Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Letting Go of the Fear & Self-Inflicted Pain

from pj_vanf at Flickr
This post continues with Letting Go of the Fear & Self-Inflicted Pain from Chapter Four.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

In major decisions, such as whether or not to get married, the real consequences of error are serious, so you argue that you have every right to be cautious.  You do, but don't confuse rational caution with an irrational refusal to decide.
Even in serious matters, the consequences of a wrong choice aren't necessarily unbearable or irrevocable.  It's often possible to correct the error and live happily afterward.  In contrast, remind yourself of the harmful consequences of indecision.
It's further likely that you have trouble even with minor decisions, and here your irrationality should be more obvious.  After all, how can it be intolerable to buy the "wrong" shirt or choose the "wrong" menu item or vacation spot?  It may be inconvenient or, in extreme cases, unpleasant.  But intolerable?  If it feels intolerable, that's because, against all reason, you've decided that it is!

I'm not saying you shouldn't feel any pain when you make a poor choice.  It's only reasonable to be somewhat disappointed.  But if you are obsessive, you probably suffer far more than is reasonable, and most of the pain is self-inflicted.  It comes mainly from the things you tell yourself about your choices - the regrets, the second-guessing, and self-deprecation.  The actual damage done by the erroneous decision usually pales in comparison.
In many decisions, the pros and cons on both sides are a toss-up as far as one can tell before actually choosing.  That is, either choice will usually turn out fine if only you let it.  But even the most terrific decision can turn out badly if you let the forsaken option gnaw at you.
With some slightly revised thinking, this toss-up kind of situation would be a pleasure ninety percent of the time.  That's because what makes a decisions register as good or bad depends mostly on what you tell yourself after you've made it.  If you doubt each decision, dwelling upon the options passed over, your mind will unconsciously form a connection between the act of deciding and pain.  It's like being punished every time you make a decision - regardless of how good your choice is.  After a while, there's no such thing as a good choice; they all hurt, which perpetuates your reluctance to make them.
Less perfectionistic people make decisions without so much equivocating, and once the decision is made, rather than second-guessing it, they focus on making the most of it.  Because they are able to enjoy the positive aspects of the path chosen, their minds usually associate the act of deciding with pleasure, not pain.  This association perpetuates a willingness to keep making choices rather than shy away from them.

While I know I have fleas, or perfectionistic tendencies in some ways, this section is so not me.  I am all about making a decision, and then making it work and enjoying it.  Vacations.  Car purchases.  Choice of sandwich at Subway.

I can see how obsessing leads to a deteriorating spiral of painful decision-making and second-guessing.  But it bears repeating: Most of the pain is self-inflicted.  If every decision feels excruciating, you're going to make as few as possible.  The fewer you make, and the more terrible you make decisions out to be, the worse and harder it's gonna get to make any decisions.  The monsters on the other side of the door get bigger and scarier (in your mind) all the time, till all they have to do is rattle the doorknob and you're totally knotted up.

Whereas making a decision, deciding you are going to enjoy it, no matter what, is habit-forming, in a good way.  In a great way.

Let's say I have to go somewhere - in LA, always a hazardous decision.  This freeway or that one?  Or, perhaps, surface streets?  I can check, I can use my judgment based on previous drives in the same area/day of week/time of day, and still end up bottled up in traffic.  (Or, conversely, I can not do any prep or research at all, and have a lovely drive.)  I can use the traffic time to work myself into a frenzy, berate myself for taking the wrong route.  

Or, I can put on an album I haven't cued up in a while, make a (hands free) phone call or two, think about a story I'm working on...  I choose how I will let a decision affect me, and I don't choose to let it make me feel bad for too long.

How about you - do you too often beat up on yourself about "bad" decisions?
Is your decision-making pattern one you want to reinforce and continue?
Have you ever made a decision that seemed wrong at the time, and 
later it turned out quite well in the long run?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What's Life Like with an OCPDr?
Cooking With the Anal-Retentive Chef

Sometimes a video is worth a thousand words.  Anal-retentive is what people with OCPD used to be called.

Thanks to SeeSaw at freeforums for sharing this.
- Watch more Funny Videos at Vodpod.

Of course, this is hysterically funny - in a four minute clip, seen once.

It's much less funny at all if you experience this every day, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the garage...

I lived with the A-R Chef, who might go into total meltdown mode if he was at the stove, stirring something in a pan, and I dared enter the kitchen and stand at the counter 10 feet away from him, to refill my glass of water.  He would shut off the burners, throw down the towel draped over his shoulder, and storm out.  Then he would sit and smoke and pout, and only when he recovered his equilibrium, could he resume cooking.

If I tried to cook or finish preparing a meal, he usually refused to eat it.  Or he might wait until it was cold, and then complain about how terrible it tasted, cold.  Usually this was coupled with insults to me about what a pig I was, how I seemed to need to eat all the time, and other derogatory remarks about my size and shape.

As I've blogged here before and others have remarked on other sites, sometimes the kitchen reaction seems to be similar to what happens to those with autism who experience sensory overload.  It's not just the person "being picky" or controlling, exactly, it's almost a panic-type response to too much stimuli.

What's impossible for those living with such a person, is knowing what will "set them off."  Sometimes I could go into the kitchen when he was cooking and he would be fine.  He'd make a lovely meal, we'd sit down to eat together, have a pleasant conversation.  Sometimes this would bring tears to my eyes, because it was so nice - why couldn't it be like that all the time?  The feeling of trying to walk on eggshells, of constantly being wary of setting off the next meltdown or tantrum, becomes extremely wearing on the people who share a household with such a person.

I never could remember all the triggers (even if I could, there were always new ones), and so, I was constantly Doing Something Wrong (in his eyes).   It exhausted me - and, I'm sure, it was equally rough on him.  I have friends who are cognizant of their OCPD behaviors, who are courageously battling against them, and I know  they don't like it when they're "that way," either.

Even though I could never go back to that lifestyle, my heart is deeply filled with pity for my ex.  I know he had light bulb moments, from time to time, when he didn't want to be the way he was.

Still, I look forward to the time, when I begin dating again, of having a "normal" kitchen again.  Where I can kiss the cook - or be kissed, if I'm doing the cooking.  Where we can cook together, perhaps even nibble food off one another's fingertips, and if the burners get turned off, it's by mutual consent because we've gone to enjoy some loveplay before returning to eat.  I remember having a happy kitchen like that, once upon a time.

What is your kitchen like?  A happy place, or a minefield?
Has OCPD impacted your kitchen and food prep?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Overcoming Indecisiveness & the Fear of Commitment

This post continues with Overcoming Indecisiveness and the Fear of Commitment from Chapter Four.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

Overcoming Indecisiveness and the Fear of Commitment
If a person cannot make decisions or avoids commitments because he wants to "hold on to his options," he had better be enjoying them.  They are expensive.  Consider some of the costs:  
  • You suffer every time you can't decide about something or face a potential commitment.  It is grueling and excruciating to be torn apart this way.
  • Hundreds, even thousands of hours of your life are wasted on trying to make up your mind or ruminating over decisions already made.  Imagine how much energy this costs.  And for what?  Does all the waffling and stalling make the decisions turn out that much better?
  • Indecisiveness and fear of commitment are sure to cause you to miss numerous opportunities, from financial ventures to long-term romantic relationships. <snip>
  • A tentative attitude prevents you from giving anything your best effort.  <snip> do manage to get into or out of jobs, relationships, projects, purchases.  But you rarely do these things directly and cleanly, carried along by the force of unconflicted convictions, so your actions somehow feel as if they're not truly yours.  <snip>
You don't develop a strong, clear sense of self, partly because this would require you to acknowledge that, for better or worse, you have directed your own destiny.  <snip>
I once dated a man before my OCPD ex, who was probably OCPD as well, just not as severely.  He spent a great deal of energy explaining to me why he didn't have any choice in:  ...where he lived, what he did for a living, what he did artistically, on and on and on.  Rescuer that I was, I would  give him countless examples to show him that he did, indeed, have other options, he was simply choosing not to make them.

Finally I realized that that he was emotionally tied to this concept of himself as a victim of circumstance.  He refused to accept that he was doing what he was doing or living where he was living because that was his own choice.  I lost patience with the whole poor can't-help-myself attitude (though, apparently, not enough to keep from trying to Rescue the next one who came along).

One of the frustrating things about being involved with someone with this Perfectionist Personality is observing how very painful this "dithering" can be for the Ditherer. From the outside, it looks not only excruciating, but entirely avoidable.  It's like the old joke about somebody hitting himself in the head with a hammer, "because it feels so good when I stop."

Churning from Wikimedia
Good for butter, not for decision-making

It makes us want to scream, "Why, WHY are you doing this to yourself?"

Which, of course, is the multi-jillion dollar question.  Brain wiring?  Habit?  Chemical imbalance?  Childhood trauma?  All of the above?

I could wish there was more research and better answers as to the why, but what little there is suggests that the brain can be rewired, the old habits can be broken, and better, healthier ones put into place.  That it's not simply "the way it has to be" but a choice.

Those with this condition must come to see that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain/fear/risk of making a change, and be willing to invest the very hard work it takes to STOP the old, churning behaviors.

Would you be rich, if you had a dollar for every hour wasted dithering?
How about for the time spent second-guessing an already made decision?
Does being afraid to commit enrich your life, or steal from it?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Standing The Critic in a Corner
Reserving Safe Space for The Creator

Stand-Up Comedy
Follow the link to get your own copy
Is there anything better to do on a long road trip than tune in to some comedy?

I had this audiobook I've been trying to find the time to listen to.  I had 700 miles of Interstate 5 to burn, so I had the time.

So what does stand-up comedy possibly have to do with perfectionism gone wild?

In Chapter 6, one of the areas is how a joke can be expanded and vastly improved by using other points of view.  For somebody who is battling OCPD, these exercises in how to really imagine oneself into the skin of another person could be a great tool for developing empathy.

But it's Chapter 7 that I found most fascinating, for those with OCPD and those who love them.  It's about the rehearsal process.

Yes, boys and girls, comedians don't just leap onto the stage and start telling a bunch of jokes they've memorized.  They rehearse.  Jokes are performed, not simply regurgitated - and the way they are performed determined whether people laugh, or sit there, unamused.

Okay - so what does this have to do with Perfectionism?

Greg goes into wonderful detail breaking apart The Creator and The Critic. 
For example, while practicing his material, a comic may allow The Critic to interject a constant stream of negative comments through internal self-talk.  It usually goes like this:

Creator: This guys goes into a confessional.  He says to the minister...
Critic: That was terrible, it's not a minister, it's a priest.  What's wrong with you?  You're so stupid.  It's a priest.  Now, try it again.
Creator: This guy grows...
Critic: What the hell are you doing?  Take it from the top.
Creator: This guy goes into a confessional.
Critic: You didn't pay your bills today.  You're going to get late charges added on to them.  Why did you stop?  You idiot.  Do it again.
Sound familiar yet?

Greg has many wonderful suggestions on how to encourage The Creator, which is the lively, fun spirit that the audience wants to hear, and still save a place for The Critic, who will sharpen the performance and make it better.

Yes, The Critic is not simply a mean a$$hole, but somebody who is vital to the process for any creative person.

Part of the process is to rehearse with our body in two physically separate locations.  When it's The Creator's turn to let fly and rehearse, it happens in THIS room or spot - and The Critic isn't even permitted within eyesight of The Creator.

Then when it's time to fine-tune, we walk to a different room, or at least a different location in the room,  and then The Critic can offer suggestions, point out weaknesses, etc.  It sounds a little nutty, but by creating two different physical locations for two different mental activities, over time the brain truly does recognize what to do in spot A, and what to do in spot B.

The Critic is only allowed to talk/interrupt when s/he is in The Critic Space.  And that's where I think these concepts could be very helpful to those dealing with OCPD, who have a constant stream of negative comments running either inside their heads, or coming out of their mouths.

Again, The Critic is only allowed to say his piece when our body is physically is in his corner.  (Or whoever else we want to put him.)

The thing is, The Critic is a necessary part of the psyche.  The Critic is not the enemy (though sometimes she feels like it).  In The Creative Fire audio series, Clarissa Pinkola Estes also talks about visualizing The Critic, allowing him a space to be.  To even interview him and ask him what he is thinking.

We can't bury important parts of ourselves, like The Critic.  Some people will set as a goal, "I'm not going to be critical, ever again."  Really?

How's that working out for ya?  

It doesn't work, and often leads to The Critic breaking free and running amok.  What works is finding a role for him, and allowing him his rightful place, listening to him, but not letting him take over everything.

When with my OCPD ex, I tried to enforce a rule (to which he'd agreed) of no arguing allowed in the bedroom.  All arguments and nit-picking, like the cats, were to be left outside the threshold.  Mostly, I was successful, but occasionally he would break the rule.

Not having a safe refuge from The Critic in my old household was a big factor in me getting a new one.  Now I just have to learn to give my own, inner Critic the space to say what she needs me to hear, without letting her rule the roost.

What do you think about The Creator and The Critic?
Have you tried reserving a space for The Critic - and a safe place where she is banned?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Who's Afraid of Romantic Commitments
& The Uncommitted Marriage

This post continues with Who's Afraid of Romantic Commitments & The Uncommitted Marriage from Chapter Four.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

Although the majority of my patients who fear romantic commitments have been obsessive men like Marty, I have also known women to be the phobic party in these matches.  Sometimes both partners share the hidden terror of commitment.  <snip>
Mallinger goes on to write about a woman named Denise,  who'd pick the wrong men, but even when she found someone perfect, she would make excuses to not be with him - she didn't want to cut back on her jogging time, he might not like her cats, blah blah, woof woof.


Some individuals may actually go through the motions of making a commitment, moving in with their partner, even getting married.  But years later their behavior and their attitude may continue to reflect a desperate desire to keep their options open.

Bart, an architect, declared at our first meeting, "In a nutshell, my problem is women."  For five years he had been married to a woman named Bea, and had gradually lost interest in her, physically and emotionally, over the course of their marriage.  When I met him, he was plagued by sexual fantasies of other women, and had had three short-lived extramarital affairs.

Bart went so far as to tell Bea that he wanted to see other women and when she objected to this, he became angry.  However, when Bea began to voice her own doubts about the future of the relationship, Bart felt surprisingly anxious.  He told me, "It's one of the worst possible things that could happen.  I see divorce as one of the ultimate expressions of failure."  <snip>

He realized that whenever he was with Bea he typically focused on his conflict over their marriage, or dwelt on her flaws:

"In my usual state, I pretend to be happy, but really feel anxiety or anger that I don't express... Bea asks, 'Why don't you let yourself be happy?'  But that ties in with commitment.  When we're together and I'm felling happy, it's as if I'm conceding that I'm going to be married to Bea forever, and that really depresses me."  <snip>

I belong to several wonderful support boards, and one of the questions that comes up periodically is, "Do those with OCPD cheat?"  Some members proclaim ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I think the evidence indicates that while most do not, some do, for precisely "Bart's" reason.  Having extramarital flings is one way to avoid being truly committed to the relationship, of keeping one foot outside the door, as well as being able to pin the blame on one's partner as failing in yet another way.

Frankly, as I read this, I wanted to smack Bart upside the head.  Granted, this is just a small snippet, and apparently he did buckle down and work on the marriage - but it was all about him, his feelings, his fantasies, his freedom.  No hint that he felt guilty or sad for how he was behaving, or recognition that his actions were hurtful and unfair to Bea.  To me, the thought of being married to a "Bart" for the rest of my life would be completely depressing.

And while I think that, someday, finding another partner is key to being truly healed from my last relationship, I am in no hurry.

Have you ever drawn back or been pushed back from a relationship because of 
made up excuses, like cats, jogging, personal time?
Have you been hurt, or hurt others, by outside affairs?
Can you commit to Reactions button or a comment, below?  :-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nightmare on Hoarding Street

Titanic painting via Wikimedia
When I was living with OCPD ex, I used to have nightmares, not infrequently.  I would dream of being on a sinking ship, or in a big magnificent house with the roof all tattered and open to the elements.

Once I moved out, the dreams mostly stopped having that horrific nightmare quality, though I do still dream, and they aren't all rose petal on the bed fun dreams.

Last weekend, I had my ex over for a brief afternoon, friends-type of visit, for the first time in many months.  The cat loved playing with him.  I was glad to see him - and relieved when he left.  Because he's still untreated OCPD, and some of the signs and patterns leaked out, although he was on his very best behavior.

I was filled with sadness and pity for him, but not even marginally tempted to take up where we used to be.  An objective person might find him attractive, for his age.  I see him wearing the cheap straw cowboy hat he obsessed over on one of our vacations, and it's a total turn-off.

Anyway, although our visit wasn't dreadful, I'm pretty sure my dream that night was related.  One of those horrible nightmares where you wake up with your mouth dry and your heart pounding.  (My dream interp books say these are "venting" dreams and one should be grateful for them.  Mentally, I can accept that, emotionally, it's harder to get there.)

In my dream, I was both observing (like watching a movie) and being the lead character, a young woman in her mother's hoarding house.  Not a horrible hoarding house, either, probably along of the lines of Living Room #3, here.

However, the items that had been hoarded were all possessed and/or morphing into portals into another, creepy dimension, a la Poltergeist.

So I/she was hiding out in the stark, uncluttered bathroom, trying to devise a plan to leave/escape.  Her mother was there, too, very sorry and finally ready to admit there was a problem.  We removed the shower rod and found some other stick/rod/poker kind of device, to beat back any attacking items as we tried to leave.

When we opened the bathroom door, all was quiet.  We headed for the first door to the outside, and opened it only to find another, locked door behind it.  Still the clutter didn't attack, though I saw some of it, crawling up on the walls, oozing and transforming into something threatening.

Reached the sliding glass door, pulled it open, and RAN.  Thought briefly about grabbing the cat, but was afraid to slow down or delay.

Once outside on the sidewalk, I/she found groups of neighbors gathered at another house, across the street and a couple doors down.  (The mother was no longer in the dream, although there wasn't the sense she'd been left behind in the house.)  There'd been a burglary and ransacking at that house some nights previously.  I began wondering if perhaps the creepiness of the hoard had been all in my imagination, if I'd somehow picked up the other bad vibes from the robbery and projected them into the hoarding house.  It looked so normal - from the outside.  Then about 7-8 dogs on their owner's leashes all turned to face the hoarding house and howled.  And I knew I'd been right to get the hell outta there.  The cat came strolling out then, and I felt a little scared of it, though it seemed normal.

It looks so harmless, here...
Then for some reason, in order to leave the neighborhood I had to walk past the house between it and the garage, which had several big glass windows, and I saw inside the garages mounds of clutter, topped with old Christmas paper and garland.  And I knew that it, too, was possessed by evil spirits, and I was terrified of being sucked by in, but I made it through, safely.

In the last scene/frame I was adjusting a GPS tag/marker that would be attached to the hoard, which my boyfriend ( a dream boyfriend, not anyone I know in real life) was preparing to sink to the bottom of the ocean.  Not quite sure what the mechanics were (how the clutter got gathered up, who did it, and how it got onto a raft into the middle of the ocean, all bundled together with yellow hazard tape), or the logic behind it, I just knew a tremendous feeling of relief, knowing it was sinking, and that it would no longer be able to threaten me or anyone I loved.

Pacific Ocean Garbage
Don't hate me - I know it would not be okay to ACTUALLY
dump more crap in the ocean.  It was a dream metaphor.
And I woke up.  Feeling like I'd done some heavy lifting.

I have several good dream interpretation books, and I pretty much know what all these dreams have meant: sinking ship (feeling overwhelmed), damaged roof (damaged/missing boundaries), and this latest, as well.  I definitely believe that dreams are worth paying attention to, though we must be thoughtful and leave some wiggle room when working to decipher what they are trying to tell us. 

If you'd like to add your own thoughts/impressions in the comments, or share a scary or thought-provoking dream you've had, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 4 - Fear of Romantic Commitments

Adolphe William Bougereau
A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros
This post continues with Fear of Romantic Commitments from Chapter Four.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

 Fear of Romantic Commitments
Commitment-fearing obsessives suffer the most in the romantic realm.  It's not that they can't fall in love.  On the contrary, I've know obsessives who are addicted to the high-adrenaline excitement of romance in the early phases, and who fall in love time after time.  They may even be capable of balancing comfortably in a love relationship for long periods of time.  But whenever they sense an ultimatum to commit themselves in some way to a long-term, exclusive relationship with their romantic partner, their anxiety soars.  They are torn.  If they get up and walk away, they will still have their freedom, but they will have lost a precious source of intimacy and joy.  More important, they may have made an irreversible error that will haunt them forever.  Perhaps they will never fall in love again.  Or if they do, maybe no subsequent partner will ever measure up to the lost love.   
On the other hand, the thought of getting married feels like entering a tunnel that leads directly from the moment of commitment to the grave.  <snip>

This cycle of ultimatum-withdrawal-rapprochement is a common one among commitment-fearing obsessives.  <snip>  The obsessive may then withdraw from the relationship emotionally or physically, or he may start behaving in ways that provoke the other person to get out of it - thus enabling the obsessive to escape blame-free.  But many times when the commitment-seeking partner finally does walk away, the obsessive - now terrified that an end to the relationship may be an irreversible mistake - will try to win the partner back.  <snip>

I may have a bit of Fear Of Commitment Syndrome, myself.  Opening our hearts to another person is one of the hardest things any human being can ever do.  Perhaps it is telling that the Bougereau painting, above, is one of my all time classical favorites.

I've opened myself up, and gotten my heart stomped on with hobnailed boots.  I've held back - and perhaps lost out on what could have been the love of my life, because I wasn't willing to risk opening my heart, and my then-love interest moved on.

And yet... there are no eternal guarantees for anything.  Some of the best love relationships I've observed (from the outside) have not ended well.  Sometimes a partner gets ill, or dies.  Eventually, even if you find the love of your life at 16 and marry at 18 and live your lives happily together till age 108, one of you is going to die.  Perhaps you'll be together in the afterlife (some believe this, some don't), but on this earth, your relationship will end, someday.

Is it a smart trade-off - suffer the pain of never allowing ourselves to love, now, to save ourselves the potential pain of losing that love, someday?  I think that premise goes to the great Cosmic Scorekeeper, the idea that we can save up martyr chips to cash in later... but life doesn't work like that.

My OCPD ex used to bargain with me, that he might do this-and-such, if I would promise to never leave him, no matter what.

Although I was enveloped deep "in the fog," I did have the sense/courage to say, "No.  I will not promise to never leave, no matter what.  I love you, I want to stay with you, but if you repeatedly treat me like garbage, I will leave you.  No, I am not signing up to forever swallow whatever crap you choose to dish out."

And though the hoovering was intense, I am not sorry I moved on.

I think for a relationship to work, we have to feel that both partners are equally risking their hearts.   Hand-in-hand, jumping off that cliff together, not, "You go first, and MAYBE, eventually, if I feel safe enough someday I will join you." 

Have you experienced a reluctance to commit romantically, in yourself or others?
Or a cycle of drawing closer, pulling back, as described in Too Perfect?
Can you commit to Reactions button or a comment, below?  :-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Damn the Hankies, Full Speed Ahead!
Practicing Grief

Recently I realized I will probably be grieving someone or something, every day for the rest of my life. This makes me sound like some kind of Victorian novel heroine, swathed in black, sobbing melodramatically into my lace-edged hanky.

Uh, no.  One of the ways I decided to express grief over a recent loss was getting a tattoo.  Ain't it pretty?

 My getting a tat horrified my more conservative friends, who didn't feel this was The Right Way to grieve this particular loss.  (Or any losses, actually.)

There really isn't a wrong way to grieve - as long as we allow ourselves to grieve.  Grief is something people resist talking about, or even thinking about.  We treat grief like a bowel movement - it's gross and stinky and most people would prefer pretending they never have to deal with it.

Yet it's something we don't want to bottle up inside, because it'll make us ill.  We don't necessarily have to let it rip at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but sooner or later, it's going to come out.  In some form, or another.

There are many more things to grieve than the loss of a loved one, rough though that is.

When good things happen, we grieve, too.  Take graduating from college.  People assume, yippee, all that hard work behind you, you're done, you should be happy!!  And you probably are.

And yet... there will be friends you've become accustomed to seeing every day, that you may not see for a long time - possibly never again.  Certainly not on a daily basis.  You won't have the structure you're accustomed to: this class, that class, coffee over at this place, party over at that one.  There may be places at your college where you felt especially happy or comfortable: the library, the track, the dorm, a particular classroom.  You may be scared about the future: getting a job, finding somewhere to live, paying off your student loans.  You are losing the identity you've had for XX many years, as a college student.

Is it any wonder that many people graduate from college and find themselves in a blue funk?  I'm not bagging on college - college is a great thing, but if young people are not taught to expect grief as well as joy and relief upon graduating, they may be confused and unready to cope with the very mixed emotions they may experience.

There are all kinds of happy events, that also mean the loss of the person/identity/lifestyle we had before: marriage, promotions, the birth of a child, the publication of our first novel.  If we want to cope with life's joys, we need to learn about grief.

Of course, there are all the extremely crappy events of life we need to grieve, too: death of loved ones, getting laid off or fired from work, loss of friendships, divorce or break-up of relationships.

And if we are in a relationship with a mentally ill or disordered person, we need to grieve the fact that the relationship will never be "normal."

From Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler - On Grief and Grieving - about the five stages of grief:

They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.  They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.  Our grief is as individual as our lives.

The five stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance - are part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost.  They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.  But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.  Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.
I think the point above is vital, and one that many people don't realize.  They think, okay, grief, first you feel A, then B, then C, and after you go through all five stages, you're done, fini!  Like taking the train on the California coast: start in Los Angeles, travel north to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Salinas, San Jose, and end in San Francisco/Oakland.

We may experience grief in a linear fashion - and we may not.  We may bounce all around, get stuck in one place, never feel another. 

Another way of looking at the stages/areas of grief.

One thing is certain - we never truly get off the train.  I lost my mother to breast cancer many years ago.  Mostly, I am at the stage where I feel acceptance/resignation about her death, but even though it has been decades, there are still times when I feel angry, when I don't want to believe it (denial), where I play the what if game (bargaining), or when I am truly, deeply sad (depression).

We get into trouble over grief because we try to stuff it down.  We tell ourselves, "I shouldn't be feeling this, because..." [it's been so long, I should be happy, I don't have time to grieve]

Instead, we should give ourselves permission to grieve, to simply be with our feelings, instead of  trying to change them into something else.  To educate ourselves about grief and fear and all the stinky, unpleasant feelings, and let them have their time and space in our lives, too.

Transformation will happen... in its own time.  You can't rush a caterpillar into becoming a butterfly.

Here's a very abbreviated version of the five stages/areas of grief:

Denial - Because we are overwhelmed, because our mind may not be ready to process it, we may literally deny that the death or loss may be so.  We may play little mind games and pretend everything is just fine.  That we are fine, not hurting, we are great!

Anger - We may be angry at the person who died/left or at ourselves, for not being to control the situation or prevent it from happening.  We may blame others (doctors) who failed to prevent the death or who misdiagnosed the illness.  We may be angry at God or however we perceive the Divine.

Bargaining - So many Hollywood movies allow the main character to go back in time and the person won't have died or left after all, but real life doesn't work that way. Kübler-Ross refers to Guilt as bargaining's companion.  If we can only figure out what went wrong, we can prevent it from happening again.  This is very tempting, especially for those with OCPD, but the scary truth is, death and loss and unexpected things happen to everyone, no matter how fit or prepared we are, no matter what precautions we take.

Depression - Recently someone told my sister, that after she experienced the loss of her baby seven weeks after his birth, that the pain was so intense she wouldn't have been able to breathe, if her body hadn't done it automatically.  Sometimes "things" keep a person going - a memorial service to plan, children to care for, and when those tasks are accomplished, the grief and pain knock a person down and sit on our chests like a sumo wrestler.  We feel like not only can we not get up, but that we will never, ever be able to, and we don't want to.

There is such a critter as clinical depression, which may include a biological/hormonal imbalance in our bodies that truly needs medical intervention.  While we should not dismiss the concern of loved ones who express that we are "too depressed," or that our mourning has gone on "too long," we need to allow ourselves time and space to experience depression.  When in doubt, always consult appropriate psychiatric and medical professionals.

Acceptance/Resignation - this does not mean that we "feel okay" that our loved one is gone.  It does mean that we are learning to live with the new reality.  This is how it is, our world does not include the physical presence of this person, or these things.  We must negotiate a new life without him/her.

As I grieve two recent losses to death (my father and my grandbaby-to-be, for whom I got the tattoo), the loss of my relationship with my ex, due to his untreated OCPD, the old (but still painful, at times) loss of my mother, and the loss of other beloved people, relationships, identities, and dreams, I invite you to join me on this journey, and to share your own.

Recommended books on Loss and Grief:

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler - On Grief and Grieving
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross - On Death and Dying
Therese A. Rando - How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies
Ted Menten - Gentle Closings - How To Sat Goodbye To Someone You Love

Got more books to recommend?
Please share in the comments, below.