Look How Far You’ve Come (Notes on Therapy)

futurecalled
I’ve been going to Corner Bakery for their Loaded Baked Potato Soup once or twice a week for the past few months. Sometimes, I upgrade to a bread bowl for an extra $1.89. I don’t do it all of the time because I don’t want luxury to become my standard. Plus, all of the soups come with a focaccia roll anyway, and it’s really not that hard to dig out a little soup moat. I treat myself to these soup lunches on the days I go to therapy.

I’ve avoided therapy for most of my life because the whole concept seemed like a crock of shit. Still, I’ve gone on occasion over the past sixteen years. Many of those visits were part of different drug treatment programs. You have to go every day and act like you’re making breakthroughs, but really, you’re just thinking how many more times do I have to lie to this homegirl wearing all Talbots errything before she recommends my release. It’s never made a difference because I had no interest in sorting through my sordid past. Processing and transcending and letting go takes time and effort. Not only did that seem painful and unnecessary, I also believed that I had earned the right to harbor all of my rage and depression. They were my souvenirs for surviving, and I fucking love souvenirs. (A big shout out to my Disney lapel pin collection. You guys keep my lanyards looking fly.)

The only gift Harv wanted for our anniversary last fall was for me to find a therapist I liked and start going on a regular basis. At some point in 2013, I moved into Rock Bottom, and he could see that I had no interest in leaving. Actually, I was getting settled and quite comfortable in my new little hole, and every time I left and came back, it just felt like home.

The request came at a bad time because I had already ordered a Full Dozen Strawberry Medley from Shari’s Berries as an anniversary gift for Harv. Highly perishable items are extremely tricky to return…if you can return them at all. I said I would “think about it” which is basically a “no” in adult code language. He didn’t pressure me nor did he bring it up again.

A few nights later, I had a hankering for something delicious and ate seven of the nine remaining Berries. I am surprised by my own selfishness from time to time. This was one of those times. Shari, why you gotta make your products so delectable? It didn’t seem right to order another dozen, and I thought about blaming Cal but decided against it. I felt horrible and guilty so I told Harv that I would start going to therapy. I don’t know. It made sense at the time.

My advice to you would be to think carefully before putting someone else’s food into your mouth.

I am trying something new this go-round: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR for short. It sounds kind of creepy. Maybe it is creepy but it can’t possibly be worse than everything that I have ever done to myself because I, on a deep level and in a non-transient way, dislike myself.

EMDR is supposedly effective for people who have experienced severe trauma that remains unprocessed. It goes directly against the coping mechanisms I have become so good at- denial, dissociative amnesia, detachment. In each session, I recall traumatic and distressing experiences, and as I allow the memory to fully unfold, I am taken through a series of sensory exercises.

I can’t describe it more than that. I don’t have the right words and it sort of makes me sick to think about it. Poet Nayyirah Waheed’s words on love now cross my mind each time I walk through my therapist’s doors:

“like everything I’ve ever lost come back to me.”

Except none of my memories involve love.

I still go and I haven’t given up on EMDR yet, although I feel like I am being punished twice for each moment I recall- once by living through it and a second time by inviting it back to invade the small amount of peace I have gathered and stored. Everything that I have ever pushed out and ignored and left by the wayside is coming back to me.

Each time I leave, I call Harv. The conversations are most often about how lonely I feel. I complained about this loneliness for months. Just two weeks ago, it dawned on me that it wasn’t loneliness at all. It was grief. But since I had not allowed myself to grieve about anything for such a long time, the only label my mind could attach to the heavy feeling was loneliness.  I’m not very good at grieving, but I feel like it could become one of my better skills. Like scrapbooking. My scrapping skills are fucking legit.

“Sometimes just the act of sharing a painful secret can relieve some of the pain.” -Anonymous

I hope so.
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Happy Birthday, Cal. I’m not good at much, but I will be good to you.

kurtcobain

Sometimes it is too hard to write about love- the density of its emotions, the significance of its role, the fear of its absence, the silence after its exit.

I have tried many times to tell my daughter how much I love her. I wish I knew enough words.

When Cal was born, I made a promise to us that I would stay alive until she turned 30. I was 19 then, and 30 more years of living seemed like a heavy commitment, but I wanted to wait until my daughter was a real grown-up before I left her to fend for herself. I don’t know why I picked 30, but that age seemed so old and unknowable to my teen mind.

I know now that 30 isn’t old at all. When I reached that milestone age a few years ago, I certainly didn’t feel very grown-up, and I still wasn’t ready to fend for myself. I mean, yes, I avoid my mother’s phone calls occasionally because how many times can one person remind you to eat the entire box of oranges she bought on sale at the Korean market to keep scurvy at bay. But even now, if my mother dropped dead, there would still be a deep and unfillable void. And even if I felt like a real adult, I think it’s still okay for an adult to want to be someone’s child too.

On Saturday, Cal turned 14. None of her birthdays have ever been complicated productions. I lacked funds before I got married. I got funds now, but I’m lazy as fuck. This year, I decided to use the last three ounces of Give A Fuck I had stowed away “just in case” to plan a surprise Golden Birthday Snack Time. If you think about it, no one ever expects a celebration during afternoon snacks. As you can see, I really understand the concept of “surprise.”

I spent weeks scouring the devil’s playground (also known as Pinterest) for ideas and tutorials. After attempting some of the crafts, I figured out that DIY is bullshit. I’m into DISE. Do It Someone Else.

I ordered the ombre birthday cake. I helped Harv make the tea sandwiches. I covered the entire dining room floor in glitter wrapping paper. I finally used the Cricut I bought six years ago to make a “Happy Birthday Homegirl” banner. I fought with four very large and unruly balloons and lost. I set out trays of specially-ordered desserts.  I waited for her to come home. I wondered which detail would thrill her the most.

The next morning, as she was getting ready to leave the house, she came into my bedroom and gave me a hug. “Mommy, thank you for yesterday. That rock candy was so awesome.”

Despite all of the privileges in her life, Cal still loves the small and simple pleasures. Maybe that’s why she’s so happy all of the time. I don’t take time to appreciate everyday miracles. I wait for big moments. I try to create big moments.

She’s my daily reminder that happiness only comes when we allow it into our lives. That I don’t have to be perfect to be good. That big gestures aren’t the only ones that count.

I’m not good at much, but I will be good to you.

glitterfloor

14on14(flourishinprogress on Instagram)

P.S. This will be my last post for 2013. I’ve never allowed myself an “official” break, and I’ve always been riddled with guilt when I go for too many days without hollering at y’all. Maybe if I make this break official, it will give me some peace of mind while I play catch-up for the next few weeks. There are so many half-finished items on my checklist. I’m looking forward to a fresh new year. Although these past 12 months have been ridiculous, I know so much more about myself and life and happiness because I lost small bits and then big chunks of all three this year.

I’ll still be working the Facebook and Instagram grind. “Like” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page and follow along on Instagram (username: flourishinprogress) for (t)hug life thoughts, not-seen-on-this-blog pictures, and other mildly entertaining but useless shit.

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Take good care.

SMFH (Notes on Being a Bad Korean American)

ownit
I don’t like to boast about my own talents because praise always seems more legit when it comes from an outside source, but not enough people have appreciated this skill, so I’m just going to spotlight it myself. My box taping skills are pretty incredible. If you receive a package from me in the future, please take a minute to notice the crisp end cuts and the crisscross pattern I use for extra security.

Moving something like 20 times in 33 years has allowed me to hone this talent. These moves include 2 continents, 5 states, and 12 different cities. I’m not including the cities I briefly called “home” during my time as a runaway. Whenever possible, I like to set boundaries to keep the chaos in my life to a minimum. As I started adding up all the pieces of my previously nomadic life, I decided that the defining mark for officially claiming a residence as “mine” was whether or not I received mail there.

People ask most about my childhood in Texas. “Were you the only Asian kid in your school?” “Did you experience a lot of racism?” “Does everyone own a pair of cowboy boots in Texas?” “How come you don’t have a drawl?”

Everything else is easy to answer, but the racism question always stumps me. The truth is, I experienced almost no grief from my predominantly white community as I was growing up. But I’ve experienced a lot of it. From other Korean Americans.

And because my answer isn’t something that people expect or even want to hear, I just shake my head and say nothing at all. I’ve been too afraid to talk about the grief I’ve encountered from my own people, because all of my poor life choices already make me a Bad Korean. My biggest fear is that by speaking out about my disillusionment, I’ll travel to the place of no return- Really Bad Traitor Korean.

I’m finally okay with that. The truth is not always pretty, but lies are much uglier than an imperfect truth.

If I had to pick one word to sum up my experience as a Korean American woman, it would be this: Side-eye.

As openminded and modernized as Koreans like to think we’ve become, it’s still a culture of longstanding traditions and molds. And anyone who doesn’t follow these unspoken rules is shamed, vilified, and ostracized. They get the side-eye for bringing shame to their family and for not living up to their potential.

The few times I’ve tried to bring up these negative feelings with my Korean friends, I pretty much get the same response, “But, Elizabeth, how can you be so racist against your own kind. You need to have a more forgiving heart.” In the world of comebacks, if that’s the strongest argument against a stereotype, it means the stereotype wins.

Supposedly, I think this way because I’m a “whitewashed banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I have “too many” non-Korean friends, and I don’t go to a Korean church because I’m “too good for that.” Fellow Koreans want to know if my mother has “gotten over” the fact that I married a Chinese man. “It must be hard for your mom not to be able to communicate freely with your husband.” They also want to know if my family has forgiven me for my reckless youth and the teen pregnancy, multiple drug addictions, and college drop-out status that resulted from years of rebellion.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what qualifies as banana-esque white people attributes because I’m too busy trying to embrace and accept myself, and I don’t want to define a quality as Korean or Other. That’s stupid as fuck, because at the end of the day, I’m trying to own ALL of me despite the category each piece fits into. I will NOT be shamed for who I am.

I don’t pick friends based on skin color. And I don’t go to a Korean church because the last time I did, the pastor’s wife told me to think about leaving my daughter at home because I was setting a Bad Korean example for the youth group kids as an unmarried mom. When I joined a fellowship group for another Korean church earlier this year, I was told that the way I dress reveals too much cleavage. I paid for these bitches. I will show them off if I choose.

And my “poor, shamed” family is relieved that I found anyone at all to marry me. They’re still working through my colorful past, but I’ve set the bar so low that these days, any small victory is, like, a big fucking deal to them.

I hope my daughter isn’t seen as a Bad Korean through association. But I’m not holding my breath on that one. I’d be giving credit where credit simply isn’t due. Just because my own experiences have not been positive also doesn’t mean I’m actively poisoning Cal’s mind either. It’s still our blood and history and heritage, and for that, I try to honor it. Even if I don’t like it.

P.S. I didn’t even get a chance to touch on Korean men. Like my ex-boyfriend who became enraged because I loved my daughter more than I loved him. Or because I didn’t offer to wash the dishes at his parent’s house. And asked me to wear long sleeves so his family wouldn’t see my “slutty tattoos.” I guess I’ll have to write another post about being a Bad Korean in the future.

P.P.S. Well, this transition is awkward, but on a bright note: There were so many amazing Six-Word Memoirs in last week’s giveaway post that I resorted to using names in a hat and Cal’s Winner Picking Hands to choose. Missljk, please email me at flourishinprogress at gmail with your mailing address and the state you’d like.

P.P.P.S. Not turned off by my Bad Korean ways? Then let’s stay connected until I offend you in another way.
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