Further thoughts on forgiveness

“Fuck You Poem #45

Fuck you in slang and conventional English.
Fuck you in lost and neglected lingoes.
Fuck you hungry and sated; faded, pock marked, and defaced.
Fuck you with orange rind, fennel and anchovy paste.
Fuck you with rosemary and thyme, and fried green olives on the side.
Fuck you humidly and icily.
Fuck you farsightedly and blindly.
Fuck you nude and draped in stolen finery.

Fuck you while cells divide wildly and birds trill.
Thank you for barring me from his bedside while he was ill.
Fuck you puce and chartreuse.
Fuck you postmodern and prehistoric.
Fuck you under the influence of opiun, codeine, laudanum, and paregoric.
Fuck every real and imagined country you fancied yourself princess of.
Fuck you on feast days and fast days, below and above.
Fuck you sleepless and shaking for nineteen nights running.
Fuck you ugly and fuck you stunning.

Fuck you shipwrecked on the barren island of your bed.
Fuck you marching in lockstep in the ranks of the dead.
Fuck you at low and high tide.
And fuck you astride
anyone who has the bad luck to fuck you, in dank hallways,
bathrooms, or kitchens.
Fuck you in gasps and whispered benedictions.

And fuck these curses, however heartfelt and true,
that bind me, till I forgive you, to you.” 
― Amy GerstlerGhost Girl

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The Space Between

There is a place, between anger and forgiveness.

I am there.

————————————————————–

I have been angry for as long as I can remember. But anger requires energy to maintain. And I am tired.

 

In school, I was angry at my teachers, my coaches, my boyfriend.

In college, I was angry at my classmates, my boss, my co-workers.

For the past year or so, I’ve been angry at my parents.

But I don’t want to be anymore.

 

I don’t want a phone call from my mom to ruin my day.

I don’t want every conversation to be loaded and tense.

And I don’t want to have to struggle to think of something positive about her.

 

I realized how tired I was of being angry and, just like that, I wasn’t angry anymore. It’s run its course. It’s over, and I’m over it.

The next step is forgiveness, but I’m not there.

I’m here — not angry, but not ready to forgive.

I hate the very idea of forgiveness.

It was thrust upon me from as early as I can remember. The idea that I must forgive those who wronged me was mandatory if I wanted to be a Good Christian. If you want to be forgiven, you must first forgive. God commands it. And there’s no commandment in there that says you must be allowed to take your time doing it. In my mind, forgiveness wasn’t the final step in the process: it was the first.

(And it’s not just me. Take a look at this quote from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” a book I spent hours studying in the hopes that I could emulate its advice and become a Better Christian: “Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record.”)

Coupled with the requisite empathy, I was left little chance to truly explore my anger and hurt. Conversations with my mother when someone had wronged me often went like this:

“I know she called you a name, BUT did you ever think why she did those things?”

“I’m sorry that you’re upset. You’ll feel much better if you forgive your sister.”

She had good intentions. I still admire her depth of empathy and understanding to this day. I pride myself on being able to see and understand multiple points of view in a situation, to find the good in even the worst of people. I owe that to her. But her idea (really the Christian ideal) of forgiveness? No thank you.

 

I also don’t like that popular (and humorous) flippant idea of forgiveness as life-saver: “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die” (and variations thereof).

I get it. Grudges are pointless. But don’t shanghai it out of me. Don’t tell me I have two choices: Forgive or die. That’s only slightly better than the deal Jesus offers: Forgive or burn in hell.

 

For a more satisfactory explanation, I turn to this generation’s Bible: Google. “What is forgiveness?” “Quotes on forgiveness”

Most of the results are crap.

Many regurgitate Bible verses I am very familiar with.

Most speak about the strength of character it requires to forgive. This makes me feel worse.

Quite a few talk about forgiveness as a means of regaining your power. These are slightly more helpful, but still not quite for me. Reading them, I picture a strong, proud person, head held high, picking themselves off the floor, turning their back and walking away.

I’m not there. I’m not that. I’m still sitting down, shoulders curled in and head bowed. I’m still hurt.

Then I find this little gem:

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”

C.R. Strahan

 

That’s it. That’s the ticket.

This is why I’m not ready to forgive.

Because I still feel like a victim.

 

I still have moments of panic, PTSD, flashbacks, triggers. Most of my (very small) self-esteem is still derived from my desirability. I still can’t have a disagreement with Mr. T without wanting to run away, or feeling like our whole relationship is ending. I’m still codependent, still enmeshed, still can’t separate my emotions from the emotions of those around me. And I am still absolutely terrified of my abusers. When I think of them, or the abuse, I still get dizzy, sweaty, sick to my stomach, numb. Sometimes, I am not surviving. I am struggling.

 

That is why I cannot forgive. Because it is not OK. Because, some days, I am not OK. On these days, I get very close to being drawn back down into Anger. I look up and see I am miles away from Forgiveness, with really no desire to go there.

 

There is something else. Some other reason I am fighting so hard against forgiveness. And it’s this.

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

I’m done hitting back. I never really did much. I pulled all my punches, because I hate causing my mother pain. But just because I’ve stopped hitting doesn’t mean I don’t wish they weren’t landing.

 

This is it. The meat and potatoes of why I’m here. And it hurts to admit. It hurts just to type these words. I want my mom to hurt like I hurt.

It’s not revenge. It’s not spite. It’s not malice.

I just want her to know how I felt. Because, once upon a time, I thought we shared everything. But one day I was caught in a storm, and I looked up and I was alone.

 

I’m still in that storm, even though it’s lessened. From time to time, I reach out a hand, hoping to pull her in with me. Because I hate being alone in here, without her.

Time and time again, my hand comes up empty. And each time, I am afraid that the real reason

is that she doesn’t love me enough. Of course, I know that isn’t true. My mother loves me, very much. But maybe this storm is too big, this dark cloud too scary. After all, in here you are facing not only the world’s evil, but your own. The most terrifying demons are on the inside.

Isn’t that what she promised me? To battle any monster, to help. protect me from any harm? This is my mother. She would kill for me. Or so she told me once. My mother, who cries at commercials but passed over the story of my most recent abuse with nary a tear. My mother, who told me to consider the other, the one who wronged me. Perhaps she was begging leniency for her future, inevitable mistakes.

 

I will do what she asked of me then; I will think of her. I will acknowledge that it is almost impossibly hard to face up to your mistakes. I will remember all I have done to protect myself from pain. And I will accept that this is what she is doing now.

And someday, I will forgive her.

Maria Carluccio

Maria Carluccio

One final thought on forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”

Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

 

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Samson, let down your hair

haircut36 inches.

That’s about how much hair I donated Thursday. (A bit less than last time, but still respectable.)

It’s this thing I do every three years, as soon as the weather gets hot and my hair gets long enough. I look forward to it, and it’s one of the few things I allow myself to feel proud about. Every three years, I give a wonderful gift to a child battling illness. Not exactly saving a life. It’s just a haircut, after all. But it’s still pretty cool, and I feel good about it.

But it’s selfish, too. Because every three years, I get a few days of praise and fanfare from my colleagues, friends and family. Every three years, I get to cut away the past. I get a new start.

As much as I love and look forward to it, it panics me. Every time.

There’s the lead-up panic: How will I look? Will my boyfriend think I’m ugly? What about my co-workers? How will I cover up my pimples without hair? What if I look like Miley Cyrus?!?

Then comes the cut. And the identity crisis. 

For three days, give or take, I look in the mirror and see … someone else. Not me. I have beautiful, flowing locks. I look like Barbie, or a slightly less bloated Jessica Simpson. (In reality, I look like neither.) But it’s a feeling you get when you have long hair: It’s easier to feel beautiful.

Long hair is the feminine “ideal.” With my blonde locks, blue eyes and hourglass shape, I look like the “ideal” woman. And there is power in that. There was power in my hair.

Men love long hair. Every toss, every flip over the shoulder. Each time I ran my hands through it or shook it out. I was casually beautiful, and therefore casually seductive. I was Woman, capital ‘W’ 

There is power in my new hair, too.

The power of nonconformity. (Which is debatable, since I got one of the year’s trendiest cuts, sported by the megapopular JLaw.) By having short hair, I am refusing the ‘standards’ set for how women should look, even just a little bit. 

Each time I’ve made the cut, I’ve faced criticism from people known and unknown to me. ‘You look like a boy.’ ‘Are you a lesbian?’ ‘Why would you do that, you were so pretty with long hair.’ ‘Dyke!’ It’s ridiculous that in 2014, short hair can still cause a scandal. True, it’s more likely to be greeted with cheers than jeers, but that small, vocal minority is still there, chastising you for blurring the line between male and female, upsetting the power balance.

Women should have long hair. It’s in the Bible, for Christsakes. “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” (1 Corinthians 11:15) 

Short hair takes swagger. There’s nothing to hide behind. It makes a statement, a subtle rejection of gender norms and a desire to be pretty above all else.

Mr. T knows this. In preparation for my salon appointment, he made sure to mention that he saw a cute girl with short hair (in order to let me know that I would still be beautiful). “She was cute,” he said. “But she looked like she could kick my ass.”

That’s the persona I take on when I get into the groove of my new look. I have power, of a different kind. Power that gives me permission to be strong, decisive, a ball buster — all the traits I cannot be when I look like Miss America. It’s not so much that I become someone else; more that I allow myself to be more of who I already am.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. After all, it’s just a haircut.

 

Want to donate your hair? Go to http://www.wigsforkids.org/ or http://locksoflove.org/ to find out how or to locate a participating salon near you.

 

 

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The Bullshit Grinder

 

bullshit grinder

This is the Bullshit Grinder.

It belonged to my Granddad. Now it is mine.

It is the only thing I wanted from him after he died.

He used to sit in his chair in the living room, talking politics or religion or the Sabres and Bills. Whenever he thought what you were saying wasn’t quite right, he would grab the Grinder, cradling it in his palm and twisting its crank with the other hand. He would make this noise, too, a ‘Baaahhh,’ tinged with a dismissive, scoffing tone.

I didn’t use it much for the first few years I had it. I placed it on a shelf along with other memories: a pin from my college newspaper, earrings from my trip to Australia, a statue from my Aunt.

I chose that particular memento not because it reminded me of my Granddad, but because it reminded me of very specific parts of him. His curiosity, his love of learning, his good nature, his humor. And his skepticism.

He didn’t need the physical manifestation of his inner Bullshit Grinder, the one he was born with and honed throughout a life in the service and the steel mills of Buffalo. He knew what passed the smell test and what stank. The Grinder was just his way of letting you know that he wasn’t buying what you were peddling.

GrandadI was born with a Bullshit Grinder, too. I didn’t use it for a long time. People kept telling me not to, that it was broken. Eventually, I believed them. I let their bullshit overwhelm my instruments for combating it.

Now, my Bullshit Grinder is working overtime.

For months, I’ve been grinding up my own shit, working through the layers of crap I built up to  protect myself.  I’m learning how to replace those defenses with layers love, and friends, and self worth. Things that no grinder can tear through.

I also am learning to turn my Grinder outward, to use it on other people. If you can’t make it past the Grinder, don’t come any closer. Arm’s length is where I will keep you.

Not too many people have made it past the Grinder.

It’s a really hard thing for people to interact with 0% bullshit. Reaching that level of absolute honesty with another person requires a kind of vulnerability most people can’t summon. Because not bullshitting someone else means not bullshitting yourself. And that’s hard shit.

My crusade to cut through all my own Bullshit has made me reach out to people in my life that are or were once important. Mostly this means reaching out to people I have hurt and that have hurt me. Because without the Bullshit to cloud my view, I can see what I did wrong. I can cop to it.

Asking someone to stop their Bullshitting is cruel. Most of us wear it like armor. You can’t expect someone to take it down completely. When you ask that of them, what you’re really requesting is for them to look into the deepest places of themselves, the darkest corners, and reveal them to you.

That’s unfair. And unrealistic.

I have asked a few people to meet me there, at that place of 100% honesty, for small spaces of time. My friend Travis did. And we’re better for it now. My mom tried, but I don’t think we can stay there for long. That’s OK. Our relationship is fine the way it is. At least we’re now acknowledging that there’s shit we aren’t talking about, instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist.

I tried with my friend Roxie (not her real name). We couldn’t do it. I was disappointed, because I thought we could. I thought we cared enough about each other. But we don’t. And that’s OK, too.

That’s the thing about the Bullshit Grinder. You have to know when and where to wield it. You have to ask yourself, “Is this protecting me, or is it keeping people out?” Or worse, tearing them down. You can’t just whip the Grinder out for any little lie. A small amount of Bullshit is necessary for society to function.

The ‘Hey, how are ya?’s, the ‘How are your kids?’ — these things are important, even if they feel disingenuous.

I had a hard time with this during my recent trip to Florida. Small-talking with old co-workers and bar guests I hadn’t seen in years felt fake. When you spend so much time swimming in the deep shit, wading into social niceties can seem pointless. But, as I’m learning, you have to go through the shallows first if you want to reach that depth with someone.

To my surprise and delight, even those small, shallow connections pooled into something more substantial. A touch, a hug, a look that said, “I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad I know you, on whatever level.” At first, I bristled. But then I realized: There was nothing there that could hurt me. Quite the opposite: it buoyed me. I was glad I had kept my Bullshit Grinder at home.

I’m hopeful now, that after a vigorous workout, I’ll get to put my Bullshit Grinder back on the shelf. I won’t let it collect dust this time, but I don’t need to keep it in front of me like a shield at all times, either. Instead, I’ll slip it into my back pocket, restful but ready for action. To be used sparingly.

It should come with a warning label. With great Bullshit Grinder comes great responsibility.

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The Story of a Life

This is a Story of a Life.

Not just Anyone’s life — this is the story of Someone’s life.

Maybe you. Maybe me. Maybe Someone you know.

So it goes.


Act I

Girl meets Boy.

Girl likes Boy and Boy likes Girl.

They are happy.

Time? Circumstance? Fate?

Boy hurts Girl.

Girl leaves Boy.

She forgets

Act II

Girl meets Boy.

Boy likes Girl.

Girl is happy.

Time? Circumstance? Circles.

Boy hurts Girl.

Girl leaves Boy.

She forgets

       but she does not forgive.

Act III – ?

Time.

Circumstance.

Circles.

Act Last

Girl meets Boy.

Boy likes Girl.

Time.

Girl likes Boy.

Boy loves Girl.

Time.

Girl loves Boy.

Trust.

Girl remembers.

 

Girl hurts.

Boy helps Girl.

Time.

Growth.

Girl learns to forgive

       but she does not forget.

 

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Exes and oh’s

‘Percentage-wise, how over your ex are you?’ I asked Mr. T the other day, because I’m a girl and sometimes we ask stupid questions like this.

‘Umm … probably 100%’ he answered, because he’s a smart guy and he knew anything below 90% would be unacceptable. Then he asked, ‘How much are you over your ex?’

That one is easy. I am 100 percent happier than I have ever been, and there’s nothing I miss about my last relationship.

But it’s not true that I am 100% over my last boyfriend. I am, as far as romance goes. But when it comes to his friendship, that number is probably closer to 70%.

It’s probably because we didn’t part on good terms. They were decidedly awful terms: My horribly childish post about his owing me money is the last communication we had. (Seriously, looking back, it is REALLY bad. I am ashamed of myself.) Before that, there was cheating and yelling and name-calling. Not exactly a storybook ending.

Now I’m feeling the weight of my decisions. I caused him a lot of problems and pain. For awhile, I could make excuses for myself. I was messed up, I was working on myself, I was a victim, blah blah blah. It’s true, but still: blah blah blah.

And then there was the whole money thing. What an ass. And this time, I’m talking about me, not him.

Sure, it was wrong of him to not pay me back. But it was wrong of me to make a big stink out of it. Like my friend said, it’s collateral damage, the fee for a hard relationship lesson learned.

He and I should never have dated. I don’t regret that we did, but we weren’t well-matched. It was a really bad time for me, and I wish we had kept things platonic. He has lots of qualities I admire in a friend: he is funny, and fun to hang out with. He’s thoughtful and easygoing. He’s not afraid to be silly, and he’s always up for adventures. Maybe, if we had only been friends, we still would be.

Instead, we are strangers. No, more than that. We are exes, will all the negative associations that the word implies. I hate that there is someone out there who hates me, who I hurt.

I recently patched things up with a long-estranged friend of mine (more on that later). Maybe it was my near-death experience, or maybe the effect my support group is having, but I’m finally getting in touch with my true feelings. The deep stuff — the hurt, the anger, the shame.

I realized I didn’t want there to be someone out there who thought I hated them (unless I really did). So I took that step. But I won’t do that with my ex. He’s moved on and so have I. To insert myself back into his life after all the pain I caused would be selfish. So I’ll just have to accept the situation for what is is and was: A relationship that ended and left two people very hurt, and one person out of my life forever.

That is the most costly lesson I’ve ever learned.

KentnShay

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Choosing his religion

The scene: A messy bedroom.

The players: Me and Mr. T

The plot: Cleaning out our closets.

Me: “I’m going to use that for my shoes.”

Mr. T: “What? My bookcase? What am I going to do with my books?”

“You don’t even read.”

“I know, but I will someday when I’m old and my body’s shit. All those books are ones I’ve never read.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

(Pause)

“Can you at least get rid of your Jesus books?”

(Mr. T shakes head) “Why do I feel like you have a personal vendetta against my Jesus books?”

“I don’t.”

(Mr. T raises eyebrows)

“I don’t! It’s just that I don’t understand why you have books about Jesus. I’m just afraid you have some secret Jesus love that I don’t know about.”

“Yeah, ’cause so many people with extreme Jesus love like to keep it a secret.”

“Well, I don’t know! I just figure you might be holding back because I’m so anti-Jesus.”

“It’s not like I’m sneaking off to church on Sundays.”

“I know, but if you’re not hiding some religious tendencies, then why do you need (holds up books) ‘The Case for Christ’ and ‘God Calling?’

“I don’t know … It’s just the way I was raised and it’s, like, super important to my dad. And he’s important to me, so I don’t want to rule it all out yet. And yes, I hold back sometimes because you have so much disgust for it all.”

(Pause)

“I’m sorry. You don’t have to get rid of your Jesus books.”

“Thanks.”

(Pause)

“I was, like, religiously persecuting you, wasn’t I?”

“It’s OK. We Christians are used to that. That’s why I hide my light under a bushel.”

End scene.

_______________________________________________________________

This is a very real exchange between Mr. T and I, the first and least-serious in a series of discussions that I suspect will continue throughout our lives.

I’ve mostly figured out my spiritual beliefs. I’ve definitely figured out my religious beliefs: I don’t want any part of it.

I’m an atheist. If we’re splitting hairs, I guess I’m an agnostic, because I can no more know that there isn’t a God than someone else can know there is. But I really, really doubt it. Not enough to bet my life, but maybe my after life. (Which I also don’t believe in.)

I believe in Logic. And Science. And Common Sense. Those are my gods. I have dedicated my life to Truth, and if there’s no way to find it out,  it’s not really worth contemplating.

Mr. T is different. He’s still on his journey, still unsure of where he’ll end up. (For that matter, I guess I am, too. I certainly never thought I’d end up here from where I began: near-fundamentalism Christianity. I have a Bible verse tattooed on my feet. Seriously.)

But to him, Christianity is still on the table. So is God and Heaven and Hell and church on Sundays with the kids. Our kids. Who don’t exist yet, but likely will in the not-too-distant future. In my mind, their future shouldn’t include a church. Or a god.

My experiences with organized religion were not positive. A mother who subscribed to the biblical practice of submission to her husband; sexual “education” that stressed purity and left me with so much shame over normal sexual experiences (not to mention my abuse); a youth group that turned a blind eye to my depression and abuse, instead chastising me for behaviors they deemed inappropriate, such as giving boys rides in my car without a chaperone present; a house church who let infighting destroy them and their relationships.

I was a good Christian girl ... once upon a time.

I was a good Christian girl … once upon a time.

I know these are but one person’s experiences and not representative of religion as a whole. But that’s a mixed bag, too. War. Homophobia. Conservative politics. Sexism. Racism. Classism. Slavery. Incest. Infanticide. Genocide. These can all be found in the pages of history, and in the pages of the bible. And it’s the “good guys” who do it. Sanctioned by God.

If I’m going to screen the TV my kids watch, the websites they visit, the books they read, the bible won’t pass the test. 

Mr. T is OK with taking the good and leaving the bad. He wants our kids to experience the sense of community that church can provide. We can find a good one, he says, one that focuses on love and helping the poor. Pass the compassion, please, and hold the judgement.

I’m skeptical. I’ve built my life dedicated to the eradication of hypocrisy. I don’t shop at Walmart because of their horrible record with workers’ rights (among other things). Yes, they give tons of money to charities, including a really great one I used to volunteer with, but I can’t in good conscious support them. I feel the same way about religion.

Any church that might be open enough for me (Unitarian, Buddhist temples) would not pass the Midwest test. (Too “out there” for Mr. T’s relatives. We might as well join a commune and name our kids Dewdrop and Honeysuckle.)

But right now, that’s a moot point. Our kids are hypothetical; Mr. T’s personal journey is real and right now. And he wants my help.

I’m not sure how to do that. I have my answers, and I could give them to him, but that’s not how it works. “You got tuh go there tuh know there.” My job is to go there with him, if he wants. To hold his hand and have his back.

That, I can do. Because of all the things I think I know, the one I know for certain is that I will go anywhere with Mr. T.

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Fear, they name is friend

shadow-followingI am being followed.

The creeping figure skulks along behind me, hiding in the shadows.

It whispers to me, “You can’t do this. You will fail. You’re not good enough.”

I run from it, but it keeps pace.

Finally, I turn around and face it. There’s no other way to make it leave me alone.

I took her by surprise. Yes, her.

She is not the dark and imposing figure I have imagined her to be.

She looks like me. And she is scared.

“Please don’t do this,” she says.

“Why not?”

“Because if you fail, it’s going to hurt. Please don’t do something that can hurt us.”

This is my Fear. And it’s not trying to haunt me. It’s trying to protect me.

 

In group this week, my facilitator talked about how she learned to stop listening to the judgey voice in her head, the one that was always criticizing her.

“I literally had to have a conversation with him — because it was a ‘he’  to me,” she said. “I had to sit down and say to him, ‘Why are you saying these mean things about me?’”

What she found is that whenever Mr. Judgey was critical of her — “You can’t ask this guy out, you’re not pretty enough”; “Don’t even think about applying for this job, you’ll never get it” — was when she was faced with a decision and, potentially, the fallout of not getting something she wanted.

“He was trying to keep me from getting hurt,” she said.

 

Maybe, that’s what my Fear is doing. I took another look at what she says to me.

“Don’t write this story. You’re going to leave something out and then you’ll look stupid.”

“Don’t tell him. He’s doesn’t feel that way about you.”

“Keep your mouth shut. What you like is stupid; they’re going to make fun of you.”

“Don’t call her. She doesn’t want to be your friend.”

First step: Believe those things are true.

Second step: Know they probably aren’t true, but still be afraid they are.

I’m mostly past these now. Which brings me to the next step: Know they are not true, but figure out why are thinking them. What’s the motivation?

When I think of my Fear as being motivated by love, this is what it sounds like.

“Don’t do this. Because if you write this story … if you call this friend … if you say what you think … it might not work out. And it will feel really bad.”

Fear is evolution in action. You are scared of heights because falling from them can hurt you, and the guy who wasn’t afraid ended up as a smear at the bottom of a cliff. Fear is not a bad guy to be outmuscled, not a villain to outsmart, it’s not dark or big or mean; it’s you, at your most basic level. Trying to keep yourself safe.

I’ve never thought of my Fear this way. But I like it. Because this way, it means that my Fear loves me. And when I think of it that way, it stops being scary.

 

I turn to my Fear. She is shaking, and I feel sorry for her.

I take her by the hand. We sit down, together, and I listen to her, for the first time in my life.

She isn’t wrong in her assessments. We’ve been hurt before, plenty. And we will be hurt again.

I tell her it’s OK. We’ve been hurt, but we survived. And if I take her concerns into consideration, it won’t hurt as much or as often.

I know she will keep nudging me. But if I stop ignoring her, if I stop running away, she’ll stop chasing me. If I treat her as a friend, someone who wants to help me, eventually that’s what she’ll become.

 

holding_hands-1424

Courtesy of comesitbythehearth.blogspot.com

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Fear, they name is failure

shadow-followingI am running.

A big, shadowy mass if following me. It’s gaining ground. It’s right behind me, close enough to reach out what could be its hands. Tendrils of vapor around my neck. I try to pry them off, but they pass through my hands like a cloud. They shouldn’t be able to choke me, these smoky appendages, but I feel them tightening around my throat.

I can’t move. I can’t breath. I stop fighting.

 

 

This is what I feel like lately. The black cloud following me is fear, and it’s consuming my life.

I’m not any more afraid than usual. I’m simply more aware that all those other feelings — lack of motivation, hesitance to leave the house, anxiety over work — have really been fear all along. And now that I’m tuned into that, I can’t seem to change the channel. It’s 24/7 fear. Kind of like cable news.

Responsibility: My balm has become my bane. Let me explain:

A few weeks ago (six?), I applied, interviewed for and failed to get a job opening at the newspaper I work for. It wasn’t surprising; I wasn’t the most qualified candidate. But it still hurt. Even hits you know are coming can cause you damage. Just ask Houdini.

I got a consolation prize; the chance for some freelance work. Which I am truly, truly grateful for.

But …

I’ve got a couple leads so far, plus a few story ideas of my own that have been swimming around in my head for awhile. I sent some emails. But that’s it.

I know I should call. I know I should.

But …

As cliche as it sounds, I lie awake at night resolving that, in the morning, I will call. I will move forwards with this opportunity to prove myself. I used to thrive on those opportunities. I’ve proved myself over and over.

But …

 

I have a plan. Sure, the whole process of turning in a story is scary. But as I told Mr. T, you know what’s not scary? Sending an email. I told myself I’d just do that first non-scary step.

And then the next step, since PR people never respond to emails, is a phone call. Nothing scary about that.

Then setting up a time to meet.

Then meeting people and interviewing them.

Then organizing my notes, selecting an overall theme, structuring quotes and facts and, before I know it, I will have taken a bunch of non-threatening steps that led to me turning in a story. But …

I lied. That first step is scary. Because it could be the first step toward failure.

What if they don’t like it? What if I forget to ask the important questions? What if I suddenly forget how to do something I’ve been doing for nearly a decade (talking to people and writing about it)? What if I don’t have what it takes to be a journalist? What then?

 

Seriously, what then? I always try to answer my own fears rationally. What if I never become a journalist?

On a practical level, I’ll probably have a low-skill, low-wage job in the news business. Or a slightly less low-wage job doing social media. Or I’ll go back to bartending until my boobs get too saggy and they move me to the kitchen to chop vegetables.

But on an emotional level, I couldn’t handle that. Journalism is what I love, what I am meant to do. And this fear is keeping me from doing it. This fear that chases me down alleys and across parks. It says to me, “You’re not good enough.”

If I fail, I will confirm what I’ve spent a lifetime trying to disprove.

A therapist once told me it was one of my core beliefs, an insecurity that has plagued me since early childhood. It’s very hard to change a core belief, she said, maybe even impossible. I will likely have to battle it my whole life.

 

Yoga helps. I move through poses, breathe in, breathe out. Calm replaces fear.

I tend to do the same routines for weeks, until I attain a sort of mastery of them. When I first start out, there are poses I can’t do. I know they are coming. They fill me with anxiety. I start to move into them. I fail. And then I move on, to the next pose. Breathe in, breathe out. I’ll get it next time, or the time after that. I keep trying.

Which, from everything I’ve read, is the key to success. Failing, trying again, fearing what comes next and then doing it anyway.

After an hour of kundalini detox, I call the PR contact for my latest assignment. I leave a voicemail, which she returns later in the day. And suddenly, I have taken the next step. And it wasn’t scary.

The shadow that has been following me shrinks, just a little bit.

I know he’ll be back. He’ll chase me some more, and I’ll run. But eventually, I will stop, turn around and face him. And then he will fade away like the insubstantial wisp of cloud he is.

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Nostalgia waxing

Word art nostalgia lg

Some people listen to a song to remind them of a certain time or place or person in their life. Some flip through photos, or call a loved one when they’re feeling homesick. I read books.

Not chapters. Not passages. Not Cliffnotes. Whole books.

I deprive myself of sleep, of social contact, pouring over the pages, pushing through fatigue to reach the end of a story that I’ve read a dozen times.

My college therapist wasn’t sure what to make of my marathon re-reading sessions, which always coincided with times of emotional stress. She theorized that either it was a coping mechanism or a form of escape. I think it was both.

anne-of-green-gablesThe Anne of Green Gables series was a favorite. The lavish descriptions of flora and fauna stirred memories of southern Ohio, lush with dogwood and cherry blossoms that flourished in Anne’s Avonlea. And the title character’s flowery, dramatic language and high-strung nature took me back to me as a child. A highly sensitive, well-read kid who used big words, loved everyone and rode the highs to their highest, the lows to their lowest.

I grew up and found out the no one is actually like that in real life. Not even me. But I would return to the pages in the face of heartbreak and fear and isolation.

It wasn’t just books. I revisit TV shows, too. Mostly really dramatic and emotional dramas that I followed during my turbulent high school years: Grey’s Anatomy, House, The O.C. I tune out the world and tune in to the convoluted lives of characters as familiar to me as my own family.

We love nostalgia in our culture. The pop culture archive that is Buzzfeed has endless lists of the best fashion examples of the 2000′s or the weirdest cereals of the ’90s. It makes sense that we would be so enamored with the past; we’re constantly being told that the future world will be a dismal place.

That’s how I’ve always felt. I look ahead and feel a terrible sense The OC - Ten Years Laterof foreboding — my parents
dead, friends estranged, me alone and unloved, or worse, trapped in an abusive relationship that I couldn’t escape. For most of my life, I have been sure that nothing good is waiting for me.

But  now I think there might be. A career, maybe not looking like what I thought, but there. Marriage, or at least healthy and happy relationships. Friends. Kids.

In between my retreats to the past, I took some steps to clear away the dark clouds from the picture of my life-to-be.

I don’t want my adult relationships to be tumultuous, so I improved the ones I’m in now.

HPbooksGrownup-me would never drink till she blacked out or have potentially dangerous one-night stands, so I made current me develop some restraint.

I developed habits, routines, that would contribute to my future success. If I chance my choices now, doesn’t that mean my outcome changes, too? I painted myself a brighter future, one I find I’m actually looking forward to.
My treasured nostalgia has lost its shine. Sure, I still love Harry Potter, but there’s only so many times I can read about him winning the Triwizard Tournament or destroying Hoarcruxes before I itch to have an adventure of my own.  Even if it is only navigating the uncharted territory of a long-term loving relationship.

 

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