Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful ūüėČ

Breaking the cycle

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My soul and my heart have been CRAVING to write a blog entry…my brain on the other hand, has been getting in the way.¬† Every time I sit down to begin writing, I just feel so overwhelmed.

Ironically, leading up to the one year “anniversary” (can’t there be a different word for acknowledging a date that is bad???!!) of my ex-boyfriend being put into a coma, I was doing pretty okay.¬† March 15th loomed, but I felt like I was in a good place.¬† I decided rather than allowing myself to wallow in nostalgia, that I instead would try remind myself of how far I had come during the past 365 days.¬† And I really have come so far.¬† I currently have virtually no contact with him.¬† Even better, since my father has been released from the hospital, he has maintained sobriety.¬† It is crazy to think that I have no active alcoholics in my day to day life, and although I know that can change when it comes to my dad, I am enjoying it while I can.

I am also so in love.¬† It is still really hard for me to write about him…I don’t feel ready to share him with the “virtual world”, especially since our relationship is pretty private in “real life”.¬† I know as time goes on, I will write about him more and more, but for now all I can say is he is absolutely wonderful and treats me so amazingly well.¬† I am so happy with him being a part of my life.¬† I was fully prepared to be single for a very, very long time after going through what I did with my ex, but I guess it is true what people say about finding love when you are not looking for it and least expect it.

What did make March 15th a sad day for me was knowing how much my ex is still suffering and struggling.¬† After everything he went through, he is still not doing well.¬† I last heard from him a couple of months ago via text and he is dealing with a lot of mental health issues, as well as continuing to drink.¬† I honestly can say I do not feel any responsibility for him at all, but that does not mean I do not want him to be okay.¬† I will always worry about him and I truly want the best for him.¬† Looking back, his hospitalization, infidelity and alcoholism was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, but the fact of the matter is that I did get through it.¬† I did and finally broke the cycle of codependency in my life.¬† I won’t turn out like my mother and although it took me eight years to do it, I am proud of myself that I did.

So, things were pretty calm…and then this virus and quarantine happened.¬† Luckily, everyone I know is healthy, which I am so thankful for considering my sister is twelve weeks pregnant and my father’s health is very compromised.¬† The high school school where I work has shut down for two weeks (and I assume it will end up being longer), and I am doing distance teaching with my 11th grade English students.¬† It has only been a couple of days, but so far so good.¬† I am trying to be very optimistic for them, because this is such a scary time for all of us.¬† I worry that being quarantined and not really being able to go anywhere is going to trigger an agoraphobic episode for me, especially living alone.¬† I am trying to be proactive by staying busy around the house, walking, and doing schoolwork.¬† The only place I go is my sister’s house, which is two miles away.¬† This makes me feel like kind of a bad person in a way, but I am so relieved not to be stuck in the house with my ex-boyfriend during this time.¬† It is hard at times being alone, but I cannot imagine how stressful it would have been still living with him, confined to the house, with him drinking and behaving the way he was.

This is just so unprecedented and frightening, I keep thinking I am going to wake up tomorrow and will be able to go back to school and teach like normal. I am just going to do what everyone else is doing and take things as they come.¬† It is not easy to live that way when you struggle with an anxiety disorder, but this is a good lesson for me about not being able to control everything.¬† In fact, I think that is what this year taught me the most…that no matter how hard I try, most things are out of my control.

Hiding in plain sight

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I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight.  I have not been to one in probably almost 20 years.  At that time, I went because of my father’s alcoholism.  This time, it is about my ex-boyfriend.  I guess technically I am killing two birds with one stone.

The topic the speaker chose could not have been more perfect for me.  It was about feeling responsible for other people and not focusing on yourself.  For SO LONG I felt responsible for my boyfriend, especially at the end of our relationship when he was hospitalized and so ill.  I put him and his health and his alcoholism first and I knew he really needed me.  It was all about him, but really most of our relationship was that way.  He said something to me right after our dog died…he said, “I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of her, but I also knew that you would.”  I thought I was helping him, but really all I was doing was taking away any responsibilities or consequences.  In reality, I was making it very easy for him to drink, because he knew I would hold everything else together.

Someone in the meeting said that they often get lost in other people because it feels makes them feel safe.  I recognized that is exactly what I have been doing these past few months, since everything in my life became complete chaos.  My sister bought a house at the end of June and ALL I have done this summer is help her pack, move, decorate, etc her house.  I also have been helping her with her two year old daughter.  I obviously love spending time with my niece, but I know I have been hiding in their lives and their new home as a way of avoiding my own.  I also realize that I have been trying to do EVERYTHING for my sister, whether it be at her house or helping with the baby.  Another member of the Al-Anon group spoke tonight and said that they always want to be needed because if they are not doing things for other people, they feel worthless, like they have nothing else to offer.  That is how I feel about myself right now and I am aware that I have transferred a lot of my codependent tendencies from my exboyfriend to my sister.

So, here are my takeaways from tonight’s meeting…

  1. I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior.  I should not feel guilty that I can’t be supportive of someone who is harmful to my emotional well being. I am only responsible for myself.
  2. I cannot save anyone, especially those who do not want to save themselves; people need to face the consequences of their actions. 
  3. I have to stop trying to do everything for other people and start realizing I have more to offer.  People will still care about me and want to spend time with me, even if I am not “doing” things for them.  I have to stop needing to constantly feel needed.
  4. No. More. Hiding.  As much as I love my sister, my niece and their new lovely home, I must have my own life and enjoy the time I spend at my own house.

Here I go again on my own…sort of.

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The boundary between my exboyfriend and me is blurry at best.¬† I fluctuate between feeling so sad for him, being really concerned about his health and resenting the fact that I can’t just simply move on and focus on how I feel about everything that has happened these past two months.
Throughout the week after he moved back and our dog died, he kept telling me how sick he felt.¬† He claimed he couldn’t even drive himself to the doctor.¬† I initially dismissed it a little because I didn’t know if he was depressed or just weak from the coma or (worst case scenario) drinking.¬† He called me Thursday afternoon (which was May 2) and told me that the doctor called and said his white blood cell count was quadruple was it is supposed to be, indicating a serious infection.¬† He said his mother was flying in to take him back to the hospital the next morning.¬† I feared he had sepsis and told him I was going to come and get him and take him right away to the ER.¬† He finally agreed.¬† I went to his new apartment, something I never wanted to do, to help him pack a bag.¬† He looked AWFUL.¬† He was so skinny and weak, it took over an hour to get him to my car and I had to use a wheelchair to get him into the ER.¬† I stayed with him until 3 am and he was admitted into a room.¬† They diagnosed him with the same infection he had when he was in the coma.¬† He stayed in the hospital for another 20 days.¬† His mother only stayed for the first week.
I was so torn.  I felt terrible he was so sick and so alone.  But for 28 days, my life revolved around his health and I simply could not do that again.  I went to see him that first weekend, mostly out of concern and also obligation, and then did not visit again.  However, we texted and spoke on the phone every day.  He was finally discharged and his friend drove him home.
He has spent a total of 48 days in the hospital since March 15.¬† I feel like my life has been on hold for most of that time.¬† I “do” things, mostly around my house (redecorating the basement was a good, but expensive distraction) and hang out with my sister and niece, but I always feel an underlying sadness and guilt.
It occurred to me that he hasn’t lived with me for over two months now.¬† It is still an adjustment in so many big and small ways.¬† This morning when I woke up for work, I felt pressure on my waist and for a split second I thought it was his arm slung over my body.¬† It was my cat sleeping on top of me.¬† This has happened several times.¬† Yet, ironically, we didn’t cuddle a lot in bed.¬† Yet, I find myself in the middle of the night reaching my arm out to his side of the bed to touch his back and feel nothing but the cold sheets when his body used to be.
I know I need to not focus on just the things I miss about him.¬† I feel resentful that I never got to be a “regular girl” in that when I found out he was cheating on me by texting another woman very explicitly, I did not get a chance to yell at him and throw him out…because he was in a coma.¬† I never got the chance to be angry about all of the alcohol hidden in the basement…because he was in a coma.¬† Everything was about his health, but now it has been so long and his health is still a major concern.
I obviously still care about him.¬† I know we can’t be together.¬† He has to focus on his health and also his sobriety (which he hasn’t really done anything about)¬† and I need time to heal.¬† Yet, over the weekend, I was talking to him and he sounded SO lonely.¬† I was about to go to the dog park with my niece, my sister and her friend (who has two dogs) and I invited him to come, sort of expecting him to say no.¬† He said yes and I went and picked him up.¬† His appearance was startling.¬† Within two months, he has lost over 50 pounds and looks so gaunt and pale.¬† He was always so muscular and had thick, strong legs.¬† Now he can put his two hands around his thigh and they touch.¬† He walks slowly, like an old man.¬† I felt so many different emotions when I saw him.¬† My sister and her friend both hugged him when we met them at the park and I realized when I entered his apartment, I did not.¬† In some ways, I feel detached.¬† In other ways, I feel OVER involved.
On Memorial Day, I went to my friend’s pool.¬† It was the first really nice day, warm and sunny.¬† He texted me in the afternoon saying how nice it was out and reluctantly, I invited him over, since my sister and niece were there too.¬† He did not respond and it instantly affected my mood.¬† I was not able to enjoy myself anymore, because I felt guilty and worried.¬† Ironically, I was reading a book while laying on a lounge chair about how to overcome being a codependent and the chapter was on “detachment”.¬† I am having a really hard time with that process, obviously.¬† I can’t help but still feel responsible for him, knowing he really has nobody else.¬† I picture him sitting alone in his apartment and I feel SO bad.
But then I think, HE should be the one suffering the consequences of his actions and choices.¬† He was the one who drank, he was the one who betrayed my trust, he was the one who neglected his health…I feel like if he had not almost died, I would feel differently because I would allow myself to be mad.¬† Good- he should be lonely and miserable.¬† I don’t know how to get there.¬† I keep telling my friends “once he is better, I can move on and stop talking to him and checking on him.”¬† I need to, but it is so hard to let go completely.

Need vs. Want

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I have always had a hard time putting my own needs first and I am also too much of a people pleaser.  When my exboyfriend left a little over a week ago to stay with his parents, I was so devastated to say goodbye, but I have to admit that I felt a little relief.  Relief that the ordeal in the hospital was over and relief that I no longer had to live with an alcoholic.  Once he was gone, I thought that I would be able to start dealing with everything that happened- the endless hours in the hospital, fearing he would die, learning about another woman, adjusting to living alone again.  Yet, once he was gone, I continued talking and texting with him.  Part of it was that I missed him.  Even though things were not good with us for a while and his alcoholism had taken over, I still truly loved him and we were together for almost nine years.  But the other part of it was that I felt a sense of responsibility for him and I was invested in his health and his recovery process.  Looking back on it, I probably should have cut off or limited our communication when he left.  I realize now that all I was doing was continuing to dwell in the trauma of what happened.  As long as I focused on him, I did not have to address my own feelings of sadness and anger and loneliness. I assumed as long as he was 750 miles away, it was “safe” to continue talking to him.

He just told me a couple of days ago that he is already coming back this week and rented an apartment about two miles from my house.  I am anxious about this for so many different reasons.  Obviously, I feel like he made this decision with me in mind.  I have not given him any false hope that we will be together again.  In fact, I have expressed my concerns that he hasn’t done anything related to recovery since he left the hospital and it is too soon for him to come back and to live alone.  I am nervous and paranoid that I am going to run into him every time I leave my house.  That is not a comfortable feeling for someone who suffers from anxiety.

I thought about it overnight and called him back and told him that we need to stop communicating.  He needs to focus on himself and I need to start focusing on myself and dealing with everything that happened.  The key word is “need”.  I keep trying to make him understand that this is what I truly NEED.  Of course I WANT to support him and help him and be there for him and even spend time with him…but I know if that happens, I will get sucked back into his problems and continue to enable him.  He basically told me that he understands what I am telling him, but that he doesn’t know if he can not speak to me or have me be a part of his life.  I realized I have to be much more firm and told him that if he does not give me the space I NEED, that I will end up resenting him.  The more he tries to force and push himself into my life, the more I feel scared and anxious. He just does not seem to be accepting the fact that our relationship is over.  It is not what I wanted…I never wanted ANY of this.  But I know, without a doubt, that I have to put myself first and that I am not ready to forgive him for the way he hurt me and affected our relationship.  I cannot revolve my life around his recovery journey.  Our relationship has been about him for so long.  I just need space and time to figure things out for myself and work through everything that happened.  I just wish I didn’t have to do that with him living down the street.

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Remembering…

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This is going to sound incredibly weird and very morose and a little disturbing, but I created this blog to be completely honest with myself and with anyone¬†who happens to read it. ¬†Sometimes when I am in bed at night and I am having trouble falling asleep, I imagine writing and delivering my father’s eulogy. ¬†My father is still alive, yet I have been doing this for years. ¬†I just realized that I have never even told my therapist that I do this!

I picture myself looking out among the mourners who have gathered in a funeral home to say goodbye to my dad, with my mother and sister sitting in the front row. ¬†I imagine that I am up at a podium, dressed in all black. ¬†Every single time I picture this scenario, I begin¬†by saying, “My father was not a very good man…” ¬† I envision that the already quiet room goes completely still. ¬†Some people who are there do not know the whole truth about my father. ¬†The rest of the eulogy changes from time to time…different stories, different memories, but for the most part it goes like this:

“My father was not a very good man. ¬†As many of you know, my father struggled with alcoholism for the majority of his adult life. ¬†This impacted and complicated many of the relationships he had with those of you here, but mostly this had a horrible¬†effect on our family. ¬†My father did a lot of terrible, hurtful, unspeakable things to us. ¬†But I can stand here and tell you one thing with 100% certainty. ¬†My father loved me. ¬†He loved my mother and he loved my sister. ¬†He would have done anything in the world for us. ¬†I never have questioned this fact. ¬†And I- we- loved him, too. ¬†I know the irony of this statement, but I also remember the man my father was before he started drinking. ¬†So many of my happy childhood memories included him. ¬†He was the ‘fun’ dad…the one who would pile all the neighborhood kids into the wagon¬†of his tractor and pull¬†us up and down the street. ¬†He was the dad who would do an amazing cannonball into the pool and then would spend countless hours throwing my sister and I up into the air so we would splash into the water. ¬†He was the dad who impulsively bought a Porsche, but got the model with the tiny backseat, so my sister and I could squeeze in and go for rides with him. ¬†I have so many memories of being in that car, him blasting “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer and steering the wheel with his knee…”

This is about how far I normally get before I fall asleep. ¬†I have often wondered why I do this, but maybe it is just to remind myself that for all of the bad, there has been some good. ¬†I have a poor memory and often cannot remember my early childhood memories. ¬†Over the years, I have stopped trying to do so because so many of them are painful. ¬†Perhaps this is my way of recalling that life with my father has not been¬†all bad…and that some of it is worth remembering.

Thankful…

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Things have been a little crazy lately.  My boyfriend and I definitely hit a rough patch and the holidays are always a little stressful.  On top of that, I am traveling to D.C. next week, which is triggering A LOT of travel anxiety.  It is so easy to get disheartened by the negative things, but I am really making an effort to look at the positive things in life.  My friend is having a baby girl, my dad is still doing pretty well, I have really nice students this year, things with my boyfriend are looking up.  I do have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Over this past weekend, I met a girl at a party. ¬†We had talked very briefly once before, we are about the same age and¬†I knew she was a teacher, so I figured we had some things in common. ¬†We ended up talking in the corner for over an hour and I confided things in her that I normally would never tell a stranger- she also is divorced, so she understood things that many other people do not in my life. ¬†She was so sweet and easy to talk to and we had a very similar history as far as the timeline of our marriages and divorces go. ¬†This girl is now engaged (her fianc√© is actually my boyfriend’s best friend’s good friend, which is how I happened to meet her). ¬†It really surprised me how open I was with her. ¬†I guess at this point I don’t have anything to hide and I am not ashamed by anything that I have experienced. ¬†It was just really nice to talk to someone with a different perspective, who could still really relate to my life. ¬†The only thing that made me kind of upset was how excited she is to get married again and how happy she kept saying she is. ¬†I don’t know if I really feel that way…I mean, I don’t know if I would ever want to get married again and the fact that she is so eager to marry her fianc√© made me question whether I would want to get married if I was with “the right person”. ¬†I’m not saying my boyfriend isn’t that person- he is so supportive of me, but we definitely have problems and her relationship just seems…easy. ¬†Now I have definitely learned not to take other people’s lives and relationships at face value, but she genuinely seemed so happy and in love and kept saying what a nice guy her fianc√© is. ¬†I feel like I was so traumatized by my divorce that I don’t know if I would ever risk having to go through that again. ¬†But one thing we both said is that we both saw red flags going into our first marriages (and ignored them, obviously). ¬†She clearly sees no red flags now with her new husband, but I feel like I see some in my relationship now that would make me a little hesitant to make that commitment again. ¬†Meeting her just made me think about how much my life has changed in the past ten years and how I really don’t know what is going to happen and maybe I just have to be okay with that right now. ¬†I mean, I never, ever thought my father would go this long without drinking, so it just goes to show you that life has a way of throwing curveballs.

So, I am going focus on being thankful this Thanksgiving.  Instead of being too scared to travel, I am going to try to remember how lucky I am to be able to go to D.C. with my boyfriend (who I know will help me get through my anxiety to get there) and his family, who has embraced me in so many ways.

Parent Therapy

I called my father this morning just to say hi. He told me that he was very upset because he and my mother got into a giant argument last night. Apparently, things got very heated and he said he was afraid my mom was going to hit him. This is absolutely mind-boggling if you know anything about my family (long story short, my father abused my mother for many years during drunken rages, but had stroke last year and stopped drinking and is pretty calm now and my mom would literally never hurt a fly). I tried to explain to him that my mother has A LOT of hostility towards him (rightfully so) and that he has to be more patient and less critical of her.

Then I called my mom to hear “her side”. She said that she just lost it during the argument and felt like she snapped. She said she finally walked out of the room and went to bed because she felt like she couldn’t breathe. This has been a recurring health problem of hers lately that I am thinking might be attributed to stress. I talked to her for quite some time and told her my opinion, which is this…

For whatever her reasons were, she decided to stay with him through all those years of abuse. No one, least of all me, thought my father would EVER stop drinking, but he did. Now, he is not currently going to win any father of the year or husband of the year awards, but things are much better than they were before. As far as I see it, my mom has three choices: 1) leave him now, which I know she won’t do 2) continue their relationship like it currently is and continue having health problems that are stress induced 3) learn to communicate with him and develop a civil relationship that ultimately is beneficial for her, for him and for our entire family. This is definitely “practice what you preach” advice because I had to make that choice in regards to my own relationship with my father. After the stroke when he became sober, I had to decide if I wanted the years of disappointment and bitterness towards my dad to continue or if I wanted to try to move past it and develop a relationship with him. I am a realist and know that I can’t just forget the terrible things he did when I was growing up, but I am grateful to have the chance to make some new, happier memories with him now. I have also had years and years (15!) of therapy, which I think has helped immensely when it comes to this.

I just worry about my mom ALL the time. I am scared something is going to happen to her because of the constant confrontation with my father. Stress affects your body in so many ways and it is really starting to cause noticeable health problems for my mother. I hate that the tide has turned and that I now worry about my parents the way they have always worried about me…it’s really hard.

Wait…what?

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Lately I have have been having difficulty thinking of certain words I want to say. I’m speaking and get halfway through a sentence and I know the word I want to say, but it just won’t come out. It is very frustrating, especially considering the fact that I am a teacher (and currently working as an adjunct at a university during the summer). I do think that I am much more aware of it happening than anyone else. Once I pointed it out to my boyfriend, he does notice it now, but he didn’t really before.

I spoke to my therapist about it because we have talked often throughout the years about my “fuzzy” memory (that is putting it nicely and mildly!!) She thinks that this particular problem could be attributed to stress…story of my life! I have been worrying excessively lately as well (just about dumb, silly things) and I’m hoping that is the cause.

Has this happened to anyone else before? I am hoping it is a passing phase, but I am going to the doctor for a physical anyway and I am going to mention it to him (and I have started taking ginkgo biloba…I figure it can’t hurt!). I wish with all these memory problems I have that I could forget to worry and stress out about stuff!!