Monday, March 12, 2012

Unfilling the Landfill

I'm taking a brief break on the love series to insert my recent experience helping my grandmother unpack her house. Back to love soon.

Unfilling the Landfill

I frequently struggle to find bits and pieces of me that are like my mom, as we have few personality traits in common. But one thing I inherited from her is her adherence to minimalist living. My mom just doesn’t accumulate *things *. She doesn’t really shop unless it’s to buy something she truly needs, and she thinks long and hard about whether she needs it. Sometimes for weeks, or months, or even years.

As her only biological child, I am so incredibly grateful for this. Even though I never want to think that someday she’ll be gone, I realize what a gift it will be to me that she will have left me with so little to do. And I’m grateful that, either by nature or nurture, I’ve become ruthless about not accumulating things as well.

I have spent the last two days helping my paternal grandmother unpack from her most recent move. I was overwhelmed by the accumulation of decades of indulging in purchases. Unlike my mother, my paternal grandmother is a borderline hoarder, with a depression-era mentality. I felt almost suffocated as I went through hundreds of boxes today trying to help her sort through a life filled with buying.

I won’t go into my grandmother’s backstory, but I will say this, it’s clear that she buys to fill a hole in her life. When you buy big houses (as she does) and you buy things to fill it (as many do), what you’re really buying is ‘pain medication’, something to take the place of the emotional pain that you carry with you, often from childhood.

I’ve had my own struggles from childhood. Abuse, immediate family members with mental illness, divorces, custody battles – it’s all been there. And I realized in my early 20s that if I didn’t start spending some significant time in therapy, I would catapult my own life into that of excess. I would seek to impress others (because of my own insecurities and lack of self-worth) and fill voids in myself by 'over accumulating' things.

We can all justify purchases – but actually really and truly *needing* something is rare. And it takes a lot of work and will-power to really live within your needs, not your wants. And it takes a tremendous amount of grace and self-assurance about who you are to live small and with just enough to meet your immediate needs. I’m still not there yet. But I strive to be.

And two days of physically working for hours upon hours because someone never chose to be present about what they really needed, which was therapy – and not the retail kind – made me realize something: that when we don’t truly tend to our emotional needs, we burden others – sometimes many generations down – with our chaos.

I didn’t mind helping my grandmother unpack today, because I love her. But I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I could have spent today taking her somewhere fun, like the museum, if I weren’t slicing open boxes looking for her dishes so she didn’t have to eat on paper plates.

And let me tell you, I went through hundreds of boxes and I never found those dishes. Not even close. And there were probably (and trust me when I say, I’m not exaggerating) several thousand more boxes to go.

Live smaller. Buy less. Scale down. Collect experiences, not things.

Every single thing you buy, someone will have to eventually discard – you, your kids, your grandkids, your spouse. It’s just stuff. It will wind up in a landfill. So stop filling it.

And when you want to go to the mall, or go buy something at some big box store – detour instead to take a walk in the park, or go to the movies, go to a museum, take a painting class. If you still need what you needed today two months from now, you might actually need it.

Today, collecting less and experiencing more,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Love

I'm starting a new series for TECP on love. It's a strange and difficult topic for many of us, because we've all been drowning in or thrown violently out at some point in our life. Aside from the intimate nature of some versions of love, there are thousands of variations on what love actually is. I read somewhere years ago that the Greeks have many different words for love -- sibling love, romantic love, divine love, lust etc. The English just have one word and we have only context to give us clues to what we 'love' when we say "I love...".

One of my closest friends wrote the first post (below) in the series. She's been through love school recently. "What the hell is love?" she must have asked aloud one day. Because, (read this in a Texas drawl) I tell you what, she has learned what love is. As a friend, I watched this journey and watched her leave her marriage. And I watched her find the most beautiful and also the most excruciating relationship. And I watched her fall in love. And I watched her let that love go. And now I'm watching her heal.

And here's what I love, for her, and for all of us who find and explore love; we are all learning that Love is a journey, not a destination.

Today, love,

On Love
By: Laura Smith

I never understood love songs. I used to listen to the lyrics and think to myself, "Damn. That person is completely insane. Co-dependent. They need to be less insecure. More confident. Less dramatic.. More boundaries. Not so pathetic. More sure of themselves without the other."

I thought, "This is not real life. People don't really feel that way about other people, not if they really know them, not if they live in reality, not if they are healthy and whole." I was a therapist in training (literally), a control freak (totally), and someone who not only believed there was and should be a
plan - but had written and was executing the plan herself. Someone who had never had her heart broken, and maybe even had never really been in love. From age 16 through age 34 I was someone's girlfriend or someone's wife (and even someone's Mom), and I could not relate to a love song.

I was living with and then married to a man for 12 years. I met him when I was 20. I looked up to him. I admired him. He was 8 years older than me, and a leader in the work I was doing. He was to me a symbol of everything I wanted -- someone who would treat me well, share my same goals, someone who wanted to have children, and who would support me in my dreams and aspirations. Someone who would never raise his voice to me, or lie to me or cheat on me, or, be unpredictably mean like my father. I chose well. I chose a solid, honest, smart, kind, gentle, loving person to marry and have a son with. I care about him and respect him very much.

Can I really say I loved him? I don't know now. I was happily married a long time, and moving forward in "the plan" very peacefully. I know when the marriage was crumbling and I wanted nothing more than to be out, I did not feel love. I felt trapped and suffocated and like a part of me would die if I stayed. Not because he wasn't a good man, a kind man, a great father, and a supportive husband. But, I felt like I was starving for something I had never even tasted. A kind of beauty and adventure that was not possible in the marriage I was in. And I know I caused him great pain and suffering because I couldn't name it. I just knew it existed outside of him and outside of the life we knew together, and I had to leave.

Song lyrics started to play in my mind:

"Looking at you makes it harder
but I know that you'll find another
who doesn't always make you wanna cry
started with a perfect kiss
then we could feel the poison set in
perfect couldn't keep this love alive..."

And I was right. And, very shortly after our separation, I met a wonderfully charming and indescribably dynamic and brilliant man who I absolutely fell in love with. I would even go so far as to say "head over heels in love." Never understood that phrase before either, but now I do.

Head over heels, knock you on your ass, challenge all your sensibilities and practical judgment, drink it in, let it intoxicate you and take over, kind of IN LOVE with this man. The sex was unbelievable. We cooked, we laughed until our stomachs hurt, we spent endless days hiking and exploring little Texas towns, we traveled, we camped, we tried new foods, we slept late, we jumped from bridges, we spent whole evenings eating junk food and dreaming up travel plans, we struggled with how to negotiate all the things in our respective lives, to make them fit, because we so desperately wanted to be near each other.

And when it became clear to me that he was very ill.....we talked to doctors, we stayed up all night in pharmacies, and hospital waiting rooms, I spent hours on the phone with his family and friends, and I agonized over his well being and the future of our relationship. AGONIZED. I knew, deep down, from the beginning it wasn't practical. He was a bit of a disaster, and he was young, and it probably wasn't going to work. But, I wanted to be with him so badly.

More song lyrics seem appropriate:

"Hey darlin', do you gamble?
Cause I'm runnin' the inside track
And I'm takin' all that I can
And I'm never lookin' back
Now I believe, you should run with me...for a while"

And, eventually, we broke up. He left. He said he couldn't handle a relationship, and he wanted to go travel the world, and that he couldn't stay in Texas, and he couldn't get better, and he couldn't meet my needs.

And, my heart was literally broken open.

That relationship was no picnic. There was a lot of turbulence and a lot of pain. But, I can tell you for sure I loved him. Loved him to bits and tiny pieces, and would have done anything to make that work. Was I angry and hurt and disappointed sometimes? Yes. Did I ever question whether we should be together? Yes. But, question loving him I did not.

Then, from a book, this passage made a knot in my chest, and literally pulled tears out of my body:

"Once after several days completely to ourselves with no contact at all with the outside world, he brought me an anthology of writings about love. He had tagged one short entry that captured the essence not only of those intense, glorious days but of the entire year as well.

Thank you for a lovely weekend. They tell me it rained."

When I was young, maybe I thought it was a weakness, to let yourself go like that, lose control, not be holding all the cards, allow yourself to be vulnerable enough for someone else's circumstances, whims, fancies, addictions, hurts, moods, hang ups, or just plain bad timing to affect you so deeply. When I was young, I thought the right answer was to think practically, to protect yourself, to make sure you were in the driver's seat, and to choose WISELY, above and beyond all else. Now I know it's both.

Now I know that you have to take a risk. If you feel that chemistry, that spark, that "je ne sais quoi" with someone, that feeling that you might just kiss them on the first date, in the midddle of a crowd, without asking have to go for it. All in. Both feet. And drink it up, because, that is the good stuff.

I've also learned that you must love yourself first. You deserve to have that person risk for you too, and go all in with you, and be vulnerable, and a little crazy too, because we all are just a little bit broken, and those are some of the best parts.

 I've learned that it won't be like those endless sex filled dreamy days all the time, but it should be sometimes. And it won't always be deep, meaning of life, tearful conversations, but it should be sometimes. And, I've learned from my friends who have this - solid, long lasting, real life, sturdy marriages - that it's all of that. It's getting on the roller coaster and being willing to stay on, holding hands, and enjoy it.

And when you are sitting in the hospital room, or dealing with errands and bills and daily life, that you still think to yourself, "Damn, I love him. I don't want to do this, I don't want to be here, but I do love him. "

I know what that feels like now, that deep aching feeling in your chest that can bring tears to your eyes, of happiness, of pride, of joy, of relief, of sadness, of loss. And I know how rare it is. How absolutely special and sacred it is. With love and with risk, comes loss, but I am willing to stand in line for the ride again. "Look, Mom, no hands!"

And more song lyrics are relevant:

"Come head on, full circle
our arms fill with miracles
play hearts kid, they work well
like magic, play aces, stay with me, go places
once more for the ages"