Two Steps Forward…
You know what comes next.
Any progress or learning truly takes on this pattern. We take two steps forward and just when we’re feeling so great about our progress we find ourselves taking one step back. Perhaps something unexpected happens, thus we take a step back to catch ourselves from falling. That’s normal, expected.
Still, so many of us beat ourselves up for taking that step back. Self included. Although, I’m recognizing it faster and faster each time, and I’m showing myself the compassion I so generously offer everyone else.
The other night I had one too many glasses of wine and was feeling really down on myself. I don’t drink often or much, but it had been two very long, demanding, 12-hr work days, and I wanted some wine. Sadly, the night ended in tears. A lot of tears. I beat myself up pretty hard that night, but I caught myself in the middle of it and changed that self-cruelty to self-soothing compassion.
In my drunken state, I reached out to a friend to feel less lonely. It was a nice enough conversation, but during it he asked me if I loved myself. It came out of left field, but I answered as I have a tendency to do as a knee-jerk response when asked a question (I’m working on that). Of course I answered honestly, as I also have a tendency to do (which won’t change). I said, “Sometimes.”
That night wasn’t one of those times. At least not until many tears were shed and I caught myself in mid-berate asking myself why anyone would want a middle-aged, emotional, menopausal, mediocre, damaged, rape-survivor (as at least one formerly-potential lover was afraid to even touch me because of it)…and that must be why my husband left, etc…but I stopped.
Then I went down the list of who I really am: honest, compassionate, intelligent, kind, sincere, open, passionate, loving, adventurous, courageous, talented, remarkable, and beautiful. Precious, as recently pointed out.
Since then, I thought about that question a lot and even followed up with that friend about it. That was also a good conversation. Although I don’t get a chance to (really) speak with him often or for long, when we do properly talk, it’s always enlightening and meaningful. He’s a new friend, but he’s already a cherished and trusted friend.
The longer answer to his initial question is that I (usually) do love myself, perhaps more than I ever have. I’m no longer “trapped” in unfulfilling relationships. I cut people out of my life unapologetically for being cruel or judgmental, even family. When I first came to Europe, I drew some lines in the sand, and I’ve done pretty good at adhering to those boundaries. Even when it means I’m usually alone. Even when it means I only have myself or a dog or a cat or a parrot to talk with.
About 6 weeks ago I turned a corner, as I blogged about here. Around the same time, more or less, I met someone who awoke my heart and desire, but anything with him is as impossible now as it was then. Still, it was lovely to feel love again, and I indulged it for awhile.
Now I realize that I’ve indulged in it for too long.
This is where the one step back comes in. I found myself falling into old patterns. I first noticed it about 3 weeks ago, but these renewed emotions felt so good I dismissed it. Well, not really dismissed it, but “watched” it to make sure I remained aware of what was happening inside me. I noticed that before long, I was looking for outside validation, mostly from friends. I foolishly opened up to some friends and have since regretted it due to the judgments and a plethora of misunderstandings that followed. Those judgments brought up toxic shame and guilt, two things I’ve had plenty of for one lifetime, thank you very much.
One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut. Still, it had it’s purpose, for I found what friends I could trust and which I couldn’t with that kind of intimate information.
The best thing about this impossible love has been just that: it’s utterly impossible. It has awarded me the time and opportunity to explore my emotions and manage them (or try to) with varying degrees of success. It has been a (relatively) safe journey through my triggers, my habits, my patterns. I noticed the anxiety and insecurities and attempts to decipher actions/words/insinuations, and I recognized that behavior only happens with an unavailable man. He, of course, is unavailable on so many levels it makes him Mr. Impossible, which is why this particular love is a blessing. It has reinforced this knowledge under such obvious conditions that I’m more likely to trust my gut the next time when a meet someone who brings up these unwanted anxieties/insecurities inside me who isn’t so obviously unavailable, as so many have been in the past, including (turns out) my husband.
When someone engages with me on an equal level, who communicates well, and who doesn’t play games, there is no anxiety, no insecurities. Perhaps meeting me on an equal level is too much to ask from most people, but that’s okay. I’m just fine on my own most of the time. I won’t compromise who I am for another unfulfilling relationship, and I can’t have a fulfilling relationship with someone who can’t/won’t meet me openly, honestly, courageously, passionately, and with integrity.
Since it’s just me, I’ve been able to recognize when I was longing for someone by my side in my travels or in my bed, and when I was really, really glad there wasn’t someone there. I’m surprised by how much it was the latter, really. Not that I don’t want to be closer to him with every fiber of my being, but in my current state of recovery, I would defer to anything and everything he wanted.
If he asked me to, I would hop the next plane to meet him. . . and that’s the problem.
It’s not romantic. It’s stupid. I barely know this person.
The point here is that I noticed that old pattern emerge. Since a romantic relationship with him is so very impossible on many, many levels, I was able to watch those urgent and erroneous romantic notions without acting on them. Because if it wasn’t impossible on even one of those many levels, I so would have…
After all, I’m pretty lonely.
Let’s look at that for moment: For the possibility of a romantic relationship, I would’ve given up my current lifestyle and location to meet him, even though I’m not crazy about the thought of living there. I wouldn’t have even dreamt of asking him to come to me. No. I was at his disposal. I was born to please him, my husband, my former lovers.
I was made to please men.
Like many women, especially of my generation and earlier, I was socialized to please other people, especially men. Full stop. Although I can’t pinpoint who or what taught me these harmful lessons, I suspect it was “Mother Culture,” as Daniel Quinn calls it in Ishmael. It was everywhere. I had a “duty” of physical intimacy with my partner, even if I didn’t want it (my husband was very helpful in dispelling this particular bullshit). “Mother Culture” taught me my “worth” lies between my legs or defined by the size of my breasts or waist or thighs. Being self-protective meant being “selfish.” Standing up for myself made me a “bitch.” Saying no made me a “prick-tease.” Saying yes made me a “slut.” Ultimately I didn’t amount to anything unless I could attract and “keep” a man.
That’s what “Mother Culture” taught me throughout my life. That’s what “Mother Culture” teaches most girls. If a boy is mean to you and pulls your hair, he likes you….
Um, no. He’s a fucking bully.
When I was 18 I read a book called The Sensuous Woman that gave lessons in sexual prowess. It was part of the aforementioned “Mother Culture” and reinforced those harmful beliefs. The premise of the book is that since the reader (me) is not really all that great looking nor do I have a perfect body (after all, I’m not a movie star or a model or rich), so if I wanted to be “worth enough” to attract and “keep” a man, I had better be really really really good in bed.
Sick. I know.
But I believed it for a long time, which is why I’ve always resented the question “Do you love yourself” or the adage “until you love yourself no one else will” because everything in my life from my earliest memories showed me every reason not to love myself. I never got that book. No one taught me those skills or gave me the how-to manual.
From being beaten into submission by a caretaker for not crying fast enough when “in trouble” or being slapped across the face (in front of friends) for looking at him with the wrong expression, I was taught to hate myself. Those lessons taught me that by listening to my natural fight or flight impulse I would be further punished. I was trained to be a victim, and a victim is what I became. When danger reared it’s ugly head I either didn’t recognize it, explained it away, froze in the face of it (since I’d be punished for fleeing or fighting), or thought I “deserved” the punishment. The rape was just that, by the way–punishment for saying something “wrong,” and for a long time I thought I deserved it.
After all, that’s what I was taught to believe.
It’s only been the last few years (after all the other treatment that reinforced I was worthless and deserving of punishment for some undefined slight) that I realized that inherent victimhood was the result. Since I’ve become self-aware and conscious of this, I’ve been able to counteract these harmful lessons and rise above that bullshit (with varying degrees of success). I have been able to listen to my gut and trust it with more and more frequency. I’ve been able to take action more often for what’s best for myself, my heart, my soul without feeling “selfish” or guilty for doing so.
Cutting people out of my life who hurt me, whether or not they intend to do so, is what builds self-esteem. Standing up for myself at work when I feel unfairly called out or chastised is what builds self-esteem. Not working for free or less than I’m worth builds self-esteem. Putting myself first is what builds self-esteem. Distancing myself from judgmental people and keeping more things inside is what builds self-esteem. Not looking at Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever-other-social-network or iMessage to see if someone has written but instead going out for riding or cello lessons, going for a walk in an English village or a hike in the Lake District, learning a language, or just going to the coffee shops to write a blog is what builds self-esteem.
Living my life despite others’ actions builds self-esteem.
I recognize that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
no longer rarely make people priorities to whom I’m just an option.
no longer rarely waste words on people who deserve silence.
no longer rarely am fooled by people’s words because I characterize them by their actions.
(Pretty soon, it will be no longer indeed. Two more steps forward.)
Thanks to blogs like Post Male Syndrome among many others, I now have that “book,” the manual that shows me what “Mother Culture” didn’t: how to love myself. Blogs like Yes Means Yes, and many others, gave me the tools to understand what happened and heal.
In a way, the Internet has saved me where “Mother Culture” had failed me.
- Thanks to the Internet, I can make a living while living my dream.
- Thanks to the Internet, I can connect with other wo/men who struggle and overcome similar things.
- Thanks to the Internet, I can practice building relationships while maintaining a safe enough distance to not take too many steps backward, in preparation for the IRL relationships to come (and they’ve already started).
- Thanks to the Internet, I can disengage with people on social networks easily and safely, which has become a great practice for doing it in life.
So I’ve taken one step back. Big deal. Look at how many I’ve taken forward.
Oh! Whaddya know, I’m stepping forward again.