Monday, September 21, 2015

Some of Us, We Have Tattoos

Ever since I can remember, I've had this relentless perfectionism as a constant awful companion. I want to do things the best way possible, make the wisest decisions, achieve highest possible outcomes. My mom used to (and still does) tease me that "Kristi must win", but it felt (and feels) more like "Kristi must do well or else *insert dire consequence* will happen..." I never really defined what the "or else" part meant - it boils down to failure by any definition. I also never defined the "do well" part, so it's an undefined, unattainable moving target. Striving for personal excellence is one thing, but I don't often do things halfway. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I don't pull off a triumphant victory, which, let's face it, is pretty much every freakin' day.

Hitting the mark or missing the mark is a conversation that happened a lot in my former context. I never really put the pieces together until recently, but hitting the mark in that context was never something I owned, while missing the mark was 100% always mine. I was never going to be good enough to hit any mark on my own, through my own choices or strength or possibilities. It's maybe not the lesson that was intended, but I internalized that into an endless feedback loop of "you're not enough/you're not good enough/you can't." And the floods of self-doubt started way back when, the constant second-guessing, the wondering if I could even breathe without making a mistake.  Into adulthood that continued, as I got married and I was taught that I wasn't supposed to make final decisions and thus was responsible for neither the blame nor the glory because I wasn't the head of my household.

Now I'm an adult. Now I'm not in that context. Now I am the head of my household. Now...I still have the at times paralyzing self-doubt and non-stop second guessing of every blessed little thing. I worry, way too much. I agonized the other day that taking my kids for a donut before school was going to mess them up forever and probably contribute to long-term behavioral issues and weight struggles. It sounds ridiculous - and it is - but the struggle is real, and I'm not saying that in a #stupidhashtag sort of way.

I'm trying to wade through so much detritus, the wreckage of former things. I'm trying to find a solid place to put my feet. I'm trying to find a space in which to breathe, to not constantly analyze every move into a total blur, to make a decision (however mundane) and feel good about it and not agonize over it at night for a week or a month after.

I'm back in therapy - shocker to no one - and it's starting to sound like a broken record. Between my counselor and my dearest ones, everyone's repeating a similar refrain: "You're ok. You're doing fine. Give yourself a break." And it is so hard. I can at any moment rattle off a list of all the ways I'm actively and currently failing. I have (brokenly) joked many times that it's easier for me to make that list rather than hear it from someone else and be surprised by it. But for the love, can I just give myself a break, a little grace and space to be human? Can I just take a deep breath and acknowledge that, ok, things didn't go according to one plan, sure, but there are other plans, and life is good?

There's a song about tattoos that I quite like - it talks about how tattoos are permanent and the singer carries some that no longer mean quite the same as when they were done, but that it's likely he would get the same ones again, because they tell his story. I have a few now, and they are part of my story. They all speak to moving forward, to learning to be ok with myself and my story, and to cutting myself some slack. This one I just got today:
"breathe" is in my 9 year old's writing, and "be kind" is in my 11 year old's. 

I need the reminder. I need a visual, potent reminder of these two basic things - breathe and be kind. It will definitely be helpful in certain situations when I need a reminder that punching someone in the nose is not the best way to deal with people but more importantly, it's a reminder to not be reactive and to be kind to myself - to cut myself some slack. Having it in my kids' handwriting reminds of me that more eyes than mine are observing the patterns I set, in a "this is how you do life" kind of way. 

Breathe. Be kind. Some people just get it; some of us, we have tattoos to help us remember. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Silence of All the Lambs

This entry has been rattling around in my brain for a long time. I keep writing it and deleting it, proving that one *can* learn to self-edit. But today as I was running, it kept swirling around and insisting on being heard, to the point that I ended up sprinting at the end of a distance I usually end with gasping and struggling. It's clear that sometimes self-editing can, for me at least, turn into hiding my true feelings for fear of how someone else will react, which in the end causes even more confusion than if I'd just been bluntly honest in the first place. So, since I think best with my fingers on the keyboard, and since sometimes I figure out what I'm thinking by the time I'm done writing, I'm going to see what happens.

I think it's safe to say that I never imagined my current life. I had a plan, which I followed, and I eschewed any suggestion of a Plan B, because I had a plan, which I followed. It was a bit unimaginative of me to not even consider other possibilities, but that's not what you do in the context of my former life. In that world, you have a "calling" and you do what you can to follow that or risk ending up as a cautionary tale of someone who had a calling and ignored it and ended up bitter and regretful for the rest of life.

My former life had a very rigid context, lots of rules, lots of expectations, lots of…stuff. You could say I didn't choose it - I was born into it. I didn't choose it until I did, when as an adult I made a conscious choice to continue in that context for my livelihood and future. But at the same time, I started asking questions, and was quickly shot down on so many fronts. Things didn't always make sense to me, but in that context it was definitely better to have faith than to have a reason. I perpetuated lots of things that were narrow and hurtful - hurt people hurt people…that was me. I didn't want to or mean to, but looking back it's clear that I did. I internalized things and unmindfully passed them along.

I remember telling people along the way that I wasn't sure I was good at that life. My ex was gregarious and made friends easily. It's harder for me, so I hid behind him a lot. "We" had friends, though I was never sure that it mattered that I was part of the picture. But it was my world and all my fb friends and all my acquaintances and all the people in my phone were from that life. While church had been hard and hurtful since childhood, and church people had consistently let me down, I was alway still hopeful that one day that supposedly characteristic love would come into play when the chips were really down.

When my chips fell down - when my world blew up - almost all God's children suddenly clammed up. And I've spent the last good while being really mad and devastated and betrayed by that. I feel like while I had been on this journey to figure some stuff out, not because it was what I'd heard my whole life but what I really, deep down, no pretending, believe, this catastrophic change sort of shut that whole process down. I've talked in previous posts about how I've struggled and how eventually just had to stop going to any church of any kind. I so wasn't prepared for the deafening silence of my former world. I wasn't prepared to be left standing there by myself. I wasn't prepared for people who had no involvement in church whatsoever to be the ones who reached out and cared and gave me non-judgey space to just be. I wasn't prepared to feel so much and so deeply about the fact that not one single person from the actual church I used to be part of ever even tried to contact me when I returned to that city. And I wasn't prepared for my leadership and colleagues in that world to make such pitiful attempts to get the juicy details but otherwise completely leave me to founder in the aftermath.

And now I'm done. I've written about forgiveness and I've read about forgiveness, and it's striking that people from almost all world views all agree that not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I've been so mad and hurt, which is silly on many levels. I should not have been so surprised. Nothing in my life experience would have suggested a positive response. I should not have been so let down. Nothing in my life experience would have suggested meaningful support, especially if I didn't swallow a party line and proclaim my faith and a victorious forecast despite such shitty circumstances.

So. I've spent some time acknowledging the anger and hurt and betrayal, and maybe just a little time reveling in it. And now it's time to keep moving forward. My current life is good. I have so many reasons to be grateful and happy and hopeful. I can look back and see those shitty circumstances as a gift - not the kind that makes the receiver super happy in the moment but the kind that in the long run turns out to be the best kind of gift.

I can even understand, kind of, the silence. I get that it's scary when someone who was just like you suddenly is not like you anymore at all. I get that people don't know what to say or don't want to intrude, or truthfully maybe don't even notice, since they have their own lives to live. And of course fb feeds are such carefully curated presentations that almost always disguise and restate a multitude of story lines. I remember, before my story took a severe plot twist, taking a deep breath and messaging a friend from college who seemed to have gone through some stuff. And I remember her hesitance to say anything and how I might not have even noticed except for a few things that seemed weird. And I remember thinking it was scary that someone's life could not turn out the way we had all planned, and being grateful that I wasn't in that place (oh, the irony). So I get it. I've been there. I've been the quiet one, and it wasn't a malicious or deliberate quietness.

I've had a number of conversations recently with other people who totally get my former context, since it was theirs as well, and who, like me, are in search of something different. We're all at different stages in the journey, and it's encouraging to see that there is a progression. I used to think the very worst thing that could happen to me would be for my marriage to fall apart and to not be able to do what I was doing for a career and in life. And don't get me wrong, it was awful, the kind of awful that has no words. It's excruciating.

But it's not the end of me. Whether or not it's devastating and soul-destroying is up to me, 100%. And I choose not. I choose a new set of parameters:

  • I choose to thrive. 
  • I choose to exist fully in my present, and to learn and be thoughtful and kind and extend compassion and not let anyone else define me. 
  • I choose to make my own peace with God rather than make my life look like someone else's ideal. 
  • I choose to not let other people's actions, or lack of them, dictate mine. 
  • I choose to not be silent when I see a friend in need. 
  • I choose to be authentically me, even if that includes the occasional swear word or a new way of looking at life (or writing something that's hard to read for some people who are especially dear to me). 
  • I choose to enjoy the people I have in my life, and really, I've hit the jackpot this time around.
  • I choose to not waste any more time wishing things had been different and drinking poisonous toasts to dismantled illusions. 
I choose to live. I put this song on here because when I first heard it, all I thought of was my boys and how I want them to not be afraid to live life as boldly as they can. And then I thought…well, I should probably set the example... 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Broken Wings

Tonight I'm in pain - physical pain, intentionally inflicted. And I'm pondering the idea of purposely embracing pain in order to gain something of value, whether that value be beauty or wisdom or even just a personal, "This. So much this."And I'm pondering the reason why when I succeed at something I'm quick to apologize or denigrate it…and why it's easier for me to be brave with words on a screen or paper than opening my mouth…and all the little things that define a person, like hobbies and interests and likes and dislikes.

So much seemingly disconnected pondering. Feels…ponderous.

Tonight I did something I've wanted to do for years…years, people. I got a tattoo. Yes…me…a tattoo…me and needles…pain… Everyone loves their own tattoo, right? I mean, it would totally stink if you didn't love your own tattoo since it's not coming off any time soon. I'm a fan of mine. Seriously. It's cool - to me. And that's fine, because it's mine. I'm not going to post a picture here, for no other reason than that it's mine (well, and also because I just got it done, and my skin is very angry with me right now). I think it's lovely and meaningful - and it hurt like I don't even have proper, non-vulgar words to describe. "Ow" doesn't quite cover it. But I went to that shop knowing that it was going to hurt and opening myself up to that hurt on purpose in order to gain something valuable to me. It didn't save the world or change anyone's mind about anything or have anything to do with anyone else. Pain is not fun and it's hard and it challenges me mentally and emotionally - but it also can lead to something beautiful.  

I've been having constant growing pains for a few years now. It's been quite the road. I don't honestly feel like I gain ground every day, but I can look back and say I'm not the same as I was, and that's definitely a good thing. It hurts to lose things and go through change and be challenged to do life differently. It hurts to leave the familiar and embark on a new path. It hurts to be let down by people. It hurts to let myself down. But pain can bring beauty and value if I let it. It can be part of the process of making something new and meaningful. It can be part of the healing process, to feel the pain and acknowledge it and then let it bring change. 

The rest of my pondering tonight is related to my growing pains. Learning things about myself is not always fun. Sometimes I learn things I'd rather not know, or at least rather not share with the world. No one wants their weaknesses on display, not even for the trusted inner circle. It's embarrassing and painful. Why do I apologize for being smart/right/good at something/successful? Why is it hard for me to use my voice? Why do I hesitate when asked to identify the things I like to do and that make me happy? Does this mean I'm not really a grown up? Now obviously adulting is hard - blanket forts and crayons (ooh, and napping!) sound like a much more fun option about 99.9% of the time. But…I suppose I can stop at this point and let myself wallow in the pain or lack of answers, or I can push on in search of something beautiful. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Deconstruction of a Divergent

adjective: divergent
  1. 1.
    tending to be different or develop in different directions.
    "divergent interpretations"
    synonyms:differing, varying, differentdissimilarunalikedisparate, contrasting,contrastive;
      (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions.
  2. 2.
    (of a series) increasing indefinitely as more of its terms are added.

So, this is not about a book. Or a movie. It's about a girl who really tried to fit in the box, and failed. Epically. 

Note: I wrote this part of it back in September. I had a different job then. 
I had a work thing a while ago, a leftover legacy from a long-gone director who wanted to bring understanding and empathy to the office space. Everyone had to do it at some point, and even though I'd been a real boy for over a year at that point, this was my first opportunity to participate. First, I had to take an online assessment, one of those multiple choice and scale-of-1-to-10 things that are supposed to help someone smart somewhere on the other end of the computer analyze and understand me. Then, and this is the best part, I had to go to an all-day seminar to learn about my assessment and to do group activities aimed at building a better team. 

I'm not that girl. I don't get summer-camp-giddy at the thought of spending time with strangers and discovering things. I don't want everyone's phone number after six of the most awkward hours on the planet cooped up in a lower level training room with people I will likely never see again in the normal course of human events. And I certainly don't want yet another doctor of something not medical playing shrinky dinks with my brain. 

But. It was required. So I went. I walked in a bit early, which almost never happens, but it was in my building, one measly floor away from the corner cubicle I call home, and if I hadn't been early, it would have been weird. I walked in, and the very nice doctor greeted me and asked my name. Upon learning my identity, her eyes lit up in a slightly disturbing manner. She said she was very familiar with my profile and did the people I worked with know about me? I'm sorry, what? I must have looked very confused and/or my flight-or-fight struggle must been plain to see, because she followed with a seemingly benign question: And what do you do here? When I answered, her head cocked to one side as if she'd been struck, her eyes narrowed, and her mouth offered this: Do you even really like your job? 

This was not an auspicious beginning to a day that had already been insanely frustrating before 9 am. I was not in the best place with my job at that point (clearly). Here's the thing: I knew that job was not "the one". You know, the job that you love to do so much that it's not really work…or whatever it is that society advocates when it comes to what adults do all day (or night, if that's your time). It was a filler, a rebound job, and I was definitely weighing my options when it came to rediscovering my passion. Of course, once you've set out on a life-plan and achieved that plan and then had the plan be not "the one" either, it gives you slightly skewed perspective. I digress. To sum up, my profile was "divergent" (that was the actual word, no lie) - seriously not like anyone else's in my office or in my job description.

Then I did it. I had readjusted my life plan and come up with an ideal that I thought would solve both my money issues (namely, the need to make some to support my family) and my attitude issues (as in, finding something I really loved to do so going to work every day wasn't an exercise in the wake up-work-pay bills-sleep hamster wheel of futility). And I did it. I found just the thing…and I scored an interview. It's a tough job market out there, so getting an interview felt like a gold star for the day, and scoring an interview for that new dream job felt big. Huge. Epic. 

And then.

So, the thing about being disillusioned (dis·il·lu·signed, disəˈlo͞oZHəndadjective, disappointed in someone or something that one discovers to be less good than one had believed) is - I mean, that means taking away the illusion (il·lu·sion, iˈlo͞oZHənnoun, a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses; a deceptive appearance or impression; a false idea or belief), i.e. maybe not reality. And the thing I learned about my dream job is that, well, passion doesn't always pay the bills. In this case, it paid peanuts, and styrofoam peanuts at that, not even actual nutritious good-fatty-oils peanuts. It wasn't really the answer I needed. It wasn't really real. I mean, it was a real job…it just wasn't really what I needed.

I spent some time being sad. Then I stopped being sad and put on my big girl pants and started being awesome - and landed an interview (and a job offer) for a better, different job that will be challenging on several different levels and that will give me a chance at a career. Granted, it's not a career I would have picked out of the line-up at a career fair, but then again, I last went to a career fair in high school (not the best time to be deciding the entire future course of life forever since I had crises on a semi-regular basis over my hair *smh*). But it is a chance. And what I do with that chance is entirely up to me, now that I've been given that opportunity. 

My new supervisor told me the other day that mine is not the typical resume that one sees for people in my new position. I had to smile a little - um, yeah. It's not typical. But it's not bad. It's actually really great. Not fitting in the box may make some people uncomfortable, but it can also lead to new ideas and insights that may not occur to the very structured, and the very structured's methodical approach makes sure that the details get covered. 

Moral of the story: Always be yourself. (Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.) Even if one of these things is not like the others (you know you just sang that, you Sesame Street fan, you), it doesn't necessarily mean it shouldn't be there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Still Swearing

A few months ago I wrote about swear words, with the object of my ruminations being the word “forgiveness”. In a blast of ego-centric curiosity, I googled myself the other day – guess what showed up first on the results list? That. Blog. Entry. It ended like this: “I’m not a fan! And this conversation (unfortunately) is not over.”

Oh, me. Silly, silly me.

The conversation was not and is not over. Yesterday, this word again slapped me in the face and took away my breath with its sheer audacity. It taunted me (yes, really) and flaunted its increasingly unpalatable connotations in my face. It reminded me that I have to get over myself.

See, I forgot half the things I wrote about way back in February. I was going along thinking all was well, patting myself on the back for learning my lesson and moving forward. And in some respects, that is true. I have made progress. I have moved forward. I have put forth effort into this very hard thing, and I have acknowledged that it’s a process, not necessarily a destination. But…I got complacent. I took a bow and thought I was totally owning it and enjoying my perch on top of the world.

And then. The conversation went something like this:

Irrational Me: What?! I can’t believe…the nerve…how dare…are you kidding me right now?!?!
Rational Me: Emmm, dude. Chill.
Irrational Me: It’s SO. UN. FAIR. And I have a right to be angry about this. It hurt me.
Rational Me: Emmm, dude. Seriously? Why? And how did you contribute to the situation?
Irrational Me: Not important. I can be mad about this, this one thing.
Rational Me: Emmm, no. How is that helping?
Irrational Me: Dude. There’s a reason this part of the conversation is labeled “Irrational Me”.
Rational Me: Right. Let me know when you’re done with your tantrum and we’ll talk.

That’s exactly how ridiculous it was. And the bottom line is (after a couple conversations with much more rational, logical people and a few moments to gather the tiny remaining shreds of my dignity), I need to forgive. I need to let it go. I need to acknowledge that it is what it is, and it’s not even inherently wrong per se.

And I need to remember that forgiveness is almost never about the other person. It’s about handing myself the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Because when I don’t choose to forgive, I’m giving someone else power over me and letting that person define the parameters of my happiness. Not cool, Irrational Me, not cool at all.

So, this conversation is still not over, but I don’t think that’s unfortunate. Forgiveness is one of those things that can never be truly mastered. It requires a lifetime of conscientious and purposeful practice (such fantastic news…). Some of us (ME) may need more practice than others, but the payoff of being able to live free far outweighs the temporary solace of pointing fingers.    

Monday, May 19, 2014

Losing My Religion

I went to church on Saturday. I wasn’t thrilled about it but it had been a while. Last time I went I got surprised by one of those close encounters with my past, and I handled it poorly – it caught me off guard and I fumbled it. I really hope that person didn’t take it personally, though it probably just confirmed the perception that I’ve turned into my own evil twin. Oh well.

Church is, as usual, a conundrum, a perplexing mix of memorized responses and a huge filter that scrutinizes everything and stops most of it at the door. I’ve been struggling so hard lately with the dichotomy between the things I thought I knew and the realities of life, and the brutal, often terrifying way that the “Church” responds to different points of view. I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve been so disappointed…dismayed…disheartened by those who are supposed to be marked by their love for one another. People get all hysterical (in a very non-funny way), passionate, vehement, acidic when members of their own family (the Church family) dare to posit an independent thought.

I haven’t been able to articulate this struggle very well recently. To my friends who are still in the Church, I’ve nearly turned into an un-Church, an unreached people. I’m sure there’s a campaign under way to rescue me, though thankfully most are giving me the space I need to wrestle without too much pressure. They don’t understand why I can’t just trust and obey. To my friends who are outside the Church, they aren’t entirely sure why it’s bothering me so much. They don’t understand why I keep picking at the scab when I know it’s going to hurt. And my answer to all of them is…I don’t understand either.

Several years ago my Christian therapist (yep, been to therapy, probably need more) told me it was sort of a wonder that I hadn’t wandered farther from my religious roots, and this while I was actually still a card-carrying member of Church. At that time, before life blew up, I was already feeling like one of those inflatable punching bag dolls that always pops back up but gets slower and slower as time and frequent pummeling leech the air right out of it. This side of Kristi-shima and the total destruction of life as I used to know it, I feel like a refugee. That’s the best way to describe it. I feel like I lost my country, my culture, my religion, all the things that I thought defined me, and I’m now figuring out how to survive in a new world, still me but also not-me.

I have zero answers right now. All my questions only lead to more questions. The things I’ve read lately break my heart in myriad ways – both because they’re so arrogant and judgey and mean and conversely (and confusingly) because I just can’t swallow it anymore. From the outside looking in, it’s not a place I want to be – and that’s even with a background understanding of some of the issues. If I had no religious upbringing or experience, there’s no way I would even try.

Internal growing pains are far more painful than the aches I endured as a kid (and yes, I know I’m short and therefore didn’t suffer that much… it’s called concentrated awesomeness J). The first thing I had to do was decide to be ok with where I am in the process. It’s mine, so I need to actively participate, and not worry so much about what other people think.  

I’m trying to hold on to the things that are important, and most of it’s not that important. I know there are people that will read this and already have a counterattack planned before they get to this paragraph. Before the hyperbole starts flying, take a breath. Relax. Please don’t send any platitudes or sermons my way – chances are I’ve already preached them in the past. Losing my religion is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me, because once the trappings fall, I can find a place to put my feet and stand up.

This was hard to write. It’s hard to be in this place. And there will be more conversations, harder than this one. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How Much??

I'm trying to talk less and observe more, and also hide less and be out around people more. I've joined a couple social groups and let me tell you, it is one of the least pleasant feelings ever to step out of my comfort zone (books and coffee by myself, thanks) and be open to new possibilities (actually talking to another sentient being *gasp*).  There've been some hilarious moments and several uncomfortable moments and yet…I went again this morning and it was kind of…awesome, actually. Conversation flowed with several different people, contact info was exchanged, friendships continue to grow. It was almost like being a real live adult person.

Anyone who knows me as more than words on a screen knows that this is huge for me. I have wrestled for a long time with self-esteem issues and fears. I struggle with the direction my life has taken, since it is definitely not the direction that was on the agenda. Getting out of my house and meeting people and making friends has felt like the most impossibly uncomfortable awful terrible no-good idea ever. I spent a long time cultivating this very self-reliant, independent, I-don't-need-people (so there, Fanny Brice) persona, which as has already been discussed was a big fat mistake. Knowing that in my head and actually working towards fixing it is the gap I've been working on bridging.

I think most people shy away from prolonged introspection. I'm not talking about an egotistical self-focus - I mean a serious investigation of the whys and wherefores of one's behaviors and motivations and underlying beliefs and all the little hidden pieces that compose the total picture we present to the world. I want to put the very best spin on my situation as possible, and I know I'm not alone. Almost every conversation about past relationships (friendships, marriages, any kind of relationship) tends to focus on why the other person fell short and not so much on the brokenness contributed by the speaker. Everyone's ex-whatever is crazy/selfish/unpredictable/narcissistic/etc…it's rare to hear anything remotely resembling, "I wasn't what he or she needed/I failed/I messed up."

If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is mostly powerfully painful. The price one ends up paying to gain said painful self-knowledge is always high. It almost always comes as a result of a mistake, a failure, a broken relationship, a lapse in judgement, a standard not met. An even higher price is paid when I ignore the lessons that these shortcomings reveal. If I remain clueless, if I approach every breakdown with a shrug and a tendency to assign blame elsewhere, I run the risk of assessing too high a price against another's patience or goodwill or personhood. So while my human nature winces at the price tag attached to becoming a better person, the price for continued ignorance is too steep and bears no resemblance to the mythical "bliss" of not knowing those unavoidable truths behind my facade.

Man, this "being an adult" stuff is hard. I'm feeling a retreat to the blanket fort and crayons coming on…