It's Been A Crazy Year

Since September 2015, things have been crazy. You can roughly slice it into three acts: publishing the post in September about being sexually abused as a child, divorcing my family of origin in December, and the wild summer of 2016. I'll comment on all three, then lay the path forward as much as I can predict an unpredictable phenomenon. I feel like I've been in a marathon for a year, and you've all been amazing cheerleaders along the way.

Childhood Sexual Abuse

I had been writing it over the summer of 2015, writing and re-writing. So many people popped their heads out to offer their support, to like the post on Facebook, to send me private messages. It was all very overwhelming, and as a result, I had to take a weeklong vacation shortly after publishing. I had always known about the abuse, which likely happened when I was eight years old, but it was in March when I actually linked the abuse with some horrible patterns and behaviours in myself and subsequently sought professional help. The reason it was allowed to happen to me was a confluence of religious, familial, and cultural factors. Through my year and a half of counselling and discussions with friends, I learned about:

I'm trying to be woke af.

Through the counselling, I also learned that I have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and an anxiety disorder. As a result, one of the hardest lessons I learned was self-compassion. I had internalized a critical voice over the years that berated and demeaned me for my external shortcomings and which dismissed my intrinsic value as a human, and it was hard to silence that voice in favour of a kinder, more compassionate one. I've always had flashbacks, trigger points that set me off into a thousand-yard stare, anxiety and nervousness, and these symptoms invisibly held me back as I struggled through school, relationships, work, marriage, etc. They were burdens I didn't know I was carrying, and writing about all of these topics has allowed me to share the load with friends and supporters.

I'll be working on these personal shortcomings for years. They didn't develop overnight, so I should allow myself at least as much time to unlearn them.

Divorcing My Family

I grew up in an abusive family. They certainly don't see it that way, which is part of the abuse. They don't understand that love can be toxic. In fact, I never even saw it that way until only last year, when the accumulation of comments from friends and my counsellors led to the realization. I was the victim of gaslighting, wherein the abuser absolves themselves of all guilt and responsibility by making it the victim's fault for their suffering, especially when the abuser is the cause. I was constantly made to question my own sanity and perception. The relationships were toxic to me, and I feel like I wasted many counselling sessions trying to find resolutions or strategies for dealing with them. All families are a little bit nuts, but I felt like I was working disproportionately hard with them while they completely dismissed my suffering or how their expectations were impractically high. I spent far more money and effort trying to please them with visits to Edmonton and family vacations than they spent on me. Part of my personality is being the peacemaker, which meant that I regularly volunteered to sacrifice my needs for theirs, which in turn simply became the normal expectation.

I'm not bitter about it. I forgave them and moved on, and now I can talk about it calmly without spit and foam flying out of my mouth onto my listeners. I spent the months from December 2015 to about May 2016 processing the hurt and rewriting my boundaries. My uncle also passed away in December, which for me was a test of my convictions. I loved the man, and it'll be one of many deaths in the family moving forward where I can't mourn with everyone else. As I had throughout my whole life, I questioned my sanity and perceptions. Am I overreacting? Should I have written about my family business publicly? Were they really that bad? What will I do without a family? What if I have struggles in the future where a family would be my safety net? Don't we have good times? What does abuse even mean? What do other families look like? Who else has gone through this experience? What even makes family relationships special? Am I overreacting? Should I have written about it publicly? Were they really that bad? It has been especially reassuring when others shared their own experiences with abusive families, often involving narcissism.

I have had limited contact with them since, and I overanalyze each instance to determine if they're ready to truly apologize, take responsibility, and respect my boundaries. I have no intention of talking to them ever again, but maybe one day I'll let them apologize. It would take a miracle from heaven to change their hearts.

Summer 2016

After an exhausting eight months, this summer was designated for pure fun. I broke a lot of my personal records for partying. I just wanted to be happy, to let go of everything and focus on enjoying myself for a bit. Some amazing birthdays, some festivals, a few drinks, and non-stop dancing. Highlights include Sled Island, Calgary Stampede, Pemberton Music Festival, Chasing Summer, camping, Tofino, Explosions in the Sky.

My rotation at work was beginning to get stressful, so I applied for short term disability through work starting mid-July. It was approved for two weeks, and then I went unpaid for the following two months. August hit, and life took a left turn. Although I've written very openly about my experience in the last year, I kept this one struggle secret. That was easily the lowest point in my life, and I had many suicidal thoughts. I opened up to some choice friends, and they really pulled me out of it. My original plan for my time off was to recuperate by lowering my stress levels and improving my stress management skills. What ended up happening was far more exhausting and difficult than I could imagine. Instead of recovering so I could return to work, I had to put that aside to deal with this side quest. There were many days where I could barely move from my bed to my couch, let alone feed myself or bathe. The amount of energy I put into overcoming this obstacle could have been put into my recovery, but instead I had nothing left when work wanted me to return. I felt like Michael Bluth getting out of his hospital bed to save the family business. As a result of numerous factors, I quit my job.

Michael Bluth leaves the hospital to save the business.

Moving Forward

That's a quick recap of the year. It got pretty dark, but there are signs of hope. As of the past few weeks, I got hernia repair surgery, I've been Pokewalking almost every day, which is building my confidence and momentum, and mostly just chilling. I've lost about 10 lbs. since I left work.

I left work in July and my weight has dropped since.

Since I don't really do much during the day, I no longer derive pleasure from scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, so I'm starting to just lay still in a quiet home, looking around, thinking my thoughts. My coping ability with August was borne from the counselling work which started at the beginning of 2015. My physical and mental health are improving because of the self-compassion I've been practising since then as well. Because of the breathing room created by quitting my job, I can identify when my PTSD and anxiety are triggered and how to calm myself down and navigate those overwhelming situations. I can recognize areas where I've been traumatized and take the steps needed to break those vicious cycles and to form virtuous cycles. I try to live in the moment, practise mindfulness, and focus on surviving each day. Music is a soothing lotion for my wounds. I won't give up now, now, now.

As much as I need to recover, there are practical limitations to how I execute the strategy. My three year resolution is still in effect, and Carrie is still in school. Our income is limited now, so I can't just take trips or resort to retail therapy. I still have five weeks for my surgical wound to heal. It's officially autumn now, so friends are back to the grind and staying indoors.

I don't write because I want your pity. Externalizing my problems and sharing them online are ways that I can help both myself and others. Many have asked what they can do to support me, and all I ever ask is that they follow along the journey. I like my blog. It's like a weekly sitcom, analyzing situations and brainstorming creative solutions, fusing logic and problem-solving with psychology, media, and personal anecdotes. The gears are always turning in my mind, and I'm often prone to cyclical thoughts and emotions. Writing is a way for me to break out of those obsessive behaviours and to pull myself out of the mental ditch. In our brave new world of oversharing on social media and cyberbullying, I remain paranoid and painfully aware of how I make myself open and vulnerable with the Internet. I've experienced far more pain and suffering than I would want others to go through in a lifetime, so I'm sacrificing my personal privacy, betting that one person out there will be able to learn from my experience and to protect themselves from the shit storm that is Life. I write this blog (I hope) in the same way I live my life, whose purposes are to reflect God's glory. As bad as my year has been, He has been especially good to me by sustaining me with his Spirit. I don't understand the why or how of what I'm going through, but I know He's strengthening me for a purpose that I don't quite know yet.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le