Mistakes

“The truth is this: sometimes we display good qualities and sometimes bad. Sometimes we act in helpful, productive ways and sometimes in harmful, maladaptive ways. But we are not defined by these qualities or behaviors. We are a verb not a noun, a process rather than a fixed “thing.” Our actions change—mercurial beings that we are—according to time, circumstance, mood, setting.”

– Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff

For the first time in therapy I talked to my therapist L about the biggest mistake I have ever made. The long and the short of it is that I was abusive to my little brother, when I was 14 and he was 3. I was looking after him, and I couldn’t handle it. I screwed up, massively, and no matter how much I tried to make it up to him it felt as if I had a black mark on my soul, a stain on my character, a piece of me that was nothing short of evil. When he died 6 years later in a drowning accident, I felt as if I had failed him as a big sister in every possible way. I had hurt him, I had abandoned him when I left home, and I hadn’t protected him from the harms of my parents and their neglect. I pushed his memory to the side as much as I could, but despite my best efforts the memories began to resurface after I had my son, A.

My brother and A look similar: dark caramel hair, blue-green eyes, and a shining wickedness of mischief in their faces. I was filled with sadness, panic: seeing my brother “overlap” with my son when we went swimming, I imagined my son drowning. As my son got older, reached 3, then 4, I compared their lives and burned and raged inside at the unfairness of it all. My son is happy. Healthy. He’s safe, whole, growing, adventurous, explosive, and with a sense of humour that has us all laughing nearly every day. My brother was happy too, shining and bright in the midst of abuse, chaos, and terror. He was always smiling, despite his hand always bleeding from his obsessive finger-chewing, despite the bruises that always peppered his body. We loved him – all of us – me, my parents, my other brothers. None of the neglect or abuse came from a lack of love, just a lack of ability, a lack of control, a lack of support. I did what I could to look after him, and so did they. We all failed at it.

As I got closer to my therapist L, the black mark of my abusive behaviour towards my brother gnawed at me. I felt so ashamed, so guilty, and no matter how much I reassured myself that I am a totally different person now, that I regretted it, it fed upon me more and more. Finally, I crashed. Crying, I told L what I had done, feeling as if my entire body would just be swallowed up by the ground, as if my entire soul and heart was sinking deep into an abyss of guilt and pain. Steadily, she reassured me. She gave me a way through, a new way to look at the entire situation. I’m processing it, finding ways to discover the voice inside myself that says: “You did a bad thing, but you are not a bad person.” It feels horrible to try to reassure myself, as if I don’t deserve to ever feel better. I tell myself “Honey, you were 14. You were just a kid yourself. You and him were both in a horrible situation, together. He’ll always be your brother. Connect with him, don’t turn away from him anymore.” I’m still figuring out how.

It’s strange to admit: so often I apply a victim narrative to myself, a narrative of helplessness, hopelessness, abuse and harm committed against me. It’s true. But I have also acted as the perpetrator, the abuser, the harmful person, exerting power and control over someone much smaller than me, someone innocent. I know I did something wrong.

I have been reading a lot about how to process this, how to accept it, and how to keep moving: for the benefit of my partners, my kids, my friends, and everyone else who is still around me today. I work on myself to improve as best I can. The key thing I am discovering is that I can continue to choose healing over harm in every action I take: to the best of my abilities I can try not to harm others, and I can try not to harm myself. Yet, still beat myself up after nearly 20 years for my actions as a 14 year old. Why? Kristen Neff’s book “Self-Compassion” has been instrumental in supporting the techniques from my therapist, and attempting to find a way forward that is connecting and kind; I can focus on the now, rather than the past. She explains:

Rather than getting lost in thoughts of being good or bad, we become mindful of our present moment experience, realizing that it is ever changing and impermanent. Our successes and failures come and go—they neither define us nor do they determine our worthiness. They are merely part of the process of being alive.

The more that I think about these ideas, the more I can move. I keep reminding myself we are all one and the same: we are all wounded in some way, and we have all wounded others. It is not the wound that we create or that is within us, it is how we deal with it, and we are all in this life dealing with these things together.

The Simplest Stories We Tell

It took me a long time to realise how much shame I hold in my body. So many other emotions, behaviours, actions I take are mislabeled as other things without me taking the time to look the real feeling in the eye. Noticing, being aware of my own shame has a sort of triumph in it. Aha! I see what is happening, now! It sounds odd, to be triumphant about shame. For me the repair is in the knowledge, because without being able to see my feeling and the story I am telling around it, I can’t untangle it. Without feeling it I can’t heal it.

As a child, my parents often rejected me. My mother especially. Not because of me, but because she was overwhelmed. Preoccupied. With a violent marriage to a man she loved, and a mother telling her never to give up on commitment, she lost her power and hope, lost herself in her own despair. It culminated in her trying to take her own life, and I will never forget the moment she stood right next to me and swept our telephone to the ground, ripping the cord from the wall so my Dad couldn’t call an ambulance. I barely remember the rest: did an ambulance come? (I guess so, since she’s not dead). Did I run away? (I don’t know). Did she get better? (Sort of). When I realised as an adult that she had tried to leave us so permanently, the sense of abandonment and fear I felt was unreal. Were we not worth sticking around for? Did she not love us? How could she look right into my 7-year-old face, less than 1 metre away from her, and fight being saved?

These adult musings are just a fraction of the story my young self began to tell, without the words to describe the terror, no outlet to talk to, nobody to mend the pain. I withdrew, became angry and anxious, and the photographs of me from that age are nothing more than haunting, light gone from my eyes. She was out of control, chaotic, cold, and the shame I internalised in response to this behaviour has torn the good parts of me apart for the longest time. The stories children tell are simple ones, because we do not understand the nuances or complexities of human behaviour or abuse. We are totally dependent, and require a steady and stable caregiver who we are biologically primed to attach to. I was torn between the need for closeness, the fear of danger, and a lack of understanding what was going on. With constant rejection and chaos the stories I told were: This is my fault. I am not good enough. I am “too much” for her. I make her crazy. I’m bad, disgusting, no good.

I’m lucky that I had enough in me to make it through that, as well as everything that came after. When I look back at my life and see all this chaos, with this little girl wading her way through the swamp without giving up, I realise I told the wrong story. The story is not that I’m worthless, or bad, or someone causing problems. I’m brave. I’m resilient. I have so much love in me, and I have enough strength in me to feel the feelings, untangle the narrative, and mend it all. Of course I don’t do it all alone. I have many people standing by my side. I asked my mother for some photos of her as a teenager and as a young woman, and I looked at this 19 year old in her wedding dress, love and compassion just pouring out of me towards her. It’s so heartbreaking to realise that she was in so much pain that she didn’t want to stay anymore. And I know from experience that being that chaotic, being in so much pain, makes you believe that you are a burden, that you are damaging everyone around you. She wasn’t trying to harm us. She was trying to save us, along with herself.

I look at all this toxic shame I carry and think about pulling it off my body, out of my skin, out of my heart and ribs and the soles of my feet. It doesn’t belong to me, nor her. I don’t want to keep it inside anymore, so I take it out and release it into the air and the sunshine one bit at a time.

The Problem of Achieving a Quiet Heart

So, it’s been a long time since I last wrote. Interestingly, my last post was around the time that I started therapy with a wonderful woman called “L”. This blog started as a way to express my thoughts, to chronicle my attempts to choose courage instead of fear, to reinvent my life and pull myself out of the mental swamp that I was tired of living in. A lot has changed. So much has changed that I feel almost like a new person, renewed and fresh.

Therapy is such a weird process, one of the most challenging and beautiful and painful processes I have ever gone through. I say “gone through” as if it’s in the past, when I’m still in it. As much as it pains me though, I know I am nearing the end of at least one phase of it. I feel a deep ache at the love L has given me, over and over and over, the patience and the kindness, and the thought of our time together changing and closing. I know some of my intense feelings are just part of how therapy works. Yet, some of it is so much more than that: a genuine, deep, and meaningful connection, a striving for balance; tranquility and growth at the same time. At certain points the sessions were excruciatingly difficult, while these days it slowly settles. We still have moments where everything feels incredibly consuming, but mostly I feel a sense of peace and a knowledge that I have to take steps into my own independence.

My first post on this blog was about beginnings. My friend J’s correspondence art project and mission statement were what I started this blog with, and the concepts in her words still resonate with me:

Conservation of Energy (knowing– exactly –when to “end”/knowing what is a “beginning”)

I wasn’t thinking too hard about endings years ago, I was all about reinventing myself, making conscious choices to move forwards. But beginnings and endings are all part of one and the same cycle.

My therapist L introduced me to the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes. The truths that fill this book are a special kind of wisdom about life’s rhythms, and the natural laws that govern our beautifully changing world of flux. It makes me happy more and more that the tattoo on my left arm is a tree with all four seasons. When I got it, it represented change: my changing moods, the cycles of my life, and the ways in which I tried to come to terms with the shifting multitudes in me, many of which I struggled with immensely. It was an attempt to see the beauty in something that tore me apart, a mixture of positive and negative. The tattoo on my right arm is one of flowers: growth, memory, and a re-writing of my past into something beautiful. Beginnings and endings are woven through the I Ching in a tapestry of life and death, acceptance and struggle, polarities in good and evil, the shedding of the old, approaching the new. In the first Hexagram it states:

Here it is shown that the way to success lies in apprehending and giving actuality to the way of the universe [Tao], which, as a law running through end and beginning, brings about all phenomena in time.

I realised recently that I’m afraid of the next ending. Ending therapy, finding my autonomy. I read back through some of my old posts on this blog, many despairing, confused meanderings through the darknesses of my mind. Those dark moments didn’t stop when I started therapy, though they come less frequently now. They are less deep, less severe, easier for me to pull myself out of. The light and the gold and the brightness that has come into my life is of a magnitude that is indescribable.

When I’m grateful to L, she often says that I’m the one doing the hard work. But I cannot imagine the responsibility of having other people’s minds in your hands, their happinesses, their traumas, their dreams, their fears and abuses and angers and loves and failures. I am doing the work in my own journey, but she has been right there alongside me showing me the path. With her help I have transformed in ways I never thought possible. L’s Dad passed away early this year, and I went through my own mini-grieving in response to hers. Over the last few days I kept thinking “I suppose none of us are getting out of this alive,” and for some reason it has given me a strange comfort and drive to be more brave, more open, more loving. I wrote a post some years ago talking about the “small but strong” version of myself that was scared of my depression, scared of my moods, scared of the darkness in me. I know now that my heart is stronger than I ever thought possible, more courageous than I dreamed. I can look at my moods, the darkness flitting around the edges and smile at it. It doesn’t beat me to a pulp anymore. The fear never leaves me, but most days now I can turn towards it with curiosity and an open heart.

Endings feel like they are a part of everything around me. I am planning to move away from Berlin to travel some more while the kids are still young and not in school, and I get sadder and sadder at the prospect of leaving. I told L that I was thinking of whether or not I wanted to have a personal relationship with her instead of a therapy relationship, and for the first time in a long time I am struggling to untangle the courageous choice from the fearful one. Am I afraid of the relationship ending, afraid of not having her in my life? Perhaps the courageous choice is to just let her go and focus on my own autonomy. Or am I afraid of attempting something new and different, following what I know my heart wants? Perhaps the courageous choice is to take a risk and try it. This odd bubble sits in my chest as well, reminding me that I am not the only person involved in this decision. Can I even fairly put her in a position where I would ask her to answer me? Am I being foolish even considering the idea? It’s an ethical minefield, no doubt. Maybe my courage and hope aren’t balanced enough with consideration, seriousness, and contemplation. Maybe the answers are clear, and I just don’t want to accept them.

One of my previous posts was about a relationship I was considering starting with a woman called A. My post was about my hesitance, my refusal, my resistance to her. Nonetheless, at some point I decided to go for it: falling head-first in love, it became one of the most fundamental and heart-rending relationships I have ever experienced. She made me feel alive, she woke up pieces of me that had been dormant for a long time, and she also broke my heart into a thousand tiny pieces, leading me on a journey of self-discovery, reflection, pain, and growth. Wandering in and out of each other’s lives by virtue of both proximity and a tiny red thread of enduring connection, we began something new. Our friendship has bloomed from the ashes of our romantic love, and I never thought I could feel so happy and calm with the way things have turned out.

I suppose this is what informs me with L, because I don’t want to live a life of regret. It’s hard to know what you should take a chance on, and what you shouldn’t. The main things I regret are the times I have harmed others, and I know that this is something L is fearful of. It is true that potential for harm lies in attempting to change our relationship into something else, and that staying in the safety of the therapy relationship is significantly less risky. Whenever I think about risk though, I smile when I think about how she often says “No risk, no fun”. So far, she has been totally right for everything I have encountered – I question now where the limit is. There are certain kinds of risk-taking that are akin to leaping off a cliff! At least for now I decided to do nothing and accept that everything comes in its right time. Maybe there never will be a right time, because it’s just not the right thing to do. I don’t know. What I do know is that when something is right, you feel it and experience it without so much internal conflict: it just happens. Something interesting about the I Ching is that “After Completion” comes before “Before Completion” (the two final Hexagrams).

While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

A natural cycle governs everything in life. I could never have dreamed years ago that I would be able to consider anything with even some sense of the confidence and harmony I feel many days now. Pulled from side-to-side by my own mind, I felt only chaotic, wild, and out of control. One part of me hopes that actually it will never be fully tamed, because I grow to enjoy having a little bit of wildness in me. Anyway, I know that this path is not a linear one. As L says, we all do the best we can in the time and space that we do it in.

What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I no longer feel like I would do it again: I changed my mind, I think it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. … I can’t do it. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. But this time around I don’t think I can’t do it. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, there’s no way that I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things would end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on I just felt this “Oh god..” feeling in my body. She looked hot, and as much as my brain could try to ignore it, my body told me in no uncertain terms how I felt.

I like her so much. But we must live in this universe, this world in which we like each other but it will never be realised. Nothing will ever happen, and one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out the way I wanted it to. And of course… sometimes it doesn’t work out, at all. When this happens again, first with S. and now with A. … I begin to wonder whether I really am treating people as if they are a goal, a challenge to beat. Am I unknowingly seeing these people as not people, but prey? Am I disregarding what is right, what I should do, how I should behave, purely for my own selfish interests? Life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But my friend gave me a home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin began with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something beautiful between us. In my life that’s something rare.

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like New Zealand. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least.

My fuck-buddy replied quickly when I messaged her, she was kind and told me that she understands. If I want to message her again one day, I can, she said. I told her what I need and everything was fine. I’m not used to this.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into the world. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.

Beginning to Read “The Passion According to G.H.”

Yesterday I went out with a woman I met on Tinder several months ago. She’s so smart, and we have this weird connection that I don’t really understand. I like her a lot, but she seems to be plagued by this desperation about other people; she cannot bear to connect with people who are hurtful, who do not sense the world in the way she does. She told me that she used to explain away people’s flaws and their mistakes with the mosaic of issues they had experienced in their lives, but now she doesn’t seem able to do this anymore, and that loss seems to totally consume her.

I know it’s not my job to do so, but I really don’t know if I can repair this.

Another friend is struggling inside her mind too; she feels so lonely, so isolated in this knowledge that we are all ultimately alone and that everyone dies and ceases to be. This thought of losing herself, of no longer existing, seems to cover her like a thick blanket. Every time we drink a little too much, she talks about it, she seems a little scared. I adore her; when she talks like this I just want to hold her and tell her that everything will be okay.

They both live with these questions inside themselves, and I’m painfully aware that I don’t have the answers.

I began reading The Passion According to G.H. yesterday as well, and it feels like sometimes things in my life are flowing in tandem. As if the air just knows exactly what needs to happen for my brain to organise the fluttering thoughts of other people, to help me understand these parts of them.

Some quotes:

“How could I explain that my greatest fear is precisely of: being? and yet there is no other way. How can I explain that my greatest fear is living whatever comes?”

“Will I need the courage to use an unprotected heart and keep talking to the nothing and the no one? as a child thinks about the nothing. And run the risk of being crushed by chance.”

“For now I am inventing your presence, just as one day I won’t know how to risk dying alone, dying is the greatest risk of all, I won’t know how to enter death and take the first step into the first absence of me—just as in this last and so primary hour I shall invent your unknown presence and with you shall begin to die until I learn all by myself not to exist, and then I shall let you go.”

We’re With You

Everyone cares about what other people think. I’ve been fighting against it for so long, taking tiny steps towards doing what I feel is right, presenting my true self, and living authentically. But there are still times when I think to myself “Am I doing enough? Do I still care too much? Should I come out of the proverbial closet just a little bit more?”.

We’re all driven by a desire for people to like us. It’s only problematic when that desire overtakes our own selves, to the point where we don’t ever do anything weird or unconventional or challenging, simply for fear of having the people we care about turn their backs on us.

One tiny thing that has helped me has been (surprisingly), Twitter. I started posting things. My thoughts. Re-tweeting jokes I thought were funny. I stopped worrying if anyone liked what I posted. I slowly gained followers, random people who saw some reply of mine to someone ‘bigger’. Some Twitter comedian that nobody knows unless you spend too much time on the internet.

I wrote about my ex-girlfriend, and how she dumped me. I wrote about my queer identity, my marriage, our lives, our kids, my political views. I forgot that my husband’s father follows me on Twitter.

My daughter E woke up one morning with tonsils so huge that they were blocking her throat. I rushed with her to the ENT, and struggled to explain in broken German what was wrong with her. The doctor looked in her throat for a few seconds at most, and said with a serious and firm voice “She needs surgery”. I posted on Twitter about this experience, and later that day sent an email to my in-laws back home, explaining what was happening and when the surgery would be.

When my father-in-law replied “I saw your Tweet and photo” I felt this weird feeling in my stomach. He saw my Tweet? Does that mean he saw my Tweets about my girlfriend? About getting dumped? About polyamory and getting high and being queer? I wondered what he thought. I love my husband M with all my heart. I had this cold and heavy thought that my father-in-law would think I was cheating on M, or that I didn’t love M, or that I was somehow messing up our family.

I hurriedly replied with a huge email, detailing various aspects of our lives, being careful to include how happy we are, holidays we planned together, information about our mostly-very-normal life. And then I wrote it: “You follow me on Twitter?! I tweet about a lot of stuff I don’t put elsewhere so that’s… Probably raising various questions for you…”. I decided that tackling it head-on would be best, and that if he had any questions about my other partners or about the stability of my relationship with M, he could just ask me.

It turns out that when you marry someone as wonderful as M, you should not give his parents too little credit.

My father-in-law replied within an hour, giving me all the updates on their life back in New Zealand, expressing sympathy about E’s surgery, asking me what I plan for my career when both my kids are in Kita.

And then at the end he included one final comment:

I’m a very rare twitter viewer – mostly just look when I have a few notifications come up. Don’t worry – just be real 🙂 We’re with you.

So I guess that’s the end of the story. I care immensely about what they think. Nothing worse than having your husband’s family hate your guts. But they’re with me. They’re with me, despite all the life decisions that I’m sure they wouldn’t make in a million years. That’s a pretty wonderful thing to happen; to accidentally take your mask off, and have the people that you love still support and care for everything that’s underneath.

Loving You Was Breathing

Finally it happened. I wrote before about choosing love, and not being afraid. So I walked that walk and let myself be carried along with a feeling that years ago would have terrified me. It turns out that when you open up your whole heart, sometimes it gets broken.

After J, I started a relationship with a woman called S. She is married and has a little girl called E. My own daughter and E are such good friends, it’s amazing to watch how much they like each other.

S and I met at our childrens’ Kita. We started with playdates, ‘Mom dates’, and wine. But something began for us, something totally unexpected and way out of left field. One night at dinner she touched my arm, and the attraction that flared up was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt my heart leap while this dread sunk into my bones: “Don’t get a crush on her. Don’t fall for her. She just wants to be friends. Fuck.” I tried to be nice, friendly, caring, without letting myself get in too deep. I didn’t want to be outed as queer, I didn’t want to mess up our friendship. So I kept quiet. For months we would hug outside Kita when we picked up our children, and I’d breathe in and not want to let go. I’d bury my face in her hair and my whole chest would turn to butterflies.

I found out months later that the spark had not just been me. She had panicked and messaged her best friend, scared about what she was feeling, uncertain about what to do about it, unsure about having this feeling for a woman for the first time in her life. Afraid of ruining her relationship with her husband, S went back and forth about what to do; should she pursue something, stay silent, ignore it? She gave me small and quiet hints; a comment about loving my hugs; a text about wanting to feel that uncertainty of not knowing if someone likes you back or not. Over time these hints became louder, and I began to feel like she wanted it, she wanted me. Every time we hugged it felt like I was going to burst, the attraction was obvious and urgent and clear. My husband M was already cool with what I wanted; smiling, he encouraged me to go for it. S decided to take the risk, and asked her husband if it was okay if she and I pursued something. He, wonderful man that he is, said yes.

She asked me out for drinks and told me that we could do what we liked. I drank the rest of my wine so fast, from that moment my brain had turned to static. We walked out the door of the bar and I couldn’t do anything but kiss her. We made out on the street, reaching into each other’s clothes with a rushing intensity that only comes with tension that has been denied for too long. She ran her hands over my body, dragging her nails over my skin, kissing me with a feverish desire for more; when she pushed up my dress and put her mouth on my nipple, my heart and blood and body dissolved. People were watching. I didn’t care.

We continued as we began, frantic, desperate. She called me her girlfriend, our families began to spend more and more time together, I got to know her husband, I began to love her daughter.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Suddenly, out of the blue, it was gone. She was too tired, too exhausted by motherhood and life and everything that made demands of her, she had nothing left for me. I’m the kind of person that takes a lot of energy to get to know. I’m complicated and anxious, intense and moody, and sometimes so sex-driven that I can’t focus on anything else. It was all too much for her, and she and I kept saying things that hurt each other. I saw it happen like a drip of water falling from a tap not quite shut, dripping and dripping over the course of a week and then the faucet was suddenly on, extinguishing everything.

We met up for a sleepover, and it felt as if her body had turned to stone. She told me she didn’t know how to say it, but I already knew what she would tell me. It was gone. We had lost it. I hugged her and I felt her face twist into this painful disappointment. I didn’t understand it but this horrible feeling was too obvious to ignore. We cried at what had happened.

I grabbed my things and she drove me home. Her husband was confused; he had been so supportive of the whole thing from the beginning. He liked me, he cared about me, he wanted “our thing” to work. She was sad. I was sad.

The morning brought this strange pain into my chest, like something was raw inside. She didn’t want it anymore. Somehow, this thing, this beautiful and special thing, was over. She sent me a text saying “I love you”.

She said that most people feel too proud to want to carry on a relationship after they get dumped. I felt the opposite; I felt so happy that I had let myself be open and curious and ultimately, hurt. Life goes on. I downloaded Tinder and got a ton of matches within the space of two days, and I have a date tonight with a beautiful woman who seems intelligent, kind, and interesting. My husband still adores me, I love my kids, I’m enjoying my study and my life and all that lies before me. Getting hurt and letting someone else be in control was a big thing for me. But somehow I felt good. I felt strong. For the first time in a long time I felt powerful and confident and secure.

Now when I hug her and breathe in, I smell her perfume and feel my heart skip a beat. I just let it beat this way, this shuddering, gasping beat. I saw the joy in her smile when she was with me. I saw the love in her eyes and felt it in her kiss. I saw the pain in her heart when it was over. I don’t ever want to be afraid of loving anyone ever again, because the joy, the passion, the desire, her smile and excitement when she looked at me … it was all worth it. In the end it was gone too soon, and in the end we both got hurt. But if I had to go back and make a choice of whether or not to have it, even knowing that it ended this way, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would do it again. I’d let my heart beat again, and again, and gasp “yes”, a thousand times over.

It Only Took Me 29 Years

I’ve been thinking about beginnings. A friend of mine, J, told me once that moving to a new city is a chance to reinvent yourself, to start over.

But I have always lived two lives anyway: my real life, and my reinvented, sanitised life that I present to people. I simply don’t talk about a lot of stuff, as if the details of my world are somehow shameful or unimportant. That inability to talk, that reluctance to be open, is something that has slowly eaten away at me over the years, and it made me feel inauthentic and hollow. Now that I’m getting to know J, and another friend S, I’m starting to feel like maybe I should be more like them.

J has a correspondence art project between herself and another artist. One of their mission statements is this:

Conservation of Energy (knowing– exactly –when to “end”/knowing what is a “beginning”)

In my eyes, a beginning is about change. Often it’s a conscious choice to change state; a movement in ideas and approach, with the result that things are new, refreshed, and unique.

The other friend, S, writes about the shift in her worldview when she moved from new York to Mexico, and then the turbulent relationship with her son’s father. When she found out she was pregnant, he left her. In a Mexican farm town in the middle of nowhere, he left her and didn’t come back. She says she won’t tell her child this story, she will only say that he chose fear and she chose love. It’s her own story of beginnings, as well as big decisions that change your life forever.

The choice between love and fear is one I live every day, with every person I interact with, including myself. Against my own desires, fear seems to be my default choice. I’m anxious, untrusting, wary. With certain people, choosing love is a struggle. With J, it’s a struggle. I am more afraid than I have been in a long time, in my interactions with her.

But I decided years ago to choose love wherever I could, to push myself to be brave.

Six years ago, my friend T was just about to get married. He and I had this complicated sort of love. He was dedicated, completely, to his fiancee. I had just begun a relationship with my now-husband, M. But T and I had this connection that felt so thick, like a twisted piece of boat-rope, linking our hearts and pulling them together. Whenever I looked at him, I felt as if there was someone else inside his head, a much older person just hiding behind his face, loving and loving and loving, pushing it outwards like brilliant light.

I travelled to his wedding alone, and on the day of it we found little pieces of time to connect. He had a million people to talk to and thank, he was busy getting married, of course. But it felt like every moment he had spare, he would come and stand with me, smiling, warm. He danced with his wife, his mother, his sister, and then me.

Four months later, I got in the car again to go back, this time for his funeral. Living in his new house with his new wife, he had died of a brain aneurysm in the night. As I held his wife’s hand, I wondered what it felt like to be her. I imagined that her soul had been cut out and doused in kerosene; she was watching it burn with the life she had planned.

Whenever I think of what happened, I just feel so angry. T embodied love, he was absolutely everything that love should be. It felt so unfair that it was him who was gone, like the world had suddenly become a much worse place.

Before him, I had always blindly chosen fear, not recognising that I was torching my own life one piece at a time. I’m the girl who has never been dumped. The second somebody starts to seem like they might reject me, I reject them first. Walk out the door, close off my heart, never look back. I was so afraid of being hurt that I could never really love anyone.

After he was gone I couldn’t do that anymore. I felt as if I would be disappointing him. I chose love with M, and I chose it again and again and again, even in moments where previously I would have been out of there so fucking fast I’d leave a me-shaped hole in the wall.

The beginning here is this: to start to choose love with my own broken, messed up brain, to allow myself to love others, and to value my own experiences. I’ve been so afraid, for the longest time, of everything, of what others think of me, of the thousands of ways in which people can rip my heart out and throw it on the ground.

But this fear wasn’t born in me, it was made. My Dad left, and then my stepdad came and broke all the pieces of me that were still whole. And then something happened inside me, a black rot in my stomach that slowly took over my body and mind. I was so scared of being rejected, so scared of being hurt, that I slowly became a shadow of a person, barely breathing at all.

But fuck all of that. I started on the road to change things a long time ago, but now I need to take a conscious step towards being less afraid, more trusting, more loving, and simply taking the risk of whatever comes. A beginning is a choice to change things, and I choose this.