What is love?

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I have always believed that people show love in different ways.  I love mailing greeting cards for every occasion possible…it is one way I let the people I care about know that I am thinking of them.

During the 41 days my father was in the hospital and nursing home and ever since he got home a week ago, my mother has been glued to his side.  Without knowing it, both my sister and I spoke to our respective therapists about my mother’s weird devotion to him.  He has treated her so badly for so many years, it is hard to understand why she even cares about what happens to him.

However, my sister and I were at the hospital and nursing home all the time, too- even when he had psychosis and was acting so horribly.  We brought him milkshakes and food he liked.  My sister brought her toddler to visit “Papa”.  We basically all put our lives on hold to take care of him.  Clearly this is learned behavior because I did the same thing when my exboyfriend was in the hospital for 28 days…I sat by his side, putting my life on hold.

I have never doubted that my father loved me (and my mother or sister).  I never doubted my exboyfriend loved me either.  They both just had such a hard time showing it because of their addictions to alcohol.

My dad showed me love by providing for our family, for making sure my sister and I had every opportunity possible, including going to college.  He showed love by making sure we had a beautiful home.  He showed love by buying my mother, sister and me matching bracelets for Christmas one year.  He showed love by building me a dollhouse that I can pass down to my niece. He showed love by crying when I told him I was miserable and getting divorced. He showed love by helping me with my mortgage for the summer so I wouldn’t have to worry about money after my boyfriend moved out abruptly.

My exboyfriend showed me love by supporting me working through my anxiety.  He showed me love by convincing me to give up a summer job that made me unhappy.  He showed me love by getting me “just because” flowers.  He showed me love by sending me cards, because he knows I love getting mail.  He showed me love by embracing my sister and loving our niece.  He showed me love by caring about my mother.

Neither of these two men loved me in the ways that I necessarily wanted or needed, but they showed me love in the way THEY knew how and I try to be appreciate of that.  I am very happy right now to be with someone who is able to show me love in the way that I need (physical affection, open communication, security) and who accepts my love in the way I give it.

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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Those who can…

 

I am a really, really good teacher. I can say that without feeling like I am being conceited because I often think it is really the only thing I’m good at. It’s certainly the one area of my life where I have been the most successful. Anything I have set out to achieve in my career, I have done with drive and passion. I teach high school and college English and am very proud of my profession. It isn’t always easy, but it is beyond rewarding. This sounds cliche, but I think teaching was a calling for me. It feels natural and satisfying. 

The other areas of my life…not so much. Teaching has always been a bit of a salvation. When I was dealing with my crazy family and alcoholic father during my teenage years, my goal of being a teacher drove me. I knew better days were ahead…I dreamt of being 30 and immersed in my career. My desire to be a teacher bonded me with my mother and grandmother, who had also been successful teachers. 

When I was suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia, my doctor suggested me going on disability. Even though going to the grocery store had become hard, going to work was still a safe place. My job saved me during that time- it forced me out of the house and made me focus on people other than myself. At that point I needed my students more than they needed me. 

Getting divorced was the hardest thing I ever did. I literally cried hours and hours every day for almost a year. I was a mess. Teaching became not just a vocation, but a vacation from my life outside of school. Once I stepped into my classroom, I was free for a few hours. The sadness was always there, but my kids made me laugh and I was able to forget for a while. My coworkers were wonderful and supportive, too. I am a private person, so people didn’t know exactly what was going on, but still stopped me to say a kind word in the hallway. 

My best friends are teachers I met at my school. I sometimes feel like I don’t really fit in in some social situations. I’m lucky enough to have met really special people where I work. 

It makes me proud that I have accomplished so much in my career, but I worry sometimes that I feel like a failure in other areas. I wish my confidence as a teacher translated into other parts of my life. I would fight tooth and nail if I felt I was being treated unfairly or badly at my job, yet I don’t do that in my social life. I have a tendency to be a doormat, yet I feel like a leader in my work environment. I know I am respected by my colleagues, yet I don’t always get treated with respect by the people who love me. 

I would not change anything about the choices I have made in my career…I wish I felt the same way about everything else in my life.