Monday, January 21, 2013

Where I've been - Where I'm going

Me, age 20
I have spent a lot of time lately looking at where I've been. My life has been a rough one, but mostly by choice. I could have decided to live a "normal" life and been "like everyone else" and been comfortable. I could have worked a regular job, played cards on the weekend, and avoided difficult things like religion and philosophy. Instead, I put my own self ahead of those normal, comfortable things. I chose to be religious, to be pagan, to be different sexually than the average person. In some ways these weren't so much choices in being (I am who I am when it comes to belief and sexuality, after all, and there's not much I can do to change that) but in exposing myself. I could have hidden that I was bisexual, kinky, pagan, poly, religious, feminist... I could have let it be a background thing that was in a closet, stuffed away. The choice I made was to be what I was, without hiding.

Me, age 41
I look at these two pictures, and I see only a few differences, surprisingly. My face is a bit rounder and I weigh a few pounds more. My glasses are smaller (and more effective). But the smile is the same. The eyes are the same. My hair isn't currently dyed, but it could be. The necklace in the upper picture now resides with my daughter, and the necklace in the one to the right has special meaning to me. It's still ME though. I haven't changed as much as I would have thought I would. I don't look significantly older. The few gray hairs I have are largely hidden in my blondish natural hair color. I pluck my eyebrows now, and I never did when I was younger. I still don't wear makeup and avoid bras whenever possible.

So what has changed? I think the most significant change is... me. The inside me has grown so much larger over the past 22 years. I've done years of therapy in between, getting over the abuses of my childhood and young adulthood. I've attended seminary and graduated and been ordained. I look at the world through different eyes, now. I'm calmer, more self-possessed, less impulsive. I deal better with schedule changes, and I cook more.

Over on FaceBook, someone posted up a picture that shows a silhouette face bursting into flying birds (it's beautiful, not freaky). Under it is a quote from Lao Tzu: "If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place." The quote has been stuck in my mind for a couple of hours now. I ask again, what has changed? The answer is that I've (at least partially) corrected my mind. Life is now falling into place.

What masks do you hide behind? (1)
Some 20 years ago, I felt it was important to let all my emotions hang out. I now refer to it as emotional bulimia, because I emotionally vomited everywhere, even places where it was horribly incorrect to do so. I thought that allowing my emotions to burst forth whenever and everywhere, I would correct the damage of having held in those emotions for the years of my childhood. I was wrong. What I did had very little (if any) positive impact on me, and caused great harm and damage to all those around me.

Ten years ago, I began serious work on correcting my problems. I worked intensively with a therapist who didn't judge my oddities in lifestyle, but focused on my outbursts and my inner pains. Dr. D. had the bravery to tell me when I was wrong, bluntly and without beating around the bush. I owe him my life. I owe him my relationships, too, because his patient and kind help allowed me to let real love enter my heart.

He is the one that taught me that my feelings are real, they're mine, and that no one has the right to take them away from me. He also taught me that it is my responsibility not to regulate those feelings, but to regulate how I present those feelings to the world. It is right and appropriate for me to feel angry when someone does something bad to me. It is not right and appropriate for me to scream or threaten or write nasty things about them.

Life's puzzle takes a while (2)
That one idea brought such healing to me that I can't even begin to explain it. I had always been under the impression that the goal of therapy was to make the Bad Feelings go away. If something made me angry then I needed to learn to stop being angry, right? That's what Good People did. That's not true, though. Good people can and do get angry, and frustrated and upset and pissy and any number of other negative emotions. The difference is that good people learn how to navigate the world and express their feelings in a way that owns those feelings and doesn't shove them willy nilly onto others.

My anger doesn't mean you need to be angry, too. My anger may be based on false assumptions or observations that are not complete. My anger may have nothing to do with reality at all, and be based solely upon internal issues. That doesn't make my anger wrong. It's MY anger. So long as I don't force that anger onto others, and also don't bottle it up and make it fester, my anger can be used for healing and learning.

Where I've been was a place of excess emotions and adherence to schedules that had to be incredibly strict and unvarying in order for me to cope. So where am I going? Onward and upward, ever on and ever better!

Today, I recognize that angry words thrown at me are a symptom of something more, some hurt that goes far deeper. It's not really me they're mad at, just as it wasn't really other people I was mad at (and sometimes still am).  I am able to separate myself better from the feelings and the actions/words of myself and of others. I have more control over how I express my negativity.

The result is that I'm happier. I'm not giddily happy (well, not most of the time) or manic, but just... happy. When I'm sad, I don't have to thrust it into the open, and I don't have to push it down deep inside. I can express that I'm sad (or angry, or frustrated) to others in a way that shows the emotion is mine, not theirs. Most of the time, that is, because I'm not perfect. I've come a long way from that 20 year old with emotional bulimia. But like any sufferer of bulimia, I have to watch that I don't allow myself to relapse. I'm healthy, but perhaps not fully healed.

As I approach my 42nd birthday on Saturday, I do so with a smile in my heart and on my face. Life is not perfect, nor would I have it be so. Life is good, and that's enough. I'm happy more days than I'm sad. I'm healthy more days than I'm ill. I love my home, my partners, our children (all of them!), and our life. I love my ministry and the place that I am right now, emotionally, physically and mentally.

I'm going forward with my life, with my head high, my eyes alight, and my heart full of song. I am content with the fact that sometimes that song is hard rock, sometimes it's classical, and sometimes it's 80s hair band crazy. Sometimes it's sad, and other times it's happy. That's what a soundtrack is supposed to be like, after all...

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
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1) Image by fedegrafo / morgueFile free photos
2) Image by mconnors / morgueFile free photos
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