"I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed."
- Anne Lamott
When I first started seeing my therapist I had a very clear agenda. I don’t have any idea if other people who see therapists have clear agendas or any sort of agenda at all. I had one. It was humongous. I told her I wanted to work on behavior modification; mine specifically. So far my ingrained interpersonal behaviors hadn’t resulted in relationships that worked for me and given that we can’t change ANYONE OR ANYTHING other than ourselves the best I could hope to do was alter my own behavior.
At 45, or just about 45 I was pretty sure this was going to be a monumental task and as it’s turned out, it has been. I’m not done. I’m probably not ever going to be done and this doesn’t have a damn thing to do with me being a bad person or a good person although I did have to work through a lot of that before I could even start changing response mechanisms; it’s got to do with what I want in my life and who I need to be to have those things.
My mother asked me a question when David left, ‘Sweetie, in order to be what he needs, you’d have to be a very different person.’ And then she listed off a WHOLE list of things I’d have to be willing and able to live with which would have required a personality transplant on my part. The answer in that case was, no, although what came out of my mouth was a sniveling, crying, YES, PLEASE, JUST GET MY HUSBAND BACK IN THIS HOUSE! You know, I *really* do NOT want to ever, ever, ever find myself in that place again. However; that didn’t preclude taking a good hard look at how I got where I got and how my choices were affecting my life and my relationships.
It was a good relationship, this thing we had, my therapist and me. I got a shitload of work done and then I stopped seeing her because my life at TheBigBank sort of got in the way although in retrospect I should have moved mountains to make those weekly meetings keep happening.
When I started seeing NM, at some point I went back. I don’t really remember when but it wasn’t too far in. Here I’d done all this work, I’d come so damn far and IT WASN’T WORKING!!!!!!!! I still sucked. OK, clearly I didn’t suck but there was an awful lot of damage that hadn’t had any actual working time to get itself undone. Also, I took on a lot. This falls into the category of I can only change me. No good, no bad, just a bunch of results. Also, I can’t change anybody else and there’s no point having a personality transplant either. That’s the sort of thing you do when you can’t stand the idea of being alone.
For the last year and a half I’ve been able to see her nearly every week. It got hard when I came here because I’ve got one hell of a deductible to meet before I stop paying out of pocket but I’m still coming as often as I can. I’ve been working my ass off. Every 50 minutes is hard, hard, sometimes VERY hard work. And then I go to my desk and sometimes I’m wicked glad to have a door between me and the rest of my team for at least 20 or 30 minutes. She’s got a way of getting in between the cracks and prying open crevices I would never have had the balls to look at and suddenly there it is in front of me and I’m asked to look at why somebody might have done or said something and it always just about comes back on me. Because it’s meant to. I can’t do a damn thing with anything else.
Once or twice she’s asked if I’m taking on too much. Is this really my thing to own? But they were never big issues, just things to let go of, back away slowly and sit still. Are there things that are really all that important to me? Am I reacting to something that used to matter but maybe that’s not something that needs to matter? How much of who I am is he choosing to live with or get used to? Is it a getting used to sort of thing or a negotiated treaty?
But not today.
Today she asked me different questions and today I walked out of the building shaking.
Today she asked me if I was asking the right questions. I make assessments but then I excuse or explain the assessment. For the first time she told me to stop. Stop doing that. Stop and look. Is this really working for you? What do you really need to communicate?
This is also behavior modification. I notice on some level I’m already communicating hard things, things I would have walked away from or pretended not to see. Lots of people do that. Lots of people don’t and then they fight about it but I suppose you can communicate it and then let it go too. Or at least say what you need to say and have it be heard or not heard because that part isn’t on your head, but the saying it, the saying it most assuredly is on your head.
I think that’s the hardest thing. Where I used to have a problem in a relationship I’d either drive myself out of my mind trying to communicate it about 60 different ways until I was either heard or I lost it or I just wouldn’t bother and little by little I shut down. I used to feel like I was standing on my head speaking Arabic sometimes. I got to a point eventually that I realized you couldn’t make somebody hear something they didn’t want to hear if they were more attached to something else. This is like the pink and green sky thing. God knows there have been plenty of people in my life who have stood on their heads and shouted in Swahili in an effort to get me to hear something. In absolute desperation. This is not a unique experience.
Here’s the thing: can you say it one, or maybe two times in such a way that a different sort of point is made and then walk away from the conversation before it becomes an argument? The different sort of point is, I am unhappy with this behavior and here is an example of the behavior. Here is just how unhappy I am (maybe a little, maybe a lot but you can’t always be at a level 10, that’s not reasonable). If you’re not heard that isn’t necessarily on you because what you’re saying is, I’m unhappy. Your partner can hear what you’re unhappy about or not. This works both ways. That’s part of what’s hard but not the hardest part.
The really hard part is accepting which parts are not going to change. Which parts of the sky are always going to be pink no matter what. When to stop fooling yourself and when it’s not ok to be mad. You don’t get to be mad just because somebody says no, I don’t agree. What you do get to do is decide whether or not you can live with that. Sucks, doesn’t it? You don’t get to put that on the other person. You don’t get to go or stay based on the other person. You get to go or stay based on what works for you.
Ah GODDAMMIT! Personal accountability.
There were a series of events that occurred recently and I need to be careful because it’s not really my story, just on the periphery but the events and the outcome are really important in terms of illustration.
NM has a friend who started dating a man in the contra world. Some women are always in the ON mode. It’s just the way they’re wired and I’m not even going to get into why; it doesn’t matter. Some men are absolutely attracted to women in the always ON mode just like some men are absolutely attracted to women like me who are almost always in the alpha mode. And just as it often happens with me, once these men find themselves in relationship it gets dicey. I’ve watched this. I’ve had friends like this; not since my late twenties because most of them outgrew it, but still.
I think men think it’s only ON for them. They’re like moths. Zap! It isn’t until later that they look around and see the ON is still on and shit starts getting ugly. Sometimes stuff works out and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes enough feedback happens that the ON switch slowly turns itself down to on and then on turns to off when a relationship is established. In this case I really don’t know what happened other than he got upset, the breakup was hard and he resorted to what’s called slut shaming which is utterly unforgivable. I don’t care if she slept with the Dallas Cowboys; that’s her damn business and nobody gets to put that or anything like it on her or any other woman. Period. I know that’s going to take some getting used to but if you stop and think about it, really stop and think about it; um, really? We have a right to judge what a woman chooses to do with her body?
Men do this shit all the time. Granted, in varying degrees, but good lord.
What he did have a right to do was choose whether or not the relationship was working for him. Clearly, it was not. I get it. In that capacity, with that intensity, it wouldn’t have worked for me either. I’d have been out of there in about 60 seconds. Just not something that fits in my world and I have a right to choose. But he was hurt and he lashed out the way men sometimes do. Women too. And the worst part? She’s never going to know. She can’t hear him. Any possible opportunity for feedback or personal growth is gone. Any chance she might have of making different choices in future relationships going forward is gone because all she’s got are those horrible, horrible words.
It’s very hard to say those words that need to be said without pain or anger wrapped up around them, especially if there’s any sort of history, but really, I think you have to. I’m working so hard on saying words and then shutting up. Truly shutting the hell up. I’m not always successful.
Having a pink sky set up against something green doesn't make me bad or wrong. Being argumentative about it; not so much. Not being clear about what I need, not so much. Not being clear and honest with myself...
Ah, there's the thing now, isn't it so?
What my therapist says to me:
You just explained it but you also excused it. Why did you do that?