Broken, busted, fucked up

I spent years as a kid demanding perfection from myself and everyone else. My mom tells me I used to come home from kindergarten complaining about how stupid all the other kids were. I needed to achieve every goal perfectly. I needed to get straight A’s, I needed to get everything right on the first try, and I expected everyone else to do the same. I don’t think this came from any outside source. I wasn’t ever pushed to be the best. My parents, in fact, have always been wonderful about helping me and my siblings follow our own goals and interests. No, something in me demanded the impossible from me, and I set about trying to achieve it.

That’s probably a big part of why I had a nervous breakdown in second grade. No, really. There were other factors at play, but I think my own demands for perfection were at the heart of it. My anxiety was so high I was making regular trips to the hospital with crippling stomach cramps. I came home every day crying. I actually remember very little of this, but enough to know it really happened.

And I think that somewhere in there the drive for perfection became more than just a demand I put on myself. I implanted the idea that to be worthy of love, from myself or from anyone else, I needed to be perfect. Love was something I had to earn with perfection, and keep through never being anything less than perfect.

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church didn’t help either. The double pressure to be both “normal” (I tried, and I didn’t know how!) and perfect was terrible, but also played into the “truth” I’d created for myself.

That’s part of why I stayed in an abusive marriage for so long. I thought that if I just found exactly the right thing to do and always did it, then things would have to get better. If I provided the appropriate care for my mentally ill wife, she wouldn’t need to direct her manipulation and threats toward me any more. If I was perfect, things would be better.

I’ve spent a lot of time rebuilding myself since my divorce. It’s not easy. I still expect perfection from myself. I still convince myself that love is something I have to earn. Luckily I have two wonderful partners who do their best to disabuse me of that notion. Still, thirty years of self-programming that was reinforced by a fundamentalist church and a decade+ long emotionally abusive relationship… well… it doesn’t go away overnight. Or over the last 7 years.

Lately I’ve begun wondering about the ways that I affirm myself. I tell myself that I am good. I am worthy. I am beautiful. I am perfect.

I think I might still be going about this the wrong way.

Lately I find myself thinking that when I tell myself these things, what I’m really doing is convincing myself that I do meet these impossible goals I set for myself as a child. I tell myself that what I’m doing is perfect. I tell myself that I am worthy of love.

I think I need a new tactic.

Hi, my name is Gabe, and I’m a colossal fuckup. Everything about me is broken. At 37 years old I still don’t know how to deserve love. “I’m not perfect. I’ve just been going through the motions of being perfect, and inside I’m screaming.”

Maybe instead of telling myself that I am perfect, I am good, I am beautiful, I am smart, that I reach all those illusory benchmarks, I need to tell myself that I fail, I am not good, I am ugly, I am ignorant and unintelligent. I need to tell myself that I missed every mark I ever set for myself. And that I am still here. I am loved. I can love. I don’t deserve that love and that acceptance, but I have it. I didn’t, I can’t, do anything to earn it.

I need to let go of all the things I’ve told myself that I should be, and even all the things I’ve told myself that I am. I need to accept that I am broken, busted, fucked up. That I deserve nothing.

Love is not about what you deserve. It’s about grace. You can’t earn grace, or lose it. It simply is. It doesn’t hold us to our own standards. It is a miracle, a mystery, that sort of thing that religions try to point toward, but can’t really describe.

I can stop striving. I can stop demanding. I deserve nothing. I have love. I have everything.

Crushes

This week, after putting some serious time into considering the possibility, I decided I had a crush on a friend of mine. On three separate occasions I told each of my partners and this friend about my discovery.

“… and today is different from before how?”
“Well… yeah.”
“I knew… and I thought I was oblivious.”

Each of these people found this hilarious, because of course I have a crush on her. Everyone knows this!

I used to get lots of crushes. And for a while there I pursued pretty much all of them. At one point I was dating four people. That, for me, is a lot. Then one of them moved (and eventually decided to let me know they’d done so). Another one was self-medicating way too much, and we amicably parted, not being terribly good for one another at that point. The remaining two relationships flourished, and are still flourishing. It’s been amazing.

After that point I still had a crush here and there. Every once in a while I’d flirt with them, or more. But far less often than before. My energy went into my existing relationships. Building them, strengthening them. Proceeding deliberately (or as deliberately as we could manage). The last time I had a crush… and I don’t mean merely finding someone hot, or enjoying their company. I mean that kind of thing where your legs feel a little wobbly and your entire torso feels full of butterflies whenever you really pay attention to them. The last time I had a crush on someone who wasn’t one of my partners, and pursued it, we had a great time together. We clicked, emotionally and physically. It was awesome. But what she needed from me was something I didn’t have the resources to give. Because of that we had to stop seeing each other, even as friends, for a good long while.

That hurt. And with that hurt I just… stopped having crushes. I placed a moratorium on those feelings for anyone with whom I wasn’t already in a committed relationship. It made sense at the time, and still does, really.

The thing about doing that, though, is that it was the start of my losing awareness of part of my inner life. I mean, I’ve always been oblivious to other people, but not to myself. It got easier for people close to me to figure out what was going on with me than it was for me to figure it out myself. Now, writing this, I wonder if that’s why it took me so long to figure out that my depression and anxiety had gotten the better of me. My partners knew.

But with help, I’ve been recovering from the worst of the depression and anxiety. And I think that in doing so I’ve started to re-open my eyes to myself. I’m not cutting any part of me off from any other part, or at least not doing it as often or as strongly. Parts of me that I hadn’t given light in quite a while have started to get light again.

Probably the first sign of this change was when I started getting to know a new friend, and wasn’t sure if I was just excited to be making a new friend, or if I was experiencing that “crush” thing that I’d pretty much forgotten about. I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but I was in the process of recovering access to parts of myself from which I didn’t even know I was cut off.

And that was a whole lot of heavy stuff just to come back around to where I started.

That friend, way up above? The one who thought she was the oblivious one? I’ve known her since way back when I was still dating four people at once. And I’ve never exactly been secretive about my thinking she’s one of the most gorgeous people I’ve known. Slowly over the years we’ve gotten to know each other better. We started hanging out more often recently, just the two of us, and I’d come away with my mind lingering on this thing she said, or that thing. Or the way her hair fell in her face when she shook her head. Or this, or that, or this other thing, or all of them at once. Using my slowly-returning self-awareness and self-examination skills, I sat and paid attention to these phenomena in me.

“What’s going on here?” I asked myself in all seriousness. “Is this actually different from any other set of interactions with any other people?”

Yes, these are the kind of conversations I have with myself instead of just thinking “She’s pretty. We should do things together.”

No, really. I sat there and recounted to myself different times we’d seen each other or talked over the years, asking what I felt and thought for each of them. That’s probably where I became consciously aware that I’d deprived myself of access to parts of myself for who knows how long.

I came to a conclusion. Yes. Absolutely. This is totally a crush.

Luckily, before I had the chance to start freaking myself out over this (something I can be really, really good at, because have you met my anxiety?) I shared my startling revelation with the people who would have the most investment in this situation.

And what I got it return was kind-hearted, incredulous laughter and gentle pats on the head over this being a new revelation, or at least it being an unexpected development. People know I’m oblivious to other people’s interest in me, but oblivious to my own interest in other people? That’s a whole new level of absurd lack of self awareness.

But, as it often does, my own awkwardness seems to work to my advantage, because this friend said I was adorable. And now we have plans to make out sometime.

Self-awareness, however slow it may be in coming, absolutely rules.

On holy ground

20131005_labyrinth

Today I was feeling stiff from laying down too much, and kinda stuck, not knowing what to do with myself. So I got in my car and started driving. I eventually ended up at the labyrinth pictured above. I started walking it, and realized that my boots felt wrong.

“Take your sandals off your feet,” the voice rang in my head, “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” So I did.

With bare feet I continued the walk. I felt the bricks beneath me, the cracks in them, the grass and moss growing between them. I felt how one side of the labyrinth was dry and warm, while another part was dry and cool and yet another was cool and damp.

A few times I found myself looking too far ahead, trying to see where I was going. That never works in a labyrinth. Not only will my eyes get lost, but when I stop keeping my current step at the center, then my feet get lost and my mind gets lost. Each time I tried to plan ahead I felt this. My eyes would lose focus, trying to make out the winding path. My mind would start trying to plan and I’d have to stop because I’d lost track of where my foot needed to go in its next step. So each time I brought myself back to my most immediate surroundings. I stepped the next step and no more. I felt the textures below my feet. I trusted my feet to bring me somewhere. It didn’t matter where. There are no finish lines. There’s only the next step.

Somehow I get the feeling I was learning a life lesson. Or at least being taught one. It’s up to me whether I learn it or not.

Making Music

One of the things I’m most proud of about 2012 is my return to making noise/music. It’s something I missed, and finding my way back in has been fantastic. My finished products are available at luxeed’s bandcamp page, while I have some finished songs and some works in progress and other experimentations on my soundcloud page.

It’s been fascinating, getting into the different sounds, seeing what directions I go. Below, you’ll find my last song of 2012, “Unknowing,” and my first song of 2013, tentatively titled “Spacebient01.” I hope you enjoy.