Sunday, November 30, 2014

Feelings & Noise

I've pulled this up dozens of times. Started to write something. Stopped. Never come back. I feel like I want to say something. I want to say something, and I want it to be heard. But what I'm saying isn't what I'm feeling. Not really. It's noise translated, interpretations of myself I don't know I'm qualified to make.

I feel really fucking sad, and I've felt really fucking sad for a really long time. My body is clogged with old sadness and old pain from wounds I never cleaned. There are times when I spend hours trying to understand the shrapnel embedded inside me. There are times when I will sob so violently and have no idea why other than that I've hurt and lost and never let myself hurt and lose. I don't know what I need to say. I don't know what to express that will convey what I feel, what I feel and not just more noise. But at least I'm starting to feel it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I don't know if I'm lonely or I want to be alone. Sometimes I ask myself if, like Pygmalion, I could craft an ideal partner to play and cry with me would I and if so would that be what I most want in all the world?

Probably not.

I have a strong desire to be heard, but I'm not entirely sure what to say. I want to feel connected to others, but I spend the majority of my time alone. I want to peek into the hearts of those around me and caress their shame in a familiar embrace, but what would I share of my own? What am I ashamed of? Existing?


I have a vision of myself where I enjoy a quiet life of reading writing playing by myself in spare time when I'm not breathing in the existence pain of those around me. But what usually manifests in meatspace is me hiding myself whether or not there's anyone to hide from. Yes yes, the now is a vast improvement from the past, but I'm still alone on yetanotherFridaynight yet I don't know where else I'd rather be or do save skip ahead to the good parts.

I think I'm lonely. And I think being alone feels like the best alternative among a number of problematic choices. And now I don't know if that makes things better or makes them worse.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Raking Leaves

Every autumn, the leaves would change and die and fall until our yard was suffocated by the remains of spring.  I hated raking leaves, with the runny noses and the tedium of catching more in the spindles of my rake than in the pile I created. My father was so much stronger than us, doing our work three times over and vaguely resentful of the imbalance. Eventually, in middle school, we used a wheelbarrow to transfer the piles from the backyard to the street and I could do that and it was helpful and I was fine.

But as a child, after the piles were made, there were times when my father would pick us up and drop us in. We would fall, cushioned, laughing, covering ourselves underneath as if hiding in snowdrifts or under brittle blankets. We would even gently toss the dog in and gleefully wait for him to find his way out from beneath the mound.

There was something of a family in those moments, in the shared work and shared reward. Something of a togetherness and hope I only felt otherwise in the concluding moments after each of my father's rampages when he gathered us up, made halfhearted apologies and vowed "we'll all be better next time."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

I called my dad today for Father's Day for the first time since January. It's so wonderful to be able to not talk to him for long periods of time, and then see how much I've changed each iteration.

Today, I noticed our dance, showing parts of ourselves, hinting at pain, but never fully saying "I am hurting" without quickly running away. I only tell him of what I'm doing. He tells me of his deteriorating health, of his job fears, the terror I have heard a thousand times spoken as if it's new today. "Honestly, I feel like I'm living day by day" he says, as if it is a confession to a crime he's forgotten he's plead guilty to all his life. I can feel myself want to reach out to him and touch that painful core in the inverted shape of my own. Yet I stop myself from reaching and having my hand bitten for the thousandth time, knowing from experience how this game will be played.

Even as I can handle present-day him so much easier than ever before, his memory is still terrifying. I was walking today on the greenway, and a train came barreling on the tracks alongside it. It screamed, hurtling towards me with a raucous immensity that carried a familiar inevitability which made me clutch myself as much to hide as to protect myself.

I'm glad it felt like him. I'm glad I can feel it. I'm glad I can get trigged, can feel fear coursing through me, can be overwhelmed and cover myself in the terror I didn't let my child self feel. I can let the feeling wash over me, through me. I can feel it and be hurt by it. And I can survive it.

Friday, May 30, 2014

So Did I

In yoga, our final exercise involves lying on the ground and just being present with our bodies. In the past, I've visualized a greenhouse, sometimes in moonlight. On some nights the plants are withered and dry, on some nights some I picture some weakly flower struggling through, and on some nights I cherish one blossoming.

Last week, there were figures in my greenhouse. I noticed Shame, gray and frenzied. I didn't judge her, didn't assail her, didn't fight her. I noticed her. And when I looked, to my surprise I noticed Joy to the side, softly beaming buoyant yellow light as if she had just been outside of my field of vision the whole time.

This week, Shame was more distinct. She looked like me, cast in gray. Turned in upon herself, tortured brow, back caved in, softly sobbing, hopeless. Then I noticed Love. Graceful, rose colored. Love sat next to Shame, lightly caressing her back. Love did not recoil, Love did not flinch. Love stayed, her face filled with gentle sympathy. Shame's tears did not stop. But she folded onto Love, her head resting on Love's lap as Love cradled her, softly stroking her hair.

And as Shame cried, so did I.
And as Love loved, so did I.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As If There Was Never Any Other Way

I was so close. I was so close. And yet, here I am, flooded with shame yet again.

I spent almost all of last week cajoling, expressing, processing, reflecting upon, accepting my shame. I got tired of it, wanted it gone, saw no reason for it. I affirmed myself, explored where it comes from, looked at myself and accepted myself. And after a week of work, I found myself Sunday feeling anxious but without shame. Feeling that I was not a bad person, that I could connect with others, that I could conceivably be loved.

And then today, I made a misstep which was only significant in my own mind, which was painful but a learning opportunity. And I saw myself have the opportunity to say "We all make mistakes, and I made one, but I learned from it and won't make it again."

But like watching myself in slow motion, I felt the desire to feel ashamed. I so strongly felt the pull towards this mistake meaning that I was a bad person. To believe that everyone around me is better, is good, and I alone am uniquely terrible. I didn't immediately fall into it, which is a kind of progress I guess, for such an attribution is usually so fast as to be automatic. But even though I saw it happening, even though I reached out to others, even though I engaged in positive self-talk and affirmations and reminders that shame is intrapsychic violence, that shame doesn't help me connect to others, that I can learn without it, that it is just not necessary or what I want, it only delayed. And now, again, that harsh metal is inside me, cutting cutting cutting me, telling me I am toxic, I am poison, and that I need to protect everyone from my corruption lest they too be defiled.

I just feel so sad. It was so nice to be without shame. So nice to go a few days without hating myself. Without punishing myself. Without believing the world would be such a better place without me in it. It was nice. And I watched myself succumb to it. As if there was never any other way.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Piece of Should

If you'd asked me a few weeks ago if I was depressed, I would have said "Oh, no. I have a lot of anxiety, but I'm not really depressed." I would have said that because, to me, "depression" was staying in bed for 12-16 hours at a time for weeks, loving the rain and winter because the dreary washed out gray mercifully made the world look the way I felt, and spending most of my free time on weekends researching suicide methods. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

But I'm beginning to realize that I really am depressed. I'm pretty high functioning, but nevertheless I am depressed. And at the core of the depression, when I really get right down to it, is an unrelenting stream of "shoulds" so integrated into my sense of self that I don't even notice them (you should be better should be smarter should be faster shouldn't make mistakes should be happier should eat better should exercise more should have better work habits should shouldshouldshouldshould)

[I've heard other counselors aptly refer to this as "shoulding all of yourself."]

"Should" is a weird concept. It's pretty much the superego personified in word form. It's a sense of responsibility or obligation instilled from the outside. It's contrasted with "want." That's the id. It's desire, zest, joie de vivre.

Far too often, "want" conflicts with "should." Some "should" is probably a good thing. Much of Freud's theory of the subconscious centers around the idea that socialization happens when parents/society tell a child "no" (and because it's Freud, this is often surrounding sex/toilet training). The child starts to internalize those voices and gradually learns how to regulate themselves to fit in with the rest of society on their own.

And sometimes, that can be pretty great. But for me, I've internalized so much that I've lost touch with what I want. To various extents, it's made me a pretty responsible and conscientious person. But it's also left me pretty unhappy most of the time, too.

But one of the reasons I really like existentialism is because it basically says that we get to decide who/how we are in the world. There are limits on that, certainly, but working within those limits, we get to decide. There's not a clear answer, there's not much direction, it honestly might not work out. But we get to decide. And I am increasingly getting to the point where I want to consider what I want to do and how I want to be instead of how I feel I should be.

So a goal that I want to work on over the next few months is to figure out what I want. And not just in a broad, self-actualization sense. I mean, asking myself "How do you want to handle your mistakes?" Not "How do you feel you should respond to your mistakes?" but how do I want to. What kind of person do I want to be in my relationships? How do I want to approach stress? To approach uncertainty? To approach boredom?

Obviously, wanting alone is not enough. But I think moving away from depression will require some guideposts that I can hold onto whenever I start to slip into a sea of should's. And, at the very least, it will be better than all the ruminating I've been doing. I think that's something we all can want.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014

Truth, Proof, and Having Faith Anyway

On Proof and 'The Truth'

My father never lost an argument. Like any skilled artisan, significant credit goes to his tools. And, by far, his most powerful one was The Truth.

Not just any 'truth' of course. The way he saw the world was The Way, and all other ways were lies, malice and/or idiocy. His trick, though, was that he didn't outright make things up. Instead, he used something everyone had to agree had actually happened. And then he'd use what had happened to hammer his perspective home.

For instance:

When I was 3 years old, I used to sleep in the same bed as him. I was always afraid to get up to go to the bathroom, because it might wake him up and then he'd get very upset with me. So I told my mother that I was afraid to go to the bathroom. When she talked to him about this, he yelled "What am I, some kind of ogre that won't even let my own child use the bathroom?" And he used me bringing up the concern as evidence that my mother and I did not love him and thought he was a terrible person. Which led to "If I'm such a terrible person and you are all so miserable here, I will call the divorce lawyer and end this right now." So we'd plead for him to stay and try to convince him that we did love him. But he would have none of it. "NO, NO, NO. You said that you were afraid to go to the bathroom. Didn't you? Didn't you?" When you admitted that yes, he was right, you had said that, he would then (armed with that evidence and your agreement) use it to prove that you did not, in fact, love him. And since you'd already begged him to stay and agreed it was your fault, he would win. He was the victim, we were his tormentors. And he had all the evidence he needed to prove it.

What do you do with that? Well, you try to do everything perfectly [i.e. the way he wants], all the time. To show him, to prove that you really do love him. But you're a stupid kid who is cognitively incapable of doing that. So you do or say something he doesn't like, and he's right back to "YOU DID THIS BECAUSE YOU DON'T LOVE ME." And while it's clearly a logical leap, if you can't objectively prove your love, his way wins. Your father, The Adult, tells you, a child, that although you think you love him you actually don't or you wouldn't do these things. Even though you know you love him, it's obviously not a good enough love to prove it to him. You don't have any proof that makes him believe. And he has plenty of evidence that you don't love him. So not only do you inconvenience and torment him all the time, you don't even love him well enough to be able to convince him of it. That pretty much makes you a monster.

My favorite example of The Truth is how, during one fight, he badgered my mother into signing a piece of paper that actually said "I no longer love John." His sophisticated persuasive tactic to accomplish this was probably the twentieth episode of the following routine:
 "If you loved me, you wouldn't do <thing that displeased him #463>. But since you did it, you clearly don't love me. You did it, right?"
"John, I--"
"No, Mary, You. Did. It. Am I right?"
"John, that's--"
<resignedly> "Yes, John. I did."
"Then it's true you don't love me. Admit it."
"John, that's not-"
"No Mary, you already admitted you did this. And since you did it, you can't possibly love me."
"John, that's not true."
"Yes, Mary. Yes it is. You already admitted that you did it."
<just to get him to stop> "Fine. Ok, John, yes. I don't love you. You win. Will you stop now?"
"No, I want it in writing."

So after more of the same for a few minutes, she signed it.

And from that point forward, every single time my father needed to prove that he was the victim in a loveless marriage to a cruel, hateful wife, he would say "No, I know you don't love me. You haven't loved me for years. I have it on paper."

That was always what arguing with my father was like. Yes, my mother did literally do something which my father was displeased with. Yes, he got her to say that she did not love him. Yes, she even signed a piece of paper that said this. The facts that he berated her until she did or that there may have been motivations other than hating him or hurting him for the initial thing that displeased him are completely ignored. If you tried to argue with him, he used what you had said like a cudgel and beat you with it. He always had proof.

When you're in an environment where your abuser is Always Right (and won't allow any other outcome), where he will threaten to leave until you take the blame and beg him to stay, where he will always yell until you acquiesce, where he always has a litany of 'concrete evidence' to justify his claims, it's almost impossible to believe that he's wrong. *Especially* when you're a child. His Truth always trumps yours.

Having Faith Anyway

Why did he do this? Well, fundamentally, what I think my father wanted even if he didn't realize it is undeniable, everlasting proof that he was loved. Like many of us, he was hurt badly in his past (as a child) by the people who were supposed to love and protect him (his parents). Ever since, he has been so scared of being hurt again that he wants Absolute Proof of Love before taking the risk of trusting it.

In many respects, his fear is well founded. Love is trust. Love is risk. When I tell you "I love you," you can't really know how I feel or what that means. You can gather a bunch of evidence one way or another. But you can't really know. You just have to trust me. Yet when you've trusted in love in the past (especially as a child), and that love has not protected you, you are acutely aware of how risky it is to believe someone else saying "I love you." My father said "I love you" all the time. And every time, because I felt like such a terrible person since I did all these things to hurt him and convince him I didn't love him, I felt terribly guilty when he said it. Is it any wonder that I find "I love you" such a hard thing to believe myself?

It's a risk. You can gather evidence to help make it a safer risk. Still, on some level, you just have to trust the other person. You have to hold onto the belief without Absolute Proof. You have to have faith.

My father was too scared to take the risk of believing I loved him. So I thought my love wasn't good enough. That I wasn't good enough. So I have been too scared to believe I can be good enough for others, because I know so acutely well how much it hurt to try so hard and still not be good enough for my father.

And now, in my adulthood, I have internalized his voice, asking for Absolute Proof of my love. Of my worth. Of the validity of my feelings.  I am constantly demanding, constantly dissatisfied. Some evidence of my worth may temporarily quiet the voice, but it always comes back. It always wants Absolute, Eternal Proof that I Will Be Good Enough.

More and more, though, I have come to accept that there is no Absolute, Eternal Proof. I can never prove to my father that I love him. I can never prove to myself that others love me. I can never prove that everyone isn't lying to me when they say I matter to them. I can never prove that even if I've been valuable to people in the past, that I will continue to be valuable to them in the future. I can get evidence that supports these conclusions. But there's always a chance I could be wrong. Always a chance.

For most of my life, I've let this lack of proof rule me. Because there is no Absolute Proof, I've been too afraid to take the risk. I've been too afraid to have faith.

Too afraid to have faith in others, but also too afraid to have faith in myself. What if I believe and I'm wrong? What if I trust someone and they can't help me when I need them? What if I trust myself and I'm not enough? And they're hurt? And they leave? Again?

Possibilities, all. But I don't want to live my life like my father. I don't want to deny myself love, deny myself worth because I am afraid of what will happen if it goes away. I don't want to always, incessantly demand a proof neither I nor anyone else can ever give me. I have to take the risk of trusting others. Of trusting myself. I have to have faith.

Not a foolhardy faith, not a faith built upon what I want to be true. But a faith informed by my experience, by what I think I know, by what I feel. I know there are things about myself from which I can build a sense of worth. I know I have people in my life who, imperfect as they are, truly care about me and will advocate for me and won't easily let me go. I may fail. They may fail me. But I am at the point in my life where I am convinced that the pain of that failure is less than my constant fear and the loss I would feel at spending my entire life never believing in myself and those who love me. Like my father, I will never have Proof that I am and always will be loved. But unlike my father, I don't have to let an absence of Proof deny me the chance of having love at all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Im-Perfect Resolution

This year, my New Year's Resolution is to be imperfect.

I pledge to make countless mistakes. 

I vow to struggle at the things I want to do better. 

I agree to not be the person I wish I was.

I swear to do some things very poorly, to do a lot of things moderately ok, to even do some things really well but *only* some of the time.

I promise to disappoint people. *Especially* the people I care about.

I am determined to not be the best at anything. Nor will I receive unparalleled accolades, significant fame, anything greater than marginal influence, or anything approaching prodigious success.

I fully intend to not only fall short of my goals, but to be inadequate even in my pursuit of inadequacy.

In 2014, I resolve to give up perfection. And, most challenging of all, feel good doing it.