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Friday, May 2, 2014

The Eve of the Apocalori

It’s the eve of my 43rd birthday and despite the horror that best case scenario, half my life is over, birthdays don’t really bother me that much. In fact, most of the time most people are surprised I’m over 40. Either they are terrible at estimating ages or I’m immature enough to pull off “younger”.

But this year, something is different. For some reason, reality has hit the fan, so to speak. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still companionless, yet another birthday, and no significant other to share it with. Or just the reality of how many things I have waited too long to do.

It’s a cautionary tale really. I don’t like repeating myself, like the conversational recaps that television shows do to make sure the audience is all caught up. Reign is a hyper re-capper. Every time Mary Queen of Scots refers to her mother, she calls her by her full name. Ten episodes in, she’s still doing it. It annoys the crap out of me, but recap I will.

The recap is this and there’s a little TMI here, so brace yourself. But I am including it for a reason. I am including it for all those who have experienced a physical or sexual assault and have isolated themselves as a result.

In my mid-twenties, I experienced a sexual assault. It was my first sexual experience, so you can imagine that it super-sized the already tatters of my trust after a pretty awful childhood... can you say ISSUES?

Well, that was the end of any social experiences until I turned 40. When I did, a serious mid-life crisis hit me and I decided I wanted to live again, but I honestly had no idea how. I like to research things, so I did. I read books, articles, blogs, got advice. I truly had no idea how to date, what to expect, and how to be normal. I had only had three romantic kisses in my entire life, all before the assault, so between the age of 16 and 20. So, not only was I up a creek without a schema, I was also scared to death.

I was scared of being physically close to someone for fear it would invite another assault. I was afraid of being physically and emotionally hurt again. It took me 20 years to pull myself together after it happened. I was also scared of just being out of my depth. I didn’t know how to do anything. I hadn’t hugged or kissed a man in over twenty years. I hadn’t held anyone’s hand. I hadn’t had a date. Imagine an alien in a strange land who had no “normal” reference for the human courting or mating ritual. I was a strange girl in a strange land.

What normal people don’t realize is that they’ve generally had the experiences that I started having in my 40’s, in their teens and twenties.

And of course, then there’s internet dating. I don’t drink, except for an occasional margarita with my girlfriend’s, and I didn’t do sports, so where the hell was I going to meet anyone?

So, how do you figure all of this out while trying not be catatonically scared every time? Well... I just kept trying and failing and trying again and faking it a little. Sometimes, I ran, as fast as I could. Some times, I jumped in... and then ran, my little voice screaming WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! Let me just say, there are frogs, frogs everywhere. I’m sure that there are plenty of frog women as well, I am an equal opportunity disparager after all. But trust me, there are frogs.

Most of the time I didn’t have to figure anything out because it was a quick coffee and “I wish you well.” But then, I met a man I was attracted to and the feeling was mutual, thank god! At least for a little while, I didn’t have to feel like such a loser. But when I asked him to slow down, he was talking about buying a house close to me by the third date, he somehow translated that to “she just wants to be my friend with benefits.” Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me this was the translation, so we saw each other for a couple months, very casually. Him, more casually than me, that’s the unfortunate part. I had no idea I was just a friend with benefits. Increasingly confused, I thought maybe I would just be direct. I told him I would like to see him more if he felt the same way. This was in a text, another unfortunately... His response. “Sorry.” Hmm?? What did that mean? I had no idea. Sorry, I missed that? Sorry, I am lost? Sorry, I don’t speak English? Sorry, I have no balls to just tell you I don't want to see you anymore? I had no idea... So, I went to Facebook to see if he could chat. Why on earth I didn't just call, I have no idea. I guess Facebook seemed easier than texting and... Ummm... Let’s see, a picture of the guy I was seeing, snuggled up with a blonde, celebrating New Year’s Eve... which was the day before. The caption... something like “I’ve met someone so special, I can’t wait to see where the new year takes us!” Granted, this isn’t verbatim, but seriously, this is close.

Wow... WOW... Honestly? I felt like my frontal lobe imploded. I felt like an idiot. I truly had no idea he was seeing someone else or had even thought about seeing someone else, or had even thought about anything, I guess, because apparently, I didn’t know him at all. I felt used and confused and had no idea what was happening or why anyone would do that to another human being. I would have never done that, no matter how casual the relationship. It’s just so disrespectful and kind of mean. It sounds a little old-school, I know it’s 2014 and all, but if I even kiss someone, that’s it for me! I don’t mean instant “head over heels”, I just mean, when you touch someone else’s lips with your own, you owe it to each other to see where it goes. If it’s one date, so be it. You shouldn’t be kissing anyone else until you actually tell the other person it’s over, don’t you think? You shouldn't keep kissing someone when you've started kissing someone else! Is it just me?

Well, after licking my wounds for a while and with a lot of encouragement from my amazing friends, I got myself back out there and started making coffee dates again. More frogs. Frogs wanting a friend with benefits, frogs sending me penis pictures as soon as I trusted them enough to give them my number, married frogs, lying frogs, “open relationship” frogs. I was so exhausted by the end of it, I was ready to give up. Truly ready. I had been defeated, my spirit was completely broken. I had no hope of finding someone. So, I logged into my account ready to delete it and just resigned myself to life alone. I wasn’t happy about it, but it didn’t feel like I had a choice. And alone was familiar. I had reviewed all the options in head and so far was batting 1,000 frogs. Forgive me, I’m not sure if that sports analogy actually works because I’m a sports idiot, but you get the picture. Statistically, I was on the ropes.

Now, let me be clear. I am not the girl who can’t stand being alone so to avoid it, she seeks out any human with boy parts to call boyfriend. Remember, I’ve been alone from age 20 to age 40... technically, 42. And I should include most of my childhood in that as well. I am also not the girl who is in love with the idea of being in love. I’m just not. I think love is messy, relationships can be hard and yes, the experts are probably right, they are work and compromise. I believe that, I just haven’t had an opportunity to test the experts advice. I’m also not the damsel in distress looking for a sugar-daddy to pay her bills. I pay my own bills, thank you. I work on my own car... ok, sometimes, and I have no problem wearing the pants in my family of one. What I am after, is none of these things. I simply am at the point in my life where I finally have the courage to try to share it with someone else. I want to let someone in and vice versa. I want to make someone dinner and snuggle and watch movies and go for walks and go for long drives and go to dinner and go camping (there's a lot of on the go here, do you see the theme?) and build a life and have true intimacy. I want a partner and a friend and a lover. I want to be happy with someone, not just by myself. In fact, I desperately want to let someone into my life and be a part of theirs. I'm starting to think that being a part of theirs is even more important me because I've never really felt like a part of anything... I've always felt like an outsider looking in. Even before the assault.

So... back to the previous paragraph. I logged in to delete my account and scrolling across the bottom of the fish market were pictures of local eligible, or so they say, bachelors. There was a face that caught my eye. Handsome in a cuddly, kind sort of way and so familiar. But I couldn’t place him. Distracted by this shiny object, I clicked “favorite” or something like that. I logged out and forgot to delete my account... And later, he wrote me...

Long story short, we saw each other for 7 months. The best 6 months of my life. The last month, he was more and more withdrawn and I didn’t want to bring up the elephant in the room, so I just smiled and hoped for the best. I won’t tell you the whole story, that’s for us to know. But I will tell you, I’ve been crying since Valentine’s Day, literally. And I don’t say literally, lightly! I can’t seem to stop and today it’s particularly bad. It goes without saying, I hate Valentine’s with a new vehemence I didn’t think was possible. Next V-day, I’m just going to light something on fire or sacrifice a virgin or something and call it good.

So... I’ve strayed off topic a little bit and really what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to, is this:

To anyone, man or woman, who has experienced a physical or sexual assault, please don’t spend your whole life “checked out”. You didn’t expect that, did you? I mean it hasn’t exactly worked out for me and as of this moment, while I’m writing this, I am crying so hard I can barely see... but the result is not what you’re after. Please trust me on this. There are good people out there that are worth getting to know. There are people who give you amazing memories and help you to grow.  (I was having a Suess moment, forgive me).

I wouldn’t trade all 7 of those months, even the weird one, for anything. I would give anything, my 401k perhaps, to have them back. I was happy. Happier than I ever thought I could be. I finally understood what it felt like to be loved, what it felt like to be wanted, and even what it felt like to have an inside joke with someone. All new to me. And I felt like I had a future. Finally. Imagine that?

Don’t get me wrong, I had a hard time with so many things during this process. I was constantly nervous. The first time he came to my house, I was embarrassed by the state of it. The first time I made him dinner, I spent the whole night hoping I didn’t make him sick. The first few nights that he stayed over, I was afraid to sleep in the bed. For those of you judging the “staying over part”, CAN it! I’m over 40 and Puritan values just don’t apply anymore. I wasn’t afraid of him, ever. It was the fact that I had never slept in a bed beside anyone, ever. I'm not using "sleeping with" as a euphemism here. I truly hadn't ever slept with anyone. For those who have experienced the trauma and loss of control that you do in an assault, you know what I’m talking about. You’re body does things without your permission. You startle easily, you automatically pull back even when that’s the last thing you want to do.  Your body isn’t always “engaged”, and here I AM using a euphemism,  in the activity if you know what I mean. The "you know what I mean" should clearly indicate a euphemism. See how that works? Your “fight or flight” switch goes on willy-nilly and when it does, you have to stop or fake it until you make it.

So, the first few nights I'd sneak out of bed and sleep on the couch. I felt bad about doing it. He felt bad too. He thought it was his fault. I don’t think he realized how scared I really was and I couldn’t explain it without him thinking it really was his fault, so I just told him it wasn’t him. It really really wasn’t. I wanted nothing more than to snuggle up with him and fall asleep. I felt content with him and safe. And safe meant a great deal to me. But at first, being able to fall asleep with him felt like the Holy Grail. Then, the first night I did stay in the bed, I woke us both by screaming myself awake from a nightmare. Again, I explained this away with a tale of stress and anxiety, but I remember the nightmare vividly to this day. It was of the man who assaulted me, on top of me and choking me. Now, my assault was not violent, as violence goes anyway, although it was a violation of my body. He didn't choke me or anything like that. But I was completely mute during the experience. I couldn't stop him with a "no!" because my voice was gone. I've always felt like he took my voice and that was worse than taking my virginity. I was a victim of “date-rape” without the date part. He was just a friend visiting my apartment when things went all wrong. But I couldn’t tell this amazing, kind, handsome man next to me that the anxiety and vulnerability of being asleep in the same bed as another human being had manifested this nightmare. He would know I was too broken.

And this is silly, but not only was I afraid of all those things, I was afraid of waking up looking like Yoda after a three-day binge next to the man I was falling in love with. The fear of him running for the door was almost too much to bear and I would end up getting up in the middle of the night to dab on a little makeup and comb my hair. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It sounds so vain, but it was the farthest thing from vanity, I swear.

Even though a truckload of Prozac wouldn’t have cured any of these anxieties, I didn’t want to give any of them up and I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world.

Six years ago I had given up. I was ready to spend the rest of my life alone. In fact, I was ready to give up on life altogether. But I didn’t. I got another dog so I had something to take care of. Something that I couldn’t leave behind and that, his name is Hairy, kept me going. He kept me going until my spirit finally said, ENOUGH! Get on with it! Stop existing and LIVE!

And no matter how hard the last 6 or so years have been, no matter how scary or difficult the experiences, I am still here. None of them killed me. I'm a little worse for wear. Very tender-hearted at the moment and licking more wounds and racking up more metaphorical scars than I care to have, but I'm still here!

What I’m telling you is, you don’t have to give up. You can believe in love, you can find it, even if it’s only for a brief period of time. It DOES exist. I’ve felt it. You can trust someone with your heart and your mind and your body. The right person will cherish them all even if they don't cherish them forever. You just have to find that person. It might be more than one person, each helping you heal a little at a time. It takes some work and there will be heart break. Sometimes it’s nearly unbearable. But you can sit next to someone again and maybe even hold their hand. You can hug them or better yet, LET someone hug you. You can have another kiss. And my hope is that you get a kiss that makes your toes tingle. You can lay in bed and talk and laugh with someone. You can be whole again.

There are no guarantees in life. I’m not sure I will ever be able to try for another relationship again. I’m just not sure at this point, everything is still too raw. But chances are, after a little time passes, I will probably try at some point. I’ve discovered that the point of life is to try. That’s all we can do... But when it works out, when you have a moment, even if it’s just one brief moment of happiness, all the pain and sadness and struggle are worth it. Trust me, you’ll see.

Monday, March 31, 2014

From the Inside Out

So, being 20 years behind in the dating game is incredibly hard. I am most literally up a creek without a schema. Until recently, I’ve never had a romantic relationship. I’ve had potential relationships, usually one date and we, either/or, decide that nah, we’ll move on. I’ve had a few online relationships--which are just basically a lot of texting. But those usually end with a disappearing act or him going back to his ex. Oh, and then there are the guys who send random penis pictures and trust me, I do not request them! I also have a knack for setting potential suitors on the path to their “real true love of their life”. It seems just by meeting me for coffee, I set the fates in motion. I am a powerful woman!

In May of this year, I’ll be 43 years old. To have had one, solitary, all too brief relationship in the span of over 20 years of adulthood is a little abnormal, let’s face it. It’s also a little depressing.

There are times that these facts fill me with regret, but then I remember that all of our experiences throughout life, good or bad, make us who we are. And who we are is important. I have some not my finest moments moments. Things of which I am definitely not proud, but overall I believe I am a strong, loving, kind and resilient person. I’m creative, I believe in my talent and my tenacity. Most of all, I like my brain, even when it replays the things that I regret over and over in an effort to keep me up at night.

Having said that, I am UBER-HYPER-SUPER AWARE of every one of my thousands of flaws and shortcomings. That in itself is a shortcoming when you are trying to become an us. 
But that's who I am. Very self-aware, most of the time.

I’ve spent most of my life just observing people. The upside to observing as opposed to participating in life is that I think I have a deeper understanding of what’s important in life and to me than a lot of people. For instance, I see couples arguing all the time about who should’ve emptied the garbage, who loaded the dishwasher wrong, who forgot to pay the bills. Yes, bills need to be paid and dishes need to get done, but stop bitching at each other about it... SERIOUSLY! Do the dishes yourself (both of you) and don’t complain if they aren’t done the way you’d do them. Be done with it, it's not important!

In my last relationship, my significant other took the garbage out for me. We didn’t live together, he had just come over to see me, so this definitely wasn’t his responsibility. He hadn’t contributed to any of the garbage in the bag. But when he took it out, I didn’t ask-he just did it, I almost jumped up and down. No one had ever taken out the garbage for me. EVER. I seriously appreciated it so much that I wanted to do something, anything for him. Not because I wanted to pay him back, but just because he had been so thoughtful.

It seems simple to just appreciate each other. Look for any little thing each day for which to say thank you. Don’t get lost in the stress and chaos of everyday life and lose those little moments that you’ll never forget. Trust me.

Here’s the thing... Until 7 months ago, I had no idea what it even felt like to sit on the couch with someone and snuggle through a movie. Now I do. Now that my relationship is over, it’s actually a little painful to think of those moments, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Those moments made me feel real, they made me feel loved. And that is something that made my life whole.

My analogy is this... when you're blind, sound, smell, touch become amplified. They say that your other senses compensate for the lack of sight. Lack of touch and belonging are kind of the same thing... When you go 15 years without touch, touch becomes more intense. Almost overwhelming at times. Your heart leaps with joy when someone simply holds your hand. You belong.

For the most part, this is a blessing. I have learned to appreciate the kindness and joy that defines you when someone hugs or snuggles with you. I don’t care what kind of car you have or job you do. I’m just happy. In fact my heart thumps with joy at those little things.

But it’s also a curse. It’s a curse because a lot of people, those in my dating age range in particular don’t really feel the same way. These gestures have become routine, casual, almost absent-minded. They are anything but that to me.

My first relationship has ended and I haven’t completely worked through the grief of that. I have to admit, its hit me like Thor’s hammer. I cared deeply for this person for many reasons. Loved him with all my heart, in fact. At this point, I can only hope that someday I will be able to move on. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone will ever compare to him. It’s not that he was perfect. He had just as many flaws as me, I just didn’t care. None of them bothered me. He was the first person I truly wanted to let in. The first person I would kick Hairy off the bed for.

But I will continue to hope that I can move on eventually. I’m mostly hoping that I can move on before I hit my sixties, because let’s face it, it’s all fun and games until someone breaks a hip!

But when I am ready, I would like him to know this:
  • If you don’t think I’m “the one” within a few weeks, you never will, so please let me go, do it in face-to-face and try to be kind about it.
  • Be patient with me. I still don’t really know how these things are supposed to work and it’s so hard not to be terribly insecure about that.
  • Tell me when I’m over-compensating. I know it can seem a little smothery, but I can't help it.
  • Carry something for me without asking. If you ask, I will say “I got it”, and usually do, but the truth is that I would do anything for a little help.
  • Don’t call me honey or hug me, or make any romantic gestures until and unless you mean it. I will think you mean it and I will be terribly confused when you yell “psych! I just wanna be friends!”
  • Send flowers and only to me... unless it’s your mom or sis or niece. You get the idea.
  • Kiss me hello every time you see me!
  • Kiss me goodnight when we're together.  If we're not, tell me goodnight instead.
  • Just kiss me... a lot... if you’re taller than me, lean down. Standing on your tippy toes is awkward and I’m a clutz. I'm likely to kiss the bottom of your chin and then I'll feel like a dork and over-compensate some more. Also, I'm an awkward hugger, just saying.
  • Hold me when I’m upset.
  • Most of all, talk to me. Talk to me about anything, but especially when something is wrong. Please. Talk to me instead of just walking away.
  • Please don’t take me for granted. I’ll put up with it longer than I should, but then I won’t...
  • Don’t say “I love you” unless you mean it forever.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Chapter 4: My Troll Doll Can Beat up Your Barbie!

Just before I turned 40, I had changed one of the things about my life that I didn’t like. My car. This seemed like an easy thing to do and fairly trivial. Something that I didn’t have to think much about. Just figure out what you like and go find one you can afford. But that seemingly little change actually lit up a slew of other issues that needed to be dealt with. You see, the elephant that I was ignoring was my “hideously ugly” complex. I’d ignored it for a very long time, and let’s just say, elephants have a way of getting noticed... eventually.

It’s not that I didn’t know I had this issue. It’s that I never treated it as being at all serious or even relevant. At some point in my nature or nurture, I became convinced that I was hideously ugly. That became my fact and no one really disputed it. I’m not sure exactly where or when it happened. It just was. It’s part of the reason I hated mirrors so much and also part of the reason for my panic attack during the first topless Jeep ride.

Let me say this... knowing something isn’t rational and letting go of that belief are two totally different things. But fate has a funny way of slapping you in the face with something just when you’re convinced your denial is impenetrable.

My 40th birthday was just a few days away now and God knows why, but I decided I would take the day off from work to treat myself to a massage and then spend the day with my dog.

I’ve never had an actual massage before, but I decided part of this new life should include at least acting like a was a normal woman and doing "woman" things. One thing that normal women did was to pamper themselves on occasion, right? I had learned this from watching “Dallas” and of course from listening to the women I work with.

Also, a few months before, I had started seeing a brilliant Chiropractor whom I called Dr.
Hannah. I’ve had this theory that I was in constant “fight or flight” mode for quite some time
now, but Dr. Hannah confirmed it. Clench your fists as tightly as you can and hold it. Now
imagine your whole body feeling like that for years. Turns out that this kind of stress can affect
a lot of body systems, including digestion. Wasn’t that interesting? Turns out that digestion is what
computer people would call, a secondary or non- essential system. That means, when you’re in
danger, it gets turned off basically to conserve power. If you’re in constant stress mode, like this
fight or flight thing, well, your digestion is FUBAR!

In the same office as Dr. Hannah, there are massage therapists. I made an appointment with one. I figured my muscles could use the attention and frankly, so could I. I was, however, quite worried about how I could possibly go through with it. I was still around 340 pounds and I would have to be at least partially naked. The mere thought of that sent me into a little state I like to call Catatonia. I purposefully set that thought aside. I could panic later. I was simply making the appointment today. One tiny step at a time.

Massage Day, aka My 40th Birthday: The day started off alright. I was trying hard not to really think about actually going through with it. I turned on my internal auto-pilot and the Jeep and headed to the appointment.

When I arrived, I made my way inside and checked in. There was paperwork. There was
ALWAYS paperwork, wasn’t there? I completed it and handed it over. The only way I was going to get through this was to tune-out, right? "Tuning out" was something I used to do a lot. If I simply turned off my emotions, nothing could hurt me because I was numb. In fact, "tuning out" was so second nature that sometimes I didn't even realize I was doing it.

Sitting in the waiting room, I was scared to death and desperately trying to look normal. But inside, the fear was mounting. What was I thinking? Why did I ever think I wanted to do this? I could picture the massage therapist cringing in horror at the sight of me and running from the room screaming at the top of her lungs. It was inconceivable that anyone would want to touch me even if I was paying them to do it. It's why I hadn't let anyone touch me for nearly 15 years. It would be too humiliating to deal with, of that I was sure.

I honestly don’t know how I made it from the waiting area to the room, let alone disrobing and getting on the table. Inside I felt horrible. I felt ugly. I felt defeated. What a way to
spend your birthday, you idiot.
There’s that little voice again.

But then, Dana came into the room and started chattering away. In fact, she talked so much, I didn’t have to. This isn’t normally what you'd want in a spa experience, I’m guessing? But I was grateful. She asked me a couple of questions and I nodded or shook my head depending on what was appropriate. This actually made me laugh a little considering I was face down in the head rest-y donut thing in the massage table.

“Have you had a massage before?” Dana asked. I shook my head. “Well, she said, some people like deep tissue massage, some don’t. If at any time I’m pressing too hard or it’s uncomfortable for you, you just let me know, okay?”

I nodded.

So far, I loved Dana. She was a little chatty Kathy, but thank God for that! She was busy telling me about her job and her recent dates and I thought maybe she’s so occupied with her conversation that she won’t even notice how hideous I am!

Then she put her hands on my shoulders and started working on my back. Oh my God. It was all I could do not to cry. It didn’t hurt. Not physically. I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me in that moment. I wanted to thank her, to hug her, to pay her mortgage. It wasn’t anything sexual, far from it. It was a validation of sorts. It was like in the act of touching me, bare hands to bare skin, she
acknowledged that I existed. It was honestly the first time I hadn't felt completely alone in the world. How could I ever think that wasn’t important? How could I have ever think that I didn’t need it? How had I lived without it for nearly 15 years?

A few tears fell, but I had to stop them or I would be blubbering and snotting into the pretty spa pillow and I couldn’t have that. So, for the rest of the massage, I concentrated only on the sensory experience and when that was too overwhelming, I concentrated on Dana’s chattering, bless her heart.
When it was over, I held it together long enough to drink my obligatory water, pay the bill and get myself to the Jeep. Then, I promptly broke down. Right there in the parking lot, I let myself feel what had just happened. I let myself absorb what it felt like to be touched again by another human being.