Walk This Way

Mondays are my therapy day. On Mondays when I do some EMDR, I spend most of the rest of the day exhausted, filled with thoughts, and emotionally raw. Today was that kind of Monday. So, while I am still processing some of what I worked on in therapy today and plan on writing more about that soon, for now my brain needs a little break.

One thing has recently become clear to me in this journey I am on. When you’ve spent your life kowtowing to other’s wishes, plans, and ideas for and about your life, it takes a lot of effort to step away from those people and bring your subservience to an end. I thought for many years that I could extricate myself slowly and deliberately from relationships with those who were holding me back without affecting other people in my life. It was a ridiculous thing to ask of myself, but boundaries can be difficult to negotiate. If you are trying to extract yourself slowly, you are likely doing this because you are looking out for someone else. You don’t want to hurt anyone. You don’t want to ruffle feathers. You don’t want to cause trouble for someone else. But what is the cost to you when you are acting against your best interest to make situations easier for someone else? Sometimes you need to choose the nuclear option and immediately disengage without worrying about the fallout because that is the fastest way to get yourself safe. Besides, once you decide to be free, you want your freedom to begin now and not eventually. The hardest part for me about walking away from people who don’t and can’t have my best interests at heart was the feeling that I had to explain myself to others by answering their questions. Why wasn’t I speaking to my parents? Were things really all that bad? And then, one day, it hit me. I don’t owe anyone an explanation about the steps I take to protect myself. I am on a break from my relationships with my parents while I get my head in order, and that is all there is to say about that.

Freedom from negative relationships and abusive cycles is not a luxury. It’s not a frivolous thing that you should put off because you don’t want to trouble anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. Taking steps to secure your mental peace and physical well-being matters in the short and long term. And if that means you have to block contacts and upset a few people, that is the price of taking back your life and your power. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it or talk you into doing the “right” thing (which is only the right thing for them). Look out for yourself. The people who care about you will understand. The ones who act troubled or inconvenienced by your choice have done you a favor by identifying themselves. Don’t give them another minute of residency in your brain.

Life is short. If you’re lucky enough to be able to discern what is holding you back, jettison it. And then walk on.

Moonlit Inspiration

I saved this meme to my phone a while back, and it popped up in one of my memories for this date. This message is one I think many of us need to hear. When we’re going through difficult times, when we’re questioning our lives, our loves, our hopes, our plans, our history, or our choices, it’s easy to decide we’re lost and to feel we have nothing to offer. But that simply is not true. It never is. We don’t stop exuding the positives we have just because the negatives are raging in our heads.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Looking back on my life, I see the disconnect between the person I thought other people must see and the person I actually was showing the world by being myself. I spent decades feeling broken and unlovable and not actually even likable. That was my sad, internal view of myself. It was all I knew of me. That was not, however, what other people saw of me. I’ve always had friends; some of them have stuck around since my childhood. In my dating years before I met my husband, I nearly always had a boyfriend. No one else saw me as the worthless potato I saw when I looked in the mirror, but I was so indoctrinated by the voices I had heard growing up that I was not able to see the reality of my life. If I had truly been unlovable, I wouldn’t have had friends. People, god bless them, continued to see in me what I could not see in myself. Maybe I wasn’t whole, but others still saw my shine even though I could not. This revelation has been amazing to me. And I am grateful to every single person who has been able to recognize my value even as I continued to assert that there was none there.

We all have a shine that others witness. We all light someone up, a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a parent, or even a pet. When we’re feeling at our worst, others often fail to see the same dreadful image. If the people in your life aren’t holding up a mirror to show you how special and loved and worthy you are, maybe it’s time to find new people. And if people are holding up that mirror to share the reflection of the beautiful light bursting forth from within you, I hope you are able to see it, own it, and revel in it. If you aren’t ready to acknowledge that eternal light in you just yet, hang in there. Someday, somehow that light will get through and force you to reckon with your imperfectly perfect, shining, beautiful, kick ass self.

If you get a chance today, take a few seconds to hold up a mirror to someone who looks like they could use a little encouragement. You just sparkle their radiance right back at them. Tell them they are luminous. Remind them to shine on.

“Who on earth d’you think you are? A super star? Well, right you are. Well, we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.” ~John Lennon, Instant Karma

The Roads We Can’t Ever Travel

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

On a good friend’s recommendation, I started watching Maid on Netflix yesterday. I finished all ten episodes already, if that tells you anything about the quality of the show. It is about a young, single mother trying to make her own way after leaving an abusive relationship. The characters are raw. Their lives are complicated and difficult. They have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies, financial struggles, and broken dreams. It’s painful to watch, but that is exactly why it should be seen. It’s a poignant reminder of how little we know about the lives of those outside our own circle.

In a time when it seems everyone is on edge and no one seems to notice or care about anyone else, when everyone is quick to anger and judgment, this is the kind of show we need to see. It’s a lesson in our common humanity. If you watch the show and it doesn’t make you a little softer and kinder to your fellow humans, watch it again. It’s time we get our heads back on straight. The pandemic has taken a lot of out of us. We’ve been isolated, stressed about our survival, our lack of freedom, our health. Maybe it would be a good idea to recognize that we are all struggling.

As I’m writing all this pontifical, pie-in-the-sky bullshit, though, I am realizing that I need to be honest with you too. There’s another reason this show grabbed me the way it did. It’s because a large part of it is about surviving emotional abuse, the abuse that has no outward scars so people don’t believe you were injured. There’s plausible deniability in emotions. Well-meaning people tell you to your face that the people who hurt you over and over didn’t mean it. They tell you that you’re being dramatic. They tell you that because they are fortunate enough not to understand what it’s like to have someone close to you manipulate, terrify, and crush you. The show is about deciding to put your mental health first and making the difficult, conscious choice to let others deal with their own demons while you face your own. It’s about using your outside voice to proclaim to the world that you want something for yourself, and you’re ready to believe you deserve it. While watching these characters interact, I saw my life. I saw their struggles and nodded my head. But I also saw their strength, and for the first time I am seeing my own too. It feels good to be at a place where I can like myself for both my beauty and my imperfections.

We don’t know what anyone else is going through. What we know is filtered through our own lens. Tread lightly. Be gentle with others if you can. It’s been a little rough on this rock recently. We can’t know the roads others are on, where they lead, or why they wind the way they do. We can’t help others read their map or give them directions. We can’t ever travel their road with them. We’re not meant to. We have our own road on which to focus and that one deserves our full attention.

Out Of The Ashes, New Growth

It occurred to me today that I have next to no memories of the day I graduated from college. I have a fuzzy recollection of lining up to head into the arena where the ceremony was held. I have another vague memory of sitting with friends, but that memory is based solely around photos I took that day. I don’t actually remember sitting with my friends or taking photos. I can’t tell you which of my family members were there. My parents were recently divorced. My sisters were 20 and 17. I don’t know if we celebrated with dinner somewhere or if I spent time with friends and their families or if I spent the day with my boyfriend. It strikes me as odd, though, that there are no clear or warm memories of that day for me. It seems like the kind of day that many people might remember. An auspicious occasion. I was the first in our family to graduate from a four-year college. It feels like it passed as more or less an ordinary day.

My husband remembers his graduation day. His mom and dad hosted a graduation breakfast for him and his friends. It was near Christmas and his birthday, so his mom had a Santa come to the breakfast. After the ceremony, his parents hosted Steve and some of his friends at a graduation lunch at their favorite college restaurant, the Rio Grande, known for their potent margaritas (limit 3 per customer). At the lunch, his mom had a clown arrive with balloons. Later, a belly dancer showed up and performed three songs for him in the crowded restaurant. He has told me he wished it had only been two songs (enough for his mom to get her money’s worth), though, because three was a bit much. Still, his accomplishment was celebrated and cemented with specific events that he carries with him and always will. It was a fun day for him.

Today we were at Luke’s last cross-country event of the season. There were some teenagers walking near us. One of them, noticing all the parents at this meet at one p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, remarked to his friends, “I wish I had a supportive family.” That comment struck me. I told Steve that young man has a gift he doesn’t realize is a gift. He has self-awareness at a young age. I didn’t realize until my mid forties that I didn’t have a supportive family when I was growing up, at least not supportive parents, to be sure. If you are young when you realize you don’t have a supportive family, you can work to piece together a supportive family of your choosing. You can work to change your narrative for more of your life.

I have done a lot of work trying to piece together memories from the first eighteen years of my life. I don’t have many, but the ones that stick with me and have to do with my parents are predominantly negative. I do have positive memories of my life growing up, but those have to do with friends or my accomplishments. My fondest wish as a parent was to create positive memories with our sons that they would have with them their whole lives. I hope someday they will remember their birthdays, graduations, and other important milestones. I hope they will also benefit from the little things, like dinner as a family every night and deep conversations on long car rides. I hope they will look back and not just know they had a supportive family, but feel the power of that support each and every minute. Moreover, I wish every child had a loving, supportive family because every child should travel through life with at least that.

“Never underestimate a cycle breaker. Not only did they experience years of generational trauma, but they stood in the face of this trauma and fought to say ‘This ends with me.’ This is brave. This is powerful. This comes at significant cost. Never underestimate a cycle breaker.” ~Author Unknown

“You are not the darkness you endured. You are the light that refused to surrender.” ~John Mark Green

I Am The Tortoise In This Scenario

The hare is so much cuter than the tortoise, though

I’ve been in and out of therapy for forever. Okay. Seven years, but it feels like forever. And I’ve been mostly in therapy during those seven years except for a few months when I thought I didn’t need it any longer and turned out to be wrong. Today during my weekly session, I proclaimed once again that I am tired of this process of working to get my head right. I want to be finished. Like yesterday. I declared that I would like to be well-adjusted now, please. My therapist, being the gentle, thoughtful, patient woman she is, reminded me that maybe what I need to focus on again is self-compassion. Recovering from emotional abuse is a process, and I will likely be going through that process for the rest of my life. That is to be expected, and it is okay.

Is it, though? I’m having a rough time swallowing that pill. Although I intellectually understand she is right and even understand that every single person is messed up in their own special way and battling for inner peace along with me, I don’t like this answer. I function best with deadlines, and the notion that perhaps I will be more well adjusted by the time I get to the end of my life, at a time yet to be determined, is a bit too open ended for me as far as deadlines go. I am working on managing expectations because I understand that is a good way to live but, damn, that is also difficult for me. And I work every day to give myself grace as I struggle, knowing that being raised without affection, positive messaging, and unconditional love causes lifelong damage to a person’s psyche. I am defensive, dismissive, and distrusting not because I was born that way but because these were the mechanisms that protected my fragile sense of self and kept me safe. They served a purpose. And now that I understand I am safe and these reactions are no longer needed, I would like to get rid of them sooner rather than later, thank you very much. It’s just not going to happen that way.

So I have been thinking about this all day, and I realize I need to reframe this issue. If I am going to be making slow progress on this, I need to accept it and relax and settle in for the long haul. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. I’m not the hare. I’m the tortoise. In the end, it will all work out. Right now it might feel like I am losing the race, but if I keep plodding along, not taking anything for granted, I will win. Will it happen on my ideal timeline? Apparently not, because if it could happen just by my willing it out of sheer frustration, I would be there already. So a tortoise’s pace it is. I will know I have achieved my goal when I no longer need my protective shell.