The Space In-Between

I have always been a black and white kinda gal.  Or, if I am going to be completely honest, I’ve always been a black and blacker kinda gal.   In my world, you were friend or you were foe.  You were with me or you were against me.  Binary thinking?  Oh, hell, yeah.  I had it down cold.  Choolie pointed out that many people with PTSD react that way because their warning system is broken.  It makes sense.  Once a person is attacked, that person will do anything she can not to be attacked again.  So, any little threat is perceived as a big threat.  I’m like my own personal Homeland Security color alert in action.  Except, instead of always being at Level Boehner (Orange), I am constantly at Level OH MY FUCKING GOD I’M UNDER MOTHERFUCKING ATTACK.

Or, to be more precise, I was.

I had my therapy session Wednesday afternoon, and I was marveling at how much work my mom and I have done this summer.  We have been able to talk honestly about past issues without either of us freaking out or fleeing.   That led to me talking about how sad I was for the woman I used to be.  She was so damaged and scared that she had to continually shrink her world in order to keep the perceived threats at manageable.  And even then, her fear was overwhelming.

She never believed she had the right to live or that she had any positive impact on anyone or anything.  She never imagined a future because she was too busy trying to think of a reason not to kill herself pretty much every day.  She hated everything about herself and couldn’t fathom that anyone could really love her.  She figured her friends were just being nice to her when they stood by her.  By the way, major shout-out to my long-term friends who have always accepted me as I was.  It’s in a large part thanks to you that I’m still here.

The past me.  She thought she was scarred, damaged beyond repair, unlovable, ugly, grotesque, and for the most part, a monster.  Her mantra was to first do no harm, but because she believed that she was a detriment to the world, it was impossible to follow her mantra.  So, she did her best to minimize the toxins she was releasing into the world by doing as little as possible.

When I look at her world, it was so sterile and inert and void of color.  She tried to make herself as little as possible so she wouldn’t bother anyone.   She watched everything she said, did, and even thought.  She berated herself constantly for failing, failing, failing.  When I look at her, my heart grows heavy.  See, she was necessary in order for me to survive to this day.  If it weren’t for her shrinking my life, I most likely would have killed myself because of how unbearably terrifying I found the world.   So, no matter how fucked up she was, no matter how damaged and scarred and broken she was, she fucking survived.   Without her, I wouldn’t be here.

Part of making life manageable was trusting very few people and only to very limited degrees.  I have two friends who have been by my side for the last decade–Kiki and Natasha.  Kiki and I have been best friends for sixteen years.  Natasha has been my big sis for the last eleven years (or so).  Beyond them, there were a few people I trusted a little, but that was pretty much it.  I even kept Kiki and Natasha at an arm’s length because I didn’t want to negatively infuse them with my toxicity.  Hey, I’m not saying it makes any sense.  In retrospect, I know this is faulty thinking, but at the time, all I could think about was how unfit to live I was.

During the lost year, if you weren’t completely for me, you were out.  I couldn’t tolerate any dissension from friends because I had no core to myself.  Now, I realize that friendships come in all shapes, and one size does not fit all.  I have expanded my inner circle a bit, and I have other circles, too.  Different friendships supply me with different things, and this is perfectly fine.  Especially with the advent of online friendships, the way I interact has substantively changed.   I can have many different circles.  Some friendships don’t last a lifetime, and that’s OK, too.

Recently, one of my FB friends, let’s call her Lei, asked me to be in a performance with her.  She’s a musician, and she needed people to be exoskeletons.  I said, sure, what the heck.  I used to perform back in the day, and I took dance (tap, ballet, jazz) for twelve years when I was a kid.  I could walk like an exoskeleton if I chose.  Choolie was asked as well, along with her friend (call him Robert) who is really fun and cool and a couple (dubbed Stewart and Kendra for this blog’s purposes) I’d never met before.

When we went over to Lei’s house, she mentioned that she was thinking of renting out the top floor.  Her house is really cool and in a great neighborhood of St. Paul.   Then, I thought, I don’t have to buy my own house–I can rent.  It would give me more flexibility and less responsibility, and it would still be something other than living in my parents’ house.  Plus, it’s close enough that I could go back to my parents’ house with ease in order to take care of it.

This is one example of breaking the binary thinking.  As my therapist pointed out, part of my ‘buy my own house’ was in reaction to living in my parents’ house.  It was a way of getting away from something, rather than truly choosing something else.  In thinking about renting, I am breaking free from the either/or mentality (either I buy my own house or get stuck living in my parents’ house), which gives me space to breathe.

Back to the rehearsal.  I immediately felt at ease with the others.  I was in my element around them.  They were freaks, in the best sense of the world, and they were happy, functional freaks.  We talked about what Lei wanted to do with the piece.  She had a white scrim which she was going to cut up in strips and then drape them around us as we writhed on the floor.  Since she didn’t want to get them dirty, she decided to use other pieces of material during rehearsal (I chose black, of course).  This was on a day it was near ninety, and she didn’t have air.  I was wearing a t-shirt, a sports bra, my South Park boxers, and panties because I didn’t want to offend anyone.  After the first practice, I had to take off my shirt.  I had my hair up in a ponytail, and I was still sweating.  At some point, I jokingly said that we should just do it naked.  Stewart thought that was a great idea.  Lei looked a little bemused.  We started stripping.  By the end of the night, the guys had gone the full Monty, and we women only had on our panties.

Here’s the thing–it wasn’t uncomfortable in the least.  We made lots of sexual jokes (how could you not in that situation?), but it wasn’t sexual in the least.  It was sensual, but not sexual.  I was near completely nude in front of people I had just met that evening, and I wasn’t self-conscious at all.  Now, anyone who’s been in theatre knows that there isn’t much room for modesty when everyone’s changing in the green room together, but usually, you work up to that point after knowing your fellow actors for some time.

With this group, it was no biggie.  I think it’s because everyone there has done some kind of performing, and we are all freaks, so it was no big deal.  I also liked to see Stewart and Kendra because it showed me that someone can be on the fringe, do performance, and still be in a happy relationship.  Both of them are covered with tats, and she has body piercings.  He is a performer and very gregarious.  She is more down-to-earth and grounding, while not being traditional much at all.  It gave me hope that maybe a freak like me can find someone who, while he may not be as much of a freak, can love me as I am and want to live a life on the fringe with me.

Then, the performance itself.  As Lei played her keyboard, the five of us started curled up on the floor.   When the music got more intense, we individually started to move.  Lei wanted us to be as non-human as possible, and it was so freaking cool to do that kind of movement again.  Lei’s piece is really evocative, and it was pretty easy to writhe around on the floor in time to the music.  I felt a freeness that I rarely feel.  I stopped thinking and just grooved.  Once in awhile, I would touch one of the other exoskeletons, and that would ground me.  Plus, the piece is twenty minutes long (or, it will be), so my body got sore as I moved it in ways that contradicted my normal rigid posture.

I need to perform.  That was made abundantly clear the first night of rehearsal.  It was my first love, back when I was two, and I stifled it over the years.  My therapist said it might have been because I felt if I were to do what I truly love, performing, then I would have to give up my family.  In other words, either/or.  As I mentioned in the last entry, my mom commented that I would be a good therapist and if I ever wanted to go back to grad school….She wants me to be stable and happy (as most parents do for their children) which means going down a more traditional road.

She literally cannot imagine a life like the one I may choose to live (or even the life I have lived).  When I was in my late twenties, I mentioned going the server/acting route, and she and my father thoroughly trounced the idea.  They said I had too much going for me to ‘waste’ it on being a waitress (class issues rear their ugly head!), and I was cowed into not even attempting to go down that road.  It’s the same with my bro.  He wanted to go to architecture school, and my father shot down that idea.  My brother mentioned it recently, and when I said he could still go, he said he was too old.

Anyway, performing is as essential as air to me.  I need it as much as I need to breathe.  I think my therapist’s suggestion that I was afraid it would come at too great a cost is a good one, but there’s an even more insidious reason I shied away from performing for so long….

It’s not easy to say, but here goes.  I never thought I would live past thirty.  For many years, I didn’t want to live past forty.  For the lost fifteen years, I wasn’t committed to this living thing.  I had suicide in my back pocket as the last resort for all those years.  I HATED being alive.  The only reason I didn’t kill myself because I was sure that whatever came after was even worse.   I resented being alive with every fiber of my being, and I chastised myself for being such a pussy that I couldn’t kill myself.  That’s why I did things like drive ninety-plus miles on the freeway in order to try to kill myself passively (so to speak).  I am just thankful as hell I never caused an accident driving that way.

So.  Since I wanted to die, but was too chicken to actually kill myself, it stands to reason that I wouldn’t perform since performing is life to me.  I love to write, as you can probably tell, but there is nothing, and I mean nothing like the high I get from being in front of a crowd and performing.  Honestly, it’s even better than sex, and y’all know that coming from me, that’s saying a whole hell of a lot.  When I have an audience in the palm of my hand, I feel like I can do anything.  When I get an audience to howl with laughter because of something I wrote, there’s nothing better.  And, when I have people tell me afterwards how they thought no one had ever felt the way they had, well, that really does my heart good.  I basically wrote performances that I would have liked to see myself, and while it may not be everyone’s cuppa, it definitely reached a minority population that rarely gets to hear its story told in public.

I felt powerful when I performed.  My voice was being heard, damn it, and people responded to what I had to say.

Choosing performance is choosing life.  I cannot live without it, and it scares the fuck out of me to say that.  Why?  Because what if I fail at it?  What if I get panned?  What if I fuck up and totally screw up a show?  What if what if what if?  I resisted taking antidepressants for the third time for a very long time because I was terrified it would fail again.  I haven’t called the sleep study clinic for the same reason–I hate using my last resort.  So, it’s a similar feeling with performing.  It’s my last resort to live a life that I am meant to live.

In the past two years, I have done many things I never thought I would do or that I was even capable of doing.  This hasn’t happened because I have forced myself to be more open or anything like that–it’s been very organic.   I didn’t say, “Hey, dumbass, you really should be more open to the idea of meeting new people.”  Or, “Hey, shit-for-brains, did you ever think that you could do–” Oh, wait.  The thing about grad school for psych.  I thought about combining grad school for psych with a life of performing, and I realized it would be very difficult to do.  I also thought about what I would have to do if I became a therapist, like shut down this blog, and I decided it’s not the path I wanted to take at this time.  However, I also realized that it was possible to be both an outre performer and a therapist at the same time, but it would be difficult.

In the past, I had to control everything (or at least pretend that I could control everything) because I was so afraid of what bad thing might/could/would happen to me.  I was so fucking fragile, that any minor hit could have put me out of the game for months.  In the past, I had to stick to a very rigid schedule in order not to rock my precarious equilibrium.  I had no substance, so I tried to create it with external markers.

In my therapy session, I had tears in my eyes when I talked about how sad I felt for the woman I used to be.  She was so scarred and damaged and broken, it took all of her energy just to get out of bed each….day (not usually morning).  She was numb throughout the day, cringing at the slightest deviation from her sad and solitary routine.  She was one of the walking dead, and she barely existed.

She’s not that far away from me.  I know all-too-well how easy it is for me to slip back into that place.  I did it while I was in Taiwan–which, by the way, my therapist noted was the breaking point for me.  However awful the trip was, it put the last nail in the coffin of the illusion of a functional family.  I tried so fucking hard to be good, to act the right way, etc., and I just couldn’t do it.  Because, the old way was a broken way, and I no longer fit in that skin any longer–and I can feel the breathing of the demons just outside my door.

I am not that woman any longer.  I have a sense of self-worth, and I have a sense of, well, self.  I have love in my life, and I am able to feel that love.  I can acknowledge some of my good points beyond my brain and my writing ability (the two things I’ve always acknowledged), and I can actually say there are moments when I am content.

This would be heresy to the woman I was.  She still cringes a bit when I talk about my positive side.  I am wary because I feel as if this newfound self can fall apart at any minute.  I mean, I was that other woman for so much of my life; I’ve been this woman for a relatively short amount of time.  How do I trust that I won’t fall back into the abyss?

I can’t say for sure I won’t, but I’m not going to dwell on it.  I have other things I need to do.

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