Those Who Would Aim To Hurt You Can Teach You A Lot

It took me far too long to grasp the truth of this statement, and it took even longer for me to comprehend that just because someone is in your life because of a blood relation or an obligation doesn’t mean they will look out for you. Sometimes it’s a shock to discover how easily someone I trusted and believed in can turn on me to protect their own ego. There are people in my life, in my circle even, who have their own agendas when it comes to me and who I am. I know them like the back of my hand because I was them. I came from them. I know what resides in their hearts, and I let them stick around anyway. I keep them around not because I feel obligated to but because they remind me where I came from and what I’ve worked so hard to overcome. They illuminate my personal growth. Their presence in my life is a continual, flashing neon sign highlighting what I don’t want to be. The difference between the old me and the new me is that the new me knows the weakest links in my circle and doesn’t put any stock in their world view. The new me trusts my judgment and my heart. I’ve strengthened my ability to look out for myself. I know there are some people in my life who are definitely not in my corner, but it is precisely through their lack of support, forgiveness, and common kindness that I gain a little more wisdom about myself. Every time they test me and prove they are not in my corner, it hurts less and less and I feel stronger and stronger about who I am.

Sometimes, it’s best to cut and run from people who have been hurting you from time immemorial. It can be life saving, even. Sometimes, though, it’s not a bad idea to let some people who don’t deserve to stick around, well, stick around. Sometimes it’s the people who aren’t in your corner who make you see and appreciate those who are. And what a glorious day it is when, through the actions of the people who aren’t looking out for your best interests, you realize that at long last you are and now you are finally, solidly in your own corner.

You May Not Know What You Think You Know, Which Is Shocking, I Know

I saw this quote recently, and it struck a chord with me. Not just because people from my childhood on have sized me up, rated and assessed me according to their standards, and then expected me to fit in that neat little box for the rest of forever. If I grew or changed, they became disoriented in our relationship. Some adjusted, although in most cases we simply parted ways. I know this is a human condition. I know I too have sized people up, assigned labels, and lived in that fabricated paradigm with them, never acknowledging they might be more than I have given them credit for. Never once thinking perhaps the terms I ascribed to them were placed there via my own filters and were, at their kindest, a little biased, and at their most abhorrent, completely unfair.

It’s what we do as humans. We look at others hoping to find similarities. We look for our people. When we run across someone who doesn’t fit our prescribed guidelines, we pack them up and place them in the box we’ve determined they belong in. We are often wrong because, although we may have asked some initial questions, we usually haven’t conducted important follow-up inquiries to get beyond the superficial. We stick to the surface. We may half hear one part of a response to a question we’ve asked and suddenly we’re off to the races on judgment. If this pattern were an Olympic event, I would be in gold medal contention. At the very least, I’d probably make the podium.

In my world, I am working to be, as Ted Lasso reminds us, curious and not judgmental. Holy hell is that a hard road to walk after a lifetime of judging that began when I was but a wee Polish-Catholic girl. I will keep on working at it, though, because I can’t expect people to accept the ways in which I have changed unless I am willing to view them through a different lens as well. This ability, to allow others to grow and develop in ways that suit their goals and lives, is one I work on constantly. I do this because I don’t want to grow apart from the people I care about. My sons are clearly much more than I have decided they are, and I have to work to remind myself of that. They deserve their own chance to define themselves without my input. So, I am trying to be curious, to observe, to ask questions, and to apologize when I haven’t allowed them enough room to challenge their perceptions of themselves, to reach outside of their past behaviors, likes, and wishes and stretch.

Take a minute to reflect on how you measure people. Are you taking their measurements every time you meet them to determine how they are different and how you can fit into their new schema or are you expecting them to fit into the same outfit you gave them a decade ago? In what ways have you limited a relationship by neither admitting your own growth or acknowledging someone else’s?

Like Howard Beale, I Literally Cannot Anymore

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Today I feel like the world’s biggest phony. I try to blog about situations that might resonate with others or that might be inspiring or hopeful. I know I don’t always succeed at this. Sometimes I can tell, based on the replies I am getting, that people can see right through me. They know I am writing all this bullshit as a means to make myself feel better or to inspire myself to make difficult changes while inside I am crumbling like a saltine squeezed in someone’s palm. Some of you know I’m faking positivity (fake it til you make it?) and others of you, based upon which posts you might have read, may feel I’m living a pretty damn good life, devoid of acrimony.

The truth is that I am lost. Thanks to tons of therapy, I am no longer lost about where I came from or why I am the way I am. I long ago got the sobering answers to those questions, and I work daily to slay those demons and move on. And, honestly, I feel pretty good about that. I no longer hate myself. I no longer see only my bad qualities. I know they are still there and I acknowledge them; it’s just that I see the other side too now. I see why I am worth my carbon matter, and I accept that as reality even when others don’t seem to see the good in me.

But I am struggling. A lot. I enjoyed my peaceful weekend, came home filled with optimism about my plans and ideas for writing and my plans and ideas for getting better sleep and more exercise and eating better, and the minute I walked back into the door of my home I was right back into my struggles because nothing at home has been addressed. All the things I want to achieve or do for myself can only happen if there are changes at home, and there have been none. So today I am feeling deflated and hopeless. Today I want to sell something, take the money, get in my car, and run away. Except that I don’t really want to do that because I would miss my people. What I want is to snap my fingers and have all the negativity in my life evaporate so I can pick up from there and move forward. That isn’t going to happen.

Hard conversations need to be had and hard work needs to be done, but no one wants to talk or work. We’re going along in this bubble where we’re pretending everything is fine and everyone’s needs are being met, but that isn’t true in either case.

I come from a family of defensive fighters. We explode. When there was tension in my family of origin, it was resolved with a blowup. The tension would build, someone would need to release steam, and then there would be nasty, no-holds-barred, critical exchanges where all participants were hurling hurtful and unnecessary blows in an attempt to win an argument or make a point that could be neither won or made. There was often door slamming and item chucking as well. None of this was very healthy. Then, I married into a family of stuffers. In my new family, nothing negative or difficult is discussed. Everything is stuffed deep down or swept under the rug. This means that conversations that need to be had to set boundaries, resolve disagreements in viewpoint, and determine appropriate paths forward are simply not conducted. The result is that everyone is anxious. Everyone is talking, which is great, but nothing of importance or consequence is being said because everyone is afraid. It’s verboten, not part of the family dynamic. This is untenable as well. And as a result of my family affiliations, I am now adept at being both a venter and a stuffer. Oh boy.

The older I get, the more I think that what needs to be taught in preschools, kindergartens, grade schools, and high schools across this country (as well as in homes and churches) is communication. We need to teach kids early how to communicate their needs, how to listen to others, how to compromise, and how to support others while protecting the boundaries they need to feel safe. A large portion of this teaching needs to be done by having adults model these behaviors, but we can’t model something we don’t know how to do. This can be witnessed in our current political environment. We’ve become an entire nation of selfish toddlers, unwilling to discuss our feelings in a civil manner, grumpy that we aren’t getting our way, and cruel to others to make ourselves feel better about the shortfalls we perceive in fairness. I’m not saying communication is the only or most important thing that should be taught to our youth (and our grown ups), but it needs to be addressed one way or another because we are all struggling and no one wants to go to that dark, vulnerable place of admitting our fears and needs. No one wants to sit and listen. People want to point fingers, blame, name call, and live in their self-righteous bubble. This is ruining our families, our social groups, our churches, our schools, our government, and our society in general. We hide behind screens, spewing hate, and then go on about our lives because we’ve normalized cruelty and bullying and eliminated common courtesy, patience, and empathy. We live in unkind soundbites and talking points. And this has only been exacerbated by our isolation during this pandemic.

I know I have fallen short in all the good behaviors I’ve listed above. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting in my house feeling misunderstood, ignored, taken for granted, and overwhelmed. I can’t live like this anymore. Like the Howard Beale character in the 1976 film, Network, I want to stand in my living room and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

I’m finished stuffing my feelings and playing nice and pretending everything is great when I am losing my mind. I don’t want to revert to the patterns of my childhood and explode and say hateful things. The time to resolve things civilly is now. I am going to start by opening up in my own house. Maybe if we all decide to undertake some of the difficult conversations we’ve been avoiding having, perhaps we would open a release valve and vent some of the explosive gas currently expanding our national dissatisfaction. Maybe not. But I believe it’s worth a shot.

Talk To The Hand

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

I am in the final fifty minutes of my time away and wishing I could have the rest of the day in this adorable cottage to sit and write, but alas check out times are a thing. Sigh. After I leave here, I am meeting a friend on Pearl Street for some coffee at my favorite local spot. Then I might spend some time wandering up and down the mall to see what has changed. I haven’t been on Pearl Street for dining, shopping, or people watching for ages. I am long overdue.

I have spent some time this morning reflecting on the mental work I’ve done while I’ve been here. When I am somewhere safe, quiet, and private, that is when I do my most meaningful processing. It seems to be the only way I can reach a calm mental plane. So the first thing I have to do when I get home is establish a place like this for myself, somewhere I can hide for a few minutes when I need to regroup, take a deep breath, and get to a better head space before responding or reacting. The second thing I need to do is a deep dive into my plans for my writing. Do I continue blogging with a focused goal to grow readership or do I work on a larger project, whatever that is? I also plan to set up some routines around exercise and rest. I’ve let things get out of control and I’ve spent too long doing for others before taking care of myself. That has to end. The way I’ve been surviving? Not sustainable in the long term. I realize that now. To get to the point where I can do that, though, I need to do some housecleaning, both mental and physical. I need to eliminate from my circle of influence people who are not good for me and I need to eliminate from my life many of the things. Yes, things. I need to pare down. I have a lot to take care of, to fuss about, to attend to. I need to dispense with things that are weighing me down. This means my husband will be taking some trips to the thrift store. (I’d say I would do it, but the back of my car is still full of things to take there and they have been there for four month already. True story.)

I have my plan of attack. I have peace in my heart after some long overdue time to focus and center. And now I can hit the ground running. I’m not feeling lost anymore. I’m feeling empowered. And that is what time alone does for an introvert. I am ready to take a long hard look at my goings on each day and figure out where I can cut back. I’m ready to tell other people that I will get to what they want when I get to it, and that may be after my work out or meditation, and not a minute sooner. I am ready to help my youngest finish off his senior year and launch so I can start the next phase of my life. The first four decades of my life were devoted to achieving things I thought I was supposed to achieve (college degrees, husband, children, a home, etc.). The next decade was about managing all the things I thought I was supposed to achieve. Now I am at the place where I am free to decide what I still want, what I don’t need, and where I would like to go. It’s exciting. Not going to lie.

I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. I am retiring from full-time parenting, not life. I simply plan on putting my hand up to stop the insanity as it approaches. I don’t have room for that in my life anymore.

You Can’t Pull The Weeds Until You Plant The Garden

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

The more severe the dysfunction you experienced growing up, the more difficult boundaries are for you”. ~ David Earle

Setting boundaries is not something I am good at. I was reminded earlier this week just how much I struggle to speak up for myself and draw lines to keep myself sane, safe, and healthy. If you didn’t grow up in a home where you were allowed to set and keep your own boundaries, if you instead learned that you have no right to express your wishes because other people are barely tolerating your existence so you shouldn’t push your luck, speaking up for yourself goes against everything you know. This makes boundary setting as an adult difficult. While I’ve made enough progress with my mental health to recognize I have a right to advocate for myself, I haven’t found the best way to do this. When I set a boundary, it either comes across mealy-mouthed, as if I am asking for permission to do it, or it comes across as an apology, as if I am asking the other person to forgive me for being such a bother. Neither of these approaches is working for me.

“Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it.” ~Anonymous

There are multitudinous quotes out there about the need to set boundaries, but there are few that offer succinct advice about how to do it. It seems I have two modes around boundaries. The first is simply not to ask for any. This has been my lifelong modus operandi, and it is negatively impacting in my life. I can’t grow if I am not willing to make space for that to happen. Period. The second, not knowing the best way to talk about boundaries, is to go all in and sound defiant and belligerent about it. “I’m doing this and you can’t stop me and I don’t care what you think about it.” This method indeed sets a boundary, but it also alienates people. While sometimes alienating someone is precisely what you need to carve out your space, especially if the person in question has been tearing down your boundaries as you are building them, going through life burning all your bridges doesn’t allow for much connection with others. Even introverts need other people.

“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefitting from you having none.”

I suspect my road into boundary setting must begin by choosing who I want in my inner circle and then building a safe place by surrounding myself with those people who love and respect me enough to accept my boundaries and take me where I am. That means I will have to put some people outside my circle of trust. Identifying who should be left out, if only temporarily, is easy. They are the people who push back against the boundaries I wish to set, who make me feel ashamed and unworthy of setting them. They ask me to be small, quiet, and compliant, accepting and living within their boundaries but not permitting me to set any of my own.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brene Brown

Once I have established my safe community of people who are aligned with my core values, then I can move on to setting other boundaries. Then I can work on standing up for myself when someone says something hurtful. Then I can learn to tell someone “no” without offering an apology or explanation where none is needed. Then I can practice getting bigger and taking up more space in my own life. First you plant your garden. Then you tend it.

“Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for: You.” ~Shannon L. Alder

The Word For The Year Is Boundaries

I was reading through The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown today when I came upon this:

“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”

This hit me hard because I have had a long-term struggle with boundaries. As a child, I learned that it was not okay for me to set them. So as an adult, to avoid conflict, I have continued to shift my boundaries to accommodate what someone else wanted or expected of me. Doing so made me bitter without any understanding that the bitterness was coming from my giving what I wanted and needed away to keep someone else comfortable. Giving others their peace took away my own. Not setting boundaries kept me stuck. Understanding that keeping boundaries is essential to being compassionate to myself and others empowers me to stand my ground, to make room for myself, and to find that peace I have been lacking.

Over the past year, I have been working a great deal on boundaries. I didn’t come at this through the knowledge that it would allow me to better practice compassion. I came at this because I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that not having any boundaries in place for myself was no longer a tenable situation. The pandemic, and lockdown particularly, taught me I need boundaries to stay sane and to be pleasant towards others. I learned that I need space. I need silence. I need peace. And I need to stand up for myself to have these things in my life. If I don’t set boundaries, if I am not willing to ask for (and demand, if necessary) what I need from others, then I will forever be a grumpy, negative person who feels powerless. I don’t like that. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be that person. So, I am learning to set boundaries and to accept that those boundaries will piss some people off and completely alienate others and that is not my concern. My concern is keeping myself and my sense of self safe from those who would use my difficulty in advocating for myself against me.

“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you having none.” ~Unknown

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” ~ Unknown

I might start saying no more firmly this year. You might hear me saying things like, “I understand that is what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.” I may full well make some people uncomfortable by refusing to do what they think is fair and right because I believe it doesn’t align with my core values and what I need. This will be hard for me because I was raised to believe people would only like me if I made myself likable by acquiescing to their whims. But I’m old enough now to understand that it’s not only acceptable but imperative that I set boundaries where I need them and tend to them to keep them secure and impenetrable. I will ruffle feathers and others may use my boundaries as talking points to turn others against me, but I no longer care about that. I’m exhausted from being the willow tree that bends. I’m ready to be the rock that the tree learns to grow around.

Limitless

Let’s go back to the beginning when my identity was fluid and limitless

The best part about being where I am in my therapy journey is that many of the hardest moments of discovery and realization are behind me. I’ve faced that I was emotionally abused by people who I thought were looking out for me but who never were. I’ve digested the fact that I spent my entire life thus far trying to measure up to expectations that had nothing to do with me. I’ve mourned the loss of what might have been if the actors in this play were different. I’ve also grieved the loss of opportunities I was incapable of accepting in my past because of who I was at the time. I’ve accepted that it is unlikely that my relationships with these people will ever be anything other than what they have been or what they are now. I understand that many of the choices I made in my past were made to keep me safe rather than move me forward. I acknowledge that while I can’t go back and make anything different, the pressure of the sadness, isolation, and rejection I experienced hardened me into something stronger, more resilient, and better than I might have been otherwise. All of this is to say that I’ve done the work. And, while I’m sure I will continue to peel other layers from time to time, I think I finally have a pretty good handle on what triggers me and why it does, along with how I can do better for myself going forward. Progress!

My sister and I have been talking about this a lot. When you grow up being told who you are rather than being allowed to explore and follow your heart and interests, it’s a bit like arriving at adulthood wearing someone else’s cast-off, ill-fitting, moth-ball-scented coat. It’s as if you came into the world naked and instead of getting to choose your clothing, you got handed this ratty old coat and because it was all you were allowed to have you used it to cover your nakedness and protect you from the elements. Now, though, with so much work behind us, we understand that this coat is not ours. It was never meant to be. And even though we’ve been wearing it for years, we didn’t realize until recently that it never suited us and we didn’t like it in the least. It simply was what was, something we were forced to wear when we didn’t know any better and weren’t better equipped to advocate for ourselves.

Now, though, now we get to start over. We’ve arrived at the fun part. We’ve ditched the coats, throwing off the mantle of what we were supposed to be according to someone else, and we’re standing here asking ourselves what we would like to wear in its place. It’s both exciting and stressful. Like a puppy let loose in PetsMart, we’re overwhelmed by the options. There are so many aisles to explore, so many shiny things to distract us as we try to figure out what most appeals to us. The only thing I know for sure that I want is to be a better mother to myself. I want to give myself love and acceptance and to feel comfortable in my skin. I want to feel safe and unconditionally loved just as I am right now. And after I get comfortable with that reality, then I will start figuring out who I am, what I want, what I like, and what I am willing to put up with.

The other day after therapy, I was driving home and the word “limitless” popped into my head. Limitless. I started to think, for just a moment, that maybe this is where I am at. If you remove the obstacles that have kept you boxed and trapped and there’s nothing holding you back, maybe, just maybe you are limitless. I’m going to need to sit with this because this is big.

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.

Leave The Door Open And Growth Sneaks In

Thought for the night:

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron

I ran across this quote on my phone today. It’s one that never really leaves my heart. When I was growing up, my mom told me that if you pray for patience, god gives you something to be patient about. I think that goes hand in hand with Pema Chodron’s thought here. If you are working through something, which most of us are on some level even when we aren’t completely tuned in to it, it will keep showing up in little ways to give you an opportunity to unpack it, understand it, make peace with it, and finally move on.

I used to struggle with boundaries, but it happens a lot less these days because the universe kept sending me people who wanted to test them. People who refused to listen to what I wanted made me even more emphatic about standing up for myself. Through their annoying and troubling inability to understand when to stop pushing, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely okay to ask for what I want. I might not get it, but I should at least feel deserving enough to ask for it anyway. I’ve learned that if I set a boundary and it makes someone else angry, it is likely that the other person was previously benefitting from my not having had any. So, I set boundaries carefully now. They are like the ones that accompany an electric fence. I’ve marked them with warning flags but they are largely invisible otherwise. If I feel uncomfortable with how close you are coming to the edges of them, you will get a warning and then possibly a shocking consequence for crossing them. I’ve learned that I’m not going to please everyone all the time, which is totally okay because that was never my responsibility. And I’ve learned that I deserve peace, and that keeping the peace for someone else at the expense of my own is poisonous. I’ve eliminated some people from my life because I realized that being around them made me less kind, less understanding, less forgiving, and less happy.

I’ve noticed that if you’re paying attention in life, a skill that involves mindfulness and self-reflection, you realize that the universe is constantly providing you with opportunities to grow, expand, and change your life for the better. This doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you or your life. It means, instead, that there is more out there for you. When I was struggling mightily with setting boundaries and wanting to do better for myself in that area, situations kept presenting themselves that required me to figure out what I wanted and summon the courage to ask for them. It was through the practice that I improved, that I found my voice. And it was through finding my voice that I started to feel confident in my choices about my boundaries or my wishes because I’d had to take a few minutes to elucidate them clearly,

The things that keep coming up in your life as areas of struggle, areas where you don’t feel quite right or comfortable, they will keep presenting themselves until you’ve had the opportunity to learn from them. If you struggle to deal with your emotions, you will be put in situations where you have to do just that. If you struggle to ask for what you want, you will keep being given chances to speak up. And if you struggle with patience, you’d better believe situations that require your patience will continue to be a thing you encounter. Once we name our issues and stand face-to-face with them, we can begin to recognize the opportunities we are given to remedy those issues.

At least, this has been my experience, and it seems like Pema Chodron agrees. So, I’ve started to name the areas that I don’t like about myself or my life, and when I do this I become more aware when a crack has opened to give me the chance to work on rising above or putting behind me the negative belief or behavior. I have issues with asking for help because I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I have issues with trusting others because I felt betrayed by those who were supposed to be looking out for me. I have issues with perfectionism because I was made to believe that I was only worth something if I was without fault or flaw. I’ve named these things here now, so I expect the universe will begin to provide me with opportunities to work on these soon.

The good news is, while I may still have areas in which further excavation and practice should occur to help me live my best life, at least my struggle with boundaries has improved. Thanks for offering the chance for growth, Universe. I will keep my eyes and ears open for the next opportunities you have for me.

Spotted And Clocked At 58 MPH

 

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And thus it begins

Tonight, at 5 pm, Denver instituted a citywide stay-at-home order. This had to happen because, despite dire warnings from the Word Health Organization and the CDC, we weren’t fully grasping what it means to stay away from others. We were packing into parks, standing too close in take-out lines, and crowding into liquor stores like we’d never see another bottle of (insert favorite spirit here). We were being the child told to sit in the chair in the corner of the room who couldn’t handle sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and so slid onto the floor and inched closer and closer to her friends, assuming she could get away with it. She couldn’t. Now we’re in the principal’s office until we’ve learned our lesson, a lesson we will not soon forget.

Today is my friend Lisa’s birthday. I had a gift for her sitting on my desk, a gift I had hoped to share with her in person over a coffee date, but that was not going to happen any time soon so I put the gift in my car and drove out to leave it on her porch. While I was out enjoying my last taste of true vehicular freedom for a while, I noticed how many people were driving like Mad Max, trying to tie up loose ends before 5 pm. Restrictions are scary. People tend to react to a crisis like this in one of three ways. They either over secure to feel safe (hello, toilet paper hoarders), they rebel (hello, spring break beach goers), or they fall in line dutifully and without question.

A recovering ex-Catholic, I still fall solidly into the third category. Big surprise, right? Do as you’re told? Yes, ma’am. Sit still? Okay. Follow directions? Of course. Color within the lines? I didn’t win a major award (leg lamp not included) for coloring at age 8 by being sloppy. Obey authority? Absolutely. Stay on the right side of the Keep Out sign? Done and done. In my youth, I learned to do as I was told without wondering if I should. So, this whole lockdown fits like a puzzle piece in my DNA. If the medical experts implore isolation is necessary, I wave my Good Girl banner and march to my room. It’s go time.

I was listening to Untamed, the new book by Glennon Doyle, today as I drove to Lisa’s. In one chapter, she discusses a zoo cheetah that has seemingly been tamed yet still paces the enclosure, looking for an escape, longing to run freely at the righteous, breakneck full speed she was built for. I started thinking about my own cage. About how I learned unquestioningly to do as I’m told. Like the zoo cheetah, I buried the wild me to live within the boundaries I’ve been told are mine to inhabit. And, in situations like this one, where I am required to confine at home for the greater good, being well acquainted with enclosures is helpful. But, I’ve been growing lately. I’ve been taking small steps, leaning casually against the fenced boundaries I adopted as my own, testing for a weak link, wondering if I’d be brave enough to venture out if I could just find a way to push through. So I am going to use this time in confinement to take a good, long look at what might be waiting for me on the other side of this enclosure. When this virus is at last contained and we are once again free to move, I will be standing by the door ready.

When it opens, I may linger at the threshold and stretch lazily for a spell, summoning my nerve. Then I am going to step out, slowly and with great intention at first and then later with fewer f***s to give, to do what represents my best self, discarding the mantle of appropriate “womanly” behavior on the ground where I stood. Life is shorter than me, people. We’ll be seeing that soon as community members, both young and old, fall victim to this virus and we watch families mourn unexpected losses of those to whom they were unable to say a last goodbye. Maybe even our own. If I am one of the lucky majority who escapes, I vow to live differently on the other side. I will still follow rules when I need to. I’m just going to push my boundaries more often.

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Cheetah weighing her options