Exorcising Lovers

Do you ever get those splinters in your feet that only bother you sometimes? You step a certain way and you feel the pain shoot up through your foot and leg, but when you go to check there’s nothing there?

I have something metaphorically like that in my heart. It’s one of those things I’d talk about to close friends, in intimate spaces, but maybe not online because you can’t control where your information goes and who gets a hold of it. I’m sick of this metaphorical splinter however, stuck in my metaphorical foot.

I once told my best friend that the shadow of fear is often times (most often) bigger than the cause of the fear itself. If you face your fear, you realize you were able to handle it after all, and that it was a lot smaller or faster than whatever anguish and anxiety it was causing.

So I am facing my fear and utter discomfort in admitting these things not only out loud but in public, in the hope that it will be therapeutic, and that by giving that fear a microphone, it will have been expressed, and the splinter will be that much easier to get out.

I’m talking about my exes. Not every single one of them, surely, but about a handful of them.

My fear is the image they hold of me, and what that might look like. When I am at my most insecure and obsessive, I would look at my exes social media living a happy life, imagining them with their new perfect partner who was better than me in every way, thinking about how I had been just a stepping stone for their one true love.

I imagine them talking to their girlfriend, and if they were to ever talk about me, it would be just to say how I’m definitely not as pretty or smart. I imagine them laughing at me, talking about all the stupid things I said, all the times I didn’t want to have sex, how I hated washing dishes, how much of a child I was and how I am emotionally unstable.

If I got close to their family at all, I imagine this ghost of boyfriend’s past talking with their parents about how good it is that “that” relationship is now over, speaking in polite tones about all the ways that I wasn’t a perfect match, how I haven’t held down a job in years, how I smoke weed, and am financially unstable.

Just as painful, is when I have seen the photos of this ghost replicating things with the current girlfriend that he had done with me. A rewriting of memories, making sure to erase every trace of me, refusing to allow me a space in their hearts as someone that might still matter.

Sometimes just to really anchor all these beliefs in, I like to think back to the very real moment where I realized the person did not, could not, or would not keep up their end of the bargain. “You’ll always be a close friend”, “you’ll always be special to me”, “I could never not keep in touch with you”, they lied.

I, stupidly, still hold my end of the bargain. Everyone I have ever loved I still think about. I still wonder about. I am still curious about. I cannot, (and I have certainly tried) to just erase them completely from my heart. to not think, to not wonder, to not reminisce, to not love. But I am incapable of doing it. I have practice and tried and it feels like trying to do surgery on myself. An attempt to go completely against something I do so naturally that to succeed in not loving would be to succeed in no longer being alive. And despite my ego and pride, every single one still holds a special position in my life in what they taught me about myself and the place they held in the world. They are special whether I see them or not, but I saw them. Despite me not wanting to be with them now as a partner, despite me being very clear that we are not a match, despite me being happily fulfilled and in love with who I have in my poly bubble…They are special, they are loved, they are seen, and they are held.

Despite my best efforts to not.

And lastly, I hate –absolutely hate– how they remind me of my step-dad. How could a man who helped raise me for 28 from the age of 5 years old…how could he walk away and start a new life and be happy? Be at peace? How could he be cruel to me and not ask for forgiveness? Not miss me? Not try to make things better? Not want to come back? How could he abandon me?

It must be me.

And if my own father could so easily forget about me -well- what possible hope is there that some dude is going to want to hold on to me after only 1-4 years of being with me?

That’s the shadow. The shadow tells me all these things are true. And that I am pathetic and weak for not being able to let go of these things.

My love Marty says it would make sense, with the way I love, that I would not simply release these people from my heart and memories. My friends tell me that “it isn’t true” and that “I couldn’t know” if the ghost truly does and thinks these things. My brother says it makes sense that they would want to create new memories with their current love. My mother says to observe the feelings without judging them.

What would I say?

If the roles were reversed, and I was reading this blog post instead of writing it, and it was You feeling this way…what would I say?

Dear Self,

Let’s, for a minute, imagine that everything you’re saying is true. Let’s say that this ghost of boyfriends past did replace memories, that he did talk about how inadequate you were to his girlfriend, his family, his best friend. Let’s say he did laugh at who you are, insulted your memory, and painted over the parts of his heart you’d so carefully painted blue.

It isn’t you. It is the ghost of you. It is a part of you that exists only to them, but isn’t you. They didn’t actually see you, who you were, and that’s alright because not everyone sees each other. You didn’t see them as they wanted you to see them. You saw them as you needed to at the moment. You do not need their permission or validation to be who you are because they could never give it to you. You do not own them, the only thing that is yours are the memories you have of this ghost of boyfriends past. It is not who they truly are, and they do not hold ownership of who you truly are. There are probably hundreds of perspectives of who you are, and most of them are probably loving versions. But the one that matters most is the one you have of yourself. They did not abandon you, they continued their life, just as you did not abandon them, you continued your life.

You love them, and want what’s best for them. You want them to be with someone that makes them happy. You want them to be with someone who fulfills them. Not them, nor their partners, nor their families understand who you are truly.

The fact that they walked away, the fact that your stepfather walked away, that wasn’t on you. Life doesn’t revolve around you. People make decisions based on what they can and can’t do. Every time that you’ve tried to be palatable you end up hurting yourself. Every time you’re at your most authentic self you receive the most authentic love.

It’s OK that you have this fear, but it is not true. Regardless, give the fear permission to exist. It does not have to own you. It does not have to haunt you. You can observe it, like mami says. Without judgment. You are free to live your life despite what others may think. Trust yourself. You have every reason to.

Most importantly…I see you. And you astound me.

Love,

Self

Whenever people tell me I’m “so brave” for revealing things out in the open I feel like I’m cheating. It isn’t really hard for me to be vulnerable like this, most of the time, as it comes naturally to me. However this? This was hard to do. I was afraid someone might read it and know that I still thought about them. It occurred to me I don’t care. It doesn’t change anything about my life. I’m not trying to prove or hide anything to anyone from my past. At least not anymore. If they want to talk about all the ways in which I was wrong, let them. In the long run, I don’t need to forget anyone. My love keeps me warm, and I wouldn’t trust any of those people to validate me today.

Special shout out to Pedro, Sylvain, and Emiliano, who will never read this, but only ever realized just how truly special I was throughout the years, and held on to me even tighter. This is why friendship has so often times been more intimate, valid, and special than partnership. Partnership has a lot of self-interest and lies that come undone after the first 2-6 months. I don’t need their validation either, but it feels warm and fulfilling to be loved by them. Not as warm and fulfilling, however, as it feels to be loved by myself.

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Facebook Novels and Other Sins

One of the hardest things for me to remember is that not everyone sees the world the way I do, even when we seemingly agree about perspectives. Despite having similar views to many people, that doesn’t mean that we come to the same conclusions in the same way or for the same reasons. And even though I am constantly working hard at making sure that my moral compass points the right way, that does NOT mean that my way is The Right Way to do things.

Spinning Moral Compass

When I was a teenager, perhaps normally so, I took pride in being rebellious, different, and going against the current. Growing up and being in my 20’s, going against the current became more about feeling special, and I used everything from my one-of-a-kind name to my mixed heritage (neither things I had control over) as proof that I was special. I even wrote a book about it. Years later, when I read that book, I couldn’t believe how glaringly obvious my desire to be special was sprawled out across this book for the world to see. I had painted myself naked for everyone to read, and there was no hiding from my ultimate desire. I wanted to be seen as special by everyone who met me.

After studying psychology and understanding other people’s desire to be special as well, I learned something. My desire to be special meant I wanted to be one-of-a-kind so I would be hard to let go of. By being rare, it meant people wouldn’t just abandon me. I wanted to be worthy of love, and impossible to abandon, and I attributed that to being “special”. It all came down to being immune to being abandoned. (Spoiler alert: this is impossible.)

Curating a unique personality will not guarantee that people will not abandon you. Eventually, with a bit more understanding of this, my attempt to be special fell into the background, and it was replaced instead with the desire to be seen, heard, and understood. I was fine with not being unique if it meant I was understood. I would let go of being one-of-a-kind if it meant I was loved. So rather than be different, I chose to be Good.

However what does being Good even mean? Some people may find their answer in a bible, or a book written by a God they believe in. What happens when you follow no dogmas and your desire to be Good is mostly about being free and safe along with the community?

Every time I tried to come up with any form of “guideline” for myself I was met with discrepancies. For example, do I think killing is bad? Yes. Do I think Nazis getting killed is bad? The lines are a little foggier there.

Murder: bad, murdering Nazis: ennnh….

So to no one’s surprise, it turns out I’m not all Good, and the more dystopian sci-fi TV shows I watch, the more I think even the most righteous hero could end up making shady decisions when under pressure and trying to do “what’s best”. In other words, you will be hard pressed to find any one person be made up of pure evil or pure good. All of the best characters in books, TV, and film are layered, but that complicates things when you are faced with an actual dictator you want to hate, or when your favorite feminist ends up saying some extremely problematic things. I could perhaps say that I am “better” than a dictator in charge of murdering thousands of people, but was I “better” than a feminist activist who had done more good in her life than I ever had, who just so happened to also have a bigger platform from which to mess up?

It’s foggy.

Perhaps the most logical thing to do is to accept that we are all a little shitty sometimes. We all tend to mess up, make the wrong decision, or be a little (or very) toxic at some point. It doesn’t make us inherently Bad, it just means we are humans, hopefully evolving, and hopefully doing the best we can.

Preaching To The Choir

One of the final lessons they taught us at the University of Santa Monica when we were about to graduate was to avoid falling into Holy Man Syndrome. This meant to not go around preaching to people acting like we were somehow better than them. I tried to keep this constantly in mind, but looking back on the tone I’ve taken with loved ones, the paragraphs upon paragraphs I catch myself writing, I know I have fallen in the trap of acting holier than thou with people around me. It’s no that I think it’s better, it’s that I have spent so much time thinking about things, (what you might call over-analyzing) that I’ve ended up with a lot of next-level questions and answers and I want to be challenged and I want the conversation to move on and I’m impatient and so I want others around me to be AT LEAST on the same page as I am when it comes to topics. So I preach, and I write, and I mansplain, (men are notorious for it but everyone does it) and I write retaliate and challenge and go on and on and on trying to get people to see things from where I’m coming from. That way if they DO retaliate, they do so from a point I hadn’t thought about before, allowing me to move forward in my understanding of things instead of backwards.

When people use old arguments that have already been discussed over and over again, (for example why saying “men are trash” is actually not a double standard, and why saying “all lives matter” is actually racist) then I get impatient with the point being given. My hope is not to be “right”, and prove the person “wrong”, what I am hoping for is actually for us both to agree for the bigger picture. That moral compass I was talking about? I want it to be pointing the same direction for us both.

Logical Fallacies
That being said, I tend to get in my feelings when people push back in ways that trigger my defense mechanism if they disagree and word things to make me feel stupid, invalidated, or attacked. It becomes more about proving the person wrong than it does sticking to the facts and the point at hand. After “refusing” to get into discussions on Facebook with people voicing their opinion on a matter that is super delicate, I find myself writing novels upon novels trying to explain to people why they’re wrong instead of asking myself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to move the conversation forward?” And try to keep it civil while I follow my intention forward. I don’t always achieve this, however. In fact, most of the time, I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction. There’s a number of ways I stray away from the topic using logical fallacies and a few cognitive biases that put a blindfold over my eyes.

Some examples of the logical fallacies I commit are:

  1. Personal Incredulity – I try very hard to be aware of this one, and I consider myself to be better at catching myself, but it’s still one of the quickest fallacies to show up for me.
  2. Appeal to Nature – I have absolutely used this as a way to turn my nose towards certain things that didn’t “sound” natural to me. Everything has a chemical compound, however, and refusing to acknowledge technological advances is refusing to accept human evolution as nature.
  3. The Texas Sharpshooter – Woof. This one is a popular one not only for myself, but for others trying to make their point. In the internet era and age of misinformation, you can find a website that supports absolutely any view you have; from vaccines being horrible to vaccines being the best thing. I have absolutely been known to cherry pick information and it serves no one. I want to be knowledgeable, not right. Cherry Picking does not help me move the conversation forward, only my ego.
  4. Appeal to Emotion – Honestly probably one of the most manipulative tactics I have used in discussions. But again, this only helps me look good instead of holding space for a conversation that helps the community.

While I have definitely applied some of the other ones, I think these tend to be the ones I do the most, but I try to repeatedly go back to the fallacies to remind myself of what the goalpost always is: spread knowledge, not ego.

The harder ones to catch are cognitive biases.

As I scrolled through the different biases I felt like every single one applied to all humans, or at the very least to me. It made me question how we theorize, judge, and/or conclude. How can we come to terms with something if we have so many ways to be biased?

The biggest one for me? I would have to say is the curse of knowledge. This is what I wrote at the very beginning of the blog. We tend to assume others are as we are and to assume others know what we know. I am absolutely guilty of this, and have made a huge point to try to remember how different reference points can be a privilege. For example, growing up Latinx and as a woman, I have specific knowledge and reference points of what prejudice and sexism can look like in my culture. While it isn’t a privilege to be preyed on for your assumed gender, the understanding, awareness, and ability to conceptualize that awareness is a privilege. To get upset with, say, a Chinese cis-man for not understanding the sexism I’ve undergone isn’t exactly fair. Even more removed, most of the things I know aren’t based on my own experience but from what I’ve heard, read, seen, and understood as truth from others. Like the saying goes, “no one was born woke”. If I have the emotional bandwidth to give people a benefit of a doubt, and the mental capacity to explain rather than judge, it is more helpful and compassionate to remember that I too needed things explained to me and that I too have been (and will probably continue to be) problematic at one moment or another.

If I do not have the ability to stay in a tense discussion, then I can kindly set up boundaries, as it is not my inherent responsibility to exhaust myself past capacity for the sake of others. Rest is power.

So there it is, a prime example of the ways in which I screw up constantly and stray away from my main goal by getting in my feels and let my defense mechanism speak for me. But you know what? That’s ok. I’m human, and so long as I get to be aware of this I also get to do differently next time. There are so many other conversations to be had, and so many moments that I’ve nailed the discussion. I encourage you to share with me your “favorite” biases and fallacies. Let us celebrate our imperfections and the ability and desire to do better. Let us show ourselves compassion and rejoice in our growth. Shame won’t end the patriarchy, self-accountability will.

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It’s Not Me, It’s You

Throughout the infinite process of holding myself accountable, I have come across separate instances where “de-centering one’s self” is crucial.

You’ve heard the old adage, “the world doesn’t revolve around you”. Except when we are doing inner work, it’s hard to keep this in mind since it feels like it does. How do we not make things about us when we are doing inner work?

Karen is a Four Letter Word

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of the Karen memes going around, which are essentially white women being held accountable for violent acts of entitlement. Whether it’s refusing to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic, purposefully coughing on someone, pulling a gun on a mother and her teen daughter, harassing people in their own lawn, or lying to the police, these acts all essentially stem from a deep sense of entitlement and white women making themselves the victims of situations they are causing.

Decentering ourselves takes emotional intelligence that understands that the world does not function within the narrative we tell ourselves.

In the instance of the White woman breaking down crying telling a cop that a calm Black man was harassing her (when the video clearly showed him kindly telling her to put a leash on her dog), she was using her place in society to have cops come and potentially kill this man who was thinking of everyone’s safety in the park. She had centered her comfort above the park rules, and the safety of other dogs and human beings. Not only that, but she placed this Black man in immediate danger given the history of police brutality in the United States.

Oppression Olympics

Recently I was watching Grown*ish with my partner and it was an episode about the creation of safe spaces. There was a scene where the college kids got into a decent match of Oppression Olympics.

Oppression Olympics” refers to arguments in which inequalities faced by a group are dismissed for being considered less important than those faced by another group. While it was originally used inside feminist circles to address race-related grievances within the feminist movement, the term has been used online to mock those who seek approval or praise for being more disadvantaged than others.” – From website Knowyourmeme.com

It started with a young Black man talking to a young White Latina who wanted a safe space for being conservative. Eventually, the Jewish White young woman stepped in to talk about how bad the Jews had it during the Holocaust, to which the Black twins replied with “slavery.”

Trying to center ourselves as a victim when being held accountable for an act against another person, is furthering the damage we initially caused. It’s sprinkling salt on the wound.

When someone is held accountable for their action, it essentially is about curating a space where people feel heard. If we continue to make everything about us, however, believing that we are the victims, then we will ignore the many ways in which we are actually being the oppressor.

In my own community of Latinx people, White Latinxs many times want to talk about how we are all mixed, and how we “can’t be white” because we’re all mixed with Brown, while simultaneously ignoring our Afro-Latinx siblings. White Latinxs are known to deny we have White Privilege, culturally appropriating Afro-Latinx culture, and often shy away from conversations regarding the classism and colorism that it rampant in our culture. Latinxs have a lot to deal with as a culture, but denying our White privilege helps no one.

I follow Jewish pages to further expand my perspective, and the comment section is often filled with White passing Jewish folk engaging in oppression Olympics. Sometimes there will be the White Jews who gets it and steps in to explain how recognizing White Privilege doesn’t somehow eradicate the fact that Jews still have to deal with antisemitism. Of course Jewish people experience a disgusting form of oppression, but trying to constantly be placed in a role of “I, too, am a victim” rejects the fact that there is a way that “White-Passing” Jews are still benefiting from a system that oppresses Black folk which includes Black and Brown Jews.

Poor or disabled White people often want to say “I haven’t experienced White privilege” because they do not understand what White Privilege actually means, and believe it means hand outs for simply being White. (Which, let’s be real, sometimes it does.)

People with mental illnesses or trauma often blame their toxic form of being on their mental illness. They blame hurtful behavior on their trauma expecting this to excuse them from having to do any of the work, ignoring the fact that having trauma doesn’t automatically erase accountability. By constantly looking to place ourselves as the victim, we allow ourselves to inevitably also oppress others by taking up space that we don’t actually need.

Other religions and other classes and other people of all types all have their form of wanting to push away from privilege, replacing the blame with victimhood in a manipulative tactic to avoid accountability.

Being A White Savior

On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes we want to over-correct this form of self-accountability, and instead strive to become a savior. This is my own personal weak spot in how I center myself in other peoples’ lives.

One way this has shown up is that I have centered myself in the lives of people of color as someone who somehow needs to (and can) “save” them. It’s very hard to see this within ourselves especially when it’s combined with genuinely wanting to do good. Just like humans are (most of the time) not simply bad or good but rather nuanced layers of problematic behaviors and successfully helpful attitudes, I have gotten into moments in relationships with friends or strangers where I’m bordering on savior mentality while trying to be genuinely helpful. Just because we know the lesson, doesn’t mean we are always applying it. It takes actively checking in and unlearning. Unfortunately, I still slip up and center myself as the savior of other people which is grounds for codependency but when done in a relationship with a person of color, is also a form of racism.

On the flipside of the same coin, I also can come off being Saviory with my white friends and family, wanting to correct their own problematic behavior and sometimes coming off as arrogant. This results in the person feeling like I am virtue signaling, or putting them in some kind of purity test situation where I get to sit on a soap box looking down at them. Due to my own flawed behavior, I am continuously training myself to identify logical fallacies and cognitive biases while maintaining the message and who my audience is. It is not about me, it is not about them, it is about the greater good and both of us being catalysts to each other for greater good. This does not make me a better person.

Despite my best intentions, however, I sometimes still slip up. And even if I don’t, people are still prone to getting defensive. This is when it is especially important to understand when it is about me, and when it is not. I must learn to humbly accept when I have interfered with the message, and when I am not transmitting the message despite every curated attempt.

The Heart Of The Matter

What it comes down to is our purpose and if we intend on actively being compassionate and unlearning hurtful behavior. If our truest intention is to allow ourselves the room for error out of self-love and compassion, then we should keep ourselves surrounded by people who take the time and mental energy to call us in. We should realize that while the change is about us, the bigger picture isn’t. It’s about what role we personally play in a society, and how it all engages together. We can’t just say we’re willing to do it, we have to actively see ourselves being held accountable, either by a trusted professional, by our friends and chosen family, or by the media of our choice. There’s many ways in which to see how we are proven wrong and how even though our choices are about us, thinking of others creates an abundance of space and safety for everyone. It’s all about all of us together.

Read more about decentering yourself here.
A meditation to help you decenter the “Self”.
Read more about what Oppression Olympics are here and here.
Check out Rachel Cargle and Layla Saad to learn more on racism and being a good human being.

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