At one point in my life, I was very ambitious but also very afraid of rejection. My fear of rejection all but paralyzed my ability to move towards the dreams that felt like blazing coals inside of me. As much as I would have fought you to the death to prove I wasn’t, I was a coward.
At another point in my life, I confronted my own fears and worked through them by getting a better understanding of my own mind, wants, and needs. Because of this I became a better friend, husband, son, brother...human being. Because I had reduced my own anxiety, I became less angry, less needy, less self-centered, and...less ambitious. I became a better person, but a worse wrestler.
Yep, turns out a lot of what was fueling my drive to be a big star in wrestling was my insecurities, self-centeredness, even self-hatred. What originally drove me to want to succeed was a yearning desire to find a reason to be able to live with myself. So, around the same time that I was starting to achieve all the success that Old Me wanted, that motherf***er was dead.
During my life as a couchsurfing, teenage professional wrestler my ultimate goal-to-achieve in wrestling was wrestling in Japan. I was obsessed. I wanted it more than just about anything other than hooking up with two women at once...I mentioned I was a teenager, right? So, obsessed with the goal that I loosened my own tattoos-are-too-trendy-now attitude and got the trendy looking Kanji symbol for “Success” tattooed on the tender virgin flesh of my inner wrist, facing me, as a reminder of what success meant to me: wrestling in Japan.
By the time I made it to Japan, I was many years removed from my teens, and finally content with being who, what, where, when, and exactly how I was. I no longer needed vindication, the pat on the back, the wonderfully-sh**ty feeling of knowing that I am making others jealous so I would feel less-jealous. It might sound like a verse in an Alanis Morrisette song - I mean, “Isn’t it ironic” that when I finally got all the opportunities (Other than the intergender threeway dance that the teenage me thought would make him happy, but even that desire passed which could be its own Fightful series titled “Too Much Information” that I will probably never write.) that had given me sleepless, self-pitying nights over not getting, I had already passed that parasite of unhealthy, eating-me-up-from-the-inside dire-desire out of my system?
No...Alanis, I’m sorry, but that’s not how irony works and, really, I am so grateful that I didn’t get to realize my main-wrestledream of wrestling in Japan until I was mature enough to handle the stress of it.
If I had been the twenty year old version of me when I got the email about it being just a possibility, I would have been devastated by nerves over the possibility of getting my hopes up only to be let down.
If I had been the twenty two year old version of me, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with the language barrier making it difficult to understand the process of getting my work visa. Going through a laborious process of getting a visa picture taken, measured, and cut to the extremely detailed, exact specifications of head space and face ratio that were listed according to a website I was sent, only to have it rejected because I had read the outdated, wrong information and all I needed, all along, was a basic 2”x2” photo I could get taken anywhere, would have had me literally pulling my hair out.
The wait for the paperwork to come in, knowing that my flight was rapidly approaching would have had me pacing until a World War 1 trench formed in the floor tiles of my living room, with grenades of anxiety going off in the battlefield of my belly.
The drive to New York City in my in-need-of-repair-but-there’s-no-time car, to pick up my finally approved work visa because my flight was two days away and the self addressed “Express” envelope I sent the Japanese Embassy to send my passport back to me said “One Day Shipping *from most places, to most places*” but was only guaranteed for Two Day Delivery, which meant that it might (and most likely would) arrive around the time my flight was leaving without me, would have had me having seriously unhealthy conversations with myself about being myself for those eight-or-so hours.
Instead, when I was waiting for the next email to confirm, when the “what-if” thoughts arose, as they always do, other, deeply drilled-in, more-realistic thoughts arose right behind them.
“What if it doesn’t work out?” One thought would ask.
“It’ll work out. Always does.” Another thought would answer.
“What if it’s too late?” One Thought would ask.
“Then we won’t have anything to worry about. It won’t have been meant to be; so, of course it wasn’t.”
I still really wanted it to happen and felt grateful as a lonely rescue dog in a home full of playful, doting children for the opportunity, but now I wanted it to happen for very different reasons.
Gone was the need to force haters to eat their words like the lunch lady from Gatewood Elementary School had forced an eight year old version of me to eat vegetable stew before I projectile vomited out all that scumdiddlilyuckiness on the well-worn blue carpet that also served as a gym floor. Instead, I wanted the kind words of predicted success, by so many, over the years, to be honored by coming to fruition.
Gone was the need to make the people I was secretly jealous of become secretly jealous of me. Instead, I wanted to inspire those who would come after me, as a way to honor those that had inspired me that I had came after.
Gone was the need to feel loved by strangers. Instead, was a hope to show strangers love that they might need.
But...also, when I actually made it to Japan, when I was actually sweating the sweet sweat that had sprung from that deep well of not-so-sweet struggle-sweat, when I was actually showered with streamers after years of showering myself with self-judgement, when I was finally under that glorious sunlike glow of those Kurakuen Hall lights with the camera flashes reminding me of the “lightening bugs” that filled the joy filled Summer nights of my spring-young self with wonder at just-what this magical World might have instore for me, before the might of the winter of my heart froze my hopes in the icy pond called Fear Of Rejection, when I was finally getting that oooooooohhh reaction that I had always hoped for, after years of heckling from hate-filled hearts in the heart of Appalachia, I felt like I should have felt that moment was exactly what it actually was: perfect. But it didn’t feel perfect. It felt good, I felt good. But it didn’t feel great, I didn’t feel great.
What the f*** is wrong with me? I asked myself.
Not even the sound of crickets could be heard inside my mind.
Why doesn’t this feel as amazing as it should?
Okay, the brain isn’t answering, right now. Maybe I should check in with the gut. Gut, you never bullsh** me, what are you feeling right, now.
“Guilt.” Gut answered.
“Me, too.” Finally answered Brain.
“Why?” I asked.
“I feel guilty for not feeling great. It feels like I should feel great but I don’t feel great even though it feels like I should feel great but really I just feel guilty for not feeling great because it really feels-”
“Okay, Brain!” I interrupted. “I was actually talking to Gut.”
“Oh, now I feel guilty for answering when I shouldn’t have answered when it felt like I should answer because I felt guilty for not answering earlier when I should have ans-”
“Okay, Brain!” Interrupted. “Can Gut answer, now? Gut, why do you feel guilt?”
“Oh, he’s not really great at explaining why he feels how he feels he just kind of Feels, and I usually come up with a hypothesis about why but sometimes I’m wrong and then I feel guilty about not understanding Gut when it feels like I should understand Gut but he just kind of Feels and-” Brain explained.
“Okay, Brain! Got it. Gut is honest about what but silent about why.” I interrupted.
“Yes, I’m glad I explained it so clearly.” Brain said with a smugness that would make an opinionated News Network show host sh** their slacks with envy.
“Why do I feel guilty?” I asked Life, The Universe, and Everything.
It didn’t seem to have any theories either.
“I have some theories.” Answered Brain.
“Please, don’t share them.”
“You’re loss, d***weed.” Brain said saltily.
After Kurakuen Hall, I settled into my picturesquely Japanese room in a peaceful area near a slow moving river, well-removed from the ocean of busy-being-busy chaotic current of humanity that most people picture when they imagine Tokyo. No, I was surrounded by sliding paper walls and walking barefoot on soft, woven straw floor panels, staring out my window at a gleamingly well-maintained graveyard in the distance and wondering to myself why I wasn’t in rapture at the coolness of a Kurasawa film devouring kid growing up to taste the simple-sweet taste of the tamed enough to take in with a sublime sigh Tokyo life. There it was again. This mystery guilt casting a somewhat sullen shadow over the should-be shining success of realizing a wild dream of going from the pubescent pr**k that used to punch holes in the hard earned walls of his parent’s trailer because his wants weren’t being catered to, to becoming the mild-mannered man that mindfully slides the delicate walls of a traditional Japanese home into place before putting his hands together in gratitude to the World that has consistently given him everything he’s ever needed.
I had made it in ways that I hadn’t even ever dared dream of when I got that tattoo on my wrist and here I was feeling like I should feel more and feeling guilty for not feeling more. Damn...I was even letting my damn brain have a bad influence over the way I think into the keyboard.
I walked through the quiet city streets, seeing the vibrant life of an amazingly different World than the one I had grown up in, and thought about being the little dude that used to borrow World Culture books from the library so he could marvel at the beauty of human diversity, and it felt good and I felt guilty.
I sat in the park and watched while wise-hearted women rode their bicycles to picnic tables, with basketfuls of life-sustaining offerings for the stray cats, who awoke from their blissful siestas in the Sun with loud cries of thankful love, and I too felt grateful. Grateful and guilty.
I was treated with humbling respect, despite the fact that I didn’t speak much of the national language, by people who sold me bags full of food that filled my mouth with pleasure and my belly with contentment, and I thought about how my father and his siblings grew up with a padlock on the refrigerator - least their food not be rationed well enough to last until they could afford to replenish the meager stock - and I felt like crying tears of thankful love and when I checked in with my gut, yeah, I also felt guilty.
“Okay! Enough’s enough-” I started to say in my mind.
“And it’s time for a change!” My Brain interrupted in it’s best Owen Hart impression.
“I will be happy to feel nostalgic about our childhood heroes, later, Brain. Right now, I want to figure out why I don’t seem to be enjoying what should be the most gratifying moments of my life! I mean, I’m the same guy who wrote about driving through the mountains of northern New Mexico and letting man-tears fly because the moment is so full of the lack of wants or needs in my first Fightful piece, right? So-”
“Nah.” Said my Gut.
I’m startled by an answer from a strange place to a question I thought was rhetorical.
“Wait. What?” My Brain and I say simultaneously? “We’re not?” We add.
“Nah.” Gut repeated.
“Then who are we?” I asked grumpily.
“Remember: he only says what, never why or, it seems, who.” Says Brain, doing one of it’s favorite activities: breaking the silence.
“Right.” I say.
“Maybe we should-” Started Brain.
“What? Explore some of your ‘theories’?” I interrupt. “Sure. Sounds great. We’ll spend the next few hours examining our Jungian Shadow Self and the traumas that formed it and it’ll be really dark and romantic and make us bearable depressed which will eventually lead to unbearable, real depression, and, and…” I lose steam.
“-ask heart.” Whispered Brain in a hurt tone.
“Oh. Oh, yeah.” I answered back in an embarrassed, regretful tone. “That’s a great idea. Sorry Brain, sometimes I forget how useful you are.”
“It’s okay! I understand! You think I am useful? Of course you think I’m useful. I can come up with so many more great ideas. Like why don’t we go to Wikipedia and see what happened the that guy that hosted MonsterVision on TNT. What was his name? We should Google his name? Ooh! We should Google our name and learn its etymology. It’s Greek, right? Like Jason and The Argonauts. We should Wiki that story! Then-”
“Okay, Brain!” I interrupted. “I promise I’ll give you time to wander the Internet later, but, right now, let’s explore your first idea: ask our Heart.
Heart, why do I feel guilty in my gut?”
“Oh, hey. Good to hear from you! It’s been awhile.” She says in her understanding, non-judgemental Charlotte A. Cavatica sort of way. “Hey, don’t feel guilty about that, too, I can feel you feeling guilty you know?” She adds with a smile. “You feel guilty because you feel selfish. You feel selfish because you feel lonely. You feel lonely because you think you’re alone. That’s why you keep getting so nostalgic about everything and comparing it to the past. You miss some of the Yous that you used to be. You miss your friends and family and fans, back Stateside. You miss them because you think they’re missing from you. You miss them because you think they’re missing out on all this coolness you’re experiencing. You’re missing the mark with all this thinking because you’ve shut yourself off from me.
I know and will be glad to remind you, when you forget, as so often you do, that all the Yous you used to be are the building blocks used to create the you you currently are. Without the You gleefully experiencing fireflies, all alone, how could the You experiencing flashbulbs appreciate the surreal unfolding of life that brought you to be there, surrounded by strangers. If not for the You getting that first tattoo, how then the You with the head tattoo? They’re all Right Here, Right Now sharing all these experiences with you, because if they weren’t there wouldn’t be any you to be with.
I know and will be glad to remind you, when you forget, as so often you do, that all the people that you think you’re missing are right here. They’re in me, ready to visit you anytime. But, more than that: they would really just be visiting themselves, because they are you! Those apple butter sandwiches Granny used to make you didn’t just rebuild the little you’s body, it built the current you’s capacity to find joy in serving others. Your wife isn’t just the sweet person recounting the joys of her life with her cat-babies to you over Facebook Messenger video chat, she’s that voice in your head telling you that it’s okay to forgive yourself. Your dad’s not just yelling at someone in a coal mine in West Virginia, he’s right there in your head yelling, “You’re better than that.” when you think of doing something that you know isn’t right. They’re all Right Here, Right Now sharing all these experiences with you, because if they weren’t there wouldn’t be any you to be with.
Go ahead connect with them. Ah, there it is. Even if it wasn’t for the tears of gratitude welling in your eyes, I’d be able to feel you feeling them.
And, what of the Thems that are alive and currently, as always, dying to new versions of Themselves? Well, they have the Yous that made Them Them to make all their experiences possible, too, but, you know what, they might want the current You to interact and influence the current Them, and I have a sneaking suspicion your guilt will dissipate the more you share your joy.”
“I just got this great idea! We should do short Instagram vlogs so the people new versions of the people who are with us can experience the new versions of us doing new things! And we’ll do it shirtless! I’m a genius!” Says Brain.
“Thanks, Heart. Thanks, Brain.” I say. “If you always give me such great advice why do I shut myself off from you sometimes, Heart?”
“Well, have you noticed how you have started to return to wrestling form, to your Wrestling Self, now that you have been back in Japan?”
“Next time on Shirtless On The Streets Of Tokyo…”