Two years ago today, it felt like my world ended.
The reasons are complicated, and I’m not going to go into them here, at least not now, but suffice to say that a group of people sat me down to read me a list of my faults — all the ways I was broken, and then tell me I was no longer welcome in the community. That I was too broken to be in their community. This came at the conclusion of about a month’s worth of secret meetings, some of which were held in the house while I was home, some of which were held when I wasn’t home, some of which were held outside the house — and which members of the community used my car (which I’d made available to the community) to get to.
I had fucked up. But I was not alone in fucking up. The thing was, because of social dynamics, only my faults were under such scrutiny. Only my fuckups were unforgivable.
I remember my heart racing and my vision narrowing. I remember my best friend saying that because of what was happening, he might lose his best friend. I remember one of the women reading the list of my fuckups from her computer. I remember one of the men saying something in my defense, and the other woman saying we shouldn’t argue over semantics.
I remember afterward, going on a walk with my best friend. It was cold and dark, and I don’t remember if I could feel my body, because I felt detached from the world.
After that, I entered a dark and downward spiral.
Sometimes, I think I’m mostly over what happened two years ago. I still love and care about several members of that community, and in many ways, I think we’ve healed and moved past that and all gained different types of awareness and perspectives.
But then other times, like this morning, I think about the ways that I still hurt from this. How my body is incredibly tired and my eyes are bloodshot and my shoulders are tense (though this last one may well be because of a mishap with my bicycle last night) and I’m just generally low-grade sad.
I dread the date. I dread that I dread the date.
When there’s a sad-iversary in my life, of which I have several in the first quarter of the year, I alternate between wanting to curl up in a ball and sad-marathon-watch some TV show on Netflix and pushing past it to do whatever it is that’s currently making me happy. There’s that same impulse today.
And it’s to the second impulse, the doing what brings me joy, that I’m going to try and push while still honoring my feelings of sad. Because something that’s happened more in recent months than I can remember in a long time is people saying that they see me as generally upbeat, as generally happy or positive. And for the first time in as long as I can remember, this doesn’t feel like a total farce.
Before, when I heard that, it was a testament to my ability to act. My inability to trust.
I’d hit bottom before, although I think, and hold, that there are different elevations to “hitting bottom.”
I think that each time we hit bottom, we discover that bottom is further down than we remembered, and this is terrifying. I think this is what makes it so dangerous to hit bottom. I think this is why we lose people to hitting bottom.
Two years ago, when it felt like my world ended, I had to really branch into the community to find support. I had to rely more heavily on friends I hadn’t relied on as much. I had to learn trust. I had to learn to trust that people in my community would catch me, even though they had no reason to do so in the ways I’d previously understood community.
People offered aid, even when they didn’t have to. When, if I’m being honest, I’d never given them a reason to. And that is perhaps the most beautiful thing I learned: that people are generally kind. That they are willing to extend empathy and love and kindness even to people they don’t really know or perhaps that they’d just like to know.
One friend made a point of calling me every week, and telling me I always had a place with her. One friend offered me a place to stay locally when I thought I was facing homelessness, and hugged me whenever he saw me. One man I barely knew, but trained with, dragged me out of my shell one day and let me just hit things and said nothing when I started crying or when I opened my knuckles but when I was done, asked if it had helped. One friend, the day I thought–but didn’t yet know– my community was kicking me out, invited me to come over and spend time with her and her daughter, and listened with sympathy and love. So many people gracefully let me cry or rage. One friend never asked questions, but listened without judgement when I needed to talk.
So many people lifted me up through quiet acts of community building.
Even with these people, I rarely let them know how bad I’d gotten. I didn’t trust them to not find me broken in the same ways my house had. I didn’t trust that they wouldn’t decide that I was too much work, too much of a mess, too unworthy of love or care.
I rarely even let the therapist I was seeing know how bad I’d gotten.
A friend recently told me that we’re not defined by our pasts. I disagree. Our histories shape us.
I can point out moments in time that have shaped the person I am today, and I’m proud of that even when those moments in time have sucked. Even when they are connected to some of the times I’ve had to struggle the hardest.
I can point to events that altered the way I see the world, the way I interact with people.
The thing that happened two years ago today is key to why, as one of my friends likes to tease, I seem to know so many people in my current city (he would say everyone in my current city). The thing that happened two years ago today is part of why I’m still hesitant to tell people ways in which I’m fragile — because those same things were used as proof that I was a manipulative, bad person.
The thing that happened two years ago today is also, I think, part of why people see me as generally upbeat and positive now. I was forced to strengthen my social network. I was forced to explore some of my darkest crevices and to consider which of the criticisms leveled at me carried truth and how I wanted to face those truths. I was given the chance test my own resiliency and to repair the places it was weakest.
And, in all of this, I came to the conclusion that harboring anger or resentment toward the two members of my community that I most blamed was only doing me more harm. I had to be genuine to myself, which meant I had to treat them with kindness — or if not kindness, since they asked that I not communicate with them even while we still lived together — then at least kind indifference.
I learned that acting with empathy fortified my soul.
I also learned, about a year ago, that I still fear those two members of that community. That simply seeing them can push me toward, or into, a panic attack. I’ve had to learn to reach out to other members of my greater community when this happens. To say to the lovelies in my life some variation of, “I’m falling and I can’t catch myself.” To trust that others will reach out in these moments. To trust that I don’t have to go this alone.
As someone who hesitates to trust, this last part is possibly the hardest lesson.
The same friend who said we aren’t defined by our past is also one of the few people who has accurately called out one of my self-protective habits, and did so without bullshitting or beating around the bush.
When he did this, I felt vulnerable. But I didn’t worry that he’d exploit this vulnerability.
In many ways, it made me feel closer to him, because it meant he’d been paying enough attention to notice what most people don’t. That, for whatever reason, he cared, in quiet and subtle ways, enough to notice how I interact with the world. To notice and to offer up a way for me to talk about it.
That I didn’t skitter away from this is further evidence to how I’ve changed. How I’m more willing to let myself be seen. To let myself trust in my greater community.