Awesome, Not Awful

I had been dreading this past weekend because it was going to be my first weekend alone since my breakup. Now, on the other side of it, I’m feeling pretty giddy and frankly proud of myself for getting through it like a champ! So, what turned things around to make this weekend awesome instead of awful? I can think of three things:

Goals Saved the Day! – Last week I gave some thought to what I could do at home over the weekend that I would actually be interested in, and decided it would be fun and useful to try to expand my culinary horizons. Since I’ve been thinking increasingly about reducing meat in my life, on Friday I printed off a stack of vegetarian recipes I wanted to try out. On Saturday, I started off by making pesto quinoa – yummy! I  then inventoried all my spices at home, went out and stocked up on all the new spices I would need for my recipe adventures – turmeric, cayenne pepper, garam masala, coriander, red curry paste, etc. On Sunday morning I woke with a sudden craving for scones and thought hey, if I’m trying to expand my horizons, maybe I can make my own scones - so I did! And while my tasty cinnamon scones were baking I made aloo gobi for the first time, which was surprisingly easy to make and quite tasty. Tonight, I’m going to try making malai kofta – mmm, can’t wait!

Forced Sociability – A couple of weeks ago I had committed to going to a party on Saturday night. It was being thrown by a friend of a friend to celebrate her birthday, and the party’s theme was “Parti de l’amour” (groan). I was dreading it. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to know anyone there, but because it was this girl’s actual birthday and it didn’t look like she was going to have a great turnout, I didn’t feel like I could cancel. I reluctantly hauled myself there full of dread and misgivings. Well, it turns out one of my best friends was a last minute RSVP and, even though there was just a small group of us, we all had a great time chatting and laughing until 1:30am! Once again I learned how important it is to go out and do things, even if I don’t necessarily feel like it in the moment.

Fabulous Friends, Old and New – Throughout the weekend, various invitations popped up for future events. Notably, my best friend asked me to be her Valentine’s Day date this Friday since her boyfriend will be working (just like last year), and an old friend proposed a dirty girls’ day doing a Mud Run this Spring – in just a few hours, we had a team of 5 confirmed and are now planning our costumes. So fun! As for new friends, I joined a few new meet-up groups last week and enjoyed the steady stream of social options pouring in. I’m really looking forward to having new adventures with new people in the coming weeks. Ok yes, the introvert in me is a bit nervous about it, but knowing there are so many people like me out there just looking for people to do things with is actually super comforting!

So, I consider this weekend a win. Of course there were tears now and again, but overall I really enjoyed it. Today I’m in a great mood and frankly wish I had more time at home to keep enjoying all the things I started over the weekend! Life is truly amazing. 

Why We (I) Stay(ed)

I started this post a week ago. What a difference a week makes.

My friends struggle to understand why I am in a relationship with a man I constantly fight with, continuously think about breaking up with, and regularly feel unhappy with. Some of my friends have quit the struggle and prefer to stay out of it altogether. A precious few accept it – whether they understand it or not – and just keep waiting for something to give. 

I’ve known him for almost 4 years but we’ve only been dating officially for maybe 6 months. We have a tumultuous past that began very quickly after my ex-fiance broke up with me unexpectedly. I fell in love quickly, even though serious problems were evident from the start. I remember saying to him then: “You are the most selfish person I’ve ever known.” We only dated for 2 weeks back then. We broke up, tried to stay friends, and when that didn’t work we went through cycles of not speaking for months and then reconnecting into a highly charged “friendship” with loose boundaries. Very loose boundaries. I kept going back. He was persistent, I was attached, and we had incredible chemistry.  

When he approached me 6 months ago asking me to reconsider a relationship with him, I turned him down. I had a vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, and I knew he couldn’t provide it. I wanted to feel comfortable, and loved. I wanted easy conversation and mutual respect, stability and support. I wanted a partnership. Eventually he provided a compelling enough case and I agreed to give it a try. Two months later I ended it, then again 2 months after that. My friends were shaking their heads.

Three weeks ago we had a fight and I thought, “That’s it, this has to be the end. It’s just not working.” Fights were starting to become a regular weekend occurrence for us. I try to avoid making permanent decisions in anger so, as usual, I told myself to sleep on it. Of course I got no sleep that night. The next day I told myself not to make permanent decisions when I’m tired and, well, you can see how this goes. Eventually, I finally got a better night’s sleep and told myself the next day, “See? Things aren’t so bad.” He was being sweet, and I was relieved to be feeling a little better. 

But the problems were still there, and they were still keeping me up at night. They were on my mind all the time. Half the time I was thinking about how insurmountable they were and how I needed to end the relationship. The other half of the time I was trying to figure out why those problems existed – what were we both contributing and what could we both do differently to avoid those problems.

The following weekend I thought for sure the relationship was going to end. I had spent a week thinking things over and couldn’t see a way out. It just wasn’t working. I was unhappy, I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel like I had a partner. In fact, of all the things I had envisioned for my next relationship, I could find very few of them in this one.

And then, in the middle of that weekend’s fight, he said, “You know it’s because of you that I say felt that you were attacking me (for example). In the past I would have said You attacked me.” And I suddenly saw that we were making progress, that he actually was trying to do better even if he’s not really one to openly acknowledge it. He had quietly noted the need for change, and was trying to work on it. I value that. It brought tears to my eyes, my heart grew three sizes and I instantly recommitted. If he was willing to try, so was I. 

I’d never known anybody like him before, and he said he’d never known anybody like me before. Of course it would take time for us to learn how to be with each other – we just needed to try harder. It was becoming a common refrain for us – we just have to try, we just have to try harder.

Since that day just over a week ago, we fought again, twice. In fact, one night we fought (“discussed”) until 5:30am. It’s amazing how much truth comes out in exhaustion. And truth is kind of like a brand new comforter – once you pull it out of the packaging, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to fold it all tightly enough to get it back in. Once it’s out, it’s out for good.

So, today we broke up. The few friends I have left are being kind and sympathetic. They’ve run the marathon with me. They passed the ‘I told you so’ marker long ago and have just been waiting to see the finish line. They also know that often the finish line is a mirage, so they will cautiously stand by to make sure this is permanent before they say too much. 

I loved him. I do love him. I knew we had the odds stacked against us but I thought I was onto a special secret – that this guy who was troubled and emotionally distant was really a sweetheart just waiting to be loved into happiness. He was incredibly smart, funny, driven, and relentless in trying to get a foothold in life. In so many ways I admired him.

I love discovering people who have unexpected layers of amazingness the rest of the world can’t see. I guess on some level I think that makes me special. Now I think it just makes me like every other person who stays in an unhealthy relationship. We try too hard. We stay too long. We’re hopeful to a fault. We’re a dime a dozen. 

But I’ll tell you this: we’re not weak and we’re not stupid. We know what’s happening. We see the bad, we just whole heartedly want to believe it will get better. And we have the strength of armies because we will go to great lengths and endure great sorrows in the hopes that it will get better.

So the next time you’re frustrated with a friend for not leaving a ‘bad’ relationship, or you find yourself saying “why doesn’t s/he just leave?”, please try to remember that person is just trying their best to be happy. They are hopeful and they are strong. They need your patience and support, not your judgement and ultimatums. 

Ironically, in the end, it was a Facebook post from one of his female friends (who had been the subject of previous fights between us) that tipped me over. It didn’t say anything particularly amazing, and it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It just said the right thing at the right time:

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2013: Year in Review

As I sit here looking ahead to what 2014 may (or may not) bring, I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate 2013 and reflect on the things I value most about the year:

1) Rediscovering My Roots – Visiting Prague with family was something I had somewhat dreaded, but it ended up being a wonderful experience. I fell in love with the city again, reconnected with family, and rediscovered how much I value having European roots. Even though I don’t actually have that many ties to the Czech Republic, I love knowing that who I am is bigger than this life I lead in Canada.

2) Monkey Business – Mid-year, I got it into my head that I had to go to Costa Rica and I had to see monkeys in the wild. It took many months of deliberation and negotiation, but in December I finally made it to Liberia and was greeted by a troop of angry, territorial white-faced capuchins. These were not the Marcels and Curious Georges of my fantasies! Luckily, a day before departure, fate had me walk below a tree full of howler monkeys feasting on tree buds. These adorable black monkeys grabbed branches with their hands, swung by their tails, and looked expressively just as I’d always wanted to see monkeys do in the wild. Thanks to a chance encounter on Coco Beach, my Costa Rican monkey business was complete!IMG_3573

3) The Year of Running – I can’t believe in 2013 I went from being able to run 5k to running a 10k and then a 15k. I’m super proud of myself! Not only did I learn to challenge my own beliefs about what I’m capable of, but I learned how to cope with setbacks. Between my pre-10k foot injury and my post-15k knee injury, there were many days when I thought ‘well that’s it, my running days are over.’ However, inevitably, with time and patience and discipline, eventually I was lacing up my shoes again and, even though I felt like I was starting over at square one, I always felt pure giddiness at being back out there pounding the pavement.

4) Stepping Up in Social Services – When I had the opportunity to write my own job description and create a new position for myself in my organization, it seemed too good to be true. But here I am, 6 months later, still saying “I LOVE my job.” After 15 years in a career I never liked, words can’t express how grateful I am to have an amazing job that I’m proud of, that was tailor made for me, and that is exactly what I want to be doing.

5) Personal Growth – I started the year with a couple of revelations: that I can trust myself and my feelings, and that my inner critic is actually working against me. Over the course of the year, I made some good progress on boundaries and self-acceptance and I love that, these days, I am much kinder to myself. I know I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m heading in the right direction and it feels great! Perhaps 2014 will be the year I finally find some courage to start tackling my conflict avoidance issues, but if I don’t then that’s ok too. :)

So, not too shabby for a year in the life! I’m excited to see what I have to say at the end of 2014. Let the adventure begin!

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air BalloonSome days, you feel like you’re floating in a hot air balloon, high up in the sky where everything seems beautiful, manageable, serene.

Other days, you feel like you’re on the ground in your basket, ropes tangled in a mess all around you, fabric lying limp on the ground with no hope of rising.

What makes the difference? How do you get from one state to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye?

I am in my head a lot. It’s a curse. I can take any situation and find a really good way of looking at it, or a really bad way of looking at it. People talk about the yin and yang of life and they’re right – it’s all there, all the time, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. We choose how to see it, how to perceive it, how to respond.

When I am gliding along happily in my balloon, I forget to work hard. I let the wind carry me and I don’t worry much about setting my own course. It’s a very enjoyable time. I get to be lazy, and I like that because life is so busy so much of the time, being lazy is a wonderful luxury.

The problem is, when I’m mindlessly gliding along, any little gust of wind can change my direction. Sometimes it happens so subtly that I don’t even realize it’s happened until I’m completely off-course, fighting a storm that’s threatening to throw my balloon to the ground. It’s disorienting, and terrifying.

Afterwards, I inevitably need a period of time to find my bearings and to remind myself that if I just invested a little energy into navigating continuously, I would be better able to avoid being tossed around by sudden gusts of wind in the future.

Life requires discipline. Sometimes I don’t like that but I’m beginning to realize it’s a non-negotiable reality. I must take responsibility for my direction. I must not sit back lazily drifting in the air currents. I must not forget to navigate my own life. Today, and every day from this point forward, I will try my best to set my own course lest some new gust of wind push in to set it for me.

Flawed

I hate that feeling some of us grew up with that we’re not good enough, that we need to try harder, harder, harder to be perfect. To become acceptable. To become lovable.

I believe my friends know my flaws, but probably no single friend knows them all. Each one has a glimpse into my neuroses and insecurities, but only collectively they would have the whole picture. I envy people who have that one person in their lives who knows all their flaws and loves them anyway; who doesn’t keep those flaws handy in a box nearby, ready to be hurled at the first sign of an argument, using them like a defense shield just to protect himself (or herself) from feeling too vulnerable.

My best friend recently said she’ll be devastated when her father passes away because he’s the only person in the world who still thinks she’s perfect. What a beautifully safe and loved feeling that must be. I can’t relate, but I can imagine. The very thought of it smells to me like home-cooked muffins and feels like warm sunshine on my skin.

So this is where I say f* it. Nobody thinks I’m perfect anyway, what’s the point of trying so hard to hide my flaws? So here they are:

I am terrified of trusting someone and having that trust broken, and that makes me hypervigilant and overly analytical of the behaviour of those who are closest to me. It’s exhausting.

I want to be the most important person in the world to somebody – just one person – and sometimes that makes me act like a crazy jealous person.

Sometimes when I’m hurt, I hurt back.

Sometimes I’m passive aggressive. Other times I’m just flat out aggressive.

Sometimes I can’t find the courage to say “I’m scared” and it comes out as tears. Sometimes that happens a lot.

I’m not a good daughter. I’m tired of being let down by my family, so I have given up on trying to make them happy.

I’m pretty selfish. Except not really. Except I am.

I am so unsure of myself, I have trouble making decisions about even the smallest things sometimes.

Sometimes I do things that I know are bad for me, just because I want to and because I’m so tired of trying to do everything right all the time.

I get nervous speaking in groups because I don’t want anybody to not like me.

I beat myself up constantly for not being a more level-headed person; a more self-sufficient, not-needing-others person.

I keep almost everyone at a distance so that I don’t risk letting them down or being let down by them.

I lie. Not often, but not never.

I resent when people talk about themselves all the time.

I’m a feminist, but I want a man to fix my broken faucet and mow my lawn and put his big strong arms around me and tell me everything’s going to be ok.

When I’m most scared and need most to be held, I push people away the hardest. Then I panic that they’ll leave, so I hang on too tight.

I like being in control of situations because then they feel less scary. But yes, that makes me controlling.

If I could get away with stealing (not from a person, but from a store), I would probably do it.

If I could have gotten away with murder in the past, I would have done it.

I feel like a more worthy person when I’m skinny. But I never feel skinny enough.

I am judgemental. I try not to be, but I am.

I am a little bit racist. I try not to be, but I am.

I’m inherently lazy.

I am addicted to sugar.

There. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of right now. I am flawed, I know that I am, but I am also a good and loving person and I deserve to be loved whole-heartedly. I know I’m not always an easy person to love, but I don’t need to be reminded of that and I certainly don’t need it to be amplified. Goodness knows I already live under my own giant microscope.

At the end of the day, I just want someone to know all my flaws but still look at me like I am the greatest gift in the world to them. Am I crazy for thinking that’s possible?

5 Ultrasounds

This morning, I had an appointment for 5 ultrasounds. Not that I’m experiencing any pains, my doctor just has some ‘concerns’ and is particularly diligent with me because of my family history. As a result, my entire torso has now been photographed and mapped, inside and out. 

Over the course of the hour, between the neverending instructions – lie down, turn left, raise your arm, wipe the gel, go to the bathroom, lie down, take a deep breath, turn right, go to the bathroom, sign this waiver, lie down, spread your legs, take a breath – I had a lot of time to think. I found myself being swept up in distressing thoughts.

The first time I was sent to the bathroom, I glanced at myself in the mirror and thought ‘oh, I look pretty good today’. When I glanced back, I thought: ‘what if this is the day that begins my story of how I found out I have cancer?’ I paused for a moment to consider the enormity of that thought, then brushed it aside and returned to the examination room.

As the tech slid and pressed her wand across my body, I became acutely aware of every little lump, every dark spot on the screen, every moment she paid a little extra attention to one spot over another.

I started to think of all the people I’ve known who have had cancer. They’re all women. Probably each of them had an exam like this that started with a routine checkup and their doctor saying “hm, I feel something weird here. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but I’m going to send you to have it checked out just in case.”

I wondered if they were scared or if, like me, they had gone into it assuming everything would come out just fine. I wondered if, at the moment when they found out they had cancer, they felt totally alone in the world, or if they knew they’d have someone by their side holding their hand the whole way. I wondered who would be by my side. 

And the tears began to stream down the sides of my face.

I wondered how these people I’d known felt every time they’d prepared to go in for treatment. I wondered if I would be scared of chemotherapy. I wondered if I would believe that I could beat the cancer, or if I would just go through the motions hoping for the best.

I wondered if I should stay home this afternoon instead of going to work, because really life could change on a dime and I’d never see it coming, and I should make sure to at least spend this one afternoon in peace. I wondered if the lab tech already knew there was something wrong with me, and was thinking to herself ‘this poor girl’ as she completed my exam.

Then I realized I was spinning, catastrophizing. I took a few deep breaths, tried to stay away from scary thoughts, and eventually put my clothes back on. I bought some groceries. I had a short nap. I went to work. 

I believe my tests will all come back negative. But with my family history, it’s likely that one day I won’t be so lucky. If that few minutes on the table was a glimpse into how I’ll feel then, I just hope that when the time comes I will be surrounded by loving people I can count on because I am going to need all the strength they can give me.

Until then, I will do my best to remember to be grateful for my health, every day, for as long as I can.

Time Travelling

Last week I travelled back in time. I returned to my family cottage where I had spent many, many summers; where I had suffered my only childhood physical injuries – a broken tooth from a nasty bike fall, a sprained ankle from a weeping willow jump, and a hatcheted thumb from poor log-splitting technique. I had spent countless hours catching frogs on sunny days, watching soap operas on rainy days, and playing Monopoly on any day my family would humour me enough to start a game.

As I strolled along the receding creek, I saw flashes of myself as a young girl wearing oversized rubber boots, searching intently for frogs to scoop up into my tiny hands. That little girl thought life would all just fall into place in the natural order at the appropriate times – graduations, boyfriends, marriage, children, farm ownership. That little girl thought the coldness in her family was normal, and that persistent loneliness was something everyone felt.

It wasn’t until my late thirties that I learned my childhood experience actually wasn’t ‘normal’ and, for years after, I tumbled through the stages of grief – deep sadness, dark anger, eventual acceptance. And just when I thought I was done…

In a cardboard box in a back room at the cottage, I discovered piles of papers with stories and poems I had written as a child. Hundreds of pieces of paper documenting my desire to feel loved and valued and respected (and, apparently, my admiration for the colour blue). I found a school journal entry that lamented how much I had needed my mother after my bike fall, and felt lost that she wasn’t there.  I found a note from my father to my teacher, written on a permission slip for a school excursion, offering to pick me up at a subway station but stating in no uncertain terms that I was not to be left anywhere unsupervised.

This box held the utmost minutiae of my life from 1985-1986. After these last few years of feeling angry at my parents for everything they hadn’t done for me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by such a deep appreciation for everything they had done for me. What kind of father would pack up and store a box like that for 30 years? A father who loves his daughter. And what kind of mother is so deeply needed and longed for when pain and fear overwhelm a young child who made the simple mistake of speeding down a hill too quickly on her bicycle? A mother who provides love and comfort to her daughter. They weren’t perfect but they did love me the best they could.

As an adult, standing on the same ground where those little-but-big rubber boots once stood, I wanted to crouch down, reach through the time-space continuum and give my little girl a big hug. I wanted to tell her life doesn’t go the way you think it will, it’s full of surprises – good and bad – but in the end, you’re ok. You’re not perfect, but the good news is: nobody is.

And love isn’t perfect. It’s messy, but that’s ok too. People will love you in all sorts of ways, and not love you in all sorts of ways, but the good news is you actually don’t need any of them in order to love yourself.

And even though at the beginning of my journey back in time I had wanted to apologize to my little self for being such a disappointment and making such a mess of her grand plans for our life, by the end of it I felt like we both could look at the mess and see what a beautiful work of art (in progress) it actually is.

Now, I can hardly wait to time travel again. Backward or forward, it seems to me it’s a pretty amazing journey either way.