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Why I gave up writer coaching

if I can't see you, you can't see me... right?

It’s pretty simple, actually: I was using other people’s writing as an excuse not to do my own.

I was hiding behind their stories instead of telling mine; I let them do the work that I was afraid to do.

And that needs to stop.

To that end, I’ve put my writer coaching and workshops on hiatus. Instead, I’ll be focusing on writing my story and doing my work. My past few blog posts were written with that in mind, and while I certainly won’t stop talking about writing or writers (I have a great interview coming up with Megan from Namesake), there’s going to be a lot more personal storytelling going on here.

If you’re not up for that, it’s ok. This isn’t about you any more; it’s about me growing a pair and doing what I’ve always known I needed to do.

Of course, I’d really love if you came along for the ride. It’s probably going to get interesting.

What Charles taught me

It’s not like Charles had a horrible life. His physical needs were well taken care of: he had food, warm shelter, toys, someone who adored him.

But Charles’ life wasn’t perfect. One of his housemates didn’t much care for him and was taken to throwing — and sometimes hitting — Charles when he was “in the way.” Charles never meant to be in the way; he was inquisitive and liked to be around people. But he was never quite sure when he would do something that resulted in his housemate’s ire.

After a while, it really started to grate on Charles’ nerves. He was a social fellow, and he was polite, but there was only so much he could take. He started to fight back.

It didn’t always go well for him; sometimes his housemate backed off, but often it just made him angry and he hurt Charles more. The one who adored Charles tried to defend him, but she was virtually powerless and couldn’t be depended on for backup.

Eventually, the housemate moved out, but Charles was still left with the memories, the scars, of those years. Now he wasn’t sure who he could trust; he wasn’t sure the abuse wasn’t coming back, and he didn’t trust his adorer to protect him. While still craving social interaction, he held people at arm’s length, often lashing out in defense when none was needed. It made others wary of him, which made Charles wary of them.

It was a horrible, self-perpetuating cycle that led to a lot of pain and confusion for Charles and those who just wanted to love him. He never fully trusted anyone ever again.

Some would call it post-traumatic stress disorder. Charles saw it as preserving his dignity.

It was all completely understandable, though. Charles was, after all, just a cat.

* * *

Why am I telling you about Charles? Why do we give a flying fuck about a cat? Because, in many ways, his story is my story.

I grew up in what would be considered a loving home, with all of my physical needs met. But I lived in constant fear of judgement, from my parents, my teachers, and my church. I had someone close to me abusing my emotions, while someone else ignored it.

I never knew when judgement or emotional pain would be flung my way, and after a while I just couldn’t take any more. I tried to fight back, and it did not go well for me.

In the end, I left the Church. For a time, I left my family behind. And I sure as hell didn’t trust anyone. Why should I open myself up to being hurt again? Don’t touch me, don’t judge me, don’t yell at me, don’t look at me. If anyone got too close, I usually ended up hurting them instead, whether or not I even meant to.

Some would call it post-traumatic stress disorder. I called it preserving my dignity. I was, after all, only human.

The thing is, that’s no way for a cat to live, let alone a human being. We are social creatures who crave interaction with others. We naturally desire the joy and freedom that comes from trust and vulnerability. So while it’s terrible to live in a situation that causes pain, it can be just as terrifying to live constantly trying to prevent that pain. By spending time with Charles, I’ve begun to realize just how much my defensiveness is hurting me.

So this is where I tell you everything turns out ok, right?

Sorry, not quite. While I have come a long way in reconciling with the Church and with my family, the memories and the scars are still there. I find it difficult to trust or be vulnerable with people. Relationships are hard; I hold people at arm’s length, even if I’m desperate to love them.

But I’m trying. I’m learning and growing. And that’s the important thing for now.