this blog contains triggering content regarding abusive relationships, mental illness and personal trauma.
the tattoo is an acronym for ‘be good to yourself x’ as a reminder i have perhaps unwisely placed somewhere I don’t get to see often enough for it to be effective. my twenty-eighth year wrapped up recently and a fucktonne happened in that year – the best and worst – but looking back it was characterised by a strange resurgence of feeling past my prime, and feeling somewhat unimpressed with how i was turning out, although as the year progressed there was unfathomable achievements and risks paying off. so my attitude toward myself needed significant adjustment. and this blog is about that.
the last song to play at Consent Festival – unquestionably the biggest and happiest of those achievements – was ‘Voices Carry’ by 1980’s new-wave band ‘Til Tuesday. It’s a song about an abusive relationship, and a need to be heard, and to be loved. After a day of incredible accomplishment by the team who made the event happen, and a deeply personal sense of gratitude for the dream that I had somehow coming true, it didn’t feel like the most serendipitous final song to be playing as we celebrated our successes. At best it was ironic that a song about abuse and silencing should close a day of community exploring what consent means in different contexts and different embodiment. Over the days that followed I unwelcomely couldn’t get the song out of my head – it haunted me and I couldn’t figure out why I was not only obsessed with it, but feeling catharsis in listening to it over and over. After coming down off the back of such a massive undertaking on top of completing a Master’s degree, family tragedies, cancelled opportunities and having to accept a great deal of help to survive as I lost one job with none to follow it, I took two weeks away for contemplation and discipline, during which time I realised that the reason the song felt so powerful is because the relationship in the song is not unlike the relationship I have with myself.
“he wants me / but only part of the time / he wants me / if he can keep me line”
I know I’m not alone. So many people hear songs like this about relationships and discover the relationship it reminds them of is internal, inescapable, infinite. It was a heartbreaking discovery when my mind turned within itself and cried for a halt to how brutal and cruel I was being in my efforts to meet the expectations I have of myself. A dear friend made similar remarks to me some months ago about how perfectionism and ambition had mutated into a deeply unfair interpretation of what I “should”, what I “ought”, what “by now”, what “when I”, and how much of my worth I place on the doing, not the being, which is far closer to 100% than is healthy or helpful to me or the people around me. mindlessness, in the form of mindless pursuit, mindless panic, mindless distraction, mindless desperation, mindless escapism, mindless existentialism, it all leads to misery. my attempts to be more mindful as I spent the last days of my twenty-eighth year incarnated this way led to the exposing of so many Pandora’s Boxes in my psyche, and my inability to avoid them or externalise them as I would normally due to being on a meditation retreat allowed me to see some patterns. namely three key foes to my mental health. maybe you’re familiar with them, and how they stand between you and an equal, respectful, joyful relationship within yourself.
it occurred to me that I am angry. not necessarily at anything. but over time I’ve stored up frustrations and fumes, indignation and injustice because to express these things in public can label you a whole bunch of things I was scared to have attached to people’s impression of me: instability, aggression, unprofessionalism, and even masculinity. the thing is that when you don’t address things, when your anger doesn’t do its job of affirming your boundaries, it doesn’t dissipate over time. It absolutely lurks and compounds like lightning in a bottle. you take it out on yourself at every turn because it’s the easiest place for your anger to go. And technically you’d rather beat yourself up than risk hurting anyone else – although it’s likely they can tell you’re keeping your honest feelings from them and i wonder if approaching being mad about something, if addressed vulnerably and respectfully could actually generate more intimacy than privatising your reticence until it becomes rage and resentment and eventually ruins all your relationships. “you claim that I’m a handful when you show up all empty handed / the way you say you love me like you’ve just been reprimanded”.
the role of fear and fury in my life is a bit of a chicken and egg equation. they go hand in hand. there is much in this world i know i at times decide to fear: dying alone, the dangers of the modern world, causing upset or offence, sex, and of course the two big ones: on the one side failure, and on the other success. long have i feared making a ‘decision I couldn’t take back’, which is the result of being traumatised and summarily blaming oneself for being in ‘the wrong place at the wrong time’ and ‘getting yourself into that situation’. but as much as we fear failing at what we try, there is far too much comfort in the familiarity of failing and the ability to both vindicate and vilify yourself simultaneously, beating yourself senseless and believing it’s the best way to learn from your experiences. except at the same time you know failure is the most potent key to success. but success means continuing to gamble, and being willing to have things to lose. the understanding goes that when afraid, people exhibit the fight, flight or freeze response. the thing is a fight will eventually dissolve, and flight will result in some landing somewhere, but freezing can go on forever, stasis and stillness and stuckness can last a lifetime. “and i know you can’t tell me / so I’m left to pick up the hints, the little symbols / of your devotion”.
a couple of years ago now during what would prove to be a terrible yet transformative time, I wrote a poem with the line ‘I don’t want to die full of ideas’. I can be angry with myself to the point of imagined violence, and I can render myself immobile with fear of the consequences of expressing myself, but this third enemy is the most insidious because it feels good to dream, to revel in the pleasure of ideas and creative imaginings. I don’t need to grow in terms of my sexual journey because I can dream up a love like I hear in the songs. I don’t need to run the risk of making the art when I can just picture how it would work and how good an impact it would have if I did it. I don’t need free myself from my self-imposed shackles if I just live in the delusion and reputation of being an impresario of some innovation, but not necessarily excellence or follow-through. recently an artist I know called me ‘ephemeral’, to mean that I am a joy that comes and goes so quickly from the worlds I touch, and I’ve heard that from many mouths. Comparisons to Glinda the Good or Mary Poppins, ‘he comes and sprinkles his fairy dust and its’ fantastic and then he’s off somewhere new and exciting’. it’s a compliment that cuts both ways, and while I need to see the good in it and follow the flow of the universe, I also need to find space and consistency to deliver what I dream. “now there’s no point in placing the blame / and you should know I suffer the same if I lose you / my heart will be broken”.
they say relationships take work, for all that they should come naturally, and the longer you know somebody the easier it is to fall into habit and harm. well you’ve known yourself your whole life, so make of that what you will. these three foes of fury, fear and fantasy each putrify my presence within myself and on my own behalf. they manifest as disordered eating, PTSD symptoms and angst, mania, vagary, inability to commit. they need interrogating and the space to voice their purpose so the unfinished business can be managed. As much as I detest quoting Sex and the City, there’s no way I could make the point without plagiarizing, and so my philosophy about relationships truly realizes that “the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself”.
so as I turn twenty-nine my gift to myself is a renewed pledge, a strengthened vow to cherish myself body, mind, spirit in the spirit of forgiveness, compassion, fulfillment. and a happy fucking Valentine’s Day to boot. wow. twenty-nine. “so glad we made it / look how far we’ve come my baby”