Anxiety Comes in Darkness

There was a time that the nighttime brought me comfort

Under the warm closeness of its protective blanket

the day’s trials faded to insignificance.

Its soothing silence cancelling the noise of negativity

But this is a new day, the old norms no longer apply.

Now with so many assaults vying for prominence

The darkness has lost its ability to protect me

Once the ultimate refuge, a place of safe retreat

Now a fearful place, where my greatest fears lie in wait

Again, and again I wake, alone in the darkness

Without another’s gentle touch

To calm the flutter in my heart.

I Thought This Was Settled

I’ve wondered where the tears have been hiding

during this past month of smiles and orgasms.

This morning they announced their return from their brief vacation,

Overflowing with feelings of inadequacy they proclaim, today I am not enough.

 

Why does it matter today but did not yesterday?

I’m curious how others keep from losing their way

as I desperately struggle to hold onto who I am

 

How could I have lost all that once was thought to be unalterably settled?

Sudden flashes of incongruity, unexplained waves of dysphoria

shout that I don’t belong, that I’m not who I think I am.

That all the bits of womanhood I’ve gathered to myself

are just props in the stage production, in which Rachel is simply a character

 

What triggers this wave of self-doubt, has always remained just beyond reach

My intellect has proven to be no match

for deeply ingrained fears of being an imposter.

A lifetime of immersion in the masculine world

created patterns that although appearing to have been erased

have proven yet again to be indelible.

 

At a moment’s inattention they reassert themselves

Today, sitting on the edge of that familiar dark hole

Stuck in limbo, between then and now,

Between tears and laughter with no idea

How to move one way or the other

 

The theme for today is fear

Fear that I’ll lose my balance and slide into darkness

There are few of life’s battles as exasperating as those against my own thoughts.

The belief that I should be able to battle back

To take control, and exert my will,

has been proven to be a total fallacy.

 

I know the signs, I know the coping strategies

But as so much in life, it’s so much easier said than done

I am powerless to influence the direction

Of the wave bearing down on me.

So here I sit

 

 

Behind those Eyes

 

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I’ve spent part of the evening staring at this photo, trying to decide what it is that lies behind those eyes.

Not long ago, during a particularly difficult time, my therapist told me I should write a letter to myself at seventeen. The goal, to find a way to forgive that person their foolish acts and stupid decisions that created such chaos. She said I had to learn to accept that it was what I needed to do to survive even though I never understood that.

Then suddenly appearing in a newsletter from my high school, is that person, at seventeen captured for all time in the very heart of the storm. Shortly after this photo was taken, I had a breakdown which looking back, totally changed my life. Looking deeply into his eyes,  I search for any hint of the turmoil raging under the surface? What does an impending breakdown look like? If I had had someone to turn to, or someone that recognized the signs, was there anything that they could have said or done that would have made a difference in how life unfolded?

My struggle with gender dysphoria was well under way at this point. In payment for the guilt and shame I felt at my perverted thoughts, I had already begun my collection of self-inflicted scars. When that pain wasn’t sufficient, thoughts of suicide were frequently added to my daily struggles.

I know what it was like to live that life, I have not forgotten. It lives on vividly, burned into my memories for all time.. Yet this photo takes all that pain and uncertainty and gives it a concrete existence.  What I see from this vantage point fifty years later, is deep sadness, eyes that look out toward a future holding no promise of any way to stop the suffering.

 

 

 

Revelations with Lessons

It’s been so long since I’ve given even the slightest thought to my place in the sexual world that surrounds me. Yet in the last two weeks I’ve been reminded several times that others actually do see me.

First was the older gentleman at the coffee shop. While passing the table where I sat writing in my journal, he looked at me just as I looked up. He smiled warmly and gave me a wink. A wink I immediately recognized as a wink given to a woman by a man.

The recognition of what had just occurred brought on a rush that was quite extraordinary. The smile I returned was not a typical smile but one that a woman gives to a man in return.  I could feel the difference. The lift in my mood was instantaneous and lasted all day.

Next was yesterday’s encounter with a woman at work was similar yet different, there were no obvious signs that there was anything sexual in our interaction but I know I felt something as she complimented me on my haircut and how it is a much more feminine look. She had stopped specifically to see me without a reason other than to say hello. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation but was left wondering if I missed something.

I was never one to enjoy flirting when I lived as a man. I never picked up a woman at a party or approached one at a bar. So, I was left a virgin at that particular talent and sorely lacking in any understanding of how it all worked. And now I occupy that place that is no longer where I came from yet not entirely where I want to go to, with little understanding of either.

And finally, this morning the weather was absolutely wonderful, so with coffee in hand I wandered out of the coffee shop and sat on the rock wall to soak up the sun.  I had music playing in my earphones and not paying particular attention to much of anything when he pulled up in his pick up truck and stopped. His window was down and he looked like he had a question.

So I took out my ear buds and waited….he apologized for not realizing I was listening to music. I smiled and said that it was OK. He then starts a conversation about the weather and all the rain we’ve had but how beautiful it is today. Again, I’m wondering what this is about when I realized that I was in a very good mood when I got dressed and put some extra effort into it. I must say that I thought I looked good and apparently he did to.  So that’s what this pickup truck rendezvous is about. I’m getting better at reading the signs. We had a very nice conversation made even better by the fact I knew what was actually going on.

I Thought I Could Save Her

I’ve known her for a few years now,

but not a lifetime

The time of my friendships marked in decades

Is no more, single digits now the rule.

 

Thinking her different at first

Infatuation providing

all the necessary camouflage.

I plunged in disregarding the obvious signs

 

Time the enemy of things concealed,

permits the truth to slowly appear.

That her life, a continual series of crises,

always in search of a savior.

 

Desires to fill that role, predestined to fail.

The distance grows between us

connection growing fainter as silence settles in its place

Until you disappeared, a shadow consigned to the past.

 

Now, all these months later

As a specter appearing from the dark

You emerge again, all the feeling and desires

assailing my heart once more.

 

Yet I’m stronger now,

I resist the almost overpowering urge to offer her salvation,

salvation that is not within my power to give.

I can only offer my presence as comfort in its stead.

hoping that it will prove sufficient.

I Knew I’d Been Here Before

I said I’ve been here before,

standing on this very edge

The smallest of space

Between me and eternity

The fear of losing all control

Drives me back.

Retreating from the edge

without an inch to spare.

That I had stood here before

Looking into that very abyss

Almost four years ago,

A brief note topping the page.

“the most painful day of my life”

Her words,

You need more help than I can give.

I knew where this would end

From the edge of the cliff

To a blank room as the door closes

The lock closing sounds like a gunshot

A low rush of air laden with institutional smell

No shoes no belt, no rights…. no control

I knew they would figure it out

I gave them too many clues

Said suicide once too often.

I’ve Been Here Before

I’ve been here before, this dead end on a dark lonely road.

My sense of direction never failing to the find the way here.

I hear the quiet gentle inquiry; do I need to worry about you?

Followed by, would you tell me the truth?

It takes a moment……. then, “I’d like to think so”

But it’s such a loaded question

I have the crisis number in my phone,

……. But you know I’d never call them.

Added matter of factly “I would not survive a trip to the hospital.”

I can’t remember today what it’s like

When I wasn’t in this place.

But I can remember this place, cold and dark as a tomb.

This conversation like an echo from the mountains side

A long time returning.

I can remember,

Discussions of hospitals and other……… options

Of shocks and a flash of over the cuckoo’s nest

The statement, “You need more help than I can give you.”

Landing as a cold thud wrapped around my heart.

 

It has to be different this time

It has to be different this time

Forgive Yourself

 Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.

From a posting on Facebook that struck a nerve

 

It seems so simple, and makes such obvious sense, but unfortunately there are no instructions on how exactly one would go about forgiving oneself.

Starting my search for answers in earnest. I made a mental foray back to my high school years, in an effort to understand that time of my life, so critical to the formation of who I am today and source of so much current angst. It seems that time was one unpleasant memory after another, even fifty years later I’d be hard pressed to come up with a happy one. The result of which has been that I’ve kept the memories of that entire time walled off in a dark corner of my mind.

I suppose the changes I’ve felt lately have had something to do with my growing older, having less to look forward to, leaving much more time available for reflection, if that is in fact what it is. The therapist I unload all these feelings on might also have something to do with it.

It still amazes me, the sheer weight of pain, disappointment and regret that I have managed to drag along with me for fifty years. I know this is a product of never having dealt with any of it at the time. Even now I can see each moment of humiliation, feel each burning act of bullying, taste the sting of failure all seen through those seventeen-year-old eyes.

Opening the door those memories, has not been a painless. To be honest I wonder if it will make any difference at all or is it simply a form of self-flagellation? I began with an essay on my breakdown in my senior year of high school, an admission that even so many years later is extraordinarily painful. I’m still humiliated at the thoughts of my actions and the loss of what could have been or should have been.

I had tried to give my therapist a copy of what I had written but she insisted I read it to her. As usual she had a couple of seemingly innocent questions. The result of which was an hours’ worth of pain pouring out in waves of tears. Her suggestion, a letter written to my seventeen-year-old self, to give myself credit for picking up the pieces of that shattered year and going on.

I have tried, oh how I have tried. Hours later I find myself sitting amidst a virtual pile of crumpled papers, no closer to understanding how to absolve my younger self. It sounds so simple, but again, how do you do that?

I could explain how I understand now that I did not have the tools to cope with all that was going on at the time. The hormones that brought feelings I didn’t understand, changing me into someone I didn’t want to be. The competitiveness of the adolescent world in which I didn’t wish to participate. The fear of being different, the anxiety of potentially being found out.

I can tell you to forgive yourself but I know you wouldn’t or more accurately couldn’t. You believe at some level that you deserved all of it, gods payback for all the perverted thoughts. The cutting binding, stabbing, burning, and all the pain generated at my own hands, at your own hands, was the cost of enjoying a moment in our alternate world. That world you dreamed of is now reality for me and will be someday for you.

That I couldn’t save you from the pain has meant that you were unable to save me from the regrets. You’ll come out the other side of this ordeal slightly broken and definitely scarred, but you will survive.

 

The Year of My Breakdown

Did you ever notice how pressure builds up over things until suddenly you notice the gauge is well into the red?

I had a year like that, it was the time of my senior year in high school and the longest year of my life. It was also the point at which I ran out of time. All the decisions I had delayed, all the painful situations I hadn’t learned to deal with, they all exploded at once.

The uncertainty of who I was and the inability to see a path that might bring resolution topped the list. It was followed closely by fear of moving into the next phase of my life.

Would I go to college, which one, to study what? Would the draft get me? The terror I felt at being thrust into situations that would be totally unfamiliar was paralyzing. I didn’t have anyone I could I turn to for advice, yet even if I did, how could I ask for advice when I didn’t know the questions I needed answers to?

I had wanted to be like everyone else, anonymous and successful. The trouble was I let my desire to be part of a particular crowd direct my decisions. I took a very demanding course schedule, subjects that would be difficult even if I wasn’t struggling with so much personal uncertainty. Russian history, physics, trigonometry, Italian, subjects I wasn’t interested in but they were taken by the people I wanted to emulate.

I was also in love, or what passed for love at seventeen. Taking pity on me, friends had taken it upon themselves to set me up with a young woman that apparently was as awkward as I was, naturally my response was to grab on with both hands and hold on.

I had always assumed that my first sexual encounter would solve all the incongruity issues with my gender, that I would finally be able to stand and shout out, see I really am a man, of course the thoughts and feelings continued and in reality, grew worse.

My utter lack of self-confidence colored my world a uniform shade of grey. I was tall and gawky soft and doughy and totally lacking in social skills. I was totally broken and had no idea how to fix what was wrong.

My solution at the time, was, to deny the existence of a problem and flee.

I now recognize when looking back, that this has become my lifelong strategy, it wasn’t until I was almost sixty years old that I finally faced a problem, namely my gender, and did something about it.

But meanwhile back in 1970 I was rapidly racing to the end of my high school career. I should have just closed my eyes and stumbled onward. I had gone through most of the motions, I had taken the SAT test and scored 1,225 and even without studying I still had a B+ average.

But ….

I had discovered the positive aspects of smoking pot and skipping class, neither of which lent itself to planning for the future.

When I got the letter that I hadn’t been accepted to my first choice of college and my only other option was to go to community college I became, the best word I can use to describe what happened, is unglued.

So with ten weeks remaining in my senior year of high school…..I quit

Many people are not able to recognize the moment in their lives when everything changed, I don’t have that problem. My life has been divided into before and after and now, so many years later I still left to wonder where the other road would have taken me.

I did go back the next year and finish up, but the die had been cast and everything from that day forward has carried the mark of that decision.

 

 

 

2190 Days

Two thousand one hundred and ninety sunrises,
Each one seen with new eyes
Filled with familiar sights
Yet all seen as if for the very first time

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days
Each one a twenty-four-hour slice
Of triumphs and disappointments
Both significant and trivial

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days
Each an identical collection of hours,
Yet all stand apart
From the two thousand and eighty nine days preceding.

None of which provided
Preparation for what awaited.
When the commitment was made
To live a life previously only imagined.

Two thousand one hundred and ninety sunsets,
The dying of the light drawing each to a close
Granting permission to the darkness
to open its memories, to share its secrets

Two thousand one hundred and ninety nights
Each a chance to relive what has transpired
To anticipate what awaits each coming day
in the shadow of my reincarnation.

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days,
From this new perspective
The wreckage of expectations and shattered preconceptions
Yields to the construction of new truths

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days of truth
Each rewriting a lifetime of deceit
Each erasing a bit more of self-deception
Until the truth stands proudly alone.