action · addiction · clarity · commitment · community · fear · fortitude · procrastination · progress · recovery · self-esteem · self-love · self-pity · self-support

Forte. Più Forte. (Loud. More Loud.)

It’s come into my awareness again this week the fallacy of
perfection, and its venomous tendrils. The three “p”s: Perfection,
Procrastination, Paralyzation.
I’ve also read that procrastination is simply another way
for us to prolong feeling crappy about ourselves, and to delay feeing proud of
ourselves.
This week, after a conversation with some people of
authority at work last week about my position, my ambition, my vision of “Where
I’d like to be;” after I was given the feedback that, great, sure, put it in
writing and we can talk more… I stalled and dragged my feet.
It wasn’t acres of time, this time; it was only from Friday until
Tuesday evening, when I finally wrote what I needed to
write. But I could see those tendrils curling up around me, waiting to choke my
ambition and self-esteem from me. The tendrils of hopelessness (What the use
anyway), uncertainty (What about acting, my art, moving), and simple
perfectionism (If it’s not perfect, they’ll reject it, and then I’ll be stuck
answering phones the rest of my life, anyway, so f* it, I’ll just watch some
more Once Upon a Time).
It was so helpful to hear other people talk about how this
weed of perfectionism crops up in their lives, marring their attempts at a full
life—it reminds me that I’m not alone, and mostly, as I heard people talk about
their struggle with perfectionism, I sat
there in that chair and decided (for the hundredth time) to go home afterward
and do the write-up I needed to hand in to my superiors.
I heard them battling the beast, I heard them being flayed
by it, and I decided I wasn’t going to let that be me, if only for an evening.
I cannot tell you how many times I make this declaration to
myself. And then, simply do come home
and watch Netflix, or surf Facebook. I wonder if the advent of television and
internet has created in us a generation of procrastinators, but I certainly
know that I am none too helped by it! (in binges, especially)
But for whatever reason (and I won’t call it exasperation,
because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been exasperated, and still done
nothing), I came home on Tuesday night, wrote what I needed to write, emailed
it to a few friends for feedback, and handed it in yesterday.
And here’s the/a reward for overcoming perfectionism: It may not go the way you wanted anyway. I may hear, “Thanks, Molly, but we’re not
in a position to… We’ll think about it for some undetermined date… This just
isn’t in our vision or budget… We just need someone (you) to stay doing what
you are doing indefinitely, or at least through the next year or more.” I may
hear things I don’t want to hear in response to my action on behalf of myself
and my ambition, BUT, the reward is that I get to hear something at all,
instead of sitting, spinning, resenting, foaming, fuming, and … watching
Netflix.
The reward for overcoming perfectionism (and it’s
paralyzation) in just this one moment is that, no matter the results, no matter
the response, I am actually moving
forward, internally, for sure. What this does is tell me that, See Molly,
once you did something. One time you took action on your
own behalf, and instead of delaying your good, instead of languishing in a sea
of self-pity, you get to feel proud, pro-active, like a leader. You get to feel
like yourself, instead of like the skin of mutating fear that creeps up yours
and mimics you out in the world.
I don’t know the result of the action I took, externally, at
least. However, having put things in writing and gotten clarity around my
vision and desire, if I don’t get the result I “want” here, in this environs,
then I get to take that information and that knowledge and shop it around
elsewhere. Because I took the action that I did, suddenly, I have a beginning
instead of what my brain and that malevolent skin tells me is an end, a sorry, pathetic end.
Finally, I’ll repeat something I heard a long time ago,
which I’ve agreed with and disagreed with over the years: We ask “god” for what
we want; “he” gives us what we need; and in the end, it’s what we wanted
anyway.
I know that what I wanted anyway was clarity and
self-esteem, so, Team: Mission Accomplished. 

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abundance · addiction · balance · clarity · commitment · community · debt · deprivation · spirituality

For you, not me.

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As is custom, yesterday I got the chance to sit with two
other folks who work on their relationship to money. We met in the monthly
group of three to hear and discuss and provide suggestions and feedback to one
of the group. It was this woman’s first group like this, she being new to
addressing her vagueness and impulsiveness around money.
And I got the melodious chance to see how far I’ve come
since I sat with a similar group of two strangers almost 3 years ago.
As I watched her discomfort, shame, panic, and hopelessness,
it reminded me of how I was when I sat in that first group. I hated that I had
to seek help around money; I already spent plenty of time in groups about
alcoholism, now I have to do it about debt, scarcity, and … (dread) abundance?
I came to that first small monthly group with my numbers
tallied from the month before, my income and expenses. I came with my mounting
student debt, my checking account bouncing along the bottom, my credit cards
bouncing along the top. I came with starvation in so many areas, and I was
so sure they were going to tell me to cut more, since my income was not meeting
my expenses.
Instead, what they told me was that I was living in
deprivation, and needed to increase the
amounts I was spending in certain categories of self-care (clothing,
entertainment, food). They told me that my needs weren’t too great to be met; that I needn’t be ashamed of actually needing more.
It was horrifying! It was so uncomfortable to be validated
that I wasn’t living too big for my britches, but have no idea how to change
the income side. At the time, I was barely making ends meet with temp jobs, and
felt I was doing all I could to get out of the hand-to-mouth hole. But I was
powerless, I was desperate, and I listened to these two who said, We believe it
will get better for you; it has for us.
Things didn’t really begin to change for me until last
Spring when I began working one-on-one with a new woman I’d admired from those
groups. For whatever reason, things didn’t really change when I’d worked
diligently with the first woman I’d worked with.
When I started again with J., at one point, she told me that
I needed a car, and I would get one. SCOFF!! What?? How? What money? Me? No….
I didn’t believe her in the slightest. At all. But, I did
believe that she believed, and that was
enough. She said, I needed a car to get to band practice, to get to auditions,
to get to work, and it would happen for me.
And, as you now know, last October, maybe 6 months after her proclamation, it did. It’s not a
beater car, an “underearner’s” car, it’s not a jalopy. In fact, it is the exact
make, model, color, mileage and price I’d hoped to get. Seriously!
I didn’t “come into money.” I didn’t stop buying clothing,
or going to the movies. I just kept showing up to groups and meetings and
writings like the folks I saw get better do. And things changed.
I know the woman yesterday thinks we’re full of shit, just
like I did. I know that she thinks to herself, “Yeah, maybe for you, but not for
me,” just like I did.
But, with my life as evidence, with one credit card paid
off, my $90,000 student loans in repayment
(slowly), with food I want to eat in my fridge, and most importantly, with the specter of “I’ll never get out of this; I’ll just kill myself” long faded – if it can happen for me, it
can happen for her.
And if the course of one year of real change can produce
what it has, maybe I no longer feel the same militant resistance to where else
abundance wants to enter my life. (Maybe.)

addiction · love · pain · painting · sex · travel

Him, or His Tragedy?

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Two of my formative love experiences centered around the
tragic hero.
The first suffered unintentional tragedy by external forces;
the second, those forces were internal.
I was 19 when I met Joe in the basement dwelling of a mutual
friend, basements being common gathering spaces for teens in suburbia. Scotty
J. even had a puke hole in the back behind the water heater should the need arise, and it often did.
In the morning, Joe didn’t remember driving his Camaro over
to my house the night before, and thanked me for getting his car there safely.
… I don’t drive stick; it really wasn’t me.
It was red. Muscley. His pride, his baby, his staff and his
project. Both he and Scott would spend hours in the driveway with the hood up,
tinkering, fixing, unearthing, lubing, loving, and suping their cars. Scott was
working on a Firebird, the shell of the Trans-Am on blocks in the garage having
donated its engine to the Firebird.
I loved this. I loved watching how attentive they were to
their cars, how dirty their hands were, how much they knew. How sweaty and
excited and jargon-speaking they became when bent over the greasy machine. I
loved how the cars sounded when they started up. I loved the primal growl, the
testosterone surge. I loved that the cars and their owners turned me on.
Maybe a month, maybe less into this Summer of Love, Joe’s
Camaro was t-boned by a woman blowing a stop sign through an intersection.
Suddenly, the man-boy I had “fallen in love with” deflated. Defeated, broken,
grieving for his totaled “baby,” Joe crawled inside a bottle of Johnnie Walker
Red.
I couldn’t follow him there, into his mourning. Nor could I
really understand or have the perhaps appropriate amount of compassion for his
loss, feeling like he was turning his back on what he did have: me.
After my own very misguided attempts to grab his attention
back from the stoned, middle-distance stare he’d acquired, he finally did see
me; but this time in outrage and betrayal, and our relationship ended in
high-octane tears, screams, and pleading.
Tragic.
The second figure I loved so much I fell into that burning
ring of fire, was an artist.
Oh, this one. Andy. A Canadian I met in South Korea at age 23, another
teacher in the pre-school where we taught English. From moment one, I could smell
the pheromones of a tortured soul, and it rang straight into my bones.
There is something very particular about a tortured artist
soul. It reads like a familiar, I acknowledge you as one of my own; I see where
it is black inside you, where it is a vitriolic, white-hot, tumulting blackness, a yawning
cavern of desperate need and distopian pain. God, it’s electric.
The gaping hole, the violent, untenable ache for
validation and self-flagellation… god, you just want to walk into the center
of it, and be fueled by it. Let me stand in the eye of your self-destruction, in
the blaze of your unrest, and be transformed, be elevated by it.
It’s sick. I know. And because you know it’s sick, you
delight in it all the more. The delicious evil of it. The knowledge that you
are, together, charring a path through hell, is invigorating.
Andy was, and probably is, a painter. There was a crooked,
dotted path of yellow paint down the back alley toward his building where one
of his cans had leaked through the bag, and bread-crumbed his trail home.
His fingers were often covered in paint (like Joe’s in
grease), and his apartment had more than twenty completed canvases leaning on
the floor, against the wall. The typified artist whose greatest work lies stale
and unrealized behind walls, in drawers, in storage.
I loved the
unrealized potential of him. How he slammed his head against his self-made
cage. I hated how he “did nothing with it,” and as if I had the power to free
him from that bondage, I would look up galleries and places he could show his work. I
would read the poems he wrote to accompany his pieces, and create books in my
head for this next great artist.
The fantasy of his life, what it could have been, drew me
like a moth. A sick, misguided, gaping hole of my own, moth.
Andy had a girlfriend. He had another tragic girl he was
sleeping with. I would sit on the heated Korean floor with him and drink and
play cards and fuck and drink and intone and fuck some more.
He was never in love with me. This I knew, but tried not to
know. I wondered if I could crawl inside him and patch his broken places if he
would love me then. But he was also in love with his tragedy, and you can’t
take a toy from a child.
The men I’ve loved past these two have been thousands of
shades lighter in tragedy. And I have learned enough that you cannot date
potential, or rent love from infatuation, or demand love from one who doesn’t
love themselves. I have also learned enough that I don’t really want to be
ignited by tragedy anymore, but rather by joy, and I pass up the visibly broken
ones for hope of something different.
But in the sense-memory playground of my love life, I do
know that my heartpace quickens recalling tragedy’s twisted pleasures. 

addiction · detachment · faith · family · fear · love

On Witnessing the Inevitability of Life

My mom and I spoke yesterday for the first time in a while. As in, really talked, not a quick check-in, how are you, okay, gotta go. She and I can speak for hours, on subjects ranging from all manner of depth to superficiality. 
Yesterday, she wanted to ask me my advice about a situation she and her long-time boyfriend (for lack of a better term for a live-in adult partner) were facing. His son, my age, was having consequences (severed tendons) that seemed to refer to alcohol (after an altercation with a guy at a bar).
This apparently wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and despite the stories he told about it (he slipped and fell on the sidewalk after the altercation), my mom and her boyfriend were concerned that this pattern of incidents pointed toward alcoholism.
So, she called me to find out what they should do.
I gave the best advice I know for the families and loved ones of someone in an addiction: Get the help for yourself that you wish the person had. I suggested Al-Anon, or CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous), which are geared toward the families of folks facing addiction.
Because, I told her simply: There is nothing you can do.
Apparently, the son had texted to cancel a brunch with his dad yesterday morning, claiming he’d not been able to sleep well, and would be a zombie. His dad texted back, Okay, but we need to talk.
I suggested to my mom that her boyfriend change his tactics. If the son is really in the grips of a disease and an addiction, then he needs to know he has allies. And, really, what would another conversation do about it, as they’d brought up A.A. already and talked about their concern? Play the tape: What do you hope to accomplish from a talk with him that hadn’t already been said? So, the son will say (again), you’re right, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, different. The dad will sit back in his chair with relief and triumph. – And then the son will do whatever he was going to do anyway.
I told my mom some things that sound harsh and even crass when speaking about a loved one in a hard place: That ultimately, the intention of a conversation like that is to get the result that the son’s dad wants, that my mom wants: relief and reassurance that the son be happy, be healthy. And if he is happy and healthy, then they two can be as well. Ultimately, these desires are selfish: I want to feel better; I want to feel relief. (And I know that’s a hard thing to hear when speaking about a parent’s love for a son.)
Furthermore, though, their desires for his changed behavior proclaim that they know the best course for the son. And they don’t. We spoke about “not robbing someone of their bottom;” that getting sober isn’t the way for everyone; and that the person very very much needs to come to the conclusion themselves that they need or want help.
You cannot tell someone to get sober. They have to want it themselves, or it won’t stick; and if you demand it from them, they’ll feel pit against you and your expectations, instead of aligned with you against the terrifying proposition of giving up the one thing in the world they know how to do.
To let go of the results of someone else’s addiction is a grave assignment; that’s why there are support programs for the people who are in that circumstance. It isn’t easy for the people on either side of the bottle.
I told her too, that the thing she does have control over is how she chooses to engage the situation. I talked about Loving Detachment, which I haven’t mastered at all, but have less antipathy toward. I told her she could “pray” for him, in whatever way that meant for her (the agnostic Jew), even if that meant sending thoughts of hippie rainbows toward him. I suggested using the phrase, “I pray that he gets the same peace love and happiness that I want for myself.”
Because it may not be this kid’s path to get sober, to stop drinking, to stop getting in bar fights. It may not be his path to live past 35, is the ultimate truth of it. And that’s where the enormous task of Loving Detachment becomes so painful. And, that’s where help for the loved one’s comes in handy. There are people who have been where they are, and some of them are not there anymore.
The thing about 12 step support, I told her, is that you hear others’ “experience, strength, and hope;” you hear them telling the same stories, not from 3rd person hearsay, or generalization: you hear your own story coming from someone else’s mouth, your own feelings being mirrored back at you, and you realize you are not alone in your struggle. That these folks were where you are, and they aren’t (hopefully) there any more. How did they do it? Stick around and listen. There is hope here.
The last thing I suggested was that the boyfriend amend his text to his son about “needing to talk,” and simply say, “You know what, I’m here when you need me, if you ever want to talk. Otherwise, I’ll just see you on Thursday for the game.” (or whatever.)
It’s not that people in their addiction need to be coddled or allowed to behave inappropriately toward their loved ones. They simply need to be given enough rope to hang themselves. To come to their own desperate conclusions in their own time.
And if you have the strength, or the exhaustion, to let someone you love do that – you all have a better chance to be helped.

* Disclaimer: Opinion and interpretation is only that of the person who gave it, and by no means representative of any other group or entity.