Things About Being Un-Afraid

There's this self-help guru out there on the interwebs named Tim Ferris, and other than having a stellar six pack and rocking a bald head almost as well as Bruce Willis, I am not sure what he exactly does that makes him so amazing, other than writing some pretty decentish things, which is something that I aspire to (along with a stellar six pack). But whatever it is that he is famous for, he's so good he only needs a website with his first name : - also something I should aspire to, except has a WAY cooler vibe than his. Anyway, Ferris - Tim, that is, has this thing he talks about called fearsetting. It's like goalsetting, except the un-side of it. Like, what you DON'T want to happen. When I stumbled across Tim's fearsetting TED talk, it occurred to me that I had actually been fearsetting in my own life for several years.

The first time that I remember consciously doing it was when I was in Uganda , trying to sleep in the searing heat under a mosquito net with tarantula sized holes in it. I was having a full-fledged panic attack. I couldn't breathe enough to gasp out the sobs that my soul was working up, and it wasn't the mosquitos or the tarantulas, since I am pretty sure there aren't any tarantulas in Uganda. It was as if I had suddenly realized, laying down to sleep, that I was, at a bare minimum, two days of travel away from my four little girls, without the resources or ability to get to them if something went wrong. I was a single mom, beyond poor, halfway around the world from my kids. The fear and doubt and guilt that raced through my mind that night was crippling. I couldn't escape it, so I faced it. Starting with the Worst Thing I Could Imagine, I looked each fear in the eye and asked myself what I would do. If one of my girls was hurt - how would I deal? I made a plan, who I could call, how I could get there. Then I faced the next fear, until I worked my way down the Worst Case Scenario List, making plans, until I had taken away all of the reasons to not go on with my trip and sleep soundly that night.

That, in an nutshell, is fearsetting. It's looking the most Terrible Thing You can Imagine in the face and asking yourself what you would do. Once you find an answer, the fear subsides. And there is always an answer.

On a daily basis we deal with anxiety about relationships and money and decisions, when the reality is that the thing that we are freaking out about is something we have probably already faced (which makes them rational fears, but fears nonetheless). When I panic about the risk of a being dumped or rejected or abandoned, I remember when I was, and I think about how I survived it, and how I would survive it better now. When I fear financial destitution, I reflect back on the moments of absolute poverty-stricken impossibility and how I got back on my feet by digging all of the quarters out of the couch cushions to buy gas to get to work. I wish I could say I was exaggerating.

I have never faced the loss of a child, or even a very close loved one, but I can imagine the disabling grief and when I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that their protection, especially as they launch into their own lives as adults, is out of my hands, I have to find peace in knowing I have the people around me to keep me together if something like that happened. And if I don't, I'd better get busy finding them.

Fears are really the things that keeps us from our goals. Fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of wasted time, energy, passion - those are my big things. I have never really had money to fear losing, and failure is such a ritual procedure for me that it doesn't scare me that much, but wasting one more day of this infinitely short life (yes, that's an oxymoron), scares the shit out of me. It's like FOMO (fear of missing out, for all you old people) on speed, because instead of missing out on like, the best Halloween party EVER, you're missing out on years of your life - or you gave them away like an idiot to some jerkface who didn't appreciate them.

So I face that fear, the fear of wasting time, and I look at all of the things that I have brought with me from the "wasted" years. Four AMAZING kids. Skillz. Mad skillz. Insight. Compassion. Empathy. Humility. A complete Battlestar Gallactica DVD set. So how wasted were those years? Look where they brought me! To a place I would never be otherwise, with people I might never have known. The fear subsides and I look forward to the next adventure. I pray that it is one that will last, but if it isn't, I know I will have gained even more.

So that's where I am at. Eating fear for breakfast along with pain and failure and stomping off all of the negative vibes. Or at least most days I am. Why we, as humans, and especially me, are so intent on finding the things to worry about when we have such good things to be doing, cookies to eat and dogs to pet and just, LIFE! But we, me especially, have to bog the good things down with the what ifs. And what if things were just fine? What if we had nothing to fear because we always have a way out? I say these things to remind myself that even the Worst Things can, and will be survived, so I might as well enjoy all of the Best Things that surround me every day.

Things That Lift

There's this sensation, at the end of the pack test, or any good ruck, when you take your pack off and you feel so light that you might float away. It's similar to the instant right after you deliver a baby where the pain was so intense that the sudden absence of it is almost euphoric.

I opened my eyes yesterday morning and I had that same sensation. It was like 20 years of weight had lifted off of my chest and all I felt was light and free. I smiled. Directly after waking up. Before coffee. With no one beside me except a Very Fuzzy Wiener Dog, I smiled. I think I might have even giggled.

I've been in a weird state of suspended animation for a few days. I am on one hand unwilling to connect with any deep, painful emotions that are lying in the subterranean depths of my soul because I have decided that The Thing in my life that just ended will not cost me one more tear. But I am also relentlessly happy. I don't feel sad. I am afraid to look deeply, but even when I peek past my superficial giddiness, I don't sense a looming darkness that has been there for some time, if I'm honest. Maybe even years.

I don't remember the last time that I felt this way. I am not certain I ever have. There has never been a moment in my life where I have no emotional or psychological obligatory tie to any other person (other than my kids, of course) and holy heck, it feels amazing. I owe no man nothin'.

Every choice I make, anything I decide to do, is for my own benefit. It's not to make anyone else happy. I can clean my house or not. Wash my hair or not. I can eat what I want, wear what I want, watch what I want, sleep if I want, or not. I don't have to worry about how somebody else is sleeping, or what might annoy them or make them react. I honestly don't give a rat's ass what anybody else wants or needs right now, and I like it.

I've lived, voluntarily, for the last three years on a minefield of fragile and destructive egg shells. Every move I made was potentially disastrous, and I don't think I had any idea how much it was weighing me down. I rolled onto that battlefield freshly wounded from a dense forest of psychological games and damage, so one tense struggle turned easily into another one, and if I danced Just So, the pain was less than before, so I was grateful. But the dance was exhausting. And now it's done. The woods and the trenches are behind me and I'm declaring an armistice for my heart.

Life's kind of been a fog for me the last week or so, partially due to a gnarly head cold and partially due to Certain Events, and I know the fog will eventually lift and I'll probably have some more vivid emotions to deal with. I am planning for that. But right now, I've got it on cruise control and everything feels ok, even in the rain and mist and dismal gray that I normally hate. Maybe I've always hated it because of the storm inside. I haven't even needed a drink lately. I know this buzz will wear off, but dang, it feels good for now.

Things That Sting

Three times now, you told me you don't want me. Twice, you changed your mind. You won't get that luxury again. Sure, I did this to myself. I wanted you to come back. I wanted you to want me. I wanted to be with you. I wanted US, and I was committed.

As I go through and delete all of the pictures of us today, it's funny how each one is associated with a negative memory. The context of when you would dump me next, or some critical thing you said, or just a heavy, nagging sense that I wasn't enough around you. There's good memories too. Great ones. Real, deep laughter and love. True love. I truly loved you. I believe you did me, as well, in your own limited way.

But not enough. Not enough to commit to me. To this. Too messy. Too complicated. No way forward, that you can see. One of us needs glasses because it looked okay up ahead to me. But that's good. I don't need somebody who doesn't want me. I'm too much to be not enough, you know?

I wish you well in your journey, wherever it takes you. I won't even try to imagine that because it hurts too much, whichever outcome. I hope you find what you're looking for. Or I hope you can at least figure out what you're looking for. I thought I had. I am grateful for the growing that being with you caused in me. I had to learn a lot of patience. I had to learn a lot of self-denial. I had to learn self control in new levels so I didn't scare you off, and that was good for me. I had to learn to curb passive-aggressive manipulation habits because you had no patience for them. I had to learn to be less emotional because you couldn't handle it. I had to learn to listen - all the way - before speaking (still working on this one). I learned the beauty of sitting quietly. I learned the value of protecting my down time. I learned that it is possible to give up too much for someone you love. I learned the hard way that it doesn't matter if you give it all, you can't change somebody else's heart.

I learned that sometimes, the things we need to move us forward can be really, really hard and excruciatingly painful and lonely. I thought I had learned that earlier in life, but it feels like I am learning it all over again, fresh and new. I also learned that I can survive things that I feel like I won't.

I am sad. I am sorry for you. For us. For the loss. For the wasted investment. I only hope that some part of if can carry forward into each of our lives separately and make us happier in the end. If I'm honest, right now I want you to suffer, but deep down that's not really true.

I won't say you're a good person. I think you're selfish and broken. Like most of us. Maybe just a bit more. I won't say you're a bad person either. You're just a person like the rest of us and now you're not even a special one to me. You just are.

I will say that I loved you as hard as I knew how. I saw your depth and your strength. And I saw your need for growth and I loved those things.

I know I shouldn't call it a waste. I know that it all happens for a reason. I know that in the end, it's for the best. I know all the things. But it feels like a waste. Like a big, fat, sad waste. But that's life. We buy in. We win. We lose. I gotta believe at some point the buying in is gonna win for me, but not this time. I'm too old for this middle school bullshit. I'm too old for the shame of an ex-boyfriend or another random face in the family pictures. This sucks.

The last time you ended it, I wrote something titled Why The Worst Boyfriend Ever Was the Hardest One to Lose. I never shared it, but here is part of it, edited to remove all the reasons why you were the Worst Ever, those will stay private for the time being... but the rest of it is still painfully true, and I am setting it all out here to remind myself, this time, why I won't look back.

I am learning a lot about control these days. Mostly, about the lack thereof that I have in every aspect of life except, like the stoic philosophers were so keen to point out, what goes on between my own two ears. 

I’ve been wrestling all night, every night, with one of the most intense and long-lived hurts that I have ever experienced. After all the random weirdness in my life, it feels strange to say that I am having such a terrible time recovering from a relationship that was far from ideal. But I think it was the lack of perfection that has been so hard to let go of. I fell for someone that was hard to love, and I loved the challenge.

I has made me aware that no amount of hard work, self-confrontation or dedication can change the mind or will of another person, and no amount of performance on my part can convince someone to love me. Not that I was perfect, far from it. He brought out ugly parts of me that I thought were dead and buried ages ago. Need for control and contact, even the green-eyed monster of jealousy… There were days when I was with him that I didn’t even like myself. But I took those challenges and tackled them. 

At the end of the day, I just wasn’t what he wanted, and it wasn’t a matter of me being worthy (even though I am) or him being an asshole (although he might be), the bottom line is, he gets to decide and there is nothing. I. can. do. Enter the pain. Enter the sense of helplessness. Hopelessness. 

I jumped into this, and he never promised me a rose garden. I moved, I switched up my life on a shaky, hopeless romantic feeling that there was something we needed in each other. I still don’t think I was wrong. I still think he is. But it doesn’t matter. I gambled and I lost, hard. He’s moving on to find what he really wants, now that he’s better, healthier, and he’s “got his shit together,” whatever that means. My shit has never been more all over the place and that’s because he and I measure “together” by different standards. “Together” in his world is financial and material success, “Together” in my world is an unconditional us. I know it’s out there for me, he’s just not a part of it. 

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