Tag Archives: Relationships

Why You Are Beautiful

Have you ever looked into a mirror and seen yourself as beautiful? Beautiful in a way that makes any real or perceived imperfections fade into the construct that they are?

I’d been invited to dinner with friends from out of town, followed by a reading at a bookstore. Dinner went well; I enjoyed the conversation very much and felt present. The voice running in my head, the one telling me I don’t belong in this group of talented people, was pretty silent. I dressed casually and didn’t use makeup. Okay, that part’s not lack of vanity; I just suck at putting on makeup.

After the dinner, we went to the San Francisco bookstore where the reading was being held. It was a reading by a mix of authors from the BDSM community, and a couple of my friends were going to be reading pieces there. I hadn’t been to an event like this in quite a while, and I felt both the pleasant and the bittersweet types of nostalgia.

Listening to the erotic fiction and nonfiction being read, I surreptitiously watched the small audience as I tend to do. People at a reading of erotic literature have a tendency to try to keep a neutral face. Perhaps they want to conceal reactions that feel too personal to share, or perhaps there’s an etiquette about concealing reactions that may distract other listeners.

However, not all can be concealed. The secret is to watch the eyes. In a still face, the eyes shine with fire when the listener is being affected. I can gauge the level of engagement this way, and I love it. Watching the people around me, I reveled in their beauty and their diversity. An enchanting mix of ages, genders and physical traits, they seemed to be broadcasting stories of their own.

My own thoughts about the pieces ranged freely, as well. I was reminded of how deep and psychically rich sexuality can be. How sex is only the beginning. The pieces evoked connection, shadow, love and deepest authenticity. My own feelings about all of these whirled inside me; not only the common longing and regret but an intense and living desire that pulsed with an unapologetic feeling of I want.

Between two of the pieces, I had to take a restroom break. Washing my hands, I glanced up at the mirror above the sink–and drew in my breath, shocked. The face in the mirror pierced me with its beauty.

Yes, the secret is in the eyes all right. Those eyes blazed into me, burning with the same fire I saw on other faces. They shone with mystery, and time, and a wholeness of complex thought. For a moment, I saw the woman in the mirror as a separate person. I saw her as if I were another guest, watching her from across the room and catching the first glimpse of those blazing eyes, and I thought: I want that woman.

I wonder about her story; I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to see what she looks like when she smiles, or growls with anger, or screams with lust or pain.

The other-ness of the moment faded quickly, but a ghost of it lingered. For the rest of the reading, I watched people with fascination–but with the awareness that I was one of them. A carrier of the story; a bearer of the hidden fire.

So you see, you are beautiful. You may not have had an experience like this yet, or you may have had many, but a gut-wrenchingly beautiful version of you exists behind the mirror and waits to come and be seen.

This Is Embarrassing

The trouble with trying to write some truth is that I can’t always control which truth will come out.

I think it is one reason I’ve been having a lot of trouble with writing lately, especially with getting into a creative and noncritical flow. I’ve been afraid that if I open myself I’ll bleed out truths and feelings I would rather not think about.

What’s the truth I fear? What is that earth-shaking, unspeakable knowledge that I, Miss reveal-the-darkness-of-my-soul, don’t want known?

I miss my therapist.

That’s it? It’s not about my daughter, or my family, or my health?

I know it could be difficult to take it seriously, but the relationship I’ve had for many years defies explanation. It began when I was getting my counseling degree, and we were all required to do at least a year with a certain type of therapist as part of our experience. When the year was over, unique things had already begun to happen in the therapy. So I stayed.

Any description of what I’ve learned and felt would be inadequate, and I was extraordinarily privileged to be able to work with him for years. But the work between a therapist and client, no matter how deep, is subject to practical matters–a practitioner of this art is paid, and the best and most experienced ones don’t take insurance.

As financial troubles grew, I dropped my visits to every other week. With the crisis our last move brought on, even this was not possible. It’s been almost five months since we met.

So the problem is that I miss him. No, that’s not the largest problem. The problem is that I miss him and I’m ashamed of how much I miss him. And I feel like the old stereotype of the female patient overly attached to the male therapist. And I’m angry about it, and sad, and I don’t have anyone I can talk to about those feelings.

I’ve been trying to be tough and not cry wolf. I’ve tried very hard to act like a grownup, like a mom, like someone who is capable of putting other things ahead of her own comfort. All the while being afraid that if I do too good a job of pretending for too long, I’ll never be allowed to make going back a priority. (Well, you’re doing OK without it…)

I miss the person I get to be in that room.
I miss being able to look forward to being that person.
I miss the way an upcoming appointment would inspire me to finish an essay or poem or dream so that I could talk about it.

Of course, I also have all of the cliched, neurotic feelings of resentment toward my therapist about the situation, and all of the adolescent yearning for him to say “Fuck the clinical relationship, you’re so special that I can’t stand not having you in my life. Let’s just meet for coffee.”

Yes, this truth hurts. It hurts to know that, even if I can scrape together an occasional session, our work will probably never be the same again. It had already changed.

It’s changed since I got clean for the last time. How could it not?
It’s changed since our frequency dropped.
It’s changed since I started writing.
It’s changed since I started writing poetry.

It really could be that we were already nearing the end of an era, but I don’t want it to be a forced end. And I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes to create whatever I need to make not having this relationship okay.

So that’s it. I’m grieving, and angry, and lonely, and I hate that I can’t talk to anyone else about this because they think of therapy as mental bonbons for the weak or self-indulgent. They have no conception of why someone would find it so important and so central to their sense of self–or why someone could do it for years and not be “fixed.”

I have no solution to offer myself, but maybe telling the truth will help a little.

The Apple That Time Forgot

Bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.

It’s a theme I’ve written about before…Bounty Hunter and The Perils of Good Health are a couple of examples. But today, I’m thinking about a certain time and a certain scene that captures the feeling for me.

When I was twenty-two, I got engaged to a graduate student in mathematics. He came from a wonderful European family, was wholesome and innocent in his demeanor, and was quite gorgeous as well. I was his first serious girlfriend.

When we got engaged, I had recently finished college. More relevantly, I had recently begun my first attempt at applying the principles of recovery to my eating disorder. I was aglow with a fire of self-improvement, and I’d lost about 50 pounds, bringing me from my (formerly) highest weight down to a pretty healthy 160. Throughout our engagement, I felt that this version of me was the one he had asked to marry him.

The months went by, as he did his work and I attempted to find some of my own (I had been accepted to a graduate program, but it would not start for a while.) It seemed the course of my life was laid out–continue my education, get married, move to Europe or wherever he got a job in due time and use my skills to get a job nearby until it was time to start having children. Be a good wife, a good daughter-in-law and a good mother; be the woman who was good enough to be chosen by this admirable man.

On many days, we would eat lunch together in the campus cafeteria. From the limited choices I would assemble pretty much the same plate every time: 4 ounces of chicken breast, half a cup of brown rice, some green beans and an apple. Nothing wrong with that meal, but it got monotonous.

For some reason, the apple always took me the longest to finish. I’d cut it into quarters, and there would be two or three left when all of the other food was gone and we needed to get going soon. Getting all of it down, day after day, became a real chore. We jokingly called it the “Apple That Time Forgot.”

I remember those lunches so well, in the way a few selected memories stand out as a full visual. The sunlight slanting through the high windows, the scattered groups of students talking, and me a part of the young couple near the window. In those meals, I was playing the role of what I appeared to be; every bite of those nutritious meals felt like a promise I was making to my fiancé.

I was promising never to get fat again, and I was promising everything that went along with that in my eyes. Promising not to be lazy, or ill-mannered, or behave in any way that would embarrass him in front of his family. Promising to be good and never make him regret asking me to marry him.

There was just one tiny, itsy-bitsy problem with those lunches, that relationship and that plan.

When we were not in each other’s presence, I wandered the streets of that college town and I ate. God, how I ate. Novels in hand, I would go from one fast food place to another so as not to spend hours in one spot and draw attention with the amount of food I was ordering. I’d go home with a stomachache and spend the rest of the day in a fog of self-loathing. Periodically, I would try to stop. Reeling from withdrawal and hunger, I’d drag myself to a recovery meeting and cry, only to be out there again in a day or two.

I am a compulsive eater; I’ve known myself as one since long before I practiced any other kind of addiction. So my behavior was not that surprising, but there was something different about it during that year. It wasn’t just me using something because it’s what we addicts do–it was me having a secret life that screamed, over and over, that what I was trying to be wasn’t me.

How loud did it have to scream? Well, in the ten months until the engagement’s end, I gained ninety pounds.

Yes, bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

And all I can do is keep on telling you
I want you, I need you
But-there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you
Now don’t be sad
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad.
                                        —-Meat Loaf

When I heard this song many years ago, I thought the singer was a real asshole. I thought he was saying what he said to keep his girlfriend on a string while permanently lowering her self-esteem. I didn’t know what a kindness truth could be.

Now I respect the guy, because he didn’t lie–not even to himself–to keep the woman around. He didn’t try to convince himself that he might learn to love her if she changed, or that he hadn’t given the relationship a fair chance.

How many people in our lives have really been that honest with us? And what if we believed it when they were; really heard it and acted accordingly?

People use the metaphor of a “dry well” when talking about how we go on seeking love or approval in places where we have repeatedly failed to find it. For many of us, the first examples came from our childhood–and we find ourselves adults who are still trying, consciously or unconsciously, to win. Win love, approval, or even just closure where it is never, ever going to be found.

Then we re-enact this pattern in relationships, and keep digging in one spot instead of moving to more promising locations. Our determination is fed by countless movies and books in which someone “wins” another person’s love or commitment through heroic efforts.

It’s a human condition–I’m not really writing about addicts or those dealing with mental illness right now, except in the sense that such issues might make us a tad more needy and vulnerable.

Part of surrendering to reality is seeing and believing in the existence of those dry wells in our lives. We let go of the hope and obsessive pursuit, and are free to spend our efforts on other things. But damn, it hurts. We feel lonely, sad, or angry, and we go around with the brick-living-in-our-chest feeling that goes with a grief process.

The wounds of my childhood, like those we all bear, are not going to be healed by anyone but me.
My loved ones are not going to change and magically begin to meet all of my needs.
The world is never going to make me feel accepted and loved; it’s up to me to create that love in myself and actively seek it in others.
Nothing out there is going to fix me, release me from my demons, or save me from aging and the human inevitability of death.

If I expect these things from people, relationships or anything in my life, I deprive myself of the chance to appreciate what I can get from them. I miss the moments of joy or the opportunity to be of service. I’ll miss the “two out of three” others might have to offer me.

You’ll never find your gold on a sandy beach
You’ll never drill for oil on a city street
I know you’re looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
But there ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom
Of a Cracker Jack box…

Damn right there isn’t. I’ve looked long enough.

Snap, Crackle, Don’t Pop

I have a lot to learn about dealing with anger. I have a lot to learn about dealing with hypomania. When it comes to the combination of the two, it’s as if I won the Lottery of Batshit Craziness.

Why I’m angry and frustrated today is unimportant/not my story. What’s important is that I am. That something’s running around inside me, jumping, scratching, burning the insides of my blood vessels. That my stomach is clenched up in a knot of frustration, mixed with the fear that always accompanies anger for me. That whenever I begin to calm myself and find a little serenity, a stray thought or cue will bring me back to rehashing a conversation, composing speeches in my head and fighting the urge to go back to a thoroughly unconstructive interaction.

The energy of healthful anger is so powerful if it’s used properly, but that’s a big if. Most of us either learned to shun all anger as dangerous or to take on an angry persona for self-protection. I was the first kind–for me, the overwhelming fear and anxiety trigged by anger bring the desire to push my feelings down, turn them off, bury them under a rock, anything to keep from having to tolerate what’s going on inside my skin. For decades, that’s exactly what I did. A simple sequence, repeated so many times it no longer involved any decisions:

–Feel anger or another strong emotion
–Imagine expressing it/confronting the source
–Get terrified and anxious
–Try to live with the anxiety I now have
–Crack and do something self-destructive
–Beat myself up/suffer other consequences
–Voila! Anger has been replaced with shame and self-loathing.
–Most psychic energy is gone; what’s left is deflected into repairing the damage.

Anyone else identify? Anyone else have it so ingrained that the first couple of steps get skipped and they aren’t aware of anger on a conscious level at all? I used to be like that, and in recent years (thanks a bunch, therapy!) that’s changed. I’m more in touch with an inner fire, and it burns–especially in a situation, like this one, where I’ve already done all I can and need to move on. Where it really wouldn’t be constructive to dig deeper, and the only conflict I have a chance of winning is the one in my own head.

Anyway, I’ve been in a state of high frustration for a couple of days, and I haven’t been acting out. This means my anxiety is through the roof, and it’s one of very few times I’ve felt this way while already hypomanic. I really do want to climb out of my skin–and the addict in me is all for that. It wants an off switch for these feelings, and it wants one NOW. It wants the lethargy overeating creates, or the everything’s-okay feeling of drugs. It wants the normal sequence, the one that leads to the return of the status quo.

It tries to tell me that this feeling is unbearable, and that it will last forever. I try to tell it that it’s full of shit. I AM bearing it, and it won’t last forever. Do I like it? No. Am I unhappy? Yes. These are very different things from being unable to bear something. That’s the tough love I am trying to give myself today.

I’ve stalked around the house muttering to myself. I’ve sat with a pile of National Geographics, ripping out pages for later cutting of pictures. I’ve twitched my way through TV programs, card games and various other attempts at distraction. I’ve hyperventilated from time to time, or babbled to someone on the phone. And the world hasn’t come to an end. I breathe in, breathe out, repeat. It’s a lot like the kind of coping I describe in A Trip to Town. I’m getting better at sharing with my family, although it’s hard. I’m getting better at letting myself be twitchy in front of witnesses if that’s what I have to do to keep from being self-destructive.

The amount of energy that flows through my brain scares me, and I don’t know–have never known–how to use it properly. Becoming more actively creative is a help, but I must not be doing enough–the energy crackles around me, like an electrified aura; I can almost see it and feel it. Anger heightens it all, until I half expect my hair to be standing on end. I use various grounding techniques, but they are all temporary in their effect.

Here’s the part where I come up with a metaphor or a sweet thing to say to my readers; well, I don’t have much today. When I’m not crackling, I am drained. This is just a check-in/slice of life, and maybe a little scrap of hope: I’ve made it through two days (one eternity) of this, and poured out some of it into a poem, and done other things to try cleansing my personal universe of what’s sticking to it. I never would have been able to do that a few years ago. Things change. Things can change.

Dishes Lie

Don’t trust the dishes.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m proud of being able to wash dishes. For years, it was a task shuffled off to my spouse; even more so than other mundane tasks because the specific posture and movements dishes require triggered my lower back pain intensely. Today, he can come home and have anywhere from a 50% to 95% chance of finding the sink and counter clear. Maybe not clean, but at least clear of objects.

The presence of clean dishes can, like laundry or a walked dog, be diagnostic. It can mean that I’m doing well enough physically and mentally to take positive actions. It makes sense that someone who loves me is pleased to see it.

But sometimes dishes tell gleaming, ceramic lies.

Sometimes clean dishes don’t mean anything at all, and the effort that produced them has nothing to do with how I am doing. Sometimes they’re the one task I do that day, not as a small accomplishment but as a ritual of guilt. Sometimes doing the dishes was just a postcard to a distant land where what I do means anything.

So, if your loved one is living with significant depression, don’t believe their foamy sales pitch. Don’t let the dishes convince you that things aren’t that bad. Understand that those duplicitous cups and plates don’t mean that your loved one washed their hair lately, or took their medicine, or had a day free of harming themselves.

And it’s not just dishes that can be lying bastards. Anything can. I used to meet weekly with a woman living in the most crushing, despairing gray mental landscape imaginable. The only time she left her cluttered and neglected home was for appointments related to her physical and mental health issues, but when she arrived to see me she was nicely dressed, clean and made up. Once a week, she’d dragged herself through a misleading shower, put on false-tongued cosmetics and walked into the world for a short outing before reverting to what was real for her.

People can love us, but they can’t save us. So I’m not saying that it’s anyone’s job to read our minds–I just want us, those who suffer both directly and indirectly from these scourges of the mind–to know that there’s often more going on than meets the eye.

You don’t have to have a diagnosis for this to be true, of course. Your boss who seems so full of himself cried like a baby in his therapist’s office earlier today. The guy who sold you a car spent last night compulsively masturbating to Internet porn, missing his wife who left him over his addiction. The prom queen’s bulimic, the football captain was molested; pretty much everyone has a disconnect between how they seem and how they are really doing.

I try to be pretty honest about how I’m doing–at least to the degree that I am able to be honest with myself. Even so, it’s just not possible to brief my loved ones in depth constantly; they’d be unable to function in their own lives if I did. When a family member asks how I am, the answer they get is never the whole story, and when I say goodnight in the evening there are always unread chapters.

Yes, I and others do sometimes make cries for help. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that my recent writing partially serves that purpose. But we do the opposite too. We try to look better, just a little, because we hate being a burden. Because we’re sick of trying to describe how we feel, and we imagine that the people we love are just as sick of hearing about it. We try to tough it out, and we try to do something, anything, to inject a little normalcy into the lives of those around us.

We do the dishes. And that’s a good thing, to do something. It’s better than staring at the wall.

But dishes lie.

Guilting the Lily

When is it okay to be happy?
When is it allowed to put aside every regret, every unpaid bill, and every worry about a loved one and enjoy a moment?
When is it all right to have a good day even when my partner, child, mother, or another close to me is miserable?

Call it codependency, call it oversensitivity, call it enmeshment or any other psychological term–by any name, it’s operating for me and I need to be aware of it. I’m acting on a core belief that it is not okay for me to be feeling good in the presence of a loved one who is not.

The level of depression I’m dealing with lately makes it quite vital that I find moments of pleasure and joy where I can. I’ve often written about the importance of this for all of us, and the importance of being willing to think and act outside of the box to do so. But as soon as I become aware that a family member has a headache, or is dealing with hyperanxiety, or had a rotten commute, I stop practicing what I preach.

I feel guilty if I want to play music while I do the dishes. I feel guilty when I take time to sit down and write. I feel guilty when I savor the relatively new sensation of climbing stairs with ease, and then remember that someone I love can’t do that so well.

Intellectually, I know that taking good care of myself will let me be more effective in helping others. Intellectually, I know that joining someone in the emotional pit won’t help them get out. I know it’s better to visit on the edge, offering them support and company if they want it, but still experiencing the air and sun. But my deeper complexes are responding to very old programming, and when these situations happen I feel the energy just drain out of me. It happens so fast I don’t have a chance to question it; the energy has gone and I am stuck with trying to get it back.

On some level, I seem to believe that the best way to show that I care about someone is to refrain from displaying any state that is in contrast–to refrain from being energetic if someone is tired, or from being happy if someone feels down. Do I think they would feel insulted, or feel that I don’t care? Do I think I need permission from a committee to feel good?

My spouse and I have some worries right now; the kind that aren’t quickly resolvable and are a constant presence. I realize that I’ve been operating on this idea that if, at any time, I act happy or joyful, it means I am not taking our situation seriously. That I’m being childish and irresponsible. It pushes many of my emotional buttons about having a disability and about being unable to contribute to our finances for several years.

These kind of thought paths are more dangerous for me than I might assume at first. When I get this feeling of guilt/energy drain, it triggers a kind of cascade: every worry I have kind of falls on my head. What about this? What about that? You haven’t thought about this problem in several days. How could you be so self-centered? Oh, God, remember this problem? You are so screwed.

There’s a set of techniques called cognitive-behavioral therapy that specialize in naming and questioning the inaccurate beliefs we operate on. They’re not a cure-all, but they are useful for some things. My main issue with them has usually been that they take discipline and consistent work to have their best effect. (One basic source to learn more is the book Feeling Good by David Burns.)

What I have done today in writing this is name some core beliefs. There are several techniques I might use to start questioning these, and I need to have the humility to try some of them. One of my favorites is called the downward-arrow technique, or the “What Would That Mean”? It works with if-then statements, like this:

If I act happy around my family when they’re not, they’ll think I don’t care enough.
What would that mean?
They will think I’m a bad mother/wife/whatever.
What would that mean?
That would mean I’m a bad mother/wife/whatever. (aha! I’ve identified a part of me that assumes that a judgment like this made by them must be true.)
Anyway, suppose I am a “bad” mother/wife/whatever. What would that mean? That I’m a bad person.
What would that mean?
Umm…well, that I’m bad. That I shouldn’t be the way I am. That I deserve bad things, not good things.

And it could go on and on. It always ends up at a very fundamental place of feeling unworthy, or catastrophic thinking. “If I don’t get an A on the test” ends up at “Life is not worth living.” Then we can look at that deep belief and ask where it came from and how it’s influencing us.

This kind of thought questioning doesn’t fix us. If it did, I’d be good to go by now. But, as I said, it can be useful for me to do when I see myself responding this way. I need to question the voice that tell me to censor, drain or stifle myself. Especially when I’m already depressed. A black hole gets bigger when it consumes nearby material–why throw anything its way when I don’t have to?

The questions about whether I, or any of us, deserve joy while coexisting with others in this world who suffer are bigger than today’s topic. The questions strike at our deepest feelings of despair and shame, and I know I am not the only one who wrestles with them. But right now, I think it’s best to table the question of worthiness and continue my campaign for survival.