Friday, July 14, 2017

Choosing myself.

I ended a relationship yesterday. It was a pretty significant one to me. In the beginning it seemed to be the first healthy relationship I had ever been in. We had honest, open communication and I was told to always be my most authentic self, even if it made me uncomfortable. That was new and took some getting used to. As with all relationships there were some growing pains as we learned each others quirks and battle scars.

The last few years have afforded me the opportunity to learn that I am allowed to have needs and voice those needs respectfully. I even get to have a reasonable expectation that those needs will be met, or that some sort of compromise will be found upon discussion. If, after repeated attempts, the other person cannot or will not make any attempts to address those needs, then decisions have to be made. So we found a compromise.

Or so I thought.

We came up with a scenario where I could get my needs met. We agreed on the parameters of what would be acceptable behavior. I thought things would be ok.

I was wrong.

When things went from the "hypothetical situation" to my taking steps to act on it, everything changed. And when I refused to violate another's privacy without their consent, my behavior was seen as being shady. When I wouldn't back down on the matter without discussing it with the other person first, it was considered an unforgivable violation of trust.

I have belonged to another organization for the bulk of the last 17 years that hinges on anonymity. While I am free to give up my own anonymity at any time I choose, I will not give up that of anyone else's without their prior approval. The same goes for my private social circle. We are asked not to out anyone. Ever. I take that very seriously. If I see you at an event, no one will ever hear about it from me. If they want to know if you were there, they should have attended. Asking me to violate a principle I feel so strongly about will never go over well if you continue to push it.

And that's what happened.

A month into the relationship, the cracks had begun to form. I tried everything I could think of to make it work and make it better. A month after that, I was still beating my head against a wall, trying to ignore the fact that things weren't improving and trying to find ways around it. Trying to find a compromise so the relationship could remain, yet I wouldn't feel like I was being stifled. When I was asked to go against a core value and break another's anonymity without their prior consent, well, that was the last straw.

I chose me.

I chose to do what I had to do in order to look myself in the mirror with a clear conscience. I chose to stop putting what I need on the back burner just because pursuing it takes me to unfamiliar territory and that is scary. I chose to end the relationship. I chose me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

5 Love Languages - Not a Surprise

When I was married and going through marriage counciling (trying to save the sinking ship), we read this book called The 5 Love Languages and took the quiz at the back to see if we were loving each other the way the other person needed to be loved.  Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if after nearly a decade if my love language had changed (it hasn't).  Since the quiz is offered online now, I couldn't resist.  

Take The Quiz

Your Love Language Personal Profile
Tina, thank you for filling out the Love Language Profile for Couples to discover your love language. You’ve taken an important first step . . . understanding your love language. With the information below you’ll be able to share more with your partner, and love him or her in ways that they’ll will appreciate more. Don’t forget - what follows is just the tip of the iceberg. To really understand your love language, we recommend Dr. Chapman’s book. It will help you unpack all the concepts we touch on here.

Interpreting and Using Your Profile Score:

The highest score indicates your primary love language - how you really understand your partner’s expressions of love. It’s common to have two high scores (the highest score being 12), although one language tends to have a slight edge for most people. The lower scores in your profile indicate those languages you seldom use to communicate love and which probably don’t affect you on an emotional level in your relationship.

10Physical Touch
10Quality Time
6Words of Affirmation
3Acts of Service
1Receiving Gifts
Physical TouchPhysical Touch
This language isn't all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face – they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Physical touch fosters a sense of security and belonging in any relationship.
Quality TimeQuality Time
In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, "I love you," like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Quality Time also means sharing quality conversation and quality activities.
Words of AffirmationWords of Affirmation
Actions don't always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, "I love you," are important – hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. Kind, encouraging, and positive words are truly life-giving.
Acts of ServiceActs of Service
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an "Acts of Service" person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: "Let me do that for you." Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don't matter. Finding ways to serve speaks volumes to the recipient of these acts.
Receiving GiftsReceiving Gifts
Don't mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are visual representations of love and are treasured greatly.
Understand your love language

Remember - this description just scratches the surface of one love language. There’s much more to help you really understand the love languages of you and your partner in Dr. Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages.

Knowing how you prefer to be loved is important for your relationship. It’s romantic to think your partner should just know how to love you—but it’s also a bit unrealistic, and can even be unfair to expect something from your partner if you’re not willing to tell him/her how you prefer to be loved and appreciated in your relationship. Keep reading…

Share your love language with your partner

Wouldn’t it be great to know your partner’s love language, too? Do you think he or she would be willing to take the survey soon and share their results with you? If yes - hurray! Go do that soon. If no - that’s not a problem. Your relationship can still benefit if you share your new love language insights with your partner in the right way.

Most of the time our partners want what’s best for you...and for your relationship. It’s important to let your partner know your love language in a way that doesn’t belittle them or make them run for the hills because they’re afraid of another fight. Consider communicating this way:

“Honey, I just learned some really neat things about myself and how I feel loved. I love it so much when you love me by [a specific, real way your partner loves you in your love language]. I’d love to return the favor and love you in a way that you really appreciate. Would you be willing to take the same survey I did? I think we’d both learn something that would benefit our relationship…” And then drop it. Do nothing that he or she would consider forcing their hand or backing them into a corner. You did your part to share; that’s your responsibility. Now, figure out how you can love your partner in a way they understand, whether or not they take the survey. Keep reading…

Love your partner so he/she understands

If your partner took the survey and shared their results with you, this next part is easy. Intentionally find ways to speak this love language consistently for the next five weeks. Your relationship is worth it!

If your partner didn’t take the survey, ask yourself a few questions to get your best guess at what love language he/she speaks best:
  • How does your partner normally try to love you? The love shown you is probably how your partner wants to be loved…
  • What does your partner ask of you most often?  Help around the house?  More physical intimacy? Time together? The love they’re asking for most often is probably how they want to be loved...
  • What aggravates/frustrates/saddens your partner the most in your relationship when it’s missing? The love he or she is missing probably indicates how he or she wants to be loved…
When you think you have a handle on your partner’s love language, start speaking it! And do it whether or not your partner reciprocates love back to you or understands what you’re doing. Change can take time, so give them a chance to get used to the “new” you.

If you would like weekly suggestions for how to practically speak the love languages, sign up for Gary's weekly e-newsletter Practically Speaking.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Healthy Relationships - rewiring my brain one situation at a time.

I am in a new relationship with a wonderful man.  J is kind and understanding, protective without being possessive.  He says there is beauty in my brokenness.  He is impressed by everything I have come through and how I have lived to tell the tale and continue to work on myself so I can be a little better than I was the day before.  He feels like home to me.

I don't know that I've ever been in a healthy relationship.  When I compare the relationships I have been in to the relationship of the couple I know with what I believe to be the healthiest relationship I've ever witnessed (and I spent over two years watching how they did things in their marriage and dynamic and how they actively worked at it to make sure things stayed good), I can say that I never had anything that even got close to looking like that.  J has had his share of unhealthy relationships as well.  We both know we are coming from behind in that arena and are determined to not repeat mistakes of the past.  Luckily for us, we seem to be excellent communicators with each other.  In fact, that's what drew J to me - my writing.  He was drawn to my words and how my mind works.  He is a rare breed.

We rely on our communication skills to keep us out of relationship sandtraps.  A man I once held great respect for taught me that it is better to shine a bright light into the shadows than to let the darkness grow and potentially ruin a good thing.  Therefore, we talk about things as they come up.   Even if they are uncomfortable.  ESPECIALLY if they are uncomfortable.  That way the whispers in our (my) heads are kept to a minimum and no one is second guessing anything.

Enter a scene from last night... (but I'm keeping it vague out of respect for him)

There was something that had been on my mind for a day or two.  Since it was still on my mind, I brought it up.  I said, "I really would like you to consider doing "A" for me if you are ok with it..  It would make me feel even better about our relationship; like it was more concrete.  So when we're apart I might not have as many of those 'This is too good to be true.  When is the other shoe going to drop?' moments.  Will you please think it over and let me know what you think?"  I was nervous, but I sent off the message.  When I sent it, I knew full well that there was a good chance that he was not going to be willing to do "A", but I didn't know what his reasoning would be.  I tried to prepare myself mentally for what I would do if when I woke up in the morning I opened a message with an answer that I didn't want to hear.

In my black-n-white way of thinking, if one of us is right, the other has to be wrong. I didn't want to be on opposing sides over this, because it wasn't THAT big of a deal. Then I tried to reframe it and wonder if it could not be so black and white. Maybe it's NOT "someone is right and someone is wrong". Maybe we could just have 2 very different views/feelings about something. 

As I suspected, the next day J sent a message explaining why he wasn't comfortable doing "A". To his credit, instead of simply saying NO, he explained why in more detail than most people would have taken the time for.  I think he knew on some level that a without a clear explanation, my mind would have turned it into a sign that something was wrong with me and that's why he didn't want to and it would have turned into A THING between us.  Even though it's early on, he seems to understand how my mind works pretty well. 

I thanked him for explaining it, and went on to tell thim that the problem is, I don't understand what to do with that; how to reconcile that now. It seems pretty important to the both of us, and unfortunately, what we both want doesn't line up. I don't know what people in healthy relationships do about that. I don't think he's supposed to give in to what I need and then feel anxious about it (basically giving in would activate an old trigger), but I also don't think I'm supposed to ingore that this is something that would make me feel more secure.  I don't know where the happy-medium is supposed to lie.

 Then he did something completely unexpected.  HE OFFERED A COMPROMISE.  He said, "I can't do "A", but what about "B" and laid out what "B" would look like.  I never would have thought of "B".  "B" is in the grey area and we black-n-white thinkers tend to miss a lot of that.  "B" could work.  Is "B" a perfect solution?  No. In my head, "A" is still what I would prefer.  In my head, it is still the answer that makes me feel the most comfortable and secure, but you know what?  It's not all about me anymore.  Getting "A" isn't important enough to inflict any anguish onto J.  He has been so gentle with me and so good about being cognizant of all of my "quirks", the absolute least I can do is realize it's ok to have differing opinions - even ones about things that matter to you, be open to compromise, and remember that we are in this together and as long as we keep communicating openly and honestly, we'll find our way through it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Give Me Something

Small talk is awkwardly painful for me. The attempt at idle banter that neither person is really interested in, but feels obligated to maintain feels like nails on a chalkboard to me and I spend most of the time planning my escape while trying to politely keep up my side of the conversation. But... if you just give me something, some bit of conversation that you are interested in or passionate about, or something that makes you laugh although it probably shouldn’t, then I can talk with you for hours. Interesting people fascinate me. Please, be engaging and know that some days it’s harder for me to start the conversation because I have been trained to “speak when spoken to” since I was a child and sometimes I revert to that and simply need someone else to speak first.

I am normally a pretty relaxed person who can go with the flow. That being said, I like to have a general idea of what’s going on and when and when the plan in my head has a wrench thrown into it, I can get wound up and start to freak out. I’m not talking a full-blown Chicken Little and “The Sky is FALLING”, but sometimes I get spun out and can’t help wondering when the next shoe is going to drop and what calamity is going to befall me next. It’s at that time, you can just give me something; be the calm in the storm. Stand firm and solid and maybe even let me put one hand on you to steady myself a little while I get my bearings and catch my breath and center myself again. I don’t need a savior. just someone who isn’t going to run at the first sign of a windstorm.

If you find you are interested in me at all, you have to give me something to work with. Something more than the classless turnoffs I experience too often by thirsty boys with no integrity. If you’re here just to get laid, just be honest about it. I will politely decline and we can both move on. Open and honest communication about what we both like/dislike and what we both want out of a relationship is so important. I’m not looking for the magic answers, I’m looking for the truth. YOUR truth. If your truth and my truth sync up, great. If not, again, we will say goodbye and move on.

If we get this far, and discussions of entering a dynamic begin, know that it won’t be simple, easy, or quick. I come from the school of thought that a good D/s relationship takes work and the titles don’t mean a thing unless the actions are there to back them up. We will both have a lot to prove through our actions and it will take time, but if we have gone about this the correct way, we will really enjoy each other’s company and will have no problem spending that time together getting to know each other they way we need to. And when you come to learn that I am a strong woman who has had only herself to rely on for most of her life, and I struggle in my submission at times because of that, I need you to give me something. I will need you to be firm, but fair and patient. Just as I will need you to be understanding and consistent in your dominance, I will strive for that in my submission and that is what I will give to you. I will give you me.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Vacation Transformation

I was so conflicted before the trip.  I wanted to go because I wanted to get away and I wanted to show the girls the places that I love so much, but I was always worried that things would fall apart at work and I would come back to a huge mess that I’d have to deal with.  Had the trip not already been booked and charged to my credit card and payments been made, I think at one point I might have been tempted to cancel it because it would have seemed like the easier choice because I was overwhelmed with trying to get everything finished at work.

Then the pain that I had been ignoring in my ribs for a while was getting worse and with some urging from dear friends, I couldn’t ignore it anymore and went and got it checked out.  With test after test threatening to derail our trip, I kept thinking that the trip wasn’t going to happen; that something would get in the way.  The other shoe would drop and prevent me from being happy.  I would have been sad and felt bad for the kids, but honestly, for me, it would have felt pretty normal.  That’s what happens more often than not for me.  I make plans and something happens and what I wanted gets taken away from me.  I’m not complaining or whining, it’s just kind of a pattern.  When the tests came back and the doctor said I was medically ok enough to go, I was determined that that’s what we were going to do no matter what.  I wasn’t surprised at all when I broke out in a rash all over my torso 2 days before we took off.  I’m no stranger to surprise allergic reactions to things, so I decided to treat it with extra doses of Benadryl and hope for the best.  I needed to get the kids and I out of town.  I had a one track mind at this point.  I was still sure that something was going to prevent us from going and I felt like I was in a race against time.

The night before we flew out, part of me knew it was too late to worry about anything else and another part of me was a wreck.  What if we didn’t get up on time because of Daylight Savings ending? What if our ride didn’t show up?  What if we got a flat tire on the way to the airport?  What if I had problems figuring out the kiosk at the airport?  What if we didn’t know what to do at the TSA checkpoint and got in trouble and they didn’t let us go?  What if my butt was still too big to fit in the damn airplane seat even after all of the work I’ve done?!?!  This was the running tape in my head.  I finally passed out from exhaustion a couple of hours before we had to get up.

I didn’t relax until we were in the hotel in Seattle.  Once we checked our bags at the front desk, things changed.  I immediately felt a sense of relief.  The girls and I were there, our bags were safe, and the GPS on my phone would tell us how to walk to wherever we wanted to go, it was daylight, we weren’t in a scary part of town...I WASN’T WORRIED OR AFRAID.  There was not one minute in Seattle when I was scared.  Sure, there were a couple moments when I was overwhelmed by the crowd or just overstimulated, but those moments passed very quickly and there was no fear attached.  Each time the girls and I accomplished some new experience, I felt my confidence grow.  I could get us safely from the hotel to whatever attraction we were visiting and back again.  I could navigate from the hotel to the monorail to the waterfront to the ferry system to the island and back, and then do the whole thing in reverse and get us back to the hotel at some point without getting lost.  I could let them ride the rides and visit the shops and go to the aquarium and experience all the things without mentioning money and making them feel guilty about their fun (like mom and dad did to us).  I did that.  

We only had 2 full days in Seattle and although we didn’t want to leave, we were ready for the next leg of the adventure.  The girls tried to convince me they wanted to move to Seattle, but that they wanted their dad to come to.  That’s where they lost me.  Lol

When we got to the train station, we found that there was a mudslide just south of Seattle and the train could not get through.  I had a brief moment of “Here comes the other shoe dropping” feeling, but they told us we’d be bussed to Portland and would get on the train there.  We checked our luggage, waited an hour and boarded the bus for the 3-hour ride.  No big deal.  Getting on the train in Portland was another story.  No one told us we’d wait an hour at the station before there would be any information available to tell us when we’d be getting on the train.  Then we’d wait another 2 hours while they turned the train around and added a private car.  Then we’d wait another hour while they tried to figure out why we were waiting so long.  Waiting in line in the middle of an angry mob would have sent me over the edge had the kids not been there.  I knew I had to keep it together for them.  There was a whole lot of deep breathing and reading facebook and counting leaves on the ornamental fixtures near the ceiling of the station.  After a while, it was pretty clear I wasn’t doing a very good job hiding what was going on internally because the kids started asking if I was ok and 12 was trying to distract me with idle chatter.  At one point, I had to tell her, “I love you, but you have to stop talking to me right now unless it is something that is extremely important.  I need to focus.”  When she asked, “On what?”  14 said, “I think on not killing anyone, or herself.” lol  She gets me.  Once we finally boarded the train, I was able to start to unwind again.

The train was just like I remembered.  It struck me as we were going up the stairway that just like on the airplane, last year, I physically would not have fit in this small space.  We were only on Day 3, but NONE of it would have been possible had I not taken control of my health when I did.  Again, gratitude doesn’t cover it.  We spent 18ish hours on the train and saw areas that most people don’t see.  Shanty towns and the poor districts.  The kids got to see taggers in action painting a wall and even got waved at by one of them.  They thought that was pretty cool.  Being cooped up, sitting for that long was not my idea of fun, but we survived.  Next stop was Emeryville where they put us on a bus, almost forgot our luggage, and sent us off to San Francisco.  Just like 16 years prior, they dropped us off at Fisherman’s Wharf and I was caught off-guard and felt like a fish out of water and wasn’t sure where to go or how to get to our hotel.  I hate that feeling.  I told the travel agent I didn’t want to go through that again.  I obviously wasn’t prepared enough.  We only went about ¼ block in the wrong direction before the GPS started to make sense and then we walked the 8 blocks to our hotel.

Once we checked in and then began to explore the area, that’s when things really started to change in my head.  I had been to Seattle many times, so I am comfortable there.  I have only been to San Francisco once before.  As the kids looked to me to navigate, I was struck by how much of the Wharf was still familiar, but yet how much of the area looked different after 16 years When it started to feel a little overwhelming, I thought, “How did I DO this last time?”  Then I remembered, last time, the Ex planned the trip and basically decided what we were doing.  We were on our honeymoon.  A honeymoon we didn’t know if we were going to be able to take because I had nearly died not once, but twice, in the 6 weeks leading up to the wedding due to losing our first baby.  Barely recovered from all of that, and then getting sick in Seattle before getting to San Francisco back then, I barely remember that leg of our honeymoon.  So I shook off the anxiety the best I could and kept moving forward.

Everywhere we went, we just soaked in the experience.  The kids asked me if things were different than they were 16 years ago and got to hear some stories about the beginning of their dad’s and my relationship.  We walked and talked and walked some more.  We saw street performers and sideshows and Alcatraz and the aquarium.  I got to see the shipyards and then watched 12 misjudge the speed of the waves and get her feet soaked by the water and then had to buy her $25 flip-flops at a souvenir shop.  14 got called up on stage to be part of a magic show.  I got to be present.  I wasn’t sitting on the sidelines because I wasn’t physically capable of keeping up with the rest of them.  My PTSD or anxiety wasn’t keeping me locked in the hotel room.   I was out doing things successfully and having fun.  ME.  I realized somewhere during the trip that I could trust myself again.  I was making good decisions and things were turning out well.  The other shoe wasn’t dropping.  No one was taking away what was making me happy.  Life seemed pretty close to perfect then and there.  I wish I could have bottled that feeling.    There was no baggage, no bad memories, no toxic people; just me and the girls enjoying life.  If there was to be a payoff for all of the work I’ve done over the last couple of years, that was it, in that moment.  I felt free.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Approval Sucker

Tons of people say they are people-pleasers.  They do all sorts of things to make other people happy and feel validated themselves because of it.  At least that’s how I think it works for them.  That  isn’t an accurate description of me.  I am an approval-sucker.  A lot of the time, I don’t care if my actions PLEASE the other person, I only need to gain their approval to feel a sense of validation and relief that makes  everything feel “ok” again.  Unfortunately, this feeling only lasts temporarily and as it fades, the dis-ease starts to build and before long, I will have to concoct a plan to perform the next task/fete/trick to impress them and gain their approval all over again.  It’s chasing a high, just like any other, and was learned at a very young age and ties directly into your question about why I’m insecure.  To get to the answer, I think I better back up and work my way forward.

My childhood, for simplicity’s sake, can be summed up by saying a lot of people either flat out told me I was “wrong” or “bad” or implied it quite strongly.  I learned to be ashamed of who I was.  I talked too much, I was too chubby, I always seemed to get disapproving looks for one reason or another, and I was often made to feel like I was unimportant.   The best way to work around this was to perform.  Literally.  Piano recitals, singing in front of the entire church on Sundays, great grades etc., if I could perform and do really well, the grownups would cover me with praise and approval and I could breathe and all the bad things about me were ok and for awhile I could believe that I had made up for all of it and they must have changed their mind about me.  Except then something would happen, or the glory of it all would simply fade and before long, things were back to normal and I’d have to go back to figuring out what the magic combination of acts I’d have to perform would be to make everyone happy with me again.  I remember feeling like I knew the RULES of the game, but someone had taken the board and the pieces, yet still expected me to play.

 My teenage years weren’t any better.  I figured out that gaining my mother’s approval was a lost cause and I gave up.  Drugs and alcohol entered the picture and I spent my nights engaging in behaviors that no teenage girl should be engaging in.  I was looking for an escape from reality, but that escape came at the price of addiction and abuse and being conditioned to believe that I was a worthless and was lucky that the abusers I was spending time with were kind enough to take pity on me and let me continue to stay in their presence.  And every time they reminded me of what a bad person I was, I performed some trick or task or favor to try to convince them that I was worthy enough to keep around.  I needed their approval like I needed air.   It was a very messed up situation, but I stayed.  Addiction makes you do all sorts of things that seemingly make no sense, unless you have been there.

Eventually I got out of that situation and moved on to whoring my way through the bar scene.  Alcoholic women wrapped in guilt and shame hike up their skirts and pull down their shirts just a little bit lower to get the free drinks and validation they need to fool themselves into being someone worthy of being wanted.  I had been told for YEARS how awful and disgusting of a person I was and I knew it, but I figured if I played the part right, I could fool the dimwitted men in the bar into thinking I was someone else.  At least someone worth getting drunk and fucking.  That’s what I was after - the alcohol and the physical connection.  If I “let” them talk me into taking me home (because of course I had to let them think it was all their idea most of the time), I could pretend they thought I was sexy and that would quiet the insecurities about my size.  I could also tell myself that I was special because they could have picked someone smaller/cuter/funnier/nicer/etc, but they picked me.  I knew it would only last until morning (which was usually a joke because I’d end up freaking out and sneak out in the middle of the night), but a short-lived delusion was better than the truth.  The approval-laced compliments blurted out by these men in the heat of the moment would usually be enough to carry me through the night and if I could ignore the guilt and shame of once again going home with a relative stranger, I could ride the "approval high" for a few hours.

Eventually I broke the cycle.  I got away from that behavior.  I got sober, got married, got sober again, had kids, got sober again, got divorced, got sober again.  Addiction is a real bitch and I will be in the ring with my addictions for the rest of my life.  I'll keep fighting though and that's a good thing.

So...this begs the question...I’m 41 now and no one else in my life is actively telling me bad things about myself (unless you want to count the passive aggressive condescension from a certain matriarch).  So why am I still prone to bouts of insecurity that lead to the same approval sucking behavior?
FEAR, mostly, I think.  I am terrified of the past repeating itself.  I have a very shaky construct of who I am as a person.  I’ve never been able to give a detailed description of “WHO AM I?” because everything gets jumbled up and there are too many “me’s” to choose from from too many eras and none of them have a very positive spin on them.  When you ask me who I am, I immediately think of the person I was in my mid-teens to early-twenties and that person was awful.  That person did awful things.  I worry about what people will think about me if/when they find about about that part of me.  What if they condemn me without giving me a chance to explain WHY I was like that?  I didn’t just decide one day to become that creature.  There were mitigating factors.  I can handle thinking negative things about myself.  That’s old news for me.  But if other people think bad things about me too and I know about it, I have the overwhelming need to fix it.  Even if I don’t necessarily care about the person, I feel I need to educate them about the situation so they can see the facts and see that they’re misjudging what happened (i.e. their opinion of me is wrong) and if they’d only listen to my side of the story, they’d clearly see how I wasn’t nearly as bad as they were making me out to be (phew, I fooled them into changing their minds about me and gained their approval, now I can breathe again).  And that’s just what I go through with people I don’t even really care much about. Lol.  When it’s someone that I actually care about and respect, I’m always scared that someday something will happen - I’ll say the wrong thing, or screw up some way one too many times - and they will finally see me as I see myself and that will throw me into a tailspin because I won’t know how to fix it.
Maybe it just boils down to me feeling inferior?  I have always thought I should be better/smarter/quicker/nicer/funnier than I am.  I have intangible, yet high expectations for myself that I cannot possibly meet.  In the Big Book there’s a line about alcoholics being egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.  It’s not wrong.

As I’m writing all of this, I’m beginning to wonder if some amount (I’m not sure how to quantify it right now) of my insecurities are actually based on an older version of me.  I talk a lot about how the person I think of when I think of myself is actually the “me” of 20-25 years ago.  Just yesterday I had to send a picture I had taken of myself to my sister to ask her if that was what I actually physically looked like or if the camera made it look weird because I didn’t think it looked like me (she said that’s what I actually look like now).  What if I’m basing my physical insecurities on a body I don’t have anymore?  And the fear of “If people REALLY knew who I was, they wouldn’t like me any more”...perhaps that’s an outdated insecurity too based on the picture in my head.  If you take who I ACTUALLY am, you’d see a single mom, trying her best to raise her two daughters, working for her family’s company, while trying to unravel a lifetime worth of “stuff”.  That description doesn’t seem TOO entirely awful, does it?  It’s a very surface level description, but that person wouldn’t seem like they should have a lot of insecurities, right?

I don’t know if I have more answers or more questions now. Lol.   It’s clear I have to keep working resolving the past, but I still need to find a way to figure out to update the version of “me” in my head so I see a more accurate picture of myself.  Perhaps then I will be more content and accepting of myself and less concerned about everyone else.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Looking back to move forward...this is just the beginning.

I have been on a journey of healing for the last 2 years.  Trying to undo a lot of the damage that has happened to me over a lifetime.  Damage I've done to myself and damage inflicted upon me by others.  It has been a painfully slow process at times; yet sometimes happens so fast that I fear I'm going to get whiplash.  I've had to learn to be vulnerable and ask for help and that means I had to learn to trust.  For someone like me, that is nearly impossible, but when you are tired of being able to feel your body and soul die a little more each day, you'll find that sometimes you can pull off the near-impossible after all.

My latest endeavor was to write my younger self a letter; to pick any point in my life that made an impact on me, and write THAT me a letter.   From the get-go I was apprehensive.  I don't like to think about the past much.  Too much has happened.  I'm 40 so there's a LOT of past to weed through. Thanks to some lovely "quirks" my brain has, once I start down the path of remembering, I can't always stop it and that's never good.  For me, remembering the bad stuff is like an alcoholic taking that first drink.  I never know how long the bender is going to last, how badly it's going to hurt, if there's going to be collateral damage, or how long it will take me to recover afterward.  My body remembers trauma VIVIDLY and when triggered, it feels like I'm right back in the original situation.  Not only does my mind remember what happened, but my body FEELS it.  The sights, the smells, the physical sensations...all of it.  You can probably imagine why I avoid going there if possible.

That being said, I'm at a point in my life where the fear of NOT getting better, far outweighs the fear of staying the same, so with tentative steps, I moved forward.  I clarified the assignment, figured out the parameters I was working with, and went back as far as I could the first impactful memory that always stands out.  Back to when I was 5.
Dear 5yr-old me,

I see you sitting in the back seat of Betsy’s dad’s car chattering away on the way back to their house after another outing with their family.  You were so happy and excited and when you got that way, you talked.  Bill was driving and I’m assuming Sandy was in the front seat and Betsy was most likely in the back with you, but you don’t notice because you are too busy going on about whatever it is that has your mind and mouth going a mile-a-minute.  I wish I could stop the clock for you right here for just a few minutes.  Just a few minutes to let you talk and talk until you wear yourself out.  Things are going to start to happen to you and it’s going to change you and steal this bubbly innocence away from you and I just want to let you hang on to it for a few more minutes.

“You talk too much.  Can you shut up for awhile?  We’ll like you a lot more if you just don’t talk.”

I see your face drop as Betsy’s dad, Bill, says that to you.  Bill, who was always kind and joking and fun to be around, just changed the rules.  He made it not ok to be you.  As you slump back into the seat in silence, I wish I could tell you not to take it quite so personally.  I wish I could make you understand that sometimes grownups get short-tempered just like kids do and say mean things just like kids do too.  He wasn’t trying to be hurtful.  He just wanted a little break from the conversation.

Thirty-five years later, I still don’t know why this affected you as deeply as it did, but hang on, because here’s how it’s going to affect you.  “YOU TALK TOO MUCH.”  You start trying to talk less.  It’s a struggle, but you start to learn to fight what feels right. “WE’LL LIKE YOU MORE IF YOU JUST DON’T TALK.”  Every kid wants to be liked more; I was no different.  Go against what feels right for you, and you’ll be rewarded.  That’s the lesson I was learning.

And over the next month, when you are sexually assaulted by the teenage boy at the park while Betsy and her mom are just on the other side of the building, you will tell no one because “YOU TALK TOO MUCH” and “WE’LL LIKE YOU MORE IF YOU JUST DON’T TALK.”   And the next day when you BEG to not have to go to the park again, but can’t talk your way out of it without telling them what happened, you’ll finally just stop talking and go, and he’ll be there again, and he’ll hurt you again, but worse this time, and you’ll keep your mouth shut for 10 years because the boy said if you don’t, he’ll do the same thing to Betsy and you’d rather die than let him do that to your best friend.

Take a deep breath, dry your eyes.  Finish the car ride in silence.  Have dinner with their family tonight and enjoy your time playing with your best friend.  Things are about to get very dark for awhile and you need to hang onto whatever moments of joy you can right now.

After I finished it, I shared it with my most trusted friend M.  He read it and said, "What if the lesson you learned from Bill's comment was untrue?"  I thought about it and told him that had it been an isolated incident, I could perhaps concede, but it was something that has been reinforced throughout most of my life.  It's a pattern.  I am fairly quiet until I get to know you and am comfortable around you.  Once that happens, I am more open and talk more.  As we get closer, I feel free to talk/share at will and eventually the comment will arise in some form, "Man, you talk a lot."  So I stop talking and eventually the relationship falls apart because I know I have to censor myself in order to be accepted.  I know it is not ok to be me.

I have spent the last 3-4 years quite isolated other than the necessary conversations at work and at home.  Almost all other communication has been done online. Online, people have the option of not reading what I say.  I have the option of observing and not speaking at all.  Hanging out in the shadows is my comfort zone, but has its drawbacks.  I think I'd like to dip my toes in the pool of human interaction again one day, but first I have to finish looking back so I can move forward.