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.

Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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