Tuesday 3 May 2016

Even though you know there's something missing

I’ve never been very good at chess. I love playing it, I love the history of it and I own lots of different beautiful sets… I’m just not very good at it. The rules are easy, straightforward, fixed. It is not difficult to learn the basics of how to play chess. But learning how to actually play, well, that takes skill and patience. Because for every move you make, there are a specific number of counter-moves your opponent can make. The trick is to be able to see ahead not just to their next move, or your next move, but to all the possible outcomes that could result from every move taken. I find this process exhausting and difficult. I’m also really slow at it which is frustrating for the person playing against me. Usually I just give up after a certain point and make a rash decision. And then I lose. I always lose.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my flaws and whether it’s possible to really, fundamentally, change them, or whether I’m locked into being the person I am. Whether or not my rules are firmly set. I have been thinking about this in regard to other people too. Do people ever really change, even if they want to? I know that people get worse, that much is definite. I think it’s easier for us to get worse because all we have to do is continue to be oblivious to our faults or give into them for the same reasons they are there in the first place, because that’s our damage. So on that basis, are we doomed to forever be slaves to our damage?

If people are a fixed set of rules, then learning how people work is as exact a science as learning how to play chess. There are only so many moves they can or will make, and you can predict them, work them out, and make your move accordingly. But like I said, I’m naff at this sort of tactical thinking, so will always react or act based on how I feel as opposed to a considered decision that will have a positive benefit, to myself or anyone else. I’m not a forward planner. I also have this vague hope that people aren’t fixed, that maybe they can change, if something moves them deeply enough. Maybe I can change. Or maybe everything is just a reaction to the thing that happened before it, and however anyone will behave can be predicted and countered, even if some action seems out of character at first, it was always in character, you just didn’t learn that person’s rules correctly.

Because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands recently, and not a lot of money or opportunity to do much with it, what with being locked into a holding pattern of waiting for a job to start, I’ve watched a lot of TV. I know I could and should have spent this time doing something productive, like writing, but for me, writing is a personal thing that is heavily influenced by my emotions. My emotions, as it happens, have been kind of on hold too, locked in a similar ineffectual pattern of waiting. I ended up watching all 8 seasons of House (I know, I meant it when I said a LOT of time) If you don’t know the series, it’s about a genius doctor who is able to diagnose illnesses that nobody else can. And he’s entirely fucked. Physically, and emotionally, he’s broken. This makes him endlessly frustrating and endearing at the same time. His damage is the emotional arc of the show. Anyway, (oh, spoilers FYI) there is a point where he finally gets together with the character Cuddy, someone that he has had an ongoing attraction to and tension with from the beginning of the series. During the tenure of their relationship, he makes small steps toward being a slightly better, healthier, functioning human being, and I found myself thinking (hoping) that they were going to give his arc a much more positive spin, because, growth. Because, healing. But then things go awry and she breaks up with him. I found myself being quite annoyed by this. Why? I didn’t particularly like Cuddy’s character, so why should I care that they were no longer together? (Also, y'know, it's TV show!) I initially put it down to bad writing. Then I realised why it bothered me, I was upset because she told him that she knew him, and she loved him, for who he was, faults and all. But she didn’t, as it turns out. It was who he was that drove her away in the end.

That’s when I recognised that I was empathising with House. Because he’s broken (I’m broken) because he had tendency for self-destruction (well dur) because he wants to be loved (I want to be loved) known for who he really is (I want to be known) and accepted for who he really is (I want to be accepted) but he doesn’t believe it’s possible (I don’t believe it’s possible) and that he will eventually drive people away (I will drive people away). He’s also a genius, but, uh, that’s where our paths start to differ greatly. And he has a physical disability, which I would never try to compare my own issues too. But we don’t all wear our scars on the outside. Again, I'm not comparing, but isn’t it all (always) relative? I think maybe this is a place some of us live within, even if we have partners, family, and friends, because if we are still working out who we are, how do we know that the people who care about us are caring about the real us? Except for you wonderfully happy bastards who have it all worked out, kudos to you guys, you can put your feet up and have a cookie, you’ve won the game of life my friends.

The story I want to write is about healing, it’s about strength and the power we have to move forward from our experiences and become the people that we could be, as opposed to the people we feel we have to be. My difficulty in writing this story at the moment is not just laziness or lack of ability, I don’t know whether I believe in the ending anymore. I don’t know whether I can heal, outgrow my damage, change, I don’t even know whether I want to. Which feels like I’m letting the damage win. Part of who I am is about wanting to invest in people, love people, make an effort to know who they are and connect with them, make them feel valued, listened to and recognised for the uniquely awesome human being that they are. I can’t do this for myself though. I’ve gradually found that without the ability to invest anything back in myself, I’m losing the ability to continue to do it for other people. This is not a great state of affairs, given that, best case scenario, I’ve got a few more years left on this planet, and if I’ve got nothing left to give, how I am going to make the person I’m with happy, or have kids, or do any of those things that require, y’know, being able to give of yourself? I’m at risk of shutting down entirely at this point, being absolutely swallowed by the belief that I can’t move on, I won’t grow, I can’t change, that I’m fixed.

So, to recap, I want to go from a position of negativity, hopelessness, self-pity, inevitable doom and so forth, to one of positivity, hope, progression and personal growth. What’s the step that I’m missing here? What catalyst can bring about such a change of state? A thousand points go to any of you who caught onto the answer before I did…

The missing step, of course, is pain.

It’s amazing the lengths we will go to, to avoid heart ache. The lies we will tell ourselves to get through the day. But eventually, reality will hit us so hard in the face that we can’t lie to ourselves anymore. I hate that bit, because it means we have to go through pain. It’s physical, for me anyway, that kind of pain. The best I can describe it is, it’s like all the air leaves my body and it feels like my insides are bleeding. Grief. It spills out everywhere, leaks through my eyes and out of my mouth. I’ve run from grief for such a long time, because it’s eviscerated me so many times before. I didn’t realise how much damage it had done to me until recently. I’m so afraid of loss. The problem with avoiding pain is that you don’t go through and as a result you don’t actually move on or grow, and you don’t necessarily make healthy choices for yourself. I’m not the sort to run forever though, I have to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve survived before. I’m much stronger than I ever give myself credit for. It’s easy to forget that when I feel weak. But it’s NOT weak to care, it’s not weak to love, it’s not weak to grieve, it’s essential. It’s the only way to become strong again. I’ve been a coward, because I thought I wanted the easy life, and as it turns out, I don’t. Or at least, what I thought to be the easy life will give me an ulcer if I’m not careful. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions as they say.

What does this mean then? It means pain. Lots of it. But bring it on, because, personal demons, I’m better than that, I’m stronger than you. Always have been, always will be, and how I’m feeling now, that won’t last forever.

This covers a multitude of personal relationships and my experiences over the last year, hell, over the last five years even.

You see, for a while I’ve been saying ‘oh yes, I need to decide what I want, but I don’t know what I want, but oh my yes, I need to decide.’ During that time I’ve done only three things, one, firefight whatever is in front of me-dealing with the next moment and the one after and not looking beyond it, two, continue to look to fulfilling other peoples’ expectations regarding who I am, and three, finding new strategies to numb myself so I that don’t think too deeply about anything. Saying that you need to work out what you want is great, saying that you want to change and grow is fantastic, problem is I’ve never worked out how to do either because I still put other people first. So I need to give myself time, to feel what I feel, think what I need to think, and that’s it for now.

That’s IT.

But it will hurt, I know it will, and it will lead to possible confrontation and further hurt, and letting go and embracing many different things. But I have to stop the internal damage, I can’t just keep bleeding. That would be a waste of a life, I think. And pointless to have got this far, been through so much, only to give up now. It’s disrespectful, too, to the people I loved who never got a chance to live this long or do this much. So maybe when I’m feeling bad about taking some time out for me, I should remember that in a roundabout way I’m doing it for them. Because I now have a question to answer, what is my value? And I’m no longer interested in what anyone else has to say on the matter apart from me.

Who do I want to be? How do I define myself? What do I want?

The answers to those questions aren’t out there in the big wide word, they’re inside me. I’ve just never given myself enough time to think. I’ve filled my thoughts with addictive behaviours, little fixes that fill in the cracks of the ever rising dissatisfaction with myself. It doesn’t work though. Imagine a vase that’s been broken so many times that it’s just a mess of shards and glue, that’s me. I’m not sure how easily I can appropriate this metaphor, but the vase won’t stand up anymore, it’s been the sheer force of my denial keeping it upright, but I can’t do it anymore, I have to let it fall apart. I’m falling apart, and it’s the most important thing I’ve ever done, for myself. And it’s hard, to be that in touch with your emotions. Because I fear the power of them, and I’d rather be doing ANYTHING other than facing up to how I feel and think about things. But when it’s got to the point where your body is hurting you, you need to listen to it. Or have a nervous breakdown. And from what I’ve heard, no amount of chocolate can help you when that happens.

Lots of people want me to change certain aspects of myself, to better fit into their expectations of me. It’s not that they’re wrong or not valid in their requests, all perspectives have some validity, but I’m the only person in control of me, so I have to decide what I want to change, for me, and what I don’t want to change, because it’s a part of me that I can’t deny. So yeah, I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’m clumsy,  I’m near sighted, I’m selfish and I’m a dickhead sometimes. But I’m also capable, empathic, considerate, funny, intelligent and loving, and those things don’t have less value just because I’m all the other shit as well. Okay, so there’s my value, I guess. 

Who do I want to be? I want to be me, and I don’t think ‘me’ is an entirely fixed concept, I don’t think anyone is. But parts of me are, maybe, and if they are the parts I don’t think need working on, then they’re staying and growing with me. If, however, they are parts of me I do want to work on, I hope I can be self-aware and determined enough to actually start the hard work of changing.

How do I define myself? Well, for one, I’m a writer (note I didn't say a good one) I know this because on every level during this time of self-enforced recoil from the world at large, and focus on how I actually feel about things, I’ve been writing again. It’s how I express myself, it’s the only thing I have (this blog) that’s truly mine, and I’ve turned to it in my time of need as easily and as obviously as only some who considers themselves a writer could do. Through pain I will always find my voice again, through being honest with myself, I will find my way back to that healing track. I am also dimly aware that I am loved by some of the people in my life, that they do see me, I think, although it is hard for me to see that when I feel the way I do. Which is not a reflection on them (they’ve been wonderful, beautiful, fantabulous lights in my heart that have brought me back from the brink more times than I can count) but a reflection on me and my damage. But if the old adage is true, and you can judge a person by their friends, then I’m definitely on the right track there. Because they’re awesome (you’re awesome).

The thing is, we are complex, layered, confused and confusing creatures, us human beings, and my expectations on myself have always been far more severe than they’ve ever been on other people, and those expectations have usually been linked to other people’s wants and needs, not so much my own. I’ve not listened to myself because I’ve not valued myself, I’ve asked the people around me to reinforce who I am, constantly. But over this last year certainly I’ve realised more than ever before that I can do all sorts of amazing things without needing someone else to endorse or validate them. There is power and value in what I am capable of, just as I’ve believed for every other individual other than myself up to this point.

What do I want? That’s what I’m learning right now. My gut and my (much-shushed) self-esteem are starting to tell me. Well, actually they’ve been trying to tell me for a long time now, I’ve just kept shutting them up with endless distractions. In Vietnam, I was in ‘coping strategy’ mode, because it was the only way I found I could survive the day to day of it. Now that’s over, I have to think about what comes next, and what I want to come next, and for the first time I see that *I* have to know what that is. Do I want to learn to be good at chess? That’s the question I have to answer. I mean, that’s not the only question I literally have to answer, but the overriding metaphor I’m using for all the questions I need to answer for myself. Are people like chess pieces? I choose to believe not. We’re made in a certain way, that’s true, and we take actions based on the movements of those around us, we have to, but the rest of it is our choice. We were born to break our moulds, we were made to rise from the ashes, that’s the power we have as self-aware beings. It’s not easy, that’s what I forgot, ultimately, it’s painful, but isn’t that the point of transformation? In order to change your form, you have to break the old one, and in no way is that not going to hurt. What I’ll be left with I can’t fully predict, because I don’t know that person yet, I just know that she’s in me, and I think I’m finally ready to be me. Whatever that may mean.

Although I do have one prediction, that me is still going to super love chocolate and Sam Rockwell, cos, y’know, some things are just empirically awesome from whatever angle you look at them. 

Post. Script.

So this blog is pretty much the second part of this one

The titles for both of which came from a Beck song called Missing. You should totally listen to it, it's a cool track, but that's not the one I'm going to link to now.

Words are awesome but sometimes emotions are bigger than that, and the closest approximation to how I feel right now doesn't contain words.

So, cheers for sticking with me guys, and don't worry, all this navel gazing is not going to lead to me becoming a total dickhead because, well, THIS

Remember to wait for the drop (always).

C xx

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