Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

I had so many things in my head to talk about this week and now I can’t think of a single one.

I guess I could start off with something I ran across in a meeting. When we do our Zoom meetings, I think it is great that people add comments. The only comment I want to comment on is…..my feeling is that it is best not to put contact information out there for everyone during a meeting. Unless, that is, you are a member of SNAP. Otherwise, be cautious about sharing personal information or asking people to contact you, or for that matter, contacting people who you don’t know or have not met personally even if they sound like wonderful people…..or sharing personal information with them if they are not SNAP leaders.

Just saying….as always, please use caution. And I also ask that it is not done during one of my meetings as I am not vouching for anyone’s character by allowing them into the meeting. I do screen but that does not mean I do background checks.

As you know, most of us are healing…if not from priest abuse, then from something in our lives. I think we have to give ourselves credit for how far we have come. Sometimes I talk to people, and it reminds me of those priests of old who would beat themselves in order to be worthy. Like, I said something good about myself so I must now compensate by taking a cane to the kneecap to even things out.

Well, we were raised that way, were we not? Weren’t we taught to die for Jesus and that the meek would inherit the Earth and that we should honor the martyrs? I swear that I felt I could not like myself or anything about myself unless someone else gave me permission to do so.

I don’t feel that beating yourself up every time you have a human feeling helps you to heal. And I am not saying that concept is an easy thing to grasp. I think that there is so very much we need to unlearn. I see myself move forward and then I feel as stuck as I ever was.

I heard the words this week that so many of us fear the most. “I am getting older, and I am so afraid that I will grow old and die alone without ever being loved.”

And that hit me in the gut. Because underneath every other fear, that is the fear that sits at the bottom of the others…pushing the rest to the surface. I don’t want to die alone.

I read a couple of articles about the subject this week. With Thanksgiving, I read about someone who was dreading spending the day by themselves. Someone else had a wonderful answer to that.

Hey…no arguments at the dinner table. No hurt feelings if someone is not invited. No spending all day cooking for people…some of whom you may not really like. Break out your best China and candles. Make a pork roast in your microwave instead of a turkey? Why not? Treat yourself to the nicest, most delicious meal and listen to the music you like and watch what you want to on TV.

Another was a question to someone as to how it felt to be old and alone. The person said that they were over 90 years old, and they went out every day and saw people at the store or the hairdresser and had dinner at their son’s house once a week, and that they did what they wanted to and cherished their alone time. They said they would rather live alone in their small apartment than in a larger community setting.

I think we tend to confuse being alone with being unhappy. Or being older and being unhappy. We are more than likely going to die alone when we go. Perhaps we just hope that there is someone left to care about that when the time comes.

I had an aunt who passed away not very long ago. So many people at her house worrying about her will while she lay alone in her hospital bed. All of these people were around as long as she had money a big house and jewelry to be passed out or cruises to take. I did not see one of those people by her side while she lay dying and supposedly “out of it”.

I was there with her in her final hours. So was my cousin who moistened her dry lips. My mother came to see her to say good-bye. My friend was with me. We talked to her about her life and the people we knew and at one point, she was able to acknowledge that we loved her. We finally left her around 1:30 in the morning with the intent to return in a few hours, but she ended up passing away, alone a couple of hours later.

So, when it comes down to it, what does “dying alone” really mean? To be fair, my aunt was never alone while she was alive. She lived in her house with a nurse who came over 12 hours a day and a housecleaner and a relative who ended up moving in with her. But nobody thought about being at the hospital with her in her final hours because it was probably thought that she wouldn’t know the difference. Or some people can’t handle hospitals and death.

It is said that we don’t die alone anyway because someone from the other side comes to help us transition.

But maybe that is not really what we are afraid of. Maybe it’s not the dying part that gets us. Maybe it is the living part that hurts the most. Growing older and living alone.

Yes, maybe that’s what it really is. I get it. Seriously. When we are older, we are no longer considered physically beautiful. We aren’t as firm or as thin as we once were. We may develop illnesses. We may need assistance. We may start to become invisible to people who would rather not have to see us.

What happens if we start to love ourselves but nobody else is around to care? That is truly terrifying. And all too real.

Well, the thing is, we just don’t know, do we? We don’t know what is going to happen. Ever.

There is one thing I do believe, though. We really can’t focus on that fear. Because we don’t know. Because the future is a myth. A big wide-open concept that does not truly exist. Life only happens a day at a time. One day at a time. Those are such beautiful words to live by. Where have I heard them before?

I do believe in living today like we are going to live to be very old. That is, taking care of yourself as best as you can. Take care of yourself like you will live to be 100 but be prepared to die tomorrow. I’m telling myself that, you see. I just bought myself a book called “I’m Dead, Now What?” so I can fill it out for my family in case something unexpected does happen. But I am also trying to drink more water and eat less carbs (I said trying, not always succeeding) and there was a discussion at tonight’s meeting about “Trauma Informed, Gentle/Restorative Yoga” that I want to look into. I also meditate.

Another thing that I feel may be helpful is this….if you are afraid of being alone (not talking romantically or not involved with a partner) as you get older, start now to get involved with groups and friends. Well, Covid doesn’t help unfortunately…..but take walks, visit older relatives, get involved with hospice at a local hospital, or volunteer.

The more you connect, the more valued you will feel and the more you contribute, the less alone you will be. And the more you begin to care about others and their needs and their feelings, the less you may be concerned with your fears.

Hey, again, I don’t know everything. And one size does not fit all. But begin where you are.

Tonight, I had my usual conversation with my mother. She needs stuff from the store. Does not want to go to the store. Should really not go to the store. But needs groceries. I have stuff delivered to her for her dog on a regular basis, and when I ask, she tells me she doesn’t need anything…until she needs everything.

She says she needs to learn how to order things on-line herself. She says, “I am not stupid”. She’s not. I can’t win a game of cards with her. But when it comes to computer stuff with her, I want to pull out my hair.

Why? Because we go in circles. First, she tells me it is my fault that she does not know how to order on-line, because I never show her how. Then when I ask her if she want to try something “right now”, she looks at me (because we can video chat), and I swear to God, tonight she actually said, “You are not my mother”.

She wants to learn. She is not stupid. But she never wants to actually learn because she doesn’t want me to teach her anything. But it is my fault she does not know anything because I never teach her anything. And so, we go around and around… and I either order her food anyway or she sneaks out and does it herself.

Until the next time.

Why? Because we all tend to get overwhelmed when we are confused, or we are facing something unfamiliar and maybe a little scary. We tend to feel that we need to know everything in order to be comfortable trying anything new or making any kind of a move. And don’t get me wrong, we should know what we are doing before making a big move…but it is not necessary to start out knowing everything.

It’s okay for a surgeon to go to med school before they pick up a scalpel. For most people, the idea of performing surgery is terrifying if we know nothing about it. So, we don’t just assume we are stupid if we can’t just jump right in and know how to avoid cutting anything vital. We all need to start at the beginning and be patient.

It’s okay to not know everything right now. It’s okay to understand that things we don’t know about can be scary and overwhelming and that we may end up freezing in fear or moving too fast if we don’t take a breath and slow down and accept that we all had to learn about “A” before we could learn about “B” and that there was a time when “Z” seemed way beyond our reach or comprehension.

One day at a time. One thought to process to move another step.

This past week we lost Phil Saviano. If you don’t know who that is, watch the movie “Spotlight”. Thank you, Phil, for everything.

I Get Weak

This past week when my ex-husband was in the ICU, it brought up so many feelings from the past. Feelings and self-doubt. Did I do the right thing? I know it was not the easy thing for sure. Neither way was the easy way. But sometimes I wonder if things would have worked out better for the family if I had stayed in the relationship.

And with him being so sick (he is home now), it caused us to reach out to each other. We texted and we talked on the phone. And I felt a sense of anxiety at possibly losing a person I have a connection with as far as our children and grandchildren. We have a connection there that I will never share with anyone else. And that brought up memories of good times together and a bond that we will always share.

We met through a mutual friend when I was still in high school. He was 18 and I was 17 and he would come to my school at lunch time and me and some of my friends would hang out in his van and stay warm during lunch. That’s code for other stuff that I won’t get into. He knew everyone and when I was with him, I felt kind of important because then everyone knew who I was. His friends. People I would not normally know or hang out with if I did not know him. A very large group of friends. And he was cute and he was nice to everyone, and it was fun to be with him. And when it wasn’t….I made excuses….so I never noticed the cracks.

When I was 20 and he was 21, I got pregnant. We ended up having a baby, moving in together, and then getting married within a year. Because it was what you did. And for me, someone who wanted to get married and have children….the situation was rewarding. And I was happy. At first.

Now this is the part where I break down what happened, even though I did not know the terms for anything when I was younger.

They call it “Trauma Bonding”.

I loved being married to this man that I loved. I loved sharing my life and our child. I was getting positive reinforcement all over the place.

A lot of things happen in the beginning of a relationship. You have the wedding and the honeymoon and the gifts and the new life and new place and new experiences and friends getting married and showers and babies and you get to see your friends a lot still for awhile because you are still young and many of your friends are still single and they come over to hang out and there’s a lot of activity and things to distract you from each other.

And then along came baby number two for us and we began to look at houses. Oh, boy….more new and exciting things. More good brain chemicals being associated with my husband.

And it was at that points that the cracks really began to show…when I was in our house alone at night with our two babies while he went out almost every night….staying out very late.

I told myself that I enjoyed being at home and being a mother and he enjoyed being out and about with his friends and not feeling tied down. Because that is what you do when the cracks begin to show…..you justify the other person’s behavior. Because it was easier for me to justify him going out all of the time and working every Saturday all day as something he needed to do to be happy….than it was for me to confront him about being out a bit too much and me and the kids needing some attention as well.

Especially when doing so brought about anger and unpleasant words. Things were just easier when he was happy. That is what I told myself.

And in between these not so great days and moments….were anniversaries and parties with friends and holidays with the kids and nights where he was home and things were good hanging out together.

I always called it “percentage”. There was always that “percentage” that kept me there whenever I thought that things weren’t right and I acknowledged outright verbal and emotional abuse that was happening…..but I did not want to have an emotional confrontation and I was terrified because I had never lived on my own or taken care of anything on my own, and I had two children as well. So, I did what is known as “freezing”, or deciding to stay in a situation because leaving felt too difficult. Freezing can also mean staying in a situation because it seems like the right thing to do. “Right” sometimes meaning what is best for others or that it feels safer at the time to not make a move.

In a trauma bond between two people, there is sometimes a feeling of a power differential. Whenever I would speak up to my husband, he would threaten to leave or tell me to leave instead of listening to how I felt. And I didn’t want to be an obligation to someone. But the power he held….and this happens often…is that he took care of everything and he knew so many people to do things and for me, my world got smaller so that it became me and my kids and going to work and seeing my parents. I became more isolated but he did not.

A trauma bond relationship has cycles of abuse with intermitted reinforcement of rewards, and then when the partner is beginning to feel hope and renewed affection, there is punishment of some form. People who experienced this type of behavior in childhood…the ups and downs of emotional whiplash, are especially prone to relate to this kind of situation and it can feel familiar and in a weird way….just “the way things are”.

I loved my father very very much, but you just never knew what could set him off at times. Alcohol was predictable but other times, during vacation or an otherwise pleasant times, he could fly into a rage and all you could do was quietly wait it out and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Trauma bonds don’t just happen in romantic relationships. They happen in families as well. Anywhere where you go through cycles of reward and abuse and reward again. Anywhere there are feelings of fear, excitement (anytime adrenaline rises), or sexual feelings….these can create an entrapment where someone stays for what they perceive as something mostly good, or they make excuses because they fear leaving for one reason or another, or because they feel they can’t leave for whatever reason. Or because they have convinced themselves that the abusive person is really a good person at heart, or that life isn’t all happy times.

Another thing to know….we hear about the law of attraction and how we need to put out positive vibes and ask the universe for a good partner or for happiness or whatnot, but as long as we have not worked on our own trauma bonding issues, we unconsciously seek out our unhealed issues in others. Our subconscious seeks out what we believe to be true.

So you can give your order to the universe for a healthy relationship, but as long as we are blaming ourselves for past mistakes, failing to put up boundaries, not being able to see a person for anything other than how they once showed themselves to be even when they begin to change, not seriously believing you are good enough, being afraid to have an opinion, being afraid of alienating or losing people….not because you are rude but because you do what is comfortable to you and you listen to what is comfortable to you…..until you can do that…or at least begin to acknowledge and work on those things….you are going to keep attracting what is familiar to you.

And, after all, familiar is comfortable, right? It’s not easy. That is why, after all these years, I still carry guilt that I feel I must right and I still feel that I should be the one taking care of my sick ex-husband and that I would be there if I hadn’t left and all of those feelings come back. And I’m still trying to control….had I zigged instead of zagged, things would have turned out better. Like everything in life depended upon what I did. Nobody else carries any responsibility for themselves. It’s all on me.

And I need to remind myself, as we all do, that we cannot change anything in the past, and that we did what we needed to do or thought was right at the time with the information we had, and that guilt is a useless emotion that does nothing but destroy you. Make amends as best you can if you need to and forgive yourself.

When it gets tough or uncomfortable in your healing journey, remind yourself that it’s okay (again) to take care of yourself and to not fix things for everyone.

Trauma bonds can last for years. Old emotions can get triggered. You can find yourself getting pulled back in. You may find yourself blaming yourself for things in the past that you cannot change. You may find in healing that you have had faulty beliefs.

For today, it’s enough to be aware that “there’s a name for that”. Just become more aware. Have a great week.

Oh, ex-husband was very very sick. Does not know how he got sick. It was not Covid related. But he is home now and feeling very weak and needing a lot of rest.

Recovery always takes time and focus on taking care of oneself.

MacArthur Park

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to worry about the people I love. Even though I know logically it helps nothing, it’s hard not to worry. Do you agree?

I imagine it is a co-dependency thing born of an upbringing that may have included alcohol or parents who were controlling or overprotective or who worried a lot themselves. And it becomes ingrained. A habit. It becomes like a very worn out rabbit’s foot that we have to hold onto in order to ward off bad things from happening.

As children with little control over our world, worry was the only control we had over anything. And my guess is that as we grow, some of us develop into complete adults who have a “good sense” of worry, while others develop a more neurotic, co-dependent sense of attachment worry….where we have a difficult time separating ourselves from others and feel the need to fix and to care for them. In other words, we learn to enable.

In some families, especially in families where alcohol is a problem, the focus tends to be on the one using. So then, the focus tends to be reacting to the abuser. You grow up with this so there is no comparison, really as to what normal is. You learn not to let your emotions get too loud or troublesome and you learn to help fix things to help cover up the embarrassing behavior of the people that you love.

And then you may also run into the addict/abuser who seems to relish the attention they get from having a crisis and having the entire family focus on them. And no matter what is going on in your own life, you are expected to take care of them. Co-dependents tend to be self-sacrificing. That’s a trait that I would guess would come from years of having to put your own needs second to that of someone else for the good of the family….and as you would tend to see it as a child….your own survival.

So when you grow up on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop, you can never really let down your guard and relax. And I believe that habit that has been learned carries on into adulthood. And because we already know that there is so little that we can control outside of ourselves, falling back into a state of worrying and trying to fix and putting our own needs last to help someone else is what we know.

We can try to fix or take care of our spouse or significant other. We may find ourselves in a situation where we are doing most of the giving or we are attracting partners who are more than willing to take from us. Or we may find ourselves with unhealthy partners who have addictions that we feel the need to cover for or make up for. It’s a position we feel comfortable in even though it may make us feel uncomfortable and resentful.

And we may find ourselves repeating family patterns of enabling our children. Constantly helping them out of problem situations. Always trying to protect them to the point of not allowing them to make and learn from their own mistakes. Continuously helping them out of situations that they repeat…trying to alleviate our own constant worry but actually keeping us connected in an endless loop that really benefits nobody because it allows dysfunctional behavior to continue.

It’s like buying someone a birthday cake and they forget it outside in the rain and so you buy them another cake because you don’t want their birthday ruined but then you eat the soggy cake yourself so it doesn’t go to waste.

Another problem with worry and enabling others besides it robbing you of your own happiness, is that the more you give of yourself, the more other people tend to take it for granted that you are going to take care of things and the more they take you for granted. And the less reason they have to make any changes in themselves. And although it feels so counter-intuitive to let go of someone….of taking care of them every time they need something because of their own issues….the more it drains you and the less love you feel. In fact, you can start to feel angry.

Anger…..we have always been taught to repress it. Tuck that away. That’s not nice to feel that way. You are not a nice person if you raise your voice or throw up a boundary or ask for what you deserve. You could lose people from your life. I know I have.

That is why I asked the question I did in today’s survey. Not to be personal because I know cheating is a very difficult topic. But because sometimes when people cannot find another way to express themselves and their frustrations in a relationship, they search for validation outside of the relationship.

It may be personal validation or it may be a way of getting back something of what they think they deserve when not getting that from someone they have constantly given to. A way of channeling their anger.

Unlearning co-dependent or enabling tendencies is not easy. But it can be done. Once again, listen to your feelings. I’m not saying that life will change overnight. I’m not saying life will be easy. I’m not even saying I’ve done this successfully myself. But I am saying, become aware of patterns that aren’t working or if you are giving too much trying to help and nothing seems to be helping or your efforts are being met with disrespect or anger if you begin to do something for yourself instead.

Another thing about co-dependent behavior…..it tends to attract unwanted personality types. Users, addicts, Narcissists….you get the idea.

Those of us who have been in relationships with these personality types know that they don’t always show their true colors right away. So those people who think we should know better or choose more wisely should know that abuse takes many forms and it can be hidden well behind pleasant masks. When problems do arise, usually the rest of the relationship is so nice that we make excuses for the person or tell ourselves that nobody is perfect. Or by that time, we are already in too deep.

It’s not easy to walk away from an otherwise nice relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship or family. What I have found is when there is a problem that does not seem like it is going to change, ask yourself if you can live with that because you most likely aren’t going to be able to change anything.

Can you live with a partner who doesn’t value family? Or someone who is constantly needing to borrow money or having you pick up the bill or pay for the things they want? Can you forgive someone who has lied to you or cheated on you? And I’m not saying if you cannot live without them. I’m saying, can you willingly live with their behavior?

Co-dependents tend to blame themselves for things other people do. Most likely because they feel responsible for the other person’s well being and happiness. They have also learned to “clean up” after others whether figuratively or literally. Enabling forms an attachment and it’s so hard to let go when you feel that someone you love may fall without you holding onto them.

Speaking about all of this, I just learned that my ex-husband is in ICU. Our kids are going to visit him today. I called my mother to tell her about this and she said….”What a shame…he is such a nice man.” And I feel so wrong reminding her of why I am not with him. Petty. But hearing her say that makes me feel like things were my fault and I know that makes no sense. I mean, it really doesn’t matter at this point. And I still care about him very much. I miss being married. It was so difficult for me to acknowledge the problems that I could not unsee. I am praying for his full recovery.

Worry. Attachment. Being afraid to let go of someone even if it’s only in our fearful thoughts. Too much of these negative or controlling thoughts and feelings distract us from our own growth and feelings and well-being. Be mindful this week of how much focus is put into things and people and situations that we have no control over. Things that we think we should be fixing somehow for people. Stay healthy.