Monday, July 18, 2016

A Little Bit of Ridiculousness

The elevator door opened to a simply furnished lobby, and a kind man greeted us. I explained that we had a 4 p.m. appointment, to which he replied that the appointment was for 3. As soon as I could, I checked my phone to see the text message I sent immediately after making the appointment. It was for 4. I knew it was for 4 because there was no way we could have made it there in time for a 3:00 appointment.

This was an interesting experience for me because I didn't feel the need to prove I was right. I didn't berate myself or question myself. I know the time of the appointment I set. End of story. Unfortunately, this isn't always easy to do when someone presents information different from what you know to be true, In fact, sometimes it's really difficult.

There is a term in the therapy world called gaslighting. Named for a movie in which a husband keeps a gas light burning all night yet tells his wife that it's not on. He essentially convinces her that she's crazy. I never knew there were people in the world who actually did this until a few years ago when I saw a student miming smoking a joint with a piece of rolled up paper. I quietly asked him to put the paper away and stop. His response was that he didn't do anything. He even argued that he did not have the piece of paper in his hand--that he was still holding!

I've dealt with more than my fair share of gaslighting in the form of "that's not what that meant" and "you did ___." Just today, I received a lovely text message: "You didn't cook anything yesterday, so I didn't eat anything." (In case you're wondering, that inaction was the cause of a slew of problems leading up to the point I was yelled at.) Other text gems include, "You sit there on your phone all night, and I can only imagine who you're talking to" or "You're so dramatic" or "No one else reacts like that."

For the record, I did, in fact, cook two full meals yesterday. He did not eat either one. I then cooked again at midnight. He did not eat. I also do not generally have my phone with me when I am at home. Ask my friends and family. Only two people in my life have ever called me dramatic. I'm generally the cool girl, Finally, very few women openly tolerate being called whore or ignore a man who is openly having inappropriate conversations with other women. Trust me, I've seen the messages from the other women when they find out he's a liar.

I'm getting better at dealing with this technique, but I still make a phone call every now and then to double check my perspective. As a side note, if you have someone in your life dealing with a difficult person, sometimes all they need is a reminder that the behavior is not normal. Gaslighting is insidious because you really do question your own reality, and it gets worse over time.

The lesson for me that day with the appointment was that I know what I know. I don't have to argue about it. I don't have to explain myself. It's enough to know. That day, I explained to man that I thought it was 4, and that's why we showed up when we did. In these other situations, well. Some days it takes considerable effort to remind myself that something like vulgar name calling is disrespectful or that I really don't have my phone in my hand (although someone else around here is never without one).

And if I call you for a reality check, just remind me that this behavior isn't normal.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sea Turtles and Laundry

Last week NPR interviewed one of the writers from Amy Schumer's show. I have never seen the show, and I know little about the woman apart from her appearance on Saturday Night Live. I did, however, hear the clip played during that interview. It involved a group of pregnant women talking (and on-upping each other) about their birth plans. The punch line was that everything was "better for the baby," and I laughed loudly at comments about giving birth as far away from medical intervention as possible and opting for a sand birth like the sea turtles do.

As I finished driving home, I thought a lot about that sketch, and it amplified my sadness at the way we interact with each other. It bothers me greatly the way we compare ourselves with others, especially out of a need to feel okay with ourselves--our lives and our choices. Quite honestly, I'm tired of it and by it and the way these little shaming techniques strike at us. Ten years ago when I was working with a therapist, one of the first things he said to me was, "You have no voice. Do you have anyone in your life who actually listens to you?"

I truly believe that listening to people is the key to everything we hold dear in this world. I'm not talking about nodding a head or offering a solution. I'm talking about letting someone speak and acknowledging that whatever is going on with them is valid because the truth is that it is. Doing anything else strips them of their perspective and experience and leaves them feeling alone and afraid--feelings which all too often have the ability to morph into something dreadfully negative.

We have to stop doing this to ourselves, too. Just the other day I was talking to a woman at work and I followed up my thoughts with, "but that's nothing compared to your life since you have two kids." I need to go slap myself for that line. You see, I don't get enough sleep at night. I can never keep my house clean. My world is an endless cycle of dish washing and laundry folding budget crunching. The absence of children doesn't make my life any less complicated. This is also true of jobs and relationships and every other part of the human experience.

This is the way life goes. It's complicated sometimes. Yet, it doesn't have to be so isolated if we could all just stop and listen. That's my current challenge for myself--to let people feel their feelings and live their moments and respond to them as they see fit. Honestly, I've got enough on my plate to try to take over..and the risk of invalidation is just too great. If we ever have a chance at improving the world, we have to start hearing what people have to say and stop falling for the fallacy that it is any reflection on our own beliefs.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Bad Choices and Boundaries

I read this blog this morning as I searched for answers to how to set boundaries with a spouse. The idea of boundaries is not new to me. I still remember my aunt telling me YEARS ago about her favorite part in This Present Darkness, when the lead character is running through a field looking for the fences. She told me that this scene is symbolic of the fences in our lives, and that as long as we know where the boundaries are, we free to act as we wish within them.

Setting Boundaries with a Cheating Ex: My Story
We need to know the limits of what we can say and how we can act toward other people. Sometimes this is very easy to do. Sometimes it seems impossible to do. Yet, the issue, I've found, is not in setting the boundary or knowing when someone has crossed it. It's following through. When my first husband had a friendship with his secretary that was troublesome to me, I told him. I said that to me, it was not appropriate for a married man to talk to a married woman at all hours of the day and night for hours at a time. They had affectionate names for one another. He told her he could not live without her. She sent him "XXOO" at the end of text messages. He would go to her house when her husband wasn't there. He would tell me he was going out with friends or his mom, but met up with her instead.

When I brought this up, he told me that I was overreacting. She was just a friend. Her husband didn't have a problem with it. She needed help, and he was the only one who could help her. At one point, he said she had a cocaine addiction, and he wanted to be with her when she went out to make sure she didn't consume drugs. I tried talking to him about it. I explained how it hurt me. I refused to let him go out without me. I followed him. I tracked his phone calls. Yet, in the end, he finally confessed the affair and told me he wanted a divorce. Five years after I first told him I was uncomfortable with the friendship.

Needing Boundaries in My Current Relationship
I've run into a similar problem with my current husband. We're now four years past the first messages that raised my eyebrows. There are some similarities, but far more differences this time around. First, DQ, as far as I know, has not had physical contact with the women. He likes to chat with them. Second, DQ is far more likely to get angry with me, accuse me of doing the same thing, and then withdraw for days at a time. He will even threaten me with statements like, "If you're going to X@J^ with me, I'll do the same to you." He throw around, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, do whatever you want." I've endured up to a week of complete silence from him in the wake of my discovery of a text message saying, "Hey sexy" or "Send me a pic of you in your panties."

In response, I've tried explaining to him how much it hurts me to see him invest this kind of energy in other women, especially when I sometimes go days without affection from him. I've threatened to hit him. I've hit him. I've thrown a chair at him. I've erased contacts in his phone. I've monitored his Facebook. I've told him to leave. I've packed his bags. I've talked to the other women. I've pointed out that he blocked my lifelong male friends. I've tried to make him experience what it feels like to discover phone numbers on the phone. His response is one of the following:

  • Accuse me of cheating
  • Tell me I'm overreacting
  • Tell me he's tired of the way I act
  • Block all men on my social media
  • Changed my name and relationship status on social media
  • Contacted my male friends to find out what is going on
  • Told me all my friends are covering up for me
  • Told me I'm doing the same thing that he's doing
  • Told me he knows I'm poisoning his food
  • Told me he knows I'm trying to kill him for the $3000 insurance policy I have on him
For the record, his evidence of my cheating includes the following: a baseball cap in our front yard, laughing at a man's joke, not yelling at the mechanic he thinks was trying to pull one over on me, the fact that there are two cheap hotels near where I work, and a chat discussion with a female friend about meeting up one day.

Back to Boundary Basics
So, the point of this post is boundaries. Although I tried experimenting with boundaries in the past, I always saw it as a method of controlling the other person's behavior. This is true to some degree. You set the boundary because a certain behavior is unacceptable. However, the real reason for setting the boundary is to protect yourself. The boundary says, "This will hurt me if I continue to let it happen."

Generally, I've been passive about boundaries. I usually set them in my head and bow out when the situation is too uncomfortable. Remember Drunk John? I knew I needed to get out of that. I remember telling myself that I wasn't going to tolerate being insulted the way he did when he was drunk. I made my exit at the first opportunity when he tried to apologize for a drunken rant and said he knew he need help. I agreed and told him that he could contact me again after he got treatment for his disease. He said he needed the support of a good woman. I remember telling him that I wasn't emotionally prepared to offer that level of support and he had to want to do this for himself. That was the last I heard from him.

I've Successfully Set Boundaries in the Past
With DQ, I have successfully set boundaries. He used to lash out and call me horrible names in the midst of a disagreement. Finally, I said, "If you call me names, I will end the conversation and leave the room until you stop." It didn't take long before he trampled through that fence. I walked away. He screamed, "Don't you walk away from me." I replied, "I told you that if you call me names, I will leave the room." He continued screaming. I stayed in another room until he calmed down.

More recently, I've added to the list no sex when he's so drunk that he cannot stand straight and feels the need to throw up and no cooking dinner if he dirties all the dishes in the house during the day and doesn't wash them. I know he gets the message because he recently told me that he doesn't like my rules: he can't call me names, he can't talk to other women, and he can't be disrespectful to me. He also pointed out not long ago that I will throw him out if he talks to other women.

What Now?
Here I am again facing the same situation. The same one that first reared its ugly head in June 2012 when he left his Facebook open, and I saw the messages he sent to two different women asking for pictures of them in their panties. (For the record, I listed the names of all the women I've found inappropriate messages to over the last 4.5 years...there were more than 40 names on the list.)

One important tenet of boundaries is that actions have consequences. If you steal from me, I will not trust you around my things. If you intentionally hurt me, I will not be around you. So how does this relate to my husband?

How he hurts me:
  • Call me names.
  • Accuse me of trying to kill him.
  • Sending affectionate messages to other women while sending me things like, "What's up?"
  • Being super nice to the dog and showering him with kisses while pushing me away.
  • Leaving all the work to me. (I work one full-time and at least two part-time jobs. I also am the only one in the house who washes dishes, does the laundry, maintains the yard, and cleans the house. He does usually take out the trash on trash day.)
  • Spending money we don't have.
  • Having an account on a dating site.
Let's tackle the most glaring one here.
Bad Choice: Active account on an online dating site and talking to women there.
Consequence: Loss of relationship with spouse.

What this looks like:
  • I will not give you money.
  • I will not cook special dinners for you.
  • I will not wash your clothes unless you ask.
  • I will not go out of my way to do any favor for you.
Basically, my husband becomes a roommate. I treat him the way I would a roommate. This means I will share my food with him. I will give him a ride if it fits with my schedule. I will not give up my comfort to make him happy. This makes sense to me because ultimately, it is protecting me. I'm not sacrificing for him.

I've actually done this before. It worked to a degree. The problem is that he keeps trampling through that fence. Perhaps it's time to reinforce the fence. I'm thinking some parental style controls on his phone are in order. It may seem harsh, but I'm the one who pays for the phone. Of course, I could just let the phone lapse and not pay the bill, too.

Ugh.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It's Been a While

I decided to peruse some of my friends' dormant blogs tonight, and one post resonated with me. It was an open letter to anyone going through a difficult time in life, and the advice was to remember a time when you felt like you were awesome instead of sucky. I needed that message tonight. I've needed that message for the last year, and that is why I decided to post something new here.

A few years ago I felt awesome. I felt like life was a journey of opportunity. I was going places and doing things and celebrating the things that I love. I do love going back and reliving those moments here, and I want to start recording all the busy-ness of my life right now because one day I hope to go back and fine a few awesome moments here.

I'm a little tired right now and still have a disaster in the kitchen to clean, a ton of writing to do to pay for some surprise car repairs and want to get a little sleep before I wake up to start a new day at my summer job. Good enough? Let's start the conversation again. I have so much to say.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How Social Media Stole My Voice

With tears in my eyes, I just closed the browser I had open to Facebook after looking at a few pictures and memes and reading a debate about transgender bathrooms and the formerly shamed dancing man. It just seems to me that social media has turned into a giant playground in cyberspace populated by meanness.

I'm so tired about reading comments detailing how poor spelling and very common grammar mistakes completely negate an argument. I'm over the name calling and poor judgment and shaming that makes up the posts people share and laugh about. I'm just so disgusted with the people who think it's okay to make fun of others and the mean-spirited things people say and get offended by.

I read these comments and write a thousand responses in my head that never make it to the screen. I've tried my hand at it and been bashed and shamed in the process, even by people who were actually on the same side as me because I didn't use the "right" terminology. I decided right then and there that it wasn't worth the effort. It's not worth the energy to try to point out a flaw in the logic or encourage people that it's okay to live in a world where not everyone agrees on the finer points in life.

I have friends who have consciously decided to post only about rainbows and puppies. They share beautiful photos filled with laughter and a few witty comments. I enjoy seeing these, but I also know that these posts just highlight the mean-spiritedness bobbing just beneath the surface of the online world. They also exacerbate what I believe is a major problem in this world--the refusal to accept that life is messy.

My grandfather once told my mother that life is a series of ups and downs and that no one should expect to spend every moment at the top of a rollercoaster. She struggled with plenty of feelings of inadequacy and always had a sense that she never quite fit in with the rest of the world. I used to spend a lot of time telling her that we all feel that way from time to time, but that most people refuse to admit it, thus perpetuating an individual belief that everyone else has it figured out.

Sadly, I often don't feel like it's okay to share my moments of frailty or give others a glimpse into my not so perfect world. I've accepted these imperfectly beautiful corners of my mind and heart and kitchen counters. I don't need to--nor do I want to--live a life worthy of a magazine cover shoot. The mess means I'm spending time doing what I love or learning a new lesson or immersing myself in the dangerous emotions that come with real living.

I still have my opinions, but they stay locked away in my head or in the dog-eared pages of my journal. And here. While I appreciate the outlets, this censorship isolates me. It isolates you. As a result, we spend most of our time honoring dead celebrities who never really made up any substantial fabric of our existence. We communicate through likes. We're creating a culture of fear because we can't concentrate on living the moments in front of us and enjoying the people in our presence.

What's happened to us? I thought that the shrinking corners of the globe would actually bring us together, but I'm starting to think we're embracing a civil war of humanity. So, I'm going to step away right now and retreat back to my world of dogs and late spring breezes and the laundry I've been putting off all day.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cycle of Chaos

I went for my Sunday morning run this morning, and it turned into a walk as I talked with a friend. She let me ramble a bit about my current situation, and I eventually worked my way out of the circle of words and landed on the cycle that I'm stuck in.

I'm treading water right now in a sea of chaos. Let's ignore the pathological side of this for a minute and focus on the aspects of the chaos that are bothering me. Here's the deal:

1. My house is a mess.
2. When my house is a mess, I cannot concentrate.
3. When I cannot concentrate, I am not productive.
4. When I'm not productive, I cannot work.
5. When I cannot work, I cannot pay my bills.
6. When I cannot pay my bills, I worry.
7. When I worry, I waste time.

There's where I'm stuck.

My house is a mess because I live with someone who leaves items on tables, the floors, and counters. I live with someone who does not wash dishes and thinks it's okay to pile them on top of said tables, floors, and counters. Right now I'm looking at 4 empty beer cans, 3 soda cans, more cigarette packages than I can count, and an amount of cigarette ash that makes my stomach churn. It's embarrassing really, and every time I go to clean, I have flashbacks of when I had to clean my parents' apartment when my mom was sick. I've timed this. It takes 45-60 minutes each day to wash the dishes alone.

The problem with productivity is that I am the only person in this house who has not one, but two jobs. This is how the bills get paid. When I have to clean up messes that are not mine, I am taking time away from my second job. That job is how I'm working to clean up the financial mess I created when I consistently gave in to the puerile wants of the aforementioned messy person. Speaking of the financial mess, I'm trying to pay off the more than $100,000 I have accrued in the last few years. I own up to and accept the fact that I created the mess through my inability to say no.

So here I am trying to figure out how to stop the chaos. I made the decision to throw all the money I make from my second job at the debt. It's slow going, but I'm seeing some progress there, and it makes me feel better. I'm also using it to cash flow surprise items that I need. Again, I'm feeling better and like I have some control. So the bills are paid, and I'm back at the house.

How much control do I have over the situation? My options are to leave the mess the way it is and carve out a space for myself where I feel like I have a little peace. Perhaps the living room is a good place because it seems to be where I spend the most time. I think I can handle that. This room is the least cluttered, so it is probably the easiest to maintain.

I feel better now...so back to work.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Now and the Not Yet

No longer what we were before, but not all that we will be.

Forgive me for doing the unforgivable--using a quote out of context. That line from a Pam Mark Hall song certainly sums up what's on my mind today, but the message of the song is about more than the mundane issues I'm struggling with today. This struggle is not new, and I've written about it plenty of times in the nine years I've had this blog.

Present day life rarely measures up to the way our past selves imagined it. My thirteen-year-old self wanted to be married before 20 and give birth to my four children before I was 25. We would all live on a farm where I would spend my days doing laundry, playing with my children, cooking meals, and writing poetry and music. (It was a grand plan for using the degree in classical languages or philosophy that I wanted.)

Working as an English teacher with a psychology degree, divorced at 32, remarried at 36, and nearly going bankrupt thanks to immigration issues and life with an unemployed addict never registered on my radar. I also never envisioned myself learning two additional languages (with more in the works), swimming in the Mediterranean, staring in awe at the sweeping stars above the Andes, sleeping in the beds of foreigners, living in another country, or running half-marathons.

In the words of another song I love, That's life.

Today's struggle is the current disconnect between the person I want to be and the person I fear that I am. I know that I'm rather remarkable in that I manage to hold down a full time job that requires an intense amount of my energy during the day and have developed a somewhat successful freelance career despite the fact that my home life resembles the coast of a Caribbean island after the landfall of a Category 4 hurricane.

Yet, I still feel like a colossal failure because I never feel like I'm able to do what I really want to do. I want to cook home made dinners and sit at a table to enjoy them with a nice glass of wine. I want to have my laundry done each week so I don't have to search for *that* one shirt or pair of pants I want to wear. I want a garden outside where I grow my own vegetables and a shady spot in the yard to enjoy the warm Gulf breezes. I want beach Saturdays and a few drunken nights. I want a clean kitchen in the morning. I want my bills paid on time. I want long runs on Sunday mornings where I can commune with God on his own turf. I want a man in my bed who believes in me and loves me and feels like every day I make his life a little better. I want sweaty sex and sloppy kisses and a look that says, "You're always my 'one.'"

Am I asking too much?

I'm trying schedules. I'm trying multi-taking. I'm trying single-tasking. I'm about to try the Eisenhower method of Urgent vs. Important. Something's gotta give here. I need a clean house. I need time to work so I can pay off these ridiculous debts. I need some time for myself. I need some time for carnal moments. I'm not there today, but I'm hoping that tomorrow I'll be one step closer.