Right where I need to be

Blogging. It seems the process takes on life of its own. There is so much to write about, yet so little of any substance. Or so goes my judgment and justification for why I’m not getting more posts written and published.

I have been pondering blogging a fair amount in the month of September. Not in terms of ceasing to blog, or chastising myself for not posting more frequently. No, this was more an observation of the ebb and flow of life. Work of late has been picking up – new clients, new projects, new chunks of time that might have been utilized writing being devoted to income generating projects instead. Or being sick. Or sleeping. Or any number of other tasks and priorities.

Each of us have our own individual reasons for writing and publishing about our lives, ideas, thoughts in a public forum. For me there is a catharsis and empowerment in blogging. No doubt in my mind that it has been a contributing factor in my evolving confidence and maturity to date.

An old friend emailed me last week an apology of sorts. This friend was extremely judgmental about my better health quest when I first began, asking intrusive questions about my weight loss and making derisive statements about the size of my upper arms. It was hurtful, yet the pattern of our lives that I would mildly object, tell her to knock it off, have a minor disagreement that would blow over. Lather, rinse, repeat over various topics through the years. The last time, though, I was working hard at my exercise, getting on and then staying on the consistency training plan. Her words offended me, triggered feel badly about me emotions, and I suddenly woke up and realized I do not need any help with my own negative self-image. It was terrifying to end a multi-decade long friendship, but I had to protect myself. TM (my long-time, long-suffering therapist) helped me through the logistical details, and it was a Very Big Deal for me to tell her that I needed to distance myself from her and her attitude and we should no longer communicate. She did not take it well, and it was like high school all over again with her “poor me” crying among our mutual friends. I was not being mean. Taking care of myself to the best of my ability is a unique job and primarily, ultimately my primary responsibility to myself.

It cost me a lot in terms of friendship and social interactions. While hard initially, I also understand people and that our individual needs do change along with the circumstances of our lives. But when I look back and examine the wins and losses, I see it merely as trimming of deadwood from my life. There are folks I kind of miss at certain times of year, yet I can also see there is nothing to apologize for in my behavior toward them. I did not say “you’re a horrid person and need to be banned.” Nope. Not my style. I was clear and direct: “You do not respect me or my choices. I think our friendship has run its course. I wish you well.” Or something equally benign.

She thought that was harsh. She felt I was being mean, yet telling me to fire my trainer because I was not losing weight under his tutelage was not out of line. Either way, we parted way, and in the last 2 years when our paths have crossed I was banished to her vision of freezing Hell. Oh well; I am apparently immune to social frostbite. It divided our friends, many on the other side of the line with her. The few I do still communicate with are honest about how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to be around someone as serious as I have become about overhauling my diet and my exercise habits; it points out to them the flaws in their own lifestyle choices. I understand that, and no, while in my own blogs I may have the zeal of the born again, I do not routinely flaunt it or criticize their own choices that differ from my own. However, my already thin patience for the whining and excuses is also lessened as well. All I ask, and sometimes it is too much, apparently – be responsible and own your choices; stop making or seeking sympathy and understanding when you continually make excuses your own inaction.

So I do work on that.

I want everyone to be happy, and I am sympathetic when life does not work out as we hope and desire. However, if you are repeatedly self-sabotaging and shooting yourself in the foot, common sense says put down the loaded gun or at very least remove the bullets before pulling the trigger. Yep, folks who do get irritated with me for my practicality admit that it is primarily because I am disrupting their pity party with reality. They still like me enough to forgive me for being a voice of reason.

So the email from my original frenemy was a bit of a surprise. The way it was worded, the way it sought to “share” responsibility for our falling out (yet still refused to accept her role in it), I had zero inclination to respond in anything akin to a positive way. There is enough of a legacy codependent within me that felt poorly about that choice, so I reached out to TM for help and support that I was doing the right thing by deflecting her outreach.

In the meantime, there was some additional information from other mutual friends. Frenemy has uterine cancer and is facing surgery and other cancer treatment. I am sympathetic, yet I feel little inclination to reach out and be part of the support team for her. Part of my lifelong habit is to feel guilty for my lacking more generosity toward her. But I got my own stuff brewing and whatever caring energy I have available needs to be directed toward me right now.

And I have no reason to feel guilty about taking care of myself. I have learned through the years that putting my oxygen mask on first is always far more beneficial than trying to take care of others while I am wounded and in need of care myself.

The timing of this could not have been worse, yet I wonder – is there ever a perfect time to have someone you have known most of your life be diagnosed with serious illness? Or is there ever a good time to realize you’ve been kind of a fuck up – are are so ridiculously fucked up overall – in allowing someone to treat you poorly and then return with whatever expectation that their illness is going to matter so much that you stop dead in your tracks and abandon all sorts of leaps and bounds forward?

I am in an emotionally weakened state right now and rebuilding my defenses and acceptance skills. Sometimes picking at the childhood wounds causes fresh pain and unexpected bleeding that cannot be staunched with the first aid skills I have adopted through the years. Good thing my village of experts includes a mental health specialist who seems to have infinite patience waiting for my next breakdown.

After an hour together yesterday and half a box of kleenex, I am still muddled yet so determined to be stronger and not let my past interfere anymore with my forward moving present. I hate hating to deal with this old shit, because it pierces the facade that I am so boringly average. And I get up, go to the gym, move whatever weightier weights I can to and fro. It’s good for body, but it is soothing balm to my soul.

Good, bad, ugly – life is messy. It takes some time to learn the necessary skills and gain the experience to put it all in order. I need teachers and guides. I’m grateful that I have grown up enough to know how to seek out help.

At the end of it all, it simply reminds me: I am right where I need to be. And it is going to be okay.

TM – Closing another chapter in our lengthy book

I met with TM today and had a very good discussion about me and how I am faring in navigating my own life. We have been winding down for a little while now, so I expected to be okay with breaking off our formalized appointments. Because it’s time right now. For the summer or the season, I’m in good shape and prepared to manage my own affairs without his backstopping me.

While we touched upon triggering issues – friends exiting, work stress, extended/external family strive, new marriage for C, upcoming marriage for G – I feel infinitely more competent and confident to manage without his hand-holding. Besides, he’s a mere phone call/text/email away if I need a safe spot to land.

More of our hour was on my successes and progress in all aspects of my life this year than on my falterings and uncertainties.

Exercise. I have established and am maintaining a very robust exercise/training schedule. Meeting with J twice a week is one thing, the other 5 days I am at the gym to practice my newly acquired skills is huge. And now I am branching out and into Pilates class for some focused core work, something I dislike doing at the gym and that J does not spend huge blocks of time on with me. There are some baby muscles brewing, but my overall confidence in my ability has soared. It shows in the way I feel and how I think; TM remarked that he has not had to remind me to compliment myself or ask me for a positive affirmation in the last several meetings. Thinking about that, I realize he is absolutely right. I am not in there singing my own praises or tooting my own horn, and I think me developing narcotic personality is not a concern he harbors. But I am far less negative, now at all helpless or speaking in terms of “I can’t” or “I don’t want to” or “I am failing” type terms. There is still some anxiety and some fear – it’s part of life and my lifetime of habits – but they are not the first response to any and every situation. Instead of “I can’t” I think “I’ll try … and I will eventually succeed.” Instead of “I don’t want to” it is more “I don’t want to, but I’ll give it an honest ry anyway.” I have replaced fail/failing with falter/faltering or flounder/floundering, because fail is so definitive, and falter/flounder is a temporary state until mastery occurs.

Health. I am diabetes controlling drug free and maintaining it. My eating is uneven hit and miss, and dropping weight feels a bit like a mythical unicorn in my life. But I am undeterred. This process is a 2 steps forward, 3 steps back dance that will someday soon become enough of a discipline to be reversed into 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. RD is patient and kind and we are slowly making inroads on year and years of bad habits and learning to like things well enough or still not at all and not forcing the issue. While I do not feel as if I have unlimited amounts of time to experiment and work at hitting my stride with diet, I also do not flog myself endlessly for prior missteps. Eating is an experiment right now, has been for several months, and I am improving in incremental steps that are not in any way linear or logical. At first I thought if I could steer clear of the diabetes meds I would be happy enough, but my niggling reality is that more sustained eating choices must be implemented to ensure I can stay on top of my battle with blood sugar. Good part is I am more motivated than not and know I will find my groove.

Stress. There was a time when most of my stress came from worrying about things that made me anxious or afraid. Failing to produce at work, blowing a project and losing a client, or going into business for myself and not acquiring enough work or enough clients. The status of my health, and not doing what I should or could be doing to take better care of myself. Never being good enough no matter the situation. These days, stress comes in little lapping waves from juggling work-related responsibilities and projects, not wanting to say no, ensuring I am adequately available to my clients. Putting up some reasonable boundaries has helped enormously, as has setting up a reasonable bedtime to prioritize getting to the gym each morning. My bad dreams are much smaller scale first world problems, like being late for my training appointment because my alarm failed to sound or that my body refuses the brain’s commands on certain exercises. The things I obsess about are well within my control, like single leg everything or whether or not the vegetables I have on the meal plan are going to be cooked adequately. More of my thought and energies are on where I have succeeded or what I am currently reading. The 24/7 news cycle still draws me like moth to flame, but I am resisting and burying myself in books about exercise or body building or diet and nutrition or philosophy and meditation. Facebook is limited to what my kids and few FB friends are liking and commenting on, which is rarely something to send me off on some rabid hunt for one of the cable news channels. Pinterest even more so is pictures of pretty food and inspirational quotes the challenges other people are doing and why. I am curious; there is no urge to join them in their month-long quests.

Hopes and dreams. So many wonderful things  have happened already this year, with the improving health and kids’ weddings. As a parent and really just as a person, it has been so wonderful to see my kids happy with their lives and with the supportive partners and loving relationships they have right now. There have been disappointments and setbacks, but that’s part of life. I am hugely proud of all 4 of them for how they have weathered and handled themselves when faced with such obstacles. M and I have few aspirations for travel and adventure this year; our focus seems to be on self-improvement. For me my jobs and the building blocks I have in place there remain a critical pursuit, and M is as intensely focused on his running as he has ever been in all our years together. Between that and my gym pursuits our energies are well-matched with hobbies and leisure. Next year may be the year of bigger trips and greater adventure further afield, or not depending upon how we prioritize our life and times. There are still big-ticket hole enhancement projects we would like to pursue, and just like everyone else, money is a finite resource and we cannot do everything we want whenever we wish to do it. We are content and satisfied with our choices.

Looking back at the first 5 months of 2016, I have made some amazing strides and weathered some harsh times. The bad men still occasionally haunt my dreams, but my recovery from that is most complete. I am still wary alone in dark parking lots, probably a good thing from a personal safety standpoint. I have lost a few friends and learned a lot about myself and my own heart and its resilience. I am far stronger than I give myself credit for, both emotionally and physically. Still not the strongest woman in the gym, but I gave up that feeling of competition and measuring up to other people and their abilities. The race and the journey is my own, to go as quickly or as slowly as I need to, and I am learning patience and pacing as I move along.

I have a good heart, and I am not a mean person, despite what negative girl whispers when I have to draw a line or enforce boundaries. I am also bright enough, intelligent enough to learn from those who are trying to teach, and to be brave enough to say I do not understand when I am not catching on.

Forward progress for me has not been measured by conventional means of pounds and inches lost or weigh mass I can life or move or books I have read or thoughts I have articulated in writing or discussion with others. Progress has come in getting up and going to the gym every day, and doing the same series of exercises until I have the order and the cues floating to mind when I decide upon the list. I have found voice to state clearly what I need and what I want, to M, to friends, to clients and business associates. I have written one or more posts in this blog nearly every day this year; my days of not posting as much an anomaly as my breaks from exercise. The little successes that come with balance – both physical and emotional – are not anything anyone else sees or measures. But I know it. I feel it. I embrace it and I project it outwardly. And after this much time, others in my orbit recognize I am evolving in a different direction, and they applaud and encourage me, are happy to see me in this better, happier space. Or they are regretfully left behind on the curb, because I am not going to settle for anything less anymore.

Discussing all this with TM … I feel so powerful. And finally, really smart about who I am right now. Closing this chapter right now makes sense, because I am ready and capable of meeting whatever challenges I choose to pursue.

And that’s the best feeling I used to be incapable of imagining.

 

Influence

How much influence do others in our lives hold over us? How much influence do we hold over others? And where is the tipping point where trying to influence or persuade becomes trying to control or manipulate? Or are these different things that come from different motivations right out of the box? What to do when being a supportive, encouraging influence feels more like enabling and results in feeling discouraged and energy draining for us?

These are questions swirling in my mind lately. Not all the time, not obsessively, not urgently, but cropping up frequently enough that they become a recurring theme for me to explore.

I think about those who hold sway in my life for different reasons – M, my kids, my closest friends, my clients, my business associates, my village of experts and teachers. For the most part, these are people I trust, particularly or especially within their sphere of expertise or their place in my life. Some of those circles overlap – I have clients who I also consider friends, I have a village that I think of like extended family members. For all these sources no matter what their classification in my life, I listen to them, am keenly interested in what they share with me, want to know what they think and how they feel. I want to ensure they are okay and to help whenever appropriate and possible. And I absolutely believe in the integrity within our interactions.

In my real life as well as on several blogs I regularly read and follow, I see some form of disconnect between those who speak their truth, those who use ambiguity, and those who are outright lying for whatever reason. The last troubles me the most, obviously. Much of the time I do not understand why someone would lie about relatively trivial things, or even to get what they think they want. Which should be comforting to know that I have a functional moral compass. The most obvious liars and cheats are terrible people who should be avoided at all costs, but there is a much subtler version of truth-shading. I have mostly come to understand it stems from something amiss in the other party’s life. Depression. Anxiety. Insecurity. All of the above. Something else I know even less about much less how to identify it. And as much as I want to help, to be a good friend, to be a resource, I cannot help anyone who refuses to admit there could potentially be a truth and reality problem in our communications.

I understand boundaries very well, and in my world it is fine to tell me something is none of my business or that you are uncomfortable answering a question if it seems too personal or something else. I am not completely obtuse and do pick up on the subtleties of subject changing or not responding directly to a question. For me, this is how I discover boundaries and get to know people. Another lesson from being a parent that extends to the rest of my life. As my kids grew up and achieved more autonomy and assumed more responsibility for themselves, year-by-year letting go of a little more of the mom-who-controls-everything mode was a natural progression that I accepted and after awhile, truly embraced. It gave both kids room to experiment, make independent choices, make mistakes with those independent choices, learn about life knowing M and I were there, we had/have their backs. A few times I was disappointed and angry at dumb choices they made, but for the most part in those days they checked in before making a big decisions and allow me to weigh in with my thoughts or preferences, and they learned to listen and to trust me when I said it was their choice. From my own history growing up, I absolutely knew I would never become a parent who says “I told you so” or harp upon decisions they made that I suggested or plainly stated was a bad idea.

Does not mean that I do not feel the impulse sometimes to insist they do it my way or to try and take away some of their autonomy. I am not much of a spontaneous person, and when it comes to friends and family, I strive to be very careful with my words and actions. Sometimes our individual truths are hurtful and not what we and our partners in discussion each want to hear, and sometimes our truths are absolutely inaccurate when removed from our own context. Basically it’s tricky and it’s complicated even when it should not be all that difficult or challenging.

This same lessons apply to friendships, although I have a few examples littering my history that are train wrecks and nothing I say, nothing I do would prevent the same issues, same problems from recurring over and over again. In these situations it became obvious we should never discuss relationships, parenting, or financial matters, because I grew weary of seeing the same mistakes happen in a predictable cycle and they grew frustrated and defensive in light of my pained expressions and refusing to be supportive in their time of need.

Part of life is being let down and disappointed by actions, reactions, behaviors. In the last year I have discontinued regular contact with long-time close friends and chronicled it here on the blog. It has been a process that left me uncomfortable at first, but slowly I am coming to realize that not all painful change means it is bad or regretful change. Perhaps I am in a mental/emotional growth spurt and learning things that are obvious to just about everyone else.

My basic recent takeaway is that I value my time and have learned to prioritize it, which is likely the most benign way to express that my tolerance is limited with people who cannot or will not be straight with me. I love having friends, but how based in reality is a friendship when someone chooses to not be truthful? When I was a single parent, my free time was scarce with young children underfoot, so many of my friendships were with other mothers, other parents in similar situations. While our kids played we’d sit on park benches and talk and revel in some adult conversation that did not involve breaking up arguments or comforting frustrated toddlers. Same was true as the kids advanced in school grades; many of my friends were parents of their friends or people I saw at PTA meetings or band booster or parent athlete events. Never underestimate the bonds forged with other parents while manning a snackbar at a high school water polo event or a wresting tournament.

But I recognize the transitory nature of those relationships. My closest circle of friends are people I have met at various jobs throughout my career and/or that I met at some point and just clicked with on some real, raw level. Friend J – on the surface we have virtually nothing in common, yet after 20+ years we are still best of friends. Friend GS – who just resurfaced after a 2-year absence – is another who is 13 years younger than I am, lives on the east coast, and is now weaving his way through the single parent maze I was immersed in when we first met. There are others, people who I see once or twice a year, or maybe only ever 4 or 5 years, yet keep in regular, close touch via text and email because that’s what type of friends we are. These are in my phone favorites list and speed dial when something significant happens and I need to share the joy or an extra shoulder to lean on or arms for hugging support.

To a person, there have been misunderstandings through the years, even hurtful things we have had to hash out and resolve in order to move forward. But to the best of my knowledge and instincts, they have never lied or misled me about anything. Sure they have disappointed me, and I them. Sometimes real life with close friends their own day-to-day lives are a more interesting priority that fulfilling a vague commitment for a friend who will ultimately forgive their thoughtlessness. Thing is, they know my priority and how my mind works. They say “I am doing this” then it clicks into a holding place in my head until concluded. If they fail to initiate the task, they come back and say “sorry, I got distracted with something else and have revised to this.” I am okay with that nearly all the time, because I get stuff happens.

But to say “I am doing this” and have it evolve into “I have done this” is like a done-deal. For me to learn through the passage of time and have my happy expectation dissolve into something else is huge for me. When the “I have done this” turns out to be a deliberate misleading statement – uber huge. The first time it happens, I explain my position very clearly: if you tell me you have done something, I believe you. If it turns out you told me you did something and you in fact did not, it’s a chink in the trust that is difficult to resolve. Just telling me is far better than just letting the situation unwind itself out, have me questioning you about it, being reassured that you don’t know what happened but it’s on the way. Or even worse, making an excuse, only to have me at some point call you on your bullshit, that is a really hard one for me to recover from.

There are extenuating circumstances. Life happens. But to ignore the problem and hope it goes away is not working on a communication issue or breach of trust between us.

I am dealing with a few such situations right now. And it completely sucks. Because while I hate conflict, I hate that trust shattered makes me feel like a shit-worthless friend. I hate having to separate myself from meaningful friendship.

I am very frustrated with the trivial matters that have been escalated into crisis-like situations. I am very frustrated with myself for being so trigger-happy as a coping mechanism based partly on intuition and instinct, but mostly on generous amounts of prior poor experiences. I am equally frustrated with friends who cannot or will not just tell me the truth and make some movement, take a small step to try and talk it out. Overall I am just disturbed and disgusted with myself for allowing it to send me into a tail-chasing spin cycle. In the bigger picture, the root cause of the breakdown does not matter. And from the the way things are progressing, neither I nor the offending parties matter much to each other either.

Which is why these situations are sucky and hurtful. I am trying to be careful and cautious about how I go forward and deal with what sits in my mind like a giant pink elephant, but it’s crowding me out my positive experiences. And lately I am all about embracing the positive

So let me just finish purging myself of this stuff and move back into my happy, less troubled self.

My old friend who is obsessed with weight and appearance finally responded to my email reply to her, and in typical fashion, turned it around and made this all about me and my overreaction to her concerns, even going so far as to say my better health objective has backfired and turned me into a raging bitch.

Huh. Really? Intriguing turn of events. In truth, the email made me laugh, probably inappropriately. But oh well. It is possible I should be more upset, but I am not. If this very old friend takes it upon herself to tell me who she is right now, I should simply believe her and let it go. I do value my time; arguing over the differences in our perspectives is completely pointless. If I used Facebook like normal people I would unfriend and block her, because that is apparently how these things are done anymore. Instead, I simply deleted the email without further response.

We are all now middle aged grown-ups. Despite how young or old we may feel inside, hopefully enough time has passed and enough experience accumulated to the point where we can be courteous and be kind to one another even if we have grown apart as friends and confidants. Or so goes my thinking on the subject. Possibly I am the delusional one.

There is another blogging community we both belong to with a larger, wider group of friends. For years we used it more like a message board for the group, where we would post news or vent about our spouses or dating or other aspects of our lives and receive support or a kick in the ass from the others with their comments and perspectives. Only we were all friends in real life and it was not at all anonymous. I think about my real-life friends who once participated on the community blog and now read this, my personal blog for updates, and occasionally react to it in email, text, or telephone. Nothing I write here is anything I would not repeat to them in a face-to-face conversation, so I never fear that I am stepping upon toes or being passive-aggressive in getting my point across. If that were the case I am extremely unlikely to leave a post up just long enough to be read by one or a few and then delete it and all the comments. Nor would I abandon my blog completely, delete it, and run from it and its history. That happened a lot off and on through the years in this other community and was the catalyst to beginning my own blog, my own safe space.

It is not my way to try and hide or wipe my past. I see the evolution of my thoughts, my life in the historical posts here. Some of it is truly cringe-worthy, and not just because of the typos and grammatical errors (because I rarely do more than a very superficial proofread and hardly ever edit). Despite my cringe-worthy personal content, I also see growth and maturity in my perspective. I see where I have abandoned any and all interest in being a good or popular blogger, I see the allure of audience blogging and my rejection of it. I treasure those who read and like and comment. Perhaps there is something in my posts that brings a new facet to their own journeys, or they find amusement in the slices of life and endless navel-gazing going on around here. Blogging life simply got better when this became more of a public journal than anything else.

On Sunday I got an email from another blogger who paid me this high compliment: “There is a ring of earnest authenticity in your writing that I find comforting.” I was and am hugely flattered by those words, because I am as real here as I am standing at my keyboard at home. It is that type of authenticity I desire in all my relationships, but particularly those where influence on either side is an option. Otherwise, what is the point?