From the Heart

From the Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day, which also means it’s…February 14th.

I’ve pointedly begun this entry not from the perspective of “hatin’ on the day,” but in the only way that it applies to me realistically: It’s simply just another day on the calendar for those of us who aren’t in romantic relationships.

And that statement will do either one of two things: It will make you wonder if I’m suppressing sad/bitter/lonely/jealous feelings and lying about it to appear to have my life under control (which, I assure you, I’m comfortable enough to declare I do not), or it will do what I hope for most…give you the freedom to detach yourself from the expectations the day has come to be traditionally known for in case you yourself are feeling any of those aforementioned feelings. (Although, full disclosure, the first guess would’ve been absolutely accurate up until a few years ago.)

You can thank (or malign) a four-hour-long “Galentine’s Day” phone conversation with one of my sister-friends for this post. Also, get you a friend where you can be on the phone for four hours yammering about life and love and things to add to your — ahem — “shopping list,” that’ll get you through the period of your life during which you’re cultivating a true love affair with yourself to the point where sex has transitioned from being a void-filler, to the second-most intimate thing you do in a healthy romantic partnership. (With honest and open communication being the first, natch.)

Innocently enough, the call started with me talking about the impeachment acquittal (ugh!), then segued into how after watching that dereliction of democracy, I proceeded to go out into the world to run some errands and got so badly turned around by the MTA service changes and my distracted state of mind that I almost didn’t make it to where I needed to be in time to get something very important. (Yes, this is vague. No, I ain’t telling you what this means. Deal.) Anyway, by the time I got home, I’d accepted that although I was detoured, delayed and distracted throughout my journey, I still managed to get what I needed just in time, and had bonus blessings along the way. And that, I decided, was the life metaphor I was going to take away from a seemingly innocuous errand run.

Then, we spent the next three hours and fifty minutes talking about messy shit.

She caught me up on her current dilemma with the opposite sex, I shared some life experiences with some exes that I felt might be relevant and helpful in informing how she dealt with her situation, we discussed how our painful childhoods contributed to the ways we’ve dealt with our relationship failings, had some amazing revelations about the early days of our 30-year-strong friendship during a lightning round of “Perception vs. Reality: High School Edition,” and laughed and fake-cried about how our middle-aged (but still fine) bodies are rebelling against us for taking our youth and former durability for granted.

Ya know…real friend shit.

But the most important thing we talked about was love, and what our definition of it was, in keeping with the theme of the impeding day that we nearly talked our way into. My beautiful friend has always put her whole self into making sure those she holds dear have everything they need — which can comprise of her time, energy, resources, et al at the risk of self-depletion — to reassure them of her love and fierce commitment to them. As someone who’s done the same, I knew all too well that it doesn’t always net out equally.

So I shared with her what I’m about to share with you; which is what I’ve learned in the nearly five years of therapy, and especially the past year of being in isolation and forcing myself to dig deep and really look at my own behavior and mindset — which almost certainly attracted the personalities and outcomes that drove me to seek therapy to correct.

Before I start, a bit of backstory: While I’ve dabbled in the realm of introspection over the nearly TEN YEARS since starting this blog (whew!), it came as a shock to realize there was still so much more to be done, because I assumed I’d been operating under the premise that I’d been, as the name infers, “blunt” in how I approached my life and my views about life around me and in general. I was wrong. I assumed talking about my abuse, my troubled parental history and perceived injustices throughout my life would be healing for me and helpful to others going through similar situations. To some degree it has, but there was still more left untapped.

What I discovered is that it left questions about what these experiences did to me as a person behaviorally, and how I operated in ways that has consistently sabotaged my life and relationships for decades because I didn’t understand or care to acknowledge how affected my psyche was. I was self aware to an extent where I knew something was “off.” I knew that in order for me to come to a place where I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I had to accept that the things I perceived was “wrong” was just “what it was.” I understood I had to grasp that the things that people I trusted did that hurt me deeply were never about me as much as it was about what they were going through at the time of their interactions with me. But I hadn’t done any of the work that would get me to this place of true peace.

Instead, I’d defaulted to the classic trauma responses: I withdrew, projected my fears on others, gave up on myself and my abilities and morphed into whoever I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted socially, desired sexually and tolerated in circles where I was a square. In the end, I failed spectacularly at trying to convince myself that I could make the best out of situations I never wanted to be a part of, while simultaneously hurting others who were ultimately let down when I grew tired of the ruse. I showed up inauthentically to relationships both personally and professionally out of fear of being judged and avoiding conflict and resentments, and as a result, I attracted that same chaotic energy everywhere I ran.

Then I hit my forties, and realized that way of life was slowly killing me inside, despite surviving so many other insurmountable conditions which I hadn’t even taken the time to consider how extraordinary that made every day I woke up.

The day you decide to have gratitude as the anchoring presence in your life, is the day you commit to doing everything in your power to authentically make the best of it and protect it at all costs. For me, that meant severing unhealthy relationships and finding the grace to forgive myself and the parties involved for making them so. It meant stripping back the façade to replace the broken parts, and strengthen the foundation of the person I didn’t have the courage to be and the life I didn’t believe I deserved.

And that…to me…is love. Being brave enough to say and do the unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial for everyone involved (even if it’s only me, myself and I) even when it hurts to acknowledge the truth. It’s accountability. It’s vulnerability. It’s humiliating and humbling. And it’s a lot of work!!

And so, on this day dedicated to love, I pledge to continue doing the work and loving the person I am becoming as a result: Someone who can simultaneously exist as a person who celebrates your love stories, while also being mildly annoyed by the expectation that I have to participate in the pageantry, or risk being deemed sad, bitter, lonely and/or jealous, when I really just want to spend a weekend parked on my couch watching “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Disney+, while eating vegan ice cream and fan-girling over Jamie Raskin and Stacey Plaskett’s work in the impeachment trial despite its unfortunate-yet-unsurprising outcome.

And if you’re wondering how I segued into politics while talking about love, I invite you to re-read the part about “being brave enough to say and do unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial.” Raskin, who lost his son to suicide, buried him, showed up to work the next day to certify the election with members of his family — all of whom were then put in mortal danger — in tow, and then continued to show up to make sure the person responsible for inflicting a pain that spread across party lines and country face repercussions…did so for the love of his country and the people who live in it. That kind of love is unfathomable, and brings to mind the words of Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

And with that, signing off wishing eternal love and peace for us all…from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Unmasked

Unmasked

It would be the understatement of the year to say the past two and a half months have been…let’s just say…different.

Seemingly overnight, the world was forced to adjust to a life in quarantine; staying indoors for the sake of saving themselves and the lives of others from a virus that attacks the body swiftly, quietly and violently.

Not only would it achieve the unthinkable in silencing the city that never sleeps, which has also lived through multiple terrorist bombings, a couple of blackouts and the residency of a certain tyrannical president who shall not be named (unless and until his inmate number is created). It has also made wearing face masks and gloves a mandated look beyond Michael Jackson tributes, and called BS on all those people who swore after watching countless shows and movies featuring zombies or dystopian themes that they were prepared for “the apocalypse.”

Turns out, they start pleading for haircuts and refuge from their children and/or in-laws the moment the leaves start forming on the trees.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The reason I’m writing about it, after pointedly avoiding the subject as a blog post for approximately ten weeks is for no other reason than to say this: “I’m glad it happened.”

Before perception goes way left, I’ll explain.

While I’m horrified by everything about this pandemic — the incalculable losses of life, work and income, the families torn apart by all of it, the egregious disparities that have arisen in the wake of the resulting economic and industry-busting disaster, and especially the lack of sympathy or compassion from the officials elected to protect the interests of all of the country’s citizens — this pausing of the world has been the most unusual blessing in disguise.

The world has forced us to stop and take stock of what’s important. Nature reset itself. Families, friends and lovers are reconnecting. People whose professions often go ignored and taken for granted — the healthcare workers, transportation workers, grocery store employees and others now deemed “essential,” and even educators who have had to find creative ways to do their jobs — are now being recognized as the heroes they are. There’s a wave of kindness and compassion from neighbors who want to make sure others are safe and have everything they need to get through this together.

For me, the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantine has been a bunch of things. In the beginning, it was the thing that took away my physical health and senses briefly, an event that I’d been excited about working on which would’ve been a proud moment in my career, my first real vacation in three years, my full-time job and the insurance that came with it and my sleep schedule.

What it’s become is the best thing that ever happened to me, because, for the first time in my life, I was riding completely solo (unlike when I fractured my ankle and my squad came all the way through since broken bones weren’t contagious and/or potentially fatal for others).

After the initial sadness of having to go through illness and carrying bags of groceries long distances “all by my lonesome,” I have to confess that right now…It. Feels. Glorious.

Not just for the obvious shallow reasons of not having anyone around blowing through the aforementioned groceries at a breakneck pace. I love my peeps, but I admit it’s kinda nice not having anyone pitching a fit because they need food, attention and direct sunlight. (Shoutout to the folks who used to shame me for being single and/or childless and are currently being driven slowly insane because they can’t escape their spouse or child. Sending thoughts and prayers.)

It’s because, like the earth, I’ve also taken time to recalibrate. Historically, I’d be embroiled in messy distractions that saved me from taking a hard look at — and accountability for — the string of disasters that formed my existence back in the day.

This time…I had time. Also: I’m in my mid forties and increasingly intolerant of nonsense. And since the universe can sometimes be as subtle as a sledgehammer, I was constantly being hit with reminders of the timeframe I needed to tackle because it’s currently dominating pop culture (and someone from it slid into my Facebook DMs).

So I ripped the bandaid off, and poked at the crippling fear of being my authentic self out of fear of rejection and abandonment, til it burst and oozed all over my resignation that not everyone who’s been a part of my story will make the next chapter (even, and especially, my biological mother). It then scabbed over the painful realization that I never set a goal in life because I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough to require one. I used shots of tequila as an antiseptic.

When I opened the new(ish) wound of the anniversary of my father’s death occurring during this time, I risked my phone and inbox being hit with a barrage of concerned messages akin to the moment I revealed I’d lost my sense of smell and taste.

Which brings me to the other healing (and less trauma-inducing) blessings. I’m healthy. I’ve watched some really great TV and movies. Read some outstanding books. Danced nights away thanks to DJ D-Nice, Club Quarantine and Verzuz. Had hours long (mostly vulnerable) conversations on the phone, and attended several birthdays, group chats and graduation parties through Zoom and Houseparty with my family and friends. Upped my culinary game to the point where I can’t bring myself to eat things like “Hot Pockets” again. Got my first article published, saw the special issue I worked on released with emotional results, and doing work I genuinely get joy out of with my (kinda) former employer. And even though the world seems unstable right now, I’ve never been steadier.

So when things seems hopeless — as we get inundated with news drenched in racism, hatred and division — I think of those things, and the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that I was jobless, homeless after leaving a man I feared for years, and suddenly thrust into the role of taking care of a parent who lost his memory…and then everything else. (That year was also a doozy!)

And I relish in the fact that the only mask I need to wear these days is covered in flowers.

Hopefully, these times have unmasked greatness for you as well.

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.