The Perfect Life

This is a heavier post than normal because I've been buried under an avalanche of feelings lately. I'm trying to contain them, but I think everything is just rushing out of me. There’s a big backlog of issues and feelings I need to feel, and sometimes they’re just unintelligible. My heart has been aching this week, so I'm trying to soothe it with this big post.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." - Proverbs‬ ‭4:23‬

Fairy Tales

I've touched on the topic of narratives before. They're scripts we construct that guide our lives, and they keep us in line if we ever fall off track. Let's look at a few.

In Asian cultures, your child gets a job in medicine, law, and engineering so you can brag to your friends about how much more honour your kid brings you than theirs does to them.

In Alberta, you graduate school, get a job in Oil & Gas, then immediately buy a house and big ass truck before you turn 25. You make fun of people who don't have as much as you, and then you get laid off until you can win from the boom-bust cycle again.

In America, it's called the American Dream. You monopolize an industry, legalize your monopoly through lobbying, then you manipulate pop culture into supporting your business so you can suck the life out of the middle class.

These are sweeping generalities, so what about zooming in to a more useful level? Who might be struggling with a Perfect Life narrative they can't shake?

Kids. People my age are now starting to have kids, and there are some parents who make their children their entire life purpose. It's creepy. Their happiness is contingent on their child's success, so they force reality to look like their child is successful. Taylor Swift isn't necessarily some down-to-earth artist whose quality of work attracted the right person's attention at the right time. Her dad was a banker that bought a 3% stake ($120,000) in Big Machine Records, the label that launched her career, so she had a big boost in the beginning. Successful people think their success makes them a good parent, but those are different skills. Creating success for yourself is different from creating success for others, even at an adult level, and raising a child requires yet another set of skills. Stephen Covey wrote the book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," but 15 years later, he published the 8th habit, which was helping others to reach success. You can climb a mountain, but it's another ability to help others get up the same mountain. In Bob's Burgers, Big Bob wasn't a good father to Bob, even though Big Bob had his own restaurant. Let your kids live their lives. How long will you follow them around making sure they're perfect so you can be happy?

Money. Some folks just want more money. Their happiness is conditioned on making, having, keeping, hoarding more money. Doesn't have a specific figure to it, just more. Hamster wheel.

The Church doesn't want to accept people who are transgender. They hold that it infringes on their beliefs. I myself don't fully understand queer issues, but I know that Jesus didn't judge people based on their politics. He loved people even though they weren't the way he wanted them to be, ie. Sinners, ie. Everyone. I think the queer community are today's lepers. Even though they don't fit into your ideals of a perfect world, don't lash out at them. They are suffering, and society is only as strong as its weakest members. Here's a story about how a Chinese woman came out to her mom. It's significant to me because of how she navigated the shame her parents would face, a factor I also had to consider when talking about my sexual abuse.

People cheat to get to their perfect life. Whatever their motivation, they have to reach this goal at all costs. Carrie and I are happy together, but along the way, we've mistreated each other, played mind games, and acted abusively towards each other. Capitalism and competition are cool, but I went to a very competitive high school and university program where cheating was rampant. Somehow, values and ideals are planted into our minds, that we need to live some Perfect Life, and we only question why it has to look that way when we fail to attain it on a certain timeline.

I didn't want this life

Here are chapters I didn't want in my story:

  • To be sexually abused
  • To be emotionally and spiritually abused by my dad
  • To be gaslighted by my family
  • To sit in counselling and confront my feelings
  • To process emotions suppressed across 20 years
  • To cut out my family

I would much rather have run Just Listen Audio into a successful business that expanded fast enough to get acquired by Apple. You know, just like Beats by Dre. I've had to say goodbye to a perfect life numerous times already, and I'm sure it'll happen again.

Current issue I'm facing this week

I miss my family. I don't want to, but that's a natural reaction. If your body part is infected enough, it's better to amputate it to save the rest of your body, and I had to amputate six body parts. I read a story when I was in elementary school about a young girl who had to have her leg amputated. As an impulse, she would sometimes reach down to scratch it, look down to see nothing, and become a bit sad. I've come across a few links on Reddit I would have shared with my brothers, but then I remembered I never want to talk to them again. As overjoyed as I was to finally end things, I'm avoiding the funeral service a person would normally attend if their entire family suddenly passed away. Complicated emotion.

If you don't know what gaslighting feels like, just pick out the times when I speak up for the point of view opposite of mine. Part of it comes from how everyone is their own biggest critic, but in addition to that, I can never let the other side not have its say. It's a voice in my head that constantly tells me I'm wrong, and I always have to address it. Back to my point though.

Having been gaslighted for so long, I have trouble trusting my own judgement. When I talk to people who are genuinely interested in why I excommunicated my family, they can be very dismissive and invalidating. I feel I have to prove to them that this was my best choice for happiness, but I shouldn't have to prove to anyone else why and how I am protecting myself from abuse. I'm the one who has to live with this suffering, and most solutions people propose to me are too simple to be useful. Lots of people have said "Oh, that's just how Asian families are" (hey look, gaslighting) or "That's just your brothers' personalities, so accept them the way they are" (ooh, some more gaslighting). Suppose again that my dad was beating the shit out of me with a metal pipe instead of simply "hurting my feelings." Should I just accept that this is how Asian families operate? Should I just accept that my family stood by or sometimes participated in the beatings? What about how they were beating my wife for 11 years? What are the odds they'll treat our kids like this too? I accept that this is how my family is, so the only chance we have of ever talking again (when I'm ready in 30 years) is if we stop talking now. I stick by my decision.

What bullet did I dodge?

In sharing my story, some people took my family's side, feeling sorry for their hurt feelings over my suffering. It's hard to quantify or measure how much better I'm doing, so I can't really counter their sentiment because I haven't really thought about it. I think people have a hard time acknowledging the dark side of humanity. You clearly need to spend more time on 4chan. Moreover, people can't acknowledge that their friends have a dark side, so people have pushed back to me about my family. These bad listeners seem to know them better than I do, so even though my parents are nice to someone, that means they don't have the capacity to be shitty to me. If my brothers are so popular and well-liked, then that means they can't be infuriatingly invalidating or unsupportive to me. People aren't perfectly logical or consistent. Just so we're clear, people act differently based on context. Does there need to be some tragedy before I have your permission to suffer?

Victims of abuse often exhibit symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. I've mentioned before how I thought my head was going to snap before my three year resolution. I have a lot on my plate, and as much as I try to offload some responsibilities, people like to dump their problems on me. At work is one thing, but it's another when my dad wants me to indulge his insecurities instead of working on himself.

Suicide. I've thought about it before, mostly in the context of Carrie leaving me, which was a real risk if we kept having to interact with my family, but I've never tried it. I don't think I've ever really told anyone this either, so here it is. Would you prefer my family photos to have everyone in them and eventually I'd kill myself?

Witty conclusion

By no means am I saying you shouldn't pursue your dreams.

Homer's dream

Follow your dreams

Chase after them with all your heart. Just know that sometimes you'll hit a brick wall, and forcing yourself into what seems to be the perfect life can harm you and others. Be authentic and question why you require your life narrative to look a certain way. Ideally, I would have a strong support network in my family, but I had to fire them. Now I have some empty slots for much better people, and I've already made some allies who were beaten down by life but fought back. I don't have time for casual acquaintances anymore. My main activity on Facebook these days is checking my notifications and unfollowing boring and shallow people who I somehow haven't unfollowed yet. I can't live a fake life which appears perfect on the outside anymore. There are people out there who are moments from suicide or worse, and I want focus more on helping them put down the blade. If you aren't being oppressed or you can't empathize with or support those that do, you don't belong in my inner circle. Chase your perfect life, become that Real Housewife/Husband of Some Location, and keep running on your hamster wheel.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le