Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lack of importance ... and why it isn't important

Do you wonder why you live the way you do?

Sometimes I wonder why I blog. It's not like I have anything original to say. Nobody is waiting around with bated breath, just to read my thoughts.

Even my kids (a captive audience if ever one existed) tend to escape behind blank expressions and empty bobble-headed nods as I explain life to them.

Today I stumbled across a blog post titled Dear Fellow Bloggers: Shut Up! I've included an excerpt, which may inspire you to visit and read the whole.
This isn't meant to be cute or quirky or anything other than what I just said.  Fellow bloggers, you and I, we just aren't that special.  To those of you that may have figured out how to make some cash off of it or have achieved some level of fame, I think that’s awesome.  Have at it. You know what though?  You aren't that special either.
I laughed as I read, then sighed. Mike is right. His point is just as true in "real life," too.

Nobody is "that" special,... so necessary to the function of the universe that everything comes to a screeching halt when they have a bad day. Even the world-famous are merely mourned upon their death, and life continues on without hesitation.

So why bother?

This is what I have to contribute. It's small.

So what?

Do I have to have something overwhelmingly amazing before I can offer it to anyone? My kids knew better right from the beginning. You should have seen their early artwork, given as prized gifts (never mind their attempts to help) but they made me smile and helped me get through another day.

Frankly, it's a good thing I don't have astronomical powers to change the world, because then I could mess up your lives big time, thinking I was helping. No. I'm just your average scaredycat, hiding behind the screen with a broken megaphone like the Wizard of Oz.

Wait. Let me adjust my mask and straighten the curtain, for a second.

The thing is, I helped someone yesterday, you know? They told me I did before I thought to ask. And the day before that. And the day before that, too. These incredible moments have been increasing over the years since I first started apologetically offering what I have. It has never been that much. Just an encouraging word, a shift in perspective, an lovely idea. That's all.

They thanked me all the same!

You do this for others every day, touching the lives that intersect with yours. I'm thankful for you because of it, even though your life may never intersect with mine. Because it takes all of us, online and off, to create this world of relationships.

And if I can give one of you the gift of connection, of realizing you're not the only one, of understanding, or of a simple smile. Then it is enough of a reason to blog today and tomorrow, too.

This is why.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How the church presents God - an honest conversation

Ree and I had this great conversation the other day. Today I decided to liven up our words with a little storytelling ... for fun, really. Enjoy!

As the chat window faded away we stumbled across the grass in silent shock. Had we really just fallen through our computer screens? A butterfly fluttered in the corner of my vision as, with a shriek of joy, Ree jumped forward to knock me sideways with a hug. Thankfully the grass was soft. The nice thing about virtual enthusiasm is it doesn't leave bruises.

A picnic had been prepared beneath a tree in the middle of the large meadow in this alternate space. Convenient. I poured chai out of a flowering teapot as Ree sampled a dark-chocolate-drizzled shortbread cookie, and grinned in appreciation as the butterfly landed on her hair. Sunglasses on a butterfly? She offered it a crumb, which it accepted politely, then took another bite of cookie.

"I want your opinion," she said, with her mouth closed ... because she was chewing. "A couple times I've had friends tell me about some hardships they're going through and there's a judgment component because of the church, or family traditions and such. Worries they'll be rejected by those they love ... well, not accepted? Maybe not rejected."

She sat down and took the teacup from mid-air, where I'd left it for her. "I say, 'God is God, the church is the church. ' Getting to know God is an ongoing process and we have logical fallacies ..."

"Oh, don't we just!" I exclaimed, nearly spilling my tea.

"... that have given lonnnnngevity," her hands waved toward the horizons in an expansive gesture, "to some beliefs."

She laughed at me, then sighed. "Ah ... that's harsh to say, isn't it? It's all technical, how we look at God ... and not about the spirit of him."

"That's just true." I grinned. "And it's the nice version, too, since I would say the church as a whole is just as clueless about God as the rest of the world ... the primary difference being they claim to know an awful lot."

"Now individuals who love like a church would if they meant it?" I took a bite of cookie, thankful for the perfect flavor, and that there were no crumbs to make a mess. "That's a different story, even though some of them don't think they're in the church at all. I'm not talking doctrine.... I'm talking living from relationship with a being who designed relationship."

Ree nodded and the butterfly took off across the field, its sunglasses shimmering in the sunlight. "I'm looking at it like ... 'churchy' people have the drive to have God as a proclaimed focus, while those who ... you can see his spirit in them will show that whether in or out of 'churchy' contexts?"

I shrugged and offered a sip of my tea to a nearby rabbit. "I think you see God is present and alive in connection with someone ... because it's always clearly visible when it's there. But the people who talk the loudest are like the Pharisees and I have trouble believing high-volume claims."

"I know." She hesitated for a moment. "Judging hard."

"Well ... you know ... God uses them, too." I watched the rabbit dump the tea to examine the cup's label and wondered how this environment added to our conversation. "I guess ... I can't imagine a God who is big enough to keep everything running, and who promises it will turn out good, being out maneuvered. So ... that presence is there even in the people who don't have ... an obvious light. How can I say it ... it drips through even the tightest cover, because our facade is always broken."

Ree jumped to her feet with a shout, startling the rabbit into breaking the teacup. "Ahhhhhhha! I think something clicked. I was feeling bad. It felt like I was ... uh ... undermining the church, and that I was telling my friends to not sweat the incongruity. But it is just what it is ... and it's like having different shades on the same flashlight."

I laughed. "You know those ones with the tiny holes? Like, a blackout flashlight? Maybe that's why we're told not to hide our light under a container. People say ... 'I'm the light!' ... when we're the container. And it's the cracks and openings where the light pours through, you know?"

"And they make people think, 'If that's the light I'm still in the dark.'" She took the teacup fragments from the confused rabbit and gave it a cookie instead.

I stroked the petals of the rose blooming out of the teapot. "When changing language redefines the actual thing a word refers to, nobody will be aware of it in the next generation. You might call a rose a cabbage and a cabbage a rose. While people will no longer want to smell the roses, they will find cabbages appealing. The old sayings, taken literally, will no longer make sense to anyone."

Ree smoothed the edges of the cup and held them together gently as the ceramic melted together again. "So ... it was okay? What I said? I just have to clear up that I'm not discrediting the church. I'm just saying that the aim to understand completely is way above what people can do."

I took the rebuilt cup and refilled it. "Hon, I say far worse, so asking me is like ..." I hesitated, then took a sip of the tea, unable to come up with a suitable phrase.

She laughed. "That's why I wanted your input."

I set down the cup and stared at her mischievous expression. "You do realize I'm not the best example. I try to be reasonable, but I do speak from a place of pain."

She grinned. "But that's why you're a good example!"

I couldn't help but laugh.

"You were tested." She bit her lip. "You are ... still.... We all get ..."

The butterfly drifted between us, its sunglasses glinting like tiny computer screens as it rode the breeze.

I nodded as the scene faded. "Well, I still have the rest of my life to clarify the matter, so we'll see."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Trigger Warning - Rape happens in marriage, too.

Yesterday I discovered Project Unbreakable, which "has featured over two thousand images of sexual assault survivors holding posters with quotes from their attackers." 

I spent the whole evening reading their Tumblr page, full of signs like the ones pictured below, and I realized something. Up until now, I've been saying, "Well, it was usually a little like rape," when I talk about how my relationship with my ex functioned.

But, you know what? It was rape. Even though we were married. Even though I loved him. Even though I really longed to be loved in return. Because as far as he was concerned, I didn't have the right to say no, for any reason. And with the emotional abuse that was intrinsic to our relationship the rest of the time, I wasn't usually interested in sex.  I quickly learned not to fight, even when I desperately wanted to say no, and I spent years trying very hard to enjoy myself like I was supposed to. 

Eventually I discovered I could manipulate him with the threat of calling the police if he refused to accept my answer ... which is a terrible, terrible reality. Why did I have to manipulate him to receive such ... "consideration" ...?  

I identified with the images below, and added a remembered quote of my own at the end. (Thankfully, I don't remember all the things he said. I really hope my memories of those times don't return.) 

These women are BRAVE! I respect and admire them for posting these words and moving forward in their lives like the survivors they are.

I am not the only one who was told this while we were dating ...

... and I was also told this when he came to me for a finish to his evening ...
(I had just caught him cheating online, 2-3 years into our marriage.)

... and this, after we were going in for marriage counselling ...

... and during the last year before I moved out, he said this ...

Thankfully, my friends stepped in yesterday evening and pulled me out of a slow spiral into depression. 

  • Mica stopped in for a quick chat even though she's sick, and gave me my new avatar, which will be up on google shortly. She created a silhouette of my face and added so much beauty in the design that I can't remember it's me and just think how pretty it is.
  • Nick bounced into chat right after and distracted me all evening with ideas for his business and the website I'm helping him design. I laughed a lot.
  • Ree chatted for a bit, too, just before I fell asleep. 

I was expecting nightmares.

Instead I had pleasant dreams of visiting old friends and talking on a terrace, looking out on gorgeous mountain scenery. What a relief!

Edited to link to others who speak out: 

Hope, of Hope Wears Heels, could have been quoting me in The Day My World Fell Apart. "How could I allow a man I trusted my heart, my body, and my soul with touch me again after seeing so clearly that he had been violating me for over 15 years?  The thought was untenable."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How to Choose the Wrong Guy

Five easy steps to finding someone who is guaranteed to make you miserable. (I assume they will also perform this function if you're looking for a girlfriend.)

If you want to be like me, follow the basic steps, below. One day it will dawn on you that you may have made a mistake somewhere along the way. If you are already following this advice, you can glimpse the end of this path here at Love ≠ Love.

Do you want to go there?

This list is in response to an article over at Your Life Better that illuminated my poor decision-making skills seventeen years ago, and illustrated how I could have avoided a few of my mistakes. I’ll link to the article at the end so you can take in the full effect.

  1. Explain away any family problems you notice.

    Does he expect his mother to clean up his messes while he purposely leaves trash in inaccessible places so it can’t be easily cleaned? Just tell yourself this is a strange family joke and assume he won’t do that to you, even if he does litter in public places also.

    Does he make fun of or mock his mother for normal concerns? Consider her strained laughter to be evidence that she’s fine with this. He only does it because they have a really good relationship.

    Do his parents always feel the need to proclaim what a good son he is on repeat, as if you might not see how much he loves them without a really long explanation? Assume they love their son a lot and think how nice it will be to be part of their close family.

  2. Take all the blame when friction erupts when you’re together.

    Is he angry because you’ve asked him to keep his hands to himself, even in public? Well, you must owe that kind of contact to him because you’re in a relationship. After all, you love him and want to make him happy. Assume you’re making too big a deal out of it. After all, you’re going to belong to him soon, so why would it be okay to say “no?” Push away the thought that you’ll always be at his whim in this area and overlook the times he causes physical pain before you give in. Imagine he’ll learn to treat you better because he loves you.

    Does he charge into every conversation like it’s a battle to be won? Just think how nice it is that he knows what he thinks and remember the few times he has agreed with you fondly, because they mean he thinks you’re smart sometimes too. Maybe you can learn enough from him to keep up, someday.

    Is he saying all his problems are someone else’s fault? Take a defensive stance every time anyone tells you something negative about his character and protect him for all you’re worth. They’re proving him right. Don’t ask yourself WHY so many people seem to feel they must warn you about him, even though it’s not normal in this culture.

    Gladly change yourself to fit his whims and ignore the fact that you don’t really like the new you. Depend on him to make the decisions so you won’t have to think.

  3. Overlook the strained atmosphere in his friendships.

    Does he claim most people just don't understand him? Think to yourself how tolerant and kind his two closest friends seem to be, even when he says painfully mean things to and about them. Remind yourself that guys’ friendships are strange. Assume that they must have a really good relationship in order to stick around for that treatment.

    Does he write off nearly everyone for one reason or another? Overlook his treatment of anyone who makes a mistake and think they must deserve it because he wouldn’t just be rude for no reason.

    Does he tell stories of all the good things he has done, over and over? Ignore the fact that you’ve never seen him do anything like this recently. Overlook the fact that he looks down on all the people he has helped.

  4. Overlook the fact that he’s a careless driver.

    Does he proclaim he is a really good driver, capable of driving dangerously without causing problems? Don’t think about it when he jokes about scaring people with his driving and laugh with him. If you have to point out the cyclist on the side of the street so he will slow down to pass them, or hang onto the door so you don’t fall over on corners, it’s no big deal.

    Is there a contrast in his attitude when he proudly cuts someone off vs. anger when anyone does the same to him? Ignore your inner voice, feeling pity for those people. Believe him when he claims he’s always the victim of run-down cars when he talks about how they break down on him all the time. Laugh when he jokes about all the accidents and tickets he’s had.

  5. Take his stories of leading charity work (or other amazing feats) as indicators of his true character.

    Does he seem to dwell on how he was able to make everyone follow his ideas? Just admire all the dramatic sacrifices he made and overlook his lack of focus on the actual reason for the charity. Ignore the fact that he blames the charity’s methods as the reason he burnt out and no longer wishes to work with them. Shrug at the evidence that he doesn’t take responsibility for his own choices or show any desire to help or serve anyone, except while critiquing other people's efforts to make a difference.

    Do his mother’s stories of his angelic childhood seem a little off balance? Assume she’s not biased at all. Marvel that you’ve found such a paragon and try not to wonder why she doesn’t seem to know the rest of the stories he’s told you that don’t jive with the innocent angel she remembers. Remind yourself that he won’t keep secrets from YOU like that. 

There you have it. A terrible relationship is guaranteed to follow.

However, if you’d like advice on finding a good partner, consider Darrell’s tips, “Secrets to a Happy Marriage.” I think most of them apply to anyone, male or female.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Emotional Landmines - What to do

It has taken me three days to write up my emotional response to a single phrase during a conversation with Hawk last Tuesday evening. I'm shocked at how deep and irrational my thoughts were at the time. It feels miraculous that I kept enough sanity to shield him from the explosion.

You see, he is busy, very busy, with his life and work and local friendships. I knew he was making time in his schedule to talk with me, but I had no idea how much pressing business he was pushing aside to open space for our conversations. As he told me of all the tension he's been under, I suddenly realized I hadn't valued our calls nearly enough.

Along with that realization came the trigger thoughts that have been lurking ever since we agreed on active friendship. "What if I'm too much trouble? Am I a burden? Maybe he hates the fact that I want to talk to him! Maybe he just doesn't know how to turn me down."

One thought slipped through, into the conversation. "Oh, I hope I'm not part of that pressure." I knew very well that making space for me would be an added tension, especially since he's been far more busy than usual. Obviously it would be another element to that whole collection of "things to do." But, no. I had to say it.

And because he promised to be honest with me about everything ... he said, "Well, sometimes."

My heart dropped. I wanted to cry because it hurt so much, and at the same time I was so grateful, and thrilled that he had taken time for me in spite of it all. And it was the increase in gratitude that I communicated ... which is amazing, in retrospect. It was the only worthwhile response I had to that phrase for the rest of the evening.

Our conversation was pleasant and full. He had a cough, but wouldn't get off the phone even though I offered to wait and talk when his throat healed. There were so many beautiful topics and realizations, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

But the moment I hung up the phone, the fear that his voice had pushed aside snatched me in a strangling grip. I'm not sure what I did for the next hour or so, though I could hardly stay still. My mind was completely wrapped in how to free Hawk from the burden he had inadvertently stumbled into by accepting my friendship.

Could I stop loving him?
Should I never text or call again?
Maybe an explanation would help him realize I hadn't meant to hurt him.
Maybe I'll never be able to fix this horrible situation.
Will he ever forgive me?
Who do I think I am, loving anyone!
Don't I know that love from me isn't a gift, but a burden?
Why would I think anyone could tolerate me?
I should just let him know I won't bother him anymore.

Shaking, I logged into facebook and saw Ree was online. "Want to help me regain my sanity?" I typed, hoping she'd help me figure out how to phrase the email to apologize.

After a quick summary of the pressure he'd been under, what I had said, his comment, and an overview of my emotional response after the call ended, she sweetly said, "Forgive me if it sounds like I'm not being serious, but you are so cute .... I'm serious. YOU ARE ADORABLE," which was so complete an improbable and unreal response to my confession that I had to laugh at the shock of clarity it brought.

"This is normal," she continued, "You're overcompensating. You're supposed to go through all this."

Suddenly I was able to remember how excited he had gotten when I mentioned I would soon have a *guest post published. And the rest of our conversation came flooding back through the sudden gap in my angst, restoring perspective. As we talked, I remembered more and more of the positive interactions Hawk and I have shared.

I felt sane again. I couldn't figure out why I had reacted the way I did. It was so totally out of proportion to that small comment. Why?

A similar incident last spring during a visit with another friend triggered a series of painful incidents. It took me several days to realize that my fade into an alternate reality at the time had resulted from the latent fears still lurking from my relationship with my ex. I acted in a way that was completely out of character, and it scared me to lose so much of myself without even realizing it, unable to see anything but the fear.

Ever since, I've been desperately hoping to catch myself before inflicting damage on anyone, again. This time I hadn't acted on the emotional possibilities, all of which would have definitely harmed our friendship and possibly hurt Hawk as well.

The next evening Mica and I had a chance to talk it over. She was angry at Hawk for not sensing how much damage he would cause, as I'd known she would be. Her anger gave me a chance to explore all the reasonable explanations why he had said it. Since Hawk has only seen me being strong in this area, how could he know how much it would hurt me? In fact, I'm purposely not telling him about this particular landmine, because I don't want to give him a reason not to be honest.

Mica agreed that the emotional landmine came from my experiences with my ex, also, and forgave Hawk for being human. She's very protective of my heart, since she was my safe place to explore what I was learning from my marriage before I finally buried the stinking skeleton of the relationship and let it rest in peace.

I learned something important from this. I have an insane terror of being a burden. (This is what comes of being treated as a burden for 17 years. Even on my best days I was always in debt to my ex for something.)

If I must have emotional landmines, at least I've begun to learn a few helpful techniques for managing them this time around.

  1. Remember to be grateful. 
    If I had responded out of fear, our conversation would have ended very badly. But because I remembered to thank him we were able to have an enjoyable conversation that helped me to snap out of the emotional explosion later that evening.
  2. Don't act on terror-induced plans.
    NOT doing anything right away was a good move. Once I stabilized, I realized there was nothing to do because there was no problem beyond my emotional instability. But if there had been a problem, I'd have come up with a far better solution after the storm. My ideas were terrible!
    (Please note, I am in a safe place. If you or a loved one are EVER threatened physically or have been trapped in long-term, emotionally abusive environment, please do follow a 'crazy' plan to get away and get out. Fear's adrenaline rush can take you past those internal barriers that would keep you caged otherwise. It's best, if you think you might need an escape plan, to start making one now even if you think you'll never have the courage to follow through.)
  3. Contact a trusted friend.
    Ree knew the history and context of our relationship. She knows what I've been through, and she accepts me no matter what. She also appreciates the clear descriptions I've given of Hawk's character, so she wasn't going to let me turn him into a monster just because I hate myself sometimes.
  4. Look at the conversation from the opposing perspective.
    (To the best of your ability.)
    Mica helped me think of less destructive reasons for his words that fit him better. Of course, I can't know for sure unless I ask him, but I trust what I know of his character. No matter what, I have to keep his own life-story, words, and actions in mind. He isn't my ex and he doesn't deserve to inherit a full dose of misapplied fear and mistrust. 

Will these action points work in other situations? I don't know. I'm still figuring this out myself.

*edited later to add the link

Friday, September 13, 2013

Privacy is an interesting illusion

The heart everyone tends to hide is what I want to share. The veneer everyone tends to share is what I choose to hide.

We are all seen, day in and day out. We choose an image to project, or to be ourselves. We choose to fear or to love. We choose to help or to hate. And those who are looking can always take their time, if they so choose, and come to their own conclusions.

Do I believe I have a private life? I used to.

Well, rather, I believed nobody could see what I was going through behind the cracked walls of the house where the largest portion of my time was spent.

I was told to keep our secrets well, and so I tried to do so under the angry glare and bitter lecture following a slip of the tongue. It was dangerous to speak of the truth that somehow might expose more than I was aware of being a problem. I believed it was fine because I was told it was fine ... but speaking socially of these things that were just fine in our private lives caused a backlash that made me wonder if it was really 'fine' after all.

Everyone knew us.

Nobody knew us.

I'm learning how many saw through us. They come to me now saying, "I wish I had done more." "I'm so glad it's over." "I understand why you left."

And I can only say, "You knew? I thought it was a secret!"

Of course it wasn't. There are very few true secrets in the world. They tend to broadcast themselves by their effect on us. Our lives weren't private. Our hearts slipped through our instinctive words and actions, on display to the world in spite of all conscious efforts to hide.

But what they saw wasn't easy to solve. Those who saw were afraid, too. Secrets create a sticky fear that spreads far too easily.

Do I think nothing should be a secret? We don't live in an ideal universe. Complete transparency isn't a valid option in our imploding world. I can only live with the consequences of my own choices to speak and be silent, and let you decide for yourself.

Just be aware that a relationship is its own existence, a visible fabric of interaction that anyone can read if they take the time. So I don't tell people to keep my secrets. I just ask them to treat me as a friend. They are free to talk about me. If I've told them, I've trusted them enough to let them monitor their choices with that information. Actions count as speaking, too, because who I am should be someone who doesn't need to hide.

In the end ... trusting the relationship is really what you're doing every time you share anything, right? And my friends know I view life as a story that is meant to be told. Not everyone thinks this way. That's fine. I hold their secrets behind painted glass in a home where nobody should throw stones, because I want them to feel safe.

Privacy is an interesting illusion, I think, as I tell yet another friend ... "this is my pseudonym" ... "I'm using it so I can feel safe while I tell the truth." And I laugh at myself as I follow this path.

I'm not safe. But the illusion is enough to let me act as if I were. And maybe as I move forward I will gain the strength to be unsafe under my own name.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

3 skills for discovering friendship

Meeting anyone for the first time has always been a bit nerve-wracking for me.

It's difficult to figure out the expected norms, since I grew up as a third culture kid, so I used to withdraw completely in fear of making a mistake ... which was a mistake in itself. I can't read social situations very well. But I've learned I can be myself and honestly apologize if I make a mistake, and usually things work out in the end.

I gradually learned a few simple guidelines that help keep me sane. They're also useful for figuring out what sort of friendship is possible.

1. Go in trying to find out if they are "my sort of person." (Be yourself without apologizing!)

  • There is a myth out there that it's possible to be liked by everybody, and far too many of us spend all our time trying to read situations and fulfill expectations instead of being ourselves. Give it up, please! How on earth can I know if I like you when you're trying so hard not to offend that I can't know who you are? You don't need to bring out the elements that seem certain to cause irritation, but certainly you have many interests and at least one will be useful for conversation.
  • If you need someone to tell you it's okay to be you, then take my word for it. You'll be much happier if you find the people who like you for who you are right now. I certainly am. There are a lot of people who don't like me now ... but most of them don't bother to think about me. My friends, on the other hand, like me very much and think of me. (I wouldn't be who I am today without them, either.)
  • This skill allows you to know if this person is capable of being civil. That's about it. But you'll want to practice it regularly because the rare kindred spirit makes it worth every moment of civil, social conversation.

2. Try to draw out the true personality of the person in front of you. (Be transparent first.)

  • Being yourself frees other people to be themselves also. You might be surprised at the amazing character you find in them. Identify a character trait that makes you happy in everyone you meet and thank them for that quality if you have a chance. (This will help you make friends, too. People like to be appreciated. Just make sure you're being honest.)
  • Tell the truth about your thoughts, feelings, preferences, etc. The truth is always more compelling than a lie. And give others the same freedom by asking questions. You don't have to agree with their answers, but if they are free to discuss their honest thoughts, you may find that you're not as different as you thought. Or you may even be on the same page.
  • This skill helps you to find the people who will challenge your thinking so you can see the world from a new perspective, as well as those you can support and encourage and who might do the same for you. 

3. Find out if you can communicate or see each other regularly. (Become friends.)

  • I've made a fool of myself a few times over this one by assuming I could take the full weight of being the one who makes all the effort. Becoming friends only works if both sides actively choose to be part of the process and have room in their lives. As much as we may appreciate someone, life does what it does. Don't make huge promises and then feel guilty when you can't fulfill them, and don't judge others for this either.  It happens.
  • Do make the effort to plan to get to know each other if you're of the same mind. Become pen-pals, phone, meet up for a mutual hobby, or always take time for a chat if you happen to be in the same social circle. Accept that it might not last and appreciate what connection you do have.
  • This skill helps you discover if a friendship is meant to grow. If not, you will eventually realize that the time is not now. You can leave the invitation open for a more convenient season of life ... and look forward to chance meetings. Knowing a variety of people is valuable for personal growth, so don't feel like it was a waste if it was only for a short while.

You can only control your own actions and responses. This is why I call being yourself a skill that can build friendship. You can't control their response and it's not worth the effort to try. People will naturally want to befriend you if they appreciate you in return. If not, you have a billion possibilities available to you. Get to know them!

I remember when it was horribly difficult to even talk to someone who seemed interesting, never mind asking to be friends. I still freeze up with complete strangers. It's easier to be introduced or to start with something in common after listening to them talk in a group setting.

Giving others mental permission to dislike me frees me from shyness and fear. Once I've faced the worst and accepted it, I can push past that dread and take a chance that it won't turn out that way. In my experience, we usually have a pleasant conversation and I walk away wondering why I was so nervous.

In fact, I make a practice of declaring to all my new most-hoped-for friends that they should feel free to turn me down rudely, if necessary, since I intend to treat them as good friends and that means they'll be hearing from me frequently.

None of them has tried to escape yet ... and they're my best friends now. *grin* It took me a long time to believe this ... but they never wanted to run away in the first place, as proven by the fact that they give me equal connection in response to my offer to them.

If they become busy it is obvious, but they always reconnect eventually. As should be expected, life-changes have altered our communication frequency many times. (Come to think of it, one of them is due for an "are you alive?" email soon.)

In the end, the connection of friendship isn't always so much about frequency or expectations, but about the depth of transparency and respect we have for each other. No matter what, both sides in the friendship know that the full depth of our relationship is always accessible whenever we interact, whether that is every day or a couple times a year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Deconstructing a friendship myth

The idea of friendship was a huge obstacle for me a few years ago. 

I wholeheartedly believed that those who called me 'friend' must pay a terrible sacrifice through the burden of knowing me, and that all of them secretly regretted the social niceties that required them to pretend to like me. I treated the whole idea of friendship like a myth that could never really apply to me.

It wasn't their fault. Many did genuinely appreciate me, but their demonstrations couldn't get through the lies I was being told about myself every day by the person closest to me ... and my own defeated thoughts.

As a result, I tended to desperately cling to anyone who was kind, then pushed them away in an effort to protect myself from the inevitable rejection. My primary concern was not to get hurt, even though I couldn't avoid the constant attack of my own mind.

When I finally learned to accept that some people are capable of loving me, and that kind people aren't liars, I began to evaluate the friendships I'd had all along in an attempt to understand why I hadn't recognized them.

  1. My idea of "what friendship is" was ... impossible. (I thought a friend would be someone who always wanted to be with me, who always wanted to do the same things, who thought like me, who would never leave me.... Basically my ideal best friend was in the mirror.)
  2. There are different kinds of friendship and I was trying to make them all look the same.
  3. I thought only one friend would be enough for all my friendship needs.

As I studied and read and experimented, I slowly learned how limiting these ideas had been. I had created a box that most friendships couldn't fit, and I was blind to anything outside. In the end, I purposely shattered my own myth and am now slowly replacing it with the truth of experience. 

I see myself mimicking a scientist while studying my relationships.  I have a lot of theories, and every day I test their validity so I can learn the truth. I hope to value people for who they actually are, just as I want to be valued for who I am. In order to do that I have to see them clearly ... and permit them to see the real me.

  1. Anyone can be a friend, even if only for the short time when you meet. If you help and learn from each other, and treat each other with respect then it is friendship.
  2. Friendship has many types, from casual and light to the deep and meaningful conversations between two open souls. All have value.
  3. Multiple friendships can complement each other to create a mosaic of friendship that supports every area of your life, where none could individually cover everything.
  4. Friends can hurt you and still remain friends. They often try to help without knowing how and, while it doesn't make the hurt less painful, you can still appreciate their intentions. A good friend will accept advice on how to handle the situation better next time. They will also tell you their perspective on the truth so you can think about it from two perspectives instead of just your own.
  5. The various friendships your friends maintain help to make them who they are. You benefit, too, when they have a strong connection with other people. A good friend intends to strengthen others' friendships, also, not just their own.
  6. Friendships may come and go, brighten and fade. These effects are the normal results of travel, growth, and life changes. Change is inevitable. The friends who pull away make room for new friendships and experiences in your life. You cannot lose the link you developed by knowing each other. It is always part of you, even when it fades to a silver line of hope to someday connect again.
  7. Connections always involve risk, especially in a world where masked identity is expected and tolerated. Remember you have a social mask ingrained in you, too, and even if you don't remove it entirely with someone new, remember to lift it just a little and consciously let them glimpse the real you. They might do the same in response.

There are more lessons I've been learning, but I'll leave it here since this could get really long. Next time I'll tell you about the filters I use to discover the quality of a friendship.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Facing the nightmares of the past

Note: a very mild trigger warning for rape survivors, skip the first paragraph. 

A few nights ago I fell into an eerie, physical terror. It took hold with a strong sensation of being pinned and assaulted as I fell asleep. The sensation of forceful hands was still on my skin like a tangible presence even once I woke completely.

Needless to say I didn't sleep well for the rest of the night. The dream was as vivid as if it had been a real event, even the next morning.... Then I realized that it was actually something from the past that I'd managed to forget. There were a lot of those moments back then.

After the near-sleepless night and a day filled with waves of dizziness and tension, I was afraid I'd have another nightmarish night.

Years ago when the source of the dream was my daily life, I didn't trust the few people I could have turned to for help, thinking they'd push me away. I smothered my feelings and managed to forget ... nearly everything. I don't have many memories of those years, positive or negative.

But over the last few years I've been practicing trusting my friends. In the last year I was even able to ask for encouragement during my struggles, instead of waiting till after they were through to talk about it.

So I talked about it with a friend who has been visiting for the last couple days, appreciating how she let me talk when I wanted to talk, then distracted me from the problem when I was ready to be distracted. But when her family returned to the hotel for the evening, I was still wrapped in tension.

Ree and Mica were not yet online in their respective time zones, and I thought about messaging a few others, but they weren't available yet either. My kids were safely in bed, and I was on my own.

Usually, I'd huddle down with a book and hope to dream about the story instead, but this time another idea kept nagging for attention.

If only I could talk to Hawk for a few minutes ... it would be enough to calm me.

I sat there and fought through my fear of rejection.... The truth is if I'm going to call him my friend, I have to treat him as a friend. And that means trusting him and reaching out for help when I have a hard time, just as I hope he would do with me.

This is the sort of thing I need friends for.

So I texted and asked if we could talk for just a few minutes so he could help me process something that was haunting me. My hands shook as I hit send. The screen filled my entire vision as I realized I'd actually done it.

A couple minutes later my phone rang. I jumped a mile, since I had the volume up too loud.

It was so hard to let the words out as I explained about the dream, told him how it was messing with me,... and that I was hoping, since his voice calms me so well, that maybe he would talk to me for a few minutes about his day or something and help me.

His voice was so gentle. He asked a few questions to understand what had happened, then just said, "I understand what dreams can do." Then he told me about his week, that he felt like he was coming down with something, that he was planning to take a walk once we finished talking.... I wanted to cry it was such a relief to listen to him and feel concern for him instead.

When I laughed at a funny moment in his story, he paused for a moment. "It's good to hear you laugh." He always calms me. My emotions settle and I'm able to think more clearly for a day or two after.

I had told him I'd only take a few minutes, so moved to end the conversation as he finished his story  even though (I believe) he would have stayed on the phone with me longer. I could easily think too highly of him, this is clear. I'm a 'little' idealistic when I like anyone.

So far he always overwhelms me by surpassing my small hopes for common courtesy with genuine kindness and compassion. It was so healing to reach out fearfully and find our friendship sturdy, strong enough to keep me from falling apart.

I chatted with a few other friends that evening, letting them know to check on me and see how I'm doing, and catching up on their lives. When I fell asleep I was calm and not a single dream remained with me when I woke yesterday morning, feeling rested.

Trust is difficult.

It's easy to break friendships when they are founded on false fronts, masks, or idealized views of who someone must be. It's easy to decide this breaking is inevitable and never trust anyone in an attempt to prevent it.

It is worth the pain of breaking my heart to discover the strong relationships. I won't know their strength unless I give them a chance to break. The surprising thing, though, is how very strong I have found my closest friendships to be.

I couldn't have imagined this when I lived trapped in fear.

I needed to write this event out to face it ... which is why I'm sharing this. I was actually mid-composition on comparing my past and present views on friendship when the dream yanked me into this post instead, so that should be up soon.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When people try to change who you are ....

Part of the reason I'm so comfortable with Hawk is because he lets me be where I am. He hasn't shown any inclination to try and change what I think, how I respond, etc. If he disagrees, he presents his opinion as his own opinion and doesn't in any way insinuate that I ought to think differently as a result. We simply learn from each other.

In my experience, that's amazing.

In contrast, I spent seventeen years with my ex telling me what I thought and what I felt.  He also attempted to predefine what I ought to think and feel. Just to make it more mind-bending, I was frequently treated as a liar or an enemy when I stated my view, especially about our relationship, feelings, or even verifiable events and actions at times. 

The church we were attending ended up handling our situation in a very similar way, calling me un-submissive for disagreeing with my ex. when he twisted the truth. It was odd. They agreed that he was abusive, then blamed me for pushing him to act that way by not complying with his demands.

I guess they couldn't even see the depth of the problem because they really believe authority is meant to work in that top-down, forceful way, themselves. They even wanted to limit the books I could read so I wouldn't encounter unauthorized ideas that disagreed with their position that I was the main problem in our situation, because I found it unendurable. Of course, the more blatant problems of his attitude concerned them, but they felt he might do better if I helped by not making him face such difficulty.  

By the time the church counselors entered the picture in the final attempt (there were multiple previous attempts throughout the years) at making our relationship conform to the acceptable pattern, I had become pretty good at thinking through opposition. They could only make me think more deeply. In the end, their intervention clarified what I saw, understood, and believed because I had to ask myself their questions, face their judgement, and widen my perspective to see and correct the flaws and instability in my position.

For a long time I had wondered if I was so good at lying ... that I could lie to myself convincingly enough ... to actually believe I felt and thought ... what I must have originally only pretended to think and feel ... in order to get my way somehow ... or maybe just because I wanted to prove I could? 

Don't worry if that paragraph was hard to read. It really doesn't make any sense. 

By the end of my marriage, I figured out that I could understand my thoughts. I don't always know why my emotions react to situations the way they do. But my thoughts? I do know what I'm thinking.

And once I knew what I thought, I realized that I had to live as myself.

Anything else would be lying.

Lying is easier (because people expect conformity) and it feels safer to stay in a mislabeled box on the wrong shelf. In order to really grow and not just fake it I had to let people see my thoughts in action, knowing some would reject me for not being who they imagined I must be.

I had always been afraid I would lose 'everyone' by being myself. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy because I had set myself up for it by trying to outwardly fit their expectations. Once I saw I'd never really had them in the first place, I chose to accept it. And it was then that I began to clearly see the quality of my friendships.

It's not that these individuals didn't care about me. Many took the time to attempt to change my mind because they sincerely believed my choices would be destructive and they wanted to protect me. Eventually they realized I would have to make my own mistakes to realize what they were convinced I needed to learn. Some withdrew completely because they couldn't make me learn the easy way, by taking their word for it and I suppose they didn't want to watch. Some were angry. Some felt betrayed because I wasn't fulfilling their expectations of who I was. Some grieved for me because they didn't want me to suffer the consequences they felt must be inevitable.

Like purchasing a boxed product and finding something else inside when you get home, there were returns and disappointment. When I chose to leave my ex, the church leadership announced that they had removed me from the congregation, told the members not to talk with me except to ask me to comply, and explained to me that they couldn't allow me to "fellowship" on church property since my existence was in opposition to their authority. I could always conform and come back, of course.

On the other hand, a very few local friends (people in my church) realized they appreciated me even more as myself. Even knowing that I am always a mixture of wisdom already learned, questions to be explored, and life experiments. (I will fail many times along the way to finding solutions.)

None of my online friends rejected me. I'd been more honest with them, you see. They were the ones who taught me I could be both myself AND accepted in the first place.

So if you find yourself where I was (and I hope you'll never be in such a painful situation!) I know it's very difficult to face. Here is what I've learned:

  1. There are people in the world who will appreciate the real you. 
  2. They can see you for who you are and love you. 
  3. They will ask you for advice because they observe you've learned something they want to know.
  4. They will assist you in becoming the best of yourself at your own pace. 
  5. They will be honest about their mistakes and problems.
  6. They will encourage the good they see in you instead of dragging you back or pushing you around. 
  7. They will tell you their life story without thinking yours will turn out the same.
  8. They will challenge you, because they want you to ask the questions that make you stronger.
  9. And they know it takes time and experience to learn, too. 

Do your best to be this kind of friend to others, first. Even though it's scary. The world needs more people who know how to accept others for who they are. You know this very well.

Be yourself. It's worth it. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

On thinking "love is a burden"

It seems to be a common thought that loving someone more than they love you is a burden to them. I'm not sure why.

  • Maybe knowing you really hope for more depth of relationship is supposed to add an unconscious tinge of guilt or "owing" to their view of the situation?
  • Maybe it's because our culture often uses the word "love" for emotional states that are actually desire to posses, to control, to exhibit as one's property ... and it is naturally repulsive to be the focus of such intentions since they do not contain the gentleness, support, and respect of real love.
  • Although, I have to admit the only time I've personally felt "his love is a burden" was in middle school when a boy I looked down on decided to follow me all over school for a while, showing off in hope that I'd notice him. I was so afraid his uncoolness would make me look bad (even though I wasn't cool myself) that I never once considered that it was an honor to be liked in the first place. In the end it was my own pride that created my problem with him, not his interest. 

"How can I convince him not to think of me as a burden?"

While fighting through the above assumption, I was feeling like I really should reassure Hawk that I don't "need" him,... that I'm not desperately dependent on him for happiness,... that he doesn't need to think of my love as a burden.... Going over whether I might actually be a problem for him again and again in my mind.

Then I realized he doesn't think of me that way!  (Although, I did ask him, just to make sure.)

He clearly values my friendship and respects my honesty. So why am I worrying that he is secretly dreading every conversation, even though he calls me of his own free will? That's just the twisted thinking from my marriage experiences flaring up as unfounded worries. If he ever feels burdened, he knows he can talk to me about it, and he has proven his capacity to do so.

Besides, it's not really true that I don't need him, so why would I lie?

Ree told me, "When you say that no one person can bear the burden of healing you, I think you're right but I gotta clarify. There are certain people who do certain things for you. No one else is Hawk or me or Mica ... we engage you in different ways. So I think that 'one person' capacity is true in some ways."

She's right. (I'm privileged to have such wise friends.)

The fact that Hawk is in my life with his personality, experiences, character ... makes a huge difference. Knowing him has changed and healed me in ways that would never have happened if we hadn't met.

It's important (for me) to recognize that I need him only within the greater knowledge that this is the way healthy relationship always works.... Every friendship is important to life for what that relationship teaches, and the life experience shared and exchanged. He isn't the center of my world, but he will always be a vital element of my life story, even if he isn't around in later chapters. (Augh! I twinge when I write that.)

I do need him and he needs me as well, or our lives wouldn't have woven together even this much.

What we gift to each other just by being ourselves together IS our friendship.

Monday, September 2, 2013

I thought I'd never 'fall in love' again ...

I wrote the following letter in my journal, then thought long and hard before sending it to Hawk. I'm doing my best to be respectful of his reservations, but also to be as honest as I am with my other friends. This time I sent it. Who knows how he'll respond.

I'm probably not the only one who has gone through this process after thinking they'd never love again, which is why I'm sharing the story here too.

I've always been so relieved to discover others who are going through what I'm facing, so I'm hoping to share the feeling with you.

The Letter:

Remember how you talked about seeing the campfire surrounded by people you didn't know, and how that atmosphere was pleasant to you even though you weren't part of the circle?

Often the world seems cold and dark, dangerous and difficult. Some people are like the stars, distant reminders (some from the past) that there is light and beauty in the night. Some are closer, present, or separated by a fence or hedge through which I only glimpse their light … some invite me into the circle … some do not. Either way, I benefit from the sight.

I have my own fire, too, a place of comfort and of challenge, a place where I welcome friends and family. I try to keep the fences down so the people who need me can draw near easily, knowing that this is a small thing that might mean a lot to someone, as it does to me.

In my heart there was a space I thought had been completely annihilated.

I felt blinded so I could not see it clearly, deafened so I could not hear it speak, and my nerves seemed to have been cut so it could not be touched. I thought that portion would always remain isolated, a living death in the darkness, drowned beneath the tears I never had the chance to weep before they were locked away. It seemed obvious nothing and nobody could reach inside.

I chose to compensate by making the rest of my life as bright and warm as possible, but that particular emptiness continued to silently drag me back toward depression.

Then, last Nov/Dec your presence effortlessly took flame in the center of that shattered place. I couldn't help but see your light, hear your voice, feel the warmth of your character even from a distance. It was and is beautiful, painful, frightening, and amazing. Because of you that part of my existence is open so I can face it properly. I can at last begin to dig out the lies, reconstruct with truth, and heal.

It is as if God is letting me know that even such severe damage is not a hopeless case. There may always be scars … but scars can be transformed to beauty with creativity. I don't have to wait till 'heaven' to start.

You will always be significant to me ... because just your existence is enough to remind me to continue forward. It's impossible not to hope I can give you meaningful gifts, too, somehow.

So ... thank you for being who you are. I'm glad God designed you and arranged for me to have the opportunity to know you better.