Unbeatable

If you haven’t seen the film, Manchester by the Sea yet and are planning to, then you may want to skip this as I am providing a small spoiler.

There’s a conversation towards the end between Lee, the story’s main character, and his nephew Patrick, who he’s tasked with taking care of after his father, Lee’s brother, has died.

Lee is not the person he once was, having gone through events in his own life which profoundly changed him. He’s isolated, distant and spends every day just trying to get through to the next because that’s the only coping mechanism he has to deal with what he carries with him.

Sitting across the table from his nephew, Lee tells him in the simplest terms something which not everyone is able to admit to either themselves or another person.

“I can’t beat it,” he said

A few weeks ago, not long after my life took another one of its patented right turns into a tree (this time quite literally), I was sitting with my cousin having lunch and she said something I’ve heard from more people over the years than I can count at this point.

“You have to stop being so hard on yourself and beating yourself up like this,” she said.

About a week ago, I was having dinner with someone I hadn’t seen in years and said something she knew as well as I do. I hadn’t planned on saying it, but in the stream of consciousness that was leaking out of me at the time, the words found their way out.

Beating the shit out of myself is the one thing I’ve always been good at, I said.

I wish that wasn’t the case. I really do, but it’s true….and I can’t beat it.

It’s not for lack of trying or because I’m being stubborn and just don’t want to, either. The fundamental problem I have is that when I start to feel anything close to what counts for happiness in my life, like taking the long climb to the top of a roller coaster, I inevitably go over the crest and then it’s back down into all the experiences, reminders and reasons for why that happiness will never be anything more than something I’ll keep trying to reach for, but ultimately will never get.

Over the years, I’ve had I don’t know how many people try to convince me that I’m something better than what I think I am and in the moment, it’s easy to believe them, because I want to. Who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t want to know that the people they care about can see the best sides of who they are, especially when they can’t?

Unfortunately, such respites are usually brief at best and there inevitably comes a point where I’m by myself and all the self-animosity I have stockpiled over most of my nearly 40 years reminds me that it’s not going anywhere before giving me a full-scale retaliatory strike of every bad, terrible, hurtful and stupid thing I’ve ever done.

I’m reminded of everything I’ve lost and the even harder pill to swallow, that I can’t get that time, those moments…those people…back, no matter what I do.

And when you’re left trying to make sense of it all, searching for answers and being told that you can only find them by taking a long look in a mirror, because why would anyone else ever want to take any responsibility for the hurtful things they do to someone, how can that person not be expected to want to turn away in absolute disgust at their own reflection?

I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but to fully understand it, you’d have to be willing to see things from my point of view.

I’m not amazing and neither are the things I’ve done just to get by.

I had to accept a long time ago that no amount of rights can correct even a single wrong, and at the end of the day, I still have to live with both what my life is and what it was and I don’t have the luxury of being able to forget.

I’ve tried. Many times.

And when I start to think I might be able to put some distance between them and myself, that’s usually the point where I get to start reliving them all over again because my subconscious is nothing if not sadistic that way.

I don’t know if there will ever be a point when I will be able to look at myself or my life with any degree of emotion that even begins to resemble happiness. I know that’s not what you want to hear any more than I really want to say it, but it genuinely feels like too much time has passed and the best I can hope for are those all-too-brief moments where my self-perspective isn’t so harsh.

Otherwise, it’ll be a case of getting through each day and onto the next one, because that’s what I know.

But that part of me that always puts me in my place and reminds me that I have no right whatsoever to the things that I know would make me happy is always going to be there, no matter how many doctors I talk to or how many happy pills they tell me to take.

I can live with it…but I can’t beat it.

 

Unspoken Words

I’ve been so busy with trying to tread water and get my life back on track that it truly slipped my mind that the year had already reached Valentine’s Day.

Ignorance can be truly blissful sometimes.

I finally managed to fall asleep last night with my mind in a rather uncomfortable place and I woke up this morning in the same spot, which makes me glad that I have the respite of working all night instead of being surrounded by everyone who has someone to love and who loves them in return.

On the tip of my tongue are all these things I wish I could say; hurtful, spiteful, angry things that want to explode out of my scarred and wounded heart like a cannon.

I want to say them, scream them, unleash them…but I know all too well that I can’t because they’ll accomplish nothing other than satisfying the primal, selfish need to just let my rage wreak havoc on all the fragile bridges connecting myself to other people.

The worst part is how easily I can justify to myself the need to open my mouth and let those words out as an equal and opposing response to the words used against me, words that still leave a lasting sting even years later, whenever I think about them.

On days like today, I don’t feel like the good man that my friends try to remind me of. I don’t want to do anything good. I don’t want to be good.

I want to tell my self-control and my self-discipline to take a flying leap so my baser emotions can do whatever they want and I can just feel better for a little while at the expense of destroying someone else.

That idea scares the hell out of me and contrary to popular belief, I’d like to think that’s not a bad thing.

The problem with saying all the words you don’t want to say is once they’ve gotten out, it’s almost impossible to take them back. Cliche states that words are among the deadliest weapons human beings have at their disposal, but there is a whole lot of truth to that concept.

Right now, I feel like my hand is hovering over a button that could launch an armageddon of thermonuclear words and as much as I want to let them fly, I’m trying like mad to hold out in the hope that cooler heads prevail.

Wonderful way to spend Valentine’s Day.

Something Like A War

Allow me to get this out of the way up front in the hopes that what follows is not misconstrued as trying to compare apples and oranges.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a soldier and therefore have no tangible clue what it is like to have been dropped in the middle of an actual war.

While it is true that I, like a lot of other American men and women, did entertain thoughts of serving in the military to the point where I pursued enlistment in both the Air Force and the Navy, not long after leaving high school, circumstances beyond my control determined that wasn’t the path I ended up having to travel.

That, in and of itself, has brought with it a great many things which I’ll get to in a second, but I never have, nor will I ever tout myself as anything close to a soldier, a warrior or any other hyperbolic adjective we often like to pin on ourselves to appear stronger or tougher to those who’s judgment matters to us.

Hell, I don’t even play Call of Duty.

So can I relate to the people I know who’ve actually gone through such a traumatizing ordeal? Being as empathetic as I am, I could try, but I also know that I could barely scratch the surface of what their struggles are like.

And yet, as I was sitting in a restaurant earlier this week from someone I hadn’t seen in almost five years, trying in vain to curb an anxious stream of consciousness that was pouring out of me as I tried to encapsulate what that span of time was like for me, one part of it has stuck in my mind ever since.

I said that my life, whether I liked it or not, has been something like a war.

In the heat of the moment, I know I subconsciously justified the comparison as equal parts an accurate summation of what I’ve gone through and a witty turn of phrase. On the train later that night, though, i found myself engaged in an internal argument about whether or not I had any right to define my life in those terms.

Part of that, I know, comes from the ongoing stigma that surrounds people who are dealing with trauma and mental illness. Part of it also comes from my own tendency to try to minimize my own feelings and the more negative aspects of my life, because being open about them makes both me and whoever I’m trying to explain them to uncomfortable, more often than not.

Believe me, I wish I had volume upon volume of light and fluffy things I could talk about. I’d love nothing more than to say I had a fantastic childhood, that I had some amazing opportunities and experiences that I could brag about and I had an ego capable of portraying a healthy degree of self-confidence and self-worth at all times.

The reality though and I don’t like this any more than anyone else, I promise you, is that’s just not what my life has been.

A lot of that is on me and I have to bear the responsibility that comes with it. Some of it falls also falls squarely on the shoulders of those who, either directly or passive-aggressively, would rather not deal with their own responsibility and accountability for adding to my degree of self-conflict and would rather I don’t talk about it at all.

Editorial Note: One of the biggest problems I have and I can only attribute it to my own inquisitive nature, which borders on OCD at times, and all the years I had to spend doing self-analysis to understand why I did what I did in point X, Y or Z, is the need to also understand why those people did what they did to hurt me. No one ever makes such decisions in a vacuum and there is always a why. I am driven to understand why those episodes unfolded how they did.

From an early age, long before I had any proper foundation of emotional and physical tools necessary to positively process it, I had to accept that whatever I wanted for myself in this life was only going to come about by having to fight tooth and nail to get it. Because of the myopic tunnel-vision I developed purely as a coping mechanism, the victories were always tempered by short-selling my own achievements or persistence, while the defeats were often exacerbated as something much more personal and thereby, harder to process.

And because the human mind has the capacity to compartmentalize, rationalize and tweak those experiences to fit the internal narratives which make up the self-portrait of who we think we are, no matter how distorted that image might be compared to those who can see us in a different perspective, the conflict between both sides can often be relentless, and at times, even quite merciless.

It can become very much like a war and war, even on a psychological level, is an ugly, ugly affair.

Any war, even if it exists inside a person’s mind, has consequences both for them and those around them.

For me, the consequences I’ve had to come to terms with are that I probably won’t get to have the life I always wanted for myself. I won’t be able to share my life with someone, nor will I be able to be a father to my son on the level I’d always wanted to be.

And having to accept those terms hasn’t been easy. In fact, it straight-up fucking sucks most of the time because those consequences are painful.

It hurts to know I’m not able to be more involved in my son’s life than I’m currently allowed and it hurts to have to watch the people I’ve loved go off and seemingly be happier with someone else who you can only assume hasn’t had to go through anything anywhere near what you have, which inevitably makes them all the more attractive and appealing.

Where that leaves me, whether I like it or not, is figuring out how to carry on and keep going.

I’d like to think that with how things have taken a slight turn for the better in the past few weeks, I might be able to finally get onto a trajectory which allows me to no longer have to approach each new situation as a potential fight. I hope so. I really do, because after close to three decades of internalized conflict inside my skull, I’d love nothing more than to finally know, not just think, but honestly know beyond any shadow of doubt, that I don’t have to live my life that way anymore.

Only time will tell, I guess.

 

Life 3.0 – Perfect Illusions

You’ll have to pardon me if this comes out in a bit of a jumbled mess, but it’s been one of the more surreal days I’ve had in the past few weeks and I’m still trying to process it so I don’t wake up in a few hours having to convince myself that today actually did happen.

Which, I suppose, goes to further illustrate this thought I’ve been having for the past few days about the human capacity to craft illusions and deceptions which we cling to in the face of truths which we find too painful in the moment to accept.

I got up this morning unsure of whether or not the job I’d been in the running for was going to pan out or not. When I left on Saturday, it was on very good terms and I’d been told that I’d shown the sort of skill, work ethic and attitude which my potential employer was looking for. I had no reason to be anything worse than cautiously optimistic about my prospects, therefore, of being able to get back to work after a longer layoff than I’d hoped…

But over the rest of the weekend and even into yesterday, when I didn’t get the call I was told I should anticipate, my mind was already going to work formulating the possibilities which might unfold for why, yet again, the Culture of No was going to rear its ugly head and knock me back down.

By the afternoon, I still hadn’t heard anything, so I took a risk and called the office, getting through to my potential new boss. Now on the great list of etiquette for trying to get hired on somewhere, any self-proclaimed job expert will likely tell you it’s bad form to make the call. After all, you’re the one who’s trying to get said job and making the first move is akin to poking a bear with a stick.

Odds are, it’s not going to end well for you and the bear will just saunter off having been given an early lunch.

The whole while I was waiting for the other end of the line to pick up, my mind was racing with possibilities of what I could expect and bracing me for all the excuses I’ve heard more times than I can truly count for why this opportunity would slip through my fingers like so many others before it.

The conversation ended up being brief but also went exactly how I’d hoped it would go and after hanging up the phone, it took a minute to realize that that had actually happened, and the whole scenario which I’d conjured out of my fears and even my expectations was not going to come to fruition.

Now fast forward an hour or so, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop less than a stone’s throw from the Common in a situation not unlike the one I was in on my final trip to Portland four months ago.

 

 

To be fair, the circumstances between that moment and this one were considerably different, but it was still a case of me being in the presence of someone whom I’d convinced myself over the years that I’d likely never see again and for good reason.

I suppose when it comes to the idea of being emotionally connected to someone, it can become almost automatic to craft an illusion of who they are, or more so who they could be.

It is, after all, part of the human tendency to place one another on pedestals as we develop this grand imaginary tapestry of what life could be like, should that connection be established both ways.

Editorial Note: If there is one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I am really good at this, and that’s not a virtue. It’s a flaw which comes at the expense of visualizing the perfection in other people as a counterweight to the extreme degree of imperfections which I’ve long seen in myself and it’s cost me some of the most important relationships I’ve ever had.

To say I was nervous to the point of anxiety is an understatement, and over the course of the three hours we sat together, I dealt with that anxiety in the most familiar way I know how…by rambling like a fool half the time like I’m sure I am right now, in fact.

On the train ride back out of town, I started thinking about all the things that have happened over these early stages of Life 3.0. Not all of them have been great and there’s a couple of things I could’ve seriously done without. But interspersed through all of it are these things which aren’t illusions and their not deceptions conjured up by my mind either.

They’re real things that did happen.

Some of them are probably are never going to happen again and that’s okay. There are some which I dare to hope could happen again.

I guess I just have to wait and see.