In search of…

My eternal struggle seems to be how to make a close friend.  There are a number of people I consider friendly acquaintances and a few, one maybe, two maybe, with whom I am a little closer.  I don’t have a close personal friend to do stuff with, to confide in and generally depend upon.  The most enriching interactions I get on a regular basis are my appointments with my therapist.  In order to truly be ready for discharge (something we have discussed directly and indirectly) I feel like I need to develop or be on my way to developing a replacement relationship otherwise I will end up exactly where I started 6 plus years ago.  It’s terribly depressing not to have a socially and emotionally validating relationship other than the one with my therapist.  In many ways I believe this is what keeps me stuck when attempting to develop therapeutic relationships with my own clients.  I do not have outside validation in my personal life and so I struggle with having confidence in my “self” as an inherently valuable individual.  My sense of self is dependent on others I’d say about 50-60% of the time, sometimes more.  It is a long and complicated concept to explain but it makes sense to me in my own personal journal writing.  My therapist once said that she believes that if my cat could talk I would never leave my apartment, and sometimes I wonder if this is true.  Finding the right person to invest time in and interest in is difficult, especially as I have been by myself for so long.  I can hardly remember what it was like when I did have a close friend.  I don’t remember it being very difficult to make allowances for our individual differences.  I remember having fun and enjoying each others company.  So why now does it seem like developing close intimate friendships requires so much more energy and why now does it require so much more to make it feel worth it?

Most of my interactions with people are work related either with the mental health company I work for or for the grocery store chain I work for. (blah prepositions at the end of sentences)  Other than the occasional Meetup group for coffee or whatever, I am alone.  Sometimes I wonder if I am just one of those perpetually alone, aloof, people.  The ones that are invited to parties and who leave alone, quietly, unobtrusively, at the end of the night.  They make dry witty remarks and are quite amusing but no one could mistake them for the life of the party.  But then no, because I usually prefer to be in bed, alone, in the quiet, by 9 or 10pm.  The quiet away from other people is what I prefer and yet I long for supportive, mutually validating, reflective, enjoyable, worthwhile relationships.

In the past I’ve sought out, purposefully sometimes and without purpose at other times, friendships? mentorships? with older adult women.  Excuse my mommy issues please.  I’ve lost the ability to make friends with peers.  I’ve lost the patience and attention and focus, perhaps?  I don’t know.  Friendships, I know, take time to cultivate but first I feel as if I need to see that there is someone or something I want to get to know.  I’ve met many perfectly nice people but where is that quality that draws us together, that makes it feel worthwhile?  If it requires work without interest or validation then it is just not worth it to me.  It would be like eating broccoli if you hate it.  It is good for you but you hate it and  you don’t see the point.  Why pursue something, like a relationship, if you are miserable?  And so, it has to be worth it to me.  A relationship, any relationship, has to be worth it to both parties.  When it no longer matters to one or the other then it kind of just drifts away because one person cannot force it to continue.  It’s impossible.  I just have to find my “worth it” friendships.  Whatever that means…

Together Alone

I know I have been lax in my blogging again.  Frequently it is an event that sparks my return to the blogging format.  This past week my therapist informed me that my next session would be my 200th.  That’s not 200 hours because she frequently goes above and beyond the therapeutic hour.  We do good work together.  The culmination of this work lead to a discussion of termination in the not too distant future.  It excites me but scares me at the same time, not because I don’t think I could handle it but because I would miss the conversation, the processing, and the interaction.  Socialization is one of the things I have to work on, developing relationships and friendships outside of the therapeutic relationship.

So that is what I have been thinking a lot about since my session early this past week.  My therapist has told me often that different friends meet different needs.  Someone you might hang out with at a ball game might not be someone you necessarily bring to a work party, for example.  My problem, if it can be called a problem, is that I don’t really have a clear idea of what my needs are.  I know I prefer more intimate social relationships than I do casual friendships.  I have work friends but I don’t know how many of them I would hang out with outside of work.  But then, I haven’t, so I don’t know.  One of my work friends could turn out to be a bestie.  I know from a social aspect I have loved my time with my therapist but I frequently confront the fact that in many of my relationships with women who are older than I am, I seek consciously or unconsciously to fill a surrogate mother/ daughter relationship.  I flourish like a plant turning towards a light source in their presence.  I feel like I glow with excitement.  However one friend who is nearly the exact same age as my mother I see and interact with more as a peer and I don’t get that striving kind of feeling from our friendship and it feels less intimate in some ways.  I guess I am trying to figure out what friendship looks like and feels like since it has been so long since I have had a relationship I could clearly define and count on as a friend.  And if that striving, intimate, nourishing feeling isn’t realistic or is something I need to do for myself, then what is a friendship and how do I do that for myself?  Logically I know a friendship is a connection between two people who enjoy spending time together.

Professionally, my therapist has helped me to see that I need practice in interacting socially.  I have the head knowledge, as she says.  But I need to develop my ability to interact with people.

I have also been wondering again about the mystery of what leads us to be drawn to one person over another.  Why, for example, did I choose my therapist?  She was a professor of mine during a summer studio class.  There were two professors so why her and not the other woman?  There was something about my therapist’s personality that I liked, obviously.  Why are we drawn to some people more than others?  I know some people who are perfectly nice and fine and would be a good friend probably but I am just not drawn?, compelled?, attracted?,  to them as I would be to someone else.  There were teachers like that in school too.  As for peers I remember feeling on the outside, like a third wheel.  It often didn’t feel natural.  The only time it didn’t I remember was with my middle school best friend.  I remember that same sense of inclusion during the Curves trip to see the Pirates play.  I was part of the group…I am getting off track.

Now as for that sense of belonging I know I felt somewhat separate from the group during my grad school experience.  There were groups of people who hung out together, smallish little groups of 2-3-4 people, and I didn’t really feel like I was a part of one of those.  I felt separate.  It was a lonely feeling but not unfamiliar.

One of the reasons I like working at Giant Eagle is that sense of belonging.  People know me.  Coworkers can count on me.  They see me as a good worker.  I have been there long enough to be a part of that camaraderie that comes from working in the trenches of a service industry.  I can joke freely and I am confident enough in the duties of my job that I can get in there and work as hard as the best of them.  Best of all are the regular customers.  I remember when I first started at Giant Eagle that I admired and longed for that sense of community.  Now I am one of those who can say, “Mr. So-and-so, you’re by yourself today!” or “Hey! You’re late today.”  I can joke with the regulars and they know me.  And in that sense, beyond the monetary one, working at Giant Eagle meets a very big need of togetherness and community, for me.

So…my point.  Friendship.  What is it?  What does it mean?  What needs does it meet?  How do I know if my expectations are too high?

Another language

In high school I, like many of the rest of us, was required to take a language in order to graduate.  I took a year of Latin and two years of Spanish because my Latin teacher ended up retiring after my first year of a language.  Regardless of the language, I struggled.  I think many of us do when learning another language.  Others however seem to learn another language more easily.  It is hard not to judge myself as being less worthy than these individuals.

This week my therapist equated the emotional aspects of therapy (both in providing therapy to others and to receiving therapy) to learning or using another language.  Some of us, many of us, grow up in a “bilingual” household.  Some households are more fluent in this other emotional language than others.  I feel as if I grew up in a household more unilingual than many and so I struggle with the emotional language.  I have a firm knowledge of the rules and shoulds, the “grammar” of the language, so to speak.  Applying this knowledge is more problematic.  I struggled growing up with using this other language.  For reasons, there were many times I did not feel as if it were safe.  It’s kind of like an immigrant who struggles to assimilate into an adopted culture.  After a while a child raised in this new culture forgets his birth language and is only vaguely familiar with it (and sometimes ashamed of it) when he or she becomes an adult.  They use their birth language clumsily and often without comfort.  This is me with regards to my emotional birth language.

Now, this is hugely problematic when it comes to providing therapy and providing therapy as an art therapist.  For me many times there is a sort of “lost in translation” effect.  I know the rules and the grammar but I don’t know the subtle nuances.  I don’t know the individual dialects because I am as of yet unfamiliar with my own.  There are times I doubt whether I will be.  This doubt, the amount of effort I have always had to apply to learning another language, the unfamiliarity, the discomfort I experience in not fully comprehending this emotional language is discouraging to say the least.  It creates doubt in that I’ll ever be a competent therapist.  Will I ever be able to do my clients justice, provide them with the help they need, if I cannot reconnect to my own emotional birth language and learn to recognize it in others?

My therapist has asked from time to time why I chose this profession if it is such a struggle for me.  Why would I not choose something with which I am more comfortable?  My answer to her:  “Because I need this.”

Unconditional

I know it has been a while since I last wrote.  I am writing today because I was informed this morning that a client’s pet died.  I keep looking at my cat, not even a year old yet, and wondering at her, cherishing her, holding her a little closer.  My client’s dog was old, half toothless, blind in one eye…my client’s family recused him.  He was roughly treated in his younger years and my client’s family made his last few years as comfortable as they could for him.  It’s a sad day for them.  I ponder the impact of unconditional love on us given to us by our pets.  I know a while ago, a couple of years at least, my therapist tried to get my then landlord to allow me a cat as a support animal.  I also know how much richer and better my life has been since I picked out Piper from her litter mates.  How much I’ve changed for the better just knowing that her warm little body and her ready purrs wait for me when I get home.  Piper was with me when I was in a house fire 8 almost 9 weeks ago.  She adjusted surprisingly well to the sudden upheaval, waking up in the middle of the night, being shoved into her cat carrier, being locked in an unfamiliar bathroom all night, the two (or was it three?) and a half weeks we spent at my Aunt’s, and then moving into a brand new apartment.  I still remember the way she used to curl up in the rug in front of my tv and wonder whether she remembers too.

Piper is my first cat that is all mine.  Growing up we had cats but they were family cats.  They belonged to all of us.  Piper is mine.  She knows me and I know her.  It was hard for me when we were at my Aunt’s, to listen to my Uncle get testy over what she is and isn’t allowed to do.  I get it.  Their house, their rules.  But she is so much a part of me it felt like a criticism of me.  I didn’t hate her for her natural behaviors and her personality, in fact while I was scared that we would be kicked out, I was also defensive of her.  I was angry at my Uncle.  This, getting defensive and taking care of my inner child, is something my therapist has tried to get me to do for my inner child practically since I started seeing her.  So in a way my cat embodies that inner child part, the vulnerable dependent part, and I am reminded constantly to take care of it, treat it with kindness, play with it, love it, honor it, and cherish it.

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The Stories We Live

This post might seem a little redundant at first. For a long time I believed there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Let that sink in for a moment. Many people grow up believing that yes they do good things and bad things but their essential sense of self is permanent, immovable. They might not even be conscious of it but they have this sense of okay-ness at their core. For reasons I can’t explain and are long and involved and don’t want to go into here, I have felt I did not have this essential sense of rightness. It is why for as long as I can remember I have looked for this sense of stability, something I can rely on, something to which I can attach myself, because I could not find this sense of rightness or stability within myself. I equate it to constantly being on a ship at sea, constantly adjusting, equilibrium always just a little bit off. I have been on a search for my land legs. I am tired of traveling the stormy seas.

Yesterday I came across this article posted on Psychology Today entitled “Imagining an Authentic Life.” For some reason, perhaps I was just receptive to its message, it really impacted me. The article talked about the stories we live and how they are composed for us, in this case by the author’s parents. I began thinking about the story that was composed for me and how all of the information I have taken in since I was a very little girl has gone towards supporting this story. I have finally begun to question this story of wrongness, of not good enough. Who says? And is this the story I want to continue living?

From the start my belief that something is wrong with me, something makes me essentially ‘less than” or unworthy, is something my therapist and I have worked on correcting. She, my therapist, has worked on pounding into my head the message that, “There is nothing wrong with me!” And yesterday for some reason I really realized just how much I was living someone else’s (Mom’s? My teacher’s?) story. It makes me sad.

I’ve beaten myself up for so long because I honestly and truly believed that I deserved it. I have been receiving messages or interpreting messages for so long that my wants, needs, inclinations, preferences, ways of learning or being in the world, etc. are wrong or shouldn’t be, that as a very little girl I distorted it into believing that there must be something wrong with me, my essential being.

And this is where my therapist would ask, “So what are you going to do about it?” I’d like to believe that I’ll be a little less afraid to engage in “reasonable risk taking.” By combating the belief that I am fundamentally undeserving, I will no longer be afraid to ask for what I want and need to survive. By accepting my wants and needs without judging their rightness or wrongness I will finally learn to love myself and to “write my own story.” Finally, “reasonable risk taking” will be more about deciding who I want to be rather than living someone else’s story.

There is also this part of me that doesn’t want to let go of this “magic feather.” (see Dumbo and his magic feather the crows told him he could use to fly.”

The Diet

It’s been a long time since I’ve last written. I was in the midst of thesis writing and internship hours. Now I have graduated. I finally have my Masters in Art Therapy after four long years. Wow what a journey it has been. I’m going to share a story that will be a little hard to really grasp without all of the background history but I’ll try to make it clear.

After high school I was heavy and during my first year of college, with the help of my Aunt, I undertook the task of losing weight. When I was losing weight I could see measurable physical results and I had my Aunt there to encourage me and recognize my results.

Now. I still struggle with the nasty messages I’ve been telling myself for decades, since I was really little actually. I often find myself wishing that changing these thoughts were as easy as it was for me to lose weight. It’s easy enough to say, “eat this, not that” but to fight something that is in my head and heart, it is not as easy to get a hold on.

In a way the horrible, nasty messages I live and breathe and incorporate into my being are like junk food. Worse, they are like the junk food that pretends to be healthy. When I’m eating it (the messages) it tastes so good and I can fool myself into thinking they are good for me. Later, I feel horrible and ill and they eat away at my being. It clogs everything up. These pretend healthy messages are actually junk. So what does actual healthy mind food look like?

Healthy mind food involves an accurate and balanced assessment of abilities and scenarios.

I was watching ‘My 600 pound Life’ last night and thinking about how the doctor told each of his patients to ‘stop making excuses.’ It reminded me a lot of what “K,” my therapist, tells me. Instead of bad eating habits I have bad mental/ emotional habits. Now again, it was easy enough for me to follow the “eat this, not that” direction but it is not so easy nor is there a perscriptive mental “diet” for me to follow. In any event changing my thinking, like changing my eating habits, involves the same kind of conscious choice. I’ve got to force myself to put down that metaphorical donut. Once. And. For. All.

Meeting of Souls

As I come to the end of my graduate education I have been thinking about what has changed for me over the past few years. I think I have become more okay with who I am. I have come a good way towards separating myself from the emotional reactivity I once experienced with Mom. I still struggle with it sometimes. I have come to realize the catastrophizing and personalization I’ve done has severely hindered my ability to take risks and trust in myself. It still prevents me from doing some things but I am working on combating distorted thinking by opening myself up to talk to people. If I can talk to people I can dispel the nightmares I often create for myself. It is often difficult for me to keep that in mind when I am in the midst of an anxiety storm. It is often difficult to see my way clear but I think the storms are not as frequent anymore. I think sometimes the storms are not quite as intense and sometimes, every now and then, I am strong enough to alter the storms rather than cowering as I wait for them to pass.

I still struggle very much with creating relationships with people or perhaps I struggle with creating a relationship with myself. I look to fill an ever present hole in my heart while at the same time knowing I have to do that for myself. Love, security, and comfort first have to come from within myself. I cannot look to others anymore, as a child might. Though my heart aches for that metaphorical and literal hug.

Sometimes we come across people in our lives that our soul or heart seems to recognize. We may not be very much alike but we still have an odd connection. That connection may be one sided or not but I think each and every one of us searches for that connection. It may be a few minutes long, a brief meeting of souls, or a few decades long in the case of a true friendship or partnership. Or maybe it is only those of us with holes in our hearts who search endlessly for that meeting of souls.