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Breathe

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There’s a song that encompasses this wild roller coaster ride of a year that is soon drawing to a close. In fact, that song sums it all up too well.

But that second verse… That second verse is all him, almost to a T. I used to be a singer, and I used to sing this song every time I heard it, but now I get to that second verse and fall silent, because it hits a little too close to home.

One thing I heard repeatedly was your first post-divorce relationship will be a disaster. So when he reached out to me, I tried repeatedly to sidestep him. I knew I wasn’t ready. It was less than a month after my husband and I split, and I just didn’t have it in me. After more than 20 years of having my ego used as a punching bag, I was… empty. I’ve never in my life dated anyone younger than me, I wasn’t really interested in starting. I joke that I have daddy issues. It’s really no joke, it is probably true. I’ve dated (much) older men and never thought twice about it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I have sons, and even thinking about some older woman preying on them sends my maternal instincts into overdrive, or just some cultural norm, but the idea made my skin crawl.

He was a persistent little shit, and my resistance was MIA. So I gave in. I figured having some fun wasn’t a bad idea. I am a firm believer that when you’re stuck the important thing is not simply to move forward, it’s to just get moving again. If you worry about moving in the right direction you’re likely to stay stuck. You can always correct your path, but you have to be moving to do it. So I did something I rarely do. I threw caution to the wind.

I miscalculated, on multiple counts. The worst of which was seeing a little too much of a me that no longer exists mirrored in him. Someone once believed in me before I could believe in myself, and I’ve always knew I’d pay that forward someday. I thought I could do the same for him, but you can’t help someone who thinks there is no downside to the choices they make. He always blames the fallout on the nearest target. I tell my kids all the time, people don’t change until change is the least painful option, but when you’ve convinced yourself that you aren’t the cause of your own pain, you’ve made yourself powerless to change it, to even connect the dots, to see the cause and effect.

I will probably be haunted by that realization for the rest of my life.

But as someone who is rather obsessed with cause and effect, I used the whole experience to learn, to connect some dots I’ve struggled with for years. It’s a strange thing to say, but couldn’t be more grateful. It could have been a disaster; but somehow I came out of it stronger, healthier. I’m ready to take these next steps I’ve been avoiding for years, because I was terrified of making the same old mistakes.

I’ve spent the last few months testing hypotheses and trying out some new skills. So far so good. If you can walk away relatively unscathed and with some new weapons in your arsenal, that’s a win.

But the feeling I can’t shake is I’ve seen this movie too many times, and I don’t like the ending. I had hoped I could help him rewrite it and then we could both go our separate ways, ready to own the future.

The kindest thing he’s ever done is shut me out of his life. I hate that ending and I hope I never have to watch it again. It’s too heartbreaking. There are no happy endings. Nobody makes it out alive.

Tragedy isn’t my genre of choice.

Why Do You Love Me

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He used to ask me this all the time. Every time he asked, I was pulled up short.

I’ve been a number of relationships in my decades on this giant ball of crazy we call Earth. Never once has anyone asked me that. Perhaps because being the empath that I am, I’m usually bubbling over with effusive praise. Whatever I said clearly never answered the question though, because he’d ask it again and again, much to my surprise (which quickly gave way to annoyance).

The truth is, I didn’t really have a good answer. I told him often that I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him. I was not what I wanted for him, so I held part of myself back. But it’s an undeniable fact that I cared deeply for him. In love or not, I could never explain why, what it was about him that I had come to love.

In retrospect, nearly everything about our relationship and who he represented himself to be was a lie, so maybe that’s why it was such a hard question for me to answer. I’d probably find that easier to swallow if my gut hadn’t been screaming at me the whole time. For all his calling me naive and gullible, I wasn’t fooled. I’m just a firm believer that once you know you’re dealing with a snake, you’re under no obligation to declare that fact. I did miscalculate on a grand scale about the nature and severity of his issues, but I never bought all his BS.

And yet, the whole rationale behind the ridiculous affair was the spark of something special I imagined I saw in him.

Perhaps being unable to describe it adequately should have been the wake up call that might have saved us both a giant headache.

But I ignored the fallout and shrouded myself in the comforting blanket of fantasy.

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

You Are Perfect

I saw a Princess last night. All beautiful dress and regal bearing.

She held her father’s hand as she crossed the street, the whole while staring through the inky darkness, looking inquisitively at me.

I waved, and my lips curled into a gentle smile.

She looked for a minute, slowly smiled, and waved right back.

She bounced off, on her way to unknown adventures.

I was on cloud 9 the rest of the night.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

Nevermind These Are Hurried Times

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People have such a hard time simply being present with someone else’s pain.There are a multitude of socioeconomic reasons for this. Essentially, we avoid pain, and we have been avoiding it as long as humans have existed. Avoidance of pain is a biological imperative, sure. An unavoidable survival instinct. But we humans overcome many instincts in order to participate efficiently and effectively in modern life. So why do we struggle so when it comes to experiencing or witnessing pain?

There’s nothing like experiencing pain (first or secondhand) to trigger a massive bout of cognitive dissonance. We “move past”  hurts and injuries; illnesses and loss. We do as we are told and put them behind us. Leaving the past where it belongs. There’s some wisdom to that, but it’s only part of the equation. If we don’t first learn whatever we can from those moments, they are wasted. We have failed to take from that experience the power to help ourselves and others in a time of crisis.

But there are no classes and precious few books that really tell us how to help someone actually heal. There is pop psychology and there are platitudes and the things we think we should say because they seem to make sense at the time, but which may in fact be horrifically invalidating or in other ways harmful.

So people fall back on the simplistic and the trite and they run for the nearest exit. They rationalize away the impact of their reaction because they aren’t sure what else to do or how to handle things differently, so they just put it out of their minds. Just as previous experiences with pain have taught them to do.

But all that pressure to say the right thing is usually misguided. Often just saying to someone “I wish I knew what to say but I don’t, no words seem equal to the magnitude of what you’re experiencing, but I’m going to stay right here with you and be present with you and take care of you in whatever way you need until you tell me it’s time to go” (or some truly meant variation on that) is more than enough. Often it’s the thing that can actually bring a moment of peace, comfort, and feeling loved and nurtured. Sometimes those are exactly the wrong feelings and the offer will be rejected. And that’s ok, the person is not rejecting you, they are asking for what they need. So you simply offer “please, reach out, ask for what you need, and I’ll be on my way now” and then you leave.

Really, most of us didn’t have great examples of how to handle our own pain, let alone someone else’s. So why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we have these discussions? Why don’t we share and problem solve and tweet tips and tricks on how to be a loving and supportive human the way we share financial tips or makeup tutorials or game walkthroughs?

This issue is the key to solving all the greatest ills we need to solve in our world.  Empathy is truly the force that makes the world go round.

The Roses In The Windowbox

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I remember walking into my Grandmother’s living room. He was sitting in Grandpa’s chair. I don’t remember seeing him cry before or since, but he cried for a long time that day. He played Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding again and again, tears silently streaming down his face. I remember trying to console him, feeling scared and powerless and overwhelmed by the loss of my Grandfather and any force that could impact my Father this way.

For my entire adult life I’ve had a copy of that album.

In the final stages of creating this blog I’ve found my heart so burdened. I’m picking off lots of barely healed scabs and opening lots of raw wounds. I’ve shed more than my share of tears. I have been playing this song so often lately. It’s funny that whenever my heart is heavy I need to hear it. It’s equal parts catharsis and visceral memory.

It’s interesting how those distant memories can so strongly impact our future, our ways of coping, and our perspectives.

I know I don’t say it enough, but some of the best parts of me I learned from you.

I love you Dad.

 

I Get By With A Little Help

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The first time I realized what was happening I was floored. A perfect stranger walks someone out to my car and gets them safely seated and buckled into my car. They tell me this is their good friend so and so, please make sure they get home safely. Which I of course agree to do.

We live in a world where we hear of people who take advantage of inebriated people in the most heinous and/or violent ways. Who drug others to take advantage of them.

Every week I have multiple people gently ensconced in my car by someone who simply wants to know they get home safely and aren’t harmed. And they are willing to pay to make that happen.

It’s beautiful and humbling.

One side note, I have on occasion had passengers leave important belongings behind in my car. Uber, in one of their finer moments, has created a feature that allows you to gift someone else a ride. Whenever possible, this is the wisest action to take. If the actual passenger leaves something behind we have no trail to reunite them with their belongings if they don’t use their account. One time a wallet was left behind, and it was only my memory of a distant city and the knowledge that the address on the license was correct that allowed it to get returned to its owner.

That said, keep on, beauties. I see you. I appreciate you. I wish you many blessings.

Lately I’m Foolish, I Don’t Do This

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That first week was a whirlwind of texts and dates, and spending our first night together.

I’m generally someone who operates at turtle speed, but he had this way of getting under my skin. We talked and texted endlessly, and it was all so easy. The fun, flirty banter, the drives, the long, intense conversations in my car, the kissing… It all felt so natural and right. There were moments, little blips on the radar, but they were almost reassuring in a way. The conflicts, oh so fleeting, were the only signs of normalcy amid the dreamlike clouds of fantasy.

Or so I thought.

They weren’t signs of normalcy, they were warning shots across the bow.

Not that I saw that at the time, they lulled me into a false sense of security. It was only when I was finally ready to look at the situation as a whole, when I finally reread the novella written over the months we spent together that I recognized them for what they were. They were the tests that I passed; before the ones I “failed”.

At the time I was just happy. Not just to be embarking on this journey, but because I knew that healing hearts was what I did well. I thought I had something to offer him, something that would help him find a happiness I knew we couldn’t share. I could never give him all the things I wished for him. But I thought we could share a moment in time and both come out the other side ready to take on the future, healthier, happier, and stronger.

The problem is, what he wanted from me was not what I was ready or willing to give him. If we both had been clear about the realities, we could have saved each other a whole lot of time and trouble. Maybe. Maybe the trouble is exactly what he needed to get what he really wanted. I hate to think that, it’s too nightmarish to contemplate.

It’s a reality with ample precedent.

At the time, I was too lost in the fantasy to see the entirety of the truth. My gut was yelling endlessly. I didn’t ignore it, but I wasn’t willing to walk away from someone so special without some evidence. Evidence was not what he was selling at the time. What he was selling was fairy tales. Potent ones.

Resistance in the face of his relentless onslaught was laughably futile. I could barely catch my breath and he knew it. He planned it. He capitalized on the confusion he created.

All Is Fair In Love

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As they approached the car, I saw the closed off body language. Both wore guarded and wounded expressions. My heart clenched for a moment. They were both polite as they got in; silence settled over the car like a heavy veil almost immediately. They were a beautiful couple, both dressed to the nines, clearly successful, see and be seen types in an up and coming neighborhood. The wife was fierce and proud and seemed like someone who had no problem speaking her mind, the kind of woman I most admire. And her husband was handsome, and polished, they were just beautiful.

“How could you behave like that?”

Nothing but stony silence.

Me, being the mother hen that I am, waited a few minutes for them both to calm from the rush of adrenaline; started chattering about the kind of nonsense I normally eschew but which is a useful refuge when emotions are running high. The husband did all the talking. Ok, I’ve got him off the ledge, time for a more direct approach.

“Young lady, I have to tell you how beautiful you look this evening. You’re absolutely stunning; and that dress is on point.”

I hear a soft gasp, a squeaked “thank you” and gentle sobbing.

Not what I was aiming for, but I think she needed to hear it. And it was the only thing I could come up with on what was only a very short trip.

A minute or two later I hear a shrill, “Don’t touch me!”.

I feel you, dear one; I feel you. It’s hard to feel love or compassion or accept an olive branch when the person you’ve given your heart to has humiliated you in front of a perfect stranger. But I could tell he truly meant it. I think he knew he could have handled himself better.

The trouble with relationships is we humans fear pain and abandonment, so anything that looks like either of those sends our heads spinning.

How cruel is life, that the things that first attract us to someone often become the things we find most triggering. The bonds that once drew us close often wedge us apart.

I’m sure the fact that she is fierce is why he loves her, why he won her heart. No other man had that strength, that courage. And I’m sure the fact that he is an impeccable gentleman made her feel safe, like she could let down her guard for once. But now, her independence looks to him like disrespect, and his nurturing feels oppressive.

I did something I never do, something I probably shouldn’t have done. I logged out of Uber, parked the car and got out. I asked her first, because she was on my side of the car.

“Is it ok if I give you a hug?”

She nods, and I hold her and she cries again. I never wanted to let go. In some way, it’s like holding my past self. But I remember this pain. I remember being young and in love and thinking that’s all it took.

This couple had so much going for them, and I truly felt they were well matched. The reality of this moment was painful to watch, and I know all too well how much worse it was to experience. I walked around and said “you too” and gave him a quick hug. I looked at them both and said, “You’re going to be ok, you’ll find a way through the hard times”.

I have no idea if it is true, I just want it to be, and I want to leave them with some hope to cling to.

What I really wanted to do is log out for the rest of the night and play therapist, to reframe these wounds for them, to help them remember what it was like when they first fell in love, why they loved each other, why they each won the other’s heart, and why nobody else ever came close. I wanted to help them see that the  thing that hurt the most was the very thing that could help them have a marriage others dream of.

Instead I did the only thing we rideshare drivers can do and watched them walk away.

I think of them often. I pray more for them than I do for nearly anyone. If there is a God, if there is justice, someone will help them see the truth of life, and love. Before it’s too late.

Love like that is rare, and we don’t get second chances at it.

She’s Got The Magic Touch

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“I’m a bitch, you know that, right?”

“Duly noted” I grinned at her; a little too adoringly.

Most of the time I can’t stand drama, pot-stirrers or other nonsense. I’m a little too earnest, a little too loving, and a little too free with my heart; so my only defense is to keep people who might abuse the privilege at, well, much more than arm’s length. Like, maybe a football field.

She’s the one exception. I love her, one might say worship. One wouldn’t be overstating things.. Maybe because she is who she is, and she doesn’t hide, lie, manipulate or play games. She’s completely comfortable with who and what she is, and she feels no need to pretend otherwise. No fucks given at all about your opinion. Ever.

But she’s fun and brash and has a rapier wit that she wields masterfully without being overtly mean. She walks that oh-so-fine line with precision and skill. She’s drop-dead-gorgeous which doesn’t hurt, and she has a voice like melted chocolate, a laugh like a room full of crystal during a toast, and this delicious accent that makes you wish she’d just keep talking. About anything. Weather, sports, beheadings, you don’t really care, you just don’t want her to stop.

This group is so jam-packed with extraordinary people that I could write a hundred love letters before ever feeling the need to write a “Dear John”, but when you walk into a room and she’s there, you know things just got magnitudes better.

There is no crappy week that can overpower her many charms.

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