Saturday, October 29, 2016

Holding My Truth

There's something intrinsically beautiful about female friendships. "Women instinctually know how to nourish each other, and just being with each other is restorative" (Tanja Taalijard).

Historically women have provided one another with emotional support and friendship when marriages were often arranged for reasons other than relationship. And those relationships were not exclusive relationships. No, women created webs of friendship.  Says Caroll Smith-Rosenberg, "Friends did not form isolated dyads but were normally part of highly integrated networks."

Today commentary about female friendships proliferate. Rebecca Traister, in her own NY Times article dated February 28, 2016, writes, "Women who find affinity with one another are not settling... they may be doing the opposite, finding something vital."
I struggled with female relationships. My mother was not a good model for me in this respect as in others. Still, I navigated my way into some beautiful friendships. I often found them tarnished though when my husband would talk about his fantasies: "When you said she was here, I imagined I'd come home and find both of you naked waiting for me in our room."

Right. Because that often happens outside of pornographic films.

I also didn't talk about some of the most horrible things in my life with any of my female friends. I felt like sharing things about my marriage would be disloyal to my husband. My mother-in-law unwittingly underscored that belief when I went to her early in my marriage. I told her about some of the things my husband wanted and she advised, "Men want a lady in public and a whore in the bedroom." I thought that meant all men wanted the things my husband did, and stopped talking about it.

And then a friend got involve with a married man, and I thought telling her my story about my husband and I would show her what it's like to be the wife of a man who was being pursued by another woman. I shared everything: his porn addiction and how that played out in our lives, how an employee turned his head to the point of convincing him to send intimate pictures of me to her, and how painful all of it was for me.

It didn't educate her or stop her from her own quest to destroy a marriage.  Instead it changed her target. After I poured out my heart, she started texting my husband and they played games like Adult Truth or Dare. She propositioned us to conduct a partner swap during a weekend stay at a casino. And she ultimately married my husband.

One could imagine an experience like that creating a deep mistrust of women, an unwillingness to be vulnerable again.

It hasn't, oddly.

The opposite has happened.

I find myself in profoundly beautiful relationship with the women who held my truth for me until I was strong enough to hold it myself.

And that kind of friendship is worth vulnerability, and even potential pain.

Bob Marley wrote "the truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for."

My truth holders have not let me believe I am worthless or unworthy. They have felt righteous anger on my behalf when I couldn't feel it myself. They have been patient and kind with me when I'm hateful to myself.

Thank God for the truth holders.

And thank God for my developing ability to hold my own truth.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Owning My Story

I've experienced my share of bullying from the time I was small. I let it define me often over the years.

Having made the decision to insulate myself from bullies, I've found myself developing my own sense of safety.

My mother was the most enduring of the bullies. Her latest effort occurred this past spring. My sister and I were trying to help mom unravel her financial mess. She hadn't filed taxes in eight years, had no money in reserve, and was being taken advantage of by many people in her life.

But she only knows what she knows and fear often convinces us to stay with what we know rather than venturing into the unknown. She suddenly decided to fight against our attempts to help her. As I have always been, I was her target.

Sitting at her house one afternoon, I was trying to explain the paperwork she'd received. She became enraged. She turned on me, spewing forth her vitriol like she always has.  She threatened to call Wright County and tell them I abused her physically and that I was drinking, both of which would violate my probation. For a brief time, I was locked into the misery of the inevitability of being drawn back into the darkness of her world.

Then I realized I did have some power. I called Wright County myself and asked them to come take a report. They did, and I felt safe from her threats for another day.

This week yet another family member attempted to bully me. The whole story is convoluted and nasty, and I'll finish telling it another day.

Briefly, my aunt and I went to court over a financial matter. When the judge told us to try to resolve it, my aunt slapped me. Though I reported it to deputies and the clerk, no one was willing to do anything. On the verge of a massive anxiety and panic attack, I opted to leave rather than stay and defend myself with my receipts proving I didn't owe the money. My journey to improved mental health, to a sense of safety, and to a sense of healthy autonomy mattered more to me than the money.

Once that judgement was entered, my cousin started calling me demanding payment. If I had the money I already spent on my aunt's home, I could sure do that. But I don't have it. He has suggested I am a horrible person, that I treat family poorly, that I am dishonorable, that my immortal soul is in jeopardy, and that I am a worthless piece of garbage. He has threatened to put a lien against my developing business and take out a full page ad in the Monticello Times so someone else can help him collect "his" debt.

And in all the horror of his hurtful accusations and words, I realized something. The work I'm doing in therapy is working. I didn't have the physiological response I would normally have had to his behavior. I used to experience all the heightened symptoms of anxiety and panic, a spike in my blood pressure, the sinking inevitability of judgment by others, and digestive issues. In this episode, I cried a lot, and I experienced severe shaking, but none of the other things happened. It didn't even result in that horrible sensation of doom that always made it impossible for me to sleep at night. I was able to recognize that it's not me that's horrible, unworthy, unlovable, or wrong, and I called those who love and support me, warts and all.

Yep, this is all bad. It's awful to deal with the notion that justice seems to be on my aunt's side and that public perception is that I've horribly treated her.  And the courts seem to agree as they've issued a judgment.

Even if all of that were true, I do not deserve my cousin's behavior.

And so, I'm taking back my power. I'm telling the truth in my own forum and with documentation.  I'm owning my own mistakes.  And, ultimately, I'm outing the bully.  Enough is quite literally enough.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Evil Genius Assignment #18: A World Without Feelings

When I went to treatment the first time, I was all about setting goals and achieving them. I did very well, and felt like I was thriving.

Then I had a relapse. And darn if it wasn't for exactly the same reasons I always drank. More about that in a different post.

In the second round of recovery, I am learning a new way to thrive: I am resting in the care of experts. I am not trying to know it all or control the path of recovery. I am not manically busy in the pursuit of the goal of sobriety. I am not objecting to a single suggestion. Still, I am actively participating.

See. It's like this: recovery is not one-size fits all. There aren't any shortcuts. It's painful and messy and horrible. And I have complete faith that on the other side, there is something beautiful. I am living in that beauty more and more of each day.

I likened it once to my peers as the equivalent of buying bras. You go to a store, let some perky young'n "fit" you, and try on a seemingly endless array of styles until settling for the least obnoxious version. Then you pay way too much money and head on your way, hoping it was the right choice.

That's recovery. You go to groups and listen to people talk about their recovery. You go to therapy and share your journey so the evil geniuses can craft assignments to aid your recovery. And you talk to others on the same path and learn about what works for each of them. Then you try on all the different things until you find what feels like the right fit. And then you find out that the fit only has to work TODAY because tomorrow you may choose a new fit. 

Both bra shopping and recovery are horribly exhausting.

I had a plan for my recovery. One of the only questions I asked, in fact, was how long people were typically in the first phase of recovery (4-days intensive out patient group). "We generally expect the first phase to last at least thirty days." Cool. I was going to do phase one for 30 days and then step down and do phase two for another 30. I'd be done, then, in four months.

Five months later, I am still in phase two. And I am perfectly aceepting that being in phase two is exactly where I need to be.

I have been assigned some very intense homework. Much of it is painful, and may never be shared. But I feel compelled to share this assignment. It was revelatory.

The directive was to write a paper to present to my peers. My directive was to write about a world in which there were no feelings.  

That was the only directive too. No word count. No criteria. No thesis.

I set about my task like I do. First, I think about it. Second, I research what everyone else has to say. Third, I craft my response using the best of what everyone else has to say. Fourth, I get an eh.

This was so different. SOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo different.

In fact, I was nervous about presenting my work for what could be the first time ever.

And I find myself entirely pleased with the outcome.

I read it to my peers. I am relieved and gratified by their responses. 

What matters more is I learned something pricelss about myself.

I am free to express what is in my heart.

That's brand new. 

Knowing that means that I'm not actually still waiting to get to the other side of all this recovery in order to find my way to something beautiful.

I've already found it.

And that is what I think Christ means when he says, "I am the peace the world cannot give."

The world can steal our peace if we let it.  And I did. 

I won't let that happen again.


I really love crayons. Always have.

I remember going to on the annual school shopping expedition and looking at those perfect boxes of fresh, sharp crayons.

I longed for the box with the sharpener so badly, I could feel the saliva pooling in my mouth.

That same longing strikes me anew every August when I pass the school supply aisle.

And, man. Those boxes have grown.

I always felt so sad for the kids who only got 8 crayons.  What kind of parent only buys 8 when they can get the big box and have a sharpener too?

Then I became one of those parents who only buys 8 crayons.

Oddly, it was all my boys wanted. They did not love coloring. They would have been happy with one crayon, if they had to have any.

I’d tried to instill a love of coloring in my boys. I’d decided early on that my boys were going to embody the best of the masculine and the feminine, and that they wouldn’t be victims of my Nurture. In fact, my Nurture was going to overcome Nature, if it had to.

We worked hard on coloring. My friends with daughters told me of hours spent coloring the Princesses and having to buy extra pink crayons. No matter what I did, my boys wouldn’t use the red. Or the purple. They ignored the orange, green, and yellow too. They pretty much liked black and brown with a smattering of blue. 

They didn’t care about lines or elements of design.

They mostly grabbed their crayons and scribbled color across the pages as fast as they could before proudly showing me their latest masterpieces.

Taking them by hands one day, I led them on a field trip across the golf course behind our house.
Along the way, I pointed out all the colors, from the rich green of the leaves to the bright yellow sun, and the deep orange and purple of the flowers. “See, boys!” I enthused. “God made the world a colorful place.”

They climbed over logs and splashed through streams during our outing, enthusiastically participating in finding more color. I really thought they “got it” and we returned home where I sent them to finish new, more colorful masterpieces while I made dinner. The new “rule” was that they each had to use 6 of their 8 colors.

I heard them giggling amid much thumping and clattering. See, despite all my Nurture, my boys still acted like bear cubs at all times, and any task was completed in some oddball event resembling a NASCAR-themed wrestling match.

They appeared with bright smiles, masterpieces in hands.

I don’t know what I expected, but what they presented was not it.

While they certainly used many more colors, demonstrating an endearing effort to please me, the crumpled and somewhat tattered pages weren’t what I’d imagined hanging on the fridge. 

No longer merely black and blue scribbles, they were clouds of scribbled color – exactly 6 colors on each masterpiece. 

Their masterpieces resembled what I sort of considered ugly chaos, almost as if they’d violently vomited rainbows on the paper.

With a pair of deep brown eyes staring at me over one, and smiling green eyes over the other, I found myself falling deeply in love with their depiction of the world despite myself and my sense of artistry.

That day what they taught me was that some sort of brilliantly messy and wildly unexpected work of art is waiting to be discovered wherever we bother to look for it.

When I came to treatment, I had an assortment of feelings I was comfortable with, that I understood and could identify.  It was my own 8-crayon box, in a sense.  The “safe” emotions, the ones I understood, were Happy and Sad, Grateful and Hurt.  I had a few shades of shame too.

Opening the orientation packet, the first thing I saw was a Feeling Wheel.  It was something like that huge box of crayons, the one with the sharpener. And the contents of The Wheel felt as foreign to me as that big crayon box would have felt to my boys.

In the first weeks, when The Wheel was passed around the group, I looked at it like the obedient student I’ve always been, but I really refused to see it. I didn’t want to use or acknowledge all those vibrant, messy emotions, and I sure didn’t want to think I was going to find myself actually feeling or understanding them.  For certain, I wasn’t going to like it.

But I do like it.

Feelings are how we color ourselves. Without them, we would be nothing more than robots, lacking the ability to care for, or connect with others.

And the world, in a sense, would be colorless.



PS: I don't publish comments at this time, but I do appreciate what you have to say. Thank you for taking the time to read and thoughtfully reply!