Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

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Introversion – Not a Disease – No Cure Necessary

What is an introvert? Per the dictionary – shy, reticent person. Eh. A definition of introversion – the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life. Again, eh. I don’t find either of these definitions to be really accurate. It’s like they can’t really figure out how to describe or define a person who in many ways, prefers solitude some of the time, may or may not be shy, may be outgoing at times and other times quiet or reserved. I’m more of an ambivert which is the middle of the road version of introversion vs. extroversion. Is one side better than the other? No, I don’t think so. I prefer to look at it as how you were made, end of story. If you would rather spend Friday night home with a book and Chinese takeout, have at it. If your ideal Friday night is a big rave type party with 100’s of your friends, more power to you. It’s just a difference in how we are made. There is no right or wrong way to be.  Why must we force our “way” on others?  Can’t we just all get along?  Just accept there are differences and go with it.

Why do we all have to be the same?  Could you imagine a world of nothing but white, Christian Republicans (I’m registered Republican but would register with the Common Sense party if I could) who dress, eat, look and behave the same way?  UGH.  How boring!!!!  There would be no ethnic food, no different religions, no different cultures, no nothing…  I can disagree without feeling that the other person is ‘wrong’ and I’m ‘right’.  Someone might believe that the man is the head of the household based on religion or culture where I believe that men and women should have equal footing.  Does that make me right and them wrong?  No.  It means we have different ways of thinking and living.  As long as the person(s) in that situation are happy and that’s how they believe, Namaste.  It’s not hurting me even if I believe a woman shouldn’t be subservient.  But seriously, I’m not asking a man if I can cut my hair.

It’s the same with the introverts vs. extroverts.  Why is extroversion pushed?  Can’t we just accept people as they are and look at their strengths rather than say oh, they don’t speak up in meetings all the time like Joe Blowhard so they must be stupid.  Introverts normally don’t speak unless they have something useful to say and we are quietly observing while formulating solutions to problems, etc.  Each camp has its weaknesses and strengths.  Introverts actually make excellent employees because they are quietly dedicated to work.  They are there to work not to sit around the water cooler or schmooze with the boss.  Give us a task and it will get done most of the time, probably better than you expected.

Forcing people to be social at work is ridiculous.  Open offices are a nightmare for the introvert who needs quiet to focus and concentrate, to survive.  Constant noise overloads our sensitive systems.  My husband paid over $300 for Bose noise canceling headphones for me because my area was constantly abuzz with noise and drama that I would come home in tears from being overstimulated.  My system is naturally über sensitive.  I can’t help it.  I was making stupid mistakes at work because I couldn’t focus and then getting criticized for it.  This was incredibly frustrating for me as I take my job seriously and want to do the best job I can.  When someone is pacing behind your cube like a caged animal all the time, you notice it and feel uncomfortable.  Another person was causing incessant drama for no reason other than they enjoyed it.  Your ability to focus on your detail-oriented project is compromised by all the chaos.  I started working at home more especially on sensitive projects so I didn’t mess them up.  Luckily my boss is understanding of this and supports me.

The stereotype of introverts are that we are painfully shy and socially awkward, that we spend all our time like a hermit but that isn’t true either.  Yes, some really struggle with social interaction and some are shy.  Just like some extroverts are shy as well.  The biggest difference is that introverts are drained with most social interaction outside of their close circle.  We can do it for an hour or two but then we want to retreat for the quiet, the solitude to recharge.  Extroverts are charged by social interaction, it feeds their energy and soul.  Again, is one right and one wrong?  Fuck no.  It’s a difference that’s all.  If I’m invited to a party that I feel important to go to, I will arrive for a while, make my excuses and leave.  It’s really not personal at all.

As an introvert, I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life.  That I was weird because I just wasn’t as into things as my friends.  I hated group sleep overs but I went so I could be ‘normal’.  I preferred to go over to one friend’s house and sleepover.  I’d rather sit on a blanket in my backyard and read a book than go to the pool with a bunch of friends.  Recently, I’ve been faced with a ‘crises’ of the empty nest as my youngest graduated college and is preparing to move out an hour away.  My husband works swing shifts, my older two daughters work second shift so I was suddenly faced with having a lot more time alone for the first time in my life.  Not to mention since I’ve been young, I’ve been caring for people all my life.  Now my list of things I must do is small:

  1. Work and pay bills/taxes
  2. Feed and care for myself
  3. Feed and care for 2 pets
  4. Keep up house/yard- Groceries/Cook

Suddenly, I felt panicked because I had no idea what to do with all my time.  My youngest and I hang out and do things together a lot.  Now she will be an hour away living her own life.  Not that we would never see each other, but it was a change.  I felt as if I needed to fill that time.  Should I join group stuff?  Make a bunch of new friends?  Start a side business?  Volunteer?  Save the world?  Become famous?  What??????  I didn’t want to be a weird loser who sits at home and reads, isolated.

Then I picked up the book The Secret Lives of Introverts by Jenn Granneman and read it.  The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I was not accepting myself and was trying to force myself into a more extroverted existence.  I realized my tendencies to want to be alone and do things alone wasn’t ‘weird’, it’s just how I am made.  When I stepped back out of my panic cloud and looked at my life, I realized I was being silly and worrying about nothing.  I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand introverts and how we operate.

Recently, I’ve had a few nights at home alone all night and here’s what I did:  Picked up Taco Bell for dinner and read a new book all night, took a bubble bath (fought my cat who likes to attack me in the tub), had a glass of wine, listening to the Ella Fitzgerald channel on Pandora.  OMG, not that.  Not all that enjoyment and decadence.  The next night was a big more the same, except I started a new book, had leftovers at the dining room table, and curled up on the couch with more wine.  Last night I took the dog for a 3 mile walk and got some great pics of the country landscape as the sun prepared to set.  My daughters messaged me off and on during the evening, a few of my friends did too.  My husband texted me in between work crises.  My loyal pets were at my feet at all times keeping me company as well.  I didn’t even need to save the world.  I could relax.  Enjoy myself.  Recharge.  I’ve been struggling with thyroid issues lately that make me exhausted anyway, so resting probably is a very good thing.  I don’t have to push myself every waking hour.

After forty-odd years of feeling like I have to be different, more extroverted even though I’m not shy or socially inept or fearful, is over. It’s time I accept myself as ‘normal’ as ‘normal’ can encompass many different qualities.  And who cares about being normal anyway?  We don’t have to cure introverts, just accept them as they are.  You want us to accept you right?