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Monday, July 28, 2014

Learning to love like a normal person

I am a hoarder.

Not in the normal sense of the word-- I hate clutter and I don't collect things. I routinely sort and purge my belongings. But I hoard messages.

I believe this began when I was trying to connect with people outside of my family. When that connection happened, it was magical to me. I wanted to keep it, remember it. Because of this need to keep messages, I routinely receive the warning on my cell phone that I've run out of room in my text messages, I have thousands of conversations in my chat history, and countless emails from people I love that have been collecting in my inbox for nearly a decade.

I've been thinking for the past few months, though, that I cling to those things and those people more than is prudent. Earlier this month I spoke with someone about growing past the part of my life when we were bonding. It's a weird concept, but I really do wish to remain in that place when we were excited about learning about one another and an email or chat or text message was not mundane. Growing past that place is a little bit scary and for me, causes a bit of heartache. I can't really explain it.

After my conversation with that person, however, I made a goal to move forward. I've been purging my emailbox and my chat history. Yesterday I made the final step and erased all my text messages. I think I kept some of those things because in them words of love and support were expressed. I needed those words. Sometimes I still do. Often I do. But it's time for me to understand that those were spoken in a time when the person sending the message was involved with me. Most of those people no longer are or are involved in a more casual way. And reading words written in the past by someone who no longer cares for me in the same way is pointless. The words need to be relevant now.

I admit that when PTSD symptoms have been emphatically reminding me that I am alone and irrelevant, reading those past chat conversations/emails/texts have helped me remain grounded, reminded me that there was a time when someone said I was important and loved. But now all I see  is the date stamp on those messages. They happened a long time ago.

Darrin tells me every day that he loves me. I don't believe he's missed a day since we were married, and that's a lot of love messages. I don't get tired of hearing it. I believe I never will. Because of the transient nature of people and relationships, a deeply felt, "I love you," is incredibly meaningful to me. My sister said it to me two days ago. Boo and Blueyedane said it to me yesterday. My children say it daily. I need to hear it. A lot.

Maybe I'm the only one in the world like this. Maybe everyone else hears it once and believes it  forever. I'm not really that kind of a person-- probably I will never be that kind of a person. I need to be reminded. I need to demonstrate love to others and receive it in return. If  you say you care about me and then I don't see or hear from you for a few months, probably I don't believe you.

I think I kept those messages because my natural inclination is to just move on when people no longer respond to me. And I do that very thoroughly. I emotionally eliminate people. It isn't malicious, but rather, methodical and logical. It just makes sense. I don't really have a lot of time, so I want to spend it with people who want to be with me. In my past, though, I was eliminating people so efficiently that I wasn't bonding with them at all. Trust issues, of course, facilitated this. I wanted to change that part of my life and learn to trust people. But that involves the painful recognition that some of the people I bond with will not bond with me, or will allow the bond to weaken when I wish to keep it strong. It's not easy.

I'm trying to connect all that I've written here about my hoarding of words from people I love, and I'm having difficulty explaining myself. I guess I wanted to keep them-- the people, not the messages. The messages were a link to remembering what we had, love and laughter we shared as we learned about and got used to each other. When the messages came less often, I found myself  strenuously clinging to the old ones. It's a little embarrassing how much I wanted things to remain. I wanted PEOPLE to remain. But the truth is, once all the layers are removed and people see who you really are, some of them leave. There are many reasons for this: boredom, life events, transference of love to another person, but regardless of the reason, the end result is the same. Some people leave or lessen the bond previously shared. I didn't want to face or accept that.

However, not wanting something has never deterred me from learning to accept it. Sometimes it takes a great deal of time, but I do it. Accepting the inevitable is actually something I do rather well. I've been working on moving forward, accepting the losses, and embracing the changes. I've acknowledged that I didn't want those, but I have to allow my relationship counterparts to want them. I've spoken to those who are closest to me, apologized for not wanting to move forward and for any grouchiness or resentment I may have felt as they moved on and I tried to remain stagnant.

So the final step was to say goodby to the past and remove the tangible reminders, and I've done that. They're gone. Perhaps now I'll be free to move forward, too. But from some of the people I kept just one message. I chose one that helped me in a time when I was very stressed, or sad, or frustrated; a time when I felt valueless and unloved and they reminded me that I was not. I think it doesn't matter if they don't feel that way anymore. They did when they reminded me. I think it's okay to remember that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Therapist sent me an email today. Part of the email was this sentence, "What I want you to know is that you have inspired me with the work you've put into your life / happiness."

It's funny, when I first met Therapist I knew he would help me-- not in the cookie cutter, do-these-therapy-assigments, take these steps then you'll be better, kind of way-- but he would help me by allowing me to figure things out for myself. He would, within reason, allow me to have control over the course my therapy would take. He would let me be the person I am while allowing me to become the person I needed to be. I knew this. I wasn't wrong.

Therapist would challenge me when I was wrong, empathize when I was sad, and encourage me as I sought unconventional ways to find answers and peace. He welcomed the people I brought with me and helped them understand the best ways to support me. I have been working with Therapist for many, many years-- probably too many. I think most people would have gotten tired long before I did, or been satisfied with results before I was. I think Therapist was frustrated with me much of the time as I asked the same questions, wept repeatedly about the same problems, and laughed at him when he suggested things he thought would be helpful. But even when I laughed, I still considered his suggestions and often I tried them, as well. Because he was Therapist and I knew he would help me.

I find myself, years later, finally able to do some of the assignments he asked me to do. Better late than never? It's just that I was too afraid when he asked. I needed to be more brave and more strong and more ME. But I didn't forget. I remember most of what we've discussed. I don't know how to forget.

I've known Therapist a little bit longer than I've known Tolkien Boy and not quite as long as I've known Josh and AtP. Tolkien Boy and AtP have accompanied me to therapy sessions. Tolkien Boy has joined me in a few. AtP has patiently waited for me in the lobby. One time Therapist asked me how I could doubt that the people in my life care about me. I said I didn't doubt it. I just didn't trust them. Therapist said you can trust people who go to therapy with you and wait until you're done-- the ones who know you'll be an emotional mess after the session, and who will stay with you anyway. I still didn't trust them, but I believed Therapist and I worked on learning how to trust. Sometimes, in recent years, I've almost felt that I could do that trust thing for a few seconds at a time.

Therapist says he learns from me when I come. I'm pretty sure what he learns is that I'm stubborn and aggravating and arguing with me is destined to end up with both of us giggling. I think he also learns that not everyone fits into a mold, and some of us refuse to fit simply because we're willful and spiteful. And he learns that even if I don't know who I am, or how to feel, or what to say, I'll still smile at him and say something that will make him smile back, because if I'm going to spend that much time and money just to talk with someone, we need to like each other.

One time Therapist told me that I've made him rethink a number of beliefs he's held about several different things. I told him he's done the same thing for me. He said, "Well, that's my job." I said, "Yes. Good thing you do it so well." He told me I was a good person. I told him he was, too. He said, "I'm really glad things didn't work out with your other therapists and that you decided having a male therapist would be okay." I said, "I am of the opinion that no one should stop therapist-shopping until they have found just the right fit." He agreed.

Therapist is my friend. This means that we have seen each other very often for a period of time, shared thoughts and ideas, and spent time together. And now it's time for us to not be together as often, not talk as frequently, and learn to live independently of each other. Well, that last part pertains only to me, but I like to think Therapist will miss me. I'm glad he thought of me today and that he told me so when he sent me an email. I don't really care about inspiring him, but it's nice to know I'm not forgotten.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Strategic Withdrawal

I have been blogging more than eight years. This blog, Beautiful World, is and extension of another blog, Magical World, which I began in March of 2006. I have other blogs, some of which are private, some which are dead, and a couple under my real name which sporadically live and die depending on my time demands. My reasons for blogging as "Samantha" are varied.

1. There was a fellow blogger I wanted to meet, so I fashioned Magical World after his template. I had questions for him. We met and talked via our blogs. He ended his blog a few months later. We continued to correspond through email for about a year. Then he disappeared from my life.

2. I wanted to meet other bloggers who were in similar marital arrangements to my own (i.e. mixed-orientation spouses). We corresponded through our blogs, then moved to chatting online. Most of the blogs that then existed are now gone. Some of the marriages are, as well. I still communicate with a number of the people I met. A few have become close friends.

3. I wanted a place to express what was happening to me as I went through therapy. Blogging served that purpose and seeing my thoughts and feelings written allowed me to work through a number of issues as they appeared. Today I see Therapist on an as-needed basis. Most of the time we communicate through chat or email (something I could never do a couple of years ago). I don't know that I will see him again in person, but I might continue to write about things I need to work on or work through. I don't know that the writing will take place in this blog, however.

4. I needed to talk about my experience with rape and abuse in a place where other people could see it. I didn't necessarily want people to read my blog, I just wanted my story out there, visible, no longer hidden. Initially, I had no desire for anyone who knew who I was to connect the truths on this blog with me in real life. Blogging under a pseudonym allowed me to speak with impunity. Today I don't care if people know what happened to me. I say it sometimes to friends or family members or even people I don't really know. I wrote a Facebook post about it, inviting all who have known me (some for all, or most, of my life) to understand a bit more about who I am and what I have been working on for the past decade. I no longer need a pseudonym.

I have had difficulty with shifting identity. A few months after I started this blog, I found myself BEING Samantha. I lived on a blog. My social circle consisted of people I had never met. My real life felt imaginary unless I blogged about it--and I blogged daily. I registered on social media and other online sites with the pseudonym. I purchased items online, created email accounts, and commented on other blogs under my pseudonym, feeling comfortable and at home in that persona. When Samantha borrowed a friend's birthday so I could play an online game I recognized the unhealthiness of the situation. There was no need for anonymity in that case. I was registering as Samantha simply because I was online and since she needed a birthday... Yeah, the insanity was beginining.

Knowing I needed to get back to MY life, I decided I needed to schedule more offline time. I made certain I was outside more, or practicing, or spending time with my family. I took steps to meet the people I communicated with most often. Most of the time we chatted online for a week or so, then we spoke on the phone or met in person. The feeling of being Samantha persisted for more than three years.

When I finally finished my integration work, I had included a segment I did not talk about here--that of learning how to recognize and really FEEL that Samantha was an extension of me, a persona created for blogging, but not really the entirety of my existence. I am Samantha in the sense that I write this blog and I experience the things I write about, but that is not my real name nor my reality. In a sense, I had to work backward. The integration purpose was to incorporate parts of my persona that I had separated and withdrawn from in the past. But with this, I had to recognize that my life existed outside my blog and was real regardless of how many people noticed or commented on it. In essence, I had to withdraw from my blog persona, recognize that this was a pseudonym, and allow Samantha to be a part of me, but not all of me. I know--I'm whole lot of crazy, but there it is.

Today I am older. My children have grown up; much of their growing up time has been recorded on my blogs. As they have gotten older, I have drafted many of the posts that they might feel self-conscious about. I want to respect their privacy. It's interesting that when blog readers meet my children now, they often feel that they watched them go from adolescents to adults--that they have known them for years even though they may have only just met. Blogging is an oddity in that it allows a sense of intimacy and community between complete strangers.

Most of the blogs I began reading years ago are now gone. Mine has continued to exist purely to serve me as I needed a place to write and work through issues linked to PTSD. I continue to write, but I no longer do so every day. Samantha becomes less real as time progresses, and when people refer to me by my pseudonym, it sometimes takes me a moment to register what we are talking about.

Today I feel a great deal of distance in the relationships that were created online. I'm guessing that's just a symptom of what I'm going through right now. I'm hopeful that those who are involved in my life will help me a little bit. Therapist would say I'm emotionally depleted. Darrin would agree, as would DJ, Adam, and Tabitha. And Samantha. But I don't know what "help me a little bit" means. That sentence stems from a conversation with Therapist a few years ago:

Therapist: That's called emotional depletion.
me: No emotions? I've experienced that much of my life.
Therapist: This is a little bit different. Emotional depletion occurs when you expend a lot of energy with people who seem to need a great deal and/or when a lot of things that affect you deeply occur simultaneously. 
me: Okay, that's what's been happening. How do I fix it?
Therapist: Sam, you don't have to fix everything.
me: This seems to be something that needs to be fixed. Being emotionally depleted does not sound healthy.
Therapist: I think it's just a state of being. Give yourself time. Rest. Be with people who help you feel relaxed, accepted, and loved. Your emotions will balance out eventually.
me: I'd rather just fix it.
Therapist: I'm not surprised. It doesn't work that way. 
me: The "be with people" thing-- I'm pretty sure that's not a good idea for me right now.
Therapist: Why?
me: Because when I'm with people I feel like I have to be engaging or listening or building them somehow. And I like doing those things, but right now it sounds exhausting.
Therapist: Because you're emotionally depleted.
me: I guess.
Therapist: Actually, Sam, being with people - the right people - will help your emotions stabilize more quickly than time will. 
me: I don't agree.
Therapist: Why not?
me: It still sounds exhausting.
Therapist: You know, you don't always have to be the one "helping". Sometimes you can ask other people for help. You can tell them you're tired, or emotionally spent. Maybe you just need a hug or some quiet time sitting with someone who loves you. Maybe you need to let someone else make dinner or do the dishes or read the story. Maybe in these times you need to say, "Can you help me a little bit? I'm having trouble feeling. I think I need someone to say it's okay, and that they love me. Maybe I need someone to take care of me for just a minute."
me: I don't think I can do that.
Therapist: Work on it. 
me: I'd rather not.
Therapist: I know.

So I actually have worked on it. I'm not good at it. I don't believe anyone is good at it, which is why we have passive aggression and emotional manipulation. Needs aren't being met, emotions are spent, so unhealthy tactics are employed to get the things we need from other people. I'm not really good at passive aggression or emotional manipulation. But I'm also not good at saying I need some TLC because I'm a little bit fragile right now. Mostly I just stay away from people and let time work its magic because time doesn't care if we use it and people do.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dodging a Bullet

I got home from New York to find a letter and five phone messages letting me know that my mammogram screening showed a problem and I needed to schedule further testing right away, which I did not do. I arrived home on a Friday night and left at three the following morning for Utah, where I spend the next four days. Monday morning I called to make my appointment. This is what was said:

Me: I received a notice that I need to schedule more tests following my mammogram.

Hospital Person: Name, please.

Me: Samantha Stevens

(pause for about 10 seconds, which is a very, very long time during a phone conversation)

Hospital Person: How soon can you come in this morning?

Me: Actually, I can't. I'm out of town and won't be back until tomorrow night. May I schedule it on Wednesday?

Hospital Person: Could you possibly come home a day early? We could schedule you tomorrow.

Me: No. How about Wednesday?

(pause for about 10 seconds, which is a very, very long time during a phone conversation)

Hospital Person: Well, we got your test results more than two weeks ago and we'd really like to get you in as soon as possible, but if you won't be back until Wednesday, we'll go ahead and schedule on that day.

Me: Thanks.

Hospital Person: How early can you come in Wednesday morning? 

Me: I have a dental appointment at 8:30. I could come in before or after that.

Hospital Person: Hmmm... probably we'll have you do both. There are a couple of tests to run, so you can do one at 7 (is that too early?) and one at 10:00.

Me: No, that's not too early. I'll see you then.

It was sort of a stressful conversation.

I arrived bright and early at the hospital on Wednesday morning. The check-in person was waiting for me (apparently you have to have a hospital bracelet and all sorts of stickers and paperwork when you go back in for tests after a mammogram). She got my signature a million times, then took me to radiology where they were also waiting for me. I was ushered through a packed waiting room (Yes, people really get up that early to go to radiology for tests. I was a little shocked.), directly to the nurse who escorted me here and there and I was poked and prodded and squished for an hour, at which point I left for the dentist.

I arrived at my dental appointment where I was supposed to have a lost filling replaced. The receptionist welcomed me, then said, "Your appointment is at 10:30." I looked at my phone which told me my appointment was at 8:30. Then I said, "I like to be early." She laughed and asked if I wanted to wait at home. I explained that I was due back at the hospital at 10:00 for more tests following my mammogram. She said she'd see if they could fit me in. They could. I left 40 minutes later with a new filling.

I arrived at the hospital with my bracelet still intact, and was directed back to radiology where I was once again poked, prodded, and squished, then told to wait. My results from all tests were back in 20 minutes, along with a clean bill of health and the following explanation: Because my mother is a breast cancer survivor, any possible abnormalities--any change in the tissue, regardless of how small--will require further tests to rule out cancer. This year they found a tiny spot that seemed slightly larger than it was last year, which triggered the need for more tests.

So I'm fine. But I'm also kind of tired of medical drama in my life. Actually, I'm kind of tired of everything right now. I socialized nonstop for more than 2 weeks--and it was lovely. I saw people I've not seen for eight years and met young cousins who were born during my absence. I spend time with people I love in Utah. I overcame jet lag and lack of sleep. But I'm still tired. Life feels sort of grueling. Probably the medical stress and dental visit didn't help.

Darrin asked me what I need, but I'm not sure. There is a decided lack of interest in people and work and, well, everything. He thought I would be more stressed about the problematic mammogram and follow-up tests, and is concerned that I didn't really care. I sort of don't care that he's worried, either.

Sigh. I'm guessing everyone goes through this at times and it will pass. Darrin thinks my visit with Jeff triggered this. He says when I spend time with my cousin, I usually come home feeling this way. Darrin believes it's linked to the fact that Jeff and I lost so much due to our abusive cousin and it's overwhelming to me. That could be true. I just know that the thought of talking to people, spending time with anyone, just makes me tired and I don't want to. Also, I don't have cancer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sometimes being different makes my heart ache a tiny bit.

I've been in New York visiting family for the past week. It's been about eight years since I was last here. Tabitha and I are staying in the home of a family member who passed away in January of this year. Everything about the house reminds me of her. We've been helping my aunt, whose mother owned this house, to clean closets, box up dishes, sort through clothing... It's difficult watching my aunt deal with the onslaught of emotions as we prepare her mother's home for a renter.

Usually we stay with my aunt when we come here. Having this house to ourselves, however, has given Tabitha and me a great deal of alone time--which I needed. It also means that my brain can't stop thinking, though, which is not always a good thing. Tonight Tabitha is ill. I'm guessing she has a touch of food poisoning, based on the symptoms, but she's adamantly opposed to going to the ER, so at 2 a.m., I'm watching her for signs that we might need to get some help for her.

And I'm still thinking.

I have a friend from high school that I talk to occasionally. Mostly we chat back and forth on Facebook. He's had a lot of sadness in his life, but he's positive and optimistic when many would give up. He's taught me a lot in the past few years about being happy in difficult circumstances. Recently he posted a meme on Facebook that resonates with me: "Pay attention to the ones who care instead of trying to get the attention of those who don't."

Naturally there are flaws in a pat statement such as this. It assumes that we know how people feel about us, when really, we don't. But I think there is merit in being present for the people who clearly wish to take time for us. I'm not suggesting that I stop extending my social circle or including other people, but I'm thinking it's time to let go of those whose lives have changed to the point that my involvement is no longer a vital thing for them.

I've written many posts where I've lamented the feeling that I was a convenience or that I cared more than another person. I believe all those posts were leading to the point I now have reached. It's a process, after all. And the embarrassment of allowing any blog readers to see my vulnerability and to know of the sensitivity and tenderness I may feel toward people who do not return the feelings, is worth the reward of finally coming to an understanding with myself through the process of raw blogging.

I've been told my feelings were going through a maturity process. I don't believe that. I've been told that my insistence that people are fickle--that they become bored with friendships and leave to find more exciting ones--my belief that in the end, everyone disconnects from people who are not bound to them by marriage and/or blood--all these beliefs are fueled by my inability to think, emotionally, like an adult.

There might be validity in that statement if the things I believed never happened, but the truth is, they do. Most of the adults I speak with do not have lifelong friends who have been involved in their lives on a regular basis. The friends enter and exit frequently, taking time out to deal with their own lives when those become busy or complicated, and meeting up every few years to "catch up" or spend a bit of time together. This is adult friendship.

I'm still on the fence as to whether or not this is a positive thing. It's a natural thing--perhaps even a necessary thing. People need time and space to live their lives and friends, as far as I can tell, fill a need that seems to be capricious, at best. People become rather incensed when I suggest this. They cling to their belief that they have the "best" friends. They tell me of trips they've shared with friends, going out weekly, getting back together after a long absence and feeling that no time has passed and they're as close as ever.

But when I ask them, "Do your friends like cilantro? What television shows do they like? Do you know what they'll order when you go out for dinner? Do they have allergies? What are they afraid of? What will they be doing this weekend? When did you last say, 'I love you'? Could you knock on the door right now and be invited to stay for dinner? Would your friend give you a ride to the hospital if you were ill? Would he or she call while you were there? Would there be follow-up to make certain you were doing okay when you came home? What is your friend afraid of? Can you call anytime you want? What happens if you call more than once in a day?" All those questions seem to be met with silence and confusion--especially if the person I'm speaking with is married. And in the end, their answer is: Why would any of those things matter?

They matter. To me, they will always matter. They say that I'm connected with the person--really connected. I care if they have a sniffle or a success. And that person really connects with me. They know what pens I like to write with and if I have nightmares at night and whether I prefer to buy shoes or chocolate. They know what makes me laugh and cry. They want to hear the sound of my voice or feel me sitting next to them sometimes.

This is immaturity?

I think it's called love. Genuine Love. It means I'm involved with those I care about. They're not a convenience, they're a necessity. It also means that I understand my way of friendship is not what I will encounter through most of my life and I'm going to be okay with that. It means that I will stop clamoring for the attention of those who have moved beyond me, those for whom I am a whim or a passing thought, and remain involved with those whose lives include space for me. It also means that I will return to being fairly solitary--but this time it will be by choice.

I choose to be sociable with those who call me "friend", who care about me a few times a year, and who might not contact me often. I choose to stop feeling slighted as they move away from me and into the lives of those they have bound to them by blood or marriage. I choose to view the process as natural and good. I choose to step back and allow it to happen.

Go ahead. Call my choices immature. Call my feelings immature. But those who remain, those who reconnect again and again, who visit, and talk with me on the phone or in person, who chat with me frequently and wish to spend time with me will understand that sometimes the people who care the most are not spouse or family, and they care not because of attraction or blood relation or law, but simply because they choose to.