Haunted

Blog tinkering continues, but apparently I will have some warning before I need to stop updating the blog. This is a good thing. I find myself having the compulsion to write now that the blog seemed temporarily off-limits.

The headlines of late are all about the sexual misconduct and predatory practices of powerful, influential men on the less powerful in the entertainment food chain. Many of the currently reported transgressions are in the distant past, and the criminal behaviors an open secret among those who toil in the industry.

As an adult, I wonder why this behavior was tolerated and hidden for so long. Many of those speaking up now are powerful figures in their own right, and yet they waited until someone else opened the door before speaking their truth and telling their stories. While I understand their fear and anxiety, the real threat of not being believed or supported or losing opportunities to pursue their art and livelihood, I am so angry and so ashamed on their behalf. Part of me doesn’t want to, but for the most part – I believe them.

I was sexually abused as a child, something I have touched upon in the past. It was far worse than what many of these adult women experienced, but degree of crime does not make me more a victim. Being young – events I can recall started around age 3 or 4 and ended when I was 12 – gives me somewhat of a pass (in my own judgment) for not speaking up and speaking out. I also know how it wrecked me to be 30, tell my mother in the safety of a therapist’s office, and have her flat out say not only does she not believe me, she tells my therapist that I am lying “to get attention.”

It was an emotionally killing blow and crippled me.

From that standpoint, I can understand the reluctance to speak out in the moment. I know what kind of risks are involved and losing what seems so important and vital in the moment is too high a price.

My abuser is a long dead – he died when I was 23. But to this day he has effectively silenced me. I cannot speak out loud about what cruelty and evil he introduced into my life, how the twisted, dark, bleak places that still exist and persist in my mind. I understand all too well how disconnected and abnormal I am about emotions, that what most people speak about when it comes to “love” is like they are speaking in a foreign tongue I cannot comprehend. This does not make me a terrible, horrible, or even marginally bad person; it makes me handicapped when compared to what most in my culture and world would perceive as emotionally normal. I strive to be kind, thoughtful, considerate, even if I am incapable of caring and loving in the ways most people desire to be cared for and loved. I do my best. I use my judgment and perception to figure out what I perhaps should feel in a situation. I am one who thinks about what feelings should feel like, and thinking about feeling and actually feeling are very different things.

At the end of the day, trying harder allows me to label and fill containers in my emptiness and separate the good stuff from the self-directed revulsion and hatred I cannot seem to completely erase. Therapy taught me a lot about coping and surviving, even if it could not cure what killed me as a kid.

So in this culture of political correctness and conviction for character-related crimes with little or no proof, I want to believe these accusers speaking out now. On general moral principle, I very much want to believe them. I want to believe that no one accuses others of such heinousness just to get attention or to take the victim role out for a spin.

But it’s hard for me to equate the criminality of touching a knee or unwelcome invitations with my experiences. I was 5 the first time I had a grown man ejaculate in my mouth. I was 8 when my virginity was stolen. I was 10 when a penis was forced into my anus. A lot of layers of awful leading up to each of those milestone events, a lot of other awful events I will forever wish I could forget.

And I was 30 before I spoke a word about it to anyone I knew outside of individual or group therapy with other childhood sexual abuse survivors. And my mother killed me all over again by accusing me of lying about it.

When I was 15 a classmate grabbed my ass every single school day for weeks. It got to the point where I would be on edge and almost hysterical walking one stretch of hallway to my locker. Does the way he groped me – lightly at first, as if it were an accidental brush of his hand to more deliberately, when it became apparently that he could get away with it – does that matter? I was wreck. For a couple of hours daily, I was a wreck dreading and trying to avoid leaving a class and having him somehow always end up behind me.

My friends tried to watch out for me, tried to put themselves between him and me, and to their credit, they believed me even if it seemed incredible that this quiet braniac was being inappropriate. This was the 70s and there were not classes and workshops and seminars on what constitutes inappropriate touching. When I finally broke down about it walking this stretch of hallway and he did his new standard butt grab, he had the gall to approach me directly, in front of my friends, and ask me is there was anything wrong? His expression was the perfect mask of inscrutable concern and curiosity, and all I could do was stammer and turn red with shame.

Who’s the crazy one now?

He never did it again after that exchange. Or he never did it to me again. In time I began to have doubts, and perversely, I wanted him to not judge me so harshly. I was nice to him, kind to him, tried to be extra decent and friendly when we had to work projects together. But I awkward and distanced from him, and it made me feel badly … about me.

I feel a sense of ruefulness now, but it’s my view that high school is hard on everyone to varying degrees and in various ways. Just another rite of passage I’m glad to have so far back in my own rearview.

Yet … all my life I have been haunted by remorse for not speaking up, telling my truth when it could have made a difference. Are there other victims out there I could have helped or spared by speaking up sooner?

As an adult, I can rationally understand the limitations of my understanding. I was a kid, a child, and was not especially close to my parents or sibling or anyone else I trusted enough to get past my shame. For my high school experience, I can imagine him as some horny teenager without any outlets for releasing that energy, and I was a safe target – a nice girl, smart but not in the academic elite circles where he dwelled, not pretty, not popular, just quiet and part of the great unwashed masses of high school.

In work, I do not allow people in power to abuse me, not anymore. I have left jobs because my superiors were cruel and/or demeaning to me, and I have spoken about the experiences honestly in exit interviews. As I have grown professionally, I have learned there are people I can speak my mind with and those who see my pushback as a challenge to double-down and find my breaking point, all within the limits of the law, of course. It’s part of why I will generally avoid a larger corporate environment; the deck is stacked against someone who is not a superstar performer in the revenue-generating ranks.

I don’t know what to think of the stories pouring out about famous, powerful people. Except I am ready to believe the worst about them, even if I am not quite ready to believe each and every one of their accusers.

 

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.

Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.

Communication follow-up and life imbalance

I had lunch today with my client who allowed his anger to overwhelm his common sense (posted here). Once the anger and frustration faded, he recognized the error of his ways and reached out to apologize. While I accepted it on the phone and in text, I did state we needed to have another conversation about it when he returned to town. Hence our lunch today.

Ours is typically a good and productive partnership, and I am actually quite fond of  him. However, he was both professionally insulting and personally rude and offensive. It is not something I can let go of easily, and without actually talking it out, I would likely have had to terminate the alliance completely.

I am no one’s whipping girl. If he had a problem with me or the work product I have produced, it was not the forum to express it and absolutely the wrong way to discuss it. While there is a childish side of me that wanted to have my own temper tantrum and lash out, I took the higher road and wrote it all down instead. It was my only hope of remaining calm and professional.

The conversation went well, the air is a bit chilly but clear and will warm back up with some time and settling of his current problem. At the end of our meal he presented me with a couple of restaurant gift cards, equivalent to about 5 hours of my time. He knows I probably lost more sleep over his behavior than that, and he is genuinely remorseful. Not exactly sure how I feel about it, but accepted the token at face value and with polite thanks. I will give one to G and K and the other to trainer J. While M loves sushi,  he is not eating it at the present time, and I eat there frequently enough for business that I regularly get plenty of teriyaki chicken. Better to give to those who will appreciate and enjoy it.

Anger is a challenging emotion for me, in that I do not know have to relearn every time how to express it in a healthy, non-destructive manner. If I try to suppress it for too long or allow it to build layer by layer, it leaks out in snark in unguarded moments and usually with my nearest and dearest. Poor M – some of our biggest fights have been because I’m an emotional time bomb from something completely unrelated. This time, I handled it pretty well for the most part. I was clear, direct, and did not try my level best use my words to beat him into a bloody pulp for offending me so fiercely. Lest you think too kindly toward me, I really wanted to use my words to beat him into a bloody pulp and then fire his ass. M has been coaching me about how not to do that every time I bled off some steam about it since it happened.

The silver lining in all this? It magnifies that there is some work to be done to help me cope better.

It’s February 12, and I made it almost 6 weeks longer than last year before reaching out to TM for our annual appointment. While we are in touch socially and talk books and about life in general, we have not had a Professional Consultation in more than 10 months.

I am perhaps overdue.

Last year, it was all about confidence. The better health quest had officially launched a few months earlier, close friends were dropping me like I had some unpleasant contagious disease that spread via social contact, and I was struggling to simultaneously manage negative girl and cling to the insecure, fear-based lifestyle that had been part of my life for most of my life. Growing up is hard, especially when it seems to really start at 54.

This year, it seems to be more about managing emotions and stress and expressing both in a healthier manner.

Everyone has problems, issues, negative baggage and shit in their life they wish would magically resolve itself and dissipate. Work, relationships, family, friends, lifestyle, or all of the above, I don’t know a single soul that is happy about the state of their lives all of the time. Or even much of the time.

A truly crippling side effect of keeping secrets much of my adult life has been managing my emotions. Being angry – I have LOTS of anger – but how to expel it from my system without using the nuclear option on every single bridge is an ongoing life lesson. In prior work TM has taught me a lot of ways to cope with negative emotions, but I know it has been impossible for me to absorb enough of those lessons to fit every possible scenario.

So back to his office I will go, to obtain the next chapter in adultier adulting. Hopefully it will be as productive as last year’s work.

The fear box

Everyone has fears – big ones, little ones, epic phobic ones. It is my conclusion that my ability to cope and manage my fears determines the quality of my day-to-day life. And if it were only so simple as to decide to set them aside and not allow them to influence, direct, or drive my behaviors.

The hierarchy of fears range from real, nail-biting anxieties that could keep me up nights to the comical WTF things I cannot exactly place why they exist and persist. For example, I am absolutely, positively phobic about frogs, toads, hoppy and slimy reptile-like garden residents. I hate them. The mere sight of them on television documentaries makes all the hairs on my arms stand up in alarm and my visceral response – RUN! – has to be restrained or the channel MUST be changed. When we moved into our home there were all these privet trees and a not-well-maintained swimming pool with literally hundreds of frogs living in the trees, the rocks surrounding the pool, and in the pool itself. I was afraid to step outside after dark when I could hear them croaking everywhere around me.

Hence our stark landscaping. Hence M systematically removing those privet trees within our first few months in the house, followed by the shrubbery and nearly all the other living plants surrounding our home. When it came time to resurface our pool, those rocks where the frogs were hiding were removed. And my frog-slaying champion, among the first skills in homeownership he acquired – in addition to supervising the remodeling and repairs going both inside and outside of our house – M learned how to maintain our swimming pool to eliminate the greenish tinge and balance the chemicals, then raise the chlorine content to drive the frogs from the inviting pond.

These days, occasionally we have a stray frog in the last remaining leafy green plant. M will pluck him out and toss him into the greenbelt to find his way down to the creek. We still see the occasional lizard on the concrete, but those do not bother me at all and with the cats around, they are not living long much less happy lives.

As far as epic phobias go, that one is manageable. I simply avoid going where frogs and toads and hoppy things might be dwelling and make my own yard and outdoor environment a lot less inviting for their ilk.

Other fears are not so easily contained or managed.

I have written endless posts about and referencing what I refer to as my “gym crazy,” my term for the anxiety, fear, and intimidation of being in the gym and trying to pursue exercise and fitness objectives. It took a lot of time and patience to mostly overcome. Even now, while I go forth and walk around as if I belong and am unfazed by all that is happening around me, it only takes a less optimal or positive experience or interaction with J (unlikely, but I suppose anything is possible) or staff or member to make that anxiety come rushing back. I know all too well it is a fear that requires constant monitoring and some level of energy put forth to maintain my equilibrium. I have become skilled at it, so much so that I am barely aware of my surroundings or what anyone else is doing. My habit of putting the blinders on to everything except what is in front of me or on the List has become an ingrained habit.

M asked me once if I perceived myself as being snobby or stuck up to maintain this aloofness. Of course not. I am friendly and chat regularly with other members and staff I know who happen to be in the gym at the same time. Socially awkward, yes. Stuck up? Hardly. If anything, I think everyone is very busy and very serious about their work and I should not interrupt, even to say hi or do more than a very spare wave. Definitely I am not stuck up, kind of I am socially awkward, but mostly I am completely clueless by design.

Recently M and I had a more challenging conversation about our own communication. Truth is, sometimes I feel distrustful of him. Not because of the normal reasons – I am so far from normal in my relationships it would be abnormal for me to feel normal about stuff – but because he is somewhat unpredictable to me in his reactions and it makes me anxious. Even after all the years we have known each other and been together as a couple, even as happy and secure as I am in our marriage, there is still some deep-seated fear of strong, intense, emotion-charged negative reactions. I know it. He knows it. Yet we both feel a little hurt that I cannot overcome it completely, probably me more than M. Better than my own understanding of myself, M gets that some wounds are so deep they never completely heal and you “feel” with something akin to a limp. I, on the other hand, feel that I should always be better, and that my inability to overcome this trait is a personal character failing. That harsh judgment has lessened through the years, yet I know I still have the tendency to be ruthlessly negative toward myself and my own limitations. Work in progress.

Confidence, security certainly help with fear and anxiety management. However, it does not overcome it. How many people do I know who have good jobs, loving families, and are financially stable enough to pay their bills and live their lives, yet are deathly afraid to the point of their anxiety and fear impacting them on a daily basis. Having lived on the financial edge and had no security blanket to fall back upon, it is a very scary place indeed. But I look back now and wonder what my fear did for me? It certainly did not make the situation better. And on the occasions where the next big thing occurred and I was stuck between rock and hard place, I was still unprepared and incapable of doing anything constructive about the situation. And I was tired, so tired, already from pre-worrying and being afraid of this very thing happening.

I learned from those experiences, and it greatly influences my desire to be more in control of my life and circumstances and to have some measure of plans A-Z – just in case. What I know, though, is there is truly very little I have any (much less absolute) control over in this life. Perhaps this expanded understanding of how my universe works is what has made my exercise endeavors stick this time, because it truly is something I directly influence and have some degree of anticipating outcomes, even if body and mind do not always play well together and one, the other, or both give me grief.

I look back at the darker times in my life and wonder what about me, my attitude, my ability has changed. For the most part, financial security has a direct and immediate impact on my overall happiness and quality of life. Other things, other unfortunate circumstances and behaviors, choices from stemming from were beyond my ability to comprehend or control. Therapy helped enormously. I got better jobs and took on side work to bring in more income to pay down debt, build some savings, ensure my kids had a balanced, safe, mostly happy childhood. We created a budget and stuck to it. When we were in debt we paid minimums until there was a least some money in the bank for emergencies that would not require us to go deeper into debt. I read a lot then and still do to this day. Entertainment was not shopping to feel the great gaping spending addiction, but at my kids’ sporting events or the library or free events around town. I used to write a lot in personal journals, and truly, it’s only been the last few years of blogging and commenting that I have been more public about writing on any topic.

Seems to me that success is its own reward. I gained a little more confidence with every small win that I applied myself toward, and gradually most of my fears and anxieties have faded into manageable things I could talk myself through. It is still possible to trigger me, to turn me into an absolute stress puppy with events and things well beyond the scope of my control, but those are rarer situations and any concerns I have about them appearing on my radar are firmly pushed back into their boxes. For the trauma and drama that has become my baggage in life, I find that I have repackaged into a tidier, more compact little packages and placed them deeper into my suitcase at various waypoints in my life. Some I suspect I have even shed completely, but I lack the absolute backbone of confidence to commit to such a scenario. And that’s okay. Out of sight, out of mind works for me.

My fears – they are a box of emotions I cannot ever completely abandon. And I would be lying to say they are supremely well managed or maintained even most of the time. Most of the time, they are bobbing and weaving somewhere in my head, enough that I know they exist but not enough to impact me on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps in this I have found my healthy balance.

I do find that I keep learning about things that trigger me, that cause pointless anxiety and stress to flare and make me flounder about expending energy that I could be enjoying or using more productively. Knowing that and actively pushing away the negative, life-draining forces is very difficult once caught within its grip.

The holidays are a big giant bear trap of triggers waiting to be snapped on the unsuspecting. This year, with C and A clear across the country and closest friends completely out of the country, it’s weirdly lonely around our house. Yet … I feel no need angst or grief or the need to try and artificially fill it up with stuff or with other people. G and K are both working Christmas eve and have the loosest of plans for Christmas day. M has been energized by the front landscaping work, so much so that some other outdoor projects are now being upgraded on the priority list. We anticipate friends cruising by for visits or inviting us to drop by to see them, but nothing formal has been planned. I find I like the informality. There’s always, Always, ALWAYS food available at our house, and we could likely rustle up something simple for dinner if we have guests.

I like the low-key holiday weekend we have not planned. I have work-work to do at home, as well as a stack of books in my kindle to be read. Being on the couch absorbed in a good book sounds like the perfect way to pass a quiet holiday.

For others, our holidays may sound kind of lonely and dreary. But for us, Christmas is sort of just another day. Our little family, our tribe of friends – we love seeing or interacting with them any day of the year. The weight of expectations and marketing tend to make me feel really badly about not having more, more family to celebrate, more gifts to buy, more ways to spend money. Thankfully I am not listening to that awful noise and instead enjoying the fact that the holiday feels and generosity of spirit are something I strive to enjoy all year round.

Today at work we’re locking the doors at noon and having our in-office holiday potluck party and gift exchange, which will be fun. M is coming by, as are many of my coworkers significant others or in-town family members. It will be a lot of fun.

So today, I am not anxious or fearful or sad or anything else. I am only mildly nervous about the lunch time food and all the sugar and chocolate still floating around this firm. Tonight we’re attending an open house at TM’s home, which will be fun, and tomorrow I’m lunching with RD, who is in town for the holidays with his family. Chipotle, his favorite place; I wonder if I could bring my own sandwich and just order a drink? We will figure something out.

This year, my fear box is wrapped up in shiny paper and topped with a big giant bow. It is a gift that keeps me honest, humble, and aware of who I am, yet it is also a big part of what kept all my warts and flaws squarely front and center and obscuring and distorting my self-image. This year, I see my fear box more clearly as just a powerful tool that must be managed and used judiciously whenever possible.

Another realization to celebrate this holiday season.

Analyzing my emotions

I had a couple of nice conversations with my primary private clients today, and it was nice. The longest of these relationships was actually who referred me to my present firm and he knows my bosses quite well. While we were talking about the work I do for him and his firm and working out the schedule for this week and next with my transitioning to Thursday’s for self-employment work, the topic of what transpired did come up.

My client has the advantage of being 25+ years older and managed his own practice all that time and then some. Once upon a time he had partners and associates working for him, but since I have been doing his books his partners retired or left law completely and his associates have been 1099 employees that come and go depending on workload.

Because we have worked together for a very long time, he knows me pretty well from both a business and a personal perspective. We routinely have a year-end review lunch every year, where we talk about highs, lows, and areas for improvement in our workflow and habits. This is a professional relationship I value, and his opinions and thoughts on work-related issues carry a lot of weight with me.

Throughout the work drama this week I have had concerns that I am creating Mt. Everest out of the tiniest of anthills. Yet for me in my professional capacity, one of the worst blows is to be disrespected or minimized publicly. In private discussions, pooh-poohing or dismissing my concerns and opinions is not pleasant, but it is what it is and comes with the territory of being an employee versus a business owner. I have learned how to compartmentalize my emotions and ego in that regard. What happened this week (and last in my absence) … if they had physically slapped me I would not have been more surprised or angry.

I have spent the majority of my career in professional services firms of one stripe or another. No matter what sort of consulting service provided – law, accounting, environmental – the prevailing attitude is that if you are not a licensed professional or in a highly billable position, as an admin staffer your position is treated like animated furniture. Not by everyone, and most of the time people like their administrative staff as people. However, bottom line – most administrative time is not billable and therefore cuts into profits and therefore is always expendable. The unspoken component of the attitude is that the job is meaningless fluff, and not only surviving but thriving in such an atmosphere has turned me into a bit of an activist.

So I asked my client for his thoughts, his honest thoughts after I explained what had happened and how it made me feel. What he said:

  • Millennials have issues with their own sense of importance. Add to that being lawyers, smart lawyers, and you have strong potential for egotistical ass.
  • For my part, he says I am a bit too laid back, especially with lawyers. I need to get my assertive on and stay in front of them if I do not want them pushing me to the flashpoint of frustration and reacting to them.
  • While I have good organizational skills and instincts about people, I need to make them earn more of my respect and favor, or risk being perceived – incorrectly – as a weak or ineffectual leader. In other words, I am far too nice and need to demonstrate and wield my authority right from the start. Acting like a boss even when I do not have to is the only way to win this battle of wills.

Again, I hate being a manager. I hate being a boss. Yet most of the time I know I am good at it, because without me in my job, things could and would likely be a lot less pleasant at my firm.

But he did not feel I made Mt. Everest out of a tiny little anthill. My bosses bungled this and deserved to be the ones delivering the mea culpa. However, had I been more of a hard-ass on the front end the problem would likely not have escalated. Perhaps. I pushed as hard as I felt I could with the bosses about announcing the new office space plans and office assignments. This is a new boundary in our professional relationship and it has been enlightening.

About me and my own emotions and abilities at managing them, I know there seems to be a hot and a cold setting for me. Either I care a lot about something and am willing to give it my all, or I feel some graduated level of indifference. It’s why I am not a good teacher. While I really do want people to be happy and to be successful, too often we each fall short in our efforts to achieve that. My expectations are too high, or I cannot express myself clearly enough to impart whatever concepts I am trying to express.

Essentially, I suck at teaching. coaching, training others. I am kind of a sink or swim person, and if you are engaged, ask questions, listen to my answers, and learn … we will get along fine. Many sort of falter at that, and I believe at least 50% of the problem lies with me. I lack the special spark that makes me motivate people to action or to try to be better. And that’s okay. This is why there are jobs where that particular talent is not a requirement.

I care very deeply about my work and those I work with. Because of that, I am willing to go above and beyond to ensure the firm and those it employs are successful. This is true even for the spoiled brats. I want them to not be spoiled brats. I want them to grow the fuck up and go forth and have amazingly successful careers. But despite what their parental units have told them, it does take hard work and paying the dues to climb up and into the amazingly successful careers.

Or at least it does in the world I live in right now.

Anyone would be upset about the silly drama that unfolded and was sitting on my desk like a big pile of steaming poo when I returned. What concerns me is whether or not I need to locate the off/on switch for my emotions to keep them in check to retain my professionalism. Or maybe I simply need to suspend whatever judgmental instincts I possess. I am mostly unsettled by the whole dust up despite today being a perfectly normal, peaceful, productive day. It’s been awhile since I have been blindsided and made that angry about work. I hate that it happened.

Maybe if I could make myself care less life would be easier. But if my job were easy someone else would likely be doing it.

Reassurance, validation, compliments, praise, and perspective

From trainer J yesterday before and after my post:

Screenshot 2016-07-02 20.46.03

With regard to the first text, we had been chatting about my practice – J was inquiring to ensure my shoulder and neck were fine (they were and are today after pilates class) – which morphed into his own workout and need to keep working to maintain pace with another tribe member who has made some spectacular gains dropping weight and achieving muscle definition. My brother in the training tribe is extremely disciplined and it’s most definitely showing! A new hero and shining example to emulate is born. Unfortunately we are typically in the gym at opposite ends of the day so I only get to observe his progress via pictures posted or on the nights I venture into the gym for a rare evening practice.

The exchange coalesced a bundle of random thoughts from the past few weeks.

J is not a drill sergeant type trainer who yells or speaks very emphatically in our sessions. Nor is he the rah-rah cheerleader type who lauds me with positive affirmations and platitudes about every single thing I may be doing right and is overly kind in correcting form and such. His style is obviously a good match for what I need – he corrects me objectively when necessary, approves whatever I am doing right with in a normal, not overly effusive manner, and very occasionally might subtract or replace an exercise because of my present level of ability. His steadiness and consistency in this regard through the months has inspired trust; I absolutely believe the choices he makes for me are based on my evolving ability and not some cookie-cutter formula in the personal trainer cookbook. Genuine compliments are rare enough for me to perk up and turn around in sort of wide-eyed amazement. In other words, they are not just the carrot he uses to motivate me somehow. By now he also knows that just telling me straight is going to either move me forward or not move me at all, and no amount of window dressing is going to make a difference. In fact, if he were blowing smoke at me, I would have fallen by the wayside long ago.

So such positive comments – pride in his clients’ progress, pleasure at our shared effort to get some actual muscle definition on my arms and shoulders – these statements are weightier to me, and this was a very happy surprise delivered yesterday. I honestly did not see him and had no idea he was in the gym until another member stopped to ask me a question because she didn’t want to bother him. Our paths crossed briefly on the way out, and thinking about it after his text above, I realize he did ask me if I was wearing a new top, explained to him about my what day it is confusion, and did not think anything more about it.

But the exchange made my already happy day just that much sweeter. And of course got me thinking.

When I first got started in the gym, I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with training and the ways it made me feel. On the one hand I was happy because I was doing something to improve my health. On the other hand it was so hard and I hated it. J and I were getting to know each other, and while I liked him as a person I was not sure if I actually trusted him enough to want to know him better, let him know me better (because then he would not want to work with me, negative girl would assert).

This is true of the many coaching relationships in my life, and as I have grown more confident in my own instinct and voice, my tolerance for dilly-dallying – my own and those around me – is growing thinner and weaker. The more I trust my own validation and beliefs about me, the less dependent I am upon the need for external reassurance that I am okay, I am doing the right things, I am good enough. Make no mistake – it’s still wonderful to hear and to exchange ideas with others, to give and to receive praise and compliments. But I do not need it or feel so desperate for it these days.

M, my village, my core group of die-hard supporters within my tribe – my progress and good-for-me state of well being is somewhat dependent upon them. But they could tell me I’m wrong, I’m being a baby, I need to grow the f**k up (all things said to me over the course of the last year by various people within my tribe *smile*) and I will not be devastated or take it as personally as I might have once upon a time. Because for every time they felt the need to say something like that, there were probably 100 times they would be supportive, encouraging, propping-me-up type friends who would reassure me I am not the terrible, horrible person negative girl would megaphone inside my head 24/7.

I like that people believe in me, think highly of me, feel that I am a worthwhile human being who is trying. Just like they are, just like everyone else (so I like to hope). The difference is that now I know I can and will survive if all that dried up and blew away with a still breeze. It would be hurtful. It would make me sad, and angry, and really upset. But I would not die from it. I would simply continue and find myself a new tribe.

External validation is an intriguing thing. But is becoming dependent upon it another bad habit we should break? I am never going to be the Lone Ranger type; I am never going to be my better/best self all alone and completely independent of other human beings. As I have grown emotionally and mentally healthier, I have discovered my craving for validation and reassurance is faded as well. Not completely, and I still reach for it as warranted. But rather than hope or beg or dance around the subject, I simply ask. “Am I doing okay with [insert insecure hot button of the day]?” is far better for me than waiting and hoping those around me can read my mind and provide what I want and feel I need.

I am not in a helping profession; my work is not in the same sort of realm as those in my village. My area of business expertise does not lend itself to dispensing of professional opinions or advisory services, although looking at trends in a business’ finances can point out trouble spots or lend support for purchases or guidance for business decisions. What I mean is, I typically do not counsel people in their personal matters on a day-to-day basis, despite hearing a lot stories of marital strife or relationship difficulties, issues with kids, or life in general. Not being an expert does not insulate me from being a caring citizen in my world.

My recent lifestyle changes have not gone unnoticed in my world at large. For the friends who have commented with jealousy or derision about my lifestyle change efforts, I have at least 2 or 3 others who are highly complimentary and supportive. There is another small slice, however, that cannot be classified as positive or negative. It’s that frustrating and small slice of people who want to make changes, are struggling to go forward, and need more than just a baseline level of support and encouragement toward their objectives.

A life coach I am not. I have neither the training nor the temperament for such endeavors. Yet in friendship, there seems to come a point where I either need to set and enforce boundaries on the amount of time and attention I am capable of sharing or distance myself from the person. Just lately here, the former is going hand in hand with the latter.

It’s not actually that I am uncaring, or uninterested. I use this blog as my accountability partner for my exercise and overall better health efforts, because believe me, if M or any of my friends had to listen to me go on and on to the degree of navel gazing I do in my posts, M would find me tiresome and I would likely have a much tinier circle of friends.

Maybe it’s a good sign of my own positive growth and emotional health that I notice how dependent others are upon my approval and validation of their efforts. And I am truly happy for and supportive anyone I know who can take a tiny step outside their comfort zone and get started down a better road.

However, the healthier I become, it seems the more boundaries must be drawn. Codependency is very hard to eradicate, so I long ago stopped trying; however, managing codependency and my behaviors from it will be a lifelong quest. Being aware of it and stopping myself before I become drawn into such relationships takes some discipline, but for the most part I am currently doing very well. For all my positive outlook improvements this year, becoming more mindful of this behavioral habit and its consequences is possibly what makes me feel proudest. Yet I still slip and find myself feeling resentful because I cannot or do not wish to have relationships that are fueled by one party’s emotional neediness.

I wish there were kinder, gentler words for it than emotional neediness – that sounds so cruel even if it is accurate. But there are people within my tribe that are like energy vampires that leave me drained and lifeless if I allow it. But I also recognize that once upon a time our emotional exchanges were mutual, that my own neediness fueled them and mirrored their own. Now that I have found other outlets and built up my own emotional resources and confidence, the equation and relationship dynamic have changed. The other party now seems desperate for more of my time and attention, and while I am supportive of their efforts to improve their own reserves, a bottomless vessel is never going to be filled no matter how much I or others pour into it. And it also seems that the healthier I have become in managing my own emotions, impulses, and expectations, the less capable they are of even trying to do the same. Want a poor response from me? A demonstration of learned helplessness is a sure-fire ticket to making me step back and away.

Boundaries are kind of awkward for me. I set them, I can articulate them, yet when pushed to them by others I do not always react as skillfully as I might. My impatience surfaces and my usual directness become a lot harder and blunter. I have expectations that people will try to take care of themselves, and perhaps that is unrealistic when so many I know are prone to panic first and think later behaviors. And perhaps this is also why I feel almost like a sociopath in my reactions to traumas and how they unfold. Everyone is different in how we handle crisis and when bad things happen. I understand the need for support – to give and to receive – and I never want to become so cynical or jaded in my own responses that I cannot rise to the occasion when need is genuine and real. I also do not want to damage relationships to the point that calling or interacting to shoot the breeze becomes an endurance test in awkwardness.

But I have my own journey to manage, my own better health quest to pursue, my own blog to write to explore my thoughts and feelings about the journey. I wish I had the time, energy, and infinite emotional/mental resources to support others in the ways they desire and seem to crave. But I don’t. I am selfish enough to know my own limitations and guard against too much infringement, even with M, who very occasionally goes off the rails and does not take care of himself and lets that breakdown bleed all over our relationship.

I suppose like anything worthwhile in life defining the questions and then finding the answers is a complicated process. I will keep working at it. But sometimes I grow weary of applying myself to try and figure life stuff out and have to remind myself that there are always choices and alternatives, most of which I like even less. While it seemed so much more black-and-white in my younger years, I think the questions were just different and the filtering lens that comes with the demands of hands-on parenthood altered my perspective.

Older? Definitely, yes. Wiser? The debate rages on. And that, at the end of this Sunday, seems as it should be.