Sometimes I think we’re all, at all times, operating on some level that was implanted in our entire psyche around the age of Junior High. Or at least vulnerable to it given the right constellation of circumstances.
How many times do you hear this phrase describing full blown adult women: “that’s all just so Junior High!”. Or say it yourself?
It’s true isn’t it? It’s funny how we regress to certain formative phases of our life under particular types of stress.
I’ve decided that phrase almost always comes up around issues of belonging. Which is such a paramount need to us social creatures. And one that is almost as important as breathing but one we so often minimize or even fully discount. It’s a need that in some cases we use, such as in Junior High as a point of ridicule or worse yet, a place of harm. Isn’t that what bullying is all about? At it’s core?
I love David Whyte’s poetry as many of my friends do as well. I go to him often in times of need. He wrote an entire book about belonging and speaks about it in that fundamental way (the poem at this link is worth a read). He’s probably the first person that got me thinking about this at the critical level I do sometimes.
I’ve been recently challenged in this area. Some big things, some nuanced but I feel them. I think people, like me, have more finely tuned radar to these issues having suffered a lifetime of abandonment. I’m guessing the very early childhood abandonment trauma, such as losing your mother at age 5, leaves distinct scars on this very connective tissue.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who frequently goes inside with the question “Is this just me or is this really happening?”.
That’s where good friends come in. And good therapists. In recent situations I’ve gotten both poles of that feedback from people I trust. How lucky am I to have people to run this kind of reality check by?
The thing about these deep, life giving functions, like breathing for example; when you feel they are being taken away, it feels just pretty damn exaggerated. Sitting back, gathering some oxygen again I find will help breathe in perspective with it.
All of that long prelude is to springboard in to exploring something that has been coming up for me time and again here at the end of this dramatic and sometimes just flat out arduous 53rd year (my birthday is Nov. 6 by the way but friends are inviting me to celebrate early as I’ll be out of town on my actual BD).
I want to learn this loud and clear before I transition to 54 as I want to end this last year on a note of a big success. I haven’t gone on this rollercoaster just for the sheer terror of it. I want to step confidently off the ride saying “bring it, I know how to handle this now!”. And I do, I just need to flush it out a little more with consciousness.
I want to dive a little deeper in to the concept of open doors today. Another phrase that’s come up is “follow the energy”.
This year has presented a kaleidoscope in my social world of people entering and leaving, sometimes so quickly I see the ghost of their image still standing there. For a long time. Still trying to interact with it not realizing it’s more a chalk outline than a person I’m trying to talk to.
New friendships have formed and zipped along or pivoted so quickly my head wasn’t spinning but more like this small almost imperceptible disoriented mini shake. I don’t think anyone other than me would have even noticed it.
Just this weekend a 25 year deep friendship shook so abruptly and in such a disorienting way that I just grabbed on to True North with both paws and clung for dear life, stable, weathering the storm.
One of the most special things I do in my life is attend Saggio’s Sound Meditations. Barbara and Richard Saggio live in this cool funky dome house out in the desert and have converted their entire upstairs loft space in to a sound space. They literally have hundreds of world instruments, including the entire chakra set of crystal singing bowls (and then some). They host these 90 min. sound meditations up there throughout the year and I go frequently. Last night I brought my friend Mari and Alfonse.
I was wide awake until 3 am reeling in conversation with Mari and, later, ideas with myself. I finally exhausted myself with aha moments and crashed in to wild and colorful dreaming. Back awake at 10:30, I knew what I wanted to write about today.
And it’s about doors closing/doors opening.
This is so important driving me to devote my time to it because I do think it’s one of the major lessons this year served up and will pivot me in to a whole new way of walking through the rest of my life so I want to get it.
I’ll start with this.
Now I know every single one of you reading out there, knows exactly what that means and has done it. Maybe not as chronically or skillfully as me but you’ve done this. We all have.
I realize, when something or someone makes that turn away from me, I’m so focused on the abandonment or potential abandonment of the whole deal that I don’t even take a moment to think about this being an ok thing or even a good thing, that I start to panic. And freeze. Then cling. Then chase. All while trying to figure it out, what I’ve done wrong, how I can fix it. I will often progress right toward banging on a closed door let me in let me in again I’ll be better I’ll even be a different person just come back!
Whew, it’s hard to write that sentence because it’s just embarrassing. But it’s descriptive of something that goes on inside me, something that most people would never know. You know, because I’m such a strong person.
I’ve been voicing a lot of my vulnerabilities out loud lately, being more honest, and let me tell you: it feels damn good.
A married man flat out propositioned me recently and I responded “one reason I would never consider that is that I have a fragile self esteem and I do everything I can to protect it now”. Wow, how liberating! To say that out loud to an attractive man interested in me “I have a fragile self esteem”. No self consciousness, no apologies, just a fact.
I have fragile lungs too. No difference. We all have our frailties. It’s a good thing to know what they are.
Here this man thought he was flattering me with this proposal and in another time I might have been flattered. But, as I also said, “that would be like drinking poison for me”. I’m either going to be the Number One with a man or I’m perfectly fine waiting. No more crumbs. I’m one pointed on banquets now.
And you know what? Voicing that out loud succeeded in bumping up my self esteem a few stories. Not notches; stories. Interesting how that works isn’t it?
I’ve had some female friendships in some curious gyrations in the last few weeks. I’ve found myself trying to figure out the dynamic, why I get left out of things, in some cases almost weirdly set up then let down, some Junior High “she’s MY friend now” posturing going on. It hurts at times, of course it does! But it’s the wheel of life turning, pulling some people from an inner circle to a more remote one to………..drumroll…….MAKE SPACE.
That’s what I think I’m trying to articulate here. It’s about retreating in to a more curious, less grasping, less defining posture when these natural life rhythms impose themselves in to my life cycle.
This or something better is a good mantra. Something or someone is always waiting.
I’ve been wanting to write this story for some time and I think now is the time.
Several months ago, just days after Alfonse was discharged from one of his many hospitalizations this year, I was invited to a party. He knows the host so I invited him to come with me, knowing this would be a big risk for him as he was like a person with a broken leg, barely healed with the cast just removed being asked to go take a walk.
He said he’d love to go so we trekked out there. I won’t go in to the gory details because this is a friendship that is still trying to find it’s way and I don’t want to nail any “last nails” in to a coffin or anything but I do want to tell the truth of this story best as I can because it really is worth telling.
This friend of mine and I were once very very close. Best friends close. Then she met a man, fell in love, got married and pretty much our entire dynamic changed. Which happens. This one, for some reason, has had a harder time finding new footing than any other friendship going through this transition for me. I have guesses as to why this is but it’s just in some kind of metamorphosis and the jury’s out on how it will or if it will land still intact in any form.
What happened this night, the night of this party though solidified, some perceptions and created a miracle between Alfonse and I so it was 100% worth the trauma for just that. My dear brother, moving closer toward my heart and me toward his.
I’ll just say it. My friend’s new husband can’t stand me. Of course I can’t speak for him, his perceptions or feelings. But he treats me like he can’t stand me. That night was the final straw of being open to him, for me.
This is a very new position for me to be in as I’m generally a well liked person and have been pretty popular most of my life. One thing I know, unequivocably about myself is in business and personal life, people warm up to me very quickly and easily. I have a very welcoming style of a personality. It’s not something I’ve cultivated, it’s just one of those things I came in with.
This man has never, not once been open to me. I’m confident in saying in the very few times I’ve been in his presence, he has never asked me one question about myself, including “how are you?”. Now this is a very disorienting position for me to find myself in. I am never, almost never, treated with disrespect in my life like that. Now if we go in to the territory of crappy guys I’ve dated that’s another conversation. But just in general social settings I’m almost never, my entire life, faced with that kind of dynamic.
I remember being at another gathering, one of the very few I’ve ever been to with this man, when I was literally a fifth wheel. The definition of a fifth wheel. Out on New Year’s Eve no less. Now this is a scene that would show up on a Sex and the City episode it’s kind of funny now, terribly humiliating at the time. The man I was then dating was to get off work “by 11 at the latest” and join me at a swanky NY Eve party with my friend, her then new boyfriend and another couple, friends of his. I sat, the fifth, awkwardly at a table all evening with very little interaction with anybody until Jeff, the guy I was dating showed up at 12:30. I broke things off with him about 3 days later but that’s beside the point.
I remember at one point in the evening when my friend, the only one I really knew at the table, went up to get a drink. I, totally tipsy by then I’m sure, slid over in to her seat to strike up a conversation with her new boyfriend.
Let me describe to you the body language that followed (paging Janine Driver!). Me sitting in her seat sideways facing him saying “Hey _____, I haven’t had any chance to get to know you yet, tell me something about yourself!”.
Him sitting facing the table, elbows up on the table, fingers laced, face forward, the only acknowledgment of my presence were his eyes looking in my direction and literally, literally down his nose at me. I’ve never, not once in my life had a memory of such a posture directed at me. Through a tight forced smile he said something like “well what do you want to know?” and after each question like “so where did you grow up?” or something I’d get the same one word response followed by an awkward laugh. It was the opposite of a conversation. It was more like questioning a hostile witness.
closest image I could find but his head wasn’t even turned toward me
My friend had not come back yet but I remembering cutting this off and slithering, humiliated back to my seat feeling like somehow I’d been inappropriate. Like maybe I shouldn’t have approached him, was asking the wrong questions, was being too familiar or something. If I wasn’t feeling like very small human already just because of the entire dynamics of the evening, I just should have slid right under the table at that moment. I felt utterly humiliated. And I didn’t know why. As usual, I blamed myself.
All I’ve heard about this man is how welcoming he is, how everyone loves him, how he gets along so well with everyone in her world. So, this could only be personal, be something wrong with me, right? I know every one of you has had that inner dialogue at some point in your life.
I don’t even like writing about that evening because believe me I can tell the whole thing like some funny “most horrible holiday” story but the truth is, it was devastating. I didn’t know the worm had already turned on that friendship, it was New Year’s and I was having just the most terrible time, covering it up as well I could with my usual “fun time girl” smile on my face.
I never told my friend about this.
Now backtrack and fast forward to the party this last Spring. The one I brought Alfonse to. I was impressed and surprised he readily filled his plate and went out to the patio all on his own. Which left me some space to socialize. Alfonse wasn’t the only one in the “just getting a cast off” moment in his life. I had been deeply embroiled for months in the Jodi Arias trial, had been spending most of my free time with people involved with it, eating/talking/dreaming that trial.
I hadn’t been in normal social settings for months. I really didn’t know what to talk about that trial had been so all consuming. Some of my friends and I have discussed this phenomenon recently. We were all infected similarly, clinging to each other for life.
I was relieved when a friend of my friend who I’ve met a few times approached me saying “hey I saw you on the news the other night, what’s going on with that trial?”. We sat down at the square table with our food, her asking me questions, me answering. She was very curious and I was relieved to find a comfort zone. My friend’s parents came and sat at the other end of the table, not really joining our conversation but just sitting together quietly at the same table.
This moment right here, the one I’m about to describe was the final straw for me on the man my friend married. Yes, the same one from the Fifth Wheel New Year’s Eve debacle.
He walked up to this small table with four people sitting at it. All of us had wine glasses in front of us, mine the only one that was empty.
He, the host, appropriately walked up saying “anyone need a refill here?”. And here’s where it all crashed and burned.
He gestured to her parents, acknowledged them “how are you doing? need a refill yet?” then turned his head to the right, toward the woman I was talking to “how about you _______? you ok on wine?”. Then he turned right around and walked away.
I was the only person at that table with an empty wine glass in front me.
As if I wasn’t even there.
I don’t think it was intentional. But I do think this man, for whatever reason, identifies me in his mind as someone who is invisible, to be ignored, unworthy of acknowledgment or worse yet worthy of disdain that this was his only option in the moment.
I stood up, walked around the table from the back, to the outside bar and refilled my glass. And returned like nothing had just happened.
Now why didn’t I speak up? I don’t know. It all happened so fast, I was sitting there fully anticipating “how about you Kathy, ready for a refill?” that when it didn’t happen and he turned so fast I was reliving that slithering back to my seat moment and I felt just on some level utterly humiliated. Wondering if the other three people at the table had noticed just how dissed I’d just been. Feeling that knee jerk reaction of “if I’m being treated this way, surely I must deserve it”.
I was already a fish out of water, bringing very vulnerable Alfonse to this kind of social situation, feeling unusually awkward myself.
Shortly thereafter I joined Alfonse outside who was doing very well. Finally my friend came and sat with us, trying to catch up a bit. I’d say about 10 minutes in to this brief conversation, her husband walked up, busted right in to our conversation, spoke to her about some new idea he had for their backyard, never acknowledged Alfonse or I sitting there and turned abruptly again and walked away.
I was relieved when Alfonse turned to me at about 10:30 and said “I’m ready to go”. I was so proud of him for both taking such good care of himself at the party and knowing what his limits were. Plus I’d wanted to leave about an hour before that to be honest.
We gathered ourselves up and left.
Then I fell apart in the car.
We had a long drive and what started out as yelling things like “who in the Hell does HE think he is treating me like that?” turned quickly to sobs and “why does he treat me like that…why does this man hate me?”.
This is when the “this was totally worth it” moment happened.
Suddenly Alfonse said to me “Kathy, I’ve dealt with this my whole life, I know exactly how you feel”.
Then the floodgates really opened.
Because that’s the truth. He’s always, his entire life been socially awkward and navigated a life of bullying, sad to say sometimes within our own family. Sadder to say, even me as that snotty Junior High cheerleader with a socially awkward brother.
He went on to start counseling me about how to deal with a situation like this.
“Kathy you are a wonderful person. If he can’t see that, it’s his problem. It’s not your problem. You just hold your head up high and walk away. Don’t take it personally. You are a wonderful person. This is his problem”.
Now the tears were flowing the entire 30 min ride home for a new reason.
My brother was given an opportunity to be the one to see he’s not alone. He always views me as popular “my sister has a lot of friends, everybody likes her” he will describe me. Suddenly he saw the shoe on the other foot. With probably the last person he’d expect trying to jam her swollen toes in to it.
This can happen to anybody.
Alfonse took all the knowledge of being on the front lines of this humiliating behavior his entire life and put it to good use.
I remember driving through my foggy tears drawing him out more and more with his advice. I remember getting to drop him off, going in with him, sitting for about a half an hour still processing this. With him counseling me.
Can you see now why I say this whole experience start to finish was totally worth it? I don’t care what my friend’s husband thinks of me. He’s a stranger to me. It’s odd but it’s the truth. I don’t know what impact this has or will have on my friend and my relationship as time goes on or if it will survive.
I do know that I won’t put myself in his presence again unless there is no option, like a funeral or something.
I also know that once I do get in that kick ass , passionate, loving relationship I’m holding out for, we will not be double dating. I won’t “graduate” to some kind of “status” then and get to be in the “couples zone”. Not in that one anyway. I know that any man I love and who loves me, will not embrace that man. So, the kaleidoscope turns.
I’ve realized I’ve spent far too much time in my life knocking on or banging my head against closed doors when all I really needed to do was lift my head up, turn it a few degrees and look for the ones that are open.
And walk through them.
Simple as that. Instead of focusing on what’s not working, look for the opportunity and take it.
The other closed door may open again or dissolve. It’s not worth the head banging I know that.
And there is always another door that’s either been open the entire time staring at me like “um, yeah, I’m right over here dummy” or one that’s creaking open right at the moment the other one either slams shut or subtlely starts moving on it’s hinges toward the frame.
Whether it’s a friendship, dating relationship, family relationship, relationship with a teacher, your job, yourself, just stop cross examining and start moving toward the light. It’s all very simple. And a muscle I intend to develop.
What I’m going to experiment now for these last days of my 53rd year is to move with awareness away from the unwelcoming spaces and keep turning my head looking for light. For life.
And here’s the key. Move toward it, judging nothing.
I have friends, unattended, waiting in the wings. Interesting, cool people wanting to connect with me. And I’ve wasted far too much time trying to figure out why I’ve been excluded from things or not chosen or not invited or some such other not something. It’s a knee jerk reaction but my knees are tired from all the jerking.
I want to live and be free to expand in to an open space. No limitations. I want to feel the easy connection I felt last night with Marianne while driving out to Saggio marveling at the sunset, returning to my house, the three of us a Sunday night family, breaking bread and enjoying my crock pot Fall dinner. Cleaning the kitchen together, talking about real things–life, love, relationships, healing.
I want my neck and spine to be free to move and see 360 around me what doors are open waiting and which are opening.
I want to move gracefully from “ok the energy’s not there anymore, let’s see where it is” with an open posture of curiosity, longing, accepting, clear vision, seeking, being guided.
And the most important thing–moving. See the light and move toward it. See the opening and allow myself to be carried to it. And see who comes along.
Fluid, moving, embracing, taking even a tiny step.
Being carried in to my next relationships, in to my next adventures, finding my next teachers in all forms they show up.
Including and especially my dear dear sweet and devoted brother. And my father. The two most important people to me on this planet.
There’s no time to waste anymore. No time to stay in anything that’s not life affirming and soul expanding. No time to waste trying to figure out unsolvable riddles.
This will be my new House of Belonging. Lots of doors and windows opening and closing and me, in a constant state of movement.
The only way we can stay stuck is if our feet are stubbornly planted in the way we think things should be instead of how they are, in fact, are.
I’ve been gifted with this dramatic, traumatic, sparkling, amazing, filled to the brim with opportunity kick ass life.
And I vow I’m going to learn this as clearly as I can in the next 10 days before I step in to that 54th year and then I’m gonna fly.
And that’s how I see things today.