You cannot lose what you do not own?

“No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone.  That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.” -Paulo Coelho “Eleven Minutes”

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One of my favorite quotes from one of the best books I read during 2013. It’s been turning over in my head for several months now. What is freedom? It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. What is ownership? The act, state or right of possessing something; to have or hold as property; to have power or mastery over.

I feel too often we see in our relationships that one or both parties try to maintain control or exert influence over one another. Sometimes I feel the very nature and mindset of humans is to regard things (and people) in terms of property.  We talk about “my car”, “my house”, “my dog”, etc.  I don’t know how often I’ve heard the introduction “my wife”, “my husband”, “my partner”, or even “my friend”. I don’t think people even think about it as ownership, but “my” and “mine” are possessive pronouns, denoting possession.

A certain type of stability comes with the idea that someone belongs to you. It creates comfort that the person will be there for us.  And don’t get me wrong, we are material beings and certain material things are the foundation of a good life. Owning a house or place in a good neighborhood makes you feel safe. Owning the appropriate clothing for the season makes us comfortable. But should possession extend to the people and relationships in our lives? It can bring stability, happiness, and satisfaction to feel secure about our relationships.

But do we need to possess the people in our lives to be happy, safe, and satisfied? People are complicated beings and will always have aspects that are uncontrollable. We need to be careful when it comes to too much attachment.  We should not feel compelled to try to control or manipulate another person through feelings and emotions to get an individual to act or behave in a certain way.

It is my personal belief, that we need to be secure with ourselves first. We should have faith in ourselves and in others. We each make our own choices and are responsible for our own actions. So instead of trying to exert influence on another person, only try to control the things that are truly up to us to control- our own actions, behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and words. Begin with loving and respecting yourself. Show yourself affection. In a healthy relationship of any nature, both parties enter with mutual consent to care for each other, whether it’s a friend or lover. You can’t force another person to feel or show affection, respect, or love.  All you can do, is decide whether you want to continue the relationship based off of what you are receiving and what you are needing.

The best thing in the world is to be loved for who you are. Control is contrary to experiencing love. So find someone who loves you for you, and you love them for who they are. Things may not always go smoothly, and you should absolutely communicate your needs, wants, and desires. How the other person responds, however, is outside of your control. Voice what you need and the rest you have to let go. Sometimes that means letting go of someone. Try not to look at it as a loss, but as an experience. Live the experience, feel your feelings, learn from them, and let go of the rest. For recovering co-dependents, I’d say it’s about rediscovering the freedom to be ourselves in a relationship. Yes, it’s a lot easier to conceptualize than actualize in life practice. I do believe, however, it is one of the freest ways to live.

But what would I know? I’m just a 30 year old kid with good intentions and looking to give life the best of me. :-)

When you’re an optimist, life has a funny way of looking after you.

“Your optimism and level-headedness are adorable and rare.”

I don’t know if she remembers when or that she said it, but with those words a friend of mine reminded me of the person that once existed in my mind and heart during a time when I was shrouded by so many negative feelings and self-defeating introspective loops that I could barely remember being anything else. She, however, saw me. It was one of those moments when my entire perspective on life shifted.  That was August of 2012.

Now we are in March of 2014, and a lot of the people I have met or reconnected with in the last year or so would most likely say I’m an upbeat, positive person.  An incurable optimist with just enough of a streak of realism to keep me grounded. My co-worker and I have been referred to as the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat by other work colleagues because she wears crazy hats and apparently I always have a grin on my face. I have had friends and coworkers check in with me more than once to get a new perspective on a problem or just an experience in general when they are struggling.

More importantly though, I feel optimistic.  I feel hopeful.  I feel happy.  My tolerance for when things don’t go as I’d hoped has gotten much higher, and instead of re-hashing how things could have gone differently, I take the outcome in stride and move forward.  It’s not always rosy, but overall I feel good and I deal with the world around me in a much healthier and positive manner than I once did.

Optimism.  Looking at a more favorable side of events and simply anticipating the best possible outcome in any situation.  It sounds so simple.  The benefits are real.  It creates a positive anticipation of the future and allows us to deal with failure constructively.  It promotes happiness, self-respect, compassion, and patience. It can increase productivity and make us proactive. It enhances various coping skills to handle challenges and reduces the level of stress experienced, increasing the likelihood of effective problem solving.  It promotes laughter, a positive outlook, and enhances our moods and levels of motivation. It helps us find a balanced approach to life, enabling us to see a hopeful explanation to difficulties experienced, and open to embracing constructive change. It helps see past our limiting beliefs, creating room for self-expression and increasing our mental flexibility.

If there is one simple thing I can do for any fellow human being out there, it is to try to put a spark of optimism and hope in their mind and hearts.  An unexpected smile. A kind word. Simple acts of compassion. Acknowledging someone.  Listening.  Being present.  A living example. You will never know what impact you might have on someone, but simple acts are contagious and the ripples spread and may take on a life of their own.

It is so easy to become cynical and pessimistic. I’ve been there. I’m pretty sure it’s called being human. Everyone has their moments. Even after my friend’s comment sparked a change within myself, it took months and some therapy to build new thought patterns and new habits to break the cycle of introspective negativity I’d been trapped in for years.  So I will share some of the things that have helped me:

1. Optimism (and pessimism) are contagious. Surround yourself with positive people and it will be easier to feel optimistic.  Especially if you are trying to change from a predominantly pessimistic to optimistic outlook, you need to be aware of the people you spend your time with. You have to take care of yourself, before you can help anyone else.

2. Fake it. Fake it until you make it. Don’t just fake it to other people. Fake yourself out. Make it a game. Find a silver lining to whatever it is you are dealing with.  Try to find the good in every situation, even in the difficult moments. The more often you do it, the easier it is to make those positive connections in your neural pathways. Reframe a negative thought into a positive one. Make a conscious effort. One day, you’ll find that you’re not faking it. The smile will be genuine. The thought will be real. It’s an exercise in rewiring your brain.

3. Focus on what you can control. Let go of that which you can’t control. Keep your focus on the present and the future.  Going over the past doesn’t change it.  Some reflection is good, but don’t get trapped in an unending loop of introspective “what ifs”. What if doesn’t matter. You can’t change it.  Feel it, learn from it, then move on and bring your focus to the here, the now, the things within your control.

4. Have realistic goals and expectations. Acknowledge you are human and all that it entails.  We are imperfect.  We will mess up.  We will have our lapses in judgement, emotional outbursts, and moments of despair. It’s okay. Every person out there has experienced that. Don’t beat yourself up over it.  Don’t get hung up on it.  Feel it, then let it go.  Move on without judgement.

5. Strive to improve your physical health through exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits and hygiene. The better you feel, the brighter your outlook will be.

6. Sometimes doing it alone can be extremely tough.  A therapist can do a world of good at helping you to understand yourself, but be careful, as finding a therapist that fits you well can be about as challenging as any other relationship.  As one friend once said to me, if you need a therapist to help you deal with your therapist, it might not be a good match.  ;-) Yes, I’ve been there, done that, and moved on.

Most importantly, be true to yourself. We are complicated beings with individual needs. Don’t fall into the trap of absolutes and hopelessness. Be open and be compassionate.  We are more resilient than we think.

Once you open yourself up to hope and a positive approach to the world around you, life has a funny way of looking after you.

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First Tattoo Experience: Why a wrecking willow?

This past Saturday I went to a tattoo shop and had an artist physically manifest my favorite personal symbol on the canvas of my own skin.  I was excited and nervous at the same time.  Whether it’s only as skin deep as a tattoo or something more profound, a permanent change to oneself (the body, mind, or psyche) can be thrilling and frightening at the same time.  It definitely crossed my mind as the needle first made contact with my skin, “Is there going to be a time I am going to regret this?”  Doubtful.

The first time I knew I wanted a tattoo I was in college.  I didn’t have a clue what I wanted inked permanently into my flesh, but as my friends started to get these beautiful designs, symbols, and pictures tattooed on their bodies, I knew that one day I was going to have a tattoo of my own.  I didn’t want a stock picture though, at least not for the first one.  I wanted it to be meaningful to me; otherwise the risk for regret would be oh so high.  Since then I have seen many beautiful tattoos, but I had an incredibly hard time coming up with a design that would be meaningful to me.  You may have to forgive me for romanticizing the notion, but I felt the first time I went under the needle for a permanent alteration to my body ought to carry a special significance to it.

When I posted sketches of my planned tattoo, someone asked me why it was a wrecking willow?  The design itself is a willow tree, its limbs thrashing in the wind and roots mimicking the movement above.  Although a tree thrashing in the wind isn’t really “wrecking”, to me it’s more about my own inner-turmoil.

Here is the original sketch:

Original Sketch – Wrecking Willow Tree

When I originally sketched this out over lunch break, I was dealing with learning how to let go of some issues and grudges I had been holding against myself.  Although a generally forgiving person towards others, being able to forgive myself was not easy.  I’m a “perfectionist” in the best and worst sense of the word.  The upside, I am good at many things and have a lot of pride in my work and personal projects; the downside, I have little tolerance for myself when I screw up.  The problem with holding a grudge against yourself is you can’t ever get away from it.  I was rigid and as the white oak tree in my front yard so nicely demonstrated, being unyielding can only go so far and then… you break!

Pop, crack, snap, boom goes the rigid tree in the storm!

So at the time I made that original sketch I was learning to be a little less rigid with myself.  Diet and exercise is important, but beating myself up over the past doesn’t do anything positive for my future.  The original thought behind the sketch was to be a little more lenient and forgiving towards myself.

Then earlier this year, all emotional-hell broke loose.  I don’t think Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” even began to touch how “rough” I was feeling after the break-up.  I know that when I’m down is when I ought to implement healthy behaviors the most, such as normal sleep patterns, exercise, and healthy eating habits.  I know that.  They would make me feel better.  For some reason, however, when I’m in the midst of that low, turning to self-destructive behaviors seems so much easier and gratifying in the moment.  I’m certain I’m not the only one out there like that.  So yes, there were definitely moments when I was (and sometimes still am) a complete and total mess, train-wreck, whatever you want to call it.  So here I am, working on that forgiveness of self thing again, but I think it’s more than that now.  It’s about accepting who I am and others for who they are.  Understanding and compassion can go such a long way when coming out of the dark back into the light of day.

Being uncompromising and living in a world of absolutes can make things and choices a lot simpler, but you can also cheat yourself out of experiences necessary to grow.  I thought I had a pretty good idea of who I was, and I probably did at the time.  I know I am a very different person now, even from who I was half a year ago. Like the willow, I’m rolling with the punches of the storm at the moment, and keeping my heart and head open.  I am the wrecking willow.

With a new job looming on the horizon and feeling pretty good about my own progress in moving on, I decided the time was right to get my tattoo.  Although I had originally envisioned it as a black/grey tattoo, the last month or so I had been thinking about what it might look like in color.  So Friday night I spent some time sketching it out again and coloring it in to get an idea of what I really wanted. Here’s the result:

Wrecking Willow in Color

Since I have awesome friends who think tattoos are fantastic, I had someone to come “hold my hand” so to speak.  Dawn didn’t actually hold my hand, but she did document the experience for me via my trusty iPhone.  Here are some highlights:

Kohen starts inking me up.

The tree that finally was stenciled on my back is Kohen’s own take on my design.  I was anxious about how the design would translate to the actual tattoo and when Kohen came back to me and let me know that the tattoo would be much bigger than I had originally planned to preserve the detail I wanted, I nearly chickened out.  However, if you’re not going to do it right, you might as well not do it at all… so I went with it.

Don’t think about the noise, don’t think about the needle!

Really the sound of the tattoo machine was almost worse than the actual sensation of the experience.  I can’t imagine being subjected to that noise for hours on end during the day!  As for the pain, at times it was negligible, but I had some spots that really bothered me.  Two hours in it was sheer will power and not being called out as a wimp that made me sit through the last fifteen or so minutes!  And then finally, thankfully, we were done!

Two hours later we’re done for this sitting!

Then it was time to bandage it up!  The bandage itself made it look like maybe a zombie had gnawed on my shoulder or something.  Fortunately Dawn fixed up the bandage so it was mostly hid under my top.  Then it was time for coffee, a cupcake, and some brews at Bull City Brewery!  By the time the beer was down, the entire day, heck, the entire week finally caught up to me.  Originally I had planned on doing some celebrating, but it was all I could manage to drop my friend off at her home and get myself home and settle in for some mindless Netflix time.  After a hot shower, washing the tattoo, and putting some lotion on the tattoo looked less red and angry and I managed to snap this pic using the bathroom mirror.

Beautiful Wrecking Willow Tattoo

So there it is.  Why it’s a wrecking willow.  What it means to me.  The experience of getting it.  Thanks so much to all those provided feedback and information on the design and tattoo process itself!  Thanks to Kohen at Dogstar Tattoo for his beautiful work of art!  I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with it there- catching a glimpse of it in the mirror or when I look over my shoulder.  It will always remind me of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and keep what is important to me close at heart going forward.

I think I’m in love with my future.

New beginnings: relationships

Recently I was prompted to start blogging again by a friend who apparently misses my internet ramblings.  In a previous life I was keeping a blog on my journey to physical fitness and weight loss.  What started as a project to lose weight turned into a journey to also better psychological and emotional health.  Any time someone sets out to change so much about themselves, even when the goal is to better to themselves, it can lead to some difficult decisions and choices and living with their consequences.

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As many of you would have gathered from my Facebook activity, one of these consequences for me personally, was the parting from a dear best friend and lover of the past 10 years.  In short, our long term and life goals did not appear to match up, and at the time it seemed a split was in the best interest of our developments as individuals to pursue our own goals.  Although mutual, it doesn’t make the separation any less devastating; even though I know now that it was the best possible outcome for me to grow on my own and get other areas in my life on track.  Not that I have all the answers yet, but it has been a good change for my own development and I am working towards what it is I want in career, life, friendships, and relationships beyond the platonic.

Probably not unlike many people who find themselves going through a separation, legal or not, my first gut reaction was, “how do I avoid feeling this much hurt again?”  I considered if there was such a thing as love without attachment and if this would be the healthiest approach in the future?  I think on paper, loving without attachment is a wonderful ideology.  Being able to love purely without jealousy, anxiety, possessiveness, self doubt, and all the ugly emotions that can tie up and unthread romantic relationships.  In some forums, real love without attachment is equated with unconditional love. For me, I want to be loved unconditionally, for all my strengths and weaknesses, and I want to give that kind of love, to my friends, my lovers, and one day, if I should have them, my children.  Personally, I am not sure what type of person could truly follow such a path- it would be incredibly difficult for me to spend this kind of time and love on anyone, without forming some sort of attachment, even if I know that the pain and sense of loss comes from not just going through the process of losing someone I love and letting them go, but breaking the attachment that has been nurtured over how ever long they have been in your life.  In my case, this was a 10 year relationship started in high school and yes, I was very attached.

I decided to explore what it is in romantic relationships, long term or not, that can lead to unhealthy behaviors and the pain and loss we feel at the end of a relationship (or even a friendship).  My hope is to know myself better, which will hopefully allow for a better shot at a healthy relationship in the future.  Long term (and short term) romantic relationships, whether seemingly going well or not, can be confusing and bring many mixed emotions.  Part of what brings on the confusion is that there isn’t just one emotional system at play.

The first and most obvious when a romantic relationship begins, is sexual desire of course.  Otherwise we’d all just be friends, right?  Sexual desire can be intense, clouding ones judgment.  Based on physical appearance and chemistry between two people, it motivates a lot of the behaviors between two people early on in the relationship; but as anyone who has been married or in a long-term committed relationship knows, sexual desire can be difficult to maintain with the same person over the course of time.

Enter in the second emotional system – love.  Love in and of itself is complex.  Love often involves feelings of closeness, genuine appreciation, and concern.  There are many different styles of love, and people experience love differently.  For some, it appears manic, for others it’s a game, and for others it expresses itself as a desire to take care of another person.  Some people experience love at first sight; others fall in love more slowly.  For some people being friends first kills any romantic attraction, while others only fall in love with someone they are friends with first.

Lastly there’s the attachment- no surprise there.  How many people can spend lots of time hanging out with someone, talking to someone, sharing experiences without developing some sort of bond?  Attachment is the feeling of security and comfort we get from being close to someone else.  It can provide stability and certainty- the feeling that no matter what, someone will be there for us.  Just as with love, however, attachment styles can be different from person to person.  Some are needy, others more dismissive, others somewhere in the middle of the road and secure.  Secure attachments are not anxious, paranoid, or obsessed with an individual, nor are they dismissive and uncomfortable with intimacy and being able to rely on someone else.  The healthiest relationships would have a secure attachment style, but not everyone is psychologically and emotionally capable of a secure attachment at all times.

These three emotional systems can work together for a healthy, secure relationship, or they can just as easily be at odds and shred a romantic relationship to pieces it would seem.  It’s quite possible for someone to be in love with one person, sexually attracted to someone else, and emotionally attached to yet another long-term partner.  Or they can have multiples of all three of these emotional systems going on all at once.

Not that it makes it hurt any less, but being aware of these competing emotions, and that not everyone experiences love and attachment the same from me could help me make sense of the problems that arise in my future romantic relationships.  I can’t say I will ever understand everything about someone, possibly not even myself, but this gives me a framework to start from to move on and to keep in mind as I meet others.  I also think knowing my own love and attachment styles can be a big help.  It’s just another part of what makes me, well, me.  If I don’t know who I am, how can anyone else be able to figure it out for me?

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Find more information on:  http://www.truthaboutdeception.com/.  Of particular help to me was under the tab “Relationship Issues”, although there is other good information on the rest of the site as well for people who have dealt with cheating & infidelity, lying & deception, and recovery & repair.