Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways. ¬†Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Choice

I am in a very dark and dreary sort of headspace and it makes focusing on anything other than the immediate more challenging than not. I wonder if this is a character weakness in that I feel incapable of simply sucking it up or if there are some areas of life where we have extremely limited choices in our behaviors and reactions?

Earlier this week I was going through the last boxes of documents, photographs, and albums that came from my mom’s house. It’s mostly depressing, soul-crushing sort of work, because not only do I have no idea who a lot of these people are/were, I have been forced to relive dozens (yes, plural) of albums from my sister’s life and times. If we had been closer and I did not feel that old stab of resentment that comes from being the younger, less favored daughter, the process would not be so dreadful. Making it worse – I have no relationship with my nephews and no idea how to reach either to see if they desire this stuff. I am decent enough to feel some guilt about tossing out these boxes of photos and books, but not quite generous enough to continue to store crap I will be happy never having to think about again.

But in the midst of all these my sister’s life and times memorialized in pictures, I found an envelope where I am actually in some of the photographs at various ages. Unfortunately, and this is where my wondering about “choice” comes into play, of the 17 photos, the man who molested and sexually abused me as a child is pictured with me in all of them. At birthday parties. At backyard bar-b-ques. At holiday dinners.

I remember the events and the occasions and it makes me want to barf.

It not only made me feel ill when I looked at them the first time, it also started me on the nightmare treadmill once again. But since finding them, I obsessively looked at and examined them frontward, backward, sideways at every available opportunity, always in search of clues to the why of it all, the endless, inexplicable question – why me? Was I such a naive, stupid, fearful, dumb, ignorant, or worse child that made victimization easy? Years passed – 8 years – and I never said a word, my parents never thought anything amiss. I had choices, even then.

I can spin this in a bazillion different ways and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. I live with the choices made for me and forgive my childhood self for being young and scared.

Finally last night I put those pictures through the shredder to force myself to stop. Then I burned the shredded photographs and drowned the ashes in water before dumping the whole mess – baking pan and all – into the trash. Then this morning I fished it out of the trash and threw it into a gym trash can at the far edge of the parking lot. And all day long I have been wondering if the gym trash can has been emptied and when the garbage collector comes and takes it away.

I feel unclean. I feel as if I have now tainted the club’s parking lot and I need to find somewhere else to leave my car. I feel ridiculous in my overreaction. While I know these feelings are all transitory, temporary, and a method to distract me from my crazy, it sure as Hell feels real to me to be this level of crazy.

The worst part is it has made me feel so much less. In my head I have become the incredible shrinking woman, minimized and marginalized as victim of circumstance. For all my foundational believe in free will being a guiding principle in how to live my life, I am helpless and hopeless when it comes to this shit. I don’t really want to talk about it even this much, yet I cannot stop the endless loop now projecting in my head no matter what I happen to be doing as a productive human being.

So I am pondering choice. Am I really this helpless, this hopeless? Knowing it will pass, eventually, makes little difference in hurrying it along. I have spent so much of my life battling back and fighting to be all I can be, only to be brought down and left writhing in mental and emotional agony over a small envelope of photographs.

I like to think my mom forgot about them, that they have been sitting in this box of stuff in a storage closet for the last 25 years. But it takes me back to being in my therapist’s office, stating my truth about the childhood horror show, and having her flat out deny it ever happened. Had she shot me dead that day I doubt it would have hurt so much. But it is what it is, and I’m left with my bewilderment over her own childhood that brought forth such a coldly cruel person to her own child.

That’s another unpleasant thing to ponder, another unanswered question to speculate about or to set aside and choose to not let it matter to me any longer.

I do not seem to be making good choices right now. But I tell myself it’s okay, that tomorrow will be better, that the powerlessness will fade and my ability to be the decider or at least a better decider within my own life will return. I know this, and I will strive to be kind to and patient with myself until my strength returns.

At which time, I will choose to put the past away with hopeful resolve that it will not return and catch me unarmed and off-guard again.

I will choose me, the woman I became despite poor circumstances. And I’ll believe it when I remind myself it’s good to be me.

When I have the strength to exercise my choices once more.

The aviary, anxiety, and getting on with it

Mish-mash catch-all post with updates on various happenings in my life. Busy days this shortened work week, but before I get too engulfed by various things I wanted to provide a quick update on current events.

Cheepers

I wish I’d thought to take a more recent photo, but Cheepers is still with us and appears to be thriving. That said, I have concerns about his longevity, visions of setting him free in the wild only to be snatched on his first freedom flight by the hawk, the big bad boogey bird of the greenbelt behind our home. Or worse, crashing down and within reach of our cats, who then dash off to consume him in private and well out of reach of M’s wrath.

He eats pretty well when M feeds him, drinks water pretty well from an eye dropper that M puts in his beak, and can fly a bit when M launches him from the floor a couple of feet off the ground. Other than that, Cheepers is pretty much completely dependent. He’s not a terrible housemate – he either stays in his box (in the air conditioned comfort of the house) or on his paper plate (when we are at home to ensure he doesn’t fall off whatever surface his plate is resting upon). He goes outside in the cage for a few hours each day in the nice temperatures of the mornings and evenings. Overnight, he sleeps uncaged on his paper plate on M’s nightstand. He starts cheeping for breakfast when the sun comes through the windows, but even with me rustling around getting ready to leave for the gym at 4 in the morning that bird stays with beak tucked into his wing and happily sleeping.

I’m not sure what will happen to him, frankly, but I can envision a future with us having a bird pet for however long he lives. It’s now been 2 weeks, and while other birds of his species – that may or may not be the parent birds – are out in the yard, they seem pretty indifferent to him and he to them. Birdy-Bird, his predecessor that also fell out of the nest and ultimately died in our care, was older when M found him and would interact routinely with his parents while ensconced in the yard in his cage. Cheepers was younger and likely abandoned, so essentially M is his parent and family. Unfortunately M cannot teach him how to hunt and feed himself. M cannot get Cheepers to eat food or drink water he places in front of him.

I think M has become, by necessity, a helicopter bird parent. And unfortunately, I see little hope of getting him “launched” successfully and safely.

Yep, M enables him. Cheepers goes off in his cage to jobsites or on runs with M during the day, his worms in their own cooler for snacks and lunch. There are certainly worse fates for the little bird, but he seems far too domesticated and tame now to survive on his own in the wild. Time will tell.

I have always been a dog person if I were to have a pet. Now I have cats outside and a bird in my house. The bird is unlikely to live a long life either way, and the cats were already adults when we met them 6 years ago, so they are settling into the “mature” cat years now. But after this, I want no more pets.

Anxiety

The Big Law Firm (BLF) transition was paperwork-ly completed last Friday. Monday began the first day for remaining staff as new employees with BLF, and of course yesterday was a paid holiday. I had really, Really, REALLY hoped for a soft landing in this change and that despite my personal misgivings and worries about it, that the staff would find the experience positive or mostly positive. I really wanted future communications with them to contain sort of tempered excitement at worst, that they miss working with me but things are so damn great even without me it’s hard to contain their enthusiasm. I also really hoped the first day would be more off-hand and casual as they all adjust to the new normal.

Yeah, Pollyanna still lives here.

Monday was fairly brisk for me setting up my own new normal as far as self-employment continuing and restart with client work and appointments, so it was a rare mid-morning to late afternoon period of not reading texts except those from clients I was meeting or expecting to be hearing from about schedule-related issues.

I had 117 texts from various staff members when I finally sat down to read them. About 30% were of the “so weird without you here” and “we miss you already” and “it’s lunchtime – where are you?” type messages, which made me smile. The rest were descriptive about the changes being implemented from day 1 and how it felt like BLF had executed a military coup and drafted all of them. Or worse. Change is hard.

I wish it were different, but reminded them that change is difficult at first and to give BLF staff a chance. They do operate differently than we did, than I did, and it’s a new era and practically a new job, so be patient and smart about learning the new systems and procedures. Give BLF a chance to not only adapt to a new firm, new cases, new staff, but also a chance to evaluate the office work flow and adapt to and incorporate some of our best practices. While I am realistic about there being no place for me in the new business world order of the firm, I know these are very smart and talented attorneys. They will adapt to the new culture and the culture will adapt to incorporate them as well.

Even the former partners are having to adapt somewhat. In their roles as consultants and advisors they will be in the office periodically for meetings with clients and consulting/transitioning ongoing matters, but they too are having to adapt to not being primary decisionmakers and expected to be somewhere throughout the day. As I will be assisting them with the wind-down of the firm throughout the next 6 months to a year, I will still see and speak to them regularly, although of course it’s not the same as it was. But as I have reminded myself hundreds of times since this all came about, things are constantly in a state of flux and nothing stays the same forever, nor would I desire that.

But I am also facing the reality of my new normal. Monday I was busy with work-related things both planned and unexpected, as is typical for all aspects of life. I have had 3 clients that I had to cut loose back when I accepted full-time employment express happy-happy-joy-joy at the opportunity to return to the fold, and before the calendar even turned I was already engrossed in resolving a bigger problem and found myself with a short-fuse deadline for today that I was only able to get extended to Monday and even then only because the regulator knows me well and is delighted to have me back on the case. While grateful for the reprieve, I’m furious at the person who spent more than a year collecting fees for work she was not actually doing. I am actually so furious about it I am making a list and planning to market directly to her clients, probably all of them.

Because I tend to hate marketing, this is an added layer of stress. Fortunately for me, all my work has come from referrals from people I know or clients I work with or have worked with in the past. I am not very good at talking up my services or expertise; I am pretty black-and-white about what I can or cannot do for someone. Schmoozing is not normal or easy behavior for me, especially in a marketing-type capacity. While I can and do negotiate (I buy all the cars in our family because M hates dealing with salesmen), I dislike the process.

Beyond that, though, I have some concerns about what to do with myself all day. I mean, right now I have plenty on my plate – through the end of July my to-do lists overfloweth. There is just this sense that a “regular” workday and workload will be inadequate to fill up my typical work hours. What do I do then?

In my experience, the anxiety is unfounded. It is the mostly unknown workday right now, and being such a schedule-keeping creature of habit, I dislike that uncertainty. So, I have decided the only course of action is to stay on some semblance of my presently normal schedule. Stick to my regular wake-up and exercise schedule, plan my workday around its normal timeframe. I have more flexibility to actually meet with clients in their offices now, although I imagine my Tuesdays are pretty well set and will continue.

My routine-loving stress puppy will be soothed by sticking to what we know. For at least the month of July, that will be good enough.

Life (and Work) Does Go On

I am cutting myself some slack on my present-level of anxiety over the changes in life and career. While I am not at all worried about finding enough work, being capable enough to do the work, or even juggling and managing my time to ensure stuff gets done, change is hard, even change I have been anticipating. Unfortunately things have been sort of ethereal in nature during that period, and now that July is here and full-time self-employment is again a thing, I have to get busy wrapping my arms around it and sorting it into orderly priorities.

This week I have appointments outside the office with existing, returning, and potential clients. Which means I have to be on best and most dressed-up behavior most of my days – none of my favorite capris and tank tops at my treadmill desk much this week. This is one of the true perks of working from home into the future and I’m impatient to start enjoying it.

From the messages and support from friends and clients alike, I am lucky to have such great influences from those who populate my life. I am not “losing” friends by leaving the firm so much as gaining a different slant on the friendships built there.

Between the negotiated severance package and terms of my separation, money is not even top 5 of concerns I have about this transition. In that, I am extraordinarily fortunate and genuinely grateful. While so far from “frugalista” I should probably consult the dictionary regularly to refresh my memory when my brand of financial restraint seems too confining, ours is a pretty simple life. Biggest splurges are probably training for me and fuel for M’s travel to and fro to run, both of which have a direct benefit on our overall and ongoing health.

That said, I always do have a bare-bones budget in mind, our go-to in the event of financial famine. I update it regularly as our circumstances change, but typically very little changes unless we have acquired new debt (ha ha) or have become gazelle-intense about saving for something or paying off the mortgage.

I am mostly chasing my tail because big changes give me some sense of anxiety. Since this is not a change I wanted but more one I had to implement and accept, it makes adjustment that much more difficult. I am and will continue to adjust to the new normal, and from there I expect less aimless frothing on a spin cycle and more productive use and practical applications of time and energy.

Onward, ever onward. The adventure continues, even with me whimpering and weakly wiggling my feet in protest.

 

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

Last night we had our final dinner as a firm. While I had my doubts about it when first announced, the partners wanted something special for the staff offsite to commemorate the firm that once was. There has been a wide range of emotions about the sale, but joy and elation were not within that range. Mostly it has been anger, sadness, uncertainty, ad some bitterness that the partners would sell out and abandon what is a great firm, great jobs for all of us.

I do not disagree. While intellectually knowing and understanding their position and desires to pursue some other type of life, it has been a struggle to accept and let go for me. But accepting what I cannot change has been for my own good, and I’m in the best possible shape for this parting. I am staying positive 90% of the time about it.

Thursday afternoon we had a boozey-schmoozey final lunch. It was fun – good food, lots of laughter, booze – and at 4 p.m. I was putting the last tipsy lawyer into an Uber and saying goodbye to my receptionist. He gave me a parting gift and I opened it in the car. It’s a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and he wrote the sweetest note inside for me. I didn’t cry until reading it, but it was powerful. I love that kid and expect he will do well and have a great life.

We were closed for the day on Friday at the partners’ insistence. They were moving their personal belongings from the offices and did not want the staff around to witness this final phase. I stopped by in the late afternoon to put a personal note and goodbye gift on each desk. The empty offices, the framed degrees, the photographs of the firm and staff through the years off the walls nearly broke me in half. The finality that this would be my final stop in this volume of my life and career hit hard.

But last night, last night went from semi-serious and nearly morose to something more typical of us as a group over the course of the evening. Good food, open bar, and a lot of funny and touching anecdotes from the partners about each of the staff members made for a good evening. I’d been asked to share something as well – about the state of the firm on its last days as well as anything else I cared to talk about. I was still trying to write it all down 3 minutes before we were due to leave the house.

In the end, I quoted numbers from my notes, because I’m a numbers kind of person and that is part of my role. For me personally, I spoke from the heart about what they have all meant to me, how it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a scary smart group of people with such unlimited potential for greatness in careers and in lives they live. Ours is not a Hallmark movie inspirational tale – our clients are primarily big insurance companies and not some little guy seeking justice in the form of monetary damages – but being our best selves, using our intelligence and experience to do the best job we can has its own rewards.

My career has spanned longer than a few of these kids time on earth. While I have not always been a manager or a leader – I was 47 before finishing my degree – it has been many years since I have discounted or pooh-poohed my professional accomplishments in comparison to others. As a very young woman I came to understand that I could have everything I wanted in life (assuming I was willing to put forth the sweat equity to make it happen) but I could not necessarily have it all at once. I married, divorced, raised children while working progressively responsible administrative support jobs, a role that I still feel is mostly undervalued. Every job I have had, no matter how low on the food chain or how lacking in respect, has taught me something, even if it is how to not conduct myself or the ways I manage work-related relationships. I remain hopeful that this new big firm experience will benefit my (now former) associates in positive ways. To the very end I continued to encourage them to have an open mind about the possibilities and experiences awaiting them.

And I meant every single word of it.

I debate with myself the value of authenticity and sincerity in the professional realm. There is an edge of cynicism that continually tries s to expand within me yet gets tamped down at every turn. I am realistic that people are people and there is a segment in every workplace that are ruthlessly ambitious or insecure and will do whatever it takes to realize their vision of getting ahead. The work I do is not deeply personal or life-altering to my clients, but it must be done and putting forth quality effort and using my education and experience is satisfying to me. I have grown accustomed to a higher level of autonomy and control in my work, and I see going back to self-employment as the best option for maintaining that. I know how fortunate I am to have this option, to have retained enough part-time clients to ensure our basic living expenses are covered, but already a few clients I referred out 18 months ago when I went with a full-time job have gleefully returned and other firms have been contacting me about projects of various lengths. I should have no problems keeping myself busy, off the streets and out of Baskin Robbins (purely medicinal purposes, of course).

Returning to employee status – I don’t see it happening for me unless something extraordinary happens to my stable of clients. The law firm offered me an unique and challenging opportunity where I felt certain I could and would make a difference. At the end of it, when the old firm is now just a shell that we will be winding down and closing out as a corporation in the next year, I know that my presence and efforts made an impact and a difference for the partners and the staff.

It’s hard to be sad when I know this to be true.

My book of life continues to be written, only one chapter is now concluded. Fresh page, fresh start. Let the new adventure begin anew.