I didn’t know I’d lived so much until I reflected back

I am absolutely terrible at keeping track of time.  Not short time, like the hours in the day, but long time, like years passing by.  I think about things like when I first got on the path to stop drinking and I’m like hmm, that was a few years ago right?  A few years ago feels pretty short in my brain.  Then fb memories remind me that it was five years (and forty days) ago that I first truly acknowledged I had a problem and then took a hundred days of sobriety, which then led to learning moderation, and eventually the last year+ of complete sobriety.  Five years. When it’s a number instead of a vague concept of a few, it seems a lot longer.  Holy crap, has it really been five years?

Likewise, I often struggle with putting concrete times and dates on other big events, until I have something to measure them against.  My ex-fiance left the same year I stopped drinking, so now I know when that was.  That’s pretty exhilarating.  I love being able to concretely date the times of things better because it makes me feel more accomplished.  I’ve spent five years without a person who only saw how I could fail.  Five years later I’m sober, have gotten one degree and am working towards another, have a bunch of lovely stable relationships with fantastic communication and none of the toxicity of the ones in that older time period, have held down jobs where I literally saved lives (I mean, doggo and kitten lives, but that’s legit), and decluttered the mess of a house I once shared with him to have a home that on it’s messiest days is still eons cleaner then it ever was in it’s cleanest state before.  I’ve begun pursuing my BIG life dream of having an intentional community, and my life has been basically a whirlwind of forward momentum with a few little bumps in the road.  Oh, and I have a flat chest and facial hair now and get gendered correctly all the time, let’s not forget that.  Being able to recognize where events fit into time really helps me in feeling excited and accomplished about life, because I can see how much progress has been made.  In the day to day moments it may not feel like things are moving fast enough, but reflecting back really shows the huge transformations.

Often I look back and wonder how I’ve packed so much -stuff- into such short amounts of time.  I’ve been an adult for a bit over ten years.  I spent about three or four of those years in a drunken haze.  Yet just in that time I’ve lived with 20+ people in households of various sizes, had 20+ relationships that on average lasted a bit over 3 years, gone to 4 different schools and gotten 2 college degrees and now working on a 3rd, raised my own livestock and fed my family with the meat and eggs from them, traveled to 2 countries outside of my own and 12 states within my country, worked 9 different jobs, and tried to run my own business.  I’ve had an uncountable amount of experiences trying amazing new foods, exploring new kinks and developing deep bonds of trust, making absolutely phenomenal friendships, taking ridiculous risks and feeling ecstatically alive, and generally living life to the fullest.  And I mean, I spent quite a few years drunk on my couch and pretty much out of commission, so when I think of where I packed that all in, I can’t even really include those years.  I don’t often reflect on it all as a whole, I may think of specific moments or dwell on specific relationships, but it takes looking at it all at once to put it into perspective.

Now I know this whole post might seem like some sort of long humble brag.  First of all, there’s nothing fucking wrong with that if it is.  I am all for each person listing their accomplishments that make them feel fantastic, reading the fuck out of that list, and feeling on top of the world because they are a rad fucking person who can do anything.  And I’m happy to do that and feel no shame in celebrating what I’ve done.  But, this is more then that.  I don’t know if I’ve always come across as confident to others, but I’ve always felt I was a confident person.  I’ve realized recently that it was because I’ve gotten very good at telling myself that narrative and ignoring the parts where I felt like I wasn’t enough, or was failing somehow to do this whole life thing.  I hear those parts of my mind, I recognize them, but I didn’t let it disrupt the view I had of myself as a confident individual with great self esteem.  It was a discordant note, viewing myself one way, and feeling things that were quite to the contrary.  And therein lies the problem, I could tell myself I had great self esteem and believe it, but that didn’t actually make me feel any less shitty and like a failure when those were the messages my brain meat focused on for the day.  So instead I’m learning to recognize those, to see that I do struggle at times and I can admit that.  Oof, that vulnerability hurts.  I don’t want to be a person who has to admit that.  It is part of me though, and in recognizing that, I can begin to accept and heal parts of myself that were damaged by years of abuse, by the hands of others, and even more so by myself.  I hurt myself when I spent years being a pretty toxic being to my own body and to everyone around me.  Healing that means recognizing the time that was my reality, and how much time since I’ve begun to move on from that.  It means acknowledging all I’ve done, the amazing life I’ve led, and what I can do when I am a better little human.  Somewhere in there I might have to forgive myself for the person I was through some of the dark years, though I’m not quite there yet.  For now, I look back at time, and I build a real confidence rather then a fabricated one, through seeing the journey and really cementing in my mind how far I’ve come.

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Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.

What does adulthood mean for a Millennial?

When does adulthood begin?  I read an interesting article recently about a college professor who taught a class on adulting, all about coming of age in today’s society.  In teaching this class, the professor discovered that most of the students did not consider themselves adults, despite being over 18.  They were asked to write about what they felt were the markers of adulthood, something that has become increasingly unclear as we experience some major societal shifts as Millennials and now Generation Z are coming of age.  It got me looking inward and thinking about whether I feel like and adult and what I believe makes one an adult.  I also decided to do a little more digging into what the supposed markers of adulthood are.

I’m going to start by dispensing with the idea of turning 18 being the marker of adulthood.  We have many milestones of that sort, at 16 (or some places 14) you’re adult enough to work many jobs, at 18 you’re adult enough to vote and join the military, but at 21 you’re adult enough to drink, and only at 25 are you adult enough to rent a car, etc.  These are also relevant to the United States, but vary greatly in other countries, which does evidence in some ways how we’ve picked arbitrary lines to draw there.  Yes, they are a general guideline for when we believe a person can handle certain responsibilities, but they aren’t actually very helpful in determining what will make someone feel like an adult.

I found a few analysis of adulthood from a psychological perspective, with such traits meant to define adulthood such as rationality, and non-defensiveness and openness.  Well shit, that precludes the current President of the United States and a good many other political officials, many in their 60s, 70s, and above.  It also leaves out a lot of the shitty parents of folks I’ve been close to throughout my life.  People who have raised a now adult child, paid the bills, and often been little manipulative abusive shits who probably couldn’t grasp rationality and non-defensiveness anymore than they could bench press the Empire State Building, but there you go.  So maybe that isn’t the perfect milestone either in determining what would make the younger generations feel like we are adults.  Our elders certainly have not done a stellar job at modeling that as a determining factor in adulthood.

Going back to the article that started this line of thinking, there was a discussion of the students responses.  Many felt that marriage, having children, and home ownership were markers of adulthood.  I can certainly understand that, we’ve been raised by a generation that often followed a very clear life path, fit a certain mold, and taught us to do so as well.  I don’t remember a time where I didn’t just “know” that you were supposed to go to school, get into a good college, graduate, get married, buy a house, and manifest a few loin spawn to raise who would do it all over again.  There is a script to this, one many people in my generation haven’t been able to follow, or have decided to toss to the wind as we make our own path.  Which does explain why many of us are left not feeling like adults as we enter our 20s and 30s.

It is interesting, because many of the Millennials I know spend more time focusing on traits mentioned in the psychological articles on what makes an adult, than members of earlier generations I know.  That is of course not a conclusive study, just my personal experience.  Many of us suffer from mental illness, often times created by or exacerbated by our circumstances.  We are treated as children by the media and by older generations, accused of destroying industries when we don’t buy into consumerism.  We bought into the dream of college opening all doors to success in life and graduate with bachelors  degrees and 60k in debt, only to find our only job option is to be a manager at a Papa Johns unless we want to get even more in debt for a higher degree.   We put off marriage and having children because we can’t afford it, or we choose different ways of relationshipping or to be childfree because we recognize that we don’t actually have to fit every mold they made for us.  We find the middle class we aspired to has all but disappeared, so we work two jobs and still need food stamps to get by.  Then we wonder why we suffer from depression and anxiety in such high numbers.  We learn rationality because we have to fight irrational systems of oppression and crumbling aged lawmakers who refuse to understand that we are more interested in being allowed to express our love regardless of gender and make sure every town has clean water, then we are in corporations getting more tax cuts.  We learn to be open and non-defensive because we have to nurture each other and promote self care every day and across social media platforms or in person with our friends, because we have to wonder how many more friends we’ll lose to suicide this coming year.  This isn’t true of everyone in my generation, but its what I see growing around me in my small communities and in the thousands I connect with through online platforms every day.

For me, adulthood begins with disillusionment.  It starts when we realize the lies we have been fed, that the boxes we were taught to fit in are unneeded, that the life path we were taught to follow was unrealistic.  It continues as we start to unpack all of that and struggle with the impact it has had on our psyche, our morale, our self esteem.  We grow more into adulthood as we gain the ability to remove ourselves from the system, to choose which pieces of it work for us, and which to discard as soon as we gain the power to do so.  Adulthood is that determination to find that power, within ourselves to stand up for who we are, and within the system as we elect as more and more of our number to office so we can change the way the oppressive system functions.  Adulthood is being able to kiss your same gender partner in public after years of fear.  It is taking a moment to breath into yourself after two retail shifts, telling yourself it is okay to break out a coloring book if that is your self care, as you bat away the dread that you’ll be doing the same thing every day for the rest of your life despite the shiny diploma tucked away in a box in the wore out apartment you share with three friends.  It is choosing to not have children because you are comfortable not wanting any, or because you desperately want them but can’t face bringing them into this broken world or know you can’t afford them.  It is having four children and having to coordinate between family who takes care of them as you each try and work the hours your employer pretends to graciously give you, wishing you’d be taught about safer sex during the abstinence only age.  It is getting divorced for the third time because you have found the inner strength to leave people who abuse you.  It is deciding against marriage because you love all three of your partners equally.  It is wanting to get married but knowing that disabled people still don’t have that right equally, because you can’t survive without the disability benefits that cover your life sustaining medication, and your partner makes too much for you to keep them, but not enough to cover the prescriptions if you wed.  Adulthood is rebellion, against all that we were taught, and it is finding our own way instead and paving a better way for generations to come.

When kink coincides with trauma

I’ve been into kink for as long as I can remember.  Thinking back, I was writing erotic dungeon stories involving seduction and torture before I even understood how to get myself off.  I drew terrible kinky sketches long before I had considered exploring another human’s body on my own.  I’ve had people say that my interest in kink must be related to trauma, and I won’t deny, I’m a person who has been through rape, sexual assault, abusive relationships, and violence fueled of bigotry.  The funny thing though, is my love of kink and the seeds of interest in engaging in bdsm, began long before any of that trauma.  And no, I did not have a traumatic childhood, I was raised in a stable middle class home, never disciplined with physical violence, did well in school, and so on and so forth.  So for years I was so proud of being able to declare that kink and my trauma were unrelated, after all I had definitive proof in the terrible scrawled pages of werewolf sex stories, woven together with a good many of the fetishes I maintained later in life.  Those happened first, so nope, trauma and kink have no intersection for me!

Well, a funny thing happened in the more recent years, I realized there was a connection.  Yes, I was kinky first, but then I went through some rough shit.  I was cheated on, I dealt with codependency and abandonment issues, I suffered through emotional abuse and some physical abuse, I was raped and sexually assaulted, I was treated as less than human for being a queer trans man and dealt with violence and threats of violence.  And in the past few years, I’ve developed some new kinks, or gone farther down the rabbit hole with others.  I noticed it first when a partner cheated on me, not the first time I was cheated, but I had just gotten out of the dynamic with my ex-fiance where cheating played a part in his departure, and that was a particularly brutal emotional roller coaster.  Then a very stable partner broke relationship agreements, and while the whole incident was something of a miscommunication, it was momentarily very painful before we sorted it all out, and it brought up the larger betrayal I had just experienced. Suddenly I found myself fantasizing about catching a partner cheating and the sting of that betrayal, or of cuckolding, being made to watch a partner with someone else in something of a negotiated consent but feigned nonconsent and hurt scenario.  After the incident with miscommunication, I struggled a little with insecurity and jealousy.  Once the fantasies squeezed their way into my brain’s meat space, that disappeared.  I didn’t think much of it quite yet.

Then I noticed a humiliation fantasy popping up.  Now in real life, I’m a strict Dom, and I do not like to be humiliated or play a submissive role in any way.  Suddenly though, there was a fantasy in my mind related to humiliation and cuckolding, that revolved around me lacking a specific body part (psst…it’s a penis).  I don’t have a lot of bottom dysphoria, but there is certainly some, and I was confused as why the hell my brain would present me with a fantasy that seemed hell bent on triggering worse dysphoria, and more importantly, why the hell I enjoyed it?

One of the times I was almost sexually assaulted but managed to escape the situation before the assault occurred, was when I was sleeping.  A few years later I was assaulted while sleeping by a partner.  Well what do you know, my brain decided the next in the series of fucked up fantasies I would develop, was of someone having sex with me while I slept or was unconscious.  At this point I noticed a trend, though I had already been wondering what in the ever living fuck was going on with my brain???  Then it clicked.  I realized that after my brain turned the trauma I experienced into fantasy, I actually felt better.  Now I had no desire to really explore these things in real life, and certainly I knew that any of these without very explicit negotiated consent would be beyond fucked up.  But letting them rattle around in my brain and zing right to my sex drive, was somehow cathartic.  Not a by the books way of dealing with trauma, but it was working.

Then I remembered a conversation I had many years prior with a partner.  He was heavily into impact play, but he had also been abused as a child.  I tried to carefully negotiate our scenes, worried especially about triggering that trauma.  And I asked him one time why someone who experienced that and had been profoundly fucked up by it, now found enjoyment in being beat.  He explained to me that being able to consent to a scene, having the control to say “yes, I want this” or “no, you need to stop” was empowering.  And in a scene he had the knowledge that there was a close trusting relationship between himself and me, that I cared for him and was doing what I was doing out of mutual enjoyment and love.  At the end of the scene he knew I would hold him and tell him how well he had done, how proud I was, and how much I cared for him.  It didn’t heal all that trauma completely, but it was cathartic.  It helped rewrite the script of something that had destroyed him, into one of something he was choosing with love, one where he was embraced at the end after holding the reins of power the entire time and being able to say stop the moment he didn’t want it.

So, I’ve realized that I don’t need to wave a flag of pride that I’m a “normal” kinkster, one of the undamaged and unbroken ones.  I don’t need to be proud that my kink came long before my trauma and try and justify no connection between the two.  Kink is normal yes, and it isn’t something that is born of us being damaged people, but it is okay if the two are connected.  When my trauma and my kink finally coincided what happened was I began to heal.  We are allowed to heal in whatever ways are most comfortable, and if consensual exploration into bdsm is a way that works for you, that is completely valid.  My brain decided to show me that it was a way that worked for me, whether I liked it or not, and I’m grateful for the cathartic release.  It did what years of therapy couldn’t manage to, it made me feel better and it helped me move on.

Redefining boundaries and raising expectations

Sometimes people surprise you.  I’ve been polyamorous for just about my entire life, and a relationship anarchist as well for the last few years.  I don’t think I’ve ever been without a few partners or loves, though I only recently connected with my local polya community.  As such, I’ve been involved with a lot of people who had been monogamous before and tried polyamory for the first time when getting involved with me.  I’ve also been with a lot of people who had few relationships before me at all, but since we are raised in a society that normalizes monogamy, that is how they imagined their first relationships would be structured.  There are a lot of pitfalls when getting involved with someone who has absorbed institutionalized monogamous ideals and has not done the work to unpack those.  I was one of those people once, despite being polya from pretty much my first dynamics, and only experimenting with a couple mono relationships for a short time in my teenage years.  There was a shit ton of work to do and societal brainwashing to unpack, work that took me many years and a lot of heartbreaks to get through.  I hit a point where after I had done a lot of that work, I was understanding of what it took and tried to help a number of partners through that as well. I was new once after all, now I could work with others going through similar things and take on a sort of mentor role.

Several shit shows later, maybe a bit more then several, I was ready to wash my hands of all that.  I found a boundary, I did not want to get involved with people who had not already gotten to at least somewhere near the point I was at.  I would not get involved with monogamous people, or people who had no prior experience with polyamory or relationship anarchy. If someone was monogamous but willing to try polyamory or relationship anarchy, I fully supported that, but I wasn’t the test subject for that experiment because I did not have the energy for another dynamic in which they would find they couldn’t manage it after we’d done a year or more worth of emotional labor trying to make it work.  It probably didn’t help the divide that most of the polya people I knew had also studied non-violent communication and developed good emotional intelligence and self-awareness as a necessary part of making polyamory work for them, and most of the monogamous-want-to-try-polya folks I knew were learning those skills along-side with also exploring a whole new way to relationship.

So I made that boundary for myself, and my next couple dynamics were really very smooth in comparison to the ones before.  Instead of fighting and yelling and pushing away attempts at control, or getting drawn in and engaging in screaming matches I was later ashamed of, there were a couple years of calm conversations when problems arose, and good beginning talks about what agreements we would have that encouraged a respect for autonomy of all of those involved.  It was fucking lovely! In a previous dynamic with a my ex fiancé (a mono oriented person who was willing to “allow” me to be polya but didn’t have interest in being so himself, and never learned to communicate well or unpack a lot of societal mono baggage), when he cheated I found out after months of dishonesty, and couldn’t grok why he had not just told me that he had wanted to see someone else as well.  I mean to be honest, I had not created the best environment for honesty, we had a whole bucket full of other problems in our dynamic, but the cheating was a bad situation that exploded and he never communicated well through that, or through the eventual dissolution of our relationship that followed.  In contrast, I got involved with Witty, a person who had been looking at and trying polyamory for a while before we got involved, and had spent years figuring it out, along with learning effective communication and interpersonal skills to make it work.  He cheated as well, but it was a case of miscommunication, there was no attempt at deception at all following the fact.  We discussed it quite calmly, redefined our relationship agreements to prevent future mishaps, and the word was fairly hunky dory after that.  I could see pretty clearly the benefits of dating people who understood relationshipping in ways that suited what I was looking for, and had put in time an energy to be effective at it, same as I had after years of mistakes.

I was a happy little polya panda a couple years in to my new easy life, assured that this boundary had significantly lowered the drama level in my relationships and that it was the –right choice-.  Then I met Hoffy, who from almost the first conversation, showed me a level of openness and vulnerability I rarely see even from my dearest friends. He was inquisitive, forthright, and asked me a lot about the way I relationship in a frank and non-judgmental way that made it easy to open up.  I decided fairly quickly that every rule has an exception.  I often feel an extreme amount of hesitancy getting in any new relationship, which I’ve talked about here, but I was more certain I wanted to explore things with him than I had been about any life decision in over a decade.  I suppose sometimes you just know, because I am continually amazed at how that dynamic has progressed.  The level of openness and honesty has only deepened over time, and thus far there hasn’t been a single roadblock we couldn’t overcome, relating to polyamory or otherwise.  Since I’ve begun writing here we’ve often discussed our thoughts on the topics I’ve covered, and I again find myself even more amazed that someone raised in the same culture as me with mononormative structures, who hadn’t had any experience of polya relationships beforehand, could be so functionally excellent at making it work.  Thinking about it in more depth, I realize that the things that were lacking in my previous relationships with new-to-polya folks were often not their relationship experience in particular, but the communication skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness that often developed after more experience.  I fought tooth and nail against myself, against other partners, against societal ideas I had absorbed, to develop those.  I told myself that it was okay that I was a work in progress and that it took many years of brutal fuck ups to reach where I was now, and it was also okay to expect a certain standard from others because I no longer had the spoons to teach someone who was starting at the beginning when I was miles along the journey.  So what did it mean to find someone who was jogging along right beside me but hadn’t gotten there with a trail of messy broken relationships behind?  It raised my standards.  I suddenly realized that you know what, it actually is possible for someone to be compassionate, understanding, a gentle communicator, devoted to honesty and openness, from the very beginning.  There are people like that, or at least I had found one, and maybe that meant I hadn’t deserved all the shit and abuse heaped on from previous people who didn’t measure up to that.  Conversely that meant that I had no excuses for my previous behavior.  Being inexperienced wasn’t an excuse, and while I am admittedly very frank about how shitty I used to be, I needed to take even more responsibility for that.  I could have gone about everything very differently from the start, and I didn’t, but I knew now that it was possible.

So sometimes people surprise you.  I still have that boundary for myself, although I have tweaked it some. I am only willing to get involved with people who show they can express themselves with honesty and in a non-violent way, who are aware of their wants and needs and aren’t smuggling in secret expectations under them, and who are self-aware and emotionally intelligent in ways that fit with the complex nature of the way I relationship.  People who also question society and its more harmful messages, who are willing to think outside of the box, those are people who I feel may be able to relationship well with my unconventional way of doing things.  I hold myself to higher and higher standards, and I recognize that I deserve to be treated just as well.  I can be compassionate to what I went through and why I was a grade A shitbird, and have that compassion for my previous partners, while still living up to higher ideals today and seeing that mirrored in the people in my life now.  I’m glad I took the chance that I did, sometimes it is good for even the most important stands you take to have the possibility for exceptions, a little fluidity and wiggle room can lead to the greatest growth.

 

He is my hero – on having a partner with disabilities

When I first got involved with someone fifteen years my senior, a smoker, an alcoholic, with a history of mental disorders, I wasn’t really thinking about how health would effect our lives.  The deeper I fell in love with him, the more my crippling fear of loss made me worry about losing him, because statistically I knew that based on age alone he was likely to die before me.  I knew that you can never really know with life though, you can be two people in perfect health and in your prime, and lose someone to a car accident or mass shooting.  Life is never certain, and I dealt with my fears as best I could, though every day the thought of living without him someday haunts me and I hope that day never comes.  What I didn’t consider though was what happens along the way, how health is a fickle thing and can deteriorate in ways you don’t expect.

It’s eight years after we met and fell in love. I sit on a stool that gives a little when I move, and subdue the urge to bounce and swivel back and forth with the manic energy that so often inhabits my body.  I watch him lying flat on his back, straining to lift his leg up off that table at the physical therapists office.  One leg lift is a hard won feat, the ten that are asked of him make his face crease with intense pain and determination and he is breathing hard when he finishes the final one.  They say the cartilage in his knees is just gone, I know this means that despite the exercises, this new knee pain is now one more constant in his life.  We can tally it up with the back pain, the leg pain, the carpal tunnel, the constant headaches, the tremors, the memory loss and blackouts, and all the fucked up mental states that come and go. I think about how I’m starting to get pangs of pain here and there, my knees aching and cracking from time to time from a few years at jobs where I knelt on concrete while restraining large dogs as a vet tech.  I have a bit of a headache, probably didn’t drink enough water this morning, and that is enough to distract me and throw me off my game for the day.  I can’t imagine pain that is exponentially worst, being a constant background noise in my life.  This is the one area in which we don’t understand each other perfectly, because I have no frame of reference.

When I found out he was bi-polar I wasn’t phased.  We grew closer because of it, having the same condition and realizing how easy it was to relate to the spiraling mood shifts that could last months or years and change the color of the whole world for that time.  When I talked him past a period of suicidal ideation not long after we first met, I could see myself in him, I’d walked that path too many times on my own.  I wanted him to see he didn’t need to walk it alone, I committed to always be there through that.  As we grew close we revealed shattered pasts of trauma and abuse, our stories profoundly different, but our understanding of the invisible scars we each had was the same.  He overcame his alcoholism within the first six months after we met, mine persisted for a few years longer before I decided it was time, and with his borrowed strength I came out the other side.  We had our difficulties where mental health played a role, but there was always an undercurrent of empathy, understanding, and kinship.  I never doubted we could handle any of those curve balls that life threw at us, capricious manic moods, depressive spells, unexpected trauma triggers, we could take it.

The first time I got a call from his doctor at school to let me know they had sent him to the hospital, suspecting a heart attack, my world dropped away.  My fears of losing him went from background noise to a constant cacophony that disrupted every day functioning.  After a time it receded again to a background murmur, but always louder then it had been prior. It wasn’t a heart attack that time, although if it had been it would not have been his first.  Doctors, an ever growing list of medications, and a longer list of diagnoses, followed over the years.  This month we add a rheumatologist, we’ll have to figure out where they fit in with the neurologist, psychiatrist, urologist, cardiologist, endocrinologist, pulmonologist, and any others we’ve seen over the years or are now a constant part of life.  Assistive devices became normal, the glasses after the stroke in his left eye, the cane when his balance got worse, the handicap placard when the constant back and leg pain made walking long distances prohibitive.  When we met, we had more in common in our respective illnesses of the mental persuasion, but as more physical disabilities have entered his life in a steady march, I can’t relate to what he goes through because I have no lived experience to match.

He brings me flowers.  Going to the store is never easy, not with the panic attacks from being out around a lot of strangers, the pain with walking, the shortness of breath, the constant exhaustion.  I can’t function with a mild headache, his daily background is so much more then I think I could ever handle, and he bears it to bring me flowers just to see me smile.  He plays with his nephew, wrestling around knowing that it will cost him, that it means days of increased pain and less ability to devote the little energy he has to doing the few things that keep him sane.  He does it because he always puts others first and loves to bring them joy.  He sees himself as selfish because of how he withdraws when it all gets to be too much, and I see the selflessness in every time he pushes his body a little too far just to make someone else smile, knowing he’ll pay for it for days.

I go into nursing.  I love my job working with animals, but human medicine pays more and I know that I’ll be the one supporting us, and maybe I can learn skills that will help me better take care of him.  I try and help him advocate for his boundaries with me, to learn after a lifetime of short relationships with poor communication how to say no and express when something is too much.  I offer comfort, knowing I can’t take away all the pain, but wishing desperately that I could, and instead giving the little bit I can that barely makes a dent in it all. Our polycule is there, always understanding, always asking what they can do to make his life easier.  They are a constant source of compassion when he isn’t able to make a birthday because the pain is too great or the mental fog won’t clear that day.  My parents treat him like family, never commenting on me choosing someone so much older or with so many problems, but cheering him on as he fights the system for years to get disability.  With my own history of trauma, I am amazed at the love and empathy and support that is a stable source of comfort, so grateful for such wonderful people in our lives.

I sit there watching him struggle to lift his leg at the physical therapist, the pain creasing his face.  The laugh lines at the corners of his eyes that crinkle up when he smiles, a feature he hates because it shows his age but I love because it shows how much of his time is spent flashing that brilliant smile and laughing his laugh that lights up the room; those are lines of pain in this moment as he pushes through the exercise.  My manic fidgety energy calms for a moment and all I can think is how he is my hero.  I’ve been the stable one, the one who supports us, who guides us through the problems we’ve faced, but I’m not the strong one.  I know he breaks down and cries because he feels so weak.  I wish he could see himself through my eyes.  He is the man who brings me flowers, who plays with his nephew, who shares his most vulnerable moments of trauma, who inspired me into a career path I am now passionate about, who taught me a level of compassion I didn’t know possible, who makes me feel safe, and who has the strength to handle pain and adversity that many would crumble under.  He is the man I fear losing more then anything else because I can’t see a world without him.  I didn’t know what I would be getting into eight years ago when we met, and I also didn’t know heroes existed back then, but now I know they do, and I would never trade the time I share with mine for anything in the world.

Not every relationship lasts forever – learning to appreciate the beauty in endings and change

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Dead flowers are absolutely beautiful to me. There is a point at which they stop blooming and start getting darker and dryer, and they freeze in time.  They hit a point where they are brittle and fragile, but they don’t completely decay, they are frozen in a moment past their prime and stop changing at a rate that you can see from day to day.  That imperfect beauty is haunting to me, even something that has used up all it’s energy and potential for growth can still be aesthetically pleasing. They stay lovely for much longer when they are dead then they ever did while alive, still adding a morbid beauty to a room that can last for years before they inevitably crumble into shapeless organic matter, and even that can provide nutrients for new growth.

I didn’t like getting flowers for the longest time, I felt betrayed by the lifelessness of them.  It seemed sad, a burden to get something with a clock ticking down to the end of it’s life. They had been picked, they were no longer part of something living, but they were still alive for a short while longer. Once they were cut, the rest of their life was ticking down to their eventual death, but that death was a shadow that was so close now, visible in every facet of their beauty.  I couldn’t see the worth in something that had such a clear and obvious end stamp on it, a short term pleasure that would be over after one brief glorious bloom of color and brightness.

I felt the same way about relationships, my measure for success was often longevity.  I endured years in relationships that were toxic and incompatible because I knew that I had to make it work or else we had failed.  I remember when I finally broke up with my girlfriend Nova, we had been fighting almost daily for years, since a few months after the relationship had began.  We had done so much damage to each other, she had cheated, I had been controlling, she had lied repeatedly, I had gotten nasty and slung insults, and it culminated in a night where she hit me during one of our fights and I was just done.  I spoke to my other partners after, told them I thought this was finally it and I had to end things, it had gone to far.  They said it had gone to far a long time ago, it shouldn’t have taken the abuse becoming physical on her part for us to split, we had been emotionally abusing each other for years. They told me how they had been trying to be supportive, but watching us hurl ourselves at each other in a furious battle of passion and anger for years had been so devastating and stressful that they had almost walked away from it all and me with it, just to be out of the chaos. I hadn’t known the effect it was having, but it shook me.  I had almost torn down my whole world at the time just to try and maintain a relationship that was an exploding star, brilliantly bright as it imploded, but obvious to everyone else it was about to consume us in a black hole.  Even during the relationship, we had recognized the parts of it that were unhealthy and the cause of most of our fights, and had talked about ending those parts and transitioning to another type of dynamic, but each time one of us suggested that, the other would fight it vehemently, though we both knew it would have been the healthier option.  The idea of losing something, of part of our dynamic changing, disappearing, was too painful a loss to bear.  We didn’t want something dead, something gone, a constant reminder of what once was and could have been.  We didn’t want the end of one part of the dynamic that so early on was clearly not working, to be the dead flowers on our mantle. So instead we burnt it all to the ground.  Looking back, a relationship with dead flowers, where a part of our dynamic that had been given as a gift but had ended and was only left to look at and remember the beauty of, would have been better then us burning the whole fucking house down.

I’m not sure when exactly it changed, but I’ve learned to love getting flowers.  I love the moment where they are presented, the brilliant colors and softness of the petals, the perfume of life at it’s peak.  I love enjoying the brightness they bring, and their heady scents that transform the whole atmosphere of a room.  I love the slow death and decay, and that moment where they have past their peak and are now dark and dry and haunting, but still beautiful.  I adore dead flowers, lovely in a different way then they were when alive, but no longer sad to me, no longer a burden of something gone so quickly.

I feel differently about relationships these days as well.  I do value longevity when it makes sense, in the same way I value an herb garden that renews each year just as much as I value the dead roses on my alter.  I do not measure the success of a relationship based on how long it lasts though.  I am happy to go into dynamics that I recognize may not be permanent, and endings and change are not a thing I fear to a point that I would rather endure pain or abuse or toxicity rather then face them.  These days when I begin a relationship, I am honest to myself and to my partner that it may not last forever and that is okay, we focus on making it functional and enriching and healthy for us both, rather then making it endure.  When problems arise we work through them, and we lay out all options on the table.  Compromise, finding mutual understandings, accepting each others boundaries, changing expectations, talking through hardship, these are all viable options.  Ending a part or all of the dynamic, transitioning the dynamic to something different, allowing for the death of one thing and even the possibility that it may nourish the growth of another, these are all viable options as well.  Some of my most beautiful and enriching dynamics these days are ones that started out with entirely different structures and parameters, but were allowed to organically change over time.  I no longer try to fight change as though it were an enemy to be conquered or a failure to be avoided.  I no longer avoid relationships that may not last forever either, and I love receiving flowers now even though they will die, and in both I now have so many more beautiful things in my life then I did before.

One more thing has changed, as I said at the beginning, I still find flowers to be beautiful and appealing after they have died. It used to be when relationships ended, I would plow forward into the next one, needing my fix of something vibrant and at it’s peak of life.  I like looking at my dead flowers now, and I also enjoy looking back at the relationships that have ended, the ones that peacefully decayed, and the ones where we burnt the fucking house down around us.  There is so much to be learned, so much personal growth to be had, and so much tragic beauty in pain and parting of ways.  I am not afraid of it anymore, I don’t mind sitting with my pain and the ways in which I royally fucked up.  I made so many mistakes and I allow myself that now, I can be an imperfect person who was fragile and brittle and broke all over people who deserved much better.  I can become a stronger and more resilient person, one who grows sturdy roots and renews myself in healthier soil, but I can look back at my dead flowers and my lost loves and remember those lovely moments in the sun and the dark ones as we fought decay.  There is nothing wrong with the passage of time, with endings and beginnings and short lived loves.  I like to examine my past, I don’t wallow in it, but I open my eyes and allow myself to see it.  And I do really love dead flowers and all the life they remind me of.

It was short lived, it was toxic, it was still a success

The longest relationship I’ve ever been in celebrated eight years last month. We have not had a titled dynamic that entire time, in fact we don’t now, although I often use the word “partnership” to describe it.  But we lack an official label, we just use a variety of descriptive ones as necessary or relevant to the conversation at hand.  I have actually had longer dynamics as well, though I don’t count them as the longest because while for example I’ve known one of my loves for about twelve years now, we’ve varied in closeness over that time and been out of touch for periods.  With Kelev, who I’ve been with for eight years, we’ve been a pretty integrated part of each others daily lives for that time.  Of course I am not trying to devalue relationships that are comet shaped, that is to say where the person passes in and out of orbits of closeness in your life without an expectation of constancy or continuity. I recognize the value and validity of those dynamics as well, and the ones in my life are very important to me.  I just don’t count the years in the same way I would in a partnership with a secure state of constancy.

My thoughts this morning converged on this idea of counting the years and on how we as a society measure the success of a relationship by the longevity of it.  This train of thought really began yesterday when I was spending time in the company of dear friends, and they were working on character creation for a D&D campaign using my old 3.5 books.  One of them handed me a paper they had found from one of those books, and I saw the handwriting and realized it belonged to Cat, a prior partner.  I was with Cat for only about two years, we didn’t celebrate anniversaries that I recall, so I’m not actually sure exactly how long the relationship lasted.  I was a garbage fire of a partner, I was just descending into alcoholism, we were dabbling into kink to an extent neither of us was ready for, and I have adult onset bi-polar which decided to make it’s home in my brain right around the time we were starting to get close.  A lot of factors converged and I can say looking back that I was an abusive toxic mess, but we had a whirlwind romance where for a lot of the time we were hopelessly and completely devoted to each other, the center of each others worlds.  That relationship imploded, as toxic relationships often do, and I have never mourned the loss of a partnership as much as I have with Cat. In fact I still do, I miss him every moment of every day, which is something I cannot say of any other partnerships that ended.

It is seven years later. My relationship with my ex-fiance, which began before I met Cat and didn’t end until later, that lasted six years, has now been over for a few years.  I was in another intense dynamic that lasted somewhere in the range of three or four years, and have another partner who I am still with and we will be celebrating six years this year.  And there’s Kelev, who I have grown closer to than I ever imagined I could, who I met while I was still with Cat, and who actually was involved with us both during that brief time of overlap.  If I just looked at it from the perspective of my longest lasting relationship, the dynamic I have with Kelev is both the longest running, and the most impactful.  If I broaden the view though, the relationship that effected me the most in my entire life, second to my dynamic with Kelev, was my short lived furious romance with Cat, that went down in flames.  The relationship wasn’t successful by the measure of longevity, nor by many other measures, since to be blunt, we fucked each other up real good.  If we are measuring by impact and growth though, that was the second most successful relationship of my life.

I have never stopped learning and growing as a person from looking back, seeing all my mistakes, seeing the beautiful passionate parts in between, and recognizing the worst of me that came out in that.  My sobriety is because of Kelev and Cat, Kelev for his constant support and encouragement, and Cat for being with me at the very beginning and showing me what I could lose when I let alcohol control me.  That horrible toxic relationship, the one that most broke me when I lost it, I count it as one of the most successful because I measure success through what I learned and who I became.  And seeing his handwriting again, all the memories coming back so vividly, reminded me of how much who I am and how I grow every day can be traced back to one of my shortest and most chaotic relationships.  He will be a part of me that I carry with me every day, through the intensity he made me feel that has not yet been matched, and through the growth he inspired and continues to inspire even years after we ended.  That relationship was my biggest failure personally, in how I behaved and who I became in it.  But it is also one of the greatest successes of my life in all it taught me going forward and how much the memory of him continues to spur positive change in my life every day.  You can never truly measure the exact impact of a relationship, but if you do, don’t look to longevity to do so, look at who you were at the start, who you were at the finish, who you are now from the effects of it, and who you continue to become because of it all.

Do you see relationships through the lens of what you’ll gain or what you’ll give up?  

Do you see relationships through the lens of what you’ll gain or what you’ll give up?

I think generally when people are looking for relationships, they are looking to add something to their life.  Loneliness, a desire for affection or touch, a want for someone to confide in or grow with, all our needs for human connection are a motivating factor in seeking relationships.  We look for what someone can bring into our lives, how our life can unfurl with them and what can be mutually shared and enjoyed together.  Especially in monogamous dynamics, people often are looking to follow the relationship escalator. The relationship escalator is where you meet and make contact, get to know someone, engage in romantic gestures, begin to define a commitment, and follow the progression of moving in, then usually pursuing marriage, then children or pets, and a happily ever after of further intertwinement.  It is centered around taking steps higher and higher, gaining more safety and stability from the relationship with every step.

In polyamorous relationships, especially for people newly opening up to polyamory, people are sometimes trying to fill in areas of their relationships where they feel they are lacking, with a new person. I’ve noticed often, especially in newly polya folks, that a person may be looking to supplement a need for more sex or affection or someone they can relate to and confide in, in certain ways, with a new person. In fact this is often a driving factor in infidelity in monogamous dynamics as well.  This is not the only reason, or even the main reason, that people pursue polyamory though.  I feel it is safe to say that most people who pursue polyamory in the long run do so because they cannot imagine limiting romantic love and connection to one individual, not just because of wanting to fill their own need holes with puzzle piece people.  The point I am making though, is I think we do often view new relationships from the lens of what we will gain in pursuing them, whether it is meeting a need or want, or just expanding the love we feel to include a new person and sharing new life experiences with them.

I have noticed that I do something different, that I have over the last 5-10 years or so begun viewing relationships through the lens of what I will give up.  When getting involved with someone new, one of my first courses of actions is to strongly define my boundaries.  “Do not expect me to ever share a room with you.  Understand I may at times be willing to share my bed, but it will be on my terms and not something you can expect nightly or regularly.” I am almost defensive in the extent to which I put my boundaries forward, as though expecting them to be violated without reason.  I do have a reason though, they are hard won boundaries.  I spent years not only letting others bulldoze over them, but repressing them myself and indulging co-dependency rather then independence.  Independence was and still is the hardest skill I’ve ever had to cultivate withing myself.  In fact, it was one of my partners pushing me into it, modeling it for me, and making it clear at times that if I continued to be co-dependent with him that I would lose him altogether, that started me down that path to begin with.  It was hard to take the independence that I found in that dynamic and apply it to my others, not to just use people as puzzle pieces to fit in my co-dependency hole.  After fighting tooth and nail to become a more resilient and independent person, to become comfortable with aloneness, and as I continue down that path, new relationships are frightening.  When I begin to develop a closeness with someone I have to wonder, what am I going to give up to this person?  What parts of myself am I going to lose and what boundaries will I let them walk over?  What will I have to compromise in my other relationships? Will I lose the trips to the supermarket with the partner who I can relax with more than anyone, who makes me laugh in our car rides alone, a laugh that never comes as freely with anyone else?  Will I lose the time to myself each morning, after I let the dogs out and before I have had my coffee, where my mind is able to assimilate all the coping mechanisms that make me functional through the day?  Will I lose the strength I feel flowing through me as I sprawl out in bed by myself at night and realize that I can finally sleep alone without being consumed by loneliness or a need for a body beside me?  What part of me does this partner want from me, what can I give them, without it being a loss for me?

I know that I am not alone in this.  In polyamorous dynamics it is clear that there is not enough time and energy for an unlimited amount of loves, there is always some kind of trade off in your own personal time or time with partners when you engage with someone new. When you have been co-dependent as well, freedom and independence are so hard won that you may always be vigilant that they are slipping away.  If you have dealt with abuse as I have, you may be constantly concerned that your boundaries will be trampled and wonder what you must compromise to earn someone’s love. I won’t claim to know which way is better, or if there is a better.  In all likelihood the answer is as usual, some kind of balance.  I know for me though, I do look at relationships through the lens of what I must give up, it is a struggle to allow someone into my life for that reason.

Relationship anarchy has helped some with that.  Being able to have dynamics that are fluid, that can take shape organically and do not need to follow the relationship escalator, and are formed by finding the common ground and desires of those involved, has helped negate some of my fear.  I have become confident in my autonomy and my respect of the autonomy of my partners as well, and more sure of my ability to maintain my boundaries.  To relate to people in a way with less labels and societal norms, and to enjoy the ways in which my life touches others without expectations, has allowed a little more comfort.  I am still guarded, I know this.  I anticipate expectations and obligations put on me, I warn and ready my loves for disappointment, and I still defensively insist on my boundaries with an often unneeded vehemence.  I hope more healing is to come, I am not sure if I will ever look at relationships from the completely what will I gain perspective I did in the very first ones I entered into, but maybe some day I will be able to worry less about what it will cost me every time I fall in love.