I’m flattered, but listen…

One fine day (not so long ago!!) I also realized that in addition to all of the above (which leaves destruction in its wake, believe me), I was also avoiding myself. Expecting the “lover” to compensate for the love I craved but wasn’t able to produce for myself. Asking the impossible.

Dear Friend,

How shall I say this?

I understand that you are having some feelings for me. I don’t deny there is a really nice energy between us, a familiarity that settled in right from the start. A wave-length harmony.

We haven’t known each other for that long and plus you don’t speak English so you haven’t been reading up on this young blog about how right now I’m all about figuring out how to love myself and how to stop falling in and out of love with other people all the time.

red rose, romance, valentine's, love, couples, love me like crazy, self-love, love addiction
© jamie street via unsplash

So let me try to summarize my scene.

I have spent my entire life —starting in pre-school— chasing after boys, claiming them as my own whenever possible, then dropping them sooner, or later.

I’ll spare you the details of primary school and pubescent romance (though I could name each boy for you if you asked me to).

If we fast forward to adulthood, starting at the age of 21, I never didn’t have a boyfriend (or husband). The longest gap between relationships (in the 25 year period since then) was 5 and 1/2 months, and that was actually because I had very seriously challenged myself to not be in a relationship for a year.

Even during my marriage I was tempted by, or started falling in love with, other men.

The bridge out of my marriage was a new relationship. Quite often I’ll leave one guy for another. It has been rather never-ending.

It took me a very long time to see that this pattern of being drawn like a moth to the porch light to the nectar of new love, this unquenchable thirst for connection and the feeling of being cherished and desired, is my own worst addiction. No drinky, no (more) smokey, but smoochy smoochy and fluttery heart and love notes and holding hands and … you get the drift.

What’s the problem here, you may ask? So, you’re into love! Love is the greatest! So it didn’t work out sometimes. And sometimes it did. What could be more holy than love, and the union between two people?

And you’d have a point. Except for when you sense that a tendency has become so heavy/troublesome/repetitive that it’s caused see-saw to tip and stay stuck that way, you realize (if you’re ready to be honest with yourself) that there’s a problem. That you keep doing the same stupid shit. That you are turning in circles.

And one fine day (not so long ago!!) I also realized that in addition to blindly repeating my mistakes (which leaves destruction in its wake, believe me), I was also avoiding myself. Expecting the “lover” to compensate for the love I craved but wasn’t able to produce for myself. Asking the impossible. Feeling little and unworthy but wanting “him” to make me feel big and loveable and alive.

And ever since my last relationship flopped (with the squashed cherry on top of the maybe-but-no love affair with my beloved high-school friend), I have taken my vows again.

One year… but this time it won’t be 5 1/2 months. One year is the strictest minimum. Not because I want to torture myself. Not because I enjoy random challenges. Not because I like going against what’s natural for me.

Simply because, to speak in addiction terms, I need to recover.

I need to figure out what has been hiding behind this mad love scramble. What I find may not be pretty. This process of recovery may not be easy. But more than anything, I want to feel truly happy in this life, I want to grow and evolve enough so that I feel I’m coming back to myself. To the happy kid I once was. To the happy woman I know I can be.

So if you want to be in my life, which it would appear you do, I invite you to be my friend. Nothing more, nothing less. I hope you understand.

© annie spratt via unsplash

I Don’t Want to Hear That (but I Need To)

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible. And then they didn’t.

Love me love me
Say that you love me
Leave me leave me
Just say that you need me

the Cardigans, Lovefool

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible.

And then they didn’t.

Then a few months later I got an email containing these words:

“I would have loved you, but you cling too tightly to your past and don’t see your own true self worth.”

There are three statements in there. In fact the entire email could provide therapy (or introspection) material for years. Ouch.

But today I’m going to try to look closer at his last statement: the suggestion that I don’t see my own true self worth.

Merriam Webster online

A trusted friend, with whom I then shared the email, ended her response to me with these words:

“One thing that he said that I wish were not true is that you don’t see your own true self worth. Of course you deserve to feel loved and honored and special by a partner for a lifetime.  I hope you can embody the energy in your statement and project the fact that you are amazing to the Universe so that the person who is waiting can find his way to you…”

She was sending me nothing but love and support. Yet something in me gets extremely squirmy with this talk. I get uncomfortable when other people underline such things they observe in me, even though in both above cases they are doing so because they want me to be happier, and feel better, more whole.

My first reaction is that something in me (ego) feels deficient, or imperfect, or ashamed.

Ashamed at my own struggle? Ashamed at not having figured it all out by now? Ashamed as if I’m not smart enough or sharp enough or grown-up enough to have achieved perfect balance? (You can hear the defensiveness creeping in already.)

Concurrent with not feeling grown-up enough is feeling small. Smaller than the others?

My second reaction is a realization that I understand the words “don’t see your own true self worth” but that they are not connecting to any meaning that translates to sensations, or feelings, or deep understanding inside me.

This seems to be a spot to start digging, n’est-ce pas…

My third reaction, arising now as I write, is that, in the true spirit of putting others’ needs before my own, I have so often been guilty of putting others’ judgements before my own. He thinks I’m X? She said I’m Y? They must be right…

An external opinion or judgement tends to throw me off kilter in a heartbeat. So I know I must also beware of giving others the power to know me better than I know my own self.

Or are others’ judgements only so powerful when they hit the nail on the head?

Or is it because they are joining forces with my inner judge (the maleficent voice within me that may already be stirring up harsh and hurtful energies or being ungenerous with me)?

To return for a moment to reaction #2 —that non-understanding of what it all even means— where do I begin?

Merriam Webster says it’s one’s sense of one’s own value as a human being. Not the value itself, but the sense we have of that value.

This is something I can see in others. I see and receive the light they emanate from within.

I guess I haven’t had much success thus far with perceiving that light that comes from inside me. Or sometimes I see it and feel it but for some reason it doesn’t translate to that sense of my own worth.

But I think the real stumbling block is the idea of “value”. As soon as things get quantitative, I get triggered.

Karen Froehlich commented on this blog a few days back:

One thing that helped me was learning that you don’t need to *do* anything to be worthy of love. 

Is she saying that I would be just as loveable (or worthy of love, including my own) if I didn’t do any good deeds? If I weren’t a “good person”? If I didn’t try so hard to do the right thing? Or if there were no way to “measure up” to myself or to anybody?

The comparisons my sister and I picked up and internalized over the years have not been beneficial. No one was ever trying to say one of us had more worth than the other, but for whatever reason, we each became fixated on what the other did better, or had more of.

Pedestals were a key building block in my family. I don’t think anyone was doing it on purpose. Placing each other up there was our way of saying, “I think you’re really cool, I admire you. Let me worship you for a sec.” And don’t get me wrong, it feels glorious, for a minute. Except it’s lonely up there. And there’s always a pedestal nearby (with a family member perched on it) that’s taller. Also, pedestals can fall, and that can be painful.

Pedestals are glorious, but it’s lonely up there.

image ©whosdenilo via unsplash

As soon as I start thinking about “value” I thought about praise, and merit, and about pedestal culture. I think I’ve got some more unravelling to do around these ideas.

This post is reading as scattered as I’m feeling. Not much in terms of dénouement so far. But there’s no point in hiding it. I am struggling. That’s the point of this project. I’m trying to figure it out and make progress, and that ain’t likely gonna happen in the time it takes to birth 4 blog posts. Just like recovery is a process (I’ve learned this through my job at the amazing, inspiring Allies in Recovery), so is learning to love oneself. I figure.

Several wise friends have pointed out over the years, including very recently, that I am Love. So each time I find myself chasing after Love, I should remember that I already am Love.

I really like how this sounds. But for the time being, it’s yet another idea that remains perfectly abstract to me. These are ideas that I’ve encountered late(r) in life and they clearly haven’t been assimilated. I will keep on the quest to get to the heart of it. And I know a few people who will help me.

photo by fellow heart-hunter lisa gwozdz Emoji

featured image: whosdenilo via unsplash

Conversation Hearts

This box of Conversation Hearts was calling out my name. “Converse with us!” they cried. The first one slammed me with the embarrassing question: What would have to change for me to become my own “dream date”?

On a trip home to the States over the holidays, during my one-and-only (but I must admit, ridiculously pleasurable) trip to the supermarket, I came upon some individual boxes of Conversation Hearts. The very same candies we were dropping in each other’s brown paper bags in third grade!

I grabbed some off the shelf and ended up giving them to my kiddos, and a few as mini-gifts in France. This morning (a bit belated, but what the heck) I decided to dedicate the last remaining box to myself.

conversation hearts, candy, valentine's day, self-love, self-respect, self-care, self-loathing, self-denial

Eating its contents is not of much interest (I’d much rather candy corn, sweet-tarts, or something with peanut butter) but I did realize that these little traditional Valentines sweets were calling out to me:

We are not just for eating! Have you noticed what we’re called?

I am here today to give this box of candy the chance to live out its purpose: we are going to have a conversation!

I picked 4 hearts to converse with.

#1— Dream Date

I picked this one for how uncomfortable it made me feel reading it. I mentioned in the first post that I’ve got a heap of ex’s. I didn’t mention, but I might as well, that I’m a serial relationship-seeker and I’m also a serial break-upper. I do not feel proud saying this aloud but it’s true.

My relationship-hopping will surely be studied in more depth on this blog at some point, but for now I’ll just say that this phenomenon has meant that I’ve pretty much never “dated”… I’ve never “put myself out there,” had a profile on a dating site, or known what it is to meet man after man and never quite find that spark. I wish I found fewer sparks. There’s never been a dearth of sparks in my easily inflammable heart.

So, the very idea of dating makes me nervous! I’m truly not much of a conversationalist (except with candy); my humor gets loosened up when I’m with people I know; I appreciate all things naked, but there’s something about a date (I imagine) where both parties are trying to figure out what’s really “behind the facade,” trying to expose each other in a short amount of time. Either that or trying to say the right thing so the person sitting across from you will like you. I don’t like it. It feels like a recipe for disaster either way.

But… I digress, because I don’t think that’s what the ‘Dream Date’ conversation heart was asking about.

I think this is the question hiding within it: What would have to change for me to become my own dream date? Put another way, what are the qualities I am hungry for in a dream date, and why couldn’t I start by seeking to embody those very qualities? Why do I need someone else to be what I need? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with being what I need?

OK. So if I close my eyes and imagine my dream date, that phantasm of a “perfect guy” I’m always chasing after, what is it I see?

  1. He’s physically strong (could carry me on his back and not just for 3 steps) with muscles I can ogle
  2. He’s the (my) epitome of healthiness (no worrisome cravings, has a balanced diet and exercises regularly without freaking out if he can’t get to the gym)
  3. He’s real (OK with sharing who he is, how he feels, what he’s been through, and quite importantly, what he thinks, even when it may contradict my thinking…)
  4. He’s passionate about at least some things & people (I know this does bring us onto the potentially shaky ground of extremes, but I just can’t take a lifetime of mild)
  5. He and I share some of the aforementioned passions!
  6. He has a huge heart—he’s not one of the millions of men struggling to embody empathy and compassion
  7. He’s got a twinkle in his eye from which I occasionally get tingles
  8. He makes me laugh deep from my belly
  9. Oh and last but truly not least: He’s figured out how to accept (and love?) himself so that I don’t have to compensate by loving him to a Herculean degree.

Ha! It’s a tall order, I’ll give you that.

If we apply this checklist to me (assuming that it’s a good thing to try to embody what you’re searching for) I’d say my real weak spots are 1, 2 and 9. And it’s not surprising to me that when I start envisioning “the guy” my first and foremost concerns are strength and health.

This list in indeed a good indication for me of what to pay attention to. If I could feel truly “healthy” and “alive” in this body, it would clearly change everything.

#2—Be True

I’m taking this one as a strong suggestion from the candy to Be True to Myself.

It’s much harder than it sounds, of this I’m pretty certain.

A people-pleaser is, by definition, better at tuning into, and granting, other people’s needs/wishes. Being a mother, at least for me, is more of the same.

Therefore, the people-pleaser/ mom-of-three that is myself must start practicing turning that dial back and forth, very slowly, listening very carefully, until I find the frequency that is mine.

Once I find it, and tune in, I’ll begin to get a better idea of what Being True to myself actually means. This is right there at the heart of my inquiry… so often I have felt confused, and devoid of ideas, when someone suggests I should honor my own needs and practice loving myself.

It has become clear that before I can do any such thing, I will need to figure out what those needs are (we all have some common ones, but we each have our own, too).

Living in France (19 years and counting…) and having wanted so badly at first to blend in, learn the ways, speak like a native, etc., may actually have led me further off the path of knowing myself and tuning into my own frequency.

I recall a time (curiously, it was the same trip during which my famous “cow patches” – otherwise known as vitiligo – appeared all over my arms ) when I was visiting my sister in New Mexico. I was so confused as to who I was, and how to blend in with her cool hip/hippie/hipster friends, that I reverted to my Russian accent (think “Red” from OITNB) and didn’t let go of it for the whole trip (BTW that was not the successful technique for blending in!).

#3—Sweet

I’m choosing to interpret this Conversation Heart, “sweet,” to be about my food cravings and compulsive eating of late.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty of that now. But I am curious about something I’ve heard people (this may be sister Emily again, or maybe Katie Silcox) suggesting: the idea that someone who is craving sweets may well be lacking sweetness in her life.

And whether that means

  • I’m not being sweet enough with others,
  • I’m not receiving enough sweetness from others, or
  • I’m not being sweet enough with sweet self…

…or ALL of the above, probably doesn’t matter so much. I’d probably be safe starting with the last one and there’s a good chance the rest will follow. Cookies and cake (and Lord, please spare me those disgusting French pastries and sorry-excuses-for-cookies!) will start materializing metaphorically all around me. Won’t they?

#4—Hug Me

This is a biggie for me.

Whenever I’m feeling sad and lonely, I walk around my life wishing for hugs. The irony of it all is that I may appear to be so cranky that those closest to me want to flee rather than open their arms to me. And that’s the biggest bummer of all.

So then I go around longingly eyeing strangers who look like they’d provide the kind of hug I’m looking for. Once, I lingered way too long at the farmer’s market in Caen in front of an organic vegetable and dairy stand because I was in desperate need of a hug, and this somewhat stout, jolly bearded fellow behind the stand appeared to be the ideal candidate. I never got up the nerve.

I was talking to my friend Virginie the other day. She’s a seeker too. We often find we’re exploring the same questions or challenges in our quest to feel whole, healthy and content.

While discussing the predominance of my “inner judge” (too critical!) as well as my need for big soothing hugs, she shared with me that a simple meditation/visualization that had been infinitely comforting to her.

She had called forth her “higher self…the me that’s made of light, and love,” she explained. And that Virginie made of love and light had taken the small, suffering, mortal Virginie in her arms and rocked her. While she saw this happening, she also felt this happening, and the tears flowed like when your Mama rocks you at just the right time.

This all sounds great but I will admit that connecting with the “Higher Isabel”, the one that is made of Light and Love, still feels like a foreign concept to me.

I don’t know how to go about it, I don’t feel I really “know” that facet of me, and the last time I tried, I felt like I was calling out in the dark and hearing no response.

But given the powerful cravings I have to be held, and given the fact that I am 6 months into my self-given challenge of 12 months (minimum!!) of remaining single, and given the fact that this is France, so even some of my closest friends just won’t be comfortable hugging me all day, I do need to pursue this avenue of free, ridiculously cathartic, magical hugs that I can orchestrate all by myself.

Amazing how much can be inside of one tiny candy heart.

Speaking of which, I have some candy left — any takers? Still not spoken for: Real Love, Cool, One Kiss, Call me, Nice, Smooches, Love, So Fine, One I Love.