Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

Mad

I’m so fucking angry all the time. This is not a comfortable emotion for me. I have always historically been a crier. No matter what the situation, my gut reaction was to get upset and cry. Not anymore. Sometimes I think I just have no more tears to cry. And when they dried up, I became filled with rage instead.

I feel so shut off from everyone right now. Part is that is self-preservation and protection. I am escaping into myself by withdrawing from people and situations and emotions. The other part is that I find myself just wanting to lash out. At times when I would normally be sympathetic or be able to show that I care, I feel myself harden, the anger percolating dangerously close to the surface.

This started- no surprise- right after M. died. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, at least to me. People tell me that “it doesn’t matter HOW he died, the end result is the same”. I am consumed by it. I still NEED to know. I drive to work drafting emails in my head to send to his mother, sometimes demanding the truth, other times begging for it. I read so much after he died about the stages of grief, desperate to understand. Denial…check. That lasted a couple of weeks. Then came anger aaaannnnd I’m still there. Stuck. I kind of feel like I moved through the other stages, but kept anger tucked in my back pocket. It is a weird comfort, years of pent up anger finally being unleashed, but it is directed all the wrong places. It is like a firecracker- scalding hot and bright red and then it explodes and just goes everywhere.

I have always avoided anger. The absolute worst feeling is knowing or thinking someone is mad at me. And I seldom get mad at anyone, even if I have just cause. It just has never been my go-to emotion. Now, I don’t know how to stop being mad. And I get angry at the dumbest things. I feel like I have been pushing people away, especially my boyfriend. And I don’t even know how to explain to them why because I don’t understand it. It seems too simple (or like a lame excuse) to say, “I’m angry because M. died”. But I’m SO ANGRY BECAUSE M. DIED.

The worst part is I feel mean. I know I’m hurting people who care about me and who genuinely want to make sure I’m okay. And I know I’m doing it in the moment and I don’t care. That is the complete opposite of who I normally am as a person. The person I am pushing away the most is my boyfriend, who is so lovely and wonderful and probably so very, very confused. I just don’t know how to articulate how I feel (which is also very unlike me). My anxiety is so bad right now I just want to be left alone and I know if I continue to act like this, I am literally going to be left and alone.

Love hard

I think I love my boyfriend too much. I have never felt like this before. I am like a teenager who has a major crush. Sometimes I just find myself just staring at him and I always want to touch him. It is sweet, but it also makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel vulnerable and it is hard to think about how much it would hurt to lose him.

When I was in college, I dated a guy for a couple of years. He treated me really well, but his family was also very supportive of me during a time when my own family was incredibly dysfunctional. When he ended our relationship, I was completely heartbroken. He made a fleeting comment that has stuck with me, even 20 years later. He said something about me putting him on too much of a pedestal and how it put so much pressure on him. He was a great boyfriend, especially considering our ages at the time, but I think I allowed myself to depend on him too much. I became needy, which is never a very attractive quality to have.

I am very independent. Before meeting my current boyfriend, I was fine being single. I have never really been someone who needed to be in a relationship. In fact, after my divorce and after my other long term relationship ended, I wanted that time to myself, to focus on myself.

I think part of the issue is that I really just think my boyfriend is amazing. He is the sweetest, kindest, hardest working, most responsible man I have ever been with. It’s a good problem to have. But…it still feels like a problem. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is like I need to pinch myself that this is real- that this is really the relationship I am in. I dealt with so much drama and pain in the past and it is still hard to believe that a relationship can be so healthy and good and easy and drama-free. We have only gotten into a couple of disagreements and neither manifested into a fights. That is very foreign to me, as my previous relationships were full of conflict and arguments.

I have written before about my lack of self-worth. Obviously, I think that plays a role in this. There is a part of me that truly feels like I do not deserve someone as good as him. It is just crazy that I look at this man and feel what I feel. It isn’t just attraction. It isn’t the “newness” of it- we have been together for almost two years. I don’t know how else to explain it besides I just feel like I love him too much.

I read an article about the “dangers” of loving someone too much and I feel like I am pretty introspective (20+ years of therapy will do that!) and am honest with myself. I tried to see myself and our relationship in the examples, but none of it fit. I have good boundaries with him, am still very independent, and have a full social life outside of our relationship. Hs is with his children several days/nights a week and I keep very busy. I can see his flaws (look, even though he is wonderful, he still makes mistakes) and I don’t think he takes me for granted (this has been a problem I encountered in other relationships). I think the only one that stood out to me was that he might end up feeling smothered. Like I am going to be like that cartoon girl who picks up the cats and hugs them too hard and they hate her. I don’t want him to feel pressure that he is responsible for my happiness and well-being because he is not. I say I can’t imagine how I would survive losing him, but the realistic part of me knows that I would because I have gotten through very difficult times and lived to tell about it.

I think it is the vulnerability that scares me the most. Loving him makes me feel weak and out of control. My anxiety does not enjoy that feeling. The LAST thing I want or need is to be in another codependent relationship. I probably need to just stop analyzing things so much and actually just allow myself to he happy and enjoy being in such a great relationship.

Doing good.

I read a fiction novel over the summer and one of the characters had an internal dialogue that really stood out to me. It may seem strange to feel connected to the feelings of a character who is not real, but I guess the English teacher in me knows you can feel inspiration from any type of writing. This is what she thought…

“For years, I’d told myself that doing good meant I was good. That doing better made me better. Yet looking back I can’t help by wonder if family dynamics, insecurities, and jealousies had warped me to the point where I no longer knew if I did things because I wanted to or because it was what pleased someone I loved. And if the latter, then what did that mean, and who was I, really? Was I someone with the courage to do what needed to be done when it wouldn’t please others?”

I have written blogs about being a people pleaser and sort of explored why I think I am one, but I never really addressed how it makes me FEEL. Doing things to help the people I care about does often make me happy, but it also really sucks sometimes. There are times when someone mentions something they need or want and if I am not able to do it, I feel guilty. For example, if my sister complains about her house being messy and chaotic because she has two kids under four and her fiancee works long hours, I feel immediately guilty that I am not there helping her. It is almost like a compulsion to do things for people and it can sometimes interfere with my own life and time. It is almost like if I have free time, I feel bad. I push my own needs and wants to the back burner in order to be available to others. I also feel like people, understandably, take advantage of this trait. I think that many people who are people pleasers are also looking for praise and validation and many times the gratitude I receive is underwhelming for the amount of time and effort I put in. I sometimes find myself doing things for people that they never even asked for and I become more stressed about getting it done than they are. I know that I am doing this to myself, but it is really a difficult habit to break.

I love when people describe me as being “nice” because to me that is synonymous with “good” and oftentimes I do not feel good enough. I think a lot of this goes back to me never really being able to address my own needs or put myself first. It is exhausting trying to make everyone like you, to being agreeable and helpful all the time. I know that this must be linked to my (unfortunately) extensive amount of experience as a codependent. Boundaries have never been my strong suit. Saying no is REALLY difficult.

Urban Dictionary defines this as the “disease to please”. That is pretty funny and clever, but also kind of sad. I know for me that this stems from being a child of an alcoholic. In an article about people pleasers in Psychology Today, the author states that, “Many of us have experienced painful, out-of-control conflicts with loved ones. We worry that disagreeing or arguing will destroy our relationships, that others will get so angry with us that they’ll leave us. It’s understandable and common to want to avoid conflict. But it’s not helpful or possible. When we avoid conflict, we suppress our feelings, wants, and needs. And this causes us to disconnect from ourselves and from others (we can’t be emotionally intimate when we don’t express our feelings). So, the more we try to avoid conflict, the more we lose touch with ourselves (our interests, hobbies, friends, goals, and so on), which is why people-pleasers and codependents often feel like they don’t know what they want or like.”

Like with many things, I am a work in progress. I do truly believe that I am a good person, a nice person. But I also know that there are reasons that people do the things they do and that self-awareness is the first step to addressing the problem. I am trying to be more cognizant of when- and why- I do the things I do.

Memories: Part 1

Dear M,

All throughout the day, I think about how I want to write to or about you. It is just so, so difficult to actually DO it. I have so much I want to tell you or things I want to write about you- about us- but now that I am sitting here, I have writer’s block. I think it also makes it real. If I am writing about you being gone…that means you are gone. How is that possible? It has only been two months since you passed away and I can already feel vivid memories of you fading away. I want to remember everything about you. It feels like the harder I try to recall certain things, the harder it is, almost like they just have to come to me organically. So many things remind me of you.

It’s crazy because I think throughout the day how I want to talk to you, but even if you were alive, we were not communicating like that. I see something funny or a meme or a news story and my gut reaction is to text you. Then I remember.

Baseball season is starting. I think a lot about all the things you won’t ever do again- like watch another opening pitch or take your nephew to his first Yankees game and buy him a hot dog and souvenir. Obviously anything related to baseball or MLB reminds me of you. I remember when we went to the new Yankee stadium for the tour. It was such a beautiful day and I have those photos of you and us in the dugout. When you got your new job, I remember decorating the house with baseball balloons and cupcakes and plates and decorations and big league chew packets. The people at the party store probably thought I was having a party for a seven year old 🙂 Even though going to games at the stadium were fun, my favorite memories were us on the deck. You would bring your computer out and stream the game. The dog (and sometimes the cat) would sleep at our feet in the sun. Sometimes you would grill and when it got dark out, we would turn on the strands of lights and burn citronella candles. I remember us hanging those lights- it is such a funny memory. We spent an hour positioning them around the deck, stapling them so carefully to the posts. When I flicked them on for the first time, it was beautiful. Then you went to adjust one and got shocked and the whole strand blew out. You were so angry and frustrated, but we both managed to laugh about it. Then we tried again, but used clips instead and they are all still hanging to this day. The little black mark is still on the vinyl of the house from where the bulb exploded.

Last night, I was reading old emails between us before I fell asleep. I haven’t been able to do that- or to look at letters or cards or anything like that, so it felt like a step. It was so bittersweet to see the evolution of our relationship, from hooking up to starting to care about each other, to becoming “official”, to the struggles of being long distance, to you moving in with me, etc. Many of them were mundane, everyday, silly conversations, but a lot of them were about feelings (or “feeeelings” as you would sarcastically say lol).

One of the first serious emails was from November of 2011 and in it I wrote to you: “I know you think this world wouldn’t really be drastically different without you in it…but please know that MY life would be missing something if I didn’t have you.”

Several people have said to me that I had to have seen your death coming. I didn’t. I really, honestly didn’t. I’m so angry that in some ways if does seem like the world is not drastically different without you in it. I want to yell from mountaintops and tell random strangers that you are gone and about your life. He existed! I know there was nothing on social media, I know there was not an obituary, but he died!

But, my love, the other thing I wrote is undisputedly true- MY world is missing something without you in it. It is forever changed and will never be the same. I will never be the same. And I promise to try to hold on to every single memory that I can.

LET ME TELL YOU…

In the past few weeks, my boyfriend has (quite innocently) forgotten to tell me about some changes in his schedule and a trip he booked with his children. It is not a big deal and he certainly does not need my approval for anything. It does bother me a tiny bit, just because I feel like I try to tell him everything.

And therein lies problem number one. I am an oversharer. I tend to tell people too much about the details of my life. I read that people who overshare tend to be narcissistic (I don’t think that’s me) or feel inadequate (oh, that’s all me!). I have a really hard time making boundaries and I also am a people pleaser and want people to like me.

I almost said to my boyfriend, “in my last relationship, we told each other everything” and thankfully stopped myself. Yes, we told each other the minute details of our day to day lives- how his commute was, funny things my students said, what we ate for lunch, etc. We also told each other a lot about how we felt about issues, big and small and I thought we had good communication in our relationship because we talked A LOT. But, looking back, I realize a lot went unsaid. Like how he neglected to tell me that he drank vodka on the train to work. Or how he was sexting with a woman 25 years older than him.

And even though I felt indignant about those things, I have to admit there was a lot I didn’t tell him. Like how unhappy I was to get in bed by myself every night because he completely avoided any opportunity for intimacy. How repulsed felt when I would get a whiff of vodka from him when he walked by. The fact that I fantasized about coming home from work and having him, the dog and all of his stuff just gone from my house forever.

In my new relationship, everything just feels more…mature. Yes, we don’t talk 20 times a day, don’t exchange meaningless texts at work, don’t detail the minute details of every second of our lives. But, we have mutual respect for each other, complete trust, and mature conversations. When it comes down to it, those are the things that matter.

Even in my friendships, I am trying to create better boundaries. I have one very good friend who seems to be very judgmental and self-righteous about my life and my choices. Her opinions come off like law and I realize I give her way too much ammunition. I also ask for advice too often and then receive it unsolicited when I don’t want or need it. I often feel attacked and depressed by these types of interactions. My therapist told me that one side effect of Covid-19 is that people feel they have the right to judge what other people are doing. Who is going out to dinner vs. who doesn’t feel comfortable in a restaurant. Who is still socializing vs. who is staying home. Who is getting the vaccine and how did they qualify vs. who isn’t. It is really difficult to know what the RIGHT thing to do is, but it is an individual’s personal decision. I am just trying to now keep my personal decisions a little (or a lot) more private.

I saw a quote I really liked while I was reading about these topics. “Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” So, that is my new goal- to create and maintain appropriate and healthy boundaries. Because at this point, what OTHER people don’t know won’t hurt ME 🙂

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 😉

Unanswered Prayers

I used to be a huge Garth Brooks fan and I just heard a song that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. It is called “Unanswered Prayers” and the lyrics include the following lines:

“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers”

I am not religious at all, but I can appreciate the meaning of this song. Sometimes the thing we want the most is not what is best for us. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do think that there is a reason for everything.

When my exboyfriend was sick and his alcoholism was at its worst, I hoped and wished for him to get better so that we could have a future together. I do not really pray to god, but I do talk to my Mama (my deceased grandmother with whom I was very, very close). I remember pleading with her to save his life, to help him survive the coma, to help him get better.

The most important thing at the time was his health and our relationship- and my feelings- took a backseat for a long time. But that was going on long before he got so sick. His problems, his addiction, his depression was always at the forefront. I would ask my Mama to help him, to help us as a couple. But that never happened. He never got help and the consequences were devastating.

I know now that my Mama was not ignoring my requests. She was simply giving me what I needed, which was to NOT give me what I wanted. If I had stayed with my ex, I would have been stuck in his sober/relapse cycle for my whole life. And even if he did get sober, I would have just been waiting with baited breath for him to drink. I would have been suspicious every time he stumbled over a word. That is no way to live- for me or for him. My Mama gave me the opposite of what I thought I wanted and I ended up with failure, but freedom. I realize now that is what I needed more than saving my relationship.

And after the pain and suffering and excruciating loss came something unexpected…a new relationship. One that is light and healthy and equal and secure. I never thought I would be with someone who took care of me. I have never been in a relationship that didn’t include drama and arguing and codependency.

If my “prayers” had been answered by me asking for the wrong things, I know that I would not be happy right now. I believe that it was a gift to NOT get what I thought I wanted, because I know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and with who I am meant to be with.

The choice is yours

My sister had a baby girl one week ago. I am so excited to be an auntie again and my new niece is absolutely beautiful 🙂

Of course my parents are also very happy and have been spending a lot of time at my sister’s house. However, my father has been really upsetting and annoying both my sister and me. My mother swears up and down that he is sober. I have my doubts. But even if he is, he definitely has some of the characteristics of a dry drunk. He has a tendency to snap in anger, he calls us derogatory names, he says inappropriate things and he talks INCESSANTLY. Like a full minute cannot go by without him hearing his own voice. It is incredibly irritating.

When my first niece was born, my mother would come down almost every day alone. My father was drinking heavily at the time so he would stay home. It was such a wonderful time for my sister and mother and me. We really bonded and enjoyed every minute with the baby. This time, my mother brings my father every time she visits or babysits my niece. I understand why she does- he doesn’t want to be alone and she is afraid he will drink.

My sister is feeling very vulnerable after just giving birth. Her fiancé is at work all day and she is breastfeeding the baby. She confided in me that she feels uncomfortable doing so around my dad and wishes that my mom would just come visit on her own sometimes. It is not that we don’t ever want to see our father, but I know we both miss the time we used to have alone with my mom.

I mentioned this to my mother the other day and her reaction was kind of surprising. She basically stated that she can’t come down without inviting him (yet she goes shopping every Saturday with her friend while my father stays home alone). She basically said that they are a package deal.

I talked to my therapist about it and she suggested the reason this is so upsetting is because all throughout our childhood, my mother always “chose” my father over us. His needs always came first. And now she is doing that again. I understand that my sister is grown up, but she is still a girl who just wants her mom and my father cannot be adult enough to accept that. Instead, he would take it personally and be offended. Everything is always about him and revolves around his feelings.

Growing up, I never viewed my mom as part of the problem. I always thought about her as “one of us”…a victim of my father’s alcoholism and abuse. And although it is true she was, she was also the adult and we were just small children. We did not ever have a choice. Even if it would have been incredibly difficult, she did. And she still does, but now so do we. Last week my father called me a scumbag. Today he angrily called my mother a “bitch” in front of my three year old niece. My sister finally said to him that if he is going to get angry and use language like that, he shouldn’t come down anymore.

My sister and I are on the same page. We both do not trust my father. His sobriety is too new, too fragile. His past behavior proves that he cannot he trusted alone with a child. That makes me cringe just writing it, but it is true. Even if he physically does no harm, verbally he is constantly insulting people, mostly women. He is sexist and perverted and rude and misogynistic. My mother failed to protect us from him and although I do not carry the resentment I probably should for her, I will be damned before I let him repeat that cycle with my two innocent, precious nieces.

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.