Trigger warnings: drug use, sexual assault, take this advice with a grain of salt
Also want to note: comments on how this isn't an ok way to deal with my problems and I should meditate or go jogging instead or whatever are absolutely unwelcome unless you personally were one of the people helping me manage this situation. Thanks!
I learned something really important last week.
It was not a tidy revelation, by any means. I learned it while I was staring at my reflection in a mirror over a dirty sink, pupils so wide I thought maybe I could fall into them. People always compliment my eyes but I don't think when they say "I could lose myself in them" they mean "they're like an endless void oh god how did I get here how do I get back". That's ok, though.
Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.
I am a terrible navel gazer. Not that I'm terrible at it. On the contrary, I'm very, very good at it. I reflect on myself and my behaviour and my trauma and my coping mechanisms. For a very long time now I thought that was one of the better things about myself, that I engage in constant self-critique and try hard to be open to others critique, taking it all in and weaving it into my understanding of myself and how I move through the world. And I do think it's valuable. Where others can process data with lightning speed, I process feelings, mine and the millions of possibilities of other peoples. It's led me to have a lot of compassion, patience, empathy, and a strong desire to help.
I'm beginning to realize that this fixation on self-analysis can also end up being my fashionable new method of cutting myself.
I take ownership the way other people take drugs. It's compulsive. Sometimes it's really healthy and it's a great way to uncover things about myself or unravel bad habits. But other times, it ends up being a way that I can anxiously pick at my self confidence the way I sometimes pick at my skin, leaving me afraid that every step is a misstep, that I'm on some competitive cultural ballroom floor and I'm tripping over my own feet, praying no one notices and that I don't fall on my face. The tension must show on my face, because all the other dancers on the floor keep giving me wider and wider berth. Failure is inevitable, and dreaded.
I was straight edge for my entire teenage life and pretty much so into my early twenties. Not for political reasons, but because I had been told for a long time that I was crazy, and crazy people should never, ever do drugs and risk losing control. The first time I was given shrooms, the guy who offered them to me, someone I trusted, someone the community I was with trusted, tried to get me into the back of his van for sex while I was high as a kite. Thankfully, some corner of my brain had my self-preservation intact, and I shrugged him off to roll around in the beach sand giggling for a couple of hours instead. Like many things happening at that time in my life, I just chalked it up to men "just being opportunistic" or "misread signals" and didn't think much else of it. Boundaries, as far as I could tell from many of my experiences in the kink scene, were meant to be tested, and men more often than not pushed them with the belief that if they went too far they could just apologize later and you'd have to be ok with that. The best way to protect against having those boundaries crossed was to be self-assessing, all the time. Don't lose control. Don't drop one spinning plate.
I enjoyed doing substances, and still do, but I would rarely lose myself in the moment to them. At any given moment I was able to sober up and take care of business, and so even when I was "having fun" I was on alert, just in case. It was a survival strategy that served me (and others) incredibly well. I didn't do things on drugs that I would regret sober. I was able to make sure people got on the right public transit. I could deal with the cops. I lauded myself for being responsible even when partying and didn't think too deeply about it.
When I did think about it, I pulled wariness around me like a thick winter coat, hoping it would protect me from male entitlement, from the world’s brutality, from the sting of people’s insults. The coat got larger and larger, until I felt smothered by it, so small inside.
When I go on vacation, I bring work with me. I don't know how to stop working. If it's not traditional work from a boss, I'm writing, or structuring future pieces I plan to write. If it's not that, I'm offering emotional support or advice to people who are struggling on a variety of topics. If it's not that, I'm trying to be patient educating people on Facebook or Twitter when they need calling in/out. I take joy in my work. I joke it's my primary relationship.
Sometimes it's difficult for me to remember to have boundaries with my primary.
I was asked what I wanted to do for fun, and I just looked blankly at him. I realized that I don't know how to have fun anymore. I've channeled a lot of my energy into the hustle, because writing is barely paying the bills and not being able to afford food is always nipping at my heels. So work has to be fun, because if it isn't, I have to look up from the keyboard and realize how little space is left over in my life to breathe and relax and enjoy myself. Even at parties I am often called upon to do emotional labour. I just rarely go to parties anymore. I might as well get paid for the work I'm doing, because money is some tangible form of recognition.
CAPITALISM IS FUN BUYING THINGS IS FUN WORK IS FUN
I took a moment, and I really looked at myself in the mirror, my hair a bit wild, my pupils dilated. You're always told not to do that on drugs, that it'll destabilize you or upset you or something. For me, it was grounding. I saw that my cheeks still had tear stains on them. My lips were a bit swollen from being bitten. My clothes were a bit rumpled. I hadn't worn makeup for days. I was kind of a mess.
I looked hard into my soul and saw that I would have a hell of a lot of time to think about accountability and hurt and trauma and responsible action plans. That in this exact moment, "doing the work" was not actually serving me. That I was taking far more than my share of the burden of the emotional labour, and that it was ok to put that burden down for a while.
I have never been one for escapism, always diving deeper into the places where it hurts or is tense rather than running away. I thought that was part of being an adult, staring your issues in the face, dealing with things head on. The problem with that is, there is always something else. And you never get a break from it. It drowns you in self-help buzzwords until you are absolutely certain that emotionally flaying yourself raw is actually super healthy.
I have a thing for Victorian medicine. One of the things that amazed me as I read more about the history of the medical industry of the time was that many Victorians were vehemently anti anesthesia because pain was from God, and to relieve pain was to defy God. Even though people had shown that with the use of nitrous oxide or ether, pain could be (relatively) safely relieved during surgery (meaning at the very least less flailing and distress of the patient) it was considered anathema.
I kind of wonder if I have a similar distrust. Like, I'm glad I don't automatically reach for the numbing agent, but it's ok, sometimes, to say "you know... I'm going to deal with this tomorrow." It was only through disassociation from my self and my grief that I was able to step back and put pieces together and begin to make a plan forward. By being outside of myself, I saw who I was, the beginning tendrils of the boundaries I needed. I saw where I began and ended without anyone else.
I had forgotten.
I'm writing this because I bet some of you out there have this feeling too, that the tireless fight is grim but necessary. While yes, I think it's possible to get carried away in escapism (obviously!) and yes, of course, you still have to be responsible about how you go about your escapism to make sure it doesn't become a habit... it's also ok to take a break sometimes. I'm telling you this as much as I'm reminding myself of this. And it might not be a substance for you. It might be lying in bed eating ice cream and watching cartoons. It might be having casual sex. It might be going to an animal shelter and petting animals for hours. It's ok. You're ok.
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