“Why am I Pushing Myself So Hard?!” Who’s Standard are We Measuring Up To?

This is something I know all to well. I’m going to share something in this post that I haven’t yet shared with you all, but I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge. I’ve been living up to others standards for my entire life. And it all started on one fateful night in Vermont, 33 years ago.

When I was eight, I watched a close family member die slowly from skin cancer, due to the chemicals she was using for her screen printing business. It was difficult to watch. I remember the seizures she would have and my caregiver holding a metal spoon in her mouth to stop her from swallowing her tongue. Her jagged teeth were evidence of these actions, that left such a vivid imprint on my younger self’s memory.

While she was dying, my family made regular trips to Vermont to be with her and her family while she was passing. It was during these trips where something that would shape the rest of my life happened, and it was based around somebody placing an unreasonable standard on the shoulders of an eight year-old.

During these visits to my family members home in Vermont, we would spend many nights in that beautiful verdant greener. It was during these nights, that another care taker would visit me in the early morning hours.

I would be sound asleep, when suddenly I felt water being poured on me from the outside of my sheets. I opened my eyes to find my caregiver pouring water on my groin. They then pulled me from bed with fervent anger and a flurry of confusion and wet sheets, and scolded me for “wetting the bed”, towering over me in the dark and using whispered, harsh, cold and cutting tones about what I’m not sure of, because to this day I still don’t remember what they said to me. But I know that it had something to do with how to be a man.

I’m not sure the amount of times my caregiver visited me in the night, but it was always confusing, terrifying and left me feeling so alone and so confused about what it meant to be part of a family. Something I’m still coming to terms with to this day.

One night, he pulled me to tell me how good a job I had done because we felt like a family while making dinner. Another as I said above, he poured water on my groin and told me I had wet the bed. I didn’t have feelings for what I was experiencing at the time, but it was intense, terrifying and beyond confusion. I can remember looking in the mirror while I was in the bathroom, cleaning the “urine” off of the sheet I had “wet” and not knowing what was happening, what has happened and what to do about it.

And later, when I told my main caregiver what had happened, they turned their back on me. Leaving the eight year-old me alone on the landing, with no where to go but back to the hands of those who would continue to abuse me. This with the other trauma I was experiencing at the time, lead to a lot of confusion around what it means to have a reasonable standard.

I’ve been living with that standard for my entire life. I’ve only recently begun to take a deeper look at where that feeling is rooted, and in what I’m believing about myself and my belonging. It’s left me with a lot of uneasy questions about how I had been living my life and whose life was I actually living?

As it turns out, I spent most of my life living up to what I thought was expected of me. And what I thought was expected of me was to live life like Jim Morrison. This was the lifestyle my caregivers had adopted and one I had picked up the torch from and ran with. That’s one of the reasons why the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s song, “Gods and Monsters” struck such a chord with me. “Living like Jim Morrison” was my and my family’s mantra, and the entire reason I started blogging in the first place.

This blog has become a place for me to reparent myself. To learn to live a life that is healthy, and set to my own standards. So what does it look like when you’re living under somebody else’s standards? Let me share with you my experience of what I was going through and how it shaped the ways I saw myself, others and my relationships.

Signs You’re Trying to Fit Someone Else’s Mold

For me, fear and anxiety were the most prevalent feelings. I was always in a state of fear or anxiousness, and it was mostly due to not knowing how to be or behave around others, in order to feel loved and accepted. I drank to numb the fear and kept to myself to avoid the possibility of being rejected by them.

So for me, the feelings of fear were clear indications that I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, because of how I had been raised to believe I wasn’t enough. I had been sent so many spoken and unspoken messages about how people should be, and receiving so much criticism at the same time, that all I knew was that I wasn’t adding up to others expectations. And with no direction, I floated along, absorbing these criticisms and never feeling like I could be accepted for who I am.

That’s where I needed to decide to reject the standards others were putting on me. This wasn’t easy. And I needed help from others along the way as well. I started by finding out what I liked. What are the things and activities, and who are the people I enjoy being around. I needed to find out what my resources were so I could better understand who I was so I could find out who I wanted to be. These are the new standards I had set for myself by finding out who I am as a person.

This is where my values began to take shape. And when I found out what my values were, who I was began to take shape. Some of my core values being, kindness, gratitude, being gentle, hard work and being helpful to others. These are a few of the aspects of what makes me who I am and in turn gives me a standard to rise to.

Resources As Accepting Help

I had to learn how to accept help, not only from others, but also from things like medication, or even a morning cup of tea. This was a tough lesson to learn because I wasn’t willing to accept help from anyone or anything. I was arrogant in that I felt as though I could do it all myself, and do it perfectly. This, however, lead to an amazing amount of stress and anxiety. Without the help of others and things, we’d be incapable of accomplishing anything in our day to day. Our goals would be left unmet and our lives would be left unattended.

Here I’ll be listing a few resources that have helped me along the way, to take care of my body and work towards achieving my goals. So if you’ve been looking for ways to attune to your self and body, after you’ve stretched yourself too thin, here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Teas

This is a big one for me. As I’ve said previously on this blog, I used to drink up to 5-7 lattes a day and as many beers at night. I was avoiding coming home to my feelings and my body. And after all the abuse I’ve endured it’s no wonder.

So lately I’ve been in the habit of drinking green tea in the morning, and something that is stress relieving at night. This way I still get a little help in the mornings when I need the extra boost, and the tension eased when the day is through. Without going overboard, too far in one direction or the other. I usually drink jasmine green in the morning and Yogi Tea, stress support in the evenings when I’ve had a long day.

Friends and Family

This seems like a no brainer, but if you’re not used to asking for help, it can be difficult to see friends and family as people to listen to you when you need an ear, or just a hug if you’re feeling lonely. This can be especially tricky if you’re on the outs with some family. A situation I know all too well. This is why it’s especially important to stay in touch with those you are closest with and is so important for your mental health and well being.

They can be there to support you when you are feeling at your worst, and you them. They are good for advise and guidance when you’re feeling a little like you don’t know which direction to go or what to do next. And also they’re there for the good times and bad. So you have a shared history of what you’ve been through together which helps to build tighter bonds.

Yoga

This one is an important one for me, as it helped me to realign with my body and it’s needs. Exercising and feeling good about my body has done me a great service for helping me feel safer in my body. A place I was too scared to go to before. Once I started to feel the progress I was making in my practice, I was also feeling more confident in the movements and even in the discomfort of some of the poses. It also helps to know that the sensations don’t last forever. And yoga has helped to bring me to terms with some of the dis-ease around my body.

Therapy

Helping to talk out what you’re going through with someone who is there to listen without the judgements that we may get from others who are close to us is important. Licensed therapists and LSWs are a great resource in helping us to sort through what’s troubling us and can give us good insights as to how to help with our situation.

I’ve been seeing one for a while, and they’ve been there for me through some tough times. Also it’s important to find one who is a good fit for you. Each one has a different style and you may not find the one who is right for you on the first go around. I think I found the person I’m with now after visits with two others. There’s also a growing community of online therapists now as well, if this fits into your schedule better.

Accepting Your Own Pain

This was difficult for me, as there was a life’s time worth of pain and loss to accept and tend to. I’d been avoiding it for so long by speeding past it with caffeine and medications, and by numbing it with more medication and alcohol. What was so difficult about it all was that I didn’t even really know I was doing it. I was self medicating on instinct, like a habitual impulse to push away the pain. It’s strange to think about now, but it makes sense that I didn’t want to feel what was difficult. But as the saying goes, sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.

Forgiving

This one was important, and one I’ve come to terms with recently. I first had to forgive myself, for pushing myself to hard, but also forgive those who abused or neglected me, whose footsteps I followed in the lack of care of my own needs. Meditation helped me to come to terms with this one. I needed the time and space around the feelings that were too intense to feel at the time to be able to understand them, where they were coming from and who their origin was with. Myself or someone else. Only then was I able to understand and forgive what was coming up. And this was difficult to do and to recognize at first.

But the more I meditated, the easier it was to recognize when a feeling would come up that was either something I sped past or froze in my youth. The more they came up, the easier it was to first, feel them, but second, to stay with them as they were happening. I could then forgive them for coming up, but also ask for forgiveness from myself for avoiding them in the first place. It wasn’t easy, but the longer you stay with them, the easier they are to be with them.

Conclusion

Whatever your standard maybe, don’t give up. You have more strength and wisdom in you than you believe. I like to think of relying on help from others as the Buddha’s wisdom of relying on sangha, or the group of people closest to you. And that if you ever doubt your true nature, remember that you have Buddha nature. An awakened heart and mind. So let all your feelings, even the difficult ones, just be. Accept them as they are and stay with them.

Image Credits: “y2.d40 | worry lines” by B Rosen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Romantic

Here’s another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my definition of what a healthy relationship is that I’m amazed I was able to find anybody at all to share my time and experiences with. But as I was taught to develop friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, the same rubric was also true of my romantic relationships. Only instead of looking the part by being popular or in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute and way to be valued in a relationship. This was unhealthy, though at the time I didn’t know any better or any other way of being in relationship.

So I chased this impossible standard that was laid out for me. Looking back at how I saw myself in my relationships, I’m not even sure what it was that I was seeking. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no real guide or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

And if I wasn’t getting the connection and intimacy that are available in healthy relationships, does that mean my partners were also void of these experiences? Or was it a one sided phenomenon? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but my former wife told me before we split up that she had felt safe with me. I felt unsafe most of the time so maybe it was a one sided experience. What I do know for sure is that I had problems feeling intimate and close in relationships, especially with romantic partners.

And I suppose some of this understanding comes from a question of perspective. What does intimacy mean to different people? One popular dating app I am currently using has this as a question for matching purposes, “does intimacy mean sex”. For me, the answer is definitely no, though, that’s what it has meant in the past. It’s an aspect of intimacy for sure, but the way the question is worded suggests you can only be intimate with those you are having sex with. And that seems too close to confusing sex for love to me. Especially being raised by people who’s number one value was sex appeal. This feels much like the environment for conditional love.

So what did I do to over come these doubts blocking me from feeling intimate in my relationships? It took a lot of feeling uncomfortable in my relationships and trust that I would eventually feel a sense of comfort and ease in them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s something I’m still working on. But it’s also something that I can feel myself getting stronger in, and have seen noticable differences in my moods and relationships.

I started by first, reaching out. This may seem obvious for those who have healthy relationships, but for those who have been in abusive or conditional ones, it can be a daunting task to open up to another human, not knowing what to expect. I’m currently using a couple of dating apps, and one way I’ve been reaching out is through sending messages to people I feel I would match well with.

Just the act of letting someone know you are interested is the first and most important step. The environment I grew up in was a very cold one at times. We learned to hold back our emotions and feelings of affection for one another, almost as a way to punish or keep the other person wanting what they can’t have by making it seem as though our regard was unobtainable. But the older I get, the more I realize that this is most likely due to being too scared to open up and be our emotional and vulnerable selves around one another. The feelings of being unlovable were too painful to expose to one another so we hid our feelings and felt ashamed of who we were seen as.

And these were the types of romantic relationships I sought. Where sex appeal was the most important attribute and a relationship that I didn’t have to be responsible for. Either for myself or for my partner. I wasn’t looking out for my partner because I felt as though I had to be constantly guarded to protect myself. I’d later find out that I was hyper vigilant due to the trauma I experienced in my childhood, but while I was experiencing it, I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing. Only that everybody was a potential threat, especially those closest to me, like my partner.

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure, the way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw. These are the same ways in which I viewed relationships because it was what was shown to me. To switch this way of viewing relationships, as something I used to give me pleasure, I began to accept the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look in order to live up to some comparison, to how I think others will most likely accept me. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But this takes some digging to get to. There were a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards and the ideas of what it means to be a man.

And of course, I took these messages into my relationships. Trying to live up to the pre-approved standards that were laid out for me to adopt as my own. But they didn’t work. And more importantly, they didn’t suit who I was. I thought I needed to be loud, in charge and have strong opinions. To be in control of every situation and never show weakness. I needed to be hard in order to be the “man” I thought I was supposed to be.

But of course, this lead to me being largely unable to feel my emotions. This is ultimately what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. And this was the major reason my relationships ultimately failed. I was incapable of responding to my own, and my partners emotional needs with tenderness through the emotional walls I had built to keep others out.

Now that I’ve learned from my past mistakes, I’m viewing looking for a partner in a different light. My values shifted. Instead of looking for a woman whom is attractive and has sex appeal, I’m looking for someone who is loving and caring first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be physically attracted to the woman I eventually fall in love with, only that the quality and ability for us to connect in a loving way is more important than how she looks in a pair of underwear.

One of the habits I’ve been doing to change the ways in which I think of and view relationships is, I’ve created a values list. This is a list of attributes in a partner that I value. Some examples are, loving, caring, kind, beautiful, loyal, creative, adventurous, sexy. Notice that being attractive is still on the list, only this time it isn’t the foundation of what I’m looking for in a partner. Being loving, caring and kind precede beauty. But attraction is still important in a match. Only now I have a healthier perspective of where it is as a priority.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been on a few dating sites and have developed a few habits around when and how often I use them. I’ve recently listened to a podcast called “Deeply Human” where the first episode was on dating. The host of the podcast was interviewing a doctor who studied the process of making decisions. He said that if we are given too many decisions, then we have a difficult time keeping choices in perspective. We tend to take the best qualities of each potential match, and compare them to who we are looking at. The result being, that the more potential matches we look at, the more likely they are to not add up to the conglomerate ideal we’ve mashed together from disparate parts.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to pair down the amount of potential matches I’m looking at in a given session. The doctor on the podcast suggests to only look at between five and eight potential matches. I’ve also limited myself to messaging only three potential matches at a time. This way I’m reaching out while also giving each match the attention they deserve without feeling overwhelmed.

And it makes sense to put some boundaries around this area of my life as well. I know that if bring an unreasonable amount of intensity to dating, then I’ll end up feeling desperate and as though I’ll never find someone to be with. And this is a very scary and vulnerable place to be. So slowing down helps to keep my values and priorities in focus while I’m looking for a partner. Win, win.

It also helps with self confidence as well. The more profiles you read, the more you can’t help but to compare yourself to those your looking to match with. It’s kind of like the social media effect, where you are constantly comparing yourself to the very best of what your friends are posting and maybe feeling as though you’re coming up short.

The same goes for dating apps. Everybody wants to show the most amazing aspects of their personality, lifestyle and careers. If we look at the positive self projections of others for long enough, we may feel like we’re not good enough for them, not adding up. And we all have our things, nobody’s perfect. Slowing down is also good for keeping some much needed perspective in an environment where everybody is trying to sell their best selves.

These are the habits that I’ve come to cultivate while looking for a partner. I’m sure it’ll look a little different for everybody, but it’s good to have some foundation, to know what your looking for and so hopefully, when you do meet the one that’s right for you, you’ll recognize them for who they are. And one last bit of advice, be persistent. The road may not be easy, but I believe there’s someone out there for everybody. Peace : ) good luck and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dates?” by .::RMT::. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Friendships

Oh man, this was a rough lesson to learn. With so many different types of friendships, if you’re not shown or told how to navigate them, it can be a confusing task to manage on your own. Friendships can be especially confusing if you’re not used to being in healthy forms of them. My motto through my teenage years and twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. And not surprisingly, I ended up with few people I could call my friends after I finally pushed everyone away. I’m still amazed that the few people who actually did stick around, even through my neglecting our relationship to the point of not talking to anyone I knew for years, decided to stand by me. And to them, I am forever grateful. It must have been no easy task to endure the petty and neglectful ways in which I managed my friendships. And if anyone is reading this who is my friend, thank you, I’m sorry, and you are truly great friends.

But I also didn’t have many stable friends growing up. This was mostly due to my caregivers not being able to model what a healthy friendship was, or the lifestyle that would lead to lasting and loving relationships. In one case, one of my caregivers had no close friends save one, and on the other end of the spectrum, my others had many, but were rancorous in their judgements of them. I was stuck between complete isolation or being surrounded by rowdy and rancorous pettiness. These were polarizing ways of seeing the world and a very confusing place to be. So the few friendships I had, I held onto for dear life. As a way to escape the chaos that I was surrounded by. This was unhealthy too, as it set the standard for me to depend on the few relationships I kept, too much.

And this fear based way of maintaining relationships, as you’ve probably guessed, was unsustainable. The only people I was in touch with regularly were friends found for me by my then wife. I spent most of my time by myself, drinking and playing videogames. I was avoiding opening up to others due to the considerable amount of distrust I learned to have of others and by the time I was 11, I had experience the loss of a loved one to cancer while my parents were divorcing due to the stress of the event. I lost both my best friends due to more unfortunate events in their lives, and the slow decline and neglect of my family left me on my own. On top of the trauma I experienced, I had lost everybody I loved and was left completely alone to handle all of these traumatic emotions. This is and was a lot to handle for anybody, let alone a child of 11.

So I learned to distrust those closest to me, my caregivers and support network. This was the model I would later use to navigate all of my relationships, a.k.a. tactfully avoiding any type of close contact with others, especially those close in, so as not to get hurt again when they eventually decided to turn on me. This lead to, as I’ve said above, lots of beer drinking and video game playing.

When I was younger, the types of friends who I would drink and play video games with were a good time. But as we aged and life progressed, the more video games I played, the more disconnected I became from my life and the relationships in it. And this isn’t a soapbox for railing against video games or the people that play them. They can be a fun distraction and intellectually stimulating. Even bring out a sense of creativity. But I was definitely using them to avoid people. In fact, as if I were trying to tell myself as much, I was playing and replaying Zelda’s, “Ocarina of Time”. The original Zelda being the game I first played before and when all the traumatic events happened in my young life, and the premise of the latter game, “Ocarina of Time” is that of Link, the main character of the series, going back and forth through time, from his younger self to his adult self, in order to do battle with monsters from his past and present! Talk about meta! Art imitates life maybe 😉

So I managed to create a sort of comfortable cocoon to insulate myself from my role in my relationships. I say sort of comfortable because it took an immense amount of energy to keep myself so disconnected. The right amount of vice mixed with the right amount of avoidance. It was a balancing act for sure. But when I came to, I realized I had almost nothing in the way of authentic connections with friends. I was alone, and thankfully it took me a while to get scared, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have been able to handle the reality of my situation crashing down all at once.

So when I did come to, after my divorce and ending of the relationship that was the catalyst for my divorce, I had one close friend who remained loyal to me, (thanks Jon) and my parents. That was about the extent of those I had to support me. It was a sad situation to be in. Luckily I had taken to hiking which helped me to reconnect with myself a little and develop some healthy habits. This would later give me something to do with those I was trying to reconnect with. Because I first had to reconnect with myself, befriend myself. I had spent so much time running from others and burning the bridges behind me, that I could barely trust myself that I wouldn’t do that to me. This is an ongoing process of getting to know myself and trust that I’ll treat myself with respect and love. It’s also not an easy task.

This is where I discovered what my likes and dislikes are. Why I do certain things and what things mean to me. Such as certain songs, my relationship to my style and how I want to be seen. The ways I nourish myself and the care I provide for myself with meals, grooming habits and caring for my surroundings. These were the foundations of me coming to trust myself and that I have my best interests at heart. Tara Brach calls some of what I’m talking about as resources. As example, some of mine are burning candles, drinking herbal tea and listening to music. Basically whatever brings you a sense of comfort and ease. Once I was able to make acquaintance with myself again, and gain some trust in myself, I was then able to extent that practice to others.

I started out small. Like I said, I only had one friend at the time, so it was important for me to stay loyal and in touch with them. We went for hikes, got coffee and lunch together. And basically just did the normal everyday things I had previously taken for granted. We were friends in highschool and roommates in our twenties, so there was a shared history, but I had only just begun to know him as a person and as my friend. It’s been a good feeling getting to know him again and appreciating him for the person he is.

Then my friend group began to grow. Soon after I started running with an old friend from highschool every week. My other friend got married to an amazing woman and also a brilliant friend. I was also reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some live across the country, others a few towns over. I was amazed at how many of the people I reached out to were responsive and more over, friendly to the idea of being friends. As one friend who I recently reconnected with said, “our younger selves would have bullied our older selves for who we are”. And we were mean back then. But to know that we’ve made the change from bully to responsive and friendly adults is comforting. Knowing that the strength of our empathy and caring is stronger than the anger and bitterness of our past is reassuring more so now then ever.

Now that I’ve reconnected with so many people, and since I’m a list maker, I’ve put down the names of the friends I’m keeping in touch with on a regular basis, and some bullet points on what they’re experiencing or anticipating in the near future. This way I can open up my note and quickly see what they’ve been up to so I can check in with them and see how they’re progressing or offer some support or an ear to listen or maybe go for a walk and vent some frustrations. An example of this in practice is, I know for instance one of my friends is renoing her house. So I’ve created a board on Pinterest with ideas for her backyard living space and shared the board with her. This way we can have an ongoing conversation about what her focus is on.

On the same note, I also keep a list of upcoming plans I have. This way I won’t miss out on spending time with those I’ve been building a relationship with. It’s been helpful to have a place where I can see everything I need to know in one bird’s eye view so I can adjust and respond to those in my life with care and conscientious actions and words. This is where the rubber really meets the road in that mindfully supporting those who support you can build some seriously strong bonds. You’re there when they need you and you know what they’re going through. This is powerful for someone who is really in need of a friend.

I’ve also discovered some friends in strange places as well. I use a meditation app called Insight Timer. After you meditate you have the option of thanking those who’ve meditated while you were meditating. I’ve made a decision to choose six people to thank after every meditation. Four of them respond regularly, two respond every day, and one has become my gratitude partner. I asked them a few weeks ago if they’d like to practice gratitude with me since we were already kind of doing it by thanking each other every day. They said yes and we’ve been gratitude buddies ever since. It’s been nice knowing that I have something to look forward to in the mornings, something positive to read.

It’s been an intense but amazing journey and one definitely worth the undertaking. So if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation as I was in, do not give up hope! Reach out to old friends, you may be surprised with how they respond. Start some conversations with those closest to you. Work is a great place for this, seeing as how you are already around a select few people on a daily basis. Join an online community, like Reddit. There are loads of people out there looking to connect over shared interests. Find a place to volunteer. This way you can match your passions with your connections and do good work along the way. I met one of my friends at a grocery store. They worked there and went there almost three times a week. We’re both ginger so we hit it off immediately! And a word of advice, stay open. You never know where you are going to meet your next friend. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: You Gotta Do Your chores

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m currently living with one of my childhood caregivers. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s one where I didn’t have a lot of other options to choose from. All in all it’s been a good decision. We’ve gotten a second chance to reconnect and learn what it means to be a family. So with that in mind, the subject of this blog post wasn’t in the initial outlined plan, but it certainly fits with the theme of this series of posts and is one that I’ve come to realize after cohabitating with people I’ve come to rely on in our living space. After all, taking care of your living space is essential to your overall happiness and speaks a great deal to how we feel about ourselves.

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit uneasy when I’ve been in my bathroom. I wasn’t entirely sure why at first, but as the weeks went by I couldn’t help but to notice that the unease I was feeling would not subside. The bathroom has been left unfinished for many years now and that has something to do with the feeling, but there was something more to it than that. Something that was growing more tangible with each visit.

So last week I decided that the bathroom needed new bath mats. I made a plan to go to a local home furnishings store and get a few to replace the ones already in use, after my shift at work. As I was going to the store, during my commute home, I made plans to clean the bathroom after getting the new mats. I wanted the feeling of walking into a freshly cleaned bathroom, crisp and new, after I was done with cleaning it. So when I got home from the store, I lighted a pine tree scented candle, rolled up my sleeves and got to the task of cleaning my bathroom.

It was dirty. I had swept up a sizeable hairball from all the dust that had accumulated for however long, maybe the size of a salad bowl, and the shower curtains were in the same shape as the bathmats. It was in such bad shape that the plastic lining was flaking off and the bottom was discolored from the mold that was lining it. The plunger was cracked and the cabinets needed a good purging as well. It was at that point I realized that the bathroom looked an awful lot like one of the bathrooms in my first apartments and that’s what was making me feel so uneasy.

To give you some context as to what my bathrooms used to look like, there was a constant layer of mold on and around the bathtub, sink and floor. There was trash plastered to the floor and walls, and the floor was missing pieces of tile in strategic places showing the subflooring. Once, for a period of about a month, maybe longer, there was vomit on the wall from one night where I ate a whole pizza, then got into a shot contest where I took a shot of tequila that had a cigarette butt in it. Let’s just say I missed the intended receptacle.

This was a shock for sure. Everyone in the house is an adult, we should be on top of this type of thing. The bathroom wasn’t in as bad shape as my early apartments were, but sadly, things had been left unattended by pretty much everyone. We had been treating our living space the ways we had been treated, with neglect instead of care.

Not only that, but we were shirking the shared sense of responsibility of keeping something alive, the household. We were collectively avoiding cleaning as one way to make our house feel more like a home. There are other things that bring people together to feel more connected as a family as well. Such as shared experiences and meals to name a few, but making your living space a place you want to be in, surrounded by things and a feeling of cleanliness, is a huge part of feeling at home. Comfortable. This is what we were missing from our shared time together. A feeling of shared responsibility and comfort in knowing that we are taking care of one another by taking care of our dwelling.

After I made this realization, I shared it with my childhood caregiver and their spouse, and it all started making much more sense to me. I had been feeling as though I wasn’t really part of the family. There were only certain areas of the house I felt comfortable in. My bedroom and the kitchen being two of them, and the rest felt like it was off limits. Add the fact that we are all too polite to ask one another to do something for one another, like helping clean the bathroom, and you have a pretty cold environment. One definitely hostile towards forming tight bonds.

The act of buying something for the house, even something so small as a couple of bath mats, or a basil scented candle for the kitchen, made me feel more secure as a member of the family. I felt as though I were trying to create a more home-like environment by taking care of those I live with, while also taking care of my own needs. And I have to say, it feels good.

I also spoke with them about putting candles in the bathroom for when I shower at night. It’s a way I help myself to decompress from the stress of the day. But this is also a way for me to express myself and a part of my personality in our shared space. More ways of feeling connected on a more intimate level. We all felt more connected after the talk and the conversation flowed a little more freely. They agreed that they had been a little lax about some of the cleaning responsibilities and I agreed I could have been doing more to help out.

So I decided to make doing chores more of a routine. The same way I meal prep for myself, I am creating a schedule and a general maintenance list for the house. This way we can create our home together, by sharing the work of caring for each other by caring for our shared spaces.

I divided the house into two parts, with the two most important rooms in the house as focal points. The first is the upstairs, with the focus being in the bathroom. The second part being the kitchen and downstairs. I will switch off doing these two parts every week with someone else in the house, and the alternate week will be the time where I’ll do the part previously undone the week before and someone else will do the part I had previously done.

With any luck, the house will begin to feel more like a warm and welcoming place. One where we want to create memories and cook meals in together, instead of the cold and somewhat distant place it has been for so long. We will learn to rely on each other, and feel comfortable just inhabiting our shared space together. We’ll start feeling like a family again. Only a healthy version. One without the untrusting attitudes and unhealthy boundaries we had previously been used to. Let’s get into the “how” in what I did to create a sense of shared responsibility among the household.

I began with a quick mental checklist of what needs cleaning in the house. I started with the two most important areas of the house (for me) and radiated out from there. The two rooms I chose are the bathroom and the kitchen. After I chose these rooms, I created two zones in the house around these rooms that could be cleaned and cared for in one cleaning session that would last maybe one to two hours, depending on the level of clutter or mess.

I then went through the zone, and took down another list of the specific tasks that need doing. For example, the bathroom zone needed to be cleared of general clutter, dusted, the bathtub and toilet needed a scrubbing and the floor needed a sweep and mop. Then the hallway just outside the bathroom needed to be swept and vacuumed, and the stairway needed to be swept and dusted as well.

After making these more specific lists of tasks, I now have a jumping off point where I can start cleaning. So when each week comes around, we have a set routine where we know what needs to be taken care of and how to approach the job.

This past week I spent a good portion of time doing a deep clean of the two most important rooms in the house. I didn’t get to all the tasks on my mental checklist, but the job definitely feels more manageable, knowing that I’ve already done the more labor and time intensive tasks. Now when we begin our cleaning routine, it will be that much easier to keep up with. As long as we keep up with the tasks, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of work to do. This may not make the work a joy to do, but it will make the tasks a little easier to accomplish. But if you’re like me, I get a little excited about the idea of cleaning and organizing something. So who knows, maybe it will spark some joy : )

I’ve also started a list of general maintenance items that need to be done around the house as well. This includes items that need to be replaced or small jobs that need our attention. For example, I put a list of items I need to replace for both the bathroom and general cleaning supplies for the house. This way we can keep our place looking and feeling as clean and organized as possible while keeping on top of the tasks and items we need to pick up.

This also has the added bonus of allowing us to bond as a family by planning trips to the local hardware store. Also making a collective effort to add input on what we feel needs attention. If you are anything like we are, you may find that after you do a deep clean and organize some of your belongings, that you have an embarrassing amount of extra or duplicate items that you may not have touched in months or years. This would be a good time to take stock of what you do have, what you use, how often you use it, and what you could you do without.

For us, we have two sets of pots, one brand new and the other just sitting around waiting to be recycled or donated. The initial plan was to get rid of them, but they are still around, haunting or living space. This wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t taking up valuable cabinet space. I like to view extra items in the kitchen, the same way I view unintended plants in the garden. Sure you may have a tomato plant that sprang up in the eggplant bed, but if it’s not an eggplant, then it’s a weed. The old pots are still mostly functional, but we have a new set and planned on getting rid of the old ones. So in my book, the old ones are a weed.

I also have about 15-20 mason jars collecting dust on our shelves. I got them to store my dry goods in. But if you’ve read my post on shopping from your pantry first, you’ll know that the food I bought mostly just sat around in these jars for months, if not years! They looked good all lined up in their storage containers, but they were definitely being underutilized. As I’ve been shopping from my pantry first, I’ve been freeing up a lot of space since I haven’t been replacing the items, and have ended up with an awful lot of empty mason jars.

I use them to store the meals that I batch cook in, but there are only so many meals I can store in the fridge at one time. The rest need to either be repurposed, or recycled. And this isn’t always an easy task to do. I know I’ve developed some sentimental attachments to inanimate objects over the years. And it seems the longer you have an item around, the fonder you become of it! I feel like this is where it enters your comfort zone. You’re just so used to seeing it around, that you recognize it as one of the family.

And of course this is a little different for some items over others. Such as, you wouldn’t want to throw away a pan your grandmother gave you that she made your favorite brownies in. But in the end, things are just that, things. Besides, it’s not the pan that you love, it’s the memories of your Nana’s brownies. But tossing a peanut butter jar you used to store tea in is a no-brainer. Marie Condo is a great resource for just this type of letting go. If it sparks joy, keep it and use it lovingly. If not, thank it for its service in supporting you in your life and donate it or let it go.

This should work to make your living space a more inviting dwelling for everyone. One where you’ll enjoy the time spent in it, together. And as a friend of mine said, we attuning to each other, by paying attention to each other’s surroundings. This is how you build the foundations of a caring family. This is where we really begin to understand what it means to be together, united.

I hope this post serves you on your path. It isn’t always an easy task, coming together to make something, from what sometimes seems like out of nothing. But when people, friends and family all chip in and lend a helping hand, it’s amazing what we are able to accomplish. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Amelia Cleaning” by donnierayjones is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Where do You Draw the Line? When are You Taking on Too Much Responsibility For Other People’s Emotions

This is a loaded topic, and one I’ve recently had to come to terms with. It’s difficult enough in the day to day, sorting and responding to our emotions. But when you add a layer of taking on the responsibility of absorbing somebody else’s emotional state, it can be overwhelming. This is a skill that I definitely learned late in life, and one I’m still grappling with today, as I try to sort out my emotions from the unhealthy lessons and emotional baggage of my caretakers. This aspect of handling emotions in our daily lives is so important, I’m surprised that we don’t have a curriculum for it to help those who are navigating this in their early teens. Another topic for another post for sure.

What started me thinking about about the idea for this post was something I said in last weeks post on dealing with unreasonably high standards. I grew up in a family where my caregivers would often say, “you made me do this”, or “you made me feel this way.” These were powerful statements to hear, especially at such a young age. This was the foundation of me taking responsibility for not only my own emotions, but also those of my caregivers and just about everybody else in my life that I had an emotional bond with.

After hearing one of these statements, usually after a fight or some form of an argument, I would then take what was said personally. As though the entire argument we had just had, and all the hurt feelings and disappointment that was the result of the argument, was my fault. My caregivers almost always had an air of something being offensive to them. As though whatever was happening was not only personally being done to them, but there was also a sense of indignant righteousness. That they knew better than whom ever was offending them, and they (the offenders) were inherently bad for doing, thinking or being a way that was not to their liking.

And how could I not take responsibility for all the components of our relationship. With standards like my caregivers’, and coming directly from those who were supposed to teach me how to navigate life and my emotional world, I just assumed that they were in control, knew what was supposed to happen and that I just never added up.

So these were the broken and unsustainable lessons I then tried to navigate my world with. I held a sense of indignant righteousness and judgemental attitude in almost all of my relationships. I was unforgiving, of others and myself, when we didn’t add up to my unreasonably high standards, and I was mean. In just about all aspects of my personality.

From my harsh judgements of others, to the cutting and snide remarks I would make when I saw someone not meeting my standard. Or just when I thought they were showing some “weakness” that I didn’t approve of. I remember very distinctly, picking out one individual who I worked with, who I would pick on relentlessly. And the only reason I chose him to receive the brunt of my hostility was because he was kind and considerate without the egotism I thought men should display, by virtue of being a man. Toxic masculinity at its worst.

But picking on someone for showing kindness and consideration, traits I viewed as “weaknesses”, was really a way to stay loyal to the lessons I received from my caregivers. These were really there views, their reactions to their emotional landscapes and the lessons they were taught. And in order to feel belonging, I assimilated them as my own. I became the person that was expected of me by my caregivers by absorbing their attributes and taking them on as my own.

This, however, lead to me not understanding how to be, or what intimacy in a relationship was. This left me feeling that most of my relationships were very superficial and without feelings of connection. This was a very lonely place to be.

As well as not being able to develop and foster intimate relationships, I was also actively afraid of the people that reminded me of my caregivers. The ones who had taught me how to be in, and seek out these unhealthy relationships to begin with. So when I met a new co-worker, or was around someone who resembled my caregivers to some degree, i.e. being highly critical of others with a sense of malice for the sake of sport, there’s a sense of fear that comes on, with a feeling of, “this is my fault, the reason their being so mean is because of who I am.” Even if they are talking about somebody else, I was always in the position of feeling as though it was only a matter of time before their attention was directed towards me. That I was somehow always a moment away from displeasing and totally disappointing whomever was talking because I was always disapproved of by my caregivers.

This is a pattern that still plays out to this day. I feel as though I’m finally on the mend from a life’s time worth of feeling like a disappointment, but it’s taken some considerable effort to break free from the cycle of my caregivers lessons. The first step was recognizing how I was feeling while I was interacting with someone I have a relationship with.

This started for me while I was interacting with a co-worker of mine. Everything seemed fine at first, but later I noticed he would get really quiet around me when it was just us two. And the more I heard him in conversation with others, the more I came to know his personality. He would say things like, “I live to gaslight people”, which was something I would expect to hear from one of my caregivers. If you’re not familiar with the term gaslighting, it means, to “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” (Google Dictionary).

How I felt while I was around this particular co-worker, was as though I had done something wrong, but I had no idea what it was that I was doing. I felt the fear in my belly and groin, as though something were about to happen to me. This must be where the expresion, “gird your loins” comes from, because I definitely felt my fight or flight response kick in while I was around them, viscerally. I knew that I was uncomfortable around them, and as though something bad would imanantly happen, and that it was my fault.

But even this aspect, learning to trust my emotions was a difficult process. As I’ve said above, when you are surrounded by people who are constantly telling you that you are making them feel a certain way, and avoiding responsibility for their own emotions and reactions to them, it becomes more than a little fuzzy on how you feel, and if what you are feeling is actually your feeling. some of the questions may be, is somebody else making me feel this way? Is this my emotion, or the other person’s that I’m feeling?

This may seem elementary to most people, and I hope that is the case, but for those of us who were taught poor, or no emotional boundaries, this is a very confusing place to be. So building those boundaries became paramount to me being able to navigate how I feel in situations. One boundary being, knowing that no matter what, what I’m feeling is my own feeling, and therefore my responsibility, was an important one to learn. This allowed me to see how I am feeling, in real time, in reaction to a situation that is happening currently. I can then see the feeling, then see all the thoughts that I’ve learned to associate with that feeling, and work to separate them from one another, and deal with the present situation and emotions accordingly.

So in the example above, with the co-worker who “lives to gaslight”, I can hear the comment, feel the fear in my body, recognize that the emotion and the feelings are coming up because of the abuses I’ve received in the past at the hands of my caregivers. Then recognize that I am in a different situation, with different people, that I am in control of keeping myself safe, and that these are only feelings that are telling me that this person may not be a safe bet to trust with my emotional wellbeing.

Another example, I was in the middle of batch cooking for the week ahead, and cleaning out the cabinets and taking stock of what I need to use up before it goes bad. The counters were covered with food stuffs, and I had been in the kitchen for hours at this point. Someone I live with walks into the kitchen and asks, “what are you up to?” I was a little tired, but the question seemed kind of ridiculous to me. They had been sitting in the next room over for the entire time I had been in the kitchen cooking. And anyone who walked into the kitchen could clearly see what it was that I was up to. I did respond in a short tone with, “really?” But I wasn’t angry, it was more to point out how ridiculous the question was. They then became defensive and indignant, saying “it’s not ok to ask a question? Are you in one of your moods?”

What bothered me about this interaction was, the assumption was made that I was being mean on purpose, when I really thought the question was funny, I was just tired. I later apologized for being short, because it was rude of me. But these were the types of interactions that had laid the foundation of all of the communication efforts with my caregivers growing up, sans the apologies. This was also the source of a lot of hurt feelings and perceived abuses, when all we really needed to do was to not take everything that someone was saying so personally.

And this is no easy task. From my experience, if you have a foundation of misperceived comments and what feel like personal attacks based in malicious intent, then there is a lot of armoring that you pick up along the way to feel safe. Especially if you have to live with the people who are attacking you, and the attacks are more commonplace than loving gestures. From this perspective, being in relationship, with anyone, is a scary proposition.

So if clear communication takes a healthy dose of trusting one another, and not taking things so personally, how do we begin to loosen the armoring that comes with the distrust and thinking it’s all directed towards us? For me, not taking things so personally was a gradual process. I first had to let go of my own indignation. To have a little faith that not everybody had some ulterior motive to their actions. And as I’ve said above, when you absorb disappointment from your caregivers growing up, this is tough to break free from when you see it in others.

For me, in my affirmation I say during my daily meditation, “I’m strong enough to be who I am, while allowing others to be who they are”, has done so much for me to establish some much needed boundaries in my personal life. This was the foothold for me to be able to begin to trust others. Because if I knew I was strong enough to feel my emotions, and know that my emotions are my own, then I can begin to understand how to draw the line between feeling like a disappointment, and recognizing others displaying disappointment in me.

Once you start to own your emotions, it’s easier to see how others are feeling. For example, in the interaction with the person I live with above, when I shifted my focus on the anger and indignation they were displaying, it was easy to see that they were hurt by my short remark, which I said because I was tired from cooking and cleaning all day. Not because I was angry at them.

And this takes patients. With ourselves and with others as well. But also knowing when someone else may not change. This is a difficult one for most people. Learning to accept where people are. It’d be great if everyone could just immediately understand where we are coming from whenever we have a new thought or perspective. But the reality of relationships are, this just isn’t the case.

For me, I need to accept that there are some relationships that are just not going to change. For example, when I tried to explain how I wasn’t angry even though my response was short, with the situation above, it only caused more frustration and misunderstanding. In this case, I need to accept that I will be misunderstood, and not take it personal that they don’t understand where I’m coming from. This is just where we are in our relationship.

And that’s not to say that either person isn’t capable of changing, or coming to an understanding. Only that it can’t be forced on someone before their ready for it.

And in some cases, I’ve had to let relationships I’ve had with friends and family members go. There was just too many hurt feelings and unresolved issues for me to stay in relationship with them. This was no easy task, and not one I’m suggesting to do or think about lightly. For me, knowing that I had to draw a hard line on where I feel safe or comfortable with the relationship ending helps me to feel as though I’m taking care of myself. That I know I have my back, and my best interests at heart.

And that’s not to say that I’ve written these people off, or burned any bridges. I heard somewhere once, “never write a person off.” I’m not sure why, but this piece of wisdom has always felt right to me. That’s not to say I’m leaving the door wide open for them to come back in whenever they like. And relive some of the abuses of boundaries that I’ve lived through in the past. It means that I’m not giving up on their ability to change.

If they come back into my life, it will be a fresh start, and one I embark on very cautiously. Setting some strict boundaries around our relationship until I can feel confident in who they are now and how they’ve changed from the ways they used to be. And again, this isn’t easy. But for me, it’s worth it if you can salvage a friendship, because they are definitely worth the effort.

There is also a fair amount of vulnerability that comes with being in relationship as well. This can be difficult to manage on top of the other emotions that we are already trying to sort out. It can feel like at times trying to untangle a bunch of live wires! Trusting that others will not project their emotions onto you, while already dealing with your emotional perspective of the relationship can feel like you’re being overloaded.

These are the times where it’s best to find some time to resource. A little self care goes a long way when we’re feeling like we are being overwhelmed with emotions. Ours and/or somebody else’s. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to sort through what your feeling. Alone or with a trusted friend, knowing how you’re feeling while trying to untangle your emotions from another’s is important to clearly communicate what your needs are and understanding what the other person is asking of you.

And take your time. Don’t feel as though you have to rush to a conclusion. You will get there eventually, and if you take your time, you’ll probably get a better picture of what it is that you are trying to understand along the way.

I hope this has been of some help. Emotions can be tricky, especially when we’re not sure whose emotions are whoms. Just remember to be kind to yourself and the other while your trying to sort it all out. And forgiving too, when you come up short on the kindness front! As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.