And in all my mistakes and grand imperfection, I can no longer pretend to have solutions, even in my story. I am not always the protagonist. I struggle to carry myself most days, my head is heavy, my hands unable to grasp despite working joints and taut skin. I am still young but so tired. Spare yourself the mistake of living vicariously through my days. The ups and downs, the winding roads are the unclear paths I did not choose. I would choose peace if it were ever safe for me; routine, if I ever knew how. Know that what you see is planned, scripted, chosen. Real life is between the broken pieces. It is full of fourth and fifth chances that can still be missed, that can be blown to shreds with the best intentions. Open your eyes. Use your brain. There is no perfection.
The rain and hours of hazy overcast will do things to my natural rhythm. I find it to be cleansing and grounding in places near water where it rains often. But here, where I live, I believe it throws off my system. After a brisk morning walk through the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, I melted into my daybed after a shower and didn't wake up until 3pm. I was out drinking last night. A quarter of a bottle of sangiovese with a cork in it is sitting next to the Keurig as proof. I might drink it tonight, or early tomorrow morning. Who knows. There comes a time when the excuses no longer become acceptable. When the holes in my memory start to appear in my realtime conversations and short-term recollection after I've had enough to drink. When the dread is too familiar, and the shame is numb, and when asked, "do you even remember what happened last night?" it's safe to say no, but months, even years later the memories never come back. The bonds long broken. I have good reason to believe that that time for me isn't now. It's been here for a long time.
The tantrums and the fight scenes might have stopped years ago. Same with the tearful flights to quiet streets and nighttime ravines. I've quit before, only to find that whatever I tried to frame or justify with alcohol was just as prevalent in my sober life - only it was harder to handle. I could ruminate, meditate, be completely present with the pain and that didn't feel okay at the time. I wasn't in therapy. I came to the conclusion that if the pain wasn't going to go away by taking alcohol away, I wasn't going to gain anything by depriving myself. I'm already awkward in social situations. I didn't need to make it harder by having to be sober for reasons that were harder to explain than the causes behind my drinking to begin with. Out of the last nine years of my fascination, like phases of the moon passing through its own waxing and waning forms, few people called me out on my behaviour. Looking back, there should have been more. But there were only a few because the behaviour was normalized, and my behaviour in particular was viewed as tame. I didn't have a fake ID in high school. I wasn't going out to the clubs. I didn't even take a liking to a particular type of alcohol until very recently, now that my drinking has considerably slowed. So I lacked consistency, shock value, and transparency beyond the company I kept on the suspect nights. The people who did speak up were the ones close to me… closest to me. My partners. The ones who wanted the best out of me, but were met with the worst. Aggravated by my alcoholism or not, constantly, they bore the brunt of my bad behaviour. After one particular incident that included both a fight and a flight on my part (in front of about twenty of his childhood friends being introduced to me for the first time, to boot), he pulled me aside and said, "We need to talk about your drinking," among other things. He knew, more than anyone else. This was before we moved to the mountains and had a bottle of wine or two at dinner every night, just like every single one of our neighbours. This was before my preexisting misery, further amplified by physical isolation, spun me out of control in a place so far away I felt like no one could hear me. That night, at his birthday party, if I knew at that point everything that would come in the following year, we should have broken up. It would have been humiliating for me in the short-term and I wouldn't have known how to live it down. But we would have stayed friends. I would have been forced to re-examine my life and the construct of excuses I already had working overtime. I would have reached the point of no return with my family much earlier, sparing me more years of unnecessary suffering at the hands of their manipulation and mind games. I wouldn't have known what I was doing, but I would have tried to take control.
The place I'm at now is no different. I have no idea what I'm doing. But I'm trying to take control.
The narrative has not changed after nearly four years. Seven years, actually. Let's go back all the way to my first distraction, still yet my longest, my initial introduction to life beyond my preexisting confines. The men and the relationships changed, I loved them more. With few exceptions to this, I made stronger connections, tethered myself to them with bigger pieces of my heart. I changed, too. I understood myself more. I loved myself more, too, though that came with a lot more work. The story itself never changed. The black hole inside me grew faster than my capacity to fill it. Like Nila Wahdati did to her adopted daughter in Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed, I handed shovels to my partners and said, "fill these holes inside of me." They could never win and neither could I. You can only take so much from a place that holds nothing in it. Money, sex, face, or good first impressions were not enough to light my darkness or stoke their fires. When they left, I was still empty. When I left, I was empty, too.
I am not always the protagonist. In all the challenges of this kind of life-soul-heart journey, it is the need to strike a balance. It is in duality. Safety in shades of gray, which eventually will make way to colour. The quest to finding stability and self-worth, confidence, and an overflowing source of love from within that never runs out must be countered by the realities of our own mistakes, and actual misgivings, failures, and imperfections. In order to be great, good, or extraordinary we must first be enough. In order to be enough, we first need to be okay - with the good and the bad. With the realities we didn't choose. We need to be able to look in the mirror, and once we're there, look ourselves in the eyes without turning the lights off. I cannot always do this even when I am in the best of health. The emptiness is suffocating. Sometimes it takes the form of an ocean that wants to swallow me and everyone I love into the weight of its centre, destroying everything I've built, leaving nothing behind. In the struggle that is recovery, that is finding meaning, that is getting up every day and feeling as though I matter enough to contribute something uniquely my own to this world, there is the fact that love remains my danger zone. I am past the point of excuses. There is enough literature on borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress to fill libraries and homes, and you could write me into every case study, if not where I'm at now, where I used to be. The facts do not excuse the broken hearts, mine or theirs. I can tell them I'm trying and I will mean it, but it does not erase cruel words or unforgivable, erratic behaviour. Sans-serif, caps-locked text against an image of mountains or a meadow that try in vain to tell me to forgive myself do not create a bottomless well of patience and understanding for the men whom I have loved, to continue to love me, when I portray nothing but a spineless, unlovable creature. This process is inauthentic if I don't call attention to the nights that don't make it on Snapchat. This pursuit is a disservice to myself if I systematically erase the fights, the outbursts, the horrible dates and mornings-after, the way that childhood trauma has systemically erased years from my life that I still can't recall as an adult. The only way out is through. There are no shortcuts. No sidestepping. It is terrifying to choose love not once, not twice, but over and over again until I'm folded over at 25 like I was at 5, empty because I didn't think it were possible to cry so many tears but feeling so alive amid the pain that I understand what the human experience is really about. It is the choice to open my heart when it is so much easier to keep it closed. It is the challenge to be mindful when sitting across from a new partner, not to make comparisons, not to take his words for the broken promises made to me by others before. It is the conversation I have with myself not to blame. Not to shame, him or me. Everyone has baggage, everyone makes mistakes. Some of mine have been horrible but I am still worthy and capable of love at its finest and most show-stopping form, the kind that holds you in its warmth when you're shivering and awakens the beast within you that is beautiful, powerful, and the essence of your very soul. I understand that forgiveness starts from within, but I can't forgive if I can't accept. My wholeness comes from seeing the broken parts for what they are: proof that I tried to make it work. Against the odds, in the face of my fear, I gratuitously fucked up and broke my own heart and many others. Amid those pieces, I grew. I can't regret my losses and still live with myself anymore; that's a pity party that I no longer have time to throw. People left. I lost opportunities and outcast myself from certain circles in that residual shame. I sat on way too many couches and tearfully stared out of way too many cafe windows from Airdrie to Amsterdam, wondering why life kept passing me by, year after year.
This was my fault. They left because I pushed them. Time flew by because I gave up and decided to warm the bench. I chose to sit it out. I chose to pick the fights. I chose to self-medicate, but what it ultimately comes down to is that I made the choice to set my fears to the side instead of face them. Yes, my circumstances have been difficult. I have a monster living inside my head that turns everyone I love into an enemy, and a darkness inside me that I still struggle to light up in the corners. YES, my mental illness is real and I've watched my family members struggle through it before it became my journey too. These things can be facts without being excuses. I'm getting too old for excuses. My mind is a maze. I can run a small piece of it with my eyes closed on the best days, but it's unfair to tell the people I love to get to the middle in ten minutes with no clues, flashlight, nor a road map. The things other people didn't give me when I needed them do not become bartering tools for manipulating affection out of unsuspecting victims. That doesn't make me stronger or more intelligent. That doesn't fill the black hole. It expands it, pushing deeper.
I still can't make promises. I still hesitate to make any guarantees, because at the core, I still struggle to trust myself. When my track record is one of destruction, including that of associated memories, you'd probably hesitate, too. What I do know is this. I have my mother's smile. In unthinkable circumstances with nothing to go off of, she smiled for the camera, and it helped her survive. My mother is a businesswoman. I am not. I do not gain from deception, not monetarily and not with love, no matter how innocent the cause. That smile in my photos is usually fake and I'm on a mission to make it real, among other things. I've spent nearly half a year in the full-time pursuit of my deeper self, and I've discovered and committed to new ways to fill the black hole. Each method is small but powerful, and together they fill me with light. I've turned into the kind of person that I can be proud of, and people around me are noticing. I will only take credit for that, however, if it's understood that the smiling poster child for the good life has grown into the covergirl for grand imperfection. I will not hide my scars, flaws, or mistakes. I will not pretend that loving is easy. It is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, that I am still doing.
I have been a terrible girlfriend. I've demanded the full, beating hearts of well-meaning men to stomp on them and give them back broken. I have baited the wrong people into loving me because I was lonely. I deceived them by first by deceiving myself. This is the truth, the whole truth. No backspaces. No embellishments. I will not try to make this pretty and I will not use the ugliness as an excuse. I fucked up. And I hated myself for it. But hating myself doesn't get me anywhere, it only perpetuates the same cycle of loneliness that feeds the black hole. This paragraph is not one made of concessions; the backstory itself is not a 'but'. It is part of the story. Part of me. My goal here is to be able to look in the mirror every single day, no matter what anyone has said or done, including myself. For that, I give you no promises. No guarantees. But I will do the very best I can.