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The Love Project

Learning how to love myself. One huge mistake at a time.

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relationships

My mother, my daughter

I saw it in her face. It was the first time I saw that look, but it was as familiar to me as the sound of my own voice. She felt unloved, irrelevant, afraid that she didn’t matter to me. It was twisting up behind her eyes as they filled with tears. I asked her what was wrong and she tried to say something, but it caught in her throat. She choked on the words. She’s learning to swallow her pain, hold it back, keep it to herself because she won’t get what she needs if she asks for it. It was the first time I truly saw myself in my daughter.

I’m trying to figure out how to be a single-parent. I’ve been doing it for almost a year, but it still feels entirely new and I feel like a constant failure. (To be honest, I felt like this a lot when I wasn’t a single-parent, but now there just seems to be more weight on my short-comings.) I’ve had a boyfriend for the last six months, and it’s been tough to integrate him into my life with her. Not because of him. He’s a dad to three boys and incredibly easy-going and understanding. He’s a better parent than I am in his ability to be present with his kids.

What’s tough is watching her react to me with him. We aren’t overly affectionate in front of her, though we do kiss a little and hug. He never spends the night with her here (he barely spends the night when she’s not here, but that’s because I have deeply rooted intimacy issues, which I’ll tackle in another post). She talks about her dad a lot to him and clamors for my attention more, inserting herself right between us. She climbs in my lap when we’re eating, insists on sitting between us on the couch, and interrupts us constantly. Usually to talk about her dad.

It’s always an awkward dance between the three of us, and one that leaves me feeling drained and guilt-ridden. But this week things got raw. She pushed harder to get between us, which made me push back. She woke up in the middle of the night, climbed into bed with me and touched and poked me all night. I was so fed up with being harassed, I got in her bed to sleep. She just followed me into her room. By the end of the week, I was screaming at her in the kitchen at 6:00 AM because she wouldn’t fucking leave me alone. Every time I turn around, she’s there. I was feeling insane from exhaustion (emotional and physical) and trapped in this hell of just wanting a little something for myself and have that be ok with this little person who I have given everything to. Including staying in a marriage with her dad years beyond its expiration date.

What I saw in her face this week shook me to my core. It was me. It was 5-year-old me in my mother’s way as she was trying to find some freedom from the oppression of being a single mom. I can still taste that realization that I was an immovable obstacle to her happiness. By the time I was my daughter’s age, I knew so many things I shouldn’t have known. I knew I was a burden. I knew I was unsafe. I saw that creeping across her teary eyes this week when she kept pushing to get closer to me, looking for some spaces in me that still belonged to her. In that moment, I was both my mom and my daughter. I lived and relived all of that in the time it took me to wipe the tears off her cheek.

I saw my guru this week. (She’s trained as an energy psychologist, but she is also an intuitive who provides spiritual guidance, as well as practical advice for how to deal with this human condition. She has changed my life.) She told me that I was, in fact, avoiding spending focused time with my daughter because that’s what I had learned as a child. Somehow I already knew that, but when she told me, I came undone. She explained that’s why she is pushing back so hard, getting into bed with me, sitting between me and the boyfriend on the sofa. She gave me a plan of action, which includes regimented time with her at set times of the day (15 minutes right after day camp and a hour of play before dinner, bath, bed), as well as scheduled time that we are doing our own thing separately from each other.

Having time to yourself as a single-parent with one child, in particular, is a coveted experience, one we might cling to desperately and protect fiercely as the pressures of our obligations squeeze us. But my guru explained, and it’s really common sense, that kids can and should learn to play alone and respect boundaries. This is what will allow them to create their own as adults. And if she’s got all of me for designated times every day, she’ll be able to feel safety and comfort in her moments of scheduled solitude. And so will I.

I know there’s no formula for success with this stuff. Single-parent or otherwise. I felt grateful for having some guidance this week when I was experiencing so much pain about it. I think creating a plan is the best we can do and all we should expect for ourselves. And then we make mistakes and modify. And we can forgive ourselves. And our parents.

The Pitfall of Being in Love

The pursuit of love is really, truly the point of why we’re here. I’m not saying it should be the point, but I believe it is. The kind of love I’m talking about is romantic love. Sexy love. The kind of love that makes you look in the mirror and think “Holy shit, I DO matter.” It’s not the love from your children that does that. It’s not the love from your parents, your best friends, your dog. (The love from your dog probably comes the closest, but it’s still a distant second.) The love we’re all subtly or openly searching for is that kind that makes us warm in our crotches, makes our heart skip a beat, makes us see the profound beauty in ourselves, that for some flipping reason, we can’t see any other way.

I am in love. Deeply, madly, mind-erasingly in love. It happened quite by accident, in a way that would make you roll your eyes and throw up in your mouth a little if I told you. I would probably use the phrase “love at first sight.” And it would be entirely true. I don’t know where he came from or how we found each other, but he’s that person who…wait for it…completes me. I know: ACK! Take a deep breath and let’s keep going.

A few months in, I was aware of being happy in way I hadn’t been in a long time, if ever. Not happy giddy, but happy peaceful. Happy in my cells. Content and more in touch with myself. Then at some point, a little demon came out and tapped me on the shoulder. She whispered things in my ear that made me feel crazy. She said it wouldn’t last. I became jealous for no reason, insecure over absolutely nothing. Even as I was overwhelmed with these feelings, a part of me knew there was no substance to it. When I dug a little deeper, I realized the driving thoughts were all around the fear of losing this special love. This love that crawled in and curled up in my empty spaces. This love that picked up my broken pieces and lovingly put them back in place. And here, right in the middle of fully having this special love, I felt like it was already gone.

It is well-documented that romantic love floods your brain with dopamine. The feeling of being in love is literally addicting. The same way cocaine and caffeine and sugar are addicting. And how do we feel when someone takes away our coffee and our biscotti? God, I love biscotti, by the way. It’s just the right amount of crunch and sweetness. We know that drugs and sugar are bad for us (mmm, I love biscotti), but … how do we reconcile this with love?  Anthropologist and love expert Helen Fisher has given a few TED talks about love. Here is one that goes into detail about what’s happening in our pitiful little brains when we’re stupid in love:

Stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton also explored this topic in The Honeymoon Effect, where he not only examines the physics and biology of love, but tells a very powerful love story of his own that illustrates the science behind love. It’s a fascinating book even though he uses exclamation points.

So, back to me…

I’m about six months into this love thing. It’s real love, I’m telling you. I love this man from the furthest corners of my being. We are deeply connected and getting closer all the time. Yet, when he leaves, I am always empty. It’s as if he takes his love with him. Sure enough, I get texts from him soon after he’s left telling me how beautiful I am, how much he loves me, etc, etc. etc. (I know, I know. Ack.) The point is that my level of security and assurance in the relationship go up and down irrationally. When he goes away, so does my dopamine. Somehow, this man, who has soothed my most chaotic places, is also stirring up entirely new chaos in my heart. He has both set me right-side-up and thrown me sideways.

So, how do we negotiate between the most powerful drive on the planet and the fact that it is designed to make us crazy with the fear of losing it? How are we supposed to behave lovingly towards someone we love when our primal architecture is an agenda of madness? How can we receive the genuine love someone shows when we are also afraid of losing it?

Let me know if you’ve figured it out. Please.

Honestly

The honesty thing. Why is it so hard? One minute, I feel like I’m on track, taking care of myself, doing the things I want and need to do to feel good and productive, aligning my actions with my priorities and all that good stuff Oprah and Dr. Phil are always talking about. The next minute, I’m off the track, sometimes drunk and confused, dirty dishes are piling up in the sink, my bills are overdue, and I’m feeling angry at the world. Oh. So. Angry.

Why am I only able to be honest about what I want and how I want to spend my time when there’s no one else around to be honest to? In other words, why do I have so much trouble actually being honest. Because being honest when you’re avoiding the world isn’t being honest. Honesty doesn’t work in a vacuum. It’s all fine and well to say, “I just want to sit down and read a book. I don’t care that it’s Friday night,” when there’s no one around to hear it. But when someone I’m dating is here or my well-meaning, potentially alcoholic friends are texting me about hanging out, I cave and do what they want to do.

Why?

Because I’m afraid they won’t love me anymore if I’m honest about what I really want when what I really want goes against what they want. And then I cave and drink too much and smoke cigarettes when I so desperately want to NOT smoke cigarettes and then I’m too tired to do the dishes or pay the bills. And then I’m so angry at my friends or the guy I’m dating for leading me down a path I didn’t want to go down when the person I’m really mad at is…wait for it…me.

How can I be expected to ever have an honest relationship with anyone else when I can’t be honest with myself? Agreeing to go along with what others want to do so that I’ll have a social life is a colossal lie. It lurks deep, deep, deep so that you don’t even really know the lie is in control. But it’s there, guiding your behavior. That shadow lie we all tell ourselves is: “I am unlovable if I’m not doing what others want me to do.”

And that’s the honest truth.

Love Actually

Yesterday I was not in love.  I was decidedly in thorough dislike.  This, after being in love the weekend before and also at some point before that.  Now, I am back in love.  And I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all.

I met someone quite accidentally.  Though I realize that’s how most people meet.  (Online dating sites aside.)  It was an accident because I was really not supposed to meet him.  I was supposed to be single for the next year or so and – as the name of this blog promises – learn how to love myself.  I have been married for 14 years and am getting divorced.  I have a five-year-old daughter.  I hadn’t had sex in (gulp) years.  I felt (feel) worthless in general and terrified about the future.  Really, all I could cling to was this idea that I could be alone and figure out what love means.

And then I met a boy.  I started participating in a beach volleyball clinic and he is one of the coaches.  He’s not chiseled and dripping sex like one might imagine in this scenario.  (Go ahead and imagine that if you want to though.  Hell, I might stop for a minute and imagine it.)  He chased me up the street after the first practice and asked me if I was going home to take a hot shower.  Not in a “I’ll be imagining you naked and wet” sort of way, but more of a “I can’t think of anything else to say and you’re covered in sand” sort of way.  I stopped to talk to him and we stood on the corner barefoot and sandy, grinning, with our sunglasses on top of our head as the sun went down behind us.

That was about two months ago.  Since then we have been dating.  (Is it considered dating if we just watch movies at each other’s houses?)  And I’ve run the gamut of emotions, mostly because my very unrealistic expectations for a fling have only been partially met.  And by partially I mean, this isn’t so much a fling as it is a full-blown relationship.  But the hardest part for me is that we seemed to have skipped the all-important hummingbird phase where we just buzz around each other, wanting to have sex constantly and whisper in each other’s ears about the sex we’re going to have and the sex we just had.

I brought this up stealthily the other night around 2 AM after we had been drinking and he admitted he didn’t have butterflies (or hummingbirds) with me, but something better.  He had never been so comfortable with a girl as he was with me.  That every time he sees me, he falls deeper for me, his heart grows.  (I’d prefer his nether region grow when he sees me.)  So, all the while he’s settling in to spooning while we watch Marvel comic book movies, I’m back and forth with frustration, then lust when he decides to take off my pants during said Marvel comic book movie, then back to frustration when he doesn’t want to do a play-by-play of the sex, complimenting my every gesture and impactful groan.

Comfortable.

Of all the things I would want a guy to feel for me, this is not one of them.  I feel hurt and angry that he doesn’t buzz into a hard-on when I walk into the room.  The sex is great, don’t get me wrong.  (But after five years, honestly, it could be super average and I wouldn’t know the difference.)  And he’s into me in the moment, but… I want that impossible vibrating in your belly that makes you high and then angry later when it fades and you want it back.  I want the roller coaster, the obsessing, the jealousy, the “that ass belongs to me” …

Don’t I?

Wiggle Your Big Toe

Kill Bill is my favorite movie.  Followed closely by Kill Bill 2.  I’m not a Tarantino fan though.  I thought Pulp Fiction was kind of sophomoric and Reservoir Dogs was gratuitous.  But Kill Bill blew my mind and spoke to parts of me I didn’t even know I had.  I wasn’t a mom at the time, but something spoke to that yet-to-be-awakened primal caretaker beast that us females have growling quietly beneath our surface.  The inspiration to be that kind of single-minded, purposeful, unstoppable warrior has never left me.

That is not to say I have actually been a warrior in my life, I just continue to be inspired to be one.  Which is just code for saying I am scared and probably a little lazy and the path of a warrior would require energy and resolve – and right now I am super short on both of those things.  My husband of 14 years and I recently separated and I’m living in a new town with my daughter.  (He lives nearby because we decided neither of us could be far from her, though he and I have been on different planets for most, if not all, of our relationship.)  I feel raw and strange and empty and excited.  I make really, really bad decisions sometimes about how to handle the newness of this separation and the total quiet of my life when my kid is with him.  It is really, really, really quiet when she’s gone.  Sometimes I smoke and drink and trash my body with junk food and I feel like there’s no end to the poison dump I’ll endure just to not feel a morsel of space in me.  Sometimes I run on the beach and enjoy a good sweat and drink cucumber juice and cry in my kitchen freely.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and have no idea who is staring back.  Other times I look in the mirror and think she and I can take baby steps and fall and get up and take baby steps again.

I was pondering Kill Bill recently, thinking about the bad ass moments where she destroys bad guys under impossible circumstances.  And then I remembered the scene that was the most dramatic to me, the one that has stuck with me over all the others and one that means the most to me now.  When she wakes from her coma and drags herself to a car, still unable to use her lower half from being bed ridden for so long, she climbs in the back seat and stares at her feet.  She reflects on the awful things that have been done to her, what she’s going to do to the awful people who did them and the grand way in which she’s going to do it.  She looks at her legs, which are not working, and starts talking to her feet.  She channels all her energy into getting her muscles to work because without that basic step, without that happening first, she will be powerless to seek revenge.

“However,” she says, as she’s thinking of the retribution to come, “before satisfaction can be mine, first things first…wiggle your big toe.”  The screen shows her feet not moving, followed by her repeating the command.  Finally, her big toe moves and she smiles. “Hard part’s over,” she says.

Hard part’s over.  That is how I feel about making the decision to separate, making the decision to write this first blog post, making the decision not to smoke today.  They aren’t glamorous motions, not broad strokes or powerful gestures.  They are small steps, but those are perhaps the most important ones because they are the hardest.  They are quiet moments that no one sees, the struggle that is anonymous but monumental.  Uma Thurman in the back of a van talking to her feet. The pain that is small enough to fit right behind your eyes and in your chest, but large enough to swallow your world.

My notion of a warrior now is someone who understands that before they can slaughter hundreds of bad guys with a big sword, they must first wiggle their big toe.  I still don’t see myself as a warrior and perhaps it’s better if I don’t.  That way I will continue to strive to be one.  Anything that first puts us on the path is the most righteous gesture of all.

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