup­port group help­ing me look after things — drop­ping off gro­ceries, bring­ing my car for main­te­nance, pay­ing the bills, dri­ving me to appoint­ments — small tasks that seem daunt­ing when so unsure of myself. Misun even offered to help sell the house and fly me to France so I could live under her care indef­i­nitely; if only one could be car­ried by the love of one’s friends alone.

It pains me to be here wait­ing, feel­ing like I’m miss­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for hap­pi­ness every day, but I’ve learned that progress can’t be rushed. Not just cause I have to tread so care­fully through the past, but because I’ve been down for so long that it feels like it’ll never be up again. That’s why I have to trust her when she tells me things will even­tu­ally be okay. Until then, I spend my time lost in the Dark Tower, appre­ci­at­ing a sobri­ety I wasn’t pre­pared for, look­ing for duels in the bor­der­lands, try­ing to feel nor­mal again.

sweet surrender

All his life he had been active, doing things about the house, look­ing after patients, think­ing, study­ing, writ­ing. How good it was to stop doing, strug­gling, think­ing, to leave it all for a time to nature, to become her thing, her con­cern, the work of her mer­ci­ful, won­der­ful, beauty-lavishing hands.

—Doctor Zhivago

Time is giv­ing me the chance to feel hurt with­out hate. If only the process didn’t make the indi­vis­i­ble moments so over­whelm­ingly painful. The idea of being nor­mal seems like a mod­est goal, now that an act as sim­ple as wash­ing the dishes becomes a bur­den I can’t bear. It’s the rea­son I don’t trust myself behind the wheel of a car, the rea­son song and film do noth­ing to help me retreat.

As a result, our lives have been reduced to the sim­plest means of sur­vival. I play my games like a full-time job, slowly pro­cess­ing things I’ve kept in the back of my head as a means of stay­ing safe from myself. We eat, we sleep, we start over again. My respon­si­bil­ity is to myself now, and it’s a good day if I can get one pro­duc­tive thing done, from a sim­ple shower to a step out­side. And if even that proves too much, I’m learn­ing to be okay with that too, as time is mea­sured across expe­ri­ences and lives, not by the moments in which we stum­ble and fall.

Heather

 

When she sees me try­ing to shake the thoughts loose, look­ing for sup­port on cold tile, I’m told to take as much time as I need to get bet­ter, and reminded she won’t leave if I never do. I don’t have to hide my feel­ings or moods, cause she doesn’t judge me for the depth of my sad­ness, nor hold my anger against me. Every day she grows more ten­der than the last, even as I fall and break apart, and I’m learn­ing to under­stand how, when I have such a hard time accept­ing the shade of a per­son I am right now. It’s such bound­less affec­tion that finally makes me feel loved because of who I am, and not what I do or offer or represent.

After so many years liv­ing at arms-length with every­one around me, it’s a feel­ing that’s impos­si­ble for me to take for granted. I can’t help but inter­nal­ize every way her grace brings me joy. Every time she thanks me for let­ting her take care of my needs and wants.

And with this foun­da­tion, I learn how to be a per­son again, as I try to write my way out of this hole.

to start with an end

The break­ing point hap­pened one night, when an acquain­tance I’ll call Thomas chided me for not get­ting back to him sooner about a din­ner invi­ta­tion. Thomas was upset enough that he needed some time off from hang­ing out. I didn’t under­stand, as he never expressed his con­cern, so I had no idea there was a prob­lem in the first place. I apol­o­gized for hurt­ing him, and pleaded with him to let me know next time so it wouldn’t hap­pen again. Still, the sit­u­a­tion didn’t sit well with me; my belated reply was due to the fact that I was in a dif­fi­cult place of my own, about which he never asked or con­sid­ered. I was left con­fused, and sad that I’d unwit­tingly hurt some­one so much as to need a break.

So I called my best friend at the time, look­ing for sup­port. “Avail?” was my usual code-word by text, to let him know I could wait until he had taken care of every­thing else, as I never took his time for granted. But this time, I was shaken enough that I needed more than just an ear, and told him, instead of ask­ing. When I finally got him on the phone, he dis­missed every­thing I tried to say, over­rid­ing it with, “This is what you need to do. Mark three months from now on your cal­en­dar, and call him then. He’ll for­get by that time”. I tried to explain my feel­ings over and over, that I wasn’t look­ing to make amends but try­ing to under­stand the sit­u­a­tion, and this was the most mean­ing­ful answer he could offer. I broke down when I knew I wasn’t get­ting through, when I real­ized he wasn’t an ally at a time I truly needed it, and that he never was.

Continue read­ing “to start with an end”…