D is for Do Overs and Deal Breakers (and perhaps a peek at Dumped)

Like any good writer, I want to rewrite everything as soon as I put it up. And so it has been with the previous three blog posts. Were I to do them again, they might look something like this:

B is for Body (we go into dating with the bod we have, not the bod we wish we had, and certainly not the 35-year-old body I had last time I dated, 22 years ago. This time it’s different!)

A is for Age (or I’m old enough to date a 70-year-old? When did that happen? Maybe 70 really is the new 50.)

C is for Compassion and Curiosity (both necessary tools for this adventure, both as lenses through which to see ourselves and those we encounter. What drives us? How difficult have our journeys been to this point?)

So, that’s part of the Do Over part of Do Overs, Deal Breakers, and Dumped. Maybe I’ll start over again with A on May 1 and see how far I get.

Onto Deal Breakers. Turns out dogs and kids weren’t deal breakers. Who knew? Last year was chock full of surprises that way. But what might a deal breaker be? Where do I draw my boundaries?

One of my aforementioned BFFs (see A is for Alcohol) has been at this far longer than I and had a few words for me at the outset: “Write down your non-negotiables up front. Know what they are and screen for them right away.” Her non-negotiables? They had to have been married before, and any potential dates have to live within 25 minutes of her house. She doesn’t want to waste time traveling, which seemed reasonable. She also suggested I screen for age.

Those parameters, applied to lesbians in this county, left me with exactly no matches. And besides, how does Has to Have Been Married work with lesbians, anyway? We couldn’t get married until 2015. And many of us were together with our partners for so long we were essentially married. So, that couldn’t be one of my deal breakers. To my BFF, never being married signaled a certain type of inflexibility. I don’t think it is the same in the lesbian world.

And granted, Second Date, she of the sexy hybrid, had lived in town for many years and weirdly, our paths had not crossed until we met on Match.com. We had maybe two people we knew in common. But otherwise, slim pickings here. So, distance could not be a factor. I dialed that option wide open: Portland, Seattle, Eastern Washington maybe.

As for age . . . well. My preferences skew north. Anyone who knows me knows that. I am technically a Baby Boomer (I should probably say that quietly these days), albeit a boomer with no pension who may not ever see a social security check or Medicare coverage, so sit down millennials. I just was born about ten years too late. I spent my early relationship with a woman 12 years my senior and became very comfortable with her friends who were even older. It’s my comfort zone, and I find myself attracted to older women. I’ve decided to lean into it.

Life is just too damn short for arbitrary lines in the sand. We can’t protect ourselves from heartbreak and search for love at the same time. We can’t. The two are mutually exclusive.

So what IS a non-negotiable for me? Addiction. Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of self-awareness. Inflexibility. An inability to turn toward the other with kindness. The Gottmans have a great article on the need to turn toward our intimate partners, to move to rather than away from. The ability to make connection with our partners/spouses helps love last.

I got dumped rather unexpectedly and unceremoniously in January. It hurt. I recovered. Life goes on. Love will return. If we let it.

The Pinocchio Paradox, or How to be a Real Counselor

The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”                                                                                                                                         —Carl Jung

methow morning
My writing table in the Methow Valley

A year ago I sat at this very table faced with the onerous task of writing a final class paper. Again, I have the same chore in front of me, albeit for a different class. Back then, I had to write a proposal for a group therapy group. Now I must reflect upon my time as a practicum student, as a fledgling counselor seeing clients for the very first time. What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? (No, it doesn’t say weaknesses, the assignment says “areas of growth” but we all know what that really means). What did I learn about my clients? How did I experience myself in supervision, and how do I want to grow in this area?

Let me just say this at the outset: seeing clients for the first time, the first two, three, four, five times is flat out terrifying. I’ve had two years of classes and coursework preparing me for sitting in a room with someone who wants help. I’ve participated in numerous role-plays and fish bowls and practice sessions with my student colleagues. I’ve had more personal therapy than the average bear over the last twenty-five years, and still. What can I possibly do for the anxious or the depressed, the overtaxed, the under functioning, the overcompensating, the abandoned, the unloved, the overachieving, the lonely, and the traumatized who sit in the chair across from me?

How can I possibly help?

For years I wanted nothing more than to be a therapist. The women I most admired were the ones who had listened from that chair as I unburdened myself of my anxieties, depressions, anguish, loneliness, and traumas. I thought about how amazing it would be if I could bring the same sort of listening ear, the same sort of compassion, the same sort of hope to others that these women had given to me. But I didn’t think I was healthy enough to be a counselor. I didn’t believe that I had the capacity to help myself, let alone anyone else.

But then in the spring of 2013 I had a chance encounter with the author Claire Messud who wrote The Woman Upstairs and The Emperor’s Children. We chatted about her character Nora and what happens to us as we age and begin to realize that perhaps our previously unlimited horizons are shrinking. At some point, Ms. Messud said to me, you wake up and realize that you simply don’t have enough time left on this earth to fulfill all of your dreams. Where once so much was possible, you begin to grasp the reality that you’ve reached a point where that is no longer the case.

That is when I understood that regardless of what I thought about my own mental health or lack thereof, if I didn’t do something about pursuing my dream my horizon would shrink even further. If I didn’t enroll in school soon, my dream might slip away. I signed up for the necessary prerequisites and enrolled at Antioch a few months later.

And what I’ve learned in the time since then, and particularly this quarter as I’ve worked directly with clients, is that my experience on the other side of the couch, my years as a client, what I previously saw as my greatest weakness, is actually my greatest strength and most valuable asset.

What I have learned in practicum and in supervision is that I am enough. Who I am is precisely what I need to be to be effective with clients. I haven’t learned this from my clients. I’ve learned this from my peers primarily, and from my instructors, and from my own therapists. And slowly I’m beginning to see it for myself, from within myself. And that’s the thing—we usually can’t see in ourselves our own strengths. As I move forward into my second quarter of practicum and then into a full year of internship, my greatest opportunities for growth will be in recognizing my own strengths and trusting my own wisdom, sourcing my confidence from within rather than looking to others to reflect my strengths back to me.

I’ve learned from my clients that they too have all they need within them and simply need to be heard, to be given a chance to lay their vulnerabilities and fears out there in order to sort through them, evaluate and ponder, decide what’s working and what’s not, learn how to hang on to the useful and discard the useless. While self love and self compassion are the ultimate goals, sometimes we need external validation from someone we trust, someone whose values align with our own, someone who can see what we’re seeing and tell us we aren’t crazy or imagining things. Sometimes we just need to be seen and heard in a world that seems to be ignoring us.

I learned basically the same thing in supervision that I learned from my clients—I learned to trust myself, that I didn’t need to put on a persona or be an all knowing font of wisdom or channel the great mystics of the ages. I learned to be real, to be myself,

The actual Pinocchio
The actual Pinocchio

to trust my instincts, and to be present. I learned that I am enough and to bring my self to the sessions. I think my greatest learning this quarter came when I was seeing my own counselor and parsing through my anxieties about practicum and seeing clients. She stood up and walked over to a cabinet near me, opened the glass door and took out a porcelain Pinocchio statue. She set Pinocchio on the small table between us and asked me what Pinocchio wanted more than anything.

“To be real,” I answered. “He wanted to be a real boy.”

“Exactly,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to be real, Pam. When you are real, you are enough.”

 

 

 

 

C is for Compassion

COn my run this morning, I spent most of the time pondering what to write today, what C word I wanted to focus on. Running brings to mind many things that start with C: competition, clothes, chafing, character, courses, Carol Frazey (Fit School Guru, coach), Cami Ostman (inspiration, writer, runner of marathons, friend). Circles (as in my favorite running route, which is essentially a circle).

Between thoughts of what to write about, I discovered I was chastising myself rather relentlessly. And that’s when my topic for today came to me: Compassion. For myself and for others.

I saw a headline on Facebook the other day that said something like “imagine if we talked to other people the way we talk to ourselves.” I thought about that for a moment (I didn’t click through to the article, but I could imagine well enough how it went). I don’t think I’d have many friends if I talked to others the way I talk to myself.

Imagine if I said these things to my running buddies: “Come on you lazy ass—get out of bed already. You can sleep when you die.” “Ugh, you really need some new running clothes. These are so unflattering.” “Jesus, pick up the pace already.” “Don’t breathe so loud! You’re scaring the other runners.” “How can you still be so slow after a whole year of this?” “I HATE running. Why do I torture myself?” “You should be better at this by now.”

Then, I considered not just what I say silently to myself, but what I think about other people as I run. I make up all kinds of crazy stories and confer relentless judgments on people I see on my routes, especially if they impede me in some way. Like groups that take up the entire width of the trail, or folks that smoke as they walk, or parents with children (in strollers, on bicycles, or running free range), or those that don’t keep their dogs on leashes. Never mind the people that don’t pick up after their dogs.

I have HUGE judgments and my internal monologues about them can be just as brutal as the ones I have about myself. This is not an easy admission—in fact I feel a great deal of shame as I even write it. And once I had this epiphany this morning, I immediately started practicing compassion. I don’t know what is going on in anyone’s life but my own, so it’s time I started cutting everyone some slack. What would it hurt me to give folks the benefit of the doubt? To show a little love to my fellow travelers and cut down on the snark and self-absorption?

I know for a fact that I’ll feel better. I’ve written a lot about running happy and how running does in fact make me happy. But maybe it’s time I start spreading some joy while I’m out there. Smiling instead of grimacing.

I have made a few friends on the trail in the past year—there’s the lady with Buddy the Dog who walks nearly every morning. And Diane, who stopped me one day last summer to tell me how great I looked. We talk now and then. And John, who is out there religiously. There are the women with the stroller, one of whom wears bright orange shoes and a skort. We wave and smile and warn one another if we see something suspicious.

I feel a little bit like the soft drink commercial—the one where the bottle of soda gets passed around to whomever is in the most distress. As sappy as that ad is, it still makes me misty. Something magical happens when ease up and spread a little love.

Compassion falters,
and then I remember: We’re
in this together.