Why can’t the past just be the past? Part I
Greetings Gentle Readers,
I’m back after rather a lengthy absence. First, I want to say thank you to all of you who sent encouraging emails or comments. I know there were no responses, but trust me, they were read. It meant so much to know that people were thinking of me while I was gone.
And some things haven’t changed, my first draft was 3400 words long! So I’ll be splitting this into two parts. The title won’t make much sense until the second post, since this one is essentially an update on what I’ve been up to, but we’ll get there eventually.
It’s been a weird year. I had taken a break from therapy because things were going really well. I posted that I was going to back off a bit so I didn’t disappear, then I disappeared. I said I was going to work on a book, (and I admit this with a mixed sense of shame and embarrassment), I didn’t work on it. One of the major things that shifted for me right before the break was the realization that it was truly ok for me to do what I wanted with my time and energy. BN and I were talking about my working on my health and weight loss. I was really struggling one session and got quite angry. In a rather honest outburst, I said “What if I don’t want to be healthy? I like to be on my computer, or reading or watching TV. I hate exercise. Maybe I don’t mind having these ‘limitations’ I’m not missing anything that I really want.” I sat back, expecting BN to explain to me why it was so important for me to lose weight, how much better it would be for me, how obviously it was the right thing to do. Honestly, I had felt very defiant while saying it, pretty much like a child throwing a tantrum, so I expected to be corrected, because OBVIOUSLY I SHOULD lose weight. When will I learn not to expect the obvious from BN? To my everlasting shock, he very calmly said “You don’t have to lose weight, it’s up to you.” I sat there with my mouth hanging open (with a slight aggrieved feeling of “wait, you’re the adult, you’re supposed to be telling me to do the RIGHT thing, don’t you care about me?” I am a world champion of ambivalence). He went on to say “AG, it’s your life, live it the way you want to.” For some reason, it hit me right between the eyes.
For most of my life, I have been driven by a sense that my worth was tied to how useful I could be, that my relationships were dependent on my “paying” for them. If I was not providing something, then of course I would be abandoned. You can see where that might lead to being a little driven. In some ways, my life was not mine, it was something I owed other people. The truth of it – being ok to actually do want I wanted to, for no better reason than it was what I wanted (seriously, a horrifying thought, because I would turn into a selfish monster right?)- finally sinking in, had a profound effect. I was doing a lot of things that I truly enjoyed and found valuable, all of them very tied into my growth, such as this blog, moderating on Psychcafe, and volunteering on a crisis line. I have no doubt that a strong part of my motivation was driven by a wish to do good, to bring meaning out of what happened to me, to help others the way I had been helped. I also want to be clear that all of it was my free choice and not imposed or demanded by anyone else. I did all these things because I wanted to and found them rewarding. But I think I also had to accept the painful truth that on some unconscious level I was trying to make sure I was accepted and valued. So I gave myself permission to stop. Everything. I’m sure I have been a bit on the selfish side, but I have comforted myself with the thought that I was a little overdue to balance things out a bit. My best description is that I experienced a very long, slow collapse. I have fulfilled my responsibilities to my family and my job, but not much beyond. I pulled very inward, something intensified by my returning to therapy as I worked on my body and food issues.
SIDENOTE: I’m at a point that I know I can live without therapy and even BN (gasp!), but I also know that I deeply value the time to reflect and understand what I’m doing that therapy provides. It’s extremely useful for me, so I am taking advantage of it. It’s also still an incredible emotional luxury to feel secure, and not be bothered by breaks, etc. I have a much better balance these days.
So much so that a number of my close friends kept checking in to see if they had done something wrong. The seeking out of solitude and the slowing down were both deeply inchoate, and not very well understood, impulses, so it was hard to explain to other people something I barely understood myself. This absence has in some ways been a period of rest, a rest I wasn’t really aware I needed. I’m still not sure I understand what this was all about; I just know lately, I have been feeling as if I might be ready to venture out again. Don’t understand that either, but I’m going to trust it the same way I trusted my instinct to pull back.
Of course, just because I was resting did NOT mean life decided to grind to a halt. My younger daughter graduated college and started working full time at my company. They adore her, she’s brilliant and I need to get out of there before I find myself working for her! We’re close, get along well and are respectful of each other’s space, so it’s working well so far. She’s saving for grad school, so she’s living at home (where the rent is cheap!) but moved into our in-law apartment attached to our house to be a bit more independent. We’re still adjusting to my husband being retired, although we’re both very happy he is. I only wrapped two Christmas presents this year!! But I am still struggling to carve out my own space and time for writing. I can still find it hard to set boundaries, even though my husband is perfectly fine with me doing so. Still a work in progress. I am still working on becoming more comfortable in my body, and dealing with my weight and food issues. There have been varying degrees of success. I have found the crux of the issue is hanging on to my new, and sometimes fragile, understanding that I am worthwhile just as I am and that eating better and exercising are acts of self-love and self-care to allow myself to live the life which I want. This is warring with my long standing belief that I was not worthwhile, especially as fat as I am, I should be ashamed, and I needed to diet and lose weight until I became a more worthy person (or at least one closer to the cultural norm). The distinction is so important because with the latter belief any attempt to exercise or eat better evokes a deep sense of shame and being unworthy, so I avoid those activities. Seeing them as an act of love really helps to engage in them. It also fosters a sense of compassion for the inevitable failures. I am human, change can be slow, but I’m still worthwhile and it’s still ok to continue being loving to myself. Doesn’t that all sound so simple and easy? BWWAAAHHHAAAAAH. Again, I’m a work in progress. Last but not least, and he’s doing really well now, but my husband needed to be moved off of an anti-arrhythmic drug that had too many long term side effects. It may have had side effects, but it was also very effective. After over 15 months without any episodes of afib, my husband’s heart decided to act up three months after he stopped the drug. So his cardiologist decided to put him on another anti-arrhythmic, but this one requires you to be hospitalized in order to start the medication. They have to closely monitor your heart to guard against a possible side effect of this drug. First time didn’t go so good, he couldn’t tolerate the highest dose, and he remained in Afib. But we tried again later and he tolerated the higher dose just fine and after a cardio-revert is back in a normal sinus rhythm. If things continue to look good at his next follow up, he gets off the blood thinner for now. So there were a couple of hospitalizations, but they were worth it as he is looking very stable again. So that’s the short version of what’s been going on? (Really!?! There’s a long version?!! RUN!! :D)
There was a catalyst to why I decided to venture back out on to the blog now. Barb left a comment on my Dissociation and Trauma: It wasn’t really that bad, was it? post and I found myself in a dilemma. This is Barb’s first comment on my blog (Welcome Barb! Thanks for taking the time to comment!) and the first time you comment it goes into the moderation queue. I have a difficult time not allowing someone to have a voice, so I have never used disagreeing with someone as a reason not to allow a comment to be published. (I reserve that for spam, repeated offensive behavior, or deliberately misleading me about your identity for those curious about it.) But I hesitated in this case because I also did not want Barb’s comment to go unanswered as I was worried about it’s effect on some of my readers. So many people struggling to heal from trauma can wrestle with feelings of focusing too much on themselves, or making too big a deal of what happened (when they are doing neither) and I do not want anything on my blog to add fuel to that fire. So instead, I decided to write this post, publish Barb’s comment and reply to it. Once I do that the title of this post may make more sense. 😀 Barb’s comment and my reply will be in the next post.
This is the first of a two part series. For Part II, see Why can’t the past just be the past? Part II