I’m Teflon…Sometimes

Life is full of disappointments.  From very early on in life, we learn this inevitable truth.  As children, we find out we cannot eat candy 24 hours a day.  As adolescents, we learn the lasting scars of being chosen last for the team.  As teenagers, we somehow survive the gut-wrenching anguish of losing our first love.  As young adults, we experience a missed job advancement or failed financial venture.  As young parents, we die a thousand deaths that first time we cannot take the pain away for our child.  As experienced parents, our hearts shatter the first time our child yells in anger that they hate us.

Each time, with each newly experienced heartache, we shut down just a bit more.  The human heart can only tolerate so much before the brain takes over, and instinct takes charge.  In the battle between heart and mind, the heart will always lose – the brain is programmed to dominate every time – this is by design.

But the problem is that our hearts are unaware of our brains ‘survive at all cost’ mentality.  Our hearts are stubborn, see.  They are the ‘David’ in this story.  They might be smaller and weaker, but don’t bother telling them that.  Because next to the heart’s bathroom mirror is a mantra – a daily pep talk, if you will – ‘I can and I will.’  The feisty little heart refuses to understand that it’s delicate and fragile – disposable even.

Someone who suffers a trauma typically learns how to bypass the heart-brain circuit fairly quickly, for self-preservation purposes.  Without this ability, the presentation of each new rejection is like reliving the trauma over and over again, regardless of what it was originally.  The same mental anguish, self-loathing, personal disdain and downward spiral ensue with no ejection handle available.

This ‘heart bypass’ might look plastic in nature – with no real ability to attach to anyone or anything.  In my case, I have become ‘Teflon Girl’ – able to leap huge piles of BS in a single bound, especially when spewed from the male species, without getting a speck of crap on me.  It really is an art form, getting into and out of the suit so quickly, but I’ve noticed a few flaws in the design as of late.  ‘Teflon Girl’ does not have hinged elbows – that is, she straight-arms all recent male relationships, careful to keep them far enough away from the cargo inside.  While that’s great potential damage control, when and if you actually do want to let someone in, trusting that feeling is made all the more difficult.

Another flaw with ‘Teflon Girl’ – as in life, the coating has started to wear thin from overuse in a few areas, especially around the heart.  And as much as the brain says “You didn’t hurt me.  I’m Teflon.” the heart knows better.  This heart is hypersensitive…it feels every beat – irregular, skipped, crushed, longing – nothing gets past this baby.

The last flaw I’ve noticed…there’s no helmet with the suit, leaving the brain completely exposed to all attacks.  My brain, I would say, is my greatest asset, but also my greatest liability.  It is a wealth of information, humor, personality, spunk, and gifts.  But at the same time, my brain cannot leave a question unanswered, a puzzle unsolved, a problem unresolved or a stone unturned.  My brain never stops running – ever.  So when attacks come, which lately seem constant, my brain goes into hyper-drive;  first, trying to fend off the assailant, protect at all costs, formulate a plan, and rearrange strategies and then after the attack, to assess the damage, replay the battle, and ponder the lesson gained.

And while this seems somewhat straightforward, it is exhausting.  I have been working so very hard on me for the last 2+ years, trying to rebuild what I allowed to be torn down and demolished, and have made excellent headway.  I have learned to distinguish happiness from façade, learned that I won’t fall completely apart if I’m not always black or white, and that I am strong but that doesn’t mean I cannot ask for help when I need it.  There are still many areas that are works in progress:  realizing what I am worth and not accepting less, being alone and being lonely are NOT the same, and listening to and trusting my inner voice.

So as I’ve observed these design flaws, in ‘Teflon Girl’ and myself, I’ve decided to give us both a break.  Every superhero has their kryptonite.  For me, I am absolutely my own harshest critic.  The sooner I ease up on the negative self-talk and soul bashing, the sooner I can continue the rebuilding process.  Maybe I’ll even use stainless steel…everything sticks to that!!

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What A Difference A Year Makes…

‘Knowing when to walk away is wisdom.

Being able to is courage.

Walking away with your head held high is dignity.”

April 14…a date marked in history.

Last year on April 14, I stood alone before a Judicial Magistrate as she told me I was about to break the contract I had made some 22 years before, an action I did not take lightly by any means.  She asked if my estranged spouse was present, and as I explained he had been, but he had left angry, she paused to question what had upset him, then struck her own comments from the record.  She trudged through the formalities I’m certain she had cited many, many times before – about alimony, name changes, child support, living arrangements, custody and the like.  I listened intently with my brain; my heart had left the building quite some time before.  As she finished, she thanked me for taking the children – a comment I thought odd at the time, but would all too soon realize the wisdom of, and wished me well.  I walked out the double doors, the sun shining on my face, grabbed my phone, and posted my first Facebook post as a single woman, “I AM FREE!”  I walked down the street to my car with a pep in my step I’d never experienced before…a huge weight had been lifted off me, and it seemed like it was visible to all those around me.

The first few months were awkward but manageable.  He wasn’t going to make it easy, by any stretch, but we’d left things flexible enough to work through them.  The summer came and he took the kids half the week, and I had them the rest of the week, as agreed verbally.  I was working a job, working on myself, personally, to figure out who I was without him and who I wanted to really be and trying to redefine myself as a parent in the wake of the damage left behind by his hurtfulness.  This went along fine through summer, and I was rebuilding the me I’d lost as some point along the way.

Then school started back up for the kids.  And something inside of him broke for good.  There really is no other way to describe the events that took place – or the person he became – from that point forward.  He started following us, threatening me with evil and angry texts and phone calls, texting the children in inappropriate ways, breaking into our home, staking out our home – he basically was a predator.  My personality morphed instantly into one of paranoia and intense fear for our safety – quickly transitioning from the locked car to the locked house, my cell phone constantly at the ready to call for help.  I was forced to seek out police support, and eventually obtained a restraining order to protect all 4 of us – against the man I had built my life with; the father of my children – he was now no longer to come into contact with us directly and only had minimal contact with his children.

The most important constant during all of this has been my resolve to work on ME through anything that comes forward.  I have come last for so very long, when I started the process, I hardly recognized myself.  I was a mere shell of myself – beaten down so badly – emotionally and intellectually…the only way I could build was upward.  Looking back over the last year, it’s painful to see where I was, and yet so glorious to see where I’m headed!

I am so incredibly happy right now – happy…I may have never been happy in my entire life, and after all this time I’m learning what happy is all about.  I am learning what the purpose of feeling my emotions is all about – and how truly beneficial that simple act is.  I have learned that coping strategies that worked as a child no longer work effectively as an adult, and that I need new strategies – I’ve gained them, had the courage to use them, and realize their worth.  I am excited when I see someone who hasn’t seen me in a while – the change in me is VISIBLE.  I am whole – not fixed…because I wasn’t broken.  And I certainly still have work to do…as we all do.  But with the dead-weight of that broken, defective relationship off my back, I am free to work on my junk, my issues, my life – it’s so incredibly freeing…I just want to shout it out!

Most excitedly and terrifying, I am dating!  Yes…I am dating…and it’s crazy and complicated and ridiculous.  But one thing is certain – and a year ago, I never would have said this out loud – I am worth it!  I am worth a great guy and happiness and the old-fashioned love I am looking for.  And if that takes another forever to find, I’m worth waiting for!  And that statement alone – that took me a lifetime to realize…but this year, this past 365 days were not wasted on me.  And neither will the next 365.  I can hardly wait to see where I’ll be!

When a Mind Breaks, It Don’t Break Even…

No matter how cautious you plan to be, heartbreak happens.  It can happen between the best of friends, between parent and child, between family members, and between lovers.  I don’t think we ever set out to hurt or be hurt – anyone who’s experienced that wince of pain caused by the loss of love would more than likely attest to that.  But the heart, as complex of an organ as it is, is relatively simple in its emotional make-up.  We store all our emotions there, and when you stop to think about it, that’s quite a vast capacity.  Thinking just about the supposed ‘seven major emotions’ that psychologists categorize, we’re talking about fear, contempt, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness and surprise.

When we lose our relationship with someone we care for, no matter the context of that relationship, we generally feel loss.  There can be loss of trust, as in a friend who you feel alienated you and your life that you entrusted to them; a loss of innocence, like when a child crosses a line you never would have imagined would be crossed; a loss of intimacy, when a partner betrays your faith or simply denies your feelings altogether; a loss of confidence, when you deny yourself and doubt all that you know to be true.

Regardless of what the cause of this loss, the angst that follows must be allowed to process, in due time.  Denying ourselves and our emotions is both detrimental to our emotional health, and harmful to our attempts to rebuild who we are as individual beings.

I recently entered the dating world after a 25+ year departure.  Let me simply say this:  dating over 45 is ridiculously difficult, and dating in 2015 – absurd.  Apparently there is no more simply meeting someone, enjoying their company, and wanting to spend more time with them.  Most everything is done online now.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the commercials – there must be 50 dating sites, at least – one for every different group you could imagine…ethnic groups, religious groups, age-based groups, farmers, you name it…there’s a group.  The premise is all the same…girls and guys trying to meet each other, via picture and profile, with or without a membership fee involved.  So before you even get to the date, you can be rejected any number of times, by a mere ignoring of your message, to a nasty message sent to you, to a nasty comment on your photo – it’s the screening before the date that knocks your feet right out from under you.  Back in the 80s, that happened at the bar, and at least you had a drink to wash down the sting.

So I started with the Christian group, thinking I’d have the best results there.  That site was a joke!  It was basically non-Christian guys looking to ‘hook-up’ with good girls to see what they could get away with.  I figured that out in less than a day, lucky me!  I previewed a couple more sites and ended up on one that seemed ok, but regardless of where you land, you certainly have to keep your guard up at all times.  I spent a few days hanging back, seeing what the guys were all about – like 80% said they go to the gym every day (as if!); many have photos of their cars (oh, my racing heart!); an incredibly high amount have photos that include their exes (yes, you read that right!) – and I came to the conclusion that many guys my age have no idea what women want, period.  I don’t know whether to have a tantrum or cry over this information…the jury is still out.

I did, however, meet someone and we started to chat on the website.  He really was great – he said all the right things, and truly meant them.  I felt comfortable with him immediately, and I trusted what I felt.  We talked for a few days, then agreed to meet for our first official ‘date.’  No pressure…yeah, right!  He was perfectly charming, our conversation was enchanting, and I didn’t want to go home.  The weather was bad, and he texted just after I got into the car to tell me to let him know I got home alright – how sweet!  I smiled the whole way home, despite the treacherous driving.  We texted for over an hour after I got home – again, very sweet.

The next day, though he was busy helping out a friend, we managed to plan catching a movie in the evening.  I was giddy just knowing I would be seeing him again – I felt like I was in Junior High all over again – what would I wear, did my hair look ok, what would we talk about.  Never once did the huge smile leave my face.  We had arrived early which allowed for time for some great conversation.  Just as the lights went down, he reached over for my hand – I thought I was going to melt right there in my seat…so much better than Junior High!  The movie was amazing, and the company even better.

We saw each other two more times that week, and each day the conversations we so sweet and tender – extending into the evenings until we were both too tired to talk any more.  I was being as cautious as necessary, but also feeling so safe and secure – it was unbelievable how well we were getting along.  He met one of my friends and her husband when we went to see a band at a local bar – I was really nervous and acted quite out of character, but he quickly reassured me that everything was alright.  We were enjoying simply spending time together – we didn’t have to be doing anything special – just being.

He was happy as well – he communicated how he felt – he couldn’t get the smile off his face either, and things were going well.  He worked hard, and I gave him his space, perhaps popping in via text midday to say I was thinking of him or to ask how his day was going.  He responded as time permitted, and this worked out fine.

And then suddenly, something changed.  To this day, I have no idea what happened, and that is what really kills me.  Being the logical person that I am, just about the worst thing you can do to me is to walk away with no explanation – nothing.  I am left with self-doubt, self-loathing, self-abuse. I simply cannot process the not knowing.  My mind goes to every horrible scenario possible…and then it splits in two.

On my birthday, nonetheless, I got a ‘snippy’ message from him.  I had an idea something had shifted, but he didn’t really say anything was up.  I was busy that day, and decided as the day was drawing to a close, to reach out and ask how his day had been.  No answer.  Next day, a little bit of chit-chat, but certainly not status quo.  I decided to ‘put myself out there’ in words – I do that quite a bit – and often I give everything away when I do.  I asked him to just be real.  I said I trusted him, and that he could trust me.  And the response I got was more than I ever bargained for.

The next day he said we needed to take a break.  I don’t personally own the Guy Code book, so at first I didn’t really know what that meant.  A break?  From what exactly?  Me texting him during the day?  Oh…from me…I’m a little slow sometimes.   I responded curtly but not ugly, then stopped before I did get ugly.  Then I processed for a little bit.  Then I can back with something ugly.  Then I processed some more.  Then I apologized.  Then I went to therapy…a lot of therapy.

I gave him the space he asked for, though I’m still confused of what exactly happened.  After the allotted time, I texted him again, asking if he could call so we could talk.  Nothing.  So I called after a day.  Voice mail.  Then I waited the acceptable amount of time for him to respond, and I texted that obviously we were done, but if he could give me a clue why, I could process this a whole lot better.  Nothing.

I cried every day for the first 9, no, 10 days.  I can’t say my heart is broken – I did feel something for him – I definitely could have felt something.  My brain is broken, most certainly.  And I am left in a heap once again.  What did I do wrong?  Why can’t he even answer that for me?  Am I that annoying he can’t speak to me one more time, seriously?  How is this ever, ever going to work?

The worst part is I sent a message after the phone call, telling him I wouldn’t bother him again – could he just tell me what happened.  And then two days ago, thinking I’m moving on finally – I text him again.  At this point, I’m sure he thinks I’m a stalker.  I’m sure that’s why he dumped me…future stalker in the making.

So I’m reluctantly returning to the website – where of course I see his profile every time I log on.  They are so very kind to tell you who the perfect matches are for you.  Little do they know that some of those ‘perfect matches’ will snap your logical brain if you’re not careful.  Guard your hearts?  Guard your minds, too.