The not-so-Annual Birthday Breakdown
Gosh, it's been a while since I posted one of these, hasn't it? As my girlfriends keep, ahem, reminding me, checking in with myself has not been much of a priority – I seem to have spent this pandemic, especially, looking after everyone else except myself. Spoiler alert: I've gotten much better at that this year. But it's still a constant struggle to keep from leaping into old habits.
And this week I of course got my annual reminder of why it's been so difficult to get out of the habit of putting my needs last. Yup, the years before five last the rest of their lives... Especially when the person you've had to put strong boundaries up for uses the occasion of your birth – the one day a year when those who care about you are celebrating your presence in the world (the good, the bad, and the boundaried) – to remind you she doesn't like your boundaries, or the fact that she can't manipulate you out of having them any more.
And after Slanderpalooza 2022, I really didn't have the spoons to deal with that reminder again this year. So yes, I spent a bit of time in the abyss, but – yay me! – quickly recognized it, stopped myself from hitting "send" on my response, and was able to call upon my therapist's words from previous years: "well, OF COURSE she did, why would you expect any different?"
No, I don't expect any different. I don't expect she'll ever be able to get to different. Even though there's still that little one inside me who still hopes that maybe if I try hard enough, am good enough, tap-dance my ass off, then maybe, just maybe, I'll be entitled to put my own needs first every once in a while. (Spoiler alert: I am and I always was, it's just that the grown-ups around little me were incapable of teaching little me that, or allowing little me that, so she still needs convincing.)
After dragging myself out of the abyss, with "well, OF COURSE she did" ringing in my ears, the 'birthday greeting' became almost comical (in a laugh-until-you-cry way, at least) in its over-the-top blatant reminder of why I had to go "no contact" in the first place. I mean, the 'birthday greeting' didn't even include a variation on the theme of "Happy Birthday!", FFS. No checking in on how I'm doing, no wishing me well, even the email subject was simply "raffle tickets". She had bought said raffle tickets to support an organization that helps a friend of hers. If one of the tickets was the winner, I would have to get in touch with her (i.e., break my own boundaries) to collect my prize, since I'm not a resident of the province. Oh, and then the sign-off that she doesn't like that I'm still no-contact. I SHIT THEE NOT.
And yet, that little young piece of me still needed me to talk this over with others before being convinced that this was an inappropriate intrusion into my happy day, and I deserved better, on my birthday especially, no need for tapdancing.
THANK DOG FOR GIRLFRIENDS
I'm jumping ahead a bit, into the "what have I learned this year?" section of the Birthday Breakdown. But it's important. Because one thing I've especially learned this past year is to better trust my friendships with women – and realize just how anxious I had been in those relationships before, after those early years of having it modelled that relationships with women weren't safe (the above instance being but one example), imperfection was punishable, I must drop everything to help but never expect my needs to be met, etc. Somehow, my subconscious still believed that Ali was the only safe female friend. And yet I've somehow ended up with a group of "ride or die" female friends in my corner (one of their husbands calls us "the coven") – and one of the effects of Slanderpalooza 2022 (I'll get to that) is that I was shown there are far more others in my corner than I'd have ever believed.
Okay, back to the Birthday Recap portion of this post, before I get too teary... Knowing the actual birthday was going to be busy with non-celebratory stuff, I'd already declared it Birthday Week (beginning Friday with a visit from Ali, and continuing through this weekend, because... why not?), and spent birthday eve enjoying decadent delivery, and the rest of the week has been doing exactly whatevertheheckIwant. I'm still fighting off the "oh, but you should get X done before you eat" voice, but it's been an interesting exercise. Also, crème brulée is definitely a breakfast food. You're welcome.
What have I learned this year?
Holy hell, plenty. I mean, that was to be expected, to some extent, since I did go back to school – a 9-month certificate course, "Healing Trauma in Community." Which was AMAZING. The first third was mostly focused on self-regulation, and making sure your own unhealed trauma didn't get in the way, or make things worse for others. A lot of that part was review of the last gazillion years of trauma therapy for me, but it certainly gave me a few new tools and insights. The biggest flash-of-lightning-zapping-my-brain-into-a-million-pieces came with the second section, in which we started into interpersonal reactions with other people. And manohman, did it ever help open my eyes to how and why I have been so quick to say "yes" – or not even wait to say it – to diving in and rescuing others. One of the first exercises we did in that segment was to just sit quietly and listen to other people talking about their trauma – don't do anything, don't react in any way, just pay attention to what's happening in your body. Well, lemme tell ya, it's a good thing it was a virtual classroom, because all my body wanted to do was crawl through the computer screen and FIX THE PROBLEM for the person, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, don't even double-check if you're actually helping, JUST DO THE THING THAT YOU THINK WILL HELP, SO THEY WILL BE RESCUED AND NOT HAVE TO FEEL ANY DISCOMFORT WHATSOEVER.
This might explain how I ended up on three Boards of helping organizations, did my best to support a bunch of others, and was surprised that I totally burned out after the first year of the pandemic (when everyone else was complaining they were bored).
Apparently my co-dependent tiara was still staple-gunned to my scalp, even though I'd previously learned how to recognize it and run for the hills in romantic situations. Now to apply that to the rest of my life...
The third section of the course was the healing-in-a-healthy-way of others' traumatic reactions in group settings. Being able to see where one person's traumatic reaction is going to (or has already) set off another's, which might set off another's... and finding a way to interact with everyone to bring the group back to centre, so that positive and productive communication can take place. (Which ain't ever gonna happen if everyone's spinning in their own trauma spirals.) Which, I think, gets the credit for me not getting set off (as badly) by my 'birthday greeting', bouncing into my own spiral, and amplifying the ick. Well worth the tuition, I'd say!
So many more insights to follow, and lots of new practises that helped prepare me both for the 'birthday greeting' and Slanderpalooza, and life in general. I'm already signed up for the alumni program, and looking forward to working with the next cohort of students – while continuing to learn, as well.
I learned that it's NOT a pipe dream to hold out hope that (emotionally mature) people will do the work and get to a place where they can take responsibility for their part of a relationship rupture. I was pleasantly surprised, nay, overwhelmed and floored when someone who had been one of my closest friends, a friendship I'd thought we'd lost, came for a visit because he'd wanted to have that conversation in person. Incredibly healing, not just for our friendship, but for my sense of attachments in general (see above if you need reminding why I have trouble believing that others will take responsibility for their share of relationship ruptures).
I learned that I might be slightly (!) nuts, when I adopted two cats into the menagerie. I did not learn that I have a soft spot for misfits – because I've always known that – as these two were the last sisters of a 7-kitten litter who nobody would adopt, because one had a bad eye, and the other had some brain damage (don't we all?). Cadeau and Gráinne (I had to rename her, because Peppermint just didn't fit) are the sweetest, most affectionate little girls. Jasper is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that cats don't like to play the same games (i.e., "chase") as dogs do, but they're making progress. (Macie could care less, although she does like bossing around Jasper when he gets in trouble.)
Adoption Day - Cadeau on the left, Gráinne on the right, crazy woman in the middle
Macie and Jasper's 2022 Glamour Shot, by Madd Have Photography, so they don't feel left out
I learned that some people (and "news" media outlets) are fool enough to believe (and spread) shit-talk about a person without asking for a single shred of evidence. That part sucked. But as a result of certain City Council members' ridiculous campaign to slander me and the organization I volunteer for (which holds City Council accountable for their actions – ahem ahem, ulterior motive, anyone?), I also learned that if you live a life of integrity, the vast majority of people will see through the bullshit and stand by your side. Even people who were previously total strangers. (I was also reminded that lawyers are bloody expensive, and that it is a very privileged place to be able to defend yourself from this bullshittery.)
I mean, it wasn't fun when the lies first started pouring out. I was instantly thrown back (and they had to know this would be the case, because I'd previously referenced this in both an open letter and a deputation to Council regarding the city's workplace harassment case) to my grandfather's campaigns to discredit me when speaking up about my family's "imperfections" (and, even after he died, the shit-talk hitting the papers about me as well). In that young, little part of my mind, I was about to be cast out for speaking out, everybody would believe the lies about me and I'd be all alone for the rest of my pathetic little life.
Fortunately, Little Lyssy's fears were put to rest rather quickly, as people (even those who had no clue who I was until Slanderpalooza hit) asked for evidence of the claims – and of course were given none. Total strangers wrote to me with support. Total strangers stood up for me. The non-profit I volunteer for got a bunch of new members and several hundred dollars of donations. Unlike the tiny world that used to be my family, the big wide world doesn't take too well to powerful people trying to silence the truth. Little Lyssy's fears of being silenced and discredited were proven to be as unsubstantiated as the allegations against me. No tapdancing required. My accusers' campaign backfired on so many levels, and I was reminded of the insights and life lessons that had come about from taking the Healing Trauma in Community course. Little did I know when I gave myself that course as a Birthday/Christmas present last year...
My lord, if I were to tell you all the things I'd learned on this course, we'd be here until next birthday. (Egads, I forgot to even mention the Understanding Narcissism Summit I'd also attended – oy!) Much of it is still percolating through ye olde noggin. Not to mention what I've learned from the girlfriends – I mean, these are women who tell me NOT to look after their needs before my own (it's not just Ali, ohmygodohmygod), and yet they still love me. This is still difficult to absorb, but I'm starting to get used to it.
Those who have read my rants in previous years will be happy (if surprised) to read that I've learned to take a me-day without guilt. That I've learned to delegate instead of instantly volunteering. To ignore the "ding" of a text message if I'm busy with something else. To use the "do not disturb" function on my devices. I know, shocking.
What do I want to learn in the coming year?
Well, a continuation on the work-in-progress of solidifying the above lessons.
I REALLY want to learn how to COMPLETELY get rid of the "I'll only be lovable once I [insert super-human feat here]" voice of bullshit.
Learn how to be comfortable saying "no" without first writing a 40-page essay in my head about why that's the correct answer. (Baby steps.)
Learn to stop silencing myself pre-emptively – ouch, good luck with that.
Ah, living with C-PTS, there's always a shit-ton of learning left to do...
But it's nasty outside, even the dogs don't want to go out for long. So I'm going to spend the rest of the day near the fire and get started on some new books. Yes, I have some reading-for-pleasure ones too, but am especially eager to get started on some of these. Wonder why...
Yes, I guess there will be some new book reports coming out soon, too.
And thanks again to Merrill Markoe, for getting me started on this not-exactly-annual ritual with her book "It's My F—ing Birthday" – and my sister for gifting it to me those many years ago, although I don't think she realized what she was doing at the time...