Like it or not, I am often the energy hub in my relationships, especially in small groups or triangles--the conversation carrier, the constant worrier, the couch cushion under which the others hides their unresolved (t)issues*. On this side of things, it is a survival mechanism, an alchemy of sorts to convert my own insecurity, paranoia, & anxiety into the form of well-rounded openness, a manner of distraction / disruption from mine own unsolidified trust vs. mistrust feelings. Unfortunately, it is also often a self-fulfilling prophecy with my social conspiracy theories**, psychological hypochondria***, & deep-well of collected feelings****, often leading me to blow up the relationship, as the hub bubbles & the worst imagined possibility (always loss, embarrassment, fear-causing) bursts forth.
As such, I have become well-versed in the art of the vulnerable, explanatory apology. In the past, I let my response be reactively honest & timely, but I found that to be more escalatory than reconciliatory, a form of gaslighting even. Also, in order to avoid further emotional entanglement, I have found it better to start with a letter as the opening mechanism of reconciliation, first reviewed***** by my wife & most trusted feedback-giver Diana. Both for my own continued growth & others’ possible benefit, I will plop a recent version of this letter at the end of this post.
On Christmas Day, several fruiting contentions among my immediate family fell from the branches--unresolved decades-long conflicts, unspoken grievances, unwelcomed guests, etc******. As the empath******* of the family, those problems are often voiced to me & unsettled elsewhere, leaving me to carry the emotional burden of that, which because of my temperment & make-up often takes a larger-than-necessary toll on my spirit, body, & mind. In turn, thanks to my psychological disorder, this well of energy often overspills in hyperbolic & unpredictable ways..
That is exactly what happened on Jesus’s B-day this year. As Diana later said, she could tell I was not handling the strange vibe of the room & the disjointed family time very well, & unfortunately, neither of us grabbed the gumption to say see-ya before the blur of my disorder mingled with the overwhelmed emotional reserve I have been gifted. On the surface, it looked basic--my grandpa made a few-too-many grumpy old-man remarks & threw his cards, so I said some choice words & stormed out.
For an onlooker, even the family members there, that was it, something seen a dozen times before, Tyler overreacting, flying off the handle, & coming back in a few days to apologize. As I have learned more about my disorder, my disposition, & my position in my circles, I have had to contend with the fact that it is not all there is. During our drive home, a short mile up the road, I began to dissociate, swirling in my typical vortex of anger, embarrassment, & emotional obligation, a haze Diana has seen consume me a dozen times before.********
In my never-ending quest to understand how my weird brain stores memories, processes emotions, & reacts (in)appropriately, I have found I just need more time to compile a response & ultimately an apology than other folks require.. For me, it is pivotal to first write down my apology, feelings, observations, & needs. Too often in the past, I have sent it prematurely, when I still needed time for revision or to realize it should not be sent at all. This time, I opted to share it with Diana & not present it to him, opting instead to take that synthesized emotion & present it with a hug for my vulnerable elder. This approach worked well, preparing myself to lead the reconciliation & allowing him the necessary space for the relief he deserved & the response he was capable of. While I am learning********* that I am honestly often incapable of controlling myself in the midst / mist of the dreaded outburst / episode, I have found the process of writing the letter below tremendously valuable, able to prepare & revise my response in a way that is purposeful, honest, & humanist.
*Does this come off as sexual? I hope not, but I keep it out of affection for the use of parentheses.
**When Diana & I started dating, I honestly believed for the first two years that she & my most recent girlfriend, who had been classmates, had concocted a plan to destroy me by making me fall in-love with Diana & revealing it at our wedding. This is extremely bad thinking, just to be clear, & I am working on it.
***In the ways others are constantly convinced they have found a new physical ailment within their body, I have spent the last decade cycling through various psychological & intellectual disorders to explain my disjunctive & peculiar behavior, everything from psychopathy to Autism. I would consult Dr. Google, match it to multiple symptoms, & ignore all other factors of failure, before presenting it to my less-&-less amused therapist.
****Here I am reminded of Bill Burr’s bit in his new special Paper Tiger in response to his wife’s “Where is this coming from?” questioning about his outbursts; it is like, having you not be listening?
***** One time, I heard the poet Ellen Bass talk about how her partner always “checks her teeth for spinach,” as not so much a first reader, but a final reader before showing this or that piece of writing to the world. Diana & I have taken that approach to heart, especially in terms of confrontational situations.
******I am leaving the details in the wind, to preserve privacy for the others & remain focused on the main purpose of this essay.
*******I am still not sure or settled on what word to label myself with here. My therapists have used “empath.” I often say emotional “conduit” or “harborer.” In the writing of this, I discovered the idea of the “energy hub.” I am sure there are better terms.
********& a full story I will save for a more relevant post.
We wanted to write you a letter about what happened at Christmas, a situation we realize was very upsetting & confusing for you. Clearly, it was those things to us as well, so to clear the air & begin reconciliation, we felt it best to write a letter. Above all else, this letter represents how much we love you, how much it means to us to be here with you, & what we desire in relationship with you in the coming years.
First of all, we are sorry for how Tyler exploded at the card table on Christmas. Later, we are willing to explain how those emotions came to boil in that situation, but for now, it is best to start with an apology. We should’ve removed ourselves from a frustrating situation far before it got to that point. We are sorry you had to witness this outburst & for all the pain it must have caused. We want to assure you that this situation was about far more than the minor conflict at the card table.
To better explain what happened from a larger view, we need you to know a struggle we’ve found since our return in order to strengthen our relationships in the future. At times you make quick assumptions & bring a negative attitude when we spend time together. Because of this we feel distant from you & find it difficult to be honest about our journeys in life. We have our own problems, triumphs, & everyday tidbits we’d love to share with you, in the same way we love hearing your stories, seeing your puzzles, & celebrating your life. For example, your grumpiness at Christmas dinner, though minor, only added fuel to that fire, an unnecessary stressor we are sure you don’t wish to cause.
Again we’re sorry for the disruption Tyler caused at Christmas. Thank you for allowing us to be honest with you. We love you & we want to be around you to show gratitude for all you’ve given us. We have so much to learn from you and desire to carry on your legacy. We are truly honored that you trust us to care for your house. We want this chapter of your life to be as comfortable & happy as possible, with us by your side.
Tyler & Diana