Ding dong, the witch is dead.

Every year about this time, I reflect on where I was – WHO I was – in November of 1998. For those of you just tuning in: I was an IV drug user, addicted to heroin, cocaine, and anything else I could find… and for a brief time, I was homeless on the streets of San Francisco.

I’ve told the story of Thanksgiving, when I sat in the rain in Golden Gate Park, eating food prepared for the homeless by a Latinx family who spoke little to no English, who wanted simply to feed everyone they could. I’ve talked about knowing my sister, her (future) husband, and their/our friends were having dinner together just miles away in Oakland; knowing I was invited, and also knowing I was too full of shame to attend. Thankfully, it wasn’t much longer after Thanksgiving that I finally had enough, finally hit the low emotional point where I was ready to accept the consistent, gentle, and loving offers to help from my family… finally willing to admit I deserved to live, and that somewhere deep down, I still wanted to.

I’ve told the story about being in the throes of addiction, spending time in a relationship with another junkie who made it clear he was in love with someone else, but who continued to spend his time with me unless/until she opened the door for him to come back, even temporarily. He lived with me when I was still able to keep a roof over my head; ours was a partnership of desperation and despair. I remember once writing the words, “please help me” on a piece of paper and sticking it in a book, hoping the message would somehow float out into the universe.

I find it fitting that I would look for a solution in a book, considering it’s where I’ve found so many of them, before and since.

But it’s that apartment I keep thinking about. I’d taken it over from my sister when she moved across the bay to live with her dude; I thought if I did that, I’d stop spending money on drugs, and instead use it to afford a home in a great neighborhood. But good intentions and wishes can never overpower a demon or disease; in this case, I was suffering from both, and my only hope was a wholesale revolution of self, which wouldn’t come until much later.

I lost that apartment when I couldn’t afford to pay the rent, and when my family discovered the extent of my drug use. I was taken to treatment, where I lasted all of about 4-5 days. That’s when reality hit. When the bad feelings started to crop up. And I don’t just mean the dope sickness, which in and of itself is panic-inducing and enough to make anyone run to the hills in search of something – anything – to not have to feel it anymore. Instead, it was the thoughts and the feelings and everything else I’d been working to numb and avoid… THAT was what had me climbing the walls, unable to focus on anything else but my misery and the one thing I knew would fix it, even while exacerbating it everywhere else. When you get to that point, repercussions don’t matter. How you’re affecting other people doesn’t matter. The possibility of overdose and death really don’t matter… in fact, the possibility of death seems almost a sweet reprieve, even when you’re absolutely not seeking it out with intention.

So, after those 4-5 days in treatment, I walked out. I knew I had money waiting for me in a bank account, certainly enough to get high for a week or two, and then I’d figure it out. I didn’t know what “figure it out” meant, nor did I care; you live in the moment when you’re in that frame of mind. It’s mindfulness of the worst and most desperate kind.

It’s funny, though. I wouldn’t “spare change” people… I wouldn’t steal from stores to eat or sell things for drug money… I wouldn’t prostitute myself… so, I had limits in how I was willing to survive on the streets. And those limits rendered me essentially useless. I ate out of a few garbage cans here and there, but mostly I just didn’t eat. I didn’t bathe for a month that I can remember. I smoked other peoples’ cigarette butts out of public ashtrays. I slept in parks. I terrorized my family, manipulating and lying to them to get them to send money so I could eat, but mostly so I could keep buying drugs.

Eventually, I met up with a guy named Mark. I’d met Mark through my ex several months prior; he became something of a guide for me during my short time on the streets, helping me survive a little longer. He was the closest thing to a friend I had out there, and I’m grateful for the protection he offered when I needed it. It was a rare thing, to find someone in a similar situation and to actually be able to trust them. At least for a little while, anyway; I guess at some point, it might eventually get back to “everyone for themselves.” out of necessity, but I wasn’t out there long enough for that to happen.

On what turned out to be my last night on the streets, I’d joined up with Mark to buy drugs and to find somewhere safe and dry for the night. It was dark, with a light rain falling; we trudged through the streets of the Upper Haight, and finally came to a place where Mark said he knew we could crash for the night.

It was my old apartment building.

But we weren’t going IN the building… we were going UNDER it.

He’d found a crawlspace, accessible from the street; we proceeded to crawl, wriggle, and otherwise navigate our way to a spot just big enough for a few people to stretch out. We were lying on the earth, building belly as our sky. I remember, even then, finding bittersweet and sour humor – is it irony? – in the fact that what was once my home, meant to envelop me, was now a big, dark, looming beast essentially landing on top of me.

Like the house on the wicked witch… only this was all self-inflicted.

In a way, it was a poetic end, right? The house done killed the witch, alright… but the house was, in fact, still a home. It was a beacon of what was possible, what was out there if I fought for it and let people help me get there. And the witch was my addiction; it didn’t fully die for a few years after that, reappearing as a spectre or yet another death rattle in other kinds of behaviors and actions and thoughts and things that just needed time to work themselves out. Like cutting off a chicken’s head… the body is still gonna do its thing for a bit.

Getting sober is a lot like that. You can take away the substances, and that’s cool, but then you’ve got a holy shit pile of thought patterns and behaviors and survival skills and defense mechanisms and dysfunctional programming to undo. Addiction doesn’t just HAPPEN… and neither does recovery.

I’m not sober anymore, and haven’t been for 12 or 13 years, I guess. I took the absolutely necessary time of being sober, did the work as best I could, kept and employed the tools I learned in AA… and now, I have wine with dinner, or the occasional cocktail out on the town, and there’s no fear of me returning to where I was. Not everyone is like that, and I think it’s a huge mistake to assume anyone else could “do sobriety” like me and have it work out exactly the same. We are the sum of our own experiences, and it doesn’t mean I’m better or worse – just different in what works for me. I still go to therapy regularly, all these years later; I’m hyper-vigilant when it comes to self-introspection, evaluation, and assessment. I constantly take personal inventory, because it’s how I’m wired. And I think that, more than anything, is what keeps me alive and thriving.

Here’s to another year of reflection and gratitude. The further away it gets, the more surreal it all seems; but I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for everything I’ve been through. And you know… I like who I am, so I’ll take it.

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The perils of not being true, to (and with) yourself.

I always know when it’s time to sit down and write, because my brain gets full to overflowing and I can’t fully process any of the things swimming around up in there. Lately I’ve been thinking and wanting to write about: dehumanization (h/t Dr. BrenĂ© Brown); life and love lessons to share with my nieces; fears about how the world around us is changing, people and connections devolving; defense mechanisms – how they reveal themselves and what we can do to recognize, abide, and overcome…

It’s a lot. As usual. 🙂

But right now, all I can think about is how very free to be me* I feel these days, and how much of a 180 that is from most of my life. What an impact it’s had on my sense of self, my sense of security, my sense of belonging and my place in the world.

*With this comes the very necessary awareness that a lot of this freedom stems from being a white cis het woman in America. While being a woman has its own built-in challenges (harassment, lower pay, healthcare decisions being made by old white men, etc.), it is, for me, not compounded by intersectional challenges of skin color, sexual preference, or gender identity. All the more reason it’s on me to do the work of learning how to be not just an ally, but an accomplice. 

So, with all of that said, here’s what I mean.

I’m not sure when or where it started, or what caused it (although I have some ideas), but at some point in my early years, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be someone other than myself for people to like me. For people to want to spend time with me. For people to stick around. I felt like I wasn’t good enough as-is, so I would take on characteristics of those with whom I spent time, whose company I wanted to keep, those from whom I sought acceptance or love. I figured, the more like them I tried to be, the more likely they’d want to be around me.

The problem was that I could only pretend to be like one person at a time. I couldn’t emulate more than one because it was too hard, too confusing… so I wound up having one really good friend at a time, or a boyfriend, but rarely both at the same time and certainly not more than one good friend at a time. At some point in those relationships, I’d realize the persona I’d been trying on no longer fit, which meant the relationship itself would fizzle and I’d move on.

The friendships were always “easier” to sever. It was the relationships that were a struggle, because my entire self worth was wrapped up in the other person, making sure I did whatever I could for them to like me, and when it didn’t seem to work, I’d double down and try harder. Take it personally when it eventually and not surprisingly didn’t work out.

Even into my 30’s and 40’s, much to my shame and chagrin, I found myself denying who I really am in an attempt to make a go of it with someone else. I’d leave my critical thinking skills by the door, my common sense in the trash, and let my sad and desperate heart do the “thinking.” And by that, I mean I’d deny what I knew to be true – that the person wasn’t at all a good fit, and that I shouldn’t be anywhere near that relationship, such as it may have been. On occasion, they were good dudes who just weren’t right for ME. In a lot of cases, I knew deep down they were abusive, manipulative, or otherwise harmful, but instead of standing up for the real me, I’d try to get smaller and fit into the space that might could occupy part of this person’s life, if they’d be so kind.

The hustle for worthiness, as Brené says.

Like, the last person I dated before meeting my husband (eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!! still not old!! SO WEIRD!!!!! hearts and stars!! <3), for example. If you had a list of every bad thing you could find in a person, he’d meet all the criteria. You’d think, if you know me at all, that I wouldn’t give someone like that a 2nd look. And maybe it just had to get THAT BAD for me to break this lifelong habit of mine, who knows? Anyway. It wasn’t long – like, a month, maybe? – before I started getting anxiety around him, around our situation… all of it. And the more I doubled down to try and make it work, the more anxious I became. It affected my work, my school, my friendships… all because I was trying to force this thing to happen when it never should have. Friendships lost, quality of work suffered, my ability to focus and tend to regular life things all but disappeared, all because my brain was too busy trying to figure out WTAF I was doing, and why.

Certainly, anxiety is bound to happen when you’re trying to have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person; there is no way to meet crazy with sane and have it come out okay. The two don’t mix, and in fact, the crazy can – and usually does – start to wear off. But that anxiety, though. It was telling me something. Not just that he was unhealthy, sick, and not worthy of my time and effort… but that I was going against who I am by being there in the first place. Denying what I want and need and deserve, and have every right to expect in a relationship.

I shouldn’t have to make myself small to be with someone else. I shouldn’t have to change or hide who I am to get someone to like me. I shouldn’t have to pretend to be something I’m not, pretend to like or want something I don’t, just for the sake of someone else’s favor.

I’m married to someone with whom I feel safe to be completely and entirely and unabashedly ME. I can sing and dance in the grocery store while we’re shopping; he smiles and looks at me like he just discovered a way to love me even more than he already does. There isn’t a single thing I’ve thought or felt that I couldn’t share with him, even if it was embarrassing or made me cry; he will always respond with a kind and loving heart. He thinks I’m smart, funny, competent, and beautiful, even on the days when I definitely don’t. There hasn’t been one single day when I felt like he was attempting to manipulate me, to lie, to try and get me to be anything other than who I am… and instead, he is just excited to get to know the real me even better.

Talk about freedom.

THIS is what it’s all supposed to feel like. Our relationship isn’t work, because we’re both willing participants in it. All of it. Yes, sometimes we talk about hard or scary things, but that’s not really work, either. It’s what you do when you feel safe enough to go there with it, if you’re at all inclined to dig deeper and show your true self to the other. The only insecurities I’ve ever suffered with him were old things that I needed to let go of, and that’s just going to be a work in progress.

But it’s not just my relationship with my husband (heheheheh); it’s how I show up in the rest of my life, too. I work in a place where I absolutely get to be myself, too, and am loved and appreciated for it. I am honest and direct, and make no bones about how I feel. I might do well to temper that sometimes, but man it feels good to be honest and tell the truth as you see it. My opinions and insights (and humor) are valued just as much as the work I do, and that’s one of the many reasons I’ve been reticent to look elsewhere for a new job, despite money being a significant (and growing) stressor. You don’t find workplaces like mine very often.

I wonder sometimes if this “settling into my own skin” business has anything to do with getting older, and realizing the folly of placing my self worth in the hands of others. I mean, it sounds funny to say that, considering I just waxed poetic about how free I am to be myself with my partner and my co-workers… but they don’t hold the key to my worth; they simply give me the safe, comfortable freedom to explore and express it, and then reflect it back.

When you try to deny who you are, what you want, what you need… it prevents you from showing up. I mean, you can’t. Right? If you’re busy pretending to be something you’re not, then you can’t fully show up anywhere. And that means you’re not being accepted for who you are, and you know it. Deep down, you KNOW you’re relating and engaging under false pretenses, even with the best of intentions. If you are in a relationship where you feel like you’re settling, just to make it work? You’re not showing up, and you’re selling yourself short, if not out. Whether it’s because you’d rather do that than be lonely, or you are convinced there’s nothing better out there, or you think this is how it’s supposed to be, or maybe you realize it’s because you just don’t think you deserve to try harder and do better (or different)… authentic connection can only happen when you show ALL THE WAY UP.

And if the person you’re with does anything to try and prevent that, then maybe it’s time to find someone who won’t. Find the person who will celebrate your arrival instead, someone who gives you the room to keep blooming.

It is all of this that finds me trusting my voice, finally seeing and knowing who I really am. Trusting I have insight and wisdom and a heart to share, that I have every right to be here; to want what I want, seek what I’m after, to demand and expect I be seen and heard, just as I am. I still get scared on the inside that I’m a fraud or a fake and that other people will see it or figure it out, but I think that’s because I’ve got about 30 years of programming to undo. I am, in fact, smart, competent, funny, kind, insightful, and, as DeRay says, “flawed. & (still) worthy.”

I feel like I’m repeating a lot here, talking in a circle around what I’m really trying to say. I guess it just all comes down to the realization that I am finally comfortable in my skin most days, and now that I’m no longer trying to hide parts of myself, I can put all of me out there to pursue more. Like seeking true and real connection with others, whether via friendship, or a common goal (like getting people registered to vote and to the polls!!!), or whatever. Now that I know and (mostly) love who I truly am, now that I’ve settled into a comfortable space in my own heart, I can show up everywhere else. I don’t have to hide from the people who know me and could call me out; I don’t have to pretend to be something or someone I’m not; I don’t have to force friendships or relationships… I just get to show the hell up.

It’s pretty spectacular.

Weddings are Weird, Part 2: The Debrief

Two weeks ago, I got to marry my best friend. The one person I could easily, without question, imagine spending the rest of my days with… and, in fact, couldn’t imagine my days without. The wedding went off without a hitch (other than, you know, US getting hitched) and I think it went really well. For anyone interested in the ceremony, the readings, the order of events, etc., I’ve put everything (other than our vows, for the time being) here: https://carterandpaigearehome.com/2017/09/17/the-big-day-recap/

I had people tell me to try and stay in the moment, to appreciate it all as best I could or else I’d forget everything, and I think I did that (stay in the moment, I mean). But I also think that when you’re in a whirlwind of activity, when you’re under the stress of standing in front of 75 people being vulnerable, when you’re a born project manager and want to be sure you’ve remembered to manage every last detail, and then when you only have three hours to visit with those 75 people you invited, it’s all going to fly by and get fuzzy no matter how present you are. That’s what photos and video are for! And all the stories people tell  you afterward! It’s a collective memory-making event, and we are really and truly grateful for everyone who was able to attend, who could then share their memories with us afterward.

Part of me really wishes we could have invited twice as many people. There are so many others I wish could have been there, and that’s one of the things about this whole event that was somewhat vexing. When we decided to hold the event at Sinema, we were automatically limited to 80 guests. 100, if we’d crammed people in, but 80 would fit comfortably. Our family made up ~30 of that, which left 50 people we could invite. We could have easily doubled or tripled that with friends we love and care about, and you know what? That’s a wonderful “problem” to have, but it means you just have to get okay with not having everyone there. Yes, it was a financial decision, but it was also a logistical decision, and we (I) finally just had to make peace with trusting that anyone not invited would hopefully understand and, if not, it wasn’t an emotional burden we could – or should – carry. But it’s a weird thing to navigate, and I’m grateful to not have to do it again. Ever. 🙂

Other items of note:

  • The day after Carter proposed was when people started asking when the big day was. As soon as we landed on a date, people wanted to know where we’d be getting married, if I had a dress, etc. As soon as I found someone to make my dress, people kept asking if it was ready, how the fittings were going, if I loved it yet, if I was nervous it wasn’t done… I finally got to the point where I was tired of talking about the wedding; the details were stressing me out so having people ask me about it was just reminding me of the stress, and I was over it. I might have told a few people that we’d called it off, just so they’d stop asking me about it.
  • I’m not a nice person.
  • The big question now seems to be whether or not I’m going to change my last name; the answer is, “No.” Whether or not I take Carter’s name has absolutely no impact on how “married” I feel or how connected we are, and he (thankfully) cares even less about it than I do. It’s not even that it’s an antiquated practice that would mark me as his property or the loss of my own identity; it’s just a logistical pain in the ass, and also, I like my name, I like my signature, and there’s really no reason to change it.
  • The nice thing is, I can change my mind down the road and there’s no time limit on making that decision. Maybe one day it’ll make sense, but right now? Nah.
  • I didn’t get full feeling back in my toes until 3 days after the big day, but I think those shoes were worth it
  • I wish I’d danced more – and that other people had danced. I’m not a dancer, but our DJ played some really wonderful music that was great to shake your booty to
  • No matter how hard I tried, I barely got to eat anything and that makes me sad because their food is SO GOOD
  • Our friends and family filled the void of not having a wedding planner/day of contact, and they all just managed things without being asked, and made sure everything was coordinated and collected at the end of the night; totally invaluable
  • My one nephew, Ryan, escaped without having a “job” in the wedding and I’m not sure if he cared or if he was relieved, but having all the (other) kids participate was one of my very favorite things
  • It doesn’t matter how long or short your first dance song is, anything over 30 seconds feels like an eternity with people watching, which is why I (of course) felt compelled to grab Carter’s butt – for comedic relief, for my sake as much as anyone else’s
  • I wish I’d given the champagne toast to everyone there, because they’ve all played a part in getting us here. But hindsight is 20/20, which leads me to…
  • All the things that didn’t go EXACTLY as planned or hoped don’t matter, because we’re married, and that’s the point of the whole thing!

It took a village to get us there and to get us through, but we are now, officially, husband and wife, and it’s the weirdest, most wonderful thing in the world.

Deciding what matters, and then choosing it.

Anyone who knows me hopefully also knows that I will fight to the death when it comes to body- or appearance-shaming as a means of character assassination. So, like, judging a person based on what they do? Totally fine. Open season. But judging a person based on how they look? Totally NOT OKAY. Especially equating being overweight to a character flaw or moral judgement. It’s lazy, it’s flawed logic, and it’s unkind… for starters. It’s not even necessary. Chances are, if you’re feeling the need to slam a person using physical traits,  there’s likely something else you could be using instead (example: Chris Christie is a turd, and there’s a whole host of reasons why, but NONE of them have to do with how he looks). A person’s appearance has nothing to do with who they are as human beings, and is not a reflection of character, mind, or heart. It IS, however, a reflection on us as a society, that we use those things to condemn other people.

So, it’s interesting for me to note that I have been beating myself THE HELL UP for not losing weight before the wedding. Like, suddenly I am a failure, a horrible human being, I’m going to hate seeing photos for years to come because it will remind me I suck, and everyone who has ever wished me harm will revel in seeing me be overweight on the most important day of my life… every time I look in the mirror, every time I’m putting on clothes, I’m these saying mean things to myself, I’m flailing on the inside wondering what I can do to lose weight and get in shape in 6… make that 5… and now 4 weeks.

But this post isn’t so much about that, because here’s what I know: C loves me for who I am, not how I look; in 4 weeks, we will be married to each other, just as in love (if not more so) and happy together as we are right now. We’ll be surrounded by loved ones, eating wonderful food and drinking delicious cocktails, and we’ll get to share this most important event with each other and our friends and family. None of that has anything to do with my physical appearance, and EVERYTHING to do with my mind, my spirit, and my heart.

I recognize that a lot of this self-deprecation comes from external programming. Growing up surrounded by messages that enforce the focus on appearance as a measure of worth, it’s hard to overcome that sort of thing, and just as I said about other people judging – that it’s easy, it’s lazy, and it’s unkind – that’s the default setting for my own brain directed toward myself when I’m looking for something to stress about, some sort of outlet for the pent-up stress and frustration I’ve got going on.

I am stressed OUT. About a lot of things. And apparently the first easy target is me, and how I look, because hey… I’m right here, right? So instead of dealing with stress in a healthy way, it just shows up as my own worst critic.

But this isn’t really about that, either. I mean, it’s good insight, and I’m glad to have it, because it’s keeping me from losing my mind and bursting into tears as I head to my next dress fitting.

What I want to know is… how do priorities form? How do you decide what’s important to you? Is it something you’re born with, or do you learn these things because of the world around you? How do some people decide that fitness is important to them, while others decide they’re just not interested?

And, more specifically, how can you be totally overcome with thoughts of, “Oh goodness, I’m getting married in 6 weeks (or a year or three months or whatever), and I would really love to lose about 5 lbs and get my arms in shape before the wedding!” and then not do anything about it? Like, how can you say and feel with every ounce of your being that this is a priority and it’s important to you, but then not actually do anything about it? And not only that, but do things that are diametrically opposed? Eating ice cream and pizza and drinking wine and doing all the things that you enjoy but you know fly directly in the face of what you’ve stated is your desired end result?

How do make a decision on what’s really important, say it out loud over and over, and then actually flip the switch so you’re working toward that goal? Or is it just that my brain is so determined to have an easy enemy that it’s intentionally sabotaging whatever efforts I might have made? Is it that I have so much other stuff going on that I only have so many spoons of discipline, and they’re all used up before I can get around to the food and exercise regimen I know would get me where I want to be?

And in the face of all of this… how do I just be okay with the apparent reality that losing weight and getting in shape just wasn’t really a priority after all? And then be okay with the outcome?

Perfection, expectations, and the sometimes-messy business of being human.

“Prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness.”

The other day, a dear friend reached out via email and, among other things, shared a podcast (with BrenĂ© Brown) that reminded her of me. If you know me, then you know I love me some BrenĂ© Brown. Her research and writing changed the trajectory of my life some years back, changed how I thought about things, how I worked on things within myself… it was a big ol’ necessary and welcome shift. But it’s been a minute since I took the time to either revisit her older books or to dive into her new ones; I’d been assuming there wasn’t much new for me to learn.

The quote above is what stopped me in my tracks and brought a whole lot of things into the light that have been lurking in the recesses for a while. So, on the eve of my 45th birthday, I figured it was once again time to dig deep. (And yes, I’m procrastinating on homework. It’s how I do my best thinking.)

BrenĂ© was talking about how we have prerequisites for our worthiness. “If I lost 10 lbs., THEN I’d be worthy.” “If I only made more money or had nicer things, THEN I’d be deserving of love and belonging.” That sort of thing. Just like expectations equal premeditated resentments, prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness. The truth is, we’re all worthy, right now, as we are. If we don’t believe that, then we’ll never be enough. Coming at life from a place of scarcity – not thin or fit ENOUGH, not pretty ENOUGH, not wealthy or smart or funny or interesting ENOUGH – will always set you at the back of the line, and you will never, ever catch up.

It makes me think about how there are people who derive their sense of self worth from external sources, vs. those who feel how they feel about themselves based on internal sources. So, like, there are people who only feel good about themselves when they achieve something, get something, DO something… external accomplishments drive their sense of self worth, which means they have to keep achieving, doing, getting, in order to maintain that sense of worthiness. On the other hand, we’ve got folks who feel good about themselves based on who they ARE. How they think, feel, and engage with the world.

(Here is a nod to another post I’ve got in the works, separating people from their behaviors. It’s… beefy.)

The latter is a much more static sense of worth, but I think it’s also just as prone to faulty thought lines. It ties into the difference between guilt and shame, also a BrenĂ© revelation. Guilt = I did something bad; shame = I AM bad. Guilt is a healthy feeling because you can learn from it; it’s there to show you what you’re okay with and what you’re not; what’s right and wrong for you. It’s how we learn not to do things that don’t feel good, whether because we already know it’s wrong, or because we see how it impacts those around us.

Shame, on the other hand… that’s where we are bad people, not good people who’ve done a bad thing or two. We’re failures, we’re not worthy, and no amount of a change in behavior or making of amends will change our inherent lack of worth.

So, my friend reached out to me because she’s in a place in life where she’s struggling a little with her own sense of worth, and she wanted to hear my thoughts on it all because she sees me as someone with boundaries, someone who is vulnerable and strong all at once, someone who has a strong sense of her own worth.

What she’s getting, in the form of this post, is the admission that I’ve been unwittingly stuck in a stress-induced shame spiral for months, it seems. Certainly the last few weeks, but it was building up a lot longer before that. And it took her reaching out for me to be willing and able to CALL it out, so I’m eternally grateful for that.

Between working full time, being in school full time, taking on a SpeechCraft class (an offshoot of Toastmasters) to confront speaking in public as one of my bigger fears, and planning a wedding, not to mention contending with some disappointing, albeit minor, health issues and stressing about money and blending families and managing the house while C travels and all kinds of other stuff… I’ve got a LOT going on. It’s not all bad, not by any stretch, but it is a lot. Bordering on more than I can reasonably handle

Because of this full plate, I’ve been slowly chipping away at my own sense of self. Which is amazing, when I think about it, because I’m doing a LOT to better myself as a human. Funny, then, that I have been struggling so much with stuff. Like, I somehow lost my material for the Toastmasters class. I don’t lose things. Ever. A few months ago, a pair of my gym pants went missing, and I guarantee you I will obsess over that for-EVER. Not because they were great pants, but because I. DON’T. LOSE. THINGS. My belongings were the only constant in my life, growing up, and after living alone for so long, my stuff became my companion through all my moves, all my life changes… you get the idea.

So, when this folder came up missing, I lost it. I’m still freaking out about it. I have an idea of what likely happened to it, but without confirmation, I feel like my world is out of control, that I’m not responsible or reliable, and can’t count on myself for ANYTHING. I cried about it, several times, including on the phone with C while he’s a thousand miles away and can’t do anything to help.

I also cried during my first wedding dress fitting this past Sunday, because I haven’t lost the weight I wanted to lose, and because if I don’t lose the 15-20 extra pounds, then what’s the point of having a pretty dress because I’m going to look terrible and hate our wedding photos for all of eternity and I’m a failure because I had all this time to do the work and I didn’t do it.

I have been beating myself up over not having a job making twice the money I’m making right now; over not losing weight and getting in shape, which is apparently a moral failing on my part; over not being able to afford a new car; over not making more money so C doesn’t have to travel as much; over not being a better friend, family member, and partner; over not being the perfect student…

I’m exhausted with myself. And I see now, these were all just prerequisites for worthiness that I was inflicting on myself.

Because of the transitory nature of my upbringing – all the moves, the changes, the family dynamic shifts – I think that my need to control things was born of a need to feel some semblance of stability, security, and safety. It’s the place from where my perfectionism stems; my sometimes overwhelming need or desire to control perceptions, outcomes, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Not because I think I’m better than everyone else and am the only one who can do things right; instead, it’s because I’m the only one I can, will, and should answer to.

So I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m not enough. Not thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, young enough… and I’ve been finding ways to reaffirm that messaging. Not intentionally, mind you; it’s just the way my brain seems to work. It’s really easy to find ways to sabotage your sense of self-worth, especially if you let yourself get overwhelmed with stressors and other things that take your defenses down. If you’re not inherently secure, then it’s work. Necessary, important, and worthwhile work… but work, nonetheless.

I am incredibly fortunate to have people in my life who remind me when I forget. Carter loves me unconditionally and wholeheartedly; he reminds me to try and do the same. But it’s unfair to put the onus on anyone else, to ask THEM to do MY emotional labor. I’ve got work to do. It’s always there, ever-present, and some days it’s easy. Some days I can see my value and know I’m worth fighting for. But some days, the demons rear their ugly-ass heads and try to tell me different.

Noelle the wonder-therapist says that one of the best ways to combat anxiety – which, for me, presents itself as perfectionism and the need to control things – is to just call it out for what it is. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and move along. It certainly helps to take the sting out, seeing it all for what it really is. And THAT is why the baring of the soul is so damned important. Shining a light on things instead of trying to hide them… that’s how you heal. Shining the light, and doing the work.

Happy birthday to me, then. My gift to myself is the freedom to do what I can, and to have that be ENOUGH. ❤

How far will you go?

To avoid having a difficult conversation, I mean? To what lengths will you go, just so you don’t have to speak up for yourself, draw lines in the sand, enforce your boundaries… to request (nay, demand) what is your due?

What will you put up with? What behaviors will you tolerate? What will you justify, in the form of another person’s poor choices or actions, just so you don’t have to have that difficult conversation with them? Or, maybe, just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’re settling? That you’re compromising yourself for the sake of “going along to get along?”

Will you quit a job, rather than calling out workplace toxicity or abuse? Rather than confronting an unfair pay structure? Will you move, rather than having a conversation with that neighbor who plays their music too loud, without ever giving them the opportunity to make it right? Would you stay in a relationship with someone damaging, rather than standing up for – HONORING – your needs, because it’s easier than the devastating loneliness you imagine on the other side? Do you downplay those deep-down voices as silly daydreams, rather than the gut instinct you were never taught to trust?

Do you listen to the people who say you’re too demanding? Your expectations are too high? You’re a traitor to the cause if you expect compensation commensurate with your worth? Do you trust the partner who tries to keep you still by telling you you’ll never do better? Do you believe the lies they tell you, because it’s easier than challenging all you’ve ever known from the world, even though there’s a bluebird in your heart that sings sometimes, that knows better?

Do you stay in undesirable situations – work, play, love, home – out of fear of being viewed as flighty? Unreliable? Unstable? Do you place the value of outside perspective higher than that of your own intuition? Or do you run, instead of staying in those situations and doing the work to make them right? Is it worth the work? Where do you draw the line between standing up for yourself and giving in? When does it turn from mutual compromise, to compromise of self?

Have you decided it’s easier to struggle to make ends meet, instead of having the scary conversation with a boss about a raise? Do people who know you guilt you into getting what they want? And do you let them, because it’s easier than having the fight? Do you let fear get in the way of saying no?

Were you ever taught to lobby on your own behalf? Did you grow up with people acting as your champions, or are you having to learn it on your own? Does it feel like work, and does that sometimes inform how you engage with the world? Does it exhaust and upset you sometimes, feeling like you need a megaphone and a sandwich board sign to announce to the world what you will (and will not) tolerate, what you do (and don’t) deserve? And does that exhausted upset lower your defenses to where you put up with more than you know you should?

At some point in life, did someone instill in you the belief that you should just take what you’re offered, that to ask for anything else is a selfish insult? Did someone teach you that it’s better to let others have what they want, that it’ll always turn out okay in the end? That you have to suffer for your art? Or suffer for truth? Or just… suffer?

How far will you bend over backwards to please other people? Until your back breaks? At the first sign of discomfort? Or somewhere in between?

How far will you go to avoid standing up for yourself? How far, to avoid acknowledging your own value and demanding you be treated accordingly? How long will you let other people tell you who you are, and what you’re worth?

And then I guess my next question is… are you okay with that?

The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.