Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Hi, my name's Amy, and I'm a self-saboteur."

For a writer, I don't read a lot - book-wise, anyway. I'm pretty sure I have some sort of combination of ADD and OCD when it comes to reading. I can't seem to pay attention to a story long enough and I'm constantly thinking of every little thing that remains undone while I sit there turning pages.

But I read a lot of articles and blogs. I'm not a fan of videos; I'm a speed reader and I prefer to skim an article, go back and re-read a paragraph I really want to digest and not be distracted by pictures or audio. But one video headline caught my eye, and I labored through an unnecessary film montage with voiceover that I wished was in print so I could refer back to it later - like now. Regardless, it was worth it.

The topic was self-sabotage, and it caught my eye because as a self-professed realist bordering on pessimist, I struggle with why I find it so hard to appreciate when things are going well to the point of subconsciously throwing a wrench in them because I'm convinced that they're going to turn sour anyway.

Sounds effed up, doesn't it?

I guess I never realized I did this. But after listening to just a few minutes of this video, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. A real, Dr. Phil "aha" moment. And I couldn't believe it had taken 49 years for me to discover this about myself.

The most poignant thought in the video was this: "Though happiness is of course what we all fundamentally want, for many of us, it isn’t really what we isn’t what we’ve come to expect. It doesn’t feel like home. Getting what we want can make us feel unbearably risky. Self-sabotage may leave us sad, but at least safely, blessedly, in control."

I'm a self-professed (and others-professed) control freak. I've been on my own for the bulk of my life, and consider myself inordinately independent. The reason I'm able to be this way, which is the best way, I surmise, is that I tell myself that I am in charge. I am in control of what happens to me, as well as how I react to things that happen to people around me. I know what to expect, I know how things roll, and I make sure I don't deter from the game plan if I can help it. When I am blindsided by something new, I panic, which is a feeling I can't stand, then I go into "take charge" mode, studying my options to regain that control at least in my own brain.

Where this seemingly foolproof plan goes awry, however, is when something comes along that I've secretly longed for, dreamed about or thought, "someday, maybe...". All of a sudden, that whole "careful what you wished for" is staring me in the face, and I am utterly frozen with fear, apprehension, and trepidation.

I have a great job. I mean, when I was in my 20s, this is the kind of company I thought I'd work for, and the kind of work I thought I'd do. After a series of OK-but-not-quite-there jobs, a stint as a stay-at-home-mom (which kind of sucks if you're a control freak), and a continually lengthening resume, I was finally offered the opportunity to have a career at this great organization. Want to know my first thought when I got the call offering me the position? "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.........."

Why? Because as soon as I was bestowed the gift of something I (thought) I wanted, I freaked out. I remember telling the HR guy that I'd think about it over the weekend and get back to him on Monday. He seemed surprised. Why? Because he knew I'd be an IDIOT not to take it.

Deep down, I did too. But self-sabotage kicked in. I wondered if I had what it took to do the job, and to work for such a professional organization. I wondered if wishing for a job like this at all was silly. I wondered if I had somehow bluffed the people who offered to hire me into thinking I was the most qualified person for the job. And because of that, I almost didn't take it.

If it weren't for so many people - namely my dad - who would have been completely dumfounded and probably incredibly disappointed in me as a person if I DIDN'T take it, I may NOT have taken it. And I'm sure I would have regretted it, even not knowing what I know now about it. I've never been happier with what I do. I've never felt more optimistic (hell, optimistic at all) about my career future. But self-sabotage almost did me in. A great job at a great company wasn't my norm. Dressing up every day after wearing jeans and sweatshirts and being uber-professional after a very, very lax work environment was out of my comfort zone, or so I thought. And diving into an industry I knew very little about and realizing my learning curve was more than daunting.

Another self-sabotage was with my own physical self-esteem. Over the past few years, a series of life-changing events put my fitness and healthy eating regimen on the back burner. I was stressed out, exhausted and depressed. The more weight I gained, the more I told myself I was fat, ugly, and worthless. I stopped going out, hid myself under big sweaters and sweatshirts and avoided people because I knew they'd be whispering, "Goodness, she's gained some weight!" I even covered up mirrors. Seriously. I'd made some lame attempts to lose a few but after not seeing any results, I told myself that I was never going to beat the combination of age, lack of willpower and stressful living.

I never thought I'd be able to get back to where I felt good and was at least somewhat comfortable with how I looked. I had convinced myself that this was as good as it was gonna get. But somehow, with the support of a few key people, namely a physician, a counselor and a personal trainer, I was able to squelch that self-sabotage and embrace something I hadn't thought I could ever again expect - to be strong, healthy and actually a little proud of myself when I look in the mirror.

My latest self-sabotage is ironically simultaneous with finding the video on self-sabotage, and when I finally figured out what I've been doing pretty much all my life.

For as long as I can remember, I've gazed longingly at those seemingly blissfully happy couples who obviously just adore each other. I've seen my parents' 50+ year love affair, knowing I never had that kind of love in any relationship I've ever had - in great part, I'm sure, to my dating and marriage self-sabotages that are becoming the stuff of legends.

But still I wish, and hope, that someday, I can find someone who will treat me with respect and love, who isn't afraid to tell me or show me that respect and love, who is a good person, who likes my friends and whom my friends like, who has similar interests and values as I do, and most importantly, who "gets" me. Oh, and in this pipe dream, I am able to actually ACCEPT this respect and love, and return those qualities in kind.

Tall fucking order.

But you know what? I think it's out there. It could be close. Really, really close. And I. Am. Freaking. Out. I mean, I can potentially reach out and TOUCH happiness - it is fluttering around my head like a beautiful butterfly - ok, sorry - that's not me - I mean, like a pesky gnat. And I'm swatting at it like it's a giant, fucking hornet because I'm just SO SURE that if it lands on me, it's gonna sting me, and not only is it going to hurt like hell, I'm going to break out in hives and PROBABLY DIE. 

And now I'm mad. Because I know what I'm doing. And I don't know how to just stop and let go. Let go of being in control of everything. Let go of that fierce independence that I wear like a suit of armor. Let go of all the what ifs, like, "What if he's only kidding?" "What if he gets to know me and finally realizes I'm a giant train wreck?" "What if I can't live up to what he thinks of me?" "What if I lose myself?" "What if I become 'that girl' who can't wait to share stuff with somebody when for so, so long I've shared it with no one?"

Self-sabotage and baggage from my last toxic relationship makes me want to say, "Look, Mr. Seemingly-Right. You're adorable, but really, RUN. RUN AWAY. YOU DO NOT WANT TO TAP THIS HOT MESS." Because just because HE thinks I'm awesome doesn't make me awesome - it makes me DECEIVING. A deceptive, self-sabotaging, controlling, independent MAYHEM.

Happiness, in my definition, does not feel like home. Happiness is that elusive feeling that when you have it, it's fleeting. We're always searching for it, but when we find it, it's like staying at a really, really nice hotel for a weekend. It's awesome and you appreciate it, but eventually you know you have to go back home. So we sabotage ourselves, because getting what we want makes us a little crazy, like, "Uh, oh. Happiness. This can't be good." Because if you're like me, you're waiting for life to come pull the rug out from under you. Because you're used to that. That's how life goes. That's the "happy" you know.

I don't have the answer, other than knowing that the first step is admitting I have a problem. Hi, My name's Amy - and I'm a self-saboteur. I wonder if there's a 12 Step program for that?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Serenity, Change, and What's up With This GOD Stuff?

Every year I look back on the events of the past 12 months and think, “Wow. Did that REALLY happen?” It seems that like so many others, God has read my list of best-laid plans and, like the consummate editor he is, made his own revisions – to everything - my work, my relationships, my children, my life.

This used to really piss me off. Still does, sometimes. Because then it’s just more dirty items on my laundry list of “Things I Have to Fix”. Shoot, God. I thought that job was going to work out. Dammit, God, I thought he was the one. For God’s sake, God, I thought my kid was out of the woods. All right, God, can you just give me a break here? I can’t manage all this. It’s too much. I’m losing control.
Exactly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, losing control.
Certain support and recovery groups use the Serenity Prayer as their mantra, but you can find it on posters and coffee mugs and internet memes all over, so it’s pretty universal. Come on, say it with me:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s easy to say that and not realize what you’re saying. So let’s break it down.

First of all, the God thing. For those of you who don’t believe in God, look at it this way. GOD can stand for a lot of things: Good Orderly Direction, Gift Of Desperation, whatever it is that you look up to when you’re down. In recovery circles, they refer to this as your Higher Power. Your Higher Power is whatever you see that’s stronger than you, that you can rely on, that you can talk to in a time of crisis. It can be a deity, or a person, or a group – wherever you find your strength to move through this life. And you don’t even have to call it a prayer. Consider it more of a mantra, which is the cool thing nowadays anyway given all the mindfulness and meditation that is so prevalent - and effective - in our culture.

No, no no. That's not right.
Grant me the serenity …
You’re not asking to be given serenity. By definition, “grant” means to bestow or agree to, as in “grant a request”. It also means to admit or concede, so right there you’re kind of letting go and admitting you need something else – a power greater than yourself – to grant you this characteristic. Grant also means to transfer, which makes sense, because a Higher Power has what you need, and is willing to bestow it upon you if you ask. And what you’re asking for is serenity – calm. Peace of mind. Repose. This doesn’t mean you’re asking for everything to be FIXED, or GO AWAY. You’re asking that YOU be given the placidity to move through it all.

To accept the things I cannot change …
Whoa. What? You give me the hardest line right out of the gate. What do you mean “accept the things I can’t change”? Doesn’t that mean – gasp – letting go of CONTROL???? How am I supposed to change anything if I just sit back and say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about that!”
Because there are some things – some situations – some people – in this world you can’t change. Especially if they’re not YOU – and most of them aren’t. Maybe you think if you could just say the right words to your friend she’d leave her abusive husband. You’ll even risk your friendship trying to convince her of something she doesn’t yet believe. Maybe you think if you put stiff restrictions on your teenager and monitor his every move he won’t keep doing drugs or abusing alcohol. But if he wants to do it, he’s going to find a way regardless of your rules. Maybe you don’t agree with a lifestyle choice a family member has made and you take every chance you get to let him know, and your relationship with him suffers as a result. You didn't change them anyway, you just pissed them off. It's not up to you. It’s up to THEM to find THEIR Higher Power and say the next line of the mantra for THEMSELVES, which is …

The courage to change the things I can …
See, you need courage, because the things you can change are right there in the mirror. You. That’s the only change you have even some semblance of control over, and that change can be as hard as shit on a cold day. It's realizing you're judging others and making “recommendations” on how they could better themselves or their situations. STOP IT. Unless you’re a therapist or they’re asking directly for your help and advice, zip it up and concentrate on yourself.
No, this isn’t being selfish, and in some cases, it will improve your relationship with those people you are trying so hard to change. Because here’s the deal. There are lots of ways you can learn how to better communicate with, better process and better understand those around you, and that’s by learning and listening. That can be sitting with a despondent friend who just needs someone to talk to and NOT telling them to “cheer up” or "go for a walk and you'll feel better." It's reading books or finding support groups to educate yourself on addiction in order to understand to some extent what someone struggling with the disease is facing, and realizing that your advice and restrictions are only fueling their fire because the addiction is not YOURS, it is THEIRS, and no one but THEM will ever be the deciding factor to get help.

In many cases, it will be deciding to change how you interact with or react to these people. Maybe you "love and let be", and accept the issues you have with them. Maybe you can no longer be their friend, or engage in a discussion about a certain topic. Maybe you realize it's unhealthy for them to remain in your home or be financially dependent on you. Maybe, for the sake of your own serenity, you need to make changes to relationships that are incredibly tough but also necessary for your own self-preservation. It isn’t selfish, especially if you find that those relationships are having a negative impact on you and your life.

And the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s a tall order, asking for serenity AND wisdom. But there is sometimes a fine line between knowing what you can and can’t change. The rule of thumb is that basically you can change yourself; others you can only love. You can get a new job, move to a new town, decide to enter or exit a relationship, dress a certain way, eat certain foods, take care of your body positively or negatively. That’s all on you.
You can’t do all that for someone else, and telling them what they need to do to change whatever it is you want them to change is an exercise in futility. Again, if they ask you for help, that’s one thing. If they want to change and they need guidance, that’s a different story. But you have to stop thinking – even though you may think you KNOW what is best and good and right – that you have the power to change someone else. You don’t – only they do. The sooner you know the difference, the sooner you can start bettering yourself and stop bashing your head against the wall.

One more thing …
Sometimes, two little words are added to this saying that make all the difference in the world. For today. Not for this week, or this year, or this lifetime. Just for today. Because as I eluded to earlier, “You plan and God laughs.” You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day or the next. So don’t ask for serenity for those days until they’re here. Focus on today. Focus on now, and how you can accept what you can’t change, change what you can, and become smart enough to know the difference.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

49 and doing … fine.

For the past few years, I’ve written a blog on or around my birthday as kind of a retrospect as I plod through my 40s. Now that I’m kissing up to 50, it’s time to review my second-to-last year of my fourth decade. And as per usual, it’s been anything but usual.

I didn’t use “fine” in my title only because it rhymes with “nine”. I’ve found that “fine” has been my go-to word – as it is for many – that non-committal, non-controversial, non-conversation-inducing answer to anything from the indifferent, “How’s it going?” to the more interested, “How was your weekend?” to the landmine laden, “So, how’s your son doing?” “Fine” is safe. “Fine” lets everyone know you’re status quo. Nothing more to see here, folks. Move along.

No one’s really “fine,” though, are they? I mean, everyone has their shit. That’s one thing I’ve learned in this past decade. “Don’t compare your inside to someone else's outside.” Of course, it also doesn’t mean when someone asks, “How’s it going?” you launch into a laundry list of things that are wrong in your life. (I know people who do this. Hint to those people: Start using “fine.”)

However, there is some real benefit to sharing at the right time. I’ve been told by quite a few people that my blog is “honest,” “raw,” “blunt” and whatever other words are a nice way of saying “I cannot believe you actually wrote that down for everyone to see.” But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t write what I write for sympathy or accolades. I’m not writing for the masses and I don’t want to be famous. It’s nice if people like what I write, sure. But what I LOVE – and what compels me to write every single time – is knowing that I can't be the only one – that SOMEONE out there HAS to be experiencing or feeling something similar. And nine times out of ten, that’s the case. I’ll get a private message or email from one person or several saying, “I’m going through the same thing!” or “Thank you for saying what I couldn’t say.” It HELPS people. It lets people know they’re not ALONE. And in this day and age of people texting versus talking and social media making it look like everyone’s life is perfect except yours, you need someone to say, “This is my shit. If you have the same shit, I’m with you. I get it. Let’s talk.”

So it seems ironic that I start this post by talking about being “fine.” I mean, I am FINE, generally speaking. I have a roof over my head, a good job and I’m healthy. I can’t complain that my basic needs aren’t being met. That’s more than a lot of people can say these days. But true to form, my life and the situations around me never seem to follow a straight line. I once referred to them as “God’s curve balls,” but now it’s more like God has one of those ball machines and he’s just pelting me right and left with them.

But the thing is, there’s this thing called “stigma.” And it’s rampant in our culture. “Stigma” by definition is, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.” And unfortunately, stigma prevents a lot of people from talking. From sharing. From helping and healing. I am truly amazed at the people I have known – some I even had to release from my life – who were so judgmental about things they knew NOTHING about or had never experienced. And they were so ADAMANT in their judgment, too, so much so that I wanted to blurt out, “You’re an idiot and you don’t know what you’re talking about so just shut the hell up because you’re making a fool out of yourself.” But instead I said, “Well, if that’s what you think then that’s fine," all while cursing them under my breath.

See, it’s not fine. We need to either stick to topics we know something about or come into a conversation open-minded and asking questions. It’s OK to do that in order to learn. When I was going to see my son for the first time in a long time, I asked an advisor how many questions I could ask him without seeming to be probing or judging. She said simply, "Be curious."

Be curious. What a novel idea. Talking to someone out of true curiosity to learn about that person or their situation is probably going to be better accepted than an automatic defensive opinion. And if after your curiosity is satiated you choose to accept or not to accept based on knowledge and (preferably) experience? Well, fine.

Just think of all the stigmas we have out there. Mental illness is a big one. Sexual orientation. Gender identity. Ethnicity. Religion. Absence of religion. Addiction. And many who are outspoken in order to educate people about a stigma are usually labeled as a blowhard, or an outcast, or misplaced, or abnormal, or odd (except by those who are sitting in the wings going, "Me, too!") Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. See? Stigma against red noses. Sheesh. 

Someone recently asked me, “Does it ever scare you to hit the ‘Publish’ button after you’ve written something?” I said, “Sure – every single time. But that’s when I know it’s good. When it scares me.” However, there are a few stigmas in my life that I can’t quite hit “Publish” on yet. Boy I sure want to. Because I know there are many, many people out there who could relate, and who I could potentially help. But I’m not ready. The past year has been full of quite a bit of judgment as I’ve navigated some unfamiliar waters, and I’ve found that the only comfort comes from those who are swimming in the same pool, not those who are sitting up on the deck. Those of us in the pool help each other – when one of us starts to go under, the better swimmers throw out a life preserver, while the ones on the deck just sit there and wonder how the hell we even got in the water in the first place.

That’s stigma. And that’s what I’ve struggled with this past year. On the other hand, I’ve become an excellent swimmer. I became stronger this year than I think I have ever been, both physically and mentally. I’ve learned what I NEED in order to keep my head above water, but I’ve also learned that you may find that you’re treading water like crazy trying to keep someone else afloat thinking you’re saving them, when in actuality you’re both going to drown. And that’s when you have to say to that person, “It’s time you learned to swim.”

Here’s what I’m trying to say. Forty-eight definitely had it’s challenges – once again. But it was also a great learning year and a great growing year. I realized that my life is always going to be a little quirky, and I’m probably going to continue to find myself dealing with unique situations unlike many of my peers. But instead of trying to fight it and wonder why the hell I can’t just be “normal,” I’m embracing it, learning how to manage it, and offering flotation devices to anyone who might find themselves at the edge of the same pool.

“Come on in,” I’ll say. “The water’s fine.”