An Open Letter to my Fear

Dear Fear:

I hear you. I mean, I don’t really have a choice. You are a loud-ass motherfucker. In this moment, you are a vuvuzela/megaphone hybrid in the orgasmic throes of a menage-a-trios with an air horn and Fran Drescher. I hear you.

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So loud it hurts your eyeballs.

I understand you. A long time ago, when being loved really WAS a matter of life and death, your neural pathways were worn deep and steady. Time does not exist to you; you and I will always be tiny, frail, helpless, desperate to be swaddled and given a breast to suckle. (We at least have that last thing in common. Mmm. Breasts.)

I respect you. You believe you are the unlikely hero of the natural disaster movie, the one who saw it all coming, but nobody would listen because you made that fatal mistake back in ’73, or because you have great tits under that lab coat. You really just want to be heard, because holy shit you guys, this asteroid is going to wipe out life on the entire planet if we don’t take action immediately.

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I’m just going to go ahead and let all you sexist fuckers die, then.

I appreciate you. Maybe there aren’t ravenous lions to worry about so much, anymore, but there are dark streets in dangerous neighborhoods, there are people who would use or hurt me, there is Donald Trump. There are still things to fear in this world. You come in handy at times.

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Basically the entire reason the “fight or flight” response evolved.

I have to admit, you’ve gotten much better about crying wolf in the past few years. You seem to have learned that I can travel alone safely without needing you there yelling about stranger danger. You seem to have realized that the slightest hint that maybe life is kinda founded on uncertainty and lack of guarantees isn’t an open invitation for you to tromp all over my face. When I’m trying new things, you just kinda tug at my sleeve so I don’t forget about you instead of duct-taping me upside-down to the wall. You’ve been doing great, and I’m so proud of us.

But still, sometimes, maybe chill the fuck out a little? Rejection isn’t the same as the Earth hurtling at break-neck speeds into the sun. Experiencing loss isn’t the same thing as being trapped in a stainless steel kitchen with two genetically-engineered velociraptors. Being single isn’t the same thing as traversing the desert of an entire lifetime without the thirst-quenching relief of human touch. …well, okay, that last one might be slightly more true that the others (or at least feel more true) ((god, if only Fear could help me get laid…))

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Dammit, there isn’t even anything around here that resembles a dildo.

But, you know, we’re in this together, Fear. We go way back. You’re one of the most consistent things in my life. Since I learned so much about myself, I even often instinctively know when it’s time to ready the guest bed for your unannounced arrival. And it really is like having family come to visit: uncomfortable, awkward, sometimes painful, but always familiar. I see some of the deepest parts of myself in you, and that’s pretty hard. But I appreciate you showing them to me, because “me” is not just some pretty blue eyes, and a terrible wit, and a mind that slopes toward the gutter. “Me” is also a paralyzing aversion to abandonment, weakness and dramaticism in the face of rejection, and the tendency to suppress my own needs because I’m afraid others will see them as an imposition.

Thanks for showing me me, Fear.

Now fuck off, I got shit to do.

Love,
Krista

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Broken on an Autumn Day

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

It is an almost absurdly beautiful fall day. I stepped out of my car to head into Starbucks (to get a drink with a RED CUP!! …I have no idea why this is such a big deal to people, but apparently it is) and a big slap of delicious autumn air punched me in the face while jolly mister sun poked me gleefully in both eyeballs. It’s cliche, but everything in autumn is so fucking CRISP!

And my very first thought, standing there in the light and the air and the crisp, was, “It’s far too beautiful a day to feel so broken.”

A relationship I was in ended recently and, while it wasn’t particularly long-lived, it was meaningful to me.  It’s not abysmally bad, but it has been difficult.  I did the usual grieving routine over the past two weeks (it was almost comical how textbook the process was, actually), and now I just feel a kind of soreness, like my heart went back to the gym for the first time in a few years and decided it could, like, totally bench 250, bro. Which, in a sense, is pretty much what happened.

So I’ve been feeling broken…until it occurred to me that, no.  Just no.

Heartache, confusion and sorrow are all natural, healthy reactions to loss.  They’re just as normal as the excitement about what may come next and the tiny twinges of relief (because, let’s face it, being in a relationship where you actually allow yourself to be vulnerable can be exhausting, and it can be nice to step back from that for a moment).  I spent a huge chunk of my life avoiding the act of feeling my feelings, and if I didn’t feel pain now, it would mean I was right back to suppressing the part of myself that’s able to feel.

Pain doesn’t mean I am broken.  Hacking off big parts of who I am so I didn’t have to hurt?  That was broken.  Pain means I am whole.

Nobody Owes me Anything

Currently, the universe is working quite hard to teach me a lesson:

Nobody owes me anything.

I spend a lot of my time and energy investing in other people. I work probably a lot harder than necessary. I really give everything to my relationships, and I’m willing to go long periods of time giving more than I’m receiving.  I’m proud of this trait, and I get genuine joy from being responsible, reliable, supportive and affectionate.  I love to be everybody’s “go-to girl.”

The problem is, I have a lingering, semi-conscious belief that this means I have earned certain considerations.  Respect, being liked or loved, reciprocal consideration and support are among them. It’s not that I give just so I can receive; it’s that when I’ve given a lot and am subsequently hurt, betrayed, neglected or disrespected, it feels extra icky and unfair.  It causes even more hand-wringing and stomping of feet and gnashing of teeth because I’ve invested so much and can’t even be offered basic human decency in return.  ICK.

I’ve noticed in myself that I have this feeling toward my children, too.  I’ve done so much for them, the least they can do is respect me and help me out when asked.

In a healthy relationship, love, respect and support constitute fair expectations.  However, I’m learning, it is unreasonable to feel as though the person you have been giving to is somehow indebted to you for giving you’ve been doing.  Even if it could be argued that, in the interest of fairness and justice, you are owed a level of respect and support for your investment, there is no way to cash in those chips.  I could certainly demand what I feel is rightfully mine, but that is highly unlikely to compel a person who is not treating me well to do so.  There is no Emotional Small Claims Court where I might sue for back payment on needs gone unmet.  Which leads to the crux of the Nobody Owes Me Anything problem:

People are gonna do what people are gonna do.

No matter how much I do for someone, I have no claim over their free will.  I have no ultimate influence over their behavior.  Oh, I can scream and wail at the injustice of being slandered by someone in whom I’ve invested a lot of my time and energy, but it won’t change that they get to do precisely what they choose to do, regardless of my insistence on karmic considerations.  Of course, I have the ability to make my choices based on their behavior toward me, but it’s become very important for me to remember:

No matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, no matter how hard I love, I can’t control people.  And I suppose in a weird way, even though I find that fact utterly terrifying — that so many parts of my life are so easily affected by other people’s free will — it’s also sort of freeing, because they can’t control me, either.

Some of the People, Some of the Time.

There is one thing I’ve learned in my life that has helped me more than anything else.  It was a hard lesson, but it has inspired in me the ability to be honest with myself and totally open with the people around me.

Sometimes, people just ain’t gonna like me.

I’m a people-pleaser and always have been.  I’m fed by appreciation and/or admiration more than anything else.  If I go too long without some positive affirmation, I start to feel depressed.  Some people call this being an attention whore…I’m OK with that label, except that it implies selling a part of oneself for attention.  I am definitely a reformed attention whore – I used to mold my views, my likes and dislikes, my behavior, who I was or, more accurately, who I showed them I was, based on who I was interacting with and what I thought they wanted me to be like, in the hopes they would like me more and therefore give me more attention.  I didn’t used to be intellectually honest about my attention-seeking — I would do things just to get attention without either realizing I was doing them for attention, or letting people know that’s why I was doing them.

But since I embraced the fact that no matter what I do, some people would never like me, I no longer feel the need to sell myself for affirmation.  Now, I’m just an attention slut.  I still need affirmation, but I’m honest about it and have no shame in seeking it.  My husband thinks I’m pretty demanding because I’ll say things like, “Hey, I need a compliment at some point today,” or, “Honey, I really need a gift soon.”  In reality, I’m not any more demanding than I would be if I didn’t say those things – I’m just more vocal about my needs rather than expecting them to be met without asking or trying to manipulate him into meeting them without me having to say anything.

Don’t confuse my affirmation-seeking with low self-esteem.  Anybody who knows me knows I have NO shortage of self-esteem (more like an over-abundance, probably).  I don’t need people to tell me I’m smart or attractive because I don’t know I’m smart and attractive (because, hello! I’m totally smart and attractive!)…I need people to tell me I’m smart and attractive because hearing that I’m smart and attractive feels good.  It’s one source of electricity to charge my batteries.

I learned two very important things on my journey from whore to slut.  One is that somebody giving me a compliment about something I really am is much more valuable and charges those batteries a whole lot more than somebody giving me a compliment about something I was only pretending to be.  And two, people in general aren’t all that dumb, and they could usually pick up on the fact that I was faking it…and faking it makes people not like you.  In short, my efforts to make people like me were backfiring in more than one way.  So I stopped, and voila!  Far more people began to like me.

But the simple fact remains – not everybody is going to like me.  It’s tempting to turn that very fact into an affirmation of sorts.  “Oh, they’re just jealous of me!  That’s the only explanation of why somebody wouldn’t like me, because I’m awesome!  They just aren’t awesome like me, and that’s why they don’t like me.”  Well, that’s nothing more than ego-stroking.  I can’t think of a single instance in my life when I didn’t like someone because I was jealous of them.  Can you?  I’m guessing no.  I’m jealous, or at least envious, a fair amount.  I have kids and no babysitter, and a Facebook friends list with many world-traveling, movie-starring, beautiful, single (or at least babysitter-having) people.  I know all about envy.  But never once have I felt that longing for what someone else is or has turn into dislike.  So, I’ve stopped trying to kid myself that people not liking me is yet another result of my awesomeness affecting other people’s lives.

So, what is it then?  If I’m convinced I’m pretty neat, and I’m honest and open about who I am with people, why would they not like me?  Well, I can think of three reasons:

1) They have issues. This is another easy fallback, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true occasionally.  Sometimes, people just like being mean and cranky, or they’re having a bad go of things for awhile, or they don’t have the positive energy inside them to be friendly and find nice things about people.  Once in awhile – but not the majority of the time, I don’t think – somebody not liking me is about them, not me.

2)  We have inherent personality conflicts. I know of at least one person I just can’t stand.  It’s not really anything wrong with either of us…I just don’t like her.  She’s true to who she is, I’m true to who I am, and we find each other annoying as hell.  You just can’t like everybody.  People can be so different, and sometimes even the few common threads you can always find with someone aren’t enough to bridge the chasm of difference.

3)  I have flaws. Yes, I said it!  It’s true, I really do.  And that’s the reason I don’t think it’s always a good idea to just write off people who don’t like me as jealous or wrong.  Our perspective of ourselves is so limited — all we can see is what we already see or what we know where to find.  That means, to some extent, we need other people to be our mirrors.  We certainly shouldn’t let other people’s perceptions of us define us completely, lest we all become attention whores (instead of the much healthier attention sluts).  But at the very minimum, it’s always possible that we’re not projecting ourselves as we really are, and giving people a false impression.  Or, it’s always possible we have a big fat flaw, that we haven’t realized we have, that’s driving people away from us.

So, to sum up:  Love yourself.  Be yourself.  Don’t be afraid of other people not liking you.  But don’t entirely ignore it when you grind somebody’s gears, either.  Find a healthy balance of considering others’ view of you against what you know (or believe you know) about yourself.  And good luck with that. 😉