Hello, everyone! TWO blogs in a week???? How unusual. Or is it?
Well, guess what? I did it. I did something I PROBABLY should have done years (and YEARS) ago, and joined a local support group.
Firstly, let me explain something to you all. I'd always thought about joining a support group. I've always fallen victim to loneliness - ALWAYS. Being hearing impaired is only one contributor to this constant feeling of being the outsider and never quite being able to fit in, but it was further exacerbated by being told that there were limits to what I should be talking about, being made to feel that sharing was a bad thing. (Thank you, ex-asshat...uh, husband, for that) And so, previously, when faced with whether or not I should seek out a support group, I'd always decide against it because regardless of that pesky loneliness, it didn't feel safe to take that leap, yet.
Joining AS was, before last night, the closest I've ever been to a support group. This was more my speed - it's a community rather than a small group, but for me, being somewhere there was an unspoken understanding among members and not having to explain myself in depth was NICE. It was even nicer that my hearing impairment didn't keep me excluded from conversations and that I could 'speak' freely without having to use my voice or show my face. Oh, and I was able to keep AS anonymous - it was another way of keeping my private life separate from the life that I share with people who aren't privy to my personal struggles. I still do this, to this day - the only person who knows about my belonging to AS is my lovely J. And, there's another thing - joining a support forum online has enabled me to THINK out my responses. Speaking live is new to me - I am a think-before-you-speak type of girl. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not. Maybe it's the reason I leave so much out - because online, I have time to mentally (and then physically) edit what I put out there. Who knows? Either way, I've always been SO much more comfortable online but now that I'm entertaining the idea of getting involved in this line of work, I'm going to have to learn to master the concept of live, in-person communication. So an (online) search led me to join such a group.
We had our first meeting yesterday evening; this particular group meets once a month.
There were only three of us, including me, and a leader. (The group leader was the same very nice woman I emailed to inquire about the meetings in the first place.) This group is centered around art, although you do not have to be an artist to participate. They provide the paper, paints, crayons, markers, colored pencils and paintbrushes. You need only bring yourself and an open mind.
So, first, there was a question written on the dry-erase board in the front of the room. The general idea is to answer/discuss that question and then afterwards, we are to try to use art to express further what we have just discussed.
I shit you not, I sat there with a blank piece of lined paper in front of me for what seemed like forever. I was wishing for my keyboard and a monitor to magically appear in front of me, but only had my pencil available to write with.
What makes my heart happy? Safe? Proud? Scared? Strong? What does my heart need? How do I look when my heart is happy/sad/everything else?
Those were the questions we were given at the beginning of the meeting to ponder. I felt like I was back in school and my teacher had just given me a timed assignment - we had ten minutes to write some stuff down and I think I only managed half-assed responses, simply because of the type of thinker I am. When called upon to respond, I simply told them that I'd share my answer to the last question - the 'how-do-I-look question.' For some reason, this was something I felt I could best explain given the amount of time I had already wasted not knowing what to write for the other ones. For those, I just jotted down simple, one-word answers for the time being. I wasn't going to even share my answer to THIS question - but it just felt okay to say this much in that moment.
I explained that I look the same when I am happy, sad, scared, proud or feeling strong. I've spent so much time trying to mask my true feelings. For a long time, I wasn't allowed to share when I was sad or afraid. I learned to pretend that I was fine, or if that didn't work, supply a bullshit, sometimes nonexistent reason for looking as if I were particularly 'off.' And so, to keep myself safe, I would adopt the same generic, expressionless face for everything. I was honest ONLY with the person closest to me (yep, my wifey) and even so, there was still an insatiable need to downplay my true feelings. Not because they were unimportant, because I know they WERE valid thoughts and concerns, but they were simply thoughts I didn't have enough words to back up at the time.
Y'all ever see this fantastic T-shirt featuring just squares, words and Darth Vader's face in every square? Underneath each face is a word - happy, sad, cheerful, excited, frustrated, angry, proud, sleepy, confused....and there's the same exact picture of Darth Vader's face above each word. See the attachment below. As you can see, the expression is the same, it doesn't change. That's what came to mind when it comes to me - not to mention my kids (and J) tease me about my breathing sounding Vader-ish from time to time. That last bit is not the point, it's just there for your entertainment as well as motivation for me to order this damn T-shirt for myself somewhere down the line.
Anyway, this is, for sure something I feel that I need to continue to work on. I know that now, I am safe to express myself truthfully with the (very few) people I trust. And lately, I've made a little bit of progress with this, too. It's been an emotional few months, to say the least. I have been able to even CRY in front of my fiancee - never before have I been able to speak about something to the point of tears rather than drop it and pull out my pre-determined face for whatever it is I'm supposed to be reacting to. I'm finding that I'm expressing myself more now than I have in the last TWENTY years.
This brings me to what makes my heart proud - it took me a while, but I did that. I got to where I am, DOING what I felt I needed to do and without being properly taught the right way of expression. I self-educated - and I listened to my own heart when it came to choosing how and to whom I expressed myself honestly. I still do feel that this blog is where I'm most honest - but perhaps, one day, I will be able to do the same thing offline. And perhaps, people will TRULY be able to identify what I'm truly feeling because my face, I'm sure, will gradually soften as I become more comfortable removing that (heavy) mask.
What about the rest of it, then?
It isn't hard to tell you what makes me sad. I just didn't really feel comfortable getting into such a long-ass list at the meeting. But it's the same shit that makes us all sad. I don't think there's anything that I am uniquely sad over other than how long it's taken me to reach the point I'm at and all of the wasted time and potential - while I understand it, the regrets are what gets to me in the end. I'm not sad enough to let it eat away at me, though. I'm going to fucking FIX that - I'm going to make up for that lost time, if it's the last thing I do. But most of all, what makes me (and probably you, too) sad is the existence of UGLINESS in this world - people being abusive to others, not giving a damn about what their cruelty does to another person. I'm sad that people are betrayed left and right, trust is broken every day, that fear is something so easily learned. And of course, this particular type of sadness is going to exist for years and years to come - NONE of that shit is fair!
What makes my heart feel safe? Ahh, this is a hard one. I think this varies from person to person but they're not asking about them, they're asking about me. I didn't write anything underneath this word at the meeting. I was literally drawing blanks...and again, reaching for the imaginary keyboard. Honestly, though? Being able to trust someone and to remove them from my imaginary list of 'toxic' people and put them on the safe list is something that isn't done often or in my case, easily. By now, I'm used to people 'disappearing' or becoming otherwise absent from my life. And so, it's become 'safe' for me to keep most people at arms' length and cease making emotional attachments right away. Not to say I don't like them - there are many, MANY people out there that I am fond of and think of as being good, honest people that I'd love to one day get to know and become good friends with. ONE DAY. But just as soon as I say that or start to feel that is possible with someone, my safety mode kicks in and all I can think about are those who have disappointed me in the past by making promises to always be there but haven't kept them. I'm well aware that people come and go from our lives, that's what happens; that's life. We find ourselves being close to a person, thinking this is a 'lifer,' only to discover that three or four years later, they've gradually drifted and moved on. Perhaps there is a pre-set time and place for people to be friends or feel close to each other...I do believe we cross paths with people who are perhaps put there for a reason by forces unknown - as fate has it, they may need us too, for that particular moment in time and for whatever reason. I'm thinking, though, maybe very few things, if any, are forever? The 'forever,' you have to work at. For that, BOTH parties have to commit and want the same thing. I've found that usually it's me who makes the effort with others. And it's not safe for me to keep doing that - when and if it doesn't work out the way I'd like or hope for it to, the hurt is real. And so, it makes me feel an added layer of security to keep an emotional distance for a little bit longer whenever I am faced with becoming friends with a new person.
I suppose the above friendship issue is one thing that scares my heart. In a nutshell, what truly scares me is the loss of something I find to be a sure thing, something I TRULY cannot imagine life without. Don't get me wrong - what terrifies me the most is the idea of anything ever happening to my kids, or to J. These three people are the ONLY three I have an emotional attachment to that NOTHING can ever change. Okay - that's not entirely true - I know that there isn't a single relationship on this planet that comes with a lifetime guarantee - a better way of phrasing would be to say this is the ONE relationship I've had where I've been able to lay ALL my cards out onto the table and allow my partner to see things I've never shown anyone else...I've given her my entire heart; I've held back nothing. My kids, too - my love for them is permanent, unwavering and unconditional. They piss me off every single damn day - in one way or another. But NEVER will they 'drift' from my heart. The thought of anything ever happening to any of these three people scares the shit out of me - it's more than the idea of losing them, I truly believe I will lose myself, too, should that happen.
And finally, what makes my heart happy? What, indeed? The three people mentioned above - the son, the daughter, and J. Absolutely. They all make my heart happy, despite the times they annoy or piss me off. Them being a permanent fixture in my life makes me happy - because they are safe and safety = happiness. It's never been the material things that have brought me joy - it's consistency.
So, what does my heart need now that I've identified the other ways it both keeps me going and holds me back?
Thinking back to last night, this was probably the hardest of all the questions. Again, I am a very deep, profound thinker; when I am asked a question, the answer I present MUST make sense to me before I attempt to clearly convey it to others. Not sure if that's an OCD thing, a Capulet thing or the way it is for everyone - I'm guessing the latter is only true for some and not for others, because this, too, is dependent on what mental problem solving methods they most frequently use. But in order for me to answer the question of what my heart needs, I had to FIRST get through the other questions. In a way, they serve as a map, a blueprint, sort of - a route to the answers. I am simply incapable of arriving at one conclusion before figuring out the prerequisite answer. It's just the way my brain works.
Before I answer the 'need' question, though, I want to mention the 'art' part of the meeting - since talking about this will likely build up to a more effective means of responding to it. Since we were discussing hearts, it was suggested we draw one and surround it/fill it in, with words, other pictures, colors, whatever, to try and describe what your heart feels through your drawing. The two ladies got started right away; I guess they already had their answers. The leader did her own picture, too - but I sat there and stared at a blank page for the first 20 minutes. No - scratch that - it wasn't completely blank - I'd completed just the first step and had drawn a heart - just a plain, empty heart. Nothing inside. I suppose that wouldn't do - those who know me know that my heart is capable of so, SO much more than the emptiness that was reflected on my paper. Yet, I truly feel restricted - I don't put as much of my heart and trust out there as I know I can. I am not allowing as much INTO my heart, either - for the longest time, I've been content with what I have - it's enough for me, there was never a true desire to spread myself even further, to share myself with others and trust in others as I do J, who has been my 'lone' person for the last ten years.
This has become different, now, though. My kids, I will trust with my life - but I cannot expect them to be able to see me through those things I'm trying to survive - they are not privy to that part of my life, and that's not their fault; it's simply the way I've wanted it to be. Should they ever approach me wanting to have a conversation about such things, I'll trust them with those details then. But until that happens, I am content with trusting them to become good people, to stand up for what they believe in, and to not put me in a nursing home when I start to shit myself on a daily basis. J holds my highest level of trust - there is not a single thing about me that she doesn't know. But now, she is evolving - she doesn't have a wall fortified by a padlock over her heart - she has made new friends, she is starting to enjoy social outings with people other than me, she is growing into a stronger person. Now, don't get me wrong - our relationship is by no means in danger. We're good. I just feel lately that while she's growing, I am truly stuck in that same comfort zone that I've been sitting in for the last decade and if I continue to be stuck, I will end up even more lonely in the end. A change is necessary, and it's ME that has to change.
Who the fuck invented that word, anyway? Surely not someone who is content with keeping things the same forever!
So, I grabbed my crayon and filled my heart with bricks and colored them red, to symbolize the wall that obstructed the way in. It was all I could think of, really - the best interpretation of my heart in its current state. There's much to be seen beyond that 'brick' wall, but that wall needs to first be torn down, little by little, piece by piece. I waited until my turn came and explained to the group that I felt that there were many things my heart needed but for a long time, I've been building and fortifying walls - my goal was to start chipping away at it so that I and others could access my fullest potential as a person.
I have that picture on my desk right now - I said I was going to keep it and bring it home and when I felt I made a little progress in lowering some of these mental walls, I'd draw little cracks in it. There will eventually be no more room for 'cracks' and this wall will eventually crumble and fall. I'm going to make sure of it - this is what I hope to gain from joining a support group.
So, I've determined that I need to be able to overcome my hesitation and fear of becoming emotionally invested in or attached to the newer people in my life. I need to be able to make those cracks in this wall and then work on first weakening it - (not completely demolishing it because there are certain safeguards I need to keep in place) - in order to allow others the chance to show me that they are capable of being both supporters and friends. I'm not looking for anything beyond friendship, but even that seems harder for me to find given my own personal hangups. I need to be willing to take chances on people, I'm sure there are some who doing the same. I need to open my heart to the possibility of expanding my very, VERY small circle so that there is a safety net in place - what happens if something DOES happen to my person? In doing this, I will also be making my heart stronger - I can only assume at this point that to shy away from these opportunities would have the opposite effect. So - yeah - If I get burned, I get burned. At least I'll know deep down that I tried and it was through no fault of my own. I will have to deal with the emotional fallout, yes, but then I will simply have to accept it and move on rather than stay stationary for the next decade.
I NEED to explore what else makes me happy. I trust that the already existing factors will remain in place, but if I was truly content with my life as is, I would NOT be feeling as emotional as I have been as of late. That's a given. It's taken me a while to figure that out but better late than never, I guess. I also recognize that in my quest for happiness, I'll have to take risks that scare me. Perhaps they'll make me more proud in the end, once and if I've succeeded. Who knows. Either way, I see how it's all connected. It was a good question - it didn't seem like it at first - it was almost too loaded. Lots of things make me happy, lots of things make me sad, scared, strong. I guess it's easy to put down what's obvious without giving it an excessive amount of thought, but that's just not who I am.
And lastly, I need all the help I can get. I'm not usually one to ask for it, but perhaps I should start effectively expressing to others what I need. I'm rediscovering and re-training that little voice within that, in the past, was denied the requested help and support. I recognize this as being the reason I stopped asking for help, I stopped reaching out, stopped offering my own support. This accomplishes nothing, friends - nothing!
I've already started picking away at this wall covering my heart. I've been at it for months already, I wanna say - it's not been easy but there are some small cracks beginning to form. So, I'm getting somewhere. Slowly, but surely.
So, hey, grab a mallet. Help me make some more cracks. Maybe we can help each other through this daunting part of the healing process? Isn't that what the point of it all even is? Isn't that what I needed from the start?? Maybe instead of building and fortifying walls, we should start being more openly focused with communicating (both with ourselves and with others) what our hearts need?
Until next time. Hoping you're all well.
Sending and a just because it makes me smile.