I had an epiphany the other day and it is this: There will always be something.
Here's the other epiphany: It's OK.
It's the 'It's OK' part that's really important because it's the pin point on which my world balances. Isn't that a bold statement? Well you'd think by now I'd have a clue, wouldn't you? I do, really, but it isn't often that a light bulb goes off like one of those old revolving flash bulbs and stays lit long enough to make an imprint on the wall which is readable after the fact. It's really hard when we think we're not OK, or there's something specific about ourselves which we cannot change that we think is not OK. And you know what else? It doesn't even matter where this belief comes from; the only thing that matters is whether or not we can grab hold of it long enough to wrestle it to the ground.
I think we all have a pin point of one sort or another.
There will always be something.
I am reactive. I used to think I just didn't like change. This might come from something my mother told me about change. She said, 'Alecto, you do not like change, you have never liked change.' That explained a lot. I got spun up when my world got turned upside down and my feathers got ruffled when the world tilted. Later I took issue with that argument because it seemed when I had the chance I created plenty of change on my own and later when I had all the freedom in the world I created a great deal of change some of which turned EVERYBODY'S world upside down. So it's not that I don't like change, it's that I react to change. The epiphany, or at least the start of it was that I react to a lot of things. Sometimes my reactions are small and sometimes not so small and sometimes they can be downright epic. The epic reactions tend to be the tail end of a culmination of similar or like events which I'm been reacting to all along but haven't managed to stop. When I can't tolerate the events anymore the top of my head pops off or I come to my knees. Either way it's a pretty epic reaction.
I spent four years with myself and a good part of that time with a therapist trying to figure out how to not react. We called it behavior modification. How do I take this situation and instead of reacting that way I react this way or I don't react at all depending on the circumstances. I practiced it on my friends (start friendly) and then some of my family members, and finally some of my more obstreperous family members (the ones most like me). I noticed I did best in the work environment because I'd learned the hard way that there were a very specific set of rules to live by or die. That didn't mean I wasn't reacting; it just meant I wasn't communicating the reaction very loudly.
When I took this new set of skills into a relationship it was as if I hadn't learned anything at all. The feedback I got was worse than my last relationship. I felt bad, very, very bad. I went back to the therapist and started taking notes to track situations, events, responses, and results. It seemed like I was losing no matter what I did or didn't do. At one point it became apparent that the only way to survive (survive?) was to simply not react.
Except I react.
I react happiness, I react sadness, I react passionately, I react joyfully, I react with anger, I react fearfully, I react with rage, I react with sorrow, I react with confusion, I react with compassion, I react with overwhelm, I react with excitability, I react with desire, I react with love, I react with disdain, I react with judgement, I react with nurture, I react with silence, I react with the inability to communicate.
Unless I can duck and roll, whatever comes at me makes a direct hit. The closer I am to a person the less able I am to duck and roll and therefore I am most reactive where I am most vulnerable.
My two and a half year exercise in sitting still was a bust. I came out of it feeling many things, not all of them bad and not all of them about me, however, the biggest chunk of stuff I walked away with happened to be a bad feeling about being reactionary. A really bad feeling. You know, as if I'd tried really hard to do something I'd been trained to do and failed miserably even though I knew perfectly well on paper I had not. I had feedback in my relationship and feedback from a therapist and I had hundreds of pages of notes and guess what won out? The negative. The part which said, you should not be reactionary.
I think it was yesterday although it might have been the day before that the lightbulb flashbulb thingie went off and stayed lit just a little bit longer than usual and I got to have a look at that.
It's bullshit for a couple of reasons. First, a huge percentage of the population is reactionary and I'm guessing we can't all be bad, wrong, and broken but I do notice women get the shit kicked out of us for it. This falls into the 'be quiet and don't take up space' category. And for the love of god don't react to a man unless it falls into the 'nice stuff' column (I think that's column B as in take one from column A, and sixteen from column B and then shut the hell up).
The second reason is the only reason that matters. It's because this is the way I am. My last guy was reactionary too. I suspect he doesn't think so but he is. He was time delay kind of guy. Mostly OK in the moment and truly not so OK twenty-four hours. To me, that's really disconcerting because in the moment you think you know where you stand but then what feels like out of the blue (especially since I'd gone home and couldn't see the transition happening) he falls down a hole. This is OK too, by the way. It has to be. It just wasn't OK for me.
So what I realized is this: I am always going to be reacting to something. I will always have the propensity to be scared or fearful just as I have the possibility of the flip side of that. I've been running from this my entire adult life. I got married the first time so I could stop being scared. And I have to tell you, I was SO scared. I was nineteen years old, on my own since I was eighteen and barely keeping my head above water. My family life before I left home had gone straight to hell after I'd been raped at seventeen (I have no idea if there's any correlation there at all other than I was already in a downward spiral and after that there was no coming back) and by the time I was engaged to a man six years my senior who came from a 'good and stable family' I'd been chewing my nails and the inside of my cheeks ragged for two years. I just needed to be safe. Add warm and loved to that and I didn't look back until ten years later when I was all grown up and realized I couldn't stay. To this day I really wish I had been able to find a way. It's one of my greatest regrets.
During that ten year marriage we were always balanced precariously on some pinpoint of doom. I remember saying something to my mother in law about liking it this way, or we must like it this way or we wouldn't be doing it when she mentioned something about all the drama in our lives. I had a point. We pushed the envelope constantly which is why our lives were so precarious. Sometimes stuff just happened (like finding out the definition of maternity coverage was $125 when I was pregnant with Mike which came one year after emergency abdominal surgery during the ninety day waiting period before I was covered by my new husband's insurance (I hadn't had medical insurance for more than two years at that point)). Sometimes stuff was created, like taking on a mortgage for a six acre farm with a laughable combined income which required the signatures of both my mother and his father to guarantee the mortgage. We made the payments but there were times we pulled quarters and dimes out of seat cushions and from under car seats to come up with soup money to feed the kids. In our shame we told no one.
I was in a mall with Elizabeth after a two and a half hour wait in the Apple store to have her phone diagnosed and finally replaced and as we walked down the hall toward the exit I was having minor heart palpitations about how I was going to come up with her tuition payment (in August, 2018 and probably earlier) and Lucia's wedding (in October, 2018 and probably earlier) and this is me REACTING and I was starting to cry and I just let it go for a minute. First of all, twenty-five years ago I was crawling under the front seat looking for soup money. Second, I just walked out of the EFFING APPLE STORE WHERE ONY PRIVILEGED PEOPLE GO so probably I should try a little perspective.
And at that moment I realized no matter what and where and how and who I was always going to be reacting to something.
Am I doomed?
Do I need to choose who I spend time with?
Can I work on focusing which part of my celestial body takes the hits?
That's the trick, I think.
And of course it's OK. Any of you cis-males out there thinking it's not, go sit in the corner and contemplate the king of all reactionaries, Numbah Forty-Five.
And by the way, I am going to worry, and not everything will always be alright but in the long run, it comes out in the wash. Sometimes it just looks funny.