I’ve written before about how anxiety is a jerk and a liar. Depression is a liar. And the problem with those VERY REAL mental health disorders is that, often, it can be impossible to step far enough outside the experiencing of those issues to identify that’s what is happening, and that what those things are telling you isn’t true or real.
- This past weekend, I flew to Rochester to spend a few days with my sweetheart while he’s on the road. When I got to the airport, I went to the ticketing desk to check my suitcase, and was in line behind a couple who were chatting with the ticketing/bag check agent. The agent was lively, engaging with both of them, laughing, etc., and a small part of me was happy about that because I always enjoy interacting with people who are obviously having a good time doing their job, or at least are friendly, because it makes the whole stressful travel thing a lot easier to navigate. But when I got up to the counter, it was like his face went dead, and he could barely be bothered to speak. It was noticeable, and it was weird, and a little disappointing because my first inclination was to wonder if I’d done or said something wrong. He was decidedly NOT friendly, but still efficient and effective at his job, and I was on my way. He wound up working the ticket desk for my flight and was, again, cold and borderline snarky.
So, a few things. One, I noticed my immediate shift to wondering if I’d done something wrong or if there were something wrong with ME, to cause this guy to go from super friendly gregarious desk agent, to stone-faced perfunctory person, in the span of 30 seconds. And THAT is something I need to work on fixing, but I guess it’s so deeply ingrained, to assume there’s something wrong with me first before looking externally… it’s going to take some time, and some intentional observation and processing.
Two, once I got out of my brain long enough to stop assuming it was my fault, I started questioning what it might have been instead. I mean, I guess he could have known those folks he was talking to, but I don’t think so. Which lead me to wonder… in the past, especially 5-10 years ago, I’d had years of being told I was attractive and that I was INTIMIDATING to men. I guess I was told that so I’d dumb it down enough to make men feel more comfortable being around a pretty woman. Being pretty AND smart is too scary? Anyway. I got used to being treated a certain way because of my looks.
So… was this guy being an asshole because he found me attractive and that put him on the defensive and he didn’t want to give even the slightest hint of his own feelings so he went straight into asshole mode? Or was it the opposite? Where I am no longer considered attractive, and so he decided upon first glance that I wasn’t worth him putting forth any effort in the personality department?
Or… did it have absolutely nothing to do with me? I mean, I guess that’s always an option. 🙂
- What do you do when someone you are close to is in complete, utter, damaging denial? I mean the type of denial that is affecting other people who may or may not be able to discern what’s real and what’s reasonable from what’s happening as a result of this person’s determined and willful ignorance? At what point do you stop trying to shed light or change minds, and instead step back and let the havoc be wrought? At what point do you concede defeat on trying to introduce facts into an emotionally-driven situation?
When people I care about are going through tough situations, I am immediately inspired to get invested, involved, and try to “fix” things and solve issues, because I don’t really know how to not do that. I don’t know how to sit back and observe and provide feedback without having some emotional involvement, taking it on as my responsibility as a person who cares to DO something about it. And when there is pain being caused by the problematic people/beliefs/etc., I don’t really know how to just sit still and let the experience belong to the other folks.
But then I think back on the last “relationship” I had before meeting my husband. The person who lied, manipulated, cheated, and was (is) just overall a horrible excuse for a human being, as confirmed by some of the other women he’d damaged along the way. I had something to learn there, and I certainly learned it, but I also had to be in my own little state of denial in order to stick around long enough to get the lesson. Some of my friends determinedly stood by me, while still being honest and forthcoming about their opinions about that dude, and I am eternally grateful for that. For their honesty, because that is brave to me and shows they aren’t the types to go along to get along, and also for their willingness to stand by me and give me room to screw up. Maybe because they had the faith that I would eventually figure it out, and maybe also because his behavior wasn’t affecting them directly, I don’t know.
Whatever the case, they were able to support me and be invested in me that way without trying to actively fix or change anything; instead, they let me be the one who did the work. As it should be. So I guess, ultimately, I need (and want) to learn how to show up, be honest, and be present, without feeling like I need to change or manage anything for other people. That’s hard. When people I love are in pain, I want to FIX it and STOP it, but unless I’m the one causing the harm, there’s nothing I can do to change it or stop it.
And that all comes back to the way I’ve learned to sit in my own discomfort, instead of trying to wish it away or drink it away or eat it away or just ignore it or shove it down. Feelings are fleeting, and they can’t kill you, but they can sure as hell distort your perception of reality and drive you to act out in response. Learning to sit with feelings, acknowledge them, honor where they’re coming from, and then let them pass… that’s key. And it doesn’t have to just be my own struggles; I can learn to sit with the pain of others and just be present with it without trying to change it so that I’LL feel better.
A lot of years ago, I went to the MN State Fair with one of my best friends. As we made our way in, we passed a restaurant/diner-type place where, when certain songs came on, all the staff had to stop what they were doing and sing/dance/act it out. I almost started bawling right then and there, but managed to keep it together (thankfully) and we went on our way.
This video made me cry the first 3 times I watched it. Every time after that (because I’ve watched it closer to 20 times since) my heart got full to bursting with… something. So I figure it might be time to dig into it a little, since my reaction to the video and to the diner dancers isn’t uncommon for me at all.
Best guess? Uninhibited, unmitigated, communal JOY. (I mean, JUST LOOK AT CARMELO, the solo dancer. ❤ )
Do you ever have days (or weeks or months or years) where you feel completely at odds with your own body? Or your own brain? Maybe both at the same time which is always a joy and a pleasure?
I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I can know – with every fiber of my being – that certain foods make me feel terrible… and yet, as soon as it crosses my mind that I want one of those foods, it’s like I’m powerless to resist and all that sense flies out the window. Cheez-Its, mac & cheese, cookies, pizza (this is the hardest one to admit and accept), popcorn, anything with sugar in it, anything made of bread… you get the idea. The ONLY time I feel good physically (and mentally) is when I eat lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and the occasional dairy or brown rice. Everything else gives me heartburn, gas, indigestion, foggy brain, lethargy, body aches, weight gain & bloating… it sucks. A lot. If I eat too much sugar or too much salt, my heart pounds out of my chest and my brain goes on overdrive.
And yet, KNOWING this does little to prevent me from shoving any and all of it directly in my pie hole, when given the opportunity. Why is that?Read More »
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. Brené 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.Read More »
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?
“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 Brené Brown) that reminded her of me. If you know me, then you know I love me some Brené 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.)
Brené 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 Brené 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. ❤
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.
An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.
I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.
Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.
There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.
So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.
When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.
And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”
I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin
Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.
I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.
Talk about blossoming.
Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3) stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.
It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.
It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.
I’ve had it in my head for a while that I wanted to write a piece here equating the various types of terrible relationships/dates/partners to natural disasters.
You know, like how someone who lies can be like an earthquake: you never quite trust that you’re standing on solid ground because you can’t trust what’s coming out of their mouths. And the aftershocks continue in much the same way the effects of lies are long felt after the original lie is told. Some lies, when discovered, shake you to your very core, and the recovery from that can take months, if not years.
How someone who manipulates and gaslights, making you think you’re crazy or wrong when they’re the ones wreaking havoc, can be like a tornado: tearing through your life like it’s a charming old town, leveling structures you thought would always be standing, leaving you in the wreckage of their behavior wondering what the hell just happened and whether it was somehow, maybe, your fault for being so naive.
How the person who cheats might be like a never-ending blizzard: freezing you out but holding you captive with the hope that things might change or get better, or maybe it’s just a little snowstorm that isn’t nearly as bad as it seems or was predicted or looks on the weather maps because what do they know anyway.
Or how a person who withholds affection is like a famine. Or someone who tries to take over your life is like a flood.
You get the idea.
But after a few months of sitting with those analogies, I just never felt compelled to suss them out any further. I’d like to think that’s because I’ve opted to spend my days and time with more positive mental and emotional pursuits, and that’s probably most of it. I’m much more inclined to celebrate the good in life: the good friends, good relationships, good opportunities, good lessons, and good times.
Which leads me to my current relationship and all of its stability, trust, honesty, happiness, and love. If I am to keep with the prior analogies, it is the calm after every storm. It’s when the sun comes up, the air is clear, and birds begin their bright and clever songs. It’s the happy and the peace you find in quiet moments.
Aside from two notable, long-ago exceptions, nearly everyone I’ve dated has been some kind of natural disaster. I’m not inclined to get into the hows and the whys of it, except to say, a lot of things lent themselves to me following that path. It’s taken a lot of hard work, insight, processing, and willingness to finally get to the point where I no longer have any interest – at all – in chasing a storm.
But in having been conditioned to brace against the elements, whatever they may be, I find myself looking around, not quite yet fully trusting that quiet, that sunshine, that love. I am in the company of someone with whom I feel fully comfortable to speak up, to tell the truth and ask questions and be vulnerable. Someone who finds me attractive in all the ways that matter, and who has no reservations in telling and showing me that, at any and every turn. Someone who is self-aware, and willing to dig deep and talk about things and maybe even change his mind, when it’s warranted. Someone who is simply present, with no games or agendas; just a heart as big and tender as my own, with an infinite capacity for joy and love. I’m learning to breathe and trust it (and him), and am fortunate to have met someone who can be patient and understanding around that.
It’s like, after years of having blindly set up camp in the path of one destructive force after another, I’ve packed my shit, moved out, and followed my internal compass in the right direction.
Here’s to that, y’all. Here’s to letting yourself exhale and be loved.