Love Language

Since the dawn of our earliest days language has been incredibly useful. For seemingly instinctual reasons within our evolution as humans, we have developed the ability to make intelligent, complex sounds that have acquired meaning over time. This has made it possible for societies of people to accumulate knowledge between generations, allowing us to participate in a shared past and future so that we can not only talk about and thus learn from where we’ve been and what we’ve done, but also discuss where we’re going as we plan for a better tomorrow.

The very essence of a shared social experience includes the ability to come to a similar understanding of the events that occur which help to shape our lives. Language is not just a way to label objects. Embedded within it are ways of looking at the world. So, “thinking and perception are not only expressed through language but are also shaped by language. Rather than objects and events forcing themselves onto our consciousness, it is our very language that determines our consciousness, and hence our perception, of objects and events” (Quoted from an old sociology textbook and sorry I can’t reference it here; just making it clear that those aren’t my words.)

Similarly, the way in which we talk about (or don’t talk about) love shapes our perception of how we are supposed to treat someone we love and how we should be made to feel by someone we love. Not to mention, the way we should love and treat our Selves. The way I learned to experience love was through denial.

They say food is love. Throughout high school I scrutinized, avoided, binged and purged food before finally deciding it no longer served a purpose in my life. But before that I perceived love as something that perhaps I would be worthy of if only I looked like all the skinny, clueless women in every ad and magazine. Yet at the exact same time, I resented society’s standards and threw my nose up at women and men for thinking beauty could ever be so one dimensional (almost literally).

Just as food is a basic need, we cannot argue the power of love. Love is nourishing. It is a life force. It is what drives us to contribute even the tiniest shred of decency to the world. By denying myself a basic human need–food–I believe I was actively rejecting that which has been withheld from me and that I consequently didn’t feel deserving of–love.

While I was bulimic I would often find myself sneaking into the kitchen late at night. It was something I would anticipate and plan out in my head hours ahead of time: What and how much am I going to eat? Who do I run the risk of getting caught by and which bathroom should I use afterwards? Always, always I would eat so much in so little time that the guilt would overwhelm me and I felt I had no choice but to make myself throw up. I wanted to conceal my “weakness” by expelling any trace of ever having such a need. And even though I was smart enough to know that what I was doing was absurd and not healthy for me, it was also something I had to work through before I could begin adopting a new mindset.

So here I am, still working through an old mindset of denying myself that which sustains, only this time it isn’t food. But I know it’s foolish and that the first step out of this mess is accepting that I have needs. And that I am entitled to the most basic of them all……..

love.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.” -Federico Fellini

One word that others have always, always used to describe me is ‘quiet’, as if there was something wrong with me. And it’s true that I have tended to keep to myself, interjecting when necessary and being soft spoken at that. But in a world full of constant noise and jibber-jabber, I actually feel I am doing the people around me a favor. Besides, when all you do is talk, talk, talk you miss out on an amazing opportunity: you can easily blunder your chance at understanding someone.

When two people trying to engage fail to hear one another, it can be incredibly detrimental to that relationship and over time, not feeling understood can do severe damage to a person. It’s easy to give up on trying to make yourself heard when no one seems to want to listen.

So while a little less talking and a lot more listening could do us all some favors, holding back and staying silent also have negative outcomes. It’s not only frustrating for those who want to know and understand someone, but it’s also quite discouraging for the individual who has trouble finding their voice because it’s been stifled so many times. This is certainly true in my experience.

As is so often the case, I learned to silence myself by example. My mother is a lead expert in self-repression. Forty-five years of ignoring the vows broken, lies told. Forty-five years of submitting to sex against her will and desire. Forty-five years of swallowing her pride and giving in to the opinions of a man who wouldn’t allow her to be right if it meant he was wrong. Forty-five years of being made to feel stupid. Forty-five years without ever hearing the words, “I love you”, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry”. Forty-five years of feeling unloved, unappreciated, and unworthy of something better–someone better. Forty-five birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Days, Christmases without so much as a card to let her know she was thought of. Forty-five years of caring for a man who has refused to take care of himself much less tend to her needs. Forty-five years of watching him devote his time to other interests instead of his family. Forty-five years of silencing the voices within, of praying to die.

A few years back my mother revealed this hidden, broken piece of herself. I sat with her, mourning over the life she’s felt forced to live as she told me she’s so unhappy she wants to die and prays to God to take her away. And I began to resent my father even more for being the reason she felt this way.

Thirty-two years that I have observed and internalized the need to keep quiet. Afterall, what’s the point in saying something if you’re not going to be heard? If all you’ll face is persecution? Thirty-two years of feeling like I’m not worthy of being loved or of having a voice. Thirty-two years of communicating the best way I know how and still not being understood. But I’ve not lost faith in me yet even if everyone I’ve given my heart to has. The key is to unlearn, to redefine.

Even still, how am I supposed to learn to trust again? So many promises have been made and just as many have been broken. It’s easy to make a promise that requires little to no effort on our part. But what about promises that span our entire lifetime? Those are promises that require a certain degree of sacrifice and commitment, courage, determination, and leaps of faith. I’m doing the work. But really, what’s the point? Because so few people out there are willing to go that extra mile.

Me, I want to get to the bottom of things. I want to figure out why things work the way they do. Why do we behave the way we do? Why do we choose the people we choose? And how can things be done differently? There’s so much to uncover, so much to understand about the undercurrents of our lives and the way they help shape us, motivate us, determine the choices we make. I suppose, then, being with someone who is less interested in those things is not an option.

One promise I’m making myself is this: I may be quiet, but I will not stay silent. And I will not be ignored. I have tried the best way I know how to make myself heard. But my attempts have fallen on deaf ears. No matter. I am here to live my life, not pray that it be over. I am guilty of having those kinds of thoughts; I have felt the plague of desperation overcome my ability to reason as I planned to make my great escape. But that was a voice worth sequestering.

If the only love I ever know is the love of my kids, then that alone is all the love I ever need to feel. And if my love has been enough of a reason for my mom to live, then I’m damn glad I found my way into this world. And I am certainly glad I’m finally finding my voice, even if she has yet to do the same.

I Think I’m Alone Now

When you step out to face that creature, you will step out alone.”
–White Queen to Alice

Perhaps one of the main reasons my mom never left my dad is because she was afraid to be alone. After all, being alone can be…terrifying.  Especially if you have kids.  Because then, not only do you experience the threat of loneliness that often accompanies solitaries, but you also bear primarily all the responsibility in taking care of your children, entertaining them, educating and guiding them, and looking after their emotional needs. That’s scary!! Even for two people. But many a single parent have been successful at doing it alone. And now I’m one of them. I’m proving to my mother, to anyone petrified of braving parenthood on their own, that it can in fact be done. AND that a person doesn’t (shouldn’t) have to be defined by their relationships, especially if those relationships require a loss of self.

As for the loneliness, it’s very real. Especially when you’re still in love. But at the same time, I enjoy being alone. I’m good at it. I’m used to it. Growing up I always felt isolated from my family. My older brother who once offered to protect me from bullies grew to resent me and became a bully himself. Maybe because I had friends and got good grades and he didn’t. Or because our dad mostly left me alone while my brother suffered constant berating.  Repression has a way of bringing out the worst in us. He used to barge into my room while I was undressing.  At first I dismissed it as coincidence, but I got wise to him quick; he was doing it on purpose. I felt so uncomfortable in my own home, my own room even. I learned that no where and no one was safe. I couldn’t change my clothes or use the bathroom without fear of him peeking in to get a look at me. I learned where I had to stand to undress while blocking the door and staying clear of any cracks he could peep through. (And it’s just now occurring to me–his nick name for me when I was a teen oddly became ‘peep’. I thought it was endearing at the time. Now it’s horrifyingly derisive.) Suffice to say, I was never close with my brother.  

In fact, I’ve always felt disparate from everyone in my family. Their perception and expectations of me were never in accordance with who I felt I was inside. So naturally, I learned how to isolate myself as I painfully tried fitting into their mold of me. It was either that or risk being rejected having revealed my true thoughts and feelings, desires and interests; having failed to be who I was “supposed” to be.

My dad was never around (he worked 2nd shift, how convenient). And even when he was, he wasn’t at all available. He isolated himself (one of few things my father taught me to do). My mother was the only source of love I knew but I felt the threat of its revocation whenever I attempted to be myself in front of her. Whether it was listening to Madonna, inviting a black boy to our house, piercing my nose, or being friends with a lesbian, my mother who promised to love me unconditionally in one breath, threatened to disown me in another if I so happened to step outside the lines of what she deemed appropriate, acceptable behavior. I’ll love you IF isn’t unconditional love.

Consequently, I quickly learned that being alone was preferred to being with others. Because when I’m alone with myself then and only then do I really feel free to be myself without the threat of rejection and without the need to conform. I can do what I want when I want. I can associate with whomever I wish. I can listen to any music I like. And no one has to know. Some people are meant to be alone. I suppose, maybe, I’m one of them. And the sooner I accept this, the better off I’ll be. Looking for something (someone) that isn’t there brings nothing but heartache.

And anyway, far too many people try escaping their fear of being alone by investing themselves in a relationship at all times; it is as if they are afraid of themselves. Because being alone teaches you about yourself. Being alone allows a fresh perspective of the world and your place in it because it finally becomes possible to look at everything through your eyes, not someone else’s. Being alone enables you to examine your wishes for your life and motivates you to get going because there is no one holding you back and no one to blame when your accomplishments don’t meet your expectations. I know I don’t want to hold anyone else back or be a burden to someone. I suppose this is a fear I have about not being alone.

I always felt that being part of a family was a huge burden to my dad. He never wanted to be bothered. He preferred to watch TV or nap. These two activities normally went hand in hand as he would lye in his recliner watching TV intermittently between snoozes. If he wasn’t doing that he was out sleeping with other women (apparently). Or in the garage tinkering around. Or getting ready for his next fishing trip which seemed to occur every weekend (just to ensure he wasn’t home I suppose). When childcare would fall through or for whatever reason my dad would have to watch me unexpectedly, he’d be terribly frustrated if it interfered with his fishing plans.  Rather than cancel his trip, he’d take me with him. And I hated it. I wasn’t allowed to talk and I wasn’t allowed to move. Heaven forbid I spook the fish! Once he took me ice fishing in the middle of winter, which was torturous because it was FREEZING. But I didn’t have a choice. It was all about him. It was never about me. Or family. Getting him to come along for family gatherings has not always been an easy task for my mother either. Not to mention, he couldn’t be troubled to be there for my mom when she was in labor with me.

If withholding his love wasn’t enough to clue us in, then withholding his time and interest in our lives was certainly a lesson in how I am nothing but a burden to him and, I began to translate, to others as well.

Makes it hard to speak up about things when you’re worried you’ll “spook” or upset someone by having thoughts, feelings, opinions, needs. Makes it hard to feel anything but better off alone.

Pitter Pattern

Patterns are everywhere. We can see them in nature with the four seasons. Patterns provide us with a sense of dependability. We can safely guess that in July it’s going to be too hot for our winter coats. And in January you’re probably not going to want to step out in your tankini. Patterns are merely repetitions. And repetition is how we learn. So it is that we can begin to understand our world and the role we are to play in it.

Undoubtedly, we are assigned our roles. The more generalized roles, the social roles we play aren’t so much communicated to us directly. But we look to the media, we look to members of our community and members of our family. And we begin to acquire by mimicking that which we have learned will enhance our chances of survival, whether our survival is physical, social, or emotional. To learn how to play out our specific, individual role unique to us and us alone, we must rely on the people around us who take care of us. What other choice do we have? As a child our minds are still developing as we learn to adapt to this strange environment that makes no sense to us. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? To answer these questions we look for clues from our family, the people we have come to love and depend on, the people we spend most of our time with, day in and day out. We learn how to feel about ourselves. We learn how to treat other people.

This is how we get stuck in a cycle of seeing ourselves and relating with others a certain way–the two are so closely interconnected. I think it’s quite true that we often “repeat the past as a way of remaining psychologically connected to the past.” (*I totally paraphrased that.) For those of us who grew up in a household that crippled us in some way (which, let’s face it, is all of us), why in the world would we do that?! Why would I want to attempt to create situations that I know are just going to cause old wounds to resurface? Why am I hellbent on being unhappy, unloved and a reject? Because, I now see more clearly,

we tend to stage the same charged scenarios over and over, as we search for a different ending–for a resolution. But until the issues of the past are truly resolved, the curtain cannot be rung down upon them, so the repetitious efforts to master and resolve them continue.” (*That is a direct quote!)

Some of us just need our lives to fall apart before we can finally figure out how the pieces fit together. Sometimes we have to make the same mistakes over and over before we’re able to learn the lessons we need to learn to finally be happy, to finally love and feel loved.

When it comes to my previous relationships, of course I have chosen partners who would prefer to defer their sense of responsibility because that’s what my own father did.  And I, having naturally identified with my mother, took on her role as the “responsible” one; the person in charge of matters pertaining to…pretty much everything.  In fact, my dad didn’t do a damn thing to help his family except bring home a paycheck.  Oh, and occasionally he’d take me to school if I missed the bus (which I so often did).  But he’d be sure to remind me how worthless I was for it.  Heaven forbid he be woken from his slumber after staying up late watching TV (porn) in the living room.  (My dad slept on the couch, so catching him watching porn was inevitable–not to mention, traumatizing.)  Things like cooking, cleaning, child rearing…these are areas that my mother has dominated and now so do I.  Because I need to.  At least, I do in order to carry out my mother’s role so that I may rectify some aspect of the past.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I don’t want it to be that way.  I want a true partnership, something my parents never had.

I spent my childhood screaming at my dad in a whisper, alone, behind my bedroom door, telling him he was a damn idiot; softly yelling that I hated him for being so imperious, so hypocritical, so vicious and cruel as he tried in the highest pitch of his voice to convince my mom and my brother that they were “stupid idiots”. He was determined to persuade us into believing that we were a burden to him in some way when my mother did nothing but bend over backwards to please a man who couldn’t be pleased and couldn’t be proved wrong. Behind that door I begged my mom to leave him, to take us away from him.  But she never did.  And my resentment of them both simply grew into a quiet rage.

Fast forward.  I’m a grown ass woman.  I’d like to believe I’m fairly intelligent, intuitive and observant.  And yet here I am, constantly pushing the men of my life out of my life because, I finally realize, I am doing what my mom never could–I’m retaliating against the tyranny of my father.

It all seems so obvious, yet we are operating on an unconscious level much of the time in our relationships.  So of course I would unconsciously choose partners whose temperament is reminiscent of my dad’s.  Because then, rather than address my own anger and admit to having feelings that for so long I was put off by, I have secretly needed my partners to take over those disavowed aspects of myself which I could use against them, becoming angry that they’re angry, making way for pushback.  Even though I’m fucking angry in my own right! It’s just that I’ve never seen anger expressed in a healthy, functional way that is followed by a reassurance of one’s unconditional love.  In fact, my dad never expressed his love.  He expressed hate/hostility/resentment.  Never love.  Not with an “I love you”, not with a hug or a kiss or even a pat on the back.  For all I know my dad thought I had cooties.

And there you are.  Feeling angry and unloved…rejected.  You think there’s nobody to share it with; no one who would get it; no one who would care.  So you grow more angry and isolated.  Even when you meet someone who does seem to care, you push their love away.  Because all you’ve ever tried to give is love, but all you ever seem to get is renunciation. So you push as a requital. But nothing can erase what’s been done, what’s (not) been said.  I can’t change my past.  I couldn’t control everything that has happened in my life or the family I was born into.  It’s not my fault my dad is an asshole and that his dad was an abusive, drunk asshole.  But I can begin taking control of my actions, the way I treat people, the way I perceive things, and the commitments I make. I can learn to express and direct anger appropriately.

My parents went through life pretending nothing was wrong.  Smile and nod, smile and nod, and everything will at least seem okay.  But things were never okay. My parents did not have a healthy marriage.  My dad was some kind of sex crazed maniac who cheated on my mom habitually and made no real attempts to hide it except that he’s never admitted to it–not to his wife and not to his kids.  Now it’s just as if there’s an extra member of our family as we try to ignore the pink elephant in the room.

My dad slept on the couch under the assumption that it was because he was a terrible snorer. But I don’t think that was the whole of it. The whole of it is that my mom couldn’t bear to share a bed with him, even though she felt forced to at times. Occasionally my dad would slip into my mom’s room at night (it was never “their” room) and close the door. Now, knowing what I know, I’m sure he was using those moments to have his sexual needs gratified, as if his lady conquests weren’t enough to fill the void within him.  It forges a pit in my stomach as I reflect on those times and recall something my mother said to me when I told her I was separating from my ex-husband.

I had just confessed to her in tears my unhappiness with my marriage.  I explained the way I felt after once again giving in to having sex with someone who quite frankly repulsed me.  The mere thought of having sex with this man made me want to crawl out of my skin.  The final straw was laying there vacant with him on top of me, feeling dead inside.  He paused, saw me staring off into space as I prayed to be anywhere but underneath him, yet he kept thrusting his penis inside of me as though I was just a body, there for his sexual gratification and nothing more.  In that moment I was not a person with thoughts and feelings, he didn’t care about those. I was merely a depository.

After that I decided I couldn’t pretend anymore. I would no longer sacrifice myself or my body for someone capable of treating me that way.  I told him I wanted to separate.  And the next day I informed my mother. Her response is one I’ll never forget and will never forgive: “That’s just what you do as a woman…you lie there and take it.  What woman enjoys sex?” Gee. Thanks, mom. In that moment I promised myself that I would never surrender myself the way my she has or the way she expected me to.  What a sad, miserable life she’s led.  And for what?  Did she really think she was doing us kids a favor?  Undoubtedly, there was more to it than that.

So then I suppose my withdrawal from my marriage was, yet again, my attempt to do what my mother never could–stand up for myself.  No one should be forced to have sex against their will.  No doubt about it, my mother has been raped by her husband over the course of 45 years.  Dear Dad: You won’t tell the mother of your children–your wife–you love her but you can tell her what an idiot she is and stick your dick inside of her whenever you feel like it???  Well how ’bout this… GO FUCK YOURSELF.

And THIS is me directing my anger appropriately.

*Quotes from this post and other helpful information can be found in Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage” by Maggie Scarf, 1984.  Good luck finding it. 🙂

Bread and Butterflies

People change, grow, and adapt at varying levels and differing rates. What makes a person right for us at one interval of life may fade with time; at which point we move on, find someone new.
But when do we finally stop and say, “Hey – Maybe it’s not that this person isn’t ‘right’ for me. Maybe the reason this relationship isn’t working has less to do with who I’m with than why I’m with them. What drew us together? And what is really driving us apart? What are the underlying factors contributing to our inability to relate with one another? After all, this is someone I love and trust more than anyone. So why the break down?”
In order to really see a person you must envision them within the context of their own lives, not just in the context of yours. Most people aren’t willing or able to do this. They interpret your actions as a personal attack, not a means of self-defense. They interpret your pain as something they’ve caused or their pain as something you caused. When really we continue to feel the pain incurred from every injury that’s not been properly healed over.
So I think, what makes a person “right” for another is having the ability to resolve old conflicts, to heal old wounds within the context of the relationship while acknowledging the fact that old patterns may begin to resurface. But the RIGHT person will have the patience and compassion to understand what you’re going through and what you’re trying to overcome. The right person sees your struggle and allows you the time and space needed to dry your wings off and begin taking flight.

Blah Blah Blog

Why do people blog? What is with this “blogging” subculture and who the hell came up with such a silly word?? Answer: Some dude named Peter took the term “weblog” (which was coined by some other dude in 1997) and he shortened it to “blog” in 1999 in his attempt to be clever. Very clever, indeed. Blogging has since become a very widely used form of social networking and information gathering.
Blogging is something I’m new to and frankly I’d kinda like to know how many times I can get away with saying “blog” in this blog. Blog. Blog. Blog. A LOT. Why? Because blogging provides us with the opportunity to say whatever the hell we want to say. And be heard. Well… in theory. Unless no one ever reads your blog. And that may very well be true in my case (which I actually find quite comforting). Nevertheless. You can blog about whatever you want in your blog. Blog. Blog. Blog. And in the end… you feel better. You’ve imparted the world with something, some little piece of you to leave behind. Left behind, but not forgotten.
Blogging provides us with the chance to feel connected because there is a sharing of information that reminds us we are not alone, no matter the content. Playful puppies, Elephants vs. Donkeys, video games, the mass media, food, books, love… We all seek the same thing. We all seek a connection between ourselves in relation to this world and the people in it.
I began blogging out of protest. Because I’m tired of feeling like I’m incapable of changing; changing in ways that promote inner growth and support others in their growth, as well. I’m tired of feeling like it would just be best to keep things to myself as if my thoughts are stupid and unimportant. Maybe they are. But so what. I love to write. I started doing it in grade school and a lot more in high school. I need to write. It cleanses my mind and my spirit.
Words are incredibly powerful. In fact, all it takes is one word to change the fate of our entire lives. Words are redeeming. The times I’ve felt the most connected, the most gratified have been the result of meaning attached to words strung together creating a statement that resonated and reverberated so loudly in my head it was as if that sound is all that ever was and all that will be.
Indeed, words have the power to heal. And to hurt. I began blogging to own up to the mistakes I’ve made so that I can learn from them rather than repeat them.
Sticks and stones alone aren’t likely to break bones.
Words can be your worst enemy or your best ally.
I need more allies.

A Fine Mess Maker

Allow me to introduce myself.  I am a fine mess maker.  And I’ve been making messes my whole life.  Perhaps you are also one to get your hands dirty from time to time.  Then this blog is for you.  I will never claim to know more than I know.  I’m not sure I could ever claim to really know what I think I know for I am constantly learning as I go.  And I think that is the point.  New knowledge replaces old knowledge.  New ideals replace old ideals.  And new patterns can overcome old patterns.  But it takes practice.  Lots of practice.  And a huge amount of commitment, honesty and vulnerability.  So, one of the first steps I am taking in abolishing old practices and developing new ones is sharing with my (imagined) audience all of the fine messes I find myself in…make no mistake, the messes I create…so that I am forced to reflect on where I am and how I got here.

Where am I and How did I get here?  Such a fun mystery, I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of grappling for the answers.  I hope it will be enjoyable (or at least somewhat intriguing) for you (the putative you) as I try to figure this whole thing out.

This is my tribute to all of the messes we make and all the maintenance that those messes require…