Monday, December 24, 2007

My Christmas Friends Matt, Yeardley, Ana, and Ravi

Picture is the promo card for "She of Little Faith", the 6th episode from The Simpsons' 13th season. It first aired on December 16, 2001. (See here for details.)

I'm off work for the Christmas holiday and I've been watching a lot of The Simpsons on DVD while I unpack. After 7 months, I finally got my own place and my possessions out of storage. It is a huge relief to have my life back, and my apartment is beautiful. It has new hardwood floors, a balcony, and is the perfect size for me and my stuff. I finally have my bed, my desk, and most importantly, my own space. I also have internet hooked up, but not TV, which is why I'm watching DVDs.

Watching The Simpsons is comforting to me because my brother was a huge Simpsons fan, and the show reminds me of his sense of humor, how we bonded over Simpsons quotes, and happy times with him. This time of year is always hard for me. Holidays in general are difficult because I miss him and they bring up painful family memories, but as New Years Eve, Jeff's birthday, approaches, my regret, anger, and sadness intensifies. Every year since he died is a year of life he missed out on.

He died in 1997 after season 8 ended (amazing that the show is still going, and the movie came out this year), and I am the proud owner of seasons 1 through 8, complete with deleted scenes, storyboards and other animation extras, and, best of all, commentary. Truly I am a geek, because I love listening to Matt Groening, the directors, animators, writers, Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson, Jeff's favorite character) and other actors and guest voices talk about the episodes. The writers especially remind me of my brother. I can picture Jeff getting along very well with them, and geeking out with them for hours. He would have turned 30 in a week.

I have also been reading The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans (1992, 1996, Adams Media). It has been helpful in making sense of abusive behavior, much like Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (2002, Berkley). Abuse is very confusing, because the person doing it says they love you and care for you, but they do things that hurt you tear down your self-esteem and confidence. There is also a lot of conditioning involved, so as you get used to it and come to accept behavior that is not acceptable, the abuse gets worse. I often think of a line from the movie The Opposite of Sex (1998), "you're primed for shit." As the book says, people with good self-esteem will reject abusive behavior out of hand, but those of us conditioned by abuse tend to blame ourselves, try to find ways to fix the situation, make excuses for the person, and become very frustrated when, despite all our efforts to make the person happy and avoid doing anything that might offend them, the angry outbursts, insults, yelling, and disrespect continues. Actually, it gets worse. Abusive people are unpredictable, contradictory, and irrational, while holding themselves out to be more rational and deserving of respect than you are. The book is very hopeful, though, because with self-awareness you can learn to stop blaming yourself and feeling like you need to defend yourself rather than walking away from that kind of treatment. Of course there is no legitimate excuse for abusing someone, and the responsibility is with the person doing it.

Thirdly, I have been doing yoga. I have yoga DVDs with Ana Brett and Ravi Singh that are helping me increase my navel power and clear my chakras. I really love yoga, and exercise generally, because I have "body issues" and exercise and especially yoga help me feel connected to my body, grounded, and self-accepting. I have been seeing a therapist for a couple months, and she encourages me to do things that are healing, like yoga and writing. If I say I have to work on myself, she disagrees. She says I'm giving myself the time I need to heal, not "working". She says self-worth is better than self-esteem, because self-esteem is more variable and influenced by how others treat us, but the ultimate goal is self-acceptance. My yoga DVDs are very into self-acceptance. For me, self-acceptable means feeling whole and connected with myself. Similarly to how energy flows between my chakras and they are balanced with each other, my mind, body, emotions, past, present, future and every other part of me is balanced and connected. I imagine feeling pride in who I am and my uniqueness, not awkward and alone.

Tomorrow is Christmas, and between now and my birthday in January, I review the previous year and prepare for the next. I need 4 weeks rather than just New Years Day. I like my therapist's philosophy- I don't have to work at it, just let myself heal. I feel less pressure, less urgency. I don't have anything to prove. I just need to let myself heal.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Puerto Rico

Soy tan confuso.

I'm working in Puerto Rico until this Friday. Blogger is in Spanish and I don't understand what's going on most of the time because I know very little Spanish. It is very beautiful here, but work is stressful and I am upset because I left my lovely purple skirt to be dry-cleaned this morning and they melted it with the iron. I am more upset about it than I should be, and irritated with myself. The depression is getting old. For most of my life, I have managed my moods, and what I know now are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. It takes a lot of work, though. What I usually do when things are going badly is avoid people as much as I can until I feel less fragmented. I can hold my life and myself together reasonably well in the meantime. I’m good at it- I can hold down a job (successfully) and seem pretty normal. My friends are patient; I drop out on them. I feel guilty for being so undependable and flaky. I wish I could move on from this and expect more from myself. I have made some progress but it seems painfully slow.

Its strange how losing someone you are close to can destroy everything you believe, about yourself and your life and the world around you. I guess suicide can be especially profound in this way because you never believe someone you know could really end their life like that, but I suppose death in general is like that for some people. Even after all this time, I am afraid to rebuild my emotional life, afraid I can't do it, I’m too damaged, and afraid if I do I will lose everything again. I am finely attuned to loss. The world is unpredictable. I feel paralyzed. I want stability and to believe in myself, but it doesn't seem possible. I don't know how to work through it.

The things that help me feel better are yoga and writing. Those wacky mantras and meditations on my yoga DVDs seem to work on some level. I suppose its doing something for my chakras. I have wanted to write on my blog for a long time, but depression is so boring. I feel insecure and humorless instead of engaging and interesting. I am writing anyway.

There is something really compelling about the beach here. The water is so warm, and you can walk into the water far enough that the waves will crash over your head. It's thrilling. It feels like you're going to be swept away for a moment, and sometimes the water pushes you forward with such force that you lose your footing. You don't know where you're going or which way is up. The salt water stings your eyes and everything is blurry. Your lips taste like salt. You stand up and wait for the next wave to knock you down again.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

My life has fallen to pieces. Somebody put me together.

Caravaggio by Simon Vouet
Title is from Faith No More's "Falling to Pieces"

I may be dead. We had a health screening at work a couple months ago, and the woman who took my blood pressure said there must be something wrong, that it couldn't be that low and to come back later in the day. It was 90 (systolic) 59 (diastolic). So later, we were in Target. They have a blood pressure machine. I got 93/64. Today we were there again and my results were 89/54. Hmm. I suppose if I were dead that would explain a lot. It would open up a lot of other questions though.

Sunday nights on VH1 they show reruns of "120 minutes" which is a circa 1980's and 90's MTV program where they play alternative-type videos. It makes me really happy to see videos I liked as a teenager, but totally sad too. I feel a strange mix of jealousy, anger, and admiration for myself back then. It was pre-the death the tore me apart, and I had no idea what was in store. I was so naive. Not that it wasn't hard back then. I still despise Aerosmith because the first weekend I was in foster care, it was "Aerosmith Weekend" on MTV. I do like one of their songs, though. When I was an Ave rat, i.e. I was a punk rocker hanging out on University Way in Seattle (everyone called it the Ave for some reason no one knew), I knew a lot of interesting people. One of them was Junior, a guy who rode his BMX bike around, listening to music and talking about wrestlers. He was almost always around, and he was one of the people I knew was watching my back. If he saw me with a guy, he would tell him to treat me right or he'd make him sorry. Even after I started college and dropped out of the scene, he still talked to me on the Ave. I moved to San Francisco, and almost 10 years later after I moved back and was living next to the Ave again, we walked by each other and he recognized me. He was the same Junior, riding his bike with headphones on, and I felt like I couldn't possibly be anything like the 20 year old I was when I met him. But obviously I was.

I was in grad school then, and when I went down to the Ave to get food and I ran into Junior, we'd catch up and talk. One time he told me he had a song that made him think of me and he thought I'd like. We sat on the curb and he gave me his headphones, and he played me "Dream On".

"Half my life is in books written pages.
Live and learn from fools and from sages.
You know it's true.
All the things come back to you ."

It's hard to believe this is the same band that did "Love in an Elevator". Just to be fair, I should note that I love Billy Idol's "White Wedding" because I have positive memories of watching that video on TV, and Billy Idol is definitely just as crass and offensive as Aerosmith ever was. It's funny, though, how music can remind you of who you are and where you came from, keep you sane when you feel alone, and comfort you when you're not where you want to be. It also seems like all things do come back to you. You can't escape who you are, but at the same time it's hard to put your finger on what it is that makes you who you are, and what that means for who you'll be in 10 years. When something you hear or see speaks to you, it's like your subconscious giving you a little clue.

From Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth" (1988) -

Joseph Campbell: "Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else."

Sometimes when I think about my life, it seems like a mystery that I'm trying to solve, and the answer to that mystery is who I am and what is my life is about. So much of my life didn't seem to make sense at the time, but when I look back without the purpose of judging myself, it is as if I knew what I was doing and where I was trying to get to a lot more than I felt at the time. My brother's death was like suddenly losing my way so that the path forward was obscured to my conscious mind, and my subconscious has been working a lot harder since then. Still, I feel lost a lot of the time, like I can't fathom how to prepare or think about my future. Anything could happen. I think that I want certain things, but I'm afraid to plan for a future that may not happen. When it comes to the future, I don't want to expect too much. I just hope to be pleasantly surprised.

The Passenger by Iggy Pop/Gardner:
"Oh, the passenger.
He rides and he rides.
He sees things from under glass.
He looks through his window's eye.
He sees the things he knows are his.
He sees the bright and hollow sky.
He sees the city asleep at night.
He sees the stars are out tonight.
And all of it is yours and mine.
And all of it is yours and mine.
Oh, let's ride and ride and ride and ride...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Doing the things a spider can

I am moody. This, despite the fact that I met Spiderman. *sigh* When I feel this way, I tend to avoid people because I'm no fun to be around and I don’t know what to say. I'm trying to get back out there, though, because I'm making it worse by isolating myself. I keep apologizing to my boyfriend for being a bitch and complaining about my ever expanding badonkadonk. (I’ve gained weight since I moved here. Too much eating out and driving everywhere, I suppose.) He assures me that he disagrees with both characterizations, which is nice of him.

I think I'm in a rut. I just want to lie on the couch and watch Mythbusters, except that Discovery keeps showing Survivorman instead. I can't stand that show. We've had a "heat wave" here, which did not help my motivation. Last weekend it got to around 110 degrees (Fahrenheit). Thankfully it's cooled down in the last couple of days. The San Fernando Valley is especially hot. I work in El Segundo, which is on the coast about 20 miles south of Reseda (in the heart of the valley, where we live. It's also the home of the Karate Kid, and that Tom Petty song, and countless movies are filmed around here and not just pornos either.) When I drive home, the temperature gauge in my car creeps up about 15 degrees. You can definitely feel the heat.

The first day of school was yesterday. That may not seem relevant to someone 15 years out of high school, but it means the traffic just got even worse. On a positive note, I got to see gaggles of valley vampires headed to school in their first day finery. When I told my boss how cute they were, he asked, "Don't they wear uniforms?" I replied, "Yeah, tight black pants and studded belts." They're so adorable. They remind me of my teenage years.

I'm getting sick of this whole feeling depressed thing. I don't want it to get worse. I'm too old to feel like a Black Flag song. I started working out again; that usually helps. It makes me feel better just to listen to my iPod while I sweat it out on the cardio machine. I stopped eating meat at lunch. Meat is murder, you know. I'm trying to call and email people, even though I feel whiny and boring right now. We've done some fun stuff lately, like we went to an L.A. Galaxy game and saw Beckham play! He got injured after a half hour, but it was a very exciting game that went into double overtime and a shootout. I've seen some fantastic movies, like Superbad, Sunshine (loved it), The Simpsons Movie (loved that too), Live Free or Die Hard (one of the craziest action scenes was filmed on the freeway outside my work, along with a car commercial I just saw on TV), Stardust (very sweet and entertaining), and Ratatouille (cutey rats!). My boyfriend has a talent for knowing where movies were filmed, so he took me to the place where the karate kid was beat up, where the cops did donuts in Superbad, and the mall at the end of Superbad. I also visited New York for the first time (for work), and read a Shakespeare poem at my friends' wedding in Seattle. I got to see my bff (best friend forever) in Seattle, who is probably moving to England soon! I'll go back to Seattle to see her before she leaves. Until then, I'll just keep on keeping on, I suppose.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Today is the 10th anniversary of my brother Jeff's death. I've been dreading today since the beginning of this year, most intensely for the last 2 months or so. It constantly creeps into my background thoughts, along with how I need to learn Spanish for my job, I wish I could lose the weight I’ve gained since I moved to L.A., missing my friends in Seattle, and affectionate thoughts about my boyfriend. I feel kind of numb. I cried this morning, but I can't cry anymore. I’m tired of crying. I'm watching the Simpsons and laughing instead. Jeff loved the Simpsons, and we used to quote the show to each other all the time. I bought seasons 1-6 on DVD last week so I could have the shows to comfort me this weekend. After Jeff died, I taped the first 12 seasons from the reruns on TV, and watched them until the tapes were too warped to play anymore. It’s hard to believe that the Simpsons movie came out just last month. I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, and it was pretty fantastic. Jeff would have liked it.

I'm trying to concentrate on how great my brother was instead of fixating on the tragedy of his death, and I'm being good to myself this weekend. I don't want to feel anymore guilt or regret. Carrying it around has been exhausting. I went to a Korean spa and got a massage there yesterday to detox. The woman covered me with oil (it's a naked, women-only spa) and worked on my knotted up back and stiff legs. She also washed my hair, covered my face with cucumber, and rinsed me off with milk. It was sometimes hard not to slide off the table with all the oil, water, and milk. The Korean women who do the massages wear black cotton underwear and bras, and are totally no-nonsense; although the woman told me I had a pretty face. It was like getting a massage from my Korean surrogate mother. After the massage, I alternated between a hot tub, a hot tub filled with mugwort tea, a cold bath, a steam room, and a jade and oxygen sauna. Then I slept on a pad on a heated floor, and then ate Korean food in the spa's cafeteria. I was there for 5 hours. One of my friends here in L.A. introduced me to this spa. It only costs $15 to get into the spa (more for the massage of course), and you can stay as long as you want. There is also unlimited barley tea, water, conditioner, lotion, q-tips, and overheard women's conversation. A lot of it is in Korean though. Some women were there by themselves (like me), but most were with a friend or family members (a lot of mothers and daughters). It's a very comfortable atmosphere, hanging out with lots of naked women relaxing together. Everything I did was supposed to be detoxifying. I was hoping it would also be emotionally detoxifying, like, I’m not perfect but that’s okay.

I wish I could call my female friends right now to talk, but I just don't feel like I can right now. Death. It's overwhelming. I just want to lie down on the couch or eat soy ice cream while I watch season 4. It's a great season. I need to go to the store. Tomorrow this day will be over.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I shop at Whole Foods. At least, I did. It's a rocky relationship. My friends and I affectionately call it Whole Paycheck Foods. It's a little pricy, but unfortunately, I have special food needs. I supposedly have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which, as far as I can tell, means my digestion is screwed up but medical science doesn't know why and can't do anything about it, except encourage me to not eat things that make it worse (duh). For me, that means not eating gluten (wheat), dairy (including cheese), and beef, among other things. It's hard to totally avoid all bread, anything that contains wheat flour, anything with milk or cheese or anything else derived from milk, but the stomach distress that results is much worse. It means I have a limited diet, and I've developed some unusual ideas about what's tasty. For instance, have you ever had gluten-free, dairy-free baked goods? They're hard to make, hard to find, and they taste totally strange. The texture is not right at all. But I miss cookies. I miss them so much that bizarrely-textured fake cookies taste amazing to me. I buy them from Whole Foods, along with gluten-free crackers and pasta and cereal.

So I was a little disappointed when I heard about the online activity of Whole Foods’ founder and CEO. Apparently, for the last 8 years, Mr. Sustainable Business, do-gooder has been anonymously trashing one of Whole Foods' competitors and gushing like a school girl about their management (i.e. himself). Check out his write-up in The Five Dumbest Things On Wall Street This Week. What a peach.

The thing is, I consider Whole Foods to be a rip-off, but it's big and it's loaded with food I can actually eat, as opposed to the frustration I experience at your average grocery store. I always have to read the labels, and it usually results in me putting whatever I want back on the shelf. Thanks, Whole Foods CEO doofus, for making me feel like even more of a sucker for lining your sanctimonious, monopolizing pockets. I miss my local co-op in Seattle.

Speaking of eating, I'm having some issues. This last week I started conducting Sarbanes-Oxley compliance training. There were 5 sessions, once a day, for 2 hours each. On Monday my boss asked me to take out my tongue ring. (He thought it might be distracting.) I took it out, put it back in after training, and then replaced it with a clear piece of tongue jewelry when I got home. Usually, I don't take out my tongue ring without immediately replacing it, and I don't take it out unless I have antiseptic mouthwash on hand, but I've had this piercing for 16 years, and it's never been infected. Until now.

My tongue was so swollen yesterday that I was talking funny and I could only consume liquids. It was pretty lame. My throat hurt from talking for 2 hours straight every day, my tongue was double its normal size and hurt in a big way, and the pain was radiating into my throat and even my ears. Plus, I was dizzy and exhausted from only having juice all day. I feel a little better today. Of course it's totally hot here, and I'm still feeling lightheaded from the all-juice diet. Curses. Next week is 3 hours of internal controls training each day, and the week after that I'm going to Denver and New York to train our offices there. It's going to be pretty hardcore. I'm flying to Denver on a Sunday, training 5 hours on Monday, flying to New York Monday night, 7 hours of training Tuesday and Wednesday, and flying back to Los Angeles Wednesday night. Thursday night I'm flying to Seattle for my friends' wedding, where I'll be doing a reading. I used to have serious anxiety with public speaking, but I think I've gotten over it.

I'm excited to go back to Seattle, for the wedding, and to see my bff (best friend Michelle, above)! I can't wait. Hopefully my tongue will be healed by then, and I'll still have my voice. Onward!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Can we talk about culture shock now?

You can’t really avoid the discombobulation (definition: to throw into a state of confusion) of moving to a new city, a new state, a whole new culture. Los Angeles is very different from Seattle, as you might imagine. I’ve gone from rain to sunshine, passive-aggressive to just plain aggressive, Seattle Metro to the 405, serial killers to freeway shootings, boots to strappy sandals, Timbuk 2 to Coach, batcavers to valley vampires, Hype to The Big Lebowski.

People have been friendly (except on the freeway), and are generally more outgoing than in Seattle. Most people moved here from somewhere else, and are full of advice for how to deal with L.A. life and warnings for how it hardens you. People don't smile at each other as much. I'm not used to that, and give pretty much everyone I come into contact with a big smile. I get some weird looks. You can’t talk about L.A. without mentioning the traffic. It takes me an hour and fifteen minutes to drive to work from the valley, and another hour and fifteen to drive back. In distance, that's about 25 miles, but as a fellow transplant from someplace else told me, it's not about distance, it's about freeways. You know it's bad when you think, "traffic is really moving!" when you can sustain 25 miles an hour for 5 minutes straight, and you're ecstatic when you reach 35 miles an hour. A couple weeks ago, I went to Disneyland with my cousin, and it took 5 freeways to get there. Five!

On the other hand, I'm less than an hour away from Disneyland, and it's so warm. It hasn’t rained the whole time I’ve been here. I’m someplace new! It's exciting. It's like travelling- new neighborhoods to explore, looking for places to eat and things to do, getting lost, tripping out on the local news, stuff like that. It's also like travelling in that I've been living out of a suitcase for 2 months. It’s hard not having my own place, but I’m holding out for something I’m going to be happy with for the next year at least. My salary is higher here, but my taxes went up (no state income tax in Washington) so my take home is the same. It’s more expensive here, but I can afford something decent. I just have to find it.

I’m staying in the valley, i.e. the largest suburbs in the U.S. I like the valley. The valley is, like, so uncool compared to L.A., but it’s hot, there are lots of bowling alleys, you can go to the mall and make fun of valley girls, and my boyfriend is here. We have fun. He keeps me sane. Moving has been stressful, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. I love my job, and I couldn’t have picked better people to work with. My boss is great. I’m on a team of 3 people that’s part of a team of about 20. I love working with a group of people that I enjoy spending time with. We had a social thing at Disneyland a couple Fridays ago, and about 10 of us rode the rides and stayed through the fireworks. We had a blast.

Most of all, I love my boyfriend. He’s been here for me, and the downs don’t feel so bad. I do get down. I get overwhelmed; I miss my friends in Seattle, very intensely at times, and I get upset dealing with all the change. I’m upset today- it’s the 10 year anniversary of the last time I saw my brother alive. Anniversaries are weird- they sneak up on me a lot. I had a couple nightmares in the last few weeks and woke up crying. I miss him a lot when there’s a lot going on in my life. I wish I could talk to him about everything. He was a good friend, and knew me really well. The 10 year anniversary of his death is coming up, the end of August. It makes all the difference, though, dealing with the low points, to have someone I can talk to who is so supportive and good to me. I feel really grateful, lucky, and blessed.

Anyway, I have a lot going for me here- a boyfriend I’m crazy about, my cousin and his fantastic wife and family, kick-ass girlfriends, cool co-workers, Korean spas, fashion, heat, art and music and other writers, palm trees, novelty, and fun. I’m happy, which counts for a lot.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

what happened to me?

I'm in L.A.! I keep starting blog posts and not finishing them, so here's a quickie. I'm leaving for a fabulous vacation in Vegas tomorrow, but at least I can post some pictures before I go. These pictures are from my layover in San Francisco on the drive down. I visited my fantastic friend Amy, who is the photographer and featured in picture 2. We got mani-pedi's; I almost ran into a sportscar; it was a great time! My new car Penelope is featured in the first picture. She is a Subaru Impreza, my dream car! She loves driving in L.A., as do I. People know how to drive on the freeways here. I drive 90 mph and people are passing me like crazy. Brilliant.
Since I'm struggling to find the time to write a real post, here's the headlines- love my new job, love being here and having an amazing time, L.A.'s expensive, I'm so happy I moved here. I'll write again soon!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Super SOX Girl

Thank you, Juliana, for making me a superhero! My new adventures are beginning a lot sooner than expected. I got my dream job in L.A., and I start May 7th. That means instead of moving in 4 months, I'm moving in 3 weeks.

Lucky for me, my new company has hired these amazing people who will pack up my stuff and move it for me. I didn't even know that was possible. I kind of feel like a superhero right now, because I really feel like I've come into my own in the last 3 months. I don't know if it was because I got angry, turned 35, got treatment for PTSD, learned to love my inner child, did affirmations, read the right books, or the coming together of 2 years of effort to get right with myself, but something worked. I know I have a long ways to go still, but it sure feels good to know I've made so much progress.

I have devoured a lot of books since the beginning of the year, so many that I haven't wrote about most of them. Here is a quick synopsis:

Play Like a Man Win Like a Woman: What Men Know About Success That Women Need to Learn by Gail Evans- It may become apparent by the books I've been reading lately that I was experiencing some career distress. I wouldn't say that it was because I'm a woman, but I would say that I was making a lot of mistakes in managing my career that a lot of women, according to the books I read, make. This book is about the rules of the game (i.e. the business world) that you may not have learned, and how to play the game as woman. I wish I had read this book while I was still in business school. It was very helpful. Gail Evans acknowledges that women are expected to know how to behave "like a man" in certain situations, but also have to be aware that there are different expectations for how women conduct themselves, for example, in negotiations...

A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating by Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller- I don't think you could read this book and not benefit from it in some area of your life. There are chapters devoted to negotiating with family members, your significant other, for your pay, for a car, for real estate, and in a divorce. It focuses on using a collaborative style of negotiating, and talks about mistakes that women often make and how women can have an advantage in negotiations. These books are (I hate to use this word, sorry!) empowering, because they acknowledge that women can be at a disadvantaged in a man's world, but that's not a situation you have to accept. Women can learn to negotiate and manage their career as well as anyone. It's not like all men were born effective negotiators and businesspeople. They learned how, and women can too.

Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny- This book claimed that just by reading it and deciding to make more money you would. It was right.

Dynamite Salary Negotiations by Ron and Caryl Krannich, Ph.Ds- I'm not as enthusiastic about this book, but it has some excellent tips on how to present yourself to potential employers and your current employer- in terms of how you will benefit the company and why you are worth such and such salary to the company, instead of focusing on why you deserve such and such salary. This is a good book to prepare you for salary negotiations.

I read somewhere that it is common for those of us who were sexually abused to struggle in our careers because of our low opinion of ourselves. It really hit home with me lately that if you don't value yourself, it affects every area of your life. I'm good at my job and the approval and success I've had professionally has been a source of strength and stability even when I felt like a failure in other aspects of my life. Still, I felt like I wasn't doing as well as I should, and I realized it had to do with having low expectations for how I wanted to be treated, and insecurities about going after what I want. Yes, if you ask for something, you may not get it, but it turns out that disappointment is not as bad as not trying and being angry at yourself. When I started trying to find a better paying job, there were people who told me I couldn't make as much as I wanted and my expectations were too high. I wasn't even convinced that I could make that much, but I ended up getting 2 job offers for even more, and you better believe it felt good.

I even managed to fit in some of my more traditional self-help books:

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward, Ph.D.- highly recommended for anyone from a dysfunctional family. It talks about how controlling, verbally, physically, and/or sexually abusive, substance-abusing, immature and/or neglectful parents emotionally damage their kids, and how, as an adult, you can recover. It also talks a lot and quite specifically about how to deal with your parents now that you are an adult. You think when you are a kid that when you grow up it will all be different, but even if you are estranged from your parents or one or both has died, they continue to be a part of your life and how you feel about yourself. This book gives helpful advice on how to manage those relationships and feel good about yourself regardless of how your parents act. There's also an excellent chapter on dysfunctional family systems. This is important because families are not just a collection of individuals; they have their own dynamic that you have to work with.

The Intimacy Struggle by Janet G. Woititz- Originally written for adult children of alcoholics, Woititz expanded to book to include everyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family and who, as a result, can only guess at what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like. It talks about myths that adults often hold in relationships that stem from childhood trauma, such as- "If you find out that I'm not perfect, you will abandon me." This comes from a fear of abandonment, which she says cuts deeper than mere rejection for someone from a dysfunctional family. "The abandonment you feel relates more to the time when your parents were inattentive and you felt so isolated that you believed you would either no longer exist or would die." (page 17) In addition, it is common for adult children to be perfectionists or workaholics because we think we have to earn people's love and respect, the way we tried to be good for our parents so they would love and care for us. We never feel good enough, though, just like we could never be good enough to make our parents act differently. The book also addresses the fear that being vulnerable will always lead to pain, that conflict and anger always leads to violence and abuse and so cannot be expressed, guilt and shame, issues with trust and boundaries, and the fear of being found out (i.e. if you really knew me, you wouldn't like me anymore.) This book made sense to me, and I got a lot of insight on why I feel so much anxiety about relationships.

Right now, I'm reading The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Childhood Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. (I owe you that Tori Amos CD!) It was kind of embarrassing to buy from the bookstore, but well worth it so far.

So maybe it was all the books. And my latent superhero powers. Onward!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Soul Doubt

Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
Sometimes I struggle to write. Part of me still wants to pretend that I'm over it, none of that stuff I write about affects me anymore, and I’m done with all the emotional stuff. If I try to ignore what I'm feeling, though, it becomes stronger, more insistent. When I write about it, I feel more myself. I like myself more. I have problems, and that's okay. We all have problems.

I have struggled this week with feeling like I am a problem. I just talked to a friend who suggested that now is a good time to shed that image of myself. After a childhood of having that message pounded into me (literally), I still see myself in a certain way. That I can't do anything right. That anything I'm involved in will be a disaster. That I'm destined to be a failure. I face my future with a lingering feeling of dread- more bad things are sure to happen. If I start to think that I'm happy, my world is going to come crashing down again.

It broke my heart when I read some of my brother's writing after he killed himself, because he talked about feeling like a failure. He was only 19, and he was not a failure. He was smart and funny and sweet, and had so much going for him. I've wanted to talk to him so badly this week. Sometimes I feel so anxious about making decisions, because I'm sure I'll make the wrong decision. Then I beat myself up over stupid things, often over things I had very little control over. Things that are in the past that I really can’t do anything about now. Sometimes I try to take the easy way out, let someone else make the decision because that way I'm not responsible for it. That doesn't work either because I get angry with myself for letting someone else decide for me.

I tried to counter that feeling I was having this week by making decisions. Some were small decisions that were still difficult for one reason or another, and one was a very big decision about my life that I can't talk about on my beloved blog quite yet. A lot of people already know because I have talked about it a lot in the last 3 weeks. I started to feel like I was just dragging the decision out even after I had talked to practically everyone, weighed all the pros and cons, and had all the information I needed. So I decided. Whenever I go through major changes, whether it's moving or starting a job or what have you, I go through the grief of not having my brother to be there for me. He was my stability, and without him, I feel lost and groundless so much of the time. I hope that someday I will find that sense of stability in myself. I have found, even in the last 3 months, a confidence that I didn't have before. I feel more sure of myself. Even 6 months ago, I never could have decided to make such a big change in my life. The anxiety, the what if's and worst case scenarios would have paralyzed me.

Perfectionism still haunts me. I get the feeling that a lot of adults who were abused as children struggle with it. If only you were perfect, people would like and accept you, your parents would be supportive and treat you right, your relationships would work out, your houseplants would flourish, and your apartment would never be messy. If only, if only. If only I didn't see every situation as an opportunity for me to screw everything up. If only I didn't put that kind of pressure on myself. I feel my brother standing beside me, and he’s saying, don't be so hard on yourself. Look what happened to me.

I am ready to move on from that. I have what I see as the real me- the me that is confident and happy and doesn't take myself so seriously. The part of me that has doubts and fear and feels burned by life is there too. I have to acknowledge those feelings. They've found a voice in my blog, and I've discovered that other people feel those things too. My life is not such a disaster.

This is totally unrelated, but my apartment is freezing cold. I am reeeeallly sick of the weather here. I've had about as much of the rain as I can stand. It's damp enough in here to grow mushrooms. Did you know you can find psychedelic mushrooms growing around Seattle? You can just pick them, and eat them, and, you get the idea. Not that I have any personal experience with that. I do have plenty of personal experience walking the streets of Seattle getting rained on. Enough to last a lifetime. I know its sacrilege to complain about the rain. It calls your status as a true Seattleite into question. I’ve lived here for 14 years, though, and I wanna be warm!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


"One of the things I love about Greek culture is its complete acceptance of the tragic, that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, there may still be a force conspiring against you."

-Daniel Mendelsohn, as quoted in "Poets & Writers" Sept/Oct 2006. Painting (to the left) by Evelyn De Morgan.

One of the things I love about Greek characters is that they rise to the occasion, no matter how powerful the forces against them, no matter how hopeless their cause. Cassandra had the gift of prophesy but was cursed in that no one believed her predictions. Even though they thought she was crazy, she didn't stop trying to warn her people, the Trojans, about the outcome of the Trojan War. She tried to warn Agamemnon, her captor and enemy, about his death. She never gave up, even though no one believed her and everything still happened the way she predicted, despite all her efforts.

Cassandra inspires me. She never shut up. Her own family locked her up when she wouldn't quit with the warnings. (She even foretold the Trojan horse debacle, and they still let it in!) Agamemnon threatened to throw her off the boat, and considering that she knew she was going to die along with him, in her situation, I'd be tempted to throw myself off the boat. In fact, she could have run away from Troy before the war or otherwise directed her efforts on trying to avoid all the personal tragedy she experienced, including her own death. Alternatively, she could have just saved herself the frustration and kept her mouth shut. Telling people things they didn't want to hear made her very unpopular.

She didn't just have people against her- she was fighting the gods and fate. I don't think she doubted herself, her vision, or questioned what she was doing, though. She was telling the truth. She was trying to do the right thing. She had information, and had an obligation to try everything she could to use it for the good of the people around her, even if they didn't believe her. Even if they disliked her, threatened her, and tried everything they could to get her to shut it.

I can relate. I have a hard time suppressing the urge to speak out, and I like myself a lot more when I don't keep quiet about things that are important to me. It's all about doing what you need to so you can live with yourself, whatever the forces opposing you or who believes you. I don't think my story will end as tragically as Cassandra's, though. For one thing, there are people who believe me. There are even people who like me, big mouth and all.

Speaking of my big mouth, I was involved in 2 competitive seafood events recently. A week ago, I participated in a shrimp-eating contest. Not those little shrimp. Prawns. We called it a draw at 26. Then yesterday, my friend dared me to eat the largest sushi roll we had ever seen. I was afraid I was going to choke and that would be a really stupid way to die, but I'm happy to report that I stuffed the whole thing in my mouth and no tragedy befell me.

My life actually feels remarkably untragic these days, maybe because I don't feel victimized by fate anymore. I am disappointed that no Washington State teams were fated to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, but I'll get over it. The college basketball gods are notoriously unreliable, not unlike the Greek ones.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Turning Point - Year of the Fire Pig

Here is your horoscope: Old limitations rear their rascally heads, but they do not intimidate you. Rather, they give you a chance to break free of the past. Take a deep breath and move slowly. Step by step, you can conquer these obstacles.

I spent 6 weeks plumbing the depths of my feelings of worthlessness, and came to a decision. I will not feel bad about myself anymore.

The affirmations probably helped, but mostly, I think I just got sick of beating myself up. Other people can focus on my weaknesses, tell me why I can't do this, have this, be this. I'm just not going to be that person anymore.

Lately I've been reading books about how to succeed as a woman in business, make more money, and negotiate. (I've also been working gruelingly long and stressful hours, which is why I haven't posted in a while.) I want to stop undervaluing and giving up on myself. I've been standing up for myself. Not without considerable, as we say in the business world, pushback. There's been lots of pushback. I've also had unexpected allies show up. The harder it gets, the more I've realized what incredible support I have. I've also realized I'm stronger than I thought.

For a long time I've been focused on how my past held me back, disadvantaged me. Now I'm seeing it from a different perspective- I am a survivor. I'm smart, resilient, creative, and have a sense of humor that gets me though a lot. I always try to do the right thing, to be honest and straightforward. When I focus on my strengths, I don't hold myself back with doubt and insecurity. It's not arrogance or aggressiveness; it's confidence. I haven't had much of it before, but I'm starting to get a taste of it. I’m finally on my side. Doing right by myself. No one should treat anyone the way I’ve treated me. There are plenty of people out there who will tell you what’s wrong with you. I’m not going to do their job for them. I’d rather be on the side of the people who think I’m worth something.

This new way of thinking also requires a higher level of responsibility than I'm used to, that is, responsibility to me. Even if other people try to stand in my way, I can't blame them for my problems. I'm never helpless- there's always decisions I can make. I used to feel like a victim, like I just had to take what life dished out. Now I feel if I want or need something, I have to put myself out there and try to get it. It's scary, because there are big decisions to make about what kind of life I want and how to go about getting it. I'm still trying to figure out what I want. I haven't put much effort into considering my options before. I didn't think I had options.

I have two friends, a couple, who are both consultants. One of the reasons I love talking to them is because they both have made decisions about what they wanted in life, and gone for it (including the type of relationship they are in with each other). They inspire me. Being consultants, they are also very organized. They make lists. They plan. I'm very list-y and plan-y myself. Their methods appeal to me. I had dinner with them last night to get their advice. They gave me homework- a book to read and to start making lists of what I want. Without having ideals to strive for, I have no direction, no idea if the options before me meet my needs, or what would be the right choices for me.

In a couple weeks, we plan to get together and "workshop" our lives. I can envision it like workshopping a poem- look for what's working and what's not. Develop the areas that need developing. Emphasis the elements that are working. Cut or re-work what's not. Of course, you don't have total control of your life the way you do a poem, your own creation (although there are always constraints with poetry, even with free verse but especially if you’re working in a form). Still, there is a lot I can do, both in my life and in myself, to "make it work". (I miss Project Runway.)

I just finished the poetry class I was taking. Here's a poem I wrote in 1996. It's a pantoum- a Malayan poetry form with a locked pattern of repeating lines.

Two Weeks in L.A.
You continue to wear black.
Her curtains are lacy, off-white.
We go out her screen door
In bare-feet, we smoke.

Her curtains are lacy, off-white.
Each morning, she chants
In bare-feet, we smoke.
Every yard has a palm tree.

Each morning she chants.
Her cats circle, curl around her.
Every yard has a palm tree
Open as a young hand.

Her cats circle, curl around her.
We have juice and croissants
Soft as a young hand.
She works nights at a bar.

We have juice and croissants.
She is bleaching her hair.
She works nights at a bar
On Ventura, in a strip mall.

She is bleaching her hair
Before the heat grabs us.
On Ventura, in a strip mall
We buy beer, cigarettes.

Before the heat grabs us
You continue to wear black.
We buy beer, cigarettes.
We go out her screen door.

copyright Kristina Coker

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guess the movie...

Tap Dancing, Movies, and Sky

Her blue thigh shifts to the side
under her thin dress. She steps, stops,
looks down at nothing as she dances
a slow, deliberate line across the camera.
This movie steps with her. She is
in every frame. The light Buffalo sky

is the same far away color
sliding across her body.
Blue bleeding through every angle,
so close and fleshy
but stepping deliberately
without you.

copyright Kristina Coker

No Future

This is the Life

Street Punk: Hard Core and Gutter
Leather and metal, mohawk, Mad Dog
Colored vomit, dried egg
On squat walls and no water
Sewage. Skin smooth as thick glass
Yellow like old paper. Street Punk

Tell the drunk bums to shut the fuck up
Tell the dirty men to fuck
Themselves, smack an old junkie
Nodding off in a door frame
I drift off, dream about lizards
I thrust forward my dry tongue

The sky, far shining desert
Come closer. Bus stop on Market, cold
Concrete, food stamps and beer
Panhandle University
Wake at dawn and watching
Sun rising, pyramid shadows my bones.

copyright Kristina Coker

Sunday, February 11, 2007


I think of my blog posts as essays. I plan them and write them as essays, with some kind of unifying theme, usually hinted at in the title, and somehow compatible with the picture I chose. This one is about identity. See, here's a picture of me on my way to Pullman to visit my brother's grave. I'm from Pullman and my brother committed suicide. I like to drive around by myself and stop at rest stops. I've taken pictures of myself since I was young. Then I search the pictures for some clue as to how I was feeling. Shouldn't I know how I was feeling? I usually don't. That connection between my feelings and my conscious mind was blocked off long ago.
I love music. "Scattered" is the name of a Green Day song. It starts like this: "I've got some scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Reminds me of the times we shared. Makes me wish that you were here. Now it seems I've forgotten my purpose in this life."
The loss of identity I suffered, or purpose, when I lost my brother has been a huge problem for me, but identity was a struggle long before that happened. You'd think growing up having to be independent and self-sufficient would cause you to really know who you are and what your strengths are, which is true to a certain extent. Life requires interactions with other people, though, and I never developed a strong sense of who I was in relation to other people.
I was the sacrificial lamb in childhood, a role I haven't escaped. I think that love requires sacrifice. That probably sounds like the inspiration for some goth song, but I don't say it for dramatic effect. I don't know how to be in a relationship with someone without giving up my identity to them, I have no idea what I want or need from other people, and I don't perceive that I have any choice when people make demands or take advantage of me. This is why my psychologist is having me do daily affirmations. I feel stupid doing them. They're so Stuart Smally. That's exactly why I need them, though. I have an appalling lack of self-esteem, glaringly obvious when I say something like this and try to believe it:

I am a valuable and important person, and I'm worthy of the respect of others.
I have pride in my past performance and a positive expectancy of the future.
I am kind, compassionate, and gentle with myself.

Probably people with high self-esteem don't have to force themselves to say positive affirmations, but I'm sure they're not saying:

I am a big loser.
I'll never do as well as other people.
I am damaged goods.

I couldn't even type that without my eyes filling up with tears, because that's what I believe about myself. It is getting better, though. The affirmations help, working with my psychologist helps, and what has especially helped is to read about the defense mechanisms abused children develop to survive, and how they turn dysfunctional for adults. I feel a lot more understanding and compassion towards myself as a child, my adult self, and my brother when I realize how normal our responses were to the circumstances. I was beating myself up for not talking to Jeff more about the abuse, and not doing more to get him away from our dad. I was also really hard on myself for accepting my parents' sudden attention and interest in me after he died, thinking I should have immediately blamed them and told them to go to hell.

The truth is that I grew up in a family that enforced unquestioned loyalty, silence, and obedience through threats, coercion, and punishment. Leaving the family home was not enough to free me from that system, and years of savage violence have kept me afraid to this day. Shame and repression of terrible emotional pain keeps many abused children and adults silent. Depression, self-hatred, and suicide are not abnormal for adults victimized as children, and it is not abnormal to want your parents’ love and support, regardless of how they've treated you. The truth is that I had dropped 2 quarters of college because of the severity of my own depression, and was hanging on by a thread when Jeff took his life. Instead of having sympathy for my own struggles, I just took it as proof of my own ineffectualness.

To blame myself for Jeff's death because I thought I should have made some heroic, monumental sacrifice to save him is really just a testament to how little I valued my own existence. I rejected myself because I didn't prevent Jeff's death, was unable to win my parent's approval, and not worth protection myself. The police dropped (or whoever is responsible for that) child abuse charges against my dad, despite mountains of physical evidence, and did nothing about my great-uncle. Adults at my high school actively encouraged me to drop out. I still to this day think of myself as a bad, rebellious child, the black sheep, always struggling, always overcoming obstacles but never quite there. Disadvantaged. Different. Weird. Who gave me this identity? My family. It's not really me.

How do I figure out who I really am, and how do I overcome the roles I learned as a child? I have no idea. I'm hoping I'll just figure it out eventually. I think it has something to do with getting "in touch" with my feelings and discovering what I want from my life. One of the things I am trying to do with my poetry is develop my voice, as they say. The narrators in my poems tend to be very passive, and I use a lot of metaphors of snow, ice, and cold. I'm working on 2 poems in my poetry class right now. One is set in a bus on Snoqualmie Pass right after a huge snowstorm. The other is in a hot summer setting, but is about loneliness, isolation, and boredom. I'm trying to draw these characters out; similar to how I'm trying to draw out my own feelings. They are largely a mystery- I'm so good at repressing and turning off my feelings. I feel frozen inside.

I'm also trying to get into group therapy for sexual abuse. I found a program that meets for 2 hours once a week for 5 months (longer, actually. 21 weeks.) Sexual abuse is very destructive to one's identity. It teaches you that you don't matter, that all you're good for is sex, and you should feel ashamed of yourself. It taught me to disassociate and numb myself out. When I told my dad and he forced me to keep going to my great-uncle's house or he'd "beat me senseless", I learned that I belong to my dad, my perception that it was wrong and disgusting didn't matter, and if his uncle wanted to use and abuse me too I had no power to protect myself. When your own mom does nothing to protect you (she told me last year that she believed me at the time but thought I could handle it myself, and she watched dad beat me, did nothing, and yelled at me for breaking up the family when I called her from the foster home I was finally put it), how could you possibly feel more worthless?
I was still thinking of myself as that child, helpless and unable to protect myself or get what I needed. Until recently, I hated that child, hated that she was so powerless but was unable to stop identifying with her. Ironically, when I started understanding and feeling compassion for that child that I was, I started feeling more adult. I thought that if I didn't think about my childhood or acknowledge how painful it was, and pretended my family was "normal", it was my best chance for a "normal" adult life, or at the very least, it wouldn't be obvious to everyone that I was a pathetic loser from a screwed-up family. I think a lot of people who grew up with dysfunctional families think that way. Obviously, it doesn't work; it just traps you in the past and with a disparaging sense of yourself.

It also takes a lot to overcome feelings of embarrassment that I'm in my thirties and whining about my parents and my childhood, unsure of who I am, and talking about my inner child and poor self-esteem. I feel childish and I really don't want to post this blog, although I'm sure that I will. I have this desire to document my recovery, without censoring the unpleasant details. My parents are responsible for what they did to me, but I have the ability to recover from that. I think it will help me and maybe help other people to come out and say that doing this kind of emotional work sucks and it's hard, but it's worth doing to save yourself and get the kind of life that you want, even if you don't know what that is yet. It's worth doing no matter how old you are.
It's perfectly understandable when people avoid dealing with that kind of pain or don't know that they don't have to keep feeling that way about themselves. Even people from "normal" families struggle with their perception of themselves- is there anyone on the planet with perfect self-esteem? Does anyone have a perfect family? Obviously not. My situation may be extreme, but it's not totally out of the ordinary. Regardless of the identity that was thrust on me, I am an individual with a unique perspective, and maybe that makes me different, but not abnormal.


"Violence shall synchronize your movements like a tune..."
-W.H. Auden

Dear readers, I am exhausted. Emotionally, physically, mentally. I sleep, but I'm still tired. About 3 weeks ago, I had a dream. I was in my dad's truck with him and my brother. My mom was absent. We were in a synthesis of Clarkston, WA (where my great-uncle lives) and Wenatchee (where one of my audit clients was). My dad was driving. I was trying to get him to stop for the night, instead of driving all night to Seattle. I was giving him directions to the street with all the hotels. He was angry, refusing to respond to me, and driving fast and erratically. He took a turn so sharply that the truck skidded out and rolled over.

Since it was a dream, the truck popped back up, but I refused to get back in. I told my dad I wasn't going to let him put me in danger anymore. He motioned to my brother to get back in the truck, but Jeff walked over and said he wanted to go with me. Dad walked away. Then Jeff said he had to go back to get his stuff out of the truck. As he left, I wanted to grab him and tell him, no, no you can't go back. We need to get away from here. I knew I couldn't stop him, though, and I knew he wasn't coming back.

I woke up angry. Really, really angry. Angry with my dad, but even more angry that my brother is dead. It's not fair, and it will never seem fair to me. He shouldn't have died. I've been reading about the developmental damage, both psychological and emotional, that abusive parents inflict on their children, and I'm feeling more outraged at what happened to us. I consider this progress, and my books agree. It means I'm holding the perpetrators responsible instead of blaming myself. Not that I'm all better, though. My psychologist and I were going to start working on my flashbacks from Jeff's suicide, but I've been having these violent spasms of guilt that I've had to deal with first. I'm hoping I'm almost done- I dealt with a lot of it when I was in the Survivors of Suicide group therapy. Maybe the guilt was like a wounded animal that attacked me one last time before it died.

The strength of my guilty feelings makes sense psychologically, not logically. When you are a kid, you idolize your parents. It is a matter of survival to defer to them, as your whole world depends on your parents. If they do bad things to you, you're not psychologically able, as a child, to understand that your parents are the ones being bad. The only way you can understand it is to think that you are bad and deserve mistreatment. By the time you get old enough to rebel against them, the damage is already done. Self-hatred and guilt doesn't magically go away the second you turn 18, or 16, or 21.

When I was a kid, my value to my dad was as his punching bag, and to my great-uncle, I was a sex toy. But to my brother, I was a protector, a caregiver, and a role model. My relationship with Jeff made me feel needed, appreciated, and loved. It made the abuse easier to bear as well. As long as I took the brunt of our dad's violence, Jeff didn't. I told myself I could endure it to protect him. I didn't kill myself, and I did think about it a lot, because I couldn't abandon him. I even fantasized about killing our dad, but would never do it because if I was in prison I couldn't be there for my brother. With so much of my self-worth and identity wrapped up in protecting Jeff, it's no wonder I blamed myself for his suicide and have been punishing myself ever since.

I realize now that I didn't have the power to protect Jeff from our dad, that he abused Jeff as well. Even though I never saw my dad hit him, I did witness his verbally and emotionally attacks my brother. Until recently, I thought abuse just meant beatings, and didn't recognize the magnitude of the damage our dad did to Jeff and me in the way he belittled and threatened us. He didn't need to beat my brother- the whole family saw what he did to me and that was enough to keep them in fear and obedient. I don't remember ever throwing a temper tantrum, and don't remember Jeff doing it either. We knew the price we'd pay if we ever asserted ourselves. I got smacked around for looking at dad "funny" (as he defined it), crying when our dog died, walking past him when he was angry. That's not a healthy way to grow up, in fear for your life, and your sister's life for that matter. Long-term, we were unable to develop the independent identity and self-confidence that good parents support instead of undermining. When your sister is your main emotional caregiver because your mom is locked in her room all the time, you don't exactly feel safe and secure, I imagine.

And the cruelest twist of all is traumatic bonding. You spend you childhood trying to make the abuser happy, trying to anticipate his moods and violence, trying to comply with the impossible demands and rules, trying to win his love and approval because children need love and approval from their parents, no matter how horrible they are. You don't even understand that this is abnormal. You don't know that families aren't supposed to be like this. When the abuser shows any kindness at all, even if it's just a day without violence, when he says something nice to you, when he pays attention to you and he's not angry, you feel incredibly grateful. You think you must have done something right. That little morsel, no matter how pathetic and insufficient it is, keeps you hooked, and you redouble your efforts to win his approval and love. It keeps hope alive, hope that is unjustified and cruel.

It's sad when you realize that adults that were abused as children are often more loyal, more dedicated, and much more desperate for their parents' approval, especially the abusive one, than adults from healthy families. Adults from "normal" families usually have a strong enough sense of self that they have moved on from needing their parents' approval, even if they still want it. Not getting that support in childhood leaves you with an unfulfilled need that you often don't know how to satisfy as an adult, especially in a way that will bolster your self-esteem instead of making it worse. (I.e. people often times get into alcohol or drugs, destructive relationships, or become workaholics to try to fill that void or numb the pain. Or they just kill themselves.)

Giving up that fantasy, the one hope that got you through your childhood, that your family will become loving and supportive if you just try hard enough, despite all evidence to the contrary, is REALLY HARD. Self-blame is awful, but sometimes it seems better than facing the truth- my parents don't love me. (We can quibble about whether they love me but do it badly, or don't at all, but regardless the result is that I didn't get the comfort and nurturing I needed as a child, or an adult.) My brother is dead. Even though he meant everything to me, I didn't have the power to save him. My brother and I were outmatched by adults who used us selfishly instead of caring for us. Now I have to figure out how to take those steps to finally grow up emotionally knowing that I will never, ever, get my parents' approval no matter what I do. They still hold me responsible for the abuse, and there's nothing I can do about it. This is a fight I can never win, even though it's been ripping my life apart for almost 35 years.

The only way to win is to stop playing, and even though I haven't spoken to either of my parents for almost a year, I still struggle to let go of the belief that I can make them change, make them see what they've done to me and Jeff. I let go of the self-hatred and blame and it transforms into despair- incredibly strong, almost overpowering feelings of betrayal, anger, rejection, and abandonment. I struggle through the stages of grief as I recognize the loss of my childhood and the death of my fantasy of parents who will give me what I need from them. I want so little, but it’s still too much. You can live with guilt and self-hatred indefinitely, your whole life even, while you wait for acknowledgement that never comes. If you let yourself grieve, though, it is difficult and painful, but it does pass, and you move forward.

The idea of forgiveness often makes it's way into these discussions, that is, just let go of the anger, forgive them, and be at peace. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. You don't get to circumvent the emotional work by just deciding to forgive and forget. Because you can't forget, and as long as you still blame yourself and avoid placing responsibility with the abuser, the expectation that you should just be able to forgive and get on with it is just another way that you beat up on yourself. You feel bad because you're still angry, and you've failed to forgive. If someone hasn't taken responsibility for what they've done, and you're still suffering for what they did to you and they don't have to live with the consequences, why should they get your forgiveness, after everything they’ve already taken from you? They don't deserve it. The only forgiveness that really helps you heal is to forgive yourself, and possibly forgiveness that is freely chosen for your benefit only, after you've done the emotional work and let yourself get angry and outraged and held the perpetrator responsible. As long as you still blame yourself, trying to force yourself to forgive is self-destructive. The books support me on this one, too. I haven’t read a single book or talked to single therapist who says forgiveness is necessary, or solves anything.

It's hard for me to write about feeling angry and sorry for myself. I've never got sympathy that way- growing up it was dangerous to express my very-justified anger to my family, and those outside the family were generally uncomfortable with it. Victims should be self-effacing, forgiving, and above it all, somehow un-phased yet more wise and insightful about those things we don't like to talk about. Not that I think you, dear reader, can't handle the reality. The reality being that I have to experience all this rage to get through it. I have to let myself feel years of repressed anger before I can move on to my post-abuse life, no longer at the mercy of others. I'm sure you would have stopped reading by now if it bothered you. It's not pretty, but this is what it's like. It's hard work, and it's worth it. I'm worth it. At least that's what my daily affirmations tell me.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

wise words from Lundy

Hello! I've missed you, blog. I've been busy in the last couple of weeks. Therapy has been intense, work is crazy-busy, I started a poetry class that is really great, and I turned 35! I have a lot to write about, but little time to do it in. I do want to follow up on my last post, though.

My bad relationship list has a lot of commonalities with lists in Why Does He Do That?, and since Lundy Bancroft is the expert on bad relationships, the following is excerpted from his book. If you have been in abusive relationships in the past and are worried that you don't know how to avoid another one, or if you suspect or know you are in an abusive relationship currently, I highly recommend this book. Your intuition and experience is your best guide, but one of the worst things about abuse is it causes you to doubt your own perceptions, feelings, and intuition. It takes time to learn to trust yourself, but in the meantime, knowledge is power. This book is an eye-opener.

Why Does He Do That? : Inside the minds of angry and controlling men by Lundy Bancroft; New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2002.

"How can I tell if a man I'm seeing will become abusive?

He speaks disrespectfully about his former partners.
A certain amount of anger and resentment toward an ex-partner is normal, but beware of the man who is very focused on his bitterness or who tells you about it inappropriately early on in your dating. Be especially cautious of the man who talks about women from his past in degrading or condescending ways or who characterizes himself as a victim of abuse by women. Be alert if he says that his previous wife or girlfriend falsely accused him of being abusive; the great majority of reports of abuse are accurate...

He is disrespectful toward you.
If a man puts you down or sneers at your opinions, if he is rude to you in front of other people, if he is cutting or sarcastic, he is communicating a lack of respect. Disrespect also can take the form of idealizing you and putting you on a pedestal as a perfect woman or goddess. The man who worships you in this way is not seeing you; he is seeing his fantasy, and when you fail to live up to that image he may turn nasty. So there may not be much difference between the man who talks down to you and the one who elevates you; both are displaying a failure to respect you as a real human being...

He does favors for you that you don’t want or puts on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable.
These can be signs of a man who is attempting to create a sense of indebtedness…

He is controlling.
...Control usually begins in subtle ways, far from anything you would call abuse. He drops comments about your clothes or your looks (too sexy or not sexy enough); is a little negative about your family or one of your good friends; starts to pressure you to spend more time with him; starts to give too much advice about how you should manage your own life and shows a hint of impatience when you resist his recommendations; or begins to act bothered that you don't share all of his opinions about politics, personal relationships, music, or other tastes.

He is possessive.
...Jealous feelings are not the same as behaviors. A man with some insecurities may naturally feel anxious about your associations with other men, especially ex-partners, and might want some reassurance. But if he indicates that he expects you to give up your freedom to accommodate his jealousy, control is creeping up. Your social life shouldn't have to change because of his insecurities...

Nothing is ever his fault...

He is self-centered...

He abuses drugs or alcohol...

He pressures you for sex.
...Not respecting your wishes or feelings regarding sex speaks of exploitativeness, which in turn goes with abuse. It also is a sign of seeing women as sex objects rather than human beings...

He gets serious too quickly about the relationship.
Because so many men are commitment-phobic, a woman can feel relieved to find a partner who isn't afraid to talk about marriage and family. But watch out if he jumps too soon into planning your future together without talking enough time to get to know you and grow close, because it can mean that he's trying to wrap you up tightly into a package that he can own...

He intimidates you when he's angry.
...The more deeply involved you become with an intimidating man, the more difficult it will be to get out of the relationship...getting away from someone who has become frightening is much more complicated than most people realize, and it gets harder with each day that passes. Don't wait around to see.

He has double standards.
Beware of the man who has a different set of rules for his behavior than for yours...

He has negative attitudes towards women...

He treats you differently around other people...

He appears to be attracted to vulnerability.
I have had quite a number of clients over the years who are attracted to women who are vulnerable because of recent traumatic experiences in their lives, including many who have started relationships by helping a women break away from an abusive partner and then start to control or abuse her themselves. Some abusive men seek out a woman who comes from a troubled or abusive childhood, who has health problems, or who has suffered a recent severe loss, and present themselves as rescuers...At the same time, I have observed that there are plenty of abusive men who are not particularly attracted to vulnerability or neediness in women and who are more drawn to tougher or more successful women. This style of abuser appears to feel that he has caught a bigger fish if he can reel in an accomplished, self-confident women to dominate." (pages 114-121)

"Since abuse can sneak up on a woman, beginning with subtle control or disrespect that gains intensity over time, some burning questions emerge: How do I know when my partner is being abusive? Is there a distinct line that I can keep my eye on, so that I know when he has crossed it? How much is too much? Since nobody's perfect, how do I know the difference between a bad day when he's just being a jerk and a pattern that adds up to something more serious?

...The term abuse is about power; it means that a person is taking advantage of a power imbalance to exploit or control someone else. Wherever power imbalances exist, such as between men and women, or adults and children, or between rich and poor, some people will take advantage of those circumstances for their own purposes...Thus the defining point of abuse is when the man starts to exercise power over the woman in a way that causes harm to her and creates a privileged status for him.

The lines where subtler kinds of mistreatment end and abuse begins include the following actions:

He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior...

He tells you that your objections to his mistreatment are your own problem...

He gives apologies that sound insincere or angry, and he demands that you accept them...

He blames you for the impact of his behavior.
...If your partner criticizes or puts you down for being badly affected by his mistreatment, that's abuse. Similarly, it's abuse when he uses the effects of his cruelty as an excuse, like a client I had who drove his partner away with his verbal assaults and then told her that her emotional distancing was causing his abuse, thus reversing cause and effect. He is kicking you when you're already down, and he knows it. Seek help for yourself quickly, as this kind of psychological assault can cause your emotional state to rapidly decline.

It's never the right time, or the right way, to bring things up...

He undermines your progress in life.
Interference with your freedom or independence is abuse...

He denies what he did...

He justifies his hurtful or frightening acts or says that you "made him do it"...

He touches you in anger or puts you in fear in other ways.
Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that's physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you. Call a hot line as soon as possible if any of these things happens to you...

I am often asked whether physical aggression by women toward men, such as a slap in the face, is abuse. The answer is: "It depends." Men typically experience women's shoves or slaps as annoying and infuriating rather than intimidating, so the long-term emotional effects are less damaging. It is rare to find a man who has gradually lost his freedom or self-esteem because of a woman's aggressiveness. I object to any form of physical aggression in relationships except for what is truly essential for self-defense, but I reserve the word abuse for situations of control or intimidation...

He coerces you into having sex or sexually assaults you.
...Studies indicate that women who are raped by intimate partners suffer even deeper and longer-lasting effects than those who are raped by strangers or nonintimate acquaintances. If you have experienced sexual assault or chronic sexual pressure in your relationship, call an abuse hotline or a rape hotline, even if you don't feel that the term rape applies to what your partner did.

His controlling, disrespectful, or degrading behavior is a pattern...

You show signs of being abused...
Are you afraid of him?
Are you getting distant from friends or family because he makes those relationships difficult?
Is your level of energy and motivation declining, or do you feel depressed?
Is your self-opinion declining, so that you are always fighting to be good enough and to prove yourself?
Do you find yourself constantly preoccupied with the relationship and how to fix it?
Do you feel like you can't do anything right?
Do you feel like the problems in your relationship are all your fault?
Do you repeatedly leave arguments feeling like you've been messed with but can't figure out exactly why?" (pages 123-130)

Why Does He Do That? has advice on how to get away from an abuser; information I wish I would have had 4 years ago.

I'll write a more personal blog post as soon as I have a chance. I have been making progress in treatment, and reading a lot. I have a lot to write about.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm just not that into him.

Let me just say that my dating track record is a disaster. It's like my romantic life lives in a small coastal village regularly hit by tsunamis, occupied by pyromaniacs and bad drivers, with a poorly marked airstrip. I'm trying to hitch a ride to a city further inland with better technology and safety measures.

I, like many women, hold two unfortunate misconceptions about relationships:
1. Being in a relationship reflects highly on me, being single means there's something wrong with me.
2. If the other person in the relationship is treating me badly, I can fix the relationship by being a better girlfriend.

Of course, I would never think those apply to my friends. My friends are smart, funny, beautiful, and wonderful, and a boyfriend has nothing to do with it. If they are in a relationship with someone who treats them badly, makes them miserable, or disrespects them in any way, I am outraged and want them to break up immediately. I'm a wealth of information on bad relationships- books to read, warning signs, bad case scenarios, how to get a restraining order...

If only I could take my own advice.
In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft has a list of warning signs for abusive relationships. (It starts on page 114.) It's one of my favorite parts of the book, since I need lots of help in trying to avoid those types of relationships. When I look back at all my icky relationships, you better believe I've gone over everything, trying to figure out the signs that I should have hit the road earlier rather than later. So, as a companion piece to Bancroft's list, here's my own list of early warning signs for bad relationships:

1. Possessiveness
A guy with "jealousy problems" will often try to appeal to your sympathy, usually with some heartbreaking story of how he was cheated on or used by a woman, and now he has "trust issues". He may constantly try to illicit declarations of loyalty from you, and seems to be genuinely suffering from his fears of abandonment and betrayal. Or he may just act insecure and hyper-sensitive, and try to convince you that he is so in love with you that he's terrified you'll hurt him and can't stand the thought of you leaving him. Don't buy it. There's a big difference between jealousy and possessiveness. Jealousy is an emotion that most of us can understand and sympathize with. Possessiveness is a belief that your partner belongs to you; that she exists to satisfy your needs.

The signs of possessiveness can be obvious, or more subtle- things such as: wanting to know where you are at all times (usually without thinking that you should know where he is at all times), accusing you of cheating on him or flirting with other men, not wanting you to have any male friends, trying to prevent you from going out without him, showing up unannounced at your work, home, or other places he knows you'll be at trying to "catch" you at something, making demands on your time or demanding sympathy and care whenever he wants it, wanting to make a big show of physical affection in public, or physical domination (like putting his hand around your neck, holding you in a way that feels restraining).

The affects of this kind of treatment can vary as well, from feeling that you're being disrespected and your needs are being ignored, to being afraid. If you break up with someone who is possessive, there's a chance he could stalk you. I spent 5 years with a guy who was constantly accusing me of cheating on him, in the future. He made my life hell- monitoring my activities, trying to prevent me from going out with friends, putting me down, because he "knew" I would cheat on him someday. I got wrapped up in trying to convince him that I wouldn't cheat on him or leave him, thinking he would stop with the out-of-control jealousy as soon as he realized I was loyal and trustworthy. His possessiveness only got worse the more control he got over my life. I finally broke up with him after I started grad school. He made it impossible for me to study at home because he wanted me to spend my evenings with him, and he was constantly enraged with me because of the time I spent at school. I had also started to realize that his threats, yelling, and manipulations were abuse, and it became totally clear that he was abusive after we broke up and it became physical. He stalked me for 3 years after we broke up, and it only stopped because I moved several times, changed my phone number, and blocked him from my email.

So, what were the signs that I glossed over in the beginning of our relationship? 1. I was waiting tables at the time, and one evening I noticed he was at the bar watching me. He gave me a glare that made me feel guilty, even though all I had done was talk to customers and my co-workers. 2. He gave me the silent treatment all the time and refused to tell me what I had done wrong, telling me that "I should know." I felt like I was always doing something wrong, and I didn't know what it was or how to avoid pissing him off. 3. He and his friend stole my Christmas bonus, a bottle of Knob Creek, and drank it all. They didn't leave me a drop. Apparently, he thought he owned my booze as well as me. They even mixed it with Diet Coke. Knob Creek with Diet Coke! That was sufficient grounds to dump him on the spot, and I wish I had!

2. "Constructive" criticisms
I had a boyfriend who would accuse me of having the arguing skills of lawyer (i.e. I was argumentative), and taking advantage of his sensitive nature with my verbal aggressiveness when I would try to talk to him about how he was treating me. He was playing a little trick on me. We never talked about my concerns about our relationship because it quickly became an argument about my communication style. He always diverted the attention to what I was doing wrong. I stayed in the relationship for another couple months, thinking if I just approached him the right way, and was humble and dispassionate, we could have a mutually beneficial discussion about how to improve our relationship so that we'd both be happy and satisfied (re: I was neither happy nor satisfied, and he was acting like he hated me).

Needless to say, it was impossible to talk to him in a way he found acceptable. I broke up with him after spending a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde weekend with him where he alternated between wanting to make out with me in public and pushing me away when I tried to be affectionate with him. He admitted he was "punishing" me for getting upset with him the week before.

You wouldn't know it from some of the guys I've gone out with, but your boyfriend is not your boss, parent, or anyone who should be critiquing your performance and suggesting all the ways you should improve yourself. (Your boss and parents should probably keep the criticisms to a minimum as well.) It's not his job to tell you what's wrong with you, and it certainly doesn't make sense for him to refuse to listen to you or take you seriously unless you live up to his expectations of you. He's supposed to appreciate you for who you are, even like you. To quote Why Does He Do That?- "You can't be in a fair and healthy relationship if you can't raise grievances." (page 125) And you can't raise grievances if all he wants to talk about is what you're doing wrong.

My warning signs for the last one were: 1. I was telling him I was upset about something, and he said "Don't you have friends you could talk to about this?” 2. We were going to a wedding, and when I got there to pick him up (yes, I drove him), he got upset because I wasn't wearing a dress and he thought he looked better than I did. He kept ignoring me when I tried to talk to him. At the after-wedding party, he got drunk and tried to grab onto me on the dance floor. It gave me the creeps. Actually, that stuff took about six months to show up. I think the lesson with this one is that I should have gotten to know him better in the beginning. He was all Mr. Sensitive crazy-about-me, but it became clear later that he wasn't in love with me; he was in love with his fantasy of the perfect girlfriend. He tuned out the me who had problems with our relationship, wasn't a porn star, didn't go along with his fundamentalist atheist beliefs, and wasn't the perfect little girlfriend that all his friends would adore. He was pretty nasty when things didn't go the way it did in his fantasy.

3. You should be more agreeable.
Speaking of which, a guy who freaks out when you disagree with him is a big problem. This is an easy one to test. Just start talking about politics, or religion, or something like that, and you're sure to disagree about something. If he attacks you personally rather than your position, and doesn't see the value in anything you have to say that doesn't conform to his beliefs, time to move on! And if he punishes you for disagreeing with him by giving you the silent treatment, withholding affection, or intimidating you, that's not only a warning sign for a bad relationship, it's a warning sign for abuse.

4. Physical affection is my department.
If you're not "allowed" to initiate physical affection, that means he considers affection to be for his benefit, not yours. Not only does it suck to be with someone who makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed for wanting physical attention, but also it's a big sign that he doesn't regard you as an equal. And if a guy pressures you for sex, drive him immediately to the nearest junior high school and get him enrolled. For god's sake, don't sleep with him.

5. He Doth Protest Too Much
I had a boyfriend who was "friends" with his ex-girlfriend. He was always telling me that he was truly a "nice" guy (not like those guys his ex had been sleeping with since they broke up); he would never fuck a woman over; he would always be honest with her. He was a real catch; I should feel lucky to be with him because he was such a great guy. Blah, blah, blah, he would always make a point of telling me how trustworthy he was and how him and his ex were just friends whenever he would go meet her "for coffee". I'm sure all of you figured out what was going on much faster than I did- yes, he was sleeping with her. I found out through the grapevine. I was truly shocked, unlike everyone else.

If a guy self-identifies as "nice" or "sensitive", he's probably a raging asshole. At least that's been my experience. It's not always the case, but don't take his word for it at least.

Where do I begin with the guys who insist on complaining endlessly about their ex's? If he goes on and on about her on the first, second, or any date, it's doomed. He's not exactly focused on you if he can't stop talking about her. He could be bringing her up for more nefarious reasons, too. Like I said above, he could use an ex as an excuse to be jealous and controlling. Alternatively, he could just throw it in your face whenever you get in a fight- “I don’t need this! You're acting like my ex!" Or, as an excuse to not get serious with you, "I have intimacy issues because of my ex. I can't have that kind of relationship with you." You should never be compared to, or made to suffer for something an ex supposedly did. If he doesn't want a relationship with you, he's wasting your time.

This brings up the issue of why it's okay for me to bitch about my ex's. Well, I wouldn't talk about this stuff with someone I was dating. Moreover, I'm not dating right now, so there's no danger of me taking this out on anyone except you, gentle reader. Don't you feel special?

Sometimes it is hard to know how much to tell someone you're dating. I have not figured this out, especially since I have all this stuff in my past. This blog is kind of a catch-22. If, in the future, a guy wants to date me, should I tell him about my blog? If he reads it and still wants to date me, I'll be worried he's one of those savior types, who regards me as a princess in need of rescuing, and not as an equal. Speaking of which...

6. Teacher Man
I had a high school teacher who had married (and divorced) a former student, and had a son who was older than me. He took an interest in me, and was always giving me advice. After I graduated, he called and wanted to make plans for us to talk about my future. I blew him off. I received a letter from him the next week. In the letter, he said that I was immature for not wanting a relationship with an older man. He said that I was "prejudiced" against older men because I was sexually abused (yes, he knew about that), and that my prejudice prevented me from being a real woman. He could do things for me, and I would not be successful in college without his help because I was unsophisticated and inexperienced.

Later, I found out that another student (who was 17) had moved in with him. Ick. Thankfully, he was forced out of his teaching job.

This man is a sexual predator. He is attracted to power differentials, and looks for someone he sees as weaker than him, someone he can dominate. I am extremely wary of anyone who lectures me, or wants to "teach" me something, "help me" with my issues, or "take care" of me. Anyone who thinks they know what's best for me better than I do doesn't see me as an equal. Daddy, stay away.

7. Poor me
A guy who tries to get sympathy because he’s been “victimized” by women, or acts like you are victimizing him because you won’t sleep with him or put up with his crap, is not to be trusted. Some guys will try to make out like powerful women, women they were powerless to resist, barreled into their life, took advantage of their naiveté and exemplary motives, used and abused them, and then bring up this story as an excuse for disrespecting you. I dated a guy who liked to whine a lot about his ex-wife who cheated on him. He was a jerk, and after months of hearing his hard-luck story he admitted that he had cheated on her first and repeatedly before she ever cheated on him.
The bottom line is that men and women get their hearts broken all the time, and we all have imperfect mothers and fathers, and that is hardly an excuse to mistreat someone you’re dating. The idea that women are aggressors, routinely ruining men's lives and trying to control them, is a gender stereotype used to put women down and deny us equal rights. Moreover, it is ridiculous, considering the astronomical percentages of women who are raped and abused, not to mention the disparity in political power. Men who play the victim are taking advantage of long-standing derogatory ideas about women as temptresses and harlots, who need to be shut up and put down to prevent us from getting too uppity and demanding fair treatment.

They also play on the expectation that women are responsible for relationships, so if a relationship doesn’t work out, it is the woman’s fault. If a man cheats, the woman did not satisfy him. If he was abusive, she was too much of a doormat. If he doesn’t contribute fairly to the household chores, it’s because she’s a nag. If he takes advantage of her financially, she was too trusting, stupid even. When she complains, she’s the one with issues. It is all too easy to hold a woman responsible for all the problems in a relationship.

Of course, I should put in a disclaimer that not all men are like this, I do not hate men, and if you are a man reading this I think you are super. I do believe that society discriminates against women- politically, in the workplace, in relationships, in the media, and in the courts. I think that society largely accepts rape, abuse, and sexual harassment directed at women and girls because it keeps women in their place. Many, many men have joined with women to fight this, though. Men who respect women and do not see us as inferior. Men with daughters, girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, and friends whom they care about and value. Men who realize that discrimination hurts everyone. Men who have written books that have convinced me that I deserve better. Men who have been nothing but supportive, understanding, and compassionate towards me and my struggles. It would be a huge mistake to regard men as “the enemy” when more often they are my allies and friends. I love my brother and my male friends way too much to think that way, and in reality, the world is full of amazing men and women trying to be good and decent, and make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, attitudes of discrimination are still rampant. The thing that disturbs me the most is when you try to talk about the challenges women still face and you get attacked as a man hater and a ball buster. I think the best way that someone like me can improve my standing in relationships is to learn to respect and stand up for myself. That does not mean, however, that I am to blame for the disrespectful ways I have been treated. It does not mean that men that take advantage of women who do not think highly of themselves are off the hook.

8. I make the plans
I dated a guy who never wanted to make definite plans with me. The operative phrase in that sentence is with me. He'd say he wanted to be spontaneous or surprise me, and then show up at my apartment with our time together planned out, doing what he wanted to do. The one time, in the year that we dated, that we did something I wanted to do, he whined so much I got a migraine. He also kept trying to take control of the situation. We were at a music festival, and he said, "Why don't you pick one band you want to see, and then we'll go do something else." When I got upset with him, he suggested we go to a restaurant he wanted to try out to "talk about it". He would even make plans, without allowing me any input, and expect me to pay half the cost. This was unbelievably aggravating.

9. Mixed messages
The thing is, all these warning signs sound really obvious, especially when I'm picking out the bad parts of my past relationships. Of course, I'm not stupid, and the reason I got into and stayed in relationships despite the warning signs is that I thought the guy really did care about me and appreciate me because of other things he said or did. You know that not everything will be perfect in a relationship, and I think women are socialized to almost expect bad behavior from men, to be very forgiving and flexible, and to try, really hard, to fix the relationship no matter what. It can be really hard to walk away from someone who says they love you, you love them, and you're happy with them some of the time, even if you realize that the relationship is fundamentally not working for you, not satisfying your needs, and not fixable.

I was really in love with Mr. Plan-y. When I finally hit my limit and took a stand on the issue of him not giving my wishes equal, or any, weight in the planning process, he broke up with me. Then he called me all the time, wanted to spend time with me, follow me around while I did errands, take me out and pay (something he wouldn't do when we were going out). He even asked me to do things he thought I would enjoy! When I asked why he was acting like my boyfriend after he broke up with me, he cried and said that he still loved me. He wrote me a letter that talked about how beautiful, smart, talented, and generally amazing I was. He said that breaking up with me was the hardest thing he'd ever done, he would regret it because he was walking away from “the best girl he’d ever known.” That was a year and a half ago. Just last December at my company's holiday party, I found out one of my co-workers had met him and when he found out she worked at my company, he went on and on about how wonderful I am. Yet, he has never tried to get back together with me, and just in the three months after we broke up, he dated four other women.

Why the mixed messages? It was so hard for me to get over this guy, even though when we were going out I was irritated with him much of the time. A friend just happened to give me He's Just Not That Into You the same day I got the letter. If you've heard of this book, you probably know it's a very mainstream self-help book, written by two people connected to Sex in the City- Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. The basic message to this book is that a guy who's really into you won't send you mixed messages. He'll be clear about wanting to be with you, and he'll let you know that he values you.

I have read and re-read this book countless times in the last year and a half. It is so hard to let go of the idea that a guy will treat me the way I want if I just figure out how to act and how to “fix” ailing relationships. Whenever I'm tempted to try to analyze a guy’s confusing behavior, or when I'm unhappy with someone and trying to figure out what to do, I re-read the book. It's really very simple- if you're not happy with someone, move on. Live your life. Don't spend all your time obsessing about guys and why they do the things they do. In a way, that seems to contradict Why Does He Do That?, but actually, they have very similar messages. Don't listen to excuses, and don't create excuses for why someone is treating you badly. Listen to your instincts, and if you feel uncomfortable with someone's behavior, take it seriously. Don't waste your time with someone who belittles your feelings and doesn’t respect you. If you feel bad about yourself in a relationship, if you are unhappy, stop focusing on the other person and focus on what you can do to make your life better. Don’t wait around for someone to change. You deserve better.