Unraveling Me

I am trying very hard to stay positive.  To remind myself through focus that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I do.  I really, really do.  I

Every once in a while, though, I am reminded of what i don’t have.  I’d like to briefly touch on those here.

I don’t have a deeply ingrained sense of stability and trust.

I don’t have a family that loves me no matter what.

I don’t even have a face that only a mother could love.

The fact is that I grew up with a mother, as i understand her today, incapable of love.  While I am doing pretty well, I do get reminded during some times in my life of what i am missing, not just a mother/birth family, but the knowledge of being deeply lovable.  Lots of people have lost their mothers for many different reasons.  But the knowledge that I was (for a a while) deeply known by my mother and still not loved has produced damage and scars in me that I now think won’t be going away anytime soon.  I can mask them, cover them up, talk about them, try to be understood, but I am fundamentally different in that way than almost anybody I’ve ever known.

And that’s ok.  I know now that it doesn’t define me.  That it doesn’t actually make me less lovable that my next door neighbor, or the guy down the street.    In fact, I have people who seemingly love my deeply now.  But yet, I’m always watchful and always scared.  And because of that, I sometimes scare people away, at least I think I do.  Because I grew up watching my every word, every action, I also grew up not trusting in my own self.  Not knowing that it’s ok to make mistakes, to not be perfect, to not be the best dressed or richest or best looking.  And THANK GOD! because I am none of that.  I just always believed that I needed to be to earn love.

But saying all of those things doesn’t change the fact that I have a flaw – an intrinsic blemish or weakness that others mostly don’t have.  I find the world to be a very scary and unpredictable place.  I don’t feel safe even when I am.  I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  The rug to be pulled out from underneath me.  And when it is, it still hurts.

I think this is why I love Augusten Burroughs so much.  I get him.  I listen to his audio books, and I feel like I am listening to myself, except I’m not as funny.  Or maybe I am, but I have, instead of relying on my humor, decided to squelch my humor because I have felt like I am in a life or death situation all the time.  How’s that for clarifying the intensity of who I am?  I can’t relax!  I’m terrified to relax.  I’ve got to hold on for dear life.

And then there’s the doubt.  The doubt that I am wrong, that I am just mentally deranged or worse.  After all, my entire birth family feels the same way about me.  Why?

Well, that’s a whole different post.  I’ve even heard lists read to me about what precisely it is that they don’t like about me.  Oh, I know.  But I disagree with them that they dislike me for who I am.  It is FINALLY crystal clear to me that they dislike me for who they are.  And how they interpret me is an exact representation of themselves, and, yeah, it’s ugly.  But it isn’t me.

Maybe as a teenager I had some anger?  I don’t remember anger.  I remember sadness.  Profound sadness.  But today, my teenager told me that she hates our family and that I don’t understand her.  She is filled with rage – actually is seeking counseling for it.  So, because I know that I at least partially do understand her, this makes me doubt a lot of things about my life and my beliefs about my life.  So, I might start investigating whether or not I’m right about my life.  Have I deserved a bit of what I’ve gotten?  Was I actually a bit on the unlovable side?  Was I angry?  Was I verbally abusive?  Accusatory?  What was I?  I don’t think I need to go back to my childhood for that.  I am going to just relive the past few years.  So, these next posts might be a bit ugly in content.  But I am trying to therapeutically prove to myself that I’m not insane.  That my situation has actually been quite sad and emotionally abusive.  And I’d like to give myself permission to heal from that abuse in a very real way.  In order to do that, I have to stop pretending that it wasn’t there and stop doubting myself.

No matter who I was in the past, I am who I am today in the present, and I am good.  I have flaws, but I am good.  And the primary negative distinguishing feature of my adult self is my inability to trust that I am lovable, my skepticism aobut love, my fear of being wrong.

I’m ready to be done with that.

JOY!

Joy is a funny thing.  The definition of it is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”  That doesn’t seem right to me, so I’d like to redefine that as the following:

Joy is gratitude.

Joy is refusing to worry.

Joy is dealing with today for what it is.

Joy is accepting yourself and being kind to yourself, rather than waiting for others to do it.

Joy is looking up and around, rather than looking down – beauty is everywhere, sometimes where you least expect it.

Joy is seeing the beauty in yourself and others.

Joy is trusting in God’s path for you.

Joy is relishing the small things.

Joy is selflessness.

Joy is nature.

Joy is GOD.

I feel more joy than I ever thought that I did.  I always thought that I was a sad person.  But what I didn’t realize is that it isn’t a toggle.  It isn’t a single answer.  It is rather a multiple choice.  So, in short, I was a sad person.  I have experienced a lot of sadness.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t also experience joy.

I know what has caused my sadness – in a nutshell, it’s been loneliness, lack of connection.  What I stumbled upon somewhere along the way is that I really love being with myself.  I have had quite a bit of dis-connection and interpersonal loss.  But I am consistently there through all of it.

I just returned from a somewhat painful family reunion.  My relationships with my family have never really been great.  From the outside, we looked fairly normal, but on the inside was a mess of chaotic, jarring loneliness and fear.  Have you ever noticed how fear makes people act?  It usually isn’t very pretty.  For whatever reason, my family was filled with fear – I’m not even sure if any of us would have recognized it as fear, but there was fear.  And the reaction to fear is typically self-protection.  Self-protection often turns toward other-attacking.  And that perfectly describes my family.  God does love them all and God will ease their fear, but in the meantime, it is best to keep my distance from them.   Protect myself from the (in-?)advertent line of fire resulting from their reactions to fear.

So, now that I am not in constant defensive model, I am choosing to re-train myself to live with that feeling of fear, knowing that I am still safe.  And knowing that I can simultaneously feel joy.  And even simultaneously feel sad!  And even simultaneously feel whatever else I am feeling!  Feelings aren’t clean – they are nuanced and complex, just like we are.  And acceptance of them all is the key.

So, of course I feel fear – fear that I am making bad decisions, or not loving well enough or making critical errors that will affect others.  I can also know that I am protected.  God is protecting me.  The people that love me are protecting me.  I am protecting myself.  And part of protecting myself is actually in allowing myself to experience my God-given joy.

So, let me add a few more:

Joy + Sadness + Anger + Fear + … = LIFE!

Joy is freedom to feel.

Circling back around, maybe joy IS a feeling of great pleasure and happiness – it’s just that that feeling does not need to exist in a vacuum for it to be called joy.

Joy surrounds us.

Joy is integrated into our being.

Look for it and you will find it.  It is ours to accept.

Never Quit on the Uphill

My last post was about gratitude.  Tonight I’m feeling a lot of gratitude.  For so many things.  That post turned that loss of a friendship around for me.  I had been bombarded with kind of a lot of stuff the past month or so, and showing gratitude in the face felt refreshing and freeing.

Tonight I want to explain what the title of my blog means to me.

Never quit on the uphill.

Life can be hard.  Life can be awesome.  Life is so many, many things.  But regardless of what it is, it is always, always cyclical.  Meaning you will have good times and then bad times and then good times and then bad times and then……..  It will never end.

Once, when I was teaching myself how to run at the age of 40 (Couch to 5K!) I would get very, very discouraged during the uphills.  During the uphill portions of my run, I would think things like – “I’m not a runner.  I can’t do this.  I’m terrible – why did I ever think I could accomplish this?”  Sound familiar?  But then during the downhills, I would feel AMAZING!  So, as I went out for my morning run, I would remind myself not to quit on the uphills.  Wait for the downhills.  And I would persist through the tough uphill runs and then reap the benefits when the road started to level out.

It quickly occurred to me that that was an awesome metaphor for life.  Because we all have those tough uphill times in our lives.  If we let that dictate the whole of our experiences, we would quit.  We would never keep on trying.  But if you fight through the uphills, the downhills can be amazing.  But if you quit on the uphill portion of life, you a.) don’t get to the downhill as quickly and b.) don’t feel the same exhiliration.  So, let the hard times come.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And you can be assured that the downhill times, when life is good, when the running is easy, will carry you through.

Never quit on the uphill.

Yet, I Am Grateful

It is May 16, 2018.  I am going to spend the next year of my life in radical gratitude.  That doesn’t mean sweeping anything under a rug.  That doesn’t mean sticking my head in the sand,  What it means expressing gratitude through all incoming events, while not minimizing my feelings.

Today I have lost a friendship.  I am sad.   I am afraid.  I am ashamed.  Yet, I am grateful.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be this person’s friend for the time that I had.

I am grateful to have lived through this because it can help me feel empathy for my children when they go through similar life experiences.

I am grateful for the idea to express gratitude.

I am grateful for those around me that are consistently loving and supportive, including God, my fiance, my children, and friends.

I am grateful for my faith.

I am grateful for new friends.  As the old friends leave, I make way for the potential for new, maybe better (?) friends.

I am grateful that I chose to reach out to this friend with one last vulnerable attempt at love.  It was not well-received.  But I am grateful for the bravery to try.

I am grateful for the increased clarity this brings.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest/least and 10 being the highest/most:

Sad ranks at about a 6 on the scale.

Shame ranks at about a 9 on the scale.

Fear ranks at about a 4.

Gratitude, hmmmm……that ranks at about an 8.  🙂

And here we go……I’m excited for this new chapter in my life.

Gratitude During Rough Times

I know that even my rough times are not rough times.

I know that I am overreacting to criticism and insults by those around me.

I know that I want to control not only those doing the insulting, but those around me and their reactions to the insults.  Do they defend me?  Do they abandon me?

But I know that all I can do is accept.

I know that acceptance and gratitude are my only defenses.

I act with as much integrity as I can muster in a given moment.

And likely so do those around me.

That is the hard pill to swallow.  We are all doing our best.

Who am I to judge someone’s actions or reactions?

That is not mine to own.

I own this.  That I am me.  And I am doing my best.

God is trying to talk to me.

I am too stubborn to stop my thinking and listen to him.

Stop.  Listen.

He is always there.  For all of us.  Not just for me.

Stop.  Breathe.  Listen.  Be.

God is speaking.

Being an Adult

I guess I’m finally ready to start really being an adult.  I think that it’s taken me so very long because I have been terrified of becoming like other adults I’ve had in my life.  Being an adult to me was just stoicism and stonewalling.  As a result, I have been reticent to stay quiet for any reason whatsoever.  Talking through difficulties and problems became my method of coping.  And I still very much believe in working through difficulties and problems – when the people that you are trying to talk to are reasonable and reasonably mature.

However, because I have had such a hard and fast rule about not going silent, I have ended up with no boundaries.  Historically, if somebody engages with me, then I engage with them.  I would not go silent under any circumstances.  Even if they came at me with pointless cruelty.  It would have been far more mature for me to cut these people out of my life at different points in time.  The difficulty is that these people that I truly should have released from relationship were those that are often the most difficult to release: my mother, my sisters and my husband.  I could name multiple reasons for thinking that that would have been the appropriate thing to do.  But it wasn’t ever that simple.  And I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t trying hard enough to make the relationships work.

So, boundaries.  I am reasonably sure that setting boundaries would have naturally cut these people out of my life years ago.  And that scared me.  I didn’t want people falling away.  I wanted good relationships with everyone.  I wanted to try harder, do more, convince them of my goodness, make them like me.  But the more I tried to do that, the more they looked down on me, felt superior to me.  I was giving them the power to treat me poorly.  I trained them that that was ok.  So, I’m retraining them now.

My new mental image involves fences.  I have a fence, which I have never had before.  Most people are allowed to come up to the fence and my goal is to shine my light across my fence and out into the world.  A very, very few trusted friends get to come into the fence.  I also wait to be invited into other’s personal territories.  Allowing one another inside the fenced area is sacred.  Or it should be.  I was allowing anyone in and letting them shit in my yard and even come inside my house and hurt my children.  I would shoo them out but then turn around and allow them in yet again for another chance.  And again, they would shit in my yard and hurt my children.  And the cycle repeated endlessly, with me looking crazier and crazier and crazier chasing them out with my broom and my shotgun.

The truth is then that I have not been abandoned by my family.  I have been mistreated by my family.  And now I have chosen to close the fence and keep them out.  And that is the adult thing to do.  It is the disciplined, non-fanciful way of living.  I am accepting the reality of my situation and I am living within that reality.  I was so scared of losing people to my boundaries that it never occurred to me that I should have been more afraid of keeping them locked inside my fence while they were damaging me and my children.

It’s time to turn the light on.  It’s time to be an adult.  I have a lot of adult-ing to do.  I have precious children that deserve the best that I can be.

So, a few key points that come to mind:

  1. Boundaries are not cruel. They are important.  I will establish them fearlessly and let people drop out of my life as they will.
  2. Self-Discipline (the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it) is not boring, it is stabilizing and reassuring. I will exercise self-discipline proudly.
  3. Evangelism and Being a Good Samaritan – I will keep most people outside the fence, but that won’t stop me from shining my light over the fence onto everyone.
  4. I am not a victim. I am choosing my path.
  5. I do not need to explain myself.  Even if I am not 100% certain of my decisions, it’s ok to proceed fearlessly with my head held high.
  6. Practice faith, instead of fear.  Trust that all will work out as long as I act with integrity and let my light shine.

I am very grateful for where I am in my life.  I don’t have as much as some, but I have far more than others.  I thank God for what I do have and I truly pray that I can be a gift to those around me.

On the Verge

I am on the verge of discovering something new, something big.  I feel like I have been working on a big, giant project for the past four decades and now it’s about to start to resemble something.  The studied areas are forgiveness of myself and others, acceptance of myself and others, emotion synthesis, drinking (i.e., running away from emotions and thoughts), creativity, and the list goes on.  It feels like a sneeze with a REALLY long buildup.  And I’m anxious and consuming gobs of information because the synthesis seems tangible and right around the corner.  The sneeze is coming…..and I can’t wait.

Or is it a sneeze?  Is it going to be a slow trickle?  Hasn’t it already been a slow trickle?  I am oozing out growth and I am growing mentally weary by it, even as I watch it happening.  Not that I don’t want growth, I do!  But I also want to be at peace.  To read fiction novels.  To sit outside and look at the stars.  To stop thinking and figuring out everything.

Sometimes I envy those people that just move through their lives unencumbered.  They react when they want to, they eat when they want to, drink when they want to.  If they get upset, they yell, if they want to sleep in, they sleep in.  My fantasy person doesn’t have to worry about weight, sleep, bills, disciplining kids.  Not that they don’t have to worry about these things, but everything just comes naturally to them.  They don’t second guess themselves.  I have made a career out of second guessing.  Consuming information.  Questing after the improvements.  And it seems like it’s finally happening through a combination of the following events:

  1. Ages 10-20: Felt sadness.  Felt fear.  Loved my stuffed animals unreasonably a lot.  Felt sorry for inanimate objects.  Lived with a chronic, painful and quite debilitating fear of dogs – all dogs.  Defended my mother vehemently to people that insulted her.  Struggled with my identity.  Played tennis.  As a late teenager, yelled at a man working in a gas station when he asked me to leave my ID in lieu of actual payment after I pumped the gas.  I yelled and, in the time it took to get to my apartment and back, my remorse was so immense that I promptly and painfully apologized.  Vowed to myself to not be that person.  Bought How to Win Friends and Influence People.  And the growth began.
  2. Ages 21-30: I learned how to apologize more easily.  Admitted mistakes.  Became (too?) vulnerable.  Learned to laugh at myself.  I got married.  Listened obsessively to Dr. Laura.  Thought of joining the Peace Corps, but didn’t.  Earned three degrees.  Bought a house.  Sold a house.  Moved to a small town.  Wrote a children’s book and then dropped it when an editor’s notes came back with criticism (Whaaaaaaat?).  Conquered (!) my fear of dogs.  Converted to Catholicism.
  3. Ages 31-40: Bought a house.  Sold a house.  Became a stay-at-home mom.  Had my first child.  Loved her dearly and obsessively and therefore spoiled her.  Felt sadness and confusion. Had my second child.  Struggled to parent with limits.  Watched my marriage spiral downwards.  Had my third child.  Became a broadcast meteorologist for a brief time. Felt a boost in self-esteem.  Formed some amazing lifelong friendships.  Lost a friendship.  Held my head high while I apologized and earned that friend back.  Grew emotionally.  Struggled emotionally.  Realized I don’t smile very much.  Realized I wasn’t happily married.  Cried a lot.  Laughed a lot.  Got counseling.  Formed groups.  Sought connections.  Found some.  Lost some.
  4. Ages 41-Now: Moved across the country.  Lived in parents’ basement for a few months.  Got divorced.  Bought a house.  Started teaching at church.  Met another man who is nothing like my ex-husband.  Started to drink too much.  Worried a LOT about drinking.  Struggled in my new relationship but fought through it.  Informally became part-time caretaker of my niece.  Loved her.  Loved my kids.  Took a lot of road trips.  Tried to connect with family.  Failed to connect with family.  Realized the toll it was taking on my kids and stopped trying to connect with family.  Lived on my own with my kids.  Got engaged.  Stopped drinking too much. Began writing morning pages.

And here we are.   So, over the past few days, I have felt the insatiable need to eat.  Not drink now, but eat.  Yes, that can be the result of stopping drinking – a continuation of the avoidance.  But right now it feels like it’s because I have this new life to live and I’m not letting myself live it.  I want to take all that I’ve done through the years and explore it – my need to do this is insatiable.  Today I even had the fleeting thought that life just isn’t worth living.  And I don’t mean that in the doom-and-gloom-I-want-to-kill-myself way.  Not at all.  I mean that in ways I’ve wondered for years, but I was hit with it today as I struggled to help my sad daughter and find meaning at work.  I love my work, but it isn’t particularly meaningful in its own right.

So, I’m writing.  I’m wanting to synthesize.  I am going to keep expanding on this and working this through to see where I’m being led.  Where am I going?  So, if you’re reading this, I feel compelled to apologize – this is all very self-focused crap that is meant to lead me to bigger and better things!  But I think it’s working.