Starting Therapy Again & Vulnerability

Part of my resolutions this year have included bettering myself; digging deep, uprooting those problems and fears that have taken home in the pits of my stomach and starving them of their fuel. Along with the more standard resolutions (reading more books, spending less time on my phone, working out consistently and trying to eat healthier), I made it a point at the turn of the decade to find a therapist that actually worked for me.

I was always turned off by the idea of therapy. Ashamed by it in a way like I think many of us are. It’s human nature to want to be perfect, to compare ourselves to those around us. With the influence of social media, it’s almost impossible not to see other people’s lives, seemingly so happy, and wonder, what’s the trick? There isn’t a trick. It’s staged because we want people to think we are perfect.

Maybe if they think we’re perfect, we’ll start to think we’re perfect, too. 

It’s true what they say about getting help. It doesn’t happen unless you want it to happen. People can vouch for you, push you, do all of the background work to set you up for success but if you’re not ready, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I refused it for years.

When my parents were getting divorced, my mom found a few therapists for me to talk to. I remember refusing to even look at them, surrounding myself with toys and crayons on the floor until the hour was up. Jump ahead to high school, I apparently had sessions with a few different therapists and none of them were helpful. I had severe anxiety at the time and don’t remember much of these appointments, just their different colored doors, scented waiting rooms and prescriptions from psychiatrists. College came and went and I filtered through the system of provided care because it was “free” and maybe this would be the right time for me. It never was.

But this year, and whether it’s the turn of the decade or finally feeling like I’m ready to heal, I decided it was my time. The first, and really only thing, we have talked about is vulnerability. More specifically, my problems with being vulnerable. When I reached out to the therapist I see now, I told her I needed help with relationships. It is very hard for me to open up to people and maintain relationships, both familial, romantic and platonic. It’s always been hard for me to keep people around because I get to this point where I throw my walls up and it’s damn near impossible to break them down. If you’re someone who knows me personally, think about it; I’m sure there’s very little that you truly know about me.

It’s instinctive by nature that I am the way that I am. We dove in head first during the first session and I want to use this post to reflect and share what I have learned throughout this process so far in terms of my own fear of being vulnerable.

Before I get into this discussion, I want to preface that I have forgiven my past and those involved in my trauma. I have forgiven myself for those I hurt while I was hurting and in no way do I write this with a vengeful heart. My trauma is my trauma. It can be downplayed and denied by those involved, but it will never change the way I was made to feel about myself and the severity of what I endured. I have forgiven but I have not forgotten and part of this process for me, unfortunately, involves digging up everything I have buried in my heart that my mind refused to remember and accept it as the trauma it genuinely was.

When I told my therapist about what I went through in high school, she explained it as a trauma. She told me, the body holds on to trauma in a way your mind doesn’t. Basically, the defense I put up is a product of how I was treated and the way I reacted in those moments that has been forever ingrained in me. Undoing that is one of the harder things I have done in my life.

I asked her, how can it be a trauma when I wasn’t physically hurt? And she validated what I went through by telling me that I wasn’t sensitive, I didn’t overreact and it was real. My emotions were real. My sadness was real. My suicidal thoughts were real. My pain was real. My experience was real.

I won’t bore you with the details. Simply put, I was badly bullied by a group of guys and girls that I considered my friends. When you think of the popular kids in high school, you think of the jocks and the cheerleaders who are nice to everyone and super inclusive. When I think of the popular kids at my high school, we were partiers and we were mean. I say “we” because collectively, this was the group I fell into by circumstance and the group that I couldn’t escape. And trust me, I had my mean streaks as well, I can’t excuse that, but it undoubtedly was a product of the way I was treated. I became conditioned to think I was inherently mean. There were a lot of people in our friend group that didn’t have a mean bone in their body but they got clumped into this awful perception in my head because although they didn’t do anything to harm me, they didn’t do anything to help me either.

Despite this being a group of maybe 20 people, there are really only three or four names in my head that stand out the most and I link them to a few specific situations that I remember more vividly than my first kiss or even graduation. These are the memories that come rushing towards me at full speed when I think of high school or even when I am walking through the stop & shop in my home town. These are the people I will never forgive and the people I have made myself forget because they don’t deserve the space in my head.

For years, I was made to question myself. I was called sensitive if I overreacted to something someone said to me. I was brought into situations just to be made fun of. I was targeted and tricked and used as a pawn, thrown back and forth across a chess board in an attempt to win the affections of the queen until I became a shell of myself.

My breaking point came one February during my senior year of high school. My ex and I had just broken up and I was devastated beyond comprehension. To think I felt like a shell of myself when we were together, I felt even more unfamiliar in my own skin after we had broken up. My friends knew how I felt and I had isolated myself so much in an attempt to heal. Their words ricocheted off of me like bullets against armor yet their lack of compassion never wavered. I was invited out one night to a party down the street and although against my better judgement, I decided to go.

You need this, they told me. You need to be surrounded by friends and get him off your mind.

I told myself I’d try but they had to promise they wouldn’t invite him or any of his friends. They agreed and I reluctantly trudged down my driveway into the awaiting car. We made our way through the silent streets, listening to music and passing drinks back and forth until we pulled up to my friends house.

It started out as a decent night. Music, dancing, drinking games. I was planning on sleeping over but by 10 p.m., right as more people started to arrive, I hit a wall. I wanted to go home but my ride was drunk. The girl whose house it was told me I could sleep in her bed. I thanked her and apologized for the turn in my mood. She gave me a hug and told me I tried my best, next time would be easier.

I climbed into her bed and cried myself to sleep only to wake up to the sound of shouting. A couple in my friend group had found me asleep in her bed and they weren’t happy. Clearly drunk, they told me they were sleeping there, they had already asked and how dare I be in the bed that they were going to share. I had no idea. The last thing on my mind were everyone’s sleeping arrangements. I was just happy to be asleep and away from my thoughts.

I told them I had permission to sleep in here and they would have to find somewhere else. To my absolute shock, they started spitting on me until I left the room. I have never felt so disrespected by another person in my entire life, I couldn’t even process what was happening. Had I not been half asleep, I probably would have done some serious damage to the girls’ face but lucky for them both, I broke down and locked myself in the bathroom, hysterical. It was midnight by now, I couldn’t call my mom without worrying her and one by one, each drunken person I mistakenly had called a friend knocked on the door, trying to coax me out or at least, begging me to let them in.

I had bottled up so much anger and sadness at this point, it poured out of me like the liquor they dumped down their throats. I was enraged. Word after word tumbled out of my mouth, a swear here, an insult there. You’re not my friends, I shouted at them. You only want to know what happened. You don’t care about me.

I don’t remember who got through to me but the only memory I have after my breakdown was sitting in the passengers seat of someone’s car. I don’t know who drove me home. I don’t know what time it was. But I swore to myself in that moment that no matter how alone I would feel, I would never go back to them.

I held steady on this promise, reminding myself that I graduated in a few months. If I could hold out for a few more months, this would all be over. I would never have to see them again.

Weeks turned into months. People reached out here and there saying they missed me, asking me to join them at parties and sit with them at lunch, apologizing for “whatever we did to hurt you,” as if they had no idea what they had done.

I was lucky enough to befriend a teacher who took me under her wing. She created an independent study for me my senior year that was really just yearbook. I designed the entire yearbook myself, collected photos from my peers, put together articles. She gave me my own office and a key. Whenever I was feeling overwhelmed, she’d let me work through lunch and other periods, as long as I kept the door open and unlocked. It became my safe haven. A few friends knew I was there, they’d join me for lunch occasionally but I had found my place and my creativity and I threw my emotions into creating a masterpiece for my class and myself. I made no effort to reconnect but I also made no effort to make new friends.

I was still in the group message but back then, you couldn’t take yourself out of groups like you can now. I’m sure they had other groups without me but they still kept up in this one occasionally. I barely engaged and one night, when I wasn’t responding despite their direct messages to me, it started to get bad again. Taunting and low blows, personal insecurities and jokes about my feelings. Anything to draw a response out of me.

I remember sitting in my moms bed watching a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy, my dog curled at my feet and all I could think was that this was never going to stop. I have never wanted to die like I did in that moment. And it’s unfortunate that the only way I was able to get them to stop harassing me was by threatening suicide. Not reminding them that I was a human being, not asking them politely to leave me alone, not begging them with whatever energy I had left to stop.

It was with the words, “If you message me one more time, I will kill myself,” that finally produced the response I had been looking for. They pondered back and forth, wondering if I was serious and in that moment, I was. But I looked at my mom half asleep next to me, laughing at a joke on the television and my dog snoring by my feet and told myself that I had to live for them.

When I shared these experiences with my therapist, she asked me how I survived. I don’t normally cry in front of strangers, or anyone for that matter, but this simple sentence produced such an emotional response in me that I broke down. I couldn’t muster a single word for at least five minutes of internal agony. And when I finally looked up at her, I told her that without the encouragement of my mom and the way my dog seemed to know when I was sad, I wouldn’t be here.

When I finally went to college, I had trouble making friends at all. In fact, there are only a handful of people from my time at Roger Williams that I truly consider friends and I don’t think I ever shared this part of myself with them. I didn’t really speak much to anyone from high school after that. I made it a point to block everyone from my social media because any insight into my new life felt like a threat or something they could use against me.

I was made to believe I wasn’t a victim. Years have passed and still, I am conditioned to think I am a bad person, that I deserved what happened to me. I was said to be victimizing myself which is when someone basically thinks they’re a victim of a situation because they can’t take responsibility for their actions.

My therapist asked me, well why do you think they treated you like that? To which I responded, I don’t know, I must have done something and she said, do you think there could be no reason at all?

Validation is a drug in itself. Reliving and trying to understand this trauma, I have learned that I was a victim and I was a target. I learned that I wasn’t any more sensitive than the next person. I learned that my reactions – my extreme upset, resistance and attempt at standing up for myself – were what drove their meanness. I learned that I am not inherently mean and that my sharp tongue and short temper were my only protection.

Those short four years have affected me more than I care to admit. To admit that this had an impact on me at all, let alone a lingering one, would be admitting they won. It’s hard for me to think that people have good intentions and it’s even harder to open up to those that I consider the closest to me. I have walls up that I am so desperately trying to scale from the other side in an attempt to let go of all of this tension and distrust but it has been hard and painful.

Part of my recovery process is recognizing what happened to me and recognizing that it was as severe as I remember it. Vulnerability is something that I have continued to struggle with but it’s something I want to feel. I know it’ll take time but I am finally in a place where I feel like I can dedicate these sessions to breaking down those mental barriers and relearning that people can be good.

If you can take anything away from this, I hope it’s the knowledge that despite the obstacles in your past, time will wait for your recovery. You are not defined by your trauma. But your trauma will not subside if you don’t face it.

Thank you for reading, I know it was a long one.

Timing

These last couple of weeks, I have been flooded with a million little thoughts and words strewn together into pretty sentences and ideas that I wanted to write about and elaborate on. Naturally, with my super busy work schedule, I didn’t write any of them down and those fresh ideas might as well have never existed.

But one that kind of stuck with me was the idea of timing.

Looking back on the way my life has unfolded thus far, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. One small decision I made when I was 20 blossomed into an experience that ended up shaping my entire life or a simple social media post in 2011 that lead to the downfall of a friendship or a relationship that otherwise would have been toxic. The way moments and memories slip between one another has created back to back experiences, pushing me forward from one milestone to the next when most days, I don’t even realize it. And more often than not, it’s unintentional. It’s looking back that I see the way simple moments have shaped entire experiences.

I have read so many theories about time. A social construct made up by the human race to keep everyone in check. A number on a clock that really doesn’t contain any numerical value, yet we base our days on it. But realistically, if we (at least my generation) were stuck in the wild, dependent on the rising and setting of the sun, we would be lost. Both in time and probably within our surroundings as well. And don’t even get me started on deja vu.

But this post isn’t necessarily supposed to be directed at actual, literal, defined time. More the way our choices and actions fold into one another to create this little thing we call life.

I guess I could take you back through those monumental moments, those pivotal moments, that lead me to where I am today. The way that those moments unfolded and the choices I had that eventually lead me to right now. I guess this is where deja vu comes into play.

Deja vu is one of those things that truly fascinates me. I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone but for me, when I experience deja vu, I not only recognize the moment I am in, but I can very clearly remember what is supposed to happen next. What happened next in whatever time or moment I had already experienced. Yet, the opposite happens. And after the moment passes, I can explain what I saw or what I remembered from the previous memory.

My favorite theory surrounding deja vu is the idea that we are experiencing a parallel universe. A universe that runs directly in line with our current one where we are making different choices that eventually unfold into an entirely other universe. Each choice we make in our current life has the possibility to branch into another life in another universe. If you believe in that, then realistically, there are an infinite amount of parallel universes, alternate universes, depicting what we could be. But we are present in this one.

A secondary theory is the idea of deja vu being a memory. A memory of a past life, which in turn, is indicative of our life being on the right path. So if you experience deja vu a lot, I guess you can assume you’re doing something right.

And lastly, and the most logical, it’s simply an overlapping of memories from a previous day or a similar situation that have morphed into a present memory that tricks you into thinking it has already happened. A situation that feels weirdly familiar when it shouldn’t feel familiar at all because it hasn’t happened.

I’m not sure if deja vu and timing even relate to one another but obviously, without time, deja vu wouldn’t exist. But without deja vu, timing wouldn’t be affected.

And then we have the “luck” factor. I feel like this post is turning into a giant math problem, like the ones they give you in statistics.

Find the dependent and independent variables that are equal to time with the given factors. X x Y = TIME. 

But in terms of luck, when it comes to actual, big life decisions (moving into my own place, my current job, my travels) things have all kind of just fallen into place without me need to look for an apartment or apply to jobs or spend x amount of money on travel because I knew people in foreign places. I think that’s crucial to understanding timing; luck and coincidence have a lot do with it.

Which, in turn, could stem into a discussion about karma. Which, from the way I have come to understand it, our karma in our current life is either a reward or a punishment for how we lived our previous lives. I’ve also come to believe the way we die is karma for how we lived our past lives.

Kind of freaky when you get into a head space like the one I’m currently in; kind of going back and forth questioning your entire reality and the meaning of your life from an existential standpoint. Questioning your fate. Wondering if our lives are a product of the effort we put in and the choices we make or if our lives are predetermined from the day we are conceived. I probably sound like a crazy person right about now, if you have made it this far.

Let me circle back to the topic at hand: timing (time management)

I have genuinely heard so many people say the phrase, “our timing sucks” in an attempt to blame their misfortune on timing. As a way to end a relationship because “we both work too much, the timing just wasn’t good.” I’ll be the first to tell you this is a bullshit excuse. If you want to be with someone, if you want to spend time with someone, if you want to make something work, timing doesn’t matter because, unlike most things, you can make the time if you really want to. You can stay up an extra 10 minutes to call your significant other. You can go into work earlier to make it home for date night. You can take a five minute bathroom break to text someone back or let them know you’re thinking of them. You can get gas the night before and skip 15 minutes of your down time so you don’t have to get up 15 minutes earlier to do it in the morning.

I guess what I’m getting at is that blaming your misfortune or lack of interest on timing is a poor excuse when we all know if we really want something, we can manage our time to have it.

Let me circle back again: timing (coincidental timing)

I read something the other day about a man spilling coffee on his shirt and needing to run back inside to change, a woman’s dog taking too long to go to the bathroom in the morning and she was late for work, a man whose new shoes gave him such bad blisters he had to stop at a convenience store to buy  band-aids. All of them were supposed to be in the World Trade Center when the planes struck. All of them survived for what we might consider minor inconveniences. All of them survived because of timing.

It’s an interesting concept to think about and I have caught myself wondering so many times, “Why is this person driving so slow,” or “Why can’t I find my car keys?” All to finally leave the house and get stuck in traffic caused by a car accident. And I wonder, “Could that have been me if I knew where my keys were?”

Maybe I have conditioned myself this way because I believe in everything happening for a reason or maybe it’s just the optimist in me. I’m not sure but every single time I face a minor set back, I tell myself, “this is happening for a reason.” And I might not know what that reason is in that exact moment, but it often becomes apparent to me by the end of the day. The only time it doesn’t become obvious to me is when I receive awful news that I can’t quite wrap my head around for a few months. But looking back, it’s always there.

The way timing works, the way coincidences work, the way life works. If I think too hard about it, I’ll get lost in a tailspin in my own head questioning the entire universe. But for now, timing or luck or fate or karma, whatever you want to call it, has been on my side and continues to guide me in what I can only hope is the right direction.

I guess I really just wanted to put timing into perspective for myself, and hopefully for some others who may feel lost or not understand the way things have been working for them lately. There’s no rhyme or reason to this post, which is very unlike me, but I like to believe in signs, too. And maybe some of you reading this have been looking for a sign. Maybe some of you reading this have been looking for a reason or a reminder. I don’t know why I was compelled to write this today, or why it went in the direction of fate and karma but I like to believe the timing was right and it was written for a reason.

Take it as you will and use it as you can.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Out Part 3: Telling My Family

 

IF YOU MISSED THE FIRST PART OF THIS MINI SERIES, YOU CAN CHECK IT OUT HERE. 

IF YOU MISSED THE SECOND PART OF THIS MINI SERIES, YOU CAN CHECK IT OUT HERE.

It’s kind of ironic how parents can predict things before we have any inclination whatsoever.

I know I’m not the only one who has been in a relationship where you make the mistake of telling your parents too much. This trust we have in our parents, to them, seems almost like an invitation for their input and skepticism.

Soon you’re hearing, “Is David* still selling drugs to high schoolers? I really hope you’re done buying that stuff from him.” or “Did Tom* unfollow that girl on Instagram whose pictures he kept liking?” and “From what you told me, it sounds like Kyle* has some serious issues. Run.”

*Names have not been changed to protect the identities of ex-boyfriends

Next, they’re giving you advice about how he’ll probably get a girl pregnant before he can start his life and that the two of you are so toxic you’ll end up ruining each other’s ideas of love forever.

All of a sudden, you’re 23 and you look back and realize, holy shit my mother was right.

Except, when I told my step-dad I was interested in this girl as more than a friend he told my mom he always thought I would end up gay.*

*I do not identify as a specific sexual orientation

I don’t know how parents are able to predict this kind of stuff, but this was news to me. Because up until the very second I kissed this girl, I had no idea how I felt about women.

Telling My Family

Before we jump into the terribly awkward, self-humiliation that is my true coming out story, I want to preface this by saying I am so incredibly thankful to have the friends and family that I do. Daily, they have continued to make this process as easy as I could have hoped it would be, and how I hope it can be for everyone.

The first night Jillian came over to hangout with me, I told my mom a “friend” from school who I had recently re-connected with was on the Cape for Christmas (we hungout for the first time December 22) and neither of us had anything to do so she was coming over to make a gingerbread house with me.

This wasn’t a total lie, we did make a gingerbread house, but she definitely wasn’t a friend from school. In fact, I had no proof she was even a real person at this point so I kind of just invited a stranger to my house based on a few days of text exchanges and a cute picture of her online.

Thankfully she wasn’t a serial killer.

My parents weren’t home when she got to my house because, unlike me, they actually have lives. We set up the gingerbread kit, starting pasting chunks of icing onto a cardboard house and every so often (probably every 10 minutes), I checked the window to see if lights were coming up the drive.

I’m not a very good liar, especially when it comes to myself. I like to be truthful with my parents and get their advice on things but this whole “thing” was so new and so unexplored that I honestly didn’t know what to say. So I lied.

When they finally got home, they asked her the standard questions. Did you go to Roger Williams, too? Where on Cape are you staying? What was you major?

Thankfully, being the paranoid freak I am, we had gone over all of these questions except she didn’t go to Roger and her family wasn’t staying on the Cape and although she said she majored in business, she actually didn’t go to college at all. Now we were both lying.

This would all come out on my moms birthday few days later but until then, we had passed the friendship test and went to the basement to watch a movie.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I had someone over that I was interested in, I would invite them to the basement to watch a movie. My parents definitely caught on to this and there were only so many times during this “Christmas break” that I could invite this girl over my house to watch movies in my basement before it got weird.

And weird it got because one day, my mom was driving home and the words spewed out like vomit.

“Hey mom, yeah Jillian’s here again yeah she’s gay and I might be too and I don’t want you to be weird about it when you get home so just act normal, OK? See you in bit. Bye,” and I hung up.

She later told me that the pure shock of this sentence alone made her almost drive off the road. Not because she wasn’t accepting of me but simply because I had dated guys my entire life and not once did I mention any sort of possible interest in women.

I had decided to hold off a bit longer to tell my step-dad but the morning of my moms birthday (December 29), as Jillian parked her car at the end of my driveway and walked towards the house in stilettos and a black dress, I blurted it out.

“Jillian’s gay,” I said as I stood in the newly remodeled kitchen, leaning over my phone with my elbows perched on the island. I didn’t even glance up.

“OK,” he said back.

“I might be, too.” My face was now buried in my phone, Jillian was almost at the door and my moms coffee just about spewed out of her mouth.

“Ok and?” he said. He kind of chuckled and went back to drinking his coffee.

At this point, Jillian was walking up the front steps, hand in a fist, ready to knock.

“I thought you were going to wait to tell him?” my mom said as the knock echoed through the living room.

For whatever reason, I had invited Jillian to a play with my family and me in Boston. Little did I know, when I texted her and asked her, she paced through the kitchen coming up with all of the reasons why she shouldn’t go before texting me back an hour later saying yes.

Now, we stood side-by-side in the kitchen, the abrupt announcement lingering in the air. Oblivious to what had taken place seconds earlier, Jillian gave my mom a bottle of red wine and wished her a happy birthday. We filed into the car, shipped up to Boston and up until the day I asked her to be my girlfriend a couple of months later (February 22), it wasn’t brought up once.

Not because they didn’t care or because they didn’t approve but because as long as I was happy, it didn’t matter who I was with. So I guess, in a way, they didn’t care that I was seeing a girl. I had fantasized about the scrutiny I would get from family members, concerned glances in my direction as I paraded her around family functions, snide comments as we wafted past.

But it didn’t happen. The conversation didn’t come. The concerns weren’t voiced. The questions weren’t asked. Instead, I was flooded with congratulations as we made our relationship “Facebook official,” comments from relatives excited to meet her, likes from past friends and family members I hadn’t seen in years. All writing the same thing; you look so happy. 

I was relieved. Still, it would take me some time to tell my dad.

The first time my dad met Jillian was on New Year’s Eve. We stopped by the house before our first “public” night out together. I introduced her to my dad the same way I introduced her to my mom; an old friend from Roger that was on Cape for the holidays.

Once it was made “official” online, I knew I had to tell my dad. I didn’t want him finding out from someone else, so I made plans to have lunch with him the following day.

We have a really good relationship but we’ve never talked about relationships. Since I lived with my mom, she was always the one that saw my significant other the most and was forced to get to know them. My dad would be introduced eventually and they’d make small talk, always cordial with one another, mostly around holidays or family events.

I was more scared to have the conversation with my dad than I was with my mom. Again, not because I feared judgment but these weren’t exactly the conversations we were used to having. Unlike my mom, my dad doesn’t have much of an opinion on who I date. He is very passive with mine and my sister’s life choices and rather than telling us what we should and shouldn’t do, he lets us figure it out on our own.

Sitting across from him, I could feel the anxiety creeping up into my throat as I forced down my food. With every bite, I hoped I would be able to swallow my unease.

He was picking away at his sandwich when I decided to start the conversation.

“Do you remember that girl you met on New Year’s?” I asked him. I took a sip of my drink and waited for him to look up at me.

“Yeah,” he said in a drawn out voice.

“Well, her and I are kind of dating,” I said. The words trailed off at the end as he finally looked up at me.

He paused for a few seconds as I choked back an awkward laugh.

“Like lesbians?” he asked me. He sat back in his seat a bit more and had a funny look on his face. That look you get as a child when you know you did something wrong, like poop in the litter box, but your parents are laughing too hard to punish you.

That was the look.

“I guess,” I said as I sipped at the empty ice at the bottom of my cup. “But I’m not gay. I just really like her.”

I was waiting for a reaction but nothing came.

He just adjusted his glasses, picked up his phone and leaned back into the booth. He mumbled something about it being a phase and how most women go through them. I didn’t want to correct him or argue with him so I let it go.

It wasn’t brought up again. I asked a few times if he wanted to talk about it but he always said there was nothing to say. I was happy, so he was happy. Simple.

Simple. 

I would wonder about the simplicity of coming out for months. How could it be so simple, so passive, for me to announce I liked women, but so brutalized and condemned for so many others?

I had hyped up the idea of being gay. I had given it it’s own place in my head where it could live and wonder. It’s own secret garden. I planted flowers in my mind and watered them with my thoughts. Fuel to flourish and a place to feel safe. Confidence to speak and courage to accept. To accept myself. They would sprout from my ears, petals falling from my eye lids and like a mid-summer rain, I’d open my mouth to catch them on my tongue. I’d swallow them whole until I was almost bursting. Full. Whole. Ready to show the world what I had so preciously built. And in the center of it all;

us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debate: Gaffing Fish & Catch and Release

Wow, it has been an unfortunate amount of time since I have been able to sit down and write. Even now, I am at my office waiting for my boss to get out of a meeting and the desk I normally sit as it occupied by our accountant so I am sitting on the steps, computer in lap, feet on the magazines in front of me.

Truth be told, I have been in such a transitional period of my life between moving into a new house, spending time focused on my relationship (which is still relatively new) and working two jobs which literally occupies my attention seven days a week.

For those of you that don’t know, I am currently working for Hogy Lure Company which is a lure manufacturing company based out of Falmouth, Mass. where I recently moved to. On top of that, I still mate for my dad on the Columbia where we run sportfishing charters out of Rock Harbor, located in Orleans, Massachusetts. This I have been doing for six seasons now.

You know you’re getting too old for a job when the new generation of mates are between 13/14-years old. This will be my last summer with him, which is both sad and exciting at the same time. I might work weekends depending on what I’m doing for work a year from now. I hope to be with the same company (Hogy) as I truly enjoy my co-workers and the work that I do.

So, let’s jump into it.

There has always been controversy surrounding the tactics and methods of those within the fishing community, long before I became apart of it. Keep in mind that these following thoughts stem from my short 7-8 years of experience both as a first mate and now through my involvement with Hogy Lures and Salty Cape. I have noticed two common discussions arise through our social media posts on all accounts (Hogy, Salty and Columbia):

  1. Gaffing a fish vs. Netting a fish
  2. Catch and release vs. Keeping fish

And of course, there’s the unfortunate individuals who feel the need to message me directly about my practices and techniques, as if being a jerk in my DM’s is going to either change or influence how I work.

Let me be very, very blunt with you for a minute; messaging someone privately about something you disagree with, especially when you attack them because they do it differently than you, is rude. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion but when you cross the line from a friendly discussion into personally attacking an individual or a business platform because you don’t like how they operate… No.

Gaffing a Fish vs. Netting a Fish

Before we get into this discussion, GAFFING A FISH IN MASSACHUSETTS IS LEGAL IF IT IS 28-INCHES+ AND YOU DO NOT ALREADY HAVE YOUR LIMIT OF ONE FISH PER PERSON. I do not know the laws and regulations of other states, but this is something I frequently hear when our business and our ethics are questioned. I can not speak for the rest of the states, but since we are located in Massachusetts and fish in Massachusetts waters, this is relevant to your knowledge.

That’s it. That should be the end of the discussion but regardless of the law, there are some people who still try to force their use of a net on you, as if their opinions are stronger than the laws put in play by policy holders, law makers and scientists.

I understand why people choose to use a net and I see no problem with it. But I also see no problem with using a gaff and let me explain why:

For starters, these are my personal opinions based on knowledge I have already obtained via personal experience.

When I am recreational fishing (going out for fun, enjoying the sport) I don’t use either a net or a gaff. I use my hands, unhook the fish, maybe snap a picture and release it as quickly as possible.

If I am choosing to use a net, which I have done countless times when fishing with Rob, it is for safety purposes both of the fish and to prevent myself from falling into the water while reaching for the fish.

When I use a gaff, and this is important, there are a few things you need to understand.  The first being, I work on a charter boat – for those of you that don’t know, charter fishing is both different from recreational fishing (for fun, for sport) and commercial fishing (to sell to markets). When charter fishing, Coast Guard allows up to six individuals to board the boat, plus the captain and the mate (8 overall). We are allowed to keep up to one fish per person, meaning we are LEGALLY allowed to have eight fish on the boat that are 28-inches or larger. The people who charter fishing boats like ours are fishing to keep, meaning they want fish to bring home to their families and their friends, to have for dinner, to make into a fish chowder, to freeze for a couple of months down the road. Whatever the reason may be, they want to bring fish home.

In this scenario, I always ask the groups when the board the boat, “Do you guys want fish to bring home?” And if they say yes, we fish to bring home. This is where the gaff comes into play – let me ask you, why wouldn’t you gaff a fish if you were planning on bringing it home and eating it? The gaff serves a variety of purposes – the most important being that it makes sure we get the fish in the boat. Since most people want to bring fish home, it does not matter if the fish is injured during the gaffing process because it is going to die either way. THAT BEING SAID, WE DO NOT GAFF FISH THAT WE ARE NOT BRINGING HOME. Even if the fish is legal, I will lift it over the back of the boat, unhook it and release it properly.

That’s all I have to say about gaffing. My final note being, before you judge someone and attack someone on their personal tactics, methods and techniques, PLEASE familiarize yourself with the states laws and regulations before taking time out of your day to approach someone for simply abiding by state laws. If you are going to attack someone because you disagree with this, your energy is probably best spent emailing those who put these laws into play in the first place.

Lastly, there is nothing wrong with either method. Whether you choose to gaff a fish or net a fish, make sure you are doing it responsibly and in the best interest of the fish. Simply, if you are not keeping the fish, do not gaff it. If you are keeping the fish, be sure that it is 28-inches+.

Catch and Release vs. Keeping Fish

There are laws put in place for a reason. And I can assure you, those of us who charter fish, recreational fish and commercial fish abide by them. Let’s run down the laws really quickly.

Recreational Fishing: One fish per person, 28-inches+. Cannot charter paying customers without a license, cannot sell fish without a license. You must apply and test for these licenses.

Charter Fishing: One fish per person on the boat, 28-inches+. Must have a license to charter paying customers. You must test for this license. Commercial license not required. If you have a commercial license and are also a charter fishing captain, it is illegal to catch commercial fish with the intent to sell on a paid charter.

Commercial Fishing: 15 fish per boat, 34-inches+. You must have a license to sell these fish. You must apply for this license. You are limited to 25lbs. per day. Monday and Thursday are the designated commercial fishing days.

These are the laws, put into play by law makers and policy holders. Why someone would try to argue the law based on their personal opinion is beyond me, but to each their own.

I have had countless messages from individuals messaging me, again verbally attacking me for what our family business does. They say things like, “you’re killing all the fish,” and “you’re the reason there’s no bass in Cape Cod Bay.” I even had someone go as far as saying “How dare you kill fish in my waters.”

Buddy, the ocean doesn’t belong to you. He then went on to argue that the “shore fishing isn’t what it used to be” while proceeding to tell me that “fishing from a boat isn’t real fishing.” That’s a joke if I’ve ever heard one.

Let’s jump right into it then. Simply put, these specific laws are put into play by scientists and analysts who have studied the migratory patterns of striped bass from their spawning season, through their spring run into their fall run and back into estuaries, streams, rivers, etc. to spawn again. Do people honestly think that these regulations would be allowed if these fish were endangered?

It’s one thing if it’s your personal opinion to catch and release, good for you, I suppose you think you are morally and ethically better than those who do not, but that doesn’t make us wrong because again, we follow the laws put into play by those who are actually educated on the subject.

Your experience on the water does not make you an expert.

Your personal opinions do not make you an expert.

Your personal practices do not make you an expert.

Honestly, if you haven’t studied and analyzed the increase/decrease of the striper population in both New England and the Cape Cod area in specific, you are not an expert.

This doesn’t make me an expert either.

But what I can tell you based on keeping up with these studies is that the striper population has increased greatly from the 1980’s and is being maintained, while increasing, well into our current era.  I can tell you that there are more schools of schoolie-sized fish in Cape Cod Bay than there have been in years. I can also tell you that the Great White Shark population probably has a lot to do with the scarcity of legal-sized fish in the area.

And adding to that, those of you that take the time to actually argue tooth and nail with me about us killing fish and ruining the population, I hope you realize that the fish are migrating, and Cape Cod Bay is just a stop on their list. Not seeing a lot of decent sized fish in the bay? That’s because they are moving north, as animals often do when they migrate. They have almost entirely moved out of the bay and should be showing up in Maine any day now if they haven’t already. That doesn’t mean they are extinct or endangered or that we are killing them, it simply means they have moved out of the area.

Again, I reiterate, if you are going to argue the logistics of the laws with anyone, it should be with a letter or an email to the law makers and policy holders. We abide by the STATE LAWS and I know some people think their opinions are more important than the laws, but they’re not.

Practice your catch and release, use your nets, have your opinions but please, respect local businesses and trust that we are simply following the rules and doing our jobs. You don’t agree with it? That’s on you. But being disrespectful and rude because of your own presumptions and disagreements simply won’t solve anything. If anything, it’ll create enemies and annoyances towards your fellow fisherman.

Links for Reference:

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/recreational-saltwater-fishing-regulations

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-striped-bass

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/commercial-finfish-regulations

https://www.dragonflysportfishing.com/state-federal-catch-limit/

https://www.onthewater.com/massachusetts-enacts-striped-bass-conservation-regulations

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Field Trips

Per my last post, I know I have left a lot of you with unanswered questions to my unanswered thoughts. Rob and I originally had agreed to wait until he was back from his trip to Australia to announce the new development to Field Trips but after our recent conversation, he said he would be OK with me discussing it.

As many of you have asked and guessed, Rob and I have amicably decided to split ways. Although it definitely saddens me to no longer be a part of Field Trips, I know at the end of the day that this is best for both of us.

Nothing specific happened to spark this decision. I spoke in past posts about our difference in work ethics and how, although we operate differently, it works well. But, the more time we worked together, the more different our motivations had become. I found myself feeling really lost and unmotivated and of course, I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure he sensed that my demeanor was beginning to change.

I do think Panama is where I realized it the most. My time there was truthfully so eye-opening and although I was left with a lot of frustration and confusion, I really had the time of my life in the moments that I felt I could be myself. From the gorgeous sunrises on the black sand beaches, to the abundance of fresh fruit and fresh fish that we were blessed with, down to the people from all walks of life that I was lucky enough to meet and share this experience with, Panama was a trip I will never forget.

I spoke briefly about what took place while I was there and I tried to keep it as vague as possible because I don’t want to talk badly about anyone or anything, but at the end of the day, it’s not the business. It’s not the company. It’s not any one person. Nothing specific happened to make me feel the way that I felt. It was a lot of little things combined that made me feel as though I really didn’t belong there.

But all of that aside, I met the most amazing groups of people. My first week there was for the Kayak Fishing World Championship where we had guys from all over the world (The United States, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Costa Rica). Talk about a rowdy group of men. I am so used to the rambunctious personalities of competitive men so it was almost comforting to be surrounded by these guys every day.

The stories, the memories, the personalities, the knowledge — I wouldn’t trade any of it. All of them were so kind and humble, so encouraging and welcoming, so knowledgeable and skilled in their own tricks and trades. I can only hope I made the positive impact on them that they made on me.

As for my second week there, we had people from the United States, Canada and Ireland. I can not speak more highly of this group of people. It was definitely a different dynamic from the first group as many of these guys (both men and women) weren’t nearly as experienced as the guys we had the week before. But they all knew what they were doing and more importantly, they all knew how to fish. Even the other Jamie, who had never been in a kayak before, kicked ass out on the water battling swells and strong fish.

The guys from Ireland were some of the funniest people I’ve met. But forget it when they start drinking. It’s nearly impossible to understand them. I asked myself so many times, are they speaking English right now? But the beer kept pouring and the conversation kept flowing.

As for Rob and me, I don’t think I could say anything bad about him if I tried. I’m definitely sad my time on the road has come to an end and if I had the chance to do it over, I know what I would change. But thankfully, I am young and will have the opportunity to start over in another career where I will carry his advice and knowledge with me.

To take a chance on a complete stranger, like he did with me, is not something a normal person would do. But Rob is far from normal (in the best ways) and I was really lucky to have him as a boss and a roommate and can absolutely call him one of my life-long friends. Sure, we had our disagreements here and there and we both had issues with one another at certain times. But he gave me a chance when I needed one the most. He made my dreams of travelling come true and fed my passion for fishing.

I remember many of our conversations, most of them leaning towards the passion to change people’s lives and I can honestly say, Rob changed mine. I leave the RV with nothing but gratitude and respect for Rob.

I had visions of us taking over the world and one day having our own TV show about our travels and fishing adventures, but nothing ever goes as planned. And that’s OK. When one door closes, another door opens. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me. This internship gave me a taste of the possibilities I can make out of my life and even though I’m not much of a self-starter, I know I have a lot to offer to another business/employer.

Moral of my time on the road: You have the power to make the life you have always dreamed of having. Take a chance on yourself and others will take the chance with you, too. Believe in yourself, challenge yourself, push yourself. The outcome may not be what you thought, but you will learn so much on the journey. And the journey is the most important part; not the destination.

I don’t know my destination, but what fun is life if you do?