The end of the year and beginning of a new one are conventions. Collectively, we could have divided time and established special moments any other way. For some reason, it was a moment in the middle of winter that most of the world now celebrates as the start of something new. And, despite its arbitrariness, I’ve always felt and lived it as if it were special.
Three months ago I wrote about blogging and about the importance of starting from the reality of the present situation. I’d like to follow up on that. In fact, I’d like to revisit some of the things I’ve written there and add some new points.
I get off the train feeling thirsty and scattered as if I couldn’t put myself together and I left an undefined part of me in that compartment. I breathe in the cold morning air, petting a stray dog, and then I start walking on the side of the road towards my destination. Apart from the single employee of the train station, with a uniform that he seems to have worn continuously for the last two decades, and a couple of alcoholics having their first vodka and beer at the tiny bar of the station, there’s nobody around.
I would lie if I said that I started this blog having a detailed plan for going forward. But one thing I knew well: it would be about the spellbinding power of stories.
It would be about how stories take hold of us, enlighten us or push us into submission, make us happy or miserable. How we get to live inside our stories for years or even decades, and what this does to our life and our sense of self.
It’s 4 am and it feels like the day will never come. It may come on another planet, where things still go on the way they always used to. The sun will rise and the myriad creatures of that planet will bask in the morning light, stretch, and warm their bodies.
Down here, it feels like the outside is a huge underground hall.
I watch through the window the milky fog advancing through the houses, like a thief in the dark, swallowing them one by one.
There’s a special quality to loneliness at 4 am. You don’t simply feel far from the others, or detached from them. You feel as if the others are not there anymore. The planet has been silently struck by a deadly pandemic overnight. For some incomprehensible reason, I am still here to witness the morning after.
I would like to say I only have myself but the truth is that I don’t know what I still have – and who is this me having it. The contours of my sense of self are dissipating and hovering around the room. Slowly floating away through the open window. I am not happy. I am not sad. I am simply not quite there anymore.
It’s 4 am and all the memories that could hurt me, all the ghosts of the pasts, are already here. Watching me with their small beady eyes from the dark corners of the room. Not attacking, just letting me know they are present.
Outside it’s the dawn of a subterranean, fake, engineered appearance of a day.
Signaux humains à travers le brouillard
Il est 4 heures du matin et j’ai l’impression que le jour ne viendra jamais. Le jour va peut-être arriver sur une autre planète, où les choses se passent toujours comme avant. Le soleil se lèvera et les myriades de créatures de cette planète se prélasseront dans la lumière du matin, s’étireront et réchaufferont leur corps.
Ici, j’ai l’impression que l’extérieur est une immense salle souterraine.
Je regarde par la fenêtre le brouillard laiteux qui s’avancer parmi les maisons, comme un voleur dans le noir, les avalant une à une.
Il y a une qualité particulière de la solitude à 4 heures du matin. On ne se sent pas simplement éloigné des autres, ou détaché d’eux. On a l’impression que les autres ne sont plus là. La planète a été silencieusement frappée par une pandémie mortelle du jour au lendemain. Pour une raison incompréhensible, je suis toujours là pour témoigner le lendemain.
Je voudrais pouvoir dire que je n’ai que moi-même mais la vérité est que je ne sais pas ce que j’ai encore, et qui est ce moi ayant des choses. Les contours de mon sens de soi se dissipent et flottent dans la pièce. Ils flottent lentement à travers la fenêtre ouverte. Je ne suis pas heureux. Je ne suis pas triste. Je ne suis tout simplement plus là.
Il est 4 heures du matin et tous les souvenirs qui pourraient me blesser, tous les fantômes du passé, sont déjà là. Elles regardant avec leurs petits yeux globuleux depuis les coins sombres de la pièce. Elles n’attaquent pas. Elles me font savoir silencieusement qu’ils sont présents.
Dehors, c’est l’aube d’un jour artificiel et souterraine.
Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s the lack of good sleep. Maybe it’s the alignment of planets. The evil eye. The karmic debt. The fury of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. A short circuit in the ancient parts of my brain, those that I share with lizards and frogs.
Maybe it’s none of this crap.
Whatever it is, I feel like a scared soldier, hiding from a war that ended long ago. Feeling all his old wounds come alive with the slightest change of weather.
It’s not so much the hurt. It’s being alone with the hurt.
This cosmic way of being out of sorts.
Wearing your inside out and making the impossible to hide it.
This all too familiar vulnerability. The constricting feeling in the chest, as if the walls are closing in.
The feeling of being cornered by something you must absolutely escape. Fight or flight. Escape at all costs.
Choose your poison and drown in it. Your favorite toxin, your sickening sweet self-sabotaging story. The one you hate but still cannot let go of. Your preferred “I’m shit and I’ll never be enough” narrative.
I grew up in a world in which being vulnerable was a sign of weakness. Something to hide and correct as soon as possible.
I grew up in a culture in which weakness and strength were seen as attributes of the individual. Weakness – a personal problem. Strength – a personal achievement. What was supposed to take you from one to the other was personal will.
I grew up in a family that didn’t know how to deal with vulnerability. The message was that you need to keep your shit together and be strong. You succeed or you die trying.
How exactly you go from vulnerability to strength is something that I never got to learn. Apparently, it should have been obvious and should have come by itself. But it didn’t.
I grew up with a sense of self (and masculinity) that depended a lot on one’s capacity to show strength and stay above water no matter what. If you’re vulnerable you’re weak, and if you’re weak you’re less of a man.
Vulnerability was treated a bit like an STD: pretend you don’t have it and run to the nearest clinic making sure nobody sees you.
Although I never felt comfortable with this and I often failed at “being strong”, it took me a long time to fully realize the toxicity of the whole thing.
Traumatized people will unwillingly pass on the trauma to their kids by acting in the only ways that are available to them – the ones that hurt them in the first place. As kids, we learn mostly by example, by experiencing the way people close to us act when they feel joyful, excited, sad, or angry. These early experiences shape the way our brain interprets situations and reacts to them.
Growing up in a family that doesn’t know how to express vulnerability in healthy ways creates adults who are equally incapable to express it appropriately. It’s not that they don’t want to. They haven’t learned how to do it or, more precisely, they have only learned the types of acting out (such as protecting oneself through isolation or aggressiveness) that they were exposed to.
Of course, our learning is not limited to what we see around us. As we grow up, we become more and more autonomous in how we learn and how we use that learning. But things are different when we’re very young. We depend on others. Our developing brain depends on the adult brains around us to regulate itself, because most of the mechanisms of self-regulation are simply not there yet.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my vulnerability and to stop seeing it as a weakness. I’m still not fully there. Maybe I never will.
Weakness is a lazy label we attach to others because we don’t feel like actually paying attention to what they’re going through, to the causes of their behavior. Weakness is an unforgiving label we attach to ourselves because we are too used to blaming and discrediting ourselves. These are mechanisms of avoidance or denial.
Our actions and behaviors have causes. If we look at all the causes leading us down a certain path, we can find predispositions, habits, traumas, emotional reactions, cognitive models – but we cannot find anything worth calling “weakness”. It is just a placeholder for things we don’t know or don’t care to know.
“Just try harder”, “come on, it’s not that bad”, or “be strong” are meaningless (and often insulting) for somebody feeling vulnerable. They are meaningless because they all reflect the same lack of attention and empathy for what actually goes on.
We need to be seen and held in somebody else’s attention and care much more often than we want advice or material help.
The endless struggling and competing. Trying to be a good pupil, a good friend, a good lover, a good parent.
Constantly pushing myself to the limit. Feeling that it’s never good enough.
Always running towards something, which means always running away from something.
What if I stop spinning the wheel?
Sometimes I am just so tired, as if I were carrying the weight of the world. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood of always motivating myself, always rationalizing the need to keep on running.
To stop running does not mean to stop wanting things, to be passive or resigned.
It simply means to stop trying so hard that it’s actually taking away life instead of enhancing life.
Remember one of those moments when you couldn’t succeed in something because you were too aware, too focused, and too invested in it? Well, I can tell you I remember lots of them. Once I let go of the striving, I usually found it miraculously easy to do it right.
As if an invisible obstacle had been silently removed.
The point is not to disengage in order to trick your mind into performing better. Doing this means you’re still running.
The point is to take a break and allow yourself to be ok with succeeding and also ok with non-succeeding. To accept both of them. Acceptance, not resignation.
All the struggling and aggravation around our non-succeeding makes us miserable while adding very little to our life, to what actually counts.
With that being said, I put on my sneakers and go out for my morning run.