Battlefield of the Mind

Weeks ago, I wrote a phrase that said something like “Sometimes some of the nicest people can also be the most terrible.”

But what happens when the person you’re talking about is yourself?

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve known I’ve gone through ups and downs the past couple of months. I haven’t exactly been shy about my struggles and my internalizations of the world around me. Writing through it helps me process and digest. But it can be a double-edged sword in certain situations. It can build up but also destroy. Words can create a picture within the mind and sometimes that picture isn’t good. Sometimes it destroys.

When you think the way I do, when you see the world as I tend to, it’s easy to get lost within your own thoughts. It’s easy to jump to extremes. It’s far too easy to let the shadows of the mind twist and turn your perception into weapons that hurt others. You have all these anxieties and fears of isolation and abandonment and can’t quite see how harboring those emotions and feelings can often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

When you struggle with depression and anxiety and couple that with a childhood where manipulation and conditional love was made normal, it can twist situations in your mind into something it’s not. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but maybe there’s somebody out there who can resonate with what I’m saying–who understands exactly what I’m putting out there.

I grew up with a mother who was always around. She was the one who would tell me and my siblings how much she loved us. She’d take us shopping, out to eat, to the movies, and would actively spend time with us. Growing up, and for a solid portion of my adult life, my mom has always been a foundation. Well, at least until she found out I was gay but that’s another story.

On the flip side, my father was a man who was distant. He’d linger in the shadows quite literally. He worked night shifts. He’d sleep all day, locked in the darkness of his room until late evening. If we were to accidentally wake him up when he was resting for work, there’d be hell to pay. Hell came in many forms, but the worst was the belt. I can still feel the sting of leather on my bare skin.

We would constantly be walking on eggshells around him because if we did or said the wrong thing at the wrong time, he’d get angry and freak out. He was the type who would slam doors and throw things when he’d get angry. He’d ground us for getting Cs on report cards, calling us dumb.He’d freak out if he tried to help us with homework and we were confused. He taught me to hate the subject I struggled with the most: Math.

We learned to survive it best we could. He’d treat my mom like SHIT when he was in his moods, often going weeks without speaking to her. The tension was suffocating and traumatic. It broke us and my mom. Then one day he’d act as if everything was normal. There was no consistency with him. It was bizarre and confusing. We feared him and his wrath growing up. He’d get this wild look in his eyes and he’d be downright nasty during his freak-out sessions. When I became a teenager, I’d yell back at him. I’d argue. I was a rebellious teenager, deciding to go against authority–his authority. I know now that it was because I didn’t respect him–not after all he’d put us through. But, even still, I’d be slapped with the belt. Exiled to my room. One day, in my frustration, I said, “I hate you!” while washing my hands in the bathroom. He tilted his head, eyes wild. I knew it wasn’t good, but I repeated it. He shoved me into the wall so hard that the impact of my body knocked the towel rack off the wall. To this day, I’ve never received an apology about that. Nor would I expect it. Hell, he never told me “I love you” as a kid or teenager. He just didn’t. No, he was more interested in tearing me down with his words. When I got my ears pierced when I was 18 his first words were, “Now you look like a faggot.” I’m sure you can imagine how my closeted ass felt when hearing that. He was conditional in his parenting approach. As long as you stayed out of his way and did as you were told, you’d be fine. My younger sister was good at that. I never was.

So what happens when you have a parent who is mostly consistent with their emotions and one who is far removed and unpredictable? Lots of anxiety and fear of saying/doing the wrong things in your daily life. Always questioning your actions, always analyzing what is said or done to you–you become paranoid and friendships and relationships you make are haunted by this sense of paranoia. You fear that you’re always one wrong word or action from blowing everything up. You suffer through a minefield of questions in your head.

What if I’m not a good friend? Do they really care? Am I too much? Can I take people at their word? Are they saying one thing but mean the other? What if people feel obligated to be friends? What if what if what if what if WHAT IFWHATIFWHATIF—it’s a chorus in my head, day and night. I observe the world around me. I analyze. I try to decipher what’s safe and what’s not. But I do this to a mother-fucking fault! Analyzing and questioning everything everywhere all the time turns me into a terrible person because I assume the worst in what is said or done to me. I weaponize words and scenarios against those who consistently support me and love me. I internalize situations and things get twisted in my head. I should know better, right? I should be able to trust others and not jump to paranoid conclusions which leads me to do stupid shit that blows things up and makes them worse in the end.

I become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s my superpower.

Or curse.

The good thing is that I’m starting to realize this better. I’ve been working with my therapist on this. We seem to be unlocking quite a bit about myself and it seems to tie directly to my childhood. I’m recognizing a lot of moments of conditional love and emotional manipulation and gaslighting I endured growing up. We won’t talk about how the evangelical church setting I was raised in only compounded this. I’ve been able to think about some of my past actions and words as an adult and see how such an environment shaped me. Some of the behaviors I watched growing up? Some of the toxic aspects? I’ve mirrored those in my own life. It’s what I say, what I learned. My entire family operates like that. Toxic. Manipulative. Never owning up to mistakes. Going for the jugular with angry words. NO MERCY. Avoidance. Clamming up and not talking. You want to talk about embracing the dark side? That’s how my family handles conflict. Darkness and brutality and nastiness.

Did it start with my parents? Or did they learn it from theirs? How far back does this go? I’ll never know. Here’s what I do know. I’ve fallen down some of those exact some traps and paths over the course of the past couple of months. I was made vulnerable. I struggled. I didn’t think clearly. I didn’t process actions. And it hurt people. It hurt me. It betrayed trust. It smothered reasoning. Now what am I supposed to do with that? What do you do when you realize you’ve become the terrible person? When you weren’t strong enough to handle your emotions? When you processed them the wrong way? When you don’t consider the consequences of words spoken? When you hurt the people you love?

There is no simple answer for that, this I know. That might be the only thing I know right now. The path ahead is long and full of potholes. It’s not like a light switch that you can flip on and off to erase what’s been done. But perhaps the difference this time is that I’m starting to see those potholes before I stumble in them. I’m recognizing what they look like, and I’m trying to change course. I’m trying to break the lingering imprint of my experiences growing up. I’m trying to rinse off the lens with which I see the world and the relationships I have in my life. I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I am aware. I own that much. I own my mistakes and shortcomings despite the pain they’ve caused. I own them and step out onto the battlefield of the mind.

And when you’re in a battlefield… when shit is flying in every direction… when fear and paranoia can be the very thing that kills you–doesn’t it pay off to slow down and become intentionally aware of what you do and say? Isn’t that the key to survival? To become better?

My mind is a battlefield. That cannot be denied.

I am who I am. That cannot be denied.

But I can be better. I will be better. I will rise. I will grow.

And I will develop a new legacy to be known by.

I will not fall into the traps of my past. I will not let the mistakes of my family define me. I will not let my OWN mistakes dictate who I really am deep within. But when mistakes are made, I will take ownership.

I will strive to be the best version of myself I can be. And when I fall, I will get back up.

That cannot be denied.

May Rambles

Nothing is ever final, I suppose. A few weeks ago I had made a swift post declaring I was done blogging. In hindsight, it was probably melodramatic. But it was my raw feeling at the time.

There was a lot going on when I rushed into that THE END post. My headspace was in the dark. I’d just found out career-shattering news that really upset me. It was news that will definitely change my teaching job moving forward in both good and challenging ways. My career will begin a new chapter in the fall, but the reason behind it is still frustrating.

Beyond that, I’ve been trying to navigate feelings of isolation and turbulent friendship issues. You see writing is a form of therapy for me. I helps me to think through things, analyze things, and sometimes heal. My raw emotions will go out into the cyber-world because that’s part of who I am. Sadly, a person I know had access to my blog and felt the need to take what I thought of as a safe space and broadcast it to multiple people. They cast judgements on my content, made assumptions, and took it to others. It crossed so many boundaries and caused irrevocable damage with one of my relationships. Yes, I know they are probably reading this right now. And I’m denying them the power of taking away my safe space where I channel my thoughts and feelings. And I hope, if they are reading this, they stay out of my business and they refrain from bringing my personal life and blog to others that simply doesn’t concern them. It was invasive and ethically wrong on their part and their meddling caused permanent damage. It’s unforgivable. I write this simply to show that it’s okay to take power back for yourself and to speak out against people who would try to make it theirs.

So, I’m back. Navigating. Trying to figure things out. I’m sorry if my absence scared anybody. I did get a message from somebody. I’m going to continue writing.

I figured today was a good day to get back into the swing of things because this month tends to be a heavy-hitter for me. Today is Mother’s Day and I’ve been trying to stay off social media because, while I’m glad people are lifting up their moms, it’s tough for me because I don’t speak to mine. It’s a pain that will always haunt me on this capitalist-fueled holiday. I can’t help but think back to the time where I drove all the way from PA to Michigan to surprise my mom for Mother’s Day four or five years ago. I still have the video where I showed up and she bawled her eyes out with joy. It was a fond memory. I don’t think she knew I was gay at that time. I wonder how that would’ve changed things now that I look back on it. Obviously, it’s made its impact now.

Beyond that, May is also my mother’s birthday, my own birthday, and my brother’s birthday. Layers on layers of triggers, if you ask me. This birthday is going to be especially challenging for me given all that’s been happening since I jumpstarted my blogging journey a few months ago. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m fairly introverted and don’t like making a big deal of my birthday at all. I have enjoyed the past seven years spending it with some people who were important to me. But this year I’m unsure if I”ll be able to do that. I’m hoping, but, as I said, somebody caused some severe damage in their meddling. I do, however, look forward to buying a single slice of cake wherein I douse the cake in milk and eat it. It’s my birthday dessert tradition that I’ve been doing the past few years.

Maybe that’s the theme of May: the firsts of doing things alone.

I saw the new Dr. Strange movie a few nights ago. It was the first time I’ve seen a Marvel movie on opening night by myself. I sat between two strangers, huddled with my popcorn and drink. I was excited to see Wanda Maximoff AKA The Scarlet Witch unleash. For that, I was not disappointed. It was epic. Brutal. I was actively cheering her one, despite her villain status. I was urging her to burn it all to the ground, no matter the cost. There were moments I wish I had people with me to react alongside of. After all, this movie had some insane moments that still keep playing in my head. But I enjoyed the movie, regardless. And it made me like and relate to Wanda even more than I already had.

It’s probably a good thing I don’t have her powers because I would probably embrace my inner villain.

Who knows what this month will hold as I move forward. Maybe some unexpected things will occur. Maybe I’ll continue to grow into my lone wolf status, just me and my dog against the world. Maybe I’ll eat a whole cake this year.

Regardless of what this month holds, I’ll be here exploring my thoughts in wordy ramblings because this space is mine to do that with.

As Wanda says, “I have what I want and nobody will ever take it from me again.”

That One Friend

Lately, a friend of mine has been heavy on my mind. I don’t know why that is. I haven’t talked to this friend in awhile or seen him or anything of the sort. About a decade ago, he took his own life. I’ll never forget that, the pain of losing somebody to suicide.

Just to respect his privacy, let’s simply call him Ben. That’s not his real name, but I don’t want to cause any problems by using his real name. I was honored to have known his real name. You see, Ben was the guy in high school who had it all: the ladies, the popularity, the good looks. Ben wasn’t a jock, no. He was able to get along with most people and, on the side, he had his dealings with some drugs and alcohol. But what can I say? His charisma was alluring and, to be fair, my closeted ass may have had a crush on him.

I remember we talked a little during high school, but we really developed a friendship a year out of high school. I ran into him at a video store, an ancient place where one would rent their movies. We connected, exchanged numbers, and we would talk on the phone about life and all it had to offer. I remember he asked me to go with him to a AA meeting and I agreed.

I was stood up while listening to the All American Rejects hit song “Move Along.” After waiting for Ben for a half hour, I decided to do just that–move along. Though, we connected later. He wanted to hang out and considering my need to forgive people and, well, move along, I agreed. He came over to watch movies and we had sleepover because that was still fairly acceptable. Because I only had one bed, we ended up sleeping in the same bed together. Nothing scandalous happened, but we did give each other back massages at his insistence.

What? I wasn’t going to say no. It was his idea!

Our friendship developed from there. We would chat on instant messenger, he’d come over a few more times, and then there was the last time we would hang out. He asked me to pick him up and for me to take him downtown so he could drop something off to his cousin. Being a good friend, I agreed. I remember he had me park on the side of the street in some unfamiliar neighborhood. He said he’d be back, got out of my car, and climbed into a tinted vehicle. He was there for a solid ten or so minutes before he came back.

Yes, in hindsight I realize I was too innocent to realize that he had asked me to drive him to a drug deal. It must’ve been successful for him; he was pretty happy.

Anyway, we went back to my place and watched some movies. Then it was time for bed because at that time he had agreed to go to church with me the next day. Brace yourself for the irony about to follow.

We slept in the same bed, but we didn’t sleep. It was massage time again but this time while he was laying on his stomach, he asked me to massage his butt and proceeded to pull down his pants. I was too stunned to decline and my closeted gay ass was not about to complain. We proceeded to have conversation while this went on. I remember thinking it was probably not typical for a heterosexual guy to be okay with another guy massaging his bare butt. It almost became something else but he was tired and we went to sleep. After all, we had church in the morning.

Months would go by after that. Within that time, Ben would lose his father. I remember we chatted online about how much he missed his dad. He was broken. I told him I’d always be there for him, he just needed to call. Sadly, at that time I didn’t realize that the cult I was in at the local church would discipline me for admitting to a church friend I watched porn. (Joke is on them! I wasn’t watching straight porn!) However, my punishment via the cult I was in was for them to take away my phone. It was messed up, I know. Even more messed up is that I agreed to this lunacy.

Months later, Ben took a shotgun to his head. I found out about it while I was at a church service, and I was devastated. Absolutely broken.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if in his last moments he had tried to reach out to me, to ask for help, but couldn’t get ahold of me because some cultists thought it necessary to keep my cell phone because I’d looked at porn.

To top it off, I had to ask permission to attend Ben’s funeral because the cult program I was in said I couldn’t be trusted to go anywhere alone. Luckily, another friend of mine in the church knew Ben and went with me. Trust me. I now look back and wish I could tell the fools at that church how messed up they were to make me ask permission to go to a funeral of a friend of mine. I have lots of messed up church/cult stories. But that’s not the focus here.

I miss Ben.

Deeply.

I think about him every so often, wondering where he would be today. Successful? Family? Wife? Or maybe it would be a husband? I feel like he was curious, so maybe he was bisexual. Maybe he was gay. Maybe he wasn’t either of those things. We’ll never know, but I wonder if he was a prisoner of his own mind in that realm. Afraid to be his true self. I know he was in pain. He felt alone and was hurting. His circle of friends, to him, was shrinking (though a lot attended his funeral). I often wonder if he and I still would still be friends? Or would we have a fallout?

I don’t know. I like to think that there is a universe out there in the great multiverse where Ben is still alive and well, where he never pulled that trigger.

You may ask, “Josh, why is Ben on your mind so heavily lately?”

I really don’t know. It’s been intense. Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep because I could only think of Ben which made me thing of the younger version of myself. And I wish I could go back in time. While I was hiding my sexuality from everybody, I feel like some of those moments where easier than the ones I find myself in now. And in some ways, not.

I’d like to think Ben and I would still be friends today.

I wish I could have an hour to talk to him one last time. To ask him why he did it and how he made the decision and whether or not he tired to reach out for help. I wish I could reverse it so it never happened.

Again, I don’t know why he’s on my mind so much. Maybe it’s because I feel alone and hurt with some of my current situations and it’s causing me to long for nostalgia because then I don’t have to worry about the here-and-now. Instead, I can romanticize a life prior to all this current shit. A time with less complications and a dash of more innocence.

And no, don’t panic. I’m not taking a Ben route. That’s not what my blog posts indicate. I’m just finding it helpful to write down what I’m feeling and everything, to throw it out into the cyber-world and see what happens. I’m shouting into an echo chamber, I’m sure. This blog is just a way for me to understand and cope an try to make sense of what doesn’t make sense now. It’s a way for me to write down my pain and explore it. And for some reason my pain is time-traveling.

The pain of Ben’s death is gnawing away inside my chest as I type.

I wish I could go back.

I wish Ben were still here.

I wish things were better.

The Great Return…

Blogging.

A simple eight letter word of the 21st century.

For the past few weeks, “blogging” has been weaving its way through my cinematic daydreams, whispering into my ears , and compelling me to sit down and actually pay attention to it. Time has battled this word, as I am a pretty busy man. However, considering the fact that you’re reading this right now, it would seem this urge to blog has won. I am a prisoner to it now.

But that’s not a bad thing.

In many ways, I think I need a place to uncoil my rampant thoughts. A realm to tap into whatever my mind is wrestling with and express it to the world. Maybe I’ll be talking to myself on here, or maybe you’ll find that you’re invested in the strange events of my life. DUSTY  VINTAGE KEYBOARD

By day I’m a middle school English teacher, which ensures that I never endure a dull moment. By night I am a conglomarete being that inhales Netflix like it’s a drug, reads books for sustenance, and pours out my very soul in the stories that I dare to write. Passionate stories. Dark stories. Magical stories.

I suppose that’s why I have returned to the blogging realm. In the past, I’ve tried to manage blogs solely centered on movie reviews. That never worked.

But now?

Now, I am creating a space where I can write about whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Words are not meant to be limited. I intend to express myself in this space. Maybe I’ll tell wild stories about my adventures as a middle school teacher–stories I simply can’t make up. Perhaps I’ll write entries where I rant about the fact that there is literally no local coffee shops near me to write my logic-defying fiction. (Honestly, it’s a real problem!) Or maybe I’ll just talk to you, to myself, to whoever is listening, to anybody who needs it. Sometimes I may even be silent, taking in this chaotic force we call everyday life.

Regardless, my presence will linger here. This is my place. This is your place. This is the battlefield where that eight-letter word “blogging” won. 

Stick around if you dare, leave if you must. If you stay, we will sort through the world together. If you leave, I’ll wave and wish you well. After all, we are on different paths, right? Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to enjoy the ride together…

Welcome to my world…