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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Building community is coming home

Sometimes I’m thinking so hard about something that my brain feels a bit too big to fit in my head.  If I’m going to have a headache though, I suppose that is the sort I’d like to have, because at least it nets good results in the long run.  I’ve been thinking about community for a long time.  As a kid I went to a socialist Jewish camp modeled after Israeli Kibutzim, which are intentional communities focused on farming and living with the land, and mutual support among members.  They involve an integrated group living style and camp was much like that.

At camp we got up every morning and all met to check in at the flag pole before breakfast, any important announcements were shared and then we ate together as a group.  Following breakfast we had work groups, each choosing what group we wanted to be in at the beginning of the camp session.  Not surprisingly, I always gravitated to the group responsible for the garden and taking care of the animals.  Through all my childhood, if being near animals or in the dirt was an option, I jumped on it.  Throughout the rest of the day we had meals as a whole community, and some activities were structured that was as well, where others were split up by age group, skill level, or interests.  Song was an ever-present reality of life, one thing I miss the most about being there was living a life where song and dance were a constant part of daily existence.  The landscape as well absolutely haunts my dreams and my soul sometimes cries out for it.  The summer skies were perfection, no matter the clouds or the endless blue, or the deep violets at night with an endless amount of clearly visible stars.  They had a quality to them that was so intense, they felt so close, that it made every other sky I had seen before seem fake.  The camp was nestled by a serpentine, so we hiked through meadows where the mineral composition of the soil caused the grass to grow in beautiful shades of blue and purple intermixed with green and teal.  It felt like another world, and it felt like home.

The sense of community there was so palpable, it was everything you’ve dreamed of when you think of coming home.  It was the last place I remember being entirely comfortable with touch, where I could just curl up in a pile of warm bodies and not cringe or tense up.  There was always a feeling of safety, everyone had the best intentions of others at heart, or it certainly seemed so.  It wasn’t that we were too young for malice and selfishness, but as a community even of young folk, we actively discussed ways we could create a more kind and generous world, fight bigotry, and tear down the walls that divided us.  I’ve never met so many driven passionate people in one place, so many artists with a vision straining to burst out of them, so many healers with a desire to absorb all the ills of the heart and mind and make everyone around them feel whole.  When I ever wonder if with my rational logic driven mind, focused on figures and arguable facts, if I could possibly believe with my whole being in magic, I only have to think back to that place to say yes.

I didn’t know that my last year there would be my last, I always intended to return as a counselor and stay for many years onward, but that didn’t happen.  I did spend every summer there from around when I was ten to when I was fifteen, and I knew after the first one that I would create something that felt that way, when I grew up.  I talked for years incessantly and with passion about my dream for a community, not a summer camp, but a place where as an adult I could live my life constantly in that feeling of comfort and home and magic summer skies.   I have lived most of my adult life in communal living environments, usually with my polycule, partners and metamours.  There has been sometimes a glimpse of community, it is a shadow that flits around our home, but there were barriers in truly creating that in full.  After incessant talk of community for the past almost twenty years though, I have found others with a shared dream and we’ve begun the discussion process towards truly building that.  In discovering the term, intentional community, and then beginning to explore ecovillages, co-housing, communal living, and other IC models, we opened the door to the knowledge we needed to move forward.  I’ve done a lot with my life thus far, I have two college degrees and working on a third, I’ve run a craft business briefly, raised my own meat, had many partnerships and loves, descended into and back out of alcoholism, dealt with and societal and emotional impact of being trans and queer in today’s society, and shoved a fuck ton of adventures under my belt in the process.  Nothing I have done resonates with me as much as this though, I’ve known since childhood that this was my driving passion.  So, as I work on so much other personal growth and have begun several other new life journeys, I also look to move forward with this.  I know with the other amazing people I’ve found who share this dream that it will succeed, and I look forward to coming home.

My path to choosing radical honesty and onward

I was not an honest child.  I was actually known for elaborate but obvious lies in my childhood.  To this day my parents frequently remark about my ability to make up imaginative and unbelievable “stories” as a child, but stories are a nice word for lies.  Whether it was to get out of trouble, or just to see if I could, I often concocted ridiculously complex untruths, and while lying was definitely a thing my parents discouraged, I also got the feeling that my creativity was appreciated and that was positive reinforcement.

As I came into my early teens, I was the center of attention much of the time in my little group of misfits.  I continued to use my penchant for creative lies to elaborate upon stories to make them more exciting and interesting. I adapted others stories and experiences as my own frequently, or outright concocted completely fabricated tales.  They were well received, although partly so because they were often believed as truth.  I made myself a persona as an exciting risk-taking hilarious individual, and I was loved for it.

When I was sixteen I met Q, an individual who told me they valued honesty strongly, and I concurred.  Of course honesty was of extreme importance, it was integral really.  I saw myself as honest, because I was more true to myself then most of my peers in that I certainly flew my freak flag high.  As a goth kid who was out about my sexuality since I was 13 and bucked gender norms, I gave few fucks about what others thought of me, and I saw that as an aspect of honesty.  In a world when so many people hide who they are out of fear of judgement and rejection, I was honest in that sense.  But I still told stories that were exaggerated and filled with half truths.  I had begun to feel prickles of guilt when I did so, and had dispensed with the ones that were all out lies, but I was not what I would these days think of as an honest person.  Back then though, I considered myself honest because my lies were usually exaggerations, bending of the truth, little white lies, lies for the comfort of others, and so on.  I fell in love with Q, and made some silly teenage promises of being together forever and staying with them no matter what.  I think most people expect that forever for a teenager means maybe eight months if you’re lucky, but Q took me at my word, after all I had said that I valued honesty as much as they did and they had no reason not to trust me.  Looking back, I do think that it is a bit excessive to expect a sixteen year old to know what they want and to be self aware enough to be able to commit to a lifetime relationship.  In fact I believe these days that while forever is a pretty word, it should be never taken as an absolute commitment, because relationships can become toxic to one or both individuals, and anyone is free to walk away at any time regardless of prior commitments and regardless of the reason.  We were both young though, and I made a lot of promises I could not keep, and portrayed myself as a much more self aware and honest person then I was though. In many ways I was manipulative, and I knew it as well.  I was not malicious, but I was starving for love and belonging, and I wanted Q in particular to feed my insecurities and be singularly attached to me.  My issues with insecurity and co-dependence may have begun in that dynamic, and a lot of other factors played into that as well.  What it boils down to is while Q was older, and I saw them as a learned authority figure, they were new to relationships and socially isolated for much of life.  I was a social butterfly who’d been with quite a few people by then, I was well versed in manipulation and lying, and I had an overblown opinion of myself and my level of self awareness and honesty.

When I left them the approximate eight months later that a teenager’s forever lasts, I shattered something in them. I don’t remember those moments in the detail that they do, so much of that time in my life is a blur to me, but I remember thinking over and over in my mind that I had broken them.  I didn’t know you could break a person.  And I’ve learned many many things in revisiting those moments with them over the years, as they are still one of my dearest loves and friends thirteen years later, but at the time what impacted me the most was realizing they had actually believed me when I said I would be with them forever. That idea was incomprehensible to me, I had been left by many people who had said the same thing, and left a couple myself, and there was always this unspoken understanding that forever only means forever until it doesn’t.  I had a lot of anger towards them for other things that transpired in the relationship, I felt wholly uncomfortable with them and also uncomfortable with losing the grip of control I had on them that meant not being alone and slipping into that dark place I went when I wasn’t drowning my depression in social validation. So I tried to maintain a closeness as we battled against each other in a messy break up, and I got an up close and personal window into how much my lack of honesty had wounded someone.  It was something I was wholly unprepared to deal with.  My initial response to crippling guilt and horror was to shut down and take solace in my next partner, a give-no-fucks asshole who actually probably ended up having more of a heart then I did back then.  I rebelled against Q’s need for me to be a facade of a decent human and was a horrible combative combustion of fucks.  While it would be years before I came out the other side of our cycles of fights and reconciliations with them, my experience worked away at the landscape of my mind like a flash flood eroding a riverbank and I was left changed.  I knew I wanted to be a real honest person, not just someone who pretended to be brave and honest because they were a rebellious queer goth in a sea of “normals”.

I discovered a concept called radical honesty.  Actually I discovered a perversion of the concept.  The original idea was a self-improvement program created by Dr. Brad Blanton that espouses being blunt and direct even in the face of painful or taboo subjects.  I don’t remember exactly who explained it to me, but in a game of philosophical telephone where psychology and philosophy were learned from a myriad of original and unoriginal sources and discussed and passed along among my rag tag group of friends until the ideas only resembled the original content, I somehow stumbled upon this one. The concept as it was explained to me was blunt unequivocal honesty, saying whatever came to mind with absolutely no filter.  No lying to save someones feelings, no little white lies, no bending the truth, and no holding anything back at all.  No matter how brusque or inappropriate a thought that popped up in the meat space of your brain was, you voiced it. I figured that was pretty much the opposite of my attempts at honesty that involved exaggeration and tweaking of the truth and little white lies here and there to save face, so I would do that thing!  And that was how I made a few friends in college by bouncing up to them and telling them all about the fabulous first ever dildo I had bought earlier that day, because that was what was on my mind the very moment I first saw them and decided to talk to them!  Some of them are still my friends even today, and probably think I’m just as much of an oddball freak as they did in that moment.

It wasn’t all hilarity and awkwardness though, radical honesty was hard.  It was absolutely painful and terrifying and humiliating to be that extremely truthful and blunt.  Stripping away the protection of filtering your thoughts and laying yourself bare for the world is horrifying.  It was what I needed though.  I have always been a person with a driving need to push to extremes, and doing so allowed me to appreciate the gifts of honesty as well.  I thought people believed and trusted me before and I didn’t see how much of that was all a dishonest facade as well.  I needed to push myself to a level of inappropriate and completely filter-less honesty as a way of hitting the reset button and deconditioning myself to believe that my twisting and bending of the truth would be rewarded with admiration for my creativity or when believed, admiration for my daring escapades.  I also realized pretty quickly that while my thoughts were fairly strange and surprising to some, I was a much less interesting person then I expected I was, when I had to tell the truth about myself and my adventures all the time.

I kept to the radical honesty for a short time, I don’t remember exactly how long, but it was a matter of months, maybe up to a year.  Once it had served its purpose in making lying seem so alien and abhorrent to me that I never wanted to go back to how I was, which wasn’t a far reach after seeing the devastation I had wreaked on Q, I transitioned to a form of honesty that was still blunt and often vulnerable and forthcoming, and definitely allowed for no deceit, but did allow for something of a filter at least.  A situational awareness for what was appropriate and what wasn’t, like not telling a church group of grandmothers about the kinky sex you had that weekend (no that is not something I did, but more because I don’t know any church groups of grandmothers, had I encountered any during my radical honesty phase and been thinking about my sex life at the time I would have). There’s also something important to be said for respecting consent and what other’s are willing to hear, but consent was something I learned more in depth at a later period.

I’ve transformed my life completely on many occasions, but this was probably one of the first times I changed myself so completely.  I learned to value a depth of honesty that I still don’t see often in the world, a commitment to truth when it is hard and scary, when it hurts and when it scars, when it threatens to take away the things you love, when it can ruin your reputation or charisma and leave you standing alone.  I still ascribe to keeping to that level of honesty and integrity, though in a way that is also appropriate and allows for tact, though never deceit.  I am someone who may now say “I do not want to share that”, but I won’t make up a lie to cover anything up.  I also found that I became a radically more adventurous person, one who consumes any new life experience with a sense of abandon.  When you can’t exaggerate or embellish or create stories about yourself, you have to actually live a more exciting life if you want to stay interesting.  And the depth of trust people give me when I’ve proved I truly am worthy of it is one of the things I treasure most in the world, made all the more precious by the road I’ve walked to earn it.

I would not recommend radical honesty, especially the perversion of it I endeavored to try, to everyone.  I would recommend a truer honesty then most every attempt.  The world opens up to you in a million glorious ways when you face it with truth and vulnerability.  When every part of your fucked up edgy self is authentic, all your adventures actually lived, and all your emotions self aware and from the hard, this life is an intense and wondrous thing and connections with others are profound.  So don’t take the whole damn filter off and trash it, but do fold it up a bit and let yourself out into the world, and do learn to trash any deceit or bending the truth that you’ve held on to.  The world really is more glorious when lived authentically and you will leave less broken people behind you and find more appreciative loving ones ahead to welcome you and your truth.