I recently had another "ah ha" moment that I wanted to share with you all. I need to give a small commentary before the actual moment so hang in here a minute while I do that.
When you lose a lot of weight rapidly after you gain a lot of weight over time you end up with some "squishy" or jiggly parts. Maybe your belly or your arms or thighs or whatever. You can get really hung up about those parts if you're not careful. I mean your super happy to be healthier and thinner, but you're also self conscious about those parts.
Then one day, your kid needs intense snuggling so she sits glued to your side and after a while you notice that she is pinching your jiggly arm repetitively. At first you may be a little freaked but you contain yourself and ask what she's doing and she says she petting you and then she actively wiggles your jiggly arm and smiles big. And then you really have to contain yourself and not jump off the couch to go check out how jiggly your arm is. And then she says, with sincere little kid honesty, "this part of you makes me happy". And then your other kid pipes up and says "yeah- like your squishy belly". It's really soft and I love it." And then you either 1. Go take a xanax and hide in the closet or 2. Have an aha moment of self love and smile because your kids are cool and find love and comfort from parts of you that up until that moment made you feel anxious.
It was a close call, but I chose the Ah ha moment.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Have you ever been told that you are “too much”? Well, I have. The word TOO has played a predominant role in my life. I’ve been labeled “too emotional”, “too sensitive”, “too big”, “too much”, “too creative”. Now I understand some of those toos but how can one be “too creative”? That one I never understood. If you have ever been the victim of a purposefully negative “too” or even a casual drive by “too”, I feel your pain. This little essay is about my various responses to the toos. Maybe we can work through our toos together.
My first “toos” happened bright and early in life. I remember my mother telling me multiple times that I was “too emotional” and “too high strung” and “too sensitive”. When I yowled over a bloody knee, cried over hurt feelings, wailed about a punishment, she hit me with a “too”.
Let me clarify that my mother was not abusive. She was a single parent of two children and she loved us very much. She worked full time, had limited local family support, and I honestly believe she did her best at raising us. Often, we were just “too much” for her to handle alone. I recently figured out that my mother had been a victim of the “not enoughs”. She did great in school, was pretty and popular and kind but unfortunately, her mother was mentally ill and verbally abusive so what she did was just “not enough” no matter how hard she tried. I’m pretty sure her therapist (or mine) would say that her response to the “not enoughs” was the vile “toos”.
My mother wanted me to fit in and conform to groups so that my life would be easier. She told me that when I came out as a lesbian. She wanted my life to be easy and happy and I wouldn’t have the easy happy life as a lesbian. She failed to notice that due to a life time of being “too much”; my life had not actually been all that easy as a straight chick.
I was in the third grade when it was brought to my attention that I was “too big”. I look back now at pictures and see a large boned kid with dorky pink glasses and slightly round cheeks but that kid was active and healthy. Maybe not as healthy as she could have been, but I remember playing and riding my bike and feeling good in my body. This was the year I started my “dieting journey” as I lovingly refer to it in bitter moments. The DSM-V would call it my eating disorder.
My dad would love me with food on the random weekends we visited him and my mother would love me with Diet Shasta and horribly embarrassing tiny school lunches the rest of the time. The more she asked him to watch what we ate, the more he fed me. My brother and I would leave his house on Sundays cranked up on caffeine, with distended bellies and sugar highs. By Sunday night, we had crashed and were wailing and in probable Dr. Pepper detox.
I tried every fad diet I have ever heard of by the time I was in college. “Too big” finally reached critical mass in my thirties and when I had gastric bypass, I weighed 326 pounds. Since then, I still struggle with weighing ‘too much” but I have tried to be healthier and more aware of what I’m doing to my body. I try very hard to not call her “too” anything.
The thing with the “toos” is that it’s all a matter of perception. Maybe I’m curvy, theatrical, gregarious, compassionate, and intuitive rather than “too big”, “too sensitive”,” too emotional”, “too much”. I have spent so much time either rebelling against the “toos” in my life or pondering how to be less i.e. less large, less demonstrative, less emotional. What I know for a fact is that I’ve wasted TOO much time worrying about it instead of just trying to figure out how to be me.
I have always been great at reminding other people who have been dealt a “too” that everyone won’t like them, everyone won’t find them attractive and some will think they are weird AND THAT”S OKAY!!! I just haven’t been good at believing it myself.
And then came my daughter. My second daughter could very easily be labeled “too”. She is 3 years old and she is smart, funny, loving, mischievous, rebellious, devious, selfish, and busy as hell. She was born this way. She goes wide open from early morning until I finally sing our 17th song and read our 10th book and leave the room while she wails “don’t LEAB me. I NEED you!!!” Her energy sometimes makes my hair stand on end and I have to work day and night to control my urge to yell at her or attempt force her to bend to my will. I have had to learn entirely new ways of parenting and I’m exhausted from the self help and parenting blogs I read on a daily basis. I am becoming a master of what I have coined as “subterfuge parenting”. This style of parenting takes more time and patience but pays off in the end because she actually thinks it was her idea to behave instead of me forcing her to be “less”.
I never want to label my children” too much” or “not enough”. Not even in my private thoughts. The thing about “too” is that it can come across even when not said aloud. It’s insidious.
I cannot change my “toos”. I am learning to own them, go with them, nurture them and understand them. I am trying to better nourish my “too big”. I now listen to my “too sensitive” because I have learned that she often catches things that might be important. I make art when my “too creative” feels the need and I have learned that “too much” actually is too damned much when she drinks heavily. This is really all we can do. Accept our “toos” the way we accept our crazy aunt who rocks in the corner and grins vacantly at everyone, or our forgetful spouse, or our neurotic best friend. If we can offer this type of acceptance to our family, then I am quite sure we owe it to our “toos” to let them know that they are…just enough.
I quit my job. Yep. You read that correctly. Quit. My. Job. It was terrifying. And liberating. After twelve years with the same non-profit agency, I handed in my resignation. After months of drinking too much, eating too much, smoking too much and crying too much over my job I burned out. I almost went down in flames screaming at people, laughing maniacally and throwing stuff but instead, I pulled it together, had a heart to heart with my wife of 16 years and finally meant it when I said I would work digging ditches to provide for my family if I could just get the f#*k out of this job.
The truth of the matter is that some would say I stayed about 11 years too long. Another truth is that I learned a hell of a lot about myself, politics, HIV, and people in the rural south. Some of what I learned enlightened me. Some of it pissed me off royally and some just wore me down. Just when I thought I had a handle on what I was doing, the grant changed, the laws changed, or the statistics changed. I learned how to think on my feet and how to actually be a self starter rather than just call myself one.
Every six months for the first 5 years in that job, I tried to hand in my resignation while crying like a blubbering idiot. My boss gently refused my resignations, handed me a tissue and sent me back out. I finally quit trying to quit and just threatened to quit about once a year. Knowing my M.O., my boss just listened, nodded and changed the subject to something I was passionate about instead of the thing that had angered me or frustrated me. In this job I have been an HIV educator, an HIV and housing advocate on both state and federal levels, a housing specialist, a property manager, a housing case manager, a gofer, a house cleaner, a trash hauler, a transporter, a party planner, a fund raiser and a conference presenter. Every day held different job responsibilities and I learned that I am not “above” doing any of those things. I was simultaneously humbled and empowered by this job on a regular basis. Also, angered. Did I mention angered?
This job affected me more than I could even describe in a short essay. I saw things in the job that were jaw dropping hilarious, heartrendingly sad, and culturally mortifying. Sometimes I experienced all three emotions in the same day. I met amazing people. I met terrible people. I witnessed goats eating abandoned houses. I wrangled cows back into pastures and hocked HIV education at flea markets next to a guy selling used socks. I cleaned out maggot filled refrigerators more than once and I shudder every time I see a pest control advertisement because of run-ins with German cockroaches and bedbugs. I joined coalitions, commissions, boards, fellowships and teams. I took notes for all of them so no one would ask me to actually lead the damn things. I once picked up a young homeless gay male prostitute by a bridge after he earned some “spending money” for the drug rehabilitation program to which I was taking him. I got chased by a drug dealer/pimp after giving some women condoms. I helped house a murderer who had very recently been released from prison. I taught junior high kids about STDs. These stories go on and on. There are too many to remember but depending on my mood, I can either traumatize a dinner party or make them laugh until they cry with these stories.
The one life lesson I learned the most about was judgment. I learned to trust my own judgment, admit when I had judged incorrectly, and how to work through my own preconceived judgments about behavior, poverty, disease transmission and love. I learned that it is easier to judge others than judge your own motivations and behaviors. I learned that being judgmental of others is a very common escape mechanism for actually facing issues and helping to find solutions. I learned and learned and learned.
And then I quit. I had learned enough in that job. I felt that I was losing my ability to be me. I felt that I was losing my passion for helping other people. I was getting lost in the politics, the policies and the ineffectual ways in which our society tries to “fix” things. It seemed that no matter how much I learned, the same patterns continued and the same mistakes were made over and over again. I was mad, hung over and jittery from nicotine use. My pants were tight and I had taken to hiding in my office. Instead of baking bread for colleagues on their birthdays, I found myself wanting to spank some of them after a stern talking to. I found myself getting less able to control my disdain for stupid policies, and if I heard some bullshit about teamwork making the dream work one more time, I might take someone out of the game. I had been putting out resumes and job applications for a while but had nothing lined up. Finally, I just handed in my resignation and hoped for the best. Starbucks, here I came. If I was lucky.
I did this because I was also losing my parenting skills, my ability to be a friend, my capacity to love my partner. I was beyond angry at what began to feel like being stuck in a job for the benefits. Stupid health insurance. Stupid retirement. Stupid mortgage. Stupid car payments. I was finding myself hating my inner peacemaker and ridiculing her for her refusal to brawl when others started to throw down. I questioned myself constantly. I felt more and more like I was pretending my way through my life instead of actually living it authentically. Like my life had become a terrible O Network example of how NOT to live your life. So…I quit.
People in my field were a bit stunned. We had been in the trenches for so long together that we were considered the veterans to some extent. We had all bitched to each other over martinis about work, public policy, healthcare reform, and housing deficits until we were all drunk and in need of Gatorade. We just kept going back for more. When one of my favorite colleagues and friends was fired for ridiculous reasons, it resonated strongly with me. I began to fear that the same fate was lined up for me. As she and I talked about her grief, her loss of financial security, and her continued passion for her calling to help house those in need, I began to covertly think about my options. I just did not see that I had any. My angst started to become even more self destructive. I spent inordinate amounts of time mad at people and mad at a broken system. I also grieved. Eventually this all culminated in a twelve hour sob fest on a close friend’s bed surrounded by people who loved me, followed by a month of frantic job searching, followed by a letter of resignation and senses of both relief and terrible fear.
This experience has been powerful. I’m still processing it. Just the other day, I hit speed dial for my previous boss to tell her I would be working late since my meeting had gone over time and I was driving home through a monsoon. I had just hit SEND when I realized that she would not really give a shit since I was no longer attending that particular meeting as a representative for her agency. I frantically hit END on my cell phone and laughed like crazy as I peered through my flooded windshield. Every day it gets a little easier to believe that someone else is willing to pay me for my services. My identity has been so enmeshed with HIV care in the South and homelessness for so long that I have to relearn who I am outside of those parameters. While this is taking self reflection and time, finding me is turning out to be a lot easier than losing myself.