Being small

Back in March 2015 I finally broke. Everything was collapsing around me at home and at work. My marriage was failing, work sucked and I felt lost, and I just didn’t want to live anymore. What ultimately pushed me over the edge was finding out Boy #1 was dealing with serious bullying and wanted to kill himself. He was 11. I went to work that day and I lost my mind. I couldn’t see my computer and I couldn’t concentrate. I just wanted to go home for the rest of the day. I sat at my desk staring at nothing. I was so consumed by stress that I literally could not see what was on my computer screen. At about 10, I decided to talk to my commander. I burst into tears and told him everything I was dealing with and how Boy #1 was struggling. He listened and then told me I could go home but first I should make an appointment with the military counselor.

I dragged myself over there and this weird dude named Lance was there. He was the counselor. Through lots of tears I told him what was going on. He asked what would make it better. My answer was “Nothing. There is nothing that would make my life better.”

After that day, I spent weeks sobbing and crying. It was like this flood of emotions washed over me. I was feeling everything I had blocked for the previous 30 years of my life or more. It was terrible. I have never been so drained in my life. I went back to Lance once and he introduced me to another counselor who was taking over. She was married to one of my coworkers and did nothing to help me. She wanted to gossip and once told me that it sounded like I had OCD. Then she left and was replaced by a wonderful counselor named Kim. Kim helped me out so much. I also was talking to a counselor online through Talkspace who was a godsend. Through these two, I learned so much about myself.

As I reflect on those early days in counseling, I often think about how hard it was to relearn myself. The person I remembered being as a child had disappeared. I had no confidence. I had made myself small. But why? Why did I decide it was best to be small? What clues did I get from the world around me and when did that happen? I couldn’t remember any definitive moment when I became small.

Until this weekend.

Things with the ex are good on the surface. He and his parents think we are the best of friends. Right now it is easiest for me to live that way on the outside, while working hard on the inside with only my wife knowing the truth. And some people way outside of his circle know as well. Ever since we picked the kids up from him almost two weeks ago, my mind has been in overdrive on the past. I’ve been thinking through the early years with him and how fast everything went bad.

He was controlling. I was not to have male friends, which I promptly balked at. I was in the military and I would have very few friends with a “rule” like that. I was too independent and wouldn’t let him do things for me. What happened there was that I slowly started letting him take things over and once I trusted him to do those things, he stopped doing them. I would beg and plead for things like making dinner, do outside yardwork, helping with the kids, and he ALWAYS had an excuse like his way wasn’t good enough for me or he was busy. He did less and less, all while telling me I was too much. Too loud. Not good enough for him.

I remembered a specific period of time when I felt myself break. At the time I thought I was just learning to trust, but it was definitely not that. I had survived over two years in the military with no issues or display of weakness. I got screamed at, sworn at, constantly poked at, and I still never cried. But at my officer training about a month after we got married, I cried all the time. I couldn’t stop crying for four weeks. I thought I missed him. But it was his letters and the way he was trying to be controlling and accusing me of looking at other people sexually. Military training is not something I find to be exciting in that way at all.

Because I had refused all conditioning my parents forced on me to be more girly, I was unsure how I should be acting. And so I made myself small after living a much larger life. I put away my fierceness, my pride, my confused feelings on who I was inside, and my desire to dominate the world around me. I became so small I was unrecognizable. I was so vulnerable because I didn’t know how to be girly AT ALL. I wanted to be what I thought I was supposed to be, not who I really was. I wanted to rid myself of all the things I hated about myself like the little boy inside me who was screaming to come out. I hated who I really was and wanted to make myself into someone else.

I am fighting tears right now because that version of me wasn’t real. That was when the facade was solidified. It had to be, to hide all of these things about me that needed to come out. It’s so hard to see people talk about how trans is disgusting, a choice, a mental illness. I have felt this way since I can remember and no ballet class, parental pressure, peer pressure, or amount of conditioning can get this out of me. I can’t will it away or push it out of me. I tried for decades and it didn’t work at all. I honestly wish it had. No one tried as hard as I have to fix me. I have been slowly killing myself by heaping hatred on top of myself. I have beat myself up and worn myself down.

Not now though. I have spent almost two years letting myself do what feels good to me. Letting myself grieve for what I lost, what I’ve found again, and who I was always supposed to be. I am learning that no matter what happened in my past, I AM Zander. That’s who I’ve always been. I’ve just been playing a part that I wasn’t meant to play until recently.

But most of all, I don’t feel small anymore. None of the main characters in my life expect me to be small. No one wants me to hide anything about myself. There’s no one shaming me about the clothes I prefer or the hobbies I enjoy. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to try to be someone I’m not to please everyone else. That’s probably one of the best feelings in the world.

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