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A Better Way of Handling Things

I'll admit that for a lot of my life my parents' way of handling arguments felt normal to me - well, the calmer parts. I knew the screaming rages were wrong. I've made a lot of effort to not be that way. I don't like to raise my voice even when my tone makes it clear that I'm mad. But, the other parts, the nasty, critical, sarcastic put-downs, the using a person's vulnerabilities against them. Compared to the frightening tantrums, those were more subtle cruelty. While the rages were done only by mom, the rest were both of my parents.

So, I often had boyfriends and even a lot of platonic friends who were the same way. And, I would do it back. I never even thought to question whether it was normal to make someone feel adored one day and worthless the next.

That changed with W. He didn't do any of these things. He treated me with so much decency that for the first time I realized there was something off with the way those others acted and that I shouldn't act that way either. While I was with him, I often thought he was making me a nicer person. (Though P., my rebound from W,, was a throwback to the other type. But now, it was so easy to recognize and once he showed his true colors, I felt no pain or conflict over walking away.)

There were moments, though, when I could feel myself wanting to revert back to those old dynamics when I felt like I needed to defend myself and couldn't find any other way to do it. He could be really clueless and stubborn at times and telling him gently just would not sink in.

What would end up happening is I would stay silent to avoid saying something I would regret and I would never come up with anything better and it wouldn't get resolved. This was no good either. I have two equally strong fears: letting someone walk all over me or not treating someone with the respect they deserve. It shouldn't have to be either/or.

I often thought that I had to grow and evolve a lot as a person to even have met someone like him to begin with, instead of being drawn to the wrong kind of person. I feel like I started at such a low remedial level of relationship skills that I still haven't graduated that high.

And another thought

There was also other thought that came to mind as I read that over about the modeling. Most people assume there would be a lot of negative things about the experience. The concern is usually that it will make us feel that our only worth is our bodies. However, I spent so long at the other extreme, completely separating myself from myself from my physical body, and as I said in that post, that turned out not to be a healthy thing either. So, I actually experienced it as a positive thing. It gave me a chance to express things through my physical body. Through different expressions, poses, clothes, and settings, I got to see how my body could also be a medium for creative expression. Though I'm glad that I started when I was older and it's never been my primary income so I don't have to take it too seriously or take any project I don't like. However...

It has brought to light something bizarre about our society. I'm amazed at how many people assume that given the opportunity (which would require moving out of the state), I would want to make it my full-time job. This doesn't just come from the occasional idiot, but even very intelligent and enlightened types who I normally have a lot of respect for. They also know that I do like my day job. It's like it's supposed to be some sort of ultimate attainment for a woman and there is nothing you could possibly want to do more. That's just fucked up.

Clarification

Wow. I just realized how long it has been since I last wrote here. My original purpose in keeping this journal was to have an anonymous place to get all the things I don't usually talk about out of my system. Yet somehow despite being completely anonymous I still found myself starting to hold back. I wonder why that happens. I need to push myself to get back into it. I was reading over my Steppingstones of the Body and thought I should clarify something.

My mom was a chubby kid. She says she got picked on for it in school.

Then, when she was in college, she learned that she could get thin by eating next to nothing for a few days. If the weight came back, she could do the same again. Of course, it's now commonly known that this kind of yo-yo dieting will mess you up long-term, but she didn't know it at the time.

She met my dad during one of her thinnest phases. My dad has always been very skinny. Soon, he started to make snide comments about her weight. I've since learned that some men like to keep their women insecure to make themselves feel secure. (To this day, it makes me very angry when I see this happen to a friend.) There's a picture he took of her from their first year of marriage, standing by a vase of flowers. She told me that when they first got that back, he told her , "Your arms look so fat there!" and she never wore a sleeveless top again. The irony is she was thin at the time and he now has that picture blown up and hanging in their living room.

My whole childhood I remember her always being off or on a diet. She would lose weight and then, gain it back with more. It would alternate with emotional eating binges. (We suspect she might have also occasionally purged.) She gradually went from just a little overweight to very overweight.

She hid boxes of candy and other junk food in the house to eat when my dad wasn't home. She would eat piles of them at a time and stuff the wrappers in the couch cushions. Sometimes, my dad would find them and she would want us to take responsibility for them. But, he knew. He would tell us later that he always knew it was her.

My sister and I have always been skinny like our dad. When we were little, our mom actually tried to do things to ensure that we would never have her problems. Unlike most kids, we weren't required to clean our plates so we never learned to override our natural fullness signals. She didn't make a point to give us junk food or to forbid it so that it neither became a habit nor tempting forbidden fruit. So, to this day, I can just eat according to my appetite.

But, that all changed when I hit puberty, right when I was 12. Then, she became angry and competitive about my weight. She would do things like buy me clothes several sizes too big and throw a fit when I said I couldn't wear them. She would accuse me of showing off my body long before it had ever occurred to me to do so. And then, she would tell people in a genuinely-concerned-sounding tone that she thought I was anorexic, even though she knew very well that I ate more than most people my size (as everyone else who has seen me eat also knows). Also, she would tell me that I would eventually get fat, because it was what I deserved and claims that I have her body type even though I'm 38 and a size zero and have never been any bigger.

The funny thing is I never even thought about my weight or the appearance of my body until then. Like I said before, until then, being told I was skinny had completely neutral connotations to me. I could not tell you what my weight was at any point before 7th grade without looking up old doctors' reports. In assessing my appearance, I noticed nothing from the neck down, except as something to hang my clothes off of. It only changed once she got so focused on it.

Steppingstones of the Body

I went to one of Ira Progoff's Intensive Journal workshops years ago. One of the exercises involves writing the "steppingstones" of our lives. Then, there is another one specifically for the body and another one for spiritual steppingstones. I did this exercise again today and thought I would share.

Because of the nature of the subject, there is adult contentCollapse )

Living in the Past

Living in the past is no good, unless it shows you what you need to do in the future.

It was inescapable in the months immediately following my breakup with W., though. Everything seemed to trigger a vivid memory. Helping my mom light candles at her house, the smell of the match brought back the memory of him lighting candles in my bedroom. It was like something was constantly broken inside that kept me separate from whatever I was interacting with on the outside.

It's been long enough now that I've repressed all of this. I no longer think about him everyday. Except right now, I'm remembering the first time I rode on a motorcycle.

I came over and he asked me why I didn't bring a jacket. It was summer and I didn't think I needed it. But, he told me I'd be cold on the motorcycle and took out a jean jacket he had that was so big on me that I felt like a child with hands lost in the sleeves.

He drove us around a bit and at every stop, reached back to squeeze my leg. I joked that he was trying to make sure I was still there, but I knew he was doing it to reassure me. At first, I was clutching his chest for dear life, but then I started to relax. He pulled into the nearest parking lot, a church, and asked me how I was feeling, was I up for more? When I was hesitated, he teasingly asked if I would rather stay and watch the free Baptist concert. I remember his smile then - He often used to complain that he was getting too old to be attractive, but I always loved his smile. So, I smacked him in the face with one of the dangling jacket sleeves and then, got back on.

Then, I'm remembering further back to when we first met, getting ready for those first few dates, curling my hair, spraying perfume, high heels sinking into my living room carpet - I was always ready at least a few minutes early. And then, I'd sit down and pick up a book, anticipating the moment he would ring my buzzer. I remember things like making out with him in the Renaissance Center elevator on the way to the top, the Brazilian restaurant where we finished an entire bottle of wine...

And, right now, at this moment, I really miss him (though it will pass). I know - I absolutely know - that we needed to break up when we did. If we didn't, we would have both been stuck. I obviously had a lot to figure out and he wanted a relationship that could move forward in a way that I simply wasn't capable of at the time. I also know that all good things can happen again, can even be better than you can currently conceive of, as long as you make the effort of changing your mindset. Yet, in this moment, this feeling is also real.

As I struggle with this making sense of my life and myself, memories like this are a reminder of what I'm working for. It's what makes it worth it.

What if?

One of my favorite books is Replay by Ken Grimwood. It's about a guy who has a heart attack and dies when he's 43 only to wake up as his 18-year-old self and have to live his life over again from that point, with full memory of the life he has already lived. The same thing happens over and over and he lives multiple versions of his life. The story has always appealed to me because there are so many things from my past that I wish I could do over differently. He gets to do that, but also experiences the sense of loss that every time he builds a life, he will lose it and have to start over again.

So, I ponder various scenarios from my own life based on this premise.

1. What if knowing what M. was going to do, I found a way to set him up to get in trouble for it before it actually happens? That way I can make my escape sooner and know he had to face consequences for what he did. (I haven't worked out the details of this yet.) But, if there was a way to do that, would it be ethical, knowing that this is what he would do, but he hadn't actually done anything wrong yet?


2. Of course, I've spent a long time wanting to relive my relationship with W. to do things differently, but if I came back when I was 18, that would be a long time before I met him. I couldn't try to meet him sooner or he would have still been married. (He didn't actually get married until I was 21, but when I was in college, I wouldn't have lived near him.) Of course, I would want to date other guys to pass the time. But, what if I started feeling strongly enough for someone to be conflicted? Then, I would have a dilemma whether to stay with that person or move on to try to work things out with W. It can be hard to predict who will really be best for you.


3. This one would involve going further back then my own life, but what if I had a time machine that could take me back to meet my mom before she was married/I was born and I honestly know that she would have been happier not having kids. Could I or should I try to get her to see this even though I know I would be erasing my own existence?




When I try to imagine this actually happening, I mostly get sad thinking of how much I would miss my dog for the many years before he would exist or before I was even in a situation where I could keep a dog. I wonder what it would be like to wake up in my little dorm room bed in that tiny 12 x 12 room (smaller than my condo's storage closet) that I had to share with a roommate instead of waking up in my cozy bed in my own condo with my furbaby warming my feet? Not so great and I would have to be in such less than ideal situations for awhile.


Any of these might make good stories to write some day.

Repeating Patterns

Maybe, I started to repeat my mom's pattern when I was younger. After all, I moved to another state with a guy I barely knew based on a momentary feeling that I assumed had to be how you "just knew". (I now know that it's a characteristic of his type that they are very intense. During the good phases, it will seem like they love you more than anyone possibly could.) Unlike my mom though, I didn't end up permanently stuck. I was able to move on with my life and learn to have better relationships.

For awhile though, it seemed like I might be. It's a long story. The short version is that when I first moved in with this guy, M., I believed it was of my own free will, but it soon turned into a hostage situation where I wasn't even allowed to leave the house. I had to get help to sneak out one day while he was at work. Aside from the threats he would make if he suspected I was even thinking of leaving, he kept me under control by keeping the last of the money I had in his own bank account and getting a place for us to live in a small town where cabs didn't even come to.

(You may be wondering why I would have ever let him do this. It started out innocently enough. I had just moved to a new state and didn't have my own account yet. When he suggested it, it just didn't seem reasonable to say that I was ready to move in with him, but couldn't trust him with that. At least, that reasoning made sense to me as a 21-year-old.)

This was 15 years ago and he has harassed me online off and on since then. On more than one occasion, he has written blogs to tell people "the truth" about me (using my full real name and emailing people I know to get them to look at it). He would contact me through email and on any site he found me until I would block him. He would be angry one day, sad the next. Sometimes, he would be apologetic. Sometimes, he would just drop me a casual note telling me what was going on in his life, like I was any friend he was still on speaking terms with. He did all of this while getting no replies from me, as if he was having a long argument inside his head.

In fact, he refused to acknowledge that we were even broken up. He would word emails as if we were still together and just having a spat. He even once asked if I had been with anyone else, because he "wouldn’t put it past me". Then, he went on to reassure me that he wasn’t cheating.

About 2 years into this, I thought that maybe I should reply to him once so he would know exactly where I stood, since I did, after all, leave him without a word. So, I sent him a detailed email explaining exactly why I left and telling him in no uncertain terms that I wanted him to leave me alone.

At first, he replies telling me that he’s sorry and he understands. The next day, he tells me that he’s realized our problem is we’re trying to work things out long-distance and I should let him move in with me for a few months. The next day, though he hasn’t heard from me, he starts to make a list of demands of what I have to do if I want to get back together or to just forget it. The next day, he writes to tell me what a cruel bitch I am. He says nothing could have hurt him more than when I wrote, "I want nothing more to do with you." (It wasn’t supposed to make him feel warm and fuzzy. Just stating facts.) After one attempt at explanation, I wasn’t going to write to him, again. I just kept ignoring him and it went back to the same cycle. I'm not hearing from him at the moment, but he's kind of like an infection where you think it's gone and then, it suddenly flares up again.

He is the one I mentioned in my intro post who found my last attempt to keep an anonymous blog. (So, I chose a more difficult screenname and even though I'm making most of this blog public, I will make any posts where I mention him friends-only to make it harder for him to find me this time.)

In his mind all this has been completely justified, because if I left I was breaking a promise to him. Turns out he took all my warm, fuzzy declarations of love to mean that I was promising to stay with him no matter what he did. I'd have to be out of my mind to make a promise like that. Why would I ever stay with someone if he did something bad enough for me to leave? And, why would he even need that promise? Only if he knew no one would stay with him of their own free will. (His mom encouraged him in this thinking, though last I knew, she was on her third husband.)

But, when you marry someone, technically you are supposed to be making that promise. It's a major issue I have with wedding vows that I hadn't really thought about until that situation. Sure. Everyone knows it tends to be a fake promise, that you're just as likely to end up divorced, but I'm not a fan of saying things I don't mean. I'm not interested in being a martyr for an institution. Though I will say that I think it's a good thing to not jump ship at the first sign of trouble, to make an attempt to work things out, but there are obviously some situations where you will never be happy. It's another thing I have to think about in deciding if marriage will ever be right for me (at least, not without some rewording of the vows).

Good Girls

I had a conversation recently with some people who are angry about the attitudes towards sex they were raised with. Despite all the things I can legitimately be angry at my mom about, I can't be angry about that one. It was just what she herself had been taught. Her generation did believe sexual purity was important for finding a husband and until recently, a husband was necessary for survival. My mom was at least able to evolve with the times and see how things have changed and most importantly, that the origins of those beliefs were based on the idea that women were property, something she couldn't stand behind. So, she feels completely differently on the subject now and will say that sex is not bad, but simply a natural thing.

I shouldn't be too surprised considering that in a lot of ways she has always been more progressive than most people. She was always for women's rights and accepting of gays. She also didn't attempt to keep me cloistered like my grandparents did with her. So, in some ways, I can understand why she would want to live vicariously through me so badly and even feel entitled to. It wouldn't have been such a big deal if it didn't get tied in with her jealousy and control issues.

Why Revive Ophelia?

I've heard that girls' self esteem is shown to dramatically drop when they hit puberty. I've been speculating on why.

1. When I was in the early stages of puberty, there was this assumption that the moment your body starts to change, your mind immediately catches up and you comprehend the difference in the way others react to you. Once when I was 11, I got yelled at by a teacher for how I was sitting while wearing a skirt, that my upper leg was showing and that was "filthy". At that age, it hadn't even occurred to me that I needed to keep that covered. Little kids are not worried about anything but making sure their underwear doesn't show. Rather than take me aside to explain that I was now getting to an age where things were different, it was just assumed that I knew.

2. When I was in middle school, our male gym teacher had a habit of suddenly walking into the girls locker room to tell us something (which never turned out to be that urgent). He would always say something lame like, "Close your eyes girls. I'm coming in." We lived in constant fear of this and would come out of gym class and get dressed as fast as we possibly could. So, some parents complained to the school about him.

Then, one day before class, he sat us down and berated us for telling our parents he was coming in the girls' locker when we know he doesn't do that. Basically, he told a whole class that what we'd seen wasn't real. So, it was dropped. I know at least three years later, when my sister had his class, he was still doing the same thing. And, this was a school that had been named a National Exemplary School in a nice , upper-middle class suburb. So, we were taught from a young age that when it comes to these things, we just have to suck it up and deal with it.

3. Though this one might be changing, when I was growing up, we were taught that "boys only want one thing", but female sexual desire is nonexistent and was only about wanting attention or having low self esteem. Of course, by now, we should all know better. Sex drive varies among people of either gender. But, at the time, girls were made to feel like the natural feelings we were having were inherently pathological.

Even the talk shows that were considered more respectable, like Montel Williams would regularly bring groups of girls on so an indignant audience could berate them for their sexual activity. The same never happened with boys. On one of these shows, they brought in a 27-year-old woman who talked about what an amazing life she had and she had never had sex with anyone. She offered to have one of these girls stay with her for awhile to become similarly awesome. It wouldn't have been so bad in itself, except that it was assumed that she was a more together person just because she wasn't having sex.

4. It's still a common idea that the way to protect kids (and specifically girls) from having sex before they are ready is to demonize sex in general. Wouldn't it be enough to teach them to respect themselves, that they have their own worth, and don't need to jump through hoops to make others like them, that their needs in a relationship are equal? If they truly feel this, they won't feel pressured to do something before they genuinely feel ready. This wasn't common, though. We were always told to do this or that so boys would like us. We were even told that the reason to not have sex too soon was so that boys would respect us.

The problem with teaching guilt and shame around sex is that it still doesn't teach you that your body is your own. It still puts the authority for when you do what on some outside source.

There is also a self-contradictory attitude towards teaching about birth control. On the one hand, people get concerned that giving that information will encourage teenagers to have sex, but the same people will also complain that teenagers aren't responsible enough to use birth control.

5. Growing up, we were taught that females are expected to be both sexy and sexual, but NOT sluts. The line between the two was the thinnest tightrope ever. No one has ever quantified what exactly what constitutes a slut and it can be hard to say why one woman is called one but not another when what they did was not really that different.

Anyone have further thoughts?