Reality Hurts… Sometimes

A few months ago, I wrote an email into a podcast I listen to quite regularly. It was a desperate plea to know if I should wait for the man I thought was once the love of my life. I have exhaustive, expansive love for said man–so much that I’m still finding new poems to write, recalling more memories I loved, reflecting on the ways he improved my character. It has been several years, more years than we were together, and I’m still unpacking the bursting adoration and exhilaration (and adjectives!) coarsing through my veins. 

I received the answer today in their most recent podcast. If I’m honest with myself, I knew the answer while I was writing the email in the first place. He didn’t want to be with me or he would have stayed. It was about me. And no matter how long he goes on searching for what’s missing, it’s unlikely he’ll turn around and once again grab my hand. He’s moved on, with or without a new partner, and somewhere along the way, I just stopped to wait for something that isn’t going to come. 

To add insult to injury, or just an additional dose of reality, I turned on the television this afternoon to see He’s Just Not That Into You, one of my favorite movies because it’s so blunt. Girlfriends always seem to say the exception to a rule–that there was that one time a couple broke up and then got back together years later. But that rarely happens. People change, people sometimes don’t have a good reason for breaking up except that it just doesn’t feel right anymore. Sometimes people change and don’t realize it until later. 

It hurts, it does. It hurts because I still have this deep chasm of love overflowing for the person who put me onto the path I am today. For the person who was able to show me what I’m truly capable of. For the person I want to share it all with now that I’m here.

I want to flow all of that love into a container, opening that deep chasm wide for a new person with current possibilities. For someone who chooses me every day. Good, bad, happy, sad. Someone who wants to figure out their life in parallel to mine and doesn’t run from the possibility. 

Too often we talk about flowing out negative feelings, channeling grief or anger or sorrow into music and poetry. Journaling difficult emotions. Exercising out our anger. Scream therapy. Facing our fears. But what happens when the feelings we have appear positive but still get in the way? Loving someone to exhaustion can also block the heart to new options. Remembering the good times too often can hurt our necks as we crane to keep the past in our sights. 

Reality can hurt sometimes, but it can also open us to new and soul-stretching possibilities. So, what’s in it for you?

Reflections

Today, in the budding, cold, drizzling spring, I was out wandering in the woods. When coming back to the cabins where I’m staying, I stumbled upon a small grey bird (i’m not a bird fanatic and could not identify readily) doing its best to shield whatever was in the nest it was covering. I stopped and marveled a while. At the resilience of this bird, at its diligence in protection. Then, while I slowly disengaged, I saw my reflection, clearly, in a mirrored object that sat inside a room, through a clear window. I saw myself in a mirror, through a window. And this hit me:

Reflections

What was it?

A large, glassy, reflective

Mirror-like substance

That revealed those

Fragile, now broken views

Of your pain with your dad?

Was I just the conduit?
Was I too like the one

You’ve come to distrust?

Where you were skeptical already?

Were the structures not mine to break?

But, rather, the stone, or raindrop

Rippling the reflection,

Reminding you of its pull?
We are alike. Were alike.

I recall him less over time.

Cancer survivor.

Rags to riches.

Instigator, rabble rouser, hippie tree hugger.

Lover of music, gestalt, experience.

Tactical, technical, spiritual.

Angry. Impatient. Stoic.

Withholding of affections.

And then, like magic,

The light switches on, and…

CHARISMA.

Well traveled but humble.

Always pushing the edges.

Overwhelming.

Yes, so alike.
If only I could cover that puddle,

Keep a placid surface,

Unruffle your ruffled feathers,

Shield you from the uncertainty,

Give you a nest in which to roost.

If only I could be more

Than the mere reflection

The force and not the imprint,

Even just a quiet one.
But that’s not me.

That’s not my role with you.

Letting it all play out

Grows my patience, and tries it, too.
One day may it be you

Who stares back.

Massage Therapy & Surrender

I attend Pilates and yoga 6 times a week, not only for a workout but to set time to meditate in a community. Yoga is a powerful mindfulness activity and also binds you to those with whom you practice. After meditating for 35 minutes twice a day for nearly 3 months, I have been feeling freer and thinking that I am completely Zen. Imagine my surprise when I attended a yoga class last week where my instructor kept saying, “Blonde. Shoulders away from ears, lengthen through the spine.” All I could think was, “MY SHOULDERS ARE SO FAR AWAY FROM MY EARS!” until she came over and gently adjusted my posture, showing that, indeed, I had been holding on to something I didn’t even notice was there. It reminds me of those times when you get a massage from a massage therapist and they lift your arm or leg and state, “you can let go. Just make your limb weightless.” Usually I think I am totally giving in to their therapy, but I actually hold on just enough to feel like I’m still in control.

We’re shit at relationships. Why? Because even when we say we trust people, even when we say that we’ve let go or given in, our neocortex is screaming for us to maintain control. Maintain the status quo. Keep social construction. Feed the ego. We’re so prideful that we don’t even see that we’re not even seeing. We build magnificent safeguards in order to hold onto the semblance of control. If only we knew how free we could feel if we surrendered fully.

“Spiritually, no action is more important than surrender. Surrender is the tenderest impulse of the heart, acting out of love to give whatever the beloved wants. Surrender is being alert to exactly what is happening now, not imposing expectations from the past. Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything, even when you cannot foresee the outcome of a situation.” –Deepak Chopra

Surrender is probably the concept I struggle with the most. I want others to be vulnerable with me, but even the act of saying that I want others to be a different way means that I want to hold onto the control. At times,  I want to pray for things to happen–for an exact answer to my questions. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want someone to make his own decision or conclusion. I ask for patience and grace from others and yet I get impatient in doing the same. However, every time I let go and receive, I receive the exact thing I need at the time. The thing that will bring me the happiness for which I long. All I can do is show up, allowing others to also show up. And there is beauty in that. These micro-adjustments are so critical in our lives–allowing someone to tell us or allowing something to make us more aware of those things we struggle to release. These daily micro-adjustments that bring awareness to the places where we still hold on are critical. They bring us back to present, to what is inside of us that can be released–removing us from the impetus to seek external changes to internal problems.

May we listen before prescribing…for even as we ask, even as we pay for the massage therapist or the regular therapist, or even as we kneel down to pray, we waste our time and money when we don’t allow someone else to be the expert. May we have more space for receiving rather than holding so tightly to the things we think are best for us.

Family

As you might imagine, I’ve had some trouble with family and the safety of family in my past. That trouble, that childhood where I was stuck for so many years, has both helped me and hurt me, but overall, it has shaped me into the human I have become. For that, I can begin to have compassion with myself for the sticky spots I still have, for the areas in my past where I am still processing through, with the gentle awareness that I can be whomever I want to be in this moment now.

This weekend is a bit of a magical one for me–first, yesterday was the anniversary of my mother and stepfather. Second, today is my brother’s birthday. Third, tomorrow will be the last day my sister-in-law will be pregnant (scheduled cesarean early Monday morning). I’m acknowledging that these three events are so much more important to me this year than any other time. And I’m excited to share why.

In my previous post on Father’s Day, I talked a little about my stepfather. 27 years ago yesterday, he married my mother, and he married all of us kids too. 27 years ago, I was gifted an amazing gift that only recently have I been able to fully appreciate. The gift of presence, the gift of kindness, the gift of stability, the gift of unconditional love, the gift of family. While my stepfather not only got my mom but all of us, I also got my stepfather’s inspiring and loving family to call my own. Only very recently have I been able to realize that the only one standing in between my relationship with these amazing individuals was me. I felt so much pressure by my biological father and my siblings to stay separate from my stepfather that I never fully integrated. But they have always been there to love me, to care for me, to inspire me.

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My stepfather came from a wonderful home, with a mom who chose to be a mom even though she had a master’s degree and was a concert cellist. She taught her children to achieve, but not at the expense of enjoying their lives. She taught them to have a full spectrum of emotions. She taught them love.

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When my stepfather came into the picture, this was foreign to all of us. But because I was so young, I remember that my favorite times in my childhood were around him–playing bocce on the beach, playing croquet in the front yard, attending baseball games, cheering on local sports teams, learning new card games, playing handball, running in three legged races at company picnics, and hula hooping. We watched TGIF together, and he always imitated Steve Urkel. We rapped to the Fresh Prince together, we went to tons of movies. He was the best part of my childhood… Until I was told not to love him. Until I was told to choose him or my siblings in loyalty. Looking back now, I made the mistake of not choosing him. For their 27th anniversary, I choose him back. I choose him, I choose fun, I choose unconditional love. Because it chose me all those years ago… And it’s still there.

Two things have opened up my eyes to this experience even more than just my trauma work: I met someone whose traits mirrored those of my stepdad and I found myself profoundly grateful for the man who was my father the more I fell in love with that man I was dating. It really empowered me to grapple with those narratives about why I felt I needed to choose all those years ago. It empowered me to be curious about the choices and perceptions I have had in the past. It’s hard work, but I was so curious about the patterning between these two very important people in my life that I just wanted to dive deeper and deeper into my trauma to ensure that nothing could get in the way of enjoying the fun, silly parts of life.

The second reason for my increase in gratitude is that my brother, whose birthday it is today, married my sister-in-law a couple months back. She is pregnant with their first child, and is scheduled to have a cesarean in about 24 hours from now. My brother has two daughters from previous relationships, which means that my sister-in-law chose to be a step mom. At the wedding, my brother and sister in law also chose to include my nieces in the wedding, creating a new family, full of love and respect and admiration. The most beautiful, touching moment was my sister in law’s vows she wrote to my nieces. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, loving moment I have ever encountered at a wedding, and it caused me to reach behind me and grab my stepfather’s hand… Something I have never done before. That moment taught me how much of a choice it is for someone to choose a family that already is in place… To choose to come into something broken and make something new, together.

My brother, who doesn’t have the relationship I do with my stepfather, now has an understanding of how it feels to create a new family from something broken, and we’ve forged a bond together in vulnerability and bravery. And we’re not perfect at these new feelings by any means. What it teaches me, though, is that we’re all on such different timetables with regard to the lessons we learn. What’s important is to learn them… At any point. He’s an amazing father, someone who broke the cycle of abuse my father perpetuated. Now, he’s showing again his devotion to family to choose as a partner a woman so loving, so independent, so intelligent to be the mother and stepmother to his children. I’m so proud to be his sister, to be an aunt to his children, and I can only hope that one day, I can bring children and a partner into the family he and I are starting to recreate out of the rubble of the broken family from which we came. While we don’t always agree or get along, I now know that he understands the bond I have with my parents and the love that comes from that. He also is ridiculously supportive of my love for the mother of his other daughter, from whose home I’m typing this tonight. My sister in spirit, though no longer in law, and one of my dearest friends.

Family is what we make. Family is dynamic and fluid and frustrating. But family, at the end of the day, are those individuals who love you when the chips are low, when you need a good belly laugh, who you can trust with your vulnerability, with whom you can celebrate it all. I’m so grateful to be slowly identifying those who are my blood and not who are family. Every day is less lonely, every place more like home.

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I couldn’t say this better myself.

Living While Healing

One of the good things about healing is that you get stronger. But I have found that as I get stronger, I also find that since I can tolerate being more honest with myself, I need to be more honest with myself. Sometimes that can mean admitting to myself some things that I would really rather avoid thinking about all together. The good news here is that if I can admit to myself that it is going on, no matter how much I don’t want to admit to it, then I have a chance of dealing with it before it becomes a real problem.

This weekend, I caught myself feeling compelled to do something that I knew would be a mistake. It would have been harmful to me and set back my healing. It certainly would have reactivated some damaging messages and potentially could have retraumatized me. I knew that…

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The Unexpected

Have you ever walked into something, thinking you know exactly what’s going to happen and then it is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE?

Welcome to my life lately.

So I’ve been having horrible nightmares as of late, and all I wanted to do last night was watch something light and sweet and wonderful, cry happy tears, feel sappy and in love, and enjoy all of this with my bottle of water (I’m sick so I can’t have a glass of wine) and my kitty. I wanted the quintessential love story. So…I look on my DVR and see a movie that I saved for just that sappy moment: Like Crazy. It’s premised as a movie about two lovers who will do anything to make their long-distance relationship work. How sweet, right? The previews were so sappy and lovely, and I was so looking forward to it. It was a train wreck. Nothing goes right in this movie, and, what makes it worse, is that it’s one of those movies that just…ENDS. There’s no ending. The final scene is the couple are finally, awkwardly, living together, married (that part is not sweet AT ALL and reminds me of the awkwardness I felt married to P–I love you, P!), and awkwardly giving one another a kiss while in the shower together. Then it just goes to black. I about vomited. My heart sank, my stomach turned…I was like, “Wow, what the fuck is love? This shit is too real for me right now.” I was so disturbed that I couldn’t sleep for like 2 more hours (it was already 2am).

I had this conversation with my mother last night about being comfortable. In October, I decided that I wasn’t happy…in fact, I was miserable. So, I decided that for every decision, I would consider what I wanted to do and then choose the opposite decision. It’s been working out lately. It makes me so uncomfortable that I can’t stand it sometimes. Take, for instance, TK coming to therapy with me. I can’t even explain how horrifying that experience was. I want to say, yeah, now that I look back on it, it was SO GREAT. But, honestly, it wasn’t. He thinks it was the best thing for our relationship, deepened our relationship. My therapist thinks it was a “huge step” in my recovery from trauma. The only thing I can think of is how I don’t know what my life looks like without trauma. I don’t know what happiness looks like. I don’t even know if I want it. I don’t even know how to handle it. I decided I would choose differently, and now I don’t know where I stand.

The worst part about this is that with the unraveling and catharsis of my trauma comes horrible anxiety, horrible emptiness. WHO AM I WITHOUT TRAUMA?? I feel like I am grasping at straws for my sheer existence. I am terrified. I am bored. I am scared. I am sad. I am horribly sad. It’s like mourning the loss of…ME.

CS Lewis said: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

My therapist said something like this, but used the acorn and the oak tree comparison. You look forward and you see that the oak tree is super strong and tall and magnificent, but there is pain that comes with the breaking of that acorn. The pain of breaking the egg’s shell. Some days, all I want to do is STAY THE ACORN. Yesterday and today are two of those days. But the problem is that once you start breaking the shell, you have to move forward…because now you’re just rotting.

“It always seems impossible until its done.”–Nelson Mandela

(but today, it feels impossible.)