Anxiety, Agency, and Trauma (oh my…)

I recently went out with a guy. It was going great, late into the night. A lot of easy conversation and joking and laughing. Until we got on the subject of why we both moved here. Both fleeing, for one reason or another. He was transparent about why he came here, and that conversation had flowed well until he asked 

what trauma brought me here.

I haven’t perfected my light, breezy brush off for that question. I haven’t thought about it at all. I certainly hadn’t expected it to come up in our otherwise fun and carefree night.

And so, typical me, overwhelmed by someone who barely knows me identifying events, which I have only considered in passing, as traumatic, started to cry.

Just kidding!

I pushed those tears back into their ducts with a sharp pain in my nose and a tight throat, looked down at my drink, and mumbled whatever I could to move away from the question.

What brought me to the other side of the country?

A lot of things! But the final straw was a few terrible people.  And that is what I could and should have said! Or, “A bad relationship and terrible friend.” Or, maybe, “I fell in with a bad crowd and spending time with them amplified my worst traits, insecurities, and weaknesses.” But even if I had those answers prepared, I probably would have reacted with the same overwhelming panic.

Trauma isn’t something to be taken lightly, and I’m hesitant to identify anything in my life as traumatic, because of the lingering, subjective question,

was it really that bad?

Some people I trusted were mean to me. Lied, laughed at me, snuck around together. They were cruel. I’m sure that at least one of them enjoyed the pain she caused. BUT no one died. There was no natural disaster. No physical or sexual abuse. No accidents, no violence.

I hear the word “traumatized” thrown around a lot. I’m cynical about the reason. Do people open up more about trauma these days? Are they so casual about their mental health? Or has the word been dissociated from the weight of its meaning? My friend was traumatized when she saw a micro penis. Someone at the table next to me was traumatized by a test she took. I don’t want to victimize myself. Am I truly traumatized, or am I another person overlooking the true implications of the word?

I’m more affected that I’m willing to admit.

When I think of that traumatic year for what it was, I think about the people involved, still laughing at me because I’m unable to move on. Doesn’t she have anything else going on in her life? She’s pathetic.

I have moved on…but the impact isn’t gone. I still don’t understand what happened. I don’t understand motives. Was my boyfriend emotionally abusive? I don’t think so and never have. But he was manipulative, right? I don’t know… he seemed too honest to be manipulative. But I am sure that I was manipulated. He did what he wanted, never mind me, and I was anxiously attached, along for the ride.

Any evidence I have that points to emotional abuse doesn’t seem good enough. I was never belittled or threatened, never forbidden from going certain places or spending time with certain people. He didn’t seem to care what I did, or about me at all, for that matter.

Emotional abuse can look like many different things. That emotional neglect and disregard for my needs are forms of emotional abuse. But I had a hard time accepting that, because of the context of our relationship. At the point in time when our relationship became categorical emotional abuse, he would not accept the title of boyfriend and would not tell me he loved me. From the outside, I looked like a girl obsessed with a guy who had made his boundaries perfectly clear. I came off as crazy. Needy and overly attached. Delusional. Creating a relationship that didn’t exist.

How could he be negligent when the relationship was one sided?

Well, let me tell you! I’ve written about this relationship before; a long-winded, near-sighted version right after the fact. This is the abridged version: My boyfriend put in the emotional labor when he was wooing me. In more technical terms, he groomed me. He spoke poetically about his feelings and wanted to spend every moment together. We did spent every moment together. We spent time with his family and his close friends. He told me he loved me more than anyone he’d loved before. He told me about countless instances where he had been victimized by life and his dad. How much his mom and sister didn’t like any woman he dated.

I thought that the chemistry between us was the stuff of epic love stories. I wanted to support him and stick by him no matter what. I felt special because he had chosen me.

The rest happened months later.

So, you can see why I had certain expectations about that relationship.

But, until recently, I refused to accept that 9 month relationship was emotionally abusive, or even manipulative. It seems so mild compared to other kinds of abuse. I thought that I was complicit. I chose to stay with this “man” (who had the emotional maturity of a young boy), waiting for things to go back to how they were in the beginning. I lived for the breadcrumbs he left me.

I thought I was in control, that I made informed decisions of my own free will. Except… that’s the thing about manipulation. He took advantage of my emotional depth and vulnerability. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to recognize that my feelings were vicious anxiety, not love. The choices I made were not my own. I was powerless. Without agency, were my choices really my decision?

They were not.

My actions and words were always based on his. They were attempts to get his attention and love. Simple as that. The end.

But wait, there’s more! There were other people in on the joke as well, which compounded the problem. People who were my friends. Namely, a close friend who betrayed me with my boyfriend, and her ex, who I even dated later on. (Clearly my penchant for putting myself in problematic situations didn’t stop after that relationship.)

The paranoia I’ve had since high school, that people are playing a joke on me, laughing about me behind my back, was reality.

For years, I wondered what was real.

I didn’t move on. I dwelled on questions I would never have the answers to; which of his feelings and words had been genuine, which situations were organic. But I have long since stopped trying. All that I can do is accept the reality of that abuse and trauma.

I used to wonder if I would be in the same place I am now–physically, mentally, professionally, socially–if that year was different. I don’t think about that anymore. My most significant growth to date has come from my worst mistakes, and without that year, I could be a very different, lesser person. I am not grateful and I’m not appreciative, but I’m in a better place.

Trauma motivated me to move the fuck on from the life I was stuck in. To get away from the townie boyfriend who had nothing going for him. To move away from mean girls who have nothing better to do than tear each other down. To find better, more constructive ways to spend my time. And I have!

I have good friends and date better men. The friend who inspired this writing is genuine, intelligent, thoughtful, and creative. At first, I was naturally interested being more than friends. But he was not. And at first I was upset; my feelings were hurt. But if I didn’t want to be friends with the men I want to date, then what’s even the point? I want high quality people in my life, and they are not so easy to find. A good friend is good enough.

Advertisements

Sometimes Things Really Happen, take 2

Part 1 of this post has not been published, because it’s close to 3,000 words and I cannot see the end. I got a bit carried away, creating a narrative and the right tone, proofreading and re-writing as I went.

Let me go back to the beginning, before that post went awry.

In May, weeks before my birthday, I started writing an evaluation of my life over the previous year, with the intent of identifying what kind of changes had occurred, and how I’ve grown and changed. Or not.


A year ago

I had a crush on an attractive bartender who lacked any noticeable substance. I had a one night stand* with someone who looked at me with awe. Since then, my need to feel wanted ceased.

I recognized and embraced my own uniqueness that comes in so many forms; my love for animals, riding horses, my little bratty bird; more than a writer, I’m an artist; I surround myself with plants. I’m hella accomplished, hella smart, and always try to be friendly, be kind, and do good.

Around the time of the bartender and one night stand, I put my party ways away for good. I transitioned into the next installment of life. The financially responsible one, that is dedicated, committed, and loyal to friends and projects that I care about.

For years I was extracting poison that lingered, from a source I refused to acknowledge, in a successful attempt to move on.

(That’s right. Successfully.)

I have an entire life to lose. It’s filled with things that matter, like being a real, functioning human. Existing in the world, in the peripheral of strangers’ worlds. To see and be seen. To radiate existence.

A Year of Progress

I became less passive aggressive, but still too possessive. It’s jealousy. I feel threatened by other peoples’ skills and accomplishments, as if they invalidate mine. But the fewer passive aggressive, possessive, insecure people I spend time with, the less inclined I am to feel any of those things.

Many times jealousy has lit a fire under my ass and inspired me to create, but I don’t think art can be created from jealousy. Art can be inspired by happiness, sadness, anger, hopelessness, loneliness… most things. To me, jealousy seems too impure of an emotion to inspire. I don’t want to create based on the desire to best than another creator. That seems very lonely.

Even though I (mostly) don’t let me jealousy get the best of me—I cannot begrudge quality, no matter what my insecurity says—I can question the honesty, vulnerability, sincerity, of other art. Criticism is fair, even if it stems from jealousy. Honest, respectful, sincere feedback.

I do not like ostentatious shows of self-praise or accomplishment—YES, there’s a difference between being proud and being a braggart—but I learned to temper my humility, a trait tied to my insecurity, and express myself in a way that is comfortable and which is intrinsic to my education. Like hey, guess what, I’m smart and I’m educated. I paid for this shit and I won’t pretend to be less than so other people feel comfortable when I speak.

 

And where am I now?

At an office job in the best office environment I’ll ever find, not that I was searching in the first place. I’m exhausted by Friday; being around people is exhausting, making eye contact, saying hello, making actual conversation. And then there’s the part where I do work on a computer all day, and talk about work on conference calls, and talk to my team about strategies for work.

After the first couple of months, feeling like I was back in high school, I got past the curves of settling into my place. I’m not the same as my high school-self, and I’m not the same as my one year ago-self.

like work. I like the people in this community. The work challenges my mind.

 

A woman can be many things at once.

Because still I am my high school-self, and she is my elementary school self. I do the work to be more than the young women before me, and there is more work to do. I think there always will be, but want to do that work, and I try my best.


There you have it. A blog post that, by my standards, is unfinished and unremarkable. I don’t want to post it but I don’t want to keep writing it. The only way I would feel satisfied publishing these words would be if I spent all my time going over every word choice countless times, cutting, pasting, re-arranging, only to decide the original was best. But to even write a complete post would take weeks, if I really committed. But this is a personal blog, not the New York Times. So I’m DONE.

I think that’s progress.

The Thing About Garbage People

I just spent almost half of my tax return on making my car run better. This is awful and I haaaaate it.

I had this friend who was broken up with and pretty upset. For a while. Like to the point where people who didn’t know her that well we like “get over it” and then even her good friends were like “get over it.” And I mean I get it, because she was super selfish around that time. Lots of drama, Coachella, this and that. All very Southern California and annoying.

Continue reading “The Thing About Garbage People”

Say You Will, Say You Won’t, Make Up Your Mind

Is life really about doing what you want? Is that all there is to it, in the end? That’s a sort of selfishness is appealing but can also be hurtful to others. So then it becomes a matter of which you care about less: getting what you want or hurting someone. There are a few things to consider. Like do I care about this person enough that I don’t want hurt them? What if I choose not to hurt this person, don’t get what I want, and I suffer instead? To what extent should we force ourselves to suffer so as to not cast that struggle on to someone else?

Shit happens and people get hurt. That’s the way it goes. We have to be selfish to make the best lives for ourselves. Other people can’t be our main priority.

For the record, I’m talking only about participating adultish people here. Not like people with families or major responsibilities or anything. That’s the point of it all anyway, isn’t it? To get those major responsibilities? To rely on ourselves. To find people who deserve our selflessness. Maybe being selfish comes first, so we can be selfless later. We’re all working to get to what we want. To get the big career or family or that rad vacation or whatever it is. There’s always a price to pay, something to lose, sacrifices to make.

regina george cheese fries gif

The In-Between

I wish I didn’t feel such a great need to understand everything. I’m not talking about how computers work or anything like that. That sort of stuff has answers, as complicated and confusing as they are. I’m talking specifically about the question why. WHY do I feel the need to question everything? WHY does this person act like that, WHY did this or that happen? I want to understand intention and the way everything fits in the universe but at the moment I’m stuck on my own role in all this mess.

If I had a job I’m sure it would be a less daunting question. We’re all insignificant, but working for the Man or at least someone creates a sense of purpose. Make money doing a job you hate, or love, and then spend it on stuff you want or need or trips you want to take or whatever you want, really. Create fulfillment. But I’m still looking for a job since the store that I’d worked at closed, and I don’t have those opportunities.

I could take the easy way out and work in retail again or even In N Out. They make good money. But now I have this stupid thing called standards and want to find something stable. I don’t want to commit, especially when I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I don’t want to work in a glutton factory anymore. Glutton for materialism, glutton for food, whatever. I don’t want to sell people shit they don’t need or food that will kill them. I don’t want to work with people at all, really, but that’s probably asking for too much.

So in the mean time I apply for jobs and go to interviews and nothing works out and this feeling of inadequacy grows. Logic is no match for the simplicity of emotion. As if emotion is anything but intensely complicated. But it does what it wants and despair is a tough feeling to conquer. I’m lucky to have parents who continue to support me while I continue to try and try and try but I’m starting to wonder why, why, why.

Like I could move back to Maine. I don’t have family there anymore but I have friends. I could fly back to LA twice a year for my school workshops. I was hot shit in Portland. I stood out. But it’s different here. There’s nothing like being surrounded by flawless females to crush a girl’s confidence. Then again, that probably has a lot to do with the whole dating thing not working out. I couldn’t have decided to give up on that game at a better time. Sometimes giving up really is just for the best. It’s not like having a boyfriend matters. My standards are really not that high for what I want at this point, as far as commitment goes, anyway. But somehow it always ends in disappointment and disappointment is tiring.

Then there are my friends. I have a few excellent ones, which is great, but this crew as a whole is just so unreliable. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I don’t like the way it works, the one-on-one or little groups or big parties. Why can’t it be a handful of friends, nothing prepared to death or rager reliant? Why do we always have to go out to dinner or a bar or fucking trapeze class or Palm Springs? Whyyyy do people need to plan even the littlest thing on Facebook? Why can’t we get a group together and hang at home, drinks some beers, maybe smoke some weed, and watching a fucking movie? Maybe I’m just not invited to those casual hangouts. It’s possible. Probably not. But maybe. But everyone has their stupid little drama and I’m sorry friends, but it really is stupid. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get a handful of people together, but it is because one person already has plans and someone doesn’t like someone else.

I like the mix of chicks and dicks that I grew up with, a mix that apparently doesn’t really exist here, because maybe men and women really can’t just be friends. Or maybe it’s just me. Is it? That’s the worst question and I’m sure if I actually asked, I wouldn’t get a straight answer. I miss my old friends, the ones I’ve known since middle school. I miss the friendships that are reliable and rock solid. I liked having a small crew of people who all liked each other, who had gotten over the bullshit years ago. It takes years of interest and effort to create that and I want it now. Right now. But I don’t even know who’s a reliable choice and who’s got that brand of LA flake that I’m learning to hate and simultaneously become.

I don’t like this in-between.