Lessons from Glisan Street

I just completed a three-month tour in therapy. I’m not ashamed to admit I sought mental health counseling, especially after such a terrible 2013. It ranks up there in the top five worst years of my life: my living and working conditions were difficult, I was emotionally manipulated by a smarmy politician who broke my heart, then found love with someone new, then I got pregnant when I wasn’t ready for it, miscarried said baby, and then experienced the absolute worst heartbreaks of my entire life- losing both baby and baby daddy.

To say I wish I could have an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind experience and erase that entire year from my memory is an understatement.

But since that is impossible, and I have to live with the events of what transpired, I sought help that couldn’t be provided by friends and family. Tuesday was my last session, and in the spirit of moving on and healing, I thought I would share the lessons I learned from that big comfy chair on Glisan Street.

 

1.  Your emotions are temporary.

This means that the way you feel at this moment is not how you will feel forever. Emotions ebb and flow. Even when it feels like your feels as if it has been wrapped up in barbed wire, even when the pain feels far too difficult to overcome, those feelings eventually will pass. It’s okay if it takes a while to move forward, but just know that you will move forward.

 

2.  Allow yourself to experience your feelings.  It’s the only way to get past them.

I learned how deeply I could bury my feelings so I can quickly move forward. I was still holding on to pain from years past, and that pain was seeping into my life like a toxic sludge, poisoning my actions and relationships. This was completely unhealthy, and I suffered the consequences.

No matter how much you want to avoid it, your feelings must be fully experienced in order to move on. This includes pain, anger, hurt, and sadness. No matter how far you try to push those emotions to the side, they won’t grow legs and walk away. Instead, they will become squatters on the periphery of your life, festering in silence, growing putrid and rank, influencing you in negative ways without you even realizing it’s happening.

You can try keeping busy, burying yourself in work, or dating new people to distract yourself, all in the name of “moving on.” It’s fine to be busy, but you still must face your emotions and allow yourself to just feel them. It’s okay to feel hurt, to be sad for what you have lost, and it’s even okay for you to cry it out. Each day is going to be different, and you need to go easy on yourself as you work through painful experiences. The key is to recognize and feel the emotion, and then let it pass.

 

3.  Your emotions do not define you.

This is an important part of working through pain. You may feel like this is a permanent part of who you are, but it’s important to remember that there is a difference between what you feel and what you are. I told my therapist, “I am damaged. I don’t know how to move forward.” She was quick to point out the language I used, and talked about how that negativity will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I tell myself I am damaged, I am setting myself up for failure.

“You feel hurt, you feel pain, but you are not hurt and pain. You are not damaged. How you feel is not who you are.” This taught me to be very aware of the language I use in describing how I feel and who I am.

 

4.  You’re actions don’t define you, unless you let them.

Just like your emotions do not define you, you’re actions do not define you either. That is, unless you allow them to. We all stumble and fall, make poor choices, and sometimes hurt the ones we love. When this happens, we must atone for the grievance and seek forgiveness. We must also remember that we may not be granted forgiveness, no matter how much we try to make things right. Therefore, and this is extremely important, we must learn to forgive ourselves.

Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that what you did was okay, but rather it means that you have made peace with yourself. It means you won’t hold on to the pain and regret of your actions. It’s far too easy to get lost in the past. If you walk around thinking to yourself, “I really screwed up and acted pretty terribly. This means that I must be a terrible person, and will continue to screw up in the future. I will hurt every person who tries to love me. It’s just who I am.”

No no no. Do not let your past actions define you as a human being. Take the time to acknowledge what you did, take action to right the wrong, learn from the mistake, and then forgive yourself. It’s the only way to move forward in a positive and healthy manner.

 

5.  Your future is not governed by your past, so stop living in it.

One of my current biggest fears is that I will always be haunted by my dad’s abandonment, and will push away every man who tries to get close, as I have been doing for the last twelve years. This will only come to pass if I ignore everything on this list, as I have been doing up to now, and marinate in the negativity.

Nothing can change the past, and nothing can predict the future. All you have is the present. What can you do today that will change your future? What can you accomplish that will throw off the shackles of the past and allow you to be free and focus on what is happening now?

I have been stuck in the past before, and it’s not a fun place to be. I realized that I’m doing it again- living in the past, piling regret upon regret, thinking to myself, “If only I had said this, or if only I had not done that.” Does that make a Delorean appear in front of me to transport me back in time? No. All that does is further my frustration.

My future is what I make it to be, and so is yours. Will it be one that continually looks backward, allowing those shackles to hold you back? Or will it be one that steps forward into a new journey, a fresh start? Choose the latter.

 

6.  99% of the time, other people’s actions have nothing to do with you.

I realized in therapy that I have been hinging my self-worth on my dad’s actions, and the actions of every man I have encountered since. There has been a feeling of worthlessness, that I wasn’t enough for my dad to stick around, so I won’t be enough for any man to sick around.

Except, that’s not true at all. My dad’s actions were his and his alone, and do not reflect upon me at all. He is an emotionally unavailable man who wants things on his terms, and when he doesn’t get his way, he tries to bully you into doing what he wants. His issues are his and his alone. My mother raised me to be a different kind of person than that, and I can recognize that my dad’s career choice was perfect for him. It allowed him to be both physically and emotionally distant, and this has nothing to do with me. He disappeared because he was a coward, not because I wasn’t worth enough for him to stick around.

Do you have someone in your current life or your past life who has made you feel like you aren’t good enough? Let that go. Even if you haven’t always acted right, that doesn’t mean you deserve to be put through a proverbial wood chipper. It’s always good to self-reflect and learn what kind of role you have played in a relationship, but if someone makes you feel like you have no worth, that reflects upon him or her, not you.

 

7.  Learn to draw boundaries.

Are you a “yes” person? Do you do things you don’t want to do, just because you think you should? Do you spend time with people you don’t want to see? Do you let someone at work push you around? Do you let the ghost of the past infiltrate your present?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to start drawing boundaries. For me, one boundary I had to draw was with friends who are pregnant. One was about to give birth, and I told her I couldn’t go to her baby shower because it was too painful. The other friend was only three weeks behind me in conception, so looking at her is like looking at where I should be in my failed pregnancy. With her, I had to say that it was okay to talk about her health and how she was feeling, but to just be mindful of how much she said, and to please not show me all the baby stuff she was buying. For example, she found out the sex of the baby, and I asked her what she was having. She talked about it for a bit, and when I gently changed the subject, she understood and we talked about something else.

Drawing boundaries is important for your mental health, because you have to take care of you. If you are too busy trying to please everyone around you, you risk neglecting your needs, which are valid and important. If someone reacts negatively to your boundaries, that is a reflection of them and their insecurities, not you.  So learn how to set boundaries in your life by saying “no” or voicing your feeling and concerns. It will be like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.

 

8.  You have to love yourself before anyone else can love you.

This is a biggie. Perhaps this is the most important lesson on the list. If you don’t think you are good enough, then no one else will, either. You can try to hide your insecurities, but eventually they will pop up like a bloated dead body down in the river. Gross imagery, right? Think about it. We all know someone who is so insecure it makes the people around them uncomfortable. We’ve all had that friend or significant other that puts himself or herself down, can’t take a compliment, is so clingy you feel like you need a gallon of Downy to break that static down. No one wants to be around that guy, right? Right. Just like no one wants to be around a dead bloated body.

Learn to love yourself. There is only one of you, and that person is pretty great if you give yourself a chance.   Work on figuring out who you are, what you like, and what makes you awesome. And when you are comfortable with who you are, when you genuinely like yourself, that glow will shine out like a lighthouse, attracting all kinds of ships.

 

9.  Focus on the good things that you have, not the things you don’t have.

If you keep thinking about what everyone around you has that you think you should have, you’ll never move forward. This is something I am terrible at. I look at my age and current life status, and get angry with myself for not doing things differently. I’m the last single friend, I don’t have a home of my own, I’m not financially secure, and I don’t have a career. It’s hard when everyone around me has the things I so deeply desire. So I end up letting my self-esteem take a beating by comparing my life to theirs.

It’s not easy to reframe an entrenched way of thinking, but this is what you have to do. Ask yourself: What are the postive things in my life? What do I have that is good? What do I have that makes me happy? Start a gratidue journal and write down three things that made you happy. It can be as simple as “The sun came out today.” The more you do this, the more your brain will begin to focus on the good and not fixate on the bad.

I tell myself “it’s okay that I am starting over at 31. I can do this.” I’m starting to believe it, too.

 

10.  You’re stronger than you think.

I promise this is true.  I know it’s hard to believe it sometimes.  It’s hard for me to believe it sometimes, especially when things get overhwhelming.  The last three months have not been easy.  In fact, they’ve been some of the hardest months of my life.  Yet, I’m still here.  I’m still standing.  When I look back at some of the things I’ve experienced in my 31 years on this earth, I see that I somehow manage to keep moving forward.  I don’t crawl into the fetal position under my covers and hide from the world.  Well, maybe I did once or twice.  Sometimes we just need that downtime.  But I didn’t stay hidden under the covers.  I eventually got up and faced the world.  And you can, too.  Find your inner-strength and channel it, even on the days you don’t want to.  It will begin to make a big difference in your life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Those are my ten lessons I learned on Glisan Street.  My time in therapy was valuable, but by no means am I healed.  I still feel hurt.  I still feel lonely.  Last week I had my first OBGYN visit and it took courage to return to the clinic, my first time since I lost the baby. And this morning I broke down in tears in front of a nurse practitioner in immediate care because she asked me what sources of stress I’ve been experiencing lately.  It is still incredibly pain to say the words I had a miscarraige.  And I know it will be for a while.  And I also know that’s okay.

I still have a lot of work to do.  One of the reasons I wrote this list was to remain mindful of the work I have done, and to have a place I can return to when things start to feel bleak and hopeless.  I can read this list and be reminded of how far I’ve come, and that I have the ability to keep going.  I have the ability to heal.  And so do you.

Until next time ~ B

 

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The Chains I Have Forged

Friend: “So, what happened?”

Me: “Normally, for the sake of brevity, I tell the truncated version of this story, which inadvertently leaves him looking like an asshole.  But the truth is, a lot of what went wrong is my fault, and it’s hard to explain that to people.  Even when I say, ‘Really, he’s not an asshole,” they don’t believe me.  So it’s just easier to keep it short and simple.”

Friend: “Well, you know that I’m going to be biased for you no matter what you tell me.”

Me: “That’s fine, you can be on Team B.  The real story is that I spent my entire pregnancy looking for reasons, any possible reason, to push him away.  And I did push him away, over and over again.”

Friend: “Okay, well now it’s really hard to be on Team B.”

Me: “Right?  I told you so.”

Last Thursday I reconnected with someone I met over the summer, via OkCupid.  Back then we had gone on a few dates, but realized we were looking for different things and ended our brief, uneventful affair amicably.  I reconnected with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago about a job I was looking into that is connected to his department, and as we were catching up, I was being very vague about my life.  He must have heard the strain in my voice, because he kept pressing for the truth and asking, “Are you really okay?”  Finally, I told him the brief version of events, and he expressed his sincerest apologies.  We made plans to catch up in person and be real friends this time, not the fake kind of friends you say you will be after a failed courtship.

The following week, over Old Fashioneds in a dark little bar in North Portland, we had the above conversation.  I explained to him the entire saga, as it is so much easier to talk to someone about life troubles when they are not a part of your close inner-circle.  It’s easy to be strong and impassioned and tell a story in a sterile manner to an acquaintance or stranger, rather than letting your emotion loose by breaking down in front of your bestie or your mother.

But I digress.

A few days before I had this conversation is when I realized the extent to which I played a part in driving away my Ex.  I have spent a lot of time focusing on his actions and short-changing mine.  It wasn’t intentional, as I had recognized some of what I did and apologized for it.  But what I really should have been apologizing for is something that I had not yet understood, and that is the following:

I pushed him away.  Every single day, I was subconsciously looking for reasons to break up with him.  Whether it was his drinking that I once shared in, his jokes that I once found funny, the extensive cell phone use that I had once tolerated, or the night my cat was sick, I picked at him like a scavenger dissecting a newly discovered carcass.

And despite this treatment, he kept trying to stay with me and make it work.  But he was right- nothing he did made me happy.  When he tried to keep me positive, I increased my negativity.  When he agreed with that negativity, I used that against him.  It was a vicious cycle that I perpetuated until the miscarriage.

Why did I do this?   Think about it- why does someone push their partner away if he or she loves them?  It is the fear of intimacy and commitment.  I am afraid of intimacy and commitment. 

There is the harsh truth in black and white that I have buried underneath a façade of smug relationship arrogance.  I have pushed away every man that was trying to legitimately give me what I claim to want.  Six years ago, there was the boyfriend who tried to atone for two years of emotional distance by asking me to marry him.  Four years ago, there was the man who was so emotionally available that it scared me into breaking up with him after less than a year.  A few months ago there was the man with whom I conceived a baby, and was prepared to do right by me and start a family.  How did I react?  By doing what I do best: panicking and finding reasons why he wasn’t right for me and we shouldn’t be doing this.

And between those men, I dated men who were either geographically or emotionally unavailable.  There was the California-based former classmate from college, the older married man with three kids, and the politician who lived three hours away.  In some way, either my partner or myself was inaccessible.

I am not sure it’s possible to put into words how I felt when this epiphany struck.  I was in the kitchen getting my things together for work and literally stopped moving, yogurt and water bottle in hand, and stood there for who knows how long, letting it sink in.  My throat closed up and my stomach burned, and the headache began to creep in.  When I was pregnant, I was scared, but I don’t think I realize how much of that fear was gaining energy and fire from events of my past.  I had already been to counseling twice about my father, and thought I had quelled those demons and put it behind me.

When I entered grief counseling in early January, I thought it would be focused on getting through the miscarriage and the breakup.  However, it became clear very early on that there was much more going on; emotions I had buried so deep that I was thoroughly in denial of their existence.  Yet again, in counseling I am working through a lot of my unresolved issues with my dad.  I told my therapist that I choose emotionally unavailable men in order to perpetuate my self-fulfilling prophecy: That all men will eventually leave, just like he did.  That I was not enough for my dad to stick around, so why would I be enough for any other man to stick around?

Having had one impasse with my ex earlier in the relationship, it was easy to peg him into the “Emotionally Unavailable” category of boyfriends.  I was originally going to write a column about how I choose the same types of men over and over again, and that I need to end this awful cycle.  However, it never occurred to me that I am also emotionally unavailable until now.

So after pushing him away for nearly two months, I miscarried the baby, yet remained in “family mode”, plowing full-steam ahead into the future.  I even had decided when I wanted to try for kids again, and I was planning all of this with him in mind, not understanding that he was free to do the opposite.  I just expected that we would stay together and be a family.

When he said he wanted to separate, I focused on his issues, his problems, his insecurities, all the while not taking note of my own.  I was so hurt that he was rejecting me.  I look back on that and cringe, because all I did during my pregnancy was reject him.  Of course he wanted to escape the woman who made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right.  With what I know now, I don’t blame him for leaving.

I want to pause and say that I am not attempting to martyr myself.  We both did things that we shouldn’t have, but this blog is not about his actions.  I’m done writing about that.  This blog is about recognizing my actions, and how I played a part in this breakup.   I am a deeply flawed human being who behaved in a manner that hurt another person without understanding what my hidden motivations were.  I accomplished what subconsciously I set out to do during my pregnancy: I pushed him away, and he took his freedom.

I thought about reaching out to him and saying, “I understand what I did, and I’m so deeply sorry.  I wish I could go back and change how things played out between us.   I have so many regrets.   That is not who I am.  That is not the partner that I want to be.   I want you to know what I am working really hard to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.  I want to be the girl you gave the resume to again.”

I could do that, but what would it accomplish?  He has chosen his path, and I promised him that I would not contact him again.   Nothing I say will change the past or fix the present or bring him back.  We will still be broken up.  I will still be that deeply flawed person who is not ready for a relationship.  And seeing him or hearing his voice will likely just make me hurt more and set me back on my own moving on process.  I did the bad thing and checked his Twitter feed.  He is doing well.  He is happy. I saw a recent picture of him, and he looked quite handsome.  His smile was genuine.  I’m not going to barge in on that with my special version of crazy and disrupt his life.  Instead, I’m just going to keep working on letting it go.

(I mean, Saturday night he went dancing for fuck’s sake.  D a n c i n g.  I saw that and my jaw dropped.  Now, I’ve seen his moves.  I’m not sure how that translated to a Portland dance club.  I imagine there was whisky involved, him dropping a line like, “I just got my new Benz,” and some skanky twenty-something bleach blonde bitches who just got their nails did for the weekend.  ‘Cause y’all know any broad that comes after me is a downgrade.  Amiright?)

*Ahem*  I digress.

One more ugly truth for the evening: I am still just as terrified as I was during my pregnancy.  This is my third time in counseling to work through my unresolved emotions regarding my father.  His abandonment has scarred me so deeply that I expect everyone to leave me, and thus I act accordingly.  I feel like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  When Marley visits Scrooge, he warns him of his impending fate.  He shakes his chains at Scrooge, the chains he forged in life, chains that entwine his body and drag behind him on the floor.  For twelve years I have carried similar chains forged from unresolved pain, and I swing those chains at anyone who dares get too close.  I push people away in an act of self-preservation, and when they leave, the abandonment has come full circle once again.

How many times will it take to truly move past his abandonment and betrayal?   What will it take to dump these chains, to lift the emotional burden I have carried with me for so long?

What if this is it for me?  What if I will never really move on, and this is my life?  I want to be a wife and a mom so much, but what if that is not in the cards for me, because I will be ruled by the past, continuing to forge new chains for the rest of my life?  I am terrified that this is my future, and that I will either continue to cycle through self-fulfilling prophecies with men, or I will just abandon the idea of a family and live my life alone, living in an old house with cobwebs on the ceiling.  I’ll go to Bingo on Wednesday nights, play Bridge on the weekends, and the rest of the time hang out at home with the pitbull I will have saved from death at the local pound.  I’ll give him some kind of hyper-masculine name like Zeus or Black Dynamite, and we’ll watch TV on the couch together while I drink cheap wine in my purple sweatsuit and feed him Milk Bones.

I know that it doesn’t have to be like this, that I can work through this and make a future for myself in which I am happy and emotionally settled.  I have to keep telling myself that I am doing the right thing by examining all of this, by moving forward alone and letting go of the past.  I have to keep telling myself that I am capable of a healthy mind, body and soul.  I have to keep telling myself I can do this.

I fucking hope I can do this.

Until next time ~ B

Bitterness And Avoidance: My Life After Miscarriage (M Word Part IV)

I am so, so bitter.  So bitter, in fact, that I cannot bring myself to share in the pregnancy joy of others.  I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t want to know about it, I want to pretend their pregnancies don’t exist.  I feel awful for admitting that out loud, but each time my friend brings her pregnancy up to me, it feels like any progress I’ve done to stich my heart back up is unraveled.  I know two pregnant women, and I had to block them from my FB newsfeed so I don’t have to read their updates and see their pictures. 

How long is miscarriage grief supposed to last?  When will I be able to see baby bumps and not feel a lump in my throat the size of an orange?   When will I walk past the baby section of a store and no longer fight back tears?  When will I see a young couple with a baby and no longer imagine what my family would have looked like?  When will I see a man holding a baby and not flash to the image of what it would have looked like with my ex holding our baby?

I do my best to compartmentalize my life so I can get through each day.  I spend one hour a week talking about my loss in therapy, and then the rest of the week I shove the pain into a box, only to be reopened at the following session.   While I think about my ex all the time, it’s somehow easy for me not to think about my miscarriage until I am triggered.  I don’t know why that is.  Perhaps it is because there is no bringing my baby back, but my ex is still walking around living his life.  Details on his life are just a social media click away.

I would have been four months pregnant on Saturday.  I told someone how sad that made me, and they said, “don’t be sad about that.  You just need to live your life and move forward.”  If healing my heart and moving forward was that easy, I would.  Believe me, I don’t like feeling this way.  I don’t like reaching milestones that will never be realized because the baby died and feel an ache reverberate through my body.  I have to choose my words carefully these days, because it’s like I can’t even be sad anymore.  People either say, “oh, don’t be sad, just move on,” or they say, “Oh, well, maybe you should go to counseling/talk about that in counseling.” No one wants to hear about what I’ve been through.   

Because no one wants to talk about dead babies and lost loves.

So, So bitter.  I just want to fast-forward to a time when this no longer breaks my heart over and over again.  I need something, anything, to go right. 

Fuck.

Until next time ~ Bitter B