Monsters Need Boundaries

Confession: There is a monster living inside me. She is a lurking, tricky, messy girl. This dark, fiendish one is a part of me. Right now, she is small and almost completely harmless. She sits like a tiny seed inside my brain and has the capacity to break open and sprout. If she is watered with attention, she springs forth an invasive species, consuming me, choking me, and spreading her wretchedness toward everyone I love.

Her name is Suspicion.

Like all shadowy beings, my monster is born of pain. She used to trust people too much. So when the tower of security came tumbling down, she learned fast: Do not be so naive; do not be so cocky. Be something else. Be suspicious.

Then a new day dawned. Years ago, as I became more invested in my then romantic partner, my monster took over my life. I began to investigate, and I began to snoop. Once I had a taste of uncovering secret information, I couldn’t get enough. It became an obsession. The monster now dominated most of my thoughts. It’s sole target was my lover. I knew something was up and I proceeded to prove it. I would wait for him to leave and I would read his journals. I began sneaking onto his phone when he was in the shower, or visiting with others on the patio. At first, it was just a few pages, or an overview of his texts. It was strangely exciting. It made me feel empowered. Eventually, I took great risks to view his photos, his social media messages, his journals and belongings from his past. Suspicion was in charge. Not me.

I learned so much too. I learned that he had been cheating on me. I learned he was hiding drugs in my home. I learned he had almost zero interest in me. He had noted that I was terribly unremarkable. It turned out that my search for the truth was fruitful. The monster inside me was relentless now. I felt justified.

But I wasn’t justified.

I was a monster.

My monster was destroying my spiritual core, the knowing that everything will go as it will and I will be okay no matter what. I had come to think I had to control the outcomes. I no longer believed that fate was going to intervene on its own.

Once I was single again, there were a few lessons I came to understand when I finally contained the monster, having crammed it back into it’s little space, hopefully never to be poked again.

I learned that the facts are not always necessary to justify how one feels. Just feeling that way is enough to demand a change. I don’t need to prove to someone that they cannot be trusted. I need to honor that I do not find them trustworthy, period.

I learned that when someone hides things from me, it is not mine to reveal. It is theirs to carry. They can walk around with that filth. I can just keep living my life free of such burdens.

When a person refuses to mind their own business, they shatter what is sacred – another person’s privacy, sure – but more so their own self-worth. The madness that ensues from distrust is horrific and staggering. The craziest thing about my own situation is that I slowly realized he was purposefully leaving his things out, tempting me to look, and thus sabotaging us in some twisted form of righteousness. You see, my investigations only proved how important he was to me, in fact, more important than my integrity. I’d have benefitted from caring a little less.

Today, I know I am separate from others and their choices. I can keep my dignity. I won’t let Suspicion take me over anymore. My monster is bored, but I like it that way. I know deep down that she is just waiting in there.

Tap tap tap.

Nope.

The Ferocity of Trust

Whom do I trust? Ultimately, to be honest, no one. Not that I don’t choose to trust certain individuals under particular circumstances. I trust my sister to show up five minutes early. I trust my partner to tell me if he is annoyed. I trust my girlfriends to respond when I reach out.

But I am always aware of how humans are vulnerable and can be manipulated, easily pulled to even subtle levels of dishonesty, small white lies, omissions, and hidden agendas. People can be seduced and pressured, and then they fall. They fall from their own values due to secret longings or most often their fears. It is ridiculous to fully trust people when one has been repeatedly betrayed. I have always trusted too many too much and it was foolish. The lessons and even the trauma never leaves. We become suspicious. We may even project our fears onto those who have every reason to be trusted.

We can ruin our relationships because we refuse to trust, waiting around to prove we are correct in our fears, thus pushing people out. No one likes not being trusted. I have battled with trust for years. I even purposefully put my energy into those I knew could not be trusted just to avoid all the promises I was sure would be broken anyway. No trust, no shock of betrayal.

However, as I grow and build a new life, I can see that trusting no one is deeply painful, bitter and lonely. I have come to see that no one can earn my trust. I must take a measured risk and choose it. I must act as if. I must live without investigating them. Being a detective means learning things I am not supposed to know. And if I am supposed to know, it will naturally surface.

Yes, yes, of course I will be far more discerning now. I will observe the people in my life. I will note who says the very things that give their intentions away. I will recognize when someone tries to reason with me but their actions suggest otherwise, even when they believe themselves. It is impossible to convince me that you are trustworthy, since I have seen beyond a doubt that all people are capable of betrayal. I no longer try to convince myself of their purity or their devotion. I have room for small betrayals now. I still forgive easily, but I know what I will no longer tolerate.

So how do I find joy in such a dark belief?

I am learning that the best way to trust others, a lot or a little, is found in the decision to trust in myself. Trust in my ability to be okay even if. Trust my intuition. Trust the solid boundaries I set. Trust in fate.

If I feel powerless over the choices that others make, I must fall back on who I am. I must remember myself. I remind myself that I am a warrior spirit. I am a fighter with two feet planted. I am a survivor. If the worst happens, I will accept the disappointment; it is not a reflection of my worth. I will pick myself up in the end. I will rebuild. I will eventually thrive beyond any wreckage someone left in their wake. There are some fundamental reasons I will heal: I like myself. I like my life, the one which does not rely upon any singular human. I will continue to live and find joy despite them. And it is a comfort. The beauty I create is soulful. It is not dependent on so-and-so being in it.

I remember that moments of love with another person are a gift. Laughter with my children. Intimacy with my lover. Fragile moments with the elderly, the healers, the magical sprites of the world. These gifts are not meant to be permanent. Even we earthlings are not permanent. And in this way, I can treasure them, instead of clinging to the inane idea that it must always be this good.

When I look back on the people who have left or lied or betrayed my trust, I don’t beat myself up anymore. I gently review the peaks of glory or tenderness we shared. Those things were real too. I can be grateful to have known that part of them that wished to know me and played with me for a while. We will always be a part of each other.

I can have boundaries about what I will allow and take responsibility for the risks I take. I must avoid overly enmeshed relationships. I must declare to my loved ones that they are free agents and not mine to shackle to a self-righteous moralism. Go and do what you will.

Free will is the reality of our time here. I must let others have free will to do as they see fit. It is not my job to judge it or control it. It is my job to be honest in it. I will hold people loosely and show compassion for their journey. If they falter in their trust between us, I can protect myself by showing them forgiveness and compassion. I can cry if it hurts, until it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I understand that to love someone is to accept that they may not always serve my needs, but the divine universe will always provide.

I am able to love you, here, like this, because I trust in the divine orchestration of my life. I trust in myself fiercely.

How to Love an Addict

It’s dicey, I’m not gonna lie. Loving an addict takes knowledge, skill, courage, and a healthy dose of clarity. Loving an addict is understandable too, since they are by and large charismatic, full of a life force that emanates undeniably! Many addicts are significantly accomplished, creative, and intelligent. They are straight up lovable people. Addicts don’t just crave that which destroys them; ultimately, they crave everything. They crave knowing the very essence of your soul and that which will fill the tiny crevices of their being. They can be quite…magical. If you are like me, you are drawn to addicts like a moth to the flame.

An addict will only find peace when they learn to seek that which brings life instead of that which brings death. But, statistically, most never do. According to American Addiction Centers, almost 20 million Americans struggle with substance addiction, influenced by genetics, environment and culture. Addicts present a risk and the Center for Disease Control suggests that only 10% of them will seek help in their lifetimes. Even if an addict recovers for over a year, they will always hold the potential for relapse. Many addicts underestimate the work needed for lifelong recovery, and the mental power of their addiction literally works against them as soon as they retreat from that work. The numbers for lifelong success are ambiguous due to lack of long term studies beyond the first year, but it is agreed the numbers of success are quite low, even below 20% of those 10% who do seek help.

Shall we then remonstrate the addicts? Cast them off for our own survival? Well. It is not that simple, is it? Some addicts are family, for one. Some are not living in addiction until long after we fall for them. Others may show signs, even extended periods of respite from their fantastic capacity for destruction. Hope surfaces. We try to love them some more.

Also, there is the keen awareness that some recover for life, and carry on superbly. This is the possibility, and that very possibility can carry us for years.

Therefore, it is important that we understand some basic tenets of how to love an addict, which is known to a very small portion of people in the world. It requires something that seems to be secret information to the world at large, and it is so simple that it is almost insane. Simple, but not easy.

The true secret to loving an addict is to Know Thyself and to Love Thyself, to know what you are, separate from them, and to know where your boundaries lie. To know where they end and you begin. To be capable of effectively loving an addict is to hold them loosely, and to fully appreciate that they are not in charge of YOU, and for goodness sake, you are not in charge of them. For years, I had awakened thinking, “So, tell me my love, how are we going to feel today?” The addict determined all of my emotions then. It requires a daily ability to detach with love, which is promoted in Al Anon for friends and family of Alcoholics.

However, this lesson may take years to master. In this case, alcoholism is synonymous with all other addictions: Gambling, Sex, Consumerism, Work, Food, Technology, and other potentially destructive activities. Addiction can take many forms, in sinc with substances, or in lieu of substances.

Thus, I wish to give a starting point. For if we are not careful to look at our own side of the relationship, and how we can contribute to their suffering, we have already lost.

Self-care is essential. It is common to let oneself go as we become overly responsible to the needs of the addict, and find ourselves depleted, resentful and sometimes alone. We must insist on demanding the very things that protect our body, mind, and soul. We must not give up our own power and our own needs.

We surrender our control over the addict. Every fiber of our being will wish to dictate the addict’s actions and thinking, but aside from setting our own boundaries, we are wasting our time. We absolutely can not control them.

Do not take it personally. No one, let me repeat no one, can save an addict single-handedly, nor are we to blame. And our way of trying to control can appear in a thousand ways: The silent treatment. Pretending we don’t care. Pretending all is well. Blaming ourselves. Begging them to stop. Begging them to live a specific program of recovery. Lying to others to avoid embarrassment. Lecturing. Making excuses for them. Wailing. Shutting them out. Taking them back. We forget that this disease is not under our control any more than it is under their control. It has literally nothing to do with us. As a result, we need to stop making it about us.

Have compassion. No one wants to be an addict, so stop thinking this person is doing something to you. It is okay to be sad, hurt, angry, but don’t confuse that with self-pity, or worse, indignation..

Spiritual fitness is key. It is not my way to pray for others, but many people do. I believe the gods allow us free will, and I do not like to mess with fate. Disease is a tragic and shadowy part of life. My spiritual fitness asks me to accept my lack of power over the addict, yet it promotes my power over myself and my own choices. I ask for the strength and clarity of how I might be useful. I am reminded that I am a divine child of the universe, and I deserve to be happy. I must know that loving addicts is no different than loving any other human being who faces all of their own struggles and risks, including their falls.

The truth of the matter is, we do all sorts of crazy things in order to love an addict, and much of it will prove ineffective. On the other hand, loving an addict will teach us more about ourselves than we ever could possibly know without them. The choice to love an addict is rarely a real choice. We don’t usually make that choice to love. We just do. But there is a way to be safe and even experience great joy in our lives anyway.

It is understandable to have to leave or avoid or deny the addict, especially if they begin to abuse us or demand that which we cannot abide. But I have found that with mutual support and a spiritual path, with self-knowledge and a relentless desire to get it right, it can be beautiful. I no longer remain close to those who cannot recover. That does not mean I don’t love them. The irony of course is that I am also an addict, and I am grateful for those who have chosen to love me. I do believe I am worthy of it as well.

The Epic Rewards of “No”

There was a time for me when saying “No” was nearly impossible! I recall an old friend asking me almost daily to drive her places, out for the night, over to her lover’s, back to her home, the store, anywhere and everywhere. And I would. Since I was afraid of her, and she must have known this on some level.

But after I became a teacher, my students would take advantage of my kindness (which was really just fear) and chaos would rule my days. Learning to say “no” to younger people was great practice for me because the one thing I needed more than their love was their respect. Eventually, I learned to say no to my peers, and family members, even occasionally beautiful and selfish men as well.

I didn’t have to be mean about it. I could say warmly and confidently, “I am sorry, but no.”

It became almost amusing to practice saying no without apology, to simply own the power vested in me and declare a simple Nope. Sometimes I’d soften it for those I truly liked. “No….(soft warm smile…wince)…sorry.”

Sometimes I was willing to give my reason calmly, but it was important to not give a tone of deference. It was important that the explanation was an act of compassion and not an obligation. It took me a long time to see that people do not always require an explanation.

My students occasionally suggested that I would be the coolest teacher ever should I grant their wish. I learned to reply that I was already entirely cool without their approval. I would even help them to understand that whining repeatedly was a form of manipulation I did not appreciate. This left them puzzled and melancholy, having grown used to their lifetime success at begging.

Saying no takes hutzpah, and that means one must conquer one’s fears in order to do it. Fear of another’s wrath. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being blamed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of causing someone discomfort, and of course fear that people will condemn you and leave you behind. Let’s face it. It happens.

People really do not like hearing “no.”

However, setting boundaries with a clear “no” is fruitful too. People learn that you will not be submissive at the expense of your own needs.

People are less likely to take advantage of you, period.

People will come to know that you are capable of saying Yes, just not every time.

People begin to respect you. People also think twice before pushing too far.

Life becomes fair. Less stressful.

The greatest gift of saying No is that you come to learn who your true friends are. Loyal people don’t go away just because you say no. Even you will like yourself a bit more.

In the social circles of addiction recovery, there is an unwritten code that one should never say no when they are asked to be of service. Addicts are by nature selfish, thus we encourage selflessness as a new behavior.

But in the fellowship of recovering codependents, this rule cannot apply. For codependents spend their lives serving relentless sponges in order to feel needed; and codependents pay for it with their souls, becoming a mere husk, blowing hither and thither at the beck and call of the ones they love.

For saying yes indiscriminately and without regard for one’s own needs is the surest way to resent our loved ones. It creates bitterness and eventually a passive poisoning of any love that once existed.

Here is where the spiritual part comes in…

Because I am certain that my soul is divine, a natural result of intentional communion with the gods, because I recognize my own holy, mysterious and powerful essence, a Yes is often and simply not required. The beauty of this capacity to decline is that no one ever has to wonder if I am secretly feeling burdened, or if I am disrespectfully pretending to comply with feigned affection.

When I say Yes, it is because I wish to say Yes. You can trust me to say what I mean. You won’t need to repeat the annoying question, “Are you sure?”

Please, do not ever say yes to me unless you truly want to, for sayin yes when you want to say no is, according to divine law, a form of dishonesty and cowardice I could not abide.

Say No, and watch me cringe and squirm. I will love you for it.

Why Online Dating is a Spiritual Experience: Part Three – The Combat Zone

The dating site survey was completed along with a rather compelling profile. I mean, I’m a writer after all. And I set the privacy mode to “All members may view.” Game on!

There were lots of hits at first. Men seemed intrigued and sometimes quite forward about their desire to date me! Ego scores!

It was no shock a few hookup whores were lurking. Some wanted a younger woman to bear their children and had not even bothered to read beyond my photos. A few just stopped communication as if they were refugees in a state of war. Ego down.

This is the part where a film montage of dating absurdities rolls with a punk rock 80’s song.

I had no experience setting these boundaries, or how sometimes I had to get messy and mean. Dating was not for the weak. Dating requires a warrior, a champion, a goddamn barracuda in a lovely shade of pink!

Dating had its own culture, its own code, and I was catching on to the rules of engagement:

Rule 1: Never allow a stranger to come to your home. Especially when they say nice things but have pointy ears and sharp teeth.

Going to another person’s home, because you have mutual community ties, is fine. Unless you find out that he is Obsessive-Compulsive and stops to take another shower in the middle of the date.

Rule 2: Police Officers date. The one I dated was a fantastic human. In the end, he just did not have enough time for dating and lived too far away.

Rule 3: Never meet anyone you have not spoken to on the phone at least once. Two or three times is even better. It is amazing what you can learn from phone calls. Texting was not nearly as telling. Let me be clear: I am a strong player in the texting world. I love the flirtation of texts and the witticisms and the naughtiness of texting when you should be acting like a normal human being. But hands down, wordsmiths are outrageous masters of illusion and phone calls are several degrees closer to real.

I figured out one guy was a total stoner after 2 phone calls; he was the most adorable man but smoked weed nonstop. Nope.

Another guy held a job my teenager could have secured, but seemed to do nothing else. I asked him what he did with his time when he was not at work. He paused, then said, “Laundry.” That was it. He was incredibly good looking too, so it was painful to step away from Mr. No Life. He said he was hoping a woman would change all that. Phone calls are a precious opportunity to avoid a future divorce.

Rule 3: The way a man discusses what happened with his ex, or a past love, or how he “got here”, suggests volumes. Is this man a graceful diplomat, a childish tyrant, or a tortured civilian? If he talks too long about her, he isn’t over it. If he doesn’t talk at all, he might take himself too seriously. Does he think his loss is greater than the loss of others? Is he under the impression his pain is the totality of importance? Did he martyr himself for 20 years? I pay attention to what their experience might have been.

Rule 4: Dressing up and going to high end establishments was a mistake because within 5 minutes, I already knew if this was a no. Going fancy meant long hours of what to wear, and the time needed to doll up! Going fancy meant being hostage to a lot of waitstaff conversation and the time it takes to be elegant in public, typically a couple hours. This is all good if you have no friends and you just want company. But I was on a mission and had plenty of other things to do. Fancy was for a second or third date.

Rule 5: Men with a PhD and expansive careers, the type that travels the world and uses words I have to research are out there. They exist and they are glorious examples of how a girl can find her prince later in life. But my limited experience told me these men can also be rather repressed and shine only in certain arenas, not necessarily in my arena. For example, if an honest, rich, handsome man cannot make me laugh, I would prefer to live as simply and humbly as I do, alone. I would rather laugh with a homeless man under the bridge than live with a socialite genius who would be a far better match for another sort of woman. If you think it wasn’t painful to reject the potential of financial security with a man who would likely treat me very very well, you are mistaken. But I know who I am. And I absolutely MUST be laughing, dancing and being a total goof while I live a life of comforts.

By January, I had moved into jeans and a nice shirt for coffee dates only. 40 minutes tops. After 3 months, I had dated a chef, a farmer, a cop, a doctor, an author, a corporate attorney, and a photographer. There were zero second dates.

My spirit had not yet waned but I was beginning to wish women were an option. I had expected the Minnesota winters might be chilly. I had met some passionate, smart, talented men. I had been true to myself thus far. I was practicing the skill of saying no. I was learning that a really good person was not necessarily the right person for me. But a majorly dysfunctional person was a lesson I had mastered long ago. Perhaps I taught them a thing or two, but I doubt it. The cool part was that my intuition was en pointe. I was listening to my gut for the first time in my life. That was an awakening I had not imagined.

I had no idea what was coming next. And not knowing what was up ahead was ironically the impetus for hope.