The healing power of non-monogamy

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I couldn’t find a good image so I created this one.

In March 2018 I left an abusive marriage and entered into a new phase of life: the casually slutty phase. My dating app profile included the line, “I am dedicating 2018 to non-monogamous exploration.” I had my first one time hookups, met my first friend with benefits, and soon met my first long-term partner after the split. 

Me and this guy couldn’t get enough of each other, and I stopped putting energy into other dates because I was excited to see him again and again. (Real talk: Dating is hard work and takes a lot of energy). We dated a few weeks before he asked if I wanted to be monogamous. “No,” I said, “Staying non-monogamous is really important to me after leaving my marriage.” He said, “Okay, it just seems like a lot to balance, I thought maybe monogamy would feel safer.”

In retrospect, this was a yikes, but at the time I did not realize that. We continued dating and I met another long-term partner; both relationships lasted a little over a year each. 

A little background 

This was not my first non-monogamous rodeo. In 2010, my first husband and I opened our marriage at my request. It was definitely uncharted territory, as he was my first partner ever and he had only had one or two serious partners before me. Neither of us even knew non-monogamy was an option, but I had been researching online to try and figure out why I felt so unfulfilled in our marriage and thought that perhaps adding other partners was a great idea and would help me feel more worthy of love. My entire first 28 or so years of life were plagued with terrible self esteem and emotional abuse that led me to seek fulfillment and validation from others to feel good about myself.

I reached out while writing this blog to ask him what his thoughts were when I asked to open our marriage. He said he felt defeated overall that our marriage was so unhappy and he was willing to try anything to make it work. (PS. this is a bad reason to open a marriage, and I definitely made a mistake opening my marriage this way). 

We made some of your typical new-to-polyamory mistakes. First of all, we opened from a place of fear and desperation to make things work, rather than getting our relationship on solid ground first. We had lots of rules, lots of possessiveness, lots of “well you got to do it so now I get to do it too” tit for tat behavior. 

I made mistakes. I treated my partners like they were beholden to my expectations without treating them with the same respect. I treated other people like they were pawns I could move around my relationship chess-board, trying to find the configuration that would fulfill what I felt like I was missing. Maybe dating another couple would work better, maybe this, maybe that. 

By 2018 when I sought out to be my authentically non-monogamous self, I had learned much more by following polyamory-positive accounts on social media (like Poly.Land), learning about relationship constructs like relationship anarchy, seeing my own friends in my social circles practice healthy polyamorous relationships, reading books like More than Two, etc. 

When I left my abuser, non-monogamy the right way was my goal. Because monogamy had trapped me in a cycle of making my partner the most important thing in my life. More important even than myself. 

Weaponizing monogamy

When people say “toxic monogamy,” it might offend you as a monogamous person. You might think I’m saying that your way of living life in your romantic relationships is toxic or bad. That’s not what I’m saying. 

Similar to toxic masculinity, which is “masculinity that is toxic,” toxic monogamy is “monogamy that is toxic.” Examples of toxic monogamy include creepy wedding decorations with a ball and chain or handcuffs, not allowing your spouse to have friends outside of your marriage, expecting your partner to be your “one and only” person in life, being possessive of your partner, going through your partner’s phone to see if they are talking to other people or following accounts on social media you don’t approve of, threatening to harm other people who you perceive to come between you and your partner, etc. 

My mom and stepdad had a couple they were friends with whose origin story went like this: He beat up her boyfriend, so she went out with him instead because he proved how much he wanted her with physical violence. And they’re still together decades later. Aww, sweet. (No, not sweet). 

Toxic masculinity and toxic monogamy go hand in hand, but that’s a blog post for another day. 

My abuser had weaponized monogamy in our relationship. We met when I was in my first marriage, as was he. I had a girlfriend at the time, whom he was also seeing. He met with her for a dinner date, she talked about me on their date, and he then connected with me and feigned surprise when I asked if he was in fact the gentleman who was seeing my girlfriend. (Read: He lied about not knowing who I was when he made contact). He dated us both until he decided which of us was easier, and it became apparent when she started calling out his possessive behavior that he needed to get her out of the picture. 

He convinced me she was too jealous and unstable for us to attempt a polyamorous triad, which had been our initial hope as three people who were dating each other. I broke things off with her and he did soon after. Once I filed for divorce, my abuser suggested that we be monogamous with each other, because non-monogamy was clearly too hurtful and too complicated. I readily agreed, because I had just had such a bad experience with that “crazy girlfriend!” I didn’t want to have to guard myself against that again. It really was better to just be monogamous so I couldn’t get hurt again. I was enthusiastically in agreement. 

I was happily monogamous, so long as I accepted whatever treatment he gave me. He was in charge of the love, affection, and sex I received, and I had no leg to stand on to ask for more. 

Bisexual erasure in a straight-presenting relationship

I am bisexual: attracted to people of similar and different genders than myself. As a bisexual person in a relationship with a straight cisgender man, I was subject to some of your typical bi erasure tropes. His erasure took one of three forms depending on my behavior, confidence, doubts, etc. and the result he needed to achieve to maintain control in our abuse cycle. 

  1. You’re not really bi, you’re just narcissistic. Any time I looked upon myself favorably in the mirror, he’d say I was preening like a bird and joke that I wasn’t actually bisexual, I was just really into myself. Looking back, I now see that this was meant to poke holes in my confidence by judging how “into myself” I was. 
  2. If you need to explore your bisexuality, that’s fine… in a threesome. My husband routinely told me that he wanted to be monogamous, but if I felt the desire to explore my sexuality with a woman, he was open to that. All I had to do was ask! So once, I did ask. I asked if I could have sex with a close female friend of mine. My husband was livid. I called him a liar, because he said that I could explore if I wanted to, and I was communicating that desire with him. He then explained that what he meant was I could be with a woman if it was a threesome with him. 
  3. Your bisexuality means you’re twice as likely to leave me. If I had managed to get through the first two layers of bi erasure from my esteemed life partner, this was always an option for him to bring out. When we talked about my sexuality, he’d say “I take your bisexuality very seriously. It means twice the people you could leave me for.” I honestly can’t even begin to unpack this nonsense. I guess he was implying that any attraction I felt for not-him meant a risk of me leaving him, but it didn’t occur to him to maybe not be a shitty partner.

In his mind, bisexuality was a threat to him and therefore he did everything he could to reduce its importance in my identity. If I wanted him to feel reassured that I wouldn’t leave him, I talked less about my sexuality. If the only acceptable way for him to accept my bisexuality was in a threesome I was unwilling to have, then I just didn’t bring it up. What seems obvious in retrospect as psychological abuse was, at the time, just what I needed to do to keep my husband happy and reassured of my commitment to him. 

His undermining of my sexuality tied back into his skewed expectation of monogamy: that he and he alone should have been all I needed. 

Relationship orientation

Again, I am not saying that monogamy is unhealthy or toxic. It can be extremely healthy and fulfilling. Just like polyamory or other forms of non-monogamy can be healthy or unhealthy. I’ve had healthy and unhealthy friendships, I’ve cut toxic and abusive family members from my life, and I’ve quit jobs with toxic bosses — any relationship has the potential to be healthy or unhealthy. 

I’ve found that there’s a spectrum of identifying as polyamorous, non-monogamous, etc. similar to sexual orientation. This doesn’t mean straight polyamorous people should have a unique space at Pride or that they remotely face the same struggles as queer people. Polyamory is not a sexual orientation, but it is a relationship orientation. 

You can feel called to a polyamorous relationship orientation as a very important part of your identity. You definitely need access to multiple relationships to feel romantically fulfilled, and it’s a non-negotiable aspect of your dating life. 

Or maybe you enjoy non-monogamy and don’t feel that monogamy is an inherent default, but if you connected with a partner who preferred to be monogamous you could enjoy monogamy as well. 

Whether you are non-monogamous by necessity and identity or you simply don’t default to monogamy, your relationship structure outside the norm of monogamy is valid. 

The healing power of non-monogamy

For me personally, being non-monogamous has been a critical piece of my recovery from abuse and trauma. Being ethically polyamorous is part of who I am now, and I won’t be changing that. Dating multiple people helps me level set the bar for behavior and treatment I accept, helps me stay true to my boundaries, and just feels really good because I’m allowed to make connections with whomever I want. 

I clearly communicate my expectations, desires, and limits with partners, and because I know love and affection is plentiful and available to me, I don’t settle for poor treatment or someone repeatedly ignoring my boundaries. To me, polyamory means that there are infinite opportunities to make loving connections. I no longer feel like I have to “lock somebody down” to make sure they stay interested in me,  or that I have to be everything my partner wants or needs, or that I have to limit myself to avoid making people lose interest in me. More love is around the corner, and if somebody doesn’t love me the way I like to be loved, I don’t have to change the way I need to be loved, I need to change who is doing the loving. 

Read more from me

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a whole chapter on relationship structures including polyamory and relationship anarchy in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. Millennials didn’t invent these relationship types but we are fairly noisy about normalizing them. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

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The Simple Bundle: 17 Minimalist ebooks available this weekend only!

I write more about social issues, trauma recovery, and self care these days than my original days of decluttering and minimizing my space, but I’m still a minimalist at heart and in practice so I am thrilled to share with you an absolute steal of a deal if you’re an aspiring minimalist!

The Simple Bundle is available this Labor Day weekend only, August 31 – September 2, 2019. And it’s only $37 for a $225 total value of 17 ebooks and online courses! Check out the offerings below:

  1. Joshua Becker — Clutterfree with Kids eBook

  2. The Minimalists — Essential eBook

  3. Patrick Rhone — Enough eBook

  4. Francine Jay — Miss Minimalist eBook

  5. No Sidebar — 30 Days to a Simpler Life Email Course

  6. Courtney Carver — Microbusiness Email Course

  7. Erica Layne — 9 Hard Truths about Clutter You Need to Hear eBook

  8. Tsh Oxenreider — One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler

  9. Pia Edberg — The Cozy Life eBook

  10. Anthony Ongaro — Break The Twitch eBook

  11. Sandy Kreps — Fresh Start eBook

  12. Colin Wright — Considerations eBook

  13. Simplify Magazine — The Declutter Issue

  14. Kathy Gottberg — RightSizing: Reinventing Retirement eBook

  15. Courtney Livingston — The Smart Girl’s Guide To Surviving Her Twenties eBook

  16. Allie Casazza — The Ultimate Guide to An Uncluttered Life

  17. Minimalism Co. — The Minimalism Challenge eBook

Simplify your life and your space by building consistent habits around a minimalist mindset. While there’s no single how-to that’s perfect for everyone, I am sure there’s at least one resource in this bundle that’s just what you need!

Here’s the link again if you want to buy: The Simple Bundle 

Read more from me!

Interested in supporting Born Again Minimalist? You can sign up as a supporter on my Patreon page for $1 per month, follow me on Medium and clap for my stories, follow and engage with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and buy my book!

Get out of your own way and do something

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I’ve had a lot going on lately.

You know.

I left an abusive marriage, wrote a book, fell in love, moved in with him, broke up, settled back in Cleveland. The usual.

My office is still packed up in boxes, waiting for a wellspring of motivation to encourage me to put things on shelves and hang art and find a hot pink desk chair so I can have a place to write that isn’t propped against my bedroom wall in bed in my pajamas.

I’ve been writing, sporadically. I’ve been posting, occasionally. I’ve been working, a lot. Just not on this. Not on the things that set me on fire, make my heart pound, and make me pause for a break to say “Yes! This! Exactly!”

I love blogging. I love talking to you over this vast internet of so much happening in the world. I love the few minutes we share as you read what I have to say after I’ve had such a great time writing it.

And yet, the ideas tumble around in my brain like a pair of tennis shoes in the dryer.

Do a podcast. Teach a course. Write on a more consistent schedule. Work on your next book. Do more social media. Book speaking engagements. Do a book tour.

And I know I want to do all of these things, but it’s so hard to get started when everything is a great idea. That’s the trouble: I want to do it all, and I want to do it all well.

I get in my own way because perfectionism tells me I shouldn’t do anything if I can’t do it right.

And I am really not that great at Twitter.

So rather than figure out Twitter, I just don’t post anything on my social media. I am social media crickets right now, and I have a book out I need to be promoting and I have things I need to be saying for people who need to hear from me.

In the middle of last week, all these tennis shoulds bouncing around in my brain dryer, a post came across my Facebook feed that said:

That thing you’ve been indecisive about? The one (or 20!) things lingering in the back of your mind, taking up mental space, keeping you unconsciously stressed – what if you just decided NOW?

What if you decided and then implemented that decision? Right now. Today.

I was 100% called out by my friend Melanie, who is a professional coach. She’s amazing, and we met through some beautiful serendipity in 2015. She and I have worked together on and off through her various courses and opportunities to chat one on one about something I was working on.

I commented on the post:  I want to start a Patreon but I am not sure what levels and what rewards. I took tomorrow off as a mental health day. Perhaps I can launch a Patreon.

I’d had Patreon on my to-do list since at least 2017, so I’d been sitting on it for two years and never took action. I was paralyzed by the questions that prevented perfection: What do I have to offer that people would pay for? What if nobody signed up? What if?

I came back a few hours later with a Patreon link. I just made the damn thing. And I had two supporters within an hour.

I kicked imposter syndrome out of the way for two seconds and got something done.

I set up a Patreon page. 

And then I did something batshit amazing.

Today, I opened one of Melanie’s emails and saw a link to get on her calendar for a free one hour “clarity call” that promised to help me make a plan to get things moving. I just needed some guidance on what step to take next.

I scrolled through the week looking for a convenient time, and then realized I was putting it off for no reason. I booked a call tonight at 6:45pm. We talked until a little past 8:00 and I made the decision to book her for professional coaching for six months.

I am extremely privileged to be able to adjust my budget for professional coaching.

I completely acknowledge that not everyone can just rearrange their finances to prioritize paying a pro coach for a few months. It’s a huge deal, even to me. But the one simple action I took was setting up that Patreon page.

As soon as it was published, I felt great. Relieved. I can always tweak it later, it does not need to be absolutely 100% perfect at the time of launch. In fact, it never will be.

That feeling of elation carried over into the next day. I wrote some content for my Patreon page to give a preview of the patron exclusive content. I had a great weekend. I took a self care day Sunday and wrote all day. And that brings us to Monday, the day I signed up for a free call and decided to take the next right step — for me.

I took the next right step for me.

Me. This is what I need to hold myself accountable and advance my goals to their next level.

Because I know I will fall right back into the habit of being paralyzed by too many great ideas. And I also know that this notebook I used tonight to take notes during my call with Melanie is full of OLD notes that say “Get Melanie an outline by the end of the week” which I probably never did, since I never finished that project.

I had to take it to the next level.

What can you take to the next level?

Whether it’s your self care game, picking up one more client for your business, paying a bill you’ve been forgetting about, or asking for a raise at work, I want you to get out of your own way and just do ONE THING that’s been in the back of your mind bothering you for ages.

Tell me what it is in the comments. You can get it done!


Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

How to Simplify Your Life Right Now (And Make Room For What Matters Most)

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Image Source: Unsplash

Life can get overwhelming at times. We all have our own struggles that we deal with on a daily basis. We tend to waste a lot of stress and energy on things that don’t really matter. 

When you lose sight of what’s truly important, life can feel more hectic than it needs to be. Once you simplify your life, you will feel rejuvenated and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way. Simplify your life right now by following these life tips:

“Disconnect” to Connect

Living in the digital age brings many distractions. It’s easy to get sidetracked with social media and all the pressures that come with it. These anxieties can make your life much more complicated than it needs to be. 

It sounds cliche, but disconnecting from the online world will allow you to focus on real-life connections. Start by limiting your internet time each week, especially when you’re at home with family. Challenge yourself to be in the moment without your phone by your side. Once you re-evaluate how you spend your time, you can focus on what really matters.

Spend Time Alone

Spending time alone can do wonders for your mental health and well-being. Having “me time” allows you to focus on yourself completely, without being concerned with other people. Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your own needs, wants and passions. If that means saying no to people more often, then that’s okay too. 

Spend your “me time” doing whatever makes you happy. Find a hobby that has meaning to you, whether that be visiting an art gallery, doing charity work, or reading a good book. It doesn’t matter what the activity is – as long as it adds value to your life then it’s worth spending time on. Having this time away from others will encourage you to self—reflect, de-stress and clear your head.

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Image Source: Unsplash

Re-evaluate Your Relationships

The people you surround yourself with makes all the difference to your happiness. It’s important to invest your time with people who make you truly happy.  If someone is bringing unnecessary negativity into your life, it may be time to rethink what that relationship means to you. Your life will feel a whole less complicated once you cut the toxicity out of your life.

Eliminate Unhealthy Habits

A healthy body equals a healthier mind. When you feel good physically, everything else in your life will start to feel a little clearer. Pay closer attention to what you eat and drink on a daily basis. Try to cut out any unhealthy habits that are draining your energy and mood. (Caitlin’s note: for me, these habits include drinking more soda than water, and staying up too late). 

In addition to eating a variety of fruits and veggies for a balanced diet, make an effort to exercise more often in a way that makes your body feel joyful. The goal here is not to punish yourself or burn calories, it’s just to keep your body feeling good. Go for a hike, head to the gym or take up a new sport. If you’re into yoga or pilates or enjoy walking on the beach, try and go barefoot. Going barefoot has been found to have added health benefits such as boosting your immune system. So, if the environment permits, why not try it! Integrating exercise into your daily routine will boost your energy levels, mentally and physically. 

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Image Source: Unsplash

Set Clear Goals 

Setting goals for yourself is a great way to simplify your life. Goal setting helps you release what you truly want, what you need to change, and what’s most important to you. It also helps to bring structure into your life. Take a moment to write down just a few achievable goals for yourself, whether it be career-oriented or personal. Having these goals written down on paper will give you a clear path to focus on. 

When life gets hectic, the key is to stop and reassess your priorities. Remember that it’s okay to put yourself first and focus on what makes you happiest. Once you cut out all the unnecessary distractions in your life, you can make room for what matters most.

Johanna is a free-spirited creative writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. She likes escaping to nature to take a break from the daily hustle and bustle of city life. Read more about her work on Musings of Johanna.

A Minimalist Approach to Handling Credit Like a Boss

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What? A blog about credit? It’s true. I am no longer the die-hard “never ever ever ever ever use credit ever ever” person I once was. Partly due to reading Broke Millennial and partly due to just realizing that perfection is impossible and sometimes it really is okay to do what you can and do your best to work within the system we’re currently operating.

When it comes to handling your credit, it’s important to view it as a slow and steady process. Focusing on the context of maximizing the return on your credit score with small and safe steps can decrease your tendency of falling into a pool of debt. 

Managing your credit successfully must come after an in-depth overview of your financial status. Gaining knowledge on how much you’re spending every month, building a budget that gives you an overview of your payment strategy, and determining what you need to buy and how much to save instead can help to establish a trend of confidence and uniformity surrounding your credit. With a focus on living life through simple routines and self-care, you should begin to manage your money through non-extensive, yet necessary steps to achieve a minimalist lifestyle.

Choosing the right credit card can impact the way you build and maintain a great credit score. With all of the credit card options out there, it can be quite confusing when comparing their offerings, and factoring which one is the best based off of your way of life. A credit card is more of a tool than people think, and it comes down to how often you use it, how much credit you’ve built up to this point, and making the pay-off process a priority. With that in mind, here are some easy steps for handling credit like a boss:

Open a Bank Account

Opening a bank account is the first step in building credit history. It’s imperative to generate a high enough credit score so that eventually, you are able to get approved for the card you choose to apply for. Through an account that benefits the growth of your savings and minimalistic approach to life, you’ll be better prepared for the responsibilities that come with using a credit card. 

Here are some important questions to consider when choosing a bank account that is right for you:

 

  • Which option is the most convenient? (Within walking/driving distance of your home and workplace, etc.)
  • Can I trust this bank to keep my money secure?
  • Are there a lot of additional fees that come along with regulating my account?
  • Will this bank account benefit my current financial situation and help my build my credit effectively?

 

Pay Off Credit Early

Designating your credit card to specific payments (and choosing them strategically) instead of using the card whimsically for unnecessary purchases can contribute to bettering your credit score and make paying off your balance easier. Remember: this card is a tool, not “free money.” If you think of it as free money, stop, read Broke Millennial, and come back. (I know, Amazon, sigh.)

During the beginning stages of establishing credit, it’s important to follow the deadline to avoid late fees. The more late fees you have, the more it will hurt your credit score in the long run. Try paying off your balance early and in full, before you even receive your statement. As a minimalist, don’t be afraid to set notifications on your phone as a simple reminder to submit your payments every month. A good rule of thumb is to pay your bills as soon as you get paid, which will help you avoid only being able to make the minimum payment at the end of the month. This can limit your chances of falling into a financial bind.

Charge What You Can Afford

As an owner of a credit card, it’s imperative to choose wisely what you’re using it for. The more consistent you are with what you’re paying off, the less likely you are to fall behind on payments and max out its usage. When you first start making transactions with your credit card, choose to use it with payments you know you can afford, like gas or groceries. Other purchases, such as hotel expenses, plane tickets or car rentals may not be the smartest expenses to charge when you’re first learning how to manage your credit because you can quickly fall behind on payments if you overextend yourself. Again, think of handling credit as a steady process without sudden impulse purchases or misuse.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Perks

Depending on the credit card you have or choose, certain perks may come along with making transactions and building your credit. No annual fees, accumulating airline miles and flight upgrades, automatic payment benefits, or credit monitoring services are all advantages you could receive. There are also cards that give you cashback rewards if you qualify for them. But remember: These perks are a bonus for behavior you already have, not a reason to buy more stuff just to get more perks. 

To obtain the credit card that is right for you, determine strong budgeting goals and analyze your spending habits. Learn as much as you can about what each credit has to offer and how it can help you, not work against you.

A Surprising Number of Things Elton John and I Have in Common 

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0 of them are playing the piano.

When I saw the trailer for Rocketman, I instantly knew I’d see the movie when it hit theaters. In the mid nineties, my mother and I would trek from our small village of Seville, Ohio into the “big city” of Medina to do grocery shopping. Our soundtrack, more often than not, was Elton John’s Greatest Hits, a 1992 CD with Elton’s top songs from 1970 to 1974. This early start meant that I have loved Elton John from the time I was very small and have continued being a fan throughout my life. So I was extremely excited to see his story on the big screen, especially considering that I hadn’t put much time into getting to know the man behind the music. 

Here is the list of things I knew about Elton John before I saw Rocketman: 

  1. Elton John is gay 
  2. Elton John plays the piano 
  3. Elton John wears costumes and big glasses and rhinestones 
  4. Elton John is the MVP of Disney soundtracks, save for Phil Collins because Tarzan was 100% a gift 

Spoilers Ahead! 

The opening scene of Rocketman follows Elton walking down a long hallway in full costume dressed as a sequin-adorned devil. He bursts through the door… into a group meeting at a rehab center. After some questions about his childhood, which he insists was very happy, we see flashbacks to Young Elton who was emotionally abused by both of his parents.

The first interaction between Elton and his mother was her chastising him, saying “You’re late and I’ve had to throw your dinner in the bin” (I’m paraphrasing). This smacks of the time my mother told my sister that if she wasn’t home by 5 she couldn’t come on a car ride to drop me off at dad’s for the weekend — we passed her walking home at 5:01 and she was running for the car and crying. Mom didn’t stop. Or the time my sister and I ate popsicles while putting away groceries only to have our mother deny us a promised trip to the movies because we hadn’t finished our chores before eating them. 

Denied affection and love altogether by his father, and only conditionally loved by his mother, Elton John wanted nothing but to be loved as a child. Through the grace of one blood relative who cared, his grandmother, he was encouraged to take piano lessons and cultivate his love of music. Even as an adult, Elton was still searching for his father’s approval and his mother’s love. 

Now’s where it starts getting a little freaky. Well, it’s not so freaky. But I, too, was emotionally abused as a child and adult by my parents. Conditional love and constant striving for attention and validation was the name of my childhood and young adult game. I only cut my parents out of my life at age 30. So right away, Rocketman had me hooked because of this parallel between my own story and that of an artist I had adored my whole life. 

Saturday Night

Elton ages on screen through a choreographed sequence of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and this was the sequence in the film that first made me actually cry instead of just tear up. This song was my favorite to sing along with my mom in the car, and the juxtaposition of the upbeat song, the happy memories, and the truth of my emotionally abusive upbringing was overwhelming. Those memories of my mother are happy, and warm, and comforting. I loved listening to Elton John in the car with my mom. But my mother didn’t love me. And the grief of that was tangible while I watched this sequence in Rocketman. 

Elton’s mother was watching him perform. But did she care? Was she proud? My mother came to my choir concerts. But did she care? Was she proud? 

A Name Change 

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton desired a bit of a name change for his musical career. He borrowed both names, Elton and John, from bandmates. While in Rocketman, he appears to take inspiration from a photo of John Lennon, a fact check indicates that was more of a cinematic liberty than true historical fact. Which is a bummer, because if Elton John had selected his surname based on a favorite celebrity, that would be one more thing we have in common. 

As I left an abusive marriage (a nearly seven year relationship) and came to terms with my own abusive upbringing in childhood, I opted to select a completely new name rather than keep my married name or revert to my birth name. I chose Fisher, because without Carrie Fisher’s advocacy for mental health and medication, I likely would not have gone on the antidepressants that helped me see the abuse for what it was. Lexapro got me out of an abusive marriage. And Carrie got me on Lexapro. 

Serendipitous Encounters 

I was so happy to fact check and find out that Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin actually did meet through complete serendipity. Elton said he couldn’t write lyrics, so a studio exec handed him a sealed envelope from a stack of songwriting applications. Inside were Bernie’s words. The duo hit it off and have been working together ever since. 

Here’s where this completely rocks my world: I have imposter syndrome. I feel like my writing career is a fluke. That my published book is a fluke. That an agent reaching out to me and a publishing company picking me up as an author are flukes. I’ve made jokes time and time again that Twitter got me a book deal and it was all a complete accident. 

But I’d never say that Elton John was an accident. And this guy happened to get a random pile of lyrics from someone whose words were perfect. 

You could say that it was by chance that Elton and Bernie met up and made music together. But the fact that Bernie writes good lyrics and Elton plays mad piano and can sing with such talent and conviction… that is not by chance. 

Just like my writing is not by chance. I may have had some good luck, some good things happen, some serendipity in the modern age. But I’m not an accident. 

Abusive Relationships 

Speaking of careers and the people who help them along, let’s talk about Elton’s manager and first boyfriend, John Reid. Doing a bit of research about the couple, it didn’t happen exactly as portrayed in Rocketman. In the biopic, Reid seems much more cunning and out for power from the get-go, when in reality, the two were lovers who lived together before becoming professionally entwined. Additionally, Reid has even said that he wasn’t particularly enthused about being Elton John’s manager at first. 

Over time, the couple broke up but Reid continued to manage Elton’s career and accounts until a falling out and a court case over financial issues. Reid also reportedly had a terrible temper and had a string of assaults, punching and slapping people when he was angry. 

Across several moments in the movie, Reid’s obsessive control of Elton’s career was extremely triggering for me. My abuser took credit for my writing career, because he introduced me to my first freelance client. But just as it’s no accident or fluke that I ended up published, it was no fluke that my writing was good enough to pay for. If I was a shit writer, that connection would have done no good. My abuser spent years undermining my confidence in my own work because he so often took credit for turning me into the writer I was. 

Queer As Hell 

Elton John came out as bisexual in 1976 and married his wife Renate Blauel in 1984. The couple divorced in 1988 as Elton came to terms with his identity as a gay man, and he is happily married to David Furnish since becoming a couple in 2005.

In the movie, when Elton comes out to his mother, she responds, “You’ll never be loved properly.” I do not doubt that his mother said these words to him at some point, if not when he came out. The words of my parents in our final conversations are as clear in my mind as they were on the days they happened. And they hurt. “You’re a sweet girl. Fucked up in the head, but sweet,” were some of the words my dad said to me in our second to last meeting. “You’ll have to explain what you mean by abuse, because that’s a strong word and can tarnish a man’s reputation” were some of his words the last time I saw him in person. 

The end credits roll in Rocketman with a photo of Elton and David and a caption that Elton is finally being loved properly. I will admit that I got a little teary-eyed.

I honestly don’t even know if my parents know I’m queer or not. I do know that they’ve both taught me about conditional love. My mom raised me telling me I’d never get a boyfriend if I ate like a pig, and she shamed my body at every opportunity. She had me on a diet by age 12 and is a huge factor in my decades-long battle with disordered eating. And I no longer care what she thinks of me, just like I hope Elton has long given up caring what his mother thought of him. 

Healing the Inner Child 

In an emotional and, yes, pretty cheesy finale, Elton hugs his inner child as a symbol of his healing now that he is in rehab. Earlier in the film, Young Elton asks his father, “When are you going to hug me?” but his father does not hug, touch, or hold Elton. In fact, Elton visits his father later in his life and sees his father holding and being physically affectionate with his new and improved sons in his new and improved family, which is such a moment of pure emotional pain from the film that it still affects me when I think about it. So at the movie’s close, the inner child appears in Elton’s mind and asks, “When are you going to hug me?” Cue me, crying like a baby, because Elton drops to his knees and grabs the child version of himself in an embrace that is nothing but unconditional love. (Pause, I need a moment). 

Healing my inner child, as hokey as it sounds, has been a huge part of my trauma healing. In EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), I target specific traumatic thoughts, such as “I am not allowed to rest,” and the therapy process allows me to associate memories with the thought. Memories attached to this target thought include my mother saying we were worthless for not cleaning, being punished with excessive chores, and generally not being allowed to sleep in or take a sick day from school when we didn’t feel well. If you had time to lean, you had time to clean. Removing the belief that I can only rest when everything productive has been finished has been a game changer for my mental and physical health. 

Long Story Short 

I bought some rhinestone-studded eyeglasses because we all deserve to be fabulous. Do something awesome today, and do something amazing for the child version of yourself. 

 

The meaning of $5

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Image from Pixabay via Pexels

Want to hear the most ridiculous way I spend five dollars a month? I signed up for a professional G Suite account so I’d have an official email address for a brand I was developing over two years ago. And then in mid 2018, I put a pause on that brand so I could write my book without distraction.

In the meantime, I also streamlined my budget. I canceled my MLM direct sales account that cost $17 and change a month in membership fees. I canceled one gym when I started at a new one after I moved. The usual stuff.  My goal was to have as few line items to deal with as possible.

Except for this G Suite account. I kept going in and messing around with the settings, and I thought I had it taken care of. But the next month I checked my bank account one fateful payday and saw another five bucks gone for something I wasn’t using.

Finally, I’d had enough. I wrote it down on my monthly to-do list: CANCEL G SUITE ACCOUNT. And I promptly forgot about it. Until the charge hit my bank AGAIN. And I managed to remember the email address (on the third try) and password and looked up how to cancel the account. Once I found it, I canceled, and I should never spend five bucks on that particular waste of money again.

This is all well and good for me, as a privileged person with a random five to spare at any given time. I keep a buffer of $50-$100 in my checking account for unforeseen expenses so they won’t affect my budget lines. But not everyone can do that.

Over 75% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Now, I’m sure some of them can afford a random five dollar mix-up now and then, but not everyone can.

Then start thinking about overdraft fees (punishing people who don’t have money by charging them more money they don’t have) and service fees for paying bills over the phone (which precludes people who don’t have internet access or reliable transportation from paying their bills effectively). Think about people in food deserts with high markups on healthier, fresh food options. How much is $5 in grapes, vs. fruit cups? How much is $5 in whole grain brown rice, vs. ramen noodles?

My challenge to you: Do something good with $5 today. It can be for yourself or for someone else. Just don’t spend it on a G Suite account you’re never going to use. Google doesn’t need your money.

Consider some of the privileges you have, and find a way to get five bucks to someone who doesn’t have them. If you’re white, send five bucks to a person of color. If you’re straight, donate to that queer crowd fund thread you see going around Facebook. If you’re cis, set up a recurring Patreon donation to a trans creator.

Here are some Patreons and other links you can donate to (and please leave yours in the comments or shoot me an email so I can add you to this list).