“Maybe at the heart of all our traveling is the dream of someday, somehow, getting home.”

– Frederick Buechner

We made it. We are now settled in, mostly unpacked, and enjoying the quiet of our new town. Our WiFi was installed yesterday, we had friends over for dinner on Sunday and Jo is now tapping away at their latest batch of editing work, quickly slipping back into their pre-moving routine. We made Duder’s switch off yesterday, sending him for his two-week summer vacation with his dad, which is the first time he and I have been apart for longer than a few days, in all of his 8 years, and I think Jo and I are both silently trying to ignore the fact that he’s gone. 

Moving has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, personally. I didn’t move a lot as a kid, only when it was reasonable and still exciting. I had a “home base” my entire life; regardless of the building itself changing, there wasn’t a house that we didn’t live in for less than 5 years. By the time it was time to move, we were usually ready to start anew. 

This move hasn’t been much different in that regard. Our home in Niagara was beautiful; I, arguably, was slightly more fond of it than both Jo and Duder, but it didn’t make sense to stay there. Not only did Duder have a really hard time being alone in a top-floor bedroom at night, we had two floors (upper and basement) that were only accessible by a flight of at least 8 stairs, which I can’t maneuver and it was, unfortunately, super expensive. Above all else, it wasn’t ours, so at some point we all knew we would have to leave. 

This is, of course, leaving out the fact that we didn’t have a community, we were inundated with a lot of negative people and had only just managed to start finding people to connect with after we had decided the Niagara region wasn’t interested in having us. 

The concept of “home” is an interesting one for me. Up until the house we just left, I hadn’t ever felt like anywhere I had lived was my home. I had a number of different houses I spent time at, but home wasn’t a feeling I recognized; whether that was due to my own emotional and mental wellness issues, or whatever other reason it may have been. I knew that the house I lived in was safe, but home was only used in reference to a place I was going, not to the feeling that comes with “being home”. I think I spent the majority of my life trying to make a home out of a person, without realizing that people were, obviously, more nomadic than the idea of home that I was looking for. 

Jo has figured out how to make any space comfortable, having moved over 20 times, and has been integral in making each of our new spaces feel like a home. Our new house already feels more like home to me than anywhere I’ve been, and we’ve lived here for a total of 3 days so far. That being said, Annika Martins makes a great point in her article about home being a place in yourself, when she writes:

“Geography is irrelevant. Your address means next to nothing. What matters is how open your heart is.”

In the article, Annika talks about how she was forever searching for her home; the place where she felt safe, powerful and rooted. She explains how she fixated and obsessed over seeing images of exactly where she was supposed to be; where her home was. She describes feeling “anxious about postal codes” and being in a constant struggle with herself and the universe about where she was meant to be, until she eventually realized that as long as she was open to love and open with love, she was home. This might sound cheesy to some, but the idea of being home, no matter where you are, as long as you are open and accepting to the opportunities and possibilities there, is one that I’m slowly coming around to, perhaps in a less froufrou way. 

We drove Duder a bit farther than the half-way point to meet his dad yesterday. I had to go to the hospital for a scheduled MRI anyway, and we had quite a bit of time to kill between the planned 2:00pm switch-off and my 3:45 appointment. As soon as the scenery became familiar to what I remember from my time growing up in the Hamilton and Niagara regions, the air got thick and humid, and my stomach started jumping in loops. Coming back to that area literally triggered something in me, even though we were only there briefly; and I wondered why I never felt at peace, or at home there, no matter where I went. By the time we had turned around and were making our way back to our new home and the cityscape I remembered faded away, all of my panic and anxiety did, too. 

This has all been jostling around in my brain since we bought our house, though there have been events and little things that have popped up that have exacerbated the feeling slowly, over time. My biological grandmother sent me an e-mail last week, with a photo from “happier times” with her, my mother, sister and I, wishing me all the best and essentially putting me on notice that they, too, were decidedly finished with their relationship with me. I expressed to Jo later that day that it feels strange to me that we are not even so much as a blip on people’s radar for them to be happy to see us go. But having to return to my “home”town and experiencing a physical reaction to even being in the area, being triggered by the names of streets and highway exits, having flashbacks to not-so-pleasant memories of my time in these places; in the end, I’m happy to see us leave, every time, and that’s becoming all that matters. 

I’m realizing that home is not a person, building or city. I have been lucky enough to have moments of home throughout my life; the smell of my grandmother’s cooking was home. The amount of love and connection I felt with friends, lovers, however short lived, was home. Making Duder laugh, every time, is home. Looking up from this screen and seeing Jo tapping away, either at their work or their latest game focus, is home. The places that trigger me now, do so because I experienced trauma, hurt and other terrible feelings there, but not because they weren’t my home at the time. I just looked for home in the wrong places and people, and those places and people hurt me. 

That being said, Stratford feels like home already. As much as a town can, I suppose. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with the landscape, there are no real memories or moments to be reminded of when I step out the front door. The times we have spent in Stratford have been completely positive — and if they aren’t, Jo and I have had a much easier time coming together to figure it out. The geography of where you are might not matter, but the environment and atmosphere in which you place yourself does. The fact that everything in our new home is brand new — not the items, of course, but the experience and feeling of being here — even for Jo, who is seeing a new, developed side of the town they grew up in, means that there aren’t any moments or memories to hang onto, and the only thing for us to do now is to make new ones. 

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and have never been before.”

— Warsan Shire

you can take this mouth / this wound you want / but you can’t kiss and make it / better.

— Daphne Gottlieb

Happy beginning of the week, friends. Things have, thankfully, quieted down ever so slightly since I’m ready to suffer…. We had a lovely weekend visit to the beach with Brotato Chip, a close friend of ours and her wonderfully independent daughter; Jo is puttering around daily, getting the last bits of our house ready to relocate on Saturday, and I’ve been slowly working through some heavy thoughts about moving away from the area in which I spent a good fraction of my growing years, and Duder’s. As excited as I am to remove myself and family from an area that holds so many difficult and painful memories for me, we’ve only just started developing a really awesome relationship with the aforementioned close friend and her family, and the committee that had initially been lined up to welcome us to our new home (new life, if we’re being honest) has dwindled at an alarming rate. 

We still have a lot to look forward to in moving, I recognize that, and am so grateful that we now have an entire family we can invite to Stratford, that there are a few really amazing people that will still be waiting for us when we arrive on Saturday. I am endlessly grateful for the fact that we even have a house to relocate to, above all else. I’ve had a lot of conversations in the last two weeks, though, with a number of different (but equally as intelligent and insightful) people that have brought a lot of things to light about my past existence in this area and allowing those thoughts to run rampant while I still have to drive past all of the spots that trigger those memories, is hard. 

That being said, I wanted to write a bit of a lighter article today, if not for my own sanity, to save you another 8,000 word essay on my psychological inconsistencies, ha. There may still be a bit of analysis, of course, because I can’t not self-reflect in these situations, but I promise it’s not going to be nearly as monotonous as my last few ramblings. 

When we first introduced ourselves in Adversity Makes Strange Bedfellows, Jo graciously informed you all that I would be the one responsible for talking about one of my favourite things in the whole world…

Now, don’t panic; this isn’t going to be an article filled with innuendos, pornography and terrible pick-up lines (though, if I can be so bold, bad pick up lines are my forte). Because this is going to my first time writing about sex on this blog, I will try and keep it as light and fluffy as possible. Let’s ease into it, shall we?

I started exploring my sexuality early; I remember masturbating when I was quite young, probably around 6 or 7, and not because I was bored — I very vividly remember it feeling good, but that was where my sexuality stayed for another 5 years or so. This wasn’t a conversation I had with my parents, for obvious reasons, but I was also never taught as a kid that any form of sexuality was bad. My mother was often working during the evenings and my step-father wasn’t really the type to check on us after we were in bed, so once the lights were out, it was a free for all.

I won’t go into too much detail but over the course of the next few years I think I did a lot more exploring than was probably appropriate for someone my age. I was overly curious about mine and others’ sexualities, had very intense crushes throughout my elementary school years, found pornography extremely exciting and fantasized often about sex and sexual encounters. I lost my virginity when I was 12 and took a very skewed sense of pride in being the “first” for a lot of my boyfriends (and, eventually, girlfriends) as I got older. I have also always been attracted to older people, which caused a lot of problems for me (and could have potentially caused much bigger problems for others) in the years leading up to my becoming “of age”.

My sexuality and how “attractive” I was to others quickly became the scale on which I measured my validity as a human being. I lied about my age and signed up for sites like AdultFriendFinder (back when you didn’t have to verify your age with your ID), which was essentially one of the original platforms that has now become Tinder, and one night stands became a regular occurrence in my life. I had sugar daddies before I even knew what they were. This convoluted perception of being desired, of older strangers wanting to “take care of me” was something I relished in for a long time. I knew I didn’t love any of those people and I knew they didn’t love me, but I also couldn’t differentiate between a healthy romantic relationship and the immediate gratification that I was feeling, or why that feeling disappeared so shortly afterwards.

After divesting myself of an extremely sexually abusive relationship, I did a lot of work on reevaluating my sexuality and how I presented it to others. I reinvented my relationship with my body and my sexuality entirely; I applied for a job at a sex toy store and did everything I could to learn everything I could about a healthier, more respectful world of sex. I met people from all walks of life who all had one thing in common: they all just loved sex. I went to BDSM munches, rope-tying workshops, fetish club meet-ups; I wanted to learn everything.

In wanting to learn everything, I also had a lot of sex — but this time it was different, because the people I was having sex with were different. Consent was a word that became as common as “yes” or “no”, there was a mutual agreement that whatever was happening was to benefit all parties involved, and there was a level of love, care, compassion and patience that I hadn’t experienced in any other aspect of my sexual life.

I explored bondage, all types of dildos, vibrators, anal toys (don’t knock it til’ you try it — carefully), spanking, strap-ons… Guys, if there was a toy on the market, I probably tried it. My connection to my sexuality flourished the second I decided it was for me and only me; unless I made the decision to allow someone else to be a part of it. The partners I had made it undoubtedly clear that they respected me, honoured what I was giving them and would never do something to jeopardize an established level of trust. This was when I was first told I needed to have a safe word (and the reaction to my saying, “Uh, what is that?” was nothing short of eye-opening), the first time “no” was actually respected as “no”, and the first time I learned that my limits and boundaries were just as important as everyone else’s.

By the time I met Jo, I was secure and confident in my sexuality and my body. They came into my life after I had just lost 80 pounds, was running my own business and felt healthier and more energetic than I ever had. My sex drive was on hyperdrive (ha) and I had an immediate attraction to them the minute I saw them, and our chemistry has only evolved to be more since we’ve been together. Our sexual styles were easily combined; Jo’s curiosity about the world of BDSM, for example, was easily expanded by my pre-existing love of it. Spanking was something that was folded into our sex life without much thought, as was a more dominant/submissive dynamic (Jo being a naturally dominant partner and me falling more on the submissive side).

Jo and I really only differ in one main way when it comes to our sex life; Jo is an incredibly mental person, and needs to be in a very particular mindset and outside space for sex to be an option. If we have stressful things going on in our life, which we often do, there is usually far too much going on in their big brain to put aside for the sake of a 30-minute romp. There are plans to make, things to consider, ‘what-ifs’ and ‘whys’, options to weigh — how on earth do you put all of that out of a brain that has a tendency towards obsessive and compulsive thought patterns? This took some time for me to adjust to and figure out (I’ll explain why in a minute) but Jo did a great job of communicating those needs from the very beginning, where it’s now become second nature and I am very aware of when they’re in a safe headspace to approach the subject of getting dirty. 😉

I, on the other hand, have a tendency to use sex as a means to destress and separate myself from whatever is happening in my outside world. If I’m happy, my whole body purrs just looking at Jo; if I’m upset, depressed, et cetera, I turn to sex to escape those feelings because, well, sex feels great. Even when it comes to some of my more serious mental habits — I lean towards dissociating when things feel like too much, for example — sex and, specifically, the instances when we have explored spanking, are the most effective ways that I have found to recenter and bring myself back into my body. It also connects Jo and I in a way that is pretty much impossible to explain, other than that anything could be going on, or we could feel as far apart as possible, and once we’ve rearranged the bedsheets back to their normal place, we’re a completely new couple again.

That being said, I’m excited to start talking more about sexual subjects on the blog because I really do enjoy every aspect of it. I love the psychology behind fetishes, BDSM, what people are into — and I love having really cool, adult discussions about what it means to be sexual beings in our world today. In a society where sexuality is still seen as so taboo and a subject that should be kept behind closed doors, between couples, I’m really eager to fling those doors wide open; maybe not into our bedroom, haha, but at least on the misguided view that sex is something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. I look forward to discussing more serious topics like how to reclaim your body and your sexuality after abuse and/or trauma, and I can’t wait to broach some lighter subjects like vibrators, bondage, BDSM intros and more. Maybe you’ll even get a review or two!

At the end of the day, sex is something that is part of my daily life, at least in passing thought. I’m lucky that I am so insanely attracted to my partner that I have to fight to keep my hands off them and not the other way around, and that our “interests” align with each others’. I love talking about sex and having really cool, open conversations about what people are thinking, trying, what works and what doesn’t. More than anything, I love turning the tables on what people think sex is supposed to be, when we are in the middle of an age where we are literally turning every expectation on its’ head.

Want to start talking to your partner about trying something new? I want to help you start that conversation. Curious about anal sex but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry — we’ll get to that. Best vibrators on the market? I don’t know about on the market, but I’ll definitely share some the best ones I’ve tried, and the pros and cons to each. Want to up your game a bit and not use those dollar store handcuffs anymore? Go get some soft rope and we’ll work on getting a bit more creative with knot work. Wondering what it would be like to spank / get spanked? Jo and I can speak for either side of that experience. Want to try strapping up, but worried about it, for whatever reason? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered there, too. Whatever it is, one of us has an answer or is willing to find one. I’ll even model harnesses and strap-ons! Haha!

@reedamberx

We are obviously also both always learning; neither of us claim to be experts in any way — I just think sometimes it’s easier to ask questions when the person / people you’re asking are “normal” folx, and not necessarily doctors or sexperts. We’re just a queer couple that loves each other, loves having sex, and loves trying new things — but more than any of that, we love helping other people. So if any of my experience can make somebody else’s sex life a bit… Sexier? Consider me your personal, unofficial guru.

I never understood why anyone would have sex on the floor. Until I was with you and I realized: you don’t realize you’re on the floor. 

David Levithan

I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope. It’s a shot in the dark, aimed right at my throat.

— Florence & the Machine

What a week. I know we’ve been quiet as of late, friends, and once the events of the past month or so have finally settled down, I hope to sit down and write about the clusterfuck that we’ve been dealing with, though I genuinely doubt any of you would believe me. It’s that absurd. I was chatting with a childhood friend the other day and we agreed that once this is all over, I should write a book.

Keep an eye out for my autobiography, coming to the fiction section at a bookstore near you. /jokes

So, as much as I’d love to give you guys all of the juicy details, there are some things that still need to be dealt with before I feel comfortable doing that — so instead, I want to share some thoughts and research that I’ve done intermittently for a couple of years now, and try to piece together some of the things I’ve discovered. 

Quick back story. Without going into too much detail, I decided to “divorce” one of my parents a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who has had to form serious boundaries to the point of cutting someone out of your life can empathize with the level of discomfort it can cause, even more so when the toxic relationship you have to re-evaluate is with someone close to you. The reasons behind my decision were due to behaviour that has happened recently, but the processing I had to do, to get to the point of finally saying enough is enough, forced me to look at things, my history, in greater detail. 

In doing this, I discovered that the behaviours I was deeming unacceptable, were actually habits and behaviours that had been present throughout my entire life with this specific parent. They have come to the surface now, become more obvious — or maybe I just have a better idea of what I’m seeing, now, I’m not sure. Either way, in reading numerous articles and chatting with Jo, I also discovered that these behaviours have a name, or a means of categorizing them; meaning I wasn’t the only one, the way this person acted was not okay, and there were lots of other people in the world that were dealing with the same things: the ramifications of being raised by a controlling, and/or narcissistic parent. 

(Side note: There is great article on the difference between, specifically a mother, who is narcissistic versus controlling. There are many similarities between the two, but the behaviours are rooted in different  motivations. My parent falls into the controlling category, but for the sake of writing this, I’m just going to use narcissistic.)

Psychology Today defines a narcissistic parent as “…someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring. Typically, the narcissistic parent perceives the independence of a child (including adult children) as a threat, and coerces the offspring to exist in the parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations. In a narcissistic parenting relationship, the child is rarely loved just for being herself or himself.”

Now, I’m not saying I had a terrible upbringing. I’ve spoken a lot about my experiences with self-harm, addiction, mental illness, and everything in between, while acknowledging that I had some serious problems of my own, but we were never without. My parents worked hard, both juggling multiple jobs, resulting in my step-brother and I being gifted with family vacations, cruises and the like. This, of course, was a huge part of what baffled the myriad of doctors and psychiatrists I spoke with throughout my childhood, considering there was no obvious reason for me to be depressed and/or suicidal. We were not wealthy, but we never had to wonder whether or not we had food, clothes, et cetera. From the outside, I had relatively normal relationships with all of my parental figures (all four of them), and the fact that I was even being brought in for therapy (my mother’s idea) meant that I had at least one person who cared enough about me to make sure that I got the help that I needed. 

To anyone on the outside looking in, everything looked normal. Except me. 

The way that these methods of parenting affect the child involved, not only in their childhood but, as I’m discovering, well into their adult life as well, is exponential. The things that are suddenly tying together in my mind and memory baffle me on a regular basis. I feel like I’ve been watching a movie, a mystery, or thriller, and I’ve just figured out who the killer really is — when everybody else did 45 minutes ago. 

Loner Wolf gives a few examples of how to confirm you were raised by one, or two, narcissistic parents. Looking back on my childhood years, I, admittedly, have the habit of beating myself up for not recognizing some of the signs earlier, even if it had been nothing more than questioning why it seemed impossible to be happy, regardless of what was going on around me. Anxiety and depression are the biggest side effects of being raised by narcissistic people, along with chronic guilt, poor personal boundaries and codependency in other relationships. It also forces the offspring into a position of constant guessing, struggling to please the parent and striving endlessly to “earn” the parent’s affection. 

When your entire existence is measured by whether or not your parent approves of your actions, behaviours, decisions, et cetera, you give all of the power to that person, to determine whether or not you are worthy of their love (or whatever means of control they use). Narcissistic parents measure their own worth and efficacy by the actions of their children — this can manifest in different ways; I’ve read examples where mothers took pleasure in dolling up their daughters, in order to parade them around and show them off (consider the amount of money TLC makes on their pageant shows, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo being my main reference point). Any compliment the child receives is automatically absorbed by the parent: 

“Oh my goodness, don’t you just look beautiful!”
“Thanks, she gets her good looks from me.”

Obviously mothers aren’t the only ones who show examples of narcissistic parenting. Another great example would be the father that lives his athletic dreams vicariously through his son. These are the parents that are angry when their kids lose, that shame and put them down for not being good enough, regardless of whether or not the child had any control of the situation (surprise: they often don’t). This also looks similar to the previous example, when the child is successful.
“Congratulations on winning that hockey trophy.”
“Thanks. I was always very athletic as a child, so obviously they would be, too.”

What happens when the child’s wants or needs aren’t on par with the parents’? My parents were both very athletic — I was not. I was always drawn to more creative hobbies, and anything that I enjoyed that was athletic was an individual sport. My parents encouraged me to take part in track and field, signed me up for a summer soccer camp, but I preferred taking part in things like horseback riding. Luckily (or not — I’ll let you be the judge of that), my mother had also been an avid horseback rider when she was younger, so that hobby was nurtured and enabled as much as possible; BUT… 

Narcissistic parents also have the habit of competing with their offspring. This ties into taking credit for their children’s accomplishments, but in order for the parent to be entirely involved, they have to be entirely involved. The competition is one thing; they are a parent, they raised you, obviously they know better, obviously they know more. They’re older, wiser… Right? There’s a certain level of competition, or “comparison” that happens, I think, regardless of the parent and whether or not they are narcissistic. Most of the time, though, it’s not in the spirit of being better, but to prevent the child from having to learn a lesson that maybe isn’t necessary. A good parent wants to avoid their children getting hurt at all costs, and it often hurts us more, as parents, when they do.

Narcissistic parents, though, are different than the, perhaps slightly overbearing, “helicopter parent”.  These parents want to immerse themselves in your life — whether it’s your hobbies, your job, your friend group. My mother quickly started taking horseback riding lessons with me, though we luckily avoided a situation of competition because I preferred jumping, whereas she did dressage. That being said, it was a hobby that I loved and was passionate about, and after realizing that, she quickly needed to be involved as well. We also had a similar group of friends, which ended up being mostly comprised of the few close friends that I had. If the people I was spending time with weren’t of any interest to her, I was free to do as I pleased — but if the person I was seeing was someone she felt positively about (or saw a use for), she needed to be involved. 

Do you know anyone that seems to have a parent that hangs around all the time? We see these characters in movies quite often, the mother that loves hanging out with her daughter’s friends, getting drunk, acting foolish. This forces the child to take a certain level of responsibility, effectively being pushed into a position where they have been “parentified” by their own parent. There tends to be a back and forth between a narcissistic parent needing to feel like their child needs them, but also that their child is going to be around to take care of them, if need be. They build a relationship based on worry and fear, forming a dependency in their offspring that they can’t manage without their parent’s help — so how can the child form a boundary with the parent, when they’ve been conditioned to believe they won’t be successful/healthy/loved/et cetera without the parent around. This level of commitment and loyalty means that the offspring is also always on high alert for whenever the parent may “need” them. This causes a lot of narcissistic parents to fabricate drama where there isn’t any, in order to place themselves in a position of victimhood. 

Narcissistic people need to feel as if everybody is on their side, no matter the situation. Even if there is no sign or threat of a conflict, the narcissistic parent needs to know that your loyalty and commitment is there. There’s a level of obligation that they place on their child to be available at their beckon call, and they will do whatever it takes to turn that obligation into a noose of sorts, using any number of tactics from anger and aggression, to guilt and shame, to gaslighting and lying to get what they want. 

Gaslighting is defined “as a[n abuse] tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.” Abusers and narcissists use this tactic all the time, manipulating the victim into a position of being easily controlled, confusing them until the only person they feel they can trust and count on is the gaslighter themselves. Parents can, unfortunately, be incredibly adept at this, taking into consideration that in most cases they have been an active, present figure in the child’s life and in order for gaslighting to be as effective as possible, it needs to happen slowly over a period of time. The average 18 years a child spends with their parent is more than enough time to form a type of trauma bond that enables the parent to work away at the victim’s mental state, or collect a number of different resources to use in whatever situation may arise. 

If the child tries to remove themselves from the parent’s grasp, the parent will often panic and do whatever they can to regain the upper hand. Projecting their issues onto you — my mother’s was often that I was incredibly selfish and never considered her emotions or feelings about any given thing, immediately following a conversation where I expressed not feeling heard by her. These parents will also do what they can to turn as many people as possible against you, telling lies about you and isolating you from any sources of support you might have. I have been completely disowned by every other member of my family, for example, and have been approached by a number of my parent’s friends; on a good day, the conversation ends after they try to convince me that I need my mother in life, but I’ve also had not-so-pleasant interactions where I’ve been verbally attacked and accused of things, without any accurate knowledge of the situation. Keep in mind — narcissists will only surround themselves with people that don’t threaten their position of power, so it’s unlikely that the people around them, even if they don’t address you directly, will do anything to stand up for you, or whoever is being abused at the time. 

They will also, occasionally, award you with positive words or reinforcements. This is a tried and true ploy that abusers have been using for eons, to confuse the victim into believing that the situation isn’t as bad as it seems, because the person obviously has the capacity for compassion. When you are constantly striving for that one tidbit of positive reinforcement, the abuser can do whatever they want to in the meantime, knowing you’re holding on, waiting for them to pat you on the nose. At the same time, though, any criticism that is aimed in their direction is immediately faced with an intense reaction — ranging from explosive anger to debilitating sadness. Fear and guilt are two of the most powerful control mechanisms, and narcissists are gifted in manufacturing situations where there is very little option for the victim to feel anything different. 

There are two different styles of narcissists that we observe on a regular basis. Ignoring narcissists are  people that just can’t be bothered with their children. There is a defined difference and independence between the parent and their child, so the children are expected to act as individuals, perhaps even having to take care of themselves at a young age. My parent, on the other hand, is an engulfing narcissist, meaning that I have never been seen as my own, independent person (until just recently, and even that’s debatable), separate from my parent, and that my parent needed to be involved in every aspect of my life, to an extreme extent. I was often compared to them, that I was a direct replica, not only physically (we had my kindergarten picture and my mother’s pasted right next to each other on the fridge, because “we looked like twins”), but mentally as well. I grew up being confused about why I was always so intensely sad, without realizing that not only was my parent making me feel that way, but also comparing themselves to me — if they made me feel like that, did I make people feel that horrible, too, if we were so similar?

Any level of autonomy is a major threat to a narcissist. When Jo and I moved to the apartment, my parent was livid. It was directed at me, the whole thing being my fault for not having given them enough warning about our plan to move, while refusing to acknowledge that their behaviour was literally the reason we needed to get out. The guilt they tried to impose on my “leaving them” was part of why we left, but my parent attempts to continue to shame me, even now, two years later. I have been reminded, constantly, throughout my life, that my parent gave up so much for me, that I took away so many years of their life because of my mental illness, that they sacrificed everything — and that I am exposing my own child to the same trauma and torment that I had to endure. 

So, hang on a second, here, Aisha… You’re trying to tell me that when you have children, you’re signing on to do whatever you can for them, regardless of the effect it has on you? 

Weird, right? 

So, what are the repercussions of having grown up with a narcissistic parent? There are a myriad of ways a parent’s abusive behaviour can come to the surface in their adult children. There seem to be three common side effects, or behaviours, that are present amongst people that grew up in these situations: difficulties managing emotions, a skewed or inaccurate self-image, and a dystopian perception of what healthy love is supposed to look like. 

Managing my emotions has always been a challenge; I don’t often get angry, and when I do, it usually presents itself as crippling sadness rather than an atom bomb exploding. I always assumed that this was due to having to deal with so much mental instability when I was young, because I don’t feel like I really got many tactics on how to deal with unfamiliar or overwhelming emotions; I just learned how to internalize them so I didn’t inflict damage on myself. Scars, cuts, burns — none of that was attractive, and I learned very quickly, not how to stop harming myself, but how to do it in a way that wouldn’t “ruin our image”. Very few people were truly aware of the gravity of my illness besides my mother and my therapist, because I tried very hard to stay under the radar. This contributed to my issues with self-esteem, naturally. 

The issue with being under a narcissist’s thumb during your formative years is that you, inevitably, start to believe that your parents’ behaviour and expressions of “love” are what are to be expected from any romantic partner in the future. This can lead to the victim literally seeking out partners that behave in the same way as their narcissistic parent. I had strings of boyfriends and partners that were horrible to me, and stayed with one for over six years, accepting every backhanded comment, forced sexual encounter and aggressive burst, maybe not with a smile, but with a inner feeling that what I was experiencing was just how it was “supposed” to be. It took almost three years for me to finally seek out help from an incredible organization in our area, where I sat down with an abuse therapist and read through a booklet of what abusive behaviour might look like, before I realized that my relationship was not only unhealthy, but had the potential to make a turn for the worse at any moment. 

You were being abused for six years? Why didn’t you just leave?

Jo found an awesome article yesterday that talks about trauma bonding and the reasons why victims of abuse can sometimes have an incredibly difficult time divesting themselves from their abusers. The article speaks more along the lines of leaving an abusive romantic relationship, but the methods of manipulation and control don’t vary much between romantic relationships and parental ones. 

I’ve read a number of different articles and academic papers written by staunch believers in the effects of media on our acceptance of behaviours in our social interactions. The problem seems to be, most often, that we don’t necessarily class emotional, sexual and verbal abuse as valid forms of maltreatment. When you think about examples of abuse in the media — and please, don’t get me wrong, I am so, so happy that we are seeing more and more examples of it in TV shows and film, and that it’s being brought to the forefront as a serious, valid issue — generally speaking, it’s a woman with a black eye. Or a broken arm. Or a child that’s dirty, underfed. These are all, obviously, great examples of what abuse can look like, but is a whitewashed version of how abuse can appear to an onlooker. 

The article talks about how studies have shown that victims of abuse can actually develop a sort of biological or physical dependency to the behaviour of their abuser. Because the cycle moves from everything being okay, to an intense, perhaps angry, outburst, then once the outburst has subsided, the abuser comes back and showers their victim with love, triggering the release of dopamine as a response to the reward of affection, to the point where the victim often brushes off their abuser’s behaviour and the cycle begins again. 

I was lucky. I realize this. I recognize that I was blessed with a little human being that really made me reconsider what kind of treatment I was willing to accept from others, and what example I wanted to set for him, for what kind of behaviour was acceptable. I am incredibly grateful that we have such an amazing resource for women and children in the Niagara region that are struggling to leave abusive relationships. I also realize that I was living at home at the time, so my decision and ability to leave the relationship was facilitated by my situation — but keep in mind, I was leaving one abusive relationship, and putting all of my hopes on living with, and getting support from, my parents… I’m still not sure which of the two evils was worse. I had been injected with a very convoluted view of what it looked like to have strength — which was, in reality, just control in disguise. I still deal with a terrible habit of self-criticism, which made me second, third, thirteenth-guess my decision to leave my abuser, wondering if it was the best decision, not realizing I was walking straight into the mouth of a completely different beast. 

Imagine what kind of trauma bonding happens, if a romantic interest can coerce a person, with their own independent thoughts and expectations, into an arrangement that has the potential to destroy any sane person from the inside out, when the trauma is being inflicted by the person who is supposed to do whatever they can do to protect you. When you are bonding, through trauma, with a parent, over an extended period of time, it not only has adverse effects on your mental health and well being, but is now showing to manifest in physical ailments as well. When you are on a downswing in your abusive arrangement, cortisol pumps through you and your body enters a state of shock due to the recurring stress. When you get the positive reinforcement, though, the happy chemical comes into play, and you end up developing a type of addiction to the upheaval. Because of the constant up and down and the variance in hormone levels in someone that is in a constant state of not knowing what’s coming next, this stress can appear in visible ways: acne, migraines and chronic pain, to name a few. 

What people don’t realize is that, regardless of the inconsistencies in the abuser’s behaviour, the cycle and order of events and behaviours become predictable, so the victim almost learns to “wait it out” until their abuser gets to the stage where they are prepared to offer affection. This makes a victim endure a great deal more than they probably would in any other situation, holding onto the hope that things will clear up eventually. This manner of coping becomes the only consistency in the victim’s world, as even the abuser’s behaviour feels like a ticking time bomb. If we revisit the theory of seeking out abusive partners after having a narcissistic parent, too, the lack of that parental guidance, and denial of the independence and autonomy to make their own decisions, a victim wouldn’t be able to make a large decision, like to leave their abusive partner, without it being validated by someone important — usually, the narcissistic parent. Of course, then, if a narcissistic parent wants to keep their child in their grasp, they would avoid doing anything that would give their child a sense of control. Try and consider the level of pride, happiness and gratitude you would feel if you were finally able to leave your abusive husband/wife. That would boost you, and probably give you the ammunition to make other changes in your life and look to improve other aspects. Your controlling parent couldn’t possibly allow that to happen, because then they would have no control either — I was in an abusive relationship for six years and not once did my parent tell me that I deserved better. 

Eventually, this rollercoaster gets so tiring for the victim that they often are unable to serve the “purpose” they had been for the abuser. In a lot of cases, this disposal (usually a break up, though in some cases, if an abuser has not been physical previously, a physically violent outbreak can be seen as the abuser dumping the victim, depending on the situation) is the only way the victim of abuse is able to remove themselves from it. Unfortunately, it also often takes victims until this point to realize that they were being abused in the first place. This process is dirty, ugly and unpleasant, as victims need to deal with the conditioned feelings of guilt, self-blame, shame, et cetera. You did everything you could, constantly, trying to please the person you were bonded to, and nothing was good enough. You weren’t enough to keep them around.

Please. If you are feeling this way — your abuser did not leave because you weren’t enough. Your abuser left because you literally gave them everything you could, and in some cases, they probably took everything you had to give. 

In the event that you are able to remove yourself from a damaging parent / child relationship, Loner Wolf suggests giving yourself time to grieve the loss of the parent you thought you had. You were raised to hide the way you were feeling, or that the way you felt didn’t matter — this is the time to allow yourself to feel everything; the anger, sadness, disappointment and care for yourself like you would a small child. In a lot of cases, you probably had part or most of your childhood taken from you, so give yourself a chance to forgive the time you lost. 

Karyl McBride, PhD, redesigned the stages of grief to fit the recovery of someone who has been affected by a narcissistic parent. She talks about how as children of narcissistic parents, we had to deny that our parents were incapable of love in order to survive, spent a good portion of our childhoods bargaining with those parents, in person or mentally. Anger and sadness are other obvious and valid responses, and Karyl explains that during the recovery process, it is completely normal to jump from stage to stage and that grieving the loss of a parent who might still be around doesn’t follow any particular schedule or timeframe. 

You’re going to feel guilty. You will feel terrible for grieving this loss, as if your parent were dead. I have explained to both Jo and a friend of ours, both of which whom have lost parents, that though the loss feels like a death to me, I can’t allow myself to internalize it in the same way because it feels unfair. If this sounds familiar to you: stop it. Your loss is no more or less important than anyone else’s — if anything, you may be in a situation where you have to come face to face with the very person you had to distance yourself from, and you may realize that they are a ghost of who you thought they were. That’s okay. Remember that they tricked you into thinking they were somebody else, too. 

I’m obviously just starting to do this work. It’s only been a couple of weeks and I can genuinely tell you that this final straw has left me feeling like a piece of my heart is missing. It breaks my heart that I am not the only one who has had to remove themselves from a relationship from the people who are supposed to put us, as their children, above all else. The destruction I feel in my insides is indescribable, knowing that each person I thought I had in my unit have decided to toss me aside in the same way. It feels like mission impossible, trying to overcome years of conditioning, years of lies and years of striving to achieve an image that was literally unattainable. 

Does it feel crazy to tell a parent you never want to speak to them again? Absolutely.  It will likely be one of the hardest thing you will ever have to do.

Does it take a lot of work to reprogram your thoughts after years of being made to believe you were not worthy of love unless you were complicit? Yes. I still struggle every single day. I am only just finding my voice, just getting bold, just starting to feel comfortable to disagree — but boy, is it liberating. 

Will you ever be able to forgive your parent for what they did, or didn’t do? Who knows. I think we would all hope so. If anything, I’d like to be able to forgive my narcissistic parent, not for their peace of mind, but my own. Forgiveness is possible, I’m sure of it, but I haven’t gotten there yet. 

Every day, we wake up and snap into our own suits of armour. Whatever you’re protecting yourself from, I’m sorry you have to. If you have had to separate yourself from an abusive partner, friend, parent — I’m sorry, and I am so proud of you for taking those steps. I hope you realize, sooner than later, how worthy you are of so much more than what your parent(s) gave you. 

It’s like the brightest sunrise waiting on the other side of the darkest night. Don’t ever lose hope, hold on and believe maybe you just haven’t seen it yet. 

– Danny Gokey

All things are ready, if our mind be so.

― William Shakespeare, Henry V

I think it is appropriate, starting this post with a quote from Shakespeare. We are, after all, moving to a town dedicated in part, to his honor. I’ll take a moment to confess that one of my aims in moving home is to attend more theatre productions. I want to be able to reference his works, and the works of others here, as comfortably as I do other things. At this time, I appreciate his comedies, and always have; the romances took a while, only because their slow pace… Well, it seemed like everybody spent three scenes questioning the air; what, oh what in the world should they do, while the object of their affection is… literally sitting right behind them.

As I’m heading for forty, I’d like to get to know his tragedies, since I know I will probably never take in the histories. I think I could probably gain perspective if I sat through Coriolanus, or Titus. Hamlet probably deserves a revisit as well as Macbeth. I did not take the opportunity to get to know Shakespeare during my younger years, having needed time to live in fiction, fairytales, and fantasy. My mind was just too… something, for Shakespeare.

Moving on, I would like to say I am in complete agreement with him on the above statement. As you well know, I like considering situations from every angle I can find; I often get into a rant and then completely deflate myself with a solid opposing argument for the other side. I have just found that this prepares me in ways I can’t even express.

It goes beyond boundary establishment and maintenance. A longer quote I like to help highlight what I mean is:

“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I’m a great optimist. but, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst-case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves’ factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.”
Randy Pausch

I like that Pausch states this is his pattern, even though he is a great optimist. I just think that we can be optimists living this way, because there’s a plan for what worries me. Even if I don’t have a complete plan, acknowledging the potential removes the option to be caught unaware.

There are minor and unbelievably major motivations for this post. The minor ones are what I will touch on today, as a way of organizing my brain.

I recently had the good fortune of line editing a novel, soon to (hopefully!) be published in Canada called, The Minimalist: Who is Not in Favor of Minimalism, and I was amazed to find out that I, too, am a minimalist. I think my minimalistic creed came from three factors: a) I have moved a lot, thus divesting myself naturally of things that would increase the moving effort b) I have never really been financially secure and c) there is less disappointment when ‘things’ don’t mean anything.

Touching on the third point for a moment, things do have value to me. There are some material items that I would be truly upset over loosing, but outside of my own ‘loses’ I have known two people to lose everything to a fire, and far too many more who have nothing they want to begin with. On those two extremes, the work I’ve watched the people do on the affect, has left me with almost no choice but to get there before it happens to me.

My sis and I were robbed when we lived in Toronto. It was within the first year of us living together on the main floor apartment of an 8-plex on a busy Toronto corner. They entered through our bathroom window (well hidden in a very accessible, also well hidden, old school fire escape) creepily organizing all our bathroom things outside on my smoking table in precise, organized lines. Being on the poorer end of life, we literally had nothing to give them except my sister’s tip-money she hoarded in her bedside table. They found that, and nothing else, when they completely tossed our rooms. At the time, I had material things I liked, and a lot of them were ruined, further devaluing their worth (on top of not being stolen lol). The feeling that incident left us with was… hollow. The violation so cerebral, and not… I don’t know, like they came in and ransacked our place, but we were safe, and my sister lost maybe $250. But opening the door for months afterwards involved loudly banging before loudly working the key in the lock and shoving the door open as I jumped back as far as possible (an astounding half-foot, I’m sure).

Anyway, taking life lessons to the extreme, if I were now broken into (knocking on wood), I would be confident in knowing they received no satisfaction. If they ruined my stuff, well, I have insurance! The violation would still be felt, I am sure. But, having felt it before, I wouldn’t be shocked and shock is the thing I hate most, I think.

Do you feel this? How old are you, and if you do feel this way, how did you come by it? I recognize that my experiences have resulted in me being a minimalist, and that makes organizing my life easier, for me. Moving, (not to belabor the example) is another area where I am prepared. We move in a month and a half and I’ve booked the movers, our place (I think) is rented, I will be calling services next week which means… when moving day arrives, all I will have to manage is my people and the people moving us. Pretty cool, no?

The value of giving yourself the room to go deep, and like Pausch says, explore the ‘eaten by wolves’ factor’ would probably surprise you at how comfortable you ultimately, end up being.

Wanting to stay light-hearted and quick, I want to end this on a linguistic note. Another means of being prepared is using language that accurately relays what you want to say. Working through ‘zones’ lately, I have reacquainted myself with the myriad of potential emotions a person could be feeling in combination. Knowing the vast lexicon available to you can also help pave your path of preparedness. I was once humiliated by a professor, but my fault entirely. During my cocky, early-twenties I was in a philosophy class. The prof asked, “what do you need to make fire?” Immediately I shouted out… “Wood!” Feeling pretty fucking smug at my speed, my camping days rushing back and inflating me with confidence. I can’t remember their exact response, but it was essentially, preparing to go out in the rain with an umbrella is like just needing wood,” turning away, thinking I would have learned my lesson at this point. I… a true stubborn bull continued, “IRREGARDLESS, you said ‘what do you need to make fire, and wood is needed.’” In sum, they turned around and asked me a series of scenario-based questions in which a fire took place, without wood anywhere to be seen; an oil spill catching fire on water, a brick house burning to the ground, tar pits, plastic. It was one of the most educational moments of my life folks.

Be prepared. Consider a few different things before charging ahead. It will help you be more confident and believable in the end.

DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, UNTIL YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
unknown.

“I love that this morning’s sunrise does not define itself by last night’s sunset.” 

— Steve Maraboli

Ah, Sunday. Good morning to you, you overcast, chilly day. 

Sundays have become a favourite day of the week for me. Duder is usually away with his dad until the early afternoon, so Jo and I occasionally get the chance to sleep in a little bit and the normally bustling, busy street that our house sits on is actually… quiet?

This is an unusual occurrence in a typical week for our family; somebody usually has something on-the-go, somewhere to be, something to do… So we’ll sometimes try and pack a few things into our Sunday afternoon, considering it’s the only real “free” day we have to do anything fun with Broski. Most of the time though, he’s pretty wiped from his weekend away, Jo and I are feeling like we, too, need a break after a busy week — so Sundays usually result in a quiet, relaxed afternoon and evening at home.

This weekend has obviously been a bit different. As Jo mentioned briefly in Go back?, we had their mother staying with us for a couple of days so we could make the day trip to Stratford to house-hunt. Overall, I suppose it went well; Duder was great, as patient as an eight year old can be, and tackled what would normally be a “hang out with dad day” turned “5 hours of driving and boring meetings day” with the maturity of a teenager — still having blips of boredom but, in the end, being a relatively respectful, polite and well-behaved kid. For that alone, I am eternally grateful.

I think that the adults that were involved in the day, believe it or not, had more of a struggle than the bored kid. I have had a hard time all weekend; the driving, walking, getting up and sitting down, attempting to tackle stairs in potential homes to see whether or not I can realistically manage them — and, as much as I hate to admit it, it takes me a long time to adjust my living to newcomers. It’s a fault of mine that isn’t often an issue; Jo and I don’t have people stay with us much and I’ve had nearly the last two years to adjust my habits to mesh with theirs, and truthfully, when I have to stay with other people, I have no problem doing things “their way”. When it’s my home, however, and my routine — sometimes I can get a little sticky about it. It’s not even that I’m unwilling to adjust! I just need longer than four days to do so. 

So, in recognizing this as a major flaw of mine, as well as taking the time to reflect on the weekend; I was kind of a miserable cow. I got short with Duder on more than one occasion, my patience was practically non-existent, and I ended up doing some things I probably shouldn’t have (ie: climb a 14-step staircase, twice) out of the desire for some space. I’m really not entirely sure what the issue even was, guys — I usually try to be far more agreeable than I was this weekend, but something about it was just… hard. I am the first to admit that, frankly, I have a bit of a short fuse. Not in regards to my temper — I’m usually pretty even keeled and don’t get angry at much, but to put it in layman’s terms: I have a shit ton more pet peeves than most. It makes me think of the recent surge of people admitting to their utter disgust and aggravation at the sound of people chewing (also a pet peeve of mine); but I have the same reaction to a lot of things; actions, habits and behaviours, that even I’m unaware of until I’m almost vibrating I’m so annoyed.

I don’t need to tell you that this obviously causes problems in my interactions and relationships with people. I am particularly sympathetic towards Jo in this regard; the amount of patience I have for them and their habits, tics, quirks, etc. is infinite. Additionally, they hold the unique position of seeing me in a parenting role and observing the areas where I struggle with Duderroo, but also the instances where I can dig deep and find an immeasurable capacity for tolerance towards him, regardless of how many times he and I have had to have the exact same conversation (pet peeve two). I realize that, from the outside, this ability to self-evaluate can look relatively effortless, and I concede to the bias that I have towards the two most important people in my life. Why can’t I find even a portion of that for people outside of my immediate familial unit?

I ask myself this question a lot, especially on days when I’m feeling particularly snappy. My irritation and annoyance are emotions that I find very difficult to disguise and this disadvantage has a propensity to manifest in the tone of my voice — I, admittedly, have a proclivity for sarcasm. Jo approached me with this earlier in the week, having noticed a change in my demeanour and attitude and I have since recalled that I had to address the same issue when I was last prescribed medication for my ADHD (as covered in my last blog). Jo mentioned that they think I have just become more assertive, which, in my opinion, is entirely uncharacteristic of me, and that it was just going to be a matter of them adjusting to the shift in my personality. While this may be true — I don’t suspect that the things I’ve had to accomplish and the list of potentially uncomfortable situations I’ve had to put myself in to do so would have been as successful had I not found this… “tenacity”, if you will — I tend to forget that sarcasm is a life-long defence mechanism that I have been tirelessly perfecting for twenty-six years. 

When I’m feeling insecure, my normally light-hearted, playful, humorous, though sometimes backhanded satire can quickly become caustic and hostile. Though I never have the intention of offending anyone or legitimately hurting their feelings, I notice the blatant similarities between my behaviour and that of the quintessential bully of my childhood. I have vivid memories of my mother sitting me down, quickly mopping up the puddle of tears I’d turned into; quieted my uncontrollable sobbing after the mean kid that lived across the street had angrily bulldozed me into a rose bush. “People who bully others; people who put others down are only doing it to boost themselves up”, she’d said; and I think she was right. I mean, it’s been proven time and time again that the majority of people who pick on others suffer from low self-esteem, or have negative feelings about themselves for one reason or another.

I don’t consider myself a bully and I know that my sarcasm and the defences I put up are not malicious. I used to be the type of person that would insult my “friends” as a means of “showing my affection”… I know this practice seems to be today’s norm, with a new “Roast Of…” premiering on a regular basis, inflicting physical pain on others being a recurring theme even in “kid’s shows”, and, one that really grinds my gears: prank videos — and the terrifyingly high number of adults creating said videos who are now involved in child abuse/neglect/exploitation lawsuits, all for the “enjoyment” of their subscribers. 

[ side note / random facts: apparently, over five million youtube videos are watched each day. I’ll save you the math and just throw out this number: one trillion eight hundred twenty-five billion — which is a very loose estimate, but is the rough number of views youtube receives in a single year. In 2015, prank videos alone accounted for 17.7 billion of those views. ]

I think the normalization of abusive language, obscene and abrasive behaviour as a show of friendship and/or endearment as well as our desensitization to it, and acceptance of it as appropriate interaction within our society overflows into countless other areas — the doofus that is in charge of running our province, and the other doofus in charge of our neighbouring country are both perfect examples of what happens when we, as a society, laugh off offensive and inappropriate behaviour. In saying that; on a smaller scale, I realize that I have also been desensitized to the level and intensity of sarcasm that I use when I’m feeling threatened, overlooked, unheard, etc. and that those feelings lead me to behave in a way that doesn’t necessarily speak for who I am otherwise. And I have to admit, moments are coming up more and more often that make me wish I could find some way to teach this capacity for self-reflection on a broad scale. Imagine what the world would be like if we could eradicate the concept of ego and, instead, people weren’t as resistant to acknowledging their flaws. When we aren’t feeling self-conscious and defensive of traits that we perceive to be “less appealing”, we are less likely to project that onto the people we interact with — and when the feeling of being “lesser than” no longer exists; the covetous emotions like jealousy, envy, greed, etc. are also quickly disqualified. In my case, I get my knickers in a knot when I believe that someone else is perceiving me as less than. Whether this means not including me in discussion, interrupting me (pet peeve three), brushing off my input, etc, etc. 

It’s ridiculous, right? I get antagonistic because I’m not feeling confident in my position, opinion, physicality, whatever… Then project that onto the people I think are most likely to feel the same way; this weekend, for instance, that included Jo’s mother, the realtor we worked with and even Duderroo, at times. It’s a lot easier to be sharp and terse with others, blanketed under this predetermined (though inaccurate) belief that those people are opposed to you for some reason, than to take a moment to sit back and recognize that the only person responsible for your feelings of inadequacy is you. It takes some serious mindfulness to be able to notice these things in the moment, but I’m trying to at least recognize my trip ups after the fact — like having negative feelings towards Jo’s mom, literally with no cause other than that she gets nearly all of Jo’s focus when she visits and we spend the majority of our days together; so I was jealous. Still had nothing to do with her, but I twisted it around in my mind to look like she was being too demanding, or whatever. Or, when we spent the entire day walking around, getting in and out of cars, etc. and the only person who checked in specifically on my back was the realtor so, irrationally perceiving that my pain levels just “weren’t a priority”, I proceeded to trek up and down as many flights of stairs as possible, it seemed. I wish you could see me rolling my eyes at myself right now. What a cry baby, hey? 

(I also want to add in here that this previous statement is more than likely false; I guarantee that Jo checked in on how I was doing physically on more than one occasion, but there was a lot going on and when I fall back into old tendencies — specifically, dissociating when I sense tension, get overwhelmed, feel anxious, etc. — I almost “black out”, per se, and my memory and awareness of what is happening in the moment gets convoluted. So; I wanted to express what I was feeling at the time to give you an accurate and honest image of my perception of the situation, but also nip any criticism in the bud.)

There was a lot of tension swirled into the super-exciting-but-overwhelming combo of flavours we had going on. Having had a schedule mapped out a couple of weeks in advance (Jo’s doing; no surprise there), we felt reasonably prepared. This plan was kind of unexpectedly kiboshed at the last minute when an exciting part of our day was axed, which was disappointing, to say the least. I’m still trying to figure out how to sum up my thoughts on the delivery of that particular information, but it’s bubbling around in my brain the way an idea does just before the proverbial light bulb illuminates. The elusive Eureka! moment is coming, friends, I can feel it — when it does, you’ll be the first to know.

The new plan supposedly meant that we were going to be able to zip through some houses quickly, break for lunch and be home hours before we’d originally expected, but also meant we were starting the day sooner and, therefore, needed to hit the road a bit earlier. Waking up at six thirty in the morning is really only ideal for one person in our house — me — and even then, I have to be the one choosing to wake up at that time. I used to have a habit of throwing alarm clocks; hence why I no longer have one. The house we had set our sights on ended up accepting an offer a few days before we were due to drive up, which was a bit of a downer, we were quite ahead of our new schedule nearly the entire day, so there was a lot of idle, sit-around-and-wait-for-the-next-one time (though I will say, our realtor took us out for coffee and lunch, which was very generous and left the four of us feeling well taken care of). The first house we walked through was adorable (and, based on photos, our number two pick), but tiny for the four of us; the second house we saw, Jo and I had to walk through alone because the smell of smoke was so overwhelming we didn’t feel comfortable having the young or elderly members of our unit in the house at all. 

The third house, however… Guys. Just wow. The owner is an incredibly talented artist, so her design style, though a bit old-fashioned for my taste, was so warm and welcoming — we walked in and it immediately felt like home. There’s some work to be done; we’ll have to renovate the basement a little bit to add in an extra bedroom, but I’m looking forward to doing that work possibly more than I am to move, period. After some awkward and snippy banter back and forth, a(n adult) tantrum or two, a bit of visualizing and then some carefully strategized persuasion, the four of us came to the conclusion that this little home was a near-perfect fit for us. Jo and I are moderately superstitious, so that’s all of the details I’ll reveal for now as I don’t want to jinx it for us, but my fingers and toes are so crossed for this to have a positive outcome that I’m worried I may not be able to uncross them again. 

In conclusion, the last few days have made me reevaluate my ideas and interpretations of family, if I’m to be honest. Familial relations are these ambiguous concepts that I can no longer comprehend and I don’t know how to build a place for myself within them. I have now been left out of more than one family get together without explanation, the people I had perceived as my “unit”, however spaced out they were, no longer take me into consideration unless they need me to facilitate their contact with Duder, Jo’s family is threatening to evaporate — but, on the other side of the coin, our little unit of three has been steadily fortifying and toughening, the progress in making this relocation happen has helped Duderroo and Jo reestablish their awesome step-parent/kid relationship and overall, the three of us inherently know that our lives are about to get so much better. 

Getting my shit together was the start. Getting my mental health under control allowed me to talk to my ex, inform the other members of my “family”, get myself semi-organized and manage a stressful weekend full of information, emotions, scheduling changes and the like, without having a full-blown meltdown. I’m proud of myself for that and grateful that I didn’t flare up while Jo was also experiencing the same, if not worse, agitation. But part of what I love about becoming more motivated to write for this project, and writing for this blog in general, is that I try to commit to authentically and honestly contemplating my behaviour and actions, because I feel like it helps me become a better person. I love that writing about our four day foray into the world of first-time (for me, anyway) house purchasing also brought my shortcomings into focus as far as my temperament and my approach to uncomfortable situations are concerned. Addressing these flaws and picking them apart, piece by piece, is what helps me identify my triggers retrospectively and recognize the moments when I’m at risk of going off the deep end. Maybe it’s years of therapy coming back to me in the moments I need it most, because this tactic doesn’t feel alien to me, but regardless, I appreciate having the insight, as well as the patience with myself to peel back the layers upon layers of learned self-preservation to just be comfortable with experiencing this life for what it has to offer.

Yowza; before I get caught up in getting philosophical, I’ll wrap this one up. I’m constantly learning about the many ways we, as people, function and relate to each other and how quickly that unity can turn to disconnect, even if only caused by something as subjective as our perception of the situation or the people involved. I, too, am guilty of this — obviously — but refuse to reject my potential for improvement. I think the excuse of “this is just who I am, deal with it” is a cop out; everyone has the capacity to be a good person, so rationalizing and excusing the fact that you’re an asshole only because you’re uninspired to do anything about it is no longer grounds for bad behaviour. The desire to stagnate needs to be made obsolete, not turned into an art form. We must strive to be better, whether or not the people we surround ourselves with are on board — because when you become better, the people who gravitate to you will be better; better friends, better lovers, better coworkers… Better people. End of story.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

— Albert Einstein  

“A brave man is a man who dares to look the Devil in the face and tell him he is a Devil.” 

— James A. Garfield

I’ve been pondering the idea of bravery over the past few days. Consider me, an absent-minded, imaginative individual with what some would refer to as “a lot of free time”, when I tell you that my mental image of bravery involves a handsome knight, a gorgeous horse and maybe a gruesome battle of some sort. I’m not sure what triggers this imagery in my brain, because my definition of bravery extends far beyond myths and fables — don’t even get me started on “damsels in distress” (barf) — but the idea of a mythical quest, or a war of the worlds, or one valiant person (let’s be real — a man, duh; cue exasperated eye roll, in whatever level of severity you prefer), single-handedly preventing the human race from crumbling to ruin is, more often than not, at the forefront of my imagination when I think about being brave.

I recognize heroes every day, unassuming in their “ordinary” bravery. Primarily, and most importantly: I live with and am fortunate enough to love one. Watching Jo don their suit of armour every day is both mesmerizing and disheartening; hypnotizing in the fluidity of it all, like watching the creative process of a virtuosic artist, musician or craftsman. The way they prepare themselves to enter the world is evidently a process that has been practiced, reworked and refined over an extended period of time; to the point where they now use it as an almost impenetrable shield against any potential danger. The fact that this is a defence they have even had to consider perfecting obviously gives me mixed feelings, the most notable being a confusing combination of sadness and rage, but I admire them daily for their courage in simply stepping out the front door. 

I’m sure anybody reading this can immediately come up with a list of every day heroes, whether or not that list includes someone close to them who has their own suit of armour to slip into every day. Fire fighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, veterans, teachers, social workers, police officers, customer service agents — the list goes on and on. And even on levels that may seem “insignificant”; the teenagers helping an elderly woman across the street, or the person who pays it forward in the drive thru line up, the animal service workers who reunite lost pets with their families. Guys, I could keep going for hours. 

I’ve run into a few different situations in the last seven days or so that have required a little self-check, a pep talk or two, and a whole lot of stuffing my hesitation into a box and locking it away — while it snarls and scratches incessantly at the insides of its’ confinement like a wild animal. Meaning, there was a lot that had to happen this week that demanded I put my anxiety and non-confrontational nature aside in order to just get. shit. done. We usually have to find our courage in what appear to be the most harmless situations, it seems. 

I’ve been pretty outspoken about my struggles with ADHD in a few of my past posts here, so it’s fair to say I’m an open book as far as my mental health goes. But, I was pushed to take a good look at how I was doing, and then to write about it all, by an awesome article written by a member of our regional council, Laura Ip, aptly named Mental Health Barriers. She speaks not only about her own struggles with mental illness, but about the struggles of those close to her — which also made me think about the effect mental illnesses have on relationships; specifically, mine and Jo’s. It’s honest, heartfelt, maybe a bit political but still worth the read. 

I have a pretty long standing history with mental illness. I was a happy child, enthusiastic and friendly; I loved spending time with my grandmother, and I was especially passionate about horseback riding. My mother managed to catch onto my cues almost immediately, and I will be forever grateful for her instinct and willingness to listen to her gut. She picked me up from my grandmother’s one morning, to take me to my horseback riding lesson, and I told her I didn’t want to go; not for any particular reason, I just didn’t feel like it. I was seeing a child and youth worker within two weeks, at most. 

I was referred to a counsellor, Dorian, through the Chedoke Child & Family Centre, and developed an incredible relationship with him over the span of two to three years. In that time I struggled with serious episodes of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and ideation, irrational and dangerously impulsive behaviour, etc. etc. as well as the chemical concoction that is depression (as well as undiagnosed ADHD and anxiety — because I wasn’t hyperactive, just terribly, terribly sad). I also saw a psychiatrist at some point and was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and medicated by the time I was ten. Young, maybe — but I was also threatening to kill myself, doing serious physical damage to my body and therapy was not enough to stop me.

There had been a series of months when I was essentially on suicide watch, and meeting with my therapist three or four days per week. My mother came into my bedroom multiple times each night to check on me and make sure I was still breathing. I was discharged from therapy when I was twelve, a year before we relocated from a big city to a tiny green-belt town. Dorian had unfortunately fallen ill unexpectedly, so I had switched to a new therapist by then, Kirsty, and we had made enough progress that she was confident I had the strategies to manage on my own. I suppose I sort of managed on my own, keeping my flirtations with self-harm to a minimum, but acting out and getting in shit in almost every other possible way. High school was a change of pace, I flourished in the music program and had a small group of friends, a job and a decent home life — then in the summer of grade twelve, I got pregnant and, well… That just changes everything.

I have been medicated pretty consistently since that fateful day when I was ten. Over the years I have done many psychological evaluations, had various therapists, been diagnosed, re-diagnosed, used medications that were incredibly helpful, and some that made me feel like I was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” insane. I have a running list of red flags that I make sure to look out for, signals that I may be trying to grapple with some old monsters that have managed to claw their way to the surface. This doesn’t extend to depression alone; my anxiety has its’ own gauge that is separate from my panic attacks, and my ADHD is another beast entirely.

Moving on; in taking the time to reflect on the fallout of the last two and half months — potentially life changing surgical mistakes, dealing with a child who is struggling in school and then falling apart at home, an increase in anxiety and generally untriggered panic attacks, being coerced into making amends with people who did shitty things, yada yada yada — I realized that I’d kind of relegated my mental health to the proverbial back burner. I was spending hours hyper focused on things that were not productive, I was perpetually blue — not upset or sad about anything in particular, just “blah” (if you suffer from depression, you know exactly what I mean) and, more to the point — it was affecting Jo and Joey in ways that weren’t necessarily apparent on the surface. I try and see things from an outside perspective and can’t even imagine what it must be like for Jo to deal with me when my mental state is out of control.

So, I had to get brave, or more aptly put, I had to give myself a kick in the ass. Aside from the sheer inconvenience of my doctor being a 25 minute drive away, I don’t particularly enjoy going in and picking apart every detail of my mental and emotional well being, especially when I’m struggling. To skip through the boring bits, my latest psychological evaluation ended up gifting me with a compiled list of all the scary sounding conditions I already knew I had, but organized in a way that was a little overwhelming: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), ADHD, generalized anxiety, and panic disorder. 

Would you believe I only went in there to get back on my ADHD medication?!

Anyway, to conclude that thought; I’m glad I reached out to my doctor and I’m currently one week into my new medication regimen. The first few nights were an absolute nightmare (if you’ve never heard of Serotonin Syndrome, I hadn’t either, but I’m pretty sure it’s what I experienced and I sincerely hope you never do), but my body seems to be adjusting to it all now and I’ve noticed a pretty significant difference in my productivity and mood. Moral of the story: You know if you need a kick in the ass, so just give it to yourself for f**’s sake. Ask for the help you need. Keep an eye on your mental and emotional well being. Medication may not be for everyone, but there’s no shame in using it if it helps you.

“When your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.”

Jo gently reminds me on a semi-regular basis that I have an inclination toward revisiting and focusing on my past. They are a forward thinker, always planning for the future, not fixated on any negative aspect of the past other than the lessons they learned so they don’t have to do it all again — and even have their own list of warning signs to add an extra level of protection and avoid being blindsided. I glamourize my past in a lot of ways; I look back on even my most traumatic experiences with a sort of fondness that may seem a little sadistic from the outside. I am an open book about my many past ordeals with the genuine intention of providing insight and helping people, but can’t reject the possibility that I enjoy the opportunity to revisit them in a weird, maybe perverse, way. I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’ve been labelled as a masochist on more than one occasion. 

That being said; there are some parts of my past that I, for various reasons, recognize are not worth the tenderness. The way the cookie has crumbled, though, means that I regularly find myself face-to-face with a past that comes back to “haunt” me; one of my “ghosts”, if you will. So, to quickly relate back to the theme of this post (before my aforementioned ADHD took off and ran with my brain, S.O.S), bravery; do you consider it brave when you have to face the things, people or events that have damaged you? Does it take courage to be in the same room as a person that indisputably changed you? 

I had to have a meeting, of sorts, with my ex this week. I know most people who don’t have children would probably heave at the notion of being in the same room with any number of their exes, but, for the most part, Duder’s dad and I have managed to get along over the five or six years we’ve been separated. There have obviously been blips on the radar, but, to his credit, he has evolved from the manipulative, angry, aggressive person that I left, years too late, into a somewhat responsible, relatively impassive person that is beginning to really prioritize the wellbeing of his kid. 

I still have flashbacks of explosive fights with this person, of the gaslighting and the manipulation. He’s not the same person now, but that doesn’t mean the trauma he caused doesn’t flare up on occasion. This is why I ask about bravery. Is is brave for someone who has undergone trauma to face their triggers head on, or is it just stupid to put themselves in that situation? I don’t really have a choice, and I find a strange sense of comfort in that. That doesn’t mean I look forward to sitting my ex down, looking him in eye and telling him something that I know has a startlingly high chance of pissing him the f** off. Is there a clothing store that sells big girl pants? Because I’d like a back up pair.

To keep it succinct, it went surprisingly well. We talked like adults, I got what I went for, and finally got a sense of what confidence feels like. Maybe it’s my new medication and the fact that I’m taking an honest look at my demons; maybe it’s because we can finally make our announcement and the tension of taking the steps to get to this point has finally disappeared; it could be that Duder is starting to talk to us, he and Jo are finding their footing with each other again, slowly, and our life is starting to feel normal — maybe it was normal this whole time and I just haven’t seen it. Regardless, change is coming and it feels good. I’ve never been one to be scared of change, I love that it gives my brain something new to chew over, but I know that the process of things evolving into something new can be daunting, despite even a guarantee of a positive outcome. 

I think bravery, courage… it’s all subjective. What is scary to some may not be to others, and acknowledging the effort it takes someone to overcome their obstacles, regardless of how straightforward it may seem to you, could be motivation, at least, to continue overcoming, continue persevering, growing, evolving — and to keep pushing the limits of what can and cannot be done. This will look different for everyone and the levels of what our fears and reservations are will vary. This doesn’t make the little victories we achieve, every single day, any less significant. It could just be meeting your ex for coffee and signing a parenting plan — if it scared you and you did it anyway, it deserves to be celebrated.

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” 

—Henry Ford

To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.

– Criss Jami

Jo has written about boundaries before, and I think it’s so cool that since there are two of us writing posts for this blog, you often get two different perspectives (though not necessarily different opinions) on a variety of subjects. We share similar moral values and our opinions are generally the same, but aside from the obvious differences (age, upbringing, hometown, etc) we also have each had our own myriad of life experiences that have given us our views on things now. Boundaries are something we’ve spoken about at lengths, even before we started this blog because, well, frankly — I didn’t have any. Boundaries are generally described as brick walls or barbed wire fences, almost impenetrable save for a certain special someone / something, if they have the will, curiosity and charm behind them to climb the wall, or cut a hole in the fence. My boundaries fall more into the “badly made sandcastle moat” category; you dig for a while and try to carve out a line (or body of water) to separate you from the rest of the world, with the aim of allowing a very select few into your castle, only when you feel like lowering the bridge.

But then something happens; the tide rolls in. You get excited because your moat is full of water! Nobody can get through to you unless you let them in! You’ve created this boundary and the idea seems solid and it feels so good; you’re determined to share yourself and your castle (think of your castle however you please — your body, your time, your heart) only with the people you selectively pick, the people who are worthy. 

Your boundary holds for a while. You have to fill up the moat occasionally as the water sinks into the sand, but a bucket at a time isn’t a big deal. You can refill that bucket every 15 minutes or so, no problem. 

But the sand underneath starts to soften. The water seeps in so deep that it turns that solid sand moat wall into a wet, soft, muddy pile. You don’t notice at first, you can’t see it happening, but eventually, the sides of your moat start to droop, and chunks of sand begin to fall off the walls and into the water and before you know it your moat is dry, and you see there’s a path leading straight to your castle’s front door. Do you start digging and refill your moat? Do you come up with a different plan? Do you give up?

My moat was never full. It didn’t matter how often I went and refilled my bucket, the minute I came back, the water was already soaking into the sand. This is how my boundaries worked. I would (shakily) develop one and tell myself that no one was going to cross it unless they were worthy of my time, effort, space, heart. The problem was, few of the people I had to instate these boundaries with, were worth it, and, regardless, my determination to following through on those boundaries was non-existent. These boundaries were flexible, unsupported and, worst of all, up for discussion. I have been trying to change that. 

I had a lot of my boundaries challenged this weekend, my buttons pushed. It was Broseidon’s 8th birthday party on Sunday and I’d been anxious about it for about a week. His party was priced a little high, but it was exactly what he wanted to do and had been trying to plan it on his own (to the best of his ability) for about a month. We invited his group of 10 friends (have I mentioned I have a really hard time being around children?), my mother and his grandparents from my ex’s side. His dad was away this week, so wasn’t around, and we thought it would be nice to have J-dog’s grandparents there, even if only to represent that side. I have had my fair share of quarrels with this family (as have most separated parents, I imagine) but for the most part, we get along pretty well. Things are amicable as long as I don’t rock the boat, which I don’t like to do anyway, and they are relatively decent towards Jo. 

Where do you draw the line on boundaries with your ex-family (if you have one)? My mother and step-father often had my dad over for dinner when I was younger — an unusual occurrence, I know — so I had a bit of a unique view of what blended families could look like. It was baffling to me that people had separated parents who didn’t get along. I found out as I got older that it turns out my mom and dad were just much better friends than partners, but being able to have the three of them under one roof was both awesome and confusing. 

I don’t necessarily want this for Duder. His father and I made an effort for a little while to try and take him out, the three of us, to do something fun on occasion after his dad and I split up. I wanted to teach him that adults could be amicable regardless of the situation, and that his dad and I both loved him endlessly and even if we weren’t in love with each other any more, we could still be civil enough to do things with him that he enjoyed. Granted, I think his dad and I were both also incredibly lonely and bored at the time, but our intentions in the end were nothing but good. These were organized, civilized outings that were planned in advance; and if I got the slightest impression things may go south, I cancelled.

So how do you feel when people insist on taking more than you’re offering? Duder’s birthday party was our day to celebrate him and give him a couple of hours outside of school to really hang out with his pals; he also had a birthday dinner planned on the day with some family (and friends that had been like family) that kind of decided, very quickly, that they had no interest in me — so, for his sake, we gave up keeping him home for his birthday Monday night, sent him off to a “family” dinner that didn’t include his mother or step parent; so the Sunday party was all we got. He ended up having a lot of fun, but the day and the decisions made by the adults in his life turned it into a very stressful endeavour, for him especially.

I am generally the “stop by any time!” type of friend. If I have a space in my heart for you (which I almost always do), my door is open to you 24/7. Need a couch to sleep on? We’ve got two pull outs. Need to vent about something? Call or come over, I’ll be here. If it’s something as simple as you not having had a home-cooked meal in two weeks — I’ve got you covered. I love taking care of the people I care about, but there is a very fine line you have to cross to get into the “stop by any time” group of folks. 

When people invade my space, I don’t know what to do. Don’t get me wrong — anybody who aggressively and violently invades my space gets a few choice words and a swift smackaroo, if that doesn’t work, but with people I have to deal with regularly, people I love, people I respect; I’m an absolute disaster when it comes to standing up for myself and saying no. Physical boundaries (people helping themselves into my house when I haven’t asked them to come in, for example) are the worst for me to enforce. Emotional and mental ones (dropping news on me, or asking me to have major conversations without any time to plan), are a close second. I’m getting better at saying “no, I can’t talk about this right now”, while “no, you can’t be here, you need to leave” still feels alien to me. When I invite you somewhere, I expect you to show up — unless you’ve asked, like a considerate human being, if I would be comfortable with extra guests. Especially on special days. 

So, when my son spends his birthday party worrying about his infant family member getting hurt by his growth-spurting friends, there’s a problem. Especially when it happens. When it didn’t have to. Because this young child (that I have absolutely 0 problem with, believe me, he’s an adorable little guy and Duder adores him) was brought to an event by parents who invited themselves (this is an exaggeration — they were told they were invited and didn’t question it, or confirm) there was no preparation, and it put a lot of people in super uncomfortable positions. Including the little guy! He got (mildly) hurt!

I have had to consider my boundaries a lot more now. When it was just Broski and I, things were different — people still didn’t respect me or my decisions as his mother, but didn’t exactly question things either. I almost felt like I didn’t need to have them because the second anything  or anyone threatened to do harm to him, I knew I could turn into a mama bear in a heartbeat. Little did I know, the boundaries weren’t so much for him as they were for me, and I accepted a shit ton of bad behaviour as a result of not having them. As I’m discovering how to create them for myself, I am trying, with tons of help and guidance from Jo, to encourage him to create his own, while he’s young and has the bold attitude to do so with conviction — he has had great conversations with his school-age friends about being uncomfortable with them touching his bum, for example, and now they don’t. It’s incredible to watch. 

So for me, being someone in a pretty openly queer relationship (I don’t mean we have an open relationship, but we are both openly gay / queer) as well as the only one in our partnership that conforms to society’s standards of what female-bodied people “should” look like, I have to throw a lot of dark glances at people who sometimes aren’t kind in the way they look at / mumble about Jo. I sometimes play bodyguard in the women’s washroom (see The Bathroom Mirror). I corrected 7 and 8 year old kids on their pronouns. I was also willing to witness the start of WW3, and battle to the death (not really) if anything even slightly derogatory or offensive was directed at them, and I can say that with confidence now. 

Do you have a harder time maintaining your boundaries or holding your ground with those close to you, or total strangers? I have been conditioned and trained to be overly assertive in my boundaries with strangers, especially, unfortunately, cisgender, heterosexual men. You know the ones — 

I did a self-defence course in high school specifically geared towards young women. We did a variety of exercises, from mixed martial arts to simple holds, and got a lot of really awesome knowledge and experience from a man whose only goal was to teach us to protect ourselves. At the beginning of the course, he stood at the front of the room and told us the main reason most women who get hurt, get abducted, get mugged, etc. don’t make it — we’re scared as HELL to hurt people!! It’s literally wired into us. We have to specifically train our brains to use force and do damage when we’re in danger (specifically at the hands of another person) because if we don’t, our natural instinct is to nurture and prevent pain. I remember thinking to myself, “If this guy thinks I’m gonna sit there like a dead fish when somebody’s trying to haul me off into the back of their van, he’s got a whole other thing coming.” But when we did our final exercise — they staged an “abduction” where you would get pulled into a cube van and had 3 minutes (I believe, this was a long time ago) to do whatever it took to get out; biting, scratching, kicking, punching, you name it — only 3 of us made it out “alive”, because we were the only ones willing to actually hurt our “attacker” (instructor) in order to survive. 

Note: This program was obviously all carried out with our consent / the consent of our parents, and really an AMAZING experience that I learned a lot from. It’s designed to teach us to be more assertive in our self defence as women in order to protect us in any potentially dangerous situations — and something that way more teen girls need to see. 

I wasn’t friends with my instructor. We spent some time together, he taught our little group of 8 things that I will carry for a long time and that may save my life someday if I ever need it (hopefully not!). But I wasn’t worried about my boundaries with him. Yes, he helped develop some specific ones: don’t ever let somebody you don’t know get close enough to grab you, don’t let someone keep you quiet if you’re in danger, don’t ever be afraid to hurt someone if their sole intention is to hurt you, if someone tries to grab your purse, throw it to them and run as fast and as far as you can in the opposite direction. Well — I’d like to let me partner touch me, or grab me, so when is too much… is there too much? What about if I’m not in danger, but somebody is trying to keep me quiet, even if that just means not allowing me to speak my truth when I’m with them? What if someone’s sole intention is to hurt me, but it won’t damage me physically? What if what they’re taking from me isn’t in my purse — what if it’s my love, patience, generosity, time? I’m not going to bite and kick and scream at my ex’s family when they cross the line, or when Jo maybe says something that hits me in a sensitive spot; so what do you do when it’s your friend, sibling, parent, partner? 

Like I said, I, admittedly, am terrible at standing up for myself to the people I hold close to my heart. I attribute this to low self-worth (emotional view of self), which is something that’s slowly improving now that I don’t struggle as much with low self-esteem (physical view of self). I’ve let a lot of people, who were not ever supposed to, treat me badly. I’ve been in abusive friendships, relationships, partnerships and have let those continue for far longer than they should have. People who said they loved me. People who let me continue loving them in the way that I do; wholly, endlessly and without expectations, while having expectations of how that should feel, how I should express it, or how deeply I should immerse myself into it — with no consideration of how it feels to simply be tossed aside when someone has gotten all the benefit they can from you. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it, day-by-day; how to heal from the people who have hurt me, how to stand my ground so it doesn’t happen again — and I’ve been practicing by taking a stronger position for the people that I love, regardless of whether or not they return the favour. Jo and I are each others’ biggest and loudest cheerleaders, and even we have had moments where each of us felt like they could have been more present for the other. 

So I’ll end this with a vulnerable story, because sharing my mistakes may help someone else avoid a similar situation and this particular occurrence had a huge effect on Jo and I as a couple, as well as on my views of who my “friends” were and whether or not they were people I wanted to be calling my friends to begin with. 

I had a super close friend, we’ll call them K. K and I had a pretty complex history — I was kind of crazy about them for 2 years — but for the most part we were beer drinking, cigarette smoking, stayin’ up late kind of buddies; we got together a few times each week, even after I left the job we both worked at, and I thought the world of them for a long time. They are an incredibly, incredibly intelligent person with a world of experience, wisdom and a shit ton to offer, but it would be like speaking with the Dalai Lama and finding out that, even with all of his wisdom, knowledge and experience, he’s a member of the KKK, or supports a Nazi agenda. How? How can you be an intelligent and thoughtful individual, but still have such close-minded, misogynistic, racist, supremacist views? This was a thought that came to mind more and more often with K as we neared the end of our friendship and, one evening, they finally showed their true colours. This is going to be extremely hard for me to write about, so please be gentle with me.

I invited K over to the apartment soon after we moved in. They and Jo had met once already, I had been super excited for them to get to know each other because, of course, I loved them both dearly and would have loved to have had another pal we both enjoyed spending time with (K being an alcoholic and Jo being pretty much sober by then, seriously I don’t know what I was thinking). K brought a few cans of beer to share, forgetting that both Jo and I are sensitive to wheat, so then proceeded to polish them off of their own. Not a big deal, maybe a little inconsiderate, but fine, right?

Now, remember the boundaries we’ve been chatting about. Because K and I were very close, spent a lot of time together, and discussed some pretty heavy shit, we would inevitably disagree. Usually, we’d cheers to our difference of opinion, and move on. The only thing we could not talk about, though, no matter how many times it came up in discussion, was politics. K is a Rob Ford boosting, Stephen Harper worshipping, Conservative. Where I generally vote for the candidate I think will do the most effective job over the party they lead, based on principle alone I lean more towards the ideals of the Liberal party. I boast an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude most of the time, and believe things should be equal and that we just need to be decent f-ing human beings. I support the forward thinkers in their legalization of cannabis, our attempts to end the stigma around mental illness and our acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities, gender neutral washrooms and the like (for obvious reasons).

K sat up and wanted to tell us all about the “great” things Rob Ford was going to do for Ontario when I got the feeling that things were about to go downhill, really fast. Reversing the plan of allowing “do not wish to disclose” and “unknown” options for Trans and GNC people on medical and official documents was one of said great things. Eliminating any possibility of public gender neutral washrooms was another. We didn’t even touch on his plan for schools, healthcare, sex-ed — K wanted to get right to the stuff that would hit a nerve, because that’s just who they are. Before I even really had a minute to figure out what was going on, K had moved into pronouns and how pointless and idiotic they thought picking your pronouns was, and…

I said nothing. 

This is where I feel vulnerable, though. I just told you that I would’ve gone to war for Jo this past weekend, but that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t always feel like I could, like I was strong / brave / big / bold enough. So I let them down, hard — and they let me know, in front of K. Embarrassing, sure, but nothing compared to the dissociation that comes with being an agender person, being constantly misgendered, or having their gender choices / preferences / identifications ridiculed by someone that I had spoken so highly of. They trusted me and my judgement of K and thus, welcomed them into our home without much question — and was, essentially, shit on. I asked K to leave, noting that things had started to feel a little tense and awkward (still such a pushover, eh?) and let them leave without really saying what I thought I should have, but couldn’t find words for until later on.

Jo and I had a long, very difficult discussion about where I fell flat and what I could have said, and I obsessed about my mistakes and what I should have done differently for days. In the spirit of being vulnerable, I will be honest and tell you that I kept in touch with K for a while after that. I think we went for coffee once and I tried to explain to them what had happened, that they’d obviously hit a soft spot and probably shouldn’t speak about gender or sexual identification / orientation if they were going to continue to be in my life, and even then, my dear readers; I look back on it now and see that even that hadn’t been enough. It wasn’t about soft spots, or opinions, or language — their morals and perspectives are so. completely. different. from mine and I was discovering that that difference, unfortunately, wasn’t something I could ignore. I could dive deeper into it and talk about the fundamentals of human rights and how that includes people of all races, denominations, genders, identities, ages, abilities etc etc etc, but I trust that you, dear readers, are good people, and we agree on these things — I still think K is a good person, but their good is exclusive and I needed friends that were inclusive; not only of my partner but of my child, my lifestyle and the fact that we are a queer as f*ck family. 

I deleted K’s number the last time we were in Stratford. Actually, I went through a deleted a lot of people’s numbers. If I hadn’t talked to them in 3 months, they were gone (with a few exceptions). It didn’t feel “good”, perse, because they were a reliable friend and I’d hoped we’d be able to stay that way, but boundaries are something I’m trying to work on, and one of them is treating my family and I with respect. If you can’t manage that — you don’t get to see my castle. 

Perhaps, the problem is not the intensity of your love, but the quality of the people you are loving.” 

– Warsan Shire

This was a long one, guys — thanks for sticking through it with me.

— Aisha