Draw the line

It’s surprising how easily old patterns can creep up on you.

Today I caught myself in the old habit of ‘absorbing damage’. That is to say I was putting in extra work to process the emotional fallout of someone else’s choices. When I didn’t need to accept that. There was nothing real in it for me. I should have just returned to sender.

In autopilot, I had followed the path of least resistance instead of the path of most integrity, and it left me feeling drained.

The alternative does feel heavy handed. Having boundaries is hard. But letting reopened wounds bleed out onto the rest of your otherwise untarnished life is stupid. So heavy handed it’ll have to be.

The wisdom we thought we had

I have a book reserved for writing song lyrics in. I’ve been writing songs since I was about nine, but I started this book in 2013. It’s a space I have cyclically attended, at the times of my life where it has felt like the only way to let the feelings move through me is with words and music combined.

Recently, I connected with someone who helped me to reconnect with my inner musician, and I found myself returning to the book. Not to write, but to visit. It’s not that I had forsaken it, but I had come to see it as less meaningful in recent years. Which, I should know by now, is a sign in itself that something is wrong. I have been working to rectify that.

It often surprises me to read my own writing back, when it’s old enough to have been more or less forgotten. It can be even more bewildering to sing my old songs. Because they seem so much wiser than I must have been. Or so much more applicable, still, than I think they should have the capacity to be. Because I feel them in my body still – they still, literally, resonate. I would always like to think I have made more progress than clearly I must have, if my past self is there teaching me a lesson that I still, apparently, need to learn. When she so perfectly articulates it for me, but I already know she dove head first into the very same problem, the very same pattern, the very same mistake.

I’d like to think I’m safe from all that now. But she must have thought she was safe back then. She must have thought she was on the other side of it. After all, she’d found the answer. And yet, her relief was temporary; her recovery incomplete.

I think the wisdom is always within us. I think we always have the answers we seek. It’s our ability to align with them that makes the difference. And our ability to stay aligned when things come along so perfectly designed to knock us off course.

I saw the light, and then I plunged into the darkness. And then I found the light, but I sank into the darkness once more. Then I escaped to the light, and fell back to the darkness. And each time I got better at recalibrating and navigating my way back to where I wanted to be.

The darkness will always be there. And so will the light. It was never about finding safety. It was more about the finding the freedom to move at will between the two. I will choose to be grateful for the time I took exploring the dark landscape, because it taught me many things about being in the light.

Circus Act

I used to pride myself on being able to get along with people I would now recognise as narcissists. I knew how to get on with them because I knew how to get them to like me, and so I got the best out of them. They were still a dick to everyone else, but if they were capable of being nice, it mustn’t be their fault, right? Other people just hadn’t taken the time to understand them and act accordingly.

There’s some logic to that. We should take the time to understand and accommodate others. But my perspective was severely skewed toward my own inflated sense of responsibility. If you have to tie yourself in knots and only show one distorted sliver of your personality; if you have to be unperturbed by the way they offhandedly diminish you; if you have to constantly be impressive in just the right way to stay on their good side; if you have to agree with their point of view and never raise a point of dissent unless it’s the specific kind they like and find impressive; if you have to constantly operate within their defined parameters in order to maintain peace…is that person really worth the time it takes to understand and accomodate them, Yve?

The problem I had was that I did all that shit as easily as breathing. That was my entire people-pleasing way of being in a nutshell. That was why, not only did I find it so easy to ‘get on’ with narcissists, I actually found it much more difficult to get on with normal, healthy, well-adjusted people.

The contorting of myself into pleasing forms for others is probably the most self-destructive undertaking I ever embarked upon, and at this point I have to come to terms with the fact that I threw away years of my life on it.

Now please excuse me while I finish reassembling my limbs.

The thawing process

Once Upon A Time, I visited Iceland. It was originally a trip planned with my boyfriend after we found out I was pregnant. A miscarriage and a break-up in the months preceding meant that it was a somewhat different prospect by the time it arrived.

I could have cancelled (I had hardly any money, so that would have been the most sensible option), or I could have invited a friend (though I couldn’t say I really had any close enough to ask at the time), but the path of least resistance for me was to go alone.

I was still pretty fragile.

I’d paid the deposit on a private room at a hostel, and I could have transferred it to a much cheaper bed in a shared room, but I kept it, because I couldn’t face the idea of being around strangers. It left me with only £50 spending money for the week, but it didn’t feel like a choice.

I was lonely, in truth, but I was so excruciatingly on edge around other people that I couldn’t bear it for very long.

Every morning I would peer through the small window on the kitchen door trying to ascertain if there was anyone in there. If I could see multiple people, I’d go back to my room for a while. Sometimes I got caught out and walked in on a group – when that happened I’d panic, fudge some kind of small, quick task, and leave again as quickly as possible.

On my first day, I was booked on a group horse trek, and afterwards got talking to a Canadian girl. She was about my age, and also holidaying alone. It was nice, I liked her, and the conversation was comfortable. But then she invited me out for dinner, and I freaked out; making excuses, declining solutions and probably inadvertantly offending her.

Another day, an older Danish gentleman struck up conversation with me when I was getting breakfast. He was kind, interesting and unintimidating. I benefitted from his knowledge and we talked about things I think about to this day, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of there.

There was only one person I let myself connect with on the trip, and how that even came about speaks so much about where I was at. What I was learning and what I still had to learn. Where I felt comfortable and what I could accept.

One day, I was picking up some things for tea in the supermarket around the corner from my hostel. I was staying a decent way out of the city centre, so it was a fairly small, quiet shop, with only a handful of people inside. As I was finishing up my transaction, during which I managed to say less than three words, a tall, rugged Icelander in a black, red and white Nordic style hat cut in assertively to ask the cashier something. As he stepped back, we made eye contact. He nodded at me with a smirk, and departed.

A few days later, I was feeling the strain of my isolation and decided I had to overcome my anxiety and do something social. For this, it seemed, I was going to need alcohol. I identified the only supposed rock bar in Reykjavik and set out to locate it. Then I walked up and down the street past it about three times.

Finally, teeth gritted, I headed up the steps.

As soon as I got through the door I noticed a tall, rugged Icelander sitting in the corner with a companion; his black, red and white hat lying on the table. After clumsily ordering a whiskey, feeling unbearably conspicuous, I took a seat at a small table nearby.

Despite a way-into-the-realm-of-obvious amount of eye contact, and a bunch of ideas raging through my head of what could transpire from this point, I was soon one drink down with nothing to show for it beyond some vicious internal tension. It was getting weirder by the minute, but I decided to spend some precious Króna on another and give myself one more chance. When I got back to the table with my one more chance, he and his friend were leaving, drinks unfinished.

Fuck.

I waited for a while to see if he was coming back. By the time the barmaid cleared away the glasses, I figured that was probably unlikely. So I migrated over to the now vacant table. It had a better view of the room, and maybe I could salvage this still by striking up conversation with someone else? This probably wasn’t enough whiskey for that but, if I didn’t have hope, what else did I have?

The place was almost empty. It was looking bleak. I left my jacket to mark my seat and went to the toilet to see if the change of scene helped rally my dwindling optimism. I sat there for a while, wondering what the Hell I thought I was doing entering into a social challenge way beyond my paltry capabilities. Did I actually really believe this would accomplish anything?

When I got back to the table, the tall, rugged Icelander with the black, red and white hat was back. This time with a group of friends. This time sitting at a different table, but right next to the seat I had usurped and claimed with my jacket. Right next to me.

Fuck.

As he and his friends exchanged their Icelandic words, I sat there, burning, silent, sipping my whiskey as slowly as possible, waiting for an opening wide enough to drop a bumbling, crippled shygirl into.

My glass was dry.

Fuck.

After sitting, trying to look casual, doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes, I figured it was time to call this as a failure. I began faffing with my bag to waste a little more time. And then the tall, rugged Icelander with the black, red and white hat turned to me.

“Hey, can you do me a favour?”
“Yeah?”
“Can you watch my stuff for a few minutes?”
“Sure.”

Thank fuck.

When he returned, it could have easily been an awkward moment where I failed to seize the opportunity veritably dangling its genitals in my face. But, instead, he took a few minutes to talk to me, then bought me a drink and invited me into the group. I could take no credit.

My experience instantaneously was transformed from quiet and painful reflection to reckless enjoyment and abandon, completely orchestrated by him. He had single-handedly delivered me from loneliness, and so I followed him like a disciple for the rest of the night, and well into the morning.

I’m still learning from that night. Mostly, these days, I’m learning from the flaws in myself and him I was unable to see clearly back then. But, at the time, it was simply the flood of relief I desperately needed, reminding me of what it might feel like to be truly alive.

The Fear

Maybe the problem for me is that I was taught that courage is a lack of fear. And it took me too long to realise how absurd that notion is. And I instead learned to yield to The Fear. And I let it paralyse me, thinking that The Fear was the problem.

The Fear was never the problem.

The problem was that I had let it become The Fear. I let The Fear be the most important thing – more important than my dreams; my values; my potential; my humanity. Now, many years after realising that The Fear was never the problem, I am still trying to undo the damage of that deeply ingrained pattern of fleeing from the things that scare me.

It’s really quite funny to me, because I have the benefit of also knowing the truly scary things that I did not flee from. The abhorrent situations I stayed in, because leaving was scarier. The times I risked myself in very real ways, to avoid speaking out. The beautiful things I walked away from because I was scared to let them in.

When I was in primary school, I always knew the answer to the questions that the teacher asked. But at around about age seven, I stopped raising my hand. I assumed everybody knew the answer to the question, but I noticed other children rarely raised their hands. I also made the deduction that my classmates resented me if I raised my hand too much. I started reading into what it meant to raise your hand – essentially what it meant to contribute – thinking there must be some calculation I wasn’t aware of about how often or under what circumstances you are supposed to offer what you have.

I started rationing my hand raises. Doling them out every three questions, maybe, or five, or seven. As I got older and the questions got harder, I started only answering when I knew it was a sure thing. And then, when the questions stopped having a right answer, I short-circuited.

Now, when I have something to contribute, I sit there burning; mind racing as I think and rethink how to package it just perfectly so that it definitely adds value and doesn’t just scratch the itch I have to deliver it. So very often, time has run out on me before I make my move. Even when it doesn’t, especially in today’s digital world, there is a high probability that I will retract it, if it isn’t well enough received. Don’t need to be cluttering up anyone’s day with my pointless offerings.

I know fucking fine well how ridiculous this is. I’ve known for a long fucking time. But it is damn hard to shift. I have been inching my Fear Boulder to the edge of the cliff for fucking years now. But when it finally goes over, man, just fucking watch me…