I haven’t been able to come up with a way of explaining the absence. I guess I’m still figuring out where I stand at this particular moment, and what it means to keep going. Many days were lost to the flux of ambiversion, when all I was trying to do was survive the balance of how much space I needed with how much comfort I could only get from others. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned the importance of taking the time just to feel okay, which has mostly involved enjoying the games I’ve put off playing for so long, spending time with those who make me feel wanted+needed+awesome+loved, and drafting as often as possible.
My birthday came somewhere in between, a day I got to pick all the shows, eat dirty bird, and nest with the cats on me when they weren’t in the cuddle train. It made the whole day mine, not because it was something I asked for, but because someone wanted to give that to me.
I’m slowly letting my guard down, letting myself share new songs in the dark, so the positive experiences become a permanent part of me. Making new memories is a step towards soothing my history with heartbreak. The comfort I find in our embraces carries me through the time we’re apart, but feeling safe is still very foreign. Just touching fingers is a vulnerable step, and it’s like being on a tightrope every time I put aside my insecurities to make progress. Thankfully, she hasn’t let me fall yet.
Most recently, I started working at the busiest comic book shop in the city as one of the resident Magic experts. It’s left me trying to find my balance again, even though the job is part-time and never feels like work. The position mostly involves running the tournaments, trading/selling/organizing cards, and giving people game advice; things I already love doing in my spare time. A nice bonus is the fact that a new friend happens to be one of the regulars at the Modern Constructed tourney, and I get to root for him and see how he does between matches.
Shawn even came in to say hi and give me hugs on my first day. Reminders all around that make me feel worthwhile, instead of just believing it. It’s the difference between knowing something in my head to my heart, a gap I’m starting to bridge with help from the right people.
The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few other family members visiting from out of the country. I had table tennis practice one night, and instead of dropping me off, they decided to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the drive, my vision started growing blurry. I’d been working full shifts, then entertaining the guests every night, and my body decided it didn’t want to continue cooperating. With the aches getting sharper in my head, I told her I couldn’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.
My mother has always been an emotional driver, and on top of that an “emotional” person when she doesn’t get her way. With me riding shotgun, she decided to make a U-turn into oncoming traffic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to consider when doing this in a vehicle, like the fact that everyone around you is also moving in their own giant metal sledgehammer. When we crossed over the median, I saw an SUV heading towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the distinct realization that this is how I died. It was something I’d always wondered, and the satisfaction of my curiosity was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to happen1.
But we were saved by the grace and reflexes of the person driving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no collision. My mom continued speeding back home in her mood, like she hadn’t nearly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she didn’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she couldn’t show off her son in front of the family, and how that made her look.
I never looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I never saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still didn’t mean anything to her as a person, that I was just an ornament to her my entire life.
Fast forward many years later. A phase where I find myself learning about hate and forgiveness, how to let go of one and practice the other. I decide to contact her again, letting her know that I’m not ready to forgive her yet, but I’m open to talking. She asked what there was to forgive, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we hadn’t spoken in years? I made no assumptions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her memory, the incident above being one example.
All she could say was that she was going through a difficult marriage, so I should understand why she acted the way she did. Then she meekly tried to mask her guilt with excuses about making sacrifices for me, as if a child’s acceptance or forgiveness is something that can be bought and this is why she owes me nothing. Through it all, she refused to apologize, or even acknowledge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps saying sorry would mean admitting to herself that she’s done these horrible things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that reality would be too difficult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in complete denial about her role in any of my suffering, and she doesn’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.
I’m learning to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at reconciling than do something as simple as apologize, cause it means her sense of pride is more important to her than her only child. This is exactly what makes her a bad parent. Separating myself from her so many years later was just as easy as the first time.
If only I wasn’t still dealing with the after-effects of her influence; I’m only now learning not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in contact, how not to hate myself for being less than perfect, how not to feel worthless when I don’t have constant validation. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are supposed to nurture, instilling strength and confidence and stability, while helping their children explore a sense of identity. Instead, she dangled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridiculous standard in school or played the piano or did exactly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad person, the child she didn’t want.
It’s been somewhat traumatizing to re-experience these triggers again when trying to resolve issues I’m dealing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so broken, but it’s easier to forgive my mistakes and accept myself when I realize such a toxic person has had so much influence on my life.
Darren stopped by for a stay on the way to Montreal for his first multi-day holdem tournament. The first and last nights ended up being the only ones we had to ourselves. Otherwise, it was a mix of friends and strangers, sativas and incidas, coming and going through the house each day. I’m glad he was along for the ride, even though I’m always up far too late when we’re together, and it’s getting harder on my body as I get older.
It’s feels like I’m a different person, living a different life, every time we hang out. The distance between us means the change we experience is always significant enough to notice. This time my relationships have changed the most cause I’ve started compartmentalizing people, appreciating them for their strengths instead of expecting everyone to live up to some lofty set of expectations. My needs have always been the same, but I’m getting better at making sure they’re met after finally figuring out what they are. I’m also better at reading people, detecting undertone, and understanding social interactions, thanks to Shawn’s expertise rubbing off on me.
In terms of self-improvement, I’m trying to be more understanding of the world at large, while reducing my hate and increasing my patience. I’ve also started to analyze and resolve the triggers that keep me from being the person I was meant to be. The struggles I used to have only a few years ago seem so adolescent in comparison to the things I’m working on now. My priorities have matured, or I’ve grown in ways that have made old issues obsolete.
I’d never have realized any of this if Darren hadn’t showed up to pull me so far out of my regular life that I lost track of what day it was and the women I’d loved and the feeling of cold. I learn as much about myself as I do about him when we’re catching up.
The last few days have been rough to say the least, and I’m still trying to survive moments of crisis while battling hunger and exhaustion. Times like this are a lesson on how strong the primal will to survive is, when the mind shuts out everything except doing what needs to be done, cause there isn’t room for panic or surrender.
I’m learning to accept these spells as a simple fact of life. There’s never going to be a single defining moment from when I’ll forever be okay, when I can say they won’t happen any more. Being well takes as much effort as patience, happiness, and forgiveness. It’s both the work and adventure of a lifetime to become a better person in so many ways.
Sometimes Heather sends me a quote or teaching, and relates to me how it’s helping her with her reactions or triggers. With her unflinchingly calm demeanour, I couldn’t imagine her having any of these kinds of issues, but it’s a reminder that everyone can use a little bit of work. I used to think she was simply a nice person; now I understand her kindness has been consciously and consistently cultivated over many years1.
As a person without a dark past, she has no understanding of what I go through in these times, no idea how to handle me, but it doesn’t stop her from caring so much. Sometimes that means stopping by for a talk even if she’s not sure I’m home, or dropping off a meal from one of my favourite restaurants, or giving me a small but meaningful gift. It’s a truly selfless empathy, one that doesn’t need a reason. She cares simply because I suffer, not because she agrees with why. I don’t know many people who show anyone that kind of compassion (not even themselves). And yet she considers herself a beginner on the path of awakening, when there’s so much I already have to learn from her.
For now, I’m figuring out how to embrace the wounds, and let the anger, fear, and hurt flow through me when my coping mechanisms aren’t enough. I know I can’t change the world, but I have the power to change myself and how I handle things. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.
I take care of this moment by taking care of myself. That means nourishing my sense of well-being by spending time with people who:
Normally, the goal is to use the positive experiences from these relationships to buffer my emotional resilience when things get rough, but right now I’m just trying to get to the point most people consider normal.
It helps when people make me things like this. I had a Google search box as my browser start page for as long as I can remember, until presented with this board full of happiness, where every update is relevant to my interests. Tiana and Genevieve secretly collected cats for months before giving it to me just because, and somehow there were 91 followers before I even made a Pinterest account to follow this namesake board. These are people who truly understand me, and make me feel connected even when I’m not with them. This is what I need more of in my life.
I’ve also been reaching into my past and searching for closure, whether that means giving or receiving forgiveness. It’s humbling to own up to my role in someone’s pain without making excuses or laying blame to protect my pride, but being able to do so has given me more amour de soi. Mistakes will be made on my journey, but it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, and it won’t stop me from becoming better.
Seeking resolution doesn’t always end well though. I’m trying to understand each response as a message about the true nature of someone’s role in my life, without being caught up in anger. It’s so much easier to forgive or accept someone when I start to understand their reality, even if they’ve hurt me rather undeservingly. I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on my interactions with people, instead of constantly being at the whim of their behaviour.
It’s been a period of such tremendous growth in myself and development in my relationships that it feels like I’ve been given a reprieve. I’ve been working on all the little things I said I’d take care of when I was better, one day at a time. Just knowing that I’m improving in some small way is often enough to keep me going by itself.
I still occasionally get caught up on the idea that I need to be perfect before starting down a new path, but Lisa always reminds me that the person I am already isn’t so bad. Growing is a gradual and lifelong process. I can do the best with the person I am, and that’ll always be good enough.
Shawn and I go deep once a week, usually with a decent amount of psychoanalysis mixed in with our Magic matches. I realized I still need therapy, but in a different form from what my therapist could offer1. I need to work with someone who isn’t restricted by time limits when I’m in the middle of extremely time-sensitive events, and it’s vital that I work at my own pace, since it’s easy to rush things (that should be dealt with very carefully) when it costs $180/hour. He also stretches me out in all the right ways, and I’m learning that physical comfort is often just as important as emotional validation.
Shawn admits it’s all pop-psychology since he has no formal education, but he’s specialized in people and relationships for so long that it’s no less effective. Sometimes, it’s scary to work with someone who functions at such a higher level of understanding of the world. I recently heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say, “Buddha was not a Buddhist”, which I started repeating to Shawn when trying to relate mindfulness with modern religion. He finished my thought by saying, “and Jesus was not a Christian”, an idea I’d only come to after a lot more research and reflection. He was able to reach the same conclusion by examining patterns in his existing knowledge; an extremely profound and impactful concept to me, which I was still trying to fully grasp, was applied common sense to him.
That means I’m occasionally confronted with how narrow-minded I can be in comparison. It’s messing with things I take for granted, like my ideas of right or wrong, parts of my world-view I’ve held for so long and without question. Sometimes, I realize the person I was until that very moment would have done things I’d now consider embarrassing (being judgmental/intolerant/hateful), based on ignorance, parochialism, or naïveté. Thankfully, I’m also getting better at accepting my past self(ves) by understanding all the influences that have led me to think a certain way. It also helps knowing that the truly important thing is that I have the power to change now, and that it’ll affect me positively for the rest of my life.
Shawn used to say I was a wizard stuck on level 7, always on the cusp of levelling up. I had enough wisdom and intelligence and other attributes to be a much more powerful character, but was still a mage who couldn’t start his main quest, due to a very low stat in his relationship score. This was holding me back because relationships are a huge part of my needs; ironic that I’m also so bad at them.
I’ve learned a lot in the last few months though, through a new awareness of deeper parts of myself, and a view of the world that’s getting more objective. I’m applying these things by pursuing healthy interests, which currently means building my relationships and practicing unilateral virtue. While the latter has been both empowering and humbling, it’s also drastically shaken my understanding of my relationships, my needs, and my past. I can tell I’m only beginning to figure out the dynamics of people and how they function, but Shawn says just coming to that understanding means I’ve finally reached level 8, and with that foundation, I can begin the next part of my journey.
Then he gave me a high-five. My therapist never did that.
The journey lasts an hour, by turns moving and bittersweet, a mixtape without a name that’s possibly the most thoughtful collection of music anyone has ever given to me. It’s the addiction I’ve been waiting for. Proof that I can still be understood when a feeling is shared if not a history.
Yet new songs on repeat don’t define this moment, cause I can’t tell when one moment ends and the next begins anymore. There’s no sense of permanence in anything. I don’t know whether to be scared or relieved to know that everything will inevitably change.
Shawn thinks I’m plummeting towards rock bottom cause I need to prove to myself that I can pull myself out. The idea was on the very tip of my consciousness, and it’s getting harder to deny how right he is. I’ve always been a person who needs to explore the limits of the possible. I just wonder whether I’ll survive the fall.
My relationships function best in a one-on-one context, when I’m giving a single person my full attention or vice versa. I see myself as the dominant most of the time. But power flows from the bottom up and I’m a pleaser too, so I frequently assume the submissive role cause I enjoy it (need it?) so much. Knowing that I can make people happy is something I thrive on.
At heart though, I’m a very dominant person, and I never realized I was missing an outlet for those tendencies until Shawn handed me the remote as we were about to watch Game of Thrones. He read me well enough to know that I enjoy taking care of little details, and he’s even more of a pleaser than I am, so he gave me control, even though I recognize that he’s the more dominant person1.
Over time, I’ve become the one to do the talking, to decide what we do, to make the small choices that remind me I have wants and needs as much as anyone else. Shawn’s a person I respect, and he’s naturally “better” in the ways that are important to me, so being in control when we hang out has been really fulfilling. I’m getting better at speaking out about things that bother me and thinking of myself and being stronger in general.
I took a break from guitar. Not a conscious decision, just days that were busy enough that I didn’t think of picking her up, which means I don’t even know how long I’d stopped. All I know is that it was long, cause I feel the strings vibrating through every piece of wood that touches my body now, one of those sensations you stop noticing after enough time.
I haven’t had much to say either. Nothing seems important. At the same time, I’m trying to move away from this social media overload, where so many people speak only cause the power to do makes them believe they should. It’s making the gaps between my entries longer and longer, and I wonder if I’ll eventually stop writing altogether.
All I have are memories of lives I lived so long ago that I feel like I’m watching them in 8mm. The friends and the lovers, the love and the hate, the cycles and the patterns. I’m only now sorting out the meaning of each one, maybe cause I’ve finally grown enough to understand myself and my relationship with the world at large. It’s comforting to see how far I’ve come when comparing the person I am now to each person I used to be.
But such progress came at the cost of my innocence; we aren’t always ready to learn the harder lessons, and surviving sometimes means we change in ways that prevent us from becoming the people we’re meant to be. I’m trying to take back that innocence now, cause I know my happiness is at stake.