Listen

“You don’t get angry anymore?

I used to get angry all the time, frustrated too.

Not anymore?

I’m not lost anymore.

How did you do that?

Same way anything that’s lost gets found. I stopped looking”.

I don’t watch much tv, but M was watching LOST a couple of months ago, and I overheard this conversation. It gave me goosebumps when I heard it, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

Over the last many weeks, my thoughts have returned to this conversation. I couldn’t decide if I agreed or not.

I couldn’t decide, because I spent most of my life searching, and I often feel like I’m still searching.

I spent my childhood hoping for a place to belong, a place to feel safe. I counted on adults to show me, but was repeatedly disappointed.

In my teenage years, I continued to search, but I relied upon myself more than ever. I developed a drive and a strength that could and would carry me away. I wasn’t certain of the what or where or how, but I knew I needed to leave to find it.

There were college years where I felt more belonging than I ever had, but even then I was searching for something more. Anything. Nothing. Everything. Although I earned good grades, I engaged in some really risky behavior. My natural instinct was to search for proof of my worth, because I constantly heard this voice in my head questioning it.

Later, even after marrying an amazing man who wholeheartedly loved me, I built walls around my heart for a long time, and even I didn’t go too far behind them. Anger was my go-to emotion. It was easy, safer. It kept me from having to full-on feel the things which anger could hide, and allowed me to keep others at a distance so they wouldn’t see.

I was lost. I spent a long time not even knowing how to search, but desperately trying, walking in circles, and feeling defeat. I tried so hard to avoid repeating the things I’d seen and heard in my own childhood, that I forgot how to listen to me. In some ways, I never truly learned to hear my own voice.

I ignored my fears by moving at 100mph toward anything that caught my interest. Because when I slowed, there I was. And I was so afraid of seeing me, of feeling the hurt, regret, and grief, not only for my own actions and choices, but for other’s actions and choices, too. For times gone by, for lost years, and things I’d never experience, or those experiences for which I felt I’d robbed others. For the ways my choices hurt the ones I love the most, especially my children.

Most of all, I feared rejection. Abandonment. Shame. My voice inside was so afraid. She spoke to me out of fear.

I worried I was a giant bundle of ‘too much’ because I deeply needed, when I’d prided myself on being strong and independent all the time. But that persona was so draining.

All along, I hadn’t realized I could be both. I could be many things. I could stop looking, and see me. I could hear me, feel me.

I was safe. I could trust.

I could be me, whatever that meant.

And when I began to do so, to let go of some of that fear and be vulnerable, I was able to see the ones I love through a different lens. A clearer one. One in which their actions or reactions aren’t all about me. By that I mean, they aren’t always not thinking of me or not caring, if they behave, or don’t behave, in certain ways. That’s my voice speaking, not theirs. And if I think they are being hurtful, I can ask, or express myself. We can communicate, and they won’t run away or think I’m stupid.

Do I want to be the best version of me I can be? Of course! But I suppose I’m not so much seeking as I’m trying to listen, with an open mind and an open heart.

I can hear my own voice. I’m learning my patterns. I hear that hurtful voice, which may always be there, and I’ve allowed a new voice to emerge, one who understands or wishes to understand.

It may take a long time, but I’m learning to have compassion for that hurtful voice and her origins. I can, because I find comfort and security in this life I’ve helped to build. I feel the safety and love, and I’m trying to truly receive it and believe it. I can feel all my heart is able to feel, not hide behind anger. The only way to do that is to listen. Not fall backward, not speed forward.

I just have to remember to listen to me.

-photo credit viralnovelty.net

Letting Go…

I need you. I am ashamed.

Those words are maybe the most difficult I’ve ever spoken. I’m not perfect, and I never was. I never will be, although I spent way too many years of my life hoping I could be, wishing I could live up to other’s expectations, and hoping I’d be enough.

And for most of my life, I tried really hard not to need anyone, even though I poured my heart into every relationship I ever had. I let others need me, but I couldn’t need in return. I mean, I could, I just couldn’t let the other know just how much.

I also jumped in with two feet into anything I did – relationships, school, jobs, everything. I found strength within myself to get through anything, regardless of the cost to me. It was never a question of whether I could, I just did.

I did what I thought I should. I put others first. I came through. You could count on me. Always.

But that had a high cost. So high.

It has taken me a long time, but I’ve come to a place where I can tell others when I need them, although it’s not always easy. I still feel shame, but I’m trying.

With M, I’m so open about my needs, but it feels all tangled at times, because I have this intense need to please him first and to seek his permission to put my needs on the priority list. And when I fail at making myself clear in what I need or expressing it fully, because I’m ashamed, I end up feeling even worse, as if even he isn’t making my needs a priority. I’ve made that mistake more than I care to admit.

Over the last few years, I’ve shared with M how much I need him, but my job is an issue that has only gotten worse. I’ve tried to express just how much worse, and what I need because of it, but I’ve not always succeeded. Now, I’m at a place where, despite the amazing things going on in our relationship and with my girls, I feel like I’m drowning. My job is sucking the life out of me. It has slowly, over the course of 13 years, completely depleted me, and it has far reaching affects in all areas of my life. I’m running on fumes at this point, and the thing is….I know I have the strength to get through. I do. It’s a part of me which will never ever go away. I can dig deep and do whatever I have to.

But I don’t want to be strong in this case, not anymore. The cost is far too high. Putting that face on and stuffing those feelings away so I can get through turns me into someone I’m not, someone I don’t like. Someone who isn’t ME.

And I NEVER want to feel like a foreigner in my own skin again.

In order to get through it, I need M more than I ever have. I need him to be the life raft. I need him to help me to not lose me. Ever again. I need my needs to matter as much to him as they do to me….and in order for him to be able to fully do that….I need to lay them in his lap and let go of the shame I feel for needing him as much as I do.

Slowly, and layer by layer, I have shared my deep need for him as well as my needs. I have laid them all out, open and honest, absolutely and completely.

I can’t say my shame is gone, but it’s one step closer to letting it all go. And it’s allowing us to go even deeper together. We are building the structure we need to get through it, the structure I need. It’s going to be a process, one we’ll have to tackle together.

And my strength? It’s still here. He’s my raft right now. I’m hanging on with all my might.

But I’m still kicking my feet like a mofo, while I hang on.

Friends and Woes

Last year at about this time, I was in another city not too far from here, spending the weekend with some friends from high school I’ve reconnected with. It began about 5 years ago, when we saw one another at our reunion (the only reason I went was because those two were going to be there), and vowed to stay in touch. We connected via Facebook and messaged back and forth. On a whim, we packed up and met in Nashville for a long weekend, and an annual get together was born.

I’m so glad we did, we had a blast. We talked and caught up, and it felt as if I’d connected with two open, fun-loving women who wanted to share and maintain a friendship.

Over the next few years, others joined in, but the three of us tried to meet up apart from the larger group of seven. There was something more between the three of us. There was an easiness, the kind that passing time didn’t seem to affect.

By last year, I’d realized that while I very much enjoyed their company, the weekends always left me feeling as if I’d gone with hopes (and expectations) that we’d talk and catch up, talk about deep, meaningful things, and not just chill and drink and go out to eat. As much as I love those things, I need the other too. There was every indication that we had the sort of relationship in which that was a realistic expectation. We’d done it before, but it seemed to fade away. Contact faded more and more until it was mostly likes on Facebook. I agonized over whether I should go.

I asked myself…did I still value them? Absolutely. I was just beginning to see the friendship for what it might be – acquaintances with a history. Ones who have fun and can be open and honest and accepting with one another, but still really just acquaintances. And that was okay; I wasn’t ready to give that up. So, I went on the weekend. I tried to go with realistic expectations and I had some fun. I do value each and every one of them very much.

Except on Saturday, there was this odd-feeling exchange. The day before, J and A brought up that we should go to her parent’s cabin this year and plan on a big vacation weekend next year, some place like the Bahamas or a cruise. A few said maybe, and then JK said she wasn’t sure her husband would let her. I said I’d have to check with my hubby too, and the conversation ended….until Saturday, when JK left.

After she left, J and A brought up that they thought it was weird that JK had phrased it that way, that she wasn’t sure her hubby would let her. A couple of the others said it was a little odd, but J and A said it sounded like maybe her hubby was really controlling or something. I chimed in and said maybe that’s just the way it works for them. It works that way for M and I, and I’d have to ask him too. Then J seemed to abruptly change the subject with a giggle, so I left it alone. We had a decent evening and went home the next morning.

But later, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. Sometimes it takes me a while to process my feelings with things like that, when I’m hurt and fear rejection. And in my history, I have a very difficult time telling those I care about that they’ve hurt my feelings or said/done something that I’d like to discuss. Again, that fear of rejection and abandonment, but I’ve been evolving and trying to maintain healthy friendships.

A few days later, I asked J and A if we could talk. I asked if we could do a three way call, but we couldn’t figure it out and decided to group text instead. I carefully brought up that it seemed like they were being judgmental toward Julie, and their judgement of her made me worry they might feel the same about me. All I wanted to do was discuss it. I also didn’t like that they’d spoken about JK while she wasn’t there.

Despite my efforts to try to talk with them openly, that conversation did not go well. J did not love that I confronted her about talking behind JK’s back. A said she was concerned that JK might be in an unhealthy relationship. They both turned it back on me, saying I shouldn’t have to defend how I live if I’m happy, when all I wanted to do was share of myself with them. That hurt.

I attempted to talk it through, but again, J just abruptly left the conversation. A was short and a little abrasive at times, but stayed in the conversation for a few more exchanges and seemed to try to understand my point. I understood hers.

Since then, there hadn’t been any contact at all. Nothing. Not even on the girl’s weekend FB group where plans are made each year. And then, two weeks ago, N asked if we were still planning to go to J’s parent’s cabin. J said she was busy and if someone else wanted to plan, she’d let us know if she could come. A said the same. Two others said they were in. I said life was hectic for the next couple months. It all just felt weird and unresolved. I figured it would, there’d been no contact, no further discussion.

Fearing last year’s exchange was the cause for the evasiveness, I contacted them both again last week by text. I’d had a long time to think about what had transpired.

A didn’t respond at all. J was still very agitated. No matter what I said to try to explain my thinking, to take responsibility for what I perceive as wrongdoings on my part and apologize, to tell her it’s possible I misunderstood their intent, and maybe even responded the way I did because I feared rejection, she wouldn’t hear me. She was angry and defensive, didn’t explain her view, took no responsibility at all, and abruptly left the conversation again. I offered to speak via phone (my preferred method!), but no answer. That was a few days ago.

The thing is, I always think about misunderstandings, I can’t just ignore them. I have this need to understand what went wrong.  I always evaluate them to see what part I played, so I can take responsibility and apologize, understand the other person’s view and feelings if I can, and learn from my mistakes. I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t mean to, but I know I do sometimes.

I also have a history of taking responsibility for things I shouldn’t, because I don’t want the other person to feel bad. I feel other’s feelings so deeply, that I often allow them to overshadow my own.

My history also consists of instances where I’ve fostered these sort of co-dependent tendencies in some relationships. I’d do things to keep the other person around, seek approval, giving and offering, and hoping they accept that offering of myself and appreciate it. I’d give my all, putting others before myself, protecting their feelings above my own.

These are all things for which I’ve had to be acutely aware, but I feel like I’ve made some positive strides. I’m in a much better place; I know what healthy looks and feels like. I have some healthy friendships with some amazing people (which I constantly analyze, lol). I know that it’s sometimes not possible to mend a misunderstanding and it has nothing to do with me.

And I know it will pass, but it still hurts when it feels like someone who was a friend doesn’t care enough to try to work through a misunderstanding. It always will.

Transparent

She’s courageously imperfect

Rising to meet the challenge

Alive in her willingness

To be free, as herself

Finally able to see

With clarity

Living and loving

With her whole heart

Embracing her vulnerability

Regardless of risk

Her true nature to give and

To love freely and openly

Both self and others

Yet there are days

When weighted tears

Streak mirrored glass

And her tired heart hurts

When the looking glass

Seems transparent

And she’s trapped on the inside

While others peer in

Perfectly Imperfect

In Messiness I explained how I need to help and serve others – I need to feel needed and valued in a relationship and I often look for reassurances, it’s not something I assume. I have an immense fear of failing or disappointing others, of not being enough. I’m sensitive, and my feelings are easily hurt if I begin to feel rejection, betrayal, or possible abandonment.

The problem is, until the last few years or so, I didn’t even realize what I needed in relationships. I casted my net and gave of myself and tried to find connectedness. I’d be myself and help and give and try so hard to fulfill other’s needs, to be the person they needed me to be and gave little value to my own wants or needs. I always put their wants and needs above my own. I’d develop hopes and expectations that they’d give me some indication that I was valued, too, but rarely let myself need others or tell them what I needed. And those expectations I had most often let me down. I wanted something in return that was often unrealistic. Assumptions also played a part – assumptions about why the person behaved this way or thought that way in the relationship – and in my mind that most often meant I felt as if I wasn’t valued, that I was rejected in some way. I was too shy to ask about it or to stick up for myself. I rarely told anyone my feelings were hurt. I didn’t protect myself in those ways – I was willing to risk my feelings, but not willing to risk hurting anyone else’s. I let myself get hurt over and over. I guarded myself from needing others, because I don’t think I ever believed or trusted anyone would ever stay. In my experience, they never did. No one would ever continue to value and love me deeply, that requires time and effort, and especially not if I hurt their feelings, because that would be way too much.

That fear of rejection and abandonment and betrayal has been at the core of my relationship issues my entire life. Feeling worth and self love, those are at the very center, even in my relationship with M. I didn’t love me. I didn’t acknowledge or value my own feelings and needs. How was anyone ever supposed to value me and what I had to offer if I didn’t value myself?

Being this vulnerable with M has allowed me to sort and strip away so much of that stuff – layers of destructive ways of thinking and doing. It’s allowed me to process and feel all of it, to keep what works, let go of what doesn’t, and create new ways when needed. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m more grounded and I can more easily see destructive patterns when they arise. I can more easily see when something is triggering those feelings of rejection or betrayal or abandonment, to give value to my feelings, try to protect myself in healthy ways and allow M to help to protect me….and even to explain to him if something he’s done has triggered those feelings and how to avoid it in the future, no matter how much it hurts in the moment, in any circumstance. To me, that’s HUGE. To be able to understand those core needs, communicate them and go forward is an amazing feeling.

We aren’t perfect. He and I are both going to screw up, make poor choices, challenge one another (yeah, I do that sometimes), and fall backward every down and then. This recent experience I wrote about in He Listens regarding follow through and walking away helped me to understand so much about myself and about M. He made a mistake, as he’s going to do, then tried to give me space, because that’s what I used to imply I wanted if he was the one who hurt me. Now, that wasn’t at all true, it was a test (how terrible is that?), and now it couldn’t be further from the truth. I never want him to walk away. No, I need him to never walk away. It triggers those feelings of rejection and abandonment, making me feel unworthy of his love and care. But….we needed that situation to recognize those things. That discussion led to more discussions, more baring of our souls to one another. It prompted us to review our rules, to discuss our parameters more deeply, define our expectations more clearly, detail our need for structure in ways that work for us, to better establish accountability and follow through in much more tangible ways. I even wrote to him in my own terms my contract to him, my commitment, my definition of my surrender to him.

So, do I dislike the mistakes? Yes. But I’m grateful that we’ve built a way for us to accept one another’s imperfections, to always communicate, to be our true selves and always be open and honest…because we know and trust that the other is speaking truthfully from the heart, with no ulterior motive other than to express and continue to build. We have the freedom to speak, even if it hurts our feelings, even if we stumble, because the framework of authenticity and respect and honor is solid. It’s a never-ending cycle of living, unlearning, learning, and experiencing. It’s not always easy, but it’s the most fulfilled we’ve ever been.

He Listens

Summoning every ounce of courage she has, she reminds him he’s forgotten. Trying so hard to hide the disappointment, the rejected feeling bubbling up inside, and attempting, unsuccessfully, to control the tears that threaten to trip her release valve, she speaks. Hugging her briefly after offering a few short words, ones which felt unsure and confusing, his face registering disappointment, he turns to leave the room.

Frozen. She’s completely frozen, standing in the middle of the bathroom floor, bare and exposed. It’s not because her body is unclothed, it’s because her mind is in a free fall, plummeting like a broken elevator screeching down the shaft with no emergency halt. There’s no air. Someone has squeezed it all out of her lungs in tight fists and won’t let go. She’s still, because she knows as soon as she moves, she’s going to the feel the crumble. But her knees can no longer bear her weight. The salty wetness is already streaking down her cheeks and over her lips, her chest is struggling to heave, her sobs are beginning to echo against the beige walls. The tiny room feels so vast and she needs to fold into her smallness. Yet, she cannot allow herself to crumble, to give in to the need and the hurt.

Stepping into the bath, she lowers herself into its warm embrace, but it’s of no comfort. In fact, it’s radiance is just a reminder of the embrace she truly needs. The one which just turned away from her and left the room. Rising from the depth of her, her cries take her breath away, her voice a slow, guttural song of pain and hurt, pulling at the chord of core pain and hurt in her which has existed for as long as she can remember.

Why?, her mind is repeating, Why? Why would you leave? Why am I not enough? Or am I just too much? Why, oh why, would you walk away when I need you so much, right now? How could you do that? It must be me. But this me needs you. I need you. Please, don’t walk away. Please come back. Please. Don’t you know how much I need you? How could you not know? I need you.

I need you to never walk away.

Pulling herself from the bath, she slips on her robe, still slightly wet, and walks down the stairs to him. Lying her head in his lap, arms locked around him, she let’s go and she crumbles as he pets her hair. She needs and she hurts. When she’s exhausted herself, she kneels facing him, and she offers him her bare, true self. The one who needs him, desperately, the one who must tell him how much it hurts when he forgets to follow through, the one who needs him to never walk away. He deserves her truth.

And he listens.

She Knows

I love my mother, but she’s difficult to be around and talk to sometimes. Even when she smiles, she’s not actually smiling. She wears the pain and regret on the outside now, it is evident, especially to me. My heart wants to hug her, tell her to let it go, but my brain wants to tell her how much she’s hurt me and hold onto it with both hands. I’ll likely do neither, not with any true intention. I do fall somewhere in between, accepting that she’ll probably never change and not allowing any bitter feelings I have to govern my life. I’ve let that go. It is what it is, a form of forgiveness, acceptance.

Since this all began for us, I’ve pulled away from my family quite a bit. My mom and my sisters always have some sort of drama going on between them. I needed to separate myself from the craziness for a while, devote my attention to my own family. I’d been pulling away a bit since summer, not getting involved in their drama or giving advice, encouraging them to fix things on their own. I’d realized just how negative getting involved was for me. I was taking on their problems and that was no good, especially when I was well on my way to making some lasting, positive changes in my life.

Interestingly enough, I was working on a post about my family when I decided to call my mom yesterday. We hadn’t spoken in a bit. Often times, I get frustrated on the phone with her because she talks over me, tries to finish my sentences and misunderstands much of what I say because she hasn’t heard me. Yesterday, she was pretty mellow. We talked about my girls for a bit, which led to how I worry about my eldest daughter being so anxious, a perfectionist. This led to me telling her how I feel I contributed to this with my own perfectionist behavior. She was so receptive, listened, and seemed interested, so I just kept going. I told her everything about me, about how I felt like I was a perfectionist, I internalized everything, put on a facade of control, shut people out (especially my husband), and was unable to lean on others or ask for help. I told her about my process of soul-searching, how I decided to change, put it into practice and what that looks like with my husband. Without terms or labels, I basically told her everything about our new lifestyle (I did not mention anything about what we do in the bedroom). I even told her she’d notice I wasn’t the one in control around here anymore and I don’t even want it. She floored me. She was so appreciative of my sharing and so happy that I’d discovered how to be happy and was trying to live it. She didn’t have anything negative to say. It was the first time in a very long time I felt like she actually heard me. It felt pretty good.

I don’t know if anything I said will help in her own life, but I know it made her happy to know I’m happy. I guess that’s all any mother wants.