To succeed, you have to do it for yourself…or do you?

“To really succeed, you need to do it for yourself, not for someone else”

I can’t remember the first time I heard this message, but it’s something repeated often, and for many different circumstances. I hear this especially when it comes to mental health or addiction.  When you decide to get sober, it is a choice you have to make for yourself, not one that you can be doing to please others.  If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll inevitably fail.  When you seek treatment for mental health, it has to come from finally acknowledging your problems yourself and loving yourself, not from wanting to please others. If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll fail.  Does this narrative sound familiar?  It should, it’s fucking everywhere.  It’s also utter bullshit.

When I tried to stop drinking, I had deeply internalized this message.  I tried to stop for myself, or I said I did, but I also tried to stop to save my relationship.  My ex-fiance had cheated on me, had been cheating on me for months by the time I found out, and I knew that part of it was because I had been such a shitty partner.  The responsibility for his actions is still on him, but he was looking for love from someone who was compatible and healthy for him, and I was not that.  I gave myself the challenge of going from drinking around 12-20 beers a night, something I had been doing consistently for about three years, to going 100 days sober.  I did it, and our relationship still fell apart.  He cheered me on, but was still cheating on me the whole time while claiming not to be.  I backslid some then, after making it my first hundred days.  I tried to transition into drinking in moderation, and I was not ready for it, and the circumstances were poor since I was getting out of a six year relationship with someone I had been engaged to, that had ended with betrayal.  So doesn’t that prove the point that you have to do it for yourself, and if you do it for someone else you’ll fail?  Fucking nope.  It does show me that doing it to try and save a relationship that was already failing and beyond saving, without even evaluating if that relationship was healthy for me (it wasn’t), was a mistake.

So I kept working at moderation, and at times I took another 30 days or 100 days of sobriety.  Ex-fiance moved out, I started school, life continued.  I told myself over and over that I had to stop drinking for myself, it had to be for me, or I would continue failing.  I came out and began transitioning, I worked hard on getting a degree, I really started to love myself with a depth I haven’t known before.  I still struggled with moderation and sobriety.  I did the work for myself, because I truly wanted to be better, and for some people that is enough, for me in this instance it didn’t work.  I got an okay handle on things though, over the next three years I went from the daily 12-20 beers from before the first time I tried sobriety, to drinking just on weekends, then to drinking once a month, then to drinking every few months.  I still felt weak, like I was fucking up, like I couldn’t do it.  I was doing it just for myself and I was feeling like a failure.

One of those times when I drank, I broke the other rule I had for myself, even when I had been a constant alcoholic.  I had made a no hard liquor rule at the beginning because I saw how much I was beginning to drink, and I knew I’d be dead within a year of accidental alcohol poisoning if I didn’t set myself that limit.  Well, this one time, a few years into moderating, I went to a barbecue with Kelev and had hard liquor, and much too much to drink.  I made a complete ass of myself, I was rude to Kelev, I needed help getting into the car so he could drive me home, I was just a complete shitbird that night.  The immensity of how badly I’d fucked up hit me like a ton of bricks the next day and I realized that while Kelev had been an ever patient and supportive loving force, and extremely understanding because he had a history with alcoholism as well, that it might be a matter of time until he said enough and left.  Even if he didn’t, what I was doing was hurting him, directly on nights like that when I was a rude fucknob, and indirectly as he watched me hurt myself.

When I decided to take a full year of sobriety, I did it for him.  I did it because I didn’t want to fuck up the best relationship I’d ever been in, I did it because I didn’t want to hurt him with my behavior, and I did it most of all because I wanted to make him proud.  And you know what, it worked.  I made it a year sober, and so many times he would glow with pride and tell me how amazing my efforts were, and that was what I needed to keep pushing through.  I got out the other side, and every previous time after I had hit a goal like that, I would go back to drinking after.  Less each time, I had gotten to a point of moderation where usually I only drank every few months, and rarely too much like I did at that barbecue. But there was still always that relief of my sobriety stretch being over, and I celebrated with a drink.  This time I had no desire to.  I had him by my side telling me how he was so proud I’d actually made it, and I felt better then I had in so many years.  I still haven’t drank since then, and I may eventually decide I can handle moderation someday, but I’ve had no interest in that day coming anytime soon. I had decided to throw away the notion that I had to do it for myself.  Instead I had to find -a reason- important enough for me, and do it for that.  I found that, and that is what mattered, having a driving force that could support me through the hardest moments and push me forward.

Yesterday I was talking to my partner D, and she was telling me how her other partner, the Brit, had taken an important step forward for his health.  How he had done so without her prompting, but because he wanted her to be proud of him.  She said how she wished he had done it for himself.  It reminded me of my experiences, and of the trope we buy into that we have to do things for ourselves for them to work, or to be healthy, or to love ourselves.  Sometimes when it comes to physical and mental health, one of the biggest barriers is not loving yourself.  Low self esteem and self regard can really hold people back in seeking help.  Apathy or self destructiveness can feed into the most unhealthy behaviors.  That is where the trope that you have to do something for yourself becomes harmful, it can hold someone back from seeking help because they can’t muster up enough love for themselves alone, or desire to exist, to push forward.

It is okay to get help because of external motivation.  If you are doing something that is good for you, because you want to make someone else proud, or for any other external reason, you are still doing something good for you.  That is important, that is valid, and it still pushes you forward.  In fact, that is still even a form of self love.  When you decide to take care of yourself because you want to make someone else proud, you are still doing so because you enjoy the feeling of them being proud of you.  You are still on some level seeking out a good feeling, and that is loving yourself enough even just a little, to seek something you enjoy.  Even if you only are getting joy from the happiness of someone who loves you, you are letting them love you and take pride in you, and that is an act of loving yourself.  From there you can move on to acknowledging that you deserve that love, as you succeed for them you can build yourself up and build confidence in believing that you may actually be worthy of that support because you are succeeding in what you are doing.  This isn’t just that the ends justify the means, but that in trying to improve for other people, you often create a healthy cycle that feeds your healing.

Of course there are situations like I had with my ex-fiance, where I was trying to improve to save something that was unhealthy for me and not worth saving.  But even then, if I had not started on my journey at that point, I may never have continued pushing until I found a reason that was strong enough to bring me through this, and I might not be where I am today.  So when you decide to make a big change for yourself, when you are facing a struggle and looking for a reason to improve, let go of the toxic trope that the only reason that will work is an internal one.  Let go of the idea that you must do everything for you and you alone, and that is must come from this already existing place of loving yourself.  Loving yourself may help a whole heck of a lot, but it is okay to seek external motivation as well.  What matters is finding reasons that are healthy enough and good enough for you, that are strong enough to pull you through the hard times.  If you foster love for yourself to start and let that drive you, it might be easier at times, or it might not be enough.  If you find the strongest reason you can and run with it though, the self love will likely come in time.  And you can succeed, don’t be afraid to lean on others for support and to seek validation and encouragement.  That is just as good of a reason and you will see that when you reach your goals.

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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.

How do you deal with unrequited love?

My first experience with love was a boy named Dan.  I was in sixth grade and he was in fifth. He had tousled dirty blond hair and a crooked smile, the sort of smile I’ve learned I have a weakness for.  I did not fit in among my class at all, though I went to a small school and everyone was always polite, it was the sort of place where in a class of 20, everyone was invited to birthday parties.  Dan had friends in his class, he wasn’t a popular kid, but he was well enough liked and had no shortage of people to trade pokemon cards with or chase around in a game of tree tag.  Some recesses, I was one of the ones he spent his time with, and it was the first time I craved a person, felt a constant burning desire and elation when I was around them, and a devastating loss when I was not, as though the world were a bit more empty.  I didn’t know before then that the quality of the world could change like that. I hadn’t realized that when a person occupied the same space as me, they could bring not only themselves and their presence, but could change the very air around them and the colors in a room, so it all was suddenly so much more alive.  We played hockey together, I got extraordinarily good at playing defense despite being someone who would have been more suited to an offensive position.  He was the goalie, and I wanted to be as near him as I could be at all times.  I never told him how I felt, though I wished every day to just be lucky enough that it would be one of those days that he spent time with me.  I used a birthday wish to wish that he would move in next door, and when the neighbors put up a for sale sign unexpectedly a few weeks later I was ecstatic, but a young couple moved in instead.  I went to a different school for seventh grade, and aside from a couple bar mitzvahs here and there, I didn’t see him again.

There was a boy named Han in my Japanese class in high school.  Another boy with a crooked grin, prone to laughter and easy with his smiles.  He sat behind me and I was the one he would often whisper his jokes to.  Walking into class and seeing him sitting there was so often the highlight of my day.  It was more then that, my world was a hell of depression, all flat like a paper cut out.  He rendered it in 3-D and brought the colors back, when my heart saw him and fluttered it felt like the first time that day I had taken a breath.  He confided in me about his crush on one of the girls in the class, it broke me a little to hear but I tried to encourage him to tell her and give it a shot.  I never told him the way he made my days bearable just by existing, or how I imagined his laughter in my dreams.

As I entered into the world of relationships, I connected too strongly, or not strongly enough.  I was a flurry of NRE (new relationship energy) and neediness, trying to finally satisfy my desperate cravings for a person of my own.  I wanted to possess someone, consume them, take in their brightness and hold it inside me so I would never feel that crushing loneliness that had lived within me again.  Often I made grandiose commitments and thrust myself into ill fitting partnerships without a second thought and found myself later trying to pretend that my love matched theirs.  As I was with one person after another who loved me more strongly over time while my feelings bordered on apathetic once the NRE had passed, I was wrought with guilt and overbearing discomfort.  The few times I felt a more enduring passion, I was paralyzed with fear of losing it and sought control just to hold on to my grip on the world. I was disgusted with myself for my needs, my desperation, how I saw myself leading people on more and more, the realization that I was failing to maintain emotional intimacy and was left in partnerships where I had to pretend or cause someone else the heartbreak I felt when my affections weren’t returned.

Even writing this I want to stop a moment and remark on it, since I haven’t looked back and viewed myself through this lens in quite a while.  Sweet gibbering fuckweasels I was unhealthy.  I was beyond a hot mess and the folks who put up with me through my teenage years deserve a fucking medal.

As I entered into adulthood, or at least left my parents home and began having more relationships that involved responsibility and cohabitation and emotional nuance, I began to take significantly more care in how I got involved with people.  I made a nice neat stack of mistakes in the last ten years as well, but I moved forward, gaining more self awareness and becoming more conscious of the commitments I made.  It took me many more years to work past controlling tendencies, but I started to improve, and I talked about in another piece how I learned to be honest and devoted myself to that ideal to an extreme. With that came a lot of one sided relationships.  I won’t say I didn’t love many of my partners, I did, but not to the extent they loved me or in the same ways.  It was something discussed to varying degrees, often times I was very blunt with what I could or could not provide, what could be expected of me, and where feelings matched up versus where they diverged. I began to see the effect of unrequited love on my partners, or at least an unmatched level of love and desire.

Over the years I’ve known both sides of unrequited love.  I’ve spiraled through a dozen ways of dealing with it, most of them terribly toxic.  Something changed in recent years.  When I was a teenager I was severely depressed for a handful of years.  Everything was constantly numb, and love was a brief blinding high in the flat twilight grays that were my existence.  As a young adult I was an alcoholic.  I had hated the numbness of depression, so I recreated it, because maybe without it I was too much.  I broke free of that, and I broke free of a lot of toxicity with it.  When I transitioned, when I embraced my independence and autonomy, when I learned what truly made me feel rooted and good, I was able to be a person with emotions that were often still too intense and too much, but that I didn’t need to numb down into nothing.  I studied mindfulness, it meshed well with my long held personal beliefs that there are few real negative emotions.  The emotions most people thought of as negative, sadness, lonliness, heartbreak, anger; they were all close friends that I embraced after years of solitude with nothing at all in my mind.  I learned to sit with them and trust them to just exist, to be, and then to move along.

These days I love the intensity of NRE as much as ever.  I’m careful not to make grandiose commitments during it, to try and spare the feelings of people who I am loving for a moment but maybe not for a lifetime.  When it passes I make my commitments sparingly, to the few people who capture me in such a way that I want to be drawn to them with that exuberant overzealous devotion.  Sometimes my feelings aren’t returned, or are mirrored back with a reflection that is far less intense and clear.  Where that once would have been devastating, it is now intriguing and tolerable.  My sadness and loneliness in those moments is exquisitely sharp but like a masochists pain, it feels good in equal measure as it does bad.  It is easily dispelled by the sheer joy of experiencing love well up from within me.  I can study my loneliness and the pain of unrequited love and be content just to let it exist.  No one is obligated to love me back simply because the intensity with which I burn for them is overwhelming.  It is no great tragedy if they don’t.  When I am the one loving less or with a different quality to my love, I try my best to be as honest as I can, make as few commitments as possible, so as not to lead anyone else down that road.  But these days the road of unrequited love is one I walk without fear.  Loving is the goal, being loved back is not a prize to win.  I would simply rather relish in the absolute joy of being in love, even when it’s laced with pain, than miss the journey of loving someone.

 

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.

Progress matters more than perfection

Today I am scatterbrained.  I’ve worked on adding a little here and there to some writings I am working on, but I can’t seem to focus on and complete any one piece.  I have to remind myself at times that completion or perfection is not the end go.  The process is what matters.

Yesterday I was cleaning my house with one of my housemates, Raichu.  I was explaining how hard it is for me to clean at times.  I get very focused on everything being perfect.  I was sweeping the floor of the living room and talking about how frustrating it was for me that I had the spoons to sweep, and even then to do a bunch more cleaning tasks afterwards, but did not have the spoons to move all the furniture when sweeping, so it felt like I was doing nothing because I was not in my mind doing the job completely.  They said “It’s okay, moving everything can be a few times a year thing, our house does not need to be perfect and a lived in house in more cozy anyway.  You can do just a little bit of something and even if it doesn’t look done or perfect, it is cleaner then it was when you started.”

Well damn.  I’ve heard this all before, I’ve said this all before, but it still made a bit of tightness in my chest go away and made me breath a small sigh of relief to hear them say it.  I’m not sure why my brain clings to the idea that only perfection is good enough.  Not true perfection, but that feeling of done-ness when I know I’ve done the best I absolutely can, and I don’t see any imperfections left in my cleaning job that I could conceivably fix in a reasonable amount of time.  The problem is, that idea of -having done the best I can- is based on me on my best days.  I’m not often having my best days.  I’m a well put together hot mess, and focus, motivation, energy, these are all often a huge struggle for me.

I finished sweeping the living room without moving anything.  The floor still looked dirty to me, I didn’t have the spoons to mop and the living room is the dogs’ room, so there are dirty paw prints on the floor and dog fur sticking out from under the dog crates that I couldn’t get without moving them.  It is not just far from perfect, but it may be far from most people’s basic definition of clean.  I think about how the room with a couch, a well organized bookshelf, a somewhat organized cabinet, the two dog crates, a large floor rug, a dog bed in the corner, and a few toys and water dishes, is so much less cluttered and so much more clean than it was four or five years prior.  Five years ago when I began de-cluttering and re-claiming my life from a constant alcohol induced stupor, the living room I have now would have looked fantastic to me on it’s dirtiest days.  When I began that journey of self improvement and sunk much of that into improving my environment as well, I also became hard on myself in demanding perfection. Because if I let myself slide with personal perfection I ended up a shitty person, so I demanded perfection from my environment as well or else I was just -not good enough-.

The people in my life are teaching me to let go of that.  I got up a good pile of dog fur and dirt and cat litter with my sweeping to dump in the bin.  I also wiped down counters and the table, took up the clutter sitting around the kitchen and dining room, washed and folded three loads of laundry, cleaned the toilet, sink, and tub, and helped change a light bulb that has been out since a couple months after we moved in (so about six years).  Nothing I did was quite up to my standards, but all of it was good.  And at some point I have to accept that, that means I did good, and I can be proud of myself.

The time I tried hierarchical polyamory

My first adult experience with polyamory started when I met my ex-fiance when I was seventeen and had just started college.  Now a lot of folks venture in to the polya life as a couple with a hierarchical model of polya, and I wasn’t all too much different.  Ex-fiance was a monogamous fellow, and I freaked out a little when I started falling in love with him, cue a few instances of pushing him away because I thought I would end up hurting him.  It was all very melodramatic really, but I eventually had a conversation with him about making our relationship “official” and all.  My two questions for him, before I agree to it were A) Would he have any problem with the idea of me getting gender reassignment surgery later in life (and I didn’t realize I was trans until seven years later how???) and B) Was he completely and totally certain he was alright with a polyamorous relationship.  He said yes to both, and so we became a couple.

We didn’t negotiate a strict hierarchy that I remember, but we fell into one easily as though it was the “right thing to do”.  As I ventured into dating other people, I always reassured him that he came first, he was always my priority.  I would check in with him constantly, “are you sure you’re okay with this? But are you really sure? No, are you really really sure that you’re sure?”  I don’t recall him every really asking for hierarchy, though I believe there was some assumption of that, since he seemed to assume a relationship escalator style relationship that ended in marriage and potential podlings and all.  I thought hierarchy was the way to go though, even though I did feel some vague discomfort with it, because after all, I was making a huge ask of being polya at all from someone who self identified as mono, so I better toss in some concessions to make him feel okay about it.  That my friends, was a mistake.

There is no story here of how eventually hierarchy didn’t work for me and it resulted in things blowing up terrifically, because there was a web of complex issues that I can guess caused him to cheat six years later and then walk away.  I won’t even know all the reasons, because we didn’t communicate well.  I don’t think he ever fully explained them, and if he did, I wasn’t about to grasp it at the time between the betrayal, the drinking, and the bipolar swings I hadn’t yet gotten under any semblance of control.  I would say though, that while I do remember him giving a half reason here or there, it was something we never did fully unpack, because we both had different flaws in our abilities to communicate in healthy ways.

Here’s what happened with the hierarchy though.  I shut people out in a lot of ways.  In elevating ex-fiance above everyone else, I made an effort to keep other people at arms length.  There was other trauma mixed in there, I was sexually assaulted my first year of college as well, which led to some persistent trauma that evolved into me being pretty touch averse, something I’m only now just starting to heal.  The way I shut people out though was definitely a harmful factor in that. I denied myself resources that may have helped in healing from that, and created an island of myself and ex-fiance, which grew into an intense co-dependency. In fact, having a hierarchical dynamic at all was a huge player in me becoming so codependent.  Structures and titles matter, they can shape out expectations in ways we aren’t aware of, and the ones I put in place caused my to depend on him as my sole source of support.  That codependency was one of the most unhealthy addictions I’ve ever had, it rivaled my alcoholism in things that nearly destroyed my life.

Finally a few years down the line we had transitioned from strict hierarchy to more of a descriptive hierarchy.  “Well two primaries could totally be a thing” could have been my catch phrase.  I was at that time still reassuring ex-fiance that he would always be -one of- the most important people in my life, and I refused to call any relationship secondary, but I still used the word primary for the ones that tended to have the extreme life integration we did, I just also accepted that other folks might join him in having that place in my life.  It wasn’t until he was gone for a while, taking a semester off school, working down at his mother’s workplace, and never around, that it happened though.  I met Cat, and I don’t know if ex-fiance being gone allowed me to let Cat in to that extent, but once I did, he became one of the greatest loves of my life, and my intensity with him on a romantic level could not compare to any dynamic I had ever had before, or at that time.  That opened the floodgates, once it was real to me, that was when the hierarchy truly started to crumble.  After that I went on to meet Kelev, and not too many years after ex-fiance left (and Cat was gone as well by that time), and by that point I was firmly on egalitarian polya/solo polya ground and running full force towards relationship anarchy.

Looking back I wonder often why I ever tried hierarchical polyamory.  It really isn’t in my nature, and from day one the idea of some people being “secondary” galled me.  I am not even sure how I didn’t recognize a more relationship anarchist mindset early on, why I spent time idealizing romantic relationships above all others when I even at the same talked about how my best friend and sibling growing up, River, was as close to me as any partner ever was.  Hell, I had written long rambling tomes that read like a teenage description of a Utopian society combined with the relationship anarchist manifesto back when I was a young teen, so you know, it was all right there from the start.

What I did learn from hierarchy is that it just plain didn’t make sense.  It does not work to decide that life is going to be a certain way, it just doesn’t.  To say that your relationship with one person fits in this shiny special box, and all other relationships are in smaller different boxes, and that is just how things are and will always be.  Think of it in terms of jobs, or kids.  You can expect a certain thing, you can work towards a certain thing, but life is gunna throw you a curveball and fuck up all your neat little plans and you’ll end up with something entirely different, but also potentially even better.  There are very very rare people who truly choose to single-mindedly stick to one path in life and follow it, and manage to do so completely, still coming out in the same place on the other side after every bump in the road.  Hierarchy is like that, it works, until you realize how much it hurts a secondary you love deeply, or until you find that with the billions of people in the world there actually is one you may love and be more compatible with then your husband, or you get tired of fucking rules.  I don’t want to choose one single-minded path and come out in the same place after every bump in the road.  I want my life adventure to be a free roving journey where the bumps deposit me in new and unexpected places, and where I may have a few destinations in mind, but if I end up somewhere else entirely I’m going to dust off my trench coat and forge ahead with a grin, ready for something new.

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.

Engagements end, personal growth is endless

On December 10th 2011, seven years ago, I got engaged.  I had been with my partner Otter since November 27th 2007. We bought a house April 12th 2012, and split up in May of 2014. That is no longer the longest running relationship I’ve been in. I look back on it though and I can say it was probably one of the most, if not the very most, toxic relationship I’ve ever been in.  Not just for me, certainly for both of us, because we were both pretty terrible people for each other in different ways.  I have so many stories I could tell of ways in which we battled against each other, how I grasped for control, how he lied about everything from the minuscule to the great, how we both poisoned each other with anxiety and fear. It’s hard to zero in on one memory, one lesson, one moment of failure, or one moment of joy.

I don’t actually remember much joy in that relationship, except maybe in the earliest days.  Thinking back though, most of it was joy of experience and indulgence.  I remember late night runs with our friends to taco hell and stuffing our faces full of gooey cheesy goodness that we could suddenly have in abundance because as college students we were adults, and had no real adults to tell us that maybe trying to eat enough burritos to feed a small village all at once was a poor life choice.  I remember the first winter break, where I was kicked out of the house and spent it with him, how we ate out every day and it felt like a celebration. I felt so grown up being able to get in his car and go anywhere with him, instead of having to rely on where my feet or the metro or my parents would take me.  I remember on breaks how he would drive the hour down from his place to mine, and our hurried frenzied sex in the car in my parents drive way in the middle of the night before we would go in to their home and curl up in separate beds because they would never consider the idea of letting us sleep together under their roof.  I remember the first time we went to Disney, a vacation we could never have afforded on our own but that my parents gifted to us. It felt so grown up to be on vacation together, but most of my memories are of us getting drunk, the sex, and making pesto in the hotel room kitchen naked.  In fact all of my great memories with him revolve around food or sex in one way or another.  I’m sure there was more to the relationship then that, but I can’t remember any truly soul touching conversations or any times I felt like I was expanding and growing as a person.

I am still a hedonistic being in many ways.  I love to cook and make rich foods that are bursting with flavor. I love savoring new cuisines and experiencing the deep taste of cultural heritage that I know I can never truly understand, but get a glimpse of through the evolution of a food culture that’s progressed for centuries.  I love touch, both platonic and sexual, from the few people I am comfortable enough to let into my space.  I love kink, and walking the lines of pleasure and pain and sensation drawn out over a moment until it is endless and overwhelming.  There are so many physical pleasures in this world that add to the wonder of existence, and are gratifying to share with my partners and loves and friends.  But the most savory thing of all in my life right now is that these hedonistic pleasures are not the only isolated source of joy, and not my sole way of connecting to the beautiful people I share my heart with.

One of the milestones that occurred right after my relationship with Otter ending was my starting back in school.  It was necessity, I needed to pursue a career that I could both enjoy and that could support me, now that I would be taking over ownership of the house we had bought together and supporting myself on my own.  It marked an extremely important change though.  As I transitioned away from a relationship that was filled with, after all the lies and control and fights and neglect, a self indulgent seeking of pleasure in the material world, I began to focus again on higher learning and growth.  How could I have lost so many years to an alcohol filled haze and so many burrito filled nights of gooey cheese and comfort, but not much else?  I was someone who had prided myself on my intellect, my lust for knowledge, my fascination with the human mind and the human condition.  I was someone who had given all that up for the comfort of a warm body with an income, midnight trips to taco hell, and a pretty ring. When he finally left, after it was all over and I was left with a human shaped hole where I had stashed all my codependency and loneliness and straining for security, it was a massive relief.  I was empty and lost and it felt glorious.  I was not alone, I had various other partners who were glorious supportive and loving people, but none were that picket fence and two and a half children shaped normal facade of comfort and security.  And in my emptiness I saw the road to growth and learning again unfurling in front of me.  I slowly began to stretch out all the cramps in my mind, spent a few years filtering out the daze of alcohol with several bumps in that road, and began unfurling my brain and heart again to reach towards a sense of real fulfillment.

These days I still have some of the glorious people who stood by me through the ending of that relationship and my growth following it, in my life.  Some of them were there from before my engagement, and some from before I even ever got into that relationship.  There are many who have come along after as well.  What I can say of all of them is they are not normal, they are not picket fence and two and a half kid shaped humans, they are not people who bring me joy only through hurried sexual escapades in the back of a car and midnight trips to taco hell, they are not people who I try and control or people who lie to me and make me grasp out harder in fear.  They are people who encourage my personal growth, my love for knowledge, my dabbling into psychology and philosophy, and my desperate need for conversation and to be challenged.  These days I have learned to never sacrifice my progress and personal growth for comfort and hedonistic pleasures.  As much as I love my food and my sex and the comfort of stability and security, it is only valuable to me in a life also filled with challenges and mental exercises and a pursuit of knowledge and understanding.  I need to feed both my body and mind, and I need progress.  I am too much for a house and a marriage and a life with a sweet but normal partner to contain.  I can be endless as long as I can always grow, and I won’t ever lose that again.

Things left unsaid

I’ve always found it interesting how incredibly different two people can experience, describe, and remember the same situation.  Our experiences are very much rooted in our own perception, formed of our own beliefs, emotions, and all our other experiences that led up to that point.  Our judgments of others are much the same way, they reflect as much on us as they do on the person we are making them of.

I was thinking about then when I was contemplating one of the relationships I had over the last decade.  It swam it’s way up into my mind initially because I was thinking about one of my current partners, and how while we have been together for less than a year and the dynamic is a long distance one, how intense it is.  And while I try not to compare partners, my brain related it back to Kayla* and how it was odd that while that dynamic lasted a bit over a year, it was one that really had a quite negligible impact on my life at all in comparison.  I can’t say for sure, but I feel like it was a much larger part of her life then it ever was mine.  Which got me thinking about how different our perceptions of a situation or experience can be.

If you asked Kayla, she would likely say our dynamic ended because she couldn’t handle polyamory. I’ve certainly heard her say many times since we broke up, that she found out through dating me that being in a polyamorous relationship was not something she could do. I don’t mean to invalidate her experiences with my own thoughts, but to be quite frank, I disagree.  I don’t know that she could be happy in a polya dynamic, I’m fairly confident she wouldn’t be able to handle the kind of relationship anarchist way of relating that I have fully embraced now, but I don’t think that polyamory is why we broke up, even if she does.

Before Kayla and I started dating, we had known each other for years.  We ran in some intersecting social circles, and there was some low key flirting online from time to time, but I wouldn’t say I knew her well or that she had a real presence in my life.  Then she sent me a message asking about the possibility of experimenting with some kinks together.  My fiance and I had split a year or so before, which had opened up a lot more space on my dance card because that had been a very co-dependent relationship.  My lovefriend, who has been the central dynamic in my life since we got involved, is a person who often varies between attached and integrated, and extreme bouts of independence.  It was an independent time, so his presence in my life was still a constant, we cohabitated, shared finances, and were part of each others daily lives, but he needed more space and I was looking for other ways to spend my time so as not to bother him. So I was in a place where I wanted company, and I wasn’t quite emotionally healthy and had some holes in myself that I should have been filling with personal growth but was eager to shove a person into instead. Kayla had few experiences with relationships as a whole, and had told me that she’d never really been in love or in a committed relationship. I was also on a path of recovery from alcohol addiction at this time.  The year before I had gone from drinking a 6-24 beers daily for three or four years, to being sober six months. I then attempted to learn to drink in moderation, but had backslid some when things ended with my fiance and the drama that ensued after.  I was starting to get a hold on it again and making a lot of progress in moderating my drinking when that message from Kayla popped into my inbox.

I read her proposition, and I was craving some of the kinky interactions she was interested in, so I fired back a response and we agreed to meet up at a regular gathering of her friends and see if there was any chemistry between us.  The gathering we met at was one where alcohol consumption was not just regular, but a glorified thing, and drinking in excess was encouraged.  I felt a prickling discomfort that this was not a healthy place for me, but I pushed it aside, and soon became a regular at those weekly get togethers.  Kayla and I also quickly ended up in a relationship, the kink dynamic ended up not being as much of a central focus, and soon we were in some semblance of love. She warned me from the start that she was not sure how well she would handle polyamory, but during the heady rush of NRE she claimed to be coping very well with it.  She claimed that as long as she felt important and valued, she thought she could manage it with ease, and I agreed that the hard parts like jealousy were usually fueled by insecurity, and feeling appreciated and having all your needs met were a good remedy for that.

As the months went by, I realized that in getting into that relationship, I was compromising a lot of the personal growth I had been doing and sliding back into unhealthy habits.  I stopped exercising daily in favor of spending time with Kayla, she had offered to come with me on my walks but they weren’t the same when they were no longer a time I could start to become comfortable with moments alone with myself.  I drank a lot more on our weekend parties, and even when we stopped going to those as frequently, we just began drinking at my house instead.  She was an alcoholic too, and it was easy to rationalize that I was doing okay when my drinking in excess was normalized by hers.  We talked about wanting to improve, on working on our problems together, but I knew deep down that I really needed to work on my issues alone because a lot of them stemmed from a previous propensity for co-dependency.  Then there were the times where she would get so drunk she would black out, or close to it, and I saw her get into some vicious arguments with friends where words were screamed and things were thrown.  She was never violent to others, so I told myself it was okay, but the punching walls and yelling scared me the few times it happened, because it reminded me of the precursors to abuse I’d experienced before.  Then we got into a few fights when drunk, and she was no longer a reasonably good communicator, but someone who resorted to nasty insults and threats of break ups. I don’t know exactly at which moment I began to withdraw, but I know it began much earlier then I realized.

Kayla began to tell me she was struggling with jealousy and was questioning how well she could cope with being polyamorous. We talked about insecurity, we talked about asking for her needs to be met.  She began asking for more time with me, for doing specific things that mattered a lot to her.  I said I would make time for them and often I didn’t.  I then recognized myself doing that and began to say I could not commit to that, I could not promise to do those things, I would try, but that was the most I could give.  And looking back, I didn’t try very hard.  I was starting to sense that the relationship was very bad for me, and I was putting distance there and pushing her away in fits and bursts.  I would draw back in for a moment, compelled by love for her at times, but more often by her need for me, wanting to please, or wanting to fill that hole inside myself.  Then it would cycle back to my realizing what I was doing, that I needed to learn a self that wasn’t co-dependent, that it likely wasn’t healthy to be involved with an alcoholic while trying to fix my own addiction issues, and that I could not be comfortable with someone who tended towards irrational anger and was verbally abusive and violent towards objects in moments of extreme drunkeness. I wanted intimacy less and less, and soon I wanted to spend less and less time together as well. By the time she texted me one day and said that the relationship wasn’t working and maybe we should end it, I was relieved.  It was something I’d known for months and couldn’t figure out how to say.  That was the first time though, that someone else had initiated a break up and I hadn’t fought for the relationship. In the past, even when I knew a dynamic was unhealthy and had thought about ending it many times myself, someone else initiating a break up would trigger insecurities and a sense of failure in me, and I would fight tooth and nail to try and justify continuing it and working to mend things.  This time was different, and I was ready to let go because my desire for other growth was calling me to strongly and I knew I couldn’t focus on that with her in my life.

The first time I heard her say afterwards that she couldn’t be polyamorous, and she had realized that when being with me, that it was not something she could handle, I thought I knew what she meant.  She had seen me giving time and energy to others, especially my lovefriend, who had transitioned from an independent phase to a more attached one a few months in to my dynamic with Kayla.  She watched our closeness there and how I often wanted to be around him and had an extreme level of comfort with communication and touch with him, something I was having less and less with her every day.  She felt her needs go unmet, as I gave time and attention to other people while she was practically begging for it from me, and I brushed her off with so many laters that never became nows.  She did struggle with some issues that would have made polyamory difficult under many circumstances, and she definitely would have been happier in a monogomous dynamic regardless, but I made things a thousand times more difficult.  Especially when hearing from me that you deal with jealousy by recognizing how much you matter to someone regardless of their other relationships, and by asking for reassurance and for the things you need from your partner. Well she saw how little she mattered to me over time because I pushed her away more and more, and she asked for everything she wanted and needed and I brushed her off.  The worst thing I did though, was I never said any of this to her. The closest I came to it was telling her that the way she treated me when drunk and angry was completely unacceptable and I was not okay with emotional abuse, threats, or insults.  But I never let her know how much I withdrew and how early on it began, partly because of her actions, and partly because of my own needs which were incongruous with a relationship with her in the first place.

So the relationship ended, and I rarely think about it.  It was relevant to me mostly in relation to the little bit of growing I tried to do during it, and how it spurred a lot more afterwards because of the time I felt I lost.  I know it is cold, but I know I may have mattered a lot more in her life then she ever did in mine.  She may have been frightening when in an alcohol induced rage, but I was the one who disconnected and tried to use a person to fill a hole in myself that should have been handled before I ever engaged in another relationship at that time. There was so much dysfunction, and still, that is a blip in the radar for me.  I don’t know how much it mattered to her.  I don’t know if she could have handled being polyamorous with someone who gave her the time and energy she needed instead of pushing her away.  I suspect maybe she could have, if her first experience had been radically different and healthier, although maybe not given how unhealthy of a place she also seemed to be in at the time.  I do know that now I’m a very different person and the way I approach relationships has shifted entirely.  I also learned to moderate my drinking in the year after we broke up, finally gaining some understanding of how to engage without frequent excess, and then followed that with a year of complete sobriety so I could focus even more on the person growth I so desperately needed. I think the way I remember things and the way she does must be so radically different that it is almost as though we had two different relationships altogether.  That can happen with any two people because there always is some divergence in how people experience things due to who they are and their past leading up to that experience. In this case though, it was compounded tenfold by all the things I left unsaid.

 

 

*I do often change the names/gender/identifying characteristics of folks I write about. I don’t do this for all the people I mention, but at times it feels appropriate for privacy or distance from the situation.