The Nightmare is Over

Lots to catch up on. I didn't write last week because I was so tired from the Coachella trip, so I'll just touch on the major points.

I did an interview for a friend's podcast on CJSW radio. New format. New audience. With my blog, it's easy to go back into the archives to get a fuller view of what I think about a certain topic, but it's a bullet point in spoken word. Plus, even though it's not streamed live, there is a very different aspect to the delivery in a podcast. With writing, I go back about a hundred times to tweak every little thing. In the recording studio, we just kept talking for a straight 30 minutes. If I messed up answering a question, I just tried it a second time. We even could have redone the entire interview with the amount of available studio time, but I didn't have enough time before my flight to LA. They edited it and that was that.

Alas, it was interesting to revisit so many big themes all at once. I've written about heavy topics for the past year and a half, and I make references here and there to my previous painful experiences, but since I was introducing myself to a new audience on the radio, I had to list out everything at once. It didn't trigger me at all like it used to, so that must be progress.

I agreed to the interview because I thought it could help new people. I'm somewhat familiar with most of the readers that swing by the blog because of in-person relationships and sharing on Facebook, but there is a much wider audience that listens to CJSW, almost all of whom I haven't met and never will. I've only ever listened to that station when I rent a car2go because it's one of the pre-programmed radio stations that you can choose. Another reason why it was easy to accept the offer to do the work was because I'm good friends with the person running the podcast; do we still call them DJs? We have a strong rapport, and we've supported each other through a lot of tough times over the past year and a half. They've taught me so much in that time. It felt comfortable talking to them in the studio.

I didn't listen to the edited version of the interview, and I don't intend on listening to it once it's uploaded to SoundCloud. Something about hearing myself talk makes me cringe. Maybe one day. I'll link it once it goes up. My friend said the final version is quite beautiful. I feel good about that, but I still can't handle listening to it.

Family in LA. I know I didn't have to do this, but I explained to my extended family what went down with me and my immediate family. From their perspective, there was a black box that I entered into two years ago called counselling, and now I don't talk to my parents and siblings anymore. Vietnamese people already have a distrust for psychology, and a lot of mental illness is lumped into the same word for "crazy." In situations with abuse, the victim doesn't owe an explanation to everyone because practically speaking, no one else will come close to understanding what they went through. Even if an ally went through a similar type of abuse, their experiences will never be exactly the same because their relationships to their abusers were different. It's important to know that we aren't alone in our suffering, but even still, we have to make our own decisions. We all get to decide what to do, even if others had similar experiences or if they actively and openly disagree. Sometimes those decisions are to remain in the relationship, sometimes it's not.

Silly example first. I had to renew my passport before heading to Coachella. Well, I thought I had to. If you're travelling between Canada and the US, you don't necessarily have to renew your passport if it's within six months of expiring. Six Month Club. I didn't know about this beforehand, but alas. I planned the Coachella trip about three weeks out, so that still gave me plenty of time to get my new passport in. I went to Passport Canada on Friday, March 24, submitted my paperwork, they accepted it, and then it came time to pay. I said "I want the expedited service even though we still have some time." I was flying Thursday, April 13, so that left about 13 business days for it to arrive. Normal processing time was 10 business days, so that would be cutting it a bit close. The agent at the window told me, "Oh, don't waste your money. They're really good about being on time." I insisted that I wanted to get everything done as soon as possible and that I preferred the expedited option so that I could rest easy while I got the rest of my trip in order. She insisted again that I not waste my money and assured me that I would have it in time. She rung me up for the regular speed, meaning that I should have received it in the mail on Friday, April 7. Guess when I actually got it: April 12 at 6 PM, 14 hours before my flight. That was nerve-wracking. I had to go back to Passport Canada on April 10 and 11 to make sure I didn't need to buy a new passport and rush it within 24 hours. The moral of the story here is that the agent at Passport Canada on March 24 had absolutely no accountability to my situation. She said one thing and it turned out a different way, but what does she care? Turns out there are other ways of identifying yourself and proving citizenship when re-entering the country, but that's a risk I preferred not to take when I had my Coachella general admission ticket, shuttle pass, and hotel cost to split with a friend riding on the line. I'm also a terrible traveler and refuse to pay for anymore lost flights and extra accommodations. I had a sinking feeling my passport was going to arrive later than 10 business days, but I still took that lady's advice. I paid the price in needless stress, running around town trying to ensure my passport arrived on time and maybe taking new pictures if I needed a new one, that my phone was charged and that I could get a call from the building buzzer, looking at Canada Post trucks driving around throughout the day and contemplating whether I should chase them down and empty their contents. It's hard work going on vacation. People love to give advice, especially when it costs them nothing when it doesn't work out.

Serious example now. Lots of armchair analysts recommended that I reconcile with my family. Some of them used Bible verses to inspire/condemn me. Some said it was for my own good. Lots of people have lots of advice for me, and suppose I took their advice against my better judgement. What would happen if it didn't work out? Who would take responsibility for recommending that I resume contact with my family when I would be the only one to get burned? I've mentioned it a few times on this blog, but since I repeated it for my extended family recently, I'll say it again. With the tough times that I had, if I were still in contact with my family through 2016, I definitely would have killed myself. I had enough foresight back in December 2015 to say that they only brought me trouble, they stole my energy, and they didn't provide me any relief, comfort, or safety, therefore I needed to remove them from my life. By regaining all that energy back into my life, I still had trouble getting through the past summer. If I had my dad still nagging me about visiting Edmonton more often, my mom nagging me about my weight, my brothers dumping their problems on me and not staying to help me with my own problems, then I for sure would not have had the strength to go on. I saved my own life by cutting contact with my family. If I had listened to people saying I should make nice with my family again so that they wouldn't suffer anymore, then I wouldn't be here right now. A lot of people have recommended that I put myself at risk to ease their discomfort. Instead, I decided to not light myself on fire to keep someone warm.

Life was asking me to make a lot of withdrawals from my emotional bank account. I leaned on Carrie, family, and friends to help me to pay for those transactions. They provided me with emotional support through quality time, smiles, and hugs. My family of origin hadn't made deposits into my emotional bank account for a long time, so when I cut contact with them, they didn't carry any currency with me anyways. Not only were they not making investments into our relationship, but they were only making withdrawals. The only way I knew how to compensate for that dynamic when I was younger was by lending to them from my own emotional resources. Little did I know that lending to them meant I would never see those funds again. Not only were they not providing me with any emotional support, they were dumping their problems on me. The institution of family is supposed to be a soft place to land when life gets tough, but I never got that from them. I certainly provided it to them, but I never received the same in return. Instead, other people stepped up and upgraded themselves from friends to family.

As I got older, I learned through various means that I was being taken advantage of by my family. Even into my late 20's, the relationships with them were more or less one-way, and prior to cutting contact officially, I had been grey rocking and ghosting them for some time. Grey rocking is when you are non-responsive to an abusive person's inflammatory comments and drama. Ghosting is when you disappear unannounced. I was pulling away from them well before December 2015, and they didn't even seem to notice. They never truly showed interest in my life because I had already intentionally stopped sharing it with them for about a year prior. I more or less became that dude that stares at the TV while someone talks at them, responding only in grunts in between sips of beer. Beyond that, there were still times that I tried to renegotiate the relationships into two-way streets, unsuccessfully. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that I was trying really hard to make the relationships work with my family, but they weren't trying much by comparison. The status quo was that I gave a lot to them while they did almost nothing for me, so why would they want to change that? They live in a pretty severe state of denial, which is hard to work with. I was alone, trying to work with all of them. My cousin joked that I must identify closely with Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. It's true, but at least Michael had some tender moments with his family.

Of the many objections my aunts and uncles raised, I'll call out one that my parents repeated a lot. "But I love Jon! How can he do this to us?" That is to say that I shouldn't be treating them this way because they love me. It's common for parents to show their love in a way that their child doesn't understand or accept. This disconnect is exacerbated by cultural and generational differences. My parents' generation was raised on how my grandparents child-reared from the 50's in Vietnam, basically authoritarian and dictatorial. Now we're in the West, and I grew up with different expectations. Tough love from Vietnam in the 50's and 60's is probably viewed as abuse in Western society today. The reason this argument doesn't hold up for me is because I know that my parents love me, and I love them. I understand they had a difficult time showing me their love because I grew up in a land and time with different values. However, love is both a feeling and an action, and loving the wrong way can be harmful to the relationship. A silly example is how I show my love to Carrie by cuddling in bed. She hates it, and for good reason. I'm double her size, so it hurts when I'm the big spoon. Our place is really warm and my body generates a lot of thermal energy, so it makes her really uncomfortable when I basically cook her with my body heat. She likes to cuddle in short bursts under the right circumstances. I like to cuddle all the time, smothering her and squishing her little body, breathing into her face while I wrap my arms and legs around her like a squid. It's okay that I love her and that I want to express it, but that doesn't give me the right to force her to accept it in its raw form. In order for it to be welcome and well-received, it must be submitted in the correct format. If I want to make a deposit into her emotional bank account, I can't just drop off a cheque at the door. I have to figuratively verify my account at the ATM, enter my PIN, and select the correct options on the screen. There's a time and place for her to let me smother her as well, and she does let me do that every now and again. It's irresponsible and entitled to say "But I love you!" and think that that is good enough. If it is good enough, then my response is that my way of showing love to my family is by cutting contact with them. Love is not enough. Relationships are work.

A lot of this is repeat, so why did I put myself through that? For a person that stopped talking to my family, I sure talk about them often. What do you think I'd sound like if I resumed contact with them? This time around, I'm resurrecting the past and re-experiencing the grief and pain of it all, just so others can understand -- why? That's part of the reason why I splurged on the trip to California. Coachella was its own thing so I could hang out with some buds and see Kendrick Lamar. I also just needed an escape, but one big reason why I went was because I wanted my extended family to know that I still loved them and considered them my family. Our relationships are two-way streets, so I felt safe reaching out and exposing my pain to them. I missed two funerals, so I also wanted to express my condolences in person. In telling my one cousin how bad I felt, I started breaking down in tears about it, and he held me as we talked. I'm the older cousin, I'm supposed to be stronger, he was the one who lost a dad, but he was the one comforting me. He told me how he reads my blog, and reading about my experiences lets him know that he's not alone. That really touched me. That's why I write, that's why my blog is styled the way it is, that's why I have little rituals in how I write and how I publish. That was really meaningful to hear that I could reach him even though we're so far away and even though I didn't go to the funeral. It was a short night filled with heart-to-heart talks, and my aunt even surprised me with cake and candles for my birthday. I know I caused them pain by being so public about going no-contact with my immediate family, creating confusion and casting shame onto the family name. There's a lot that my family has said to them that I wanted to address or correct, like how the counsellors and Carrie haven't brainwashed me against them. I wanted them to know why I did what I did, mostly to say that I wouldn't do the same to them, and that I still loved them. And who knows, since I'm a US citizen and I want to work in tech, maybe my career will bring me down to Silicon Valley someday.

On that note, my good luck trend continues. The Employment Insurance office called to say they were going to approve my claim, but they just needed a doctor's note. My previous attempt at applying for EI, the phone agent said I needed a very specific note that my doctor refused to write. This time around, the adjudicator called me and corrected the phone agents' claims. He said that he was the one to decide on my file, and that they shouldn't have given me that directive. Let's see how that works out.

Shortly after, I got a call on my birthday from the Apple Store saying they would like to hire me, so I accepted and submitted all my paperwork. It's been received by the background check company, and now we wait. My start date is May 5 if all goes well. This is huge news to me. Any job is better than no job, even if you hate it, since at least you know where your next paycheque is coming from. You can manage bills and fun, whereas having no job and additional school expenses makes for a bad time.

Carrie is done school forever! I'm still processing it because it doesn't feel real just yet. She'll never go back again (probably). Our lives can return to some sort of 9-5, Monday to Friday normalcy/boredom. We'll probably take six months to get all the school stress out of our systems. We drove up to Edmonton to party this past weekend, so now we'll start rebuilding our lives from the rubble. We can even start looking for work outside of Calgary. That seems to be the trend.

It is finished. My bad luck has ended, and Carrie's finally finished all of her schooling. I made peace with my extended family. I have a job. The nightmare is over.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le