Game Therapy: Dragon Age 2- Unpacking Part 4


Here is another shot from foxybcosplay, and you can see other images from this photo shoot and more of Brooke’s work on her deviant art page.

I’ve been thinking about what I said before about Anders, and how I keep choosing to romance him even though I know that betrayal is coming. Why do I do that? What does it say about me? 

The strangest thing to me is that I just feel peace over it all, like there is nothing wrong with walking into pain over and over again. Like giving someone special the chance to hurt me so many times is fine. Maybe it is. After all, what does this really reveal about me?

I think that I’ve really grown as a person. I used to shut people out when they hurt me. Sometimes, that would even be the end of our relationship entirely. (Hurt me once and you will never touch me again.) It was very effective for protecting myself, to be sure. The problem is that no human can live forever without hurting someone, even if they love that person.

Instead, today, I am able to look at my husband and say “He is going to hurt me some day. Sometimes, it will be small and only scratch my pride. Sometimes, he will do or say things that reach into my core and crush a part of me. I know that. And I’m going to let him, because I know that I’m no better equipped to hold his heart than he is to hold mine. I will hurt him too. Sometimes, it will be minor and sometimes, it will feel life threatening. He knows that too, but he’s still giving me that chance.”

Love involves risks, being brave enough to let someone get close to you. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Hawke and Anders have a healthy relationship by default, but they spend 9 years of their lives together before everything gets to the explosion point. I’m not sure when Anders becomes consumed by anger and despair- I suppose it’s probably around or after year 6. By that point, it’s easy for me to understand why Hawke stays with him, but things do get messy after that. 

I like to think that those uncomfortable quests (the ones where he flat out lies to you) are signs of Hawke’s trust and desire to see Anders restored to his original state. The results of these quests says more about Anders/Vengeance than it does about Hawke. The only bad thing it says about her is that she sees what she wants to be true, rather than seeing things as they are. She needs to believe that Anders can be saved, that the demon can be removed, but she can live the rest of her life with him. Everyone around her can see that Anders is slipping further and further out out of reach, but she won’t listen to any of them.

I don’t think that I have this problem, honestly. As a pessimist/realist, I don’t often become trapped in unrealistic expectations for outcomes. I have more trouble believing that things are going to be earthshakingly fabulous than believing that they will be difficult. In addition, I’m not interested in changing my husband or my friends. I want to support them if they decide that they need to change part of themselves, but people are people, not projects.

So, whether I should or not, I feel pretty calm about my approach to love. That’s good enough for me.

Game Therapy: Dragon Age 2- Unpacking Part 3

It feels like a million things have happened since I wrote the last entry. The tidbits I pulled out of it just feel… Empty? I mean, yes- I think parents should protect their kids as much as possible, and yes- I did develop a nasty complex in real life where I had to be miserable in order to be alive. Both true. But hatred? Hatred comes from pain.

I guess that I just feel empathy for my Hawke because her mom wasn’t there for her as a kid and mine wasn’t there for me either. In my life, there are a zillion small strong tied to why my mom didn’t provide what I wanted, but with Abigail and Leandra? It seems so simple and small. She never protected me, so I had to protect both of us.

The pleasant, idealistic belief under all of this hurt is this:

It is possible to protect someone from the bad things in the world.

Spoilers: This is a lie. 

I couldn’t protect mom from her anxiety and she couldn’t protect me from my depression. Any parent can look at their child with a lifetime’s worth of love, but eventually, there will be someone who sees them as ugly, stupid, stuck up, weak, lazy, too emotional, too cold, boring, or worse. Someone will hurt them personally.

Beyond that, there are larger issues- social, societal, political, religious, sociological, biological, psychological, et al.- that will eventually hurt that child as well. Exponentially more if they happen to belong to one of the oppressed groups in the crosshairs of the powerful.

They will get hurt. Torn to shreds. They might hate the world some days, and they will likely be justified in that hatred. So, if you can’t protect them, what should you do?

I guess that maybe it’s enough to teach them how to handle the darkness without being destroyed by it (if possible). Or how to value themselves in spite of the darkness (if it attacks them directly). Or how to recognize the times when it absolutely sane to be hurt and angry because of injustice, and how they can channel that energy to change things (if possible). 

And maybe, you help them to find the bright spots in the world. How to love friends and family deeply and without distractions. How to focus on the people in front of them without phones or Facebook getting in the way. Maybe you teach them to find a tenuous balance between pain and joy.

Maybe that can be enough.

*sigh* I’m sorry, Leandra. Your life and death were both difficult. I just wish they had written more dialogue for us so that I could have felt loved as well. Rest well, virtual mother. I’ll see you again someday, and we will run away from Lothering together.

“It Doesn’t Affect Me.”

I’ve been spending a bit of time cleaning out my inbox over the last few days. I’ve gotten the total unread count down to 2,670 messages as I write this, which is a big improvement. I can’t remember how high it was when I started, but I think it may have been near 3,400 unread (who knows how many read). At this point, I’m finally back to November 2015, so you can see that I have a ways to go.

One of the last emails that I have deleted/archived was about one of my friends from high school youth group having two babies. Presumably twins. I don’t know. I deleted it without reading it. And I murmured to myself “Why would I care? It doesn’t affect me,” as I did so.

I have felt like this pretty often throughout my life, but no one seems to understand me. It’s hard to connect to others because of this.

Several of my friends have gotten married. I haven’t gone to any of their weddings… Well, I went to one, but I was coordinating the reception, so it was tolerable. I don’t care about weddings. I don’t know anything about the relationship being celebrated:

  • Do they respect each other?
  • Have they been honest with each other or have they been showing their “best selves”? Do they know each other, or are they actually strangers?
  • Will their marriage actually last?
  • Are they caught up in lust or childish fairy tales, or do they understand what it takes to build a relationship?
  • If I choose to expend some of my limited emotional energy in caring about their marriage, will I get hurt by them? Will they make fun of each other, fight publicly, or tear each other down? Will I just watch them die slowly?

So, I’m not really happy when people get married. I’m apathetic. 

Realistically, these people’s marriages, pregnancies, and other life events don’t affect me. At all. I’m not… The only friends that actually know me well (the current me) are a couple thousand miles away. I’m not even a part of their lives any more, much less a part of the lives of people I knew from high school, college, etc.

So yeah. She has two kids (or two more kids- not sure) now. Kids I’ll never see. Whose names I won’t need to know. I should care because… Why?!
It sucks to be alone.

Game Therapy: Dragon Age II, Unpacking Part 2

It’s time for me to come back to my last post and examine the contents. This one is kind of complicated, because it includes both an experience and recounting that experience to someone. I will try to account for both layers.

  1. Desire for Intimacy: I use this story consistently, and I can’t really imagine a romantic relationship that doesn’t involve a deep knowledge of one another. Someone who wants me needs to take all of me, including any pain or baggage that I’m carrying.
  2. Selective Vulnerability: Hawke has never shared this story with everyone in her party. Some of her companions would end up fighting with her over her father’s ideals. Some wouldn’t care. She only shares this part of her past with those who really seem to know her.
  3. Growing up Fast: Hawke’s father really asked a lot from a child. She didn’t get to relax and enjoy her childhood. I imagine that she smiled enough to avoid attention and laughed for time to time, but she probably also brooded when no one was watching.
  4. Responsibility Comes First: Obviously, Hawke didn’t want to kill her father, but she did it, because she had sworn she would. She didn’t want to lie to her family either, but she did it. In a single day, Hawke sacrificed most of her life for the sake of her family’s safety and her sworn duty.
  5. Pushing Past Exhaustion: The escape required a lot from her physically, but it didn’t matter. Realistically, someone probably couldn’t do that much running in a few hours without training for it beforehand, and the emotional burden and adrenaline rushes would take a toll as well, but it never matters. Hawke always gets her family away, finds her father, and escapes his captors because she needs to.

I think that’s about all that I can see in this story, and I don’t want to start grasping at straws here. Happily, two of these traits are positive, which is better than last time, at least. 

The desire for intimacy has brought me some really good friendships and a marriage that continues to surpass my expectations. It turns out that the type of people who text you again after you break down crying over coffee and childhood trauma are also the kind of people who are also willing to show emotions and discuss hard things. It’s a real blessing.

Selective vulnerability is also good, and a healthy development for me. I lost A LOT of friends when I left college unexpectedly. Like, all of them. Even the ones who tried to keep up contact with me weren’t able to break through my pain to reach me, which isn’t their fault; however, I watched many relationships atrophy and change after my diagnosis became public, which was their fault. Treating someone differently all of a sudden is a choice, not an accident.

So after that, I became… bitter. That words is insufficient. I was angry, hurt, scared, unwilling to trust, and more. I was vitriolic. NO ONE WAS GOING TO HURT ME EVER AGAIN. I WOULD LEAVE THEM FIRST.

False vulnerability became a club, and I slammed people with it as soon as possible. ‘I know we just met, but *insert major pain that someone else has already abandoned me over*, so yeah- go ahead and leave now.’ And many people did. It was great. I could rejoice in my correct understanding of selfish, mean humans. I could be safe.

One day, someone stayed. I hit her with my pain, and she stayed. I tried to scare her off, but she wouldn’t leave. Together, I learned how to build deeper friendships, and later, I learned that I don’t need to wear my pain for all to see. I can feel it without needing to tell anyone. Being vulnerable is a choice.

So yeah. The first two behaviors are actually healthy, and I’m partially pleased by it. I just can’t be fully happy because I read the other three as I typed them, and I need to talk about those as well. Eventually. This is enough for now.

Game Therapy: Dragon Age II, Unpacking Part 1

I keep trying to do something else with my day, but obnoxiously, I can’t move on from this entry. So I am back. I guess I’ll schedule this for a few days from now, just in case I change my mind about part of this later.

In case it isn’t clear, this is based upon an earlier post. It will make more sense if you read that post too.

The 1st issue that really bothers me is the sacrificial mindset. I know that I do this- that I am just used to ignoring my wants and needs for the sake of others. Sometimes, I have people explicitly telling me to do this. Currently, I think that I’ve tipped the scale too far towards supporting others at the expense of myself. It’s complicated though, because if the scale tips too far the other way, I will become selfish and entitled.

So as an example, I have a few relatives who aren’t invested in my life, who buy me things that they would like, who only invite me to do things that they would like, and who make assumptions about what I will do, like, and want. I am told that I need to allow this, to make concessions, to be gracious and understanding, and to do my part in the relationship. The problem is that I can’t figure out what their part of the relationship is, and it’s hard to connect to someone who doesn’t think I’m valuable enough to get to know. We don’t participate in a mix of their things and my things, we don’t talk about their interests and mine, we just do what they want. And it hurts me, but I keep getting told that I need to go along with it and stop being hurt, because I’m just selfish.

As another example, my husband is a very gentle man who wants to have a balanced, healthy relationship. Sometimes, I hurt both of us because I’m so accustomed to ignoring myself in favor of others that I will do it even when he actually wants my opinion. And then he finds out that I hate what we’re doing. And then he feels sad because he never wants to put me in situations that I hate. And finally, as I watch my love cry for me, I realize how horrid I’m being to myself, and I cry too. At least with him, I am trying  to monitor how I feel and to communicate it, and I am improving.

It turns out that if you spend decades pushing your emotions down, it’s really, really hard to connect to those emotions later, when you actually want them again.

I just want balanced relationships, where I don’t feel like I’m being smothered by people’s expectations or plans for me, but I honestly don’t know if I’m capable of it. With my husband? Yes, because he is willing to know me and be known. With the relatives I mentioned? Unlikely, because I don’t really see them as people. 

That sounds awful.

Let me explain. So, when I make a friend, it is always someone who will share their pain with me, because I need friends who will let me share my pain with them. We have supportive, coffeehouse friendship or no friendship at all. (Coffee isn’t necessary, but it seems to go well with pouring out one’s soul.) So these people are comprised of several parts: goals, fears, joy, old wounds, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc. They are fully formed people.

Relatives are… Or my relatives are, well, people at a distance. They don’t have fears, old wounds, or other vulnerable parts. I don’t hear them talk about their dreams, or watch them do their hobbies. I only see them for holidays, so we never get past small talk. They are like… photos of people? I know that they are fully formed, but because they don’t show me much past their likes and dislikes, I don’t know who they are.

So you know that Captain Crunch was my favorite cereal at age 12, and I know that you like chocolate pudding… What do we do now?! There’s just not enough substance to be filling. So I don’t want any at all.

But how much is my fault? How honest am I being with them? 

Well, I’m not being very open with them, but I don’t know how to ascribe blame. Most of these people are older than me, which puts them in positions of power in our relationship. Powerful people set the tone of a relationship, so might it not be my fault that they didn’t initiate a deep relationship with me? Or should I have done so? But when? At what age am I responsible for changing an established relationship? And why should I take that risk when there have been many years of shallowness already?

I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like it’s the child’s responsibility to determine what type of relationship she will have with her aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, etc. Once she grows up, she isn’t obligated to determine that relationship either, and in some families, she probably couldn’t even if she wanted to. How do you say “Stop being such a shallow jerk to me if you actually want me to care about you!” to someone?! You don’t. Well, maybe you do, I wouldn’t know, but I don’t. ūüėŹ

I just keep doing what I’m told, even though I’m an adult, because I’d rather humiliate myself than pick a fight. I guess. For now.

Love that Never Was- Part 3

I have been writing letters to people¬†from my past, trying to gain closure from painful memories. To see the previous entries in the series, click the “love that never was” tag, and it will take you to the other letters. As always, the events are true, but I don’t use people’s names.

I was cleaning my house today and I found the dried red carnation that you got me on my birthday. Do you remember that? The snow was everywhere and it wasn’t even safe to be on the roads, but I begged and pled with my dad to drive¬†meet see you? So we drove almost an hour¬†through the deep snow and got there safely and you were like, “What are you doing here?”¬†You were often cold towards me, but I accepted it just the¬†same because at least you acknowledged me.

Do you realize what I was willing to give you? Could you see all of the love I was trying to offer? Did you know how often I defended your lifestyle to the people around me? Or could you only see my depression?

I can¬†understand that it was hard for you to be near me, and I really do know that people need to look out for themselves. But are you sure that you couldn’t come up with a better reason than “you didn’t get better fast enough” to dump me? Depression had been a part of my life for two decades- why did you think it would be gone in two months? Why did you even date me to begin with? I wasn’t hiding my pain, so you really can’t say that you didn’t know what you were getting in to.

And you know, it’s hard to feel pity for you and the terrible burden of depression that you had to carry, since it was at least twice as heavy for me. At least you even got to have times that weren’t painful. But I’m just lashing out because I’m angry at you. I’m angry that you told your female “friend” everything¬†about our relationship, but didn’t want me to think you were cheating. I’m angry that she knew more about how you were feeling than I did. I’m angry that you brought her to the break up. I’m angry that¬†you didn’t break up with me, because you didn’t have the courage to say the words yourself. I’m angry that over and over and over you kept hiding behind your friends and that you never really stood on your own feet and just talked to me.

I never wanted to date 7 people. Why did you make our relationship into something that involved your whole friend cluster? Why did you bad mouth me to all of them so that the whole group of you dumped me at once, and I couldn’t even see my friend any more? I was going to share our mutual friends you know- hang out at different times, never talk about you at all, and generally do everything that I could to keep things from feeling awkward. But I guess you needed them, so whatever.

Do you want to know what the issue was that led to our breakup- the thing that made me cry on the night that you left me sitting in the hallway while you hung out with your friends for 45 minutes? It was incest. I had met some people my age who had been molested by a relative as young children, who were drowning under insecurity, repressed memories, shattered self esteem, and more. I was strong for their sake, and I needed freedom to weep over how wrong that situation is. 

So here’s your stupid, dead¬†flower- in the trash where it belongs.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I am a real person, made of more than pain and growth, and sometimes, I need a break from the heavy stuff. Based on how intense this last week of entries has been, I think you may need a break from it too. Either way, I’m going to write a few lighter entries, likely about media that I enjoy, or simple things that make me truly happy in this world. If this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine. Our regularly scheduled content will be back soon.

I’m going to begin with a free game that I found on Steam¬†called Emily is Away. Here is the game’s official website, and I’d like you to keep in mind that the image displayed above is part of their game, and that I’m only posting it here for illustration and discussion purposes. It’s not my property in any way. Ok, moving on.

Emily is Away is a simple game- the player just chooses speech options and taps away at their keyboard- with a complicated emotional undercurrent. It’s fairly well-made, in that it really,¬†really feels like old AIM chats actually did, but also poorly made, in that I was just flying blind and discovering context as I went along. I know that exposition doesn’t all need to come at the beginning of every story, but in interactive mediums, like video games, it is really helpful to know who the main character is. Personal preference.

It’s really hard to pin down how I feel about this game because of how different my experience was from that of the players who were ranting in the game forums.

In my game, I realized that I was playing a noncommittal, emotionally distant young man who kept inserting himself into Emily’s life long after he had lost the right to take up any of her time. (I really, really wanted to end the final conversation early. We had already determined that Emily and I weren’t going to amount to anything, she had already chosen to date someone else, and here I was, forced to keep prying into her life and her summer plans. No. Just no.)

On the forums, I saw horrible comments like “This is what’s wrong with women,” and so on. There are people who really got angry at Emily for choosing someone else, and they pushed that anger out onto¬†all women, as if they’ve actually met and tried to date¬†all of us. Or as if we are¬†all the same. That. Angers. Me.

It simply isn’t ok to make sweeping generalizations about a group of people. All women, all blacks, all men, all blondes, all pink haired alien sheep from Triton… No. That is not a coherent group that you can draw generalizations from, except for very, very basic ones like “all X eat food” or “all X need oxygen.” That is the limit of factual generalization, and beyond that, it’s just your pain clouding your vision and making you into a jerk.

So, you see, it was an ok game in my experience, albeit a little awkward at the end. My interaction with other players was¬†difficult to say the least, but the developers aren’t to blame for that. They designed a game that really captures the awkwardness and pain inherent in relationships that transcend major life changes. Emily and the player (Ziba, in my case) were friends in high school, and they tried to continue that friendship into college. They went to different schools, they made different friends, they studied different majors…¬†it really is hard to connect well after all of that.

At the end of the day, I think that¬†Emily is Away is a good game that depicts common experiences quite well. How the player responds to it will depend entirely upon what baggage he or she brings to the keyboard. Take that for what it’s worth.