Content note: this piece deals with addiction, abuse, and intergenerational trauma.
I wish my father a happy birthday. He tells me he’s drinking again, And that he hardly heard from anyone. I can only ever write poems about him.
Write back, he always says. His emails come quickly, contain hardly anything. Write back, he always says. Write back.
I have to come up with more to say, more that I can share. There are so few safe topics to choose from. He wants to see me. I don’t know if I can let him. Just a few years ago, seeing him on the street would send me reeling— Running, hiding, heart pounding, panic swelling. I don’t know if he ever saw me run away.
I don’t know how to write that fear into a poem, And perhaps this is where I fail as a poet.
I never thought I would speak to him again, Never expected to write to him. Five years of estrangement passed, And then I did. Something within me shifted. Words like abuser, monster, Jekyll, and Hyde Moved over to the side— Making room for Illness, sickness, and intergenerational trauma. It took five years for my fear to begin melting, For my anger to start eroding, Revealing layers and layers of fresh-cut Pain, Confusion, Compassion.
Write back, he always says. Get your brother to write to me, And write back. Write back. Write back.
Content note: this piece discusses alcohol consumption, binge drinking, intoxication, and trauma. It also briefly describes sexual assault.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. Throughout my twenties, drinking gradually evolved from an enjoyable activity to one I’m rather afraid of. There have been too many nights where I lost control, too many days lost to hangovers, and so many apologies that I’ve lost track. When a night went well, people told me I was fun and funny and crazy, the life of the party. I miss being able to be that person. When a night didn’t go well, people told me I was crying and yelling and crazy, that I’d killed the party. I don’t miss that and am afraid of becoming that person again.
I was drunk when I yelled at my friend about her girlfriend who sat listening in the other room.
I was drunk when I threw myself out of a cab and into a snowbank.
I was drunk when I hurled nonsensical accusations at my boyfriend. I was drunk when he carried me home.
I was drunk after sneaking shots of Irish whiskey away from my friends in-between the shots of vodka we were doing together. I was drunk when they carried me crying through the streets with my strapless dress hanging around my waist. I was still drunk hours later when I woke up in my bed after blacking out and asked if they still wanted to party. I was drunk when they told me I had killed the party.
I was drunk when I tried to leave and he pulled me onto the floor, ran his hands over my body, and whispered his repulsive desires into my ear. I was drunk when I went still and silent, when I needed to spring into action, to fight and to run. I was drunk when I shoved my elbow into his gut, releasing his hold on me, and fucking ran, ran, ran.
I was drunk when I broke my best friend’s laundry basket and puked on his dorm’s bathroom floor. I was drunk when I tried to clean it up with my socks, and he told me the biohazard people would have to come. I was drunk as I imagined that scene from E.T. with horror: people in head-to-toe gear storming in, taking over.
I was drunk when an angel found me crying alone in a laundry room. I was drunk when she introduced me to her friends and took me out for the night.
I was drunk on prosecco on my champagne birthday when I stood up on a chair and made announcements to the surprising number of people who liked me enough to attend.
I was drunk on red wine in your bathtub when we poured it into the water and watched it turn a cloudy grey.
I was drunk on hard liquor on New Year’s Eve when I calmly and carefully made myself throw up in the toilet and then came back downstairs for snacks…and more liquor.
I was drunk and standing by myself in a bar while tears crept silently down my face. I was drunk when you asked me what was wrong and told me it’s okay, wine makes you cry for no reason too.
I was drunk when a little voice inside my head whispered that it wanted more, more, more. It never wanted this to stop. It wanted to feel powerful and brave and invincible forever.
I was drunk when I told you I loved you and made you cry.
I was drunk when I ran out of your house in socks and a t-shirt in the middle of February, and you had to chase me down the street.
I was drunk when you found me hiding in a stairwell, when I was a scared and needy puddle. I was drunk, and I wanted you to look for me.
I was drunk when I splattered glow stick goo all over your basement, ripped down your curtain rod, and then smoked a cigarette while sitting on your floor. I was drunk when I held my friend’s hand and took her to the bathroom to clean the blood off of her feet. I was drunk when I ran the three of us a bath, and you threw up in the toilet. We were drunk when we put you to bed soaking wet in the freezing cold glowstick room after laying an unopened sleeping bag on top of you.
I was drunk on the half-empty bottle of vodka and orange juice I held in my hand as we sat on the swings and flew. I was drunk and full of the future.
I was drunk when I stripped naked next to the fire, when you laughed and said my name before we all dove into the lake. I was still drunk when I joined the others hotboxing in a tent even though weed fucks me up, and I don’t like it. I was drunk, and then I was crossfaded, sick, disoriented.
I was drunk and full of possibility when I ran out of the house, called your name, and then held your hand and said goodbye.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. It’s not all good nor bad. It’s not cut and dry (heh). I go through periods of sobriety. I go through periods where I drink cautiously. Occasionally, I lose control, the alcohol imp in me waking after a few drinks and driving me to have more, more, more…
When I drink, I awaken my fun side. I awaken my wild side. I awaken my no fucks given side. I awaken my destructive side.
Over the years, I’ve learned that vodka and trauma make a terrible mixed drink.
I guess you could say I practice harm reduction when it comes to alcohol. I mostly avoid it, and when I drink, I tend to do so cautiously. So cautiously that I rarely let myself get drunk, as that’s usually when I lose control of my behaviour and how much I consume. I also get wicked hangovers after just a couple of drinks these days, which makes it feel not particularly worth it anymore. I don’t miss the hangovers. I don’t miss drinking most of the time. I do miss the person it allowed me to become sometimes: fun, bold, adventurous, wild, and free. I don’t miss the person it brought out at others: angry, sad, destructive, tactless, and self-loathing.
I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. That glass of wine you put in my hand? It makes me nervous. It can also make me fearless, spontaneous, reckless…
Drinking enhances and exaggerates whoever I am, whatever I’m carrying inside. There are days when I have a beer and all it does is make me feel sad and hopeless and vaguely nauseous. There are days when I have a beer and it makes me feel lighter, looser, and more carefree. I can’t predict what the next drink will bring out. I can’t predict who I will be.
It’s not all bad, so I don’t cut off all contact. It’s not all good either, so I’m wary of our interactions. I’m not sober, but I don’t really drink either. I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I wish I didn’t. I wish it was simpler. I wish I could go back to when drinking was fun and exciting instead of fraught and disconcerting. I wish I hadn’t inherited this perilous relationship with alcohol that goes back generations in my family. I wish it was simpler, but it’s not.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink anymore. Oh, except when I do.
Content note: this piece contains abstract references to trauma.
Sometimes, you want to stay in the dark because the light is too much to take. Sometimes, you choose the dark. Sometimes, you say no to new information. Yes, even in the information age. Yes, even in the disinformation age. Sometimes, you say no. Sometimes, you go for solitary walks at night. Sometimes, you don’t respond to messages. Sometimes, you choose to be alone. Sometimes, you just don’t want to know.
You’re tired of knowing. You wish you could know less. You wish you could go back to knowing less because you know the regret of knowing. When given the option, the choice, sometimes you say no to more knowing. Sometimes, you say yes to the dark and you slide slowly into its embrace. It’s safer here. It’s quieter. It hurts less. You can tend to your scars here, rub the raised skin with lightly-scented oil. You don’t need any new gashes. Not yet, not now, maybe not ever.
Your friends may not understand. Aren’t you curious? They’ll ask. I’d be curious. I couldn’t stand not knowing.
I know enough to know I won’t be able to stand knowing more. I’ve known too much. I’ve known too much too young. I’ve had too much knowing. I want to unknow. I can’t do that, but I can say no to more. I can exit the conversation. I can leave the letter on the floor. I can put down the phone. I can go for a walk in the dark. I can fade into the peace of night. I can dwell in the peace of not knowing.
Please, let me stay here. Please, don’t share any more. I can’t take knowing more. And of what I have, I plan to… if not let it drain away, at least let it fade. Let it fade so it doesn’t hurt so much. I will always have this knowing, but I can choose, now, how much more to take and what to do with what I have.
Content note: this piece containsdiscussion of heteronormativity and references to trauma.
Sometimes people come into your life when you need them and then leave when you don’t.
You might feel like you still need them. Perhaps they created the illusion of need. But you don’t. If they left, it’s because the lesson has been given, and you don’t need them anymore.
I don’t need you, I never did, and my ancestors told me that. Told me as I lay crying on the bathroom floor, heart split open, body suspended over a cold void. NO, they said from deep within, causing me to sit up and listen. You don’t need this one, you never did, and he will not break you. This will not break you.
Cry for yourself, for the part of you that was hurt, for the wounded child. Cry over your broken heart. Cry over the broken promises, the broken trust, the lies, and the duplicity. But don’t cry over the man. The man isn’t worth crying over. The man isn’t worth a second thought. Let him go. Let him recede into the fog.
Cry for your broken-hearted self. Cry for your betrayed child self. Cry for your survivor self. But don’t cry for the man. The man doesn’t care about your tears. The man was never here, not really. The man was never real, not really. The man was a figment of your & his imagination, nothing more than the illusion of presentation. Cry to heal yourself, but don’t shed a tear for someone who wasn’t ever really here, ever really real. The pain is real, but it’s the only thing that’s real. Everything else was an illusion.
Don’t cry for an illusion, cry for the violation. That was the word that came into your mind soon after: violation. When someone lies to you about everything, about who they are, it’s a violation. Cry for the violation. Heal the violation. Don’t cry for the violator.
Heal your broken heart, your frightened child, your survivor. Heal all parts of yourself. Cry over the pain and then transform the pain. Transform it into something else. Growth. Healing. Lessons. Learning. Beauty. Community. Love. Compassion. And then see the pain for what it was: a necessity, a catalyst, something to get you moving, something to get you up and out, something to get you thinking differently, living differently. See the pain as a gift, a gift to get you going, a gift to get you seeking something better, something more, something different.
You are meant to be building community. You are meant to be living in friendship. You are meant to be loving platonically with all your heart. You are meant to be living differently. You are meant to be redefining family. You are meant to be living queerly.
The problem is that you are a queer person who keeps trying to build a heteronormative life, and that just isn’t going to work. You wanted to build a family with a man and a dog, but there were already some men and a dog who are your family right over here. You didn’t have to go out and find that. It was already here.
I want to prioritize and centre platonic love. I want to prioritize and centre community. I want to prioritize and centre romantic love with women and non-binary people. I want to redefine the meaning of family to mean whatever I need it to be. I need to do things differently because I am different, so the heteronormative script isn’t going to work for me. That was the lesson and now I’m here. I’m here where I’m meant to be.
The music is beating and I am typing and I am reading and this place is being. Here and now, now and here. And it’ll all be, it’ll all be, it’ll all be what it’s meant to be. I’ve been given another chance to lift off the shackles of heteronormativity, and I’m going to take it, and I’m not going to look back this time.
Content note: this piece contains ableist language, discussion of childhood trauma, self-worth, and verbal abuse.
A question that I constantly grapple with is:
How can I be a responsible writer?
I create a lot of work that is raw and personal. I open up. I express myself. I also get nervous about the ways I express myself. I frequently question my self-expression.
How do I express myself openly and honestly while also remaining responsible and aware of how my words can affect other people? How do I strike that balance between realness and consideration for others? How do I remain considerate while simultaneously not overly censoring myself?
I feel sometimes that I lean towards self-censorship too heavily.
Let me explain. I want to be a responsible creator. I want to express myself while also being considerate of other people’s experiences, not causing harm, and not perpetuating ignorance or oppression. I want to speak to the ways in which I experience oppression and privilege, and all other things. I want to explore the complicated tangle of everything. I want to be honest and raw and real without crossing a line into being ignorant or harmful. But the reality is, I’m a flawed human being. I don’t know everything. There are many ways in which I experience privilege. I strive to be aware of all of them, to understand the perspectives of those who don’t experience the same privileges as I, and to check these privileges at the door. To paraphrase sociologist Michael Kimmel, the insidious nature of privilege is that you often aren’t aware that you have it, or of the extent to which you have it. Unless someone points it out or we go out of our way to learn, our privileges can often remain invisible to us. The dynamics of power and oppression are built into the foundations of society and internalized by us in deep, unconscious ways and it takes ongoing effort to root all of that out.
This work is something I am committed to. It is also always ongoing, which means there will always be more to learn and ways in which I am ignorant. I’m learning and people who are learning screw up. People who are learning miss things, make mistakes, stumble, go slow, doubt themselves, have revelations, get confused, feel overwhelmed, forget, but ultimately keep going. People who are learning can be wrong and can cause harm. People who are learning must remain humble, take their egos out of play, and be open to having their perspectives challenged.
I remind myself of this often as I create. I will screw up. I must remain humble. I have to keep learning.
Fucking up is human. It is inevitable. I know this and yet I am absolutely terrified of it.
A lot has come out recently about “call out” or “cancel” culture in leftist communities. I won’t dive into this messy conversation in this piece because I think there’s plenty better suited to the task and I’m actually looking to explore an adjacent issue here. If you’re interested in critiques of callout/cancel culture, Kai Cheng Thom has written some fantastic stuff on this topic that I would recommend.
I have never been “cancelled”. I’ve never had the following for that. I have been called out, often rightly so, and sometimes… questionably so. As someone who has shared their creations online for several years, I have seen people read things into what I’ve made that I did not put there. I have been accused of making arguments I’ve never made and of believing things I’ve never believed. There have been instances where I’ve felt like my work has been examined under a microscope in the worst possible light, like people have scanned it looking for flaws, imperfections, and potentially problematic aspects without taking it in as a whole, without recognizing that I am a whole, that the person whose work they are about to tear to shreds is a human being capable of feeling things. When this happens, it can be scary. This is in part because my work is often very honest and raw and I already feel vulnerable putting it out there. It’s scary to watch someone pick up that vulnerability and use it as a weapon, aiming it back at me. It’s scary because with that vulnerability, I’ve given them the tools to hurt me. This is especially true when the jump is made from “you’ve said something problematic or ignorant here” to “you are a problematic, ignorant, or bad person”. People can look at my work, which reflects who I am as a person, say that something about it is bad and therefore I am bad.
I’ve also watched this happen to creators I admire on a much larger scale, where thousands of people go from critiquing their ideas to calling for them to be de-platformed, cancelled, or disposed of. I’ve seen critiques of creations turn into attacks on the creators themselves. I’ve seen people’s work be willfully misrepresented, taken out of context, and examined in the worst possible ways. This makes me want to hide. It makes me want to get off social media. It makes me want to stop writing.
It makes me want to silence myself.
I believe that we need to hold each other accountable, but I think that needs to come from a place of helping each other to learn, grow, and do better rather than one-upping, attacking, and disposing of each other. There are exceptions to this. Sometimes, people are genuinely dangerous and not open to learning. I also don’t believe that marginalized people are responsible for gently educating the people who oppress them, but that’s where allies need to step in and step up. Anyway, this stuff has all been written about before. Like I said, this is not a piece specifically about call out or cancel culture, though these things do factor into how I feel, there’s stuff going on with me internally that I want to explore.
I’m traumatized and mentally ill. I’m in therapy, and this week, my homework is all about looking at “stuck points”. Stuck points are strong beliefs about self, others, or the world that develop as a result of trauma and are not particularly accurate. Part of the work I need to do to heal is to identify and unlearn my stuck points.
When I was four years old, I was joking around with my friends about their dog and called the dog “stupid”. They responded by yelling at me that he wasn’t stupid and that I shouldn’t have said that. I ran upstairs in a flurry of tears and panic. I found my mother and begged her to punish me. I told her that I had done something bad, that I was a horrible person, and that I deserved to be punished. She calmed me down enough to find out what had actually happened. I told her. She refused to punish me, just said I should apologize to my friends and that I wasn’t a bad person. I was surprised to learn this. In my head, having done something wrong and being a horrible person who deserved punishment were the same thing.
I want to say that I have grown beyond that little kid who ran to their mother claiming to be bad and asking to be punished, but that hurt and scared child still exists within me. One of my stuck points, a major one I’ve carried for most of my life, is that I am a bad person. I know, rationally, that this isn’t true, but there is a less rational part of me that holds this belief as though it’s a core aspect of my identity. Accepting criticism and navigating conflict can be very difficult for me. Hearing that I’ve done something wrong immediately makes me think that I am wrong, I am bad, and I deserve to be hurt, punished, or thrown away.
In therapy, I learned that criticism is so scary for me because of my trauma, because I was exposed to belittling, dehumanizing criticism at a very young age. My therapist said there are two types of criticism: 1) “here’s what’s wrong with this and how it could be improved” and 2) “this is a piece of shit”. As a child, I became intimately acquainted with the “this is a piece of shit” form of criticism, so that’s what I hear every time I’m criticized, that I am a piece of shit, and it’s scary. This is something I need to unlearn.
I have a hard time differentiating between constructive criticism and shit-talking criticism.
All criticism feels scary because it all calls my self-worth into question.
I can get really defensive because my brain thinks that accepting the (often valid) critiques of my behaviour means I must also accept that I am bad, worthless, and deserving of punishment. Sometimes, the people critiquing my work are also saying these things about me, which sucks. Often, however, people are not adding that cruel baggage onto their critiques. It’s me who does that.
I can’t control how other people respond to me. I can’t make people who are being cruel be kind. I can’t do much to change the broader culture around “shit-talking” criticism from my tiny platform, aside from refuse to engage in it and focus on constructive critiques of ideas instead. What I can do, however, is work on unlearning the stuck point that tells me that I am bad. If I do this, a few things will happen. One is that I will be able to stand my ground and stand up for myself in situations where people are hurting me. I will no longer gaslight myself, apologize profusely, and beg for forgiveness or punishment. The other is that I will become much better at accepting valid criticism. If accepting critiques of my behaviour or words does not mean having to accept that I am fundamentally bad, if it no longer leaves me feeling panic-stricken, I will be in a much better place to actually respond to valid criticism.
If I can heal from my traumatic childhood experiences with criticism, I can respond better when I cause harm. If I make the shift from “I am fundamentally bad” to “I am fundamentally good,” then fucking up and getting called out isn’t going to be the end of the world. Cause, right now, with the way I am, I don’t think I would survive being cancelled. And that’s going to become a problem if I keep creating and putting my work out there. I am going to be criticized. I need to be able to identify valid, constructive criticism from shit-talking criticism. I need to be able to protect myself and feel fundamentally secure in my basic goodness when people project their shit onto me. I am going to need to be able to hear, process, and accept valid criticism when I screw up, stumble, or act from a place of ignorance. I need to be the mother to the little kid who runs up the stairs claiming to be worthless and begging to be punished. I need to hold their hand, tell them they are not bad and deserving of punishment. I need to tell them to turn around, go back downstairs, listen to the people they’ve hurt, apologize, and try to do better, all without any self-flagellation, all while being secure in the knowledge that they have inherent worth and nothing will change that.
All of these things will help me to better respond to criticism and hold myself accountable, to be the responsible creator I want to be.
Being a responsible creator is not just about striving to do no harm, but correcting the harm you have caused without spiralling into shame and self-abuse, without making it all about you.
I believe we need to have a two-pronged approach to address these issues. The first is to address the issues with how we treat each other in our communities, the social side of things. The second is to address our own baggage. What is your history with receiving criticism? How do you code and respond to it? What about that might need some work? If we do this internal work, that can also help us to navigate the work that needs to be done in our communities.
Does your trauma affect how you receive criticism? Does it impact how you dish our criticism? Have you ever projected your trauma onto someone else? What did that look like? I think these are important questions for all of us, and they are questions I will continue to ask myself in my life and on my path to figuring out how to be a responsible creator.
Content note: this pieces contains abstract references to trauma.
Last night I dreamt that my partner slept with two other people but had my blessing to do so. Last night I dreamt that someone else tried to sleep with me and I said, “Wait, hold on, I need to check with my partner first”.
They responded with, “Your partner is so controlling”.
Last night I dreamt that other polyamorous people told me I’m not doing it right, that “real poly” means just sleeping with whoever whenever and not having to tell your partner anything. I know some people do it this way. I also know this isn’t the only way to do it, but clearly, my subconscious is struggling with the idea that I’m somehow “doing it wrong”. I’ve been grappling with non-monogamy for awhile. I’m not totally sure how to go about it, what parameters to set, and how to put it into action. On the one hand, I like having the option to engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people. On the other, I’m not sure if I have the time/energy/emotional capacity for a whole other relationship. Do I want multiple relationships or one primary one with more “casual” encounters outside of that? Do I want to explore non-monogamy, an open relationship, or polyamory? And what exactly do all of these mean?
Non-monogamy is stressful. Monogamy is also stressful.
Monogamy stresses me out because it doesn’t feel quite right to me, doesn’t fit quite naturally. It feels like a lot of pressure, like this person is now the only person and that’s it and you will never get to explore anyone else. Non-monogamy gives me the space to breathe. I don’t have to feel guilty about liking other people. It takes the pressure off of a single relationship and allows me to feel more at ease, more myself, but it also has its stressors: fear, jealousy, complication, worry, what if my partner leaves me? I mean, that could happen in a monogamous relationship as well, but the fear with non-monogamy is more like, “What if my partner finds someone better and leave me?”
A friend of mine said recently,
“If anything, non-monogamy makes it less likely that your partner will leave because their interest in another doesn’t have to lead to the end of your relationship”.
There’s some truth to that.
I also struggle with jealousy and that makes me feel gross. I’ve been working on it, though. I’ve been reading, writing, and watching videos. I found this one couple on YouTube who discuss how they both used to be jealous people and what they did to work through that. It’s been helpful. It’s good to know that there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, it’s all about what you do with the feelings and how you process them. For me, jealousy is usually an “animal brain” response to a perceived threat, i.e. my partner is going to abandon me, I’m not good enough, I’ll never compare to so-and-so, and on. The couple I found talk about jealousy as a perceived “lack,” like the jealous person is feeling a lack in themselves somewhere, like they are not good enough, not enough for their partner, do not have as much love as their partner, etcetera. I believe I’ve struggled with these lackluster lack feelings as well.
I’m scared I’m not enough in a hundred different ways and that it’s just a matter of time before my partner sees that too.
It’s strange because, on my end, I can clearly see how my interest in someone else has nothing to do with my partner or our relationship. It does not threaten it at all. It is not a comment on a lack in what we have. It is completely separate. Love and desire are not limited resources, and my interest in someone else does not diminish or devalue the love and desire I have for my partner. The logical brain gets that, even the heart brain does. It’s the animal brain that struggles, the fear-based response, the child self, the traumatized self (for they are all wrapped up together). That’s what I have to watch out for.
In thinking about and processing my jealousy, I have found its roots. It is a secondary emotion, you see, like anger, and so it has hidden roots in other emotions underneath—fear, sadness, anxiety, insecurity, helplessness. In working through my jealousy, I have also begun to feel what might be the beginnings of compersion, the joy one feels in response to another’s happiness. There isn’t just the capacity for jealousy within me but also the capacity for desire and happiness at the thought of my partner being with someone else. These are new and interesting feelings I’d like to explore further.
I believe I have two selves, two attachment styles. One is secure. They are mature. They feel safe, loved, and free. They have the capacity for compersion. The other is anxious-preoccupied. This is the wounded child self, the traumatized self. They are anxious, fearful, and insecure. They are the one that struggles with jealousy and they do so because they are afraid. I can’t erase this side of me, ever, they will exist always. What I can learn to do, however, is take care of them.
I need to train the secure self on how to hold and reassure the anxious self when they feel threatened.
I need to be honest about their existence—I cannot repress or deny or shame them. I need to be honest with myself, my partner, and whoever else I may get involved with about this side of me. I need to take care of them so that they do not reign uncontrolled, wreaking havoc on my relationships.
I’ve gone on a few dates so far. Aside from that, while technically non-monogamous, my partner and I have been functionally monogamous. I want to change that. I want to take the next step. I’m scared. Even doing the work, I’m scared. My animal brain tells me that if one of us sleeps with someone else, that’s it, it’s over, it’ll all blow up. We so often see representation in the media of this being the thing that automatically ends romantic relationships. Logical and heart brain know that this isn’t true, but that doesn’t make the fear go away. I have to be with the fear, ride it out, and see where it takes me. Closer to myself, I hope. Closer to my partner. Closer to compersion. Closer to love.