A Closet, the Man and an Epiphany


So far this week, my closet collapsed into a heaping mess, I wept like a dramatic teenage girl, and I had an epiphany as I lay on my bathroom floor. It has been a busy week…and it is only Tuesday morning.

It started out simple enough while I was putting away clothes on Sunday night. I reached up to place a couple of shirts on the stack, and everything came crashing down. Since I was completely unaware of the stress my closet had been under, this mangled mess of clothes, hangers, shoes and wire shelving was somewhat of a shock. Apparently, I had hit the load bearing weight limit. As I stood there looking at what appeared to be a scene from a Hoarding: Buried Alive episode, I thought, “Well shit. It’s time for a beer.”

After a beer or three, I decided to text a friend about how much I missed him. This friend is a fellow veteran. A few months before we had started to text and call each other, and it became an everyday staple for me. We laughed. We flirted. We became friends. We talked about nearly everything under the sun. He wanted to become a teacher. I wanted to write books. We both did photography. We planned a couple of visits and had two of the most memorable weekends of my life. We stayed up half the night talking about our pasts, pain, and dreams. We hiked on a trail and in a canyon while photographing every nuance of nature we saw. We drove around singing songs on the radio together. We held hands and kissed. When I looked into his eyes, I really SAW him. I could see his spirit and the man he was and wanted to be. I was absolutely comfortable in his presence. There were no pretenses or masks – it was honest and true.

This was my first visit to Providence Canyon. We spent a few hours just walking around, laughing and enjoying each other and the beauty around us. It was an amazing place and time that will always be connected.

Due to living a few hours away from each other, most of our time was on the phone though. As the weeks passed, life became an obstacle. He started a new job. He was under a lot of stress. I left for a month on military duty. I was getting busy at both of my jobs. We still chatted but they were becoming less frequent. I was starting to ask if there was something wrong. I was starting to get sad. We had never really agreed on a relationship status due to the long-distance issue, but clearly some sort of one had formed and I was starting to feel the pain of its absence.

As we walked through along the trail, we photographed everything. Two photographers on a trail...winds up being a short walk with lots of pictures.

As we walked through along the trail, we photographed everything. Two photographers on a trail…winds up being a short walk with lots of pictures.

So, in true girl form, I started to act weird. I started creeping on his Facebook page. I posted sad messages about loneliness. Why is he online but not replying to me? I replayed sappy love songs. (See song below.) Why didn’t he invite me to see him last weekend when we were both available? I wrote depressing poems. What did I do that made him stop caring? I lay around staring at nothing. Did he even mean all that he said before? You know, the entire litany of questions that lonesome unloved souls chant went through my head. I was embarrassing.

(This is the video that became my theme song during his silence, and every time I hear it, I will remember the passion and pain.)

 

Some of my friends had been telling me to stop being upset. We had not known each other very long. He wasn’t in a place for a relationship. He was not ready. He was too young. (He is 13 years younger than I am. Yes, I a may be a cougar.) These things may all be true, but I knew what I felt. I heard his voice. I felt his kindness. I saw his heart. I know what we had. No matter how short, it was real. It was passionate. He was sincere.

With all of that replaying in my head and after beer four, l looked over at the contents of my wardrobe in a massive pile and started to cry. Clearly, he never even cared about me. (As I write this I realize, the connection of these two situations are a bit thin, but in the beer-induced frenzy, it made perfect sense at the time.) My mind kept playing questions (see above) over and over…and over in my head. I could not stop wondering what he was doing. I was looking to see his online status. I would speculate if the girl who liked his post was prettier. Was time with her the cause of his less frequent chats with me? Yet, in the back of my head, I knew I was acting crazy and dramatic and was creeping myself out. So in efforts to remove myself from the temptation and torture of cyber stalking him – I unfriended him. With a click of a button, that was it. Our friendship was over.

Of course, real lives do not react as immediate as they appear on social media. I was still hurt and upset. He was confused and pissed that I just deleted him. I tried to pretend that it did not matter and by the next afternoon, I was on my bathroom floor weeping.

It was the teenage girl kind of weeping that shook your entire body and soul. It was heart wrenching and pathetic. I was in pain of lost love. I beat myself up mentally. Clearly, there was something wrong with me. I was unlovable. No wonder why he stopped talking to me, I was crazy. Why did I have to take a chance? I was ridiculous for even thinking I could carry on a long-distance relationship, especially with someone so young. It was a horrible conversation that would have made for a great Hallmark movie.

However, as I lay there in a puddle on my bathroom floor, I had an epiphany. He was the last straw. He was those last few shirts to surpass the weight limit. Losing him, whether self induced or not, was more than I could bear. I collapsed just as my closet did.

For years, I have been running around taking care of things and people. I have had to deploy and still take care of things at home. I had to finally deal with a divorce that had been pending for over 10 years. I had to find a new place to live after deployment. I had to start a brand new civilian job immediately upon redeploying and moving into that new-to-me house. Shortly thereafter, I started a command job in the Reserves (or wet cat herding as I like to call it). I had to help the kids cope with the adjustment phase of bouncing back and forth from my house to dads now that I was back home. I had to take over caring for my daughter’s dog since she started college and was busy with her job and sorority. I had to be the strong one for my sisters who were going through horrible times. I had to assist dad move into my house after mom died. I had to start the plans to replace my car that had 215,000 miles on it. I had …. I had… I had. The list just went on and on, and I soldiered up and did it all. Suck up and drive on is what we always say in the Army. I was driving all right but the path was sucking the life right out of me. Each battle was taking a chunk out of my armor.

With all of this going on in my life, my friend had quickly served as a beacon of light for me. He was comfort and safety. He made me laugh and feel joy. He became my north and grounded me from the insanity of my demands. Hearing his voice washed away my stress. Seeing his smile soothed my soul. If he was in my corner, I could make it. I wanted to make it. I had hope.

Therefore, when I felt him slipping away, it was all I could take. I felt lost and alone. I suddenly became as frantic as a trapped wild animal. In my moments of fear and self-doubt, I interpreted his moments of silence as personal attacks and rejection. I took his distance as some sign that he must have lied. I was ridiculous.

With the hindsight that an epiphany brings, it all makes sense. It’s no wonder I was absurd. I felt like I was losing my support system. Like my closet, he was becoming my rails, my strength. Without him in my corner, I could not bear any more weight.

As I dig through the pile of clothes and pain, I know I need to rebuild. I must clean out my closet, literally and figuratively. It will not happen overnight, and I am not exactly sure where the support will come from. However, I do know it cannot rely on one person. That is not fair to them or me. One rail cannot support an entire closet of pain, resentment and stress. Step by step I will rebuild a more elaborate support system and pick myself up off the ground.

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Master of Resiliency or Mask of Happiness?


With the death of Robin Williams recently, I started thinking about loneliness and depression. People seem to be surprised that someone so fun and happy could take his own life. I loved his work, but I cannot say I followed his personal life, so I can only guess on his struggles.

What I do know from my own life experiences though, is that those fun and happy people are often the ones most in need. They are the life of the party, always positive and ever so happy. They are trying new things and always on the go. How could they be sad?

Reasons for someone’s sadness are too many to guess, but I know that when I am sad, I get busier. It is as if I will not feel any pain if I am doing things. I will not feel lonely if strangers surround me at some event. I will not feel lost if I am out in nature. If I photograph beautiful things, I will absorb that glow into my soul. Sometimes it works. Other times it is just a mask for some ache in my heart.

People say I am brave for going solo to things (like concerts, sporting events, or dinners). I do not think it is bravery but a necessity. First of all, I spent so many years NOT doing things and being miserable that I feel like I MUST make up for lost time. I lost years in unhappy relationships and multiple deployments. And through some of that time, I lost myself. I forgot who I was in those relationships. I could not recall what I needed or wanted. I merely existed to make other people happy.

Ironically, deployments helped center me in many ways. I recalled who I was, what I was capable of and what made me tick. I felt as though I had accomplished things that mattered. I saw the world and gained an appreciation for life. However, those years took time from loved ones that I could never get back – time where I could have worked on those relationships and myself.

Therefore, in effort to gain some ground on life, I try to seize the moments I can. I will take myself to the symphony in a fancy dress. I will get a horse and then figure out how to ride. I will sign myself up for a painting or trapeze class. I want to live. I want to see and feel all I can. I want to appreciate and use up every moment I have for those who never made it home from war, and the girl who lost all that time.

What I have realized recently though, is that my other reason for staying busy is to curb sadness. It is hard to frown when you are white water rafting or listening to some amazing violinist who makes you want to dance. It is nearly impossible to feel disconnected to the world while doing paddleboard yoga. Some of my greatest moments of peace come when I am wandering through the woods on my horse. I have also been pleasantly surprised that I can actually paint a fill-in-the-line design that does not look like a 4th grader did it (perhaps a 6th grader, but definitely not 4th).

I did not realize that by doing these things I was hiding my feelings of sadness…until I stopped. When left sitting alone, I felt, well… alone. Not that I do not need and enjoy moments of solitude, but there are times I fill the void of company with activity. It is as if I am trying to prove to myself that I am not wasting space on the earth. If I embrace all that life has to offer, I must be living it. If I am filling my time with accomplishments of events, I will feel complete.

The Army has started giving courses on resiliency. They cover character strengths, putting things into perspective and hunting good things for your spirit. The courses I have received instruction on so far are quite interesting and thought provoking. With those courses in mind, I think, maybe I am not necessarily depressed as much as I am resilient at holding that hopelessness back from controlling me. If I stay active and self aware, I can conquer those moments of darkness when they try to cloak my spirit for joy.

With a four-day weekend coming up, I have a full calendar of events in my I-don’t-have-time-for-stupid-sadness arsenal. They range from learning to make sushi to kayaking to witnessing a field of hot air balloons. I know it all sounds random, but such is my life. (And arsenals by definition need to be all encompassing, don’t they?) So after I jampack my free time with a laundry list of adventures, I can decide on whether I am embracing life, hiding misery or mastering resiliency…that is, if I find time.

Why does your love hurt?


I sit and wonder how you are

We used to call, we used to write

We used to laugh and talk all night

 

When I met you, our embrace was real

I felt you, I saw you in those eyes

Now I sit alone and am not sure why

 

Are the words you said real

Am I wrong for how I feel

Can I not be your friend

Am I wrong for not wanting it to end

 

I want to help you

But you shut me out

And I am left alone

Trying to figure it out

 

Friends say I shouldn’t be sad

He wasn’t ready, just be glad

 

But they don’t know the you I saw

They didn’t experience the great fall

It was real

It was sweet

It was the world at my feet

 

But maybe I just wanted to see what you couldn’t give

Maybe I am not what will help you live

As a friend, I hope you find your way

And I hope you know I loved you today

 

I tried to help, I tried to care

But you left me feeling stupid and bare

So know I meant every word I said

And think about how you left me feeling dead

 

*These were my thoughts on love…after drinking.

Honesty and Responsibility


Throughout my life, I have traveled to foreign countries, done a number of jobs, and experienced a good bit of life. Some of it has been utterly amazing and other bits, downright awful. I have always thought that experiences, whether good or bad, are what you make of them. Not that you can make some horrible scarring event good or pretend some dictator-like boss is wonderful, but  you can control what you take from the experience.

Did that bad boss teach you what not to do? Did your cheating boyfriend make you more aware of the signs of dishonesty? Did the sounds of rockets teach you to appreciate every moment?

I promised myself that my bad experiences would not taint me. I try not to be the employee who disrespects every leader thinking I know a better way to do things. I never wanted to be that bitter girl who hates all men. And, I try to look around and really SEE what I have rather than complain about what I don’t.

These experiences do frame your perspective on future events no matter how hard we try to avoid it though. With the right awareness, this is does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. I suppose it can just be a part of growing up and getting wiser. Perhaps that is why the elder of a village is sought out for advice. Or why a grandparent can offer such wisdom. Or why another veteran can sympathize with your reactions to whistles or fireworks. Without these experiences, we could be different people.  If we were different though, would that be better?

Since I can only deal with the life I have been given, I have had to learn to accept things, work around challenges and compromise occasionally. Many experiences have made me stronger and more resilient.  I can pay my own bills and mow my own grass. I can tolerate your rudeness. I can attempt your work plan without complaint.

However, I do have things I refuse to accept and bend on. I loathe dishonest and irresponsible people. I am not talking about the occasional white lie or day where you slack off and don’t put in a good days work. (Aren’t we all guilty of that here and there?) I am referring to people who are ALWAYS dishonest. The people who you KNOW are lying and are only out for themselves. These may or may not be the same people who never pay their bills on time. Or the people who never return your borrowed tools. Or the married guy who has a girlfriend?

Call me judgmental. Call me a snob. Call me a prude. I really don’t care. I call it independence, self worth and knowing where I draw the lines – my lines for my life.  I have learned that I can’t deal with people like that.  Nor do I want to try. I have to pay my bills, budget and plan to get the things I need and want. Why is OK for you to live outside of your means, not pay your bills and then expect some leniency on what you owe? I have to come to work on time and return emails requesting support or information. Why is OK for you to show up when you feel like it, without consequence, and not reply when something is needed from you? I am expected to act like a mature adult at work. Why do you think it’s OK to curse at someone about a personal issue for 30 minutes on a work phone? I have to answer to my boss about projects that I may or may not always like to do. Why do you think you can argue with me about your assigned tasks?

Or, my personal favorite, how does someone justify flirting with another person and forget to mention that they are married or in a serious relationship? I don’t care if you have been married for 47 years, your partner is cold and mean, or if you are just co-existing with someone, if I could not hold your hand in public or post a picture of us on a social media site without fear, please don’t lead me on.  It’s not cool – at all. I happen to believe there is some truth on the phrase, ‘if they cheat with you, they will cheat on you.’

Maybe I am old fashioned and believe in fairytales (see my previous blog on love), but I think that honesty and responsibility are admirable qualities in people. I believe that how you treat people and how you handle your responsibilities, says a lot about who you are. Those things tell me if you are a good person. They show me if I should hire you. They reveal whether I should trust your word. They indicate if I can rely on you. If all of those signs point in a bad direction, you can safely assume I will not interview you, let you borrow my camera or accept your romantic offer.  This may mean that I will be single and have fewer employees. However, at the end of the day, I will still have a small but solid team, my camera and my dignity.