Contempt & Pride: Relationship Destroyers

I’ve been thinking about the quality of my relationships lately and have come to the conclusion that they need some work. Actually, I don’t have many relationships. This realization left me feeling angry and sad. While I was thinking about what the root of the problem was, pertaining to my lack of relationships, I’ve finally decided that contempt, pride and hyper critical judgements were the foundation of most of my old relationships. From romantic to friendships to familial, most shared contempt as being their foundational element.

The Root

What sparked this for me was a dream I had recently. In the dream I was at work, which shifted to a bus stop, as is apt to happen in dreams. I was sitting next to a friend of mine, actually I believe he was my only friend, when I turned to my right and my ex was suddenly sitting next to me. We cried together, for what we shared in the past and when I looked up, there was a throng of people between us. I asked if they were going home. They looked confused as if they knew what to say, but didn’t want to reveal it to me. Then they vanished.

I knew in my dream what my old partner wanted to say, but was to proud to admit their feelings of vulnerability. I understand that this is only a dream. And most likely my subconscious processing some old emotions. But this interaction played out a thousand times in our relationship and in our daily interactions. Both of us too proud to show our true emotions to one another for fear of being vulnerable with one another.

As to where I learned to hide my vulnerabilities from those closest to me, this was the type of relationship that I had modeled for me by my family when I was a child. The same was also the case with my ex. We were just too proud to be open with our emotions in one another’s presence. And this type of holding back, from my experience, breeds contempt.

Contempt Ends Relationships

My family members are experts in this way of being in relationship. I especially was adept at using contempt to cover over my vulnerability and to distance myself emotionally from those closest to me. But to be fair, we were so mean to one another, that it felt crazy to want to get close to anybody else. Especially after the damage we had already caused. Why would we want to go back for more of the same?

The result? We lived isolated lives with few, if any, friends we could rely on for emotional support. We had been so emotionally damaged by one another, that we were unable and unwilling to connect. Or to even know what a healthy relationship looked like. In this climate, it is nearly impossible for a relationship to grow. In fact, our family is just now starting to reconnect after decades of our fields being left fallow. And that’s only after doing a tremendous amount of work on ourselves.

So the next question I asked myself was, if we are looking to be loved by our family and friends, why are we so mean to one another? I believe that most of us are looking to feel a sense of belonging to something larger than just ourselves. Usually that type of belonging comes from our immediate family. So if we want to feel loved by each other, then why are we pushing each other away? For me, I think it has to do with survival.

Surviving Our Closest Relationships

What I remember growing up, more than any other type of connection was, a hyper critical environment. No matter what I was doing, it was never good enough and there was always some cutting remark to be made at my expense. How did I respond to this? By raising the standard so high, that nobody would be able to achieve it. Especially those judging me.

This was how I learned to put distance between me and those who were looking to hurt me. This was my way of surviving in a loveless, hostile environment. My reasoning being, if you couldn’t meet my standard, I could look down on you with contempt. That way I could feel superior than those I was judging, while keeping my distance. However, this did not work.

What happened in reaction to what I was doing was more of the same. They would in turn raised the bar even higher than I had. And I in turn would raise it again. All the while all of us looking down on each other with contempt. This was a viscous cycle that continued until someone would have the strength to break free and change the course of our trajectory.

Changing Course

As I’ve said above, this isn’t easy. When I decided I no longer wanted to live a life where I was cutting people out, I realized I had already cut almost everybody out of my life. This is where it got tough. To look back at all the relationships I had and look for what was salvageable. And there was a lot of wreckage.

As a testament to how I was living, there are many people who, to this day, refuse to talk to me. These include almost everybody I would have considered my close friends and romantic partners. But I take solace in knowing that the relationships weren’t 100% my responsibility and there for not completely my fault.

Taking Your Half

This is something my father says often when talking about blame in relationships. Take your half. Half the blame, half the resentment, half the contempt… Whatever negative feelings you’re experiencing, know that it isn’t entirely your fault.

I came to this realization a little late in the game. The realization I came to recently was, that every loving relationship that I had with somebody close, that had ended in some big way, the number one take away for me was, it was my fault. I was so used to being abandoned by those closest to me, that I just began to think that it was me who was worth leaving. This however is not the case.

The more I thought about the disintegration and breakdown of my major relationships, the more I recognized that there was a pattern in the people who were doing the breaking up. Sure, I played my part, but the other halves in my relationships were unwilling to take responsibility for their part in our breakdown.

We were unforgiving and intolerant of each other due to the thousand tiny cuts we endured, which breed contempt for one another. So when it came down to whether we were able to forgive each other, the answer was a resounding no. Or at least that’s what it seems like from my perspective. Because it was never my intention to leave any of these relationships. I was the one being left.

Forgiveness & Mending the Pain

Forgiveness is something that I am recently coming to understand as a virtue. Historically, forgiveness has not been something that I’ve ever practiced. I would hold people to their actions and misdeeds and use it against them to apply pain or make someone feel guilty. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because, it’s all I knew.

All of my friends, family and partners had a zero tolerance policy when it came to making mistakes. We were expected to be more than human in our relationships. I think this has to do with how high we were setting the standards, in order to feel superior to those trying to get close to us. This left no margin for error and anything short of perfection was unacceptable.

This was most prevalent in my family growing up, but it also translated to my romantic relationships as well. In one relationship, something had happened to wake me from my emotional cocoon. From the numbness I was living under for two decades. While I was waking to these new emotions, I had no idea what was happening. For scope, imagine being 32 years old and feeling accepted and understood for the first time since you were 8 years old, after experiencing a life’s time worth of traumatic events.

Putting Forgiveness into Practice

I was terrified. Realizing I was living life in a state of numbness and waking into the full spectrum of my emotional world was overwhelming. This is where I had began to make some bad decisions. But when it came down to making a choice, when I confronted my then partner with what was happening to me and what she wanted to do, she chose to leave. Like everybody else before her. She chose to avoid confronting the real work that needed to be done. Later I would try to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm for her, but that’s another story all together.

And it’s important to note that this isn’t a soapbox for me to hop on some high moral ground. I made my share of mistakes, that’s for certain. And I’m not trying to say that my ex didn’t have a difficult decision to make. But when it came to practicing forgiveness, something she would say we needed to do often, she was unwilling to.

And again, I know that this isn’t easy work. It’s one thing to look back on what we have done and criticize ourselves for not doing the right thing with the luxury of time and perspective. But when we’re caught in the moment and the emotions are so big that we can’t see our way out of them, it’s not so easy to see things rationally. So how do we get to a place where we can practice forgiveness? Even if it’s been something we’ve been avoiding for a very long time? Practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know what’s true for me, is that contempt came easy because it was what I practiced. Everyday, while I was interacting in my relationships, I was practicing distancing myself from others by feeling contempt for them. So the antidote to that? Practice forgiveness.

For me, I started by getting in touch with the people that I had lost contact with. This was no easy task. And I should say that I didn’t go into the reconnection with an air of needing to forgive the other. That in itself can be arrogant. My main intention was to open up to the other. To let them know that, as a friend of mine used to say, “I’m here, I care.” And also because we were friends once. I genuinely want my friends to be happy and successful.

Though my intentions are good, they weren’t always met with warm regards. One person that hurt me particularly badly responded with, “blow it out your ass.” Something I can laugh about now, but it still doesn’t stop me from worrying about them from time to time. Which brings me to another facet of practicing forgiveness, humility.

Being Humble

This wasn’t so easy for me to practice. I was over the top with my machismo attitude and posturing. I wanted to be seen as in charge and beyond reproach. This goes hand in hand with me setting the bar too high to be questioned about my own actions. This was also my way of distancing myself from others. But it did little in the way of making me a strong individual.

My past self would hold on to the smallest insults. Blowing them way out of proportion and find ways to retaliate to make the other person feel small. But this made me aggressive and petty. Also unable to truly withstand the little blows that life dealt me.

What practicing humility means for me is, sitting inside of the discomfort of somebody else’s hurtful comments without reacting emotionally. It’s here that I’m able to release these emotions and let them pass without looking for some way to bolster my hurt ego. From this calm place, it is easier to find forgiveness.

So my friends, here is where I leave you. If you’re like me and have more than a few relationships in critical condition, know that it’s not too late. You can still work to reconnect and salvage some of those friendships. You won’t save them all, but that’s okay too. Take what you can from the experience and know that there are more likeminded people out there to meet still. Good luck, peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Broken heart” by bored-now is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Relax, You Don’t Have to be Dying to Take a Sick Day

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it.

I’ve recently been reading a travel book about New England, to get to know Boston and the region a little better and to relax a bit more in my place of origin. Also to look for some places to travel to, maybe for a weekend or a day trip. While I was reading the bio of my people, I was informed that we are known for or thriftiness and our being industrious. This struck me as odd. Mostly because I don’t see New Englanders as having these traits in abundance. But the more I thought about it, the more the evidence started to pile up. I just couldn’t see the forest for the New England Foliage.

My family in particular are very thrifty. We will go a great distance to find the best prices and deals on the things we buy. I remember many a car rides to outlets and discount retailers, looking for a bargain to bring home. And I think we did it mostly for sport. For the bragging rights, to say we got the cheapest price. We are intense about the things we do. And the intensity we bring to shopping, we bring to other areas in our lives as well. Which brings me to number two on the list, our work ethic.

Being Intense on the Job

Thinking back to the travel book, I was realizing how spot on their assessment was. At least of my New England family. Growing up for me, hard work was a given and to relax was to be lazy. There was no tolerance for those unwilling to pull their own weight. This was made clear to me in one of my first jobs as a bus boy in the restaurant my mother worked for.

I was probably 13 years old at the time and my only other working experience was when I had delivered news papers. I never experienced a traditional work environment before and especially not one as tough as a kitchen. On my first day, no more than 3-4 hours into my shift, my mother pulled me aside and yelled at me for being lazy. I was 13, three hours into my first shift and at the only place I had ever worked and I was already expected to know how to preform my duties and do them perfectly. These were the expectations that were set for me and my family. We definitely needed a lesson in how to relax.

How We Look Doing What We Do

Looking back now, I understand how connected my performance was to how my mother viewed herself moving through her work environment. In her eyes, I was a direct reflection of who she thought herself to be. And the one thing she was not going to tolerate was being correlated with being lazy. This was where my work ethic was forged.

So I worked hard. Mostly because I wanted to feel accepted and loved. But I worked from a fearful place. One where I was afraid to relax for fear of being seen as lazy. I adopted my family’s serious demeanor because I wanted to be seen as someone who doesn’t play games. Someone who gets the job done and does it without having to be told how. Also to garner respect. Because this, I was taught, was the mark of a man. But this way of living left me with an intensity that made me slightly mean and definitely unapproachable. And little in the way of tools to help build solid foundations for relationships.

In a more recent experience, while at work, I was being told that I was working too hard. Also that I was difficult to talk to because I had an air of undeserved superiority about me. This wasn’t the first time I had been told I was difficult to manage either. I was let go of a job that I was particularly good at because I didn’t have any people skills. This was jarring because it flew in the face of the values I had been raised with. Which was that working hard and productivity are first priority. Everything else is inconsequential. Being able to relax was at the bottom of the list. But what I was coming to learn was, I had been mislead.

Listening to Our Bodies & Learning to Relax

This type of intensity doesn’t come without its toll. More recently, I decided to take a day off from work because I was exhausted. I had just worked two doubles, back to back, 12 hour days and was feeling worn out. So I called in to my work place and told them I needed the day. They said “I hope you feel better”, and I got back to taking some much needed rest.

Later on in the day, when I was speaking to my father about taking the day off, he was growing agitated with the topic as we discussed it. He was asking probing questions about my decision until I finally asked if he felt uncomfortable with what I had done. Calling in without actually being sick. He said he was and that it was something you just don’t do. He also told me that I don’t work that hard anyway so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to muscle through the day. Unhealthy to say the least.

Well, as the week progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. I worked through the last two days of the week, but by the time Friday night came around, while I was finishing up dinner I knew I was definitely feeling ill. I knew that I would wake in the morning feeling sick and that me taking the day off in the middle of the week was most likely my body telling me that I was tired, stressed and getting sick. So it’s time to take care of yourself and relax. Something I’m not used to doing and if it were up to my family, something I wouldn’t do at all.

Take the Day, Trust Yourself

My body was telling me something that I have been ignoring for far to long. Me and my family have been neglecting our physical needs for as long as I can remember. “Muscling through it” should be at the top of our family crest. And if the need to feel belonging wasn’t drive enough for me to try and work myself to death, I was also being guilted into working more than my body could handle. All because it was making my family feel “uncomfortable”.

I had been stripped of my autonomy because it was too difficult for someone else to see me as being unreliable, or even worse, lazy. Even though I was receiving nothing but encouragement from my places of employment. I was 13 all over again, trying to live up to an impossible standard at the expense of my better judgement and overall health. This, I declared, was unhealthy and unreasonable. Something needed to change in my life and I was the one who had to put it into action.

Trust Your Intuition But Know Your Limits

This is where I am deciding to take the time if I feel I need it. There are some things I’ve come to know about myself. I know I’m a hard worker, to a fault. I take pride in a job well done and usually, enjoy the work. But I can push myself beyond my limits. Knowing these characteristics, I am now able to search for feelings and flags around my work ethic.

How this looks in action is, if I’m thinking about taking a day off, I first need to trust that this is coming from a caring and trustworthy place in myself. This way, when the voice of my family chimes in with phrases such as, “you don’t work that hard anyway” or “don’t be lazy”, I can challenge those thoughts and the emotions of guilt and shame that make me uncomfortable and accompany my thoughts. I can then sit in the dis-ease and make a decision based on what is best for me and my body’s needs. Not the expectations of my family.

These are the healthy self-care lessons I was never taught. And they’re ones that I’m deciding to implement while reparenting myself. It isn’t easy, but neither is the alternative of working myself to death. And I’d rather be in a healthy mental space than buried under stress from the unachievable standards of a dysfunctional past.

Finding the Support to Make the Change

And none of what I’ve laid out above would have been possible if it wasn’t for the healthy support I received from my friends and role models along the way. For instance, my therapist has been a huge wealth of support for me. If I didn’t have a trained professional who was able to give me another perspective asides from my dysfunctional world view, I don’t know that I would have been able to see outside of what I was steeped in. The unhealthy values of my family.

And without a friend to text, or to grab a beer and burger with to talk about what’s happening in my life, I could have easily withdrew. Losing out on a much needed perspective shift. Or some understanding and empathy. And these are the elements that I was missing when I was too afraid to connect. Especially because connecting with others has meant being hurt and taken advantage of in my past.

Luckily for me, when I decided to change my way of living, I had a few friends willing to stand by me through the change. And it was these friends, who allowed me to change without the judgements or criticisms, that showed me what it felt like to be supported. Something that had been lacking in almost all of my previous relationships.

Why Support Matters

Because if it wasn’t for my newly found support, I would have gone on living my life as though I had to meet the impossible standards of my past. The standards that said it is not only normal to work 6 days a week and that 12 hour days are the norm, but it’s also expected. And not that difficult.

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it. That’s why we need the kind of support that says, “you look tired, when was the last time you had a day off?” Otherwise, life is a difficult mess. And it’s from this mindset that I want to approach how I budget my resources. With self-care being at the forefront of my assessments. And this is so much easier when you have people in your corner cheering you on. Reminding you what the healthiest version of you looks like.

Because we need these reminders when we wake up after working two, 12 hour days back to back. The reinforcement that gives us the nudge to pick up the phone and text or call our boss to tell them we need to take the day off. Reminders to tell us to do what’s bet for us.

Take the Day & be Kind

If you’re anything like I am, when you decide to take care of yourself you’ll be inundated with guilty thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult enough feeling fatigued and vulnerable when we are feeling sick or super stressed. Then add on the guilt and feeling that you’re failing in some way and we’re making an already bad situation worse. So remember the kindness that we’ve cultivated in our relationships with our supports. Once we do that, we can then extend that kindness to ourselves.

And don’t forget to relax! I know this is a tough one. Especially by those who are riddled with feelings of guilt for feeling as though they’re underachieving. But it is an essential part to feel your best. Nobody has ever guilted themselves into a healthier version of them self ; ) Recently I’ve come up with a few lines to repeat to myself with the help of my therapist. These are there to remind me that it’s okay to relax. And maybe most importantly, to take it a little easier on myself.

So keep an eye on your self and your energies, emotions and physical being. Rest when you are tired, eat when you are hungry and take the space you need to feel your best. If you need a mental health day to recoup, take the day. Nobody knows what you need more than yourself. It may be a big responsibility, but it’s a rewarding one. And head over to The Good Trade if you need some inspo on ways to relax. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “sick day” by jamelah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Trauma, Blueberries & Recovery: How the Past Informs Who We Become

I’ve covered a lot of ground on this blog. Much of my personal history is written in the pages of this space. I’ve also experienced a lot of trauma. Only some of which I’ve talked about here. This post is a little different than my others, in that I’m going to talk about trauma and the effects it has on our ability to feel, give and receive love. As Jay-Z once said, “it’s a hard knock life”. And the longer I live, the more I see the damage we incur from these knocks. We’re all hurt to some degree and we all deserve a little compassion. So let’s take a look at some of my hurt and how I’ve dealt with it. Hopefully, others will find some comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

My Song

When I was young, my family life was pretty good. My mother’s father was my best friend. We would sit in his den, watching baseball games together on the weekends when I was very young. We lived in the poor part of a very wealthy town, that makes most well-to-do suburbs look a little shabby. And I had a family that was supportive and seemingly loving.

That being said, there was violence happening in our family as well. The men in my family were prone to yelling at whomever wasn’t listening to them, while throwing breakables at walls to punctuate their rage. Also there was a lot of physical corrections being made in the form of spankings that were carried out with enthusiasm and zeal. And if the men in my family were terrifying, the women were just as scary.

Words were their weapons. As well as condescending judgements and withholding love. Also, setting a standard so high in order to gain their regard, that no matter what I did, I would never add up. Not to mention the emotional neglect. And this was the cycle. We were constantly hurting one another and not realizing the damage we were doing because we were so shut off from our emotions that we could barely feel anything. This was trauma inducing to say the least.

The Trauma

By the time I was halfway through my eighth year, things in my family began to fall apart. My aunt had developed an aggressive form of skin cancer that ravaged her body. My mother was the one who took charge and aided my dying family member by taking care of her through the worst of her struggles. I can remember watching my mother stick metal spoons in my aunts mouth to depress her tongue, while my aunt was having grand mal seizures. She had a mouth full of jagged teeth due to this practice. They did this because it was believed that the person having the seizure would swallow their tongue. Medicine has thankfully come a long way.

It was around this time that the fighting between my parents began to escalate. There was more yelling, more cutting words and more dinner ware being shattered. This happened until they finally called it quits. But by that time, my mother had been taking my sibling and I to the neighboring state, most times at 1 AM, after my mother got off from work, to comfort my deceased aunt’s family. This was where my abuse began.

Nighttime Visits

After having witnessed my aunt lose her violent battle with cancer, wasting away to a ghost of her former self, my family fell apart. I was spending more time with my deceased aunt’s family in an unfamiliar setting, away from all my friends and family, save for my mother. But that was about to change.

I don’t remember when these visits started, but at some point during the summer, my uncle had taken to coming into the room where I was sleeping in the dead of night, 2-3 AM, and pulling me from bed. I would later develop an obsession with vampires because of these visits. Usually he would yell at me while drunk, about what it means to be a man like a drill Sargant. I was living in constant state of fear for my life, not knowing how to keep myself safe. The first of many times he did this, he poured water on my groin and then violently rent me from my bed. He then punished me for “wetting” the bed. Making me clean up “my mess”. I have never felt terror like the night I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, not knowing what to do or where to go.

This painting sums up how I felt after my family divided while incurring all of the violence and trauma I was going through. Figure with Meat, Francis Bacon “Figure with Meat” by lluisribesmateu1969 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Later, I told my mother what was happening, taking a chance after being given strict instructions not to tell her by my uncle during his drunken rages. But when I told her, she turned her back on me and walked away. It was at this point that I was left completely on my own with zero support. I was eight and had experienced events that some people, thankfully never experience, and others that were usually spread out over a life’s time. And I experienced them all within six months and with no one to take care of me or to support me, at eight years of age. This is where my emotions left me. Frozen to keep me safe. It would take decades for me to feel safe enough to open to these emotions again, to defrost.

Living with the Trauma

As I aged, I would experience more traumas at the hands of my family. Only now I was old enough to start taking matters into my own hands. I stopped going to school by the time I was 14. My family life was deteriorating rapidly as well. My step-father was abusive and addicted to pornography as well as drinking too much. Something my entire family did and did well.

And, the apple did not fall far from the tree. By the time I was 15, I was drinking and staying out all hour, also addicted to pornography and looking to have a good time. Of course, this was what I was telling myself. But I was really terrified to go back to my house because I would most likely be abused. Either physically or psychologically and the neglect was a given.

By the time I turned nineteen, I got the boot from my house because I wasn’t going to college. I had stopped going to school by the time I was 14 because I was unable to be around others without feeling tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety. But by some miracle I was expected to go to college and do well. So I got my first apartment with two friends that were in similar situations and was on my own.

On My Own with Friends

Our first apartment wasn’t too bad. But we were living on our own, with zero life skills. I remember one of the first nights at the apartment, I came home from work and the fridge was completely filled with 40s. There was no food. Only beer and videogames. And that’s how it was most nights. We drank to manage our anxiety and fear. The only tools we had to navigate our out-of-control lives. We would eventually get the boot from that apartment inside of a year living there. Our neighbors, as it turned out, were selling heroin. So clearly, in the mind of my landlady, we were selling heroin as well.

We moved from that house to a temporary house that was going to be torn down in a few months time after we moved in. It was better to live there than to be homeless, so we moved in. This was the apartment that I lost my childhood friend to drugs. He didn’t die, but he was spending more and more time with his drug dealer than with his other friends. He moved out into the garage and started cutting ties with us. After that we became strangers to each other. Not an easy thing to experience, and only one of the many friends I would lose along the way. But what made this so difficult was, he was the only friend I had that was support from before my childhood trauma began. Losing him was a big blow.

After that apartment, we moved into an apartment that was too small for us, so I squatted in the entre way. Again, better that than to be homeless. That apartment was dirty. We had trash drifts in areas of the apartment that were up to our knees. I later upgraded to a bedroom when a roommate moved out, but that was still hard living. Another friend of ours moved into the entre way. Again, much like our first place, it was filled with booze and videogames. We also lived across the street from a bar that we frequented. This did not help in the drinking department.

Moving Up, Sort of

From there I moved again a few times, but by this time I had met my now ex-wife. We worked in adolescent group homes. Me at the one for boys and my ex in the one for girls. I was still emotionally numb from the undealt with traumas I had incurred when I was eight, but I somehow stumbled my way into a relationship that was somewhat stable.

I was still drinking regularly, about 100 pounds over weight and still viewed women as sex objects. I’m not sure how I managed to find someone to be with, because I had zero luck when it came to relationships. But we were together for about eight years.

Unfortunately, things still looked the same for me. I was in a state of stasis. Unchanged from the ways I had been living from the time I had been abused as a child. I was just coasting along, unable to appreciate what I had due to me being so numb from my early childhood and family trauma. So when I started waking from my emotional cocoon, things took a surprising turn.

Waking Up into My Emotions

Oddly enough, it was somebody that I worked with that started me down the path of waking up emotionally. I can’t explain why it happened with her, but there was a combination of feeling heard, with an empathic understanding and willingness to be vulnerable around me that made me feel awake around her. Also feeling safe with my current partner gave me the stability to open emotionally again. I was so used to being told how to feel and what was going to happen for me, that this was something completely new. There was a possibility present that I had never felt before.

So I started spending more time with this woman, in hopes to gain some of that emotion that was missing from my life. Looking back I would have done things differently, but I didn’t stand a chance. I was eight years old again with her, dealing with 24 years of trauma that had been piling up at my doorstep. To say I was in over my head is an understatement.

I realize now that what I was experiencing was finding a friend, friendship. Someone who had been through some of what I had been through and understood. She had her own list of trauma that she was dealing with. The term, “real recognize real and you lookin familiar” describes some of what I was feeling for the first time in a quarter century. But these feelings were all new to me and I was just tying to stay afloat.

My ex did all the right things however. She got us into couples therapy and desperately tried to find out what was happening with me. The only thing I knew was that I was feeling again for the first time since I was a child. I didn’t know what I was feeling, but I was feeling again. And finally, after I had come to a place that was relatively still waters for what I was experiencing, in one night heavy with tension, I stood in the kitchen with my ex and asked her if she wanted to try to make our relationship work.

I had no idea what was happening to me, but something inside of me knew that I needed to give our relationship another shot. But she was unwilling. She said that I had had an emotional affair with the other woman. And that, she couldn’t forgive. I didn’t know what emotions were, let alone know them enough to have an affair. So we parted ways that night. And it’s important to say I don’t blame my ex for leaving. For all I was experiencing, she was dealing with her own struggles. No one was struggling more than the other.

After the Separation

I lived with the woman who helped me to wake into my emotions for a while. It was a good time for me. I stopped drinking, started exercising regularly, meditating and started thinking about my future, all for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel like I was drifting anymore. But not too long into the relationship she told me to leave. She couldn’t handle the weight of the guilt of how I ended my relationship with my ex. So I moved in with family, something I had been running from since I was eight.

I was working a series of part time jobs after moving in with my family. And I was starting over at the ground floor, looking to build myself back up. I started dissociating, which is a way for me to protect myself from the feelings that were too trauma packed to feel all at once. How I discovered I was dissociating was, I had crashed two cars on my way to work in the morning. One into a suburban fence, and the other on I-95. The only thing I remember about the accidents is suddenly coming to and walking around the flipped car on the side of the highway or crashed into a fence. I’m lucky to be alive and that I didn’t hurt anybody in the process. This was jarring.

Also, shortly after I moved in with my father and step-mother, I went into a manic state two times and tried to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm to win back my ex-wife. I thought that this was a reasonable reaction to feeling the loss of my former relationship. Again, I was eight years old, standing on the landing after my mother turned her back on me after telling her about my abuse. I felt completely alone and unsafe. If it wasn’t for an old roommate of mine who happened to be driving by me while I was running, I don’t like to think what would have happened to me. Again, lucky to be alive. Thanks Jon.

It was here that I was feeling the full force of my unfelt trauma from my childhood. I was looking for something safe, running from what was too difficult to feel. But they say the way out is through. So I stayed. I stayed in what was more than uncomfortable. Staying with what was traumatic. With family, with my feelings and most importantly, with myself. It was here that I really learned how to heal from what had been a life’s time worth of neglected and abused emotions. No easy feat.

Continuing to Heal

I’m now in a much healthier place than I’ve ever been. I’m still exercising regularly, meditating as well. And I’m eating healthfully and am at my ideal weight for the first time since I was a child. I have boundaries for the first time and am building new relationships built on mutual trust and communication. It feels really good knowing that I have my future in focus after a life’s time worth of running from my past. Knowing I’m here for myself, and as a friend of mine says, “I’m here, I care” to my emotional world, makes me feel like a whole new me.

The trauma I’ve experienced in my past is only a story now. Not something that makes regular visits. The support I have from the community I’ve built around me is also world class. I can’t say enough good things about the people who have stood by and support me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And none of this was easy.

If you’re dealing with trauma and the effects of trauma, at any stage of your life, know that you are not alone. I’ve found the help of my therapist to be the guiding light out of my darkest times. Because as Tara Brach says, “we were wounded in relationship, so we heal in relationship”. This talk from Tara Brach, Buddhist psychologist, was pivotal for me learning how to navigate my emotions again. If you’ve experienced trauma, please take a look at it and seek help. There are good people out there doing good work.

Reflections on the Past

These are only a sampling of the trauma I’ve endured. I’d also like to say I’m not seeking sympathy, only sharing what I’ve experienced in hopes it may aid somebody else in their journey. Because life gets weird. And without each other’s help, we can be overtaken by the difficulties we encounter. So take heart and know that you are strong enough for this life that was given to you.

Also, I’d like to take the time to apologize for how I treated all of the people I hurt in the past. If you are reading this and I’ve injured you to some degree, know that I am truly sorry. My past is no excuse for treating people the ways that I had. And for this, I am truly sorry.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to about what you’ve been through in the past, this article from The Good Trade goes over some online therapy sites that can help in your journey. So dear reader, this is where I leave you. Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about them down below. You’re the best and as always, Peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Plant in dried cracked mud” by Aproximando Ciência e Pessoas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

More on Forgiveness: When We’re Our Own Worst Enemy

Forgiveness. This is not an easy topic. And if you’re anything like I am, nothing gets past your ruthlessly critical eye. Especially your own doings. This has been the case for me for a very long time. Something I’m just now learning to tamp down. But it took some doing to even recognize how unforgiving I was. Also, how the people I chose to surround myself with shared my sense of self righteousness. I cringe a little, thinking back on how I was acting with those around me following suit.

But things have changed for me for sure. I’ve given up many of the old beliefs that were holding me back. I’m no longer the “score keeper” I once was and I’m more willing now to let things go. But if we’re being honest, that was never my intention. My goal was to be kinder, not as mean or petty as I once was. But there in lies the catch. In trying to whip myself into shape, to be kinder, more forgiving, I was unwilling to forgive myself for the ways I was behaving. So I needed to learn to extend a little of that forgiveness inward, before I could be kind and forgiving outwardly.

Forgiveness Starts with Yourself

This is so rote, so cliché that it should be a no brainer. But I feel as though each family, or person has to learn this anew each generation. I know from my experience that forgiveness was something that was held just out of reach from me by my family. And to be fair, I don’t know that any of us felt as though we were even worthy of being forgiven. We carried with us such an air of feeling as though we weren’t enough, no matter what we were doing, that it just didn’t register that we could be forgiven.

Knowing What Forgiveness Feels Like

So instead of trying to practice a little forgiveness, we chose to cover over our unworthy feeling selves. We did this with our holier than thou attitudes. This however, did little in the way of making us feel better about ourselves.

As a result, we all had very low self esteem. We were lonely as well. Mostly because we were pushing everybody away but, also due to us feeling as though we were the only ones feeling that we didn’t deserve forgiveness or kindness. We were trying to be perfect to avoid the critical judgements of each other, while holding everyone to the impossible standards we had created for ourselves. This was a dangerous combination.

The result? Not to my complete lack of surprise, we didn’t know what forgiveness felt like. We were so busy holding it back from each other, that we held it back from ourselves a well. And in the process, forgotten what it had felt like. However there was, for me, a lot of free floating anxiety and fear. Mostly of not feeling accepted by others. Or feeling loved and belonging. Like I said, it was lonely.

Holding Back

What’s so strange about this experience was, that I could actually feel myself unwilling to let go. I could feel myself withholding love and forgiveness from myself. It feels like when you see a small child throwing a tantrum because they are told to stop doing something against their will. And that’s what made this feeling so difficult to manage. Because there was also a feeling of contempt for the part of me that was withholding forgiveness.

The part that I feel should have known better. The part that should know that I’m only hurting myself. But then how should I have known if it was the only way I knew how to relate to my ability to forgive? I wasn’t taught another way. So I continued to hold back my ability to forgive myself.

Realizing Something is Off

It wasn’t until very recently that I put the pieces together of what I was doing and the effect it was having on me. I noticed when I was speaking to someone about how unreasonable my standards are and how I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being. Then she said something to me that made me physically feel well, cared for. She asked me, “have you forgiven yourself for the ways you used to be?”

The answer to that question was most definitely a NO. And to be asked that, to directly recognize that I was treating myself as unforgivable, a criminal, was eye opening. A feeling of being relaxed, full, washed over me from head to toe. As though I had been waiting for a person to ask me just that for a very long time.

And finally, I turned my attention to that place. The place that had been treated as though it were volatile. But I couldn’t have done this all at once and without a little prep work. The years of self-care I have been practicing, paved the road for me to be comfortable enough to open up as I did.

Listening to Ourselves & Taking Good Care

Here was where I was able to listen to myself with a different kind of focus. I had been listening inwardly for a while now as part of my self-care routine. But now I’m able to differentiate between the parts of me that need my attention. Now I’m able to respond with more patience and know what I need.

Now I know that the part of me that was holding back was doing so because my love and forgiveness have been so abused in the past. I am scared to be open and loving enough, to forgive. Because then I’ll be wide open to the ruthless critical judgements I’ve been so used to from the past. Including from myself.

The feelings of being turned on by those who are supposed to love me. Supposed to be there for me and show me care. I could be left again, as I had been so many times in the past.

Reparenting Our Wounded Parts

And it’s here where the work really begins. We need to guide those parts of us we had trained to turn their backs on us and others to show forgiveness and love again. Even in the face of inevitable pain. Our wounds will be opened again. That’s an unavoidable part of life. But it shouldn’t stop us from living and loving fully. This is the part I keep getting stuck on. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

It feels crazy to open up again after so much abuse. Abuse of trust mostly. And of not being able to rely on others to take care of us when we’re at our lowest. But it’s a part of being connected. For me, I had to open up slowly. I was so confused as to what trust and love meant, that I was guarded all the time. Not knowing when the other would finally turn on me. Because in my experience, it was a matter of when, not if.

So I started small. Really small. After I set up a safe and cozy place that I could use as a retreat, I started venturing out into what had been historically unsafe territory.

Sitting With Those Who Hurt Me

I moved in with my father after my last relationship ended. It was the best thing that could have happened for me at the time. I needed the time and space to put my life back together after the mess I had made of it. It was pretty bad. I alienated almost all of my friends, wound up about 115k in debt, with no plans for my future and no idea how to move myself forward in life. I was a drift.

But while I was licking my wounds, I was spending more time with those who had hurt and abandoned me in the past. I was spending time in physical proximity to them. Even if it was just watching T.V. together. For half hour increments, I was slowly getting used to the old feelings that were arising while just experiencing their nearness. And it was tough at times.

I remember dissociating a few times just sitting on the couch watching a show. This was how badly my trust and emotions had been abused. I felt unsafe in the safest possible environment. I’m in an affluent neighborhood, surrounded by (now) loving and caring parents, no concern for food or shelter, surrounded by a network of caring and loving support, financially stable and genuinely cared for. It couldn’t have been any safer for me.

But there were those parts of me that still remembered what the pain felt like. It was here that I needed to turn my listening ear towards.

Knowing When to Take Space for Yourself

And I needed to listen inwardly. I had no idea that there was an entire world inside of me that had gone unnoticed for as long as I can remember. Numbing it out with the drinking and the medication. The mean natured opinions I would dispense towards anybody who would listen. Anything I could use to quell my inner emotional world, I would use to numb.

So when I started practicing self-care, I begun to slowly learn that I could be kind enough to treat myself with respect. This was also a slow process and one that needed time and space apart from those around me. Because there’s a part of all of us, who wants to feel a part of something. Some belonging. But in the process of seeking that belonging externally, if we’re not strong enough in ourselves, we can drown out the inner voice that so desperately needs our caring and loving attention.

This is where taking space, along with practicing self-care, paid off. My safe and cozy place acted as a center for me to come home to. To feel at ease just being. The clean atmosphere, the ambient lighting and the refreshing scents, all coming together with gentle music playing, creating a sense of ease. Safety. It was here that I found a way to listen to myself. Slowly and with care.

Releasing the Expectations

This is also a place without expectations. A place where I can allow myself the space to explore what my needs are. To slow down and repair some of what has been damaged by the missteps of my past misguided self. A place to heal, and to quote a Peter Bjorn and John song, a place where “I am more me”.

Growing up I had nothing but expectation after expectation piled on top of me. First from my family but then by my peer group. It seemed a never ending stream of rules dispensed to hammer me into something that was acceptable to others. Not true to who I actually am.

And who I am is a sensitive man who feels deeply. I’m a hopeless romantic and lover of music that’s a little on the lighter side. I’ve been listening to Mree a lot lately. The antithesis of how I was raised to be “manly”. I do still appreciate some things from the past. But I wouldn’t say that they define me. And I feel that this is an important distinction to make.

Be More You

Because we all have a version of ourselves that is the truest form of ourself. I know I do. And I’m uncovering a little more of it everyday. It’s strange at times. Scary too. But there are also tender moments mixed in with crests of excitement. A journey worth the taking to be sure. But a journey that starts with letting ourselves be fully us and that starts with letting go of the past. Forgiving ourselves and moving forward.

So if you’ve been on the edge of letting go of the past, let this be your permission to let go. Forgive yourself and move on to the next challenge. There’s too many possibilities to explore that we won’t be able to if we’re dragging the past around with us. Don’t worry what others will think. They’ll come around or they won’t. What’s most important is, to be there for yourself. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “forgiveness” by cheerfulmonk is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Withholding Love: Growing Up Unlovable

This is a difficult subject for me. Love was something that was withheld and doled out with condition. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve recently had an experience that reminded me that no matter what I was taught as a child, withholding love now is a conscious effort on my part. I’d like to explore some of the emotions surrounding this experience a bit and how I’m working to turn my habits around to be more inclusive of love and the people who I give and receive love and support from and to. Let’s jump in at the beginning.

Making the Choice to Withhold Love

This is something I remember very clearly. I couldn’t have been more than 6-7. I was laying in bed, wrestling with some thoughts when I made the decision to hold back. Hold back my caring and affection. It was a stubborn, sort of obstinate defiance. The type where you see a child reacting disagreeably to something their parent is forcing on them.

With arms folded and a stern frown sagging on their face, this was how I felt. I no doubt learned this behavior from my role models. But I remember the night I decided to emulate that emotional state in myself. And the thing is, I still do this to some degree. Even decades later.

Even now, when I have interactions with people who rub me the wrong way, I get that same stubborn sense of, “no! I’m not letting you in.” And it’s not as though I’m not allowing myself to disagree, or even dislike what a person is doing. I’m deciding that the person who is offending me gets a hard “no” when it comes to letting them get close to me.

Predictable Results, Feeling Lonely Not Love

And, no surprises here, this leads to feeling very lonely. Especially when you practice this often. For me, it also led to acting smug, feeling superior, being unforgiving and petty as well. A cornucopian of difficult emotions, leading to feelings of isolation. So with so much detriment to the choice to withhold love, why do we, did I, continue to choose to do so? For me it was out of fear.

The Armoring

I believe this is what people mean by the phrase, “letting down your armor”. From my experience, I know that I just wanted to feel loved and a sense of belonging. I was afraid of opening up to those who could love me because I had been so hurt by those who I had let in in the past. Also, the fear of having the love I was receiving being given on condition, was another frightening prospect.

There are only so many times you can be wounded by those who are supposed to love you, who then leave you alone with your wounding, without support, before you decide to shut everybody out completely. And I suppose that this is where I decided to shut others out. Put up the armoring and use smug, petty judgements and an unforgiving frame of mind to keep others at bay. This isn’t ideal.

Nor is it conducive to healthy and lasting relationships. And I think that the longer I had this armoring up, the more I was losing touch with my emotions. If you practice hardening yourself against emotions of love, kindness and empathy, and your ability to forgive, it stands to reason that you will eventually lose your ability to recognize them in yourself.

Finding Yourself and Your Love Again

So if it’s practice that gets us to a place of losing our compassionate and loving, feeling selves, then it is practice that hones these attributes as well. But before we can start practicing these traits again, we first need to feel safe doing so. This was the case for me and luckily I had some help during this process.

Being Bold Enough to Learn to Trust

For me, my trust had been abused so many times, in such odd and disturbing ways, that I needed not only to recognize that I could rely on people for support, but also learn that people were not objects to be used and disposed of. These were difficult lessons.

I had learned to use people in much the same way I used alcohol: that’s to say that I was only around them for the good times. If they, in anyway caused me the slightest bit of discomfort, I was out of there so quickly it would have surely made their heads spin. Unfortunately, most of those closest to me were the same way. So when things got very bad for me, I found myself almost completely alone. Save for the few true friends and family that decided to stand by me. Which to this day shocks me, because I was a poor friend. And that’s being generous.

Role-Modeling Destructive Behavior

But this was also how I saw my role models act. Gathering to drink and be rowdy while spitting venom at everybody and anybody. I was torn down so many times at the hands of my, “supports”, during the “good times” that I had no idea what it meant to be caring, loving and supportive. Or what a good time, really was. And worse yet, when I saw genuine love and support from others, I viewed it as weakness of character. Something to be made fun of and ridiculed, rooted out of myself. Like a Hallmark movie, too campy and unrealistic for the real world. Full disclosure, I now sometimes watch and enjoy Hallmark movies : )

And this was how I lived my life until my early thirties. Unloving and unforgiving. This was the reason I had so few healthy, lasting relationships. So what changed for me? How did I make the change from untrusting and unforgiving to trusting and able to give and receive love? It happened slowly and took practice.

Role Modeling Loving and Trusting Behavior

After I had been abandoned by someone who said they would always be there for me, I had to rely on family who had abandoned me in the past. This was no easy task. I had given up just about every way I had used to cope with my emotions and was putting myself in the lion’s den. A place that was decidedly unsafe for me to be.

Trust started to come slowly. One way I was learning to trust again was, we were polite to each other to the point of being almost cold to one another. This was a complete 180 from the family of my youth who had no boundaries in regards to personal space.

As an example, my family would search through all of my personal possessions and space as though I wasn’t allowed to have a separate sense of self. This left me feeling suspicious of how genuine the people who were around me were. Being polite helped me to realize that I was safe enough in myself and surroundings to be at ease. And the more we were polite, the more I learned I could trust these people I was sharing space with.

Finding Love Again

It was from this shared space of mutual respect and trust, that I found the courage to feel compassion for those who had left me in the past. They became more real to me. They were no longer the person who did me wrong so long ago. We were in the present, building a new foundation for a healthier relationship that started with being polite and kind to each other.

I could now feel compassion, concern and care for these people. This was not something entirely new, but it was something that was difficult to allow to be. To be with the vulnerability and uncertainty of relying on them again. Hoping that the same would not happen all over again.

But also finding forgiveness. For the ways I had been treated, so I could move forward and build the healthier, new versions of the relationships I so desired. This was no easy as well. But it was in these moments of mutual vulnerability that we all learned to open up, if not slowly and a tiny bit at a time, to each other. This is how we learned to love and support each other again.

Family Dinner Fridays

A great example of this is, after I had spent some time getting used to my new surroundings and starting to feel comfortable again around others, I suggested starting family dinner Fridays. A day where we rotate who chooses a recipe to cook and we all pitch in and help to make the meal together. My family has a love of food, so this seemed like a natural place to start.

And it was during these dinners that we learned to work together. Ask what the other needed, help the other with their task. We learned to divide and delegate the tasks and share the responsibility of our jobs. We also learned how to communicate with each other.

Not only in asking what we needed from one another, as far as tasks being done. But also to ask for clarification from one another. “What do you mean when you say…”, something we were just too proud to ask each other in the past. If you’ve read my post on “disagreement and belonging”, you’ll know we had trouble admitting we didn’t know something, even when it was impossible to know what the other was thinking without being able to read minds. Because we didn’t want to be seen as weak.

Seeing Communication as a Weakness

And this is really what it came down to. We saw communicating with one another as a weakness, because we wanted to be right and seen as superior. All because we wanted to feel belonging. But we were really just cutting each other off from one another with our lack of communication because we didn’t want to be hurt. Something that happened again and again with malicious intent. I believe this is where we stopped communicating, everything really. And this is where I learned how to hold back my love from the other.

“Love is Stronger Than Pride” – Sade

But the need to connect is strong in us. Because we need to connect, to feel loved and belonging. So we keep trying, even if it feels like we’re fumbling our way through our relationships. That’s definitely what it feels like for me sometimes.

And the desire to want healthier ways of connecting is the first step in connecting in healthier ways. I believe that we all have it in us to be together in healthy, reciprocal ways. Ways where we feel heard, respected and most important, loved.

And it is that desire to be loved that is stronger than the ways we choose to disconnect from each other. As Sade so eloquently put it so many years ago, “love is stronger than pride”. The pride that keeps us from sharing and communicating our love with one another. So if you’re looking to make stronger connections and share love more freely, know that it’s not too late to open up and share your loving self. I hope this helps in some way. Peace, thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Heart” by Pandalia_YUE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

%d bloggers like this: