healing · joy · recovery · relationships · self-preservation · trauma

Recalibrating the Bar.

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Surely, normal is relative. I read some of my blogs about my
past, and I think, Jesus, this is not
what “normal” people have dealt with. I listen to some of my acquaintances
share their histories, and I think, “Thank god things weren’t that bad with
me.”
In some comparisons, my life has been saner and pretty charmed; in other comparisons, it’s been dysfunctional and tragic.
Yesterday, I came home from hearing tell of someone’s tragic
past, “worse” than mine. Then I picked up where I left off in Autobiography
of a Face
, because surely the story of a
little girl’s jaw sawn off through cancer is “worse” than my own story.
And I decided then, it is time for me to recalibrate my bar for
normal and dysfunction.
I was feeling activated by the story I’d heard earlier in
the evening. I was feeling protective of the children that story was being told
to, and I was experiencing a hardening in my chest, made of anger and
self-protection against the terror of that story.
And despite the fact that things in my life have been on the
plus and minus side of well-being, I think it’s time for me to start marching
toward those people and experiences that don’t trade in trauma.
There tends to be a uniting force among those in my crowd,
knowing that we’ve, most of us, come from some kind of trauma. Wherever that
may fall on the spectrum of horror. But, we feel an understanding with one
another on the basis of a shared experience, and sometimes this unification
posits us against more “normal” folk, folks who perhaps didn’t come from that seething primordial ooze.
The problem, and I’ve contemplated it before, is that when
you trade in trauma, there’s no value in happiness. When you bond over tragedy,
how do you boast your success?
Over the last few years, my threshold for violence and gore
has lowered dramatically. Even “silly” crime t.v. shows that used to be my
favorites, I’ve had to eliminate from my visual diet. I just can’t stomach
them anymore.
As time has passed, I’ve become more aware and attuned to
when those shows or images are getting to me – when I’m cringing, or closing my
eyes – and I’ve taken note of those cues, and begun to drop them from my cue.
It feels the same to me with these stories that are around
me.
I read Autobiography
last night, despite knowing that I didn’t want to read it. The language is
beautiful, the plot is compelling; by all counts, it’s a well-crafted book. But
I don’t think I want to read any more – in fact, I know that, and I’m going to
have to decide if I heed that information or not.
The same is true with some of the stories I hear around me.
It’s going to be up to me to begin either seeking out or attracting into my
life people, not who don’t have those
stories of trauma in their past, but who don’t feel compelled to broadcast them.
Who don’t feel compelled to do so inappropriately.
I am not saying that I will only surround myself with
“normal” folks, or that the stories of our pasts are not important. I am,
however, saying that my trauma meter is full, and I need to back away from
media or people who will put it over the edge because of their own hemorrhaging boundaries.
I am, of course, an advocate for sharing of ourselves, as you’ve read over and over in my blog, but I stand behind the knowledge and hope that others click to read this on purpose, that this blog is chosen as a media source
for them, that I’m not dumping it on anyone. I also think perhaps it is time for me to begin walking farther
away from the retelling of these stories, as repetition keeps them powerful.
I don’t know what the line of balance is between honesty and
appropriateness. But I do know there is one.  

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compassion · disappointment · family · self-care · self-preservation

Stay in Touch.

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I received a birthday card in the mail from my father the
other day.
On the front are printed all these large, cartoony instructions saying, “Daughter, Whatever you do, don’t open this card!”
On opening it, the message inside reads, “You still don’t do
as you’re told.”
And there’s a handwritten note, wishing me a happy birthday
and telling me to stay in touch.
It’s both funny and tragic. It’s funny, not for it’s printed
content, but for the fact that it continues my father’s understanding of me and
our relationship: He’s the good one, I’m the fuck-up. He makes the rules, and I don’t follow them. What a set-up. 
This is “funny,” because it’s sad. Because it’s continued
confirmation of how unrealistic our relationship is, and because it confirms
that this is not a person I want to be in communication with.
Lest you think me harsh to judge or condemn a relationship
based on one tin-eared card, believe me, this is the softest of these messages
I’ve received. And continue to receive from him.
On Saturday, I got the chance to talk to my mentor. We were
talking about amending relationships where there is discord, or where I simply
don’t feel at peace.
This, of course, is one of them.
But, my father was listed in a category of others, too:
People I’ve fallen out of touch with out of self-preservation.
I wanted to talk to my mentor about whether I’m in the
wrong… that still-lingering “good daughter” or “good friend” guilt. Shouldn’t
you show up no matter what? Isn’t that love? Or is that obligation? And does it
matter?
Isn’t it my job to adjust myself and meet these people where
they’re at, regardless of how they’re harming me?
Because as painful as it is to know how intractable the
situation with my dad is, I still lash myself with reproval.
I should be able to withstand my crazy aunt’s needling about
my family’s ills. I should be able to listen to her constant health complaints
and victim-laden phone calls. I should be able to because she’s family and because she’s alienated nearly everyone else
she’s related to.
I should be able to sit in a car with my manic friend, even
though I get quiet and withdrawn around that kind of unpredictable behavior. I
should be able to meet her level of enthusiasm and kookiness because that’s
cool, right? Why can’t I just be cool, like her?
I should be able to be in relationships with people I don’t
want to be in relationships with, because that’s what “good” people do, right? Because
that’s what we’re told good people do.
But, to quote that myopic card, I rarely do what I’m told. …
What my mentor offered me was there are some relationships that
are once or twice a year out-reaches. And that’s okay.
Send your aunt a birthday and holiday card, and call it a
day.
Allow your friend who makes you uncomfortable to have her
own experience, and you don’t have to be a part of it if you don’t like how you
feel around her.
Reply to your dad’s occasional emails, thank him for the
card. And leave it at that.
There are relationships that we invest more in and there are
those we invest less. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for the person. It
doesn’t mean that they are bad, or that I am.
It just means that my self-exacting standard of
communication needs relaxing.
You don’t have to invest in relationships that cause you
pain.
Believe me, I’ve done enough work in trying to make these
particular ones work. To find common ground and compromise and a way of
communicating that is healthy, or at least not harmful. And unfortunately,
there isn’t one.
I wish and try and hope and beg Universes that they were,
particularly with my dad, because who wouldn’t? But, this is an intractable
situation. And I have bloodied my fists knocking on a closed door, trying to
break in through a side window, and torn fingernails trying to dig underneath
all the battle defenses that each of us have drawn to come to a relationship with him that I can be in.
But, when you come to the end of the line, it’s time to get off
the train. This one doesn’t go any farther, no matter how much I wish it did.
And I do. And I probably always will.
But in the reality of today, these relationships are not serving
either of us. I can’t demand someone to show up or behave how I want. I can
only adjust myself to what is. And allow myself the compassion to stop
haranguing myself for not being able to adjust them.
And I can do that by staying in touch. Just barely. 

awareness · dating · fear · isolation · safety · self-preservation

“I Hate to See You Go, But I…”

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I will never stick around long enough to watch you leave.
Like a forest animal who senses the seismic shift before an earthquake, I will
run to high ground before you even know there’s trouble a’comin. Where’d she
go?
I heard that a lot in my drinking days: Where did you go last night anyway?
I was always leaving. I left because I was antsy or bored or
horny or wasted. I left because I could sense the swell of the evening had
reached its peak, and I don’t stick around for the lull. I left because I knew
you couldn’t give me anything more, and so I went elsewhere to seek it.
It was a different kind of dragon I chased, but one
nonetheless: The perpetually up moment. The height of hilarity and connection.
In relationship, I am becoming aware, I do the same thing.
Because relationships are never “Safety Guaranteed,” I try to figure it out:
Will this “work” / will this not “work?” I will look at the barometer and try
to figure out if we’ve reached our peak, and if it’s time for me to bail.
Before I do, however, I will engage in a lovely sequence of
emotional aerobics: If I am standoffish, will you chase me and thereby prove
you like me, and I’m safe? If I am more attached, will you reciprocate and,
here, prove that you like me, and therefore I am safe?
Somewhere in the distance between initial connection and
“the end,” I have attached my personal safety to this “working” or to my
assurance that it won’t. Either way, certainty, I have believed, will keep me
safe.
And if, through all my calculations, I still cannot devise
whether this will work or not, or if I begin to spidey-sense that your interest in me has reached its apex, I will high-tail it so fast, you
won’t remember the color of my eyes.
What a lonely way of being.
Particularly, because I won’t just leave: in order to
ensure that I am doing the “right”
thing, that I am following our projected course, simply in a truncated fashion,
I will likely nuke the relationship first. This way, I know there will be no
questions, and no “What ifs?” because it’s dead. I killed it. Hard.
And therefore, I am safe. Because I have certainty about
things. About everything.
The horrible variable in this equation is humanity. The
uncertainty principle.
Human relationships are not quantifiable by my fear-brain.
The flaw in it, too, is that I have attached, long ago, my
feeling of safety to assurance in relationships.
I know where this cycle comes from. I know that having a
formative environment that was unstable is not the foundation on which to build
ideas of safety and trust. I know what it feels like to love, and have that
love turn, viciously and swiftly.
And so, I have learned to turn first.
If I can only figure out the exact moment when we’ve reached
our groundswell, I can outrun your abandoning me.
But sometimes, dear self, rain is just rain, and it doesn’t
mean anything more. Sometimes you stay in the shallows while it storms, because
after it passes, you’re witness to god’s great rainbow. Sometimes when you stay
put, you learn how to sway in the storm instead of to rail against it or
crumble beneath it.
I don’t learn these things if I leave first.
I want to. Believe me. In the simplest of encounters, like a
phone call even, I want to be the one gone first. Because then I’m safe.
But, as I posited in “Safety Guanteed(?),” perhaps I can
begin (again) to test the theory that “I am not in control, and I am safe.”
Perhaps I can begin to root my personal sense of safety
somewhere within, instead of without, and then I never have to try to figure
others out, manipulate my behavior, or believe I’ve predicted an end. If I can
seat my personal safety in trust of myself, maybe I’ll become willing to see
what happens when I stick around.
Because maybe the party isn’t over after all. 

avoidance · compassion · connection · family · father · forgiveness · isolation · love · relationships · resentment · self-preservation

Well, Shoot.

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There has been all this heartache in me about wanting my
father to change. To be loving, available, vulnerable and open. I have wanted
this to happen for as long as I can remember, and I’ve held out a resentment
toward him for his inability to do this for that long, too.
I have tried many ways around and through this resentment:
loving kindness, acceptance, letters to god, letters to him I didn’t send,
letters to him I did. Individuation meditations, praying daily for his peace
and happiness, envisioning him as a child… But nothing has moved this boulder of a need.
And I finally realized what the need really is. It is not
that I need my father to change. At this point, it’s that I need him not to.
Because if he did, then I would have to look at being loving, available,
vulnerable and open to him. And this causes trouble, because this is not safe.
So, keeping my resentment toward him has been a circuitous
way to protect myself from my being
vulnerable to
him.
It’s all well and good to want someone to change – but when
faced with the actuality of their transformation, how do we deal with that?
I wish I could tell you that I have overblown the situation,
and he’s kinder than he appears, and being vulnerable to him could maybe, possibly, just-give-it-one-more-try, be a good idea.
But it’s not. Unfortunately, I have enough evidence to support this. Not ancient, you yelled I was a liar during a game of Clue when I was 5. Like,
recent, appallingly turning my vulnerability against me evidence.
So, here’s the thing. I can forgive all of that. I can be willing to forgive it all, anyway. But do I want to change my behavior? Not really.
I’ve spent all this time trying to find my way around the
rock of resentment to get toward connection, but when I look instead at what
the rock is doing for me, not to me, I get to see that maybe it’s been doing the
right thing all along. And this realization is
hard for a person like me.
I have fear that keeping myself separate from him will cause
bile in my soul and in my body, and corrode other relationships. I have fear that by not being vulnerable to
him, I’m going to call down some cosmic retribution and be serially alone. I have fear that I’m not “spiritual”
enough, or evolved enough or recovered enough, or else I’d be able to have him
in my life as a loving and caring adult, both ways ’round.
I have shame that I can’t allow this relationship to flourish.
That I refuse to be the asshole who riles on the ground before him and begs him
to love me. I have been doing that for as long as I can remember, too.
But the thing I always thought I wanted was for him to do
that too. To acknowledge his faults, to claim ownership of his behavior, and to
beg my forgiveness.
What I see now, is that if he actually did, I don’t want to give it – that
forgiveness is a door to love. And with him, love is a door to hurt.
The boulder has been there doing this job all along.
Until I learn a “healthier” way of screening those doors,
they’ll just have to remain shut.