I do better with aloof. Real, honest, vulnerable- not so much. Not telling people how much I like them or that my feelings are hurt- I could win medals at that stuff. Spilling my guts about depression or therapy- those I am good at. It is a strange place to be an open book and guard your heart. Yet I am the personification of that particular juxtaposition. So this experiment, this blog, is petrifying. I am practicing self growth, I guess. It isn’t easy for most people to look at themselves with a critical eye. I look at myself with a critical eye far too well. I always have. If you ask me what I do well, it may take me several minutes to answer, if I answer at all. If you ask what I need to improve or what my faults and failures are, I have a list ready instantaneously. But the added discomfort, is that I am not the only one I need to consider. So much of my experience right now is not only being a mom, but a single mom.
In my first draft, I initially wrote that I don’t worry about the blow-back of my thoughts or feelings onto myself. That is a lie I tell myself. But regardless of my fear of how I am perceived or how much people like me, I am honest to a fault. For better or worse. I won’t say something out loud that I am not prepared to say to the subject’s face. If I am afraid they will hear it, I don’t say it. Simple as that. But I am not the cause of my hesitation, my son is. Because the internet is forever. One day he may get curious and want to read my musings. Even if I have long shelved this project, these posts I have already published will be part of our history forever. I don’t want him to read anything untoward about his father. Not because I don’t stand behind my feelings and thoughts, but because I don’t ever want him to feel like he has to choose- or worse, hide his love for his father from me. So I am metered. I think through what I say about his father very carefully. I ensure that what I say does not impede on my truth, but it is still parsed. There are memes I want to like or share on Facebook, but I catch myself. I think- when Moose is old enough to see this, would I want it to potentially influence him? Nope. Therefore I refrain. My vulnerability (as per usual with all of my posts) is scary. But this one, gives me more pause than usual. Yet I trudge on with my digital diary.
I read another blog the other day. The author is an incredibly strong woman and mother. She is navigating recovery from alcohol addiction and sharing her trials, tribulations, and lessons with the world. She inspires me regularly and doesn’t even know it. But she recently posted something that has stuck with me. She wrote that she has never trusted that her husband loves her. That she knew he was loyal and thought he loved her, but not that he really loved her. I think it stuck with me because I never trusted my husband’s love. I didn’t even know to put it in those black and white terms. I always said “I mean, I know he loves me but. . .”
I really did marry my best friend. I loved him with everything I had. I thought he loved me the same way. Well, most of me thought it. But deep down, I questioned it. That feeling surfaced in my sleep. I regularly had nightmares of him leaving me. My therapist (at the time) said it was just a manifestation of my anxiety. And I believed her, because after 6 years of having them, they went away. When I got pregnant, they went away. I was so happy and he seemed so happy, my fears finally rested. Turns out my comfort was unfounded. But these days, as I reflect, I think I knew. I knew that he only loved me as far as his selfishness would allow.
Separation is hard. It isn’t hard for the reasons I thought it would be. I adapted to being alone rather quickly. Honestly, it isn’t much different. It’s less stressful in a lot of ways. I know it is all on me. There are clear expectations. The hard part is the reflection. Trying to wrap your head and heart around it all. There is no rhyme or reason to what will hit you, or when.
I have always been described as “too”. The adjective that would follow the “too” would vary, but let me tell you-when you are deemed “too” of anything, it is never good. I was too sensitive, too much, too dramatic, too loud, too depressed, too anxious, too insecure, too,too,too. . .
The most hurtful of all of the “too”s is too difficult. I cannot explain the piercing pain of being told that you are too difficult to love by someone you love. That your needs, emotions, thoughts are just unbearable. It doesn’t matter if this comes from the person you pledged your life to, a friend, or family. It all cuts far deeper than I can explain in words. You feel it in that hollow of your chest. That place that only aches when you have truly been broken.
Growing up I learned that my emotions were not valid. It wasn’t malicious. I don’t even think it was a conscious thought. I learned it as a byproduct. I was told often that I was overreacting. If my feelings were hurt, if I was sad about something, if I was mad- it was all too much. Too strong a reaction. Something I should temper or “get over”. I don’t think people realize the effect they have on someone when they tell them they are overreacting. It completely invalidates the person. They aren’t allowed to feel how they feel. They don’t matter. They aren’t worth the trouble.
Growing up, you are trying to learn how to navigate the world. And yourself. And social situations. These are the tools you carry into adulthood. The tools I learned were to retreat. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t speak up, because if you do you will just feel worse. You will inconvenience someone else. No one will care. Or worse, they will get mad or belittle you. Don’t be “too much”. I learned young that it was a huge character flaw to be “too”. I have lived my life chastising my inability to stop being “too”.
Over the course of the last twelve years I was told how blessed I was. Not because I had a beautiful relationship, but because I found someone “that would put up with me”. Family members would say he was “a saint for being with me”. He was the saint, which inherently made me the sinner. It wears on you. The feeling that you are unlovable except to this incredibly patient, kind fellow who happens to think you don’t totally suck. Who maybe just didn’t notice the other options he had before settling with you. I never had high self esteem or self worth, so this stuck in my mind. Thank God the man I love so much can deal with me. Thank God he wants to be stuck with me. Overtime, I wasn’t the only one who believed them. He did, too. I am not what he wants anymore. I am too much. Yet again. This time it was my hashimotos. It was “too much” to deal with. In years past, he had also told me “maybe your depression is too much…”. I have been too much for a while it seems. He finally reached his threshold.
Even in my marriage, I wasn’t allowed to feel. I wasn’t allowed to have needs or hurts. Again, I don’t think he thought of it in those malicious terms, or even that consciously. But my hurts were all inexplicably my fault. Every time. And I took it. Because that is how it has always been. If my family felt that way, why wouldn’t my husband feel that way too? After all, he was a saint for dealing with my dramatics. I never questioned it. You don’t stand up for yourself when you don’t feel like you are worth it.
I still don’t feel like I am worth it. I still don’t feel like I am allowed to feel things. I am not allowed to be mad. I am not allowed to be hurt. I must consider everyone and everything except for myself. I must not overreact. I must remain measured and not make anyone else uncomfortable. It makes me withdraw. I get quiet. I burrow within myself. I don’t want to burden anyone with my overreactions. I don’t know how to lean on anyone. I don’t know how to not feel guilty when my feelings are hurt. I don’t know how to stop overthinking. I don’t know how to stop wishing that I didn’t have feelings. How do I stop criticizing myself for the thing that makes me human? The thing I never judge anyone I care about for?
What I do know, is that I have to learn how to get better. I have to learn that I matter. I catch myself withdrawing and I force myself to speak up. I force myself to take the risk. This is not the example I am willing to set. But I am not good at it yet. Saying how I feel is not a place I am comfortable. And I generally regret it as soon as the words come out of my mouth. But at that point, it is done. I cannot erase the words. I cannot take them back. Over time, I hope that the regret fades. I hope the guilt disappears. That my confidence in my own needs strengthens. That I learn that I cannot spare people from hurt or discomfort by hurting myself.
It’s funny how having a child changes your perspective on what is acceptable. On how you begin to evaluate how you treat yourself. I have to learn how to identify my feelings. I have to learn how to talk them through. Because I have to learn how to validate my son. I am the one that is going to teach him how to express himself in a healthy way. I am the one that is going to teach him that he matters by how I respond to his emotions and feelings. I am the one that has to break the cycle.