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

Advertisements

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 😦

My dog taught me how to love without limits

I have been talking about writing this post for about two years. This morning, I decided it was finally time!

In early February 2012, I caught sight of a beautiful blonde on facebook. She was a little too thin, but I could not get her out of my mind. Her eyes were sad and it hurt my heart. I found myself staring off into space at work, thinking about her when I was supposed to be doing something like listening to a conference call. After a week of being unable to get her out of my mind, I decided that she needed to be in my life. I, of course, am talking about my dog.

my dog

This is the first photo I saw of her, taken in the Birmingham, Alabama animal control shelter. They picked her up wandering around the city streets, pregnant and alone. She was about a year old, they said she was a Dachshund mix. I wasn’t really even sure what kind of a dog a Dachshund was at the time, but I knew that there was something important about the fact that I literally could not stop thinking about her for a week. On my day off, I drove four hours to another state to adopt this dog, without ever having met her before. I had never lived with a dog before. I bought “Dogs for Dummies” and read blogs. I purchased a crate, food bowls, food, toys, a collar, a leash, a bed, gates to keep her out of the cats’ area. I set up my apartment, and then I drove to Birmingham. I gave the woman behind the bullet-proof glass (the animal control building isn’t in the greatest area of town) the adoption fee, and the man that I had spoken to on the phone led the dog that would be my dog out of the scary metal doors. I took her leash and bent down to pet her. I had adopted a dog. We went out to the grassy area beside the parking lot so she could pee and then we both tried to figure out how to behave. She jumped in the car and we drove four hours back home.

my dog Here she is on the ride home from the shelter

It really wasn’t the best time for me to make a big life change. I was traveling pretty extensively for work, the nonprofit I worked for at the time had a grant to address mental health on the Mississippi Gulf Coast so there was a lot of driving back and forth from Jackson to the Coast. I also knew I’d been spending a week in Seattle, Washington for a work conference. I was also in a pretty bad depression. I was at the tail-end of my relationship with the alcoholic, although I didn’t know it at the time (I should have!) and had a trip planned to Albuquerque, New Mexico to see her. At the time my mother was not a fan of dogs, so I was going to have to board Caroline at the Dog Wash, a local doggy daycare spa, whenever I was traveling. Still, I had followed my heart and I knew I would work it all out.

We had a few rocky points where I was trying to figure out if she had ever been potty trained. I read articles online that said if she ever had an accident in the house it was not her fault, it was MY fault for not watching her closely enough or leaving her alone. Dogs can’t just know to potty outside and any failings she had to meet my expectations were my responsibility not hers. I know these were worded harshly to keep new owners from yelling at or perhaps even hitting a dog who did not understand what they had done wrong. For me however, it elevated my anxiety to a point where I felt guilty every time I left her alone so that I could shower or go to work. I worried that I wasn’t doing a good enough job trying to help her know what I wanted her to know. I worried that she was alone too much when I was working even though she had began staying with my parents two days a week and going to doggy daycare one day a week. I worked myself up to a point of near-panic that I think even my therapist was surprised by. Luckily my therapist helped me realize that the dog, no matter how inconsistent a job I was doing as an awful human being who occasionally had to shower and work, the dog was better off with me than in a kill-shelter. Slowly but surely, we settled into a routine, I stopped worrying, and we became a family.

my dog

My depression didn’t ease much when the alcoholic and I finally ended the doomed, stressful, horrible, unhealthy relationship that we had hung onto for much too long. Having Caroline in an apartment meant that every morning I had to get up, get out of bed, put her harness on her, take her outside for a short walk so that she could go to the bathroom, and then do the same thing in the evening. That responsibility for caring for something outside of myself was essential to me during that time. I probably would not have left my apartment on the weekends if I hadn’t had to take her outside. I definitely would not have ever walked to the park. I couldn’t do things for myself but I could do things for her because she needed me. She was helpless without me. Her whole well-being was dependent on me and I wanted her to be happy and healthy. It was different than my codependency. I wasn’t trying to care for someone that should be caring for themselves. I wasn’t trying to get an adult to take responsibility for their life or love themselves when they couldn’t – I was legitimately taking responsibility for a being that could not without me complete the basic functions necessary to be happy and healthy. My dog was like a child, and in her need, I began to see exactly what it meant to care for someone/thing that actually needed me, as opposed to wanting to be needed by someone that should not need me at all, in ways no adult should need another adult.

our feet

Caroline needed me, but it was separate from her love for me. She loves me so completely – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. When I walk into a room, she lights up, she gets so excited. I have the ability to make her day better, just by existing, by being me. She doesn’t care if I’m perfect or that I lost 30 pounds, she doesn’t care what my GPA is like or if I make enough money; she cares about walks and treats and cuddles. She wants to be close to me, and doesn’t want to be apart from me for any longer than necessary. I can comfort her when she is sad, but I don’t have to take responsibility for her sadness or happiness. I make her happy, but not by doing certain things or being a certain way, I just have to be me and be present. Even though I have had cats for 14 years, it’s nothing like having a dog. Caroline loves me in a way that no person or animal or being has ever loved me. In her loving me, I could not help but love her back completely, 100%. There really isn’t an option to hold part of yourself back with a creature that believes that you are the sun. A being who goes from slumping on her bed dejectedly to wagging the entire bottom half of her body because you walked in the front door. There’s no way to give only 3/4 of your heart to a love like that. I don’t know that I really knew what true, real, laid-bare love was before Caroline loved me and in turn allowed me to love her without limits.

I can’t articulate for you the internal work that made it possible for me to open up all those tiny, walled-off parts in my heart to my dog and because of that do it again later, with another human being. There isn’t an internal dialogue that I had about love and fear. It was just the very act of her loving me, the volume of her love, the completeness of it, that awakened in me the knowledge that love was different than what I thought it was for the first 31 years of my life. I know a lot of people say that they didn’t really rescue their dog, but their dog really rescued them. Even though it’s a cliche, I know that it is true for me. Dogs are incredible creatures. They go through abuse, neglect, and abandonment that most human beings will never experience, and they still open themselves up again. Dogs that are beaten, burned with fire and chemicals, mutilated, cut, yelled at, shoved out of moving cars, thrown over animal shelter fences, dumped in ditches out in the country, thrown in bags onto highways (sorry, yes these are all stories I have read on animal shelter/rescue facebook pages) dogs that are chained to trucks and dragged and somehow survive blossom when they are loved by people. They trust when they have no reason to. They love after they have been hurt beyond reason. They open up their tiny hearts once again and give themselves over fully to people that they don’t know won’t hurt them like they’ve been hurt before, but they do it anyway. Maybe they have an instinct about it that we humans don’t – but I think that in reality they have a resiliency that we don’t. Caroline didn’t know that I wouldn’t abandon her the way she was abandoned before. In fact, I think she sometimes thinks I’m putting her in the car to take her someplace and leave her. That doesn’t stop her from loving me in a huge way. I know that I would never have had the courage to open up to another human being in the way that I have opened up to my boyfriend if I hadn’t first been loved by Caroline. In loving me and allowing me to love her, Caroline taught me how to love another person. I know that I would not be the person I am today if she had not come into my life. I am immeasurably grateful to her for it. ❤

me and caroline

Inspirational quotes that shouldn’t inspire

I’m a big fan of the inspirational quotes on pretty graphics that seem to make up about 20% of all my friends & liked pages facebook posts. It’s nice when having a rough day to see a quote from Depak Chopra or something from Rumi to put things in perspective. Maybe even a song lyric or Audrey Hepburn insight to brighten a dreary day. If it’s on a pretty background, hey all the better!

I realized something the other day though. You have to be really careful what you deem “inspirational” because you can paste just about anything on a sunset or graphic of a jumping silhouette and make it seem positive if no one reads it closely enough. Such is the graphic that I spotted posted on a friend’s facebook page the other week:

hopeless romantics

Now, at first glance this seems like your typical, albeit not super pretty, inspirational graphic. However, most of what is on this isn’t inspirational at all. Yes, the part about falling and still getting up is indeed, a good plan and should be celebrated, but the rest of this is really dysfunctional crap. If you love someone that doesn’t love you, don’t keep daydreaming. You’re not going to get the happy ending you dream about by loving someone that doesn’t love you back. In fact, you’re not going to get a happy ending by dreaming – period. There’s nothing wrong with being a hopeless romantic, most days I consider myself one, but don’t be a brainless romantic.

If someone doesn’t love you, pining for them doesn’t make you a hopeless romantic, it makes you a person who is clinging to a hope that is unrealistic. We don’t win people over when it comes to love, you shouldn’t have to convince someone that they want to be with you. Sometimes we look at things like these quotes, or songs, or books, or other people’s blogs to give us an excuse for inaction – “other people have felt this way, so therefore it must be ok for me” we say. Yes, it’s ok to feel what you feel but don’t pretend that refusing to let go gives you some sort of courage or nobleness. Refusing to grieve the hurt of not being loved in return is a decision to stay mired in pain, loneliness, and imagination. Daydream, but don’t daydream that she is going to turn to you one day, out of the blue and say “It’s you, it’s always been you. My God, why didn’t I see it before?” after you’ve waited for years and years for her to “see” it. She’s going to turn to you and say “Do you mind if my new girlfriend comes to the movie with us?” and you will be crushed, yet again.

No, refusal to move on is not being a hopeless romantic. A hopeless romantic cries for her broken heart and still believes that even though she thought that this one was the one that would stick, that someone is still out there. One that will love her back and meet her needs and not make her feel like a failure or too fat or not pretty enough or like she should’ve been “better” in order to “deserve” their love. We have no control over the emotions of others, or their actions. We want to believe that we do, so we tell ourselves if we were _________ they’d love us back and want to be with us. Even if that were the case, if you changed everything about yourself so she would love you, she wouldn’t be loving YOU.

So ignore the crap that reinforces your negative habits. Half the inspirational crap about love and relationships is codependent. “If I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I’d say I love you with my last breath” is pretty, but it’s also pretty fucked up. I choose breathing, I will find love again. (yes, that is a real saying that has been turned into a graphic!)

Try this one on instead:
worth it

The impermanence of being alive

At the end of 2012/beginning of 2013, I lost two friends. One was a very close friend, one of only two people that I texted on a daily basis (the other being my best friend/girlfriend/ex-gf/lover/whatever she is, whom I usually refer to on this blog as “F”). I’ve been dealing with it ever since, and this post is something I’ve been writing in my head in bits and pieces.

We all know that we are going to die someday. That’s the inevitable consequence of living, the humorous “death and taxes”. Most people probably have to confront death and dying a little sooner in life than I did. I know that my sister and I had pets growing up, and they passed away, but I don’t really remember a lot about it. Probably my parents told us that they had “gone to heaven to be with Jesus” and we had cried and moved on. I don’t remember grieving, but I don’t remember a lot of details about my childhood. By 2012 all of my grandparents had passed away, but my family has never been especially close with extended family. Most of my turmoil around the death of my grandparents has been worry for my parents. It was sad, of course, but I didn’t really know them and it was more concerning to me that my parents’ needs were being met in a time of what for them was a deep grief I knew I did not fully comprehend. While I’m 32, solidly in adulthood, I can’t imagine a world without my parents.

When I turned 30, I knew that it was just a matter of time before death started hitting closer to home. 30, after all seemed very “grown up” and it was pretty clear I was going to have to start addressing these things that made me uncomfortable, at least eventually. So when my friend Mike finally found out what had been ailing him, and several rounds of chemo seemed not to do much good, I started steeling myself for my first close brush with death. Mike was one of those genuinely good people that I always feel privileged to know – intelligent, stylish, mature in a way that you only get after real soul-searching, and truthfully one of the best writers I have ever read. His writing about food was my favorite, one piece in particular where he talked about making fudge was so vivid that the reader felt transported into both his kitchen and his past, as he reminisced about learning to cook as a child. Another about learning to make the roux for gumbo (something any southern chef and especially any Cajun knows is as much an art as a skill!) was as beautifully detailed. When I think back on reading it, I remember it as though I was there; that’s how talented a writer Mike was. When he announced on facebook that he would be declining another round of chemo, I prepared myself for grief. I should’ve spent more time hanging out with him in person rather than just talking on facebook! I knew that it was going to be hard, my first real contact with death.

And then my friend Patty died.

I still have the last conversation that we ever had on my phone. I will have it until I change phones, and even after because of screen caps. November 16th, 2012, 10:13PM. The last thing she texted me was “You mad again? Fuck off then! Lol.” I had just turned out the light, about to go to sleep. I thought “I will text her in the morning.” I didn’t know that in the morning I’d wake up to a missed call from her phone number and a text from her girlfriend asking me to call her.

No one expected Patty to die. In February of 2012, she’d had a stroke. She was too young for that, only in her 40s, but she had untreated high blood pressure. We had been friends before the stroke but we didn’t get truly close until after. We had been mostly online friends, but we texted a little here and there. She asked me for tips on things like what to do for her girlfriend for valentine’s day, where to find a hair straightener that her girlfriend really wanted. I’d given her some advice on what to do for valentine’s day 2012, and then I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I didn’t think much about it because we didn’t text a lot. Eventually I thought I should probably text to see how valentine’s day had went, and that’s when she texted me asking how I was. She told me she’d been in the hospital for a month, recovering from her stroke. After that, we became close friends. I think that she was trying to change things after that had happened, get closer to people she’d always meant to, and I was one of them. We talked about everything. She always challenged me on things, and that was something that I really appreciated about her and our friendship.

When I woke up November 17th to a missed call from her phone, I knew something was very wrong. We never talked on the phone. When I finally had the guts to listen to the voicemail, it was her girlfriend crying, telling me that Patty had died during the night. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced shock before that moment, but I went into shock. Even though I don’t do phone calls, I called her girlfriend back. My voice echoed in my head, “what happened?” I asked. Her girlfriend cried and told me about what had happened. I asked questions, trying to see if she was ok, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to feel – nothing seemed real. She had texted me right before I went to sleep. That conversation would never be resolved, it would forever be out there dangling “You mad again? Fuck off then! Lol.” I would never respond to that text. I took the day of her funeral off work, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. I just couldn’t handle the reality of what her funeral meant.

I’ve spent the last few months dealing and not dealing with my feelings about death. I do have religious and spiritual beliefs. I’ve dreamed about her and wondered after if the dream was her spirit visiting me… Who ever really knows? I’m not sure that our human minds are really equipped to deal with death. Whether or not you believe in heaven, it’s really little comfort in our world of instantaneous, constant connection. The first couple months, I just tried to deal with that odd feeling that I was forgetting something – I was used to texting Patty every day and then suddenly I didn’t anymore. What does it matter where she is? I’m here. I don’t have anyone to bounce the last four months of life off of. No one is giving me insights into things, no one is challenging me to say why I feel how I do or why I’m doing what I’ve done. In light of all the recent work and life drama, I wonder what she would be saying to me tonight if she were still here. I have no doubt she would see things that I cannot, because I’m too close to the situation(s).

What do I come out of all this with? It isn’t profound, it’s actually pretty trite. You know those photos with text that people always share on facebook? “Tell the ones you love them that you love them today. They might not be here tomorrow.” It turns out, that is very, very true. It only seems trite if you haven’t just lost a loved one you never said “I love you” to. I never told Patty that I loved her. It seemed weird, at one time we had a flirtation – back before we had become real friends – but she had a girlfriend and I had a girlfriend and it felt wrong to say “I love you” to her. I didn’t want her to think it meant something that it didn’t. But the truth is – she was one of my best friends. In a few short months, she became more important to me than people I had known for years. Our relationship changed after her stroke. We stopped being people who barely knew each other and were flirty now and then, and became real and true friends. I don’t have a lot of real and true friends. I don’t let a lot of people in, but for whatever reason she became one of my dearest friends and she will always remain so. So be trite – if you have the chance. Make sure the people that you love know that you love them. I know that she knew that I loved her, in my heart I know she knew, but still I would give anything to have the chance to say it to her. Of course, those of you that know her know that her “Fuck you” was pretty much an “I love you.” She loved to give the people she cared about a hard time.

The last time I saw Patty in person, she had come up to Jackson for an LGBTQ conference put on by the Department of Mental Health. We are both social workers, I was there both because I wanted to be and because of my job. She came up the second day and gave me shit about the girl I thought was cute. We sat at a long table in the Jackson Convention Center, listening to a lot of people who don’t know anything about what it’s like to be lgbtq listen to lgbtq speakers trying to educate them. I gave her the book that I had bought her, a copy of a book by a scientist who’d had a stroke and recovered from it, that I’d had the author sign especially for her. I wish I had known that would be the last time I saw her in person. I don’t really know how to end this post. Maybe there is no ending, just like it in real life…

I wrote this on March 19th but I didn’t share it. I re-read it today and realized that there wasn’t really any editing that needed to be done. I guess it took me nearly two more months to just be ready to say it all out loud.

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

Expectations

I’ve been thinking about expectations lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how expectations can be a problem, and wondering if it is possible to not have expectations.

In one way of looking at it, everything we do has an underlying expectation. When you go to sleep at night, you expect to wake up in the morning. When you get dressed, you have an expectation of what the weather will be like, probably based on a weather report or a knowledge of how the weather normally is in your area at that time of year. As you get into your car to go to work, you expect to drive to work with little to no aggravation or problems. Even the things that we don’t actively think about, we do with some kind of expectation – I am wracking my brain to think of anything that happens in life where we don’t have some kind of expectations, even if it is unconscious or benign.

What about when things don’t go as expected? Certainly our expectation(s) play a part in our disappointment, surprise, or pleasure. If we have an expectation that an event will be boring, we are likely pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be fun. Expectations seem to cause the most problems, at least in my life and relationships, on when I expect someone to do something or I have an idea of what something like a date might be like and it turns out to be something different. No one wants to disappoint or be disappointed, but it can happen when we have expectations about another person or something involving them. Maybe you love Valentine’s day and your partner doesn’t really put much stock into the “hallmark holidays” that’s one situation that could certainly lead to disappointment due to expectations.

I suppose what I can’t figure out is if there’s a way to stop having expectations, or at least to be less affected by them. I know they’ve definitely caused me problems in relationships in the past, but I wonder if there’s ever a way to not have expectations, whatever they may be, whatever the outcome. What do you think? Comment and let me know, this is something I’m still struggling with so I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it yet.

zoltar machine outside house of blues in NOLA from my instagram feed @ladylamia