Friday, April 3, 2009

a forgotten dragon finds me in my sleep

i guess this doesn't have anything to do with being in korea, but it does have to do with me.

i had a dream a couple of nights ago (possibly the result of teaching about dreams in my class that night) that i've been feeling compelled to write about, even if merely to give my experience some permanence, instead of letting it fade back into nothingness.

in my dream, i was at a park of some kind somewhere unfamiliar. i was high school age, though im not sure exactly when in high school, and i was with several high school friends. my sister was there too, and she was friends with the same people accompanying us (a common experience for me growing up, being precisely in the middle of my brother and sister by one year on each side). the whole atmosphere seemed pretty innocuous - it was a nice day; i was my normal self, i suppose, which in larger groups tends to hang back a little, observing things more objectively. everyone else was in high spirits, and there wasn't a cloud on the horizon. at first.

after a while, i noticed myself not getting swept up in the geniality of the others and became a little annoyed at my inability to join in on the fun. this is the kind of feeling where you imagine yourself doing and saying things similar to others resulting in general acceptance and familiarity. it's also the kind of feeling that really just makes you end up feeling more alienated in the end and less satisfied with yourself. i unknowingly allowed my thoughts to continue in this direction until my sister, in a spurt of gaiety, broke into a high-spirited run toward some unknown sunny destination. this escalation became contagious to all of our friends and we followed suit, they in a sea of laughter, and me in confusion. i was now becoming almost desperate not to be left behind, and was about to leap up to follow pace when my best friend bounded past me saying, 'excuse me,' and bumping me, caused me to lose my balance. my own body seemed to have lost the desire to acknowledge me, and with my limbs crumpling under me, i toppled to the ground. it was as if the rope i had been clinging onto to remain connected to the group had suddenly flown out of my hands, and i watched its frayed end float away with the back of my friend.

from somewhere i heard the voice of my mother, who was apparently with us, say sadly, 'even his friends left him behind.' the feelings that resulted from this experience were so intense i woke up suddenly and stared at my swirling ceiling in bewilderment.

i attempted to soothe myself and make sense of everything...

these were the darkest emotions of high school. they're emotions with no clear end - feelings of abandonment, unimportance, desperation, invisibility - feelings of self-pity - feelings of desire to be like others and accepted - knowing somewhere that i must have a unique value, but being unwilling to put my faith in that, wanting to sacrifice that in order to be recognized and acknowledged, even if not as myself, and hating myself for being weak enough to be willing to make that sacrifice. when it came down to it, it wasn't anger, loneliness, frustration, or even self-pity - it was self-hatred. and it was my own, sick laughter that echoed as my own hands squeezed at my throat and enveloped me in darkness.

i occasionally felt this way in high school, and at those times, i hated and cursed being myself as a teenager. but these days when i think about high school or am reminded about it by one thing or another, i only remember the best things. of course, i am vaguely aware of the pain, but in the end, overcoming the pain caused the bright parts to become even brighter in my memory. and i do have many beautiful memories from high school - at least i think i do, if i can really trust my memory. nevertheless, my reflections are positive on the whole, so this incredibly potent return to a sinister and grotesque sensation of adolescence pierced me quite cleanly, complacent as i had become as a 23-year-old.

that night, as i lay awake in bed at 5am, i considered going out for a smoke. it seemed appropriate, for these were the kind of feelings that had prompted me to begin that habit. i started thinking about smoking and why i did. it seemed to me that smoking became an outlet for that self-hatred. in a sense, initially it was a form of self-mutilation - taking my 'clean, virgin body' and willfully burning it. i've said the same thing for a long time when people ask why i smoke: 'it's like smoke is this foul, black, disgusting substance, right? well, when i take this shapeless, dirty smoke into my body, i feel like i can breathe out some of my own disgustingness, my own blackness, with it.' i realized how this had become sort of romanticized to me over time, but in some ways it has remained true, and i wouldn't continue to smoke if it no longer served as an emotional outlet. when i first started smoking, i was able to accept and endure my self-hatred as i also began my way toward recovery and appreciating myself unconditionally, learning to give myself the love that i couldn't then feel from anyone (and that i now realize could never feel from anyone except the one (mortal) person who knew me inside-out: me). i think my mom's voice in my dream expressing pity for me represented how i could take refuge in self-pity, but eventually it would trap me and limit me just as reliance on parents for protection limits confidence and independence.

well, i fell asleep after an hour or so of pondering and woke up the next morning with the feeling of having returned from somewhere far away. despite being disturbing, i felt refreshed by this encounter with my past and being reminded of how i became who i am today.

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