halfway there, we break for lunch

Or a snack. And maybe it’s not quite halfway. Whatever. Metaphorically we are dangling from the wall, and it’s time to introduce a new element.

Months ago, before the waves of sad came washing back up, before it was clear to me how much more pain I had to attend to, an old friend came back into my life. That’s such an easy way to put it, so simple and innocuous: an old friend. An old friend who happened to pop up after ten years of silence, just as my world was falling down. Just an old friend. Just like that. And oh, how that complicated things, but not in the way I expected. It never happens the way I expect.

I’m not quite sure where to start. This seems to be my second wave; mourning the loss of something I never actually had. It’s tricky. But the story? It’s romantic, and lovely, and heartbreaking, and still developing in its own strange little way. And if I want to move forward it’s something I have to get out.

climbing the wall (part 3)

It’s so easy to blame our parents. Yet, here I am…

Not really.

I have a hard time starting this discussion, every time, because I feel like I’m throwing someone under the bus. So let’s have someone else start. Take that quote from the last post, the final line: “You are a delight to be with, having taken in the first love of your parents and now being able to live it yourself.”

My parents have always loved me deep and fierce. This is absolutely true, and I have never doubted it. But there was a third party that complicated things: Mom’s Mental Illness (I’ll call her MMI). She’d appear suddenly, often when I was confiding in Mom. I would open myself up, and when I was most vulnerable she was suddenly there, blazingly disappointed at something I said. I never knew when she’d show up (and I didn’t know for a long time that she was different from Mom – none of us did). I only knew that many of the things I said made me bad,   unworthy of love.

For protection, I closed off, and I began trying to earn the love I wanted. If I did better, if I were the best, maybe I wouldn’t upset her anymore. I could make her love me. All I had to do was to find out exactly what she wanted me to be, and be that. Simple, right?

Perhaps, but certainly a losing battle. One I kept up for a damn long time: with my family, with my teachers, with my lovers. Changing yourself to suit your audience is a great way to get people to like you, for a while, but it’s not a great way to cultivate joy.

Going back to the article: “This child, then, had not learnt to know himself as he was, and know that he was loved as he was. He had not developed the kind of narcissism that allowed him to feel comfortable in his own skin, at ease with himself.”

If you haven’t been conditioned to trust, haven’t had that initial unconditional love,  you can’t rely on anyone for anything. And while my parents both loved me, and still do (and again, I love them with my whole heart), MMI threw a big fucking wrench in those works. I couldn’t count on her the way a child needs to count on her caretakers. She was unpredictable, and I learned to mold myself to her whims so I could avoid her rages and judgment. I learned that I wasn’t worthy of her affection or care.

I was such a serious child that we always joked that I was born twenty-six. It pleased me at the time. Older meant wiser and better; it meant I was improving and she’d love me soon. Now it makes me sad, to know I rushed through years trying to become worthy, and to know how I kept my guard up for so long that I don’t really know how to lower it.

Now? I will drop everything for the people I care about (and the occasional stranger), but it takes huge stakes for me to ask for help of any kind. Kindness from my friends embarrasses me, because I don’t feel like I have earned it. Love means having to become someone other than myself.

I’d like to be able to trust people, and trust myself to be with people. I’d like to let myself be vulnerable without feeling weak. I’d like to just be me, and know that somebody loves me for that and nothing more. But I gravitate toward people who make me prove it, who want something more than I am. It’s a sick little comfort zone, really; I know it’s unhealthy, but that pattern feels like home. I know it. People who just like me, who are sweet and kind and tender, they scare me. The second I let my guard down, the rage will come, I just know it.

Much better to change yourself up front than let your open heart get whalloped.

ha

Make friends, not points. There is no weakness in vulnerability and nothing compromising about being patient. Your relationships are delicate, ever changing things, and they deserve the mindfulness that can only be gained by a collaborative attitude and kind approach. Say what you want heard; don’t air all your dirty laundry.

My horoscope for the week. Perfect timing, in a way, what with all the desire to dig into the nitty gritty. Maybe I’ll work that out for myself, then. Patience; having lots to say and not wanting to wait for the right words.

It’s a good question, though: what do I want heard?

I’m tired of being the strong one.
I want to take off the brave face.
This hurts.
I’m not sure I’ll ever know how to love without losing myself.
That scares me.
I don’t trust myself.
I don’t trust other people.
I hate feeling vulnerable.
Feeling vulnerable is all I do lately.

Recently I came across this article on narcissism, and I’ll be damned if a ton of it didn’t cut right through me and my issues. This is pretty much exactly where I am lately: “What good self-love achieves, Aristotle continued, is the capacity to get over yourself. Then you are liberated to see that there’s a world around you. You are not king or queen. Instead, you know you are one of many, and those many are there to love and be with, to be known by and to get to know. You have time for others because you do not need to have all the time for yourself. You are a delight to be with, having taken in the first love of your parents and now being able to live it yourself.”

More on that last sentence later, once I’ve gotten over myself enough to not want to write about it all with more dignity than pain (ahem). That’s the reminder I needed, I think; I was thisclose to writing for revenge. That’s not the point here. And there are better ways to achieve revenge than a quasi-anonymous blog, anyway.

Plod along.

climbing the wall (part 2)

So, what led to the bus? Two things: 1. Loss of identity. 2. Emotional damage.

Each of these things by itself leads to a pretty significant tangent, so let’s start with the easy one.

I have a really hard time calling anything that has happened to me abuse. I do not feel like an abused person. I have (sadly) known people who have been abused, and I do not think for an instant that anything in my life comes remotely close to their experiences; my small difficulties are not on the same planet as true pain and suffering.

Yes, I know better than this. You don’t order oppressions; you don’t pit victims against one another to determine who is worse off. Still, I cannot seem to afford myself the kindness of saying yes, there are things in my life that that caused me pain, yes, I’m still reeling, and no, that does not make me weak, or demanding, or ungrateful. That makes me human.

Instead of abuse, I call the cause of my wounds trauma, mostly. For me, the difference is intention. Abuse is deliberate; an abuser wants to hurt, goes out of their way to do damage. Trauma is passive, careless. The wounds are real, but they are accidental. Nobody meant any harm. While that is a much kinder (and in my case, more realistic) view, the lack of intention makes it difficult for me to understand and make peace with my own history. If nobody meant to hurt me, how can I claim the damage and its effects? If I do own my feelings, how do I do that without throwing somebody else under the bus? Where do all these questions intersect?

They intersect in the pit of my stomach.

So, trauma. I’m in the process of unraveling two interactions that have shaped my life, that guide how I interact with other humans. I was born into the first: my mother lived with an undiagnosed mental illness (a form of PTSD brought on by real abuse) until I was a teenager. This left her unpredictable; she couldn’t provide the unconditional love and care that infants need. Her intention was all good, but she had to heal herself before she could care for anyone else, and you can’t heal yourself if you don’t know that you need it. My mother is among my best friends; I love her, and I know she did the best she could, and I struggle so much with the huge impact this whole situation had on my ability to form bonds and have relationships.

The second trauma was dealt by my ex, and that is the one that I’m learning to call abuse, not because I think he meant to damage me, but because that’s the common term. Though, honestly, in the moment yes, I think he did mean to damage me. You don’t say the things he did unless you want to hurt someone, deeply. So yes, it was abuse. And yes, I hate calling it that because I know how very easy I had it; I don’t feel like I have a right to those words, but maybe that’s part of the legacy of abuse. Super healthy, that.

They’re deeply connected, and they’re slowly coaxing each other out of me. As I remember things from my marriage, bad moments I’d tamped down so as to keep the peace, I also remember moments from my youth, nothing little moments that managed to cut me all the way to the core. Ultimately I’ll figure it out, but it will take time. And the courage to speak. We’ll see.

I went into the woods again this weekend, just me. It was beautiful; I always forget how much I like being alone outside, how it’s going back into the city that brings on feelings of loneliness. I walked for three hours and then I got the river all to myself before walking back.

climbing the wall (part 1)

(As much as I’d like to get all this down in one post, it’s too much. Instead I’ll break it up into more digestible/writable pieces. Yeah.)

A year ago I caught myself stepping out into traffic and subsequently returned to therapy. I’d been unhappy for a while, and sure, my mind occasionally wandered through the bus scenario, but imagining something is a lot different than actually facing off against a bus. The day I came to (the best way I know how to describe it) with one foot off the curb and MUNI bearing down was the day I finally called and scheduled an appointment.

I thought I knew where I needed help. My life had undergone a huge number of changes in a very short time: I’d bought a house, lost my fitness and identity as a bike racer, had (minor, noninvasive) heart surgery. I needed to figure out who I was without the routine I’d developed over the last eleven years, and where I was going. Within a few sessions it became clear that much of what frightened me and made me depressed centered on my relationship. If I can’t ride my bike, I wondered, would my husband still love me? Would he want to be with me?

The short answer is no, he wouldn’t, at least not until he realized he was losing me. Maybe he never really did. Either way, it was too late.

what it was, and what it wasn’t

Every now & again you have an opportunity to rewrite your history. Here and in real life, I’ve been rewriting the last several years of my life, coloring it in rose and amber. It’s time to knock that off.

Since we split, I’ve made a point to defend my ex (maybe it’s not too harsh a term after all) as a great guy who wasn’t right for me. In some ways he is a great guy, but when it came to me he often wasn’t. Yes, there were happy moments. Still, I’m astounded at how many cruel phrases I tolerated and internalized. Ashamed, really. I never thought I’d let anyone get away with treating me like that. I thought was stronger and smarter than that.

With our wedding anniversary looming, memories have been coming back in little flashes, shocks. Things he said when he was angry, hot and cruel enough that I once insisted he see someone who would help him stop speaking to me that way. (He did, shortly before his father died. At that point the sessions changed course, understandably. In his memory his father is the reason he went in the first place; he doesn’t recall the need to stop being wicked to me.) His refusal to interact with me unless it was on his terms, which got worse as the years went on. The way he didn’t seem to like my company unless he was intoxicated. The times he said he didn’t like my company unless he was intoxicated.

As soon as I was free, I went back to the safe space I’d carved out before we met: I started sleeping with old friends. (It’s a small-town thing. Ahem.) It was easy, but any sign of tenderness made me want to run. One friend called out my name; another wanted enough light to see my face. I balked. Every time.

Then I tried to date (which yes, past tense). New people were kind to me, wanted to spend time with me, tried to impress me, even. Someone told me I was beautiful, sincerely, and I realized I hadn’t heard that in a long, long time; my ex had cried and said how pretty I was when I set the first foot out the door, but that isn’t the same. The attention threw me, all of it, it was so positive and genuine. I hid inside that Woody Allen cliché, not wanting part of any club that will have me as a member.

Now here comes the rest of it, the longest-standing issue: my inability to form stable meaningful attachments. It’s probably the doozy of my life. I usually gloss over it as fear of commitment, but it runs far deeper than that. And that’s probably enough for now. More self-absorption on the subject soon. Up next: childhood development, as lived by me.

Yay?

Cowbird is getting most of my attention at the moment, but I have a few things planned over here. Just need to screw up my courage a little bit more, and figure out how to be diplomatic and honest at the same time.

That’s tricky. The truth is so relative. And I’m pretty sure parts of mine will piss a few people off.

Maybe they deserve it.

First, back up the hill for sheep and swimming. Which, yes, is a little bit of a strange combination, but I won’t enjoy them at the same time and hey, I grew up in the woods. It comes with the territory.

Four forward, one back

Just when I thought I was safe! Ha.

Next Thursday would be my fourth wedding anniversary, if I still had those. The big milestones are hard for me. Hello, what might have been, did you miss me? Hey there, how a life can change over the course of a year, it’s been a while. How you been?

It could be worse; it could be much worse. Even so, it hurts. All the things I worked for, all the parts of myself and my soul that I poured out into this thing, this strange being of a relationship, gone. Hopes and dreams, time and passion, faith and confidence. I only learn how much I put in as I get each piece back; it’s a lot. I wonder how much of me is left in there, how much I will get back.

I will be fine – it’s four steps forward, one step back – but every now and again it reaches down and whomps me hard on the head, in the heart.

Whomp.

I do this every time

I’ve always been a binge writer. I get into the swing of things and write like my life depends on it (which, in some ways, it does) for a while. Then I hit a block that has nothing to do with inspiration or imagination, and everything to do with self-consciousness.

When I hit that point, writing feels narcissistic. I write about myself; I get embarrassed about dwelling on my life, as though I’ve done anything profound enough to write about. (I do  know that this is a bullshit attitude, I’m just breaking my pattern down.)

I don’t feel this way about other people’s work. I love getting a glimpse into another person’s life. When I feel it about myself always makes me stop and try to focus on something more noble. I start writing more on Cowbird because it is dedicated to life experiences, large and small; it provides the perfect cover. I work on short fiction, poetry, a novel; noble, acceptable forms of literature far enough removed to keep me from feeling self-indulgent.

But really, why bother with the pretense? All writing is about life, about feeling alive. David Foster Wallace said fiction is about what it’s like to be a fucking human being. Talking, writing, communicating; it’s all about understanding ourselves and (if we’re lucky) each other. Writing is about what it is to live as a human being. Why not stick to the source?

Human interaction is the thing that gives our lives meaning. I get that. I write to understand myself, and I hope the things I write help other people do the same. Maybe that’s self-indulgent, or self-centered, but so is life. How can you understand life if you don’t think about it, process it, record it?

This is a long way of saying that I see that block looming. I feel selfish and self-indulgent for spending so much time writing about my life. This time I’m going to push through.

I want to write love letters to my girls right now, and a few of my boys, too. All the people who have come out of the woodwork and made me believe that I am so much more than I knew. All the people who have held out a hand to me, and helped me piece myself together.

J who is magic, who opened her arms, heart, and home to me without question or hesitation. Who opened a bottle of red as I arrived with my suitcase, and another when that ran out, and wished me goodnight as we drifted off to sleep on that first night on my own, making sure I knew I would never truly be on my own.

M who has known me longer than anyone and loved the best and worst of me. Who dropped everything to take my calls and gently but firmly assessed the unhappiness refused to admit. Who made me believe I was strong enough to do right by myself, who trusted me and helped me trust myself. Who pulled me deep into her fray and taught me how to have fun again.

C, who sees me inside and out.

A, whose independence and strength are more of an inspiration than she will likely ever know.

J (two) who breezed through town for seven short hours and took me straight back to neverland.

S, who was simply glad to have me back.

J (three) who makes me want to give back some of the tenderness I’ve been shown, and who kissed me with an open innocence that made me blush like when we were kids. Who is beautiful in the moonlight; who remembers.

M who is sweet and forward and doesn’t need to be anything more.

R who is brazen and forward and would love to be something more.

S and M and B and J (four) and J (five) and M (two) and R (two) and so many others. All this time I’ve loved them, but I never thought to notice that they loved me right back.