Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Release and Goodbye


As I approach my 42nd birthday this fall, I've been doing a lot of mental and emotional processing. You could say I've had a lot to process the last four months, besides the normal reflections of middle-age. This is the time where people normally decide to either start living or continue the process of figuratively dying. Middle-age is also a time where people usually decide who they're going to be for the second half of their lives, evaluating what's worked, what hasn't, and what they need to do to embrace the changes they've decided to become. Some of us more reflective types have been doing that for decades, but why not take the time to do it when it you've accumulated enough wisdom to make it seem more real?

That's what I'm going to attempt to do here. Those of you who have been reading this blog for years or who have gotten to know me well enough in person realize this "reflection thing" is a core part of who I am. You also know how easy it is for me to oscillate between choices because I see, value, and am so many different things. Well, approaching 42nd birthday aside, for the past four months I've been processing a lot of mixed emotions and difficult choices. There's been resolve, resolution, relief, frustration, longing, sadness, some happiness, some regret, confusion, a desire to hold on to people, a desire to let go of people, a desire to let go of falsehoods, identities, and tasks, a desire to be honest, a desire to keep being the better person, self-examination of my contributions to the dynamics, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and hurt. A lot of hurt.

During the past four months, I left an employer I didn't really want to, but I let go of a job and an environment that had become toxic for me. I'd felt for years that it was time for me to move on, but someone always ended up leaving before I decided to put it in writing, or a big project and a lot of work was looming, or I was needed to do something else or support someone else.....everyone else except me. It's a long-winded way of saying I made decisions based on my perception of what others needed, not what I needed.

I also tolerated years of mistreatment - from bosses, peers, subordinates. When my fuse would finally start to spark, it was too much too late. And people didn't understand why nice, overly compliant, overly supportive, and overly agreeable me would be any different. Actions I took seemed unacceptable for me, but they certainly were acceptable for everyone else. I could be yelled at, demeaned repeatedly (often in front of others), misunderstood, interrupted, dismissed, and talked to condescendingly without consequence. But if I even started to resemble those things, it was game over. I didn't feel human anymore. I couldn't agree, I couldn't disagree, I couldn't take the time to think. There wasn't any support for my mistakes. In fact, it felt as though there wasn't any support at all. I was a punching bag and a dumping ground, and as long as I continued to fulfill those roles everything was okay.

Others who worked with me (some of them not even in the same department) pointed out my unhappiness and mistreatment long before I was willing to admit it to myself. I'm grateful for that and for the opportunity to take other jobs in the organization, even though I ended up not following through because of the nature of the job itself. I wanted to stay and I wanted to work with the people I would have worked with, but I didn't want to end up with a potential misalignment with my true interests and the responsibilities of the position. I'm also grateful for those who forgave my less than ideal (re)actions, and for the talks that validated my perceptions of what was happening. Thank you for offering to go to bat for me, even though I wanted to have the conversation myself with the people who were at the core of my feelings of betrayal and hurt. I never did have that conversation. I always felt as though I were walking on eggshells and I let my desire to please/avoid confrontation override the need to be honest and to honor myself.

I wanted to be honest, but the trust was long gone. And I didn't know if it would come back. Three years ago it was blown apart and I was hurt. Not the first time, but I was hurt to the point where I couldn't speak because what I felt as a result was so overwhelming. I couldn't process or identify the swirl of negativity that had happened. I knew what had happened was bullying - mobbing to be more exact. But I chose to say nothing because I wasn't sure if it was part of some sort of misguided, bizarre ritual that took place with everyone, if I had become a target because true to my conscientiousness I was a "model employee," or if this was retaliation for thinking for myself and choosing not to go along with what someone else wanted me to do at the time. Plus, when I'm shocked, uncomfortable, or a past trauma is triggered, my mind and entire body freezes. I lose my words, can't make decisions, and I can't act. I suppose a professional might call this an effect of PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder, but since it's been with me since I can remember I consider it "normal." I had made a mistake, maybe several, yes. But the instructions I was given were to try and someone else would fill in the blanks, if needed. I didn't realize I was being set up to fail and then publicly humiliated for it, among other things that I did not have knowledge of and/or were beyond my direct control. At that moment, I stopped trusting. I stopped being completely honest. And I stopped wanting to continue trying.

I knew from life experiences that people hurt others because they themselves have been hurt or they're carrying angst they don't know how to process in a healthy manner. I also knew at that point I started to disengage and thought of leaving. I started to line up possibilities. I was ready to leave, but I didn't because someone else beat me to it. And once again I chose to put the needs of others before my own. Looking back, I should have left anyway; regardless of what my absence would have meant, because I was only prolonging the inevitable. I carried the hurt and the shock of that experience for three years. I wondered why someone would choose to publicly humiliate and berate someone for making mistakes without clear direction. If you set someone up to fail, it isn't fair to punish them for not meeting your expectations. Why not use it as an opportunity to coach or mentor in private? Why not ask why certain directions and choices were made, and then explain politely and constructively why other directions and choices were more optimal?

But as humans, we often model what we've been shown or what has been done to us without realizing we're doing the same thing to others we told ourselves we wouldn't. After that "incident," I was no longer able to trust some of the people I needed to trust; people I was supposed to be able to trust. So for three years I wasn't fully authentic. And of course making that type of decision cost me a piece of who I was. And the job and its environment started to mirror the same experience I had separated myself from in 2011. It was more or less the same lesson given from a different angle. When will you listen? You matter. Your needs matter. What do you really want? It matters. Not what others think or what they want you to do. It's about you.

It seems selfish, but the truth is authenticity is the foundation of being able to give. And if you sacrifice your passions, your needs, your wants, who you are, you simply can't be anything to anyone else. And those who are around you or asking and needing things of you because of a mask, shouldn't be there. It's not healthy and it's better to let go.

Suffice it to say that letting go of an employer I didn't want to (but had to) is only one of the changes I've been processing. As my forty-first year of life comes to a close and my forty-second one begins, I'm hoping I can take better care of myself. I'm hoping I no longer tolerate toxicity and actually stand up when it happens, not when it becomes engulfing. I'm also hoping I learn to say "you hurt me. can we fix this if you're able to give me what I need." If not, I release and forgive you, but goodbye.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Reinvention and Time

When it’s time to let go, it may not be obvious that the string has unraveled at its ends, or the stream has been trickling in a different direction. We often look at our surroundings, at our present moments, and process that we’re here and that here is all we can know. Sensing change and the need for change is different for all of us. Some of us get a feeling long before we decide to walk a different path – mostly because the path hasn’t appeared yet. Some of us experience dreams that later become symbols and re-enactments of the decisions we’ll eventually make. Others find ourselves having seemingly random conversations with those whom we share a karmic connection from the past and those who serve as reflective guideposts along our journeys. Sometimes we get all the above – as if the universe and our higher selves are trying to push instead of pull those who are particularly inclined to become content with what is, rather than what has the potential to be.

I believe karmic connections either emerge or blatantly announce their existence through reflections. At times those can be pieces of yourself seen in another, whether those pieces are current or are those left behind in exchange for a different life. Of course, we all share connections with each other – the shared experience we call humanity makes us all potential mirrors. But sometimes those uncovered similarities we share make us realize there is something deeper at work – that our reinvention process does not occur solely in a cocoon.

Many of us possess an awareness that time does not consist of a straight line. Past, present and future are simultaneous, interchangeable, and constantly in flux dependent upon our choices – both individual and collective. Synchronicities that “shouldn’t” be there can help us catch a glimpse of this phenomena, but more often than not synchronicities are puzzles of truth meant to steer us in a direction we were doubtful we should take or help our “thinking” side merge with what we already felt was real.

The pilot of our experiences is always us – not a mystical being, not someone else, not someone we admire or fear, or someone who has temporary authority over what we do. Who we are is up to who we want to be. No one controls our destiny, but our sequential choices reflect what we value, what we’re willing to accept, what we’re willing to exchange, and whether we want to risk the time and potential ups and downs of visiting who we really are, separate from what we do and what others have come to expect us to do.

Perhaps a piece that was us continues to pilot the plane. And although the plane will land safely, the choice of whether to exit or continue the ride is dependent on the degree of pain one feels over leaving versus staying. We often ask ourselves how much is broken and whether that brokenness is worth continuing to live with. We also often ask ourselves if the person we’ve become (or becoming) is the reflection we want to give to others. If those answers are no, perhaps we ask if we’ve buried or not fully committed to a piece of ourselves we’d rather be. If that answer is yes, we disembark, leaving behind pieces of our reflections and releasing their imprints to a turned-backwards place.

Our pilots take on many identities. They are fragments, strewn like leaves. Seeds blooming in another’s soil, they can become flowers we once traced with our fingertips and embraced with our nose’s skin. They can also become blackened shadows, a set of wilted petals strewn beyond the zigzag of time once called “Me.” Which ones do you want to leave?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Roots

There might be many reasons to write. To establish one's thoughts, to know what one thinks, to get something out that you can only really tell yourself, to relive a piece of your history over again, to release the portions of your feelings you can no longer keep contained. Today it is a little bit of everything - kind of like my resume. I spent the day at a funeral for my brother-in-law's father, who was killed in a car accident while I and a portion of my family was back in Chicago for a holiday visit. While we were there, I saw things I remembered and things I didn't. I was in places where the only proof I had of existing there in a previous time was a feeling. The strange feeling one gets when something seems familiar, but one cannot recall the actual memory in one's mind. I also saw some places that I recognized from other dimensions - a recent vivid dream where I didn't exactly know where I was, but I know now. Whether astral projection, a repressed memory from this life, or a memory from a previous one, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, I now know I was in the place where my current existence originated. I still don't know what my spirit was trying to reconcile or reveal, but that will come with time.

I saw things about my roots that helped me understand what has shaped me, and things that I have moved on from. I wondered what my life would have been if my family had stayed, if I would have turned out differently. Or if I had gone back to the area to attend college or moved back as I've thought of doing. The house on Liberty Street didn't look as big as I remembered, neither did the river, or the parks, or the roads. A city changes, whether you're there to become engulfed in the details or existing somewhere else in space and time. A part of it seeps into you, once you've become a part of it, spreading its influence through the veins that carry life to each part of your body. It mixes with whatever else is there, whatever else the veins pick up as they carry what your fragments need to live as a whole being. I'm not surprised now when I reach for rye bread, listen to jazz and the blues, feel drawn to old houses and architecture, feel the rush of the L and the sounds of trains, carry out the strong work ethic of my family, honk my horn at drivers on the road, feel drawn to the water and the sounds of a pier, and display the sarcastic irritation (and sense of humor)a lot of the area's residents do. This place is a piece of me and I am a piece of this place.

My father may be at the bottom of that infamous lake. Somewhere along Lake Shore Drive, lined with expansive city towers and expensive hi-rise condos, Lincoln Park, the Zoo, Michigan Avenue shops, St. Joseph's, and memories that are hard to recall. My father could be anywhere and that I will not know. I couldn't say good-bye, because what is there to say good-bye to? If everything happens simultaneously, then he is still there. There isn't a grave to visit in a cemetery, like the ones for my great grandparents or uncle. There isn't someone to pick us up at the airport, like my aunt. All I have are stories, scattered memories, a voice, and the unknown. So when someone else's father suddenly vanishes, I get it. I've been through it twice. One I have ashes for. The other...air.

The truth is, it seems as though it's chance as to why some of us get to keep our parents for longer than others. It's never fair and it always hurts. Those of us who lose them early enough to accumulate only scattered memories (if any at all) have it entwined into our roots. It's a piece of our identity, a piece that can't be released, something that branches off into something bigger than what we realize until a reminder is in front of us. Perhaps that's why it's covered, unseen, forgotten until it becomes important. Until we realize that who we are is who someone else is, too. Part of who we are is unique, but part of it originates from the same beginning; unseen, until we dig up what has held us in place.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Orientation to Asshole U

It's been awhile since I've visited myself here. Myself meaning who I think I am and my perceptions of the environments I live in. There are things about these environments I have yet to fully understand. On some level I understand the need to vent frustration; the need to be (for lack of a better word) an asshole. What I don't understand is why humans do what we do to each other once we realize what we're doing is not the optimal way to handle things. Is it easier to rely on habit and pattern despite having the desire to try a different approach? Do we really, as some would suggest, punish others for what we believe are our own shortcomings? Can we only interpret others as we see ourselves? Maybe, but I'm still not sure.

For all that I've written on this blog, all that I've read, all I've reflected on in my mind, I still take things personally. I'm not sure there's a way around that. Things seep into me - a harsh tone, a slight hint of unhappiness, a hurried demand, a negative response based on little substance. At times I break down. I cry. I wipe away the tears and start over. Sometimes I hold on to that energy, I let it boil and steam, and eventually it seeps out into my own display of frustration and "assholeness." It's not my intention, but the fact I'm human takes over. At times I think I'm not really being an ass. I mean, after all, I tend to equate firmly stating the truth and what I need to being an ass. Is there something in my DNA or my learned predilections that prevent me from seeing this simple thing others seem to take for granted as "okay"? Maybe. Maybe that's an HSP thing or maybe it's a combination of environmental cues and nature. I don't know for sure, but I do know it's something I can't quite master.

Unhappiness. I guess that's what it boils down to. People can't contain the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the "whatever" boiling beneath the surface. So they let it out. Because it can't stay in anymore. It's got to leave. And the rest of us around them become sponges for the energy. It's transformed within us, carrying its anger, its upset damage, its torture, even its darkness. Then it becomes us. A part unseen until something else triggers its "too-muchness." What did I do to invite this?, we ask. Somewhere inside we know it's not us, it's something we can't control but want to grab and release into the unseen.

It's not the way to give a voice to our injury, our confusion, our inadequacy, our underlying fear we contain no significance. Being an asshole is the easy way out; an externalization; a tool of dismissal and relinquished responsibility. This past week it came in a few forms - some conventional, some straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. When a 70s plus man wearing yellow shorts, tube socks, and a printed tucked in tee stands in your office yelling about how his circa 2004ish Verizon cell phone no longer works and his government account is preventing him from buying a new one, all you can do is imprint the laughable story. But it makes you wonder.

Have I acted this way? I probably have. Without reason. Without justification. Without thought as to who it was that was receiving this energy. This destructible energy that does nothing. It sits there, hanging like black heavy rain clouds that won't spill because they're too busy rumbling. It seeps, like a poisoned elixir that starts out with the promise of bloomed petals and ends in a dried up stem. And it doesn't end. It continues. Until we learn there's a better way. Until we realize humans can't treat each other as if someone else, something else is the reason.

Not until we realize this doesn't feel good. Not until we realize what we've done; what we do. Then it's a whispered I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I know. I realize. I can't. I must. Do something else. Something different. Something called respect. A little something called kind-ness.