music.

This is a story about humility. This is a story about accepting your authentic self. This is a story about music.

I’ve spent my life letting go of things only to regret not fighting for them, walking away because I was too afraid to stand up and admit that they mattered to me. I did that with music. I didn’t know it mattered so much, but I always knew it mattered enough that I was sad I wasn’t more involved in it. I was intimidated, always, by my musical peers, believing they had something I didn’t, something that gave them a special right to make music. I never felt like I was allowed to make sound and ask other people to listen. And I was afraid to be judged. I was afraid that somehow I just didn’t get it. That there was some mystery that all the other people in the world – even the ones who sing miserably bad karaoke – knew that I didn’t.

Let’s back up. In the beginning of 2017 I was incredibly sick, coughing for months, unable to get better and doing my best to work through it, talk through it, and not lose my job and I coughed myself into laryngitis. Not knowing that laryngitis should really be over in about 3 days, I didn’t see a doctor until it had been going on for a couple of weeks. So began a journey of heartbreak and discovery. I had done so much damage to my vocal cords by coughing that I had nodules. The ENT specialist did little but send me to speech therapy, and I was expected to recover by learning how not to damage myself further and let myself heal. Needless to say, I could not sing while this was going on, and already hadn’t been able to for a few months by then. It was painfully obvious suddenly that I had been singing for decades, all the time, whenever I was around music, and that it was an outlet for a very deep musicality I didn’t know I possessed. Singing was what I needed desperately, and the loss of my voice began a cascade of existential panic and fear and heartbreak. It was like having a finger chopped off and just praying and hoping that they could sew it back on.

I grew up with music….sort of. My father played the piano sometimes. He had guitars, but I never felt connected to him through music. But when the time came, I eagerly picked an instrument with all the other fifth graders and started to learn. I picked the flute, and I can’t say why. It’s what the other girls picked, I guess? The violin seemed too dorky? I don’t know. To this day I wish I’d picked the violin or piano, but that’s not what I did. And I played the flute through the end of high school, participating in my school’s very substantial and well-supported music program, but was never brave enough to do more than just show up even though deep down I wanted a whole lot more. I didn’t audition for the “fancy” band because I was just too shy, and when I finally did audition, spurred on by my band conductor, I completely choked. I recall being told that if I would only practice more I would be very good, but I was so afraid of judgment and so good at deflecting attention I had my music teacher letting me off the hook for lessons. I hated practicing, and while I had this very strong desire to be more musical, something was in my way – or some things. One was my own history of being told by a cousin, whose approval was deeply important to me, that I “couldn’t sing.” We were young kids, but it broke me in a way that never really healed. So, while I loved to sing, I only did it when no one was listening. And I did that my whole life, for over 30 years. And then there was the flute.

I put the flute down after high school. I’d shifted my efforts towards visual arts, believing somehow that that’s where my future lay and it’s what I was supposed to do – was expected to do, even. Music was an extracurricular activity, not something to take seriously as a life path. I can’t say why I thought photography or any fine art seemed more legitimate, but I think my own shyness and fear of performance probably made that justification very easy. So I got an art degree. I can look back now and say that while I enjoyed making things – and still do – it never felt as organic to me as music does. I’d never have recognized that before, but I can say that now. I’m good at making things, but I don’t feel truly passionate about it. it never made me cry or feel deep intense things the way music does. It was almost clinical, the way I approached it. I did best later in life working in fabrication, which had a very concrete goal and a combination of creativity and functionality that worked for me the way a blank canvas never compelled me.

But music found me no matter where I went. Even though I had put down making my own music, I was around music a lot. I don’t think I had a romantic relationship with a single person who was not some form of experienced musician until I was 35 and already divorced. That relationship was probably partially a failure because he simply did not get it. And it was strange and foreign to me that this person I was so intimate with didn’t have the capacity to discuss something so fundamental to me. At the time I didn’t recognize this, but it was so obvious. Until losing my voice and looking back on it now, I didn’t know how much I talked about music, how much I needed to talk about it, how much I needed the people around me to understand it so we could discuss it. How I tore it apart, analyzed it, and couldn’t stop myself from doing so. My husband, my boyfriends before him… they’d all played instruments and I took it for granted that it was a part of the fabric of my life, all the while not participating, feeling secretly envious of each one of them, and being terrified to admit it.

And this is the biggest thing of it – I was terrified to admit to anyone how important it was to me. It was the deepest, darkest, most vulnerable place in my soul, and after being told at age 8 that I was a bad singer there was a part of me that could not ever open up to that kind of judgment again. I would never, ever let on to anyone how much I wanted to play or sing or make music. I couldn’t completely hide my interest, but never got close to sharing the deep pain it caused me to not participate. That I was paralyzed and felt like it was something that I wasn’t “allowed” to do. My cousin had told me I wasn’t allowed, and I believed it, and that was that.

So to now, and I lost my voice. With it went my ability to express any kind of musicality at all. I didn’t play the flute anymore, or any instrument. I didn’t have any instruments and that flute was 3,000 miles away in a box somewhere. It didn’t call to me, either. I didn’t want to play it. And that was an equally huge epiphany – I HATED the fucking flute. All those years of playing it and I HATED it. I hated how it sounded, I hated practicing alone, I hated everything about it. I hated how “girly” it was, and I knew then the other reason why I never invested myself more deeply when I had the opportunity. I was playing the wrong thing and never knew it. What kept me playing was the community, playing with others, expressing myself, and the emotions that creating music opened up in me. I equated that with loving to play my instrument, but the instrument was wrong for me. Music was my passion and I never made that distinction until I lost my voice and had nothing else with which to make music. That triggered a huge resentment in me towards my music teachers and myself for not recognizing at the time that I had this very deep well of musicality inside me that was not finding the right outlet. Someone was supposed to have guided me, helped me get through that block, read my shy little mind and hand me the thing that would have exploded the huge wall I’d built around me. Why had no one done that for me? In truth no one could have, I don’t think, but as a kid who was not guided by anyone in any way, it was just one more area in which I’d been let down during a time in my life when I needed direction.

But 22 years later, I am forced by circumstance to confront this fearful, 8-year-old part of myself that wanted to be seen but was terrified to come out of hiding. It had snuck in when no one was looking, but now all the doors and windows were shuttered and it couldn’t be contained. So I admitted to someone I trusted and loved, and who I respected musically, with great trepidation, how deeply important this was to me. It was important to me beyond measure that I respected him as a musician. Because if someone I respected that much would accept that part of me, then I really would know it was ok. He understood and encouraged me and that just blew me away. I got the piano I’d been thinking about for a year and started to play it. I had my flute sent out, knew I would never play it, and planned to sell it so I could buy a guitar and take lessons and learn to sing properly if I ever got my voice back. I had all these epiphanies that just kept going, and one was a big huge smack in the face that told me I wanted to play the bass. It wasn’t something I’d ever looked at before, but one day I just heard something in a piece of music and I thought “I want to do THAT.” That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 3 or 4 months, and I’m astounded at my drive and my progress. This is the first time in my life I have had this kind of motivation and singular focus on a thing. This kind of passion. This kind of tenacity and I play until I’m sore and I never feel like I’m practicing or like it’s work. I’ve never had that before, and now I understand what true passion is. Until now I have picked up so many things, done so many jobs, learned so many skills, and called all of them passions at one point or another, but they were never like this. This has been deep in my soul all along. It never came and went. It was just there, an incessant spark and it grew all that time, waiting in the dark until there was a catalyst to ignite it.

It is now about 16 months since I lost my voice. it took an eventual referral to OHSU’s Voice clinic, meeting with doctors many times, lots of laryngoscopies, several weeks of silence and diagnostics to get me to a surgeon who finally said ‘Yep, let’s fix that.” In November of 2017 I went under anesthesia for the first time in my life to have my vocal cords fixed, and am still recovering and learning to speak normally again. I’m taking voice lessons, and even that… singing in front of one person… is a HUGE step. I don’t know that I am a magnificent singer, but I’m trying not to care or ask for permission to sing. I am giving myself permission.

This entire experience has been one of the most humbling of my life. I have had to confront being an adult who is just learning something on the level of a child. I am lucky through circumstance to be surrounded by people who have played music for decades, are professional musicians, who are super talented and who I respect deeply, and are also my friends. And it is with the utmost humility among you that I continue my rudimentary bass and singing practice and count myself, finally, a musician among musicians.

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“The Sweetest Thing” (love is stupid.)

I’ve loved this song from first listen, with a sense of recognition, but always slightly afraid it would hurt some day when a moment would come that made it deeply relevant. Well, it is now, and it’s a part of the sadness I can’t escape. That’s part of what makes songs great… sometimes they reach into your soul and whisper “this is you.”

I stayed up late last night, intently and deeply engaged in conversation with a man I’d just met from whom I could only feel disconnected at the end. Numb at best. I let myself stay authentically engaged until 3am, deeply intent on what we were discussing until it came time to part. And I realized I didn’t want anything from him… or to give him anything.  I apologized for the sudden coldness, and  just walked away with barely a wave, hurrying to get in my car as my heart tore open. I drove through cold, empty streets with pain searing through me that there’s no one new who can distract or comfort me, and no one equally comforting who wants to. Almost no one is familiar enough anyway. I am alone in this in every way. Never in my life of long-term relationships, ones much more enmeshed, years long, more established, committed, co-dependent…. never have any of those ended and left me feeling this kind of loss. Is this the first time I’ve ever truly loved? Is it the first time I’ve ever felt loved? I don’t even know if I was loved, but I don’t suppose that matters if the feeling is there.

Fuck. Please tell me this ends. Loving someone who is unreachable. I can’t stand it much longer.
The stupid pain.
The stupid way I know that it’s perverse to want it back.
The stupid irony of wanting to nourish a person who doesn’t want me to.
The stupid heartbreak of remembering that it’s one-sided.
The stupid truth of knowing that he doesn’t warrant this pain, caring, love, concern, desire, sweetness, or heart.
The stupid way I can’t give it to someone who does.
The stupid honesty I can’t deny.
The stupid feeling that my best self is not enough for someone who was never enough for me.
The stupid wisdom of knowing I am more than enough.
The stupid clarity that he is not capable of meeting me on my level.
The stupid attempts to find a way out through foreign men who only sharpen the knife.
The stupid way I love too much.
The stupid knowledge in my heart that I am exceptional and the loss is profoundly his.
the stupid voice that tells me he will never know that.
The stupid way it doesn’t change anything.

The stupid, degrading shame that I care.

Broken (and unbroken)

It’s been a while… for the first time in a long time I’ve been in a place where writing everything down hasn’t been necessary. I’ve been living and talking with immediacy about the things in my head, and when you can actually communicate directly it hardly feels necessary to write about it. It doesn’t fester. It just happens and things move on in real time. But mainly, it had to do with being in a relationship in which we talked without writing that much. Even the writing I did for myself to sort my things out were read by him in front of me, never sent off into the blackness while I waited to hear back.

I suppose this is also due to changes in lifestyle, in experiencing rather than contemplating and analyzing, in socializing broadly rather than inside a compact network that gets the mind trapped into cultish thinking and thus leading to analyzing and justifying and trying to find meaning in things to explain other things.  But I’m not sure that many things need explaining if you are just experiencing them. As long as you know what matters to you, and you are honest, and you are with good people, you are growing and you don’t need to analyze it in a tortured blog.

Here we are – tortured blog recommences.

I spent the past year in what I’d call – in some ways – the best relationship of my life. In some ways he fell far short of what I needed and did not give back an equal share of what I offered. He tried, and didn’t always succeed, and I accepted that as part of who he is and where he was in his life. There are priceless reasons why I would still call this the best relationship of my life. This post started as a letter to that person. The relationship ended suddenly (or it felt like it to me), which is how it began. In both cases, it was more than kind of confusing. I believe that the whole thing was almost an accident; it certainly wasn’t something either of us expected going into it. It was a casual meet, with no set intentions and no expectations – especially on my part. This person was not looking to get serious. I knew it from the start, and I showed up with that in mind. Fast forward 3 weeks and we were in love. Whatever that word meant to him, he said it, almost letting it slip, and it felt right, and that’s what we were. What it means to me is deep, and I meant it deeply, though the depth grew over time. I do think on my part that infatuation came first, but wasn’t really looking to distinguish one from the other. It just felt right and I felt loving when we were together. Fast forward to public couplehood, to somehow becoming a unit. To being seen out and about everywhere together, and proud to be together and be seen. For all appearances, it was serious. The problems were what problems are in relationships – repetitive, frustrating, heartbreaking, but always resolved, or so it seemed. We never argued, we never yelled, we never had conflict. And while it was in some ways the most peaceful relationship I ever had, that was also a problem. You can’t be honest without at least a little bit of arguing, a little bit of anger and passion. If there’s no conflict, someone is not telling the truth. Someone is making sure that important things are not being brought to light. So there you have it… it ended. But it was profound for me in ways that I will probably never feel again.

So here’s the story I wrote in my letter to this man I still love, to explain to him why it was so important, and why I am so heartbroken and how he changed me. If he reads this, that is fine… if he doesn’t, that is fine too. I am not seeking either outcome, or making any announcements of this post that are different from any other I’ve ever made. I’ve heard nothing from him, and don’t expect to. What he understands of this is, I have decided, of no importance because he doesn’t appear to care and I don’t expect it to have an impact. What I am doing is writing it down for myself, as part of a record of personal growth, which is really what this blog has been all about, isn’t it? I learned something that changed my view on every relationship I’ve ever had up to this point. It put into practice things I understood as magical and unattainable. It broke my heart as I learned it because my old self deserved much better and never knew it. But it opened so many doors, and now I will slowly pick up the pieces of my heart one by one, mend them back together, and in time move ahead without ever repeating those same, old mistakes.

He was the first romantic partner in my life that gave me true acceptance. Ever. In every single relationship I have ever had, something has been wrong with me as far as my partner’s judgment was concerned. And, in every one, his judgment was gospel. Every. One. Starting at the age of 20. In every one there was something wrong with me to be fixed. In every one being me was not enough. Even in my marriage, which was the safe one, the one where I was taken care of by one of the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever known or ever will know. Even he saw me as broken. Even he made it clear that I was not ok the way I was. To be treated as broken is to believe you are broken. It is to believe you cannot succeed, you cannot do it, you cannot stand up on your own feet and be enough. I won’t say I wasn’t a bit of a mess…. In each one I was or I wouldn’t have chosen people I thought could either fix me or take care of me. I chose that because I knew I needed to grow and heal things in myself and my determination to sort out my “brokenness” has never wavered, with or without a partner. But I also kept believing more and more with each one that even thought I was doing so much work I was more and more broken. You have to be pretty broken to be on your fourth long-term relationship and still not any closer to fixed. So I clung to these relationships like the only ship in a storm even as they were drifting further and further into the fray, promising to see me through, but only if I could prove I was worth it. How do you prove you are worth anything when all you know is that you are not? I’m very lucky I did not end up with more brutal partners, because it is the weak and desperate who allow themselves to be treated this way. In my case, I had the privilege to have something desirable to trade on – my looks, my sexuality – though even that belief was easy to take away from me at any point. I waded through a lifetime as a broken little girl… 21 years of it. 21 years of men who treated me as less than. 21 years of men who knew better than I did, had the answers, didn’t listen to or trust my intellect or instinct, didn’t encourage or believe in my hopes or dreams. 21 years of men who had a pathological need to keep me powerless, needing them, and dependent on them in various ways while at the same time holding their contempt for me and resentment of me against me. They all shared one thing, and that is that they did not respect or trust me. It does damage, to say the least.

My knee-jerk assumption now, when I meet someone who seems to like me, is to assume I don’t deserve their attention. Either that, or they don’t deserve mine. How could I deserve it? Whatever it is that draws them to me is not as pretty up close – they just don’t know it yet. They will find it – a mistake, something that will show itself as flawed and thus end things or else show that this person has already seen me as flawed and that’s what they want – to drag me into the same type of scenario I’ve been fighting to avoid since the last time I let myself be open, which ended with severe neglect, and finally being screamed at in a Starbucks and then blocked from every communication access point possible for an imaginary infraction for which I was judged guilty.

And I tell this history of my past not to elicit sympathy. I tell it because while I knew I’d been through narcissistic, emotionally abusive and controlling relationships, I’ve never understood it quite this way, or understood that apart from my marriage, which was just enabling and debilitating, those were the only kind I’d ever had until I was in one that wasn’t.

I never let him know that he was the ONLY person who ever looked at me and never told me I was broken or wrong or less than or worthless.

He was the ONLY person who had ever valued me, listened to me with true openness, did not condescend to me, took my curiosity of things I was ignorant of as an exciting opportunity to teach me. I’ve never, even from my parents, had a person do that for me. He was the only person who truly valued my abilities, my thoughts, ideas, opinions, especially on music – what I had been scared to admit mattered more to me than anything, and what he is most expert at. He listened… he took me seriously. He encouraged me, and when I played him clunky songs I was trying to learn on the piano or guitar, I would turn around to see this 20+ year veteran of music smiling with tears running down his face. He was proud of me for my effort and my openness to share my ineptitude. Every time he told me something good about myself was a new experience. The looks he gave me – pride and love and excitement to be with me, be seen with me, and not just seen, but trusted to be myself in social environments where I’d previously have been so controlled I’d have been mute for fear of saying the wrong thing. I was treated as a pride and joy, and a worthy and valuable companion, and I learned that hey… maybe I am. Maybe I am actually quite charming, intelligent, and also kind of hot sometimes. He “unbroke” me.

To end… I’m pretty sure the profundity of this relationship has only been experienced by me. To a person who has been neglected, ignored, condescended to, mistrusted, unheard, disrespected… these things are profound. To a person who expects to be treated well or treats people well as a matter of course, it was a fun and connected, but mostly a problematic relationship that probably could never have survived without some major shift in balance. Because I gave a lot, and I gave and gave and gave it willingly. I gave patience, help, comfort, time, money, effort… I did not feel a single ounce of resentment. I still don’t. However, now I realize that what I gave was all of myself. What I received was tremendous to me, but it was not a tremendous thing for him to give. It was just him being himself. And equal to all the good stuff were anxious periods of being cut off from communication and the feeling that I was pulling teeth to create just the tiniest amount of stability. So the balance was… considerably off. The importance placed on each action was not equally understood, and whether or not he had deep feelings for me I will never know. I hope so because I honestly believe I rose to my best self.

What I know now is that, while this hurts like a motherfucker and I would love nothing more than to believe in second chances, to solve whatever went wrong, I know that being apart is part of what is needed. I deserve true balance, and someone who will give as much of themselves as I do, and want to, and make me feel all those amazing things about myself while never leaving me feeling the need to wonder if my partner wants to give me in return all that I am giving him.

A good Dom is hard to find.

12/12/16
I wrote this several months ago, but I’ve publicized it now in the process of analyzing and thinking about what I need and want in my current relationship. After letting it sit a while I’ve determined that it’s worth reading, even if I’m the only one who reads it.

I’m not sure how to write this without coming across as preachy and impossible to please. And I’m not a fan of telling anyone how they “should” do anything. Really, I’m not. At the same time, there are ways to do things that are healthy and ways that are not. There are ways that are positive and ways that are not. There are ways that are abusive and ways that are not. And there are ways that are thoughtful, aware, subtle, and truly loving and which are the difference between someone who thoughtlessly dominates and one who responsibly and carefully wields power given in trust.

I am not impossible to please, but i am difficult to please because i have high standards. Those standards come from experience, from past relationships, from learning the hard way. From learning about myself through having experiences i thought i wanted, and finding out that those experiences cannot be had in any kind of healthy way. I’m looking back through the other side of dysfunctional and twisted relationships, to understand why each one happened, why each lasted long enough to have a strong impact, and determining the lessons that each taught me.

From my first substantial D/s relationship I learned not to let immediate wants and needs overtake me. It seems so basic, but fresh out of a vanilla marriage all I wanted was someone to tell me what to do, to overpower me, and to make me feel, finally, like I didn’t have to be in charge. My judgment was out the window, and I cringe looking back on choices I made that were short-sighted and foolish, self-damaging, and ultimately just plain embarrassing. I let the attention-starved and seriously co-dependent side of myself call all the shots, and in so doing completely missed that the person I was with was ultimately immature, noncommittal, and selfish. These things would be so glaringly obvious to me now, but all I saw then was escape.

From my second, and very long-lasting and complicated D/s relationship I learned the most. I learned what emotional abuse looks like, and what it means to be left unsupported as a sub. It started gently, very slowly, and what seemed very thoughtfully. Being two extreme and intense people, the ideas and fantasies were always edgy, and sometimes the actions. It worked its way to a M/s relationship with no safe words, no excuses, no limits, and ultimate failure. These things are there for a reason – safe words, limits, and negotiation. Unfortunately, when i quit my job and became a full-time slave I was left without structure, goals, and attention. I learned what it looks and feels like to be the recipient of lack of follow-through. Of constant disappointment. Follow-through is critical. It is everything. It is integrity and it is what allows trust. I was also terrorized by the relationship I was in, without any expectations made clear, no structure, no rules, no boundaries, and at the same time intense sexual demands that escalated into and beyond the limits of safety and sanity. My fear and instinct to protect myself was deemed disobedience, and my floundering without any kind of structure was deemed laziness. I didn’t know what to do. I was supposed to do what I was told, but was told nothing. I was left without connection when the only thing I had left was my connection to this person who I’d promised to obey without question.

Both of these relationships were begun at times in my life when I was rootless, jobless, and completely emotionally vulnerable and lost. In both I was offered help and guidance, a journey of becoming and what I was told would include brutal but necessary growing pains. I was up for it both times because I was desperate and truly lost. What I didn’t realize was that the responsibility for my growth was MINE. What I also didn’t realize was that I was not the person they wanted on the inside. I was the person they wanted on the outside, and they each made it a project to change the inside so that I would be the whole person they wanted. When it didn’t work, they grew frustrated and contemptuous. I will never accept that again. I am no one’s project.

My most recent D/s relationship began differently. I had my feet much more firmly planted, I was working steadily, I had my own place to live independently of anyone else, and the person I was submitting to had his own independent life, including other partners. We had a pretty rigid schedule of renegotiations and check-ins. I was held accountable and given structure. I was able to rely on him in times of sub-drop, and was given direction when requested. Still, with all of that, I was again a project. I was again determined to be less-than, lacking, and the job at hand was to make me an adult because through all of these past relationships, including my vanilla marriage, I’d never grown up. This was legitimate and true, and I agreed to the process, and I did grow up. I went through some hard stuff with him and he supported me and showed me a lot of what a good Dom should be. There was a lot of accountability, and a lot of trust, and I worked very hard, and my hard work was appreciated and celebrated. I was supported in my painful metamorphosis. I did things from which I would have previously flinched in terror. I learned how much I am capable of. I accepted that I have power and that it’s ok to have it. But ultimately I was not what he wanted, either. I was tasked with becoming something else, something better. It was something I myself knew had value and in fact it is where I have finally come to, but to be told I was not worthy until I reached it was damaging. The relationship ended before I got there. It ended in flames. I thought I did not understand why, and without confirmation I can only postulate.My guess is that I outgrew him. There was a huge incident that spurred the break. One in which I was given a punishment far outstripping what seemed to me a small misstep. It forced me to question, and I looked back with discernment into his eyes, and I saw someone who had lost power over me. I didn’t recognize this then. I was harshly rejected, disowned, and lost not just him, but a huge support system built around him. However, the devastation had its benefits in the long run. It pushed me forward.

I became exactly what he wanted, but for myself. The person he wanted was an equal, a person with power, a strong and independent woman who would submit – out of nothing but desire and affection – to him and let go of all of that power by choice. To trust and obey and be used, humiliated, degraded, to do it by choice and for both to know that this is the ultimate form of submission. That the more power you have, the more you have to give up. The more valuable every act of obedience becomes. You can say, as many like to, that “the sub has the ultimate power in any power exchange relationship,” but this is a simplistic way of looking at it. A more empowering way of looking at it is that every free person in this world has power. It is foolish and naive to deny that a submissive has power or that it can be taken away from her. But she has no more power than her Dom. Neither is truly in control of the other. It is an exchange.

From now on, it will always be an exchange. I will never be a project again. I don’t need training. If there’s one thing I am and have always strived to be, it is a good girl. I never needed inspiration for that. It is a core part of who I am. Anyone who has any intimate D/s knowledge of me knows that I obey, and this is where my joy comes from. I don’t need a life coach. I don’t need a therapist (I already have one). I don’t need someone to mold me into anything. What I wish I’d noticed in myself through all of this, all those years of torment (much of which came at the hands of mental illness and my own low-self esteem independent of others), was that I had been surviving the whole time. I’d been fighting the whole time. I’d never stopped working toward my own growth, understanding, self-awareness and improvement. I never settled for my own weakness. I need someone who sees me as i really am – a flawed work-in-progress and a powerful and capable woman who has chosen them to be the one she kneels for. And to value that greatly, flaws included.

And here is the preachy part:

There is a responsibility you have to a person when you accept their submission. They’ve given you power and deep trust, and by relieving them of it you now owe them your best intent, your integrity, your trustworthiness and your trust, and the promise that you will create a place of safety for them within the dynamic you share. You are responsible for following through on the structure you create, the things you say, and the rules you set. You are responsible for making your expectations clear, and for holding your partner accountable to consent given. For checking in on that consent frequently. For insisting they tend to their own responsibility to always communicate desires, feelings, thoughts, fears, worries, and concerns, and for creating a secure space from which to do it. Because you are responsible for making sure YOU can trust THEM. It goes both ways, and a Dom can no more effectively maintain control without trust than a sub can submit without it.

The great thing about this is that if you do it right, all the things you want can happen. The most intense and edgy things that were demanded of me produced fear and trauma in me under the wrong hand, but I can’t envision a single thing I would be unwilling to at least keep an open mind about given a relationship with a strong and stable foothold in trust and openness. Intense and edgy are inherent in me, but those kinds of things need the most support and trust.

I did not start out strong, capable, or independent. This much is very true. I’ve changed so much, I am a different person even though some days it doesn’t feel like it.

-I believed I was a baby, but I am capable of withstanding a beating, a rough day, or a heartbreak.
-I was led to believe I was not submissive, but I am most content when submitting deeply to someone I trust and love.
-I believed I was not a masochist… well, I am. Yay 🙂
-I believed the only way to become strong is to be broken, but the way I’ve ultimately become strong is by fighting attempts to break me.
-I survived a goddamn heart attack, for fuck’s sake.
-I believed I was not good enough. I am more than good enough.

And this is all to say that I know. I know what is healthy and what is not. I know whether you are for real or if you aren’t quite there yet. And I know there are a lot of people out there whose domination is really abuse, whether they are aware of it or not. I have high standards, and demand some advanced self-awareness and understanding of power dynamics. I have created some very large shoes to fill, but I am worth it.

anniversary

This morning I woke up and took my “old man drugs.” I do this every morning now, and I don’t think twice about it. I take a blood thinner, a beta blocker, baby aspirin, and a cholesterol medication. Every day. One year ago today I nearly died of a heart attack. I should have died, according to every nurse and doctor I’ve spoken to. I was lucky – freakishly lucky – that the total cardiac arrest I had was mitigated by an incredibly loving and quick-thinking friend and two strangers who elected to stop what they were doing and breathe and pump my blood for me while ambulances were called. I want to thank them again, today, and maybe I’ll even text them to say so, because I am only here because of them.

It’s been a year since I started what amounts to a new life, though at the time it wasn’t as dramatic as all that. There was no cinematic change in appearance or personality upon regaining consciousness (although I am convinced there’s a slight droop to one side of my face even though  no one else sees it). I had no near-death revelatory experience. I did not leave my body. I have no gruesome scar that one can see. It happened in conjunction with having just recently made the huge change of saying goodbye to a tumultuous long term relationship that had been the focus of my life for several years. Moving to a new home on my own. Stress had mounted, with the ending of my relationship and stress in my job, where I was dedicated to improving what was an increasingly dysfunctional workplace, but denied the opportunity. Stress is a nice way to describe the pressure I was under at the time, and had been under for several years. It’s no wonder I collapsed, literally, under its weight.

The past year has been…. interesting. Hard, emotionally grueling, challenging, full of growing pains, and full of growing up. Full of gains, and full of loss. I did things I’d been waiting to do and never had. I legally changed my name. I got a tattoo. I broke through personal blocks I thought were permanent. I learned to feel joy, albeit cautiously. I also turned 40, which I suppose is apropos for a year of radical evolution.

When I first learned I “should” have died, that this was almost a miracle, that I’d barely slipped past the jaws of death, I was mad. I was so angry. I felt I should most certainly have died. I’d been through years of suicidal thoughts and unbidden imagery. After all those years of hoping to die, hoping to be smashed into on the highway, or to be hit by a bus, or to just have the selfishness to end it… why? Why me? Of all the thousands of people who die of cardiac arrests every year, or wind up vegetables, why me? Why did I have to continue to do the hard work of living? Why was I the one who didn’t deserve peace? And why couldn’t I rejoice that I DID win that lottery? That phase lasted a few weeks, but did end. I did get past it and understand that this was a precious second chance.

With the help of a then-friend, someone I trusted more deeply so far in my life than anyone, I went through some hard encounters with myself, many of which I’ve blogged about in the past year, so go ahead and read back if you’re interested. That relationship was precious to me, and it seemed a friendship I was destined to keep in some form or other for a good, long amount of time, but it’s now dissolved for reasons I am still unsure of. For all its complications, I owe him so much for putting me on the road I needed to be on, one I am still walking, and the one that has led me to the biggest and most drastic evolutions I’ve been through so far. Learning humility and thus gaining integrity. This person had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known, and yet I saw it falter as he struggled through the difficulties that led to our estrangement as well as difficulties unrelated to me. I learned then what integrity really is. It’s not absolute, and it’s not etched in stone. Ironically, this inspired me more than ever to hold firm to my own fledgling integrity at every cost.

Other people came into my life during the same time. I had a team of devoted friends who were loving and supportive as I worked through a lot of hard things. The long and short, though, in the end, is that this network is dissolved along with that other relationship. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop, and it’s not that one necessitated the others, but I feel I placed trust where it wasn’t deserved, and the letdown led to breakdown and dissolution of more relationships. Being let down is a theme for me, and one I’ve examined, and can take responsibility for insofar as where my own expectations lie. In the past I’ve been at fault for expecting more than was promised, and then feeling disappointed when it was not delivered. But in this case, I think my expectations were in line with the words that were agreed upon. I was told directly that someone was committing to me, and found later that what I’d put my energy into was not being fed by the other, and that I’d been manipulated into a situation I was unsure (and in my gut knew was not right) of. I don’t really know what happened in a great many ways. There were a few months there of tangled, confusing, contradictory and seemingly manipulative communication. Lots of triangulation. Lots of twisting of reality. I doubt I will ever know what to make of it. I write about it here today because it ties so deeply into the personal growth I committed myself to after my heart attack, and this whole debacle made me feel I’d failed utterly to grow. To be mired in drama felt like the opposite of growth.

So I cut those strings. And that felt big and it felt like the adult, healthy thing to do. The end of codependence. And it was. It made me feel I had regained my progress towards a healthy, sane, adult and drama-free life, but it was such a loss. A huge loss. One of the biggest I’ve felt in a long time. Bigger even, somehow, than losing my long term relationship. That made sense, and it wound down slowly. That hole was dug slowly and prepared carefully. This was just a chasm that opened up without warning. The writing was on the wall, I’ll grant you, but I somehow thought these relationships were more solid than they were.

Professionally, I also found great ups and downs. Immediately after the heart attack I threw myself into a job I expected would be empowering, and a workplace and co-workers who seemed supportive. This wasn’t the case and it demoralized me greatly until that job ended, my misery compounded by the fact that I didn’t even choose when to leave – they chose for me. On the flip side my current job is the opposite. It is full of people with integrity, empathy, compassion and true team spirit. No one complains, no one is lazy, no one blames anyone else for their mistakes, and everyone jumps in to help wherever they can. We are all very happy there, and it is a singularly unique work environment I am thankful for every day. Another lottery won.

In my personal life I am now more or less alone. I live alone. I sleep alone. I have no pets because I am often away from home and have no one to share that responsibility with. I have not been this alone since I was in my twenties. Even then I had a cat. This is rather profound for me, as it’s not holding nearly the sense of desperation it once would have. It would have felt like a pressure-cooker, like something that could not hold before I broke down or entered into some unhealthy relationship to relieve the anxiety of my aloneness. Don’t get me wrong, I do have friends and they are wonderful, and I am grateful for them and I make space and hold space for them to the best of my ability. But at the end of the day they are in their lives and I am in mine. I am doing fine here. I am not loving it, I don’t cherish my solitude like some people, and I don’t jealously guard my independence, but I’ve learned to appreciate solitude and to value independence.

To do some accounting, I have gained for myself: true integrity, independence, emotional fortitude, and gratitude. I’d like to think these things are partly what made me hirable at my new job.

I have lost: a great deal of friendship, and with it a sense of belonging to a family of sorts. I’ve lost trust along with it. This is breaking my heart greatly today as I think of the path the last year has taken. I have not cried over this loss for months. For the past few months I have focused on my work, my friends, my rope activities, my social life, and my own health. I’ve been exercising, climbing, and working hard to be strong in my body along with my mind. Today, though, I have been crying for all this loss. I have been missing all the close ties I had, and I have been ruminating over how it all got so complicated that there was no fixing it. I will never know, and need to be ok with that, and need to move forward. I will because I have no choice.

And now… I stand better for all that has happened. A better person, a better friend, a better potential partner, a better co-worker, a better human being. At my darkest, I sometimes feel that the reason I continue to survive – continued despite diabetes, continued despite suicidal thoughts, continued despite this heart attack – is to spare the feelings of the people around me who would have to feel sad were I to die. But I am going to try to feel like the reason I continue to live is to spread the things I’ve learned in the past year to the world by making the most of each encounter I have, by being kind, compassionate, thoughtful, humble; by listening, holding space for people, and reminding myself, above all, to never let go of integrity. Having integrity, I’ve learned most of all, is a practice. It’s not something you just “have” and thus always exhibit. We all let it go sometimes, let it lapse in favor of doing what is easy or what we want above what we feel is right. Each moment is a moment to choose: do we follow the easy and/or desirable path or do we follow the path that leads us to self-respect, self-love, and growth?

*image from: https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/symptoms_of_heart_disease_in_women/symptoms-of-a-heart-attack/

exorcism

I have not written anything worth posting in a while. I have not written anything in a while, period. It would seem that with the exorcism of drama from my life – by cutting myself off from the people who were participating in and encouraging it, and accompanying circumstances – I have also exorcised the anxiety and feeling of being in crisis it engendered, thus reducing my blogging output. This astounds me a bit, as I was truly of the belief that the drama I was experiencing was self-inflicted. It delights and validates me that this is not so; that it needed fuel to burn so brightly. I have previously lived in perpetual crisis, existential in nature for the most part, and never thought there would be a time when I’d let that go. Sure, there are things I am up in my head about, things that feel unsettled or disappointing, unresolved and heartbreaking. I am handling these things internally and most of all not turning them into something bigger than they are or to make a fuss over. I’ve learned that my drama ( or lack thereof) does not define me.

Through this cleansing of my social digestive system I have lost some people who mattered very dearly to me. This is the hardest part to reconcile. But there is no denying that I spent the bulk of my time among those people feeling heightened worry, fear and pressure, not to mention a constant need to prove myself. I spent it managing conflict, within myself and between myself and others. I spent it watching others manage conflict and make things more complicated than they could ever need to be.

I could write a very long treatise on the several months of confusing, hurtful, and disappointing series of events that led me to drastically remove myself from the situations I was in. I think previous writings will shed enough light on that, though, and that is so not the point. I do admit it is hard to completely let go of.

What is most striking to me at this point in my life is that it is the FISRT TIME I am living with awareness of what is important (not my own drama), how to be happy, or at any rate how not to be miserable. It all starts with looking around, connecting to the world, taking in the larger view, and not allowing myself to tunnel down into the solipsistic vacuum of my own crisis. There is no crisis, only things that happen and how I respond. Some guidelines I am making up on the fly, but which I have been following without organizing them into such:

1. Don’t get involved in situations that are not clearly defined and understood by all parties. Don’t just know what you want – and for heaven’s sake be honest about what that is, make sure anyone else involved knows what they want and is also honest with themselves about it. FOR REAL. Honesty and transparency get thrown around a lot as ideals, especially when addressing polyamory, but brutal honesty is the only way to make interpersonal relationships flourish. I, for the record, don’t consider myself poly at this point, but don’t have hard and fast rules about who I get involved with. Only rules that help me avoid drama, immediately or down the line.

2. Don’t get pulled into mass emotion, but rather seek perspective. I’ve been spurred on by the many tragic events that have happened this month. The shooting in Orlando is something everyone I am close to is wrecked by. They are all feeling intensely about it, and I understand why. I am not feeling this way… and a part of me wants to, wishes I could “catch” this feeling of loss and sadness. Another part of me realizes that I can still feel about it. I can feel MY feelings and they are not ones of feeling grief and loss, but rather something else I can’t define. Perhaps my mind’s way of protecting me from said grief, but it has allowed me a more analytical response. At the risk of sounding callous, I see it as growing pains. Tragic ones that need not happen, but sociologically unsurprising. Our sociological world is being dismantled, and this is a good thing. Pushing for inclusivity and equity are having a huge impact. Don’t forget, for whatever it might be worth to you, that this is so, because it is enormous. But there is always going to be backlash and resistance. How many civil rights leaders and activists were murdered in the course of their cause? How many young, innocent men and women fighting for equal rights for blacks in the sixties died for it? This is fading history, but it was a lot. And just as senseless and horrifying. There is a risk to being part of a movement, and it is a risk well worth taking, but it IS a risk nonetheless. And before you tell me that the people in that nightclub were not there as a political protest, they were, like a lot of the young, unprepared members of counterculture in the sixties, a part of that movement just by showing up and celebrating who they were. This is the saddest part of all, that we cannot celebrate who we are without being involuntary conscripted into a dangerous conflict. Wars are not fair, and this brings me back to my own feelings about this happening. It was sickening, sociopathic, and fed by hate. It makes me angry that millions of people are involuntarily now in the spotlight standing for something they may not have signed up for. It also gives me hope that the escalation of resistance to this movement means it is breaking through. I often get “accused” of finding the smallest of silver linings in bad situations, and this is no different. We HAVE to find the silver linings in this, in all tragedy, and let those propel us forward. This is how we grow. So, I suppose in the end, my boundary for drama in this case is to take a larger look, to not get mired down in how it affects ME, in my own tragedy. I have the perspective to realize that I suffer no personal tragedy here. What I do suffer is the collective tragedy alongside my fellow warriors. But I look for the silver linings, the threads of hope and progress. Because I’d rather respectfully feel my sad feelings, let them go, and look for what we can learn.

3. Don’t think you are the only one who deals with stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness, emptiness, fear, insecurity or sometimes has a hard time getting by day to day. And don’t assume others’ struggles are related to you at all. This is life, and life is hard for everyone. We all fight to stay upright through life. It comes in varying degrees of hard for different people, but no one is immune to existential pain. When I remember that, I look at everyone around me and imagine a door in them, behind which lies their own inner world of complex grief. This engages my empathy and makes it easy to love people. Empathy and compassion only grow through practice and awareness. I’m not a saint, I have many moments of getting sucked into myself, but less as I approach with an attitude of allowing others to be others and not co-opting them into my own experience.

4. Love without boundaries. It’s a verb, and loving others, even just an undefined, global, silent feeling that is genuine, means so much, and it causes a ripple effect all around you.

A year after having a heart attack (almost), nearly dying, facing mortality in the same year I faced the age of 40, I am a different person. I spent that year fighting and growing and facing demons. I worked fucking hard. I spent it feeling a desperate desire to be part of something that helped me heal, but was not ultimately healthy. I spent it slowly repairing damage to my psyche, and gaining understanding of that which I have yet to repair, if it is at all repairable. i spent it outgrowing a support system in which trauma gets a spotlight. I grew past the spotlight and while there’s much left to address, I learned that I can be more effective by just living, and not giving my trauma so much goddamn power. I spent it learning to be alone, and not to fear solitude. I spent it conditioning my body along with my mind, developing true progress in a way I never have before, and building some badass muscles in the process.

I spent it becoming an adult.

I wrote six months ago that I was “declared an adult” by someone else, but now I declare myself an adult. A flawed one who is still very much a work in progress…. none of these things I’ve done in the past year are finished. But I can manage them, and beyond being a far cry from a year ago, it is a VERY far cry from 3 years ago, June 1, 2013, when I first moved to Portland, traumatized by my recent past and unable to function, work, eat, sleep, or hold a steady mood for more than half an hour. That girl was broken into a million pieces, and was lucky to find the right people to support her. I’m lucky now that those same people – many of them, anyway – have stuck around to continue their support, and I love you all who’ve seen me through the darkest.

letting go

*edit: I realize this thing meanders all over the fucking place. Deal with it, that’s kind of how my brain works. 


So far 2016 has been a brutal one for me interpersonally.

Brutal. As. Fuck.

i am letting go….

of people who don’t wish the best for me.

of people who don’t have time for me.

of people who don’t actively reach out to me.

of people who don’t keep their word.

of people who withhold their feelings about me from me.

of places where i am not valued.

of believing that i am unlikeable.*

of believing that i am not valuable.*

of believing that i am a burden.

of believing that i am broken.

of worrying what people fucking think of me.*

This is weight i don’t need. Pain i don’t need, hope and disappointment i don’t need. This is weight that is preventing me from standing up all the way. This is not my weight to carry unless I choose to. i am far from perfect, and i am not without work ahead of me that will continue until I die, but I am:

worth others’ time

worth honesty

worth keeping commitments for

worth best wishes for happiness

worth the effort

worth trusting

worth genuine love and compassion*

worth being considered.*

worth what i am paid, and a lot more.

worth investing in.

I invest deeply in my relationships. I do what I say I will. I value your time, and I appreciate and am grateful for it. I believe what people tell me, and I believe they will do what they say. I strive to rise to the occasion for the people I invest in. I strive to grow every day, to learn every day, to be humble every day, and to kick some ass every day. I make it a point to praise myself when I do kickass things, and I will tell you about it so you can too. Because I want to do the same for you if you are my friend or partner.

I’ve spent my life seeing angles, manipulations, taking advantage of the angles and also becoming a master manipulator. I’m not innocent, and I know how to play people. I easily see when others are playing games. It is exhausting seeing angles, the complexity of human interaction, of analyzing the moves people make and seeing all the ways it can play out, all the ways it does play out, and there is a weight to this ability, this power of observation and analysis. There is so much insincerity and so much deceit, whether intended or unintended. In the end I find it painful to watch, especially to/from people I care about.

So when it comes to me… I’ve let that go. I want no part of game-playing or strategy when it comes to my relationships. I’ve recently been through a spate of it, and it has me even further wanting to strip away all pretense, all barriers, all bullshit, and be raw and real and basic. I want you to be that way too.

Right now I am going to be perfectly honest and frank and say that I am disproportionately heartbroken over something that never existed. Its potential did…. and it seemed like that potential was enormous. Still, that’s all it was and I really should get the fuck over it. And I say this because the reason it is so hard to get over is because it was not resolved. The lack of resolution is difficult and I am guessing at angles, agendas, all kinds of ideas, reasons, motivations to fill in the answer-less space. It makes it complicated in my head, and dramatic, and it feels so important and intense when what should be intense is what I can actually do and feel and touch and see and the people I can do and feel and touch with.

Especially because there are some friends in my life right now who are exactly what I need. Honest, open, without guile, and without any kind of agenda that includes manipulation, deceit or selfish insecurity-driven behavior. It’s easy and fun to engage with the people I have been spending time with. I feel safe, and I feel cared about. I hope they do too. I know that I am investing in these people, and I feel, and I think, they are investing in me. Investment takes time, and it takes effort, and it takes genuine love, of a kind. You have to love someone to spend the time to invest in them, even if that love is not the big fireworks romantic love.

For now I am ok with that. As long as it’s real. I’ll take all the real connections I can get, no matter what form they take. Just be honest, solid, grounded, kind, and invest in me. Because I am investing in you. What follows from there will never feel bad or wrong, and won’t ever be a mistake.

I am letting go of what doesn’t serve me. And that leaves a lot of room for love.

*I’m still working on it.