Saturday, May 25, 2019
"You Ruin Everything"
"You ruin everything".
I was told this time and time again as a teenager. This accusation continues to influence my approach to life to this day.
In his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, Mark Manson specifies that an unhealthy relationship boundary exists if one person holds another person responsible for how they feel. Conversely, it is also an unhealthy boundary if we take responsibility for another's feelings. Why might this be a cornerstone of his book? Because when there is an unhealthy boundary in a relationship, it always results in disaster. There is no more self-defeating exercise than to hold ourselves accountable for what we have little to no control over, or when we insist that another is responsible for what they have no control over. Trust me on this--I have been testing this theory over the last 40 years of my life.
Here is the thing about feelings--are you ready? We choose our goddamn feelings. Nobody can make us feeling anything, no matter how important a role they have in our lives. It looks like this: someone does something, we have a thought about it, and a feeling follows. Notice that the middle-man of the process is how we think about what happens. Our thoughts drive our feelings, unless, of course, someone punches you in the face. In that case pain drives our feelings. But the majority of the time nobody is punching us in the face. Instead, they are saying or doing things that cause us to think poorly about ourselves.
I was labeled "emotional" and "sensitive" as a kid. Mind you, those labels were not complimentary at the time. In my therapy practice, I see couples come in where the woman is often labeled "over-emotional", and I am quick to tell the man that a woman is NEVER over-emotional--she is in fact feeling appropriate feelings regarding what has been triggered in her. My emotionalism as a teenager was rooted in a fear of abandonment--I thought that if my parents knew who I really was (gay) they would not love me anymore. I was wrong, of course, they would always love me, but they certainly were disappointed in how I "turned out". Isn't that a laugh?
Conditional love is still love, unless the conditions are about who the other person is instead of what you can or can't live with.
As a teen, I felt lost and scared. My homosexuality went against everything I was taught about how be loved and how to get into Heaven. It went against everything I learned about how to live a good life and be a good person. I had such a hard time understanding why I was cursed with this perversion--and I had nobody to talk to about it. This led to depression and acting out--as a teenager sex with men made me feel, for a short while, like I was in fact lovable. But when my family found out that (gasp) I was attracted to men, the shit hit the fan. I was emotionally abandoned by both my parents. My father escaped into alcoholism (for which I was blamed), and my mother escaped into denial. My brother just escaped, and he continues to escape reality to this day with his embrace of Mormonism (he would not agree with this assessment, which is just another form of escape).
I specifically remember a phone conversation with my brother when I was 18 years old and in my first year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He told me that I was to blame for the family's problems, including my father's drinking; he told me that I had ruined everything. And I believed him, because I had been taught that my desires were selfish and unnatural, evil and predatory, and that the only way to honor my family was to deny who I was (resist the Devil).
My brother was wrong about me, he was wrong about my father's drinking, and he was wrong about life.
The problem with religion is that it has criminalized feeling good, labeling pleasure as the "devil's work". What is wrong with wanting to feel good? Religion has flourished by turning suffering into a virtue, at the expense of, well, nearly everything. Pleasure is not the devil's work, y'all. You know what is? Fear.
Fear is what keeps us from making bad decisions at times, but it is also what keeps us from realizing our full potential as humans. I know many good people who are religious, but their goodness is limited by a forced value system that is archaic and juvenile. What is wrong with sucking a dick? I implore you to convince me of the wrongness of that. Certainly the men who are on the receiving end of a dick sucking would be hard pressed to argue against it. While we need fear, we also need to choose despite fear at times, as these choices can lead us to transformation.
When I was a teenager, I just wanted to love and be loved, but fear told me that if I acted on these impulses, I would ruin everything.
I was making a pizza with my boyfriend recently, using a pizza peel I had just purchased. I put flour on the peel so that the pizza would slide onto the pizza stone easily, or so I thought. But it didn't slide easily. In fact, it didn't move at all. I found myself in a panic, not knowing how to get a BBQ Chicken Pizza from the wood peel onto the stone, and I was triggered into feeling that I had "ruined everything". In other words, I started to lose it. Fortunately, my boyfriend sensed my distress and came to the rescue, helping me move the pizza onto a sheet pan where it would bake into a crunchy goodness, and I was able to return to the present moment and ease my upset.
I have to do things perfectly--many of my friends know this. Fortunately, there are many things that I do nearly perfectly, but in the rare case where I am challenged in my perfectionism, I am triggered into feeling that I have "ruined everything".
I am tired of feeling that way. I do not have the power to ruin everything. I never did.
My parents, as loving as they were, failed me in many ways. I never ruined things--I was simply becoming myself in a way that they were not familiar with. What was being "ruined" was the way they were brought up to think about parenting--that it is an activity undertaken to reinforce prevailing values. I got news for you--it is so not that! Parenting is a noble act in that it is an opportunity to foster a blooming individual into a world that is constantly changing.
You know what I love about tulips? You never know in what direction they are going to reach. I love putting them in a vase and watching them stretch and strive for the sun--wherever it is. Children are like that--we never know in what direction they will thrive, but with our guidance they will find their way to the sun. The role of parents is to protect and shepard, not to proscribe. Shame on you parents who proscribe! You are serving yourself and not your children!
I found my way to the sun, but not without many attempts by the world to cut me down. My parents didn't try to cut me down, they just stopped watering me. They had an unhealthy boundary with me, holding me responsible for their fear. So I found sustenance in other wayward tulips.
I am still reaching toward the sun.
It is time I put to bed the notion that I can ruin everything, because I want to be human in the world and with my boyfriend. I do not wish to take responsibility for how he feels, nor hold him responsible for how I feel. I want, instead, to take responsibility for my choices and feelings, with the hope that I will be motivated by respect and love, knowing that at times I will choose, appropriately, myself over him.
We will get the pizza onto the stone, together, and it will be crunchy and delicious, if not perfectly shaped. Sometimes it will stick to the peel, and that is okay. It is okay. It is okay. It will still be wonderful, not ruined at all. Even if it is not perfect.