Dear Chelsey: A Letter to My Previous Self.

Dear Chelsey,

Hello. I know, I’m surprised too. We have read lots of time-travel lo-fantasy, and we always wondered what we would be like when we were older.

Here I am. We made it this far, and we’re aging okay, despite our best efforts to self-destruct. Lucky us. It is a good thing we’ve eaten pretty well over the years, even with all the other toxicity we’ve subjected ourselves to. Hopefully we quit smoking soon enough, and have curbed our inebriation choices to a livable frequency and quantity. I’ll get back on that yoga train soon, I promise. This winter was really tough on us, so we’re being gentle and introducing a self-care regimen slowly.

I am pleased to be able to offer you some insight. I hate to say it, because this may come across as “I’m so glad I’m not you”. But I’m really glad that I am not even a moment younger than I currently am, and look forward to being older and having more experiences to draw from. They really knew what they were talking about when they said, “wait until you’re older”, or “listen to your elders”, or whatever other anecdotal advice some older person tried to give you over the years that you probably took with a grain of salt. Salt is a very important grain to take, but it helps to listen too, and we didn’t know that then, as most younger people overlook. We’re getting a better grip now, thankfully, and finally. It is so hard to listen to advice when we’re young and wilful.

We are going to be thirty-five this year, if you can believe it. That’s a third of a lifetime, done. Half, if we’re feeling not as optimistic. I tend to lean on the optimism end of the spectrum, or I try.

You’ve been through a lot, already, haven’t you? I’m pretty sure you were reeling from the things you had been through by the age of twelve, let alone where I am at thirty-four. I assure you, at each of the junctures I am going to acknowledge you at, you were tired. I think we’ve probably been tired our whole lives, and because we didn’t know any different, we just kept plugging along, kept trying, kept telling ourselves we were lucky it wasn’t worse. Now, I have learned about things like trauma-bonding, codependency, and how bad the things you have been through were. We used to talk ourselves out of that. We laugh when we’re nervous, and when we’re scared, because we want it to not be as bad as it is, or are trying to make light of our own struggle.

We gaslit ourselves for years because that was the way others taught us to treat ourselves by treating us as such. We know better now, but slip up from time to time and try not to be too hard on ourselves when we do.

It’s okay that the things that happened to us were bad, even if they weren’t as bad as some of the other things other people have suffered. It’s okay to have been hurt, and to have been unlucky in some cases, and to feel that. We are lucky in a lot of ways and have a lot of privileges, but those do not mitigate the hurt we have been subject to, and glossing over those hurts isn’t helping you move through them, so let’s stop that together, okay?

I’m going to go over some things that have happened, and are going to happen to you, and what I think would have helped you if I had known these things when they happened to me. I will refer to your age at the time of the event, or the instance, so we can keep straight what we’re talking about. That should help this be less confusing.

There may be an overarching theme to the information I am going to give you, but we will see if that emerges while I compile this letter. Who knows, this might even narrow down to one succinct piece of advice.

Let’s start early.

When the girls in your early elementary classes are not being kind to you, don’t worry about it. You’re a curious, communicative, amicable being; you want to talk to everyone, and have done since you gained the ability to speak. Your parents let you run wild at parties and other social spaces, and you made friends with everyone. This is not the way school is going to work for you, and it’s not really anyone’s fault. A bunch of kids are mashed together, coming from differences they don’t understand yet, and they can be mean, unfortunately. These girls are only going to be around you for a couple more years, and then you will find different friends that are nicer and much more supportive. They are probably just trying to work out if they have any power, just like you. There are differences between you and them that have to do with things you don’t understand yet, like class privilege. It doesn’t feel okay at the time; the rejection is palpable, and what you don’t yet understand is that you fall in love with girls. Their disinterest is more hurt-filled than you, or they, understand, because all the Disney movies show girls falling in love with boys. Try not to let this silence you. Keep being yourself, and don’t change so they like you. They are not going to like you anyway if they don’t want to, and they are not a representative set of how women can be in your life. Further, stand with the people those girls are mean to besides yourself. Those are your allies, and you will remember them until you’re me.

Your dad is going to go away for a little bit and you’re going to have to move house when you’re still quite young, at seven. It is not your fault, even though your words were an integral part of how this came to pass so suddenly. This is for the best, and he is just doing what he needs to do to be happy. He will be an amazing father because he is a happy man. He met his soulmate; she is going to be a wonderful support system for you later, so trust him. He will be back, and he will be a really solid parent for you, as will she. They will mitigate a lot of the damage done to you by others in your childhood life, and set you up with some of the skills you will need to navigate hardship. Through this, and through their examples of survival, you will learn profound resilience.

Your mum getting sick, diagnosed when you’re ten, is going to impact a lot of things in your life. She doesn’t mean to be angry at everything all the time. She can’t really help it. She wasn’t socialized to be able to deal with how angry she is at her circumstances very well, and is very resentful of how, now, she must rely on others to take care of her quite a lot. The betrayal she feels by your dad is going to go on for a long time, because it’s a tangible thing to blame. Try not to take that personally, or feel the need to defend him. It will just turn her anger on you, and that’s not really all that helpful. She sees him in you, and can’t not see him when she’s really mad. She mixes this up with all her anger about her illness, and it just compounds and fills her with vitriol. She has been dealt a hard hand, and can’t help but lash out at the closest people: her children. She can’t handle the injustice of it all, at times. Her body is failing her and she’s livid about it, but that doesn’t mean she gets to treat you badly.

You can leave, and you will. When you are ready.

Speaking of Mum, she is going to betray you.

Be ready, my dear. This is going to shape parts of your character, and be a shadow within your personality for the rest of your life.

This thing that is going to happen is going to shape a lot of how you engage with people, unfortunately. Let it wash over you; she is not the way all women are. Try not to let that betrayal shape your perspective of women in general, because you will have strong, supportive ones in your life much later, and you will love them very deeply, as they will you. Trust them, even though the first one to influence you was not trustworthy, as it turned out. I know it will be hard, because the imprinting that occurred with this betrayal is going to be a mountain to overcome, but you can do it. Women will be some of the greatest loves of your life, so start climbing that mountain. It will be so worth it.

Now, let us talk about your relationships with men.

Your first sexual experience with a male person should have been much, much later than it was. It’s not your fault; he’s a broken human, and he didn’t know not to touch children, for some reason.

Oh honey, I’m so, so sorry.

You need to be tough, and at the first sign that he may touch you, scream and tell someone immediately. He will start with just an escalation of affection, which feels really weird but you’re eleven, so you don’t know how to process it.

Stop him.

It will get worse, and he will keep going, keep touching you, escalate the sexual nature of the contact until you stop him. This is horrifically unfair, because you are eleven and no child should have to learn how to fight a grown man’s sexual advances off of them at that age, but you will have to fight him off. You will have to snap him out of the drunken haze that has allowed him to think this is acceptable. Tell people who are safe, and you will know who is safe deep in your heart, until someone listens and helps you. Don’t listen to your mum this time; don’t let her silence you. She is internalizing the responsibility of his actions, and she’s afraid of him, and what he will do if she tries to get him to leave. She doesn’t know how to get him to leave, or if she would be okay if he left, so she acts out of fear and tries to shove what happened down and away, tries to make it disappear.

She demands of you that same burial. She demands that you forget it happened, and ignore it.

Don’t erase yourself.

Tell your friends’ mums, or your dad and stepmum, or both. Just don’t be quiet. The silence will eat away at your soul worse than the impact of the assault itself. It will erode your personality, change you permanently, though not irreparably, but that will take years. I know; four years of quiet almost kills you until you are not quiet anymore, and you find support and retribution. You are so brave, and that bravery saves your life, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

She does not understand what the silence, the suppression, and the lack of advocation by her, for you, is going to do to you. Years later, she will say so. She will not verbalize any understanding of what happened for you before she dies. Your peace with her will have to be made within yourself, without her.

Yeah, I know. This world is like, really fucked up sometimes.

Go to counselling. Even when you think you feel better, keep going. The days you think to yourself “I think I’m okay today. I wonder what there is to talk about?” will be the best sessions. Those sessions really get into your emotional process, and what you need to be healthy and safe. Keep going.

When your “friend” offers you that bag of drugs in trade for a money loan, think about what you are doing. This decision will evaporate a year of your life, at least, and turn you into someone you don’t recognize. Those particular drugs are the sort that erode a part of you that determines morality. You need that part, so stop using as soon as you can. You will come out of it okay when you’re ready, and you have the strength to overcome this particular bout of addiction, as you will overcome many, but your dad will age about twenty years watching you do this and he really needs that lifetime bandwidth.

When that charming boy you met in a drug-fuelled, or alcohol-fuelled, haze wants you to go to that party with him, or that bar, or his house in that cab, consider your options. Please, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t care enough about you and he will show it time and time again with his actions. Watch him, don’t listen to his words, and believe what you know in your heart to be true about him from watching his actions. He doesn’t see you. You are merely a shade, subtle, in his hero story. This is not good enough.

This particular piece of advice was offered without age or timeline, because it happens so many times, I cannot count them all.

Your dad is amazing. This means you trust men to support you emotionally and take care of you when you are too wrecked to take care of yourself, and they will not meet that bar more than most of the time. Approaching your relationships with men with some skepticism as to their ability to meet you where you are at is very prudent, and you will be alright regardless. You will survive them all, and you will leave them all on your own volition, because you should and you will know when to get out. They aren’t good enough. Whether they become such later is irrelevant, because the damage they are doing to you in their negligence is not worth it.

In fact, This is a key tenet to be mindful of: watch what people do. Don’t listen to what they say all the time. They will tell you stories with their actions, and those are so much truer than the words they say. Watch for the people who do exactly what they say, and keep those close to you.

Have sex with men if you want to, but be sure to check in with yourself and confirm that you actually want to. Do it for you, not because they want you to, or you think they will like you more if you do. They won’t. They’re taking your life-force from you if you’re not into it, and you need that to survive. You could be reliving past trauma by engaging in sexual situations you don’t one hundred percent want to be doing, and that’s hurting you more than you know. You are sensitive, particularly about sexual things, as a result of your history. Stay on top of using protection, and if they have a problem with that, leave. You will get lucky, but there’s no such thing as too cautious. This will fail once, and particularly devastatingly, but again, you are lucky: you live in a country that has legal and safe abortion access. You catch it early, and it is like it never happened.

Your body needs to carry you through your life; treat it with reverence.

It will take you until the time of this letter being written by me, by future you, for you to realize the trauma you have subjected yourself to by having sex with people you aren’t completely into. This will happen over and over again for years. You will have lots of great sex; you will be very into a lot of the people you are intimate with, but there will be as many, if not more people that you’re not. You are a sex-positive person, and this will conflate with your desire, which will lead to a lot of situations that are more “I guess, because I should be into this” than “fuck yes”. “I guess” isn’t consent. The people you were having sex with should have known based on your body language, your intoxication, your hesitancy prior to their coercion, but they went ahead with it anyway. That’s on them, so don’t beat yourself up about this. You are responsible for yourself, but you are also only fifty percent responsible for the interactions you have with others. You are also a conventionally attractive woman, so people are going to chase you. Your boundaries have been historically shaky, so it’s no wonder that sometimes, particularly manipulative and toxic people get in close with you. You get better and better at dealing with this every single day, and I am hopeful that I will continue into the future to get even better.

Here is something very important about that, something that I wish I had known so much sooner than ago:

People getting close to you and your not seeing their negative impact on you until it’s too late is absolutely not your fault.

How other people push you, push your soft spots to see where the weaknesses are, how they covertly cross boundaries in order to get what they want, how they don’t check in, how they take what they can extract from you, how they steamroll over you: that is entirely on them.

People who prioritize egalitarianism, and who care about you, will not do this to you.

You’re not going to find your people until you are in your thirties. Your social nature, the way you easily get close to people and the way you are always growing and changing will lead to you cycling through a lot of social circles through your teens, twenties, and beyond. You will manage to keep a few people for the duration of those years, but most of them will come and go. In your mid-thirties, you will still see some churn, but there will be a core network that challenges you, and nourishes you. The people who are close then will value everything you are, and you won’t have to change or try to muffle any aspect of yourself with them. You will be valued for your headstrong, intense nature and the depth and ease with how you feel. Let that shine, and they’ll be able to see you in the dark. The people who want to take advantage of you will not even try anymore because you will terrify them. They will back away from your fire, as well they should, because you will incinerate them if they get too close. Too often over the course of your life you have been made small and quiet by others, and not only was that an assault on your state of being and your psyche, it was unjust.

You are valuable, and so are your thoughts and feelings.

A thread seems to have emerged, as we both suspected it might. Alongside that of “watch what people do, and see if it lines up with the words they say”, the other is “don’t let people silence you”.

Don’t snuff yourself out your fire. Do not be quiet. Deafen them all with the sound of your voice. Do it to protect yourself and to support people who are struggling in your community.

Be as emphatic as you love, with all of your heart.

Much love to you,

Chelsey

Love-Bombed.

The restaurant was so dark I could barely see him, backlit by some dim lanterns that kept the place moody, warmly toned, but technically visible. There were dark corners where booths held people, in pairs, speaking to each other intimately over the soft piano music. Cutlery clinked against glass or porcelain, subtle. I appreciated that the music wasn’t too loud, since this was the sort of place where people talk about intimate things over their meals; it surprises me to no end how many eating or drinking establishments miss that point. I was taking in everything: the small sounds, the slight taste of wine in my mouth from my last sip. The tablecloth was silky smooth under my fingers as i traced the edge of it for something to hold on to and tried to look him directly in the eye as he spoke, holding his gaze. I wanted to look anywhere else. The walls had beautiful art on them I wanted to study. It was a strange geometrical modernist sort of imagery within which you can see virtually whatever you want. The texture of the carpets was suddenly something I wanted to inspect and find the pattern in. I imagined looking at the ceiling. I wondered if it was interesting, speckled or peaked, if it had an inset to it. My lap, shrouded in black as usual and containing my other hand, the one not tugging on the edge of the tablecloth, but I did not look down. I am sure my nails are fine and do not need my attention, but I want to check. Ignoring these impulses became my secondary focus while my primary was to listen to him. It was considered attentive to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking from the heart, wasn’t it? He seemed to mean what he was saying. I wanted to believe his intentions were good. I think he did. I took note of my own skittish brain. Why can’t you just listen, why are you so easily distracted? What are you doing, mind?

I had been going into any romantic or sexual connection for the last few months with a pretty clear caveat that I was not well-equipped to be relied upon for emotional care or labour until further notice. I was recovering from some relationship implosion trauma and the well I had of emotional energy with which to deal with the feelings of others was very slowly refilling. There was about an inch in the bottom. That is nothing when the image in my head of this well sizes it comparable to a wheat silo.

He was explaining to me, on our second date, that he was in love with me.

He said that he felt empowered by the fact that I was so open and accepting, that he felt safe expressing the feelings he had because he knew I wouldn’t judge him. He also said that he didn’t expect me to respond in kind, that he was just happy to be in my life in a meaningful way.

He said this to me the second time we spent time together in person.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I inhaled, and knew, logically, that oxygen should get to my brain, but felt a bit like it would not survive the journey for some reason. Something was constricting in my chest. The air passing through my lungs just wasn’t enough.

I ignored that feeling.

I smiled and thanked him for his sentiment and his kind words. I might have reached out and taken his hand as some gesture of affection, or something to indicate that it was okay. My brain flooded with emotions. I was flattered, but I immediately felt guilty for not telling him I loved him back. I felt some shame. It was happening again. I did not know that the guilt would eat at me until I said it to him a short time later, maybe a couple of weeks. I don’t think I meant it in the way he thought I did, I also do not think I was influenced by him alone. That influence did not just come from the fact that he had said it first, or anything.

It came from everywhere.

Everything I understood about wanting to make people happy by giving them what they want, about the supposed fragility of the male ego not being able to cope with rejection and therefore to reject even a little was an act that could lead to my abuse, or about there being value in loving with an open heart and that the meaning of the word didn’t have to be what is traditionally assigned to it. About gratitude, bravery, honesty, and that love conquers all, or that it is enough. About this being a warning sign.

About ignoring warning signs.

The list went on.

There is a flavour to the “I love you” that follows the one that was too soon to be real. It doesn’t quite taste the same in your mouth as you form the words with lips round over the o’s and teeth coming together with lips over the vee. there’s a sense of the words being pulled from your lips without you quite being okay with it. The feelings accompanying it are trepidation, uncertainty, nerves. As opposed to having freely given them, or that the momentum of them leaving your throat was coming from something deeper inside of you. Something probably like your own agency. Empowerment. Safety.

Sometimes people do things, say things, to garner some sort of response. We don’t even know we’re doing it. I have done this. I have acted particularly in order to get through to an understanding by the other person, based on what I thought they would understand. I am not happy or proud that I have acted in this way. In fact, I’m committed now to speaking as clearly and as from the heart as I can so that people can have the sort of reactions they want to have, and making space for them to do that. But prior to my better understanding of myself and how I communicate, I would do and say things based on a set of information I had that suggested “people” (generally) act a way in response to the act. If i was being critical, I would call my own behaviour manipulative. If I am being kind, I call it influential.

The words are practically synonymous, but I bet a different feeling manifested when you read them each. I had a different feeling typing them. I searched through thesaurus to find words that more accurately portrayed what I meant. I glided over calculation, persuasion, conviction… none of them seemed to quite be so close and yet quite so juxtaposed.

A set of dominos begin to fall with love-bombing. The person who is professing their love might feel a set of emotions based on the fact that they have just revealed themselves in a vulnerable way. Maybe they feel a sense of relief, something akin to an exhale after holding one’s breath for a little while because they are going through a tunnel: a superstitious thing people do. Maybe there is an increasing sort of tension as they wait for the other person to respond to their disclosure. It may have taken every ounce of courage within them to admit it. Perhaps this was the first time they had ever thrown caution to the wind and just, you know, spoke their truth.

Maybe this was their equivalent of standing on the edge of the giant precipice of the unknown, uncharted waters, terrified.

Maybe this is just how they fall in love. Quick, hard, abrupt.

Maybe this is what they do to get the other person to act similarly. Maybe this has “worked” for them a million times.

Maybe they have actually never felt like this before.

Maybe they want me to react.

The person on the receiving end has to wrangle through their own feelings about “love” as a concept: what it means, what the word represents for them, but also how this has happened. Maybe they start to replay through the short exchange of interactions with the other person to scan them for some sense of how this came to pass, and are juggling that along with trying to figure out how they feel, if they feel similarly, whether that’s reasonable, whether it is safe to say out loud in response, but mostly how to react.

Maybe they’ve never had anyone say that to them before.

Maybe they don’t know how they feel about the person, but they don’t want to outright reject them.

Maybe they are used to people falling in love with them as it happens every day, so this is normal.

Maybe they’re terrified of their own feelings, have now been asked to deal with those of someone else, and it’s too much.

My cued reaction, now, is to respond with “what do you mean?”

Relationship Anarchy Discussion: August Edition

Kale of Relationship Anarchy and I have been hosting a discussion group in Vancouver in conjunction with some Facebook group-based community (Relationship AnarchyRelationship Anarchy Vancouver). Our fourth discussion was a mix of overview, light philosophizing, and delving into more complicated ideas. Here are the general notes on what was covered.

How is RA different from Polyamory?

~ sexual or romantic monogamy is possible within RA
~ poly isn’t necessarily with more rules than RA
~ poly can be pretty couple/pair-bond centric
~ RA is a deliberate abandoning of templates; poly prioritizes the romantic and the sexual still.
~ both offer an opportunity for women to have more agency
~ are people who gravitate towards rebelling progressively move the bar further out/leaning further left over time?

The “I” vs the “We” – when does it apply to RA?

~ there is disinterest in the group with identifying as “I” before “we”
~ solopoly vs RA: some parallels, but some major differences as well
~ anarchy can be very “we” focused philosophy

Narcissism and Us

~ is RA a new fancy way of executing Narc behaviours?
~ how do the power dynamics that are implied in society affect the ways we execute relationships
~ people lacking compassion to their partners can excuse behaviours by claiming RA
~ pathology and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: is it helpful or a blame-game?

How do we do RA well?

~ empowering partners to do what they want to be happy
~ ask for what you want/encourage your partners to ask for what they want
~ what are our agendas, if we have them, and how do we safely articulate them?
~ KNOW THYSELF

Love Languages and their application to RA

~ sometimes they’re different with different people
~ sometimes things people do we hate are actually their love languages
~ the book is narrow; the ways we show care is really subjective
~ it seems like there’s a rapid-fire of love language-ing in the beginning of connecting with someone
~ it can be figured out what people want in care language by what they complain about

Relationships ending vs changing

~ anarchy is about the order that evolves from chaos
~ is the glue holding the relationship together enough for them to treat each other with respect in the transition?
~ how do we treat people when we aren’t particularly happy with them?
~ wtf do we do when we’re old?! how to project into the future of your care in end-of-life
~ is it a failure if we grew/changed as we went in the connection? nope.

How to engage with others about what we want

~ immediate communication is usually better
~ labels are just words we use to talk about ourselves, so we use them
~ COMMUNICATE. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT
~ community building makes connections that are meaningful/sustains them

The discussion groups occur once a month on the first Tuesday at the Tipper Restaurant and Review Room. The September discussion may be rescheduled or skipped as a result of Kale and I both travelling.

Polysplaining: an Analysis.

~

PO·LY·SPLAI·N(ING)

verb

1. To take on an authoritative tone and a righteous attitude while explaining to someone how to do polyamory “properly”.
2. To assume one doesn’t understand how to do polyamory and proceed to tell them in a condescending way.

~

Anyone who has attempted any form of non-monogamous relationship knows, right in their brains, that there is no “right” way to do it. There are ways to mitigate the fallout and take care of people in the process, but no real formula for success. Each and every person is different and unique, just the same as each and every relationship is different and unique.

I think about relationships a lot. I read about them, talk about them, write about them, talk about them some more (communicate! communicate! communicate!) and think about them. All. The. Time. With this in mind, I’ve come to some conclusions about personal growth, conduct, ethics, and consideration. I have settled on some ideas. I have come into my idealism. This is important to note because the ideals I have are mine, and based on the way I see the world, and view my place within it and the lives of the people closest to me. I think things, as it turns out, and I think them pretty strongly.

The rub is that a lot of the time, I think I’m “right”.

I think I’m “right” because when it comes down to it, I’m very rarely wrong, but nonetheless, it is a power I only believe I have. That power is fallible, but in my righteousness I don’t see that. I think that because I’m very confident about my self-awareness, and about “my” poly. This translates into a form of “splaining” that really sucks for my partners who are less experienced, or have thought/read/talked about these things less than I have. That gives me a form of power too; it gives me a window within which to educate.

When I’m in “poly educator” mode, I’m not advocating for myself, I’m advocating for ideals. As it turns out, we’re not there yet.

It is often said in our community that relationships move at the “pace of the slowest person”, meaning that whoever is needing more time, space, or care is setting the pace for how quickly things move around them. We hope. I think this principle can be applied to knowledge as well. When you’re a world class swimmer, or you think you are, to shove someone off the high dive after they’ve just discovered water for the first time and tell them they have to be a perfect swimmer RIGHT NOW is not considerate. Thus, patience must be applied, and information shared at the “pace of the slowest person” is a more measured approach, I think.

People are going to screw up. They’re going to make mistakes and not think of the way you see things (they don’t know, unless you tell them, and they still translate that to their lens…). The experienced poly people owe it to their new-to-poly partners, and to themselves, to be kind and have compassion through this process. We have all been new, and we know it’s hard. We just found a gold mine of life choices and we’re excited, until we realize we’re tripping, and taking out people as we fall on our faces. Everyone has been there.

The silver lining occurs when we find our footing, get it right(ish) and make progress within ourselves to be better. Being present for that as someone else goes through it is more rewarding than we may think as we’re nursing our wounds after our partner just screwed up. “Minding the Gap”, as Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux in their book “More Than Two” mention in reference to Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly“, is important. There is space between where we want to be, ideally, and where we are presently. Righteousness expects “idealistic” poly, not “doing the best i can right now” poly.

It is not easy being “right” almost every time for yourself, and watching people you care for find out where their “right” is the hard way. This goes with the other “prices of admission” in non-monogamous relationships, right next to communication and self-awareness. In between these two necessities is forgiveness.