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.

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.

A lesson in empathy.

A reminder: Just because it’s not happening to you or not affecting you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
 
If you are a straight person, talk to someone (or a lot of someones) from the LGBTQ community about what it’s like to have people deny you services, have your government deny you rights, and have people view you as evil, vile, unworthy, or sub-human, all because of who you love. Ask them what it felt like to be granted the right to marry, only to be faced with the very real prospect of having that taken away.
 
If you are an able-bodied person, talk to someone with chronic health issues or a disability of some kind… aka “pre-existing conditions.” Ask them what it’s like to be denied healthcare, to be excluded from consideration for basic necessities all because of how their body works. Ask them, too, what it’s been like to finally have access to healthcare, and what’s going to happen if/when the ACA is repealed and how that’s going to impact them financially, physically, and emotionally.
 
If you are a white person, talk to a person of color about what it’s like to grow up in a country that killed and worked to suppress the native population out of the belief they were all “savages.” A country that was built on the beaten backs of black people believed to be and treated as sub-human. Ask them what it’s like to be denied services, jobs, or healthcare, all because of the color of their skin. Ask them what it’s like to see hate in the eyes of other people to whom they have done nothing but ask for equality. Ask them what it’s like to grow up afraid, what it’s like to just want to be seen and treated as completely equal, only to be met with resistance because so many people can’t seem to believe or accept that there is a real problem and, by doing so, continue to perpetuate it.
 
Ask a woman what it’s like to have her healthcare dictated by the government. Ask her what it’s like to not be able to make her own medical decisions without her morality being called into question by people who aren’t impacted by the situation and won’t have to live with the outcome. Ask a woman what it’s like to be treated like property instead of like a human being, to be denied rights because of her gender and the assumption that she is somehow less competent or capable. Ask a woman who has been raped what it’s like to be told she should carry that baby to term. Ask a woman raising children on her own what it’s like to be viewed as a drain on the system, regardless of her circumstance, because of the assumptions made when she applies for SNAP. Ask a woman who works what it’s like to be passed up for promotions or paid less money because of the body she was born into.
 
If you have a good-paying job, talk to someone who works two or three minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet (and doesn’t have healthcare provided by any of them). And then ask them what it’s like to be told, “You’re just not working hard enough.” Ask a person who relies on social services to put food on the table what it’s like to live with the shame of not being a good provider, because in our country if you don’t succeed, it’s your fault. Ask a person who grew up unable to afford a quality education what it’s like to be faced with the rest of the country’s denial that their experience was at all different or that it impeded their ability to succeed, that the playing field wasn’t level from the start.
 
If you’re a Christian, ask a person of any other faith – but particularly Muslim – what it’s like to live in a country where its leaders encourage blind hatred and racist rhetoric against you. Ask them what it’s like to walk down the street and be called names, to be viewed suspiciously all because of what God you believe in, or the color of your skin, or the clothes you wear, even though this country is supposed to encourage religious freedom (for ALL, not some).
 
TL;DR If you don’t believe something is a problem, even after talking to people who tell you it is, maybe ask yourself why that is. Ask yourself how you would feel to experience something, only to be faced with an entire nation who doesn’t believe you.
 
And if you DO believe it’s a problem but don’t care because it’s not affecting you… well, your heart ain’t a place I want to be.

A devil in wolf’s clothing.

Once upon a time, I dated a liar.

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

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

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

About everything.

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

I think they call that “gas-lighting.”

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

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

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

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

And yet, I stayed.

FOR A YEAR.

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

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

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

And why else am I bringing this up?

Donald Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerously so.

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

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

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. ❤

Giving Sunday Thanks.

In lieu of the ThxFriday I missed this past week, and in acknowledgement that I’ll probably keep missing those “deadlines” without Facebook forcing me to find the good because otherwise the site might suck my will to live… I find myself feeling especially grateful at the moment and figured I’d take the time to write about it.

First, I’m grateful for a month off from school. I’m about a week into the month off, and it’s just now sinking in how GLORIOUS it is to have a Sunday with nothing pressing and nothing due. I mean, sure, I have a pile of work to tend to at the office tomorrow, but that’s tomorrow. Having no homework means I can take the day easily, and so I have: C and I had breakfast with his kids before he set out on the journey to get them home; I went to two grocery stores; I’m on the second load of laundry; I’m done cooking food for the week; put away the inflatable mattress we had out for Friday night; and now I’ve got a few hours to relax before heading over to my mom’s house to make dinner for her. I might take a nap; it sounds pretty fantastic. But none of this felt like work, or like it was panic-driven in order to get ALL THE THINGS DONE BEFORE MONDAY. What a gift.

Last weekend was the Maypole party, and I got to take C with me to meet some more of the gang. So good to see familiar and friendly faces, as well as be reminded of times (and friendships) past. We had the best time. For the last four years, that party has signaled the season of emerging from winter cocoons, spending more time outside, friendly gatherings with lots of food and drink, and just an overall sense of optimism and happy. Celebrating the love of two friends and their anniversary, seeing people you haven’t seen in a while, enjoying the weather (whatever it may be)… it was good.

As for C… I don’t even know where to start, but I do know that not a day goes by where I don’t marvel at what a perfect fit we seem to be. He pays attention, and he knows when something is off. He’s not afraid to ask, either. Or listen. Or talk through things that maybe aren’t easy for either one of us. And, too…he told me yesterday that he loves being able to make coffee for me in the mornings while I journal, loves making the bed and doing the dishes while I’m getting ready for work, because it feels like he’s helping me be the person I want and need to be. And he MEANS it. And he IS helping. These are the things that look and feel like love to me, as much as anything else you could name.

This past Friday night, we were driving back from Chattanooga, late, and the front tire blew out. It had been a long, somewhat stressful and cranky-making drive down there to pick up his kids, so it was past midnight and we were all wiped out when we heard the *POP* and his car indicated loss of pressure in that tire. At that point he was in the far left lane on the interstate, but he very calmly and carefully made his way over to the right shoulder, where he proceeded to change the tire – and was good-natured about it the entire time. Last night, he told me that as soon as he realized what happened, he was about to get upset/angry, but he immediately had the thought that three people he loves most in the world were in the car, and he needed to do everything he could to keep us safe; that calmed him down and allowed him to be – and stay – rational throughout the entire thing.

Thing is? He meant that, too. Bearing in mind how new this all is, of course, it feels like we’re laying a solid, healthy, loving foundation for something pretty fantastic. We had a great time with his kids this weekend, we’re spending most of our time together these days, and there is great friendship there, as much as there is love. There is honesty, truth-telling, vulnerability, and soul-baring, just as there is laughter, silliness, affection, and… well, everything I’ve always wanted, and then some.

I’ve admittedly been struggling in a few areas, like exercise and eating well and all that (mostly because work has me SPENT by the time I leave every day – is it June 6th yet??), but even those feel okay and manageable. It’s amazing how life goes when you spend your days feeling loved and adored. Allowing yourself to see you through the eyes of someone who adores you can open up a world of self-love and acceptance that was otherwise hidden by walls of past experience and conditioning.  You know?

Anyway. The only other thing I have to report is that I’ve been rethinking my career path a little. In the last few months of covering for my supervisor while she’s on maternity leave, I’ve been managing a lot of the IT stuff for our agency. We have a company that provides tech support, but when there are problems or new users need to be set up, I’ve been the initial point of contact… and I like that. A lot. It hearkens back to my time as 1st level tech support for the housing agency, as well as the few jobs I’ve had in IT departments for architectural firms and others. So I’m wondering if there’s a way to combine my obsession with mental health and my interest in information technology, security, and systems into one big awesome job… more to come on that.

Life is good. I’m trying to remember to be grateful for it – all of it – as often as I can.

More on (moron?) triggers.

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

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

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

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

Like that.

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about blossoming.

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

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

It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.