Archives for posts with tag: The Big 5 all over again

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

I am fortunate that I slept last night. I wasn’t sure I would when I laid down to attempt it. An unexpected rise in the OPD [Other People’s Drama] levels in my life occurred on an order of magnitude sufficient to rouse my PTSD, and it hit me hard and derailed my pleasant evening.

I find myself making a funny face in response to calling it ‘unexpected’, when I consider the source; some people are OPD embodied, and once identified the only thing unexpected is that I found myself mired in it again.  It’s morning, though, and I did sleep, and my coffee is hot and tasty… it’s very tempting to stand in the patio doorway and shout into the dawn “You have no power over me!!” It would feel good. It would feel affirming. It would feel powerful. It would be dishonest – because I sit here, even now, concerned for my traveling partner and how he is treated by an entirely other human being than myself, and struggling to let it go. Truly, it’s not my relationship, not my drama, not my experience, and realistically I know the healthiest thing for me is to trust my traveling partner to take care of himself and make the best possible choices that meet his needs over time, and simply be here for him if he turns to me for help.

It’s hard to stand by and watch someone I love being chronically mistreated. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty for leaving a bad situation, myself… I know what long-term abusive behavior can do to one’s heart, mind, and soul – and there’s nothing of value to be had from that experience, besides leaving it behind with lessons learned. It is, of course, my own perspective on things, and because I have been more severely abused in other prior relationships and bear witness quite personally to the damage done, my testimony itself may be suspect – I am damaged, and it colors my perception. This doesn’t make me ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ or lacking in ability to share my experience then (or now) – but it gives people who want to doubt me quite a lot of basis to support their doubt if they choose to. That’s more OPD in the making right there; putting doubt in my path as a sort of mirror of damage reflecting into another mirror of damage, and me sandwiched between defending my perspective and wondering what’s real.

I know some things from experience. I know leaving an abusive relationship behind doesn’t result in immediate cessation of suffering, nor guarantee healing – there are verbs upon verbs, and much practicing to be done to return to a state of wholeness and wellness. I know living in the context of abuse and mistreatment has literally no positive qualities to be had – and that people who are abusive may or may not ever change their behavior (or their intent), and whether they do or not, the damage is done. I know that I alone have the power to choose to walk away from being abused – and no one, however close to me, can make that happen, or ‘fix’ what doesn’t work on my behalf – and I know this truth is quite true for everyone who chooses to love someone who mistreats them. However much I love my traveling partner – I can’t rescue him from being mistreated in a relationship with someone else. That frustrates me, and the process of ‘being there’ for him when he needs emotional support re-exposes my own wounds, and my PTSD symptoms flare up with all the potential to wreck my experience – in spite of having walked away from the most recent direct source of that particular sort of chaos and damage. I know that my first order of business is taking care of me; I can’t be there to provide support to those I love without putting my own oxygen mask on first.

The lingering after-effects of emotional or physical abuse are quite lasting for me, reaching out from the distant past to strike me in my  present, taking me by surprise when I think I am safe. “You have no power over me!” is what I want to shout to the demons in the darkness – if I do, they will titter in the background, amused by my presumption; they are as powerful as ever, and every single day of joy I experience is taken from them by force: force of will, force of good practices, force of good choices, and the utter necessity to choose to turn away from them (whoever embodies them in my ‘now’) willfully again and again. The power they don’t have, though, is huge; they do not have the power to choose my response to their existence, and they do not have the power to determine my actions. I am free to continue to choose to walk away from OPD, and to decline to be mistreated; that’s always mine.

I don’t say much about the other person involved in all this, and with good reason; that person is not here to speak up in their own behalf, to offer mitigating information, to clear up misconceptions, or offer perspective – and we are each having our own experience. Most of us wander around fairly cluelessly hurting others, not by intent, but generally out of inattention, lack of skill in relationships, bad habits learned in childhood, or because we understood things differently after filtering reality through our own chaos and damage. I’m not sitting in judgement on someone else’s shitty behavior; I am entirely focused on taking care of me, learning from life’s curriculum, and distancing myself from people who mistreat me. I am distracted from those tasks by my concern for my traveling partner, and his experience…and I got sucked into the OPD by mistake last night, in the process of supporting my partner with kindness, compassion, and a ready ear, that’s all.

Enough.

Enough.

It’s morning, now, and I got the rest I needed last night, and woke feeling comfortable, rational, and content. It’s hard to want more than that, and it is more than I expected when I laid down to sleep last night. It’s enough.

Please take care of you, today, people – you are worthy of your very best care, your best treatment, your best manners, your greatest kindness. Please treat others well today, too; we are each having our own experience and you do not know what demons someone else may be dancing with in the darkness. (If your only way to treat yourself well is to treat others poorly, you’re not getting how this works – just saying.) Treat the people you love as if you love them; they deserve 100% of the best you have to offer the world, always.  It’s never too late to stop mistreating people, applying Wheaton’s Law is a good start.

Be kind. It’s a simple enough suggestion. It’s not expensive to be kind to people (or animals, or celebrities, or nice things you may have acquired along life’s path). Further, what good reason is there to be unkind? Oh sure, there’s a lot of wiggle room between ‘kind’ and ‘unkind’ that isn’t so clearly defined. Can we accept that both kindness and unkindness are likely active choices or processes, rather than just fumbling along doing and being? If so, and we also recognize that most of us living in the U.S. probably heard the ‘be kind’ message, the ‘play nicely’ and ‘do unto others’ messages pretty repetitively growing up…what the hell is the matter with us as adults? Have you seen the way people treat each other? The nastiness? The negativity? The vicious unending criticism of self and others? The callousness and cruelty built on foundations of self-righteous entitlement and us/them thinking? So…um…if this is our idea of ‘kindness’ or ‘good treatment’ of our fellow man…maybe we would do well to be kinder than that? Seriously.

Sorry. I’m sick with a head cold, and feeling out of sorts. Life’s day-to-day bullshit and drama are more easily tolerated, avoided, or managed more skillfully when I’m not ill. My emotional resilience is limited – and when I’m sick, my default reaction is often anger; I honestly just want to be treated gently, supported, and cared for – because I’m sick.  Of course I’m not alone in that; it’s spring, and the second significant wave of illness has hit the area (there’s ‘flu’ season, then just as spring gears up, we often see a major short-term increase in people out of office with colds).  I’m pretty sure I picked this cold up either in the office or on the commute. (Cover your coughs/sneezes, people, please!) Hell, I’m not even the only person in the household who is ill this week.

Here’s the thing about kindness that I notice most often; people aren’t doing it. A lot of people, totally not investing even the slightest effort to be kind, and instead actively investing will, intent, emotion, time, choice, and action into treating people poorly – not just any people, the people they say matter most! I regularly see or hear people being total dicks, seriously hurtful and unkind, to friends, lovers, even family. What the hell? These are people we care about? What’s the thinking there?

What does kindness really look like?

What does kindness really look like?

I’ll take a real-life example – a stranger from a recent bus ride – to illustrate. A woman gets on the bus, she is on a phone call. She is talking very loudly, and it is not possible to avoid overhearing every word of her phone call (at least her end of it). So, okay – that’s our first moment of unkindness; she seemed utterly unaware that this behavior could be disruptive or unpleasant for other passengers at all. As the call progressed I learned way to much about her, but it fuels the writing this morning. 🙂 She was angry, and venting to a friend about her resentment that her current lover expected her to shower before sex (note, this is happening late in the afternoon on a Wednesday) and observes “I just had a shower on Sunday morning, and it’s not like I’ve had sex since then!”. I’m struck by her resentment… we live in a pretty hygiene conscious society, and my own perspective in this context was to feel just a little shocked that she’d admit to ‘being so nasty’. lol (I am aware that different standards exist in other cultures, and that the frequency of bathing in other circumstances could reasonably be quite different.) She goes on from there to rant about his many other lovers that she is sure exist, and all manner of vengeance she is inclined to enact due to the existence of these other lovers. The conversation continues. In the space of a few minutes she rather self-righteously exclaims a variety of fairly criminal acts to be within reason for her, in her circumstances: stealing her lovers phone to go through his address book without his consent, contacting people she doesn’t know to say derogatory things about him (specifically untrue, and she’s quite clear about that, too), physical violence against her lover or his potential lovers, arson, homicide, assault, gas-lighting, stalking… and all delivered in a tone of utter self-righteous entitlement, and clear anticipation that her position is rationally supportable and justified. It was actually pretty  horrifying to listen to. I could not help but wonder why anyone would have sex with someone who would say such things about them, or potentially behave in any of those ways! She directed an equal measure of implied invective toward herself stating assumptions about other women with similar characteristics reflecting her self-defined short-comings, and the imagined advantages held by women of others sorts. (She was very concerned about the weight of her lovers potential paramours, and made it clear that ‘skinny girls don’t have these problems’ – which goes well beyond any acceptable lack of social awareness for an adult, I think.)

Am I gossiping? I hope not… I am also doing my best to avoid being (or sounding) judgmental… I’m trying to get around to making this point; be kind. Treat yourself and others well. Sure – but if you don’t understand that being loud on a cell phone on the bus is unkind to other passengers, will you know not to do it? If I don’t understand that making threats of violence when I am angry is unkind to people for whom that level of acting out causes anxiety, will I know to work on handling my volatility differently? If we live in a culture where we regularly see people treated as property, will we understand that people are not property – and that assault and arson are not appropriate responses to another human beings sexual decision-making? That it isn’t okay to kill people because we’re angry with them? The woman on the bus very clearly believed in her cause, and that she had been wronged, and that any action she might take to redress that wrong would be acceptable – who taught her that? Who taught her that her lover becomes her property because they have a sexual relationship? Who taught her that someone else’s needs are of less importance than her own? It really got me thinking about me – about what I do or don’t expect from people, and what I find appropriate day-to-day – and why. I can do better, day-to-day, to be kind. I can’t find any reason not to.

Many years ago I was admittedly not particularly concerned about kindness. I didn’t ‘get it’. (Righteous rage doesn’t make much room for compassion or kindness, honestly.) I think about kindness a lot now. I am not able to make a good argument against being kind – but I see a lot of ‘traps’ along my journey; it is tempting to rationalize very good sounding reasons to exclude one person or another from being treated with kindness. It isn’t easy to maintain kindness toward others when I’m having a difficult moment, or feel angry at that person I am tempted to be unkind towards. It is sometimes difficult to be skillful at not permitting myself to be taken advantage of or treated badly in the face of kindness; I know I have much to learn, and I also know that kindness is possible without sacrificing good self-treatment, consideration, and self-respect, too.  Life’s curriculum is rich, complex – and rewarding. I am still a student. I am still a beginner. “I am only an egg.”

What does it take to build a beautiful life?

What does it take to build a beautiful life?

Today is a good day to be kind. It’s also a good day to be kinder than that. It’s a good day to take being the woman I most want to be to another level. We are each having our own experience; a kind moment might be all that other person needs to thrive. It’s a good day to be the change I wish to see in the world.

My day is a bit like ‘Schrödinger’s Day’, today… I am in my own space, behind a closed door. Events on the other side of the door exist, but exist without context or definition; I just don’t know what’s on the other side of that door. Once I open the door, the day is what it is. Having not yet opened the door (well, since my last interaction with my traveling partner, who made this tasty latte in front of me) the day remains all potential, and unanswered questions.

I could make assumptions about what is on the other side of the door. Assumptions of any sort I might make would give me something on which to anchor decision-making about whether to open the door, certainly. There’s no reason to further assume that any such assumptions would be accurate. They’d be entirely made up within my own thinking, based on what I know historically about my experience, and then filtered through my baggage. Perhaps not ideal decision-making material?

I could eschew further in-the-moment assumption making, and go with ‘expectations’ of what is on the other side of the door. Expectations are assumptions I’ve made in advance, and planned around…not really any more useful for decision-making about whether to open the door. The outcome could be more stressful, too; assumptions that fail the test of reality can be frustrating, and cause me confusion and stress, but not on the same order of magnitude as when reality doesn’t ‘measure up’ to expectations. The disappointment that can carry with it sucks, and I’m not a fan of creating disappointment for myself. As experiences go, I prefer disappointment be a rarity, and that I not inflict it upon myself needlessly.

Being present in this simple uncomplicated moment gives me a chance to really consider that closed door, and what may be beyond it, and to practice some fundamentals of awareness, observation, and presence. It’s a closed door, nothing more. I am here, now, in this safe and quiet space, quite solitary, content, and safe. The specific experience I am having now is quite calm, relaxed, and pleasant; things on the other side of a closed door may not be relevant to me, at all.

It's worth taking a few moments to pause and reflect on a change in perspective, or a moment of growth. I am learning to spend more time on the good stuff.

It’s worth taking a few moments to pause and reflect on a change in perspective, or a moment of growth. I am learning to spend more time on the good stuff.

This may not seem like a big deal for many people, and quite naturally so, I’m sure. As a survivor of domestic violence, emotional abuse, and trauma, that closed door has often felt dangerous, threatening, limiting, frightening, powerful – and I cowered in fear behind the limited safety it offered from whatever was on the other side. Raised voices, angry yelling, slamming things, stomping (pretty much all the sounds of intense negative emotions) are fairly easily able to trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress, for me. Reaching a place where that closed door is neither an enemy nor an ally, and is simply a closed door is a pretty big deal… I can open a closed door…or not. That’s simple stuff, as decision-making goes.

Today is a good day to make simple decisions to take care of me. Today is a good day to consider the hearts of others. Today is a good day to live well, to love freely, and to be kind. Today is a good day to change the world.

The weekend is almost over. My right now moment is a tad challenging, emotionally, and I turn to words for moderation, mediation, resolution, spin…damage control. I’m feeling sad, distant, and cut-off, emotionally, from my traveling partner.  I miss hugs. I miss touching. I miss kissing. I miss looking into his eyes, and seeing his smile. I miss the sound of his voice, his warmth, his scent, and his humor. I miss his strength of character, his moments of weakness, and his will to choose wisely and treat people well. I miss the immediacy and warmth of his love, and however much love I still feel for him every moment, and how very real his presence is in my experience, it’s not the same experience as being in his arms, or bumping into him in the hallway early in the morning. I miss connection. I miss intimacy. I miss his words, and his choice in music. I miss the details, and I miss the trends…

…And tomorrow another work week starts, and there’ll be no time for regrets or loneliness, and no time to notice how much I miss him. It makes sense to say it now, to honor the feeling, and for just a moment take that profound loneliness I am feeling and turn it on its head, and observe what a powerful love this must be to cause me so much pain, to feel lonely, even for a moment.

Of course, I miss him...how not?

Of course, I miss him…how not?

Love is amazing stuff. Tonight, I am lonely, and tonight, I miss Love.