Fear and change

be flexible quote from Bruce Lee

Have you ever noticed that human beings are ridiculously awful at dealing with change? It’s ironic, because change is the only inevitable thing in life. That classic Benjamin Franklin quote about death and taxes should be revised to include change too. Death, taxes, and change are certain; sorry Ben, revision for the modern world. Even if a person resolutely vows to never change, if he or she resists personal growth, the world around will still change.

Loved ones move, or die; friends get married or divorced (or likely married and then divorced); people start having children; companies downsize; our neighborhoods grow or shrink; even our bodies change as we age – like it or not! It’s ironic that we have such a difficult time with change, when the world around us and even our own bodies are in a state of constant change. Change, whether we like it or not, isn’t always bad. Change can be very good in fact. I live in a neighborhood that is a thriving, growing arts district full of people young and old who genuinely love the neighborhood. When I bought my house, there was a farmer’s market at the end of the street, now that space is a barbeque and beer joint which is unfortunate for me since I don’t eat meat or drink beer. Even as much as I love my neighborhood and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else in my city, I have moments where I question the change/progress. I love the addition of a woman-owned french patisserie, I can walk up the street and have a freshly made french macaron whenever I want, but I have moments of doubt about a boutique hotel proposed to take over a green space often used for community events like a pop-up dog park.

Like it or not, the world will change and our lives will change. Resisting it doesn’t stop it. We like to think that we have some sort of control over the world, but really we only have control over ourselves. Like the tall, sturdy tree that Bruce Lee talks about, if we don’t bend, if we don’t learn to sway in the wind then we will break. Change will come whether we accept it or not. If we want to make our lives more difficult, we can try to stop it. Who wants to make their life more difficult though? Surrendering to change is frightening, even for the best of us. Letting go of the illusion of control can be outright terrifying. Resisting the inevitable can only result in pain for us. Change will happen whether or not we accept it, so it has to be better to spend our energy in accepting change – to focus on acceptance of the change and give in to the beautiful chaos that is being alive. The alternative is not being alive and change is certainly better than death! Everyone, save perhaps the true bodhisattva, is going to have a moment where change is so uncomfortable that we want to rebel against it. While change is an essential part of the world, fear is an essential part of the human being. Fear lets us know that something is happening, that it needs a response. We tend to label certain emotions as “bad” and fear is often one that we think that we shouldn’t experience. Experiencing emotions is particularly scary and extreme for those with emotional sensitivity/borderline personality disorder, but the entire spectrum of emotions exist because we are supposed to experience them. Every emotion, every feeling, serves a purpose. Fearing emotion is as useless as fearing change; we are going to experience emotions both “good” and “bad,” wanted and unwanted.

In other words: Don’t be afraid to be afraid.

Swim in that fear, let it caress your soul. Invite it in for tea. Say, “Welcome, fear. Come in and sit with me.” Appreciate fear as you would appreciate joy. Feelings are a part of being alive and they’re going to come whether we want them or not, whether we are ready or not. So you can dance with your fear just as you would your joy, or you can fight your fear like an attacker but that will not make the fear go away. The only thing that makes your fear recede is to face it. Change is going to come – meet it at the door, and open it. Don’t bolt it tightly, pulling heavy dressers in front of it and piling bricks on top of that. Change will just come through the window. Perhaps the biggest challenge of life, whether you have an emotional sensitivity or not, is surrendering to it. There’s a saying in al anon, “let go or get dragged.” Surrender is not a passive state, it’s an active one. Surrender means acknowledging our fears, recognizing they exist for a purpose, and letting them sit until they have served their purpose. Surrender means seeing that change is coming and allowing it to effect our lives; be afraid of change – that’s ok. Accepting doesn’t mean liking, surrendering doesn’t mean enjoying; it means that we know that change is inevitable and we accept that we are not perfect, fearless individuals and that it’s perfectly ok to be afraid of it. We don’t let that fear rule us however, we don’t let that fear make us fight change. We let it roll through our spirit like a river, washing away whatever it wants to take with it, leaving us smoother, more polished, like a stone.

change

Advertisements

Women have to either get married, or learn something

I started to ramble about this over on facebook, but as I went on I realized it was more of a blog post than a facebook ramble. I’ve been enjoying the articles on Elephant Journal quite a bit. This morning I read Learning from Good, Bad & Ugly Relationships by Andrea Charpentier. I identify quite a lot with most of what she says. I think and blog so much about relationships, it’s fun to find similar perspectives. Carrie Bradshaw (yes, she’s a fictional character, I know) said: “People say ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ These people are usually women. And these women are usually sorting through a break-up. It seems that men can get out of a relationship without even a ‘Goodbye,’ But, apparently, women have to either get married or learn something.”

I think that learning something from each “failed” relationship is not just a woman thing, it’s a human thing. It’s important because from each relationship we can learn something about ourselves: what we want out of life, or more importantly what we DON’T want from/in a relationship; where the boundaries are and where they need to be, for those are often very different; etc. It’s also important because no one wants to waste time. If we can come out of a relationship having learned something, we can reassure ourselves that it was time well-spent. In the aftermath of a romantic implosion, simple need-meeting like companionship, sex, or even just something to do with our time don’t feel meaningful enough to justify the pain. Heartbreak seems less devastating if we can tell ourselves that we’ve learned something that will keep us safer the next time we open up. Because the vast majority of us will want to open up to a romantic partner again, no matter how long it takes for us to heal and build up the courage again.

I think it’s ultimately an exercise in control. If we figure out exactly what we missed about the relationship that did not last – red flags, trust issues, attraction to those that need “fixing”, or any number of things that in hindsight show us that the relationship was doomed from the start, then we can make sure that we don’t overlook those things in the future. At the very least, it can make us feel that we will not make those same mistakes again. I have spent countless hours analyzing my last two relationships, trying to figure out what motivated me to get into two long distance relationships after I said I would never do long distance again. Pondering why on earth I decided to date an active alcoholic and realizing that I actually find it easier to open up to people I know it cannot last with because it’s not scary when I know the ending. Learning about how when we do not let go of people and the past we will seek out closure even against our own best interest – because the last two relationships were for me really to prove to myself that neither of my two great loves from the past were who I was “supposed to be with.” I call it “wish-fulfillment,” a phrase I picked up from one of my therapists over the years. Getting exactly what I always thought I wanted, even when it was more about my feelings and wants and needs than it was about the person, allowed me to in a very limited way live in the fantasy that had always accompanied “the one that got away.” As it turns out, and it should be of no surprise to anyone, fantasy and reality are polar opposites.

I like to think that what I’m left with, at this juncture, is the very first emotional clean slate I have ever had. There is no one from my past that I think was “the one” because I no longer believe in the concept of soulmates as lifetime lovers, but believe they are meant to teach us the things we need to know. I don’t have a nagging suspicion that maybe I should be with either one of them. Both unfinished relationships were allowed to run their course, and because of that I believe that for the first time in my life I am able to give myself 100% to another person, physically, emotionally, spiritually, not a single bit of my heart is residing anyplace except inside of me. It’s a ridiculously frightening feeling, to no longer have that “out”, to no longer be able to say “well it didn’t work with this person because really I’m supposed to be with F.” I just hope that I’ve also learned what I need to know to make a smarter decision about whom I choose to open up to in the future, because I’m afraid there’s still a part of me that wants to follow my feelings and ignore my mind – which has never turned out well for me before.

funny text from the internet not mine

Is there a right way to grieve?

Today I have been thinking about the subject of grief. It has kept coming up throughout the day, as I stumbled upon something old that I found still stung, and in a conversation with a friend. I suppose I have kind of done it to myself – in a fit of unnecessary productivity over the weekend I decided that I would go through and organize the 10,000+ emails that I have in the inbox of my yahoo mail account, an account that has been open since 2003. The last ten years have had a variety of relationships, of ups and downs, and being the emotional packrat that I am, I quickly found that I have apparently never deleted an email from a friend, family member, or lover (former or current at the time!).

Things that I had completely forgotten about were suddenly right back in my face. The good and the bad coming back to the surface with travel confirmations, receipts for flower deliveries, and in a lot of cases emails from both the beginning and the end of relationships. I have emails after my ex-husband and I separated that I know are just full of us being horrible to one another and saying awful things meant only to hurt. Those emails I didn’t delete but I also didn’t open. As I created new folders called “Old friends”, “Family”, “Old relationships”, and began moving things into folders that already existed, one name in particular kept hurting me in a way that I felt it should not. Subject lines like “To my S-” and “My love” cut my soul in a way it seemed like should be long gone, and I began to realize that maybe it wasn’t long gone so much as long buried.

I began to wonder if there is a “right” way to grieve. Grief is a misunderstood process I think. People seem to believe that closure is what’s needed to move on from the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss but grief is ultimately what closes that door. Grief is allowing ourselves to feel exactly what we feel in that moment; opening ourselves up to all the pain, all the sorrow, all the doubt and fear and shame because all of those feelings are legitimate, they are normal, and most importantly they are there whether or not we choose to allow ourselves to process them. What if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve though? Will those feelings just come back, washing over us when we least expect them, like when we see an old email? In my experience, yes, and much of what I’ve read in psychology and self help subjects say that if you don’t deal with it now, you will be dealing with it later.

Part of my problem is, for the majority of my life I was terrified of my feelings. I have an emotional sensitivity disorder that went undiagnosed until I was in my early 30s. I don’t talk about it openly a lot because there is a lot of stigma surrounding any kind of mental illness, let alone one of those scary “personality disorders.” When I do describe the feelings to people, I ask them if they’ve ever been in the ocean. Feelings to me have been very much like the waves in an ocean: they can very suddenly loom larger than you expected, crashing around you, knocking you down, pulling you under so that you have to fight to breathe. Your brain can tell you that you need to be calm because panicking will make you more likely to drown, but when you’re under the waves, salt water in your nose, short of breath, not sure which way is out, the panic will set in. For a moment, you might think you are going to die, that there is no escape from all the water that engulfs you.

Luckily it is not possible to die from drowning in emotion, but it is the despair in those moments that cause many people to attempt or complete suicide. Because nothing besides what is in that moment is real – what you feel right then you will always feel. It will always be too much, it will always overwhelm you, it will never be ok again, only the moment is reality and until you try over and over, painstakingly reprogramming your brain to react to uncomfortable, unwanted emotions in a different way, this is absolutely what is real to you. That is really hard for people who don’t have an emotional sensitivity disorder to understand, but that ocean analogy is the closest I have ever gotten to explaining in a way that I felt was understood.

So how do you grieve something that happened 3, 5, 12 years ago; something you probably “should’ve” already gotten over? Now that I’m ready, is there a “right” way to grieve? I don’t really know the answers to some of those questions. I know that I never really dealt with the feelings around this particular situation, and I know that I have to now that I realize it’s a problem. That’s the problem with denial, once you’re out of it you can’t continue because that’s an active choice and no one wants to actively choose to be unhealthy. So now I have to try to feel and let go of feelings that I should’ve dealt with years and years ago. Sometimes it’s really exhausting being me. That sounds melodramatic, but I don’t care. 🙂 Every one of us has days when it’s hard to be us, the ideal is just that those days are few and far between. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

ocean wave