I did what might sound like an odd exercise over the weekend. I’d been having a lot of issues when it came to dating. Issues with myself. Deep seated distrust and even dislike of guys. I recognized how guarded I was on dates and how it only seemed to be getting worse. I couldn’t figure out why I would feel so sick to the point of extreme nausea before a date. I knew it wasn’t good that usually when I went out on a date I would rather be at home watching a movie or hanging out with my friends. I knew I had to stop being so closed off and not acting like myself or no one was ever going to be able to get know me. So I decided to do my own therapeutic exercise (real therapy is super expensive). I made a list of all the guys I could remember that I dated or liked and how what had happened with us made me feel. How it had contributed to my being as closed off as I am today.
The list ended up being 4 pages long. Yep, 4 pages of guys who had lied, betrayed me, hurt me, used me or made me feel like I wasn’t enough. Even I was baffled. I don’t think my list of bad experiences is any worse than any other girls’ which is probably the saddest part. We all have to weed through a lot of bad shit when it comes to dating. But seeing it there in front of me on paper was…wow.
There were two common themes through all of them: 1) I didn’t feel like I was enough, and 2) Guys weren’t worth trusting. Four pages worth of guys reinforced the idea that they weren’t being vulnerable for. Four pages convinced me that if I let my guard down, I was going to get hurt or end up acting like a fool. Four pages led me to believe that liking a guy wasn’t going to turn out well because he was either going to not reciprocate or he would disappear after a while, even if he seemed like he really liked me in the beginning. Four pages worth of guys that I let convince me that I wasn’t enough. That if only I was prettier maybe he would have stayed. If I wasn’t disabled maybe he would have called again. If I looked like the girls in the magazines, maybe the guy in college would have liked me instead of using me to get to my roommate. If I had a more bubbly personality like the other girls, we would have ended up in a relationship. If I didn’t give off “that vibe”, he wouldn’t have only wanted to sleep with me.
I must have built a new wall every time I got hurt because it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even know where to begin with knocking them down. I can’t even find a sledgehammer to start the work. I don’t want to put all the blame on the guys here because for some of them, I should have known better and towards the end, I think my fear of vulnerability played into things not working out. Kind of a screwed up Catch 22 isn’t it?
I always watched movies growing up where the woman was all about her job and emotionally closed off. Then she would meet a guy who would open her up and get her to be vulnerable again and I always watched with admiration. I wanted to be that woman. I was very vulnerable for a long time but I craved being shut down and closed off. I could avoid getting hurt and then the right guy would come along and be the one to knock down the walls for me. But that’s not how it works. It’s a shame that so many of us lose our vulnerability over time. Experience makes us distrusting and jaded, just like I am now. But the only one who can knock down those walls is us. Maybe we’ll meet a guy who will help us, but we’re the only ones who can truly start the work.
I’m the only one who can feel like I’m enough. I’m the only one who can believe that there are good guys out there and that someone is going to love me. That they will love all of me and won’t lie to me, won’t only want to sleep with me and won’t disappear after a while. I’m not really sure how to do that right now still, but I’m going to try my hardest to get there. To get back to being vulnerable like I used to be without thinking that it means being weak. I know that doesn’t mean there still won’t be jerks who come my way, and that’s going to be the hardest part. Still feeling like I’m enough and keeping the faith even after getting hurt again. Guys aren’t really the enemy here, I am. So here goes nothin’, someone hand me a sledgehammer :)
If you could get inside my mind growing up with a disability, you’d discover I have two sensitive areas. The first of those areas is being stared at. Most days, like I posted in Loving You Disability, I try to look at being stared as a good thing. I literally turn heads when I walk into a room. But there’s days…days like today…where I hate it. I’d already had a disappointing experience with a neighbor when I ventured out to Yogurtland. The was a girl sitting outside with her mom. She couldn’t have been more than 16 but as I got out of my car and walked up to the entrance, she stared at me the whole time. After so many years of dealing with it, you get used to the pattern in which people stare at you. First, they stare at your face and then they look down at your legs, then your feet. I know logically it’s not a direct affront to me. It’s just natural curiosity. People can’t figure out why I’m limping I think. But for me, on a bad day, it feels completely and utterly personal. I know I have a disability obviously but sometimes it would be nice if I could just get on with my day and not have other people notice. To just be able to live like anyone else who doesn’t have one. Walk in, get yogurt, and leave.
The second area might sound a little more out there. I can be extremely sensitive to people talking (or getting totally silent) when I walk by. For a great part of my life, I was convinced that when I had to sit in the front of the class or walked by a group of people, they would immediately start talking about me or saying mean things. As I got in my car after grabbing my gummy bear-topped ice cream I heard a girl behind me say “I would hate to be her.” Now the almost-30 year old part of me wanted to shake it off and realize (as I often do) that not everything is about me and the girls were probably talking about someone totally different. Most people aren’t nearly as concerned with me or my disability as I might they think are (which as mentioned previously can also be frustrating). But it’s something I’ve struggled with for so many years that my brain has gotten trained to automatically think that it is about me and that they were being mean because I was limping, or because of what I was wearing or even because of the super attractive tan lines I have running across my shins from a bad sunburn.
I’ve kind of lived in a mental prison of my own making for most of my life and sometimes I still put those metal bars right back up. I know both of these issues really have nothing to do with other people. It’s all my own discomfort and perception of my disability. I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb in the world so I notice when people notice that I’m different. I think this is why when I walk places I try just look straight ahead and be oblivious to what’s going on around me. People tell me guys check me out all the time but I don’t notice because I’m just trying not to notice if people are talking about me or noticing my limp. I’m not always happy with the fact I have a limp or have MD either and I say mean things to myself about it, so of course I’m going to think other people are going to be saying mean things too. Even if people were, I shouldn’t care. Do I really want my self-esteem to hinge on what some 16 year old girl or a group of girls sitting at a table that I will likely never see again think? I’m definitely still working on letting myself out of prison (and passing Go and Collecting $200…Monopoly anyone?). I’d like to say it’s something I’ll be able to fix and never have to deal with again because I feel like I say “this is probably something I’ll struggle with my whole life” a lot. And there’s some things I don’t want to struggle with for my whole life. I should be able to stop getting so upset over something I can’t change anyway. This is my life, these are the cards I was dealt. I can either play my hand the best I know how, or I can fold.
I came across this absolutely wonderful piece on one of my favorite sites the other night…I Am That Girl. It came at a perfect time because I had been just thinking about the topic minutes before. It makes me really sad how we as women treat each other sometimes out of our own jealousy and insecurity. Just like Kate says, we’re all struggling with the same things. We’re all victims of inaccurate and unfair media portrayals. We’ve all been hurt. We all struggle to feel worthy and to feel beautiful. Those commonalities alone should bind us together, not drive us apart.
One of the biggest things we seem to fight about and divide over are men. We act like there’s so few left on the earth that every other woman is somehow getting in the way of our swooping him up (or if we’re in a relationship, that she might try to take him away from us). If she’s prettier, has bigger boobs, better skin…she’s an automatic threat to our happiness. If something doesn’t work out with a guy and he moves on with someone else, instead of trying to move forward ourselves or feeling encouraged that another woman found happiness, we call her a “bitch” or tear her down. When a man cheats on his girlfriend or wife, instead of getting mad at him, our husband and our partner, we get mad at the woman, calling her a “whore” or a “slut” (even if she didn’t even know he was married).
It’s no secret I’m a feminist and I think the only way for progress to be truly made for ourselves in the world is to treat each other with compassion. To try to understand each other and to unify from our struggles and our insecurities. If we’re expelling our energy tearing each other apart, judging and gossiping, we’re only going to step further backward. This is something I definitely need to work on myself too. But I’ve met so many amazing women in my life and I don’t know what I would do without them. And you never know how amazing that woman might be that passes you in the mall that you automatically hate for being prettier than you. You’ll never know what kind of friendship you could build with other women if you’re too busy judging them or being jealous. Together, we can achieve so much more than I think even we realize.
I’ve pretty obviously done a lot of reflecting this year. It’s been really hard not to compare it to last year. I get rather nostalgic thinking about how upbeat and positive I was for most of 2013.
But I realized something…probably the most important thing. It’s easy to be happy and feel fulfilled when everything is going well. It’s when things get difficult that we’re really tested. That’s what can make us stronger and build us up. If we’re never challenged and things just sailed along, maybe we would be happy all the time but we would never grow or learn. True happiness doesn’t come from things always going right or always going the way we want them to. It comes from overcoming obstacles and learning how to cope.
So yes, this has been a pretty shitty year. I got into a bad car accident, my childhood home got broken into, my grandma isn’t doing as well as she did for so many years, I feel unsettled and I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life. I may not see or feel the strength that’s going to come out of all of these things yet. I may not feel positive about the growth I’ve made or even know what that growth is, but I will. I’ll be sitting at my laptop in 2015 reflecting on this year and how much I struggled but I’ll be grateful I was tested so much and came out of it. Lord knows I know all the ins and outs of a car insurance claim now!
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still wish it was 2013 and wish I was going from one travel adventure to another. I wish I hadn’t gotten faced with my own mortality or that of my family. I wish that I hadn’t been shown how awful people can be to one another in such a big way. The hurdles have been stacked very high but I know it will feel that much better when I jump over them and reach the finish line.
photo credit: Andrew_D_Hurley via photopin cc
Erin Hanson, thepoeticunderground.com
This yeah has felt like the longest and coldest winter of my life (except with the never ending So Cal heat), so I’m really looking forward to spring and the brand new leaves…