Driving it home.

One of my co-workers died of an overdose this past week.

I’m finding that I don’t really know the “right” way or the best way or the most respectful or honoring or correct way to talk about this, or if I should even talk about it at all. But as is often the case in death, we evaluate how we, the living, are impacted. In working for an agency that provides addiction recovery services for women, and in being a woman who battled my own addictions years ago, who spent a lot of time in the rooms with a lot of other fellow battlers, a lot of my own personal connections were made with her loss. A lot of tender spots were troubled.

She was a former client who’d gone through one of our programs and then came to work with/for us. I remember meeting with her on her first day of work, and there were times over her tenure that I helped her with various IT-related things. The last time I saw her was in the lobby of our building; she noticed my back tattoo and came over to pull my shirt back and take a look. She loved it, and said so, and it was a sweet moment quickly interrupted by the usual chaos of the reception desk.

We had an all-staff meeting to talk about her loss, to open up the discussion to everyone struggling, honoring the different ways we all grieve. Grace was asked for and given. It was absolutely the best way to address something like this, considering our line of work, our relationships with her and each other, and knowing how many would be impacted. Having counselors on staff who could address the important parts, and calling in a therapist from our EAP to be available for anyone in need, helped.

But the most touching and important part was when someone relayed a story of the last time she’d seen her. She (the storyteller, who I’ll call G) was at a desk, head down, doing some work. Our co-worker called G’s name, and G acknowledged it without looking up. She called G’s name again, this time prompting her to look up and see tears running down our co-worker’s face. She was struggling, and sad, and asked G for a hug. G took the time to remind her of how loved and important she is, how much she matters to so many people. Our co-worker said something to the effect of, “I wish I could believe it.”

I remember saying, thinking, and feeling that exact same thing the day I walked out of treatment the first time. I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t done yet, that I wasn’t worthy of sobriety, that I wasn’t ready and wasn’t loved and wasn’t meant for anything other than the drugs that were waiting for me on the other side. After a few days with nothing in my system, I was panicking at everything I was thinking and feeling, but at the same time, it was like nothing could penetrate the walls I’d erected. Some of the staff and clients tried to talk me out of leaving, telling me they loved me and wanted me to stay. I remember crying tears of resolution and defeat as I said, “I hear what you’re saying – I just can’t FEEL it.”

I am fortunate to have survived after going back out; not everyone does.

When I learned of her passing this week, I was immediately transported back to the time when I was sober, going to meetings, working the steps, trudging the road to happy destiny with so many other strugglers and survivors. I remember learning that someone from my home group had relapsed; he went out drinking, passed out outside, and he froze to death. I thought of my friend Paul who I met in the 3/4 house I lived in for 15 months after treatment. He was close to a cherished ex back then, and I’d been grateful to reconnect; I was supposed to visit him in NY about five years ago, but when I went to reach out on Facebook to talk about plans, I learned that he’d died two nights earlier. And then all of our conversations prior to that made a lot more sense; the struggle I’d detected underneath the bravado and humor he’d done his best to maintain.

Somewhere along the way, I got used to learning of people dying from their addictions, and I think that’s what hit me the hardest of all. I don’t want to get used to this. I don’t want to be numbed to the fact that this shit is hard, and scary, and real. It may just be one of my own defense mechanisms, to protect me from re-living just how close I’m sure I came to meeting my own demise. And when I think about that time in my life and compare it to the beautiful life I have now… well, I breathe an enormous, anxious, guilty sigh of relief that I’ve managed to overcome.

Not everyone gets there.

Addiction is different for everyone who goes through it. What gets you there, what keeps you there, and what gets you out of it – if you get out of it alive or at all – is unique to every single person who experiences it. I’ve been asked what I think it is that got me through it; I can attribute some of it to having a solid, loving family; some of it to doing all the hard work I’ve done (and continue to do) emotionally and spiritually; some of it to the people I met and loved along the way who showed me how to live; and some of it to pure, dumb-ass luck.

But because it’s unique, there’s no one cause, no one simple fix. And it is horribly unfair, unrealistic, and simplistic to make sweeping generalizations about addiction, or the people who live it. I am able to drink wine these days without fear of falling back into using heroin or cocaine or methamphetamines, but that doesn’t mean I get to rest on my laurels with the emotional work I’m doing, and it doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or that anyone else could or would have my same experience. And because of that, I will absolutely spend my life correcting those faulty assumptions people make about addiction, because those assumptions can be damaging – even deadly.

All of this to say… I could have been her. And to me, the heartbreaking part is she could have been me. It took a really long time, and a lot of devoted, loving friends, family, and now, Carter, to hold presence and remind me how loved and lovable I am. It took years of undoing all the self-loathing and insecurity and fears I’d amassed. There are still moments where I can’t feel it, can’t believe it, and need to be reminded, but those moments are few and far between, and I have the confidence, wisdom, and trust that they’ll pass. They always do. And I think that’s the golden spot we all strive to reach; not perfect confidence that never waivers, but unearthing and amplifying that little voice that tells you to just hold on until the hard parts pass.

Good at goodbyes.

My parents divorced when I was six. I was the youngest of three kids, and at the time, I felt like everyone’s favorite. Certainly my father’s, and I was doted on – as much as one can be – by my older siblings.  When the separation occurred, I was given over to my mother, and my dad took the two older kids with him to another state and then, for a time, another country.

At that young of an age, I had to get good at goodbye. It was too painful, otherwise, and what I learned was to just shut people out so it didn’t hurt as much.

My mom and I moved a lot when I was growing up. I changed schools several times. My siblings came to visit now and then. My dad remarried and had another kid so I was no longer the youngest or the focus. I occasionally went to see them, but the trips were few and far between.

All of these things kept me good at goodbyes. I got good at moving and not getting attached to any one location. At last count, I’ve lived in over 32 homes in 44 years. I can pack like no one’s business. I got good at disconnecting from friendships, or just not having any real close ones to begin with. I went to two elementary schools, one middle, and four high schools (two in GA, two in TN), so I got good at saying goodbye to familiarity, to the potential for building relationships, to stability.

Aside from two notable exceptions in Portland and Minneapolis, I – perhaps subconsciously/intentionally – dated a lot of less than stellar men (UNDERSTATEMENT), because it was easier when it (inevitably) ended, regardless of who did the ending.

As an adult, I continued to move from apartment to apartment, city to city, state to state, because I either didn’t know how to stay put or I didn’t want to, out of fear of getting too close. Easier to just say goodbye and go before the stakes got too high. The vast majority of my closest friends live in other states; it’s not by design, necessarily, but it makes it a whole lot easier to chalk up the lack of close contact to distance, rather than anything I might have going on inside, you know?

Every year or so into a new job, I start getting the itch to move on to something else. A minor frustration, an irritant of some kind, spurring me on til I have myself convinced that there must be better somewhere else, something MORE: more money, more responsibility, more challenge… I don’t ever really know, but it’s always been easy to just pack up and go, because “screw this place anyway.”

All of these things, all of this life, helped make me who I am: someone good at goodbyes.

Until now, that is.

Over the last year and a month, I’ve had to say goodbye (or, “so long for now”) to C. a lot, because he travels for work. At first, it was a bit of a relief, because I’d gotten so damn good at being alone, I wasn’t sure how to handle someone else’s steady presence. But that changed. Somewhere along the way I let him all the way in, and now, when he leaves, I’m a little out of sorts for a time, not really sure what to do, a little awkward in my movements to stay busy and keep living while he’s gone. I think that means I miss him; it’s a new thing, to let myself miss someone and to be affected by their absence. To admit that I miss him and like life a whole lot better when he’s home. All the more reason I’m so excited to call this man my husband, come September.

For the last year and a half, I’ve worked at a place where I’m fully connected to the people with whom I work. They’re good people, doing good work, and it’s a great opportunity to build my own knowledge and experience. I’ve been given a lot of leeway, grace, and room to grow, I basically wrote my own job description, and I get to take that in some pretty great directions. So when presented with a really difficult financial situation, one in which I’ve had to consider finding a different job in the for-profit sector in order to comfortably pay the bills without C. having to stay out on the road… it’s not an easy task. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t actually want to leave. I want to figure out how to make it work so I can stay.

My thoughts keep returning back to friendships, and I have to admit that I’ve just never been very good at them. At least, I don’t feel like I have. A life of goodbyes and disconnections keeping everyone at arm’s length. There’s something inside that gnaws at me, though; some sort of preconceived notion of what friendship is supposed to look like, telling me I fail on the regular. I suck at reaching out, suck at making plans, suck at making myself vulnerable enough to risk… whatever it is I think I risk by reaching out. Sometimes I think I want it too much, and sometimes I think I’m just fine. I sit at home in my pajamas instead of making plans; I keep myself entertained and sure it’s good enough. I think about people a lot and wonder how they are, but then forget to actually ASK them. I’m so happy spending time with C. when he’s home that it’s sometimes a challenge to force myself to reach out and hang with other people… but I’m always really happy when we do. I don’t actually know that I’m as terrible at it as I think I am; certainly, I compare my insides to other peoples’ outsides, and assume they’re all doing things together all the time and I’m not. But it feels like one of the last hurdles of this whole deal, and I guess it’s gonna roll around in my brain a while until I figure out what’s next.

It’s a nice realization, though, that I’m no longer all that good at goodbyes. Connection is a hell of a complicated, important, wonderful thing.

Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

The privilege of mourning twice.

I’ve wanted kids – to be a mom – for as long as I can remember. I love babies and children more than most adults, and I think a lot of that comes from their straight-up innocence. The clean slate of humanity, the capacity for love and greatness ever-present. No walls, no shields, no hatred, no bigotry… nothing but the real. I identify with that a whole lot stronger than I do with most of the stuff grown people carry around; it’s beautiful, and I have always had the compulsion to protect it, to love and appreciate it, to nurture and encourage it, even as I stand by and watch the whole world seemingly conspire to squash it.

As I navigated my way through addiction in my 20’s, recovery and growth in my 30’s, and a return to my roots before 40, that desire to have kids – to be a mom – stayed strong. But I wanted it to be the “right” time, with the “right” person. Occasionally I’d entertain the notion of being a single mother and figuring things out, handling it all myself, and that was usually at the tail end of another failed relationship. Since I couldn’t seem to get things right when it came to love, maybe I should just give that part up and have the kid anyway. With so much love to give, why not?

But something always held me back. Circumstances, the desire for a partner, fiscal responsibility… I was convinced that things had to be a whole lot more secure and perfect and right than they were, if I wanted to shoulder the so very big and important responsibility of having and raising another human being. It’s such a decision of whimsy for some, not even a second thought for others, I often wondered if I were the only one who thought so much about what a huge commitment it was that I managed to think my way out of it.

As I entered my 40’s, the driving force and desire to have a baby began to dissipate. I realized one day that it just wasn’t there like it used to be; the emotional, the physical, all of it seemed to have faded, with only the occasional cropping up of desire, coupled with a small dose of regret. And maybe not regret so much as a realization that the time had passed, the opportunity was lost, and one of the things I’d wanted to experience most in life was likely not going to happen.

And so I mourned the loss while I worked to let go of that particular dream. With that came a slow acceptance, an understanding that it was just how life worked out for me.

Still, I held onto the idea that 45 was the age at which I would give up entirely, that if it hadn’t happened by then, I would move along. For some reason, 45 seemed like the appropriate age at which a woman would no longer consider giving birth; I’m not sure where the arbitrary number came from, but in my head, the years leading up to 45 seemed viable, and really, JUST as viable as any year before it. So even though I’d mostly let the dream and desire go, there were still the last vestiges of hope attached to every day leading up to my 45th birthday – which, by the way, still has yet to pass.

2016 has, so far, been the year of the universe conspiring to shower me with blessings. I have a job that I enjoy and am challenged by, working alongside people I admire and appreciate. I met my person, the one to whom I am so perfectly matched, I am blown away most every day by the magic; to finally know what it’s like to be loved, and to love this way in return. Ours is the stuff of history, of poetry, of novels and artwork and music; every day, my heart expands to accommodate our love, and my gratitude. We bought a home together – my very first. We have two of the sweetest kittens who are currently curled up on either side of me, keeping me warm and holding presence while my love is away on tour.

And so, having found that perfect person and our perfect home, the idea of having a child (and the desire to do so) was reignited. To create another human together: a perfect combination of him and of me; a tiny little creature who has my eyes and his nose and ears and a heart as big as both of ours; to raise a person knowing only love and support and compassion and happy – both inside the home and out.

But I am 44 years old.

And that means my eggs are 44 years old, too. What I never really considered or researched but now know is that, at age 40, your fertility hits a sharp and rapid decline. The potential for chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy – Down Syndrome, etc.) due to deterioration of egg quality hits a sharp and rapid incline. Miscarriage is a lot more likely. And even if you wanted to pursue IVF, if you use your own eggs, the chance of a live birth after the age of 43 is less than 4%.

All of that science to say… I’m getting to mourn it again.

I say “getting” because it is, indeed, a privilege to find myself in this place. The place where I am so well loved, and so in love in return, that it would have even been a consideration to have that baby together. To realize that I am finally in that perfect place, with the perfect person.

Don’t get me wrong: I am sad as hell. But in paying attention to the sadness, I think back to when I learned about primary and secondary reactions. The primary emotion or is the true and real response to something; the secondary reactive emotions are the ones that crop up as a defense mechanism. You usually have to sort through the secondary reactive stuff in order to get to the heart and the meat of the matter.

So, like, there’s a part of me that would love to sit here and beat myself up for making such “interesting” dating decisions for the last 20 years. I’d love to beat myself up for waiting so long and not just doing it myself. There’s a part of me that wishes I were the type of person who believed “everything happens for a reason!” because then I could spend my time looking for what possible reasons there might be for us to have come this far, to finally find each other, only to be denied this thing we both want so much. There’s a small part of me, too, that wishes I believed in God so I’d have someone or something to blame, to be angry with, to question the timing of all of this and the legitimacy of His choices. A place to deflect the blame, as well as a spiritual shoulder to carry the hurt.

But I am not that person.

There is no need to blame myself for the past; it does no good. There is no need to regret anything; that does no good, either. I don’t need to shake my fist at the sky and demand answers for how things are; this is, in fact, just how it all worked out.

Acceptance.

Anger has no place here. Life happened in its own time, in its own way, and to find myself now in the love and company of that perfect-for-me person, someone with whom to share the disappointment and move forward in grace and love, is really, truly, enough. I can sit with being sad and disappointed without having to cover it up in blame or anger or regret, and that, to me, is huge.

There are, of course, other options if we decide to pursue parenthood together. I know that. But I think it’s important to take each situation on its own merit and its own unique circumstances instead of trying to make the hurt of one situation go away with the potential promise of another that may or may not be an option, or realistic.

So for now, with this one piece, I am simply mourning the loss (again). The beauty is that I no longer have to mourn it – or anything else – alone.

A devil in wolf’s clothing.

Once upon a time, I dated a liar.

He wasn’t just your average, garden variety liar, though; you know, someone who lies to get out of trouble, or someone who lies to spare feelings, or someone who lies because they’re ashamed of who they are, or maybe they just haven’t learned the value of the truth. Nope. Every single word, every utterance that came out of his mouth was some form of manipulation or deceit.

If breath or a burp could be a lie, his would’ve.

He lied about his age and, when called out on it, he lied about lying about it. He lied about owning his home. He lied about where he was, and who he was with, when we weren’t together. He lied about his online activity. He lied about his relationships with other people – specifically, other women. More specifically, the other woman he was dating/sleeping with when he and I were purportedly dating/in a relationship. He lied to her about me, too. He lied about his travels. He lied to everyone about the nature of our relationship, and what he told them varied by who they were. He lied about himself, his nature, his past… every possible thing he could lie about, he did, and no one in his life was immune. He lied to his parents, his friends, his other girlfriends, his ex-wife, complete strangers… everyone.

About everything.

And it wasn’t just lying, either; the lies were coupled with methodical manipulation via every possible avenue. He’d get information and then use it to his advantage to keep people tied to him in some unhealthy way. Say things you want to hear, and then make you feel like shit for believing it. Or say terrible things and tell you you’re imagining that they’re terrible. One minute you’re his favorite; the next minute, there was something so wrong with you he’d never be able to get over it. He would find the things about yourself you valued most and in one breath reaffirm those things, but in the next breath, he’d berate and belittle you for them. One minute you’re dating, the next he can only be friends – but as soon as you start treating him as a platonic friend, he’d revert back to treating you like an intimate partner, and as though the previous situation never happened. One night he’d yell at you and shame you into staying small; the next morning, everything is fine and he has no idea what you’re talking about.

I think they call that “gas-lighting.”

Groundwork was consistently laid to confuse, to keep you off balance, to deny, deny, deny – and to ensure you would never pursue the lines of inquiry that might expose the clever ruse. The only way I learned for certain of his “affair” (read: ongoing infidelity, despite his protestations to the contrary and his insistence that I was obviously just insecure and suspicious and imagining things; that he had no interest in those other women but if I want to look crazy by reaching out to talk to them, that was on me, etc. etc. etc.) was a message exchange with the other woman. She reached out to tell the truth, and I appreciated that, regardless of any underlying motivations on her part. It was the affirmation I’d needed, that I wasn’t imagining things and I wasn’t, in fact, crazy.

Topping all of it off was an impenetrable and distinct lack of remorse, and an apparent delight in the manipulation of others. No real concern for feelings or well-being, no second thoughts about behavior or consideration of impact, although he would occasionally pretend to care. Everything was self-serving, and he spent nearly every waking moment playing puppet master, as though he thrived on the power he felt in controlling other people. When confronted with the truth, the ease with which he either lied some more, or turned it around to shift the blame and focus on someone else (usually me) was, for lack of a better word, remarkable.

With some time and distance allowing for further reflection… it was frightening.

Almost immediately after meeting him, I suspected something was off. A few months in, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I started to distance from friends a little; some of them dropped me completely, and I began to shut down and withdraw. Anxiety was ever-present, doing its best to call attention to the bad situation I was intentionally keeping myself in. I put a pretty damn good face out there for public consumption, but the reality was chaotic, unhealthy, damaging…

And yet, I stayed.

FOR A YEAR.

I was kept so confused and off-balance, I stayed thinking it must be me; there must be something I’m not doing right, or there must be some way to make this work, or maybe things are just meant to be this messed up, because we also managed to have some fun in there, so it wasn’t ALL terrible, right? There were promises of greatness, hints of something better… but it was all part of the deception he reveled in maintaining. And I played right into it.

Suffice to say, I stayed in it as long as I needed to in order to learn the things I needed to learn (I don’t recommend that if you can help it), and thankfully, I don’t ever need to go there again. Severing those ties was certainly one of the best and healthiest thing I’ve ever done for myself. Tough lessons, but so very good, and necessary, and permanently etched. There were continued attempts on his part to keep me tethered and engaged, but as with most bullies, when you stop paying attention and refuse to engage, they get bored and move on to something else.

So then, why am I bringing this up? Because I think it’s important to differentiate between a person who tells a lie here and there, and a person who is constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves or anyone else, to the point where it could very well be a diagnosable mental illness/personality disorder. The difference between someone who maybe made poor decisions in the past but has the potential to make it right, and a person who is clinically ill and incapable of doing anything but lie, cheat, manipulate, and harm. The latter isn’t even remotely harmless; anyone and everyone impacted by that person’s behavior is left altered in some way. There is no way to have a healthy interaction with a person like that, regardless of effort on your part.

And why else am I bringing this up?

Donald Trump.

I’m not even sure I need to take it any further than that, but I will just say a few things about this would-be President of the United States:

  • Watching Donald Trump stand/hover/loom behind Hillary Clinton at the 2nd debate was like watching a caged animal, or an attempt at intimidation, and it was scary.
  • Knowing he brought Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate as a means of belittling and shaming Hillary – using their pain for his gain – was scary.
  • Listening to him so easily lie when confronted with things he’s said or done (things that have been documented as truth) is scary.
  • Knowing he’s intentionally hiding information about his own financial situation in an effort to maintain a certain reputation is scary.
  • Hearing the way he talked about how he can take advantage of women because of his celebrity was scary.
  • His complete lack of remorse or willingness to own his part is scary.
  • Watching, reading, and hearing people leap to his defense because “he says what we’re all thinking,” to justify  – nay, celebrate – all of these behaviors, all for the sake of “shaking up Washington,” IS SCARY.

Don’t get me wrong. HRC is nowhere near perfect (nor was she my first choice, nor does that matter because that’s not what we’re talking about here), but you can be damn sure I will vote for her if it means keeping a sociopathic/narcissistic/anti-social personality disorder out of the office of the presidency.

Y’ALL. You know we have the power to change this, right? Nothing has to be the way it is, and everything can be different, if and when we decide we’re no longer okay with the way things are. I’ve been marveling over that truth: that if we weren’t so damned determined to hold on to our beliefs and so convinced that they are correct, or so convinced that we are powerless to change things, we might see that what we believe is what we’ve been taught and shown, and how things are isn’t how they have to be. We absolutely have the freedom AND the power to change that. Like racism: it’s not innate, it’s learned. Imagine what life would look like if no one had ever been raised to think of another human being as “less than?”

Anyway. I don’t claim to know much of anything about politics, especially with as convoluted and partisan and covert and messy as things have become… I don’t even know who or what to trust anymore, or where to start looking for reliable information. You know, the actual TRUTH, not just biased half-assed reporting.

But I have finally learned to trust my gut when it comes to humanity and human beings. I’m a pretty good judge of character, thanks to years of experience and lessons learned, and I can recognize when something is WRONG that has nothing to do with whether or not I like you as a person. When something is off about someone, I can sense it; when they’re sick, or toxic, or even just unhealthy, my hackles are raised all the way up, and the protective shields go up with it. At this point, that’s enough for me to go on.

Donald Trump is toxic, in every sense of the word.

Dangerously so.

Yet there are people who still fervently believe he is the better choice. That the stories coming out about him are false, or that they don’t matter, as long as Hillary doesn’t win. There are people who RELATE to him (I think that’s the worst part for me). They’re willing to turn a blind eye to his lies, manipulation, misogyny, and explosive temperament for the sake of teaching Washington and us bleeding-heart liberals a lesson.

Right now, our country feels so polarized between those who maniacally value flags and songs and ideas of nationalism and personal freedoms more than they do other human beings, and then the rest of us who want everyone taken care of, no matter their color, sexual preference, gender, or religious beliefs. Bootstrap mentality vs. the need for empathy and community. I never looked forward to a Bush presidency, or a Romney presidency, but I never actively feared them, either. This is different. I can’t imagine what a Trump presidency would look like, but if I have to find out, I just hope we emerge relatively unscathed, that the lessons we learn come with a long-lasting side of empathy and act-right, and that we never, ever have to go there again.

Perfectionism, anxiety, and other random ramblings.

Last week, I spent the day with one of my nieces. Over lunch, she asked me if I had any advice for her, going into high school, or any advice when it came to dating. To the second question, I told her to just stay away from boys until the hormones calm down (HA HA), but at the very least, if you’re going to date, find someone who makes you laugh, is kind and honest, and who treats you well. Also, smart.

To the first question, my best advice was to focus on things that are important to her and make her feel good about life, and to do her best to let go of the need to be perfect. There is the potential for being paralyzed by fear of not being good at something on the first try, and so you just dismiss it as being “stupid” or whatever so you don’t have to risk looking foolish or not being perfect at it. I think this maybe runs in the family, or at the very least it’s just normal human behavior, and it’s taken me this long to get to a point where I place more value on having fun and living with abandon than I do on what others see or think of me.

Mostly, anyway.

I am still very much driven by a need to be seen as competent, having value, etc., and that certainly does get in the way of just trying things, or just DOING things that I want to try or do. I hold myself to impossibly high standards sometimes, which means I end up feeling like I have to do everything perfectly, I have to respond to work emails immediately or else people will feel like I’m failing them, and I judge my own behavior a whole lot more harshly than I think anyone else does – unless, of course they’re looking for things to judge me for. And in that case, who actually cares?

Anyway… that led me to thinking about anxiety. I’ve had my share of bouts with it, although thankfully the major occurrences have been relatively few and far between. The first time it was ever diagnosed was about 15 or so years ago, in the form of constant butterflies and feeling as though I had 7 different television channels – including some static – going on in my head at once, making it virtually impossible to focus. As best we could tell (we = my doctor and me), it was in direct response to the depression I’d been battling for several months. According to that particular doctor, sometimes your brain will try to “right” itself out of a depressed state by overcompensating which then turns into anxiety. So that’s nice.

During a recent appointment with Noelle TWT, I was telling her about all of the “project managing” I’d been doing in my head lately. And by that, I mean I was feeling the need to control EVERYTHING: perceptions, outcomes, behaviors, and managing everyone’s feelings, whether I actually knew what those feelings were or not. She had, as usual, a lot of great insight into that. First and foremost, that it’s what anxiety can look like. (Say what?) When your brain is on overdrive, ruminating or thinking about ALL THE THINGS, or causing you to feel as though you need to control other people… that’s anxiety. Of course, there are those other ways anxiety manifests: butterflies in the belly; inability to focus or concentrate; rapid heart rate; racing thoughts; and the inability to function normally or rationally until the panic subsides, because your amygdala has been activated and the rest of your brain has shut down. You know, fun stuff like that.

In thinking about all of that, I came to the very UN-scientific conclusion that there are, perhaps, two types of anxiety. One is the kind mentioned above, not necessarily caused by anything other than an imbalance in the brain; maybe exacerbated by external causes or conditions, but at some point your brain just decides to go off the rails and you’re left with the anxious feelings and thoughts and behaviors that seem completely inappropriate in response to the situations at hand. That’s the anxiety that sucks, and it lies to you about impending dangers, doom, your abilities as a human, the truth of situations… all of it.

But then, there’s another kind of anxiety: the kind that tells you the truth. It’s the kind that knows you’re in a bad situation, or you’re compromising yourself in some way, forcing an issue, trying to make something work that shouldn’t… you get the idea. The anxiety that comes from being and staying in that kind of bad situation is the GOOD kind of anxiety, if there is such a thing, because it’s telling you there’s something wrong, that something needs to change.

I get anxiety from eating too much sugar. My body is trying to tell me something when that happens: DON’T EAT SUGAR, DING DONG. Sadly, it also happens when I have cocktails, but it doesn’t show up until 3am (like, on the dot – it’s weird). But again, that’s just from my body having to process all the sugar, and the physiological response to that. Note to self: if a food or “spice” – in my case, excessive sugar or salt – makes your heart pound out of your chest, maybe DON’T EAT IT.

I also had significant relationship anxiety in the not too distant past. As it turns out, for good reason: when everything that comes out of a person’s mouth is a lie, an attempt to manipulate and/or gas-lighting in some form or fashion; when you can’t trust a thing they say or your place in their life; when the infidelity is so pervasive that they can’t even go to the bathroom without texting or messaging another woman; when controlling and managing everyone’s perceptions was like a full time job… it’s no wonder anxiety showed up to camp out on my doorstep. It wasn’t until it was over, and enough time and distance was inserted and I’d recovered that the anxiety went away. But that anxiety was trying to tell me something, you know?

SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE; GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN.

There were other relationships, too, ones that didn’t last as long but that still brought about the belly butterflies, and I think a lot of that was just me pursuing people who weren’t good fits. Anxiety tried to tell me that, too. That I was with the wrong person, that I was compromising myself, that I wasn’t having any of my needs met. I just generally refused to listen, and wound up paying the price.

Notable and telling, then, that I haven’t had one moment of anxiety since meeting my future husband. (OMG, HUSBAND. Heehee!) So this is what it means to feel safe and cared for!

Back to Noelle. She posited that my need to project manage and control things was likely born of a life of having no reliable consistency. I think that makes sense. It’s safe to say that any of my overreactive behaviors are as a direct result of having little or no consistency or reliability growing up, and so I’m trying to exact that control over everything now. I’ve been a control freak for as long as I can remember, at least as it pertains to my own life, but I always chalked that up to being a perfectionist and not wanting to be responsible for anyone else’s poor showing. I realize now that it’s that, still, but a whole lot deeper, too.

I think feeling like you have to be perfect means you don’t feel like you’re good enough.

The other thing she mentioned was that she’d listened to a podcast where someone was talking about anxiety and how it helped to determine if the threat was external or internal. If the threat is external – oncoming car, being chased by lions, significant other with a personality disorder, etc. – then you know there is (hopefully) something to be done about the situation, whether by managing it or removing yourself from it, and the anxiety is a legit response to a legit threat that will (hopefully) go away. But if the threat is internal… there’s some work to do, and it starts with realizing you’re not in danger and that your feelings can’t hurt you, and then learning to sit with it while you attempt to pinpoint the trigger and where it’s all coming from.

She totally speaks my language. One of my biggest lessons over the last few years has been to just sit with discomfort rather than knee-jerk reacting to it, so I can get to the bottom of it all. Sitting through secondary reactive emotions to determine primary ones.

All of that to say, it was eye-opening for me to realize that what felt like “crazy” behavior was really just anxiety rearing its head. Understandable, too. Between the full time job that was the equivalent of three jobs while my boss was on maternity leave, starting graduate school and trying to keep up a successful pace, finally meeting someone good and having it be so important to me that everyone love him and see the good in him that I do (while letting down 40 years of defenses and choosing to be vulnerable to real love)… it was a lot. And it was no wonder I felt like I had to control things – I didn’t want to fail, because I didn’t want to lose any of it.

I think I’m finally relinquishing my kung-fu grip on stuff. School (at least, this rendition) is officially over, my promotion has me moved into ONE job which is the one I want, and things with the fella are just perfection. I still need to exercise and quit eating so much sugar. But at the end of it all, I’m grateful for ALL of the anxiety, because it’s shown, taught, and illustrated things that I might not have seen or learned otherwise.

Doesn’t mean I want it to come back or stick around, though. And that perfectionism can go screw, too.

birdthink

More on (moron?) triggers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.

An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.

I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.

Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.

Like that.

There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.

Sigh.

So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.

When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.

And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”

I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin

Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.

I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.

Talk about blossoming.

Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3) stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.

It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.

It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.