Perfectly Dysfunctional

Pefectly Dysfunctional

Bob and I have been in a committed relationship for more than a year. Our first date occurred on February 28, 2015, and this watershed evening portended more than lasting love. It was followed by respective winning streaks that continued straight through New Year’s Eve.

My partner enjoyed a string of personal records and new achievements in his marathon career, lost some extra weight and celebrated another year free of Crohn’s disease suffering. My own list bordered on embarrassing. So many riches: eczema remission, a loving new home with doggie siblings for Dino, a more satisfying and remunerative day job, a warm welcome into Bob’s family, travel and a teaching offer. I couldn’t lose. And for a writer (already predisposed to darkness) with a stupendously maladjusted biography, the change in fortunes was most welcome.

As 2016 commenced, I felt optimistic but understood that the year was likely to be less fantastically eventful. Settled into the 9-5 position, relaxed into an easy domestic rhythm with Bob and the fur babies, I looked ahead to the new challenges offered by teaching and several trips we’d planned together. For a very long 2015 moment, I was aware that I had everything I’ve ever wanted and worked toward. It was exhilarating and frightening. So much of my life has been conducted on the operating principle that I have nothing to lose. Go for broke became enjoy and protect last year.

Yet the deep, haunted part of me that has experienced sudden, frequent catastrophe remained alert. Things can and do fall apart. I refuse any longer to let dread prevent enjoyment, but there’s very little benefit to Pollyanna-ism either. Hot streaks can’t continue forever.

So it seems only logical that a lengthy dash of “winner, winner, chicken dinner” (as my friend Meg characterized 2015) collided with reality early and often in the first quarter of this year. I welcomed January with viral pneumonia. Within a three-week February span, Dino and Meko died, breaking our hearts and leaving Jude a confused only child. With Meko’s passing, differences between Bob and I were exposed vis a vis end of life philosophy. There was a painful argument and for a brief spell, we turned our pain on each other.

Also in February, my partner’s clan received shocking news about a heretofore unknown family member. This led to complicated reflections on truth and the past. My beloved aunt broke three ribs and punctured a lung. My baby sister contracted shingles. Close friends lost jobs, buried loved ones and battled illnesses. And on Easter weekend, I experienced the first migraine of the year, causing several days of bedridden vomiting, alopecia and a vow to rid myself of my menstrual cycle once and for all.

But it’s April 6, a new month and quarter. With the benefit of limited hindsight I’m grateful for this early wave of challenges. Yes, I’m filled with gratitude. Because honestly? I think Bob and I were just a little too perfect, too untested to know how strong our bond actually was. In the back of my mind lay a lingering taunt that went something like this: “Sure everything’s just ducky now. But what happens when the rubber meets the road? What do we look like when confronted with life outside our love bubble?”

The answer? We’re a little bruised and one of us (Bob) even limped for a few days. The shine is off. We’ve seen ugliness. And it’s beautiful. Lovely even. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes for which we have to apologize. We’re capable of hurting each other. But we’re also absolutely certain there are two of us in this boat, doing our best to row in tandem against life’s tsunamis.

2015: A Year of Fruition

Fruition

Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote this post, The Year After “Next Year.” In it, I took a retrospective look at 2014, a period where vague ideas I struggled with for so long finally coalesced. These two sentences really get to the heart of that transformation: “I am still traveling, but learning to enjoy the scenery and finally beginning to trust the internal compass. A solid year of slower, adrenaline-free decision making will do that.”

2015 began full of vigor and confidence. Vigor I’ve always known, but the cool underlying certainty with which I greeted the year was something new altogether. As I returned to the office post-holidays, I confided in a friend and colleague. The work I’d done in 2014 was moving in positive directions. 2015 was going to be big – even if I didn’t know what exactly that meant.

As I take stock of this year, one clear truth emerges. The highest expectations I had of myself and the last twelve months have been exceeded. Pick a life element: health, career, home, family, friendships, recreation or romantic love. Huge strides everywhere. The soundtrack in my head alternates between mental to-do lists, show tunes and reminiscences of things Bob said that made me laugh – the way my life was meant to be lived. A huge drop in the permitted white noise which rendered inertia has left me free to move in multiple new directions.

Hesitation and self-doubt hover, but are mostly relegated to the periphery where they belong. Because I’ve stared worst case scenarios in the eye, spit in them and started over. I can do that as many times as needed. But I don’t have to call up those survival skills as often now. Harnessing a commitment to change and a solid professional support team, centered decisions have resulted. Selfishness isn’t always a bad thing. The worst results of efforts made for and by myself exceed the helpless mediocrity I let others dictate in the past.

None of this insight means I’ve stopped requiring others, or become an island. Contrary to a co-dependent legacy, where I insisted that martyrdom was its own limp reward, I’ve added three important sentences to my vocabulary:

“I’m sorry I can’t/won’t do that.”
“I need help.”
“I want.”

I was raised to look at these utterances as weakness, when they actually represent strength. The power comes from using them judiciously. I remember sitting in session with a marriage counselor during the summer of 2011. He compared my then-husband to a “vending machine into which money is placed but no product released.” Smugly I turned that familiar look of martyrdom on the two men. I’d been vindicated. Yes. I’d invested so much in the relationship and just look at the results. Poor moi.

But then the therapist asked a follow-up question that seems so obvious from a healthier vantage point. If the vending machine continually cheated me, why did I keep depositing coins?

I don’t waste my metaphorical currency anymore. I let go of a friendship this year with someone I find tremendously talented and full of promise. Yet to misquote Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, I can’t afford to love the highest potential of a person more than who they actually are today.

I apply this value to myself as well. There’s less disconnect than ever between the ideal Becky I “should” be and the one who walks the dogs in board daylight wearing footie pajamas and a Storm Trooper winter cap. She’s no peerless Madonna (Virgin Mary or Material Girl – take your pick), But I kind of like her style. Owning that has attracted better quality opportunities that are exactly what I need.

So that’s my 2015. Justified faith, not in karma, the universe or some force beyond my control, but in my instincts and movements. They weren’t always right and were frequently ridiculous. But even the missteps offered something important.

Seasonal Attitude Disorder (December 12, 2012)

Seasonal Attitude Disorder

 

I am really trying to be enthusiastic about the holidays this year. On November 30, 2011 Eddie and I signed our final divorce papers and I was just emerging from a bout with cervical cancer. The complicated and conflicting emotions involved included being grateful for my life while wondering what on earth I was going to do with the rest of it. I was at a loss and that pretty much sapped my close-of-2011 energy. I was lonely, depressed, afraid and reclusive. I sat out December altogether and spent a low-key New Year’s Eve with close friends.

2012 has had its ups and downs but by and large, I am healthier and more whole than I can ever remember. The cancer is in remission, memories of an unhappy marriage began to recede and occupy their rightful, proportionate place. I grew professionally as I settled into a day job as the head writer for a housewares company, formulated new and interesting friendships, even took a couple shots at romance again. As the record currently stands, these forays into attachment did not end happily, but there was a time I believed I could never risk my heart. So there’s a simple pride in having put myself out there.

More than five weeks ago, as regular readers of this blog are aware, L’il Red (my beloved bike) and I were involved in a somewhat hellacious accident involving an unwise yellow-light decision and a moving SUV. I was thrown from the bicycle, landing squarely on my tailbone and sacrum (the base of the spine) in the process. Both of these bones are fractured but despite the weeks of discomfort behind me as well as the months of recovery ahead, I know it could have been much worse.

And dammit, I like to think of myself as a tough gal but continuous pain, drug side effects and the limiting of my range of motion are conspiring to upend this self-image. I hurt without medication. I struggle to eat and sleep when taking it. And no matter the state of physical discomfort, the holiday season is here to make me feel more pathetic and alone than I might otherwise. It’s frustrating because I was bloody determined not to be a humbug this year.

I have a pre-lit Christmas tree in my living room, a gift from the most recent boyfriend. When I find myself in the throes of pain, or sleepless from its relief, I turn on the four foot tall symbol of holiday cheer. Admittedly is is tougher to scowl when surrounded by glittering lights, but this kind of reminds me of those lamps doctors recommend to patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The light takes the edge off but it’s no real substitute for the sun you know? Likewise the flickering tannenbaum brings a fleeting comfort but it doesn’t replace the real sense of belonging, togetherness and celebration that the holiday season portends, and for which I yearn.

I’m writing about these feelings because I wish to master them. Know thine enemy and all that. I feel myself slipping into the usual Christmas despondency and the hope is that by recognizing it, I can hold it at bay. Growing up the eldest child of abusive and neglectful parents, the 12 Days of Christmas usually involved a rundown of why I didn’t deserve the blessings bestowed and what I had done to disappoint my progenitors throughout the calendar year. I am 34 years-old now. I don’t need or deserve to hear these voices this year – from my lips or anyone else’s.

2010 At Last (December 31, 2009)

2010

We were warned, and braced ourselves for a rough 2009. We knew the economy would remain rickety and jobs would be lost. We knew we’d have a long fight ahead of us, after the initial glow of the Obama inauguration wore off, when it came to reforming health care, making choices when it came to war in Afghanistan, and wrestling with the many other formidable challenges confronting the nation. For these struggles, we hunkered down and prepared to tough it out.

What was less expected this year, and what brought some of us to our knees intermittently (including this blogger) was the daunting glut of personal tragedies that seemed to pop up every eight weeks or so. It was enough to endure my husband’s job loss, the deferring of our dreams of home ownership for another year, and the shaking of our faith in the consistent growth of the American economy. Add to it the death of loved ones (twice), infidelity, a sick niece, the mental collapse of a father, swine flu and well, you get the picture. 2009 was unkind on more than one occasion.

But as of midnight tonight, or so I keep telling myself, all that bad ju ju is behind us and the world gets a fresh start. The best news is that for all the punches 2009 was able to pull, she has a shelf life, just like every other year. Tomorrow morning when we wake up, not only is it a new annum, but a whole new decade. The Winter Olympics will dominate your television screens in a couple weeks, a fresh reminder of that unifying, competitive spirit that can elicit beauty from international cooperation (not just the groans of agony from another fruitless climate summit). 2010 feels positively pregnant with promise.

New Year’s Eve is typically the night for binge drinking and partying, at least for the urban, childless set, but I am going with a quieter welcome this round. Instead, I’ll be eating pizza in the ‘burbs with Max, Jen, KK and Rosebud, cherishing my family and basking in the warm feeling of belonging. No fabulous downtown soiree can compete with cuddling my nieces.

Happy New Year everyone. Be safe, be warm, be loved and join me in welcoming a new beginning.