Fridays have now become synonymous with breaking down into tears for me. I used to believe in things like talk therapy, but instead of giving me a cathartic release, baring my soul has left me feeling drained and without closure. Thinking back on it now, the floodgates were opened about 2 weeks ago and I thought that my tears would eventually run dry, but they seem to keep on going.
Friday Review. The room grows solemn as we sit around each other in a circle of chairs. One of our coaches asks us to stand up if the sentence he reads out loud applies to us. It was light-hearted enough at first, but as always, things started to get real.
Stand up if you’ve lost sleep because you were concerned about the safety or well-being of somebody you loved.
I feel my eyes well up with tears as I stand. I think of a terrifying late night phone call and things that are not mine to hold.
But I managed to keep myself together, and for most of the activity, I do feel fine. I’ve gone back to my habit of staring at the floor but it more out of respect for what we were doing, baring our souls just a tiny bit as we stood up or sat each round. I was surrounded by people I had spent 10 weeks in San Francisco with, and perhaps we were brought together by mere circumstance, but it was also a choice for us to open up to each other the way that we have.
Then comes the sentence that really throws me off balance.
I want you think about this next one for a little bit, because it’s a little tricky. Stand up if you feel like you’ve ever been a child.
My brows furrowed as I tried to discern the meaning behind the vague sentence. Of course, I’ve been a child, I thought in the more literal sense. The understanding dawned on me, but even then I tried to rationalize my feelings away. I reminded myself that I was never beaten or abused. They weren’t perfect, but I grew up with a loving family in a nice household. I was one of the last people to remain seated, but in the end I stood up, less out of certainty and more out of denial and perhaps a sense of optimism.
I’m going to say a few things to clarify, and if you feel like you need to change your position, feel free to sit down or stand up. For some people in this room, they already know what I mean. When you were a child, you didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy being a child because you had to worry about other things, take care of other people when you should have been taken care of.
I’m struggling to recall what was said last Friday, maybe out of an attempt to preserve myself from the saddening thought. But something inside me broke. It is amazing how long I have gone without realizing it, but I never really had a childhood.
I sat down, less out of choice and more out of my legs collapsing underneath me as the realization hits too close to home. The tears, a familiar companion now, escape from deep within me and I started shaking my head. I did this, not necessarily out of denial, but out of… disappointment? Out of no, this is not okay, this has never been and should never be okay. Why hasn’t this come up sooner?
To the five of you sitting down, I am sorry. But I also want to say, that it’s never too late.
I have mixed feelings about that last sentiment. That it is never too late to have a childhood. While I do think that everyone has the opportunity at any age to act like a child—it makes sense now why I am so excited by the thought of milkshakes and swings—my childhood is forever lost to the passage of time, they are years of my life that I will never get back.
My childhood is something that I never fully got to have, and now it’s gone. And like any death, I should be allowed to mourn the loss of my childhood. It comes and it goes, the grief. But with the grief comes acceptance, comes healing.
“Whatever you are feeling right now
There is a mathematical certainty that
someone else is feeling that exact thing.
This isn’t not to say you aren’t special,
this is to say thank God you aren’t special.” — Neil Hilborn
It is easy, too, to feel alone in your experiences. What this exercise was, was a reminder that you are never alone. There were four other people who sat down with me. We all have different stories, but we can empathize with each more than we think because we have similar experiences.
Not to undo the “progress” I have made, but I still find that idea hard to swallow. I find it difficult for me not to be trapped in my own head and what goes on inside it. I find it hard to believe, not that people can’t empathize with my struggles, but that they have the capacity to. They simply cannot fully experience things the way that I have.
Instagram post dated January 11, 2017:
my new year’s resolution (life resolutions really) were to be more honest and kinder to myself. honesty is good and all but sometimes maybe it really isn’t the best policy. idk. how do you let people in on stuff you don’t even understand yourself? how do you not just dump all your emotional baggage on other people who might not even be able to carry the load? I need to find other ways of catharsis besides shouting into the void, but sometimes the void is safer.
Void. The idea of there being an empty nothingness is one that I find intriguing. And that one could perhaps put things inside this void and cause them to cease existing. It is a form of isolation, this shouting into the void. I came to realize that my existence cannot depend on me seeking solace from other people. That to connect with them gives them power over me, gives them the opportunity to disappoint me. So I insist that I can manage to stand on my own, and when there are things that I need to get off my chest, I send them into the void where they cease to exist and no longer ‘bother’ me whilst being no burden to anyone else.
Alone is what I have. Alone protects me.
This is, of course, a misguided belief; a defense mechanism, a self-constructed truth designed to make me feel better about the fact that I do often feel horribly trapped in my loneliness.
“But isolation is not safety, it’s death
If no one knows you’re alive, you aren’t
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it,
it does make a sound, but then that sound is gone
I’m not saying you’ll find the meaning of life in other people,
I’m saying that other people are the life to which you provide the meaning.”
— Neil Hilborn
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I relate to other people, how I attempt to connect and perhaps find meaning in those connections. A lot of it, the devotion and self-martyring qualities that come with that sense of care, is rooted in this underlying belief that I think I do not matter. There is a desperation there, a tendency to cling on to someone because I perhaps see something, see meaning in them that they themselves refuse to see.
Most of my relationships, are unrequited in a sense, and it’s taken multiple cases of me fading away from other people’s lives to realize this pattern.
When you move around as much as I do, it is hard to build any sort of relationship when physical proximity plays a huge part in how they are maintained. People say keep in touch, but it is easier to say that and mean it than it is to put it into practice. For me, it is a matter of choice and effort. And heaven knows, I am stubbornly persistent in clinging onto what few close relationships I have.
There was someone who used to be a huge part of my life, that I don’t talk to anymore. Any conversations we had after I had moved away from where we had met, hinged upon the fact that I was always the one to reach out and initiate contact. At first, I thought I was doing him a service, by accommodating his schedule and needs. But eventually, I grew tired of him always ‘apologizing’ for being so bad at keeping in touch, promising that he’ll hit me up next time and waiting by the phone for a call that never came.
But even after all that, even when he really doesn’t deserve it, I catch myself still thinking from time to time, I wonder how he’s doing. I hope he’s doing well.
It is a thought that is full of care and affection, but like the tree in the forest that falls with no one around, that thought is just gone. It disappears into the ether without having reached the other person. Because my feelings are unrequited, they simply go unheard.
It’s kind of sad really. To think that I have all this love to give but it just disappears into the void.
“I know how easy it can be to think and keep
thinking until you are the last person left on Earth
until the entire world becomes to larger than the space
between your bed and the light switch
but I hear that the world’s ending soon
When we go and we’re all gonna go
I will be part of it.” — Neil Hilborn
It’s funny, how I’ve seemed to come up with my own strange brand of bittersweet optimism. I’ve had friends argue about whether I have become more of an optimist or a pessimist. In the end, they compromised and decided to call me a ‘realistic optimist.’ I guess that’s one way I have grown. I realized that I will never stop worrying about things and thinking about the worst possible outcomes. But being prepared for the worst in a way, also allows me to hope for the best. Things could go horribly wrong, but they also have the opportunity to go incredibly well. In a sense, it’s my way of saving myself, saving myself from the thoughts that go on inside my head that trap me and drive me into a corner.
—Karin Novelia, “I have thought and thought myself into corners made of words and nightmares, and what has that gotten me but more thoughts?”
[Words inside quote marks are from Neil Hilborn’s poem “This is Not the End of the World” which you can watch here]