My Individual Experience

This post is a little scattered because my head space is scattered about this whole dealio such that I don't even know what to think of it anymore. You're probably a little tired of reading about this stuff, and I'm a little tired of writing it. However, when I sit down on Saturday mornings to see what my heart is going through, this is what comes out. I wish this didn't happen to me at all, but what are you gonna do? On with the show...

Individuality represents what is left over once you remove all the commonalities with other people. It can no longer be divided without losing its core, central uniqueness. I'm realizing that my individual experience is quite different from others. There have been many people in the church that been sexually abused, there are many with dysfunctional families, and there are a lot of trauma victims, but the combination of all the contributing factors makes my experience different.

I've been noticing lately that I write very emotionally, which is to say that it isn't very precise. Feelings and emotions are vague, and I felt like it wasn't enough to write using words like "sometimes," "usually," "often." Using an analogy, the 3D printer wasn't initially meant for me to print useful things around the house. Certainly there is a lot of power in accessible household plastic formation, but it was entirely meant for me to watch while it printed. It mesmerizes me. It's just cool to look at. I was putting pressure on myself recently to prove just how useful it is to have a plastic printer, but it isn't always useful. Sometimes it's just fun and cool to print random stuff. In the same way, I've been pressuring myself to write with more specifics. I thought readers wouldn't take me seriously because I wrote so imprecisely, but it turned out to be the opposite. I think people stick around to read my blog because it speaks honestly about emotional subjects, which is exactly vague. Nobody measures their current rage at 62.4%. You don't love someone with 2097 ILU (international love units). Emotions are cloudy, they're fuzzy. Sometimes they're quick to change, sometimes we temper them or hide them.

I spend a lot of time analyzing my feelings. What interests me about emotions is when people don't understand their own. Good artists are able to reveal certain emotions in their audience by how they weave their story. For example, sitcoms love to pose the question "what would you do if it were too awkward to correct a stranger that misinterpreted the protagonist?" We've all been there where we appear bizarre in public, but the truth of the situation is stranger than fiction. That resonates with me in my experiences of attempting to explain what it's like being related to my family of origin. "But Jon, they're so popular and well-liked! How could you have such a deep problem with them?" "But Jon, everyone's family is crazy. What makes you so special that you can excommunicate them from your life?" It's hard to explain to people the truth of the situation because it sounds stranger than fiction. Those people get to shut their minds to my reality rather than trying to understand it, and I have to live with the painful existence of interacting with narcissists.

Since cutting off contact with the Lês, I haven't really identified an aspect of genuine connection that I miss from them (except with my mom). I wrote I Miss My Family, but most of those aspects were pretty superficial. Tellingly, I didn't write about missing anything about my dad, but I figured it out this week. I miss my dad's instant noodles. He had a way with finding the right firmness, al dente, with those MAMA pork-flavoured instant noodles, and I haven't been able to find that spot yet. Happy Father's Day.

Mama Instant Noodles Pork Flavoured

I read an illuminating blog recently, the Four Burners Theory on Lifehacker. The article described the four burners in life: family, friends, health, and work. If you want to be successful, you have to sacrifice one burner. If you want to be really successful, you have to sacrifice two. Right now, I'm sacrificing one and a half: work and physical health. I'm spending a lot of time sorting out issues with my family and friends, replacing the old ones with better ones. I'm taking care of my mental health, and I'm only caring of my body to the extent that it affects my mind and emotions.

Lately, a coworker has been heaping disapproval on me for not working on their level. Mentally, I understand what they're doing. I have some plausible theories on why they're doing it, and I know to respond to it and reject their expectations of me in favour of my own so I don't grow bitter inside. However, that hasn't been enough. I still feel defeated being around them, I still feel like trying to reach their level, and I'm struggling to show compassion to myself by keeping my own pace of work and learning. I couldn't really understand why, so I brought this problem to my counsellor. She said that if I didn't have any attachment points internally for that kind of shame, then it wouldn't matter if someone disapproved of me. It clicked in my head that similarly, America still has a core of white supremacists, so that's partly why Donald Trump is finding support for his message of inequality. His arguments are taking hold because it reflects the will of some(/most?) of the people. In my situation, anyone using shame to motivate me is going to find a bit of traction because it's a well-worn path.

My family situation is hard to explain to people, and sometimes I'm not sure that I've done a great job of it. Last week I wrote about it being hard to prove that anything I'm writing about is true. You can't see the wind, but you can see its effects on the trees, especially in Calgary. An episode of 30 Rock Carrie and I were watching this week used the phrase "the emotional scarring from an absentee father," which stuck with me. I have trouble trusting my own judgement. I think nobody likes me. I'm never good enough, so I'm always trying to prove my worth and value. I'm afraid of authoritative men, even if they're my age or younger. I have an unmet need to feel heard.

I'm like Abed from Community. He has trouble relating to his world, so it's easier to explain it in terms of TV shows. (That was me using a TV show to explain how I use TV shows for explanations.)

One reason I love the show Arrested Development is partly because it's one the funniest shows of its time, but I also love it because I can relate to Michael Bluth. "Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together." (Well, we weren't wealthy, so we didn't have much to lose.) Fans of the show might tell me "Michael always tried to quit the family, but he always came back. Shouldn't you go back to your family?" You're right, and I lived that part of the show already. I was in a state of arrested development, always returning to clean up my family's messes. Well, no more. (I also treat the fourth season as non-canonical, so I see myself as Michael in the third season finale.)

One Asian pastor asked me for my thoughts on their family situation. Their senior pastor was telling them to put the church before their own family. If anyone in the church needs help, drop whatever it is you're doing with your family and attend to God's people. They appeared conflicted about the situation, but I simply pointed them to 1 Timothy 3:5:

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?

I have a feeling some readers might be afraid of ending up where I am, but I don't think many people will be able to truly relate to what I'm going through. I think I've identified maybe five people in my social network who have had to cut out their families, whether their immediate, extended, or in-law families, and that's only one of my problems. I've done this exercise before, but let's point out some characteristics of my situation that makes me unique:

⁃   My dad is a pastor.
⁃   He's also a missionary.
⁃   He is a refugee.
⁃   He has a PhD.
⁃   His dad died when he was 16.
⁃   My family is somewhat well-known in their communities.
⁃   We're Vietnamese.
⁃   We're visible minorities.
⁃   They (probably) exhibit narcissism.
⁃   Most of us have some form of higher education.
⁃   We are four brothers.
⁃   I was sexually abused.

I wonder if there are people who are worried they'll end up in my situation. I know there are a lot of sexual abuse victims, trauma victims, people trapped in religion, dysfunctional families, and excommunicated family members, but I don't know that there are ton of people who have the same combination as me. If the simple advice I received for my complex problems actually worked, then I wouldn't be in this mess right now. I've sliced it so many different ways, walking around this fiery pile of garbage, trying to understand and work my way through it. Through the pain, I've whispered "why?" countless times. I think most people will relate to different parts of my story, but even though there is some overlap with other people's experiences, I feel especially alone.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le