Don’t Look Back in Anger

I have a natural inclination to flagellate myself with what I perceive are my failures. I dwell on things far too long, carry them around with me like overstuffed luggage, and obsess about them long after the point where it is constructive.

I’m not sure exactly where this comes from but I process things intensely.  This is probably what makes me excellent at jobs that require attention to detail and drives my perfectionism. It also makes me vulnerable to the narcissistic tendencies of people. I’m all too willing to look at things from another person’s perspective and take ownership for their actions, even when it doesn’t make sense for the blame to rest with me.

I remember an occasion fairly soon after we moved in together where I stumbled across my ex’s credit card statement. The card was maxed and he hadn’t made a payment the previous month. This was a surprise to me because at the time he was contributing to our bills and I didn’t realize that this was at the cost of paying his own. I didn’t know that as a result of his illness he was unable to multitask and he was in a constant state of trying to juggle his commitments while only ever getting one ball in the air at a time.

When I confronted him about the statement and implications thereof, he accused me of invading his privacy and being controlling. I’m not proud to admit that I folded like a house of cards. I accepted that I was a bad partner and that he had a reason for hiding things from me: he was justified and I sucked.

For the record, I was controlling. Not at first. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would try to change someone else (and also for the record I am not interested in ever repeating that experiment), but my controlling seemed to intensify over time as I invested in our relationship and there continued to be crises that he seemed incapable of handling. Among other things, I desperately tried to take over his finances. I told myself that it was for us, his credit needed to improve. We needed to be in better financial standing in order to buy a house, start a family, travel, and hopefully someday retire. Now I recognize these were things I wanted, not things we wanted and I didn’t stop to really examine why it might be that he couldn’t handle basic problems.

Truthfully, I acted in fear. I know I was desperately clinging to the idea that we had a future and it looked something like what I thought everyone else around me had. I treated him like a child and tried to manipulate him into being the person I thought he could be.  It didn’t matter how good I thought my intentions were, it was wrong.

I felt a lot of shame.  Shame that I couldn’t make our relationship work. Shame about how I acted. Shame that I was somehow not good enough for him. Shame about the things I was hiding from my friends and family. Shame that all my efforts did nothing but make both of our lives worse… Shame is debilitating.  It holds you in the past and prevents you from moving forward.  It keeps you afraid and hiding.  Shame keeps you from being vulnerable in a good way, a way that allows you to build healthy connections.

For most of my life I have been consumed by shame. I have memories from childhood where I thought I was a disappointment to people I loved and to myself. It didn’t matter what I achieved, I focused on the negatives.  Shame made me a prisoner and a victim. Today, as much as I don’t love aspects of my past, I understand that if I hadn’t made the choices that I did, lived through those tragedies, made those mistakes, I wouldn’t be me. And that would be tragic too.

It is important to realize that there has never been a single other person like you. You are amazingly unique and you see the world in a way that no one has been able to before. You are loved. You are special. And you wouldn’t be half of those things without your messy past and collection of scars.  Don’t be ashamed, be proud. You survived and you are better for it. You have the gift of being able to choose how you frame your memories and your perspective of the world around you.

The past isn’t something to regret.  It is something to be revered.  It makes us interesting. It builds us up and forces growth if we are open to accept the lessons it presents us.

There are days when I am impatient for the things in my life that I know are coming. Those good things that I’m working to be ready to receive. I know that receiving opportunities in the present or in the future means accepting the past and not letting it dictate actions and reactions. Just because I made those mistakes doesn’t mean that will always be the case. The past does not need to be an excuse to limit the future and the range of choices available.

Try to cut yourself some slack! Don’t compare yourself to others or let their criticism get to you; I guarantee what they are showing you is not the whole story of their life and (even if it is) it does not mean that you are superior or inferior to them in any meaningful way. Like it or not, we’re all stuck on this rock hurtling through space together and most of us are totally making it up as we go. Understand that failure is not the opposite of success, they are part of the same process. If you are taking chances and trying to lead a full life you will encounter both and neither should be discounted as they both have valuable things to offer.

While you may not be a fan of Noel Gallagher or Oasis, the lyrics of the song of the same title of this blog (no coincidence) seem to resonate here. It may not have been his intent, but I choose to take from Noel a message of empowerment.

Although no longer the object of his affection, I am Sally who is finally recognizing that I need to get out of my head, loosen up, and let it go.

At least today.

 

Redefining Identity

A few really disorienting things happened to me when my relationship ended. Besides the usual things we would expect like change in routine, missing the person and the awkward business of splitting up your belongings / peripheral relationships, was the realization that over the 8 years of our relationship I had lost my sense of self.

And yes, I realize how dramatic and emo that sounds.  But truthfully, amid the disorientation it slowly dawned on me that I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, nor did I have the foggiest idea what to do next. I’m not talking the normal “oh wow, I’m no longer Y’s girlfriend” type existential crisis, it was much more disturbing questions like “what are my hobbies?” and “do I actually dislike country music?” Basic stuff you would expect a person in their 30s to know.

Slowly, insidiously, over the course of our relationship he became my whole world. Living with an addict (at least my addict) was being in a constant state of flux and drama.  There was always some kind of crisis happening in his life and that overshadowed anything that might be happening with me. In fact, even some of my challenges were twisted to become more about the impact on him. There simply was no space for anything but his feelings. In hindsight, this was likely so he always had a reason and justification to act on his impulses and indulge his compulsions, but at the time I was so consumed with trying to help him and make him happy that I didn’t realize how stupid, petty, and ridiculous some of those crises really were… and how they weren’t my responsibility nor were they more important than my own needs and interests. There is a difference between supporting someone you love (helping) and trying to fix all their problems for them (enabling). I didn’t understand this distinction or how demeaning and counterproductive enabling was for both of us.

Over time, and truthfully by choice, I no longer had any time or energy to pursue any of my own interests or needs.  I allowed myself to be manipulated into caring for him, carrying him, and slowly isolated myself (probably so no one would point out what I knew deep down: the relationship was FUBAR). Looking back, I remember that I wasn’t happy most of the time.  On some level I must have known that the relationship was lop-sided and I was allowing myself to be used… but there’s a funny thing I’ve since realized about denial: it’s not a sign of stupidity, it’s a coping mechanism used to put off dealing with things until we are ready. It took me a hella long time to be ready. If I had to speculate on what I was getting out of it, I think it gave me some kind of sick purpose.  Like he needed me and that was some kind of salve for my ego.

About 4 months after we parted ways I remember something mildly amusing happened with a coworker.  I laughed and laughed until I cried with joy as everyone stared at me with puzzled interest.  I was euphoric, it was epic… one of those laughs that has you beet red and gasping for air. Later that night it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had been relaxed enough to lean into a moment like that and feel real pleasure. It was also the first time I felt sincere gratitude for a chance to move on without him and redefine myself as something other than his girlfriend, the well-intentioned wet blanket and Debbie Downer.

Over the time that’s followed I’ve rediscovered many passions that I had forgotten: music (including my unending love and girl crush on Brodie Dalle), getting lost driving in my car, the quiet and beautiful stillness of hiking through the woods, writing and humour. I’m also slowly discovering some new passions; including yoga, fitness and nutrition. I am patiently learning and re-learning the things that make me unique, interesting,  worthwhile and loveable. With this comes other great gifts like enjoying being alone and hope that this will lead to healthier relationships in the future without the urgency to force that into being.

I guess the point of this entry is, if you can relate to this lost feeling… it will get better.  Slowly (and not without setbacks), but I promise that if you take the time to rediscover and fall in love with yourself things will improve. You will remember and find the things that make you enjoy being you and they won’t depend on anyone else’s validation or interest. Whether your current situation works out, you decide you are passionate about moving to a monastery in Tibet, or you take a hiatus from dating and you unexpectedly meet your soulmate at the grocery store: you are going to do amazing things that will make you glad you kept grinding. Take your time, enjoy the moment that is here (not the ones that are coming or have already been), do the work and you will get there. I promise.