Finding balance

I didnt make this image I found it on pinterest

Balance is something that is essential in a healthy life. Everywhere we look, we see balance – in the seasons; the land bleeding into the sky; light and dark. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang tells us that different yet complimentary forces that are interdependent on each other. (That sentence is pretty much lifted from Wikipedia, there was just no better way to say that.) In contrast, entropy tells us that disorder – or chaos – is much more common than order. Real Clear Science explains: “Put simply, entropy is a measure of disorder, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all closed systems tend to maximize entropy. Reversing this ever increasing tendency toward disorder requires the input of energy. …However, the energy put into preventing disorder in one place simultaneously increases it somewhere else. Overall, the entropy of the universe always increases.”

Think about that for a minute. Even in chaos, there is balance. When we decrease the disorder in this place, disorder in another place increases. Balance, it seems, is an inescapable part of life in our world, but balance isn’t something that is easy for people with emotional sensitivities. All or nothing, black and white, bad or good, these are the extremes that we traffic in when we have BPD (borderline personality disorder). I love you or I despise you; you make me happy or angry; I’m elated or scared; I’m flying or falling; these are the places where the BPD mind and emotions live, but these are not places where we as healthy, functioning individuals can live. Life happens in places that are warm or chilly, not full on hot or cold. People aren’t simply bad or good, they are simultaneously both and that is really difficult to deal with when you have an emotional sensitivity.

I’m also a love addict, so being in a fairly new relationship I am extremely conscientious about elation. I can’t “ride the high” like I like to. I can’t even do it like a normal person does, after all studies have shown that love effects the brain the way a drug does so everyone gets a high off falling in love and new relationships. The high of infatuation wears off though, because eventually balance returns. Still, even when we are actively trying not to be swept away, love is a fucking awesome thing. It feels good to be around the one that you love. A bad day becomes better, a good day becomes the best day possible, the simple presence of the one we love is a powerful and moving thing. The problem is, that I also have an emotional sensitivity and as I grow closer to a person, I grow more frightened. Love, when one has BPD, is a weird, churning mess of wanting to be close while simultaneously wanting to make sure that the person doesn’t leave and hurt you. There’s a concept in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) called “wise mind” which itself is a balance.

wise mind

Wise mind is where rational mind and emotional mind overlap. It is not only feeling, but it is also not just cognition, it is combining the two, to get closer to what is rational. My feelings often take over and they make my thoughts irrational, feelings can seep through my thoughts like a poison. My feelings tell my thoughts that I need to be scared, not because of anything happening right now, but because of things from my past and possible hurt in the future. My feelings tell me to protect myself, to build walls, to withdraw, to force my loved one to “prove” their love for me over and over and over again in the hopes that I will eventually stop being afraid. Unfortunately, no one can prove to emotional mind that it’s safe to be vulnerable. It’s never 100% safe to be vulnerable, that’s what makes it so difficult. Conversely, rational mind tells me that I have a bad track record in picking partners. Rational mind tells me that I often ignore red flags and outright problems in relationships because it feels good right now. These are true statements. When I am in wise mind, my emotions and thoughts have to work together. My emotions tell me that I need to protect myself, my rational mind tells me that I have a track record of not protecting myself, but wise mind reminds me that I can choose when to protect myself based on real threats that are happening in the present. Wise mind asks me if I have a reason to start to build a wall of protection, beyond fear, beyond past experiences, because building a wall is not the way to protect one’s self – leaving the relationship is. If there are reasons to protect oneself, staying in a relationship while withdrawing isn’t the answer. If it can’t be worked through, the relationship should end. Wise mind is a really practical place. When it comes to romantic relationships, I am never in wise mind without concerted effort. Wise mind has become like second nature to me in other areas of my life, but wise mind is never the default when it comes to love.

There is no healthy existence in just emotional mind or just rational mind. Wise mind is a balance of the two. There is no peace in extremes, when it has to be all or nothing we can’t be at rest. Emotional mind tells me that safety exists in rigorously protecting myself from hurt, regardless of whether or not there is a legitimate need for protection. Balance is the only way that I can live in recovery. Without balance I am allowing myself to be controlled by my disorder, I am not making decisions but reacting like a frightened animal. It’s hard to live in balance, it’s probably impossible in fact. I sway back and forth, attempting to stay upright. I lean into rational mind and bounce back into emotional mind, overshooting wise mind completely. I stumble and lean back, toward wise mind. I dance a clumsy ballet on top of precariously balanced stones, trying desperately to keep it all from tumbling down. When I am scared, I want to live in emotional mind; it’s easier than struggling for balance. It’s more familiar, it’s almost comforting even though I know that it ultimately leaves me without intimate relationships. Today I strive for balance. As uncomfortable as it is for me to live as closely to wise mind as possible, I know that it’s the only way to live authentically, and at some point that became less of a decision as a blatant defiance of the disorder that is not me and does not have to control me.

Tomorrow, I am going to have a post with more info about DBT, for those that are interested in learning more!

balance

Unicorns and healthy relationships, part 2

relationships

Continued from my previous post

As it turned out, the cute math professor liked my crazy socialist rant. There are some guys that will do just about anything to get laid, but it seemed counter-intuitive that this guy would be willing to talk to me about liberal politics in order to do so. I texted my friend Kat and she warned me not to go back on what I had said about him not being sober for long enough. I had legitimate reasons for keeping things with this dude strictly as friendship; I’d ignored red flags in the past and it never turned out well. You can go back and read my posts about red flags here and here. My relationship with the alcoholic that wouldn’t/couldn’t stay sober has been well documented on this blog. Doing things I know I shouldn’t never ends well for me. So we kept talking with me vowing I wouldn’t actually ever meet him in person, but then an unexpected thing happened – I really started to like him. He was cool, and he was really insightful. Then he awkwardly flirted with me and I gave him my number so that we could text.

Getting healthier emotionally and psychologically is an odd thing. I had been single since December 2012, for all intents and purposes. Even though I had hooked up with an ex in early 2013, I had been single for a significant chunk of time. I had all these ideas about what I’d do differently if I was confronted with any of the things that I had ignored in the past. Red flags, deal breakers, lies, addictions, sharing a house and a bed with an ex…these were all things that I thought that I would handle differently if confronted with them again, but would I really? There was just no way to know until I was in a situation again where I had a choice to make a good decision vs a bad decision. I really didn’t think I had it in me to fall in love again. My trust was pretty shattered after the alcoholic. I still have grief around Patty’s death and losing her. I honestly didn’t think I would want to open myself up to potential hurt again, or that I could even if I wanted to. Still, this guy was something different. The way he thought, his commitment to his recovery, his blog, he honestly reminded me of me. Someone who had experienced things and done things they weren’t proud of and found a way to find the core of who they were and become someone different – someone closer to who they were inside, that they hadn’t been able to be before. The more we talked the more I realized that his labels or diagnoses were not the only thing to base my opinion of him on. So after a fair amount of flirting over about a week, when he asked me to a lunch date, I said yes. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, or what would happen, if anything, but when something inside you wants to say yes, you have to say yes. The alternative is staying safe in a bubble and I’ve never wanted safety at that cost.

That date was the beginning of what has become the healthiest relationship of my life. It’s odd and fascinating and entirely unexpected on every possible level. I’ve never met another person as intent on communicating what is in their head and heart as much as me, until I met Jon. There’s really no games at all because we both tell each other what we are feeling and thinking. There’s a level of safety in that honesty that I have never experienced in my life. We somehow accept each other exactly as we are, neither of us is trying to change the other into something else. I feel like there’s nothing I could tell him that would change the way he feels about me and that’s not something I am at all familiar with. Love in my life has always been very conditional, it’s depended on acting a certain way or not saying certain things, or being perfect. I had read that these healthy relationship things existed but I wasn’t really sure that it could be true, it was just much too far from my experience and reality to seem plausible. Yet any time I felt uncomfortable, I would tell him and we would talk about it. We can just talk, no one gets angry or defensive, we aren’t competing to see who will “win.” That’s not to say that everything we talk about is easy to talk about, or non-threatening, but so far we have had nothing but really respectful, open, honest communication. The beginning of a relationship is where you adopt the habits you will have throughout it, so it seems like we are doing the right things.

It is the beginning, we haven’t been dating an extremely long time, just a little over a month and we have only been officially in a relationship for about half that time. It’s too early to say that there aren’t deal breakers or red flags for one of us down the road. I can’t see the future but it’s hard to imagine a red flag that either of us could spot that wouldn’t lead to a conversation, and that’s a really cool thing. At the beginning of part one I said that when you meet the right person you just know, and I found that it’s true. Does that mean I think that Jon is THE ONE? No, because I don’t believe in concepts like that. It would be ludicrous to sit here and think or say that the person that I’m in love with, that I’ve been dating for a month is going to be someone I will be with forever. It’s just too early to tell. That’s not especially romantic to say, but so fucking what. I have said all sorts of starry-eyed romantic things that ended up being bullshit lies I told myself and I much prefer this to that. Is there a lot of potential here? Most definitely. We have a lot of weird things in common. We’re compatible in odd ways that seem to defy coincidence. We love being together but have no trouble being apart and in fact enjoy it although we do the cutesy “I miss you” stuff. All the things I’ve done wrong in the past, I’m not doing now and that’s weird and great and sometimes it’s scary because it’s so real. It’s different because I am different, and it’s different because he is different. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I’m excited about what the future holds. There’s no trepidation, no voice in the back of my head telling me that the things I’m actively ignoring are going to be what ends the relationship. There’s a lot of trust which is also really odd. In the end, I guess all you can do is do the work and hope to god that some of whatever you wanted/needed to learn has sunk in.

Another thing you hear a lot is “we accept the love that we think we deserve.” I know that I accepted a lot of things in the place of love because I didn’t think that I was worthy of real, sustaining, empowering, glorious love. I had to learn to love myself before I could accept love from anyone else. I’m not actually sure that I believe I deserve quite as much love as Jon has for me, but I’m accepting it anyway. It’s exactly the way that I always thought it could be, and that’s abso-fucking-lutely amazing.

relationship

Unicorns, healthy relationships, and other things I did not know actually existed*

There’s an old adage that when you meet the “right” person, you just know. Me being me, I’ve always wanted to know, how do you know that you know? I’m a recovering “love” addict, a codependent, and I have an emotional sensitivity disorder among other things. I’ve thought everyone was the “right” one, even though I always had doubts and I knew things about them were deal breakers and vice versa. I figured that is just me though, I will always have doubts. As it turns out, some of those old adages are really pretty accurate. You know you know because you know. You know? 😉

I was also pretty vocal about the fact that I was never going to meet anyone locally that I wanted to date, nor was I going to meet anyone on Ok Cupid. I’ve been on OKC since it was a fun place to take quizzes to post the results on livejournal. I stayed on there for two reasons, ok maybe three: I have met a couple really amazing friends there; I think it’s important to put yourself out there, it can’t hurt right? and because the OKC app was a fun way to kill time in the middle of the night when I was restless and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t mind wasting time conversing for a minute with poly women in other states I knew I’d never be attracted to or politely rebuffing the random dudes who were nice enough to deserve a polite “no thanks.” I figured I’d meet someone whenever I moved to a larger, more queer city, and until then life is pretty damn good. I love my house, my neighborhood, a lot about my town, my friends, and grad school takes up a lot of time and energy. Not to mention all the time I’d been spending on personal growth – working out, getting to my goal weight (which is like 8 pounds away! I now have a new, lower goal weight), becoming a better person, learning how to meditate and studying Buddhism… I had a lot on my plate becoming the person I knew that I could be.

I guess that my theory that if I focused on being the kind of person that I want to be, the best version of myself imaginable, that I could attract someone I might actually want to be with too was pretty wise. It was just a theory and I figured that at worst I’d become a healthier person. Not too shabby a result! Then one day I got a message on OKC. I got a lot of messages on OKC, and they’d at least tripled since I changed my “looking for” to include men. Around the end of 2013, I finally let myself admit that the close (male) friend I’d had a crush on for years was someone I was interested in actually dating and decided to see what might happen if I made my feelings known. That did not turn out as I had hoped, but in hindsight, being someone that believes everything happens for a reason I’m fairly certain that the point of it all was to make me open to the idea of dating men again. Not that I would date just any man, but I wouldn’t date just any woman either. I’m fairly intimidating to people or so I’ve been told. I’m ridiculously liberal by any standards, especially Mississippi standards, and I am queer and will continue to be queer no matter who I’m dating. A queer feminist whose OKC profile says “heteronormative gender roles bore me” is not going to get many men that read her profile and send a message and it’s fairly easy to quickly determine who didn’t read the profile. So after receiving a pleasant message from one of the guys who actually read my profile and liked it, I checked out his profile. It said that he was in recovery and had been sober for 10 months. After I browsed his questions, I sent him a message back and nicely told him that he hadn’t been sober long enough for me to see him as any potential romantic interest but I was happy to get to know him strictly as a friend.

We chatted a bit back and forth and, as OKC conversations inevitably do, the conversation got boring and eventually one person (ok, me…) just didn’t respond to the last message. I didn’t think anything about it, the summer passed, and life went on as it had been. I decided that Buddhism interested me a lot and decided to start practicing, which if anything was just another nail in the “no one in Mississippi will ever want to date me even if I did want to date them which I probably don’t” coffin. Then about a week before the fall semester of school started, the cute math professor sent me another message on OKC. I was actually quite surprised because by that time all the really creepy mullet dudes stalking my profile had freaked me out to the point that while I was still open to the idea of dating a man, I had changed my profile back to lesbian just to not show up on as many creepy scary guys’ radars. Because unlike most of the lesbians on OKC that viewed my profile, these guys were local and it freaked me out that they might recognize me in Kroger and club me over the head, stuffing me in the trunk of their trans am, never to be heard from again. The math professor did not have a mullet and had seemed like a cool guy in general so I didn’t have any reason to not message him back and say that the fall semester hadn’t started yet for me but thanks for asking.

Somehow we started talking politics, I can’t even remember how, and since I didn’t care if I scared him off, I told him what I actually thought. All unvarnished, anti-capitalist, liberal, extremist views that I have came through in my rant and I figured that would be the last I’d hear from him. His profile didn’t indicate that he was a racist or misogynist, or gun nut or anything, but I really do know everyone in jxn as liberal as me. Or so I thought…

To be continued

unicorn

* The unicorn reference is a private joke. Unicorns do not actually exist. Sorry 😦

what is “in love”? (or, how to distinguish between love and obsession)

this post is inspired by a series of ongoing conversations i have had with therapists, friends, and loved ones. i hope i am able to get my point across, sometimes it’s hard to get things out of one’s head the way they are inside it. i once again this evening find myself talking about love and “in love” with a dear friend, or more importantly: what is the difference between “in love” and obsession?

this is something that i’ve been actively trying to figure out for the last three years, but it goes back much further than that. a few self-help (personal growth, whatever the heck the bookstores are calling that section these days) books have come into my possession over the years. the first was “how to break your addiction to a person” by howard halpern which my then-therapist, holly, suggested that i get when i was separating from my husband almost eight years ago. i’ve re-read it several times since then, which i guess means that i’ve never successfully broke my person addiction, or really “love” addiction as i’ve come to think of it. then, three years ago when i was dealing with that particular situation i happened to be working in a bookstore, so there was no end to the books that i could read without buying them. i read and then purchased such horrifying titles as “obsessive love: when it hurts too much to let go” by susan forward and “addiction to love: overcoming obsession and dependency in relationships” by susan peabody. i even broke down and read “codependent no more” by melody beattie, a book that i had been fighting the desire to pick up for most of my life. when i was promoted to “merchandising specialist” at the bookstore and someone left a copy on the endcap of teenage vampire trash i was to reset, i thought maybe God or fate was sending a message i needed to finally stop ignoring.

i felt a bit like the character of charlotte in my favourite tv series “sex & the city” when she was embarrassed to buy the (fictional) book “starting over yet again”, and pretended to be looking for the travel section, going home to buy the book in the safety and anonymity of her own home, via the internet. is it the horrific titles of these books that shame us? “when it hurts too much to let go” really does send a message; or is it the fact that having a problem, a crisis, something internal that we need to do some work on is so socially unacceptable that we cannot fathom letting anyone know that we are not perfect? whatever the reason, i was getting to the point in my life where i was tired of hiding the fact that i am a flawed person on a journey; so i picked up each and every one of those titles, and i sat on my lunch half-hour each day reading them at the bar of the coffee shop in the bookstore. “what are you reading?” a co-worker asked, making a face as she saw the title.
“A very good book.” i replied, “It’s helping me a lot.” there wasn’t a soul there that didn’t know i was in a really weird relationship with my boss who was also having an affair with my other boss, i don’t see how reading “obsessive love” was going to make them think any less of me. lol.

that was the first step in reclaiming my authenticity. we don’t need to be ashamed of our journey, we are all on one. sometimes we need a little help, whether it’s a book with a mortifying title or going to therapy, whatever it is we need there is absolutely no shame that should be found in being honest about the fact that we do no have all the answers. no one has all the answers, there’s really no point in lying about it. over the last year or so, i have gotten a few more “personal growth” books, either because i bought them or because my mother decided she didn’t need to grow anymore once she got back with my dad after divorcing him. some of the books i’ve read in part, or over and over a few times. what sticks with me is the fact that i’m still on a journey, that i don’t quite know all that i need to know yet. i shouldn’t, i’m not even thirty.

so tonight i was having a conversation with a very good friend about how we can distinguish between “in love” and obsession. how do we ever know? she wondered. i can’t have answers for her, i don’t even have answers for myself. i learned that i don’t need to feel bad about not having answers for her when i read “codependent no more”. 😉 what i can do is share with her what i’ve learned on my own journey, if it helps her that’s awesome, if not well, it’s not my job to help the people that i love grow – i need only support them while they grow in their own way. she said, “obsession must be stronger than ‘in love’.” i said, “oh yes, obsession is 1000 times stronger than in love, because obsession is about us. how we feel, how they make us feel. love is about what we can give to someone else. how we want them to feel.”

i didn’t say it, because i didn’t need to cloud her personal journey with this, but i thought to myself, “except when you’re codependent and then you have to deal with that part of it too…” then i thought, my God, when the fuck does anyone catch a break? if you’re a codependent and a love addict, which i am, how the hell do you find a happy medium between it being all about how you feel (obsessive “love”/love addiction) and codependency (how they feel, protecting them, controlling them)? i wanted to tell her, “you need to seriously reconsider getting better, because it’s a hell of a lot harder trying to get well than it is just dealing with the aftermath of our addictions.” of course that wouldn’t be good for her in the long run, but the part of me that has been in therapy for the last decade trying to work through all this shit felt like screaming, “RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!” i mean, when do we deal with any addiction? at the point where it’s going to destroy us, of course. it’s much easier to be a raging alcoholic/drug addict/sex addict/love addict/codependent/etc than it is to be in recovery from that addiction; and even though they took addictive personality out of the DSM i can tell you with absolute certainty that those of us who are addicts will just trade one addiction for a more socially acceptable or easily hidden addiction until we either die or have to deal with the next one. it would cause a stir probably if anyone read my blog, but i’m pretty much convinced i was born an addict as much as i was born non-heterosexual.

i have watched my friends trade one addiction for another (it was always really odd to me that i had so many friends who were in AA or NA) booze turns into relationships turns into anorexia turns into cutting turns into eventually you work your shit out because otherwise you die. it may not be true for everyone, but then maybe every alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an addictive personality. addicts want highs. i don’t care what the high is, where the control or release from the need to control comes from doesn’t matter, but i know i have it and i know addicts know each other. i may not be a drug addict or an alcoholic or a sex addict, but i am an addict. i’m just addicted to something that is a socially condoned addiction that we are taught to seek out, like caffeine. i am addicted to “love” or more accurately i am addicted to the high that i get off of “falling in love”. there’s not a hell of a lot of resources out there for love addicts. six years ago i joined an SLAA group (sex and love addicts anonymous) but everyone was a sex addict and as much as i love and support them i just didn’t have anything in common with a sex addict aside from addiction.

i got to where i missed the love of 12 step groups. i have never felt more accepted than when i walked into a room full of 12 stepping addicts. you feel like you could say “i killed your grandmother and i liked it.” and they will just love you and say “it’s ok, you’re among family now.” unconditional love, i’ve never felt it any other place before, not church, not with family, nowhere; but you do get to the point where you need for people to understand your experience, and i’m not a sex addict, i’m not an alcoholic. it may be personal to me, but i need to be authentic. i’ve been told, “well you can go to open AA meetings and just work the steps for your addiction.” well sure i could, i suppose. i love the LAMBDA group here in jackson, but they don’t get where i am in a literal sense, only in the sense that we’re all addicts. i haven’t been where they are, nor have they been where i am. i can hide my addiction. i’m not going to be pulled over by a cop for having a series of monogamous relationships that i end when the high goes away. i’m not going to go to jail for that, no one is going to force me into rehab for cheating on my partner with my boss because i’m in love with her and i just had to throw away someone i was “in love with” for six years because of how i felt when she looked at me.

it’s not going to land me in jail or rehab but i am secure in saying now that it absolutely destroyed my life. i can excuse it any way i want to, sure i was unhappy, yeah we had problems, we fought like any couple will, but it is not normal, it is not natural to go from being head over heels in love with one person to being suddenly head over heels in love with someone else. if you think that is normal, you need to examine your own life. we are bombarded with images of what “love” is supposed to be like, from the time we are children. it’s not like our parents’ relationship, it’s disney princesses and happily ever after, and meeting on the top of the empire state building with someone who you have never seen before but you heard on a radio show and knew that they were “the one” just from the tone in their voice. this is fucked up, people. this is a sick, fictional, and for some of us it causes us to keep seeking out the unreality that is complete “love” addiction. it’s obsession. for me, acknowledging it took falling “in love” with someone i couldn’t have. slowly i realized that of course she was “the one”. she was never given the opportunity to not be “the one.” i could romanticize her in my head as much as i wanted. i could excuse away anything by saying “if only we were together…” finally i realized that she, like everyone else i had ever been “in love” with was only a fictional character, romanticized in my head. the only difference was that she never have the opportunity to really disappoint me. i never got to be with her, so i could chalk any problem, any disappointment up to the fact that she was never “mine”.

well, what about all the people that were “mine” before that? every person that wasn’t what they seemed, everyone who disappointed me, everyone who hurt me, everyone i abandoned because the “spark” was gone? what made more sense? that this one woman, the first unobtainable woman, was “the one”? or that i had a serious problem that i had never acknowledged before? it helps that we stayed close for a long time after that. i saw exactly how she would’ve disappointed me if we had ever been in a relationship. the romanticized her that i was in love with wasn’t who she is. i do love who she is, but i know we’d kill each other if we ever lived together. she’s one of my best friends, and probably always will be, but now i get to love her and see her for who she is, not this made-up character in my head that i thought she was. it wasn’t everyone i’ve ever dated letting me down and disappointing me, it was me making them into something that no one could ever live up to, because i’m a love addict. i hate to burst your bubble if you believe this, but there is no “perfect person”. there’s no one out there that is meant for you who is just going to love on you when you’re an asshole, and not want anything from you, and not disappoint you, and not annoy you or piss you off occasionally. ask couples that have been together for 20 years, they will tell you (i know, i’ve talked to quite a few) that they bug each other, they make each other mad, they do stupid thing sometimes. we’re all only human afterall. i remember a really beautiful moment talking to someone i dearly love who i don’t get to see nearly often enough, where she was talking about how she knew she would do something unconstructive that upset her partner and didn’t help their relationship at all. she smiled, ruefully, and they are to this day a couple that many cite as ideal.

there’s no such thing as a happy ending. we don’t have an ending except for death. we do end chapters of our lives, and begin others but there isn’t a moment where in reality it goes “and they lived happily ever after. the end,” that doesn’t involve a headstone. relationships are compromise, disagreements, fights, but in the good ones, the ones that last, those are overshadowed by a mutual respect, a caring that we term “love”. there’s nothing remotely sexy about that. that’s what comes after “and they lived happily ever after.” if you don’t want to be romeo and juliet. my apologies to john lennon, but life is what happens after “and they lived happily ever after.”

where we find the balance between obsessive love and codependency i am not really sure because i’m still learning the lessons, but stick with me. i’m going to figure it all out; and then i’m going to write a new story. a story about what comes after all of the hollywood film, nyt bestselling novel bullshit, and it’s going to be based on my life.