One of the most eye-opening things about being back in Vancouver has been strolling through the Downtown Eastside. It’s like walking through a combo of a zombie apocalypse, tied in with lead characters in a Just Say No to Drugs infomercial. With lead characters showing the side of drug’s debilitating destructive capabilities, littering all sides of the pavement.
While I’m guessing the public apathy that has caused the situation to worsen, pushed by the belief that people’s free choice has landed them there, I’ve always known different. A good friend of mine from high school spent many years down there in trouble with the law and high on drugs after finding her brother dead from suicide as a tenth grader. Every person I see down there, I see my friend from high school, and know with certainty that many of them have landed themselves there as a method of running from some kind of pain or deep circumstances that they have found a way to numb. It makes the sadness deeper for me every time I walk through there. It’s easier not to be affected by that of which we can’t relate to.
For me personally I recently got confirmation of something I’ve always known when I went to see my good friend who is a naturopath (anyone in Vancouver, check out Sasha Mattu if you want a life changing health practicioner). Namely she was shocked at how high my stress levels were, but equally surprised at how I’ve been able to keep any symptoms at bay. But it’s definitely made me think a lot about how I’ve been living my life and things I want to change.
Since I can remember I’ve been going at an insane pace. I’m talking back to when I was 12 years old and a normal evening for me after a full day of school was going to volleyball practice, then diving practice, and then leaving diving early to go to soccer practice. Which led to mastering the art of doing homework for one class before handing it in the next. This continued on through graduating from an Ivy League school, while playing soccer, and then starting a business that I ran overseas, while simultaneous doing 3 masters degrees while playing pro soccer in 3 different countries. I’m tired just writing it. But I’m used to be so exhausted and scheduled that there isn’t much time to feel.
I’ve been living life at bullet train speed, to the point where I look out the window and know that I’m going fast and I can’t see anything, but at the same time, I don’t even have any comprehension of what things look like at a slower pace.
The last few months have been the slowest months of my life. I’ve vascillated between being lonely, then being bored, then feeling super uncomfortable with it, to now starting to sink in and stare outside the window and adjusting to having time to feel things. Like really feel things. And it’s weird and uncomfortable.
I’ve been reading a shit ton, because when you have few friends in a city, and you don’t have a soccer practice to attend every single night, and you don’t have a job filling every second of the day, you have time to think and reflect. It’s something new and I haven’t liked it.
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown. And I love her. She talks about shame. She talks about vulnerability and she talks about not feeling enough. She talks about the numbing that we all do, in order to avoid those feelings.
The funny thing is that we all know the big numbing markers. Drugs. Alcohol. But achieving things is a huge numb-er – the only problem is, is that society pats us on the back for that. In fact I consciously numb-ed and took the confusing pats on the back for years that left me feeling like a phony because I knew that accomplishing things was a coping mechanism to deal with the whirl of emotions I had that I didn’t know how else to unravel and cope with.
I see the heroin addicts on the Downtown Eastside and it’s tough to feel anything but empathy because I get it. We share a different mechanism to get our numb but we’re all doing it because we don’t know if we can cope with what we would feel.
I love Brene Brown also because she’s been talking about how she copes with hurt and pain, and she fights it by being tougher back. You throw a punch and she’ll throw one back harder. She asked her therapist about it and realized that it’s because it’s an easier mechanism for her than being vulnerable and acknowledging the hurt.
I’ve pinpointed my numb-ers and besides the bullet train pace of life, it’s the punch back harder method and it’s also the run to a new environment. Although it’s been tough to out run that saying, “wherever I go there I am.” But yet I still just want to run if I am hurt and don’t know how else to cope.
I think of people that I’ve hurt by hitting back harder, when I just didn’t know how to communicate that they hurt me or deciding that they didn’t care and just reacted in a way that I know I’d slice them the way they sliced me. I’m embarrassed in retrospect because that’s not who I want to be. And I hope that they would have the grace to forgive me and see my weaknesses. Then I think of those that I have hard feelings towards for how they’ve treated me, and I’ve thought to myself that if I would like to have grace bestowed upon me, I need to extend that grace and forgiveness towards others, even if its just a silent word to them in my head.
So in the name of growing, I’m dedicating the next few months to just being really, really uncomfortable. I was planning on getting back on the travel horse because I just want to separate myself from some sadness, but I’m going to stay and dig in. I’ve made a pact to myself only when I feel that I’ve conquered this place am I going to go anywhere else. I won’t lash out at anyone that hurts me. I’ll just shut my mouth and feel the hurt and then I’ll let it go. Without throwing a closing jab, jab, cross to end things (I’ll save the jab jab cross for my boxing class). And I’m going to slow the hell down. I’m slowly starting to see the outline of life again and if I’m alive I might as well truly live.
And I’m going to continue to look at those people I cross paths with on the Downtown Eastside with compassion. Because the longer I live the more that I see, that in interacting with other humans, pain is a given, although most of us don’t get presented at birth with the Coles Notes on how to handle it.
To truly live and love means experiencing pain. By jumping on our own personal bullet trains and making the choice to numb our pain in our own ways (perfectionism, overeating, overachieving, drugs, sex, codependency, you name it, I see you), we’re denying ourselves the chance to lead our most fulfilling lives.
Thank you Brene Brown for opening my eyes even further to the things I want to change and the growth that I always to have as painful as it can be.
I have so much empathy for you and what you’re planning to do. I was at a similar point eight months ago. Work was a bear, my wife was about to have major surgery (which would put her out for 6 weeks), and couldn’t see a way out of my situation. I wanted to run, but was too scared of the consequences. One night after my first-ever panic attack, I contemplated going out on my back porch and jumping off. A week later, I had a second panic attack while at work and ended up being referred to a local psychiatric hospital for an evaluation. I spent a week there and then four weeks in intensive outpatient therapy before returning to normal life just after the holidays. I’m not 100% and I’m not sure I ever will be. My ultra-competitive streak and perfectionist outlook on life dragged me into an abyss and now that I’m out of it, I don’t wish to go back down. The meds I am on have helped (don’t work for everyone, mind you), along with finding ways to fill the void that occurred when I closed down my women’s soccer organization at the end of 2015. Stay strong, reach out, and live abundantly. Risk being misunderstood in order to experience life as it comes at you. I get ya, and I hope the best for you on this journey.