Better choices today

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

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

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

Ewww – so gross to think about.

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

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

Progress has never been described more accurately.

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

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

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

Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I meant every single word of it.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

In with new, out with something else

It seems I am about to get a different car yet again.

First and foremost, M and I are not frugalistas; we have zillions of ways to waste money and probably do so routinely without giving it a second thought. However, we are also very responsible with money. Big things like savings for retirement, HSA-funding, future spending goals (home and car maintenance and repairs, vacations, birthdays and other gifting events, kitchen remodel, replacement car, etc.), secondary emergency fund investment account all get funded before we start spending each month.

That said, from a purely financial point of view, it makes no sense to sell my 2013 Rav4 and purchase a brand new 2017 Camray. We take care of our cars, and my Rav has less than 35,000 miles on the odometer after 3.5 years in our household and looks pristine. It’s serviced per manufacturer’s schedule and would likely be fine for another 10 to 15 years at the rate it gets driven. Plus, I LOVE that car.

Unfortunately, it has no trunk. The windows are tinted and it is not a simple glance to see whatever I might have in my car (usually nothing but my reusable shopping bags and the plastic box I keep them corralled in when full), but every week I drive and meet with clients and have both personal and business financial documents in my possession. Recently I walked up on a guy trying to break into my car while my work box of files was in the back. I have no idea if he was actually planning to try and steal my car (it has an alarm) or if he was after its contents, but it freaked me out to the point that I now carry my box around with me to meet with other clients.

So there is that.

Add to this that M also drives and AWD SUV, a 2008 Highlander, and it is the go car for us. The Rav commutes to the office, goes to the gym, toodles around town when I go to client offices, but the rest of the time, it’s at home in the garage. M and I are going anywhere, he prefers to take the Highlander.

The Rav has again become “too nice” to take out for a spin on the weekend.

This happened with the first Rav we had, a 2007. I owned it for 4.5 years and sold it with just over 40,000 miles on the odometer because M and I became paranoid about something happening to it. M far more so, but it was infectious. I wanted something older may with a few scratches in the paint to make me feel better.

A 4Runner and a Honda Civic later, and we arrive at the present Rav4. For awhile it was the go car, then we sold M’s older (silver) CRV in favor of a newer (blue) CRV, and in it’s plushy-ness became the go car. Then the Highlander became available, and as it had belonged to my former boss, I knew its entire history and knew it had been well maintained and kept in good repair. So the blue CRV was set aside in favor of it and went off to its next owner. M loves that hulking Highlander beast, so he is set for awhile. But our time with my present Rav4 is about concluded.

Entirely possible the Camray will remain “too nice” to take anywhere, but I doubt it. This would be the ride we choose for coastal adventures where we do not go boonie-crashing down gravel fire roads just because they’re there. And it has a trunk, so I can stash my crap out of sight. I would be really upset if my car was broken into and my gym bag stolen, but I’d be frantic if I lost client documents.

In my life, I have learned that sometimes purchases make no sense on paper or financially. This is another of those occasions. However, as in all things personal finance, it is personal. Yet my inner budget professor is scratching her head trying to make sense of this decision. To her I can only say, the emotional impact of finding some strange man standing next to your car with the slimjim is not to be underestimated. My own sense of personal safety is very well developed, probably overly so, and while this will not advance us financially in any way, shape, or form, it will also not set us back in dangerous ways. So I work another 5 or 6 months before leaving the paid work force, but for me, for us, it makes emotional sense.

On another matter, I have been sorting through photographs from my mom’s house. I’ve taken dozens out of frames and sorted them into me and my kid and my sister and her family. I don’t keep in touch with my nephew, no idea how to reach him, and will keep the pictures in envelopes until I get some motivation to find him.

There is one picture of my oldest daughter, her last school picture. I have dozen of the same photograph, but mom had a wallet framed and kept it in her bedroom. I cannot remove it from the frame and have no reason to keep yet another copy. I am not sentimental; I do not need the framed photo to remember my daughter or my mother. So after 2 weeks of vacillating and trying to decide what to do, I stuck it into the trash and threw it out.

I’m not sentimental at all, yet my stomach aches and I feel out of breath (in the bad ways) thinking about disposing of it this way. It’s not my daughter or my mother. It is simply a duplicate of something I already have and don’t actually need. As for my mom, our relationship was more toxic waste than warmly fuzzy. Thinking about her does not make me happy or sentimental or misty with nostalgia. Frankly, think about mom makes me furiously, irrationally angry, feelings and emotions I would really rather purge from my system and my life.

Even now, 21 years later, I mourn the loss of my child, miss her every single day, and shed a few tears throwing away this single copy of her final school picture, even if I have a framed copy in my family room and dozens of other copies carefully preserved in storage boxes. At the same time, it is one more step in the wall that separates me from my toxic family of origin and the truer horrors of my life.

Life is not fair, and rarely does it balance evenly. But for every bad thing in my history, there is something better, richer, more rewarding.

This week, there will be something new and different, a tool that makes my life easier and work better and strengthens my sense of safety. Out with something else that at once breaks and heals my heart simultaneously.

 

Puddle jumping all over the place

It’s cold and raining and blustery here today. Not nearly as cold and miserable as other parts of the country, but for we wimpy Cali folk, it’s plenty cold and wet and windy enough.

Despite that, I love the rain … when I am mostly indoors and warm and dry and away from it. For the times I actually have to be out and in it, I love when I get to don my rain boots and run through puddles with absolute impunity. As it is with most things, when I have the boots on, there is not a puddle to be found anywhere I wander. If I am wearing street shoes of any sort, there is not a just wet pavement spot in sight.

Partly why I remain miffed about my gym bag theft. While I had removed my gym-related inner bag with my mini bands and fluffy cuffies and current Lists, my extra socks and sneakers were in there as were other must-haves like hair brush and extra pony holders. Nothing worse than having a pony holder break just before beginning a practice. But now I have to decide which other pair of sneakers becomes my back-up shoes for the gym. It’s early in the season; I have yet to step into a big puddle on the way into the club, but the longer they are absent from my gym bag the more probably it becomes that I will need the dry shoes and socks at some point. I feel as if I have been tempting fate running around without spares these last several days.

While I am actually not working at the office today, it has been quite a busy, hectic day for me. Gym this morning, then last-minute scheduled a coffee/breakfast meeting with a client, then had lunch with RD this afternoon. He looks great, despite gaining 12 lbs. with a broken ankle. Now without cast or boot, back in regular shoes and starting to hit the gym once more, he will bounce back and recover quickly. I was so happy to see him again and sorry he has to leave on Monday for the long drive back to Santa Barbara.

Tonight M and I went to a Christmas party with old friends of mine from high school. We hosted this gathering for several years, but this year an old friend’s parents really wanted us to gather at their home one last time. They are selling their home and moving into assisted living in January and while still vibrant and fairly active, they are in their 80s and frail. My friend, their only surviving child, lives a few states away and worries about their well being. Being in a senior community will ease his mind.

This was in its way a wonderful evening, but there was an edge to it I was both anticipating and hoping to avoid. At least I handled myself and the situation much better this year.

I am now about 18 months into training with J, and almost 15 months of near daily time in the gym. But you all know this; I talk about it constantly. However much I have reshaped my shape, the scale remains somewhere in the 10 to 15 lbs. down range. I think. It has been at least 2 months since I climbed on the scale. My point being, I am not notably skinnier even while being notably fitter. Sometimes that does not show in the way clothes hang.

Anyway, this gathering is of friends I have known since elementary school. Some of us still live nearby, but many moved away and return for the holidays to see family members or old friends. We try to get together one night around the holidays at someone’s home.

My friend whose parents were hosting has been married to his second wife for about 15 years. First wife and mother of his grown sons was beloved by all of us and died in a boating accident. Present wife is at best okay, but mostly tolerated because she’s a snarky bitch. I cannot fathom what my friend saw in her – not especially intelligent or pretty or known for her kind and gentle disposition. She tends to be very direct in a manipulative and cruel way.

I avoid her whenever possible. Truthfully, I cannot stand to be around her and she challenges and pushes the boundaries of my tendency toward good manners and politeness.

Anyway, back to the training and exercise timeline. Last year, I cut ties with a long-time friend over her bitchiness about my Incredible Hulkette apprenticeship, and it was a very tough transition and situation for me to endure. I was still in the embryonic stages of developing my confidence and finding my way with the exercise. The thoughts and opinions of my friends mattered a great deal to me and this former friend’s thoughtlessness caused me a great deal of anxiety and anguish. I tried hard to not let it bother me, I tried harder to brush it off, but in the end, the only way I could cope was to terminate a life-long friendship. Because my arms were too big and my weight loss inadequate. The former friend is a bit crazy with her own vanity, and I was still battling my own gym and other types of insecurity crazy. She and her husband were there tonight, and other than a very cool hello and holiday wishes directed toward the group I was chatting with, she barely looked at me much less spoke to me directly.

Fast forward 12 months and boy howdy things are different now. With all that backstory and dramatic scene setting, here’s what actually happened tonight.

I’m standing there with M and other friends talking, laughing, catching up on hilarious stories from the year. The people I’m chatting with I/we have known for years and year and usually only get to have face-to-face interactions during the holidays. We do stay in touch in other ways, but our holiday party time is something I look forward to every single year.

Into this comes our hostess to both greet us and chide us for not paying for more attention to her in-laws seated across the room. As we stood there, her in-laws were 3 and 4 couples deep saying hello and catching up, just as we all had before moving out of the way so they could spend time with their other guests. My friend S smiled brightly as her almost invisible fangs elongated at the thinly-veiled rebuke that we were having too good of a time without paying homage to her. S suggested the should have had stickers printed – “I greeted N and M” instead of “I voted” – so she could tell who has good manners in the group. The rest of the group laughed, but snarky bitch (SB) did not even crack a smile. If anything, her lips and faced closed inward into that disapproving pucker she gets.

She then turns her gaze toward me, and I could actually feel M tense beside me. With that really sickeningly sweet fake smile she tells me so brightly that I am looking well, and how is that diet and exercise working out for me? I smile back, very blandly, and say it’s going very well, thank you. Then she proceeds to tell me (1) she thought the pictures of G and K’s wedding were lovely and I was “very brave” to wear that dress, and (2) if I am still working with a gym trainer, did I think I was getting full benefit for my money?

I was very calm about this, and said yes, I was still working with trainer J and he was worth every single penny I pay and then some. If she were a smarter woman, she would know better than to push it further from my tone. But no, she believes herself so clever and nods knowingly and says J must be a one-trick pony training women to be big muscled body builders.

Okay, bitch, it is ON.

Why do you say that? Because I’m not rail thin? Well, she demurs, if she was in the gym as much as I am in the gym, she would have lost half her body weight, but of course, she’s a much smaller woman than I am.

I physically step in front of M to keep him from opening his mouth. I smile and say yes, because while you are smaller than I am, I will bet you dollars to donuts that I have less batwing fat under my arms and more muscle mass on my legs than you do. Plus, I’m off blood sugar medications and far more capable, more confident than I was. With those types of wins, who the fuck cares if my ass is bigger – yet more shapely – or if my arms are fucking huge? Yes, I have a  discernible bicep. Get over it.

She was wearing a sleeveless dress. I was wearing a sleeveless sweater with a cardigan over it. And yes, i whipped that cardigan off and flexed my pretty damn admirable bicep. And the people near us who overheard this exchange? They are looking at my flexed arm and its barely there (anymore) batwing, versus her arms at her sides and its smaller physical size but obviously higher percentage of batwing to muscle.

Needless to say she was suddenly needed elsewhere at the party. And I was neither embarrassed or upset at the throw down. For 15 years I have either been avoiding her completely or ignoring her snarky to be polite and keep the peace. Tonight I had simply had enough. She can say what she wants about me, but please, never insult my family or my tribe.

The rest of our evening was really pleasant and really fun. Most of these people have known me since grade school, and I have grown up significantly since I was the chameleon girl who was camouflaged completely by her surroundings. I am typically extremely pleasant and easy going; I still was tonight, only unspooled a bit when pushed. Cest la vie!

Thinking about the month past, particularly the last 10 days, I really need some me time to recharge my batteries. Poor M has been dragged hither and yon to various client dinners and events this month, but he has all day to be at home alone pursuing solo projects. I’m at the office, where I love the people but my time is not my own. Or I am at home working or attending client wing-dings, going to yoga too much, and not sleeping deeply enough to feel refreshed when I should. Late last week M’s bestie began working on our front yard remodel, so there have been rocks and materials to be chosen, designs to be discussed and approved, and while I love M’s bestie, it is one more person I am interacting with when I really just want to crawl into bed with my kindle and read in peace awhile. Essentially, I have not only been burning the candle at both ends I have been setting bonfires on the candle mass in between.

I think a break may be in order. Yes, Christmas is Sunday, we’ll likely be hanging out at home with few to no visitors. It will be amazing. But tomorrow we’ve been invited to M’s bestie’s holiday open house, which is a big thing for M because the volume of runner friends. I asked him on the way home tonight if he minded I bailed this year, for the simple reason that I am absolutely exhausted. While he really wants me to attend, he understands. He also understands that I have far less in common with the runner friends he enjoys so much and will likely enjoy himself far more if we either take 2 cars or he goes alone. Reality of our long marriage is that we have different hobbies and interests and the 2 do not always mesh seamlessly.

It has been a long week, long month. I need the “me” time. I need to write, to read, to relax without a lot of distraction or the pressure of the clock. Maybe tomorrow will be the start of a long weekend of that … after the gym, of course.

Which today did not go so well. I had a client text and then call last night to get an urgent appointment with me, which was the coffee/breakfast today. It was a pretty good problem to have – unexpected windfall – but it was also stressing him out to the point of not wanting to wait until after the first of the year to meet with me about it. I am tired already, battling something attacking my sinuses, and then feeling the pressure of an appointment when I anticipated a more leisurely morning. Result was a unfocused, distracted effort.

I follow Scott Abel on Facebook, because he is a very smart fitness coach who also seems very sensible in his approaches. Several of his posts the last few days have resonated with me, while at the same time make me feel a lot like a miserably bad client in that maybe I am not listening, trying hard enough, want it (whatever “it” is for me) badly enough, have an inadequate work ethic, am to dependent on outside validations.

None of that is true, and I know it. But I am just worn down enough to be vulnerable to shredding myself over my potential to be and do all those things.

Ugh.

At the end of it all, been a very long day with a lot of good and great things. Holiday celebrations are cresting this weekend, whether I like it or not, whether I feel ready for it or not.

Sleep is the great equalizer. No alarm for me tomorrow morning, and hopefully my internal body clock will let me get all the rest I genuinely need.

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.