Balancing it All

It’s no secret that dating takes a lot of energy.  Those of you who are currently engaged in it know that meeting new people, making yourself vulnerable, and finding ways to relate to someone new all take an amount of energy we are never really prepared for.  There’s always a point where we step back and say “Enough for now, it’s time to rest”.  For some this is the deleting of the app, the hiding of the profile, or just the decision not to go out on the weekend.  Knowing when to recognize this is good!  Being aware of what your body is going through is a level of awareness that is uncommon these days.  Knowing when, where, and how to practice self care is just as important as finding someone you want to be with, so why don’t we put more emphasis on it?

It isn’t a surprise that the focus comes on dating and finding the right person.  Some of us are taught that a relationship will solve our problems (and for those of us with anxious attachment styles, we KNOW about all the problems relationships solve for us).  Why wouldn’t we go all in and play ‘personality trait bingo’ with our hopefuls trying to win big?  This kind of thinking sets us up for disaster, allowing us to get to that ‘overextended’ stage where we are emotionally burned out.  This can be dangerous for a number of reasons.

For one, this emotional burnout can effect us in other areas of our lives.  How often have you felt like you didn’t have the energy for a task at work or at home?  It’s true, it could be any number of factors, but getting that burnout in one area of your life is bound to lead to other areas.  You might notice that your diet has started to slip, or that you’re not working out as often, or that you’ve stopped talking to your friends as regularly.  If this is the case, you might want to see what areas might be causing the burnout for you (as it isn’t always relationship related).  Some well deserved R&R might be just what you need.

Another reason you might want to avoid this emotional burnout is because it creates an opportunity for the wrong people to move in.  When this exhaustion is present I am more vulnerable to those who would seek to soothe it.  This, in and of itself, may seem benign to some people.  To my fellow anxious attachers (AA) this can be a death sentence for our ability to think clearly.  We tend to elevate and ruminate over the meaning of individual events, and the last thing I want to do is put myself in a situation where I can fall down a ‘do they or don’t they’ rabbit hole that results in me wondering whether or not they want to get married.  This isn’t the fault of the other person (usually, there are still those who look for that weakness and vulnerability as a way to lay a foundation of control over someone’s feelings), I’m aware that this is due solely on my ability to think rationally about the meaning of a particular event.  But the best way to prevent these types of occurrences is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Finally, catching yourself and allowing time for your body and mind to rest is the ultimate form of self respect.  There is no greater judge of what’s going on with your body in the moment (outside of sought advice from physicians and other body experts) and knowing where to draw the line is the best way to say ‘I love you’ to yourself and mean it.  So many of us struggle with self esteem, but this can be a healthy way to start combating that.

As a side note, not all of dating has to be about finding the right person.  You can find people who may have little permanence in your life and enjoy the time you spend with them (whether it gets physical or not).  Some of the most rejuvenating times in my life where short spells with people who were exactly what I needed at the time.  For my AA peeps, we need to hit a certain level of acceptance and awareness of what we tend to do before we try something like this, because if we allow ourselves to attach to something non permanent we can end up doing more harm than good.  It’s another one of those things that you can test out for yourself (as long as your strong enough to stop yourself if it goes bad).  With so much pressure on dating, it’s easy to forget that life is supposed to be fun.  If we treat it as such, everything becomes a lot easier.

As a disclaimer, this is advice and perspective that has worked for me.  It doesn’t mean it will work for you, or that it’s guaranteed to help you (in fact, for some it might even make it more difficult).  If you feel like you can use it, take what I’ve said here and tailor it for yourself!  You know yourself the best, it’s time to start living like it 🙂

Better days ahead everyone!

Advertisements

The holidays

I have often wondered about why I like to write.  Is it because I am good at it?  Is it because I like to type?  Is it because I like the idea of my emotional outlet being something that calls upon my intelligence and creativity?  It’s probably a little of everything, really.  Who among us doesn’t enjoy the things that make us feel good (or better than before, sometimes)?

Sometimes, when I am having a bad day, I write.  This is no secret, and my post history is replete with indicators of which days were bad and which were good.  I’m here to say that Friday was a bad day.  Why was it a bad day, you ask?  It’s the holidays.

I’m dating healthily, I’m taking care of myself (more than usual, I’m still figuring out a steady routine), I’m in constant contact with my support group, so what gives?  Why do I feel this pervasive, overwhelming sadness that seems to permeate my life, and direct me into the darkest corners of my mind?

The holidays have never been my thing.  I learned to work them in the military, and since then I haven’t looked back.  I like the idea of helping a co-worker out so that they might spend time with their family, and also picking up some extra cash from overtime.  But this time is different.  Previously I was married, or dating, or in some type of long term relationship.  This gives the holidays a feeling of emotional permeability, although the idea that I would want to spend that time away from my partner should have been an indicator of the state of any of my relationships (but I digress).

But now, as was the case last year, there is no one.  Well, there are someone’s, but they are not the deeply intimate relationships that I am accustomed to.  They are the relationships that I’m still fleshing out, still trying to see if they are right.  There are no “I love you’s” or grand romantic gestures; nothing to sate the desire to feel well and truly loved.  I know that my support group loves me, I know that my family loves me.  I know that I have everything I need to survive.  But…

I don’t have everything I want.

I ache for someone to find a way to provide that grand romantic gesture.  I desire to be thought of the same way I think (or have thought) of other people.  I long for someone to spend time figuring out how to do something that shows me that they love me.  To be honest, it’s the thing that has eluded me for such a long time that I don’t even know if I will find it.  It hasn’t been present in ANY of my relationships since…..well, I can’t even remember when the last time I had it was (there are some memories of the last abusive relationship I was in, but I am not sure if I would count those given the state of things at that time.  I was in such an emotional deficit that anything would have seemed like a gesture).

I am not alone.  There are so many of us in this same spot that it seems silly to make a post about it.  I can imagine the amount of people who might read this and think “Yeah, yeah, we’re all lonely now, but we’re dealing with it.  What makes you so special that you have to write a blog post?”  Well, this blog post isn’t just me bitching about the approaching holidays.  This is me doing something else.

The holidays are tough.  REAL TOUGH.  And I am not the only one they are tough for.  If you are having a tough time going through the holidays and you need someone to reach out to, please, reach out to me.  We can chat about the hard stuff, about the good stuff, about the things that hope for, or about whatever you can think of.  You’ll find my contact info on the site (in the about me section).  If you’re located near PDX you can join me for a beer and we can gab in person.  If you’re far away we can shoot some emails or texts back and forth.  Either way, if you need it, I’ll take the time.

And that’s that.  The sadness is palpable, but I’ll get through it.  I always do.  There are always better days ahead 🙂

 

Protecting myself

Dating is a battlefield.  We are assaulted from all sides by the promise of exactly what we want.  What is a strangers promise worth?  Hell, what is a promise from someone who has hurt you worth?

It depends.

Learning how to date was an emotional roller coaster.  I can trace it back all the way to my first serious GF, a woman named Allison.  To put it bluntly, I was an idiot (weren’t we all?).  But, at least I was an honest idiot.  In the name of getting laid I lost some of my honesty, and dating got much, much harder.  When I found it again, I was on the wrong end of dating and trying to figure out why I kept meeting the wrong people.  Little did I know that I was only a few books away from the answer.

My therapist turned me onto some light reading.  He suggested that I open up a book or two on attachment theory, and see where it pointed me.  I was skeptical, but I gave it a shot.  It took me very little time to read that first book.  Once I started the first page I didn’t set it down until it was done.

Attachment theory had blown my mind open.

I had never felt so struck by the information presented in a self help book before.  In fact, I had a mostly negative view of the effect of self-help books on me.  I was supposed to be good at this, why should I read a book?  This newfound knowledge was immediately put to use.

I stopped dating for the ‘feeling’.  This is very hard for some people.  We all look for ‘the feeling’.  It’s more than attraction…it’s the magnetic pull that brings us into the clouds only to land in the arms of the person who instills it.  But this feeling can be created by a mismatch of attachment styles.  It can be created by danger, risk, and the possibility of reward.  It can be created when you have secrets with someone, or from shared misery.  A wide variety of things and events can play into this feeling, and it doesn’t always mean that person is right for you.  Cheaters will tell you that this is how their partner made them feel.  If this feeling can be mimicked from infidelity (often to much greater effect than if it occurs naturally) how are we able to trust it?  The short answer is that we don’t.  We don’t let this feeling take us away from baseline.  It’s nice to feel it, but it’s not indicative of anything except a strong attraction.  If anything, you should be even more vigilant in determining what’s going on between you and the other person.

I stopped ruminating.  This one was hard for me.  I’m a romantic at heart, and there’s nothing better than sitting and thinking about the current person occupying my desires.  This can be pretty poisonous though, especially when it strengthens your emotional attachment in a relationship.  It’s better for this to be built over time, rather than to artificially inflate it with your imagination.  Each imaginary scenario is another string tying you to the idea of that other person.  The here and the now is what’s important.  It also has a tendency to make us more likely to ignore red flags and push the relationship farther, faster.  The last thing that I want is to let a sense of ‘inertia’ carry my far past the healthy time to leave.

I stopped making excuses for people.  When I entered into my abusive relationships I stayed long past the point that I should have.  I was certain the love was there, and I was certain that all I had to do was wait it out to find it.  Loving treatment and a stress-free relationship were always on the other side of the mountain that was each, big fight.  Having an eye into mental health worked in tandem with my ability to think the best of people, and that with enough time and effort things would turn out OK.  I was wrong.  I spent nearly 5 years of my life in abusive relationships, and not once did things every move significantly towards better treatment for me.  There were calm periods, yes, but nothing that should have made me think that the end of my suffering was near.  No more excuses meant that I was free to let people go that I thought (or knew) would have a negative impact on my life.

I stopped NEEDING a relationship.  This is probably the most difficult one.  I know a lot of us feel empty and abandoned without a relationship.  I know that the affirmation gained passively just from BEING in a relationship is hard to go without (especially for those of us who have an ANXIOUS attachment style).  That’s no excuse for us to keep the wrong people in our life to mitigate that.  Saying that you need to let go is easy, but in practice this is difficult.  You’ll have to take time to take care of yourself, find things you enjoying doing, hang out with your friends, and just generally start finding a zest for life as a single person.  When you can do this, letting the wrong person go becomes infinitely easier.

I stopped believing I had all the answers.  This is the last thing.  I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know everything about this subject.  I’ve done A LOT of reading, and I know that I’ve only scratched the surface.  But I also know that I spent a great deal of time thinking that I knew the right answer and ignoring my need to get help, either via therapy, self-help books, or knowledge of my peers.  When you think you know all the right answers, the decisions you make are never wrong (even if, aha, they are).  Humble yourself, and let people who know the right answer in.

I don’t fall easily anymore.  I used to be able to fall in a heartbeat, letting myself go at the first hint of attraction.  It was romance, I would say to myself, where’s the harm in that?  Now I am more reserved, more guarded.  I haven’t had a ‘love at first sight’ moment in years, and even if I’m attracted to someone it doesn’t get away from me.  It all sounds very boring, but I can’t stress enough how much better and more in control I feel.  This is a triumph of my ability to date in a healthy manner, and I’m so excited that the streak has continued this far (almost 2 years of healthy dating!).

These are better days.  Amidst all the anxiety and stress of real life, these are the days that I will remember.

 

The Catch

It’s a different kind of life, feeling like you are no longer beholden to a relationship to fulfill all your needs.  Feeling like you are strong enough to enjoy the time you spend with yourself is a monumental change from feeling empty and incomplete when you are alone.  If I’m being honest, there are still times I feel like that, but they aren’t life altering.  I still get out, I still work out, I still eat well.  All of these are testaments to the large amount of work that I have put in towards learning about myself, and it’s paying off.  The best part, however, is the quality of people who come into my life.  Without that drive to be in a relationship I can more clearly evaluate the partners I meet.  Where I may have settled before, I have reached a point where I don’t even consider letting people stay in my life.  It’s freeing, and empowering, and for a while now I haven’t felt like I’m scrambling for control over certain aspects of my life.   I can’t control everything, and trying to do that was the root of titanic amount of poor decision making in my life.

It’s a double edged sword.  The release of my attempt to control everything has meant that I accept how deeply I feel things.  I can be a wreck sometimes;  the right scene in a movie or TV show will send tears down my face, as will the right moment with the right person.  Words are powerful, and my face is a leaky faucet.  It’s an odd feeling as you come to terms with how sensitive you are as a person.  Stoicism and emotional control get pitched around as the pinnacle of self care, but we are who we are.  If that’s crying because the hero died, or your family member got a cancer diagnosis, or a relationship didn’t work out, then so be it.  Spending time fighting it only leads to misery.  I love, love, love, LOVE emotional people, and hope that if you are struggling with it that you learn to love it too.  We were chosen to feel, and no amount of training will help us change that in a healthy way (although if your emotions push you towards negative behaviors there are plenty of things you can do to address that).

So yeah, I make better decisions now.  The catch is that in doing so I also have to be more accepting of who I am as a man, as a friend, as a boyfriend, as a lover, and as a person.  But, if I’m being honest…I don’t mind paying that price.

Better days ahead, my friends.

Creating your own Future

It’s no secret where I have been.  If you just started reading this blog, it might be unknown, but my journey is public and available.  Instead of the past, however, I find myself thinking about the future more often than not.  I mean, this was common for me in relationships; I planned the future before looking at the present, and it got me into quite a bit of trouble.  That’s what we do, though.  Forward thinkers are we.

I suppose if I had to describe it, I chose to imagine good futures instead of focusing on what’s going on now.  This is unfair, because the future you imagine is often free of the real work done to get there.  Why push things so far forward when ‘the now’ is so limiting in scope?  I had a tendency to make decisions on that future without giving proper regard for the now.

How have I fixed this?  Well, the solution that I have found has been to date better.  I choose better people to pull into my life, and I choose to be more present when I do.  Instead of building the ideal future in my head, I build the ideal present and live with that.  Taking control of the present is what’s best for a good future, and it’s not a step that you can skip over.  The plus side is that I am in love with what goes on in the proverbial ‘now’ more than I ever have been.  Every moment spent with people I care about, whether they are close by or far away, is another reason to love where I am.  I have always been someone who was willing to do whatever it takes, I just need to find the right people to apply that work towards.

Better days ahead.  Bright and shiny and full of the best that life has ever had to offer!

Am I a good man?

I heard about one of the men I know trying to take his own life recently.  He was a veteran, and according to his close friends he had been doing very well.  This breaks my heart, as I’m a veteran who has struggled with depression before, and I very nearly took my own life when I wanted all the pain to stop.  I worked briefly with this gentleman, and we spoke always in passing.  I was friendly, as I always was, but he was guarded with chip on his shoulder.  I’m not saying I knew something was up, because I didn’t.  I don’t have the magical ability to divine whether or not someone is struggling just by looking at them.  I am saying that I wish I could have spoke with him more, because when I talk to people I share, and when I share I bond.  I would have told him about my depression, and I would have tried to get him to open up about his if I had sensed that he struggled in kind.  Even though I know I had nothing to do with this, and there was nothing I COULD have done, I am still holding this over my head.  I’m about to get into a discipline that sees the worst of people, that walks down dark roads in an effort to bring my clients back into the light.  There is no light at the end of some of those tunnels, and inevitably I will lose someone.  If I’m being honest, I’ll probably lose many people.  I don’t know what it’s like for good psychologists, but dealing with people as vulnerable as this can lead you, the therapist, to as dark a place as your clients are.

How will I stay in the light?

How will I manage my own emotions when I lose someone I have pledged to help?

How much of myself will I question if I feel like I can’t save them all?

Inertia

How long would you stay in a bad relationship?  It’s an innocuous question, because I think the answer is “NONE, NONE TIME AT ALL” for anyone who reads it.  Few people can imagine themselves sticking around past the point of not getting what they deserve, and even fewer embrace the idea of settling.  But, while the question seems innocuous, the reality is often far more insidious.  I won’t get too far into the science; that’s not what this blog is about.  This is my emotional outlet, and I’m not here to tie you down with numbers.  I’m here to talk about my own anecdotal experiences (so don’t apply them generally) and hope that something about them helps you relate this post to your own life.

It’s often been that I have settled.  I didn’t know it at the time; I was too tied up in the word compromise to understand that I had bastardized the term into something that meant I sacrificed to keep a relationship copacetic.  But, if I’m being completely honest, I was settling.  My first wife was a nice person, but she was not good at relationship communication.  This often led to her saying things that were pointed, and cruel.  I know that this was not her intent, and I know that I lacked the tools to call this behavior into question and turn it into positive growth.  Instead of choosing to end it, LIKE I SHOULD HAVE, I incorrectly weighed my ‘time served’ and decided that this was what things were supposed to be like anyway.  Surely this was better than being alone?  The answer to that is an emphatic no, and I’m sure my readership will smile at this point.  The blog has covered this point several times; don’t settle.  Time served means nothing if it takes care of NONE of your major emotional needs, and there is nothing that additional time served can fix.  Holding onto the ideal that you can morph your partner into someone who can fill these needs, or that you can somehow live without them is the first step towards self destruction.  There is no light at the end of that tunnel until you make the choice to be honest with yourself about what you really want and need.

The second marriage was similar for me.  I was chasing after a ‘Nuclear Family’ ideal that I had seen make my father happy.  Do you know what should have been my first clue that the relationship would not work?  In truth, there were many red flags, but most heinous of all of them was this: when I seriously considered whether or not the relationship was meant to last I decided that I should stay because I could not afford to live in my house without her.  We had made too many financial decisions together, and I was, in essence, ‘stuck’ with her (or so I thought).  I let the inertia of these decisions carry a relationship faaaaaaar past the point of healthy and into self-destructive territory.  As many of you have read in this blog, there were many catastrophic things that happened during my second marriage (emotional and physical abuse, infidelity, controlling behavior, fights).  How did I choose to respond to this?  Lying, cheating, spending money, and generally very risky behavior.  Forcing myself to stay in this situation because of money/time investments set me up to be the worst version of myself.  My low point sucked, for lack of a better word, and is a constant reminder that I have been the person that I hated just as often as my SO has.  My only solace is that I’ve grown as a person, and I have made muuuuch better decisions since I did those things, from maintaining fidelity in my relationships, improving communication, and ending the ones that I knew would never be what I needed them to be.  It’s been a long road, but I finally feel like I’m an ‘expert’ in dating.

They say that hindsight is 20/20, which is stupid because it would be so much easier if foresight was 20/20 (or 20/15, or 20/10).  I suppose that would remove our ability to grow and learn, but is the pain really worth it?  The answer seems to be an emphatic yes, as the men and women I have talked to have indicated that the summation of the experience of making the wrong decision, dealing with the consequences, and subsequently creating mechanisms in place to avoid that outcome in the future is far more valuable than avoiding it entirely.  But….when you’re in the thick of it….I’d have to say it still feels like hell.  At the very least I haven’t put myself in a situation where I would have to ‘relearn’ the lessons that I have learned.  That’s a lot better than “Whoops made the same mistake again”, and it turns out it’s a whole lot less painful too.

There is never a point of no return.  No matter how much time you have invested it’s still OK to pack up and go, especially if you know that the relationship can’t fulfill your needs.  Don’t let the idea that you’ve put too much time in keep you somewhere you don’t need to be, especially if you exhausted all efforts to address the root cause and turn things around.  That’s not to say that you should duck out as soon as things get rough, but the difference between rough patches and a relationship that will never be fulfilling is usually (USUALLY) very clear.

You’re worth more than that.

There are better days ahead.

Whirlwind

You know those people; they swing into your life like a class 5 tornado and leave just as suddenly.  It’s not that they are destructive, they just change a bunch of things (for better or for worse, the mix up the game and raise the status quo).  Whether romantic or platonic, these relationships have a habit of defining us.  It’s interesting to think about how each of these things changes us, especially when we take a step back from it and view it from our objective lens.

I remember meeting a few of these people.  Some of them have changed my life in weird and unexpected ways.  Shandra (all names will be changed) came in to talk about issues with her relationship and I got a chance to talk about mine as well.  We chatted nearly everyday for a while, creating a safe space where she could vent and I could listen and vice versa.  Three weeks later we stopped talking, both of us happy with what we had done for the other, and we went our separate ways (metaphorically speaking, since we only chatted online).  It was two people who needed to be heard, and that was it.  Since then I have made much better decisions about who I let into my life, and, if her facebook updates are to be believed, she has taken more control over the way other people treat her.  When Lorie came in I was in a relationship, but she lent an ear to listen when I needed it.  She was supportive when I struggled and spent time making sure I was ok.  I talked with her about her past, and relationships that defined her, and we hung out and joked around for a few months.  It eventually petered off to the occasional wave when we see each other, which is fine by me.   Both of these people made big waves when they came into my life, and my ‘shore’ is forever changed because of them.

These aren’t love stories in the traditional sense, because I didn’t want to date these people (a clarification I feel I should make because of the direction this blog takes at times), but I love these two (and the many others I haven’t mentioned).  It’s experiences like this that make me proud that I am finally following my dream of being a therapist, because I legitimately love everyone I meet.  It’s going to be a tough road, what with school and the finite nature of therapy (all therapy relationships end) but I know it is the meaning I have sought for so long in my life.  I don’t want to be a whirlwind for my future clients though; instead I’d rather be the person who comes in and tidies up the place a bit, helping to set things up for future relationships.  After all, that’s the goal of a therapist; we aren’t there to solve your problems, just to help you find your own answers.  And, most importantly, provide the foundation for an ideal, healthy relationship (platonic) so that you might search for the same in others.  It’s a long road, but I’ll get there 🙂

Better days ahead my friends.

Fighters

This one is for the fighters; for the people who wake up every day and put on their boxing gloves and go to work on the issues life has placed before them, as they get beaten down again and again by the struggles of life.

This one is for the dreamers; for the people who stick their head above the BS that clouds the world around us and tells us that there isn’t anything better.

This one is for the romantics; for the ones who believe in love as work AND love as a feeling, searching for the partner that gives them both in the way that they need.

This one is for the idealists; for the ones that remember that life isn’t just what you see before you, and that change only occurs when you dare enough to turn hope into change.

This one is for the poets; for the ones who turn the beauty of their language into a reflection of the world around them.

This one is for the those without hope; for the ones who are losing their struggle, and can’t see the light anymore.

This one is for the damned; for the ones who think they are beyond help, who can’t live with the things that have wrought havoc across their lives.

This one is for the bleeding; for the ones who feel like their wounds are deep, and won’t heal without psychological surgery.

I see you.  It’s tough, no matter where you’re at or who you are, especially when it comes to the circles I run with.  I acknowledge your struggle, your pain and your suffering.  You are not alone, and if you need to reach out then by all means, do so.  I’m here to chat, I’m here to listen, I’m here to empathize and sympathize.  More often then not I can understand, and if you ask for it I can give advice. Regardless…

Whether you choose do this alone or with help…

I can see you.

Roundabouts

It’s easy to forget that life used to be much harder.  Time starts to pass like water flowing from a spring, building speed until it’s crashing around you and it feels like it won’t slow down for anything.  But…it’s true that there are certain things that slow it down, that make it impossible for you to ignore the thing that’s in front of you right in that moment.  It’s almost as if life is telling you “Hey, look here, don’t let this crash by.”  Have you ever had one of those moments?  Where things are moving and then everything starts to stretch, almost to a crawl, until someone or something crawls into view and you’re left feeling like you’re at a pivot point in your life?  It’s a humbling, awesome experience that inevitably brings you to the question “Is this why it was hard for so long?”.  We see the same things over and over again like we’re stuck in a roundabout that we end up ill prepared when something different comes along.  Who’s to say if different is good, but different is, as they say, different.  We can learn and grow from different, put it leagues ahead of the same old routine we fall into.  Routine can be healthy, but unless it’s changed up every now and again the soul withers.

School has been going well.  I have made new friends and my support network grows by leaps and bounds.  My classes are becoming more and more influential in the way that I approach my discipline, which is exciting in more ways than one.  It’s inspiring to feel like you’re finally good at something that you are passionate about, and the future looks bright as long as I stay on course.  The house is still holding up and my room mates are working out nicely.  It seems as if most of the hard times are behind me…

…you know, until something else difficult shows up.  Life be that way.

Living in those better days, people.  Bright and shiny and sunny all over 🙂