Baggage

April has been exhausting. Work is busy, hectic, crazy. Personal life is busy as well. But this is normal. This is typical. But it’s the stuff in storage that is steering me in a funk-like state that is bordering depression.

When my mom died a few years ago, I could not shed her house and all the stuff she stuffed into it quickly enough. But in every life there is a large bunch of personal family stuff that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. There was a pile of old photos and albums and miscellaneous items.

All that has been in storage. Except now it’s not. It’s been mostly dealt with – donated or thrown away. My photos, photos of my kids, a few of my sister and nephews I kept, the rest are of folks I don’t know or my sister – boxes and boxes of albums documenting my sister’s life – and since I no longer have relationships with either of them, I made the self-protective decision to throw what seems zillions of photos away.

There are a few mementos I kept – a couple of favorite drinking glasses from when I was a kid, a remaining serving dish from my parents’ original set – but the other stuff I was so paralyzed over in the months after my mother died was surprisingly easy to released to their next home. For the new owners of those items, it will not have the same stigma or history of negative, angry emotions attached.

And for the first time, I feel truly free.

Yet, for everything attached to my family of origin, there is a faint strain of guilt as well. The terrifying rage and anger I still feel has been mostly diffused – growing up, physically distancing yourself to match the emotional safeguards in place – tends to do that for us. Self-protection is not to be underestimated.

Hard as I try to be a good community member where I dwell, I am very conscious of where I have failed, either by choice or circumstance, or some combination of both. Part of my mind are broken enough to make normal then and normal now coexist peacefully as polar opposites. The closed-off part of me where feelings don’t work classically normal is like walking with a limp after serious injury and best case scenario of healing, and recognizing that in and of itself is a huge step forward.

Being open about my history is not an easy thing, but now, my family of origin is gone and I have been untethered from all that influence and the angry, reflexive negativity attached and now with the disposal of the last boxes of stuff that remind me of all my real (or perceived and told to me) shortcomings,

This range of emotions I feel – it’s not anything I would wish upon anyone else. It is rooted in a kind of dark, abusive, confusing place that breeds self-loathing and negativity  that touches and taints any and all attempts to lead a normal life. I am good at compartmentalizing; I am even better at avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions. As time has passed, as the professional help to improve and overcome took hold, I have gotten better about managing my affairs and at faking it until making it with the general day-to-day business of living.

I will feel better tomorrow, Monday, whenever M goes to the dump and empties the truck  load of crap that we have finally gotten around to discarding. Maybe sleep patterns will return to normal. Maybe I will return to the place where my peace resides.

I take no real pleasure in the feelings I feel in this moment, because they are too close to the bad, hateful shit that churns up with thinking about any of it. Shedding the last of the mementos releases me to continue my life in whatever healthier, happier, peaceful ways I can find.

Cutting the final links in a weighty chain is … enriching. Building on that is the better path.

It’s been a week

This week, this WEEK. It’s been up, down, all around. I am not coping in the most stellar manner, and it leaks out in the weirdest ways.

I have touched upon it in the past, but I had a horror-filled childhood with significant trauma from sexual abuse. I rarely write about it and never in a lot of detail, because I simply cannot go there. If I let go of the safety net that keeps me on this safe side of my mind and memories, I have paralyzing fear of what will happen to me. I foresee a kind of madness for which there is no recovery.

So I do not really talk about it. Periodically, if I am disturbed and on edge and feel that creeping into my consciousness, I have to book some time with TM to talk me away from the edge of the cliff so I do not start staring into the dark abyss and contemplate jumping into it. I would be lost. Once upon a time, in the darkest times of our marriage, M unskillfully pushed me to try and talk about it. It was nearly the undoing of our marriage and pushed me to a point of hatred for him that I did not even consider myself of feeling. Recovery from that is part of what makes our marriage better and stronger. Neither of us ever forget how awful those months working through it.

It occurs to me fairly routinely that I’m fortunate to be here, still standing, and pretty well insulated and safe. From myself. From my past. From a history that should never have been written. I have no illusions about how unpriviledged my upbringing or how broken and incapable my family of origin, and I completely feel the limitations of my own emotional range. My life works as well as it does because I work at it. Every single day I have to make choices and do some level of work to strike the right balance between two extremes. Honestly, I do not see myself as unusual in this characterization of life and living, but I do feel handicapped in some areas other people take for granted.

My bias against those with entitlement or similar inclinations is pretty strong. The princess complex, as I think of the female of the species who are spoiled and want what they want and typically get it because of their physical beauty, is a huge blindspot for me, one I have to consciously battle to restrain assumptions based on facts not in evidence.

I may have a similar chip on my shoulder about those crying “poor me” about the state of their lives and blaming their upbringing for their lack of success or unwillingness to make the sacrifices and do the work to improve their circumstances. The cycle of poverty is a symptom of a malaise in our society and there are no easy answers or solutions to overcoming it. However, not excusing ourselves from taking more responsibility for our lives is a start and a step in the right direction.

Sometimes I wonder if it is simply my generation that leads me to such impatience with those who spend most of their time weeping and wailing rather than trying to make small changes that will improve their lives. This is where I know my feelings are not completely functional, because I know how crummy I felt inside for too much of my life and yet still managed to take care of myself and my family. I look at my upbringing, I look at how destroyed I was and wrecked I remain from the weight of those emotional scars and wonder why I am a productive member of society and others are sitting around wringing their hands in angst and distress and making excuses about how awful their lives. I want to react with sympathy, I want to be compassionate, yet much of the time inside I am screaming “shut the f**k up and get some professional help to grow up.”

I guess I wonder how far we should reach out with sympathy and compassion. Depression and anxiety are real afflictions for many people, and I do not want to be a jerk about accommodations for such conditions. But there has to be balance, a tipping point.

Except I feel too strung out with my own history to be a rational judge.

It comes up this week in particular, with a child committing suicide and wrestling with an emotional distress issue in an employee and trying to oversee our current recruiting campaign. Thus far this week I have met with three candidates with strong resumes and yet seem to be suffering from some sort of personality disorder in face-to-face meetings.

Like so many posts, I am simply trying to sort out my own thoughts. Mostly, I think I am frustrated with those who have expectations of obtaining something unearned. Natural talent is rare and most of has have to work hard to earn whatever it is we are seeking, and sometimes that involves swallowing our pride and sense of self and just doing what is necessary to remove or dismantle the obstacles in our way, whether it is bad things befalling us in childhood or the shit work in our jobs to get to the next raise or the general education to get a college degree or having a conversation with firm administrator – not an attorney peer – when seeing an attorney position in a law firm.

Days like today, weeks like this one, I am weary of being underestimated or my conscientious efforts to do better, be better minimized in the face of someone else’s ambitions.

I also recognize this … stuff … comes from no one I care much about and whose thoughts and opinions should not impact me. Unfortunately they are still people I have to deal with on some level or another and their clones are everywhere. It is just tiresome.

At the same time, I am grateful for the bland normality of my life and times. Living the dream? Oh my yes. From where I started, I never anticipated, nor did anyone else in my family of origin, ever imagine me achieving this or any other level of success in life.

I wonder if that chip, and the lingering resentment it instills when faced with similar attitudes and projections, can be surgically removed? Today I might seriously consider it.

Emotional confusion

I have had a fair number of thoughts and posts pinging and ponging about in my head. But I have been flat out way too busy with work to write them all down. From a few sentences in various post starts in my drafts folders I have a sense of my feelings being all over the place about a lot of stuff I am reading, hearing from friends, trying to resolve inside my own heart and mind.

In the gym, I refer to this as the “furrowed brow” expression, where I am thinking through the way a movement or series of movements is supposed to work and where I should be feeling the contractions or the work in the body. I think I am more in tune with the idea of listening to my body, but is it my fault it is speaking in a foreign tongue I cannot quite understand? Or so it has seemed in days gone by. Not so much right now. Now it mostly speaks very softly and I have to listen really, really carefully to catch the words and string them together into comprehendible sentences.

Emotions for me have a similar puzzling effect. I do not seem to feel or process emotions in a normal or typical manner, and when I cannot feel it in a context that seems typical sometimes means I do not completely understand what it is I am feeling and whether or not it is correct for the context. A discussion with a group of close friends last night sort brought all this stuff to the surface, and I had a unsettled night of sleep and a 75% crappy practice at the gym this morning before it all congealed into the root cause of what I am thinking, feeling, processing. Bear with me if this post is not very linear and zig-zags even more than usual.

First, a little backstory about the last little while of fragmented thoughts and associated emotions.

Work has been busy, hectic, crazy. My son is getting married in less than a month (4 weeks and 2 days), and his fiance has been struggling with her own family drama and relationships and pressing ever forward with sorting it out and putting it away in a manner that makes peaceful psyche sense for her. A couple of my very closest friends are having weird relationship/life shit going on in their lives, and while they are both very big boys and able to handle their stuff, I like being part of their sounding board and listening as they rearrange the deck chairs on their personal Titanics. In this case, though, I know their encounters with their personal icebergs are not fatal; they are just getting their bearings and figuring it out.

I don’t live in an emotional vacuum. When I am listening to someone talk to me about what’s going on in their lives, I am impacted by their emotions and my own responses. Sometimes there is little I can say in response, just listen. Or maybe I have something supportive and comforting to say. Or some level of experience with a similar situation and am able to offer suggestions. Or I completely disagree with their perception of the problem and offer a different point of view.

The thing for me, I am a sounding board and not an echo chamber. If they are looking for someone with an endless well of patience and sympathy, they know me well enough to know I am not that. I am also not a mental health professional, and my personal experience with those resources does not qualify me to even try to emulate TM or anyone else in his profession. I completely understand my limitations as a friend.

Last night I was online with some close friends brainstorming ways we might be able to help another friend exiting an unfortunate domestic abuse situation. Another single mother with young children, another broken family. It hit pretty close to home for me, and while I was trying hard to be practical in my solutions and such, she is having a hard time making the extraction stick. I know how hard of a time she may have going forward, but I strongly encouraged her to stay safe and protect her children. Others chimed in and agreed.

Then there was the mean girl former friend who accused me, publicly, of making this about me and flaunting my life’s hardships. I should “just get over my abuse cycle already” and move on with my life. Since M and I have the perfect marriage, I am hardly in a position to offer counsel to those mere mortals trying to make relationships work.

Wow. Hostile much? I cut off the shitstorm that would have landed after everyone recovered from their shock at this former friend’s utter ridiculousness by exiting the conversation. But of course it got me thinking. Curiously, it was not negative or horrible or even all that painful. If I cared more about what she thought or how she felt, I would be more upset. Once I strengthened my spine and cut her from my friend list, her snark and narrow world view ceased to matter. Mostly.

Being a human being with a heart and a soul, it smarts. I admit it. But that discussion was not about me and whatever I might have been feeling, it was completely not about me. And while I had a really crappy childhood, I did not really intend to dive down that rabbit hole last night and into today, it seems this is where my spinning thoughts have landed.

But first, I had to wide-eyed inform M this morning about our “perfect” marriage. Did he know? Did he realize? And does it tarnish our perfect union that he failed to mention it’s divineness to me? For my trouble I got the patented M eyeroll and his “oh how wrong I have been” face. Then the “what did she say this time?” question? I gave him the readers’ digest version of the interaction and he waved a dismissive hand. This woman (she of the weight loss and big arm fame) is … disturbed. Long friendship ended months ago.

But back to the meat-and-potatoes of this post.

For the most part, my own emotions seem … dysfunctional. I am fairly empathetic. I am not especially cold hearted, detached, or even particularly robotic. I am a good and caring friend, family/tribe member. However, I am pretty practical and straightforward about events in life. Relationships – mine or other other people’s – seem to be complicated, sometimes unduly so.

When M and I went through The Troubles years ago, I was so angry. I wanted a divorce because I was angry with him for being an insecure, controlling asshole, and really angry with myself for being such a weak-assed loser.

I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor. I was victimized. For years. And I have this whole range of emotions – none of them pleasant, good, or positive – from those 9 years (age 3 to 12 that I remember). The scars are deep and life-altering. But I grew up and clawed and scraped and crawled out of that very dark and deep rabbit hole. I did not do so on my own. There have been years of therapy of various sorts, and yet I was still incredibly angry with myself over my childhood.

I know it affects me and my rather simplistic world view. When my marriage deteriorated to the point of The Troubles, I wanted little more than to never see, speak, or have to deal  with M again. Because to have to see, speak, or deal with M, meant I had to face the reality of all I could not, would not talk about ever.

The Troubles brought shitty childhood to the surface. I had to tell M, started marriage counseling with one therapist, individual therapy with another, worked through my shit in the chunks of time I could take the pressure of facing it. In the process, I finally broke and told friends about my life. I was not just mostly estranged from my parents and family, I had a genuine hate-love-definitely-don’t-like with them. For the first time, I spoke honestly about my upbringing in little dribs and drabs with my nearest and dearest friends. I learned how to write about it, sort of; not in the excruciating detail of my training sessions or the day-to-day events of my life, but it has been a big step for me to even speak of it at all.

Thing is, I am growing weary of the manipulative bullshit that comes up in life. M and I do not have a perfect marriage. We have a functional marriage that we work at every single day, and mostly we succeed. The affection between us is real, and I do not hold it hostage or use it to manipulate M to do my bidding or to get my way. I also do not use my history for sympathy or to dodge responsibility. The only benefit from a shitty childhood is the wisdom gained from recovering and healing from those experiences, and in the process figuring out who I am, what kind of person I am. Trust this is a very small consolation.

I have a pretty low tolerance for bullshit. I have put up with way more than I should for a lot of reasons, and every year that passes I learn a little more about me and what I deserve from life. Including not being dissed or dismissed.

My brand of fucked-up-ness restrains me from doing a lot of things. Being happy is not necessarily one of them. I really prefer a life where I am comfortable, and I choose to be happy. Thing is, comfortable and happy are evolving in their underlying circumstances. Several years ago I thought my friendship with someone stabbing me in the heart was important to my overall sense of self and happiness. All it took was starting a regular regimen of exercise to make me understand her brand of crazy.

In overcoming or learning to redirect the energy from my own fucked-up-ness, I have developed a strong aversion to bullshit, deceit, manipulation, and game-playing. Just lately here a lot of that has been creeping into my life, and I have been having to prune my friendship tree. It’s … excruciating. But I deserve much better than what I have accepted as normal and customary. I do not bring my past up to draw attention to myself. I do not do it for sympathy. I do not need the attention, and I really do not want sympathy. But sometimes I can help others, and sometimes the experiences I have had brings something to someone else in my life.

I just don’t know if my emotion management skills are up to par. I still question myself on whether or not I am doing the right thing, saying the right words, feeling the right emotions in each unique situation that occurs. Because of that level of self-doubt, I tend to try harder to ensure I am kind enough, compassionate enough. Good enough. Enough enough.

Inside my head, negative girl is rattling her chains and practicing her quiet stealthiness. She’s biding her time and waiting for me to wilt under pressure. Wait on. I did walking lunges and romanian deadlifts with big heavy weights this morning, second time this week. If there was wilting to be done, it would have happened then.

There have been a lot of people I’ve know through the years that have a much tougher time. Others with similar histories have been lost to drugs or alcohol, suicide, or even worse types of physical or sexual abuse. I made it out, with a puzzled sort of expression and seemingly-flawed navigation system as to how I am supposed to react and interact with others. It’s partly why I value relationships so much, and why it feels as if I am making better choices in life.

But it’s still hard. It’s hard for any normal person to hear about domestic violence. It’s a little to a lot difficult to understand another person’s choices, particularly when they do things you find head-scratching incomprehensible. Like being cruel to former friends. Or returning to a man who beats you.

My fucked-up-ness is not in question; I did, and do, the best I can in spite of my personal history. I have a good life with amazing children and a terrific husband, a great tribe of people who make my life interesting and worthwhile. They make me more than enough.

For awhile I floated through life and thought I was doing the right things. Pursuing steady work, health insurance, raising a family, saving for older and grayer years. Now I’m taking steps to ensure I am still around to meet that older and grayer future. And it perplexes me why it would be threatening to someone I have known nearly all my life.

Perhaps my emotions and management and projection of them are in good working order. Maybe my idea of what “normal” is means I am not fucked-up enough or crazy enough to understand.

And I am so strangely relieved by that.

Challenges

A lot of the blogs I read casually have these 30 days challenges. No spend, low spend, no sugar, lower carbs, eat more protein, saving more, paying down more debt, etc. The theory seems to be that since the challenge lasts for only a short period of time it should help raise awareness and pave way for adjusting existing habits or adopting new ones.

I mostly agree with the theory … for everyone else.

For me, either I am trying to alter something in my life or lifestyle or I am not; I tend to be pretty boring and black and white in that manner. If I were to participate in such a challenge, I would feel a real sense of failure the first time I fell off the challenge wagon. RD suggests I eat more protein so I am trying to do that in whatever modest, incremental steps to make it happen, become a habit, and stick with it. This is not a 30 day challenge for me, and doing so for 30 days would feel pointless in my bigger picture. However, J has been exploring vegan eating for a few weeks now and finds he likes a lot of it, but it’s not his intention to become a militant, save-the-animals plant eater exclusively forever. M is on a high mileage quest to position himself to be in much better shape for spring and summer trail running, but I seriously doubt he will be pursuing 15-mile runs daily for the duration. Those are my best examples of unofficial 30 day-like challenges.

I was thinking about this process during practice this morning, as I was going through 30 reps of various stretchy band exercises for 3 sets. At the time I was counting and wondering if timing was better than counting, or if trying to complete 30 seconds was somehow worse than counting to 30 reps. A challenge lasting 30 days seems like both an eternity and not much time at all, unless you are the one undertaking the challenge. It’s not my way, though, so I find it perplexing.

This challenge craze of late has had me wondering why, because it does not really work for me. Then again, goal setting does not work out all that well for me either, which is not to say I cannot see it’s benefits. My psychology setting goals is like asking for angst, meltdowns, tears, and funks. No thank you; my husband anyone else who spends any amount of time with me thanks you for not allowing me to set goals.

Skipping out on glute bridges this morning – shucky DARN on that! – I recognize that I enjoy need absolutely must have this level of flexibility and forgiveness in that I can decide that intensive immersion does not need to mean ever single stinking day … this week, anyway. Becoming better at them is the objective, but I am not going to put myself on a schedule to make it happen. Sometime this year is about as close as I get to goals.

I console myself I am doing okay without gazelle-intense focus on one aspect of something. It made the next go-round with the stretchies bearable, then home to my usual breakfast and packing my typical lunch.

I am truly a creature of evolving habits.

Different kind of challenge at work today, in a staff meeting about the state of the firm and what we are looking forward to in the next quarter. A lot more work. An injured paralegal weighing her options about returning to the workforce. Perhaps another new hire, which is always stressful for everyone. Despite needing the extra hands and help, the dynamic is pretty special in our firm, and I hope whoever they choose adds to that rather than stresses it or removes the good vibe quality.

Working with well educated professionals can be like walking through landmine if the personality mix cannot be balanced. Here there are plenty of egos to be considered when it comes to work, but in an office full of young up-and-comers with workaholic tendencies the partners have done an excellent job of targeting strengths and strengthening weaknesses. At the same time, they stress respect and yet an open communication environment, the likes of which I have rarely seen deployed so successfully. I genuinely like the entire staff here, which makes this a very nice place for me to land, put down some roots, and grow. I just don’t want them to hire a poorer fit that will upset my happy place.

And I’m borrowing trouble looking at it from that perspective. But once you have experience with the negative, nearly toxic work environment, you definitely never want to return to those kinds of trenches.

All of which is kind of a round about way of my returning to the conversation with TM yesterday. About progression, success, failure, how we define ourselves.

Feeling a if I am a relatively black-and-white thinker, I have always thought myself farther on the failing/failure side of life in so many areas. I did not complete college until nearly 50, yet I had and performed well in jobs that these days demand at least a 4-year degree. I’m relatively bright, though, and I found that much of what I actually formalized in college I already knew either through work experience, listening, reading/studying on my own. As a parent I succeeded in shepherding my kids into a successful adulthood, in that they are both now engaged in life’s pursuits as independent adults. M, their father, extended family all left their fingerprints on their upbringing and success.

I have been immersed in a life consisting of a lot of “shoulds” that truly have little to do with the life I lead. Staying away from social media as much as I have has been the best choice for my own nervous system, blogging from my own safe place, driving my own conversation and concerns, and NOT being drawn into discussions that only add anxiety and stress to my base level anxiety and stress. Blogging often feels weird to me, if I think about other people reading my blog, because talking endlessly about my own thinking is similar to the imaginary dog in my brain chasing its imaginary tail round and round.

But this is my little corner and my own blog. I get to chat about whatever I wish, no matter how awkward or awful it may sound in my own head or on the screen as the words appear.

Which is one of the other things TM and I discussed yesterday.

TM reads my blog. It’s not private, and there is nothing that I write here about anyone that I have not or would not say to them directly. But it’s weird sitting across from someone you discuss your bigger issues and stuff with and know he’s been following along with the minutia of your day-to-day life. I disclosed it to him in our first meeting this year, though, and invited him to peek in whenever he wished.

Anyway … he made the offhand comment that he enjoys reading it, which immediately makes me wonder what he else he is thinking, followed immediately by realizing how paranoid that sounds.

TM is good with and for me. He has helped me unravel gordian knots in my life that I never wanted to acknowledge existed, much less unravel and smooth them out as much as possible. This year’s project is difficult for different reasons. Training, eating, health issues – I want to be successful in these pursuits. I do not want to self-sabotage or set myself up for self-destruction because deep down inside I ultimately feel unworthy or undeserving of success.

While I have not addressed it here, some of the work we do relates to the kid I was, before forcibly removed from the my happy-go-lucky skipping along to being a normal little girl. I have little memory of what she was like, but I have been told she was happy, chatty, curious, and crazy for dogs. Maybe she had a better chance for a better life, had she not been led away from the path of growing up a normal kid.

The little girl was led away and not allowed to just be a little kid, and I have had a really tough time for a lot of years. But the big question TM posed to me posed to me before we parted last night – would I honestly say I have regrets about the life I have now? Unmolested me, what sort of choices might I have made and how could that have impacted the life I am leading right now?

Maybe I have done a few things right along the way. Maybe my damage and rage and pain was primarily internalized and not directed outwardly at the world at large?

And perhaps healing a little more and truly accepting that I earn my good fortune and successes require that I let go of more of the rage that remains. I did not deserve to be led astray, and I was far too young to have any say in the matter. But it happened and there is nothing I can do to change the past.

As an adult I understand that, from an intellectual point of view. The little girl that I was once … it is really hard to make that part of me understand that I don’t have to keep paying for being just a powerless kid.

I keep trying to make me understand, and looking across the fabric of my whole life, I am succeeding. I am apparently very good at trying. And when it really matters to me or I feel the alternatives are too costly, I can and do stick with it.

Being happy, being healthy, walking with an emotional limp, but upright and walking forward all the same … without hesitation, I know I deserve at least that much. And every single day, I earn the good things in my life and deserve to live and to enjoy my life.

Therapy, friends, and improving upon chaos

I started this post on Tuesday night and found myself simply incapable of completing it. Sometimes my brain gets overloaded and needs to finish processing, even though I feel like I am done processing. But last night I ran out of time and needed sleep more than to write and finish downloading my thoughts, but today things are much clearer.

I had an appointment with my therapist today. It was just my day for self-improvement appointments. We also had a lot to discuss.

Therapist M (TM) has been working with me off and on for several years, and we have gone round and round and round again about my trust issues. Let me just say I have grown a lot in this area through the time we have worked together, but there are miles to go before I sleep.

What has been interesting through the years is not so much how much I have changed so much as how much I have stayed the same, clinging to many patterns of behavior and legacy friendships. The criticisms I have been enduring about my training and lifestyle changes – these are nothing new. Years of history and pushing and pulling and conflicts and smoothing over and compromising to make things better to maintain the status quo and the friends I had cultivated and maintained.

Anyone who has ever had secrets understands the tricky stuff about keeping a big slice of your life under lockdown, never to leak out, never to be discussed, and unfortunately never forgotten. The fear and anxiety of being found out makes a girl kind of stupid about who she chooses as friends and allies. As a kid anyone who befriended me was troubled as well in different ways, yet like me, still had a lot of good qualities. Just their anger and aggression might be directed at a weaker link. As kids we would have our little kitten mixes (versus the full-on cat fights we get into every now and again). Years and years have passed. Marriages, children, divorces, remarriages, deaths. Our kids grew up, our parents have gotten older and frailer and many have passed on. Our lives have changed.

Yet many of my childhood friendships endure. For decades we have been attending holiday parties at family homes. First our parents, then each others as we grew up and acquired homes of our own. Years can pass without a single snarky comment exchanged. And then things change.

This time I am not needy or in pain or standing by waiting to be someone’s cheerleader, shoulder to lean upon, or whipping girl. I am simply doing good things for myself, stepping up and taking care of my health and trying to become the best version of myself. I do not preach or try to convert others to my way of thinking or to see my point of view. I simply want to be healthier and pose no threat to anyone.

Yet I am being criticized and it is cloaked as care and concern. Why would anyone feel threatened by my being healthier?

I have no idea, which makes me crazier than I already am. I want to understand, to know the why of it all.

TM challenges me to imagine life without these old friends, why it matters to me this much. Why I would trust their words to me more than my own instincts and feelings. Why do I allow myself to let their judgments and pettiness influence or even decide my esteem and value. Because in his view I am still stuck in that box and with all my childhood fears, anxieties, anger, and humiliation.

Maybe I am too afraid to let go and be freed from that part of my life?

That was a bit of a conversation stopper. It has been awhile since TM has approached this with me in this way, and every time it catches me off-guard and unawares. But in some ways it makes sense. I am seeking and working hard toward better health in all possible ways. I can be a physically healthy as possible yet cut off and dying a little inside from this very old trauma. While I can never get those years back and have done a lot of work, come a long way in healing that breach and having a successful, happy, balanced life, I have always known there is more to explore and more layers of bandaids to be cut away or ripped off quickly. It’s why I have an annual mental health checkup. It’s why I am back in the chair and talking about how to trust, actually like, and believe in myself more than the feedback I receive from external sources.

I hesitantly admit that maybe I am afraid to let go and be free. And it’s so hard to admit and the reasons behind it very complicated. There is a lot more work to be done in this area, and we touched upon it very sparingly today. Very. Sparingly.

For today, though, it was about where I have succeeded this last week. I was successful in my exercise pursuits. I ate pretty well, limiting myself to one very small piece of K’s birthday cake. Work is crazy and friends are crazier, but I am handling it well.

We talked in some detail about my handling my Hawaii friend – my actions, reactions, and how white-hot my anger. She said terrible things in our first conversation and was insulting, condescending, and downright cruel to me in response to my flatly stating that she was way out of line. I pulled no punches in response to that, and it was an ugly, raw, bare-knuckled fight. So unnecessary, really.

And here we are, on Wednesday, which I actually for a long minute thought might be Thursday and was wondering why I am so fogged out on training with J this morning. Well, because it’s Wednesday. I chatted with J this morning about food, completed my pre-determined sets of practice, and somehow completely forgot that there is little to write about for something that has not happened yet. Just a minor tangent of my particular brand of crazy day today at the office with a side of eat-drink-breathe protein changes blossoming in my head.

It is really foreign to me, but I am really starting to accept the conclusion that there are those in my life who do not wish me to implement positive changes or experience success in my health endeavors. In this specific case she is worse than a lifestyle saboteur and crossed over into lifestyle terrorist. Whatever is going on in her twisted mind and thinking, my success at reshaping my health is deeply threatening to her to the point that inciting my fury and ending our long friendship is preferable to letting me skip along my merry way across a great expanse of water neither of us cross very often.

And I absolutely do not get it.

Another pal put it into more understandable terms for me. Before we met them, she and her husband had tried for several years to conceive without success. They considered adoption and foster care, but for a variety of reasons they were hesitant to start that process. Now they are to the point where they will likely remain childless and enjoy their nieces and nephews instead. But when she was struggling with infertility, it seemed everyone she knew was getting pregnant easily and it was difficult to contain her jealousy and resentment. But hers was a genuine problem, not something she had any control over. It was not as if she could cease running, eat different food, and voila! she would be pregnant within a few months. To eat better, to exercise are conscious choices I am making, every single day. For those who are critical and unsupportive, it is likely they do not want any good examples of what could happen if they got off the couch and put down the donut. Or if they are already fit and healthy, they do not want any competition for the kudos and atta girls they enjoy.

TM said the same thing. Whatever issues the unsupportive in my life possess, those are not my issues and I need not accept their burden as my own to be resolved. If my goal is overall better health, I need to understand that it may include shedding some relationships as well as pounds and inches. And maybe like I do not want to look at the scale or track food, I need to release the idea of maintaining all the same relationships that have endured while I have been unhealthy and making less desirable choices.

If the relationship is not contributing to the long-term solution I am seeking, perhaps it is an ingredient to the initial problem I am now working to resolve. It does not make me more or less of a person to have outgrown or changed to the point that I am no longer close to or have much in common with old friends. It is another standard of measure I am unconsciously using to grade and find myself worthy.

I have been chewing on that since yesterday and I can see his point. I do not necessarily like it right now, but I can at least view it objectively and without the emotional veil clouding my judgment. And I can see why he pressed it to ensure I could see it and feel it yesterday.

There is nothing on the immediate agenda I need to act upon, but it is in my mind for acting upon or reacting to future commentary that feels wrong. While my hope is that it not come up again or be pressed further, I suspect it will get worse as I start wrangling with my diet refinements to shed fat and build more muscle and strength. Or I could be pleasantly surprised.

For every friend I comment upon here in the blog for unkind or unsupportive comments, there are probably 2 or 3 more that are enthusiastic and encouraging and celebratory for my accomplishments big and small. I do not like to imagine myself taking them for granted, because I certainly do not; their kindness and support mean the world to me. However, it is more in line with my behaviors and seems normal, typical of how someone reacts when a friend says they have reduced diabetes medication or are more capable in the gym than they were 6 months ago. I cannot imagine saying unkind things about anyone assisting them in their endeavors or about their methodology for reaching their objectives, even if the methods or the objectives are very different than my own.

But that’s me. I am far more invisible nerdy girl than attention-seeking mean girl.

In clothing styles I like and am drawn to, one size does not fit all or even most. Health and fitness is the same way. For me, it will be respected as a unique and individual journey for each of us. Hopefully I will continue to strengthen my spine and ability to stand tall in the face of disagreements and the unhelpful, non-supportive commentary that seems to come my way.

Or I will simply stop caring. Ideally, permanently breaking my give-a-shit in this area would be for the best.

Revisiting therapy

When I was younger, I went through periods of intense therapy to sort out events in my life. There were different professionals along the way, therapeutic groups, support groups, classes, books, etc. Looking back, it was like immersion to repair past damage and soothe old scars. It was also incredibly difficult and dreadful work to have to cope with along with trying to be a parent and a significant other to someone while absolutely keeping the therapeutic process sealed off and separate from the rest of my life.

When I think of it now, it feels like the experiences of a completely different person. But I kind of like that; it makes me sure I made some significant strides forward. Plus with time comes different experiences, reactions, even healing. Some life lessons learned take awhile to settle down and be absorbed.

That said, I like to go in every year for a tune-up. The last few years it seems there was little of significance that warranted a need to meet with him, but I did it anyway because it seemed appropriate, like routine maintenance to on my emotional engines. Always the tune up turns into a series of 4, 5, 6 appointments, because there is always something else to explore and evaluate. For therapy, that is fairly brief and focused. Then again, the issues are not particularly severe or impactful. Progress right?

So this year my tune-up appointment was Wednesday, and this year I went in with a specific issue and agenda in mind. I have another appointment scheduled in 2 weeks and will continue for as long as I feel it will take. My issue this year? I want to work on my building up my self-esteem and reducing the anxiety and fears that make aspects of my life a lot harder than is reasonable and necessary. While I have come a long way since first starting with a therapist so many years ago, there is still a journey ahead. I have always known this remained a thing in my life; I have just not wanted to explore it too deeply or with purposeful intention. Until now.

I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about the dichotomy of our individual headspace – can we both believe we are terrific and hate ourselves at the same time? Perhaps; I imagine most anything is possible within the range human emotions. For me it’s not so much I think of myself as such a swell person so much as I have endless amounts of optimism and praise for any and all situations for about just about everyone else around me. Yet for me, if you asked me to compliment myself, that familiar deer-in-the-headlights expression is frozen on my face. Eventually I would mumble something canned about being pretty good at my profession. It sounds flat, canned, and insincere even to my own ears.

My efforts at sustaining a positive outlook about myself have been inconsistent and unsustained. Sometimes I’m really good about it … for 3 or 4 days. For those 3 or 4 days I’m mindful and conscious and careful about diverting my thoughts and the words from my mouth, and then I slip with a self-depreciating comment or I say something unencouraging and unhelpful about myself and my abilities, which sends me diving down the rabbit hole of self-flagellation and recrimination. Kind of like my efforts to count calories and carefully weigh and measure food portions, only I typically falter after 2 days of that type of playing with food.

The pattern of behavior is also kind of reminiscent of my exercise efforts before now, where I would try really hard for a week or 3, and then slowly I would back away and cease any and all efforts. I have done cardio fairly consistently for a few years now, but the effort was hit and miss at best, rarely consistent enough to effect any real progress on blood sugar, weight, body composition.

My breaking that pattern the past few months has given me fragile confidence to try for similar wins in other areas of my life. Food is a biggie, of course, one I am presently in the early stage of waffling. Another post, I promise.

But the positive outlook for me and my efforts is something else that has begun to bother me. There are areas where it is not bad at all. Professionally I am able to speak to prospective clients and present myself as a competent professional who can and will resolve the issues that brought them to me. I have even learned to overcome my distaste of discussing billing rates and contractual agreements without flinching or feeling ill. Seriously, for someone who worries about money for a living you would think I would be better at handling my own financial arrangements without such internal drama, but there it is – I hate talking about money when it benefits me personally.

It seems in my personal life I kind of fall apart on the feeling good, optimistic, and confident about me and my abilities.

I have a great life – wonderful husband, fabulous adult kids, close friends, jobs/work I enjoy that funds our simple life and lifestyle. I did not get here or have these things by sheer accident or stroke of good luck. I have worked hard to have a healthy marriage and strong relationships with my kids and friends, and I have always been a highly motivated and driven worker. Truly, I deserve what I have built and achieved.

Believing that I deserve all facets of my rich life is another matter entirely.

There is an irrational fear in the deeper, darker recesses of my mind that M will someday kick me to the curb and my children will no longer speak to me. I do not actively worry about it, but the habit of thinking it every now and again tends to cripple me in a myriad of small ways, like a chip in a windshield that causes a larger and larger spider web of cracks over time. It weakens me, makes me feel desperate and afraid and incapable of expressing why I suddenly feel stricken with terror.

I use that as an extreme example, because it is the most relatable irrational, emotional fear. My marriage is fine; my relationships with the kids are fine. The fear makes me question how deserving I am, and I wonder if they only knew about me what they would think, how they would feel, how our relationships would change. The nature of keeping secrets and hiding scars has infected me with this insidious anxiety. I am not a Velveteen rabbit; the real me is genuine and standing (writing) right in front of you. As time has passed and my mental/emotional health and well being has solidified and stabilized, I have become the pretty open person I always hoped I could be someday.

So why am I so incapable of accepting and embracing her?

To those in my real-time, real-life world and even here in blogville, I strive to be as non-judgmental and accepting as possible. In general I am pretty tolerant. Sure I have basic baselines of behavior, but if you are part of my world you do not tend to be someone who emotionally dumps on other people just for grins. People I enjoy tend to be smart in their own ways, which may or may not include higher levels of formal education and book learning. Everyone is different. Long before it was cool, I wanted to make choices based on who I could include rather than who I would exclude.

There is a local nonprofit that refers people to me who are motivated and need personalized help sorting out their finances, sort of a budget coach. It is usually a small group, less than 6 individuals or couples/families from all socioeconomic backgrounds and circumstances. Some of them are in serious trouble – expenses way too high and/or income way too low. I am not someone who judges others for how they spend their money, how many children they have on minimum wage jobs, whether or not they need government assistance. However, I do think too many people want help without being willing to help themselves in the process. That’s part of my role – helping folks identify why their budgets (assuming they have one) are not working as planned or working with them how to create a monthly budget, followed by steps to ensure they stick to it.

It’s hard work and frequently unpleasant. Having been through a similar process many years ago, I understand the range of emotions, from embarrassment to anger to despair of their situations ever improving. For them I am a fountain of optimism and positive affirmations dispensed with a lot of practical, frequently tough-love type advice. I want them to succeed; I they to go on to happier and more peaceful financial lives, even if I myself am not a Dave Ramsay follower.

Yet I burn with shame whenever I talk about my own experiences. I still cringe thinking about my own short-sighted stupidity and how I made such a mess of our money in my 30s. M and I were in our 50s before we bought our first home, partly because of our poor choices in the early years of our relationship, partly because the housing meltdown made me very wary of wading into home ownership when we were finally ready to consider it seriously.

I cannot seem to erase that feelings of embarrassment and shame about being overwhelmed by debt. I cannot seem to let go of the guilt and forgive myself for doing that to my family, for the sacrifices we all had to make because of me/our poor choices. I tend to assume a greater share of the responsibility because I was the one who came into the relationship with some debt and manged our finances into even greater levels of debt. Plus I brought 3 young, dependent children into the relationship as well, and anyone who is a parent knows kids are not cheap. This is not something I think about frequently or obsessively. Again, this is an example of how my poor opinion of myself lingers and impacts me years after the fact.

There is no doubt that too many years of keeping secrets has shaped my outlook. The past several years of being more open about my history of abuse, writing about it, talking about it (albeit very sparingly), and just trying to be more transparent as appropriate has done a lot of good and let me take deep, unencumbered breaths. It has allowed me a very small measure of freedom from taints of scandal, disbelief, and the rawness of shame.

I want more. I want to free myself from that weighty shit that keeps me afraid and dependent on my own invisibility maneuvers to get through life.

Now it is time to put a toe in the water of accepting that I am okay, warts and all. Everyone speaks of loving yourself first before you can love others, and I agree the concept has its place. But I typically do not tolerate or accept poor treatment from others; I have enough self-respect to not allow myself to be used or abused. However, it does not stop me from abusing myself.

Every day I learn something new, and it’s one of the things I cherish most about living my life. I have opportunity right now to break a bad old habit or create a new, better one. But I know myself and know there is no way I can or will do it on my own, so I am seeking professional help. I know how fortunate I am to be able to afford the luxury of a good therapist. I only wish I knew how to make the idea of taking this step slightly less terrifying and paralyzing. Deers in headlights have nothing on me right now.

I am a hopeful person. I am earnest and possess a good heart and caring spirit. Is that enough to get me through? Maybe. Maybe I can be brave, too, or borrow courage when needed.

I just want to be better. My mantra that started in 2015 is following me into 2016.

Forgiveness

While I am not in an especially festive Christmas spirit this year, I always enjoy the holidays. I love the displays – the magical lights and sounds of the season (because I do not work at Toys R Us and have not been in Jingle Hell since August) – and however low- or high-key the planned celebrations we have planned I am looking forward to it all the same.

This year we are hosting two friends from the east coast for a few days, plus celebrating Christmas the day after with a dinner out with K’s mother, sister, and future brother-in-law. It will be low-key this year, and I am fine with that. M and I still do not have our tree up or the house decorated. We do have our outdoor lights up and twinkling, which is important for me.

Growing up, holidays were rather forced affairs. Many years we had the trappings of Christmas – tree, gifts, dinners with family friends – but after awhile we did not. It’s likely why I have been less of a traditionalist as an adult. I have no real regrets about it, but we did not have a tree or anything decorations each season. On our years with the kids, we’d have piles of presents on Christmas morning and on years without the kids we still had piles of presents on Christmas morning. Our years M and I would take them sledding in the hills and then out for dinner somewhere, because I neither of us were at the time very big on cooking. We both worked full-time, had the kids and all their extracurricular activities much of the week, and were just busy, exhausted parents.

I believe my own relationships, or lack thereof, with my parents have molded my parenting style. My parents were secretive and manipulative (mom) and drunk (dad). Their lack of presence in my life made me want to be a much more involved parent, and I did not miss a single open house, parent-teacher conference, school concert or performance, and even very few sporting events. My oldest played basketball – did not miss a single game. C played softball for several seasons, and with games twice per week I made the vast majority of them through flexible scheduling with my jobs. G was in cross country and track junior high through high school and I never missed a meet. I drove all over the state to watch him leave the starting line, somewhere way off in the distance, and then cross the finish line. All told, maybe 20 minutes of running to observe, after 2 and 3 hours of driving one way. Same with band concerts and marching band competitions, dance recitals, drama productions, etc.

This was my vision of a present parent. While ours were not Norman Rockwell holidays, the rest of our lives as a family are good. To this day I have good relationships with my kids. We talk frequently and just about our days and lives as well as the bigger events like weddings and jobs and plans for eventual home buying. Our tiny little family is a wonderful thing.

One of the sadder aspects of my life as a parent is that my young adult children grew up to recognize and dislike my folks. Growing up in an alcoholic home, as an adult I learned to recognize the signs of a codependent relationship. My mom was controlling and could never accept that the kids grew up and were not toddlers who needed their meat cut anymore. For younger children, she was a good grandmother. For tweens and teens, she became a controlling and manipulative force in their lives. Her inability to listen or to accept that they grew up into independent people turned her into something I clearly recognize and learned to despise. I frequently wonder if my disdain was passed down to my children or if they just recognized her manipulations as grew weary of them as well.

I appreciated plain-speaking. I have always been pretty direct about what I think and how I feel, and if you interact with me long enough, frequently enough, and are insightful enough  you learn to read my expressions like a book.

But I think that requires a degree of care and consideration.

I never experienced that with my parents. I get that there were issues in their own lives that made being a present parent difficult. Mostly I forgive them now, because whatever personal issues they each possessed it was not me and my stuff that made them poor parents.

There are other things I remain incapable of understanding, much less forgiving. And it feels like something that poisons my soul a little more each year.

It’s a lot of what keeps me on the straight and narrow. There is a part of me that wants to be really, Really, REALLY angry and destructive in all aspects of life. The man, the people, who ruined childhood and tainted my life are dead and gone now, so what is the point of destroying myself in the process?

Anger on my behalf troubles me. I, who try to stay strong and be a good person, do not want anyone else’s anger or destructive emotions on my conscience. I’m trying to wean myself on complaining and snarkiness … the battle continues, every single day.

The spirits of anger and hatred always war within me during the holiday season. I want to love more and be kinder, nicer, better. And it’s hard. But I think about my kids and how the lovely people they are becoming makes life so much better and rewarding for me. M is a good man and a good person, the imperfect guy who is perfect for me. And I feel so lucky and so blessed, feelings that can coexist and even overcome my sense of self-hatred.

It’s good to have a (mostly) peaceful heart.