Thank you for taking the time to write a letter to me. To say I was moved and touched seems trite, so I hope the following will explain the scale of which your words have made a difference:
Of your entire letter, these 10 words were by far the most powerful: “I am a human. Not an animal or a predator.” It took some time to compose myself and continue reading, following the sudden realisation of this transformation (and any part that I may have played in it). What struck me was the simplicity of the sentence and the magnitude of what it must have taken to arrive there, the scale of courage… I may not agree with everything she says but Marianne Williamson, (currently running for President, I hear) once succinctly defined a miracle as: “a perceptual mindset shift from fear to love”. That’s what occurred to me after reading that sentence.
When I finished reading, something else remarkable occurred to me: that despite the geographical distance between you sat at your desk or on your bed/bunk (I imagine) and me sat here on this wooden chair in my kitchen, there is nothing between us as human beings. Nothing in the way. We have different stories, we made different choices, judgements, took different action.. etc.. but fundamentally we have the same narrative: to request to be simply seen for who we are.
When politicians use language such as “vermin” or “swarm” or “cockroach” in reference to refugees they’re effectively de-humanising people and that is what you were doing to yourself. (I imagine the outcry: I dare to compare refugees to the Brent Brents?! Yes I dare. Both found themselves lost and far from home. Deal with it.) And yet, when I read the word “predator”, my brain for some reason linked it to the word “pursuit” which I recognised immediately in myself.. my pursuit of happiness, approval, perfection, intimacy etc… In my own ravenous hunger for these things, I have subsequently put myself at risk of abuse and dishonoured myself. This is not blame. I do not blame myself for experiences of my past. Victim blaming is not the game and neither is pointing the finger of judgement in the other direction. I’m looking with curiosity not judgement. I simply ask: how have I acted following my experience of abuse? Have I passed it on.. absorbed and turned it in on myself.. or accepted that it happened, taken the lessons and stepped out of the shame and constraint? Forgiving others for abusing me is one thing, forgiving myself for how I responded is another mountain to scale. And the view at the top is worth it.
Which is how I approach my thoughts as well now. I spent many years trying to stop intrusive, vulgar, violent and otherwise uncomfortable thoughts.. However hard I tried through meditation, mindfulness, distraction… still they came these mind monsters. The effort to stop them left me exhausted, depressed and hating myself. Recently though, the penny dropped: if to think is human, maybe the meaning that I attach to the thoughts is what matters? Where once I had a thought of rage, I tended to act on it or tell myself I was a terrible person for having the thought. I get that this is how I dealt with thoughts, my very survival depended on it, so I thought. And I was wrong. Now I look all thoughts as a fleeting friend – it pops up, I notice it, tip my hat to it, and on it goes on its way. I feel no obligation whatsoever to act on it. And this is how my thoughts tend to flow through me now. I get to choose which ones I respond to, not the other way around. (and yes, I still get caught up in my thoughts sometimes, I’m human!)
Thank you for your acknowledgement, it means a lot to me. I’d like to acknowledge you for your part in my experiencing freedom from my past. As an example, I recently got to enjoy one of my favourite pastimes: skiing in the mountains. I went with a friend (male) and a friend of his (whom I didn’t know). Before reading the blog and corresponding with you I am certain this would not have happened. Indeed, I’ve refused similar offers before. I would not have allowed myself to stay with two men in this way. As it was, I had the confidence to trust, to be vulnerable and as such they were perfect gentlemen, I had an amazing time, that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I’m still in the gym training with huge tattooed men, surrounded by banter and I’m progressing… a fortnight ago I deadlifted 100kg and squatted 70kg while listening to Pantera’s Nothing Else Matters. My hard assed coach who was watching, raised his eyebrows and chuckled to himself. I knew I’d arrived…
Now I’m left further inspired by the conciseness of your writing. I find it refreshing because I struggle with that. It appears that you have time to consider, reflect and engage in the creative process of editing your words with great care, to leave powerful, clear words that I aspire to. I get easily distracted to engage myself fully in that process and find myself rambling… So, for now, I’ll shut the **** up and leave you in peace.
With love and respect.
Reader letter: “I see you, I’m with you, you’re safe.”
Hey Brent, I haven’t written in a while, I apologise, it was my intention to write again sooner. There are no excuses (other than dealing with life) although I’m now noticing trends in my learning, which I’d like to share with you. There are discoveries to me made, I become unblind to them, capture them, write them down and congratulate myself for the growth… Then begins the process where life shows me what these lessons really mean. I’ll give you an example. In the last letter to you, I wrote about letting go of judgement over my thoughts. I described a zen like, floaty quality of watching all fleeting thoughts flowing past me without getting attached to them. I think I’ve also said about learning about being strong… Well the universe was watching as I wrote those words, Brent, then threw its head back laughing and had some fun.
To be frank, after reading your letter… things turned a tad Disney for a bit this end. A couple of days later, I was watching Aladdin and heard the song “A Whole New World” and you popped into my mind… wouldn’t it be great for us to take a magic carpet ride and explore the world. We could touch down for Dal bhat in Nepal, take a seat in front of the Taj Mahal, fly low over Australia’s Ayers Rock, dive head first down Niagara Falls, a snow ball fight in Canada, maybe even a 2-mile vertical ascent into space to top it off. I had it all worked out in seconds: we’d escape for the ride before heading back, safe and sound, before anyone even thought to mention the words “lock down”. It was a fleeting thought that had me smile as I went to fetch more popcorn.
Then the rug got pulled out from under me. An unexpected wave of grief mixed with vulnerability had me batten down the hatches and that’s when the attacks came. A car smash (none hurt other than my insurance premium), the sudden onset of excruciating pain of kidney stones (so grateful I don’t have free access to Oramorph, that stuff is amazing!), Sister Vianney (the most formidable nun who taught English at school) died – going to her funeral brought a whole host of mixed memories to the surface, followed by a freak flood in my home (picture me standing in my water logged kitchen looking up at a great dripping hole in the ceiling, mouth agape thinking “what the actual *%#*??!!”). That was on top of all the usual nonsense to navigate, like: “am I in the right job?”, “will I ever meet my mother’s (aka my own) expectations?”, “why do men (OK, OK… women and the gender neutral too) need to be assholes?”, “am I messing up my daughter’s life?”
It’s had me writing, running and raging a lot: proper tantrum, snotty faced stuff (turns out this doesn’t go down well in the gym). I’ve engaged the support of a therapist, I’ve even turned to Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them”. I’ve been comforted to realise that I’m not the first and won’t be the last to wonder whether it’s all worth it.
I’m kind of reluctant to share what I’ve learned from the experience, in case life decides to show me the real lesson again. But right now, I feel humbled. Life’s purpose, if ever there was one, appears to be open with others; to speak with them from the perspective of: “I see you, I’m with you, you’re safe.” Things seem to fall into place when I do this, even with people I sometimes struggle being with, like myself.
Is it really that simple?
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