Posts tagged with "reflection"

aporia of faith

In recent years I’ve been rumi­nat­ing on the ques­tion of whether or not humans have inher­ent val­ue, per­haps because my sui­ci­dal ideation caus­es me to won­der whether life itself is worth­less. The sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of such a idea means I don’t ask any­one for an answer, but I do probe for opin­ions. My friends have all told me that they believe peo­ple are inher­ent­ly valu­able; or, at the very least, they know they’re valu­able because they val­ue them­selves, even if they can’t say the same about any­one else.

This sur­prised me at first; I can remem­ber believ­ing that each per­son is a bur­den on soci­ety who has to earn their place, as soon as I was old enough to under­stand such a con­cept1. But a few years ago when I told this to Jesse, he expressed dis­be­lief based on the way he’s observed my treat­ment of oth­ers.

Being chal­lenged about my views by a per­son I so high­ly respect­ed cer­tain­ly gave me pause to recon­sid­er. When I thought about a stranger I might meet on the street, I felt that that life would be a ben­e­fit to the world, that that per­son deserves to be loved, hap­py, safe, and healthy as much as any­one else sim­ply because they exist. Suddenly, I real­ized that it was myself whom I believed to be worth­less, and I extend­ed this belief to oth­ers to soothe any pains I had over such a thought. I did­n’t despair about my worth­less­ness if every­one else had just as lit­tle val­ue.

I can trace this warped world­view to my child­hood, when my par­ents treat­ed me sim­ply as an exten­sion of their lives. They made it clear that their love was pure­ly con­di­tion­al, based on my obe­di­ence, achieve­ments at school/work, friends, roman­tic part­ners, and how those all com­pared to oth­ers. I was always work­ing from a deficit of love, try­ing to earn their approval and affec­tion by doing the “right” thing, which was defined as what they want­ed2.

This is no more appar­ent than when try­ing to show myself com­pas­sion (or per­haps mag­na­nim­i­ty would be the bet­ter word). Imagining myself as anoth­er per­son before me, every time I say to him “You deserve to be hap­py”, my mind can’t help but fin­ish the sen­tence with “…as long as you…” as if that hap­pi­ness is con­tin­gent upon some lev­el of per­for­mance at a work­place.

Unfortunately, aware­ness does­n’t resolve the issue. Even though I had an epiphany that helped me under­stand the fal­la­cy of my world­view, try­ing to sud­den­ly believe that I have an inher­ent val­ue seems as implau­si­ble as find­ing a ran­dom peb­ble on the ground and believ­ing that it’s worth the same as a pol­ished gem­stone. No won­der the opin­ion I have of myself has been so great­ly influ­enced by oth­ers; I’ve been rely­ing on the approval of my peers to give me the val­ue I so des­per­ate­ly desire3.

So if the worth of a per­son is sub­jec­tive and there are no absolute truths, how is it pos­si­ble for me to gen­uine­ly believe that I have val­ue after a life­time of believ­ing that I don’t?

  1. I’m sure that grow­ing up in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that views any­one who does­n’t work (includ­ing seniors) as lazy and worth­less con­tributed to this belief. []
  2. Not only would this cause me to feel like I had to con­stant­ly earn my hap­pi­ness, this would also cause me to believe any dif­fi­cul­ties I faced were my fault — that I must be to blame if some­one did­n’t find me attrac­tive, or I must have deserved any­thing I suf­fered. []
  3. I even­tu­al­ly learn that exter­nal forms of val­i­da­tion like this are unre­li­able and gen­er­al­ly unhealthy. []

convalescent care

The time will come
when, with ela­tion
you will greet your­self arriv­ing
at your own door, in your own mir­ror
and each will smile at the oth­er’s wel­come,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for anoth­er, who knows you by heart

—Derek Walcott, Love After Love

I’ve start­ed going to appoint­ments on my own. Being stuck in a wait­ing room with sobri­ety on the hori­zon no longer fills me with rage; instead, I take the time as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do breath­ing exer­cis­es and prac­tice mind­ful­ness. When some­thing minor goes wrong I don’t shut down any­more. I can han­dle small amounts of stress with­out being over­whelmed. Leaning into my anx­i­ety and mak­ing peace with it has giv­en me a mod­icum of inner strength I thought was for­ev­er lost. I’m start­ing to feel less help­less, less like a vic­tim.

It’s a sign that I’m on the mend. The trau­ma of the past is start­ing to lose its effect on me. Heather does­n’t have to use a vaca­tion day to accom­pa­ny me on every check-up, and we can spend that time con­nect­ing in a more mean­ing­ful way1.

glass-blown pumpkins

Since Halloween is her favourite time of year, I sur­prised her with a glass­blow­ing work­shop where we made our own pump­kins. She now has these dec­o­rat­ing her desk at work as a reminder of a love­ly date in the Fall.

Developing resources to be self-suf­fi­cient also means learn­ing to be respon­si­ble for my own hap­pi­ness. In the past, I would save songs, shows, and movies so I could expe­ri­ence them for the first time with anoth­er per­son. This was espe­cial­ly true when ____ was still in my life; every moment was bet­ter when I could share it with her. But that meant I would con­stant­ly be deny­ing myself the plea­sure, and total­ly reliant on some­one’s com­pa­ny to be hap­py.

So I’ve start­ed enjoy­ing things on my own as a way of treat­ing myself well. Making sure I do some­thing that gives me joy every day has opened up a world of ways to be com­pas­sion­ate to myself. Poor self-esteem has his­tor­i­cal­ly made it dif­fi­cult for me to feel like I deserved to have fun unless I had done some­thing to earn it, while bad emo­tion­al habits meant I nev­er believed I was doing enough. None of that is an prob­lem when I sim­ply want myself to be hap­py.

That’s not to say I still don’t miss ____ tremen­dous­ly — even after she decid­ed to aban­don me and blame me for it — but I don’t need her like I used to. I know I’m final­ly get­ting over her after so many years when I can fin­ish the shows we start­ed with­out get­ting over­whelmed with emo­tion. Learning that I have the abil­i­ty to heal myself also comes as a huge sur­prise. I’ve been spend­ing so much effort on recov­ery, try­ing to feel like my old self again, that I for­got it’s pos­si­ble to grow in new ways and become an even bet­ter ver­sion of the per­son I used to be.

Rosie's knuckle tattoos

Rosie has the only knuck­le tat­toos I’ve ever been tempt­ed to copy.

Still; I can’t remem­ber the last time a song real­ly hit me, some­thing worth rat­ing five stars in my playlists2. Music does­n’t bring me the same man­ic rush of joy any­more. In the last few years, this was direct­ly relat­ed to the amount of trau­ma I expe­ri­enced. Hardship has a way of bring­ing per­spec­tive to one’s life, and reduc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of things both good and bad.

Now I can tell it’s the price to pay for sta­bil­i­ty. The highs don’t seem as high any­more when I’m con­tent most of the time, but that’s okay. I’m start­ing to under­stand that the eupho­ria I would seek as relief from my suf­fer­ing isn’t sus­tain­able. That’s a drag­on I no longer need to chase when I can remem­ber that pain is part of life, and let­ting it in is an impor­tant part of heal­ing.

  1. Not that she’s ever resent­ful when look­ing after me. []
  2. A quick check of my library tells me this was Tower Song by Townes Van Zandt back in 2015. []

no man an island

Loneliness, or the fear of aban­don­ment when­ev­er I was dat­ing some­one, have been reoc­cur­ring themes since my child­hood.

I’ve nev­er regret­ted the deci­sion to cut out my par­ents for the sake of my men­tal health, but that still means I lost the only peo­ple who had a respon­si­bil­i­ty to help and accept me (as ter­ri­ble as they were at liv­ing up to that). It was a nec­es­sary but trau­mat­ic choice. Then I had a falling out with my ex-bestie, which came about after I real­ized he was­n’t the type of per­son I need­ed or want­ed in my life, and fur­ther robbed me of sta­bil­i­ty. ____ became my best friend after that (even though I was extreme­ly reluc­tant to label her as such after my expe­ri­ences), until I final­ly stood up for myself and she decid­ed she did­n’t want to be held account­able for her actions. Heather and I com­pared notes after­wards to dis­cov­er she was avoid­ing me every time I was in a cri­sis1. I’ve had a life­time of sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ships with emo­tion­al­ly igno­rant peo­ple who would nev­er apol­o­gize or admit that they’ve ever hurt me.

Then there’s Pat, who acknowl­edged he was a being a poor friend for not stay­ing in con­tact the last time I spoke with him. Maybe it was the fact that I was cry­ing that pres­sured him into promis­ing to call me more often. That was about sev­en years ago, and I haven’t heard from him since. I’m still mourn­ing my rela­tion­ship with Shawn for the same rea­son; a per­son who lit­er­al­ly saved my life who no longer has time for me in his. Relationships with pos­i­tive peo­ple whom I loved and looked up to, that with­ered when I stopped ini­ti­at­ing con­tact, leav­ing me with more ques­tions than answers. Relationships where I’ve done noth­ing wrong and still suf­fer a loss. Part of me can’t help but feel con­fused, and scared that any­one in my life may dis­ap­pear sim­ply cause they’ve lost inter­est.

Surviving the fall­out of each expe­ri­ence meant I came out with real­ly messed up expec­ta­tions when­ev­er it comes to oth­er peo­ple. Even now, it’s hard for me to feel safe, no mat­ter how close I am to some­one.

My first tru­ly secure rela­tion­ship — one where I could express dif­fi­cult thoughts and feel­ings with­out being blamed or aban­doned or inval­i­dat­ed — start­ed in my mid-30s with Heather2. When my depres­sion and col­i­tis kept me iso­lat­ed the last few years, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly wor­ried about being over­ly depen­dent on her. At the slight­est hint of trou­ble, it felt like my world was com­ing down because she was my world3. When I turned to oth­er peo­ple for help dur­ing my lost week­end, I soon real­ized I have a won­der­ful net­work of friends and fam­i­ly.

Continue read­ing “no man an island”…

  1. During a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad day a few years back, Heather asked her to send me a text in sup­port. She replied, “Jeff and I don’t text”. Not only was that com­plete­ly untrue, it was a real­ly shit­ty excuse for her to do noth­ing. []
  2. I’ve since learned a great deal about the qual­i­ties that make a rela­tion­ship healthy and suc­cess­ful. Consequently, my stan­dards have risen. []
  3. Part of my ven­ture into polyamor­ism is because I want to expand my sup­port net­work. I’m inter­est­ed in hav­ing more peo­ple care about me, per­haps cause I’m eter­nal­ly try­ing to fill the hole left by my par­ents. []

unreliable narrator

I’ve recent­ly been faced with the chal­lenge of nav­i­gat­ing diver­gent his­to­ries with­in a shared nar­ra­tive.

It’s the rea­son I won­der what my ex-bestie tells peo­ple regard­ing our falling out; I have the feel­ing it’s some­thing along the lines of, “I don’t know”, even though I made it extreme­ly clear exact­ly why I was unsat­is­fied and unhap­py in our friend­ship. It’s the same rea­son I sus­pect my mom tells peo­ple that we did­n’t get along when some­one asks if she has any kids, instead of “I hurt my son so much that he refus­es to have any­thing to do with me”. Sure, each expla­na­tion might be close to the truth, but they’re far enough away from it that I’d con­sid­er each one a lie.

Continue read­ing “unre­li­able nar­ra­tor”…

keeping the rage tender

Fall has fall­en, and I was ready. I was wait­ing. I was trapped for months on end, when my body would­n’t coop­er­ate or anx­i­ety got the bet­ter of me. Even hear­ing Townes Van Zandt sing to me about snow in Raton was enough to make me miss win­ter again. I’d live vic­ar­i­ous­ly in any form of visu­al media I could find, just to remem­ber what it was like to feel the tin­gle of sun on my skin.

Now I can go out, but on my own terms and for the sake of it, not just ther­a­py or a doc­tor’s appoint­ment. It’s giv­en Heather and I a chance to date — to dress up for each oth­er, to trade secret glances about peo­ple who might be the oth­er’s type, to hold hands and show each oth­er off — instead of all the cop­ing we were left doing after falling into the rela­tion­ship so sud­den­ly.

portrait of Heather and Jeff

Rachel Weisz has noth­ing on dem brows.

Ever since she began her career, I found it dif­fi­cult to deal with how lit­tle we saw each oth­er. It felt like we were bare­ly con­nect­ing or hav­ing mean­ing­ful expe­ri­ences when we had such lim­it­ed time. Now that she has a bet­ter shift and a car­pool, we have an extra hour and a half togeth­er on week­days. Combined with Jesse com­mit­ting to hang­outs twice a month to play games or jam, it’s made a huge dif­fer­ence in the way I approach my goals and plan my time.

They’re small steps, but after so much regres­sion, I tend to be hap­py with any move­ment in the right direc­tion. Still, I won­der if I’ll ever find a bal­ance that won’t leave me fran­tic, one that’s con­ducive to get­ting my intro­vert needs met while let­ting me feel secure in my rela­tion­ships.

Continue read­ing “keep­ing the rage ten­der”…