*Magical*

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I like the word magical. The essence of what it means is completely wrapped up in the sound of that word. Some things in life are just magical. I think for a lot of people that’s what Christmas is. I’ve imagined it being magical. Reality isn’t really in sync with that though.

With so much dysfunction surrounding my family (mostly my mother), I long for a Christmas that is pure joy. But it often brings a profound sense of loneliness. For now I just buy my niece and nephews lots of presents and revel in their joy. It’s enough for now. They are sweet and innocent and truly do experience Christmas as magical.

I’ve always dreamed of having a magical Christmas. Someone to share it with. My own sweet family. People on whom I would spend all of my energy to make them smile. If there is any time of year that I want that the most it is Christmas time. But for now it’s Christmas on my own.

It’s very sad and unfortunate that there can be so much pain this time of year but I’m afraid it can’t be avoided. Sometimes you really have to just stare it in the face and let it pass. Honestly, fighting it or trying to ignore it or push it down only makes it worse. Not everyone is able to experience a magical, love-filled Christmas and I hurt for those people.

A magical Christmas is one spent with the people (or person) you love the most. Take away the gifts, and the lights, and the food, and the hurrying about and you are left with the simplicity of love. Just love. That is magical.

I want to find someone who I can say “do you want to change the world together?” to and he will respond with a resounding “yes.” People that want to change the world are people I fall in love with. Love changes the world. That’s an awesome thing. But it also means that my heart gets ripped apart a lot. No matter how many times that happens though, I still think it’s necessary to be real and raw and not be ashamed of who you are. Truly loving changes you.

I was just thinking today about how I’ve spent a whole lot of my life so far pretending. Pretending I wanted things I didn’t want. Pretending things were ok when they were far from it. Pretending that I was happy when I was really falling apart. I got very very good at pretending. Guess what… it’s exhausting.

I’ve got a lot of life to live and lot of love to give. They aren’t in abundance, but not seeing and taking advantage of those magical things can make life seem sad and gray. For as much as I’ve never really felt loved by my mother, it is easy for me to love. That actually surprises me sometimes. I love easily. I don’t know why. Christmas is ultimately about love. So I will keep on loving.

Don’t Apologize

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I’m having a bit of a hard time writing the past week or two. Usually the words flow. But sometimes I just hit a wall and it takes hours to write one paragraph. I am hoping to find my rhythm again very soon. I have quite a bit of paid time off for Christmas and New Years so I’m planning to take advantage of that and get the juices flowing. My brain feels a little bit stuck right now. I am trying to figure out what really inspires me. I know some things that have inspired me in the past but they are no longer part of my life now so I have to find something else. Some other kind of motivation. 

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I’ve been thinking about who I am and I recently realized that I’ve spent basically my whole life apologizing to people for having feelings. “I’m sorry” is a very frequent sentence in my daily vocabulary even when I don’t have anything to apologize for. I grew up feeling that no one cared one tiny smidgen how I felt about anything. And let’s be honest, you are really supposed to learn about your emotions as a child and then continue on from there as you grow up. Having to start from scratch when you’re in your mid-twenties makes life very difficult and makes relationships far more complicated than they should be at that age.

I am human. We are all human. And human beings have feelings. It’s part of who I am as a person. It isn’t everything that I am. But it is part of what makes me me. Ignoring or disregarding emotions leads to a whole lot of problems and can alienate you from people. It’s not about some touchy-feely, let’s-all-sit-around-and-talk-about-our-feelings-all-day-long kind of thing. When you learn about your emotions and what they are, and where they come from, and how to manage them, there isn’t a need to sit around talking about them all the time.

It sounds like such a simple and obvious thing that we all have feelings, and that that is a part of being human, and that it’s totally ok to feel whatever you feel. But it gets neglected quite often in the raising of children. There are of course appropriate ways to manage your emotions especially when around other people. You can’t live your life if you are only constantly expressing to everyone, everywhere, all the time, every single emotion you feel. And that is where, as a child, learning how to regulate emotions is supposed to come in. It’s really, really, really important. Trust me, I know the very real difficulties of not having learned that earlier in my life.

That’s why I think it is so important that parents take this job seriously. Asking and talking to your children about what they are feeling and why is a really big part of the job of raising kids. You have to help them work through and understand why they feel what they feel and to express those feelings in appropriate ways. It’s a huge part of growing up. Functional adults who contribute to society are adults who for the most part know and understand how to manage their emotions.

That means talking about and expressing them when you should talk about and express them and not talking about and expressing them when you shouldn’t be talking about and expressing them. There is most definitely a time and place for everything. At the office on a Thursday is not the time or place to be expressing your distraught emotions. Sitting with your significant other on the couch at home in silence is exactly the right time to talk about and express your emotions.

In the workforce, people are expected to behave a certain way. They are expected to be able to interact with their peers on an equally mature emotional and social level. Adults acting out their emotions like children are the adults who get fired from their job. It’s not appropriate for adults to act like children. But when you never learn to manage emotions, they very easily take over every area of your life. And you are in a place that is years behind your peers and it prevents you from being able to do a lot of things, including finding a decent job. I honestly have been very lucky in this area. I have a fantastic job now that I love and it doesn’t really require a lot of peer interaction. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad for me.

You should never apologize for feeling. But you do need people around you who you totally trust to talk about your emotions even if it ends up being at an inappropriate time. You should have some kind of safety net. A support system of people who you really can express every emotion to and they will still love you anyway. It’s not easy to find. I think I have two, maybe three people who I feel I have that place with to just fall apart and they will be completely ok with it. But they also speak the truth and that is a vitally important part of what you need in the people in your support system. People who are unwilling or oblivious to the need to speak the truth are not the kind of friends you need.

I just read a post yesterday that really nailed this idea of setting the standard for the people you allow to be in your life. You are in control of your own story. You have to set a boundary line that says to everyone, “If you cross this line, I can’t have you as part of my life.” That is how you keep toxic, time-consuming, energy-draining people out of your life. It’s how you keep yourself healthy and able to have meaningful, fulfilling relationships with the people who are not toxic and draining. I’ve been talking about this with my best friend recently and it really turned a light on inside my head.

I have only recently in the past few months or so begun to realize how wonderful and empowering it is to be able to take that control in my story and tell someone that I can’t have them in my life. It changes everything. It has made my life better. I am still learning how to draw those boundary lines with other people and with myself. But it is a huge step in the right direction.

Where are you? Where Am I?

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Where did you go? I think you’re disappearing.

We used to talk all the time about everything under the sun.

Where did you go? My friend is missing.

Is it something I’ve done?

Where did you go? My heart is hurting.

You were part of my support system and you filled my days with fun.

Where did you go? Please tell my why you won’t keep sharing.

I can’t take the not knowing.

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Something that hurts me so much and makes me very angry is when someone who is a significant part of your life decides to suddenly stop speaking to you with no legitimate explanation or conversation as to why. For whatever reason, this has happened to me more than once. It’s like living in a state of limbo. You don’t know for sure that the relationship has ended but you don’t know what is going on and you have no answers.

I’m beginning to think that I’ll have to endure a lot of pain and hurt to fuel my writing. Maybe it’s a good thing. Who knows if I would be writing at all if I didn’t have to go through these things. I can honestly say that before this year I wouldn’t have been able to write like this. I had to get to a certain place before I could even start putting thoughts on the page for other people to read.

I don’t know if I really believe that everything has a purpose. We make decisions in our lives that cause a lot of grief and difficulties. Are those things meant to be? Is it already planned out in our story that we are going to bring pain into our own lives?  At the same time, I do kind of feel that certain people come into our lives for a certain purpose. In a lot of ways I would be much better off if certain people had never been in my life. But I allowed them to be there. Was it meant to be? Or could my life be vastly different and better than what it is if I hadn’t let them stay?

My best friend said something pretty profound to me the other day. She said, “You shouldn’t just ride through life thinking you don’t control your own story.” She’s so right. I’ve had a tendency to just sort of wait and let things happen as if the right things will eventually fall into my lap. But that has caused me a lot of problems. I get very easily wrapped up in something or someone with no thought to how it fits in to what I want my life to be. And then I get hurt. But a huge part of that problem is that I don’t think about what I want and what my plan is for my life.

I don’t know why exactly, but I have a hard time saying out loud what I want and need. I don’t know if it’s a self-esteem issue or maybe the strange idea that asking for what you want to make your life happy is somehow selfish. I am always completely and entirely concerned with what the other person wants and needs to be happy and whether or not I am doing my part to make that happen. But I guess I’ve been going about it all wrong.

Social Anxiety

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I have been acutely aware this past week of my difficulties with meeting people and social interactions. It’s like an ugly monster staring me down. When another person is no longer part of my life by no choice of my own, a very important part of my very small support system is gone. That is not easy to deal with.

Social anxiety is a problem I deal with that has gotten worse over the years, rather than better. In fact the last conversation I had with my mother, back in June, was about this very topic. It came about as part of a conversation about homeschooling, which always happens. And let me tell you, I am tired of hearing from homeschooling parents about how wonderful an experience homeschooling was for their children and how well-socialized they are because church, field trips, etc. The thing is these parents were not homeschooled themselves so they actually have no idea what it’s like. You can’t tell your child what their experience was like. Only they can do that.

It’s amusing to me when people give the Duggars as an example of well-adjusted, healthy adults who were homeschooled. First of all, it’s reality tv. Anyone who thinks that reality tv is actually realistic is fooling themselves. But the thing I find most amusing about it is when these people claim that they “know” the Duggars so well and that they are such a happy, healthy, Christian, homeschool family. Their lives are scripted. They are showing you exactly what they want you to see. It is not reality. You have absolutely no idea how healthy, and social, and well-adjusted those kids are.

Honestly socialization for your children entirely depends upon the socially engaging opportunities (or lack thereof) you provide for them. Comparing homeschooling to public school is not an accurate depiction of what kind of social aptitude your child will end up with. That is your job as a parent. You have to be the one to make sure that they are getting the exposure they need to be comfortable in social settings with their peers. Personalities obviously have an impact on what that socialization is going to look like for each individual child. But whether they go to public school or homeschool doesn’t matter so much as how important the parents think socialization is for their kids.

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My mother has many times given me the explanation that she was bullied in school as a major reason for homeschooling. In my opinion that is not a good reason. In fact I would argue that experiencing that negativity and learning how to handle it is a very important part of growing up. Not everyone in life is going to like you or be nice to you. Many people are nasty just for the sake of being nasty. You cannot avoid that as an adult so it is important to learn it as a child. Also, I have worked in public school and bullying is much less tolerated today then it ever used to be. The school I worked at was pretty rough, but they had a zero-tolerance policy for bullying of any kind.

I am pretty happy to be alone most of the time. But that means alone time for me to re-energize. It’s time I need to decompress from the over-stimulation accumulated in my mind and body throughout the day. It doesn’t mean I like being alone in life. And therein lies the problem. I feel socially stunted. I somehow skipped over the part in my childhood where I was supposed to learn how to interact socially with my peers. Contrary to what my mother has said to me, peer social interaction is extremely important. I realize that fact almost every day as I go about living my life. Having a large number of siblings does not qualify as socialization.

It has always been easy for me to interact with those much older than me and those much younger than me. I am very comfortable interacting with children, thus why I love my job so much. But I can’t help but be frustrated and anxiety-ridden every day that I don’t know how to make friends and interact on an equal level with my peers. It has made my life extremely difficult and very often embarrassing. I am ok on a one-on-one basis getting to know someone. But in a room full of people I feel like a child.

I am very sensitive to people’s moods and body language and yet at the same time I am completely inept at reading social cues and finding any way to be comfortable in social situations. A social life with my peers is something that is lacking in my life and I hate it. I really believe it has prevented me from doing a lot of things I wish I had done.

Even just being out and about in stores and running errands gives me a lot of anxiety. I am terrified that someone will say something to me or ask me something and I will be speechless. It is not fun but I don’t know what to do to change it. I am enthusiastically hoping that therapy is going to help me get over this hurdle. I am a writer and a reader so I really do relish a lot of personal alone time. But this skill of peer interaction is important to changing my future and finding connections that I truly believe I am going to need.

About that dating/relationship thing (again)

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My parents never talked with me or spoke to me about friendship, dating, relationships, sex or marriage. This absence of communication and dysfunctional parents coupled with reading lots of “christian dating” books has totally screwed me up in the relationship department. None of the those topics were ever brought up or discussed in my home and I think I was afraid to bring them up because somehow they must be bad things to talk about. So I read these books, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl (Say Hello to Courtship) by Joshua Harris, When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control and Quest for Love by Elisabeth Elliot, Created to be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl. And I poured over them over and over again.

My mother also gave me those Janette Oke and Elsie Dinsmore books. I can’t get into enough detail here to tell you how warped and completely unrealistic the ideas in those books are. The ideas are damaging, racist, sexist, and yet presented to a young girl as if that is the kind of life she should aspire to. Of course I only recognize that now. At 15, I devoured them, to my own detriment of course.

I assumed that “the one” would come along and ask to court me and then we would be married and live happily ever after. That sounds so utterly ridiculous now. Court!? Really?! In 2004!? But my mother has always lived in a fantasy world. I never had any real picture of what real, healthy relationships are supposed to look like. So I too was living in some kind of fantasy world, at least in my head. When I imagined what it would be like meeting my future husband, it always played out like one of the stories in those books. Basically just like a fairy-tale.

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Unfortunately for me, that was the only dating and relationship advice I would ever get and wow has it destroyed my dating life. I was reading an article the other day, and I was struck by how familiar this girls story was to my own. She was talking about how obsessed she was with trying to figure out what every word, look, sound, etc meant. I have a very good memory and I can recall conversations in my head with exact detail. That sounds like it might be a good skill to have but it’s very irritating. I can’t stop going over and over and over it again in my head. Especially if it was an argument.

I examine things and ruminate over everything. A look, an absence of a look, a text, an absence of a text, a phone call, an absence of a phone call, and on and on and on. Because I am looking for some reason why I might have done, said, not done, not said something that means he doesn’t like me anymore and he’s done with me.

In reality, people are just being people and living their lives and the fact that he didn’t respond to my cutesy text doesn’t mean he hates me now. It could be because I am highly sensitive. I am very attune to people’s moods and changes in demeanor. But I mostly think it is just an unhealthy obsession of analyzing every little thing to see if something is wrong. I realize that is not a pleasant way to live. But the constant lies, and manipulation I’ve experienced from people who were supposed to care about me the most kind of made me a little obsessed with always trying to make sure that I was doing everything exactly right.

The college I went to is a whole other dysfunctional part of my story, but it was a nightmare for me in more ways then one. I was completely inept at any kind of social interaction. Combined with the fact that I assumed I was absolutely going to meet my husband at college like I was supposed to, I was like a weird little creepy animal.

I walked around trying not to let anyone notice me while at the same time wanting someone to notice me. I was pretty much still invisible because no one was interested in me. That didn’t exactly bode well for a girl who desperately wanted to get out of her parents home, felt like she needed to find that someone, and yet had no clue how to develop friendships or romantic relationships. By the time I got to my last semester I had pretty much given up on the idea that I was going to meet someone and get married.

I didn’t actually date at all until after college. The first six months or so after I graduated was a really rough time. I was extremely depressed, had no romantic prospects, no close friends, no job or career path, and I was still stuck living with my parents. The next fall I did finally get a decent job and things were looking up until I met the only guy that I’ve ever had a relationship with.

Now I understand that people are drawn to what they are familiar with even if it is negative and unhealthy. But I still for the life of me don’t understand how I managed to meet someone who was very much like my mother. He was not from the same church background at all. But he was the same kind of person as her and so the dysfunction in my life just continued on for the next few years. My entire life was filled up with people trying to make me be something that they wanted me to be and I got lost in the process.

Fortunately I have finally learned a few things, only a few, but I’m a little bit less of a weird creepy animal now.

Speak even when you are scared to death

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I am going to talk about something that probably sounds awful but it is the truth. I value the truth more than anything.

Someone told me something at breakfast one morning when we were talking about my mother. He said, “you know, just because she’s your mother doesn’t mean you have to love her. She gave birth to you but that doesn’t mean you owe her love.” It shocked me. Not because I didn’t agree-I have thought it before-but because people don’t say that out loud. Even if they do think it. But he did.

Children DO NOT owe their parents anything. I know it isn’t a popular thing to say but I will say it again. Children do not owe their parents anything. There is this idea that you must love and respect your parents just because they are your parents. No. I do not owe my mother or my father anything. I do not have to respect abusive and manipulative behavior. I do not have to love someone who was supposed to show and teach me how to love but didn’t.

It is not my job or responsibility or obligation to make sure that my mother feels ok and isn’t upset or feeling hurt. It is not my job to make sure she gets help. It is not my job to listen to her problems. It is not my job to nurture her, console her, comfort her, encourage her, or support her unconditionally. It is not my job to be her emotional support. I do not have to forgive her, accept her, or love her just because she is my mother. That is not a reason.

There are plenty of “parents” who are not worthy of the title. And a child does not have to love them “just because.” She was the parent, I was the child. While I can imagine how nice it would be to have a mother that I would want to be supportive of, it still wouldn’t be my job to do that. I am envious of people who have a mother that they feel affection and love for. But not everyone does. Whatever the situation may be, it is the parent’s job to love, protect, nurture, console, comfort, encourage, accept unconditionally, and foster the emotional, physical, and psychological growth of their child.

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When an adult chooses to have a child, they instantly become responsible for the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of that child. It isn’t the other way around. Children do not exist to take care of their parents. Children are not there for their parents to use them as an emotional support system. And yes, using your child as your emotional support system is abusive. Because you are making that child feel as if they are responsible for making sure that you are happy and pleased. You turn them into an adult when their brains have not even developed enough to have the capacity to be that kind of support.

Leaning on a child for something that you are supposed to be getting from another adult in your life is extremely damaging. It is a strong indication that you yourself are not healthy. And it is manipulative behavior towards your child. You are supposed to be nurturing their emotions, and helping them to grow, and being their emotional support system. A child cannot handle the responsibility of bearing an adults emotional conflict. It’s inappropriate.

That whole “I know I’m not perfect, but nobody is perfect” line is a cop out. It’s an excuse for people to absolve themselves of any responsibility for what they do and say. And I have heard it literally hundreds of times. It’s like saying “hey, yeah I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. But really it’s ok because no one is perfect and you should just forgive and forget. You should just accept me even though I permanently damaged you. Stop being so bitter.”

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness lately. And I think that forgiveness really isn’t about the other person at all. It isn’t for the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is about allowing yourself to move on and be healthy. It takes a long time sometimes to get there. But forgiveness is about being able to let the pain go for your own well-being and not to absolve or make the other person feel better.

Forgiveness doesn’t forget what someone did to hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t change someone’s behavior. Forgiveness does not mean that the relationship is magically restored. In fact I don’t think it’s even necessary to tell someone you forgive them even if you have. Because it’s not for them, it’s for you. Forgiveness is for you because you have zero control over the other person. Whether or not you forgive them isn’t going to change them, it’s going to change you.

I have found that when you do tell someone you forgive them they take that as meaning the slate is wiped clean and you should come to them with arms wide open and tears running down your cheeks. To them it means that your trust is restored in them and you don’t have a legitimate reason to avoid a relationship with them.  It means they feel they now have free rein to continue their hurtful and damaging behavior because you forgave them.

I think when I have forgiven someone, it is not something that needs to be proclaimed. Everyone doesn’t need to know that I have forgiven. It simply means that I am moving on. That I have healed. That I have taken back that emotional hold that that hurt had on me. It is for me. I will do it when I can. And in the mean time, I will continue to keep my boundaries in place.