On Friendships and Getting Older

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.

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

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.

Listen to this on Spotify!

Jason Lee, Author

Sitting Alone on the Teeter Totter

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.

Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon

Living with Fear, Resentment and CPTSD

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?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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 Runkle calls 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.

Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon

Relationships and Healing Old Wounds (aka Taking Care of My Shit!)

With the World slowly crawling back to a sense of normalcy, there’s so many things we have to re-learn and get used to again. Will we ever truly be comfortable shaking hands again? How will we react when the person sitting beside us on the bus sneezes? Will masks be a normal thing for the average North American?

Only time will tell if what we’ve adapted during the pandemic will remain a permanent part of our everyday lives.

Does time heal wounds?

That’s a loaded question for a lengthy discussion. It depends on the circumstance and in the case of the pandemic, there will be many who would say that time alone isn’t enough to mend the sorrow, pain and loss they’ve endured.

I met D during the pandemic, and it’s been a year that we’ve been together. Despite the general consensus that this past year sucked donkeys for most people, for me, it’s been an incredible year. I’ve met someone who is my equal, and someone who is committed to being in a happy and healthy relationship. Together, we’ve made the most of this past year experiencing some of the things we both enjoy doing: hikes, bike rides, walks, eating at home, playing a bit of golf and watching movies at home. I’ve never felt this fortunate before being with anyone and most importantly, D is really starting to know me and knows when to call out my shit.

Yep, there it is. I said it. My shit. Listen up trauma survivors, this blog’s for you.

Image by Hier und jetzt endet leider meine Reise auf Pixabay aber from Pixabay 

Listing out My Shit:

I’m finding D and I are experiencing some recurring patterns in our relationship lately. We’re disagreeing more frequently and getting into some heated moments at times, despite our ability to reground ourselves to a steady baseline afterwards. I’ve learned that these patterns in relationships don’t happen by accident. There’s something called a trauma bond where we want to subconsciously relive some of our past trauma with our partners to repair what was broken before. It sounds very unromantic in the dating world, but it’s a reality (I didn’t make this stuff up.) Also, it’s part of the dating world that everyone I feel should educate themselves on (no more Hollywood rom-coms or Nicolas Sparks books!) My list of things that trigger me isn’t even often related to D. In fact my shit, is really just that. These are past wounds creating some recurring negative behavior patterns in myself. Let’s see if you can relate to any of these:

  • Complaining to my partner about the little things.
  • Feeling insecure when my partner doesn’t text or call me back.
  • Fearing my old abandonment wounds creeping up when my partner spends time doing things without me.
  • Having a list of needs from my partner, that’s unreasonably longer than a grocery list for a family of five.
  • Picking fights when there’s nothing to fight about.
  • Interpreting anything my partner says to me as an attack.

You know about this list too, don’t you? The reason I’m listing it, is to first of all, own my shit. Taking accountability and having a sense of awareness is one of the first fundamental things one needs to do, if anything is going to change in the relationship.

Phew. I admit, that took a lot of balls to list my shit out (let alone publicly). It isn’t an easy process to take accountability for my own stuff, because I feel shame, guilt, unworthiness and self-loathing, all coming in on me like a wave. I felt the tightness in my brow, my chest and I noticed my shoulders tensed up. I also felt a tummy drop when I even admitted these things. I felt like a failure and I also felt broken. In short, I felt raw and vulnerable. There was a lot of resistance I needed to plough through in order to openly admit my shit.

But, by owning my mistakes, I’m not only able to lift the shame, I’m able to figure out some other important realizations and next steps to work through all this.

Things to Realize:

First thing to realize is that we are not our trauma. This has been echoed to me a few times by various helpful resources. My experienced trauma was an extremely trying time and there’s no denying that. But I am not my trauma. It is however a part of me. As Anna Funkle puts it, we are injured by our trauma. The more we dissociate our identity from our trauma, the easier it can be to work through it. We are many things besides our painful experiences. We are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, colleagues who are kind, loving, courageous, valued and whole.

I’m human. Alright, this may seem obvious, but what does it mean to be human? We make mistakes and poor choices sometimes, and we are allowed to do that! We are not meant to be perfect. I need to deal with the reality of what a lot of relationships go through, which is strife. It is hard work being in a healthy relationship, and that’s perfectly normal. It is normal for relationships to stumble at times, and that’s OK. However, I love this relationship too much to do nothing about it when we do stumble. I can’t wish the problems away, instead I choose to be committed to doing the work.

I’m learning to be comfortable with stability. Allow me to explain. If you grew up in a home filled with arguments, family violence and fear, your body is conditioned to be in a fight-flight mode in your intimate relationships. Anxiety creeps in. Fear seeps through the cracks. Rumination and doubts about the relationship enter the scene. All this can happen, even when there’s not rhyme or reason to feel this way. Nothing your partner said or did triggered it (although we might blame them for the slightest thing). Our bodies are so conditioned for instability, it craves the chaos. It craves the argument. It craves the fight. Hence, we self-sabotage and nit-pick at our lovely partners to satisfy the need for instability. After the argument ensues, our bodies become regulated once again. We then rinse and repeat. I grew up in a home of beatings, shouting, slamming doors and heart tremoring fear. At school, I was bullied for being me and for being Asian. As an adult, my mind and body are conditioned to the idea of feeling instability (subconsciously). Therefore, the idea is to learn to become aware of when my body is craving that hit for an argument (even when there’s no reason to). Once I have that awareness, I’m now learning ways to cope with the withdrawal symptoms by self-soothing and compassionately telling myself that I am safe and I am loved. I’m also learning to be in the moment and embrace when things are stable and safe, reprogramming my brain to a new way of seeing what love is.

Now what?

Talking to someone about your shit is one way to work through it. Out it. The more you hold onto your vulnerability, the more it eats you up inside and before you know it, you’re constantly living in fear and resentment. It’s easier to blame others, I totally get it. If you choose that route, then know that it can be a very lonely journey filled with bitter resentments and a lack of trust. By talking to someone (professional preferably), you’re taking the first steps to owning your shit and demonstrating genuine intention to change. Also unravelling our attachment styles in relationships and understanding why we behave in certain ways is a good place to start.

Over this past year, I’ve learned a lot more about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. One of the goals to self-soothe is by regulating the running mind and bring ourselves back to the feeling of safety. If we can engage our vagus nervous system, which helps regulate our parasympathethic nervous system, we can achieve what’s called the rest/relaxation state (as opposed to the fight/flight state that’s engaged by our sympathetic nervous system). Deep belly breathing, body movement, meditation are all great ways to help activate that rest/relaxation state.

I’ve found writing to be a great form of release. Anna Runkle has a great simple tool that I’ve been learning to use recently. Any form of writing for that matter is cathartic. I journal often and in conjunction with other tools, getting out of my head becomes more manageable. The beauty of writing is that we all don’t need to be Ernest Hemingways. We can jot down thoughts, scribble, draw or get creative with poetry. Best part is, it’s for our eyes only.

I’m learning to establish a sense of self. What I mean by this is that we need to learn what our values and our interests are. What keep us going? What inspires and motivates us? Is it travelling? Gardening? Cooking? Running marathons? During this time of the pandemic, it’s been really easy to lose oneself. Discover and re-connect with the person inside you. What makes you, YOU? By estabilishing a stronger sense of self, you can find inward strength, and rely a lot less on external validation.

Lastly, we all love connection. There’s no denying that we all want to love and feel loved. Most importantly, we all want to be seen. With the pandemic hopefully on its last dying legs, I’m hoping to reconnect with the friends I haven’t seen for a very long time and enjoy some nice dinners, drinks and lots of laughter. And now with D in the picture, I look forward to introducing her to all my friends and making the social experiences even more enriching.

Healing old wounds takes time. Wait. Let me rephrase that. Healing old wounds takes time AND work. We have a part to play in the healing journey. There’s no absolute single method that will magically make our suffering disappear. Though we wish it would, we have to be brave and bold enough to accept that these are the cards we’re dealt with, and it’s time for us to make the best out of our hand. It’s a difficult reality, but we are not alone which brings great hope and a smile to my face.

We’ve got this.

Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon