(Photo: Some see the forest, some see the pathway through.)
I get by with a little help from my friends. Wednesday night, sitting with my fellow GLYNY alums Peter and Barbara at the bar at Philip Marie in the West Village, I felt the truth of that. The restaurant is catering our GLYNY 20-year reunion event in November. We had come to check out the rumored-legendary fried green tomatoes. It was the first meal I enjoyed from beginning to end since the breakup.
Old friends know me better than anyone. When I announced to them my challenge of deciphering self-confidence from fear-based need, they got it. They remembered the scared, angry little kid who set the precedent for the 36-year-old with a problem acknowledging the fabulousness of his life.
It was walking with Barbara from Peter’s house to the train in April, passing all our old Greenwich Village haunts, that I first announced my decision to come home. During the walk back on Wednesday, Barbara read my thoughts.
“It’s always the same feeling with us, in the city, isn’t it? You’re really coming home. And we love you.”
And I’m grateful for the sentiment. But everything’s different now.
Now that I’m waking up from a life of choices and actions driven by fear of scarcity and failure–a life permanently led in survival mode–I don’t see anything like I did before. I’ve spent a week observing and questioning every move I’ve made, every thought and feeling. Watching fear take precedence over confidence.
Inside, it feels like a record with two grooves. One plays a soundtrack of childhood neediness, the veritable Drama of the Gifted Child anthem. The other sounds a calm, self-assured chord. And I’m learning that by paying attention and pausing, I can remind my lost little inner child that, although his feelings are valid simply because they exist, there’s this whole other melody to listen to.
And, more and more, I’m learning to enjoy the right music. Just acknowledging my primal fears instead of rejecting them, and holding them up to all happy evidence of an abundant life, I’m finding that, like never, ever before, I can manage to lift my needle and move it into the correct groove. It’s not an easy effort. But it works. And it has the power to reframe my relationship with the world around me.
I can already feel that happening. And that’s why everything’s different now. The core of what I thought was me: social anxiety; an unending desire for older men; the relentless pursuit of my comfort zone. How much is real? How much is symptomatic of an inner child obsessed with controlling all aspects of the world around him for fear that the roof will cave in (which, by the way, it literally did when I was 20).
The sobriety of being present in your life and holding every emotion up to the light of reason is, I think, the definition of clarity. Whether or not you do anything constructive with that knowledge. I’ve never done anything the easy way. I’m diving as deep as I can into this, and my intensity is, I think, mistaken for self-flagellation by my close friends. Some worry that I’m taking all the blame for the failure of my relationship with Devyn and being too hard on myself.
Well. I do take the blame for the failure. Not for everything. And this is far beyond a relationship issue now. I am exploring the depths of my emotional being. It’s not supposed to be easy. But it has been rewarding far beyond my ability to previously comprehend. And in terms of Devyn, I’m so very grateful he helped me to wake up. He knew what was going on. I can be OK with my friends not being able to make the leap into facing my demons quite as quickly as I did.
And because of that, everything’s different now. Me fears feel different. My joys feel different. My opinions feel different. My sense of self feels different. It’s a difference based on a belief in limitless possibility that I can achieve on my own, because I’ve proved it before, many times, without letting myself know it. Though it’s brutally hard to be vigilant about my inner dialogue right now, I know it will get easier.
And, as a result, this doesn’t feel like coming home, anymore. With my relationship to the world around me starting to undergo such a titanic shift, I feel rootless, emotionally homeless, while I learn to live in my own skin in a new way, free of the filter of fear.
It’s as if I’ve never experienced my hometown at all. The feel of the city, its business, its bustle, its hard-nosed realism, its people, its neighborhoods (and this week I’ve rediscovered many of them) are all new to me. Finally able to fearlessly face Gotham after four long, loathing years away, I have learned one thing for certain.
I am absolutely in love with the place I come from.
Now I know, had I been able to face my demons earlier, Chicago might never have happened for me. And while I cannot imagine my life without my years spent in that Midwestern city which I love so dearly, now I know when I return to Hogtown to continue planning my move, my adopted home will feel fundamentally different to me, too. I have no idea how, and I’m readying myself for a bit of a shock.
Friends have asked whether I’m truly sure that returning home now is the right thing to do. Given how we New Yorkers tend to wear our hearts firmly sewn on our sleeves, the answer is a resounding yes. Living here among hard-nosed New Yorkers and lovingly blunt New York friends will keep things real for me as I continue my journey into confidence. My friends will call me out on my recovery without hesitation.
It’s amazing how in six short days the human heart can go from facing the depths of utter despair to feeling on top of the world. Everything is, indeed, different now.
Only this time, I intend to keep it that way.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.