relationships

My Dog Is the Best Miscommunication My Ex and I Ever Had by Sophia Chang

Sophia and Terry

T became my son because my ex-boyfriend and I had communication problems. 

After finally settling in the suburbs of LA with my boyfriend at the time, I took a stressful job with a terrible boss. Every day after work I went straight to the county shelter and sat for hours on the dirty concrete floors, melting my stress away as I loved on the dogs.

By then the shelter workers were familiar with me. One of them called to me as she stood in front of a cage. "This one just came in. Owner surrender."

 © 2018 Sophia Chang

 © 2018 Sophia Chang

The first time I saw T, he walked quietly up to me and sat. Every dog was screaming around him but he was a focal point of stillness amidst the bark and chaos. (I found out later he has a collapsed trachea.)

I'd been fostering pitbulls and rescuing all breeds for years, and I have a certificate in canine behavior from the TV-famous ASPCA in my native NY. I trusted my relationship with dogs. I felt good about this guy.

But it was really a miscommunication (among many) with my boyfriend that made T our son. My boyfriend loved Corgis. The short, stubby legs, that long body, the prominent nose - I get it. So when I saw T, with his freakishly long torso and crooked, short nubbins, I thought, "This is the perfect dog for us!"

Except I already had my eye on another dog: a tiny, trembly girl chihuahua who licked desperately at my fingers. After talking it over with my boyfriend (who remembers none of this and maintains I brought home a dog without a single word), we decided the chihuahua would be easier to carry on my travels. 

I called the shelter the next day. "We neutered the male. It's a shorter procedure. He's ready to go home." The shelter was closing for the holidays and there was no time to spay the chihuahua. Adopting her was off the table.

© 2018 Sophia Chang

© 2018 Sophia Chang

I went to the shelter to see T. He sat dazedly in the infirmary, bandages pasted onto his crotch. Don't tell him this, but I walked away, unsure. I called my best friend and she said, "He's amazing." I shook my head clear of doubt.

In my car, I raced home with 30 minutes to shelter closing to find my checkbook. I ran back to the front desk, shouting, "I'll take him." 

The clerk smiled. "He looked really sad after you left." 

They handed me a nylon lead and left me to go to the infirmary by myself. When I opened the door of his little cage, he was ready. He leapt forcefully into my arms and clung to me. He was a lot longer and heavier than I'd realized.

I took him to the pet store immediately to buy a bed and food. A little girl wrapped her arms around him, still dirty from the shelter, and he stood patiently, though he was only a teenager with no training whatsoever. He still has this good-natured personality.

© 2018 Sophia Chang

© 2018 Sophia Chang

It's been 10 years since T has been my son and I still can't look at the grainy photo of his shelter surrender without tearing up. I am so grateful his original family gave him up so I could find him. I have struggled through anxiety, depression, and a traumatic brain injury. T has kissed my tears and licked my snot through all of it. His father and I are no longer a couple, but we still take him to the vet together every year.

I kiss T every day and tell him, "I will take care of you for the rest of your life." I haven't been blessed with marriage in my life yet, but I have the honor of committing to someone I love for his eternity.

T is short, buff, and completely silent - a lot like the Asian men I fall in love with.  A lot like his dad. He has a natural hyena hairstyle and an emo sulk when you leave him. At the dog park he’s been called “handsome”, as well as, “the weirdest looking dog I’ve ever seen.”

I found out later it wasn't the long torso my boyfriend liked. He loved Corgis because there's one in this hipster anime movie I can't stand. To this day, he complains about T's oddly long otter-body. 

"Just like his mommy," my ex says. And I put my stubby arms proudly akimbo on my long torso. 

Got the puppy feels from this article? My boy and I appreciate it if you click Like and SHARE below!

How I Stopped Being a Millennial or Having Friends Who Can't Use the Phone by Sophia Chang

© 2017 Sophia Chang

2016 will go down as the year I stopped being a millennial.

I didn't know I was a millennial until I joined Snapchat to do my Day in the Life for Asian Pacific American Month in May and a middle-aged woman sent me a nasty email calling me the 'm' word.

I'd never been so flattered - she thought I was 25! If you can't fight 'em, join 'em.

After two seasons of documenting #foodporn (apparently octopus was the "it" ingredient of 2016 - I had it THREE times with the same foodie companion) and making myself jealous with my own 4-party birthday extravaganza, my love affair with being a millennial ended when I became ill.

Last fall, I developed CPTSD. It caused acute gastritis and a neurological tremor that has made it impossible to drive, write, or use the computer. I'd make less typos if I just mashed my face into the keyboard.

I took most apps off my phone and cut my social media down to two platforms (Twitter and Instagram, most of which I dictate). Immediately something happened: all the 20-year-olds left my life.

Pix Or You Don't Exist

During the illness that became the worst two months of my life, nobody below the age of 30 reached out to see if I was okay, and nobody below the age of 40 actually came over to bring me food and drive me to church.

The one twentysomething who wrote me on Facebook to ask why I wasn't on Snapchat nervously exclaimed, "But I don't know how to reach you!" (I explained that the boxy thing in his hand he was messaging me on also made phone calls, but it was all too much for him and he's resorted to liking my IG posts as the extent of f***s he's willing to give.)

He wasn't the only one who turned out to be just a social media liker. I lost about 80% of my "friends", and though it's changed how much I trust the human race, it is a valuable lesson on who not to spend your time on.

I also realized the benefit of being born on a cusp between the last decent generation and this horrible one that doesn't know how to speak using their voiceboxes - I can choose, with a quick deletion of accounts, which generation to emulate.

It's not easy. I've spent too many years trying to be relevant. There's a saying in the coaching circles that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

Right now my days are filled with kind church people with too many kids to care about makeup, pessimistic Gen X-ers who have real jobs, and people nearing retirement who actually call me on the phone, the way we used to when I was a child in the 80s and 90s.

Even so, my millennial roots are hard to kill.

Cue BeetHoven's ninth

A few nights ago I forgot my laptop charger. "What am I going to do for 2 hours? I can't watch Vampire Diaries!" I whined to my ex, who's almost 40, is one of the few people keeping me fed during my sickness, and has no patience for "kids". (Everyone my age and younger is a kid.)

"You're freaking out, aren't you?" He smirked at me over his X-box controller. (Hey, he's not perfect either.)

"No," I stammered. "I just have an article to finish about not being a millennial anymore. Now it's going to late. But FINE I can read a BOOK!"

Yes. I've sucked often when it comes to getting rid of the instant gratification we 80's children are afflicted with. But I'm on the right road hanging out with real people and letting everyone else drift out of my life.

It's why I go back East every year. I don't want to turn into an Angeleno, not returning phone calls. It's why I go to 4-5 churches a week. It's why my parents wanted me to go to Harvard so badly after growing up in a white trash town amid slutty theatre kids.

Hang around a Kardashian long enough...

How I Am Now

I'm still recovering. I spill things and my spoon shakes when I eat. For 2 months, my acid-reflux made me gag for the first 8 hours of the day and I've lost so much muscle mass I'm down to my Hollywood weight. Except it doesn't look so cute when you're not actually trying to lose weight. During my worst weeks my ex said I resembled the mangy "Memories" cat from Cats the Musical.

Yes. This decrepit homeless cat who used to be somebody. That's me.  Photo credit

Yes. This decrepit homeless cat who used to be somebody. That's me. Photo credit

I haven't looked in a mirror in 2 months. Not because I've learned to be as unvain as my friends, but because I'm terrified of the Medusa that might stare back at me. (If you look at what social media I have left, there isn't a photo of me between Nov 1 and Dec 24, 2016.)

In a way, this is the final coating of man repellant I've been wearing for the last half year: not only am I too old to be a #wcw - that's Woman Crush Wednesday for us oldies - I don't even have a selfie to submit. 

You Can Be Old and a Douchebag too

I'm not saying you have to be in your 20s to be a shallow friend. Plenty of older people stopped talking to me, too. In fact, God gave me a Proverbs-level lesson on what a true friend is, and you can bet I'm humbled and chastened by it. One of my oldest friends continues to pretend nothing happened to me, but I see him unable to deal with anyone else's emotions either so I don't take it personally, though it does make me sad.

We all already have concentric rings of friends. By nature there are certain groups inherently more trustworthy and others that are the scourge of the earth. (How many barely-employed actors do you have to date before you learn what hell is? My count is 3.)

This round also isn't the first time life has given me the measure of people. High school classmates mysteriously found my email when my Tampax commercial started airing during Friends. Ex-friends suddenly commented on a photo that had a celebrity hugging me. And the flipside: fellow writers got huge book deals and I wasn't worthy of a lunch anymore. 

My ex is always surprised by how hurt I am by these things. "What did you expect?" he always says. "Everyone is like this."

Is this true? Is this really what the world is like? Then I am naive. And incredibly idealistic.

Beating the Millennialism Out of Me

Well if not being a millennial means being more realistic, I'm learning. To be honest, I too am a little surprised. I never thought of myself as an innocent person - I took the subway into Harlem at 3 a.m. when I was 15 (by accident) and I moved out of my parents' home two weeks after I turned 17 (very purposefully).

Yet, I was also swindled $6000 by my manager in Hollywood, and I've been dumped out of the blue by men who, in the same week, asked me to move in with them - and somehow I still have the audacity to be shocked when people don't mean what they say.

Why DO people lie? What is the point? And why didn't I get that gene?

But that's neither here nor there.

the point

I was raised by a father who used to get out on the toll bridge to hand $10 to the car in front who didn't have enough change, even though he was a poor immigrant who escaped from war and went hungry most of his young life.

I grew up expecting people to be good - and perhaps that's what makes me most millennial of all.

"I can't believe how few really good friends I have," I said to my ex on Christmas Eve.

"That's all we ever have," he said. "I only have a few really good friends." 

That's all you need, seemed to be his point. My final lesson as a recovering millennial is to be completely ok with that.

But I do have a helpful lesson to share, and this one will save you a lot of time and heartache - people who can't be bothered to use the phone shouldn't be bothered.

Ready to stop being a millennial? Click Like and Share below!

I Watched 'Arrival' with the Former Love of My Life and Regretted Every Decision I Ever Made by Sophia Chang

The third in my Love series...

It's been 4 days since Arrival and I've hardly left the bed.

After crying hysterically for an hour in the theatre and the quiet victory of discovering a fellow yellow brother wrote the genius fueling this decade's alien movie, I've lapsed into a hermetic stupor.

Yes, this film spoke to my multilingual identity the way single-language plebes will never understand. But this film messed me up not due to its Sapir-Whorf crisis, or to the plight of growing up colored and code-switching in a country that everyone else just realized was racist last November (seriously, who was in denial that long?) 

No, this movie destroyed my mind on a much deeper level. 

I've only been asked twice in my life about the event in my life so severe that it marks the B.C. and A.D. of Sophia Chang. It doesn't come up often - you have to get me talking about the biggest regrets of my life before I'll tell you why I am the way I am now, why I had no choice but to change and be changed, irrevocably.

It is that I lost the love of my life and I am still recovering from it.

SPOILERS AHEAD - BUT THEY'RE WORTH IT

I'll be discussing the spoilers of my own love story more than the movie, but do watch the film because it will change you.

In the briefest way: in Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor named Louise who learns from the aliens to view time non-linearly. Once you understand that twist, the inevitably of time clamps down on you and you are struck on all sides by the rage, the grief, and the peace of acceptance. 

I caught on to the reveal about thirty minutes before the rest of the audience, and I spent the end of the movie huddled in the corner of my seat, sobbing uncontrollably. All I could do was hold a futile hand to the screen, unable to watch, unable to stop time from unfolding, unable to stop what already has happened and is happening simultaneously and will always happen.

The realization is nearly too much for a human, particularly one who regrets nearly every moment of her life.

The question Louise faces upon the moment of realization is this: 

If you knew what your decisions would result in, would you still make them?

Click to TweetTweet: If you knew what your decisions would result in, would you still make them? Here's what I chose: http://ctt.ec/XadO0+

MAKING THAT CHOICE

The film prepares us to make this decision in the most stunning, visceral way. We watch Louise replay the moments that make a life what we sign up for: the birth of your child, the heartache of divorce, the smiles of the people you love the most in life, the acute coldness of lying alone in a bed (without the covers on, natch.) Even kissing your child goodbye at last to cancer, and then the inexorable days of surviving afterward on your own.

Director Denis Villeneuve walks us through this repeatedly, yet when our own moment comes at the end to make this same decision, it steals your breath as cold as a drowning river all the same.

The Things We Can't Change

For the last 4 days I've lived my version of the film. Every low and highlight of my last 8 years since I met that man played in sharp relief, simultaneously, as if I speak heptapod now too.

And I kept asking myself:

Would I make the same choice still?

If I had known the path it would take me down, would I make the same choice? 

Azrael

Azrael is not the first love of my life and, God willing, will not be the last. And I know he'll protest but secretly enjoy being called his gaming moniker: Azrael, angel of death, the harbinger of destruction, who bathes in the tears of Lord Vader and all sides dark.

People laugh when they hear about Azrael. He's short, heavyset, with a wicked temper and very distinct features. There was something about him - I left a boyfriend for him, and then dropped out of a fully funded grad program in my hometown of New York to go back to LA - a city I dislike - to be with him. I have met and been loved by truly wonderful men in my life, and Azrael is one of the best. If he called me up to bury a dead body with him in the middle of the night, I would already be shrugging my puffy jacket on.

But if you had told either of us what we would be asked to go through in order to be together, both of us might have run screaming in the opposite direction before our first DJ AM concert. Just today I cried remembering the worst things I've said to him and how I begged for his forgiveness years later. When I remember the ultimatum he gave me that I ultimately had to walk away from (one that he does not even remember, but will haunt me for the for the rest of my life), I know all too well the inevitably of time.

And how some things you cannot take back.

We have been apart now almost as long as we were together. I stayed many months with him as roommates during #nomad2015, which not everyone knows. He was at my birthday this year and both of our friends are familiar with each other. After living with each others' music for so many years, we still do concerts well together.

Where exes can be

On Halloween, we went to see Danny Elfman conduct the Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl, one of his favorite movies. We laughed while waiting for sushi and I told him one of our former coworkers who had tried to steal me from him years ago (karma?) had actually asked me to the same concert tonight but I had declined. I didn't hesitate to say yes to Azrael.

"Hey, you're a free person," he said, "You can go down that hell if you want."

I shook my head at him. "He does have better seats than us."

We can laugh about this now.

Later we finally saw an Oogie Boogie cosplayer and chased her down so I could take a photo for them.

"That's my favorite," he said.

"I know," I told him. 'I handdrew and made you a card of Oogie Boogie our first Chirstmas because he's your favorite." Handmade paper is one of the things I do for people I love.

"You did?" Azrael looked sheepishly at me. His memory is terrible and he's not as sentimental as me to begin with. He'd always been the pragmatic one who kept the insurance paid and the Netflix subscribed. We love differently, but both very fiercely as only two fire signs can. My two favorite lessons from this love story is 1) learning how to love someone 2) learning to see how someone loves.

We nearly killed ourselves learning these lessons. And while I don't have the courage to go through it if you tell me in advance, now that I'm done, I hold on to these lessons like little purple hearts on my collar.

we dont have to make the decision

After a week of processing the movie's final question - would we really make the same choice all over again - I draw the same conclusion each time: you don't make this decision. You will never be able to say, "Yes, it's worth it' or "No, I can not, please don't make me".

You don't make the decision. You just gravely face it, inevitably, because that is what time does and in the end, it always wins. You are but a human constrained to live in a temporal way.

The best we have, without heptapod language, is hindsight. And with that you can choose to live in the regret. You can rehash it like I have for years. You can remember the pain. 

And you do.

You also remember each hard won moment. Each goodness. The pain and the tenderness of family, heartache, heartbreak, love, loss. The love of my life that I am not all the way done grieving, and may never be. Because I believe some things you don't get over - and love just may be one of them.

The movie didn't make me realize I would choose the same story again, but that I must. Simply because it is mine and it is the one I was meant to live.

Because it is not, in the end, for me to bat around the strings of fate like a bored cat. But for me to bravely face and presently live with everything I have been given, so in the end I can say I fought the good fight, I loved as best I could, and I truly lived.

3 Ways to Spot an Unavailable Man by Sophia Chang

He was tall, smart, and talented. He pulled out my chairs, cooked for me, and asked me to be his girlfriend. He was gone a week later.
— Sophia Chang

 

This week I'm guest writing at True Love Dates, the blog of fellow counselor Debra Fileta about practical steps to guarding your heart.

Always In Love: An Addict's Story by Sophia Chang

Last article Hippies in Tevas: A Love Story kicked off the Love Series! 

My friend Amy and I met for Indonesian lunch last month. When she went to her car to get milk for her new son, I scooped him up.

The boy is a parental dream; he settled instantly into my arms. Then he began to smile at me.

Me having a Twilight moment

Me having a Twilight moment

I knew then and there I was in love.

It was unreal. I was Jacob imprinting on Renesmee. (From the Book of Twilight, 4 Jacob 1:897,592.)

The sticky plastic menu in front of me disappeared; the waitstaff and other diners faded. I didn't move - neither did time. I was transfixed.

the addiction

I have been in love. I have also been infatuated, or in need, and called that love, but I'm talking about real, sacrificial love. I've been lucky enough to have that.

Those few experiences of real love changed me. They broke me, and re-whole'd me. The effects have lasted forever and regrooved my neurological patterns.

And, if you're hurting like me, you search a lifetime for that love. Sometimes, like holding an adorable baby, you can replicate the feeling for a moment.

Then you want it forever. You're addicted, sure as sugar or cocaine. Biochemically, it's the same.

I sought this feeling in men. In the party. In fame dreams. Everywhere I looked for that high, I fell. Click to tweet!Tweet: I sought it in men. Money. Everywhere I looked for that high, I fell. READ: An Addict's Story @thesophiachang http://ctt.ec/taorf+ Over and over again, I picked myself off the concrete, held together by band-aids.

It's a form of self-immolation, I tell you.

The secular world tried their best. Coaches and friends urged me to "love myself".

It didn't work. 

It will never work to tell someone who's never known unwavering, encompassing love to just love herself.

It took three decades for me to find the one thing that does work. You know I love a good love story: this one gets better.

Addict for Life

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
— John 15:12 NIV

God did not cure me of love. 

That "addiction" is not meant to be cured. It was given to us by the original love addict - Love itself. It's our right, and our command.

It's just meant to be channeled correctly.

‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
— Mark 12:30-31 NKJV

It's hard to do this perfectly. Every day, every moment, I remind myself to look up first. I don't always remember. I'm often distracted by old habits and values. But now, when I fall, there are hands to catch me, sisters to minister to me, and a web keeping me from splattering. 

These days when I fall, I'm set back on my feet quickly.

I've searched a lifetime for this kind of love. Now, I finally know where to look. Click to tweet!Tweet: I've searched a lifetime for this kind of love. Now, I finally know where to look. READ Always in Love: An Addict's Story http://ctt.ec/taorf+

It's the Relationship That Changes You by Sophia Chang

In counseling psych grad school we took a yearlong class exclusively on therapeutic communication. The most important lesson we learned was that the client healed not from some specific technique or information - but from the relationship with the therapist.

In fact, one of the most healing things that could happen was the inevitable therapeutic break: when the therapist messes up and doesn't say what the client needs to hear. At this critical juncture, the therapist has the opportunity to hear the client's hurt, to make amends, and let the client be cherished as vulnerable - often for the first time in his/her entire life.

This is life changing.

We come from families where our needs and feelings were squashed. We had no model for healthy communication and even fewer examples of how to listen.

To have someone see your pain - to witness your wound - and non-defensively hear your feelings provides a kind of wholeness that is sublime.

relationships that heal

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, seminarian Ph.D.'s and pioneers of relationship therapy, hold in their groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, that the very purpose of relationships is to complete our needed healing and development.

Relationship is the context in which you get healed…and we think couplehood is the most powerful source of healing there is.
— Harville Hendrix

They've since expanded their theories and practice to include all kinds of relationships.

This, of course, applies to the the most important relationship in your life - the one between you and Spirit.

letting love change you

We were made for intimacy. That is how God lives in us.

It is how God relates to us, and how we're to relate to ourselves, each other, and the world at large. Every connection is meant to change us in some way - to open us up, to heal, to teach us something that no other way can.