One Day at a Time

I am the product of generational wounds.  I learned the basics of relationships and behaviour from people that passed along their lessons. I know that my experiences as a child were not my fault, just as theirs were not their fault. A child is helpless and at the mercy of their surroundings and we do our best with what they are presented. A child doesn’t understand that what they are being shown is not healthy, or abnormal. They trust and accept, they have no other choice.

For a lot of years I blamed my parents and my family for my unhappiness.  And some of that was justified. It is okay and reasonable to be angry about the experiences I had as a child. To wish that I’d had an easier and more supportive ride.  To be frustrated that my current emotional wellbeing, as an adult, is a result of unlearning and acknowledging the good and bad of those experiences.

Anger has always been an easy emotion for me, and one of the few I excel at. There was a lot of anger and resentment in my childhood, and in the generations that proceeded that. My grandparents and their parents dealt with a lot of challenges – poverty, discrimination, war, and grief. There was little to no effective mental health medicine or treatment available to them.  The only choice was to continue on, and to their credit they did what they needed to do. And they tried to prepare their children for life by passing along those lessons, strategies, and mechanisms.

Those strategies did not include anything which would resemble emotional intimacy, compassion, or care. Those strategies included disconnection, isolation, force, desperation, resentment, addiction, shame and insecurity.

Like my parents, I don’t understand what it’s supposed to feel like to trust and love someone unconditionally and like the generations that came before me I spend a lot of time fighting the feeling of being less than, or unworthy of most things.

I admit that for the majority of my life I used these models as an excuse not to heal and to justify my own poor behaviour. I think the idea of letting go of that resentment kept me trapped for a long time. It is easier and more comfortable not to change.

I unconsciously look for people that reinforce those feelings of insecurity, resentment, and inadequacy because anything else feels uncomfortable. Anything else means that I have to admit that I don’t understand what healthy means and that I don’t know how to cope with normalcy. Anything else means that I have to look inward and admit that I am choosing to nourish my own misery.

I am fortunate to be in a romantic relationship with someone that does not have those shared experiences. That’s not to say his life has been without challenge, but he has never doubted that his family loves and accepts him. He has never accepted relationships, romantic or otherwise, were abuse has been a factor. He approaches all challenges with confidence, acceptance, and perseverance. He has faith that things will work out and he will be fine, regardless of what he is presented.

I love and admire this in him. And in my weaker moments I am jealous of him and I struggle to understand him. I debate how much to tell him about the specifics of my past experiences and the steps I take in my daily life to grow, change, and live a better life.

It’s interesting at this stage in my recovery that what stops me from blurting out all the shitty things in my past is not that I don’t trust him, or don’t want him to know… what stops me is that I don’t want to do to him what’s been done to me.  I don’t want him to feel obligations towards me because of what I’ve been through. I don’t want to make excuses for my behaviour.

I guess I’m writing this here to try and organize my thoughts, and to illustrate that recovery is an ongoing balancing act. Wherever you are in this process, there will be good and bad moments.  You will need to continue to grow, adapt, and be accountable. There are things that come up that don’t have a manual and there are no one size fits all solution.

I write this to remind myself to keep showing up.  I write this to remind myself that it is always ok to return to step 1.

The Worst Part

young troubled woman using laptop at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I’ve read a few articles on the ongoing psychological impact of social isolation resulting from COVID. While the long term and actual effects of the unprecedented civil order to maintain distance from strangers and loved ones outside the household are still under investigation, I personally don’t know a single person who isn’t impacted and off balance.

Recently, like some kind of competition that no one wins, my connections have started speculating more and more on the “worst part” of COVID-life.  These reasons stem from the mundane and shallow to the seriously sad.  What I will say, before sharing my own “worst thing”, is that whatever challenges you are facing are valid and real. I understand the daily struggle that comes from being committed to doing the right thing, even if it is painful. And – regardless of your level of comfort with the idea of catching and surviving this disease, most of us understand the big picture of why we are taking this measure… we don’t want to hurt others.

My partner and I live in a century home in a small town in Southern Ontario which we moved into weeks before the world shut down.  Like most old houses, there have been challenges with foundation deterioration and one of our first actions on moving in was locating a contractor who could help reinforce the 100-year old joists in the basement. Unfortunately, due to this settling, the ceiling in a few of the older untouched rooms have sagged and adjusted with the home. Busy with other more critical tasks, we’ve been putting off addressing this damage.

Yesterday, we were sitting inside.  It was raining, a National holiday, and we’d exhausted all the low-hanging Netflix fruit (#fuckcarolebaskin).  Our couch time has increased steadily over the last few months as we’ve tackled all the house projects we can complete without assistance, are unable to easily acquire materials, and struggle with the tumultuous Canadian spring weather.

Mid-afternoon, after a few quiet hours of mucking around on the Internet, he turned to me and asked if I would like to demolish the ceiling in one of these rooms. I agreed and he quickly started collecting crow bars, masks, garbage bags, and other materials to complete the task.

For the first time in days we laughed easily, conversation flowed, and we enjoyed each other with a lot less effort than we have since the stress of pandemic entered our lives. It occurred to me that the worst part of this situation for our relationship is not the lack of services, restaurants, the financial strain, or the anti-aphrodisiac effect of wearing the same track pants for weeks on end.  It is the lack of spontaneity. Without personal choice and options, it is like the volume is turned way down and a grey fog has settled. Every day is almost exactly the same and while that same is much better than it has been in the past, without the ups, downs, and outside influence, it lacks perspective. I have trouble appreciating how amazing my life is compared to how it was when this blog started.

With that in mind, I remind myself to be grateful, humble, and compassionate. I remind myself to widen my tunnel vision, challenge my narrow perception, and acknowledge how far I’ve come.

I also want to ask you for inspiration; what is the worst part for you and how are you coping?

Change in Uncertain Times

animal dog pet dangerous
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I’ve talked about my dog before on this blog.  She is a rescue mutt – sweet, loving, and scared of most things. She will startle at a pen falling off a table but shows absolutely no hesitation to go bolting off the deck into the night after an anonymous and unidentified shadow or noise. In these moments, she forgets she is afraid.

I have a similarly complicated and confusing relationship with change. Fed up with life and circumstances I can name an embarrassing amount of times in my life that I’ve bolted into the night, making impulsive and life changing decisions with very little foresight or appreciation for the consequences. I’ve cut people out, quit without notice, and generally acted like a wild and startled animal and not the intelligent homo sapien I am.

For my dog, those actions have resulted in several face-to-face confrontations with angry skunks.  For me, they have resulted in having to reinvent myself almost from scratch more times than I’d like to admit.

The irony of both our situations is that I believe we are both desperately trying to deal with paralyzing fear. Acting quickly, impulsively and desperately is often the only way for either one of us able to do anything without feeling our insecurities.

In the midst of all the pandemic restrictions, collective mental health crisis, and general world upheaval I’ve been approached with and accepted a job offer. Most people that know me well agree that this is an overdue and largely positive move. They reassure me that I am making a good decision and remind me of how much in my life has changed for the better over my last two years of getting vulnerable and uncomfortable…

But – I’m full of doubt and apprehension.

I am faced with the uncomfortable truth that I rarely feel good about my decisions. This is not about the lack of guarantees, the uncertainty, or any number of things that I believe are normal to feel in the face of change.  This is, like many things, another opportunity to examine how old habits are no longer serving me.

Even as a young and idealistic Jess, I didn’t get a lot of unbiased encouragement. I was lead to believe that even the most simple of personal needs or aspirations were selfish and somehow wrong. That things that were about me actually had a larger and more significant impact on others. I’ve spent most of my life believing that I am unable to do things myself, or rely on myself to make good decisions.

As a final carrot to stay at my old company I was offered a mentorship from a leader who told me they were sorry that I was uncertain of my value to the company and wanted to lead me to greater potential.

I know, right?

They could not have picked something that would be more attractive.

Screw money and title, VALIDATE ME and save me!!!!!

In lamenting this new offer, I was whining to a good and supportive friend, ripping apart (yet again) my decision to leave and leap into the unknown. He said, “you’ve always had to make it on your own, when somebody finally comes along to help it’s understandable that it should be both very strange and very attractive.”

It was like being slapped across the face.

I realized that I was being offered something abstract and that tying my success and perceived value to any one person was another attempt to fill the gaping void I’ve been clogging with food, alcohol, and emotionally unavailable people for the majority of my life.

It was a reminder that believing I’m not capable of things on my own is no longer an appropriate way to survive.  It was a reminder that I don’t accept that kind of emotional abuse anymore.

So here I am, sitting in my last few weeks of work ready to run and leap off of the deck into the dark again.  Truthfully, I’m still scared shitless, but at least I’m confident that I’ll make my way through it this time; as I always have before.

Pandemic

woman holding on railings
Photo by Maycon Marmo on Pexels.com

I don’t know about you, but the current state of the world has my mental health on the ropes. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause: boredom, social isolation, an overload of COVID-19 news coverage; but I suspect any one of these elements alone is enough to topple the metaphorical apple cart.

After several weeks of self care, trying to be there for my friends and family and attempting not to burden my partner with my “crazy” it occurred to me in an insomniatic moment last night that how I feel right now is very similar to how I felt living with addiction.

Being codependent, for me, is a balance between ego and insecurity. In my experience, a major part of addiction (and codependency) is the inability to take ownership for yourself, your actions, and your consequences. Growing up with addiction, and finding it again as an adult, my ability to own what was *actually* my responsibility was damaged. I remember having the distinct impression that everything related to other people was somehow my fault. Unfortunately, that impression was not discouraged by the addicts in my life that were all too ready to blame someone else for their problems. So the addicts totally avoided responsibility for anything, and I avoided responsibility for what was actually mine in favour of what didn’t belong to me.

I felt (and was helped to feel) that I had incredible power over the happiness of others.  This was, of course, false and all my efforts to influence things were spectacularly unsuccessful.  I would then attack myself for failing at everything that was not actually mine to succeed at.

You still with me?

Most of the time this process was distilled into feeling helpless, angry, depressed, guilty, isolated, and desperate.  I didn’t know how to tell myself that everything was going to be okay because there was no clear solution or any indication of how long it would take to get there. I constantly felt like I needed to take action, but since there wasn’t actually an action to take which would get the results I wanted, I usually did the wrong thing, felt shitty, or both.

Talking to my friends, family, and colleagues these are common collective feelings we are all having in light of the current societal challenges. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has complained to me in the last 3 weeks that this would be manageable if we only knew how long this would last, because surely this is not living.

Amen. I believe the familiarity of all these feelings is what is causing me to have to fight backsliding into my own unhealthy coping strategies.

I wish I could tell you how long this thing will last and that everything will return to normal soon…. But I think it would actually be more helpful to share a few things that I learned in recovery:

  1. Everything is temporary. Really.
  2. Focus on what you can control (hint: this is not how another adult feels / what they do)
  3. Make time to get your heart rate up and move.
  4. If possible, get outside.
  5. Do something you enjoy.  Preferably that doesn’t require any one else’s participation.
  6. If all else fails, return to the present moment.  Stop worrying so far ahead and remember that you can do anything for one day. Just worry about today.
  7. Repeat: Everything is temporary.

And finally – remember that, as a species (and as individuals), we have made it through all of our days before this one.  There is no reason to think that won’t continue.

Stay safe & stay home.

-J