Love Language

There’s a difference between being heard and being understood. Being able to understand someone implies an ability to make sense of the language with which they use to communicate. Since the dawn of our earliest days language has been incredibly useful. Language is what allows us to accumulate knowledge between generations which has played an integral role in our evolution. Furthermore, it allows us to relate on an interpersonal and perhaps even an interplanetary level.

For decades scientists have sent a steady stream of messages into the cosmos in an attempt to reach life on other planets.  Recently, we have even sent text messages to known habitable planets.  But so far, no reply.  “Of course not!” you might say, “Aliens don’t exist! We are the only intelligent life forms in our entire universe!” Nevermind the fact that humans didn’t always roam this planet. Nevermind the fact that even within our solar system there are other habitable planets with conditions just right for life to emerge. Nevermind the fact that the universe expands far beyond the realm of what we are able to observe here on Earth. And nevermind the fact that our universe is… how old? It is believed, then, that the reason aliens do not respond to our attempts is because they do not understand them. And so, scientists have tried communicating using a universal language–mathematics. Their goal “has not only been to send aliens information about Earth, but to tell them about what it means to be human; to go beyond a description of our physical world to describe something like our sense of beauty” (Thank you, science channel).

Why is this so important? Why does anyone care about communicating to others their personal experiences even in this world? Why share our trials and tribulations with strangers? Why are we so driven to be heard?

For perhaps 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 allowed 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 in the past but also discuss where we’re going as we plan for a better future. 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. Indeed, language is not just a way to label objects. Language, in fact, has embedded within it 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” (Some old sociology textbook I actually opened up again).

We all have a language… our very own “love language” I’d like to call it. Sounds like something you’d hear about on Oprah but what it refers to is the lessons we are taught with regards to the way we perceive love… how we treat someone we love and how we should feel in a “loving” relationship. When we choose to invest ourselves in another person, we do so with the idea (the hope) that that person speaks our language. We connect with them based not only on having worked through similar life experiences but on perceiving and interpreting those experiences in such a way that their love language is one we can understand and ours is one that they understand. Without having that as a very basic foundation, a relationship will not thrive despite any loving feelings that may remain. To be sure, “to not share a language while living alongside one another is to open up suspicions and miscommunications” (same old textbook). And it leads one to feel like an alien in their own home.

This is a feeling I am all too familiar with. However, I learned to speak the same love language as my family nevertheless. It was a language of denial. Experts will tell you that food is love. Even my therapist spat that out to me when I told her about my 5 year old son who has a hard time verbally communicating to me when he is hungry. Instead, at times he’ll signal to me that he is hungry by patting and rubbing his tummy with a troubled look on his face expecting me to feed him. Attempts to encourage him to use his words often fall short and the foods I offer are never to his satisfaction. He may even take it to the next level of desperation by throwing himself to the floor, whining and throwing a huge fit. My therapist suggested I try using “I” statements, such as, “When you don’t tell me what I can get for you I feel sad because I want to help you if you’re hungry.” I’ve tried this method in various situations and so far it’s actually improved his communication–and mine–a lot. I’m not expecting perfection, but a better way of resolving conflict and getting what we both want.

It’s true, though: Food is love. As an adolescent, I scrutinized, denied, binged and purged food for years before I finally realized… this is stupid! Was I trying to look like all the skinny, clueless women in every ad and magazine? Yeah. I think that I thought that if I looked like that someone may actually be capable of loving me. But at the 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). Certainly, there was more to it than wanting to conform to some obtuse ideal.

We cannot argue the power of love. Love is sustaining. It is a life force. It is what drives us all to contribute even the tiniest shred of decency to the world. It can be said, then, that denying ourselves one of our most basic needs–food–we are in fact denying that which we feel has been withheld from us–LOVE. In high school 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, always I would eat so much in so little time that I felt I had no choice but to make myself throw up. I felt guilty for giving in to such a very basic desire/need. So I thought I had to conceal my “weakness” by expelling any trace of ever having such a need. And even though I knew the absurdity of what I was doing all along, it was something I had to work through before I finally threw my hands up and said, “enough is enough” and was ready to begin adopting a new mindset.

So here I am. Still working through an old mindset of denying myself that which sustains. But I’m starting with me. It’s just taken a few false starts to get here. And I’m okay with that. What I must acquire, I now see, is the ability to practice what I preach to my son when I tell him to “use his words”. I shouldn’t expect a mind reader, just someone who understands my language and understands my needs. But first I must accept that I have needs. And that I am entitled to the most basic of them all……..


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. Soft spoken is another. Are these flaws? Is there something wrong with keeping most of your thoughts to yourself?  Not necessarily.  In a world full of constant noise and jibber-jabber, I actually feel I am doing everyone a favor. When all you do is talk, talk, talk you miss out on an amazing opportunity; you can easily miss your chance at understanding someone. And when two people trying to engage fail to come to an understanding, it can be incredibly detrimental to that relationship and over time, not feeling understood can do severe damage to a person. When you feel like no one is going to understand you anyway it’s very easy to give up on trying to make yourself heard.

But there are times when holding back and staying silent, not verbalizing our needs can do just as much harm. It’s not only frustrating for the people outside of ourselves who want to understand us, but it’s also very frustrating for the individual who has trouble finding their voice because it’s been stifled so many times. This is certainly true in my case.

How else have I learned to silence myself? By example, of course. And 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 help take care of her and their children. 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 in 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 giving her every reason to hate herself.

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 so many promises have been broken. It’s really easy to make a promise we know requires little to no effort on our part. But what about promises that span our entire lifetime? Those are promises that require sacrifice and 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. I want to get down and dirty. I want to be disgusting with a person. And then I want to make passionate love void of ego.

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, yes. I have felt the plague of desperation overcome my ability to reason as I planned to make my great escape. But what would I be leaving behind? 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 is all there was to keep my mom alive, then I’m damn glad I found my way into this world.

And I am damn glad I’m finally finding my voice.

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 loneliness that anyone would feel, 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 very 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.

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 was always on my own, despite having a brother who is 6 years older than me.   And although he once adored me in a very big brotherly sort of way, in adolescence he grew to resent me and became terribly mean.  (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.)  Once I got a little older he would try 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. 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 get naked while blocking the door and staying clear of any cracks where he could peep through. Suffice to say, I was never close with my brother.  Along with feeling unsafe around him, we’re different types of people.

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. 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, 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.

So, I quickly learned that being alone was preferred to being with others. Because when I’m alone with myself then and only then can I really feel free to be myself without the threat of rejection, 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 better view of the world and your place in it because you can 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 you don’t have anyone holding you back; you don’t have anyone 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 lied 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 was about 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.  So rather than rearrange his plans, 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 and it was freezing..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. Oh, and did I mention, he didn’t even care 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 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. And 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. How did I get here? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And we look for clues, answers 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.

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 much 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.

So when it comes to my previous relationship, of course I’m going to choose someone 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 bitch about it.  Heaven forbid he be awoken from his slumber after staying up watching TV (porn) all night.  (He slept on the couch. Catching your dad watching porn on a very regular basis is not fun, in fact, at a certain age it’s pretty 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.  Telling him 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”; that they had been such 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. And I begged my mom behind that door 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, that I have a good sense of things and my intuition is in tact.  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 just 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 someone whose temperament is reminiscent of my dad’s at times.  Because then, rather than address my own anger and admit to having those types of feelings, I allow my partner to take over those disavowed aspects of myself and even use it against him.  So then I’m angry that he’s angry.  Even though I’m fucking angry!  Not at his anger, perhaps, but at all the fucked up shit I’ve been through. 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/anger/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.

So there you are.  Feeling angry and unloved…rejected.  And 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.  And when you finally do meet someone who seems to get it, who seems to care, you push their love away.  You finally got what you wanted.  Yet not at all.  Because 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, as I’ve said, which I was always embarrassed about.  I’d use the excuse, “Oh he snores real bad so my mom put him out”, which was true.  But I don’t think it was the whole truth.  Occasionally he’d slip into my mom’s room and close the door and I wonder, now, whether he went to her to have his sexual needs gratified.  As if his lady conquests weren’t enough to fill the void within him.  And I am saddened as I recall something my mother said to me around the time of my separation…

I was confessing 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 was enough to make me want to crawl inside out.  And the final straw was laying there with him on top of me quite aware that I was vacant, that I was dead inside.  And yet he kept thrusting his penis inside of me as though I was just a body, just there for his sexual gratification and nothing more.  I was not a person with thoughts and feelings, he didn’t care about those. I was a depository. After that I decided that was it for me.  I couldn’t pretend anymore.  I told him I wanted to separate for a while.  And as I was explaining all of this to my mom she said to me, “That’s just what you a lie there and take it.  What woman enjoys sex?” she asked me. Gee, thanks, mom. In that moment I promised myself that I would never sacrifice myself the way my mother has.  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 feel 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.  You can’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.

Don’t worry, this is me directing my anger appropriately.

*Quotes from this post and basically a LOT of good fucking information can be found in “Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage” by Maggie Scarf written 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…