Static Evolution

A friend of mine back in Portland is a marriage and relationship counselor and he wrote an article the other day which has been itching my brain something awful.

In it, he postulates that one of the most profound factors in limiting a person’s ability to change who they are and evolve into something better comes not only from our innate ability to self-sabotage said efforts, but also from the external resistance we get from even those people who mean the most to us.

Editorial Note: Rather than further paraphrase what he said, I’ve included a link to his blog here for your edification: The Loneliness of Change

It’s beyond cliche at this point to acknowledge that change of any sort is hard.

We spend our childhoods learning how to contort ourselves into one form after another to appease our parents, teachers, friends, and those who reinforce such spiritual gymnastics under the edict of growing up. And then when we get finally get there, there seems to be a presumption that whoever you are by the time you actually reach adulthood, that’s as far as you go.

For the privileged few, I imagine that’s not that big a deal because they reach a point where they can establish relationships and form the kind of support system which yields little to no resistance to their continued evolution.

Not all of us are so lucky, I promise.

In the course of my life, I’ve realized the need to become something better than I currently was either physically, intellectually, socially or emotionally more times than I can count. My internal dialog has been a constant back-and-forth about what I can do to get myself out of this ongoing stasis I feel like I’ve been trapped in since I was barely a teenager.

Trying to achieve this is hard enough when there’s a constant voice in your head telling you that such things are impossible and not worth the expenditure of time and energy. It’s even worse when your attempts to push through that resistance is met by the passive-aggressive skepticism and indifference of those around you.

That’s the part I genuinely don’t get. If you have someone who at the point where the ability to evolve isn’t just required, it’s essential to their long-term happiness and future, why in the name of common sense would anyone want to hamstring them so they can’t achieve that goal?

Why? Because that means they’ll become someone different and to a lot of us that’s just not kosher.

Editorial Note: Now lest you think I’m getting all holier-than-thou about this, I’ll be the first to admit that looking back, I’ve done more than my share to hinder the growth and evolution of the people I hold closest to me for much the same reason. I was content with them as they were and it maintained my emotional attachment with them to keep things static. That was a grave mistake on my part which I regret deeply and I’d like to think I’ve learned enough about how dangerous a practice that is to no undermine their efforts anymore.

I like to think that I have enough people in my life who recognized that I’ve been put in situations which called for me to make decisions they might not agree with or even like. Some of them were due to my own actions or inactions. Others were the cause of actions and inactions of someone else. Each instance, regardless of the source, left me with the same overriding question.

Where do I go from here and how can I make my life better?

And it’s beyond frustrating to make choices that are met with silence, skepticism, indifference or even some form of indignation for my daring to not be the same ol’ me, whether it comes to where I live, how I live, what I do for a living or the things I’m passionate about.

Case in point – I recently managed to get back to work on the second draft of my novel and I figured that I’m about ten chapters into the rewrite, I should see if it’s any good, at least, so I can have some idea on if I can keep going or if I ought to scrap it and start all over. I put out a call across my social network for anyone who might be able to help give it a look-over and got all of four responses. Four.

Now I know that the way social media algorithms and newsfeeds work, there’s a high probability that not everyone saw it and not everyone’s going to be able to pitch in. But in my mind, the complete absence of interest tells me something altogether different.

You suck as a writer, just like you suck at everything else.

It was a similar feeling I got when I started seeing my therapist and trying to get grip on the Depression and PTSD I was told I had after going through two separate batteries of tests a few years ago.

Undertaking therapy after being diagnosed with mental illness is bad enough on its own, given the mind’s ability to rebel against itself, and it only gets compounded by comments and questions which imply that I’m either making it up, I’m exaggerating it for dramatic effect in exchange for sympathy, or I’m somehow stupid enough to take someone in an educated medical capacity at their word after they looked me over and said something to the effect of, “You’re in bad shape, pal.”

Which ultimately begs the question, Is my need to reach a point where I can be both healthy and happy, rather than constantly miserable and isolated, such a bad thing for you?

That’s not rhetorical either, because in order for me to get there, it’s probably going to involve me doing some things that not everyone’s going to like.

I need to know so I can figure out just what version of me everyone wants me to be.

Life 3.0 – Retirement

In some ways, I suppose it’s a bit surreal to think I’ve been in retirement for five years now.

On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like it’s been remotely that long, while on the other, I guess the question could be asked of how I could manage to make it through one year without any interest in finding a new relationship, let alone almost half a decade.

If I’m honest, there’ve been days that it was way easier than it should have been and others that were absolutely brutal. I suspect it’s a similar experience for addicts of one substance or another. Sometimes the wagon ride is smooth and manageable. Others, it takes every ounce of willpower you have not to jump as far off of it as you can.

When I made my last trip to Portland before setting out on Life 3.0, an acquaintance of mine came up to me during my going away party and said what she wanted was for me to find someone to start dating as soon as I got back to New England. What I tried to tell her in response, despite her inebriated state, was that such an idea both was and remains the absolute least interesting thing I want to engage in.

The decision to stop pursuing relationships and finding someone to be romantically attached to was born out of equal parts self-preservation and having gone through the single most painful experience of my life.

From start to finish, 2011 was the hardest year I’ve ever been through and considering some of the other doozies I’ve had, that’s saying something. The culmination of it being an emotional 1-2 punch combination that first broke me…and then utterly destroyed me. I wish that wasn’t the case, but there simply isn’t any other way to put it.

Editorial Note: I want to be very clear on one thing about this period of time. I was an emotional mess on multiple levels and that did not help things one bit. I did a lot of things I regret even now and I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting that entire year trying to figure out if things could’ve ended up any differently had I been more stable. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for not being the better person who could’ve kept that relationship together falls on me and I have to live with that.

Now I suppose that I, like the average person, is expected to do the ol’ Bootstrap-Dust Off-Get Back Out There maneuver to prove that I can find someone else and be happy just like the average person is supposed to do.

Except I’m not the average person. I wish I was on a level I can hardly describe, but for whatever reason, I’m just not.

I know I’m not because, in the immediate fallout of 2011, it became clear that whatever part of me that had wanted so much to find someone who could love me and whom I could love in return had become irreparably broken. And considering how much my whole life had been centered around satisfying that side of me through both my adolescence and early adulthood, to suddenly find it essentially dead was a shock onto itself.

Some of my friends who were aware what had happened agreed at the time that maybe it was best that I step back from trying to find a new relationship. A lot of people gave me the standard-issue Learn to love yourself first and someone will come along when you least expect it advice and I know they meant well and were coming from a place where they wanted to see me be happy, but as is often the case, it’s not that simple.

Contrary to popular belief, relationships fail for one of two basic reasons. Either you do something the other person doesn’t like, or they do something you don’t like, and the dynamic becomes irreconcilable. The longer the relationship goes, the more opportunity there is for the rationale to change as the dynamic changes, but it still goes back to those two factors.

By the time I got through 2011 and into 2012, the conclusion I came to as to why I wasn’t able to make the relationship I wanted work was because of one simple and inescapable reality. I’m me and that just ain’t good enough.

That was a rather harsh pill to have to swallow, but swallow it I did, because I’d had to wade through a massive amount of evidence which only reinforced the point. There were too many things wrong with me to be considered worth the investment of a relationship, no matter what I felt or how much I was willing to put myself through whatever it took to make it work.

In the end, I found, being in love with someone wasn’t enough….so I had to figure out how to get by without it.

Editorial Note: I know that sounds awfully self-deprecating and I guess it is, but if you’ll permit yourself to consider my side of the equation, when I’m surrounded by seemingly happy couples and people who have managed to attach themselves to someone who makes them feel genuine happiness, the constant thought running through my head is that I simply lack the means by which to generate that same level of feeling or attraction for whatever reason. It may be one or a hundred things to justify my inability to create that for myself, but the bottom line is that whatever it is, it’s a big enough deficit to make it plain to the people I’ve been interested in that their hopes for a better life are far better served with someone else.

Like I said, some days have been surprisingly easy and some have been unnecessarily brutal, but I manage to get through them. The thing which most surprises me is the complete absence of interest I feel in even approaching women I happen to find attractive. That’s not to suggest I was ever one to do so in the first place given how socially awkward I’ve always been, but in my younger days, I could at least manage enough courage to be personable and not presume that a conversation would immediately lead to sex and a long-term relationship.

I’m currently living in a city of close to a half-million people and at least half are female. In the two months since I’ve come back, I can safely say I have had no interest at all in a single one. None, because time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. They may become familiar enough that you can will yourself through each day in spite of them, but that doesn’t mean they ever really go away.

On days like today, it doesn’t take much for me to feel the same degree of hurt I did five years ago. I spent four hours walking around town trying to ignore it, but that proved to be a pointless venture. When a person is shattered like that, you have to find a way to put yourself back together and so you do, but in doing so, you’re also forced to recognize that you’re never the same person as you were before.

You feel the cracks, the soft spots, the places where you know it wouldn’t take much more than a gentle push and you’ll come apart all over again. Even worse is the realization that letting go of everything you feel is going to hurt so much more than how you feel by hanging onto it. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but when you care about someone enough to let those emotional hooks sink into you, having to pull them back out is absolute torture.

My mother always loved to lecture me about how I can’t go back and change things, and I know she’s right, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find myself wishing I could find a way to make it happen. Because I do. All the time. There’s not a week where I’m not thinking about what I could’ve done or could’ve avoided, how I didn’t see things getting to the breaking point and not have the common sense to do something about it in the moment.

I think a lot about the why. Why did it have to be that way and why wasn’t I able to handle it better?

I know I’ll be asking myself those questions until the day I die, trying to learn something from all of it that I didn’t already know. There’s nothing I can do about that because I can’t go back and change history. I can’t go back to 2011 and turn a no into a yes.

Times end, because they have to. Because there’s no such thing as happy ever after. It’s just a lie we tell ourselves because the truth is so hard.

I realized five years ago that my time searching for happy endings was over. All I can do now is just keep moving forward, even if it’s on my own.

Cold Snap

It’s safe to say that when I started on this crazy idea called Life 3.0, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find myself in a situation like this.

The plan was rather simple. Get across the country, spend a little time getting reacquainted with family, lock in a job, find a place to live and carry on carrying on as I always have. Nothing overly complicated about that, I thought.

The fatal flaw in the plan, as it turned out, was in thinking that my family had changed at all in the three decades I’ve been gone from this part of the world.

In that regard, I forgot the cardinal rule of my clan: Blood isn’t thicker than money.

I was coming back to my cousin’s house a week ago. It was dark and cold, out in their part of the world, the incandescent light bulb is apparently too modern of a convenience to be considered useful. Pulling into the driveway of a perfectly dry and clear road, I had no way of finding out it had become a solid sheet of ice until I hit my brakes and they didn’t work, causing me to slide into the side of her new car and putting a considerable scrape in one of the doors.

Needless to say, I was in quite a panic about it and raced into the house to tell her what happened. In the twenty years I’ve been driving a car, I’ve never been in an accident where I was behind the wheel at the moment of impact and the absolute last thing I wanted was to get into one now.

While she understood it was a legitimate accident that I genuinely felt terrible about, her husband (either her fourth or fifth, I’ve honestly lost count at this point) went into his “Colossal Prick” mode and demanded I get out of the house immediately and never come back.

Before I go any further, allow me to explain that this guy is a lot like my first stepfather, whom I spent most of my life hating with an intensity often reserved for most stars in the waning hours before they achieve full supernova. From the moment I got back to this side of the world, he was so sure he had me figured out because he’d spent most of his miserable life as a corrections officer, which I guess brings with it the ability to size up a person instantly and with unfailing accuracy.

Editorial Note: Having the unfortunate perk of spending a bit of time around other corrections officers during The Great Unpleasantness, this isn’t all that uncommon of a trait along with the standard-issue power-tripping, bullying and demand that everything they say be treated as absolute law. Realy nice, civilized people, they are.

According to the Screw, my whole goal was to do nothing but put my feet up in their house and get myself to a point where I was able to start getting access to my cousin’s money, which she managed to get from the estates of both my grandparents and her parents, who were my aunt and uncle. I was never serious about getting a job and even if I was, he was certain I was never going to get one anyway, so to him, I was nothing but a classic Mooch Loser, among other things he was all too happy to shout in my face.

Editorial Note: For the record, I never asked my cousin for a dime because I’d been smart enough to put together a nest egg of my own before I hit the road, thereby keeping me as independent as possible. I was also giving them money voluntarily for the rather small amount of food and utilities I was consuming every month, as any good Mooch Loser would do.

So for the past six days, I’ve been entirely on my own, keeping myself going by camping out in my car and occasionally taking a night in whatever cheap motel I can find in exchange for a shower and a soft bed. This sadly isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in such a position either, and I’m fortunate enough to remember what is needed to survive during the height of a New England winter.

It’s not easy and there were nights like last night where the reality of my situation finally got to me for a few hours. When you find yourself like this, it’s easy to use it as a time to beat the crap out of yourself and if there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s in the self-abuse department.

I am so used to being seen and called every pejorative term in the book by everyone who thinks they know me, even from my closest family members and people I’ve cared about, that it falls under the Pavlovian precept of repetitive conditioning.

Let me be clear on this. I know I screwed up. I’m not proud of it and it’s not the first time I’ve done so. I know that despite all my strengths and the few positives I can still hold claim to, there’s a lot of loser sharing space along with it. I know based on that, even those people I hold dear have their quiet opinions and assumptions that I’m a drowning man who’s going to pull them down with me.

I may be drowning, but I’m going to tread water for as long as I can because I know there’s a way I can get myself out of this.

The hope I’m clinging to is that getting through each day brings me closer to the time when the work I’ve invested in the 80 or so jobs I’ve applied to and interviewed in the eight weeks I’ve been back starts showing some progress. I know it has to happen and if I can get even one of them to break my way, then I’ll be okay.

It all goes back to one the many lessons I had to learn as a kid. You get yourself in trouble, you get yourself out.

Okay. Challenge accepted. Bring it on.