Fear, envy, self talk, avoiding late night Chinese food …

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I’m reading a book entitled “Adult Children of Alcoholics” by Janet Woititz (which, as my therapist points out, is a rather unfortunate name for a woman.)

She recommended I read it – in particular the list of 13 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics to see if I could relate to any of them.

I’ve always thought “burst into tears” an overused and unrealistic phrase, but that’s what I did while I read that list. One second I was fine, the next I was crying. Answers that question.

I don’t want to overdramatize this. I have a great family, and there was a lot of love in our household growing up. I didn’t have a terrible childhood.

But the fact is that one of my parents is overly dependent on alcohol – a situation that grew worse only after I was already an adult – and the other is codependent (a natural thing to become when you’re the spouse of an alcoholic).

I can look objectively back on my childhood and see how our family dysfunction has affected my patterns of behavior as an adult. Those patterns affect everything in my life – my personal relationships, my sense of identity, my work, my mood, my outlook on life, my ability to get out of bed in the morning, my decision making. Those effects are often negative, self-degrading, even paralyzing.

Something happened recently that drove this point home for me, an incident that made me feel very much like the quiet, solitary, terrified 16-year-old who wanted desperately to be liked by a guy but found herself always passed over for the tall, skinny, blond with the cheerleading outfit and the reputation for being an amazing lay (as if anyone anywhere is ever an amazing lay when they’re 16. Bitch, please.)

I could feel the physical reaction coming on – the shrinking in on myself, the flushed face, the desire to run and hide, the clamming up. And I sat there, poised on the edge of flight like a rabbit in a spotlight, and … told myself to stop.

“Just stop,” I said (in my head). “You’re not 16. You’re a 37-year-old woman with an amazing brain, a wicked sense of humor and a good heart. You’re fit, beautiful and possess a confident sense of your own sexuality. You’re physically and emotionally strong. You work hard and treat people with care. You’re worthy. Just stop.”

And I did. I pushed through my desire to flee and said what I wanted to say instead of clamming up and then went on with my life. A life that is unfortunately never entirely absent of that critical, nagging, grating voice telling me that I’m not pretty enough or interesting enough, that I’m too intense, too serious, too much of a mess for anyone to ever love me.

Over the last few days, that feeling has persistently tried to return, and I continue to push through it, forcing myself to think clearly about who I am – who I really am here and now, not the terrified mouse I used to be.

I’m 37 years old and have quite a lot of people who love me, and I still have to actively remind myself of my worth. That’s part of what being the child of an alcoholic is. There are people in the world who don’t have to do continually do that. I want to be one of them.

British writer Caitlin Moran gave an interview recently in which she reads an exerpt of a book she wrote. I haven’t read the book, but I will after seeing this interview. She’s addressing girls with eating disorders specifically, but the advice she gives is relevant for any mental health struggle. Here are a few of things she said that resonated with me:

“Panic and anxiety will lie to you. They are gonzo-maligned commentators on the events in your life. Their counsel is wrong. Panic and anxiety are mad drugged fools. You must not listen to their grinding-toothed sweaty bullshit.”

“You will never in your life ever have to deal with anything for more than the next minute … the minutes always come one at a time, inside hours that come one at a time, inside days that come one at a time … do the calm, right thing that needs to be done in that minute, the work or the breathing or the smile. You can do that for one minute. And if you can do one minute, you can do the next.”

“The most important thing is to know that you were not born like this. You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed. Things have been done, which means things can be undone. And that’s hard work. But you are not scared of hard work.”

I’m not scared of hard work. I thrive on hard work.

I’ll be thinking and writing and possibly talking about this for awhile, but the point for now is that I have a lot of work to do, and I’m doing it. Because I want to change and have healthy relationships with friends and lovers and family where the tiniest details won’t send me (even temporarily) heart first into a downward spiral of self-loathing, fear-induced envy of strangers, and late-night binges on Chinese food (ugh, that was disgusting. Don’t do that.)

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Today

My thoughts on 10/2/17:

  1. Life is short, uncertain, and often terrifying.
  2. Our leadership is shit. And we’re not even through a whole year of the four we have to endure.

But …

  1. Nothing heals me like music and the feel of a particular person’s skin on mine.
  2. I was told by a colleague that I’m the kind of person who gets things done.

These are the little things that keep me going every day. It’s easy for me to be positive and grateful in the face of tragedy, because I didn’t lose anyone today. And it should be easy. I drank bourbon and made love and did my work well and cuddled a couple of warm dogs. Really, what more can anyone ask of their day? No one was shooting at me or anyone I love.

I have been so down for so long, and I’m fucking done. It’s selfish. All of my problems are of my own making. They’re simple to solve. They’re nothing. They are not worth making myself or anyone else miserable.

I am done. This changes now. Today.

Practicing Emotional Intelligence

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How would I turn my desire to respect another person’s independence into a “practice”?

This probably sounds like a weird question, but I was reading an online article entitled The Myth of the ‘Aha’ Moment in which the author talks about how having the original epiphany isn’t enough to exact change in your behavior. You have to develop a regular practice of responding in a new way to make change stick.

It makes sense. We are creatures of habit. We have to make a habit of routine exercise before a culture of fitness becomes an ingrained part of our lives. It makes sense that the same thing applies to our emotions and the way we behave, toward ourselves and others.

I had an “Aha!” moment this morning when I read this paragraph by Erich Fromm:

“Productive love always implies a syndrome of attitudes; that of care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. If I love, I care – that is, I am actively concerned with the other person’s growth and happiness; I am not a spectator. I am responsible, that is, I respond to his needs, to those he can express and more so to those he cannot or does not express. I respect him, that is (according to the original meaning of re-spicere) I look at him as he is, objectively and not distorted by my wishes and fears. I know him, I have penetrated through his surface to the core of his being and related myself to him from my core, from the center, as against the periphery, of my being.”

I am terribly guilty of seeing people I love through the distorted lens of my own wishes and fears. I don’t think this is at all unusual human behavior, but it’s something I want to change.

So. If because of my own insecurities I react badly to a loved one’s need for independence, and I’ve determined that I don’t WANT to behave that way – how do I translate that into a practice? I have said many times that I want to love differently, less selfishly. But just thinking about it will obviously not make it happen.

If I had taken some time Saturday night to just think, would I have behaved differently? Instead of going out and stewing my resentment and hurt in a couple of martinis and some bourbon (not a good recipe for anything sensible or kind), what if I’d turned that moment into a self-assessment ritual? Something tangible. I’ve always benefited from writing out my thoughts. If they stay in my head, they just swirl around and go nowhere.

So, for instance, take out a piece of paper, turn down the lights and light a candle. Put on some soothing music without distracting lyrics. Get the dogs to stop panting and the cat to stop howling then give up and shut them up in another room. And seriously think about and answer some or all of the following questions:

Why am I reacting this way? What am I afraid of? Why does another person’s behavior affect me so greatly? What is the real source of my resentment? (Because ultimately it is probably something other than what is happening right this second.)

What do I know of the other person? I’m assuming in this moment that I know their thoughts, but of course I don’t. What do I know? Why would I assume that their motives in this moment have anything to do with me? What does that say about me?

And – the question I think I should ask myself any time I’m feeling a negative emotion of any kind – for what am I grateful? It’s impossible to feel gratitude when you’re feeling strong negative emotions. But if you really start thinking about all the very good things in your life, I think it’s also impossible to stay angry or sad for very long. You can’t feel gratitude and anger/sadness/fear simultaneously.

And there’s always something for which to be grateful.

I think that’s a start anyway. I seriously want to change the way I think and behave. I don’t know exactly how, so I’ll just have to experiment and find what works best.

My upbringing taught me to largely avoid emotions, as did my marriage. I don’t think many of us are taught emotional intelligence. We have to figure it out on our own.

Who *is* this woman?

I saw a quote today from someone named Azra T. – who I think, from my brief Internet searches, is a student and a poet in the UK. I was going to post it on Twitter, but then I found more quotes (maybe they’re full poems; it’s hard to tell), and now I’m a little overwhelmed because they’re tear-inducingly beautiful.

I’ll show you:

“I will only let you touch me if your hands are so full of intention that every brush of your palms feels like you’re writing a novel on my skin.”

And this one, which might be my favorite:

“I’ve stopped being sorry for all my soft. I won’t apologise because I miss you, or because I said it, or because I text you first, or again. I think everyone spends too much time trying to close themselves off. I don’t want to be cool or indifferent, I want to be honest. If I love you at 5AM, I’d damn well rather that you know I felt it. If I love you two hours later, I’ll tell you then too. Listen, I won’t wait double the time it takes for you to text me back because I don’t want to. I don’t care enough to be patient with you. I’m happy, you made me feel that way, don’t you want to know? So that’s how it’s going to be. I’m going to leave myself as open as a church door. And I’m going to wake you up before the crack of dawn to tell you that I’m fucking joyful, no pretending, not from me, not ever. Would you like some coffee, would you please kiss me? Here, these are my hands, this is my mouth, it is all yours.”

And then this one:

“I’m always soft for you, that’s the problem. You could come knocking on my door five years from now and I would open my arms wider and say ‘come here, it’s been too long, it felt like home with you.’”

Aren’t they beautiful? This is how people should love – intensely, but without expectation. Respectful of each other’s autonomy, but without fear.

And then there’s this one, which I also love:

“I will teach my daughter not to wear her skin like a drunken apology. I will tell her ‘make a home out of your body, live in yourself, do not let people turn you into a regret, do not justify yourself. If you are a disaster it is not forever, if you are a disaster you are the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Do not deconstruct from the inside out, you belong here, you belong here, not because you are lovely, but because you are more than that.'”

Here she comes to wreck the day!

I started counseling for two related reasons:

1) I’m too dependent on romance to make me happy. The whole “life partner” thing has always been a huge priority for me, which is largely responsible for my entering into what I now look back on as an unhealthy marriage. Without that, I have little in my life that makes me excited to be among the breathing. And the irony is that unless I find satisfaction on my own, I’ll never have a successful partnership with a man. It’s a self-defeating need.

And that’s because …

2) I’m codependent. I have all the classic signs, including the role model growing up. My mother is the quintessential poster child of codependence. My entire upbringing and my marriage could be used in a psychology textbook. I have a desperate need to take on other people’s problems, make them my own, and almost aggressively not allow them responsibility, because in my life that’s always what love looked like. And it is the most painful thing to watch because post-marriage my efforts to take care of others just drive them away. I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who needs me to take care of them. But people who don’t need taking care of don’t want to put up with my bullshit. Understandably so.

It’s a terrible position to be in. I don’t want a codependent relationship. But I want to be loved – and not by just anyone. By someone intelligent and witty and passionate and hard working and good. Someone I can respect. A partner. People like that aren’t easy to find, not at the level I’m talking about. And when I do find them, I drive them crazy because they don’t (and shouldn’t) need me.

So now I’m alone. And hoping this counseling will help me figure out how to fix what’s wrong with me so that I’m not alone forever. And also help me be content independent of a relationship. And stop getting into relationships with people who can’t and won’t commit. Because I think that’s also a pattern I fall into in my effort to save other people. “Oh, your marriage is falling apart and you’re in pain? Oh, you don’t feel like your spouse appreciates you? Well, I think you’re the most wonderful human in the world, and I hardly ever think people are wonderful so, ahem, allow me to don my codependent superhero cape and attempt to be everything you need.”

Abject failure. I can’t fucking save anyone. Except maybe myself. Maybe.

I’m running with this whole bumbling superhero metaphor. I posted on Twitter this morning: “I picture my codependence as a sort of blundering superhero who means well but only makes things worse. ‘Here she comes to wreck the day!'”

Shortly after that a slew of ideas for a cartoon series came into my head. So I’m going to devote some time to that because I think it could be a project both cathartic for me and entertaining to others. Possibly even helpful to others.

Humor is always my best defense mechanism.

I am such a mess.

I’m a witty, intelligent, loving mess though. So I have hope that I can work my way through. Hope is what keeps me moving. I have to keep moving.

Real people matter, not unreal arguments

I keep seeing this apologetic “I’m proud of being from the South but not proud of its history” thing among my acquaintances on social media.

First of all, never feel apologetic about not taking pride in a history of racial oppression.

And secondly, I just don’t get the regional pride thing. I don’t feel any particular emotion about growing up in the South.

I’m proud of my personal upbringing and the lessons instilled by that – which may or may not have some basis in “Southern hospitality.” I don’t know. I think I would be proud of it regardless of where in the U.S. I grew up.

I’m proud of being from a family that often struggled financially but still produced three children who went to college on hard-won scholarships. I’m proud of my parents and siblings. I’m proud of the great memories I have hiking and camping with my family in the Appalachian Mountains where we lived. I’m proud of my military service.

I’m proud of the fact that I basically spent my childhood running wild and largely barefoot through the woods and of that fucking unnaturally large crawfish that scared the bejesus out of me when I found it under a rock in the creek.

I’m proud that somewhere along the line I became someone who always challenges herself to be better.

But the accident of my birth and growth being in a particular region of the country doesn’t mean much except that I have a fondness for BBQ, sweet tea, whiskey and Carolina basketball (and a slight trepidation around crawfish. Also possums.) None of which negates or diminishes the deep love I have for the founding principles of my country and equal treatment and opportunity for all of its citizens – and, in fact, all human beings across the planet.

I’m entirely happy to see the removal of monuments lionizing men who were willing to watch the democratic experiment fail so that some white people could continue to own black people. But then I don’t care that much about monuments or any other object when compared to the lives and comfort and self respect of actual people, regardless of the color of their skin.

Take them all down. Who gives a fuck as long as we all have the same opportunities – assuming we’re equally willing to work hard and be considerate?

Don’t get me wrong – if you’re proud of a place, be proud of a place. But don’t be apologetic for not being proud of a place at the expense of human life and dignity.

And if you care more about a hunk of stone representing a dead guy than human life and dignity, you have serious mental issues. I’m headed to therapy tomorrow. Come with.

Wavering resolve

… and then sometimes I just lie here thinking: I am so broken, and I don’t know how to fix me. 

And no one really gives a fuck. 

And maybe I really should just go jump out of a plane. (With a parachute I mean. I’m a bit nihilistic, not suicidal.)