What my dog can teach us

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More important than the relationship we have with our friends, our family, or our significant other, is the relationship we have with ourselves. If I’m not taking care of myself, who is? If I don’t do nice things for myself, who will? If I don’t provide positive thoughts for a peaceful mindset, who will put them there?

Treating ourselves nicely is an act  I think only humans struggle with. Today, I watched my dog begin to lay down on the concrete. Suddenly, she hesitated and chose to find a spot on the soft grass instead. This decision seems effortless and potentially meaningless- but everything one needs to know about self-love can be exemplified by my dog’s decision to lay in the grass.

At times I’ve wanted to severely punish myself. At times I’ve consciously chosen to deprive myself of everything I so eagerly want my loved ones to have. I’ve comforted others before and without comforting myself. I’ve motivated, encouraged, complimented, assured everyone except for the one person I spend the most time with- the one person who’s thoughts I can actually control.

I’m convinced that when I commit such foolishness, it’s because I need  to hurt myself before others have the chance to. But the truth is- others will always try to hurt us. Whether or not they do depends on the fortress we’ve built up in our minds. If I’m spending no time building up my confidence, there’s a thin wall protecting me from the judgments of others.  If I spend less time hurting myself, and more time helping myself, I will actually become less vulnerable to pain- not more vulnerable.

Even my dog knows this.

The Feat of Adulthood

For me the most reoccurring challenge from age 18-22 has been 1) Discovering/ working towards a career that I genuinely have a passion for and 2) Relationships.

The two of them kind of go hand-in-hand, I think.The most common conversations when I lived with my roommates for three years were about school and relationships. And a lot of times failure in one category resulted in failure in the other.

The moment I started making school/ career related decisions that were true to myself, and not to the 4-year-plan, after which you-need-to-have-a-career, I started becoming more confident and empowered in all other aspects of my life, including relationships.

I think the challenge, really, is not looking to the person next to you and comparing your success to his/ hers. For me, and possibly a lot of people my age, observing others is what guides us. Our parents, teachers, and older friends tell us to go to college. Get a degree! And make a lot of money! And we listen. I think college education is excellent, but I found flaw in that focus is put on money- and status… and not on happiness.

My biggest struggle so far has been dealing with expectations- somehow living my life taking into account both what I want and what is necessary for me to live without worrying about money problems.

While all this obsessive thinking about school and money, the second most obsessive thoughts are/were about relationships with guys.

What if I never find someone right for me? Oh, look, someone is having a baby. Oh, look, someone is getting married. I want that frown emoticon and then, that weekend, I go on a date with a complete jerk… all hope is lost and somehow, a lack seems to continuing gnawing on my insides until I’m deceived by hope again.

But yay. I finally found the love of an amazing person. Still, the challenge remains on keeping the relationship healthy in it’s infancy, and removing all doubt that this person will leave me (voluntarily or involuntarily). I might be slightly more sensitive to these doubts because I’m pregnant. But the point is-whether in a relationship or single, the challenge revolves around finding/ keeping a mate. This is just for me.

The next challenge that I’m so excited for: being a mom and a good spouse.

 

 

I both produce light and deprive myself of it

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The sun is seen to pour down and expend itself in all directions, yet is never exhausted. For this downpouring is but a self-extension; sunbeams, in fact, derive their very name from a word signifying ‘to be extended’.

To understand the property of a sunbeam, watch the light as it streams into a darkened room through a narrow chink. It prolongs itself forward in a straight line, until it is held up by encountering some solid body which blocks its passage to the air beyond; and then it remains at rest there, without slipping off or falling away.

The emission, and the diffusion, of thought should be the counterpart of this: not exhausting, but simply extending itself; not dashing violently or furiously against the obstacles it encounters, nor yet falling away in despair; but holding its ground and lighting up that upon which it rests. Failure to transmit it is mere self-deprivation of light.

-Marcus Aurelius

 

Every day

Behind the smile, there is a relentless flow of self-destructive thoughts

Behind the eyes, there is a craving to be effortlessly understood

Behind the nervous laugh, there is a longing to be completely myself

Behind the downwards stare, there is a painful past, ready to renew fear

Who I am… it is rarely expressed outwardly. So much is hidden, burning; wanting to be released… so much is masked by pain from years of keeping a true self out of view.

Every day, I say things I don’t feel

Every day, I act to pursue approval

Every day, I want to stop

creating a human

Being pregnant confuses me. It takes all my energy, every last bit. What I’m left with is little desire to pursue anything that makes me happy.

I’m overwhelmed with emotion and fatigue seemingly all day every day. I want to rise up, to counter all that perturbs me with logic and motivation. But I dig, I dig deep. And all I find is preoccupation with negative thoughts, fueled not just by bodily fatigue but mental tiredness. 

I spend 20 percent of the day trying to tell myself to eat. Eat what though?.. I spend 20 percent trying to decide. I spend 20 percent of the day pleading with myself not to throw up. This feat itself takes the most energy out of me, besides the general tiredness that drains me all day long.

The last 20 percent I feel ok enough to have hope, to let optimism creep in, to start thinking about what I can do myself, for myself, to be happy. But an hour later I no longer have the energy to make myself happy. That’s why I feel so much better when I’m with Joel. He makes me happy when I don’t have the energy to do things for my self. 

I’m trying my best. I’m doing my best. I need to believe that there is a new mindset that I will soon be able to discover. One of appreciation and gratitude. One with stability. I need to believe that this is the storm before the sun comes out. 

I need to take care of myself when I can, and when I can’t I need to reach out to family and friends. Or else I’m just going to keep bullying myself. Feeling shitty and then bullying myself for not being able to deal with the shit on my own. I’m going to persevere.

Endurance

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, so that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life.

– Edmund Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo 

This pain is necessary. I must endure moments of fear, hopelessness, and loneliness in order to feel the contrast of emotions. When I feel content again, it will be an amazing, relieving happiness and appreciation for the moment. Only because I have an experience to compare it to.

There can be no fear without comfort, no hopelessness without optimism, and no loneliness without the warmth of company. 

. . . does resentment, like pain, heal over time?

All I wanted was for you to accept me, all of me, every part of me. But I don’t feel like you accepted any part of me- not the inside, nor the outside.

I felt rejected internally.

Rejection of my outward appearance only severed the wound further. Made more blood come out of an incision that was already bleeding, pouring every day.

Every day I waited for something that would never come. But at the time, I thought maybe it would come. I thought maybe one day you would say something, anything, about my character. But you didn’t. I was left alone with my thoughts every day as a child. I was only a child…a little girl…growing into an adolescent- and even now, as adult, I feel you never came around with the words I wanted to hear.

I look at you and I see an empty shell of a person who did not give me anything.

You are my dad but you are not the dad I want nor the dad I need. You weren’t even a husband. You are a sad excuse of a husband and a joke of a dad. So you played with us as kids. And so you took us on trips. That’s all you did. I don’t give a shit about trips or playing games or any of that bullshit. I would trade all of that for one day where you tell me you love me and that you are proud of me.

Maybe you can’t say the word love. Sure, okay. Maybe it scares you. Sure. But you can show it right?

Wrong. You can’t show it. You can’t even pretend to show it. Oh, you’re not around for a whole week, going out late at night. Coming home, only to make a house erupt in turmoil. Only to exacerbate an already HORRIBLE situation that YOU caused. If you go out and cheat, at least come back with a good enough excuse to where your own children don’t know what you did. Jesus Christ.

You are a horrible liar.

You are a horrible liar at lying about your horrible behavior. You ruined my adolescence. You ruined my self-image. Not only because you were never around but because you gave me NO confirmation of good qualities I may possess. You gave me NO quality time. You were gone. You took off, came back, was rude as FUCK to mom, disrespected and even bullied a handicapped deaf person who happens to be your wife. You are sick. You are disgusting and I believe you have no heart.

To look at someone in the face, who cannot hear you, and turn around, make fun of them, ignore their existence for 8 years, while I have to stay and watch. I see you bully and emotionally abuse my own mother for 8 years. I feel you detach yourself not only from her but from me.

You run away. FROM EVERYTHING. I don’t even want you here anymore- when you are here, you just make everything worse.

I used to actually want your approval and quality time but now there is no room for improvement with you. If you have any effect, it is a negative effect on our family. Your presence actually manages to do more damage than when you’re gone. We don’t even care anymore.

Me and mom have given up on you. Why do you even bother to come back home at night…? Just leave. You come to my soccer games. Yay. Not. You’re not good at hiding disappointment the few games I don’t score. You criticize my performance, nit pick at everything I did wrong, and make me feel horrible, once again, at not having a dad who’s proud of me. And it never ends. Ever.

All the memories I have of your comments toward me are negative. And the ones that are verging on positive- those ones are conditional, they don’t last. They don’t suggest you love me no matter what, they suggest you like what I’m doing in the moment, but next time I fail, you show a shit load of discouragement on your face. And you don’t even try to hide it.

What am I supposed to do now? I’ve shed so many tears over a lack, over a longing that doesn’t cease, even with the approval of other people. Every time someone criticizes me- I’m already on the edge…and unfortunately for the people who spout, even ambiguously, offensive comments towards me- those people are IN for it. They don’t know that I have been on the edge of a cliff already- for so long- and that the simplest comment can tap me over that edge.

I am at risk.

And I feel sorry for the person who chooses to put up with me. The problem-the real problem- I think, is that you broke me down at my most vulnerable state: when I was just a child. Just a girl, growing up from age 10 to age 18- the most crucial time for building positive self-image.

I could’ve prevented all of this- I believe I could’ve combat your remarks- if only I were aware of the effect you had on me at the time. Your behavior would go on to affect the rest of my life, on my relationships with guys, even with my friends.

Thank you for looking at me in disgust when I came out of my room with makeup on in middle school. Thank you for giving me that look. For telling me I look bad, and then walking away silently, randomly. Thank you for that. Ten years later, I still think of your remark when I’m getting ready in the morning.

When it happened, I went in my room and cried. But I recovered because I thought some day you would take it back, apologize, or at least tell me I deserve a nice guy when I grow up. None of those reassurances were there to give me hope. And now that I’m adult, I know that you meant everything you said and, more importantly, everything you didn’t say.

Thank you for being silent when I was 11 years old, and I was crying because I had a bad day. You were on the couch and I was sitting on the side, trying to hug you. But I felt the distance you put between us. I was unsure you even wanted me as your daughter.

Mom told you to tell me you love me. She said, “tell your daughter you love her.”

You looked away and were silent. Thank you for that. Those are three words. Three words you had to say. But I didn’t even need to hear them- as long as you showed you cared, and then I’d be fine. You didn’t show me, you aren’t showing me, and now I know you will never show me.

Some days I feel like someone is sitting on my lungs. Moments when a person, most likely a guy that I like, makes a remark that mirrors a comment I heard from you. My breath becomes shallow, my body contracts, and my throat tightens as firmly as I’ve ever felt. My chest, shoulders, and upper stomach suddenly feel pricked with knives. The pricks immediately initiate a chain reaction to my arms, and to my fingertips. My fingertips are tingling with a surge of pain. Every part of me tells me to run away. My jaw clenches, and my eyes stare fixedly downwards. I feel them close…and then I know I am going to cry.

In me, this reaction is timeless. I feel controlled by an unseen force that bears down on me whenever it wants. As soon as I start to believe I control it…the force proves that it still controls me.

To a guy who wants to be my husband- I say to him, I’m warning you that I’m fatherless. I don’t feel worthy of love and I can’t promise you that my opinion of myself will change. But I promise that I will keep trying.

In this moment, I will not make assumptions about the next moment

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Never confuse yourself by visions of an entire lifetime at once. That is, do not let your thoughts range over the whole multitude and variety of the misfortunes that may befall you, but rather, as you encounter each one, ask yourself,

“What is there unendurable, so insupportable, in this?”

You will find that you are ashamed  to admit defeat. Again, remember that it is not the weight of the future or the past that is pressing upon you, but ever that of the present alone. Even this burden, too, can be lessened if you confine it strictly to its own limits, and are severe enough with your mind’s inability to bear such a trifle.

-Marcus Aurelius

Of those events  out of my control, I can control my reaction to them.

Of those actions in my control, I can thoughtfully and passionately pursue them.

I have complete control- if only I choose to exercise it.

I don’t believe in “signs.” I don’t believe in fate- and I don’t believe that things happen for a reason.

Things happen, or else I make them happen for myself. Events overlap- and there I find beauty, causation, fortunate coincidences. I admire nature, and thank chaos, in these moments. But at no point will I give up, choose a different route, or take  action because I saw a figure in the clouds that looks like jesus christ the same day I lost my job.

My brain is drawn to patterns- I understand that. It’s advantageous to my survival. But this function, when used in extreme and  misleading ways,  is now detrimental to my survival and to my happiness.

In this moment, I choose to exercise my intent, my effort, my determination- my will.

If there is one thing I can change, it’s myself

I am 10 years old. I think my best friend is a bully.

We do everything together, and we’re the most popular people at school. But she bullies me, and I let her. I’m not sure why. Me and my other close friends talk about her- we all agree, she is rude to all of us at times. No one will stand up to her.

Today, we were in the library and I told her how I felt. When I told her that she hurts our feelings sometimes, she looked confused, turned angry, and smiled. She said, “you guys are so sensitive. You can’t take some jokes?” This was the first time that I had stood up for myself. It was also the last, up until 3 years later.

I’m 11 years old. I come home from school, walk in the door, and see my dad sipping beer out of a coffee cup. I know what this means. My parents are fighting. Immediately I feel tense. Although I haven’t heard yelling yet, I feel my entire body contract. I feel my shoulders drop. My eyes meet the floor. I just want to curl up in a ball and plug my ears, in preparation for an evening of fighting.

I either stay out in the living room and try to solve the argument, which never works- or I hide in my room and plug my ears. I keep quiet until I hear my mom cry. And then I meet her in her room and hug her.

I already know my dad is gone. I hear his car door close every day sometime between 5-7 pm. I wish I was exaggerating. Not sure where he goes. Ten years later I still don’t have a clue. But I’ve sure learned one way to deal with disagreement: run.

I’m 13 years old. I’m still best friends with the same girl. We’re the most popular people in school. We’re the best at sports, we’re on the school counsel. Friends with the teachers. I say this because I was comfortable. I was not desperate to have friends, and at the same time I needed everyone to be my friend. Including those who took advantage of me.

I had nice friends with the exception of the one who bullied me. Everyone was hurt by what she said. One morning, when I told her she hurt my feelings, she smiled and asked what’s wrong with me. Even though I was speaking the mind of the entire school, she made me doubt the impression she had on me. I kept quiet for 8 years.

I’m 13 years old. I do think my parents will divorce. On a side note, my sister comes home late almost every night, turns on the light, makes noise, wakes me up, and doesn’t care. Even when I ask her nicely. Even when I cry.

She doesn’t care to change how she treats me. I keep quiet, and bottle anger. At home with my sister, if I say she’s hurting me, apparently I’m in a “bad mood” because she doesn’t want look at herself.

I go to school, and there, too, I feel I can’t stand up for myself when my best friend degrades me. I feel trapped, in every sense of the word. Trapped by my parents arguing, trapped by my emotions. All I really want to do is tell them exactly how I feel. But I can’t- because I’m trapped by one more thing: my need to please others.

I’m 15 years old. My mom- her hearing is almost completely gone. This exacerbates my parents’ fights- not because they’ve become louder, but because they’ve become quieter. My dad doesn’t care to fight anymore. He won’t waste his breath when she can’t hear him. He won’t repeat himself. He walks away.

When this happens I want to scream and I want to grab him, make him stand still, make him repeat himself, make him care. I want to control him. But I keep quiet. And I repeat what he said to my mom. My unofficial job when I get home from school: repeat what dad says. This is the job I gave myself. I feel bad for my mom- she can’t help being deaf. I feel it is my job to moderate the arguments. And I am bitter about it. I victimized myself for 5 years.

I kept quiet. I never held anyone else responsible for their behavior. I thought they were doing their best. But now I know: they can’t do their best if I’m enabling them to do their worst.

I’m 17 years old. I come home. But it’s not a home. It’s a kind of hell- the less obvious kind. One that releases a poisonous gas that you can’t see the presence of. The gas expands throughout the entire “home,” and pollutes breathable, healthy air. What’s left is poison. From the moment I  walk through the door, it paralyzes me. Although I should be used to it by now, the aroma engulfs me with as much force as it did the first time I heard them arguing. If anything, the force has become more powerful over time. It has accumulated bad memories, negative energy, and has built up strength.

My home is not here…

It’s at the end of the driveway, with ears plugged.

It’s in my car, with the music up loud.

It’s at my friends’ homes, when I hear their parents talking in the early morning. Just talking. That’s it- a normal conversation about what to make for dinner.

I keep quiet. I comfort my mom. I speak slowly for her. I don’t like my dad because he doesn’t try his best. He is halfway here and halfway somewhere else. Always leaving. He never tries to even talk to my mom slowly. He just leaves. He could have a second family and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Come to think of it, he probably does. But I don’t say anything, and I don’t ask him questions. Because he lies to my face. And I can’t withstand any more tension. I keep quiet.

I’m 17 years old. My mom kicked my dad out of the house today. I want him gone, but I tell her to bring him back. I want him gone though. I’m afraid of more conflict.

Somehow, all I care about is putting band-aids on an arm that needs to be amputated. I know the operation needs to happen, but I’m too overwhelmed by the immediate pain- I can’t bring myself to endure any more. I am too inundated by the tension in this home; I can’t see the big picture. I can’t endure any more conflict. I will run away from a serious procedure on my family, even if it is necessary. I keep quiet.

I’m 22 years old. My parents have been divorced for about 2 years. I haven’t seen my “best friend” in 4 years. I tell my sister when she is hurting my feelings, and if her behavior doesn’t change I tell her I need space until she treats me with respect.

My goal is to, some day, wake up and be clear minded, loving, gentle, thankful, and helpful. And on that same day, be ready to pounce: to, on instinct, be self-respecting enough to confront those who wrong me.

My goal is to let my personality run free, to no longer be intimidated by the tension of everyday conflict.

My goal is to preserve kindness, and simultaneously harbor a fierce, passionate, pursuit of life- one that does not need the approval of others.

My goal is to be a lioness. A lioness does not wonder what others are thinking or saying about her. When a lioness hunts, she does so with a calculated plan. She sees something she wants and she confidently pursues it. She may injure other animals but she’s only doing what’s necessary for her survival and that of her family’s.

The lion appears friendly, fluffy, and cute. But it’s not for this reason that I love the lion so much. One is deceivingly adorable on the outside; on the inside, one is always ready to become fierce if it is demanded of him or her.  My goal is to feel at peace with with the animal inside me.