It’s been four years since Living with the Dragon was published and I’m both delighted and honored to be invited to share my stories and inspirations behind my best-selling book. On Wednesday September 15, 2021 from 6 – 7pm (PST), I’ll take the time to also reflect back on my book and contrast it to where I’m at today, with some excerpts both from LwtD and my second book, Living with the Cat.
When I was a young boy growing up, I used to think my parents were old. They, along with their friends, my aunts and uncles were all old to me. I looked at them as people who were on a different playing field than me. They were serious and no fun. They laughed at things I didn’t think were funny at all. They’d sit together in the livingroom and talk about old people stuff, like what “so-and-so” was up to these days, World news or work. Dad would be always trading tips with his best friend Lewis about fixing cars and patch up work for our homes. Boring stuff to me. I had bigger fish to fry, and way more important things to think about like what my Saturday morning cartoon lineup was going to be and what I was going to build with my Lego set this week; a shopping mall? a school? a skyscraper? Oh, Life’s big decisions.
Just yesterday, I went out with my good friend Melba. That’s not her real name, but I’m sort of guessing you figured that out already. I’ve known Melba for about 12 years now. We went for nice hike yesterday and ended the evening on a patio at a local pub, catching up on our lives and latest aspirations. She cooly reminded me how in a matter of weeks, she would be turning 40. I flinched, while sipping on my Pinot Grigio and retorted, How did that happen?
In the 12 years of knowing Melba, I’ve experienced many fun memories with her. She’s been my activity partner in those dozen years, and her quirky sense of humor’s always been a welcomed bonus to our friendship. We’ve taken long roadtrips together, exploring off the beaten path towns and visiting States along the West Coast. We’ve done so many activities together that I can’t help but reflect back on: snowboarding, hiking, backcountry camping, dining, and tennis. We’ve watched musicals and attended live hockey games together, cheering on our favorite teams and making silly bets which I would lose more often times than not. We played basketball together and were a part of a ball hockey league entering in tournaments for several years. Heck, we even tried sandboarding on the Oregon coast once. I’d get the text from Melba, Hey Jason, what are you up to tomorrow? Wanna try…
It was a friendship that I knew would last the test of time. One built on respect and admiration.
So when she told me she was turning 40 in a few weeks, not only did I flinch, but I also said to myself, that’s not old at all! I’m inching to half a century in a couple of years and likewise, I don’t think of myself as old, and the way I used to think of my parents. We sat on the patio last night chatting like we did a dozen years ago, and I’m watching her polish off her beef dip, fries and pint of beer, whilst still managing her slender frame. Ya, though time’s passed, things haven’t changed.
Time is inconsequential, and as I reflect on many of my other friendships over the years, most of them have remained strong. We pick up where we last left off, even if it’s been a long time of not seeing each other. I got together with an old high school buddy of mine last week as well, and likewise, I could still feel the nostaligia of our bond. I could still feel the two of us playing NHL hockey on his Sega Genesis gaming console in his bedroom when we were in high school. I could still remember and feel the warmth and inviting feelings of dropping by his house, always greeted by his sweet mother, who’d offer me cake every time I visited.
In this last thaw of the pandemic, I look forward with excitement in getting together again with my other friends. They’ve been an important part of me, prior to Covid and to be honest, I’ve missed them. And I look forward to catching up with them, reminiscing about our friendships together, and how so much time has passed, yet it feels like we were all just in our twenties and thirties again. We don’t feel old at all.
And in the words of Jon Bon Jovi, I’m not old, just older.
At a tender age of seven years old, my parents decided it was time for our family to move from our cozy two bedroom house in East Vancouver to a bigger one in the more affluent neighborhood of North Burnaby. In my short while living in East Van, I made some amazing best friends and still remember the playdates with Anna, Amy, Galton and Suzanna. I was extremely heartbroken and shattered after learning we were going to move away and I would have to say goodbye to my only friends.
When we moved to our new home in April of that year, I was excited for the sheer size of the house, but that was it. Any sense of excitement was overshadowed by fear and confusion. I was still confused by the entire move and never really understood why my family wanted to move away from where we were so comfortable, and I was fearful of what was going to show up in the next few months. All I remembered was telling my mom how I desperatly didn’t want to go to the new school, but I obviously didn’t have a choice.
With only three months left to the school year, I was the awkward new kid, the foreigner and the one who was different. That’s exactly how the remainder of the year played out for me, however, things got worse.
I didn’t know a single student there and I had a really tough time making new friends, being a naturally shy kid to begin with. When I was introduced in front of the class, my hands were pushed into my front pockets and my eyes gazed down to the floor. Those three remaining months to the year felt like an eternity. I had no friends to begin with. No one wanted to play with me during recess and lunch time, and no one even wanted to talk to me. Each day after school, I would go home crying to my mom. Each morning, I fought and argued with every ounce of energy I had to my mom, pleading her not to make me go back. Until one day out of frustration she brought me to school and had a talk with my Grade 1 teacher Ms Brown. She was an extremely strict teacher and I even heard rumors she used to punish students by hitting their hands with a wooden ruler for not doing their homework.
That morning after my mom explained to her how I didn’t want to go to school, Ms Brown started the day by hauling me to the front of the classroom. Sternly, she hollared out loud to the entire class, Who here likes Jason?
Perplexed by her question, some of the grade one students raised their hands, while others didn’t. Meanwhile my mom stood to the side of the room watching. Standing alone in front of the class, I whimpered, ready to cry and kept my hands pushed tightly into my front pockets, eyes pasted to the floor. Ms Brown angrily shouted, Get your hands out of your pockets! You’re a big boy now! See! There ARE kids who like you!
I kept my hurt buried deep inside and sat at my desk, pushing through the rest of the school year alone. I was the lonely little boy sitting by himself on the teeter totter.
Everytime the other kids didn’t invite me to play, I felt: hurt, sadness, shame, judgement, loneliness, isolated, excluded, stupid (for not knowing their rules), lost, confused, humiliated, embarrassed, rejected, envious of them having a good time, awkward, unlikeable, angry at them and at myself, and resentful at them and myself.
In my adult years now, I’m starting to trace back some of my fears and anxieties to this young childhood experience when I was seven. I find myself struggling when I can’t do things well that others can. For example, when D plays a killer game of golf with others, while I’m hitting nothing but grass, I feel the same feelings come up again: shame, exclusion, envy, humiliation, isolation, judgement, stupidity, resentment and anger. Though, I often unjustly externalize these feelings, the truth is, it’s an internal thing I’m challenged with. The root of these feelings are in fact directed at myself.
I sat on my couch this evening, meditating and reflecting back on my experience in grade one, and an amazing memory surfaced. During those several months of suffering, I remembered this little girl in my class who sat behind me. Her name was Julia and she was the only student in my class that welcomed me with acceptance. I remembered her brown long hair, tied into pony tails and her tanned complexion. I even remembered her missing tooth when she smiled. She was the only one who wanted to play with me. She spoke to me. She laughed with me. She included me and reminded me, I was not alone. She accepted me and made me feel an ounce of safety during those lonely days at school. In a funny way, I sort of remember her being like my Jenny in the movie Forrest Gump.
As I work through a lot of these experiences with my counsellor about the feelings that’s surfacing during my current relationship, I need to hang onto the albeit small, positive experiences that helped get me through those difficult times, such as my friend Julia. And today, that friend is D and she’s my best friend who helps to remind me, I am safe and I am present.I am not my past and I am determined to heal from my wounds, and become stronger than ever.
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I wake up every weekday morning at my usual 5am, brush my teeth, get changed and head out to my morning fitness class. After class, I shower, have a light breakfast and coffee, wish D a good morning and my workday begins. When I finish my day, I’m either out for a walk, making dinner, dining out with friends or running some sort of errand. Again, rather typical for most people. What’s hidden underneath my every day facade, is a hurt inner child. An inner child who wishes to be seen, heard and valued. It’s a painful realization to admit to, but if I can be so vulnerable, it’s extremely true.
Most who’ve suffered from Childhood PTSD know exactly what I’m talking about. Every day can feel like a struggle to challenge negative thought patterns, self-sabotaging behaviours and complaining. I meditate, practice mindfulness, and use a variety of different techniques to soothe the running mind, yet sometimes the wave of negative thought patterns becomes too overwhelming to even slam on the brakes. It’s like trying slow down a runaway streetcar all by yourself – it’s so powerful, you have no choice but to step away and let it take over. Even with the awareness of the onset, sometimes isn’t enough to step away from it.
And that’s when I get myself into trouble with blaming, lashing out, pulling away, critiscizing or complaining. Once in it, it becomes nearly impossible to slow down. Then my mind runs in circles, like a hamster wheel, or Netflix trying to buffer and all you can do is watch the round circle spin forever on the TV screen.
How do I get off this crazy ride?
CPTSD is an injury. It doesn’t define me, but it’s an injury I have to manage and heal. Some recover a lot quicker depending on their level of resilience. For others, it takes a lot more work. I’ve realized that fear and resentment are two of the most powerful feelings that take over me when I fall into this pattern.
I resent myself. I resent others. I resent my environment. Then comes the fear. Fear of abandonment, fear or intimacy, fear of trust, fear of others, fear of letting go of the feelings of resentment (because I’m so used to feeling it, it’s ironically comforting), fear of letting go of this fear.
It’s a strange place to be in and as Anna Runklecalls it, this is when my brain goes into dysregulation. I have tried her Daily Practice of systematically writing out my fears and resentments, and I must say that it has been quite helpful. When having CPTSD, it’s normal to have a lot of fear and security challenges. Given what we’ve experienced, forming safe bonds with others can be understandably challenging. The goal now for me is to learn how to accept the feeling of regularity and safety.
I’ve read that we can still form new neuropathways in our brains. For example, if someone says to you, “Nice haircut”, most will think of that as a compliment. However, if our brains are hardwired towards the negativity bias, some might take that as a sarcastic remark to hurt us. We react in defense and lash out, even though the intent was to say something nice to you.
Forming new neuropathways can be looked at like a dried up canyon, where for years, the river flowed through it, forming a natural pathway for the water. If we look at our negative thoughts as the river, it will always flow in that same direction, over and over again. If we learn to create a new river for the water to flow, we can provide an option for our positive thoughts to come through instead. It takes a long time for the new canyon to be formed, but it is possible with commitment and hard work.
There’s much hope with finding ways to create new neuropathways. Though some days it feels daunting or as if I’ve taken steps backwards, I like to celebrate the little victories and take note of when I did override the negative thought patterns successfully. The old saying goes, a day at a time. In my case, it’s a moment at a time.