Since this story comes up a lot whenever I get into a conversation about dance, I’m just going to write it here so I can copy/paste it in the future.
Way back in 2010 when our biggest problem was the recession caused by the housing market crash, I had gone on a trip to Colombia for the first, and so far only, family reunion. I went with my sister and her boyfriend at the time, as my spanish is horrible despite being of Colombian and Cuban blood. We ended up staying at this large walled resort, whose name I cannot remember. We stayed in these little cabins, and we would take daily trips via bus to different locations in Colombia. One evening we decided to go to this I remember being called “Andres Restraunt”. Although when I google the place, it gives me “Andres Carne de Res” from an eater.com article, which describes the place as “a Cheesecake Factory crossed with a night club on steroids…”. This is accurate. I did not have this information going in.
A few months prior to this trip, I had just started taking a few months worth of Salsa dance classes (LA style). I had reasoned to myself that learning an actual social skill like dancing would help me better cope with social gathering situations where my combination introversion and social anxiety issues made it difficult for me to just strike up conversation with strangers. Especially with all dance parties that always seem to spawn around me on account of having lived in Miami back then. It did help a bit back then now that I think on it, but these days the opportunities are much less (especially since COVID). The point here is I wanted to learn how to dance and would use every opportunity I could to practice. When the world returns to normal, I intend to get back into it.
Now this restaurant was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and to this day I still haven’t experienced anything that can compare. I remember entering with my entire extended family through a roped off area, as if it were some sort of carnival ride we were stepping into. In a way, it was I suppose. I recall it was a hybrid indoor/outdoor setup. In the middle there was the kitchen/bar infrastructure. The whole area was shaped as a massive rectangle. Spreading out from the center was rows of long wooden tables arranged in parallel. The dining and dancing areas were covered with a combination of canopy coverings or other misc roofing material. Because this was still in the mountainous area of Colombia, it was always cool in the evening so there wasn’t a need for AC. Cover from the rain was all that mattered. At random times, there would be musical processions or other events walking through the entirety of the place. There was even a wedding going on, though to my understanding it wasn’t an actual wedding but instead was just a performance of one. There were also trees in this place. This will become relevant later.
When we sat down at our tables, we were presented with these massive menus that were inside of a metal box. They had a hand crank. You would turn the crank, and the menu would rotate through. I’m not sure I ever found the end of it.
The other important thing, besides the amazing food, were the drinks. This would be my first introduction to Aguardiente. I translated it as Fire Water (though if you want to be technical, wiki describes it was “water” and “burning/fiery”). Either way, that is what it felt like to drink it. It was done in shot format. I had never drank like that with my family before. I can’t remember now what were the prompts for each shot, but they were…frequent. I recall my cousins would randomly hand me a shot, and down it would go. At one point my sister started getting angry at my cousins and told them to stop giving me drinks. She could be an absolute bear against me some days, but she was always defensive for me if anyone other than her gave me a hard time…such was the nature of our sibling relationship. As she was scolding one cousin, another would hand me a drink while she was busy and I’d just drink it anyway. I mean we took a bus to get here so driving wasn’t going to be an issue.
12 shots later, I noticed some Salsa music was playing. When you learn how to do these more specific dances, the instruments used in the music you dance to become key. There is a specific sound pattern I listen for and work with. And so it was in that moment. While there were a series of solo techniques I knew, the real fun was when I was dancing with a partner. Even as drunk as I was though, I still too shy to just come up to random people and ask to dance. So I came up with a novel solution to this problem.
I danced with a tree. It was the right height. It had a limb sticking out just where I needed it. So I danced with it, working on my various spins. This went on for about 5 minutes maybe? Maybe 10? I was drunk I can’t remember these fine details! As luck would have it, a group of people took notice of what I was doing. They came up to me and asked why I was dancing with a tree. I don’t remember the answer I gave. They invited me to dance with them instead. It was either a couple + 1 other lady, or a brother/sister/sister combination of people. I can’t remember those details either. I do remember dancing with everyone. I also remember the name (still) of one of them I danced with, Carolina. After we had our fill of dancing, the group of people invited me to their table to eat and hang with them for a while.
6 shots later (for a total of 18 for you math geniuses out there), it was time to start leaving. Getting back to our cabins was another story in itself. Despite all that drinking, I had no hang over in the morning. My sister credits it to my Colombian heritage.
Regarding her, I don’t feel comfortable engaging in that shared community at all. Especially when it comes to the more wild events. I think the only way that I’ll be able to feel more ok (it’ll never be 100%) would be through getting closure on what happened, and a plan for how to move forward. Currently, I don’t feel comfortable enough with her to get into that discussion. I don’t see her having the patience and empathy for that kind of discussion now, or maybe ever. Which means I’m either going to have to continue to endure being uncomfortable in that group (while it is all online) or finally just completely remove myself from it and all the contacts I’ve made since. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve removed myself from a community. When I think about it, that was the result of how things went down with another person long ago. There was never an exit plan.
Thanks to a friend I was able to make use of the “Calm” app to start practicing meditation more regularly. It has helped dull the edge of some of my anxiety flare ups, though they are by no means gone. And of course I still struggle with depression episodes that keep me from wanting to reach out to anyone. During the 30 day program, one of the episodes was about friendliness. One of the suggested mantras was to think the following to people you like, and dislike, and to yourself: “May you be strong. May you find peace. May you feel that you belong”. I think that last bit has started a bit of a ripple in my awareness. That sense of community may be the thing I really need to address. I don’t have that currently. I realize I did sort of have that in the past to varying degrees. The common characteristics when I did was a regularity of *sustained* interpersonal contact and it involved an activity that I was at least competent at and somewhat recognized for. I experienced this in MMA, Kenpo, Salsa, IT back in CBT, Dag for a little while, roleplay chats, Ren faires, and competitive online gaming (back in the late 90s to mid 2000s). D&D filled in some of that as well, more so when the games were regular and the group would have follow up meetings outside of that (which also led to meeting my wife; also this gives me more insight on why her working at renfaire was important to her, it was a community in itself). I don’t have the gift of gab, at all, so I’ve always had more success with people when an activity is the focus (but still required direct interactions, which is SF doesn’t give me that community sense).
One that requires skill, not luck, so no I’m not doing bingo or shit like that. Plus there is also my personality type to begin with…I do not do well with highly extroverted/loud/flashy type people. I don’t feel that I fit in with the local poly crowds here for that reason. That is not an adjustment that I can or want to make to “fit in”. The only reason I stay in that discussion group now is because the occasional good idea still floats up. I feel that as the numbers increase, the quality will continue to decline…so I suspect it will eventually happen. I still believe in the idea of multiple romantic relationships being valid and potentially helpful things, but they require a ton of work and patience for all involved parties (and *clear* boundary work and non-judgmental understanding of triggers). I can’t do casual, at least not in person when you start throwing around all those “love” chemicals that go off when being physical. It seems like the people that do all tend to be the flashy/loud types, and I just don’t fit in there anyway. I suppose the time I spent on Lit was casual, but my sharp internal world and ability to write evocative imagery was useful and appreciated in that place. Doing that requires an intense focus that my default personality fits well with…it does *not* work in a crowded bar.
Better to focus on my strengths. I’m just not sure where I’m going to find a community that I fit in with currently. All the physical in person things aren’t an option while COVID is still a problem. That only leaves online communities. Roleplay options (of any variety, but written) are a little hard for me to do right now, as I need to be isolated to really enter into that world of imagination. Being interrupted every 10 minutes by a cat/dog or even the presence of another human makes me feel uncomfortable. I thought about competitive gaming, but I haven’t really found an option that fits me. I can’t do the battle royale or “MOBA” type games. Too much drama, plus for the games I seem to enjoy more there isn’t a good way for me to break into that community. Though maybe it is also that I just hadn’t really committed to trying to break in. I also thought about looking into joining other D&D or even shadowrun games on Roll20. I’m not sure that’ll do it.
I really wish she’d stop popping up in my head. I keep getting these scenes of different arguments and the points I would make. I never really have the other side of that though. Then those feelings of shame and inadequacy start bubbling up, and it hurts. I’m struggling to not just cut off every connection I have to that community right now. I do not feel welcome. That is not my kind of tribe. I’m not sure what my tribe even is. I know I had it once long ago. I’m not sure where I can find it now. This plague doesn’t make things easy in that regard either. I’m not sure what to do right now.
I’m planning to attend an online discussion group and the discussion is about individualism vs collectivism. The group page had a scoring system and asked questions about how one’s family of origin influenced which path they leaned towards, how they have changed over time, and how they can get a better understand of people that score the other way. I needed to write and so I’m putting this up here so that perhaps I can reference it later.
individual score= 16 collectivism = 10
My family did value independence highly. I recall my mother telling me the story about how she was emotionally and physically abused by her mother, and how she had started to repeat that behavior with my half brothers who came before me. After her divorce and then having me and my sister with my father, she made it a point to “break the chain” and did her best to avoid that type of behavior with us. She was not always successful, but the point that stuck with me is that positive change is always possible and you are not doomed to always be who you were yesterday or a clone of your upbringing.
Over time I’ve only grown to be more fiercely independent. I attribute this to my traumatic experiences in school that were the result of being singled out by groups of kids and physically and emotionally battered. The more I understand about the kind of lasting damage that can do to a child’s development in the long term, the more I see how that plays out in the intense social anxiety I experience when I find myself in group situations like crowded bars or even tightly packed discussion groups where I’m either physically “trapped” or when my ideas run counter to group opinion. I’m very sensitive to majority views in group because I understand that has an associated trigger that my limbic system recognizes as a potential threat. I will literally feel my heart race as if I had just sprinted a mile.
As far as understanding a greater understanding of poeple from a different value system? I’m not sure in this instance. I’m already a highly avoidant type personality (which seem to be more frequently found with collective types in my view…I tend to pull away then upset/afraid when what they want is for me to move closer when they feel upset/afraid), which I’ve learned the hard way really tends to piss people off that are more the anxious type. My current thinking now is just being really clear on how my boundaries work, and hope their ability to blend in harmoniously can work for an effective exchange of ideas.
I’ve been listening to the audio book “Unfuck Your Boundaries” several times. It is relatively short but there is a lot of deep stuff in there. I just had some serious insights become unlocked for me this morning. I had already recently come to understand that I have issues with my internal boundaries which make me particularly sensitive to criticism that attacks my character, and issues with indirect manipulations on myself (people trying to get me to change my behavior/emotional responses without directly asking me to do so). In the book, the author describes the physical responses we have when those boundaries are crossed, and went in to basically explain our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain, and so even when we don’t logically understand the trigger, we respond. The little man in the stomach idea.
I think I understand why I have so much trouble with criticism that gets interpreted as character attacks or, and this is perhaps the bigger trigger, is based on false assumptions about my intentions. My brain is literally trying to avoid pain. Both physical and social. And I know social pain activates the same as physical pain (I need to find articles supporting this). I remember getting physically hit by my sister, and come to think of it, one of my brothers as well directly because my words or actions were being interpreted maliciously. I have a particularly vivid memory, though I can’t recall the words too well. I remember the summer I had spent with my cousins in SC, along with my sister. She started getting angry about something (and now we understand she has severe anxiety issues as well, so I don’t blame her for her behavior, but I do understand how it effected me growing up), and I called her out on it. I think I might have said something along the lines of “stop being a bitch”, but then I might have used a different word as well. Regardless, it resulted in my getting punched in the mouth (and I had braces on at the time). I think I understand more now why my father was so strongly against any violence now. Anyhow, there were quite a few instances like that with my sister that involved me getting physically attacked. It was basically always because something I said/did was misconstrued as something else.
Things like this happened with my mother as well, although it was less likely to result in physical punishment. It did lead to literal abandonment. I remember there was this one time she got real angry at my sister and I at church one day. I never understood why. But she literally left us there and we had to walk home. We were maybe 12 or 13 at the time? Now that I think on it, I see exactly where I got my silent storm issue too. She brooded often.
And then there was school, particularly elementary. I was a pariah there. I was fat and I had a nose picking habit. This led to me being singled out and just reviled by nearly everyone. It literally led to me being physically attacked and socially isolated. As a child, that is major fucking pain. It is no wonder I can get such intense social anxiety around groups of people. The only time it isn’t there I realize, is when I’m running something. I think that script got flipped when I started guild leadership back as a teenager. It was the only time I wasn’t afraid.
So yes, all of this for me to realize the fear I experience in trying to fit in (unsuccessfully) in social groups, and how I handle nonconstructive criticism from loved ones is literally born out of those experiences I had growing up. When someone appears angry at me, especially for reasons I either don’t understand or that aren’t true, my brain flips into survival mode. It learned there was pain incoming and that is why I would feel so bad afterwards. I need to explore more on how I can get help to calm that trigger.
Update, talked with my wife a bit more about this understanding. A couple of things I need to do going forward.
1. In newer relationships that actually seem to be going somewhere, I need to bring up this boundary up as soon as possible. I need to explain I have a trigger around nonconstrucive criticism, and if it gets triggered I need space. This is *especially* important in the age of social media where we’re always available because of all the instant messengers. It is vital to have that space and not allow anyone to simply blow up on me without permission. I can dig into the source of that trigger if they want, but the important part is establishing that boundary early. It also makes it easier to run the “no” test early on. It is a form of PTSD, in the sense that I get the same emotional response as I did back as a child. I have to be able to tell someone that triggers this that I am feeling hurt and that I need to back away from this conversation, now. We can schedule out a time to come back to it later. If they continue to lay into me, then they are crossing my boundary. I need this boundary to function. It becomes more important the closer I get to someone as that is where the pain lies.
2. I also need to explain the intense social anxiety I can get in group situations. I mean heart pounding I’m about to get attacked by a bear type anxiety. Again, I could dig into my childhood and how I was a social pariah and how social exile is literally interpreted as physical pain, but that isn’t as important. The point is I’m going to likely feel that at some point, and I *need* to be able to get away periodically into more quiet spaces to overcome it. This is a need for me. Non-negotiable.
My wife was laid off this week. I’m still battling with feelings of rejection and shame. and now I’m feeling frustrated at this whole situation. I don’t have anyone I can trust to turn to on talking this stuff out. Maybe I really am being walked all over. Even if it isn’t intentional or malicious in intent, the experience is still happening. I’m trying to be understanding of the head space she is in regarding everything, but am I really just enabling giving up? She did the one thing today, and then has slept the rest of the day. I know she’s aware of all the carrying I do for us, but her response is to give in to despair instead of help. Is this going to be another instance of me enabling someone by helping? Do I take the dick approach and lock down everything? And even if I did, it doesn’t matter if she just continues to give in to depression and stay unconscious all the time. I think I’ve still got a year and a half of needing to hold on to this home. and I’ve got 2 years on this loan, which I took out to survive the tax hit and help resolve her lawyer issue. I need cooperation. I need forward progress. I’m not going to be satisfied with my life by just getting by. I never was really.
I gave a listen to “Breathing” by Andrew Weil MD after a recommendation from a friend regarding finding meditation material. It was helpful. I started using the techniques I learned last night before going to bed, and this morning. And during my lunch hour. A big storm was rolling in so I decided to take advantage and sit in the back and further work on those breathing techniques while I watched the storm roll in. It reminded me the day before Hurricane Andrew. And through that, I was reminded of my father while I worked on engaging my parasympathetic and I realized another reason why he always seemed so calm. He had gardening as a hobby. All that time spent alone, doing an activity that required relatively little processing while doing it. If the goal is to spend more and more time in this state, therefore making it easier to enter and stay there…then he sure had a ton of experience doing just that.
These days, in the electronic industry that has blown up since I was a boy, there is this strong drive to *always* be engaged in something, being productive in some way. To always have some sort of input, whether it be movies, books, games, music, or other people. We forget what it is to just…be.
To feel the wind on your skin. To hear the birds chirp as they find their next meal. To see the wet grass sway in its’ chaotic form. To feel the moisture of the early rain showers on my legs as I set on a chair. To smell that moisture in the air. To just exist in the now, as tomorrow is never a certainty.