Relationships, Recovery, and Replay – Part II

Here’s the other half to Relationships, Recovery, and Replay Part I.

Part II


16 Candles

Last week my husband and I added another candle to our dating-cake. 16 years, the entire life of a teenager. I even made this card to remind myself to remember the sweetness of today, of us. It’s been easy to forget lately.

Earlier that morning he and I had a short conversation about phone chargers. He came into the kitchen and was sticking a pin in his phone. I asked what was up. He explained he was clearing the debris so that he could get a charge. He went on to say how he plugged his phone in my charger and noticed it wasn’t doing anything so he wanted to clean the port and try again. The pin acted as a Qtip. With a nod of gotcha, our kids started to wake, he went upstairs, and I started the coffee. 

At the breakfast table I got the reminder notification I set for myself the night before: Remember Anniversary. I like to keep my reminders simple. “Right! Ahh! Better not forget to say something when he comes back down”, I thought. Within the twelve hours I talked to Siri I had forgotten all about setting it. He was currently in the office on a work call so I planned to tell him once he finished. Better yet, I decided, why don’t I make a little picture. Sixteen years wow! Heh, that’s funny, I just heard a reference to Sixteen Candles in a podcast yesterday. Shortly after I colored in the numbers, I went to take a picture, and I noticed my phone was going to die.

I went upstairs ready to bring my charger down to the living room. I entered the bedroom and saw his phone on my side of the headboard. “Oh, right…the charger”, I remembered, “he did just say he was using it.” The pin must have worked.

Then the image and thought of what I was actually about to do crossed my mind. I was about to unplug his phone so I could charge mine.

I was about to take away his battery so I could charge my own.

Wow, if that wasn’t a direct representation for what the past few weeks have been, I don’t know what is.

I stopped, I turned around, and instead, sent him a message to please bring it down when he was done. At that moment, I didn’t feel bitter or resentful for having to wait because I saw that it would not have been fair of me to take away something he needed too, when I could easily just wait.

But it hasn’t always been that easy. In fact the last few weeks and various points throughout our relationship have been hard. Have been confusing. Have been lonely. Have been filled with the thoughts that feel scary to admit but necessary to hear.


To see yourself in another’s story is beyond powerful. It is a gift of connection. You see you are in fact not alone. You see your imperfect life as it is.


There have been points of our existence together that have questioned that very existence. Are we better together? Are we better apart? How do we make space for the evolution we go through individually and what impact does that have on our relationship? What if there are some needs that didn’t exist when we first started dating, such as an expanding awareness of intimacy and sexuality, that have come to be with time? What does that mean for me? For us? Fundamentally, if I can honor the change I make personally then why do I feel so guilty for changing within the realm of our relationship? Why am I judging my change, my needs? Does this inevitably mean that I will judge him, or others, for thinking of their own needs, too?  

And that’s what’s been so hard lately, and in some fashion, over the last 16 years. How do we manage and meet our own needs while we are in relationship? How do we leave space to grow individually and collectively? Is one a direct line to the other? These questions have only intensified since raising twins away from our immediate families. How am I supposed to meet their needs, too? And the biggest question on my mind: When will I stop feeling guilty for thinking of myself?



Guilt

I’ve had this topic on my mind for a while now. A lot of it was related to coming to terms, well, with the term “recovery” and if I felt that applied to me. I was also coming to terms with the fact that for the first time (ever?) I was finally recognizing my needs. My true needs of my soul. I became aware how codependent I’ve been. Throughout my sobriety, I’ve been growing in my ability to honor myself. And yet, in the last two months resentment and bitterness started to brew because at the same time I learned that I have unmet needs and I can ask for those needs–and I have a right to them!–was the same time I recognized how little time I have to meet those needs. Fuck! I see the loop. I feel I have no bandwidth to meet my needs and the only way to meet my needs is to take the time to do it. Fuck!

I think back to the beginning of sobriety and by some miracle I instinctively took great care of myself. I wasn’t on social media much for anything, I started eating better and exercising, I focused on the very relationships I mention here. I stopped drinking and the rest strategically started to fall into place. It was intentional but the work felt seamless, almost effortless because I was so enamored with my new freedom. And part of what made it so easy was that I wasn’t in double, triple transition. I had more bandwidth to take care of myself.  However, at this point in my life, I’ve since moved out of our home country and into foreign land. I’ve also gone from Teacher to Stay-at-home Parent. I thought I was ready for these transitions but I was not.

Everything started to get hard very quickly.

So what changed?

I have been so focused on me and yet so drained because of it. And I feel more drained the more I realize I just want to focus on numero uno and I can’t. The story I’ve been telling myself is I can’t because I have a family, because I am in relationship. Around the time I got back on social media was the same time I started to see a new world. A world that included self love. A world I quickly wanted to inhabit. And yet, the more I learned that I could and can take care of myself the more I started to distance myself away from my husband. I started to get upset that I was even in a relationship, because wouldn’t it have just been easier to be alone and figure all of this out?! I didn’t want anyone standing in my way. Not even kids.

But, here they are. Here I am. I am a wife and a mother and I don’t really want those roles to go anywhere, but how do I live those and just be me? Self. My Self. How do I meet myself and come into relationship with me? Which the bigger question was, if I’m not willing to lose those relationships, how do I come into relationship with myself AND still meet their needs? How do I make sure their needs do not get in the way of mine? 

For all intents and purposes, I felt trapped. I felt confined. My thoughts started to swirl in a storm of annoyance, anger, rage, envy, and longing: Ugh, I just want to be alone! I just want to lock myself in my own castle! I just want to take care of me! Of course those other sober people can say how amazing spas and brunch are they don’t need to justify their time there. They’ve been able to sleep past 7 am! They don’t have to be back for nap time. HELL, THEY GET TO NAP! They don’t have children telling them “No” every five minutes. And there’s no one on the couch feeling lonely and dejected because you chose to read another Quit Lit book over them.

Clearly bitterness and resentment are byproducts of a larger issue. So, what do I need to do?

I started to notice how the majority of those thoughts, while true in feeling, were not accurate. My out-of-control snowballing was making wide assumptions, assumptions that their lives were truly easier because they were alone. I remembered a mantra I once read: The grass is just as green on my side.

But even knowing this, I am still left with the question of How?

How do I make sure to make time for me when my family has needs, too?

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-breathe-
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Folks…

Something is shifting. I wondered why I was here for so long. In recent days I’ve leaned into the possibility that this is where I am because this is where I still have learning to do. 

And, oh was it ever true!


Another scene from that morning:
One child was crying at my side because I wouldn’t pick her up, the other heard that call, and drew with crayon all over the shelf. I was about to slam my hands on the armrests. I huffed and puffed a little and then I got up. I paced around my apartment. I was mad. I was annoyed. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. The irony was in the very moment I was trying to do something for myself, even so explicitly as process the thoughts around self-care, the girls are wild and need me. I can’t even do as much as think about self-care. Two days ago it was an early wake-up from nap when I was on the phone with a potential therapist. Couldn’t make it through that call either. Are you serious?! At least this time, I didn’t break down in sobs. I briskly walked circles in my house. I didn’t care that it looked borderline compulsive. In fact, I had a second of empathy for those with mental illness on the street corner. In that moment, that was me, too.


And then the words started to come. On repeat, they wouldn’t stop. 

I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.
I refuse to feel guilty for meeting my needs.



Each time I said it I felt my body ease and grow into itself. Each time I said it I believed it a little more.

And like that, I could see how the past months, weeks, days, hours, and years, were coming together. This is my greatest lesson.

I’m learning that it is not my job to meet the needs of other people. Yes, of course, I care for my children and I work to take care of my spouse, too. But ultimately, I am responsible for me. More profound in my learning that I do not need to, nor can I, meet everyone else’s need is the fact that they cannot meet all of mine either. This is both a little shocking and exhilarating. 

Let that sink in for a minute if you find yourself in the same boat. Ok, maybe a sinking boat isn’t the best use of language…But the more I think about it, it is. I have granted myself permission to get out of a sinking ship. The sinking ship being the weight of expectation, guilt, and projection I’ve been carrying around these past 16 years, if not more.

I have expected my husband and others to meet my needs, moreover to know to meet my needs. I have felt guilty asking for what I need because I soon project that they will be upset. I project that they will be mad at me for wanting me-time because it is I who is truly judging myself. I hadn’t truly learned that it is OK to ask for help without it feeling like a fail. I hadn’t learned that it’s not selfish to care for yourself. 

As always, I still have a long way to go. But I am tired and a change is needed. I am tired of making myself feel bad due to my projections. I’d rather just ask the damn question, let it be a no, and move on. I can no longer let my energy go into the guilt, into the belief that everyone else’s needs matter more than my own.


Maybe it’s the ego in me or that recovering people-pleaser, or maybe this is just to assure myself…I am not talking about abandoning responsibility. I am not choosing to put myself first at the expense of harming other people. I am choosing to put myself first at the expense of me. Because it hurts putting myself last.

To further clarify, no one is telling me to put myself last. Many people do offer help. And no one, especially not my spouse, is blocking me from endeavors.


This revolution, I learned I am doing my own blocking. 



I Wish to Be Unblocked

However helpful my mantra was in the game of comparison, it didn’t actually alleviate my reality of having an empty cup. It didn’t actually get me to fill my cup. Knowing the stories I tell myself is instrumental in my mental health. It puts a stop to endless ruminating and torment. But even when I do this, even when I see that my family and kids are not the true ones in my way, even when I see that others–even the single ones–can easily have a hard time saying yes to themselves, how do we do it? How do we take the time?

This is where I start.


It starts with me having the courage to say what’s on my mind.
It starts with me having the courage to admit I need help.
It starts with me having the courage to decipher what I need.
It starts with me having the courage to ask for those needs.
It starts with me having the courage to take what I need.
It starts with me having the courage to lose the guilt.
It starts with me having the courage to honor myself.
It starts with me having the courage to love myself unselfishly.
It starts with me having the patience to extend this love to others.
It starts with me having the patience to see they come from a place of need, too.
It starts with me having the patience to listen when they ask for help.
It starts with me having the patience to support their growth.
It starts with me having the patience to honor their full self. 


I honor my full self so that I may honor yours.

I love my full self so I may love your full self.

I meet my needs so I may help you meet yours.

Where it ends is where it starts. And I just need to start.

Recovery is Ongoing

This morning a profound moment occurred. As typical, I wasn’t ready to start my day when the kids woke. I needed more. My husband took care of their needs as I went through the morning motions a little hollowly. So, why was it a surprise when he echoed the very words I’ve been telling myself? The kids have been recovering from about two weeks of colds. We’ve been indoors (long enough that the flowers bloomed in this time!). It’s been a rough two weeks. It was one of those breakfasts that ended in more tears than actual food being eaten. They started playing in the living room. I remained at the dining room table sipping my coffee and browsing social media. He saw me on my phone, and without looking up, I could see from the corner of my eye his state of disapproval. As he wrapped his scarf around his neck, preparing to head out the door for work, I said, “You seem disappointed.” He went on to tell me he was. He said he sees that I am going through a tough time but that I don’t even seem like I want to be here. That I’m not even trying to let myself fall into this new role.” The role of Stay-at-home-parent. I wasn’t mad, only embarrassed, hurt by my own doing.


Yes, this is exactly how I’ve been feeling and why was it still hard to say aloud?

I realized that I’VE BEEN HAVING THIS CONVO IN MY JOURNAL AND NOT WITH HIM!  As uncomfortable as this conversation was, I couldn’t help but think, but wonder, but take solace in “This is it. This is what this whole month has been pointing towards. Here’s your chance…” 


I Did It

I took the hours of journaling and reading and sharing of needs-work over the last few days and brought it to my current moment.

It wasn’t perfect. I spoke in circles, my voice shook and cracked, and I wish I had still said more, but I did it. I did what I could in that moment. All the worry, all the congestion I’d been holding, I slowly let it drain so that I could speak. When I’m at a loss of what to say, I remember a mantra: Say the truth, say it simply. And so…

I said what I need daily to make me feel balanced and what I needed at the current moment. (Pssst..I had to actually say, I needed help!). I tried to be as specific as I could. When the guilt began to surface and I found myself about to spew excuses and justifications for what I was asking, I politely told myself to shut it. I survived. And now I know I can do this again, even if when I have a little trepidation. It is far from where I’d like to be, but it’s a start. In truth, this is the best I’ve ever been because this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.

As always, my biggest take-away remains: Just Start.

Just start the thing.

I can always restart.