Inner Dialogue

I’ve been working on mindfulness lately. Slowing the world down. I’ve been practicing this for years, and I still have more work to do. Lately, my meditation has been all about inward body monitoring. Breathe, focus, calm, and a focus on what is happening under my eyelids, or against the lining of my stomach; picking out sore spots in my back, slowly and deliberately; feeling where cloth is touching my skin and how that is distinct from the air. It’s powerful work, and it brings a calm I couldn’t have anticipated.

Mindfulness is applied to other areas of my life as well. Mindfulness in the way I’m spending money. Mindfulness in the types of food I’m choosing to eat, and when. Mindfulness in how I spend time with my children, in the way I exercise, in how I read books, in how I spend my mornings. I know the difference between peace and discord, and I’m ever striving toward peace. Accountability. Integrity.

This morning, I put mindfulness in a new and unexpected direction. I lent it toward the inner, critical dialogue, the one that seems to play on autopilot during moments of vulnerability. In the last few years, I’ve worked to silence that voice. It runs so far in the background now. But I found it sparking up while I was exercising, and I paid attention to it, from a non-judgmental space. I just observed it there, from deep down inside me. And the moment I allowed it to speak, I realized it wouldn’t shut up. I realized it never has.

I was stretching on a yoga mat at the gym. I was in a black tank top and orange camouflage shorts, and I had on long Wonder Woman socks, a pair given to me as a gift recently. My phone and my library book, a collection of letters that I planned to read between sets, sat on the floor next to me. It was a quieter day at the gym, only 6:45 am, but the morning regulars were there, walking around, gabbing, listening to music, lifting weights. A blonde woman kept slamming a ball on the floor and I could feel the tremors beneath me. All the way across the gym, a man was dropping heavy weights on the floor as he grunted loudly, and I could hear the crash every time. Obnoxious 90s rap music played. The wind was blowing outside. I was hungry, and sore, and still sleepy.

A gym regular walked past, one I used to have a crush on years ago. I remembered asking him out a few times a few years back and he’d never responded one way or the other, reacting with ambivalence and a shrug. I remembered feeling, back then, like I wasn’t good enough to get his attention. He was younger, fitter, and must have his pick of men, I told myself. Or maybe I was intimidating. Or maybe too old, too out of shape, too talkative. Maybe my teeth weren’t straight enough. Or maybe he just wasn’t interested. Then again, he hadn’t answered at all, so maybe I wasn’t even interested in the first place. Maybe I’d been desperate. Maybe it had just been a passing crush. Maybe if I’d gotten to know him, I wouldn’t have been interested at all.

And, in fact, I wasn’t interested. Not now. I’ve been with a man I love very much for the last two years. And yet those feelings were still there, deep down, that old dialogue. The ones that spoke to insecurity, confusion, harsh self-criticism. The ones that told me I was never good enough. The ones that tried to make sense of the world as I understood it and why I never seemed to fit in. The ones I grew up with. Instead of silencing them, I spend some time with them. Safely. I observed them as I let that narrative continue. I closed my eyes as I did sit-ups and planks and twists. It was easy to give it voice. I’d spent so long there, so long, so many years.

Does he notice me now, I thought. Does he see me. If I asked him why he’d never been interested, what would he say. If I were to ask him why he never responded back then, what would he say, how would he respond. I found my internal self playing out some form of the conversation in my brain. You were too needy back then, he might say. Or maybe he might say that if I looked then like I do now, more fit and focused on myself, maybe he would have been interested. What would I have said back, I wondered. Would I have told him to fuck off, that he should have gotten to know me back then, that I was worth his time then and now I wasn’t sure he was worth mine. Would I walk away with head held high, would I gush, feel confused, brag about how happy I am now. How would I respond. Of course he wasn’t interested, of course. You were insecure, you never measured up, you had children, you were in debt, your teeth weren’t straight, you’d been married, you waited too long to come out of the closet, you didn’t love yourself enough.

Guh. I sat up on the mat and took a long inward breath. That inner dialogue. Playing out these shame scenarios that would never happen and that I wouldn’t want to happen in the first place. Listening to those inner voices, the ones I had grown up with for so long, the ones that had infected my head for all of those years. The constant measuring, the never being enough, the endless comparisons. I wasn’t that person any more. My way free had been hard fought and hard won. It had taken effort, therapy, soul-searching. I had a healthy spirituality now, and I liked myself. I didn’t give a shit what people thought anymore, not in most cases. But if I gave it voice, it was all still there, deep down, all still present. The old wounds, the old heavy spaces, still there. A part of the old me, deep down, needing to be channeled just once in a while.

And then I found comfort. I found peace with the me that was, and the me that is. And I found comfort in the old parts of me being integrated into these new parts of me, with peace and space. Inner child, closeted Mormon, repressed father, all of those pieces from my past were still there, part of this new independent me. I could learn from them. I could listen and be okay.

I got up, walked past my old gym crush, thought of my happy little family now, and grabbed some free weights, ready to get to work.

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the Locker Room

 

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“My back hurts. I can’t go to gym today. Here’s my doctor’s note.”

The gym teacher looked at me with unfeigned frustration as he considered the note. He was a large man, one who also taught the history class in ninth grade, and he generally seemed bored at his job. I also took history from him, and he seemed bored there, too. (In fact, we had counted during the semester the times he had simply shown a movie to the class instead of actually teaching, and he had shown us the same Michael Jordan special seven times during the year).

The other gym teacher in the school was a very attractive man, and I was relieved he wasn’t the head of my class. I was already distracted by handsome teachers in Algebra and Band, and I hardly needed more distractions.

“So you are saying you can’t participate in class activities?”

I shrugged awkwardly. “Depends on the activity. I can probably do, like, volleyball. But maybe not, like, running and stuff.”

“Well I guess you get to spend an hour doing homework or fitzing around while everyone else exercises. Have fun with that.” He tucked the note into the back of his teacher’s folder, breathing out hard from his nose with frustration. “But for today, we are working on stretches and a bit of lecture. Think you can handle that? Go ahead and dress down.”

I swallowed, embarrassed and a little ashamed. I wondered if the teacher was calling my bluff. My diagnosis of scoliosis was legitimate, as was my back pain, but I had been participating in P.E. class for months prior to this doctor’s note. Now I was looking for a way out of P.E., claiming, with a doctor’s support, that I wasn’t able to do physical activities. I had never been one to push my physical limits in class, but I had always been willing. And now I wasn’t.

But I wasn’t sure how to talk to him about it, how to talk to anyone about it. I was 16 now and things at home were rough, with my step-father’s constant anger and occasional violence, and things felt even worse on the inside. I had thought that once I started dating, maybe my attractions to men would diminish, but they hadn’t. In fact, they had maybe grown worse. I was attracted to my guy friends, to guys who walked by, to guys on television, and I was exhausted by pretending I was attracted to girls, and sick of mentally beating myself up for being distracted by guys.

And now here was the locker room. I hated the locker room. I didn’t fit in with other guys, who talked about sports and girls. And I was attracted to many of them and here they were getting undressed and I was afraid of getting aroused or of getting noticed stealing a glance. And I wasn’t comfortable in my own body, being less athletic than the other guys around me. The locker room tended to expose every insecurity I had, and left me beating myself up for hours afterward. I hated that it was part of school. I could avoid the group shower, but I couldn’t avoid changing.

I stepped in to the locker room and walked directly over to my assigned space. Tuning out distraction around me, I opened the locker and began to change, unbuttoning my shirt and sliding on my gym shirt. Immediately to my right, I saw David pull his jeans and underwear off, and I turned to avoid looking. On the other side, Eddie looked perfect and toned shirtless, and I turned to look back at the locker, containing my frustration. It was impossible not to be distracted in here.

I quickly slid off my jeans, then felt Scott, another guy in my class, flick his towel against my leg, seemingly aiming for my butt.

“Nice tighty whities, Chad!”

I turned to roll my eyes at him, then noticed that David was now completely naked, and was in very good shape. My eyes lingered a bit too long, then I forced them down on the floor. I then forced myself to look back up at Scott, swearing at myself internally. They’re gonna notice that you looked at David. They are gonna notice that you looked at the floor. They are gonna notice that you aren’t joking around with Scott back. Damn it, David is right there. Don’t look or you’ll get aroused and they will for sure notice that.

“Yeah, like yours are any better,” I quipped lamely, and Scott laughed, turning back at his locker.

I turned back to mine again, purposefully avoiding looking at David, who was still naked (damn it! get dressed!), then I swiftly pulled up my shorts, then sat down to put on my shoes. Eddie was dropping his shorts to change them, and across the room an obese kid was putting his arms behind his back and making his stomach shake to make a few people laugh. As someone called him a name, two other guys were talking about the girls they were planning on getting with that weekend while they changed.

I tied my shoes and saw that David was finally putting on his shorts, and I snuck one last glance before grabbing my stuff, closing my locker, and rushing out of the room.

Tomorrow, no matter what the activity in class was, I planned to have a bad back pain day. I needed to not be in that locker room again so soon. If that didn’t work, maybe I could find another place to change, but then everyone would notice. Maybe I should ask a girl out for this weekend so that I would have something to talk about in the locker room on Monday, that would make it easier.

The coach lined us up for stretches, and I got placed between David and Eddie, and as class begin, I did my best not to picture them naked and began singing religious hymns in my head instead. My thoughts were straying and later I would have some repenting to do.

 

Condolences

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Ten conversations you have after your best friend dies

One. 

Chad, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you. He meant a lot to me.

Yeah, hey, you’re a therapist, right?

Yup.

I’ve been meaning to ask you. I was dating a guy and he said he loves me but he hasn’t been texting back lately. What should I do about that?

Two.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

He died in a car accident, right?

Yeah, it was really sudden.

Oh man, I had a friend die in a car accident once. He fell asleep at the wheel. I got pulled out of work to be told. It was the worst. 

Yeah, I know how that feels.

I mean, he was the best. It’s been like 12 years and I still miss him all the time. Wish I could say it gets better. Anyway, gotta run, good luck. 

Three.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

It’s been, what, three days now?

 Yeah, it happened Sunday.

Huh, well, you should be over it by now. I’ll see you at the gym some time. Looking good! We should grab a coffee some time!

Four.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

What happened? Tell me everything. I mean, I never met him, but I saw your blog and the news article and everyone is talking about it. What happened? Does his family know? Is his fiancee healing? How are his kids taking it? Was anyone else involved? Who found them? What did the medical report say? Where is–

Whoa, that’s a lot of questions.

I’m just really sad about this!

Did you want to grab some popcorn, or…

Five.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

Are you doing okay? I mean, really. I know you two were really close. 

I’m doing okay, yeah. It’s been tough, but I’m going through the grieving process.

Here, sit down. Talk to me. Tell me how you are.

Ugh, it’s hard to talk about. It just came as such a shock. I mean, I was working and I found out through a text message. It was–

Oh hang on, my phone. I got a text. (pause) Oh god, my roommate’s hilarious, look at this. 

Six. 

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

Look, if you get sad, just go to the gym. It’ll fix everything. You just gotta punch it out. Or porn and sex work too. Seriously, it sounds dumb, but those are the best things when you’re grieving. 

Uh, thanks for the advice.

Seven. 

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you. He was my favorite person.

Can I give you a hug?

Absolutely.

Look, I’m here. If you need to talk or vent or cry or just have someone around, I’m here. 

Thank you. Seriously, thank you.

Can I bring you some soup later?

Oh my god, that would be amazing. You’re so sweet!

I know what it is like to lose someone. I’m here for you, I mean it. Your job is taking care of other people, make sure you are taking care of you, too. 

 

**In all sincerity, thank you to everyone for the support on a difficult week. I’m amazingly blessed with loving and incredible people from every area of my life.

Lesbians and grossed out gays

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“What are you reading?”

I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.

While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.

“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”

“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”

The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.

“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”

“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.

“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”

“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.

“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”

The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”

I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”

He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”

I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.

I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.

“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.

“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”

“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”

He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”

I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.