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What You See As Pride

This week I suffered a bit of a setback.

After riding my bike to work for months, I started feeling weak. Riding was tougher, and my body just didn’t seem to be handling it very well. Then, last Friday I felt a familiar, if unwelcome, pain in my chest.

I put it off to riding in the cold. sub-40-degree air. The pain lessened, but didn’t really go away. Saturday, I tried again. While I didn’t feel the same pain, the dull ache in the center of my chest was a bad sign. So was the 14 pounds I’d gained in 10 days. And the dry cough. And the backache.

Last time I had these symptoms, it was after a fairly significant heart attack that for all intents and purposes should have killed me.

I headed home, rounded up my daughter, and headed to the closest urgent care facility. I also sent out messages to those folks in town who I knew could help. I didn’t want to, but I had to.

On the way to the urgent care, my daughter and I had a wide-ranging talk. and it came to the discussion of why I don’t like to ask for help. She proffered her belief that it was pride. But that’s not it. Not at all.

She proffered her belief that it was pride. But that’s not it. Not at all.

Pride would mean that I couldn’t accept help because I was above help, that I didn’t need it, that I could do things on my own. But that’s not where my disdain for asking for help comes from.

I don’t want to ask for help because it means I screwed up somewhere. It’s not that I think I can do it myself. It’s because I’m ashamed or embarrassed that I couldn’t. That somewhere along the line, I made a choice or series of choices that landed me in a position where I have to ask for help. And I hate it.

When I’m asking for help, it is a reminder of my choices. And an echo of the voices that tell me (or my daughter) that I’m a bad parent, or that I’m irresponsible, or that I’m self-centered and selfish. Or just a fool.

I make the best decisions I can given all the information I have. Sometimes, I don’t see all the ramifications. Sometimes I could make a better choice. And sometimes, things just don’t go my way. But I believe in personal responsibility, that I am where I am because of the choices I make, good or bad. No blaming someone else for my misfortune. Maybe it wasn’t one choice, but a domino-effect that cascaded into whatever circumstance happens to come my way. It all falls on me.

Did I choose to have a heart attack? No. But could I have treated my body better? Perhaps. Could I have worked to reduce my stress levels? Absolutely. Could I have made earlier choices that kept me from getting into those stressful circumstances. Probably. You can see how this goes.

What doesn’t help, is when folks who believe they are acting in your best interest choose to use your request for help as an excuse to berate you for the circumstance you are in. No one – No. One. – is harder on me than I am on myself. Telling me I make bad choices or telling my daughter that I am a lousy parent or any of a myriad other characterizations from snapshots of my life – it’s not helpful. It’s painful. Because I’ve already beat myself up way before I even ask for help.  I’ve already exhausted my other options, tried to find ways to solve the problem myself.

I don’t need the negative. I’ve already supplied it.

So, over this weekend, I had to ask for help. And I had doctors and friends tell me what I already knew – things need to change. But this time, the doctor was a bit more harsh. If I don’t make changes, he predicted that I wouldn’t see my daughter turn 18. That the damage that has already been done to my heart is not reversible. That all I can do is slow or try to stop any further damage. But it won’t get better.

And the number one cause of the damage? Stress. I can take medications to slow my heart down, to lower my blood pressure, drop my already decent cholesterol even lower. But if I can’t reduce the stress, it won’t make a significant difference. And I already knew that.

So, some folks get upset because I don’t tell them what’s going on directly. That they aren’t the first to know. But they don’t get told because what I need is support, not criticism. I’m not looking to be babied, to be pacified and made to feel everything will be alright. But what I really don’t need is more stress added. Stress I’ve got in spades. They mean well, but desire to tell me how they think I should lead my life – at 50 years old – only serves to make things worse.

My reticence to ask for help isn’t pride. It’s self-preservation and shame.

 

Rebuilding: The Other Forgiving

Last week, I posted about how I was working on ways to reduce stress in my life. This week, a recap of how the first step went and what to do next.

If you want to catch up on what I’ve been learning, be sure to see the other posts here.

– Leo

Previously, I wrote about the first key to reducing stress – forgiving yourself. And while I can’t claim perfection in that endeavor, I can say I have made great strides. But my stress level hasn’t reduced in any significant manner. In fact, this last week it went up. Time to move on to suggestion two.

From a great article on 100 ways to reduce stress, I’m just going down the list. Next up after forgiving myself is forgiving others for their offenses against me.

Uh oh. This could be tricky.

While I say that with an element of humor, this truly could be a difficult area for me. especially when the offense has hurt me deeply. My base, inner instincts want to jump up and lash out, have them feel the pain that I felt. Luckily, those base instincts generally lose, and I don’t indulge them. But the hurt and the pain and the anger have to go somewhere. So internalize them.

Hello stress.

And of course, the result is a hair trigger on things that really shouldn’t matter, or at least shouldn’t be that big of a deal. My daughter not doing the dishes, the dog rooting through the trash in the bathroom, the bus having no space for my bike – none of these should induce rage. Yet, when my daughter decided to show me the “make-up” she made for her Halloween costume using crayons and half a stick of butter, I blew like Vesuvius. I was shaking from anger.

Considering I already have two stents in place around my heart, that level of stress monstering is just not healthy. Nor is it fair.

So how do I begin to forgive those who have caused me some offense?

I guess the first step is to realize that most often, it isn’t about me. That the majority of the time, the perceived offense comes from someone who has their own demons to battle, who has not faced their own issues, so they leave a wake of “destruction” behind them. They often don’t even realize they are doing it. They are so wrapped up in their own issues, their own drama, that consideration of how they are affecting others is way down the awareness list.

Granted, some folks do it intentionally. But they too deserve more pity than anger. They are acting out of some pain, some damage that has been done to them. Maybe you caused it. Most often it’s pent up and you just happen to be the lucky one that gets the brunt of it. And sometimes, you’re the only one they feel can handle it.

So I think it helps to realize that they are hurting. You just got to b the one they released that onto.

But another step is to realize, very often, the things that hurt you are things you are just as guilty of doing. For example, someone hurts you  because they’re just frustrated and you’re the first target. How many of us can say they’ve never taken out frustration or anger on the wrong person, just because they were there? We don;t feel great about it afterward. We know the hurt is causes. And yet, we’ll fall into that trap.

More and more, I realize that we have to come from a place of forgiveness. That we need to start from a place of trying to understand what pain they have had that would cause them to want to lash out, to hurt, whether consciously or not. They may not even know what the pain is, or believe they have gotten past it.

It may be that someone left them suddenly without warning, breaking their heart in the process. This leaves them scared to open their heart fully, and they may act in ways to avoid that pain again, sabotaging a relationship in the process. Or perhaps they were cheated on, and have a very hard time trusting. Their desire to avoid that happening again results in them looking for signs of cheating of dishonesty. And instead of growing in the relationship, looking for the next great thing in their lives, they are looking for why they should be exiting the relationship. So they act in ways that hurt their partner.

Can we be angry at these behaviors? I don’t think so. These are people who have been hurt, whose pain is still fresh, even if the cause of the pain is long past. They are still haunted by that pain. Until they can deal with that, they will act in ways that hurt others and, by extension, hurt themselves.

My lesson is simple  – forgive. It’s not about me. If I’ve forgiven myself for my mistakes (I am my own worst critic), then I should be able to easily forgive others for theirs.

Mortality Pays A Visit

Anthony was the kind of guy that reminded you, in a way, of Ferris Bueller. Particularly the scene where Ferris was passing himself off as Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. Anthony loved to schmooze and finagle. And he would take the play to the limit. Just when you thought someone would call security, he’d get what he wanted. Usually some piece of schwag that would likely sit in the bottom of his closet never to see the light of day again.

He would call me from time to time to see about seeing lunch. But lunch with Anthony was a whole other experience. I often begged out of lunch because of it. You couldn’t take a 30-minute lunch with Anthony. It was always going to stretch to at least three times that. And if you went to an all-you-can-eat sushi bar? Take the afternoon off.

And he loved to flirt. He would flirt with every server, cashier, and booth attendant hat would look at him. And they just passed it off as the quirky older guy who complimented them.

Anthony loved to schmooze and finagle. And he would take the play to the limit. Just when you thought someone would call security, he’d get what he wanted.

Anthony died this morning of thyroid cancer.

I’ve been doing better at forgiving myself of my mistakes, but I regret not having taken some of those lunches with him. I hadn’t talked to him in close to two years, and had no idea he was ill.

It seems that this week, Mortality decided to pay me a visit.

In a little less than a month, I’ll be turning 50. Yes, I know, it’s just a number. But I’m a numbers guy, so numbers actually do mean something to me.

My dad died at 69 years old. I’m in much better shape than he was, and I expect I should go a bit longer. But how much more? And how many of those years will be “good” years?

Even if I live to 80 or 85 years of age, the majority of my time on this spinning rock has passed by. And I am alone in terms of a partner. Which is where my dad comes into play. You see, for about the last thirty years of his life, he had a partner, someone he loved and who loved him. The chances of me finding someone who will love me for that amount of time are getting slimmer by the day. It;s just math. If I found someone today (which won’t happen), I’d have to live to 80 just to have that much time. So, you might say I’m envious that my dad had what he did.

And I worry about declining health. I’m doing ok right now, even having survived a fairly significant heart attack. But little things pop up. My shoulder is in need of surgery for repair. My best friend has already suffered a stroke. Two others from Lupus. Another from pulmonary embolisms. All these friends – and myself – are slowly aging and starting to lose the battle against Father Time.

My dad saw it coming. He knew he was going to die. I am convinced of that fact. About a year before he died, he started doing little things that seemed trivial then, but make sense now.

One day, he was telling me a funny story. He finished, I smiled, and he asked “I’ve told you that story before, haven’t I?”

He had, but it was a funny story and I thought he liked to tell it. The problem was, he didn’t remember telling it.  And he told me that he was having trouble remembering other things.

All these friends – and myself – are slowly aging and starting to lose the battle against Father Time.

Keep in mind that my dad was the guy who would play chess against you while cooking dinner without ever looking at the board. and kicking your ass in the process. His mind was his source of pride, his self-worth. He was smart as hell. And when he sensed it going, it affected him greatly.

He started doing things like showing my brother and I where he hid cash around the house, just to make sure that one shirt with about $2,000 in cash in the breast pocket didn’t get thrown out.  Again, my brother and I dismissed it. “You’re not going anywhere”.

But he knew.

Not long after, he took a trip to Argentina to visit family. I believe he intended that to be his goodbye trip. He started coughing before he left, and came back a couple of weeks later with the cough intensified. He ended up in the hospital.

Understand that my dad was perhaps the worst patient on the face of the planet. He hated the hospital, and he was going to make sure that everyone in it was miserable with him.

But the day he dies, he was going in for an angiogram. He was laughing, joking with the nurses, and being overall pleasant. Because he already knew he wasn’t leaving. He died in the cath lab that morning.

He had grown tired of the fight, and scared that he was going to have to rely on others for the rest of his life. That was the ultimate indignity as far as he was concerned. He did not want to rely on anyone. Period.

And now, as I get closer to his age each day, I start wondering when I’ll see those signs, and if I can handle them with dignity. How much time do I have left? How many of my friends will I lose as the days go past? What becomes of my daughter when I’m gone?

I can only do my best. And these moments, these days pass and I work to prolong the inevitable, as we all do and think nothing of it. Until another day when Mortality comes to visit.

RIP Dr.  Anthony Fedan.

Rebuilding: Rule #2 – No Half Way

In figuring out how to move forward I have begun compiling a list of “rules” – things to keep in mind and to guide me in finding the right relationships, the right path. You can see all the rules here.

– Leo

No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try. – Yoda

The story goes that explorer Hernan Cortes, having faced a previous attempted mutiny, decided to avoid any further problems. He scuttled all his ships, effectively stranding him and his men there.

So, you’re naturally wondering, what do Yoda and Cortes have to do with relationships? The answer is simple.

There is no half way.

You’ve probably heard many times the phrase “meet me half way”. And in many situations, that’s a perfectly fair request. But not in relationships. In fact, half way is a recipe for disaster. Instead, we should be focused on both parties going 100% of the way, giving their all at each step. Not half-hearted attempts.

There are two kinds of people in this sense. There are the Yodas, the Cortes’, who commit completely. And then there are the Luke Skywalkers. These are the people who want to take “baby steps” or take things “one day at a time”. These people, for whatever reason, do not wish to commit. Whether out of fear (very common) or just plain selfishness, they don’t want to give 100%. They’ll tell you they can’t; they don’t have it in them; they don’t have the time – fill in the blank with whatever excuse you’ve been given. They aren’t honest with themselves, can’t admit that they won’t take the leap to give 100% of themselves.

Now, at first blush, this appears to be in conflict with Rule 1 – where we decide that we won’t give 100% of ourselves unless we know we’re getting it back. But in fact, it is the direct extension of the first rule. Once we have determined that this person is the one that excites us, that gives us that flutter, makes us respond “F Yes!“, then Rule 2 is the next logical step.

And like Rule 1, there is a big caveat – the other person must be equally invested. In fact, that is the essence of the rule. With Rule 1 we have discovered a person who gets that same excitement, same feeling about being with us as we do with them. Rule 2 says once you have determined that, yes, this is the right person, you now need to commit 100%. And they need to as well.

And like Rule 1, there is a big caveat – the other person must be equally invested.

That’s very important, so I’ll repeat it: They need to as well.

This is at every stage of the relationship. Whether it’s just dating, it’s moving in together, hopping under the sheets together, or going to dinner. Both of you need to be equally invested and out forth your full effort. It’s as simple as going to dinner and putting away your cellphones so that you are paying 100% attention to each other. Or communicating and listening to each other as you get physically intimate and focusing on your partner more than yourself.

But again, this has to happen on both ends. One person can’t carry it alone.

So what’s the matter with meeting half way? It never is half way. See if this sounds familiar: You are in a relationship. You’ve been trying to make things work, but you just aren’t getting what you need. So you talk, you ask for them to meet you half way. And maybe, for a little while, things get a little better. And you hold up your end of the bargain. But they start to go back to their previous behavior. So you try harder. But it still doesn’t get better. In fact, pretty soon, you’re at 100% and they are giving no more, and perhaps less, than they had before.

You’re doing all the work. They didn’t meet you half way. But then, that’s because the two of you are working from an assumption that the relationship is a math equation. That somehow, you going half way and them going half way adds up to a whole. But relationships aren’t math. Besides, meeting half way means you’re both only giving 50%. Need to understand why that doesn’t work? Refer back to Rule 1.

100% listening. 100% caring. 100% loving. 100% support. If you – or they – can’t give 100%, you missed something in Rule 1. Go back to the beginning.

No, for a relationship to work, you both need to be giving 100% in how you treat each other. 100% listening. 100% caring. 100% loving. 100% support. If you – or they – can’t give 100%, you missed something in Rule 1. Go back to the beginning. Figure out what you didn’t see, or what you thought you saw that wasn’t really there. Go back to the point where you both say “F Yes!” to each other, and give 100% there. And when you take the next step, go 100%. Both of you.

For me, I’m the Cortes. The lesson I’m having to learn is that while I’m scuttling the boat, the other person is sitting offshore. I have no problem committing 100%. But I have allowed that “no option but forward” mentality get in the way of seeing that the other person isn’t ready to make that leap of faith, that commitment to the relationship.

So, while for some it’s important to remember to give 100%, that there is no half way, there is no “try”, for me, it’s just as important to remember that I have to be sure the other person is in the same mindset.

It’s Been One Of Those Days. And It’s Only 10:30

Some days, you just wonder why you got out of bed. This is not one of those days. I know exactly why I got out of bed…

Went to bed last night, tired and having had a needed but painful discussion with a good friend. Probably up a bit too late, but I went to sleep when my body was ready.

Next thing I know I’m driving a car after meeting the above-mentioned friend. I’m racing across country to get back home, and there appears to be water suddenly ponding on the road. Before I can stop, the car plunges into the water, sinking rapidly.

I wake up with my heart pounding, feeling like I was out of breath from nearly drowning. Bad dream. Sometimes, they suck.

So, I go back to sleep.

Before I can stop, the car plunges into the water, sinking rapidly.

Then I see myself trying to handle a snake which I have been told was a boa. That’s when it snaps its head around and sinks its teeth into my hand, right above the webbing between my thumb and index finger on my right hand. Apparently, this was a highly venomous snake, and not a boa. While we are trying to get help and I am trying to keep calm and not move much, my daughter is bit by the snake as well. I feel a pain coming on.

I wake up again with my heart pounding. Another bad dream. Two in one night.

That never happens. In fact, it’s rare that I have bad dreams, although occasionally I will have ones that I remember for years. I have one the hit me when I was a teen and it is still a vivid memory.

I don’t put much stock in dream interpretation. As far as I can tell, it’s just the result of synapses firing randomly, and your brain trying to make sense of the triggered imagery. Nothing more. But I’ve never had two of these disturbing dreams in the same night. And never two as intense and causing me to wake in a panic like this.

I fell back asleep and was awakened at 6:15a by the dog whining. I had a hunch he needed to go out. I really didn’t want to change clothes and take him out, but he was letting me know. I got up, decided I needed to go as well, and went to the bathroom. I was in there no more than 60 seconds when my daughter yells that we have a problem and that she’s not cleaning it up.

Sure enough, the dog has emptied his bowels and bladder on the kitchen floor. At least it’s linoleum and he didn’t make a mess on the carpet. And it’s still only 6:30a by this point.

Well, no big deal. Clean it up, it’s not his fault, he was trying to tell me he needed to go, and apparently needed to go more urgently than I did. Daughter, meanwhile, is throwing a little bit of attitude because I asked her to clean up her room. Which then turns into a struggle for whether she should find her library card – which she would find if the room was clean. She argues that it would take all day, and fights against it for five minutes. Then finds the card in 30 seconds. It’s now almost 7:00a.

Maybe somewhere along the line I can get a nap. Maybe.

I had planned a peaceful morning, taking her to breakfast down the street at Denny’s, then a trip to the library. Peaceful did not come. So now I have a mess on the floor to clean up, a recalcitrant daughter, and I’m exhausted.

But, we finally made our way to Denny’s, and had a discussion about getting “second chances”. It’s one of my daughter’s favorite phrases. And it drives me nuts. Because every time she’s gotten “another chance”, she makes a poor choice – again. We had the discussion that continuing the same behavior and expecting a different result is never going to work.

Finally, we finished our breakfast and took the two buses and one hour commute to the library, where I now sit typing. In store ahead? Grocery shopping, underwear shopping, kitchen cleaning. Because that’s what my days off look like.

Maybe somewhere along the line I can get a nap. Maybe.

Rebuilding: To Forgive Myself

As I progress, I am looking at many different sources of inspiration for ways to move forward. If you have any great inspirations, be sure to share them in the comments. 

You can see all the steps along the journey here

 – Leo

One of the first things you find in the assorted posts and books and talks on relieving stress and becoming more content in your life is that you need to be able to forgive yourself. For example, I had read the article “100 Ways To Overcome Stress” and sure enough, there it was:

1. Forgive yourself for every mistake you’ve ever made.

Now, I understand the idea here. But every mistake? Whew, that’s a tall order.

I am an imperfect being. We all are. Just trying to think of all the mistakes I’ve made is a daunting task. But there are some doozies.

But what I’ve had to really do is understand what the phrase actually means: “Forgive yourself for every mistake you’ve ever made.”

The literal, analytic, numbers guy part of me looked at that phrase and said “Wow, that’s a lot of forgiving. I should probably make a list. I need a lot of scratch pads.”

It actually wasn’t until I started writing this post that the other, and more helpful meaning came to me. That I can forgive myself these mistakes all at once. That I can simply accept that I am human, I am fallible, I am imperfect, and as such, I have made and will continue to make mistakes.

This has been a tough one for me in the past as a rule. In one case, I carried around the guilt of being an ass to someone I actually cared about from nearly twenty years. And when I finally was able to apologize for it, she told me she didn’t even remember it. Twenty years. How much did I limit myself, how much energy did I have wrapped up in guilt over something that she didn’t even remember. And yet, I remembered it strongly enough to apologize for it twenty years later.

How much did I limit myself, how much energy did I have wrapped up in guilt over something that she didn’t even remember.

I have made many mistakes. I try not to repeat them. Some are difficult to learn from, and some result in outcomes that are so painful that it’s hard to even think about them now. And yet, I have to somehow find a way to forgive myself. For all of them.

I’m not sure I know how to do that.

Part of that comes from the fact that I feel I should learn from the mistakes, and by forgiving myself it’s like saying I don’t have to worry about the learning. I can’t abide that. But that’s because I haven’t quite been able to separate the mistake from the lesson. Intellectually, I can see how the mistake should be forgiven, because the lesson is its own event. Forgive the mistake, learn the lesson. Two different things.

I think part of me is still working from that corporal punishment, shaming mindset that if I make a mistake, I’m somehow less of a person, a failure. This got drilled into me when I was a child. Here’s an example:

When I was about 10, I was responsible for making dinner on many nights. On one particular day, I read a recipe that said I needed to add 1 cup of boiling water to the ingredients. I took our 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup, added a cup of water… and placed it on the stove burner.

I then witnessed a lesson in physics. If you heat something made of thick glass quickly on a burner, the glass in contact with heat will expand much more quickly than the glass that is not. This results in a rather impressive shattering of the glass. The Pyrex measuring cup was no more.

I went into panic mode. Maybe, if I replaced it before they got home (they being my mother and her boyfriend), they wouldn’t notice. And I had enough time to get dinner done anyway. I hopped on my bike and started hitting every little store I could.

And not one of them had the 2-cup measuring cup. None. So, in my 10-year-old mind, I did he next best thing: Buy 2 1-cup measuring cups.

The solution is as simple as it is daunting: Forgive.

I look at it now and laugh. It made mathematical sense. But practical sense? Not at all. But I raced back home and made dinner with my newly acquired pair of measuring cups. When the adults got home, I still got in trouble. I was berated for being so stupid as to put the measuring cup directly on the flames. And what was I thinking buying 2 of the same size?

So, my initial mistake was not forgiven, and the attempt to correct it was not only unappreciated, but ridiculed. You can see where this would foster a sense that mistakes cannot be tolerated. And that has translated to my dealing with relationships. When they come apart, I see all the mistakes I made, and I have a hard time forgiving them. The old recordings play in my head. “How could you have been so stupid? How did you not see this coming? If you hadn’t…” And so on.

But forgive is what I must do. As I have been going through all my self-exploration, I realize more and more how my inability to forgive my mistakes has manifested itself in things like how I parent my child. I stress out because not only do I see her make mistakes, but I internalize them as a failure on my part to teach her the lessons she needs to learn. So, I not only don’t forgive myself for my mistakes, but I take on responsibility for hers as well. And that added stress reflects in my relationships.

The solution is as simple as it is daunting: Forgive.

I have to come to a peace with my mistakes, and accept that I made mistakes, that I am human, and I will make more. And that it’s ok, and that making mistakes does not make me a horrible human being. It just makes me human.

Rebuilding: Revealing Your Truth

One of the toughest things to do is to be truthful to yourself. And yet, it’s part of this journey I’m on. If you want to see more of the the journey, click here.

– Leo

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the circumstances that have led me to my current place in life. Why did I get here, how did I get here, what choices could I have made or made differently?

One theme that keeps coming up is truth. On the one hand, we have to deal with people who are not truthful with us. Well, actually, we deal with the results of them not being truthful. But we can’t change their decision to break our trust by playing with the truth. Our actions are after the fact, after the truth is mangled and the trust is damaged. We can’t change what they do, we can only change our reactions to it.

But the truth we can control is our own truth, how we perceive ourselves and how we express ourselves to the world. And this is a difficult, sometimes painful thing to do.

The biggest common element in all of this is truth – my own truth.

For me, it comes with a fair amount of pain. I have to admit to myself that I have damaged relationships with some of my choices, even if they were unintentional. I have to accept that I didn’t pay attention to give a partner what they needed. That resulted in pain for everyone and a a heartache that all must endure.

I also have to accept that having understood that, I put myself through even more pain by overcompensating for those shortcomings. By pushing a relationship further and faster, trying to make sure I didn’t leave someone behind, I went faster than the other person could or would, and created my own pain when they finally decided they didn’t want to continue.

The biggest common element in all of this is truth – my own truth. I know that I feel I am a better man when I am in a relationship – or at least I felt that way until recently. That’s because I focus on the other person to the exclusion of myself. I change to try to be what they need – and invariably, I get it wrong.

And the reason is that I am not being truthful with myself or them. By changing, I become someone else. It’s not intentional. I don’t set out to do it. Part of it is learned hyper-vigilance. I’m always watching trying to ascertain what a partner wants or needs, then morph into that.

But that’s often not who I am. And not who they were initially attracted to. So it stands to reason that their feelings change as I do. And in each effort to change who I am to satisfy them, I push them farther away.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that I need to stay true to myself. I am who I am, and if that’s what someone is looking for, great. Regardless of how attracted I am to someone, if they cannot accept who I am, right now, then it’s never going to get better.

So what are the truths I need to accept?

I Want A Partner: I need someone in my life who wants me in theirs. They have to be able to show that. And they have to be able to show that in a way that makes me feel wanted, makes me feel loved, and makes me feel safe in letting them in to my most vulnerable core. In the past, I have given this up far too easily because I want that partner in my life. And that’s a truth I need to deal with – that I have on the past thrown away, given away, my heart and my love to people who cannot return it. Who, for whatever reason, cannot give to me what I want to give them. And I have to accept the truth that I am susceptible to falling too quickly, and be vigilant and hold back until they can show me they want me in their lives.

In the past, I have ignored this truth, thinking I could out-love the person, overpower them with my love and they would come along. And that’s just wrong. I meed to accept this truth, that I need someone who wont just meet me halfway, but who will give 100% as well. To whom “we” is important. Ignoring that truth has not served me well.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that I need to stay true to myself. I am who I am, and if that’s what someone is looking for, great.

I Am Physical: While the initial impression of this is that I want sex, that misses the point entirely. I need physical contact. I need someone who can reach over and rub my neck while we watch TV, without any need for a sexual connotation. Who is willing to hold hands, hug, or cuddle because they want to, and are willing to initiate it, not wait for me to take their hand, or give them the hug.

In the past, I have ignored this truth, expecting that “eventually” a partner will get more “touchy”. And when it doesn’t, I keep trying. So, I have to accept that this is who I am, what I want, and make those needs known. If they aren’t being met, I need to speak up. And if they still aren;t being met, I need to be willing to move on.

I Need To Be Wanted: Yes, this is in great measure about sexual attraction. I need to feel I am wanted, that I am sexually attractive to my partner. That they want me as much as I want them.

Where I have failed in accepting this truth is that I fall into the same hope that they will develop that desire. But when I don’t get it back, I get resentful. If I am the only one initiating intimate contact, it makes me feel like I am begging for the sexual attention. And when we do get physical, if the desire isn’t there, I get no emotional connection. It is empty, and I feel even worse.

I need to accept that I need my partner to want me, and if they can’t give me that, it isn’t going to work for either of us in the end.

I Have Baggage: We all do. And minimizing it doesn’t work. The truth to be accepted here is that I cannot change my past. I cannot undo what is done. And that my judgment in matters of my heart might just be suspect.  I need to accept the baggage as part of who I am and move forward with that knowledge, not ignoring it.

I Am Imperfect:  This is not to say I believe I am perfect – quite the contrary. But I have to accept this truth to allow myself the mistakes I will inevitably make, without bludgeoning myself with them. I am my own worst critic. For every person who has  – in a well-meaning way – told me I am irresponsible for doing something, or a lousy parent, or any other of a variety of criticisms, I can guarantee I have already beat myself up about decisions that go sideways. My self-flagellation is an order of magnitude greater than anyone else could deliver.

I haven’t quite gotten the art of forgiving myself perfected. Or even remotely adequate for that matter. I suppose it’s why I’m so willing to forgive others, to ignore their shortcomings. Because I see my own. And since I don’t forgive myself, at least I can forgive someone else.

I need to be honest about what I need and who I am before I can accept the truth about someone else.

I Worry About Others At The Expense Of Myself: This is one of those truths that I need to really accept and improve from. I put myself at the lowest rung of priority. I work six days a week so others don’t have to. I don;t express what I really feel because I worry how it will make others feel. I bury my own needs and desires so that someone else can feel good or get what they want.

Now, to be sure, there is some good in that. But the truth is that I am willing to do it to the detriment of my own heart, my own needs. I genuinely care about others, but I need to be able to be more honest and look out for me much better than I have.

There are more truths, but what it boils down to is that I need to be honest about what I need and who I am before I can accept the truth about someone else. It’s going to be a difficult challenge, but it’s one that needs to be met.

Rebuilding: Beginning The Process

In my ongoing process of trying to rebuild my soul from recent events, I have spent many hours reading about different techniques to change my own perceptions of what I need to do to effect the changes I want in my life. 

Have you tried any of these? How did they work? Let me know in the comments.

  – Leo

If you’re looking for self-help info, the Internet is a storehouse of a few gazillion pieces of well-intentioned information. How to lose weight, how to lose a gut, how to follow your gut feelings, how to not let feelings control you, how to allow feelings to exist. It’s all out there.

So I recently loaded up my Feedly account with nearly 80 sources for informative, positive posts to see what I could glean. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose.

But one lesson that keeps coming back is that if you want to see change, you must take action. Keeping that in mind, I decided to just start. So each week, I’ll document one change I’m going to make and the last day of the week-long effort I’ll report back how it has been going.

Just one goal each week. Should be able to achieve that without a problem!

So, for the first week, I’m taking a note from an article by Sara Hohl over at Tiny Buddha. The article, “Getting Back Your Spark When Every Day Seems Hard” talks about what you can do when you seem to have lost your way in life. Especially apropos for me lately.

The first suggestion:

Acknowledge and appreciate everything that happens, even the seemingly bad.

Woof. That’s a tall order. And yet, it’s probably one that will help immensely.

The idea is that by appreciating even the things that suck, you learn to find the positive in every situation. That’s awfully tough to do when nothing seems to be positive, when in fact, everything seems to be going straight into a black hole.

But I also know that the stress level I am currently carrying has the potential to kill me. That’s not an exaggeration. In 2009, I had multiple tests on my heart because of a bout with vertigo. Every test came back clean and healthy. Yet just two and a half years later, I suffered a massive heart attack with 97% and 98% blockages in three arteries. One is ominously nick-named The Widowmaker. The only real difference in that time? Not diet, not exercise. No, My stress level.

My daughter only has me. I have to stay healthy for her.

I have always had jobs and life circumstances that have jacked up my stress. But during that time, my stress level soared. I moved, lost my apartment, had to move in with friends, got a new apartment, tried to maintain a long-distance relationship, lost a job, went unemployed for four months, and started a new job that involved much more strenuous physical activity. All while raising a then 8-year-old daughter by myself. Yup – stress was high.

Stress can cause distinct and detrimental changes to blood flow and blood clotting, and can make increase the potential of damage to arteries. Here’s a scary list of potential stress effects from the Cleveland Clinic:

Unmanaged stress, especially stress-related anger and hostility, can affect your health. It may cause:

  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heart rhythms
  • damage to your arteries.
  • higher cholesterol levels
  • the development and progression of coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis)
  • a weakened immune system.

That’s just what it does to your heart. And the longer the stress keeps up, the more likely a combination of these problems will manifest themselves.

I’ve already been there once. I’ve changed eating habits, exercise and tried to reduce stress levels to try to mitigate these effects. My daughter only has me. I have to stay healthy for her.

Which is why I need to try this first goal, of seeing the positive in even the really sucky things that are happening. My stress level right now is so high that it feels like emotions are seething beneath my skin, waiting for the slightest scratch to burst out. At times, I can’t think, can’t reason. My anger is on a hair trigger, waiting for any little thing to set is off. If I keep this up, I’ll be back in the hospital, or worse, on a slab.

So, I need to try this. To make it work. To try to channel the negative into a positive somehow. I’ll take it a day at a time, a week at a time, and I’ll report how things are going.

How well do you turn your negatives into positives? Got a secret trick? Let me know in the comments.

Restoration: Or Rebuilding?

I have done plenty of thinking, analyzing, examining, questioning over the last couple of weeks. You can see the process here. But now, I think it’s time to change the focus.

– Leo

The process I have been going through over the last few weeks has been painful, difficult, and tiring. It has also been enlightening, reflective and sometimes uplifting. I have seen who real friends are, and seen where I have been deceived. I have seen good and bad revealed as I dig deeper into the process of restoration.

But then, I started thinking about that word, “restoration”. What does is actually mean? Literally, it is the process of restoring something, of taking it back to what it once was. But is that really what I am looking to do? To what point in my life am I trying to restore myself?

There are some things in myself that I want to restore. At one point in my life, before reality had kicked me in the nuggets a few hundred times, I was invincible. Or at least, I thought I was. “You can’t” wasn’t a limitation, it was a challenge. I made things happen. And I had no fear of failure.

But of course, we all “mature”. We run into obstacles that we can’t beat, we have our hearts broken. Our dreams get blown away like sand off a dune. I lost my “invincibility”.

I’d like to restore that. And in some ways, I have. In fact, the only time at work when I don’t achieve my goals is when I don’t keep the foot on the gas and just do what I know what I can do.

But for the most part, I think a better term is “rebuild”. I’ve been torn down, mostly by my own actions. Reduced to my very foundation, surrounded by my emotional rubble. And I’ve begun to rebuild myself. Collecting the pieces, examining each one to see if it is broken. If it is, I’m trying to throw it out. And what is strong and intact, I’ll be working to make it stronger and surround it with sturdier stuff.

It’s a slow process. The tough part is looking to see if the foundation itself is beyond repair. I don’t believe it is. Cracked perhaps, chipped and stressed, but still worthy of being built upon. I believe I am worthy of happiness, flawed though I am. And I believe I can find it.

The challenge is building the rest from the foundation. Build too fast, and the mortar won’t set. I’d be building a weak structure, just for the sake of having a structure.  But I also can’t wait for the structure to build itself. I can’t wait for the walls to miraculously erect themselves.

So the challenge is putting together the “floor plan”, what I’m going to change and what I’m going to do to change the outcomes in my life.

This is a rebuilding, not a restoration. I don’t want to go back to where I’ve been. I want to be better, to feel more love, more happiness, more joy. And as is often attributed to Albert Einstein, doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

I don’t want the same thing. I want better. Much better. So now, from here, I begin to rebuild.

Restoration: Building Castles

Some of these posts have been very difficult to write. And in some cases, I’ll write one only to have another source of hurt brought to me. But I keep writing because it is my way of working through the issues. If you want to see all the posts in this series, click here. And if you have any thoughts on these posts, please don’t hesitate to comment.

– Leo

I can’t say for sure, but I think I’m a pretty damned good architect. I don’t have a degree or anything, never went to school for it, but I have plenty of experience.

Yup, I specialize in castles. Castles in the air.

I’m highly adept at creating visions of my future that are shiny, gleaming and full of light. With high walls to keep out the bad juju and an abundance of building blocks made of love and hope.

There are soaring towers to rise above the everyday troubles I face. Massive stone fireplaces to keep the inhabitants of my heart warm and safe. Grand halls to take in all of those I love.

And it’s all made of vapor. It disintegrates with the slightest wind.

I can create these castles in a matter of seconds. It can start as simply as seeing a lottery billboard. I imagine giving my friends and family enough money to dramatically impact their lives. Of buying a home for my daughter and dog. Of having a car I don’t need to worry about fixing. Of no longer having to ration money out for groceries, or power bills. Of being able to to take all of these folks on a vacation to get them away from things for a few days.

How in depth do these plans for the castle get? I have a spreadsheet ready, with everything budgeted out, in case it happens.

My most recent relationship was another of these castles. I fell in love, deeply, very quickly. I saw someone whose flaws I accepted – at least the ones I saw. How big a castle did I build? I had already seen in my mind how – when I could financially support it – I would propose to her. I knew the place, the date (the year would depend on the finances), and the details of how it would be done. It would require planning and lots of folks to pull it off. But I never told her. Not everyone is ready to move into the castle.

There are soaring towers to rise above the everyday troubles I face. Massive stone fireplaces to keep the inhabitants of my heart warm and safe. Grand halls to take in all of those I love.

But like every other castle in the air, it disintegrated when faced with the reality that she did not love me. I thought she did. She said she did. But it wasn’t true. And the castle crumbled all around me, as it does every time.

For these castles are built of dreams. The mortar is hope, the stones are romantic notions of how I’d like life to be.

But hope is a poor mortar. It has no strength to hold together the heavy stones of the dreams. Those stones carry with them the ideas, the wishes for myself, my daughter, my friends and family. The mortar cannot sustain the weight of all those stones. And when reality creeps back in, it washes away the mortar, bringing the towering spires and massive walls of the gleaming castle crumbling to the ground.

There isn’t an inherent problem with building these castles. We need our dreams and hopes to propel us forward. But we need to build upon a solid foundation. The castle must have something tangible to stand on,  and a mortar that can keep the stones together.

What lesson can I derive from the latest crushing disintegration of my castle?

Tempting as it is to build these massive structures, I need to hold back. Wait for the mortar itself to harden and firm the structure from the base, for each layer, each row to solidify. And then build the next row.

I won’t give up my dreams. But I don’t know how many more collapses I can allow myself to endure.