School, A Quote, and Some Reflection

I’m about to finish my first semester of grad school. I took two classes – Human Behavior in the Social Environment and Social Welfare Policy. I shed some tears and felt a serious amount of stress, but overall, my experience has been amazingly worthwhile.

I forgot how to use my brain in a classroom learning capacity, so that adjustment took some time. There is an incredible amount of reading required for a graduate degree (duh) and I’m surprised at how quickly I got into a groove of getting my shit done way in advance, absorbing the content, and kicking ass on assignments. As in, getting a 100% on my second policy paper after I cried hysterically over the first.

I went through a period in the first few weeks when I would dread the start of the live session (online program-speak for ‘class’. Just picture a Skype session with 16 other people set up in a grid with live chatting capabilities and you’ve got it.) But now that I’m almost done with week 13 of 14 of live sessions, I feel comfortable before class starts, not anxious as fuck about whether or not I’ll know how to contribute to the conversation in a meaningfully appropriate and graduate level way. I’ve continually surprised myself, which is new. I’ve unknowingly pushed myself out of my comfort zone and so far, I’m doing better than I thought I would.

I don’t know how to express how unimaginable it still feels to me that I have actually begun this process. I mean, a year and a half ago I was…lost, still broken, looking for attention in destructive places and ways, not loving myself, not engaged in anything meaningful and generally depressed. I was a shadow of who I am today. I’ve woken up from my coma of self-medicating and escaping. There’s a quote by Mary Karr who wrote a memoir about her recovery experience called ‘Lit’, that I have on my laptop’s lock screen and I see it every time I fire this baby up. It says: ‘There are women succeeding beyond their wildest dreams because of their sobriety.’ It forces a tiny knowing smile onto my face every time I read it.

The word sobriety has multiple meanings for me. A year ago it meant that I had to stop drinking entirely because I was a hopeless, disgusting, and troubled addict. ‘Sobriety’ felt urgent. It felt like an emergency. It felt like my last resort. That kind of sobriety will never stick, at least for me.

Today, the word feels like a departure from the thinking and behavioral patterns that were holding me down and less like an urgent need to immediately stop every single last bad habit I have in their dirty tracks. Now, it’s more a letting go of the fear that I wasn’t good enough. It’s also an acceptance that every bad decision I made during those days do not define who I am as a person. I used to feel so disgusted with myself. So fucking fed up and angry at myself for not being able to be better. And, yes, I still feel like that as I occasionally feel the pull to say ‘fuck it’ and succumb to the waves of sadness or worry or stress that often come over me. There’s a difference between letting the feelings completely bowl me over to the point of needing to say ‘fuck it’ and, feeling the emotion, giving it the time it needs to be felt and moving on without needing to escape from that discomfort. The decisions I used to make and will sometimes make in the future are only that, decisions. They don’t in any way mean I am a terrible person. I’m a good person who had/has a few bad habits.

As I move farther away from my days of drinking to numb and escape and acting out sexually and ghosting through my existence, I marvel at how dependent I unknowingly was on those behaviors to get me through. I had a conversation with an old friend recently who is going through a tough time and is self-medicating in much the same way that I used to. I can see so much of my addictive behaviors in her. I can see the hurt. I can feel the pain. I can practically smell the self-loathing drifting off her skin. I wish I could coax her out of this process and make her heal the wounds she’s desperately and defensively licking but I can’t. I have to let this period in her life run its’ course, much as I had to let the drinking days in my life run theirs.

This addiction/sobriety thing is a tricksy asshole, isn’t it?

I’m beginning to feel grateful for it because living through and growing from my experiences is going to make me a pretty badass social worker once I’m done with school. Nothing will be able to stop me and my success will be wild.

Better late than never

I’m realizing more and more lately that I don’t know how to remain in a state of contentment. I am pretty sure I never learned how, there was always something going on, something changing, someone moving in, someone moving out, constant motion. When I look back to when I was little, the one thing that sticks out in terms of consistency was the feeling that I couldn’t settle down emotionally because the majority of my weekends (and sometimes weeknights) beyond the age of 8 or 9 were spent somewhere other than my home, in my bed. Sometimes I slept at the house of the woman who cared for my aging grandmother, or with a family friend that I didn’t really like, or at a friend’s house. I honestly can’t say how often this happened, but it was a regular enough occurrence that I vividly remember how it felt to be ‘shuffled off’ to somewhere else.

Why was I being shuffled? Because my parents had to spend their free time dealing with the ever evolving, ever emotionally draining, and ever challenging enigma that was my older brother. They drove hours to Pennsylvania to visit him while he was enrolled in ‘school’ (it was really a rehabilitation center for troubled youth). Or, they went to secret court meetings with lawyers to work out what would be the best course of action when he stole the car. Or, they were out looking for him when he ran away from home for the 15th time. It must have been so difficult for them. They were trying to care for the their troubled kid who sought their attention through vehement rebellion and utter behavioral dysfunction. That’s what they had to do. They were without a choice; he was self-destructing by the age of 11. But, in the process they were essentially forced to neglect their other kid who’s emotional hard drive was being infected with a nasty, invisible virus.

It wasn’t as if I was abused or had a terrible time while my entire family was away from me doing things I wasn’t a part of. I usually had a great time with my friends. We watched Rated R movies before I was allowed to – Silence of the Lambs when I was 12 – Yikes…no wonder I have an unnatural love for Stephen King. We ate candy until we were practically sick and wrote the names of our crushes in cursive all over any surface that could be easily concealed. We obsessed about when we would get our first period. It was a very formative time, one I remember fondly. Mostly.

While I have the good memories, I still carry the hurt of feeling left out during those years. I didn’t understand why my parents always had to be ‘away’, or why they never explained where my brother was. He would simply be gone and then he would magically reappear one day without a word of explanation. All I did know was that I couldn’t get too comfortable at home because I would have to pack a bag and sleep somewhere else in a matter of days. I know my parents were protecting me – as they should have – I just haven’t been able to shake how consistently difficult it can be for me to remain content where I am.

Is that because when I was a pre-teen I spent many, many nights in a foreign house, knowing that the following weekend I would be in a different foreign house? Is that why, to this day, I am so annoyingly unable to sleep soundly in a bed that isn’t mine? Is that why I developed a destructive coping mechanism, because I learned that being away from home meant something bad was happening behind the curtain of protection? Is it why I feel more anxious nowadays than I ever have because things in my life are actually going, dare I say, smoothly?

I’m pretty sure that’s part of it. I’ve spent years not being able to truly settle into a pattern of healthy, positive, loving behavior because I’ve either been sorting through a loss, a giant mess of my own making or I’ve been bracing for the shit to hit the fan again. Part of me is waiting for that to happen now. That’s where the anxiety comes from – the anticipation of something awful, life changing and completely out of my control barreling straight for my pretty little forehead.

And that’s fine. Things will happen. Life isn’t easy and it owes me nothing. I can breathe more freely, more deeply now. I can sit with anxiety, knowing that it is fiercely fickle and will eventually move on.

The last 7 months have been a lovely, progressive shift from some dark, dark days into the light for me. The relationship I’m in grows more complex and fulfilling with every passing week. I got accepted to graduate school and my classes start May 15th. I’m going to move in with my boyfriend in the next few months. My future seems bright, and more importantly, it feels possible. 

Everything feels so new. Everything feels so exciting. Everything feels so fragile. I don’t want to check out because I feel anxious. I don’t want to miss anything that is unfolding now, I am so very aware of how precious it is. My life is finally, finally facing in a direction that I am in love with and I deserve it. However, I’ve never, ever had this feeling before – it’s no wonder I feel nervous. Of course I’m going to feel scared to let myself curl up like a cat sleeping in a band of sunlight because I’m brand new to the areas of healthy relationships, meaningful work and self-acceptance. Brand spanking new.

But, it’s never too late to let go of the insecurities of the past and embrace the confidence of the future.

Never. Too. Late.

Some Warm Fuzzies

I had an incredibly awesome weekend. My boyfriend and I had some people over on Saturday night to celebrate our birthdays (they’re 10 days apart). We made some delicious food and had a cozy atmosphere for our friends to hang out in. We ate, talked, had a few drinks (not too many, thankyouverymuch) and played cards. It was just a nice, relaxing evening. I haven’t wanted to celebrate my birthday in quite a few years, so to have such a lovely time this year felt really great. It was a total success in my eyes.

The next day my mother and godmother drove down from New Hampshire to join my love and I at his mom’s house for a celebration of our birthdays. This was the first time our mother’s met – both of our father’s are gone – and it went really well. A lot of his family was there as well and we had delicious food, good conversation and I was embraced in a way that left me feeling fulfilled, hopeful and vulnerable all at the same time.

I was struck with how vulnerable I felt. Truly, this is the first time in my life that I have ever felt safe with the man I have chosen to be with. The relationships of my past have been, as I’ve said many times, with damaged men. The man I am with now is not damaged. He’s the polar opposite of those I used to think I deserved. This man is Strong. Aware. Prepared. Stable. Emotionally intelligent. Creative. Driven. Kind. Affectionate. He challenges me and has already helped me be a better version of myself. I have never experienced anything close to what I have with him. And we get along soooooooo well. We make each other laugh. We support each other. We actually want to build something together. That alone blows my mind….I was never able to begin that process before. But now, it’s just an organic momentum that the two of us have together. We don’t even have to think about it, it just is.

And his family has been so welcoming of me, the new kid on their block. I feel accepted whenever I see them. I also have a lot in common with his mom which is a nice little unexpected bonus. They have all been so gracious and I don’t feel undeserving of their kindness (thank GOD). I do get overwhelmed here and there when I sit and think about what a blessing and a half I have. Overwhelmed in a foreign and really warm way – my known sense of overwhelm is usually cold and chaotic. I feel luckier than I ever have. I feel grateful to my core. I am very aware of how crippling loss can be, so there’s a touch of anxiety mixed up in all this…but just a touch. I mostly feel emotional in a good way about how wonderfully this relationship has been progressing. It’s the healthiest relationship of my life. Hands down.

I felt this way – warmly overwhelmed – on Sunday while I was sitting in the crook of his arm, amidst a happy cloud of general merriment. I thought, ‘wow, this is exactly what I hoped it would be.’ And with that thought I felt very clearly how fragile this new happiness I have is. Maybe that’s because I have never really known this kind of happiness before? It needs some time and tending to feel less like it can be blown away by a light breeze and more rooted directly into the fertile soil. When I compare my past with my present I just simply can’t believe how I used to allow people to treat me. When I examine the way he values me, looks at me or just touches my hand I want to scream ‘THANK YOU!!’ at the top of my lungs because I’m so relieved. I’ve been so lonely and lost for so long. I am just overjoyed to finally, finally, finally feel found.

My God, I love him so much.