Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop.
What do boundaries mean to you?
I lived the majority of my previous relationships being criticized for my boundaries, or lack thereof. Not because I was abusive or violent or philandering, but because I was extra. I was too much. I felt as if the amount of time I wanted to spend with the person I loved was too much. That my level of romanticism was overwhelming. That my playfulness was foolish and annoying.
I had the tendency to spiral into codependent relationships, where my hunger for my partner was only exacerbated by their desire to run from me. I felt constricted; trapped. I felt afraid, that my demands would leave me lonely.
Through therapy, I began to learn to love and be confident in myself. I began to appreciate that the “lack of boundaries” not as something that I needed to kick myself over, but as something that someone else might want. Maybe it wasn’t that what I was doing was too much, but maybe I was doing too much for the wrong person.
It took me a long time to come around to that realization. But once I began to appreciate myself and my own giving, it gave me power. It gave me a litmus test to see if someone is a good fit for me. I could relax and not be so manic. I could be calm and not worry where the next bit of affection was going to come from because I could give it to myself. It helped me set boundaries. I began to realize that these boundaries were my values.
Now; one of my boundaries is that if you cannot accept the whole person that I am, maybe you don’t deserve the time and love I have to give. If I cannot be corny and romantic around you, maybe we’re not really meant to be. If I can’t let you know how I feel, maybe we don’t need to be around each other.
Once I started creating those boundaries as expectations for myself, I began to realize that there were other boundaries that I could create. Things I wanted in a partner. Reciprocation. Touch. Affection. Attention. Tenderness. And once I started building those qualifications, I realized that anyone who didn’t meet those wasn’t worthy of my time.
Before this point, I felt like requesting the things that I wanted was conceited, demanding, bossy. I’ve begun to learn that these things are the bare minimum I need to feel loved. To grow.
I realized things like reciprocation, touch, tenderness, affection, and attention were things I could give to myself. Although it was awkward at first, eventually I grew to appreciate my capacity for giving by giving to myself. That only strengthed the boundaries stronger, so that once I met someone who understood and appreciated those boundaries, we connected on an incredibly deep level.
What are my best qualities?
Just today I was talking with my girlfriend about how I had been encouraged by my therapist to love myself and appreciate different aspects of myself.
I like that I give freely. I like that I don’t shy from affection. I like that I can be calm and steadfast. I like that I appreciate small beauties and stop the car to look at pretty trees or the sunset. I like that I can make a client out of any situation if I choose to. I love that no matter how bad the situation is, I can find something special and wonderful in it. I like that I am strong. I like that I am subversive. I like being recalcitrant. I like my beard and my hair. I like that I’m cuddly. I like that I am creative and think of things other people haven’t. I like my eyebrows. I like the intensity and softness of my eyes. I like the depth of my voice.
I feel this in my soul. This is true.
What if everything is as it should be?
Everything… DOES feel as it should be.
I almost feel hesitant to say that. As if some vestiges of my chains of expecting are still lurking in the corner. I know that when shackles come off you, the feeling of metal around your wrists linger for a long time. Sometimes you still feel tied up.
And I know that I must continuously do the work of making sure I unlock myself, stretch, and remember that I have the power to be free.
The doubt may never go away. But the memory that, with work, doubt CAN be overcome, will never go away either.
The people in my life are really mirrors of me.
This is completely true. Mirrors don’t always give a very flattering or complementary view of you. And this is not necessarily because you don’t look good, it could be entirely how you perceive yourself. Either way; the people who are mirrors around me can either be reflective of how I actually am, or how I perceive myself.
I’ve thrown out a lot of mirrors since I’ve started looking at myself better.
Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop.
What are you doing to make changes for 2020?
I don’t know what will happen in 2020. I made plans for 2019, and none of them happened the way I expected.
I felt like I have been on an upward rise ever since I started going to therapy. My journey here was a long one, starting sometime in 2017 when I began watching Celest Viciere‘s Therascopes, where she would do public therapy sessions via Periscope. They were daily, practical sessions gear towards improving your mental health. And best of all for broke me, they were free. After around a year of that, I finally hired a therapist with Boundless Innovations in Baltimore, and things really began taking off. My self-confidence drastically improved. I began becoming more assertive. I took my self-care very seriously. I began doing yoga with Andhyana Yoga. I started working out. I began slowly cutting people out my life who were not encouraging me to improve. I got divorced. I healed.
The level of improvement that I’ve been on, and the trajectory that it has taken me, tells me I need to keep living with open hands. To keep moving forward. To keep loving. Keep being vulnerable.
Changes will come in 2020. But if I’m flexible and strong, I know I can handle, and even love these changes.
What steps do you need to take to catch up on doing the things you didn’t get to do in 2019?
The list is long. I want to get my book of art published. I want to get ready to move out of my house. I want to get fully back on the saddle with work so I’m bringing in a serious income again. I want to make sure I keep investing in my health; mental, physical, and emotional. I want to keep growing, keep loving.
The Book: I need to set aside an hour a week to work on the book and get it finished.
Move Out: I need to pack a box a week. I need to research places to stay. I need to secure funding for my next house and for the move itself.
Work: I need to commit to a regular schedule, and make sure I find a place I can work and focus while the kids are in school.
Mental: I need to make sure I continue going to therapy every week, start couples therapy, and come to the Writing For Your Sanity course at least 2x a month.
Physical: I need to go to the gym 3x a week. Minimum. I should also be going for walks in the mornings when I drop off the kids at school.
Emotional: I need to take care of myself, and make sure I am both vulnerable with my girlfriend, but also not using her for complete support.
If I didn’t feel shame of fear, what would I do now?
Oddly, I fear being vulnerable. Not because I fear being hurt or damaged. I feel like the pain I’ve been through has helped prove that I can get through that. What I fear is being a burden to my partner, to my friends, to my family.
If I didn’t feel that fear…? I would ask for what I need. Not stress about if they’re not available to be there for me. And keep moving.
The moment I am willing to change, it is amazing how the universe brings me what I need.
This has already begun becoming true. Today, I had a meeting with my bankruptcy lawyer, and he told me I’ll likely be out of my house in February.
That oddly pacified me, because now I have hard dates to follow, and a guide and a goal. I can now work towards that.
And once I became peaceful with that, I started to have people reach out to me. People from church, people from activism, even just friends, asking how they could support me with paying for housing in my next move.
When I was a kid, I had this fear that I would die alone.
The strange thing was, is that I didn’t have a great fear of dying. I experienced many many brushes with death, and I was almost always alone during them. Being from the subarctic, death was something that was nearby in a lot of ways, whether it was with friends who overdosed or committed suicide, or by the sheer level of danger that being surrounded by 300 miles of empty forest bore. Though, in the forest, I never felt alone…
What I really was afraid of was growing old, and having no one to give love to and to be loved by.
I feared deeper than anything that I would wind up with no one to hold me, with no one to hold, slowly decaying as the horrible monotony of life ate away and crumbled my bones.
And, it’s cheating to say that this was just a fear when I was a kid. This fear continued in my through childhood, through my teenage years, all the way through college, and deep into the majority of my marriage.
It held me with claws that sunk into the deepest part of me, so that I held on to each relationship, each friendship, each person I loved, with the same white-knuckled grip. I held on, even if they didn’t hold me in nearly the same way.
This ruined things. Many things. It had me hold on to my marriage far longer than I should have. It kept around me friends who didn’t have my best interest anywhere in their sphere of concern. It made me nervous, anxious, completely on edge that I was going to do or say something that would cost me these relationships.
All the while, I feared little else. I couldn’t even identify a single thing I was afraid of. I launched myself at things I was afraid of, often with dramatic results. But at no point was I putting myself and my own wellbeing as a priority.
Once I began facing my fear of being alone, through therapy and the support of close friends, I discovered this simple truth: Dying alone wasn’t an option for me.
Not only did I begin being my own best companion, and I began to not feel lonely anymore, but I realized that I would never truly be alone. People care about me. I have a family that is imperfect but cares about me. I have friends who are drawn to me and care about my wellbeing. Some deep. Some less deep. All of them matter. People are attracted to me and want to be in my company, who value my input, who love me.
Understanding not only that this is true, but that I am worthy of it, changed everything.
What was the last interaction like with the most toxic person you know?
This one is hard for me, because I think I might have a tough time labeling people as toxic.
I am constantly trying to see the very best in people, even when those people have done horrible things to me. It’s such a deeply challenging thing to call someone out for a bad thing they did.
It’s only when I started setting boundaries for myself that I realized that people I loved could be bad for me, and that I didn’t have to put up with it. Before that, toxic people literally controlled almost every part of my life, which meant that I was miserable for a good portion of it.
Now, if someone is toxic, rather than internalizing it and trying to see what I need to do to change to be less offensive to them, I am much quicker to let them, and whatever they were being cruel about, go.
That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to anyone or take advice from people. In fact, I feel like I listen more now, because I’m more choosy of who I listen to and invest time in. I have a greater bandwidth to be there for people who really care and love me.
Take a moment to reflect and remember how badly you wanted something that you currently have today.
I really wanted a vehicle of my own that really fit me. I knew I didn’t want a car payment, and though the car I did have was dying, I went about it really slow, and saved up and did research for over 8 months. My old car died in the middle of the that period, but I kept saving, rode public transport, and just stopped going to some things. When I finally bought the vehicle, I was able to pay cash, and it was exactly what I needed. A Honda Element, manual, with a moonroof, and the ability to fold all the seats down into a full-size bed. One of my favourite things is to just go out and sit in it, watching the sunset, taking a nap in it, stringing my hammock up to the roof rack, or converting the back tailgate into my mobile desk to work.
When I feel lost and like I don’t belong anywhere, it makes me feel at home.
Think about a small step you have taken or plan to get you closer to your goal. Remind yourself that it’s the small steps that get you closer to the finish line.
Right now, everything feels like small steps.
After my marriage ended, I had big plans. I was going to travel more, to be out more with friends, to be in nature more, to work out more, and I had full plans to do all those things, little steps included.
Then, a white guy speeding in his mother’s car on a way to buy some drugs cut in front of my motorcycle and sent me flying several hundred feet. I had to relearn how to walk. Relearn how to write. Relearn how to draw and design, which is what my entire livelihood depended on. I was out of commission for over 10 months.
I took small steps, healed, and prepared to restart all those goals. January came around, and I was finally 90% of the way there. I began traveling to visit a long-distance girlfriend. I began working out again in earnest. I went out, made new friends… and then the pandemic hit. My relationship ended. I was alone, again.
So now, I’m focusing almost exclusively on the little steps. Working on the projects that I do have coming in the door, and building my own personal projects in my downtime. My art. My novel. My music.
And there are big things that aren’t goals that I have to worry about. I worry about the pandemic, about being safe. I worry about losing my house. I worry about fascism growing in this country. I worry about raising to Black kids in a place that doesn’t always welcome them.
The small steps are all I have right now. But I think that might be a good thing.
How do you think you appear to others, is it different from how you feel on the inside?
This is something I would have tremendous anxiety over. I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a good grip on how I appeared to others, and because I viewed myself so poorly, everything I would imagine would be the worst possible version of myself in every way.
It got so bad, that the way I felt on the inside completely ruined and effected how I interacted with everyone. Every time I would get a compliment, I’d shoot it down. Every time anyone expressed admiration, called me handsome, said I was smart, talked about me being kind, I would reject it and downplay anything about myself.
Trying to imagine how people saw me was terrifying to me. Body dysmorphia extended into personality dysmorphia and even emotional dysmorphia, to the point where I couldn’t even recognize myself when people would talk about me. Self love seemed empty and vacuous; something I didn’t deserve.
All this I had to unlearn. Now, how I feel on the inside matches closer to how people see me. Now I feel comfortable enough to feel confident in who I am. Now I am strong enough to love myself the most. Now I am learning that if you don’t care for me, I don’t have to change myself to meet your standards.
What is something that you do that is harmful to you, a self-defeating behavior? How did you get started participating in this behavior? What keeps you doing it?
The biggest thing I’m doing is not sleeping properly. I’ve been getting slightly better at actually getting into bed around midnight, but often I’ll stay up later just being on my phone.
I began staying up late in college. I had to take a large number of credits just to pass because I had switched majors, and because of that I just got into the habit of staying up late and getting assignments done. I was also working at the same time, and ended up sleeping very little and just catching up on the weekends.
When I graduated, though I had day-jobs, my goals was to have my own design agency. So no matter where I was working, I would come home, eat dinner, and get right back to work again, staying up until 2 or 3 designing things.
Now, however, I’m just in that same habit of staying up late. It’s gotten to the point where I just don’t even design as well unless it’s late at night. And also, my body is changing, and I wake up early with the sun no matter how late I stay up the night before.
One thing I’ve started doing is darkening my room down so I can sleep later if I need to, or even take a nap during the middle of the day. But I’m still trying to get sleep habits down, and a pandemic doesn’t help!
What I need is just a more diligent schedule, because I feel so good and healthy when I have that schedule.
Would I be proud of myself if I spoke to other people in the way that my thoughts speak to me?
I definitely think I’m much better at it. I never talked to myself in positive ways at all, because I felt it was both conceited and a little corny.
Because of that, I didn’t listen to myself very much, and wouldn’t trust my own intuition. Warning flags would get ignored, and I would end up getting hurt by things that could easily have been avoided.
Now, because of some really gentle but strong love I’ve received from people, it’s helped me see the negative ways in which I’ve spoken to myself, and changed it in major ways. If I’m tired or feeling down, I’ll catch myself slipping back in to those habits… but this time I’ll change it and fix it.
I’ve learned that it would be very against my nature to even approach conceitedness. That has helped me listen to myself a little more, and sometimes that voice and be really encouraging. I can really be kind to myself if I let myself.
What kind of situations do I avoid? What does this evasion say about my previous experiences or beliefs?
Normally, I try my best not to avoid things. If I’m anxious about something or if a situation gives me apprehension, my typical tactic is to dive straight in, guns blazing. Whether I feel qualified for it or not, whether I am in company that is familiar to me or not, I’ll pretend I belong there until I actually do.
This doesn’t mean I don’t feel like an imposter; I feel that way all the time. But I have the confidence that I can fly by the seat of my pants, and fake it until I make it. And I have this confidence because 9 times out of 10, it turns out ok.
The one place I don’t feel like it always turns out well is in love. Because nearly every relationship has ended in tragedy, it’s hard for me to understand that new relationships won’t also end in tragedy.
It’s also hard for me to be ok with them ending, because I fear that tragedy and heartache as well. It’s only been recently that I’ve had a relationship that ended and there wasn’t tragedy. It was a very new and strange experience for me, but it’s made me more confident in growing and moving forward.
Talk about an unrealistic expectation that was imposed on you as a child. How did you feel about it then, and how do you feel now?
I’m not entirely sure if this was something that was put on me, or something I put on myself, but I really felt like I wasn’t allowed to express emotions fully unless it was happiness.
Anger was one of the biggest emotions I’d stifle; to the point where I would constantly stifle bottle it up , and it would inevitably explode out on its own when I could not take the pressure anymore. For a long time I just believed that I had a very bad temper, not realizing that healthy ways of releasing anger could even exist.
When something hurt or made me feel bad, if I cried I was told to grow up, and that crying was childish. That had the same effect, where I would try to hold back the tears. But inevitably, they would just come out.
Now, I’m discovering ways of letting out frustrations, and letting myself be a more whole and complete person. Writing helps.
What is the courageous thing you’ve ever done? How did it make you feel?
But if I measure by things that were challenging for me, which required the most effort and taxed the deepest part of me, then easily the most courageous thing I’ve ever done was ending a relationship.
It meant standing up for myself, realizing that the damage of staying outweighed the benefits of staying, and making the move.
Think about a boundary you have had to set with someone. What were the benefits of setting this boundary?
A new boundary I just set was raising the pricing on my art commissions. I was in Pints & Prose, a writing group that has been encouraging me in both my art and my writing. I showed off some in-progress commissioned drawings I was making, and one of the members asked me how much I was charging per drawing. I sent them the Commissions page of my website. They then asked how long it took me to make a drawing. Each drawing takes me roughly 40-50 hours to create, depending on the complexity. They pointed out that I was making around $5 an hour, and said I needed to up my rates.
So, I’m going to be sending out an email to all my Patrons and art fans, and letting them know I’m raising the rates, and that they can hire me at the lower rate only until the end of this week.
We’ll see what happens!
If you had to live in a room by yourself for one month, what healthy activities would you bring in for fun?
I’ve actually thought about this, in case I was locked up as political prisoner or something. I think these are the things that I would bring in.
A volleyball – I have trouble working out, I have to make it fun in some way. That’s one of the reasons I’m in Karate, so that I’m having fun while working out. A ball is something I’d be able to play with, smack against the wall, volley over my head, use it to sit on or massage myself with with, practice spinning on my finger. It would help encourage me to train and focus on something else.
A plant – Something to tend for and help remind myself that I can continue to grow.
Pencils & paper – To help me practice my drawing, to help me continue my drawing, and imagine a world outside the four walls I’d be in.
An iPod – Music is so important to me. Giving something for me to sing along with and inspire me to do the above things.
What is my gift to the world?
I feel like I have many many gifts to give to the world, but I think most of them focus around introspection. With my art, writing, photography, design, and even my presence, I most love it when it inspires, motivates, or helps people to reflect on some part of themselves. I have a set of beliefs that I live by; taking joy in small things, defending the oppressed, and growing to be the most compassionate person I can be, and so my work tends to inspire and motivate people towards those qualities. And each part of those is wrapped in love.
Am I focusing more on what my life looks like rather than what it feels like?
I feel like I’m merging those two concepts, or at least bringing them closer together. This morning, I woke up extra early for no real reason. I’ve converted my bay window into a prayer, yoga, meditation and napping space. The sun was filtering through the bamboo blinds. My windows were open because hasn’t been as hot lately, and crickets and birds sang through on a gentle cool breeze. My palms cast shadows across the walls. My satin sheets and velvet blankets were soft and decadent, and I just felt so good. The scene looked like an Instagram aesthetic post to me, but it was real. It was my actual room, and it was that way because I had designed it and built it that way, just for me.
I’m challenging myself to keep altering my space to closer match my dreams.
Describe who you really are. What keeps you from showing your genuine self?
I think I’ve been working hard to be my genuine self, and I think that I’ve been pretty successful at it over the past few years. Tapping in to who I really am apart from another person has been key to that. So much of my identity was wrapped up in partnership before, that I had to relearn some of the things that really were some of the more nuanced things I enjoyed about my own personality.
I have felt in some ways that my complexity and depth can be a little scary for some people, so sometimes I have just opted to no talk about everything about myself when I meet people, and let things slowly be revealed over time.
This means that the people who hang around me the longest and who show the most interest in me know the most full version of me. I am a deep and multifaceted person, and I’m done hiding that for other people’s comfort.
If I didn’t feel shame or fear, what would I do now?
There is not a lot I feel shame about right now, nor fear. I’m happy to be in this place.
Think about a time in your life when you thought things were doing well in your life. How did you feel about yourself? What was going on at the time?
Other than now, I think a time where I was doing well was immediately after I graduated college and was living on my own. I had enough income to cover all my bills and a little extra, everything was direct-deposit and automatically withdrawn, and I worried about very little.
I felt good about myself. I was still in the middle of my own body dysmorphia and wasn’t thinking about myself in totally positive ways, I was lonely in some ways, but I was happy.
I feel like I’m recovering some of that same place. And I think it’s important
Why are you so afraid of being celebrated?
I think I’m afraid of not living up to the celebration, of being less than worthy.
Despite everything that has happened, things have gotten better, in a lot of areas.
I am definitely more motivated in my own physical health more. Though I had some setbacks with just how tough time management has been to slog through, I am taking care of myself amazingly.
I am also way more confident in my own body. I thought it was a switch that I turned on 2 years ago, but instead it’s been more of a slow turning up of the dial. I keep learning new ways to appreciate and be thankful for the ways I have been made.
My relationship with my kids has deepened, where I’ve learned the different ways in which the both of them work, and built safe spaces both for them to open up to me more, and spaces to just be kids and have fun.
My art has expanded. I’ve gotten more commissions than I ever have before. And I also feel more appreciated in my art, in addition to being more confident in it as well.
I’m getting back into photography; which I have had on hiatus for almost 6 years. My friends are really encouraging me to get back into it, and in a few weeks, I’ll have built a new section on my website just dedicated to my photography.
Who do you need to forgive, and why won’t you?
There is one person I haven’t forgiven.
But there are plenty of people who I will no allow to hurt me. And most of those people are people that I forgave.
I think ultimately people are fallible and will let you down, whether on accident or on purpose. Holding on to those things doesn’t help me in any way, but I can learn from them.
What I have to be careful of is the tendency I have to hold on to old pain. I am getting better and better at releasing it and releasing myself.
Who I am working on is fully forgiving myself.
What would I do if I had enough time?
I’d practice my music more. I haven’t touched my piano in a while just because not only does it not make any money unlike my other talents, it also requires a little money because I need to either fix my amplifier or get a new one. It feels silly to invest in it, when I need money for so many other things.
What do I do now when I have time?
I invest in myself and my drawing. If I have a moment, I take my iPad, go down by the water, and I draw. It recharges me so much. It feels almost as good as swimming.
Just like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, think of a small painful experience and share how it helped you transform your strength, growth or purpose.
I got stuck on this question, because I kept trying to figuring out what a small painful experience would be.
And I can’t figure out if that’s because small stuff doesn’t bother me…
Or if so many big painful experiences have happened that I don’t notice the small ones…
Or if I ignore small problems until they become big problems…
Or if I’m really great at handling small problems that they don’t feel like problems.
I’ll have to think about that some more.
We all think that happiness is something that will come when conditions in our lives are better. What things are you waiting for before you can be happy? What if they never happen?
I’m pretty happy right now. I’m stressed about the absurd things that are happening in the country, but personally I feel pretty good. I’m growing in a lot of ways, feel loved, I’m growing spiritually, I’m expanding my business, I have good support, and I’m investing in myself.
There are plans I made last year that I wanted to have happen this year that I thought would make me happy. I thought I was going to be traveling regularly, made plans to explore the Caribbean, was looking forward to visiting my girlfriend at the time a lot, wanted to visit my parents regularly… and none of that could happen.
And… I’m still happy. I’m adjusting, rolling with the punches. I’m not always great at it and sometimes I get hit and go down, but I’m still working on it.