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.

Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

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.

Errant thought repository post.

It has been entirely too long since I’ve written here (or journaled regularly, for that matter). Initially, I engaged in the age-old self-deprecation for letting the writing go, you know, finding some way to beat myself up for not doing a thing that I claimed to love and need so much. But it crossed my mind, and Noelle TWT confirmed, that maybe I just don’t have as much processing to do these days because I’m HAPPY. And that sounds right to me.

That said, there are still plenty of things rolling around in my head, and those are the thoughts I’m going to leave here for the time being. Maybe expound on them at a later date. I have a separate piece I’m working on where I compare Donald Trump to an ex in an examination of why I experience visceral anxiety and fear at the thought of a Trump presidency, but that warrants its own space, I think.

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time finding ways to relate to people who are different in their belief systems. For instance, I work for a faith-based organization, and the majority of people who work there ascribe to that particular faith, and it’s ever-present in the culture. I am one of the few who don’t. And then, there are people in my life who fall firmly in the right-wing camp; I absolutely don’t. But it is important to me to try and find ways to connect and relate to and understand these folks, and what I’ve realized is that, if you view people as coming from a different culture, it’s a whole lot easier to accept the differences, if not overlook them completely.
  2. At work, I filter out the words that don’t apply, and at the bottom of it all, the gratitude we share is the same. They direct theirs to God; mine just… is. They pray, and I send my good thoughts out into the universe. We are all driven by the same desire to help and be of service; where it comes from, or to where/whom it’s attributed, doesn’t matter.
  3. The political thing is much more difficult, though. I can understand the desire for something different than what we’ve had. I get that people are tired of “career politicians” or “politics as usual.” What I cannot fathom is why anyone would think Donald Trump, in all of his horrible, abusive, misogynistic, bigoted, small-minded glory, would be the best choice. When I hear people say they’re tired of being “PC”, what that tells me is, you’re tired of being held accountable and expected to act right towards other people. When I hear that you like Trump’s plain, unfiltered talk, what that tells me is that you want a champion for your own ugly thoughts and beliefs. Even if you support him because you think he’s going to protect your gun rights, or your money, or something else, the bigger picture is not being taken into account, and it’s a selfish move. “I don’t care how his presidency impacts anyone else but me and my stuff.”
  4. And that leads me to something else… people in this country sure do seem to care more about a song, or a flag, or an idea, or their STUFF (guns, property, institutions, etc.) than they do other human beings. Why is that? Why is it more important for a business to have the right to refuse service to someone than it is to protect the rights of ALL people to be treated equally? Why is it more important for one provider to have the right to refuse mental health treatment to multiple patients based on his/her lifestyle or sexual preference? Why isn’t the greater good more important to more people?
  5. Government doesn’t always get it right, but it certainly does force us humans to act right. If there weren’t laws in place requiring equal treatment under the law, I guarantee – very sadly – there would be a whole lot more overt racism, bigotry, and divisive practices happening than already are.
  6. And then… why is it so hard for people to grasp the concept of Black Lives Matter? Why do people default to thinking in absolutes, where if you say “Black Lives Matter,” you must mean that no one else’s does? Why does it mean, when you want to hold the police accountable, that suddenly you hate ALL police? Why does criticism equate to wholesale condemnation? Why are some people so incapable of taking the historical perspective into account, as well as the far-reaching implications, in order to form a more well-rounded opinion? Is it that we’re incapable, or just unwilling? Is it part of the human condition that, when confronted with something ugly in our own society, we’d rather hunker down in denial than rise to the occasion for change?
  7. This morning, I thought more about that “politics as usual” argument that seems to be so prevalent these days. I mean, it comes up every election season, but this year it’s especially loud. There’s a part of me that thinks people are still stinging from having a black president for 8 years so the thought of having a woman in office is too much and they’re disguising their preference for an old white man in the role as a desire for deviation from “career politicians.” But, you know, good luck proving that. Anyway. It occurred to me that it doesn’t have to be this way. At all. None of it. Like, if we are all so tired of our government, of how things are run, of who is allowed in office, of the stalemates and the blocking of progress and the lies and the finger-pointing and the lack of viable candidates… why don’t we change it? Why do we have to keep any of it the way it is? I mean, who says we have to keep the Constitution, or the government, or the statehood, or a democracy, or any of it? Have we forgotten that we have the power to change and do something different? Have we lost our ability to think so much bigger than we have been? Is it a fear of change, or an inability to dream? Why don’t we just nuke it from orbit and start all the way over? (These are rhetorical, BTW.)
  8. On a completely different note… I switched doctors a month ago and, as a result of the blood tests they ran, it turns out that I tested positive for arthritis. I haven’t met with a specialist yet, so I don’t even know what KIND of arthritis, but at least I have an answer for the joint pain and other issues I’ve been having this year.
  9. The arthritis is just one more reason I want to get in better shape, and get back into the swing of healthy eating. I am carrying about 25 extra pounds of fat that I would like to convert to muscle, at the very least, if not get rid of completely. What I’m lacking, though, is the motivation and discipline to do anything about it. And that’s my question: where does motivation come from? How do you acquire discipline? How do you conjure that magic moment of willingness that converts into sustainable action? I have never been able to figure out what motivates me, other than finally feeling like I’ve had enough of a certain thing/situation/etc., and then defiantly moving in another direction. So, when will enough be enough in this case? What will it take to get me to change? If it’s not the current state of discomfort, or the memory of good health past, or the fear of a more painful future… then what? If it’s not the desire to feel pretty on my wedding day, or the preference for a healthy vessel for human life, then what? And how much of this desire to change is based on an actual medical need vs. me just not being okay with the way I look thanks to societal implications of what’s attractive? Am I being harder on myself than I should be – knowing I have a tendency to do just that? And then, how do you sustain the change once you start it? Is it a moral failing or character flaw if you can’t stick with something, or is that just the normal, human way?

Deep thoughts for a Saturday morning. I think maybe it’s time to put on some Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, play with the kittens, and get started on some of this unpacking. In our new house. You know, the one with windows that open, doors that close, and room for all of the love. ❤

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

I think my heart is ready for “My Piece of Land.”

On March 15, 2014, I heard Amanda Shires for the first time.

The day before, I’d made my way from Nashville to Chattanooga for the weekend. I was in the throes of feeling heartsick; on the outside it appeared to be about one thing, but the truth is, it was about everything. It was every failed relationship, every denial and dismissal, every “thanks, but no thanks.” I was also in the throes of growth, although I didn’t know that yet; all I knew was, I hurt.

And it was through that hurt that I first truly connected to Jason Isbell and his album, Southeastern. Every word, every note rang true through the hollows of my tender, aching heart, and it was like I’d finally found an outlet; it was just borne of someone else’s pain. It’d been a long time since I’d felt that connection to an artist of any kind; pretty much since my high school years when it felt like everything was terrible and hard, and the whole world of music seemed to get it. I hadn’t cried to an album since Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

But through my own past of addiction, through my own lifetimes of heartache, through the loss and through redemption – or at least, the hope of it – I connected to Southeastern. I dug through a lot of Isbell’s older stuff, too, like “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Save it for Sunday,” among others, but man. Southeastern really nailed it.

And so, with my sad little heart in tow, I drove to Chattanooga for the weekend to hole up in a hotel room and attend the Isbell show at Track 29 the next night. I was already tender when I showed up, and I was (surprisingly, oddly) surrounded by a lot of rowdy cowboys and cowgirls, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and generally raising hell. I was, in all honesty, baffled. How in the hell do you get that response to Jason’s music? Why wasn’t everyone else showing up solemn and affected like me? I didn’t get it.

And so, the feeling of “apart-ness” grew.

Enter Amanda Shires. I’d never heard her music before that night, but I proceeded to stand there and cry through her entire set. With all of her charm, wit, and sweet engaging way, I was just too wide open to the music to do anything else. “If I” threw me over the edge and I gave up on coming back; I was endeared and busted, all at once. When Jason joined her on stage for a few songs, the hope and promise they represented with their own story of “overcoming” was almost more than I could bear, but it was also exactly what I knew I wanted and needed: hope. I couldn’t make it through all of Jason’s set, though, because by the time I heard the song I wanted to hear most, I was pretty well snotty and destroyed and needed a drink before heading back to my room for the night.

Since then, I’ve had Jason and Amanda on repeat, and have gone to see them perform at the Ryman for the last two years in a row. Their music carried me through some tough and interesting times, to be sure. The interesting (and potentially weird) part is that, over the last few years, I’ve probably had 15-20 dreams about the two of them, and in each dream, we are all friends. The situations change, and some are stranger than others, but in every one, we are connected.

I like to think it’s because their music and their story supported me the way a friend would, through a lot of really challenging moments. I carried their music with me and, as a result, I began to heal. (Of course, I was doing a lot of hard work, too, not to mention experiencing the very worst relationship which, I think, carved out room and willingness to now receive the very best).

So it’s almost as though the timing of Jason’s new album, Something More than Free, perfectly coincided with a shift in my own life and perspective. That album is so different from the previous, and yet so similar to the ones that came before – but better. It threw me for a bit of a loop when I first heard it, but I realized I, too, was ready to move on. Back to the person I was before, but better.

I honestly thought I was at the point where maybe I could just enjoy their music without it being so attached to the feels, because you know what? Life is good. I’ve grown and changed, and between the new job and the perfect fit of a love, it seems like the need to connect by way of some music had moved along.

That is, until I heard a new track from Amanda’s upcoming album. She played this one and another at the Ryman last fall, so I knew what I was in for, but it wasn’t til last night when it finally hit me and all sunk in that this, I think, is the record I’ve been waiting for. It’s the logical conclusion; the bow you wrap around the present. It’s the one where SHE lays it all bare, comes to terms and peace, and without even hearing the whole thing, I just kinda know it’s going to be exactly what I need.

So come September 16th, I’ll add it to the CD player in my car, along with another two of hers and three of Jason Isbell’s intertwined to tell the story, and I’ll likely sniffle my way through the album release in October. And it will be then that I can marvel at just how far I’ve come, all the while in the company of that perfect fit of a love and the friends I’ve never met but couldn’t be more grateful for.