Looking Beyond The Mirror

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The black sport shoes, the only pair of shoes I have, weren’t in a condition to grace my feet for an outing without being washed first. There was nothing I could do about it since I noticed them pretty late, right before I was about to step out to meet a friend after a long time. I subtly judged myself for living an unorganized life. Then my self-esteem made a comeback by saying that the pandemic-induced lockdown has put me out of touch with the MO for going out of the house – clean clothes and shoes (also taking a bath). I was going to meet my friend after three months. These three months I totally stayed at home, in my bed and in my mind. I observed one thing about myself during this stillness that I have this obsession with being productive, even when I’m taking a break from being productive – let’s read a few essays while taking a smoking break. Just when I was rummaging through my small almirah hoping to find a shirt, the power went out. Without a power backup, ironing was too much of an ambitious goal and I had to pick up a crumpled brown checked shirt from the massive pile of clothes on the floor. I usually style my hair in front of the mirror to make sure my man bun creates the illusion of a high hair volume. But without the lights, I could only slide my fingers across the cold and rough (due to tough stains on it as it hadn’t been cleaned for long) surface of the mirror. Relying on the skills of my inner stylist, I did my hair, put on the checked shirt, black trackpants, dirty black sport shoes, grabbed my keys and stepped out of the house for a non-essential outing after ages. I got in my car, put on the radio and drove towards the destination.

It was supposed to be a 40-minute drive to the cafe where we were meeting. I had just started from my place when it began to rain. It was july so it was a pre-monsoon shower which I knew wouldn’t last long, but it did set a truly pleasant tone for the journey. Ten minutes into the ride it started pouring so heavily that the traffic was forced to dawdle down the road, sidelights blinking in caution to highlight the extremities of the cars. I almost hit a motorist when he suddenly slowed down probably due to the low visibility. The stormy winds had uprooted a pole which had speed cameras mounted on it and it fell down in an inverted L shape resembling a miter arch. Cars had no choice but to pass under the pole hoping that they get across before the arch collapses. It began a game of luck. I slowly drove as close to it as possible and then pressed hard on the accelerator. My heartbeat was racing as I took a sigh of relief when I completed my mission, unharmed.

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Radio signals were slogging away to play me some songs while I smoked a cigarette with the windows rolled up – it got too smoggy inside the cabin. A familiar tune was playing and my hands reached for the volume knob. My heart slumped into deep dejection, a tear coursed down my left cheek as I let out a cavernous sigh and a nicotine laded puff. I first heard this song lying naked in the arms of the woman I loved during my life’s most memorable night, the night that eventually commissioned my steepest downfall. It was a song about the high you achieve when you get drunk in your lover’s presence. All the healing I had achieved in the past 18 months seemed to have disappeared, lost like the other frequencies on the radio. I was in relationship with a woman that I met during my solo trip to the mountains. I had just finished directing a play for primary school kids and headed for the himalayas to wind down. She was too beautiful, welcoming and interested that my generally low self-esteem catapulted into the exosphere. That euphoric state lasted for just two months; she gradually started distancing herself while I yearned for the initial honeymoon period when it used to feel as if I’ve met my soulmate.

I first met her in April 2018 and in the next fifteen months, I was narcissistically abused by her, I lost all of my savings, both of my parents and gave up my only lifelong passion – music. She didn’t pause her manipulations even when both of my parents were hospitalized and my elder sister and I were grappling hard with a corrupt hospital administration, that only saw them as ideal candidates for their ventilator machines. I was discarded by her on my birthday, with an announcement of her marriage with a man who’s agreed to support her financially. Humiliated and abandoned, dysphoria became my new normal. Three months later, the pandemic showed up with its heavy suitcases and an intent to stay for long, landing an ugly blow to all my dealing mechanisms ; working, travelling, dating. I was homebound, grieving for my parents, my broken heart (shattered rather), my hard earned savings and my sense of self. The human brain wants to find answers, it strives on solving problems. Mine, during the lockdown, went on to explore psychology to understand how the hell I got myself into this situation. Why was I attracted to a fake persona and how could I allow myself to be walked over? I got to know about the concept of validation and how evident the aftermath is, if a child is deprived of it during the initial years of character development. It was an epiphany ; I was experiencing the aftermath. This awakening pushed me towards my transition.

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I stepped into adulthood as a timid person. Just the thought of a confrontation would send shivers down my spine. People-pleasing was my MO for having conversations as it made me feel safe – servility meant survival. As a result, all the bonds I formed reflected inequality – I must always provide to make them stay. Exhausting myself by doing extra for people to the point of a break down, for me, self-worth was something that others provided to you. I was seeking validation and love that I didn’t receive in my childhood and this pursue frequently lead me into toxic relationships as they seemed quite familiar. My heart was used to yearning for love and appreciation, hence it chose the most emotionally unavailable ones. Friends, band mates, lovers ; all totally opposite to me in nature. I sucked up to the frontmen of all the bands that I played guitar for, as only their approval would allow me to freely express my creativity. Then I realised that my friends were friends with me because I am too accomodating. An assertive version of myself wouldn’t have gone down too well with them since we all have a tendency to resist change.

I had lost everything in the last two years and now I was at the crossroads. One road was the familiar, submissive road that I’ve been taking for years and the other one was unknown and foggy, like the one I was actually driving on. My emotions were abandoned in that relationship and to survive this apocalyptic phase, I had to please one more person. This person had deserved my attention for quite long and I felt it was time, my last chance to tell him he’s worthy. I had to suck up to myself now. Instead of expecting others to provide me a sense of self-worth, I had to get it from myself because if I didn’t do it now, if I didn’t change now, as per all the healing books I’d gone through, I’ll continue to attract narcissistic abuse since my brain was too familiar with the push and pull dynamics.

I started by establishing boundaries around what I allow and what I don’t allow into my life. Anything that urged me to pretend got my least attention. If someone called me and I didn’t feel like speaking to them at that moment, I allowed myself to not pick up the call. Just a few days ago, my friends were planning to meet up and invited me as well. The older me would’ve accepted the invitation despite being uncomfortable with going out yet. But this time, I decided to turn down the invite due to my anxiety around roaming in public places. Their disapproval was quite evident in their behaviour in the following weeks. One of my close friends said that I am too selfish as I plan meet-ups only when I feel like doing so. I swear I believed him for a moment as I’ve never been assertive about my needs and it felt alien to me. It’s quite a task to even muster the courage to express yourself freely when people are only used to you being compliant, they’ll resist it. It’s discomfort for them as it is for you. From time to time I’d find myself sliding back to the old self-defeating behavioural patterns, but I knew that healing isn’t linear, it happens in a haphazard manner – one day you’re feeling totally empowered and the next day you’re bending over backwards just to comfort someone.

This transition was extremely overwhelming and my body-mind needed all the rest and solace it could get. That’s when pandemic opened one of its suitcases and offered me both. During that time, meditation found its way to me as if to assist my brain in this makeover. Anxiety, hypervigilance, saying yes when you want to say no, being attracted to the potential than the reality ; all my lifelong masters agreed to loosen the leash.

Reducing engagement with friends and family members whom I didn’t feel the connect with, turned out to be the most crucial step, as the discomfort it caused revealed how dependent I was on people and it taught me how to choose my comfort over obligations. I must admit that It was too isolating. When you realize that people have actually been interacting with a hologram of the frightened child inside you instead of the real adult you, there’s nothing you can call yours anymore. The subtle dysphoria presents itself overtly. I felt as if my life is a newly bought blank computer disk with no history, no emotions, nothing. I had to build an identity, a character. Then there was this persistent urge to be the provider that I had to battle with. It took me some time (28 years to be specific) to understand that not everyone will like me. I must believe that I bring something valuable to the table and that there’s no need to prove it. Nowadays, whenever I’m around people, the pleaser inside me, like always, wants to justify his existence by contributing unsolicitedly and I have to remind him that it’s uncalled for and ask him to stop. I must tell you that he listens ; he’s accomodating.

It was quite difficult to comprehend that I am worthy just the way I am, I need not do anything for anyone to gain their respect and love. Well, this isn’t entirely true. We all have to play some roles in the lives of others, but for someone who knows people-pleasing as the only means to survive, this is the most appropriate reminder. I learnt to trust myself with the task of protecting, validating and caring for me. We’re all here on mission earth and we must learn how to survive here alone. I’ll meet many others like me who have their own problems, limitations and we’ll form bonds. But I have to make sure that I don’t build a relationship to get an unmet childhood need met otherwise, codependency will always keep me unhappy. I started waking up with positive affirmations, speaking up for myself and claiming my space. I was beginning to make peace with the fact that I’m alone and it’s nobody’s fault. I thought maybe, I’ve been given a clean slate by the universe to rewrite my life.

The rain stopped well before I reached the cafe. After parking my car, I felt like going for a stroll on the freshly rained cemented roads. It was quite liberting to walk at my own pace instead of catching up to someone. Then I met my friend and we decided to have coffee. She complimented me on my checked shirt saying that it looked really good on me. I smiled, not because of the praise, but the realization that my transition had happened. Earlier that day when I was getting ready, I couldn’t see myself in the mirror as there were no lights. I didn’t wait for the mirror to validate me, I trusted my inner voice for the thumbs up. I had looked beyond the mirror.

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