Stay gold, ponyboy

it__s_a_trap_by_avpfan1102-d59hr0nLately, I’ve been reminded of a conversation I had when I was in my early 20s. It’s probably a conversation I had many times over the years, from teens to mid-20s. It went something like, “We may age, but we will never get OLD. We will still be out dancing on tables, seeing shows, staying out til the sun comes up forever. Even when we are 50! Let’s never get lame.” Like every teenager, I was always absolutely convinced I knew it all. That’s a theme that permeates pop culture, both then and now – don’t grow up. Keep the fire of youth burning inside of you forever.

I suppose there’s several reasons I’ve been thinking about that lately, one being that my oldest friend just turned 35. We have been close for over 20 years, that’s a very long time. I had some really amazing times in my teens and early to mid 20s. I saw concerts I’ll never forget; I traveled to Europe for the first time; I made incredible friends and had some pretty amazing experiences. I also worked a lot of shitty jobs; worried a lot about money; drank too much, and wondered what the f*** I was going to do with my life. My boyfriend of a year told me recently about a conversation he had with his 15 year old son. His son asked him, “if you could go back to any age, which age would you choose?” I realized that for myself the answer would be that I would not go back, or if forced is go back only a year or two. It funny how many mistakes you make when you still “know it all.” Truthfully, I look back on those conversations about never getting “old” and “lame” with amusement at our naivety. Why on earth would you want to be at 30 the exact same person you were at 20? Or at 40 the exact same person you were at 30?

How many missed opportunities must you have to have to go through you life without learning, changing, and growing? How much out and out resistance to growing as a person must you have to make it through a decade unchanged?

I have the pleasure of working every day with individuals who – for the most part – have identified that what they have been doing is not working for them and who would like to learn a better way to be. No one gets out of childhood without learning some dysfunctional ways to act and really unhealthy ways of thinking. For some those are relatively small things that don’t impact their lives greatly one way or another, but I think the vast majority of us are walking around with some unhealthy ways of thinking and acting. Especially in our teens and 20s! For some people it takes an incredible amount of bravery to say, “I’m not perfect” but good lord, who is? If you think you are, you likely only have yourself fooled. The rest of the world is probably on to you. Five years ago I was not a very happy person, but I was working on bettering myself and my life. I was about to finally graduate with an undergraduate degree and I wasn’t sure what my life would look like in five years. If you had told me that it would look the way it does today, I would laugh. In a short time, I worked hard and acquired many things that back then fell solidly in the “dream” category. Today, I am lucky that those dreams are my actual life. None of that happened by chance, the vast majority of it was through intention and very hard work.

I realized last night, as I sat in the car outside Baskin Robbins in my pajamas, waiting for the person that I love to bring me my favorite ice cream, that I am content. I am in a state of peaceful happiness in my life. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stress or bad days, but it means that overall there is much more good than bad and I am infinitely thankful for that. A lot of it looks absolutely nothing like I thought that it would look 5, 10, 20 years ago, and I realized that I am perfectly ok with that. I never thought that I would end up with a man, I never thought I’d be living in Mississippi by choice, I don’t know that I really thought I’d be a therapist although it was always something I was interested in. I’ve learned that the secret to having the life that you want is to both work very hard at getting what you want and also to be flexible enough to allow what you want to look differently than what you always imagined. I would have passed on several amazing opportunities had I not been willing to bend like the willow tree.

tao1It used to be very difficult for me to really trust another person 100%. I don’t mean just lovers and partners but also friends. Trust, it seemed to me, was leaving yourself open for hurt. What I’ve learned in the last decade or so is that it is not trust that is the problem, but whom we open ourselves up to with that trust. If you pick the right people, listen to your gut, and never compromise your boundaries then trust is not a scary prospect. I don’t have to accept your bullshit to receive your love, and the same goes for you of me. As I reflect back upon the last year with Jon, at first I honestly can’t believe it’s been a year. It seems both shorter and longer, simultaneously. I suppose the best relationships always do, when you can barely remember life before them because it’s nearly impossible to image life without them. The irony for both of us has always been that it was only through learning and growing into different, better people, that we were able to finally find each other. The people we were five years ago would not have been attracted to each other and rightfully so!

I used to think that being independent was absolutely necessary in the sense that I should not allow anyone to do for me what I could do for myself, especially not a man. Aside from one cranky afternoon where I snapped at Jon, “I can pump my own gas!” I’ve learned that when both people give equally and both take care of each other it’s not an imbalance but a perfect balance. Every other relationship I’ve ever been in, even most of my friendships, one of us has given more and the other taken more. I think givers and takers are attracted to each other, because we fulfill so many unspoken needs in each other. Balance is difficult to find in one’s self, let alone in tandem with another. If I had decided to not grow as a person, I know without a doubt I wouldn’t have this kind of relationship with anyone. It was absolutely imperative that I grow for my own sake, or grow for growing’s sake, with no thought of whatever prize might be waiting beyond being the absolute best person I knew how to be. Now I have the ultimate gift of growing with someone else, and watching them continue to learn and grow as I do too. Jon has taught me so much over the last year, and I know I have taught him a lot as well. Not overt lessons that we set out to teach each other but simple revisions in what we knew to be true about life and love and happiness.

Here is what I know today that I did not when I was 25:

  • Time is our most precious commodity. You can make more money, you can get more things, you can even replace people in your life with new ones but you will never ever ever get your time back. For that reason, you must use it mindfully.
  • It is possible to be loved for exactly who you are, but who you are may not deserve that love. Try to deserve it.
  • No one can love you if you don’t love yourself.
  • You cannot ever truly know a person’s thoughts but it is possible to trust them so much that you don’t need to.
  • There are mistakes that you can never, ever fix. There are things there is no coming back from.
  • It is impossible to have a healthy relationship if you are not healthy first. It’s not possible to have a healthy life while in denial.
  • Nothing anyone else thinks about you is your business, so don’t worry about it. You can’t change it anyway.
  • You will repeat your patterns until you acknowledge them.
  • Nothing is ever just one person’s fault.
  • You control nothing and no one except yourself.
  • If you cannot be alone with yourself and like what you see, change it.
  • We often deserve much more than we accept – and we accept much less than we deserve and try to say that it’s ok to do so because of love. As though love was both tangible and finite.

And lastly, stagnation is worse than death. So dance on tables while you feel the need to, but don’t be afraid of getting older and wiser. If I don’t know more at 40 than I know today I will be vastly disappointed in myself.

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Why I want to get married again (someday)

Otherwise known as the “how to really freak out your boyfriend” post. 🙂

The holiday season, which seems to now stretch from Halloween through Valentine’s Day, is apparently a time when a lot of people get engaged. There have been plenty of really funny, viral photos that have to do with this phenomenon. While listening to the news on the tv as I did my makeup the other morning, I heard no less than 3 jewelry store commercials during one break and I thought “Oh yeah, Valentine’s Day is coming up. If you want to propose on the most trite day possible.” Sorry if anyone reading this was engaged on V-day, but it is pretty cheesy.

Then, I saw on facebook that an acquaintance who had gotten engaged around the holidays made it facebook official. I “liked” the post and forgot about it until a day or two later when she posted that she had to take it down because her parents objected to it. I didn’t ask, because um yeah that would be tacky, but I imagine that it was likely because she’s engaged to a woman and we all live in Mississippi. Whatever strides marriage equality is making in the United States, however the supreme court battle ends up, just being legal is unfortunately not going to make it any more legitimate in some people’s eyes. How sad, I thought, that two people, who have managed to find each other, who love each other, who already own a house together, who want to put up with each other’s shit for the rest of their lives should be begrudged that by anyone, simply because they happen to be the same gender. I commented some encouragement and I started to think about something I’ve thought about for the last couple years – I think I want to get married again… Someday. (Which is kind of funny because as I typed a title to the photo below, my fingers automatically typed bridge. I can’t even type bride.)

me as a bride

When my first marriage ended, I said that I would never get married again. I was 21 when I got married, and we split after 13 months. There were a lot of mistakes that were made leading up to that event, situations that made it clear that it would never last, and tough decisions that I couldn’t make at 21 that I would at 34. We fought all the time; he wanted kids and I didn’t; we were much too young and immature; and we couldn’t even agree on the details of the wedding. I wanted to wear a red dress but he wasn’t ok with that. I wanted to walk down the aisle to my favorite musician Tori Amos, he did not want that but I refused to be traditional and do the wedding march so somehow we settled on Charlotte Church singing “Pie Jesu.” I can’t even remember how that became the choice. I got a book about wedding planning and was horrified when one of the authors said that she used to sleep with her journals in a fireproof box near the bed, but now it housed her wedding albums – yet I let what Martha Stewart Weddings magazine told me that I had to do seep into my head. I didn’t even want to be anything traditional and suddenly I was worried about favors and spending way more money than planned on the small wedding in my hometown, where we didn’t even live. By the time the wedding rolled around, I didn’t want to go through with it but I felt like I had no choice. I wasn’t ready to break up with him, I loved him after all, and I felt like too much money had been spent and there was no way to get out of it. So I got married.

13 months later, my parents came up to Ohio to pack up all my stuff so I could move out of the townhouse that my ex-husband would keep living in until the lease was up. I was too much of an emotional mess to pack myself. I felt like I was going to die. I had never lived alone before, I had went from my parents’ house to my girlfriend Sally’s house to living with Kevin (the husband/ex-husband) and I was terrified of being alone. The year that followed was one of the most difficult of my life. It involved a lot of drinking vodka alone and watching Queer as Folk & Sex and the City and occasionally waking up on the bathroom floor where I had passed out. Ultimately, Kevin and I were both better off without each other, and can actually have friendly conversations on facebook now and then these days. There were a lot of things I had to face on my own to raise my self-esteem, to build my resilience, and to strengthen my bravery, living on my own was just the first of many things. I didn’t really see the point of getting married again though. Getting divorced was a pain in the ass and it was just a stupid piece of paper. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself back in Mississippi and getting involved in activism right around the time of the Prop 8 repealed marriage equality in California.

prop 8 protest

I found myself not only at some of the protests that happened simultaneously around the country, but later actually planning a protest outside the American Family Association (AFA) in Tupelo, MS, who had donated half a million dollars to help pass Prop 8. I didn’t want to get married myself, but I figured that I was holding those signs and chanting not for myself but for all of the wonderful gay and lesbian couples who absolutely deserve(d) equal rights. As a queer woman who mostly falls in love with women but occasionally falls in love with men, I have never understood why I can marry someone who is male, and that’s totally acceptable, but for me to marry someone female it’s an evil sin and we should all burn in hell. What’s the difference? Why does anyone care? As I continued to get older and wiser, I began to see the fight for marriage equality as both a necessary step and also a cause for the privileged. I think it’s important to have equality because it lends legitimacy in the eyes of the law and some people, but it’s just one tiny step in a journey toward true equality for the LGBTQ community. Marriage is a battle, not the war. I also realized that even though it’s still a stupid piece of paper, it’s still way more than that for anyone who is queer. Including me.

As a feminist, I know that marriage is a patriarchal ritual, a throwback to a time when women were property to be exchanged from man (father) to man (husband). An archaic reminder of when women couldn’t vote or own property or pursue higher education or work outside the home or make her own reproductive choices. I know that there’s really nothing special or that traditional about a diamond engagement ring (didn’t want one then, don’t want one now.) In fact, Salon recently reported that more heterosexual couples are choosing not to get married, but instead just adopting the terminology to reflect their commitment level. I reflected on how that’s something that gay and lesbian couples have done for years. As marriage equality has become the defining fight for LGBTQ equality in my lifetime, it has also morphed into something very different than its misogynistic history – it’s become one of the most tangible ways that gay and lesbian Americans are classified as second class citizens. It has led heterosexists and homophobes to believe that “rights” are something that they can give and/or take away from those deemed somehow lesser, that we don’t deserve to be treated as human beings. Some religious fanatics see us as walking sin, demons who choose to be different than the mainstream in order to lead children away from God, or some shit. It’s interesting to watch how for straight couples, rejecting marriage is just as revolutionary as it is for LGBTQ couples to marry. And it leads me to the conclusion that I have come to in my 30s – for people who are in love, how we choose to define our commitment should ultimately be up to us. I’m not sure why the world thinks there’s only one way to be – straight, grow up, get married, have kids, work a job, buy a house, retire, play with grandkids, die. Somehow anyone that deviates from that, or even wants to deviate from that, is regarded with suspicion. Even if you want exactly that but happen to be gay. I’ve kinda always been a weirdo and always will be, because ultimately I’m not just like the norm and it’s not because I’m queer, it’s because I define my life in ways that deviate from the norm.

Still, I am a romantic and I find something quite beautiful about wanting to stand up in front of the people that mean the most to you and tell the person that you love that despite the odds, you want to try to stay together until one of you dies. It actually makes me choke up a little bit. Because love, true healthy committed love where neither of you takes away from the other but gives, and where you’re somehow even better together – that shit is rare and beautiful. It deserves to be celebrated, however it comes into our lives, because it’s miraculous.

carrie & aiden

In one of my all time favorite shows, Sex & The City, one of the characters, Samantha, who is adamantly against the idea of love and marriage, tells the protagonist, Carrie, “wrong ring, wrong guy.” I thought about that a lot after my first husband proposed to me with a yellow gold ring. I only wear silver and white gold jewelry, and that he didn’t realize that seemed at the time to be a glaring warning sign that he wasn’t the one I should be marrying. In hindsight, it was one of many small things that was telling me that we were making a bad decision. I focused on something pretty inconsequential because it was indicative of something larger that I was frightened to admit, even to myself. The truth is, I never really wanted to get married, not even back then. I loved the idea of getting a beautiful piece of jewelry, I loved the idea of wearing a big fluffy dress and being a princess of a day, and I loved the idea of having a day that was mine where I got to be the center of attention and everyone fawned over me. I wanted a wedding for sure, but I never really wanted a marriage. I had no idea how to have a healthy relationship at all. Thirteen years later, I still love big fluffy dresses and pretty, colorful, non-diamond jewelry, but I think that I would like to have a marriage. Not a day where I’m the center of attention (and omfg why is it the bride’s day, not the couple’s day?!?! Traditional marriage is so fucked up when you really think about it) but many days where my life is made better by a person that I love and their life is made better by me.

I don’t know if I will ever get married again. I can’t see the future, and I don’t really want to. Mindfulness helps me live in the present and not worry too much about the future most of the time. I know if I do ever do it, I will be doing it for really different reasons than I did the first time around and I know that I won’t do it if I have any doubt at all. For me, it would be a truly revolutionary act. Not just because I’m queer and not just because I’m a feminist, but because I have struggled my entire life to get to the point where I can trust another human being enough to actually love them without reservation. To make a lifetime commitment to another person would be the ultimate exercise in actively trusting, trusting them and trusting myself. Politics and history aside, I can’t think of anything more brave than that.

me and some protest signs

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 😦

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.