Welcome to my pity party. Thanks for coming. And be forewarned, this is a long one. I seem to have two settings lately: Awesome or Horrible. Hey, at least I don’t muck things up with mediocrity. Seriously though, things have been hard lately. And I really don’t get it. I have a fairly rigorous spiritual practice. Isn’t that supposed to help?! For close to an hour every day I honestly focus on trying to learn to not sweat the small stuff, to not hold onto things, to not get caught up in story line. I understand the importance of living that way on an intellectual level and can sometimes feel as though I am beginning to get it on an emotional level. I can’t imagine what a basket-case I would be without such intense spiritual scrutiny. In many of the realms of being, I feel some shifting, some progress. I’m learning to understand my anxiety and simply acknowledge it. I’m learning to feel my sadness and let it go. I’m learning to notice when my anger gets triggered and wonder about it with curiosity instead of judgment. The only emotion I seem to be completely unable to get perspective on, that I hold onto (with a death grip) is martyrdom. Really, if there were martyr awards, I would probably be in the master martyr category and take top prize. I can’t seem to let it go or get around it because… quite frankly… on some level I feel justified in my wretchedness. I am weary as a result of the affliction I’ve brought on myself, and yet. And yet.
The thing is, I feel as though, without hesitation and generally without complaint, I am there for others. It is my job to be present for people and attend to their spiritual needs. It is also in keeping with the very core of who I am as a person. I deeply care. The problem is that I sometimes do this to the exclusion of my own feelings and needs. The problem is that the attention, and support, and encouragement, and presence I give to others, I sometimes want for myself. The problem is I don’t have a clue as to how to go about getting it. I rarely ask for it. And when it is offered, I never quite know what to do with it. I am, as I have said too many times, my own worst enemy.
After the bombings I was present for the people at work. The staff members who ran the marathon, who were shaken by the bombings, either because they had just passed the finish line or because they were stopped a few miles short of their goal. They needed to share their stories, their fears, their feelings. Our residents, many of whom have lived through traumatic events, were brought back to those times and they also needed to talk. At the end of the week the city and surrounding suburbs were in lockdown, which was frightening and inconceivable. Despite the lockdown, I went to work and again, I attended to the feelings and needs of those around me. During my lunch-break I called colleagues who were trapped at home in Watertown where the manhunt was in full swing after a night of shoot-outs and blood-shed on the very streets of their quiet town. And then 3 days later, the organization I work for laid off 20 people. Are you kidding me!? Were people’s nerves not already frayed enough?! Were we not already feeling vulnerable and insecure?! Nice timing guys.
In the meantime, on a personal level, I’m also having a really hard time. Like any family with children, they don’t raise themselves, their needs are endless and while June and Ward made it look easy, I had no idea how much work it would be. On top of the regular stuff, I have been a driving force behind our move to a new house, a new town, a new community. I based my decision on a few things. One, the far better educational opportunities for Nina. Second, the community opportunities for us as a family. And third, the fact that for the entire time we’ve lived in this house Emily has been on a realtor-generated house alert email list. She receives regular home listings in our price-range in communities with better schools. She has also been a frequent flyer to sites like Zillow. And I have regularly heard about interesting homes she’s seen. I had assumed we were on the same page about a move. And because I can’t tolerate indecision for too long, I forged ahead when the opportunity for this condo presented itself. We got a condo in a beautiful neighborhood in an affluent town, with excellent schools, near friends and acquaintances for a great price (because we bought without the involvement of a realtor). Our house sold in a day, for over our asking price. I thought this was cause for jubilation. Apparently, I was wrong. Emily is beside herself. She can’t bear to leave our beloved home. She is overwhelmed with nostalgic sadness. And I have to admit, unsympathetic is a massive understatement for how I have responded to her. And I don’t know exactly what happened, something snapped, sort of like a switch being flicked, the well ran dry, compassion has left the building.
And all this feels like so much whining I just want to delete it all. Doesn’t everyone have a lot going on in their lives? Aren’t other people present for those around them and their loved ones? Isn’t all this part of being human, being an adult?! I don’t know. Perhaps. Or maybe not. I just want to break the cycle of getting to this place of frustration and resentment after giving more of myself than I seem to have. Why do I get to this place of over-done time and again without learning to intervene, interrupt, take care of myself before it is too late?
As a child, I was shamed into making myself smaller to make room for others. And while the lessons were harsh, the practice proved foundational and indispensable to the person I would become. I could have done without being told that my needs were inconsequential, but the ability to put my needs aside was significant. I learned a lot about the world and human nature by doing this. I learned a lot about plants and animals and felt a deep affinity with the world around me. It is a wonderfully empathic way to be. But in the realm of you can have too much of a good thing, I pushed my own feelings and needs and wants so far away that the only way they surface is in an angry persecuted maelstrom. I’ve always told myself, once I’ve got everyone else taken care of, I can focus on myself. But there is no shortage of need for attention and support and love and compassion and understanding. So my needs get pushed further and further away all the while agitated longing bubbles and broils just below the surface.
The image of being held under water is a good one. I hold my needs under water while I quote do what I need to do, and when there is no breath left, those emotions explode to the surface gasping, splashing, convulsing, emerging sodden, soaked, bedraggled. There is no gradation or moderation, only raw urgent desperation. But how do I break that cycle, meeting my needs before they are monumental, imminent demands? Especially if I’ve learned to believe that my needs are insignificant, contemptible, vulgar?
My most recent masterpiece of martyrdom is that I want, no, make that I need, a dog. This is not actually as out of the blue as it appears here, but it does illustrate nicely my dysfunctional standard operating procedure.
I have always, my entire life, with the exception of college when I lived in a dorm, had a canine companion. And I technically have a dog now. I’ve simply fostered him out for the last two years while I’ve needed to focus on our human family as Emily underwent cancer treatment. The problem now is that the person who has cared for George these last two years (my ex-partner – which complicates the problem exponentially, but has also been a balm for our sometimes hostile connection) has grown to really love him. And because George is technically Joita’s dog, she still has him at one of her homes. The other problem is that while I knew that Emily was not an animal person per se, I didn’t realize how adamant her opposition to having a dog was. Once again, my timing is impeccable (sic). Because I engage in this ineffective practice of pushing away my needs until they detonate and backfire, I have the worst timing on earth. So I’ve pushed aside my need for a dog for two years. Emily has just barely completed her treatment, which is bound to have emotional consequences for her. Unfortunately, she is also losing the beloved home that sheltered her and us through so many things, not the least of which was her cancer. But I can see none of that because I’ve promised myself (with the urgency of a two year old) that as soon as she is done with cancer (are we there yet? are we there yet? are you done yet?) I will get my dog back! It should not be shocking that she is poorly disposed to my need at this time. At the same time, I feel I’ve suffered silently for 2 years now and can wait no longer.
This is more than just a battle of wills. If it were, I’d be at a distinct disadvantage because I’ve learned so well (and clearly believe) that my needs are so much less important, so much less valid, than anyone else’s. I can see clearly how I got here. I just don’t know how to do it differently or how to proceed from here. So my heart stays broken, my needs go unmet and I surround myself with the armor of martyrdom. Still trying to figure out how to get out of my own way. signed, dogless in a new town.