Sunday, November 5, 2017

Change is good?

My first attempt at writing after months of silence might be disappointing and fall short of inspiring anyone, least of all me.  But it's important.

I could talk about the past few months and all the twists and turns that happened before finally landing in my own home again.  But lately, my focus has been on a different kind of journey.  It’s been equally daunting and it hasn’t been as simple as driving down winding roads, without purpose or direction.  Turns out a map or general sense of the direction you’re heading in can be helpful, especially when you are headed in a direction you’ve not yet been before.  And trust me when I say I have never been here before.

For now, I’m foregoing the move details except to say that a big part of this move involved a lifestyle change and redefining what success looks like, which served as a catalyst for all the change that followed.  

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s some mid-life crisis, where she goes off to eat, pray, and love…not even close!

I believe that our entire life is a journey and there are so many moments that fill up the time between destinations.  It’s our choice how we decide to live those moments. 

As a kid, I think I let the best moments rise to the surface, choosing to let the less than stellar moments and experiences sink to the bottom.  That has not always been the case.  There were times when I was consumed with the past, wondering about alternate outcomes and endings.  And as time went by, I realized that looking back served little purpose and actually felt like a hindrance in trying to move forward.

So I moved forward, fully believing I’d left all the bad stuff behind.  And when I say I moved forward, I’m talking decades…not the past few months.  And when I say “bad stuff” I mean the same kind of dysfunctional shit we all have to overcome unless you’ve lived a charmed life and grew up within the proverbial white picket fence.  I know very few people who can claim that childhood.  But I’m not denying it could exist for some. 

I have lived ahead of the past, not realizing it was lurking in the present and impacting the person I was.  I never realized that every bit of who I am is made up of every bit of where I’ve been.  Sure, in principle, that’s pretty basic.  Experiences shape who we are and give us perspective.  But in my case, it went a little deeper. 

Without going off on a tangent about self-help and self-discovery, suffice it to say that my past has impacted my future in every area of my life for most of my time on earth, thus far.  At this point, my first observation (one I’ll make more than once) is that change is hard.  Especially when you set about to change the very nature of how your life has been shaped…things like unconscious behaviors and tendencies…I’ve come to compare it to the equivalent of learning to breathe under water like snorkeling.  It feels so weird and can put you in a panic.  It doesn’t feel right.  It feels off.  The idea of breathing in air, while submerged under water, shit…why would you even try? But that is precisely what I had to do in order to break a cycle that has dictated the way I have lived for my entire adult life. 

I have been writing this blog for a little over two years.  I’ve covered some tough issues and shared a lot of personal struggles.  I think this past year has been one of the toughest….re-setting my normal and choosing to change parts of me that were unhealthy, yet still felt vital for every day living (and importantly, breathing!). Change is fucking hard and so is breathing under water.  I’m learning to do both. 

What do I mean by unhealthy?  I need to be cautious in my approach and attempt at self-analysis in the presence of strangers and friends of varying degrees of closeness.  People who know me well are going to know that I’m just moving to a new level of learning.  They’ll know that learning is what I love the best, but resist the most (yeah, I’m always the one that in spite of my own stubbornness and need to believe I know what I need to know…time and time again, I am surprised by how very little I really do know).   I’ve learned to accept that my view on life is constantly shifting and changing.  I think life would be easier if we all kept an open frame of mind and were willing to adapt and adjust expectations when we actually have a little more information.  Because fuck, ignorance never changes if that’s the only reality you’re willing to accept…the one you started with.  I guess you could follow life with blinders on, avoid people and situations where you don’t understand something.  Okay, yeah, remaining ignorant is an option for some.  It could never be for me.  Every time I face something I don’t understand, I ask questions.  I want to know and learn.  I want to grow.  Growth is synonymous with change, and I’ve already said it’s fucking hard…but growth?  Once you’ve moved a little further along and reached a moment where you can feel the growth?  It makes the rest worthwhile.  Growth is something you sit with at the end of the day…hell, probably even more so at the end of your life, and can feel the solid strength within your spirit…you’re centered and standing firm in life, still ready to accept new learnings, but with a rock solid base that represents years of fine tuning and growth…I imagine it to be like the way you feel on those days when you wake up and conquer something big.  Maybe it’s a meeting, something you did for your kids, or something as simple as speaking your mind instead of remaining silent when someone said something you knew was wrong and felt it was important enough to defend.   

Learning to grow more and in ways I didn’t know where to start…I finally realized that it boiled down to my own reflection and how I see myself each day. I am my own worse enemy as the saying goes.  No one is harder on me than me. The very biggest hurdle I face is something most of us fight every day of our life, which can also determine how aggressively we tackle life.  It’s fear. 

For me, fear has manifested in a lot of ways depending upon the situation.  The key here, though, is the response it has elicited in me when confronted with fear.  Being afraid makes us behave in ways we’d rather not.  It quickly turns us into irrational creatures that barely resemble the people we could be with a little more faith and confidence.  I think about the Titanic and the real fear people faced.  Theirs was a clear and present danger.  They didn’t want to drown or die.  I also don’t believe they wanted to cause harm to anyone else.  And yet they swamped the boats, giving little regard to the safety of those already inside, fueled by that primal survival instinct. I haven’t faced that dire kind of circumstance, but I can tell you that I’ve faced other fears that, through my flawed lens through which I filter life, left me feeling just as desperate to cling to a life raft, with an irrational belief that if I let go or even loosened my grip, I would find myself alone and abandoned.  Big observation…it doesn’t matter how hard you try or what you do to try to influence change in an outcome that has already been pre-determined.  In fact, I’d argue that undue effort and influence can actually change the outcome to reflect exactly what you don’t want to see happen.  I have found this to be true in all aspects of life, from careers and jobs, friends and family…end to end, every relationship that has touched my life.

There it is.  That ugly truth I’ve been beating around the bush about.  My truth and fear since childhood…fear of abandonment.  Why?  Because I remember being left behind as a child (no, I wasn’t an orphan and there’s no big story behind this other than the one that makes it clear my childhood didn’t have a white picket fence).  So in every relationship that came after those first few critical ones forged from childhood, I have carried that same fear.  I didn’t know it at the time.  But shit, I know I swamped a few boats in my youth.  I was so sure I was drowning…that the call for help would never come.  History and experience taught me to expect the worse and even when it didn’t come, I think I had some kind of self sabotage happening … like when I felt vulnerable or exposed, I instinctively wanted to pull closer.  I wanted to know with complete certainty that I was safe and would not be left behind.  I can’t think of a better way to destroy relationships than lacking the self-confidence to believe that you are worthy of having one in the first place.   I’ve never liked conflicts and have avoided them whenever possible.  I never learned how to resolve something without ending it.  That had to change as well.

I’ve stayed in places that were rotten and decaying (metaphorically speaking) because I was paralyzed with fear.  This is a broad assessment of relationships and situations.  From career paths to life choices to personal relationships.  Because change is fucking hard.  So hard I sacrificed all else to avoid growth…until now.

Would I have willingly taken myself down this road if I’d known how difficult it would be?  Honestly?  Shit no!  Would you?  So I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t see it coming because this has been one of the most important areas of growth for me and has helped to reset my life in a way I did not believe was possible.  I don’t know many people who are willing to breathe water and learn to choke panic.  I’m not a heroic individual and I know I have limitations.  I nearly reached them over this past year.

But once I was forced to breathe under water, I was able to open my eyes (after a long struggle and period of denial) and see myself for who I was and not who I thought I had become.  I didn’t like what I saw.  Sure, the essence of “who I am” remains and I like who I am.  It was the “how I was” that created issues.  I felt shame and embarrassment just admitting my fears.  I consider myself to be fairly put together and able to tackle most challenges.  I am asked for advice from others often and I think my guidance is sound.  Saying out loud that I have a deep seeded fear of being left behind doesn’t fit with that equity.  And after reading this, I might lose a few people on the list, who see me as a resource for counsel.  What few people realize is that some of the most fucked up people have the best advice!  Because we’ve lived it and while we might not choose to follow our own advice, it’s still sound and born out of life experience.  So maybe still ask…and consider it sage advice indeed!

 If you wake up one day, and realize you aren’t the person you want to be, you’re going to be disappointed and you’re going to want to fix it. I was afraid it was too late to change.  Because change is fucking hard (yes, I’m saying it again and again because it was and it still is).

So I started by taking a more conscious approach to living.  And it’s a way of life many would avoid.  I think about everything…that might not sound different from what I did before.  But the focus has changed.  I used to think too much about uncontrollable things…other people, circumstances, life.  Now I think about how I am responding to it all.  I ask myself every day what I want out of life and remind myself that I am no longer some scared kid waiting for the bottom to drop out.  In most instances, it won’t.  And if it does, it’s not a reinforcement of my inner fear or confirmation that my fear was valid.  It’s fucking life.  Shit happens and it isn’t always what we expected or wanted.  We pick ourselves back up and keep going.  Another observation is that the next logical correlation to the fear of being abandoned is the fear of being alone…thankfully, I conquered that a long time ago and am quite comfortable in my own skin.  I don’t have a complete answer, but I’m on the right track.    

So that fear I have of being abandoned?  Did I overcome it?  No, it’s still there and it pushes my buttons at times.  Shit doesn’t change overnight and maybe it will never leave entirely.  But the way I respond to it has.  For the first time in my life, I see myself for the very imperfect being that I am.  I see so many flaws and I just have to laugh sometimes.  I can’t tell you whether or not I’ll fix them all before this journey’s end (well yeah, I can…I won’t…not even come close, but I’ll still try).  I want to be a better person.  I want to feel good about that person staring back at me every morning.  And I think I’ve reached a comfort level now.  I’m still full of the past, but I have not let fear win out.  I don’t see weakness as a character flaw of mine.  Not because I don’t feel weak or scared sometimes…but because admitting it means I will get stronger.  Just like working out and losing weight.  I will get stronger and better.  And just like working out, it’s a personal competition that needn’t be measured against anyone else’s success.  And always…always…still a work in progress.