Saturday, November 30, 2013

deep roots

“The proverb warns that, 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.”
Thomas Stephen Szasz

In follow up to the previous post, I've been doing a bit of thinking about all the ways my natural tendency to please others and fear of saying no has affected my life up to this point.

Though I'm able to put my foot down a bit better now, it sometimes takes me a little while to realize I've stopped listening to my Wise Self.  It's like a gnawing feeling that won't go away, and upon investigation I discover not only am I going along with something, I've completely sacrificed my own happiness for it.

This disease to please or more accurately, avoidance of conflict, has been with me for as long as I can remember.  The big moments that defined this condition of compliance happened when I was 6-7 years old.  My mom had been dating a man who lived in Tennessee, and we ended up moving down there for a time when I was 5. When they broke up we pulled anchor and headed back to Alaska and moved in with my mom's best friend Suzi and her boyfriend Howard until we could get on our feet.

Howard was a child molester.

Of course we didn't know that at the time, but after a few events where I found myself alone with him, I found out the hard way.

I remember two very clear incidences of being sexually molested by Howard.  Both times I KNEW it was wrong. I searched my soul for the words or a way to make it stop, but the only thing that surfaced was the rule: "Do what you're told". I felt fear of hearing my voice telling him to stop.  Fear of conflict. Fear of getting into trouble. Fear of what he might do. Fear fear fear.

The first time it happened was on an overnight trip to a cabin in Girdwood, a little ski town about 30 minutes outside of Anchorage. It was my sister, my mom, me, Suzi and Howard. The cabin was an A frame with an open floor plan downstairs and a loft with two bedrooms upstairs. Stairs separated the two rooms. From the bedrooms you could look down onto the living room, so there was only semi-privacy. I could hear everything going on downstairs as I went up to go to bed.

There was a knock on my door, and when I opened it, Howard was standing there. He asked me to get undressed and come say goodnight to him in his room.

So I did.

My naked little body traveled from the safety of my room, passing the stairs that led to freedom, and into his room, where he stood, also naked. He picked me up in his arms and held me in a long, torturous hug.  He put me down and I went into my room and cried myself to sleep with the sounds of laughter and music coming from downstairs.

The next day Suzi took a picture of my sister and I hugging my mom.  When I look at this picture of the little girl with the messy bangs and yellow coat I scream inside. I don't remember the days or years before or after these events took place. But the night before this picture was taken is stuck in my memory as fresh as if it happened yesterday.

I can't pick a correct emotion from this picture. Am I smiling or crying? All I see is a tiny me clutching to my rock as my world went spiraling into a dark new universe, the morning after my innocence was taken from me.

The next event changed my life forever and I still remember it sometimes when I get really afraid and need to tap into my Wise Self.

Howard was left to babysit me, so I sequestered myself in my bedroom to watch cartoons and avoid him. But of course he came in and sat next to me. I pretended not to really notice him or his hand as it went into my pants. Soon he started touching himself. He asked me if his fingers felt good on me. I said no. So he moved his hand around a little bit. "How about that?" "No". "Where does it feel good?"

"Out of my pants". 

 I didn't care what happened after I said it, I just knew I needed to say it. And guess what? He took his hand out. He left me alone. And, as if he suddenly became aware of the beast he had just unleashed, he threatened me not to tell anyone.

But I did.

The next day I told my mom and we quickly moved out. Nothing ever happened to Howard though. Suzi broke up with him, but nobody charged him, nobody turned him in. The bad guy got away.

The thing that makes me that most sad about that, is how difficult it was for me to advocate for myself at such a fragile, vulnerable time in my life, but I did. And the adults who were there to protect me and be my advocate, failed to do either.

This is, my mother tells me, one of her greatest regrets in life. I cannot hold anger or resentment against her. I'm sure she did the best she could where she was at the time.

That event was the single-most empowering moment in my life, regardless of the outcome. I spoke up and I got what I wanted. Peace. Strength.

As a teenager I kept getting into horribly unhealthy, co-dependent relationships. I had very little self confidence, no sense of self. When I broke up with my troubled boyfriend at 16, he attempted suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills and coming over to my house. While he recovered in the hospital, mouth still chalky, I agreed to get back together with him. He needed me.

Later (after that relationship eventually ended) when I discovered a different boyfriend had been cheating on me, I quickly and angrily broke up with him, only to turn around and beg him to take me back hours later. Couldn't handle being alone.  

There are a few other examples I could give but I think I want to leave it there. Suffice to say, my life has been a long battle of making people happy at a high cost to my own happiness. A few times, I almost paid the highest price. Thank goodness I avoided getting into too much trouble or killed!

These days, the events that test my pathological need to please are pretty minor in comparison. Outright manipulation, threats to my security or obvious breaches of boundaries will evoke a strong reaction from me, though. To the point that I've built up a pretty high wall to protect myself. But for those people who are masters at manipulation, or whose neediness comes in a package that pulls my heart in a million different directions, I bend. I succumb.  It takes me a little longer to figure out that I'm being manipulated or taken advantage of. If I communicate my boundary or feelings and they don't respect it, I close the door and lock it behind me.

These days, I find myself asking "what do I want?" a lot. I don't have all the answers yet, but I know I'm on my way. It's getting easier as the kids get older and I'm morphing out of Extreme Mommy Mode and into Coach Mom Mode. I have some room to breath and explore me and my voice more. 

It's also getting easier because my partner couldn't manipulate his way out of a paper bag. His soul is pure. We supports things that feed my heart and happiness, and objects to things (and people) who don't. He is an echo of my Wise Self, and a trusted advocate.  While we intentionally and constantly try to make each other happy, we are both sensitive to when the other is sacrificing for the other and we stop and regroup. It is an amazing partnership of championing for one another. 

As I buried my 11.5 year toxic marriage - unearthing myself in the process, and then learning how to be in the first healthy relationship of my life, I realize that this has been an extremely transformative decade of life (probably the most transformative I'll ever experience, to be honest -- and hopeful). 

I'm finishing out the last few months of my 30s with a new physical transformation, which you can read about here:

I completed my Sobember with amazing fresh perspective. I feel like I've done some amazing work to take a good/bad/ugly look at my intentions, patterns, and stumbling blocks.  It hasn't been pretty, but it's been necessary.  I had a glass of wine last weekend and again on Thanksgiving, and each time, I didn't enjoy it like I did before November. Maybe because the intention of drinking was different. I'm not particularly craving anything or anxious to hit the bars. I'm actually feeling pretty indifferent to alcohol in general.

In all, this month has been amazingly important. I uncovered some deeply rooted systems (coping mechanisms) that have served and protected me throughout my life. I am ready to build some stronger, healthier systems that can hold a brand new structure for this brand new life that I'm creating. No more serving others while sacrificing my happiness. No more avoiding conflict. No more validating others while minimizing myself to an unrecognizable state. No more shame.

I think this is what they call growing up? It only took me 39 years...but better late than never, right?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

being a person of purpose to yourself

There's always so much chatter and flapping around the subject of self purpose and living a life with meaning. I've always been interested in the chatter because I'm kind of a nut about intrapersonal and interpersonal psychology and the self help movement.

Most of what I read on the subject comes back to one philosophy: In order to have real meaning in your life, your purpose must somehow serve others for the greater good. To offer up something that is bigger than yourself. To make a difference in your world. Your community. Your family.

And while I agree with that truth, I want to explore it a bit deeper, because I feel like there's some pitfalls here.  Especially if you're already a people pleaser like me.

It's ridiculously easy to align ourselves with someone else's purpose. To grab a hold of someone else's coat tails and go along for the ride, claiming purpose and meaning while only really perpetuating someone else's goals or dreams or purpose without really figuring out what yours are.

The more I dig around and investigate my goals and dreams and purpose, the more I realize how absolutely clueless I am about what I even want.  Whenever I get frustrated about where I am in life, I tend to turn that focus on other people, to help them, be a listener, problem solver, counselor and friend.

I've been friends with people who will sit with me for hours and do nothing but talk about themselves and their lives and completely overlook the fact that another human being is sitting right next to them with their own frustrations and things to say. And when that quiet human being is me, I let it happen, time and time again. My inner voice says "they need me" or "who am I to complain when they have the real problems" or "I'm not important" or "their dream is bigger than mine". I become the Narcissist Whisperer.

Spoiler Alert: they don't care about you and your dreams or purpose.

Not only do I allow these relationships to emotionally entwine me, I empathically tune into their struggle and goals and invest myself in them. I was married for 11.5 years to someone I sacrificed my happiness for until I felt like I was slowly (or quickly as time went on) killing myself by living someone else's life. When he drove away the night we broke up, I felt myself wake up for the first time in a long time. It was startling and extremely, overwhelmingly empowering.

It's a huge life lesson and one I'm still struggling to learn. It's hard to find your voice and say "that's not going to serve MY purpose or happiness so I can't participate in that". My god, what if that person thinks you're an asshole or doesn't want to be in your life anymore because of your objection. What if someone...omg...what if someone doesn't like you? It's insane how that one little thought can destroy your inner integrity and self protection.  That little thought has led me to make some very bad decisions, ones that had I been tuned into my purpose, I could have done a quick check in "is this what I want, is this going to serve me or hurt me?" and kept myself on a path of meaningful, purposeful, happy living.  Instead, I have gone along with things that only cause shame, regret and my own suffering. That friends is what I define as Self Sabotage.

So while it's great to put your life purpose to use and serve your world for the greater good of humanity...I think the first place to start is figuring out how to serve yourself and PROTECT your own purpose first.

How to say no, how to put boundaries around relationships, how to differentiate between what I want and you want, how to discover what I want in the first place. How to speak your truth. How to object. How to listen more to my Wise Self and let her guide me. How to be happy outside of influence.

I think that is part of what this month of not drinking is also helping me understand. Drinking enables my Little Self to drive with reckless abandon through the structures and boundaries that my Wise Self so carefully constructed in an effort to keep myself on the right track to joy. 

So the challenge for me will be to strengthen my Wise Self muscles to the point of muscle memory, so that when I drink, She will be in charge, and decisions will be made according to MY happiness and boundaries.

And ultimately, as I figure out how to balance vulnerability with protection and self interest with supporting others, I'll be able to reach out and healthily be of service to something greater than myself. Until then, I am going to keep practicing, reading, strengthening and growing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

whittling away

This month is flying by, and so far I'm still celebrating Sobember without worry! The only time I've really been triggered is while making dinner. I do so enjoy a glass of pinot noir while chopping veggies to Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.  Seems sacrilege to do any of it without red wine. But I'm surviving.

More than surviving. I'm feeling fucking fantastic. I can't believe how much difference the Wellbutrin makes. I can wake up in the morning without 10 cups of coffee. I can focus (secretly I think I have a raging case of undiagnosed ADD and this med might be helping me with some hearty executive function skills). I feel alive in my skin and my mind is switched "On". Everything seems not only manageable but scalable and achievable. I'm kicking ass.

I'm whittling the shit out of my life and I already see little slices of what I recognize as the life I want to live. I still have more questions than answers but I can feel myself righting my little capsized boat of life.

In the midst of all the navel-gazing that blogging tends to be, I am also coming into awareness that my focus is shifting towards others. I've read quite a lot lately about serving those you love, developing more empathy and compassion, and finding your purpose through helping others. I've been trying to actively engage in that practice. The result is that I'm actually attracting more love, more gratitude, more intimacy. And worrying less about myself, my problems, my insecurities, my blah blah blahs.

My kids are noticing a huge shift in me, and that says a lot, because they really don't ever notice anything unless it's bacon or a computer.

I really love focusing on other people and doing acts of service and providing kindness and love and making people feel special.  I feel like I'm really good at it, and it makes me feel extremely contented. The part I have to remember is that because I'm so good at it, people will take advantage of me, so creating boundaries is super important to do. And then enforcing them. I'm extremely in tune when something doesn't feel right and trusting my doucheometer. It's the speaking up part that cripples me.

As I whittle my life into the creation of my dreams, I also need to make sure I am using my voice and making myself heard as well.  I need to remember that I matter, that I'm important, and that nobody will protect me and make me happy like I can.

Speaking of being happy, my friend hope is visiting more often, and that makes me pretty darn happy. A Willa without hope is a very sad sad Willa. I am beginning to remember those little things that used to inspire me and motivate me and make me curious. My muses are becoming more visible.

So I'm going to keep on whittling.

Monday, November 4, 2013

becoming a virgin

I never really drink that much at home. Maybe a beer with dinner or a glass of wine while watching a movie. Never hard alcohol, and never enough to get drunk. So it's not hard to not drink at home.

But when I go out, one of the things I look forward to the most is drinking. So looking forward to this week's evening adventures, I'm trying to be very aware of either planning to meet people at places where alcohol isn't on the menu but coffee (happy tears from Jesus himself) is.  Or if a non booze venue isn't an option, thinking ahead to what virgin drinks I might order since I'm not really a fan of soda these days and water just

I'm excited about this month being the crescendo to the holiday season because it means mulled cider is popular on menus! I'm not usually a big fan of sweet cocktails but I might try these yummy sounding virgin takes:

Safe Sex on the Beach recipe
3 oz cranberry juice
3 oz grapefruit juice
2 oz peach nectar
1 maraschino cherry

Horse's Ass recipe
1/2 part ginger ale
1/2 part soda water
 Cranberry Sangria
7 cups cranberry juice
5 peaches
1 lemon sliced
4 cups ice cubes
Atomic Cat
equal parts oj and tonic water

In other news I made great beautiful strides today in getting my shit together. Got the kids up with enough time to eat a good breakfast (made pumpkin pancakes and sausage), and delivered everyone to school on time. Then I went for a good 45 minute walk around the WSU campus. Throughout the day I was able to still get some cleaning done while I babysat my two favorite babies. I feel fairly accomplished and satisfied today. And strong. I feel pretty proud of how strong and motivated I feel! :D

Sunday, November 3, 2013

sobember: a month of boozelessness

I've been thinking a lot about a theme for this year's attempt yet again at NaBloPoMo, and it came to me after a major wave of stress ebbed away in recent weeks with the rehoming of my Great Dane and the moving out of my photography studio.

The Month I Got My Shit Together. It was to be a triumph of organization, schedules and meal planning.  I was going to master the budget and decorate my house with beautiful homemade things and I was going to blog every day about my goals and how I was defeating my chaos monsters.

But then I got drunk instead.

Friday night was a turning point. Yes, another turning point. At this point I've made myself turn at so many points I'm fairly sure I'm now spinning in a full circle with no real points or turns, just acknowledgements from the Universe that I'm still on the same fucked up path with no way or hope of redeeming myself.

I've been drinking a lot lately. I've also been fighting off some depression, insecurities and greeting each day with a sense of doom that the darkness of winter is approaching and the slight hold I have on my reality is going to slip away into a big black hole where I might drown in my own tears. Okay maybe that's extreme, but for a gal who is normally pretty enthusiastic and optimistic about life, depression hits and it hits hard. And it's scary.

Alcohol has been a way for me to forget about ringing bells of tardiness, past due bills, piles of laundry, broken appliances, waves of fear and crippling self doubt. For a little while, I just have fun. I am funny. I laugh. I speak. I let go.

Having alcohol as a social lubricant serves to help me transition between lonerville and peopletown, wherein I go from awkward to gregarious. Which would be fine, except I just keep going because at that point I'm convinced the more I drink the more awesome I will become. Quickly, very quickly, I just become drunk. And that girl? Not awesome.

Truth be told, the hangover lasts longer than the euphoria.  Then I chide myself for taking it too far and feel like a huge fuck up once again. It's easy to make mistakes when you suddenly don't have any boundaries, let alone self awareness.

So this month of writing was supposed to start on Friday, but it didn't happen. Yesterday I poured myself into my house and spent the day supporting my daughter in her Science Olympiad event.  I avoided the computer and tried not to think about blogging.

Today I feel like if I don't say something, even if nobody reads it...if I don't get it out of my head, I won't commit to it.

I am not going to drink alcohol throughout the month of November. I'm not committing to anything else besides that. I may not blog every day. I may not get my shit together. I may not sew the fabric of my life together with glitter and a cherry on top. I probably won't in fact.

What I will do:

  • Learn ways to help me relax and let go naturally.
  • Try to be more open and vulnerable without booze.
  • Set better social boundaries for myself.
  • Practice more self awareness.
  • See if I can get a light box for SAD.
  • Continue on my depression medicine and work up to the full dosage.
  • Search out ways to plug into my inspiration and creativity.

Most importantly, I will stop avoiding difficult emotional and physical work.

I tend to run away and hide a lot in my life.  Retreating and becoming invisible tends to help me feel less responsible and vulnerable. There is no risk of rejection or disappointing anyone. It feels safe. Only, it's not safe, it only feels safe because of the huge buffer between me and people. But all the distance and cocooning does is make me feel more alone and afraid. I'm not exactly sure what I'm afraid of, but I think it has to do with feeling like a huge fuck up at everything I do. I think I need some small victories, thus the original "Get My Shit Together" theme of this month, but what I think I need to do more is to shift my perspective to accepting and loving myself where I am, chaos and all.  Then, my happiness doesn't depend on performance of life, but compassion for myself.

Alcohol is a way for me to continue to hide. Hide the stress, escape from the fear, pretend to be someone I'm not.

I used to be very transparent and totally unapologetic for who I was. Somewhere along the line I stopped being transparent and now I just feel guarded. Instead of being unapologetic I've become a people pleaser, going along with things I never would have, had I was being authentic.

When I got divorced and was at the cusp of self discovery, it was easy to be open about everything, because I had felt so invisible for so long, being free to be me felt so liberating that I didn't even care if I was making an ass of myself because I was in control. It was the first time in my life I had unbridled hope and felt full of possibilities. Clean Slate.

Now I think I may be a little jaded. I know a lot more about myself, and that knowledge can get depressing, because I am not who I want to be. I thought divorce would fix me.  I constantly think about how to change, but ultimately I slip back into self defeating behaviors and perpetuate the cycle of failure, guilt, depression and hopelessness.

So I'm not exactly sure if going sober for a month will really change much, but I feel like it might be a step towards self ownership that will help me become a better friend to myself and allow me to stay in a place of awareness and responsibility.

I guess we'll see.