I hope everyone can forgive me. If you are reading this then that means I have decided to bare my soul and come clean about my own Dark Passenger (but not in a murderous, Dexter sort of way).
The truth is that I sometimes struggle with having the courage to go on. Sometimes choosing life has been my hardest battle. Sometimes I feel completely alone even though I know that I’m surrounded by so much love.
These last few months, I have been lost in an anxiety-filled obsession, thinking that if I weren’t here, then the pain I’m causing others would just disappear. Intellectually, I know this is absurd, but emotionally, sometimes the Gremlins in my head win.
Through this distorted lens, I see myself as a Pain Maker. And that feeling is sometimes too much of a burden on my soul. I am someone who has devoted my life to helping others. I can’t stand hurting anyone or being the cause of someone’s pain.
At these times, the voice in my head doesn’t understand why it’s supposed to be a gift or a miracle that I overcame my odds and got out of the place that devastated my family. I think being the lone survivor among the siblings I grew up with is more of a curse. A very, very lonely curse.
And to pull myself out of this dark make-believe, I recall all of the faces of the people who have become my family (Shira, Shari, Ilanit, Mis Profesoras Favoritas, Moho, Shannon, Asmita, Nat, for example), or those other family members who loved me just like their own (Nicki, Aunt Connie, for instance), and I remember that I am loved.
I remember that I do have worth. I remember that I am connected to the world. It’s just not in the traditional family sense. But screw the “traditional family” model anyhow!
As a young child, I used to get yelled at for feeling too much. My mother would tell me I looked ugly when I cried and to “just stop it!” or she would scream, “I’ll give you something to cry about!” My siblings called me a cry baby.
I was burdened with keeping the secrets of my family hidden — the drug use, abuse, neglect, violence. We subscribed to the family motto of, “what happens in this house, stays in this house.”
I learned to associate feelings, and especially tears, with shame and weakness. Eventually, out of shame, I started locking myself in the bathroom so I could cry and feel all by myself.
Our mother left us when we were 8 years old and didn’t return until we were 10 years old. I cried everywhere and anywhere. My aunt, the one who took us in, would find me in odd places sobbing uncontrollably. When she asked me why I was crying, I would simply reply that I didn’t know. I just really needed to cry.
Rationally, I understand why my mother did and said these hurtful things. The child inside me who would try to snuggle up with my mother on the couch only to be pushed onto the floor, or the scared kid who cowered with eyes downcast whenever she yelled, or the one who started wetting the bed after she left, does not understand as clearly, however.
I think that to some people, drugs and disconnection may look like a choice for the weak. I would argue that sometimes it’s a choice for the strong too. I didn’t know this as a child, but I learned later that before my mother had me, she was a battered woman who had been viciously raped, abused, and oppressed for over nine years.
We all cope and protect ourselves differently. I hope one day we can start seeing each person fully by seeing who they were, where they came from, and how they got to where they are now. No small child wishes to grow up to be a prostitute, or incarcerated, or a drug addict. It wasn’t my mother’s dream to grow up to be a heroin-and-meth addict.
I used to cope with my scary world by crying secretly in hidden places, or if I did start to cry in front of anyone, I would run off to “fix” myself. I learned that crying was bad and I internalized that it meant I was weak. The problem is that I am a natural crier. I didn’t know it then as a child because I didn’t grow up with those family members, but I actually come from a long line of criers. My dad, my older sister, for example, are two of my greatest heroes and biggest criers I know. Meeting them validated my natural propensity to let out whatever emotion I had through crying.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I cry at corny movies, or even trailers, where it looks like the dolphin or the dog might bite it in the end. I cry at pet stores where it seems like the old, abandoned felines might not get a forever home. I will cry if I just met you, and we connected on a heart level, and then you tell me in great detail about your fallen friend or child or pet. I will cry with you and not because I want to. My soul just mourns when others mourn. On the flip side, it is lifted up with great joy when others feel joy too. I am a natural empath or Betazoid.
I also struggle with perfectionism, fear, failure, and anxiety too, though. I seem to spend more time numbing my feelings lately because I reached maximum capacity. I shutdown now at moments where I would have previously opened up. I turn into what I call, “Aitchbot.” I’m working on trying to permanently eliminate Aitchbot from me, but for now it is very much a part of my core.
The greatest villain in my life has been the shadowy phantom called Shame. It feeds on my lack of self worth and esteem like vampires or zombies do to fresh victims. It threatens my very life at times, or rather, it used to.
Now in my life, I have decided to declare war on the Gremlins hiding out in my heart and mind by shedding light on them, and speaking about my shame, just like Brené Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly, encourages. (I will write more about my sources of shame in another post/s.)
At 19, I thought about taking own life because of perceived failure in school and in my own body. I owned a gun and knowing that I had the ability to take my life, but also rationally knowing that I wanted to live, I spoke up to my best friend. I told her what I was feeling and why. By speaking up, I killed one Gremlin that day. The next day, I went into the recruiting depot and I joined the Navy.
Another time I was near the proverbial ledge was much later in my life in 2011, or what I call,”The Year of Suck.”
Here is a summarized series of the unfortunate events that happened in my life that year within a six-month period:
- I went on an unpaid leave of absence to finish school
- My marriage suddenly died
- My wife fell in love with the man I secretly wished I was
- I ended up hemorrhaging emotionally and dropping out of school (I’m normally an A/B student and what my chemistry teacher called “a grade grubber.”)
- My mother suddenly died
- I accrued debt to have a temporary income in order to live and pay for my mother’s funeral
- I fake dated a real sociopath
- My fucking cat suddenly died too
In fact, I sort of went full on batshit crazy for a few months, and even wrote to an online column for advice. They confirmed that I was a giant, hot mess. That may even be an understatement.
During this time, I really wanted to give up on life and myself right then. I didn’t know how to cope with the fact that my marriage had died and I didn’t have the perspective then to see that it had been slowly dying over a long period of time. I came from a broken home and the notion of divorce to me, at that time, was one of life’s biggest failures. It was one of those things I honestly took for granted and never really even envisioned as a possibility.
All my past pain also rushed in to drown me during this period. It was like a game of dominoes in my head with one trigger after another setting off the next trigger. Thankfully, my behavior was so unusually alarming to my loved ones that they stepped in to catch me as I fell into a heap of disaster. They saved me when I couldn’t save myself anymore.
A few months after the bottom fell out of my personal life, my mother was rushed to the hospital the day before Thanksgiving in 2011. My plane from Portland, OR, to Washington, DC, had just landed when I got the news. I crumpled to the ground when my aunt called to tell me.
These next three weeks that unfolded were so traumatic that I’ll save these details for another time. I haven’t yet had it in me to recount it all (i.e., the Walmart Bust, the Inappropriate Kidney Request, the Death Vultures, the Alcoholic Helper, the Butthole Doctors, the Missing Tooth, the Search for Pumpkin Pie, the Final Cuddle etc).
All the things I had ever feared seemed to come true at once like an incoming trainwreck. I was haunted by my mother’s death and what felt like total abandonment by my spouse for months afterwards. One hurt bled into the other. I kind of became a bloody mess on the inside for a while.
It also didn’t help that my future-ex spouse kept our breakup a secret for almost a year. I would run into former coworkers of hers, or mutual friends of ours, or her old supervisors, and they would ask me how she’s doing. The first time it happened, it was really confusing. I didn’t catch on immediately that they thought we were still together. Eventually, I would give them all a standard, weighted line like, “You should ask her yourself, ” and then run off leaving the person confused. Moments like these continued to happen and each instance shot another needle into the wounds I was trying to heal.
In the end, I asked my ex wife (someone I had loved very deeply and had shared 7 years with) to give me space and to please have the courage to tell people in her own life that we were not together. The wounded part of me threatened that if I ran into one more person from her life that I had to tell, then I was going to lose my shit.
Needless to say, I ran into therapy, swore off romance, and finally opened up about some of the painful baggage buried away. I also started running again; I started dealing with my gender dysphoria; I started embracing the real me and even began going by a name that suited me 100 times better (Aitch).
Things started to slowly stabilize within me, too, as I began the long journey toward healing. Six months into my healing, I then met this beautiful, smart, passionate, and loving creature named Shira.
We had an AMAZING, albeit brief, whirlwind-love affair just between the two of us before WA State placed my emotionally-hurting teen niece in our care. I gave Shira an opportunity to leave, but she wanted to stick around to help raise my niece. Shira is the kindest, most loving person I have ever met. She gave up a lot of things when she decided to stay and parent along with me.
Eventually, we legally adopted my niece because that’s what she repeatedly voiced she had wanted. After 1.5 years of jumping through all the red tape that adoption entails and even moving from DC out west to UT, my niece did a complete 360. Suddenly, she began treating us like captors that were holding her hostage from her “real” family.
The morning she turned 18, she flew off to that “real” family and back to the ones that had caused her so much pain. She moved back to the ones we had saved her from. She moved back to the place that had contributed to so much of my own trauma.
We lost the fight to keep her here with us until she graduated high school but we didn’t give up easily. We wrote her letters, we told her that her expensive technology needed to stay here until she went off to college so that it was safe, we even tried family therapy. In the end, the therapy sessions helped us come to terms with the decision my niece had the legal right to make.
The unexpected parenthood on the coattails of my mother’s death and the end of my first marriage, has been another long, arduous road filled with occasional Dementors, boogeymen, and other Faceless Demons. On the other hand, this experience has also given me the gifts of joy, family, connectedness, growth, and love on a level I had never felt before.
After my niece left, I had the house to myself those first two weeks. It felt like a haunted house or as if my niece had died instead of just moved away. Do all parents feel like this? It also didn’t help that she chose not to be in touch with us and that she eventually unfriended us from Facebook.
All my friends who are also parents tell me this is normal. All the parenting books say this too. Teens grow up and need to assert their independence. I guess the part that hurts most is her pushing us away, while simultaneously pulling her mother closer. The mother who hurt her. This is the same person who stole my identity and got my license suspended when I was 3,000 miles away in the U.S. Navy. This is the person who was incarcerated when I told her that our mother had just literally died in my arms, which she quickly countered, “Why couldn’t she wait for me!?”
Maybe this all feels so much more like rejection and failure because of all that pain I have from my upbringing, and the healing I still have to do, or maybe this is just normal for all parents. I don’t know. But what I do know is that it still feels pretty darn crummy.