I know that it has been a few months since I last updated the blog, and I’m sorry for the absence. In the past month I have literally held the hand of a dying man at the end of his life, and cradled a newborn only twelve hours after they were born. I’d like to say that I’ve been on a journey from end to beginning, and death to rebirth, but if I’m honest, I’ve mostly been facebooking between typing bad paragraphs which I promptly delete in my novel.
However, I woke up today and realized that I had come, quite unexpectedly, to a rather important anniversary. I haven’t talked much about it here on the blog, but readers from other sources will know that one year ago today I walked out of a ten year relationship that had become pretty toxic, and left my home in Texas to begin an unintentional period of wandering and rediscovery of self. Today, I find that I’d like to reflect on that time period, and the lessons and adjustments I’ve made in myself.
Because I now know myself in a different way, as a writer (and have also come to detest the phrase “as a writer” as much as I use it…), of course my chosen medium is both textual and public. How could it be anything else? But this post, more than any of the others I have posted on the blog until now, is for me. I’m writing it, as a letter to my future self. But you can read along too!
First of all, a small addendum for those who want to be completely accurate. I actually left the relationship in mid April of last year, and left Texas then as well. However, leaving Texas was initially a gambit to prove to my ex-lover that I was “serious” and to shock him into asking me back. It wasn’t until this day a year ago, when we had a particular email exchange, that I knew it was real and serious and I was really out there doing this life thing by myself now. So let’s review a few important lessons learned shall we?
1) Codependency; Not just for mothers anymore!
A friend of mine described codependency thus: “Codependent? What the fuck does that even mean? I’ll tell you what it means. It means whatever the fuck the shrink needs it to mean in order to label you codependent! Besides, when they talk about someone else’s emotions impacting you, that is good and healthy right? Codependency is just bullshit!”
I have to say, after reading a lot of material my mentor sent me on codependency, I have to agree with that assessment. However, even though I think it is kind of a broad term that can get misused, once I stopped using that assessment to avoid getting real about my own behavior things really opened up for me.
What codependency means for me is the itchy feeling I get inside when I don’t have someone else’s emotional states to get tangled up in. I don’t know about every person who identifies as codependent, but something I’ve learned that I am predisposed to do is look outside of myself to validate my own emotions, especially from important people in my life. And I think where it gets toxic for me, is that I tend to try to change my emotions or feel bad for having my emotions, if they differ greatly from important people in my life.
That will make it difficult to be in relationship I know! Because really, a big part of a relationship, is having that healthy sense of identification with another, and finding a way to empathize with their feelings without adopting them. So I know now that in the future I need to watch out for my own codependent machinery.
In my recent life, I’ve learned to combat this by making sure that I do things with a variety of social circles, so I’m not becoming dependent on any one person or group of people for my emotional sustenance. I am a member of an active writer’s group in Denver, I blog for two different websites, I go hiking with my family unit in Albuquerque, I attend ceremonies with my spiritual circle, I run Dungeons and Dragons on Tuesday nights, and I exchange frequent emails with friends in foreign countries and other states. I know now that I’ll probably always have to keep an eye on my codependent tendencies, but I’ve learned to accept that this is part of who I am, and to do the things I need to do for me to stay healthy in my own skin.
2) Writers write. Writing makes you a writer. Having written fulfills me deeply
In the past year, as I mentioned earlier, I have said the phrase “as a writer” more times than I care to admit. Some of this was intentional, to help reinforce that particular identity in my new life. It started when I finally accepted that I was really moving on with an independent life. One of the first things I had to do was sift through the wreckage and see what was mine and what was his that I had labeled mine and taken on unnecessarily.
What I realized immediately was that I had been in my relationship since I was 19. I had gone through all of my college, all of my adult life really, inside the context of this relationship. Looking at it more objectively, I had actually been involved in some form of highly codependent living situation all of my life. Before my relationship, I’d spent my teen years in California as a surrogate father figure for three young children whose mother was my “best friend” and who ended up abandoning the family in my care. Before that, I was living at home as a conflicted pre-teen/young teen struggling with my sexual orientation in a highly conservative household. Before that I was a young child struggling to be the peace-maker between parents who really should have been friends and not lovers and who were explosive and kind of bad for each other. Before that I was a baby.
The point is, it hit me pretty early in my searching that I just flat out had no idea who I was. Before this, I thought I definitely DID know who I was. I had some idea, of course, the kind of person I was. But I really didn’t know how I would live, what paths I would take, if I were just simply myself alone. So my first step was to find the common threads. I’d taken on really different roles in my life up till then, to satisfy my various relational needs. What held true in each incarnation though?
Sexual orientation was a quick front runner The crotch wants what the crotch wants, through it all. But the second runner up was writing. In every various twisting of myself to fulfill the needs of some other person, I had never encroached on my childhood fascination with the art of storytelling and the medium of the novel. With that as my guiding star, I set out to figure out what a life led nurturing that dream would look like. I joined a writer’s group(an AMAZING group), I started seriously writing on my novel(details here), and I opened a blog (Hi, readers!).
However, it didn’t hit me how desperately important being a writer to me was until January, when I had the opportunity to pitch my novel to the good folks at The Book Doctors, through a promotion they were running for National Write A Novel In A Month campaign. I wrote my pitch, and when I read it to the guy on the other end of the phone, he was quiet for a while and then just said, “That’s one of the best pitches I’ve ever heard. We need to get you an agent. Can you send me your manuscript today?”
To this day, I have no idea whether he was just blowing smoke up my ass, because I am, of course, still working on my manuscript, but in that instant, when I hung up the phone and laid on the ground sobbing for joy, I realized that I am a writer. That was huge for me. That was mine. Nobody else was giving that to me. I wasn’t writing for someone else. I am a writer, and writing makes me feel like me.
I think that is one of the crucial lessons I’ve learned for myself this year: find the things that make you feel the most like you, and then arrange your life to do those things as the priority. So, I write. Obviously, you’re reading my writing now, right?
3) Mate Selection: Now with 50% less Craigslist!
When I met my previous mate, I was a still struggling Christian who didn’t believe that God was sending him to Hell anymore, but who still believed that true love between two members of the same sex was impossible, and that same-sex relationships made Jesus cry. I spent one week desperately trying to hump his brains out, and the next telling him Jesus told me we couldn’t be together anymore.
So in short, I was Kreigh-zee with a capital K.
Over the course of our relationship, what happened was that because I didn’t believe anything was possible between two dudes anyway, anything I got from the relationship was a bonus I should be grateful for. My friends all hated him? So what? He didn’t make an effort to engage with my family? That would be normal, and gays can’t be normal. He stopped having sex with me? Well I was crazy back then, so I should make allowances for him now.
The list of concessions to my better judgment were pretty endless. And I’m not looking to give a laundry list of things that were wrong with my previous mate. However, what I want to make sure I remember is that I can be a healthy, self-sufficient individual, and that I can have expectations and desires in a relationship that I can reasonably depend upon my partner to fulfill. These are things that were SAID in my previous relationship, but not often acted upon.
In future, when selecting my mates, I want to do so in the light of my community, rather than in the shadows. People who know me, tend to celebrate me (despite rants about acceptance in other parts of this blog…), and so when I find another mate, I want him to be able to stand on his own two feet in the face of my friends and family, and to have most of them approve of him (there are always some exceptions). And further, when problems inevitably arise between them, I want him to do his part to resolve those issues rather than just saying, “Fuck your friends”.
I also want my mate to have his own life, to have his own friends and family, which I get to stand on my own two feet in front of.
I want my mate to have goals and ambitions. A job, and aspirations, and dreams he is working towards as actively as he can.
I want my mate and I to find one another physically attractive, enough so that we have a sustainable sexual relationship with regular intercourse and where we both feel excited by play, rather than obligated to perform.
I want my mate to be financially stable on his own, and able to contribute to a union reliably.
Of course there are plenty of “pie in the sky” characteristics that would be nice to find in a mate (six pac abs, heir to a family fortune, still has two wishes remaining from a Genie, etc) but I think the above qualification serve as my baseline for candidate selection.
I also realized that right now, I am a transient functionally unemployed train wreck So if I want to attract this sort of mate, I’m going to have to move towards a place where I can exhibit some of the above characteristics myself. But I know what sort of structure that entails, and I can move forward towards that goal with confidence.
4) Selfishness is a virtue.
One of the things I have a very hard time with is the act of being consciously selfish. Don’t get that confused with the statement that I’m not selfish. I am selfish, as all humans are, and maybe even a little more than most humans. Always have been. However, when I FEEL selfish, I have a hard time staying the course.
Of course, there is all sorts of interesting nuance there, and if you get right down to it, I’m not talking about being selfish so much as setting boundaries. But the truth is, when someone asks me for help, seems to need my help, or is someone that I want to help, I have a hard time not doing everything I can to help them. Or at least I did.
You know what I discovered living alone though? Life goes on. None of the folks I thought needed my help ended up needing it. When I was gone, they muddled through. Most of them even did splendidly well! And I was happier. I wasn’t all tied up in someone else’s problems. And even more than that, I wasn’t tacitly on the hook, or on call, for everyone’s next big crisis. I got to use my talents to handle my own life. I was resourceful for me. I was creative for me. I was compassionate and courageous and clever for me.
And something else I learned, is that if someone wants my help, they don’t get to also dictate my contribution. Sure, for instance, I’m a pretty eloquent speaker. I can be downright nightmarish to get in an argument with. But friends don’t get to come to me to more eloquently make their own points for them anymore. I’m not sucked into the middle of disputes, to take on a fight that isn’t mine, like some limp-wristed noble’s champion in a duel they started and can’t win. And even those who I consider to have some authority in my life no longer get to point me like at tool at a new situation. I’ll use my talents how I please thank you. They are mine after all (And even typing that makes me feel all slimy and selfish STILL).
5) Give Yourself Space To Masturbate
When I left Texas, and walked away from a bad situation, I did so with my old model of relationship still running the show. In that world, walking away is a threat you issue, like a child threatening to take their ball and go home. It isn’t something you really want to do. It is something you do to cause pain, weaponizing your absence and hoping the other is too scared to call your bluff.
In that model, walking away is an inherently injurious action and if independent action is going on, then something is wrong. Sure, I used to pay lip service to the importance of autonomy, but functionally, I was chronically bouncing from one enmeshed dynamic to the next. And worse than that, if someone else wanted to be alone, or separate from the group, then I invented a problem in their world, and put it in their space as something “we” needed to deal with.
Then the friend who so graciously took me into her home in Denver, letting me sleep indefinitely, and for free on her couch, looked at me on the second day after I moved in and said, “So how often do you masturbate?”
I’m not a prudish person, but I was still a little uncomfortable with her directness. However, as we talked, what I was able to see was that she wanted me to know that she knew I would have needs for personal space and private activities that I just wouldn’t be able to do with her around. It was a revolution for me. It totally changed my idea of what space in a living situation means. Then it hit me that in my previous relationship, I had given myself so little personal space, that I had forgotten what it was like to trust someone with giving you alone time. Or maybe I never knew what it was like at all.
The point is, that now I realize that when I feel stressed, or bored, or just plain done with a situation, it isn’t a reflection on my relationships (even friendships) to walk away and do something that is worth my time or that brings me enjoyment. Sometimes “I’m leaving” isn’t hurtful, it’s just factual.
2nd 5 AKA 6) Your Destiny Is Like Your Appendix
By which I mean to say, nobody’s sure why you’ve got it, it’s probably not useful anymore, and if you lose it, you’ll never notice it’s gone. Something I noticed when I was reviewing things recently, as I’ve been forced to be honest about what I need for me, and to be true to who I am, is that I have a constant narrative of destiny running through my brain.
Some of this can be attributed to being a pretty bright kid, at least as far as standardized tests and churches were concerned, which meant that a lot of my childhood was spent being told I was “destined to do great things”. Think Harry Potter, only without scars, and I lived in a breakfast nook instead of a closet under the stairs (no, seriously).
I think also the idea of permanence and obligation are necessary components of how I use my internal narrator to talk myself into staying in otherwise unhealthy situations. I.E.; “We’re destined to be together”. In my lifetime I’ve been involved in at least three separate long term situations that I convinced myself were permanent, never changing, life purpose sort of setups. Each one was a clusterfuck of psychological land mines. Each one of them quite thoroughly imploded around me in one way or another.
This thought on destiny is the last lesson though, because I only realized it recently, as I began to construct another narrative of destiny, this time around my “destiny” as a wanderer, of being a transient writer, doing good here and there throughout the world, and mostly staying connected to things through facebook. I caught myself doing it again! I caught myself trying to set my life down in solid stone, for time and eternity, so that I could just stop feeling so out of place.
And I think that is the key. I want to have a place to belong, mostly because I was a weird kid. Let’s face it, if you’ve read this blog or know me at all, you know I’m STILL a weird kid. And because of that, no one can really tell me what I’m supposed to be doing, cause I don’t fit anywhere exactly. And I don’t NOT fit anywhere. I’m kinda ok wherever. But there is that lingering sense of wanting a plan, or a roadmap. Wanting to fit into a structure, so that I’m not going to wake up one day and feel really stupid that I missed all the signs I was supposed to be a car salesman.
So I grasp at permanence everywhere I go. This is it! This will last forever! I have discovered my calling! I have constructed my calling! I am declaring that may calling it to eschew callings! Whatever version you want to take, what I’m trying to avoid is the uncertainty of a self-conscious life.
So the final lesson I’ve learned is to give myself the freedom to not know. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. And the things I do know, I’m open to not knowing in the future, or discovering are different than I thought they’d be.
Because you know what? A year and some weeks ago when I was screaming at my lover in between two trailers in Navasota Texas, dressed in nothing but a towel, or when I was pulling over to the side of the road every five minutes because I was crying to hard to drive later that same night, or when I stopped at the Texas state line to vomit a week later, or when I drew a cute picture asking my mate to get back with me and got a dear John letter in reply, I never would have guessed I’d do half the things I’ve done since then. All I could see was that my “destiny” was taken away, and that my life would be wrong till I got it back.
But somewhere along the way I fell in love with Mountains, looking at them every morning in Denver. And I learned to love Jazz and Crawfish Monica and to play the Ukulele and the Violin at the hands of an honest to goodness New Orleans Voodoo Queen. I joined the first community I ever fit into perfectly: my writers group. I climbed a Mountain in Albuquerque and figured out the climax of my novel drinking a whiskey sour in a bar at the summit. I painted my house purple and orange and blue, a house I own! I learned how to use saws and routers and hammers and screwdrivers and laminate flooring. I was for three glorious weeks the most unforgettable substitute teacher a middle school remedial English class ever had, and I can’t wait to see what I don’t know next.
Finally I just wanted to say thank you to everyone in my life who may read this. Even if you don’t know it, you were patient with me (and many of you DO know it).
And that patience has made all the difference.
You have let me go, and let me live, and trusted that I would find the way all along. You have cheered me through the difficulties, celebrated when I have returned, and let me go all over again. And I apologize that too often I have not been able to extend to you the same trust and faith. Too often I have meddled, or interfered, or tried to prevent you from leaving or living. And it is because life taught me to be afraid, when my nature is to believe. In the future, it is my hope and intention to return to you the life-giving belief you have given to me.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you for my life.