A happy 2013 to all of you! It has been a long time since I last updated this journal. I have felt rather private about my life lately and so I have mostly kept to myself other than Facebook posts. Dark of the Year has been tough for me this time, I won’t lie to you. I guess because the past few years were relatively easy in terms of deeper introspection and awareness, I got used to cruising and then this one just knocked me on my ass. It has been a struggle to take my own advice, the suggestions I give to my Life Coach clients about staying rooted in the present, focusing on one problem at a time, counting the things that are going right, and actively working to let my emotions be like “water over rocks.” This leaves me so grateful for the years of relative calm I have enjoyed and eager to get everything put in its rightful brain place so I can get back to a happier place. There is a relatively new saying that asserts, “Depression lies.” While I can see the value in that sentiment, I would also say that some of your deepest truths are found in depression if you know where to look.
I have deleted this column easily 20 times or more. I keep writing and erasing as I further refine the lessons I have gathered from the past few months. The more I write it, the more I learn and that makes some of what I write obsolete before it even gets posted. I am going to give this another go and who knows? Maybe this one will hit the presses – or the next one… or the one after that. See why it takes me so long to write a book? I am already on my 10th or 12th edition before the first is even released.
Here’s one of my famous metaphors to get this show on the road: There is a shortcut to my road from the main road that goes up around 1000 feet in altitude over about a half-mile’s travel. The width of the road is just barely 2 cars and there is a big cliff on one side for most of the distance. At the bottom of the shortcut where it joins the main road, you have to crane your neck back over your right shoulder to see if any cars are coming to kill you as you go onto the main road. For years now, Eric has asked me, “Is anything coming?” I will look, tell him, “No,” and – get this – he will then look himself to verify. I have asked him repeatedly why he does this and he always says something like, “Oh, just habit.” o.O “THEN WHY DO YOU ASK ME?” “Because I want a second set of eyes!” It’s an ongoing irritation of mine and he still does it to this day. One day, I was riding with my friend, Jennifer King, and we came to the bottom of Logan’s Grade (the shortcut). She asked me, “Are we clear?” I looked and said, “Yes” and she gunned onto the main drag. I about had a heart attack. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU ARE GOING TO GET US KILLED!!” She was stunned by my clearly disproportionate reaction and said, “You said we were clear!” In that stunning moment of clarity, I realized the stupidity of the situation, but I couldn’t see it until I experienced a different situation like someone trusting me and believing that I could look at a road and effectively determine whether or not a car was coming. I have said it before and I will say it again: “If you live in Crazytown long enough, they will make you the mayor.” Just because something is what is “normal” for you and you’re used to it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or even “not nuts.” It could, in fact, be very bad.
In the past year or so, I have cultivated some new friendships and they have been a stark contrast to a lot of my existing friendships. Don’t get me wrong. I know some amazing people and I am honored to have them in my life. I have, however, through nothing more than residual insecurities on my part, created dynamics in some of my friendships that are not healthy. I couldn’t see that until I had something to compare it to and the clarity was just as breath-taking as that moment when I was in Jen’s car at the bottom of Logan’s Grade.
I was raised in such a way that the sum total of your worth in the world was what you could give to and do for other people. That has been ingrained into my psyche from an early age on. I clearly remember a moment when I was around six that my mother picked me up and sat me onto a yellow, metal step stool that she kept by the stove and said, “Well honey, you aren’t much to look at, so we are going to have to teach you to cook for you to get a husband.” For the next several months, I would sit on the stool and watch her cook until I could do it myself. Mind you, the real message of this experience should have been, “In approximately four years, I am going to start going in and out of the hospital a LOT and you are going to have to cook for and take care of your dad and brothers, so watch me.” She would not know that and in the interest of full disclosure, when I was an adult I brought this memory back to my mother and she absolutely insisted it never happened; that she would never, ever say such a thing. The fact is that I learned to cook from somewhere and the fact is that my six-year-old brain would not have the resources to invent such a memory out of scratch. I also know that my mother had a brain tumor growing for years that, when it was removed after I was an adult, was approximately the size of a lemon. No telling what kind of pressure that was putting on vital brain functioning apparatuses in her head. Regardless, that was one of the ways that what I could do for someone (and how I look) become conditioned in me as important as opposed to who I am in the world having its own worth.
Many of you know that over the past few years, I have been a student of the process of “My shit” and “Your shit,” and learning to separate out what problems I need to work on personally and what problems belong to other people and should be managed with a sympathetic tilt of the head, a meaningful “Awwww,” and a hug. Part of MY shit is that I have previously created dynamics in my relationships where I am the giver and nothing is required in return. I have even laughingly used the words, “Don’t worry. I’m the easy friend. I’m the soft place to fall.”
Where did that leave me, though?
It left me being the one who was the giver and never receiving much back in return. My friend, Vicky, for instance, will send me a Facebook message and say, “I was going through some things in my house and I found this and thought of you. Can I bring it up?” My son, David, will – knowing I’m making a full dinner for Eric, Me, Delena, Dylan, Nathan, Him, Amber (his girlfriend), and Davin (her son) – will bring me a sandwich from Arby’s and say, “Here. I thought you would enjoy this.” My friend, Jackie, will say, “I was going through my jewelry and I’m cleaning out a bunch of it. Wanna have some fun looking through it to see what you want?” My friend, Karen, lives in New York and has been without internet for weeks (it feels like years). She will sit and peck out message on her phone’s tiny keyboard (and we are OLD so this is no easy feat) just to maintain contact with me because she values my company. My friend, Jennifer, that reckless driver who trusted me to, I dunno, see cars coming, handed me a bracelet and said, “Here, I made this for you.” The first few times these things happened, I almost cried. I was so touched that someone would do anything just for me because they cared and they valued me. Slowly, I am getting used to people who give back.
Until I experienced friendships where people were there for me on an ongoing basis and gave back to me the way I gave to them, I couldn’t see how little many of the people in my life do for me. This revelation was apparent to me just as quickly and intensely as that moment in the car with Jen. My feelings were a little hurt with that knowledge, certainly, but it passed quickly and mostly I was disappointed in myself. It made me sad that I thought so little of myself that I did not feel I had anything enough to offer on my own merit. I had to over-extend, over-give, settle for less, and give until I had nothing left to give in order to be worthy of love and friendship. If I gave and gave, they wouldn’t go away and would be my friend always. If I could be the “easy” friend, they would always be my friend. These relationship dynamics were fueled by nothing more than my own insecurities and it was certainly not the fault of the other people who would take advantage of what I was perfectly willing to give. Who could blame them? I am sure it is wonderfully convenient and lovely to have a friend will dispense meals and readings and counseling and attention on demand, but can be effectively ignored the rest of the time. The litmus to define this type of relationship is this: When you are there for everyone else, but find that when you cry, you cry alone, you’ve got a big problem and honestly, it’s not everyone else: it’s you.
To give credit where credit is due, this is something Eric has tried to point out to me for years and I have repeatedly denied was the case. He has often pointed out that a lot of the people into whom I invest time and energy do not respond in kind. I would always dismiss his concerns and tell him I was fine… I loved these people and didn’t mind giving to them. He would tell me that wasn’t the problem. The problem is that if you give and give and do not receive, you’re going to become depleted and then you can’t give to the people who are giving back to you. He would tell me that it wasn’t fair and I would tell him that friendships are not about fairness and balance. He was right. I was wrong.
These lessons processed over a few months’ time, from October until this past week when it manifested into a true depression. My depression was not about anything my friends had or had not done directly, but about the low expectations I set up for myself. I was vastly disappointed in myself and really thought I knew better than to set up friendships that are little more than an emotional slot machine where you pay in and pay in and pay in on the off chance that you’ll hit jackpot and get something back.
I have been working on a book for a year or so now called When I Die, Just Bury Me at the Wal*Mart and it is specifically about the ways that women martyr themselves to their families, often when their families do not need or want them to do so. The book addresses the detriment and toxicity of resentment and how it contaminate relationships when expectations are placed on people without their consent or knowledge. I had never thought of extending this concept to friendships, but it makes perfect sense that if you have a particular dynamic in a few of your interpersonal relationships, you will probably develop that same dynamic in their other close relationships. That was quite an “Aha!” moment.
Often, when I write about something painful in my journal, it is so I can bleed all over the paper and purge myself and “get it out.” Just as often, I find that once it’s posted, messages pour in from people saying, “I DO THE SAME THING!” and thanking me for shining a light on the problem. I don’t write these columns for that purpose, but it sure is nice when someone connects with what I’ve said and then neither of us feels quite as alone in the problem.
On the off chance that this is happening now, I want to include a list of indicators that spring into my mind that could indicate that you are sucked into an imbalanced relationship. Let me know how many of these feel familiar to you. Who knows? You might even be guilty of them and need a wake up call. Let’s hope that in either case, we are all self-aware enough to know our own frailties and course correct, making adjustments as needed to create healthier dynamics in our friendships. Always remember, though, how easy it is to fall back into the same, familiar behaviors again. You have to remain mindful and really live with those changes to make it work. Sadly, sometimes it involves distancing or even ending an unhealthy relationship to save yourself, just like amputating a part of your body that cannot be healed and is endangering your life.
- Does your friend go weeks or months at a time without contacting you and then get in touch with out as if no time passed and expect that you have been patiently waiting for their return?
- Do you have to presume that your friends appreciate and respect you or do they tell you and show you on an ongoing basis?
- Does your friend ask you or expect you to provide professional services for free or at a discounted price without without offering any kind of compensation in return? If you mention the price you normally charge for such services, are the suddenly no longer interested in receiving the service?
- If you prepare a meal for your friend, do they clean up after the meal is done? Do they cook for you as well?
- If you go out to eat with your friend, who pays? Do you split the bill or trade off expenses fairly and equally on an ongoing basis?
- Does your friend engage in bullshit competitiveness with you in order to feed their own ego?
- Does your friend ignore obligations to you and cause you to have to contact them to find out why they did not do what you agreed to do or get a status update?
- If you are involved in a project with your friend, do they invest as much time, energy, and effort into the project as you do?
- Is your friend available enough to you on an ongoing basis that you would feel comfortable calling or messaging them if you need emotional support?
- Is your friend in your life because they feed your ego in some way (you’re prettier, smarter, wealthier, etc and enjoy seeing the contrast)?
- Would your friend be comfortable bringing you into their other social circles or are you isolated to a safe place in their life?
- Do you ever feel as though you must explain away your friend’s behavior or lack of equity in the relationship?
- If you open up to your friend about what you need in a friendship or tell them that something they did hurt hurt you, do they apologize and then go back to “business as usual” or do they apologize and genuinely course correct to change the hurtful behavior? Do they make amends and truly seem to hear your words?
- When you do speak to your friend, is your conversation more about you or more about them?
- Does your friend ever acknowledge their behavior and say, “I’m sorry. I have been a bad friend. You are important to me and I want to be a better friend to you if you will give me a chance” if they have been a slacker friend and then truly change their behavior to be a more conscientious friend?
- Do you truly feel important in your friend’s life and know that they value you as a person or do you feel like an afterthought?
As I have taken these things into consideration and looked at some of the patterns of behavior in my long-term relationships, some have come out shining and some have truly been lacking in mutual support. I know that any time you change a relationship dynamic and shift what you expect from a person, it is a challenging experience for everyone concerned. Far from pointing fingers or blaming anyone other than myself, my resolution to this issue is that I will embrace the friendships that fulfill me and give back as good as they get. I will invest my energy into the friendships that are balanced and strong. I will acknowledge that I need equality in a relationship and that I am worth that much. I will not offer to anyone what I will later resent. I will not place expectations on someone beyond what they have demonstrated they are able to give, but I will not take close to me people who are a one way street.
That means re-establishing some dancing distances and the good is that this can mostly be done in your head without really troubling anyone with some grand pronouncement. You simply stop being available to the people who want things from you unless they are offering a reasonable compensation and you invest your time into the people who are there for you on an ongoing basis. To illustrate, I have created a sort of Veng diagram to show who gets in my inner circle:
Thanks to Professor Hayes for teaching me how to type on a path.
I am now officially demanding more from my relationships. I want friends who are going to be there for me on an ongoing basis and if they are wrapped up in life or other stuff, will make a point to let me know, “Hey, I’m going to disappear for a bit, but I’ll be back with stories to tell! You’re important to me and I want you in my life.” Anything less and I will presume the person is letting me know that they are intentionally backing off from me and I will release them with love and blessings.
I want friends who are invested in me and value me for who I am, not what I can do for them. I am not an overly needy person and I do not require a great deal of hand-holding. I don’t need any stalker people to track my every move and call me every day. In fact, I hate the phone passionately. I’m an email person. I do, however, need people who are willing to be there for me as much as I am there for me.
I need friends who do not take me for granted and who appreciate having me in their lives. I don’t need to be tolerated by anyone. If you don’t like me, I’m good with that. Goddess bless ya. I do not work aggressively at “fixing” relationships. It’s working or it’s not. Unless you are paying my bills, I don’t pacify. I don’t keep people around to take up space. My goal is to surround myself with people who genuinely like being in my life. I want to be in friendships where we walk away from our visits with both of us feeling blessed to know the other one.
All of this is not to say that I am leaving behind the friends with whom my dynamic is less than healthy. I am simply pulling back my energy and letting things work out as they will. I have to do what I always advise my clients to do (do as I say, not as I do, people), which is to never give more than I can give without resentment. I am not attaching expectations onto what I give, so if I offer something to you, do not believe that there are strings attached and look back on this journal entry and feel uncomfortable. On the contrary, it means that I am offering it to you with my whole heart. On the other hand, if you ask me for a generosity or a consideration, please do not be offended if I say no. It simply means that I do not have enough to give at that time. It’s not a lack of love; it’s a lack of resources. These are all lessons I already know. I just have to get back in touch with their value and re-institute them into my life. I have to think enough of me that I keep my reserves up and do not give more than I can afford to let go. I have to think enough of others that I do not place expectations on them that they are not prepared to fulfill.
So that’s that part.
Aside from all of that processing, life changed a good bit during 2012. In August, my 8-year-old grandson, Aiden, spent a good bit of time with us while his dad worked and looked for work. It was a child care situation. Aiden is a very sweet, but very angry young man and it was challenging. It was also very, very expensive and that and Christmas have left us in a temporarily financially compromised situation. We thought that more help would be coming than what did, but situations conspired in such a way that neither his mother nor his father could contribute to his upkeep during his time spent with us. His mother has not contributed anything since she lost custody almost a year ago, so that was no surprise. Aiden went back to live with his dad again on December 23 as planned and is doing well. He is happy to be back in his old school again. He wore me out and I was like a limp washrag by the time he left. I love him to pieces and I am so grateful for the closeness we forged while he was here. It did, however, take every ounce of energy I had to keep going during that time. There’s a reason mothering is left to younger people than I am.
The tension and stress of the past several months has been incredible and they all seemed to culminate in late November and throughout December. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks trying to shake off the ick of those months and find my footing again. People continually ask me, “What’s wrong? Are you OK? What’s wrong?” and I cannot seem to come up with a kind answer to that. Like the natural disaster I mentioned early in this entry, I just don’t know where to start. I’m just done. I’ve been working hard to rebuild my resources and feel somewhat like me again.
That right there is my goal for the next few weeks, along with my weight loss focus that is documented at www.katrinarasbold.com/fatastic.
I am sure you can see why all of this was hard to get out there and hard to put into words that did not convey a harshness I do not feel. It simply “is” and I have to fix it in such a way that I can live in my own skin. Thank you for reading.