Dear Dad

Relationships

Dear Dad,

I’ve spent the last hour silently crying as J sleeps.  I suppose that means it’s time.  It’s time I take the advice of my counselor and others who have urged me to start working through this pain I’ve carried for 19 years.

I was thinking maybe I should talk to you, but someone said I should write instead, so you don’t feel like you’re backed into a corner.  So you can have time to think before you react.  Honestly, though, I don’t know if I am brave enough to give this letter to you.

You’ve been a really good dad.  When my big brother was little, you led his boy scouts troop.  During my big sister’s formative years, you made a special effort to spend time with her…to pay attention to her…because you heard that middle children often feel neglected.  You’ve invested your life into being a good dad and husband for your new family.  And now that your other kids are teenagers, you’ve made a point to support them in their hobbies and extra-curricular activities, even going so far as to drive to another state to watch them compete.  You’re a good man, and you’ve been a good dad. …to all of your kids but me.

Nineteen years ago this month, when I needed you most, you left.  You abandoned me.  You betrayed me.  You lied to me.  My brother was married and my sister was away at college, so that left 13-year-old me to be the adult when mom fell to pieces.  Ever since then, I’ve tried to fill the hole you left in my life by adopting other father figures.  My music director.  My youth group leader.  And countless others over the years: professors, pastors, even my husband.  But as much as I love and admire these amazing men, no one can fill your shoes.

The thing that hurts the most is that I was the one who defended you when my older siblings shut you out of their lives.  How long did my sister avoid you after you chose S and her unborn daughter over us?  And hasn’t it only been in the past couple years that my brother finally started speaking to you again?  But I stuck by you as best as I could.  I fought to maintain a relationship with you and your new family even when I got heat from everyone else.  I finally gave up when I realized you wouldn’t reciprocate the effort.  You don’t call.  You don’t email.  You don’t visit.  When I fly out for a weekend, your weekly small group is a bigger priority for you than me, your daughter who can barely afford to visit once a year.  When I brought O with me last time, you were thrilled to see her, yet you barely even spoke to me.  Did you know that I wept in the car as I drove away that night?

I remember the moment when I realized that your new daughter is now older than I was when you left…that she’s had a dad longer than I ever did.  I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.  I still do.

Why did you check out when I came along?  Why were you there for J and J when they were growing up, but you weren’t there for me?  Why are you so attentive to L and B, but you won’t so much as text me?  Why do you withhold your love from me, when you so freely give it to your other children?

It’s not fair Dad.  I tried so hard to be good enough for you…to earn your love.  But it’s no good, and I can’t do it any more.  Love me or don’t.  I’ve got nothing left.

And yet….  Still…

I love you.

The Long Lost Art of Letter Writing

Goals, Relationships

I have begun a one-person campaign to bring back the art of letter writing. I have found that the more I immerse myself in social media, the less I actually feel connected to people, so I’m trying something new. This week I have written letters to my grandma, my sister-in-law, and one of the ladies with whom I went to Israel. I’m going to try to come up with more people and addresses in the coming weeks, and I’m hoping eventually people will start writing back. My goal is to write a letter to someone new every week (or maybe a rotation of people when I start to run out of recipients) plus respond to any letters I receive.

It makes me feel so important to receive a hand-written letter. It takes that added bit of effort to write something by hand, as opposed to tapping out an email. And even putting it in an envelope and finding a stamp adds a layer of intentionality. Few people write a real letter on a whim…so when I go to my mailbox and discover a letter, I feel happy because someone felt that I am important enough to warrant their attention long enough to draft and send a note. I’m hoping that when my friends and family get my letters, they’ll realize that I think they’re important, too.

Plus, maybe I’ll feel more connected to people.

An Unconventional Drive

Dream Journal

The dream:
The particulars of the first part of the dream are hazy in my memory…almost like they aren’t actually part of the dream that has my interest. In fact, I may have actually had two unrelated dreams, one right after the other. Regardless, this is what I remember:
I was at M’s house for one of our occasional friend dates. It was her daughter T’s birthday, so I had brought a present wrapped in silver, reflective wrapping paper. In the dream, I discovered that T had a younger brother with the same birthday, so I drew a line down the middle of the box and wrote her name on one side and his on the other to indicate that the gift was for both of them. Meanwhile M was on the phone talking to someone else. …and there was something about a frozen entree of mac and cheese that I had brought for M.
Then, I was watching the Mythbusters do a special on the Grand Canyon that involved zip lining from one side to the other. They weren’t harnessed in the traditional way, but were connected to the line only with elaborate helmets so that their hands and the rest of their bodies were unencumbered.
And then I was driving alone through the Grand Canyon. My compact car had large windows and a sun roof, and if I leaned back a bit, the view was quite stunning and larger than life. There was a way to operate the car–which had surreptitiously changed into a giant Tahoe-type vehicle without my noticing–from the very back. The rear of the vehicle offered even better views, so I decided to continue the trek from there despite the fact that maneuvering became significantly more difficult. I drove on, from the back, for some time with no problem, but then things got tricky. I lost control of my car–but somehow I was suddenly unsuccessfully operating two vehicles going opposite directions with the same controls. I was able to slow both down and safely park albeit haphazardly positioned. And all at once, I was again back to just the one vehicle. I couldn’t actually turn off the car, though. I was holding down a brake button from my spot in the back, but the key to turn off the ignition was at the front. I was trying to decide whether it was safe to let go of the brake in order to rush to the front and turn off the car, but then two police officers strolled over and the brake/ignition problem sorted itself out and was no longer an issue. I raised my hands so that the police would be able to see that I didn’t have a weapon, and caught a nonverbal exchange between the two. The dark-skinned officer on the left raised his eyebrows in a mocking “can-you-believe-this-lady?” expression. The fair-skinned officer on the right shrugged as if to say “you get all types out here.” Then he indicated that I should open the hatch, and I obliged. He started to write out a ticket, but then went around front to investigate something, leaving his pad behind. I was able to see that the fine for illegally operating a motor vehicle from the rear was about $90. I felt relieved at the low cost, but knew there would likely be additional fines. Then I woke up.

My thoughts on the dream:
I think it’s interesting how something crazy can happen in a dream, but how I don’t realize how ludicrous it is until I wake up. The car changing in type and in quantity didn’t even warrant a questioning thought in my dream. It was merely inconvenient when the one car became two. It was stressful to operate the two vehicles simultaneously, and I felt concern about how much my ticket would be, but the negative emotions in the dream were extremely muted, almost like it was someone else’s life rather than my own.
In my mental/emotional economy, a vehicle in a dream represents a person’s life. I find it interesting that in my dream I was running the show from the back seat. It’s like my subconscious is telling me that I’m doing things the hard way. I may need to make a difficult decision if I’m going to put a stop to the way I’m doing things, though. (Should I let go of the brake to reach the ignition?) If it were an issue of passivity, I think I would have been the passenger. But what of the changes to the vehicle? First compact, then large. First clipping along in a specific direction, then losing control and haphazardly moving in opposing and arbitrary directions. If I continue this way, my subconscious is advising that I’ll get into trouble (police) and that it’ll cost me (ticket).
As for the first part of the dream, the only thing that sticks out to me is the feeling of giving more in a relationship than the other party. I come bearing gifts (and a random frozen meal), and my friend won’t even get off the phone to talk to me.
The Mythbusters part is perplexing. They were suspended from their heads….which to me is a reference to being overly cerebral about things… Other than that, though, I’ve got nothing. I think someone just tightroped across the Grand Canyon, though, so maybe that’s where I came up with that.

Themes/Analysis:
Feelings of being unimportant and undervalued.
Concern about being too cerebral.
Major life changes (new job? potential move to Spokane?)
The desire to take in the beauty around me.
Losing control and being pulled in different directions.
Trying too hard – doing things the hard way and not being able to turn the hard parts off.
The emotional cost of losing control.
Feeling judged.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can kill.

Relationships

I had an epiphany today.  I have my doubts about whether I’ll be able to express my profound thought in a way that sounds profound…but I guess I’m willing to take the risk.  What may be a common sense thought to me may be a ground-breaking realization to you and vice versa.  I know that’s certainly how things tend to be with J and me, anyway.

So, before I tell you my realization, let me give a bit of background information:  I’m very reactionary, and by that I mean I tend to have big reactions to things.  I won’t go so far as to say I’m bipolar, but I do have high highs and low lows.  I feel a wide spectrum of feelings, and it’s downright impossible for me to hide those feelings.  Even if I don’t blurt them out in a flurry of words as I am apt to do, my face tells all.  J says it’s a good thing to be so transparent, but I find it very vulnerable for everyone to know what I feel about something.  For better or for worse — mostly worse — that’s my personality.

And then there’s J who is just about the exact opposite.  He is a man of few words.  He thinks about things before he reacts.  He’s calculating, he’s careful, he’s reserved.  He’s steady and strong and all the things I tend to wish I was.

…but here’s the problem…  In our disagreements, we hurt each other.  A lot.  He takes a risk and expresses a (generally valid) complaint, and I react with my big personality.  My voice gets louder and squeakier with emotion, and he retreats into the safety of his head.  The more I react, the less he communicates, and the less he communicates, the more I try to pull him out…which, of course, causes him to pull back even more.  He hurts me by his failure to engage, and I hurt him by my aggressive approach.

Our counselor urged me to try to not react when he expresses a complaint, but to try to merely say something like “Thank you for telling me how you feel.”  (SHOOT.  I don’t know if I can do it.  I’m going to try, but it’s going to take every ounce of my willpower.)  After the session, I was mulling over the things we had talked about and I arrived at my epiphany.

Both J and I need to learn the same important lesson, but we’ll have to apply it VERY differently.  The lesson?  That our words are powerful.  We must be accountable for the weight of our words.  It’s so very simple, and yet so profound.

I need to recognize how much my reactionary words tear J down on a regular basis.  I need to work on wielding my words with extreme caution so as to not hurt the man I love more than any person on this planet.  And J needs to recognize the power of his words too…  He has the power to encourage and affirm me with his words, but his silence has done tremendous damage to me.  My hope is that he will recognize the weight of his words and use them.  I need to stop speaking death into his life, and my hope is that he will start speaking life into mine.

Words.  Weighty, powerful words.

Physical Manifestation of an Emotional Paralysis

Dream Journal

The dream:
I was at work (my current work, not the new job) in the reception chair. Everything was normal…but then I grew catatonic while the people around me continued with their regular activities. As I sat in the chair, my body grew stiff, my body leaning backward: back straight, limbs outstretched, mouth gaping. My eyes were open, but I was not able to see. My hearing, however, was perfect. People around me casually commented on my vegetative state, but didn’t act concerned. I woke up from the dream at one point, but then sank back into sleep and the dream continued.

My thoughts on the dream:
It was strange to be surrounded by people, yet separate. Although I was keenly aware of my surroundings despite my lack of sight, I was also terribly alone. Still, I was not anxious or panicked by my inability to move, but rather fascinated by the experience. It felt like an intellectual experiment, albeit involuntary. I wondered somewhat disappointedly at my coworkers’ lack of concern….but I wasn’t very concerned about it either. I was more curious about how I would get my work done than anything else.

Themes/Analysis:
Feelings of helplessness and paralyzation.
Lack of emotional connection to people around me — Academic interest in and over-analyzation of experiences rather than emotional interaction.
Feelings of not being valued except by what I contribute.
Finally, I think this stems from the fact that I am worried that although my last day on the job is Monday, no one will actually miss me.

My Yearning for Meaningful Relationship

Relationships

I’m lonely, and I don’t know how not to be. In theory, I know that to have good friends, one must be a good friend. In real life, though, I’m not sure what I can do differently. I think that I’m a pretty great friend, or, more accurately, I have the potential to be a great friend if only people would make time for me. I’m a great listener. I’m generous. I’m kind. I genuinely care about people and how they’re doing. Why, then, do I not have a best friend who will return my emails, much less call?

I think that part of it is the Seattle Freeze.

But I worry that there may be more to it. When I was in high school there was this girl in my choir class. She was a sweet girl, but she was exhausting to be around because she was so clingy and needy…always seeking affirmation, rather than offering her own wonderful perspective and personality during daily interactions. She was, in a word, desperate. I worry that this is how I’ve become. I worry that people can see my insecurity and my desperation, and that I repulse them. People like confident people. But I am not confident any more. I used to be, but, alas, that part of me – the likable part – is broken.

How does one grow confidence back? How does a person stop being needy and desperate for love? If I don’t think of myself as likable, how can anyone else? But I can’t seem to fix myself no matter how hard I try.

And yet, I can’t be as messed up as I think I am. C and A like playing games with J and me, and M from church told me just today that she wants to hang out with me soon, and H tells me all the time that she adores me and loves working with me, and M from work frequently tells me that I deserve every good thing…

What, then, is my problem? Why don’t I have a “bosom” friend, as Anne of Green Gables would say? I want someone to share life with… Yes, I have J, but a husband isn’t the same as a best friend.

Am I expecting too much?

The Pursuit

The Happiness Project

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about happiness lately.  Mostly, probably, because I’ve been so unhappy for so many years.  In the American culture, despite the adage that money can’t buy happiness, we seem to believe that it can.  It seems to me, however, that the more money I personally have, the less happy I become.  …or maybe there are other forces at work here…

I’ve dedicated 2013 as the year I learn to be happy.  I’ve done some light research on it (and by that I mean I’ve looked at what other people have found out).  Specifically, I read a book called The Happiness Project not long ago, and then tonight J and I watched a documentary called Happy.

I think the bottom line is that I need to consider making some major changes to the way I do life.  I want to get off the money train and focus on the things that matter.  Relationship.  Compassion.  Generosity.  Altruism.  (Yes, I know.  There is a lot of overlap here.)

Such changes are much easier said than done, though.  For example, I’ve been trying to be more social lately, but it’s slow going.  I have a kind of social anxiety that makes it exceedingly hard for me to be around people I don’t know very well, and if someone shows an apparent hesitation to hang out with me, I easily lose heart and give up.  A pox upon the Seattle Freeze!  (Maybe I should just move somewhere else.  Oh yeah, I have a mortgage.  Never mind.)

So, the pursuit continues.

If anyone out there has any brilliant ideas on how to be happy, I welcome your thoughts.