My cat Henry has been uncharacteristically aloof lately. Last night we were having an exceptionally wonderful cuddle and I had a revaluation: Henry was acting aloof because he was aloof! My formally cuddly sidekick was telling me that after 4 months of therapy I’ve learned enough coping skills that I don’t need Him to be my crutch. Everything finally made sense- I needed someone to love me, I wasn’t giving it to myself so Henry was.
Now that I have decent coping skills to deal with my traumas, Henry doesn’t have to smother me with love and affection all day long.
The reality makes me feel both empowered and a little sad because I will miss what we used to have. I’ve been learning how to accept the things I can’t change and embrace the realities of my life. Accepting Henry’s new role as beloved pet instead of mental crutch doesn’t mean I can’t lean on him when I need to, it simply means that I have gained enough control over my mind to navigate my emotions successfully.
As I begin to swim in these new waters I’m in awe of my clarity, patience and mental strength. Just one year ago I was in a place so dark I couldn’t see an inch in front of my face. I felt as if I was breathing underwater, drowning in a sea of repressed trauma and isolation with no chance of escaping. Whenever I was too weak to get out of bed, Henry would lick my face, snuggle up to me and love me. I had to keep going because of him. I’ve depended on Henry to survive since the first time I held him in my arms. We’ve been through hell together: I wouldn’t have made it in one piece without Henry, and for that I’m eternally grateful. The universe will always deliver what you need, it’s up to us to recognize it and grab ahold.
As I adjust to this change my eyes are opening to a totally new perspective; that of increased clarity. Living right here in this very moment doesn’t leave any time for fear or worry. There’s just enough time to breathe deeply and enjoy it. In this moment I am free. The traumas of my past can’t get in because they are not ‘now’ they are ‘back then’ and they don’t belong in my present. To achieve inner peace you must first let go of all the worries of the past and the future, making this both simple and incredibly complex. I’ve learned not to rush or push myself, but simply to observe my own unfolding.
Over the past six months I have journeyed to parts of my mind I didn’t know existed and discovered how much control training the mind with meditation can bestow upon a human being. By making meditation an obligatory part of every day I have set my healing in motion. By simply following through I have begun to stitch the pieces of me back together. Meditation has given me the clarity to step back, observe my behavior and modify it without judgement.
I’m not the same man I was one year ago, or even the same as I was yesterday. Each day I see clearer and I grow stronger in my identity. I have built a solid self-care routine with daily meditation, reflection, journaling, mindfulness and yoga. I attend Individual and group therapy weekly, as well as checking in with my mentor. I am now able to make decisions without feeling guilt, I am able to put my health first and set firm boundaries with the humans I interact with.
It’s still difficult for me to be honest about my feelings and my past. Being vulnerable makes me uncomfortable, so I’m sitting with that feeling and asking myself why. Asking myself why I feel a feeling has been an incredibly helpful tool. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to digest the question and discover the root cause of the feeling, and it’s always surprising. It’s incredibly important because you can’t begin to heal from anything until you know why it’s hurt you.
(Playing music is my favorite form of self-care/healing, it takes all your attention so there’s nowhere for you to be except for this very moment.)
I have discovered negative self-talk is the root of many issues. Not believing that I am worthy of love, safety or kindness. Not believing that I will live to see 30, or believing that my life doesn’t matter are all ways I let outside influences taint my inner sanctum. Meditation and reflection helped me gain enough control to step out of the spiral and see myself as a whole human being, worthy of love; not broken, simply mixed up and a little lost: directionless. I felt as if I was a spinning compass, unable to find my true north.
In the end, nobody saved me. The knight in shining armor that I was waiting for never showed. Instead I was lucky enough to be offered a safe space to heal myself. I was taught tools and strategies to gain control over my mind and rescue myself. My friends and therapist lead me to the water, but I’m the one who climbed in and learned to swim. You can’t expect anyone else to heal you.
I think of it like this: if someone walks by and throws trash in your yard are you going to follow them around until they come back to clean it? No. You’ll go out and clean it up because no matter who created the mess, it’s now yours. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself.
Taking responsibility for myself and my past trauma is not absolving my abusers, it’s simply standing up for myself and saying ‘I can’t change the past, but what I can do is ask myself why I continue to bring this baggage with me.’ The answer had always been because I didn’t know how to unpack it. Realizing that I needed help was the moment I fell over the cliff. Everything became real again, and real terrifying. I made an intake appointment to be evaluated and matched up with a therapist and spent November 2018 dreading my appointment.
Monterey Bay, California Nov 2018
I promised myself I would be painfully honest in intake and I was. I poured out my traumatic history over three weeks and was matched up with an LGBTQ therapist who specializes in complex PTSD and who I trust completely. Together we’ve been exploring my mind and confronting the monsters under my bed. The most difficult part of this entire process for me has been being honest.
I tend to use little lies as a barrier to keep people out. You might ask me what I did yesterday: I’ll tell you I worked out, watched POSE, and went to yoga class, but in reality, I worked out, watched The Simpson’s and then went to yoga. These lies have always made me feel safe- if you don’t know the real me than you can’t get in and hurt me. It has been incredibly difficult to gain control back because I’m so used to wearing that mask of separation.
This morning in my trauma survivors support group I admitted that I use these little lies to protect myself. It wasn’t difficult because I remained in the moment, in the now there’s no time to worry how others will react- there is only now. It was freeing and made me feel accountable. If no one knows I do that then I’ll never have to correct it: now that my group knows, they’ll be helping me to stay true.
The man I am today is kind, gentle and patient. He is walking his own path to healing and doing his best to stay true. As I go through this unfolding I can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude for the lessons I have been taught and the people who have helped me get up, dust off, and keep on going. Most of the people you meet aren’t meant to be in your life forever, but if you stay in the moment and connect you’ll never forget each other’s vibration.
(Henry and I still have an incredibly close relationship with at least one cuddle a day. I’m grateful for everything he has taught me about love and I’m looking forward to many more years together.)
I have loved more deeply than I believed possible and I have suffered greater pain than the world believes a human being can endure. I have been forged in fire and cooled in freezing waters. As long as I can feel the wind on my face and smell the salt of the sea I will survive.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. Thanks for coming along on this journey. I believe in you.
Brodey Ryan Bartlett