Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A lightning rod of discontent

Ian asked a good question the other night, and the discovery of an email in an old inbox from a fairly traumatic event that happened at the end of May, I am here to make a statement about it.

Ian asked me if we, as a culture, are too insulated from failure. Since when is constructive criticism a bad thing? Just because I disagree with you or your choices does not mean we cannot be friends or that I think you are a bad person. Yes, I am opinionated and loud. I always have been. But I am loyal, loving, and fierce. I am a good ally to have and a terrible enemy to make.

Someone has accused me of being controlling. This insinuates that I am trying to make choices for them.
Granted, when I was young, specifically a teenager, this may have been accurate. I was young, dumb, and impulsive. I can still be called impulsive from time to time. I don't mind this. But as a teen, yes, I suppose I could have been controlling. But in the end, any level of "controlling" behavior has been based in an intense emotional investment I have made in someone. It is because I love them and want to protect them from themselves.

I suppose it's because I have a lot of my mother in me.
I've often mentioned, in conversations about my childhood, that my mom was overprotective and did not allow for me to have much fun (read risks) or make my own mistakes in a time when I so desperately wanted to and needed to. To this day, I think that I could have been trusted a great deal more than I was. But my mother loved me, and I was her baby girl and she didn't want anything bad to happen to me. So a conflict arose and didn't end until I moved out. At which point this conflict seemed to almost entirely dissolve, my mom treated me like an adult most of the time, babied me occasionally when I needed it, and allowed me to make my own mistakes. But until then, it was a source of constant friction.

I must imagine, then, that this is what a lot of people who have chosen not to speak to me anymore must feel like. But like my mother, this desire has only ever been born out of love for that individual. But I have never actually worked to control anyone's actions.
We have not been taught to take criticism anymore. The parents I see at work, and the parents of my friends growing up have often been too busy trying to be a friend to their child rather than being their parent. Rather than tell the child no, they humor them, give in to them, and go along with whatever their kid is doing. So that kid has now learned that whatever they want to do is ok and there will be no consequences for it. I learned to take criticism. I didn't always receive it well, but I never stopped taking it in, I never stopped loving my parents because they disagreed with me or my life choices. I never once shut them out of my life completely, and I never thought to myself that I didn't want them in it. My dad thinks that my entire lifestyle, premarital sex, pagan beliefs, bisexuality, pro-choice, etc etc etc are sinful and wrong. But my dad loves me, and I love him. We love each other for who the other is and accept that no matter what, that person loves me. I would never tell my dad I never want to speak to him again. Nor my mother, my brothers, my sister-in-law, and the family I have gained through Alan. Because they love me and I love them.

Now, someone may point out that I have removed friends from my life. This is true. But I did not stop loving them. And more specifically, they began to take out their frustrations with the rest of their lives out on me, or have taken advantage of my goodwill and used it to hurt me. Because here is the crux of the situation. It has been pointed out to me by a dear friend that I am a reminder of how unhappy these people are. Especially female friends. I am a lightning rod for your discontent. If I have said "Hey, this relationship has a lot of red flags, and I care about you, so I figured I should point them out to you," I immediately become the attractant for all your misplaced anger. You can't possibly be mad at your significant other, because everything there is perfect and you are defiant against my criticisms (more on that in a moment), but you're not sure what you're angry at, so instead you point that anger at me. Because you so badly want this to work that I am somehow affecting it's ability to work because I disagree.

Now here, my friends, is where criticism comes in. My criticism of any choice anyone makes is simply a disagreement. We all disagree with each other on something. Alan & I disagree on many things daily. But we continue to love and respect each other and make our relationship function. Because we can agree to disagree. I have grown a lot in my ability to accept criticism since I was a child. Many people still think I receive it poorly because their only experiences are with younger me. I have learned to try my best to soak in what someone is saying, use logic to deduce the truth in the allegations, make changes to myself when necessary and realize when it is unfounded, untrue, or just pain that caused someone to say something to me.

So somewhere in here, my criticism of a situation, my disagreement with a choice someone made has become twisted into my reputation being that of a controlling friend. But the only ones who actually think this about me are the ones afraid to face the reality of their situation and don't like the glaring reminder I am of how much they are ignoring it. So if you think that I have somehow tried to control your life, its time to take a look in the mirror. I did. I looked and I knew that nothing I have ever done was done with ill-will or a need to control someone. But also know that I can see now that you don't want a friend, you want a babysitter. Someone to sit there and tell you how everything is fine and nothing will ever go wrong again.

I'm not that person. I will never just tell you that whatever choice you are making is fine if it is a bad decision. I will not stop being your friend just because you go ahead anyways, but understand that you cannot be mad at me for pointing out your bad idea. Because I am not to blame for your poor decisions. You want to make that relationship work? Fine, but when it's not working and you're not happy, I'm not the one who broke it, just because I saw it.

We are all wrong sometimes. We are all mistaken and made aware of our faults by those we love. I am sometimes lacking in delicacy, but I have always done my best to be there for my friends, no matter how poor I think their choices are. It has become clear to me that those people can't handle the truth in what I have said, and this is why they shut me out, hurt me, threatened me, and blamed me.

I am not to blame for your unhappiness, but that will not stop you from using me as your lightning rod.
It always was easy to dehumanize someone who becomes this much of a character.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

City of Specters

I haven't been back to Cincinnati in four years, not since the divorce proceedings. I haven't seen X since then either. Between emotional strain, money, and time, I haven't been back to visit, despite having friends I would like to see. But my cousin got married today, and the wedding was right outside Cincinnati, so Alan and I decided to take the opportunity to make a trip out of it, finally make it to King's Island, see some of my friends, show Alan some of my favorite things from the area like Newport and Jungle Jim's, etc. I gave lots of warning to my local friends about when I'd be down and tried to make it easy to meet up and visit, but the first two nights we have been here nothing has worked out to meet anyone. Friday we spent all day at King's Island, but after the park closed, Alan wanted a late dinner and drink, so we decided to hit up Bar Louie at the levee. We ordered drinks, and after we ordered our food it happened.
I looked up, and I shit you not, there was X. I looked down immediately. I'm honestly ashamed of my reaction. There's just some kind of effect he still has on me. Nervous, ashamed, as if I am some now in the wrong by being in the same bar as him??? I have no idea if he saw me, if so, he never approached me. Our server happened to be serving the group he was in, and seemed he was with some company event. We sat and ate our food, I chugged my martini, and got less anxious, but still weirded out. As soon as our accounts were settled, we hustled out of there. We walked out in front of the aquarium and I sat down on a bench. Of all the people I want to see this weekend, the first one I see is him? Oi.

It's sad because not only does Cincinnati remind me of X, but also reminds me of the two former best friends who I am now estranged from. Two friends who came to visit me here regularly. One of them I cut ties with due to her destructive nature, the other cut ties with me for reasons I'll not go into here, though I believe it to be a large failure to communicate on both ends. This city has minders around every corner of adventures and good or bad times had with them. Hilariously, I think this city is a more painful reminder than the one I live in now, where I grew up with all 3 of these people. 

But why the shut down? Why the frantic texting to my friends about what to do? Why the chugging of the martini? I'm stronger, smarter, and happier than I ever was with him. I'm accomplished, settled, handfasted, and in love. So why can he just reduce me to that mess?

Much like drug addictions and other decencies, when we encounter something we grew accustomed to, our body begins the preparations to deal with it. In this case, shame, fear and shrinking to prepare to try and avoid his attentions, avoid feeling like a fat whale, avoid his eye-rolling and demeaning remarks, avoid feeling like an idiot all the time.
This is ok, and I need to not beat myself up over it. We all have weaknesses, struggles, and reactions to people and things we had a poor experience with. We may grow stronger, but that doesn't mean that wound doesn't twinge when we see the knife that made it. Life is full of pains we'd rather not repeat. We learn to duck when Rafiki swings that staff the second time, or when Rafiki walks in your direction in a bar after you haven't seen him for 4 years. 
The universe is not without a sense of irony, or so I'm told. While the experience was mildly embarrassing and uncomfortable, it only served to strengthen my resolve about continuing to make my life better. 
Living well is the best revenge.

Alan dealt like a champ, and in the end, best I could tell, nothing happened. No looks or words exchanged, and if he didn't know I was there, if he ever reads this, he'll know now. But it makes no real difference in this account, as he has no true power over me, just the shadows of an old pain. The shock was enough to cause me to shrink in, rather than fan my feathers, but it doesn't change or diminish all my amazing accomplishments.