Trauma And Thai Food. (And I thought it would be fun.)

Trauma And Thai Food. (And I thought it would be fun.)

It was a lively group meeting for dinner. Me, my good friend Anne and five lively southern belles who had come to visit the beach.

I met three of them in October when they were visiting from Mississippi and Texas. I formed a strong bond with one of them.

She was a classic beauty, much like my mother, kind of a Barbara Stanwick stunning. She also had to her credit birthing 8 children, being one of 13 herself and having a hand in raising some of them. Our walk on the beach last fall felt much like the mother I never had was with me. Whatever made me is generous that way. Sending custom made experiences to me, when I am not even looking. That is my proof that while I times I feel alone, in fact, I am not.

Cast of Steel Magnolias

Two more Steel Magnolias had joined the original three here at the Emerald Coast of Florida. All but one had been cheerleaders together in high school fifty plus years prior and they were having a girl time get together at the beach. 

We met at a Thai restaurant. It is one of those places where you take off your shoes and step down to be seated around the table in kind of a nook. There are two steps up. That is where you sit to remove your shoes. There is a bamboo wall dividing the sunken booth from the one next door, providing a private dining experience. You can’t see other customers and they can’t see you, unless they are passing by to go to the bathroom. The table is down and in the middle, surrounded by black leather cushion seats. No direct back support, but there are cushions along the back side, so I always park myself there. 

The seven of us took up most of the black cushioned area which felt cozy, or at least it had the potential to.

But this dinner, one that I initiated wanting the benefit of social engagement and what promised to be a lively experience with delicious food and spirited women was none of that for me. The experience was there to be had. But I was not there.  My body was, but I was somewhere else. I was disassociating. Leaving my body to avoid discomfort. I knew it, too and I made great efforts to be fully present, but with minimal success.

It was like watching a television show. Something I have done lately to numb myself. And I did that in person last night. I may as well have been in a bubble. I was watching them, but I was avoiding eye contact when I did try to engage. And was acting a part really because as much as I desired to be fully present, I could not be. It was concerning. 

Something had happened between me and the woman I had felt a maternal bond with. Something that she said to me the day before that triggered my experience with my mother and how she abandoned me while showing the world actions of a born again Christian.

My mother did some good things in the community under the umbrella of her churches outreach ministries, no doubt. She mentored a troubled teen, helping her find herself. She volunteered at a low income grade school, mentoring second graders. But what she didn’t do during that time, was be a mother to a daughter who needed help when the birth of her baby resulted in a disabling postpartum depression. For the first year of my daughter’s life, the first three weeks of which required us to be separated while I was hospitalized, I needed support to take care of me and my daughter. It was a rough year. And my mother was rarely there to help, keeping her schedule of ministering to others in the name of Jesus. The message I got was my needs for my mother were not as important as those of other families. Also, that God somehow supported this because what she did, was in God’s name. I am not saying that is what she said. I am saying that is what I internalized deep in my bones.

I have compassion for my mom. I think had she known better, she may have done better. But if my daughter were to go through what I did, I would make supporting her and her baby a priority and the fact that my mother did not do that for me while busy in the community ministry, frankly fucked up my head around God and faith and not feeling worthy of my mother’s love.

Back at dinner, we did the lean in funny group selfies and when I looked at the images that were caught of my facial expressions, I could see my disturbance in several. Almost a scowl. Not anger, but angst. Then, as I have been well practiced at doing most of my life, in the next few shots, I poured it on and smiled and laughed and those images were there too. But I know that the angst on my face was the only honest expression I had.

My friend Anne knows me well. She was seated diagonally from me, but it felt like a mile. When it is just the two of us, I feel safe to just be how I am and not feel like I have to be the fun one. A role I have taken on to survive at times or compensate for feeling insecure at others. We do play well at the beach, our inner kids one upping each other in imagination, but only recently I have let her into my heart, sharing some of my pain and trauma for which I seek relief.

That is a hard practice for me. To allow someone in to see my hurting, vulnerable side. The part of me that I have so much trouble embracing. The parts that feel unworthy of others attention, nevermind my own at times. Consequently, eye contact with Anne was uncomfortable too. I am seeing all of this upon reflection. In the moment, I was just floating around in my little invisible bubble, poking out of it now and then with a funny story or anecdote. It was exhausting. I struggled to listen to the conversation. I may have well been in my car in the parking lot.

In the days, weeks, months, years leading up to this dinner, trauma had been a main course. I hate that word, by the way.  Trauma. It is overused, misused, misunderstood. Let me put it this way. Some shit went down in my childhood which formed me and which dictated my choices in adulthood for relationships and support people which only reenacted that shit from childhood. There were also some external traumas. Death of my father when I was 7, loss of my family as I knew it right after, breast cancer, sudden end of my 24 year marriage, just to name a few. 

My body is screaming for attention. My complaints could wear the title of Fibromyalgia if I went to the right practitioner. I sometimes hurt all over, not just in my back or neck, but my legs and hands and feet too. Lupus is on the radar, according to my last blood work. My painful hips, have been charted as hip bursitis, a title, by the way, that I have renounced in the name of yoga and walking.

I am listening to the book, The Body Keeps Score, a book written by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk to show the correlation between the mind and brain and body in terms of its response to traumatic events. I am only at the beginning, but already this book has informed me that what I experience in the ways of body pain are symptoms of unhealed trauma that have set up camp all over my body. It is all just my body asking for attention to a problem that goes way deeper than the symptom of pain.

My breast cancer was born in the terror of the week of September 11th, as I lived in the trauma of that attack in my home for a week solid, marinating in the news and images, somehow relating on a visceral level. The tumor in my breast found in April 2002, was measured for how fast it had grown and based on the size, my intuition tells me that it got its start that week.

I have alot of therapy under my belt. Forty plus years of seeking relief or guidance for a world I was not properly prepared to navigate growing up. But none of that addressed the trauma beyond identifying and understanding what I experienced and on some level re-experience when things happen in my current day life to trigger the hypervigilence in my body and brain. Most of those years, practitioners were treating symptoms. Depression? Most likely largely grief at much loss, was and still is medicated. Anxiety? Same. Sleep? I don’t get any without medication. For now. 

I am seeking help and have my first appointment for somatic therapy, https://therapy-mn.com/somatic-experiencing-ptsd/ to begin next week. I visited trauma work with a safe and compassionate practitioner last year at this time while I was still in Tulsa. One session in, and there was a rage in me that ran deep. I told myself I could not afford it, discussing it with the therapist. “Trauma is tenacious.” Her words to me, which I heard to say, “this shit is not going to get any relief until I get specific help to do the work.” My rationale at the time was, “I can’t afford this. I have other expenses and bills to pay.” I knew then that I would need to do this work at some point if I were to salvage whatever is left of my life in order to be present to it and to me. As it is, I struggle with disassociating on a regular basis, making jokes that St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things is my lover because I am always going to him to find my keys, my glasses, my wallet, my car. But it is not funny. Because I also lose my focus in my car. When I text and drive. When I drive while too tired to safely do so. I have been labelled with ADD too. And that accurately describes my struggle. But again, it is but a symptom, I believe of an underlying, untreated, unhealed problem. Trauma.

About a year and a half ago, I had such concern for my concentration and how it impedes my function that I had a thorough battery of two days worth with a neuropsychologist to look under the hood in my brain. My brain is fine. My score was off the chart for anxiety, however. Hypervigilence. In every fiber of my being. Fibermyvigilence. 

When I moved from Oklahoma to Florida last fall, I knew that I would need to do this work if I was going to have relief and healing. So I told myself that after the darkness of winter, a time when I go dormant, (called by others seasonal affective depressive disorder,) I would get myself the help I need. And I am doing that. The rationale of not being able to afford it comes up in my ego, Elvira. She is so afraid I will send her packing. I won’t. But she cannot run this show anymore. I want and need more from myself than what she alone can provide. And as far as affording the therapy? Well, as a person who has a history of overspending, who has some recovery there that recent bouts of swimwear and fancy shoes have dented, I don’t see how I can afford not to.

I have also begun to listen to Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. (I have a friend who calls him This and That.) His teachings are famous in recovery circles that I have been in. For me, he is a warm fuzzy messenger of self love and self care. This is just one of his talks about how to deal with strong emotions. In it, he talks frankly of suicide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOn-mOCKzrY&t=58s His teachings, gentle and simple work for me as I am new to the practice of loving and being a nurturing parent to my inner child.

So my spiritual support is all in place for me to do the work now. And I believe it is the timing that the universe dictated. Right on schedule. I have a support network of fellow travelers who are also recovering from childhood trauma that impedes their adult lives, an inner child mediation that feeds my soul and esteem, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3-haY5mbyg  yoga and the beach, also good for my body and soul and now the trauma therapist to hold my hand for the next level of healing. I am grateful. I am willing and I am ready.

If this brings you any comfort or if you read this and relate on any level, I’d love to hear from you here or in the comments. It is my intention as I share here on my blog, to hopefully benefit others by so doing.

One last thing. Don’t give up. I have thought about it many times. And I am so glad that I didn’t.

You are worth it.

My Mom Died Today.-10 Years Ago, But It Was Today For Me.

My Mom Died Today.-10 Years Ago, But It Was Today For Me.

(Mother and Me. Aboard the Coastal Queen yacht in front of Lady Liberty, NYC. 1983. My favorite of us.)

Dear mother,

I am writing this because you died today and dad died yesterday. Actually, as you know, he died 54 years ago and for you it has been 10. But the days are still right next to each other for me to go through without both of you.

I have been numb for both days.  Until tonight.  

I just got out of the shower and was thinking about you mother and how much I wish to feel something for you today. But I could not. And I don’t like feeling numb, as much as grief is no fun either because I know it comes out, eventually.

So I began to recall the day that you died. You were 88 years old.  A shrunken version of your vital self. In that smelly nursing home, where your best friend told me last summer that when she visited you there and walked up to the desk to say, “I am here to see Phyllis Bunn,” she recounted that they pointed to a woman in a chair in the hall there, saying that was you and she said, “That is not Phyllis.” Because it was not the you that she knew and loved. Who was forbidden from touching her kitchen cabinets because your hands were always sticky from chocolate or candy. The you that when you were my current age of 61, you were a vital, stunning, vibrant, dynamic woman in the fashion world and community of Tulsa, OK. 

You got a late start “getting it right” as a parent. Something I always held compassion for. I am referring to the fact that you started a 12 step recovery program for the family members of alcoholics and became a born again Christian seemingly all at once at that latter part of life. You often said how bad you felt for our family that you did not seek the support of this recovery group as it was recommended to you some 30 or 40 years earlier. I get that today. As I have just begun a new support group too. This one dealing with the issues of growing up with an alcoholic or dysfunctional family system. And as a mother myself of a daughter of two very dysfunctional parents, I even have empathy for what you said you felt about regretting not starting to find that solution when your children were still children.

I went on there, standing in the bathroom, thinking how earlier today I spoke of you to a friend I was painting with, sharing that when you were taking your last breath, we were singing you out. With “Jesus Loves Me” I think. They say the hearing is the last to go.

I went on to think about how you would have been there for me when my marriage of 24 years ended, abruptly to me, just six years ago. That is when the feelings came. I began to cry, missing you, knowing that as I comfort my daughter in tough times like no one else could because I know what trials she has had her entire life, the same comfort came to me from you in those last 20 some years. You weren’t perfect. But you tried to make things right. 

You were supportive during my many struggles with depression and anxiety. You did what you could when I could not care for Abby due to postpartum depression so severe that I was forced to leave her at 3 weeks to be hospitalized. You attended the support groups of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to learn how you could best be there for me.You were there as much as you could be when I had breast cancer. And this was what made the feelings come stronger. I began to talk to you, as I stood there in my robe, wet hair, body aching and heart a little too. 

“I miss you mom. You would have comforted me when my marriage ended. You would have been sad and angry that more challenges were coming my way. You would have held me.” And the tears came, so I decided to write, fearing that I would otherwise distract myself. With something outside of myself. A movie, a cookie, a man. And while writing does delay the feelings of sitting to read until I am done writing, at least it has a healthy motivation. So here I am, typing away.

(Brief second husband Don Brewer, Mother, Susy, Jimmy, Kris, Alyssa, Me, Sam and Charlie Brown-Early 1970’s)

And now, as I continue to go through growing pains in life, particularly dealing with the year long imposed isolation as an extrovert living alone during a global pandemic, if you were here and still independent, I feel sure I would have come to your house, and laid on your couch where you would have rubbed my neck or tickled my scalp.

Your ashes are part of my stand up routine, something you would also approve of. Because you were there that first night I got up on stage over thirty years ago. Sitting in the back. Sounding like you were up front. Rooting for me. I referred to you as “my mother, the one in the back with the 88 teeth.” Because that was how big your beautiful smile was.

Here is how you were a part of the act. What I would do is go up on stage, and say nothing. Then, I would take out the cute little french provincial chair that your ashes sit on today, with a picture of you as a young ingenue, alongside a long strand of knotted pearls, your signature accessory. I would have added your infamous black high top Converse, but that would have been cumbersome.

After setting this up, I would take the microphone and begin my routine. “This is my mom. She died 8 years ago. Her ashes have been in my closet for 8 years. She was homophobic, so I decided it was time to get her out of the closet.” Some of the laughs were out loud, some were on the inside. But you were laughing the loudest. I would continue, referring to the ugly burgundy drawstring bag that houses the box with your ashes in it. “She would never be caught dead in this color. “ That killed. Pun intended.

This morning, when I walked into the bathroom, I had a surprise from my cat. He had taken the little diva character that I keep with your pictures in the living room, and dragged you into the bathroom.

(Proper Placement of Mother’s Diva)

Below are the pictures, followed by the text I sent out to friends who would appreciate my dark humor today, when I walked into the bathroom to discover the scene of his crime, along with the pictures: FYI-My cat’s name is Atlas. He has one eye, a scrunched up ear, a bit of an attitude and all of my heart. And while you weren’t much of a cat person, you would have loved him. Because he’s orange, the same as your old jumpsuit and orange flip lipstick and because he is mine. And by the way, a text is something people do on their phones because they forgot how to actually make a phone call.

(Text message) “So now Atlas has decided to play The Clue game. 

(Please note dark humor to follow.) As you know, today marks 11 years since my mom died. 

The little character you see resembles her as a stylish fashionista and is normally sitting in front of a photograph of her. 

I’m guessing it was Atlas in the Bathroom with the Claw. I win.”

I just put on Diana Krall and set a thirty minute timer so I could give this proper time and be sure to get up and stretch. I bet you really hated the aging process. I am not a huge fan myself.

I’d like to add some pictures now and post it on my blog. I think you’d be proud of me today. Since you were a journalism major and our whole family has some expertise in writing, I never thought I had any talent mother. It was a lot to be the youngest by a stretch of years, surrounded by the stage performance, news celebrity, Emmy and Peabody award winning talents of my older siblings in my formative years. But I know that I do have it. And I intend to use it. To share my stories with others. In the hope that they are moved, inspired, encouraged or perhaps all three. I hope to be a published author one day.

I am glad I have taken this time to reach out. I was numb to dad’s death for most of the fifty years I did not have him. That letter got written last year. And boy, did those musty tears flow. All over the Village Inn on South Yale in Tulsa. They have closed since then. I’m guessing it was water damage.

I love you mother. And I miss you.

Here are just a few of the faces of Phyllis.

(Abby, Me and Mother)
(The Beginning of Phyllis Bunn)
(Christmas 2000)
(Chicago Bulls Game-1996)
(Every Christmas 1950 something)
(Mother and Abby-1997)
Trying To Save A Life-My Part In A Beach Rescue

Trying To Save A Life-My Part In A Beach Rescue

It was mid morning on a gorgeous sunny Sunday in Miramar Beach, Florida. The sun was warming up. The breeze was cool. I was at the beach for my walk. There were quite a few people beginning to show up there, as Spring Break was in full swing on the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I’m guessing there were easily 3 or four hundred people along the mile of beach to my west, as I had intended to be walking there.  I began to walk west in the dry, white crystal singing sand, the  gorgeous emerald green water lapping to my left, the green and dark brown stained wooden chairs and umbrellas lining the way to my right, two by two.

I had only taken a few steps when I looked down to see something that made me quite sad and a bit alarmed. There was a large, beautiful black and white polka dotted loon there on the beach. At first, I feared it was dead. I immediately called Michele Phillips. my friend the full time Beach Ambassador on duty. Thankfully the bird was still moving. But it was obviously injured as there was a big chewed up spot on the lower back. I thought that a leg was injured too, but I later learned that loons are unable to walk on sand. 

I am a Volunteer Beach Ambassador, as Walton County has organized volunteers and paid folks alike to provide a service to the beach visitors, both local and those who travel up and down the county’s 26 miles of Gulf Of Mexico beauty during the season. Some of the jobs of a beach ambassador, paid or volunteer include educating the four million plus visitors who travel here each year-about the area, what to do and not do to keep sea turtles safe, where to safely set up on the beach so as not to impede the lifeguards-just to name a few.

When I got Michele on the phone, I quickly learned that she had already had reports from concerned visitors hours earlier and that the loon had been on the beach for a few hours.  The nearest agency who she had contacted had informed her that they were not going to send someone to pick this loon up, (the loon, which shall now go by the name Lou 2, because the name Lou was already taken, given to me as a nickname by a fellow ambassador.) but they gave instruction on how we could try and save Lou 2 and if we were unsuccessful, we could call them back. 

I am partial to loons. For their name, their beauty, for the fact that they migrate to Florida in the winter and the fact that when they shed their feathers, they make me one happy polka dot feather collector as I have a half a jar of them so far. 

When I came to Miramar Beach a year ago February to “live” for a month, making sure that the move I did make months later was right for me, I spent every one of those 29 mornings on that beach at sunrise. And when I found my first polka dot feather, I was ELATED! I paint art furniture and painting polka dots is one of my favorite patterns to paint. I get so into it that sometimes my mouth makes a weird clicking noise. I agree that’s weird. But I like my weird.

I even did a little research on Loons and I love the fact that the mother carries the baby on her back! I made some whimsical art, painting a loon and her baby, and I used some of the feathers for the baby’s wing.

As suggested, I wet my beach towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, walked into knee deep water, and floated the towel, hoping he would pop up and be on his way. My concern and sadness went to cheering and hope as Lou 2 came out from under and began to swim out.  

My next task, which I felt both honored and so purposeful to do, was to watch Lou 2 to see if he was able to fly, as that was the goal, and report back if Lou 2 was unsuccessful at taking off. I just kept thinking of this story about starfish:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.

Then, smiling at the man, he said…..“I made a difference for that one.”

I began the same walk west that I had originally intended. This was a bit complicated, as by this point, families with lots of little ones were all over my path. Normally, I am just looking at my feet or where I am going when there are so many people. I am 5’10”  and it would not be a stretch when I get my stride going for me to drop kick some cute little kid in a diaper suit who was darting from mom into the water. When they are low to the ground like that, kids are twice as fast you know. 

So off I went, eyes glued to the black spot that had gotten ahead of me by riding the tide, briskly walking, trying not to lose sight. As the sun was reaching it’s high point, I realized I had no sunscreen and knew this was going to take some time, so I walked up to a mom who was at the water’s edge to my right. “Hi. This is going to sound weird. And I am not going to look at you when I say it. I am watching a bird we are trying to rescue and I have to follow it down the beach. I wasn’t prepared and I have no sunscreen, so would you mind sharing some of yours?” We chuckled as she offered and sprayed my back, while I stared at the water making sure not to lose sight of Lou 2.

I walked along, dodging kids and holes, eyes glued to Lou 2. About a mile in, Lou 2 began to appear bigger, which was not good news, as I had been watching multiple attempts at flight, wings trying hard to spread and take off, sadly followed by a white round belly as Lou 2 was struggling to stay upright. 

Lou 2 Washed Up 2nd Time

At the end of a mile, Lou 2 washed up at the feet of the crowd along the beach in their green chairs. I called the ambassador and was advised to sit tight, watch Lou 2 and keep onlookers at a safe distance. Poor Lou 2 had to sit helpless in the sun with all those people looking at her one more time, people who were helpless to help. The agency from earlier now said that they could not come, my understanding was that the loon was not a bird in their jurisdiction of protection and while I understood, I was frustrated for Lou 2. It wasn’t his fault that the universe was directing  Lou 2 to Florida and the Gulf to migrate in winter. 

Fortunately, Michele made contact with the state, told me they were sending someone and back into action I went. I had borrowed a towel from the umbrella vendor who willingly loaned it to the cause. My towel was soggy and a mile east, hanging off the back of a green chair I had not rented, along with my keys and my clothes. This was not a naked rescue. I was wearing my suit. 

I was instructed to wet the towel, wrap Lou 2 up, and walk that mile back to get Lou 2 to where the state would be arriving for pick up. I was nervous. Would I get bit? Would I drop Lou 2? I stopped thinking and went into action, gathering a posse of support. A dad, who was moral support and phone valet to carry my phone said yes when I asked for someone to help if I could not make the whole walk back. His teenage daughters came too, and did a lovely job of grabbing my things from that green chair on our way down. 

I wetted the towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, and began a brisk walk, intent not to cause Lou 2 any more trauma than had already ensued. Dad and his daughters followed behind, dad saying how he was just talking about needing to get more steps in. 

When Lou 2 squirmed, I was happy and nervous. Happy at the fight still left, nervous that I might drop the towel. There were moments of rest when I was calm and concerned, hoping Lou 2  was only resting. And just a few steps into this last mile trek, I began to silently repeat this prayer, “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This calmed me and also made the baby sized creature I held cradled against my heart feel like a part of me. I had imprinted with Lou 2.

The final step now was again, to wait. It was easier because there was help on the way and now Lou 2, that big brave feathered friend and part of my heart was now resting in the sand under a nice big umbrella out of the hot sun. Side by side, Lou 2 and I were enjoying the rest of the shade.

The woman from the forest service arrived to take Lou 2, at which point I told her I loved her, and Lou 2 and asked to please be kept informed as to the outcome. 

This was as of Tuesday, March 16. Good News So Far.

It was not the Sunday I had planned, but I was so grateful I got to be a part of that 3 hour adventure. No Gilligan or Skipper, but count me as the millionaire because the value of the experience was infinite.

I will come back and let you know what I hear beyond this text that came in today. In the meantime, send out love and light for Lou 2 please. Thank you.

Update: It has been nine days since I last heard how Lou 2 was doing. I am happy to share the following text from the woman who brought him to be cared for. Yay!

THIS MADE ME SO HAPPY!
I got high.

I got high.

I got high yesterday. It had been a tough day emotionally, one in a series of many. I did not plan it. I started my day feeling emotionally spent from having made some tough decisions. The kind that sap so much mental energy, I think I can’t move my body. 

I used to misinterpret those kinds of days, when I was emotionally fried to mean I could not do anything physical. I would intend to do 3 exercise classes in a week, but then at the end of a workday from a dissatisfying job, I would tell myself I can’t exercise, not realizing that that was a lie. In fact, exercise was not only possible then, but I did have the physical energy, I just didn’t know it. That was 30 years ago. Now, I know that mental fatigue does not mean that my body cannot move. I am fully committed to walking 2 to 4 miles most days, in spite of the heavy emotional ones that leave my brain feeling like mashed potatoes.And I am always better for getting out there and moving my body.

After a morning phone call with a friend where I could hear exhausted chatter coming out of me, all the while my gut was saying “You are too tired to talk. You need to rest,” I caught myself. I told my friend I felt like I sounded like what tired animals look like when they pace aimlessly around in circles and she said she could hear that in my words. I hung up, revised my ambitious plan for the day to look more like gentle self care and self compassion. After all, I had just come out of several weeks of trolling online dating for hours on end. No wonder I felt so wiped out. I was. 

I needed to go to the grocery store, and the beach was out because of rain, so I saw an opportunity to go get some paint for a custom order rocker I have to paint. And I wanted to attend a new support group online at six thirty in the evening. Perfect! A couple of errands, cook myself dinner, support group, a little TV, then bed.

But that is not what happened. I got through the first errand picking out some yummy colors for a rocker I was painting for a client in Memphis when an idea came out of nowhere. “Let’s go look at shoes!” That sounds innocent enough. My rationale was that I do need shoes for walking in the summer, as well as some inserts in my current walking shoes. But the energy was not there. And you don’t have the full context.

You see, I have a history of shopping and overspending to avoid dealing with reality. It goes hand in hand with an eating disorder and alcoholism, if you want to categorize it by addiction or disorder. Along with that, my most recent addiction of online dating to excess, you now have a better picture of my challenges. Or, the main moles whose heads pop up in my game of Whac-A-Mole.

Alcohol has been out of the picture for 36 years. But you can’t not eat and you can’t not spend and you can’t not have relationships with people, so those have all been to excess for me in the past thirty some years, talking turns rearing their furry little heads. The food has had a tremendous amount of work put in by me and that disordered eating, which has twice required treatment is most of the time in remission. The relationship/aka online dating obsession has only been a thing since my divorce five years ago, after a 26 year loveless marriage so that is a new mole, relatively speaking and as my previous story indicates, I have disconnected the power to that little furry guy just this week.

My mother was in the fashion industry. She worked for the chic women’s magazine Women’s Wear Daily in New York City, right out of college with her journalism degree in the 1940’s. Her last business which closed in the 90’s was a high end dress shop, serving the wives of wealthy monied oil barons and the old money of Tulsa, Oklahoma. She did fashion shows on private jets. Served wine in the sitting area outside of the dressing rooms. All of the nurturing that she had to offer went to her business. None of it came home to me. And many nights, neither did she.

My brother and sister were adults out on their own. I was in high school and I was home alone. Alot. My mother had her own problems, namely acting out promiscuously with married men and bar hopping to get attention. It was very important to her that she be seen. She had gotten used to that when she met and married my father in New York City, where he was a dashing handsome celebrity in show business. They were a beautiful couple, hob nobbing with the show business elite of radio and television and music in Manhattan in the 1950’s, so after my father’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 42, her party, the one with the silver spoon and the Stork Club and Big Apple came to a screeching halt.

Her store was the only place I really saw her much. It was clothing for women, which did not fit my adolescent form in high school, but she would not buy me much from stores more appropriate for me, so I was stuck with pants that pooched where I didn’t have hips because that was what I got. 

Over the years, I developed her love for clothing and fashion and pattern and texture and color, and I learned a lot from that exposure. In some weird way, the clothes I got from my mom, were a form of love in my experience, so it makes sense now as I write this that I would become a compulsive shopper, as I was groomed for it really when that actually WAS love from a mother who did a poor job of giving it otherwise.

I walked into the shoe store with the best intentions of just trying on some shoes for beach walking and getting some inserts for my sneakers. It was dark and rainy outside and I had just enough time for this quick stop before heading to the grocery store and then home. This is where the high comes in. Most of the time, when I go into ANY retail store, I pray this prayer, “God, please make this a sober shopping experience.” And for good reason. Because for me to walk into a store full of pretty things with a 1,000 open line of credit on a card and not say a prayer for protection, I can get and have gotten into some serious debt over that. Especially when I have been upset or emotional. And I practice what I call sober spending as a rule as a means to do just that. Be sober with money. Some people would call it being financially responsible. That works for them. For me, it’s sober spending. 

Before I share what went down yesterday, I’ll share another episode of, let’s just say, me getting shitfaced on shopping at Chico’s. Chico’s is a women’s fashion store, similar to my mom’s and was at one time my favorite place to go for clothes. On this occasion, I was freshly wounded from the surprise ending of my 26 year marriage one night in my living room some weeks prior. I had dropped my daughter off to go to a concert in Oklahoma City and decided I would take myself out to dinner and shopping while I waited. And when I say my life blew up, I mean it. I thought my then husband and I were working things out when all in one 24 hour period, I learned that no only had he relapsed in his alcoholism, but he had been paying for sex and acting out in a full blown sex addiction, spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process for at least 6 years right under my nose, which had been up in the cloud of denial for that entire time. So, needless to say, I was hurt, and perhaps fit the description of a woman scorned.

So as I am putting my pile of merchandise on the counter that had to be 14 items stacked, I am vomiting this all to the woman ringing me up. Just like she were a bartender pouring me shots that just happened to come on plastic hangers. 

“And then he…” me having inappropriate oversharing “this happened to me” tourettes all over her because that was the best I could do at the moment. Thing is, Chicos hires women my age for part-time work, so she was commiserating with me that she had had the same experience and the woman in line by me, who may have well been swivelling on top of a red leather trimmed in chrome bar stool said this to me. “You know what some women in your situation do, they go out and buy a ‘Fuck You’ Lexus.” Believe me, had that been an option, I would have. But that money was gone, so clothes it was.

Yesterday was not much different in that I was emotionally spent, for different reasons, but still raw and hurting. I walked into this brand new store, full of fabulous shoes, handbags, beach apparel, well lit and displayed, literally out of the dark of the storm into the light, and there they were. My bartender and the servers! The manager and two clerks who had no other customers, plus the owner, who happened to be there with his wife. I turned on and connected to get off before I even got near the register. Just looking at the funky artistic designs of the bold, colorful shoes in snakeskin, leopard, sapphire blue, metallic and combinations of all of these. When I tried on the first pair, the owner, or, should I say the dealer, spoke to how great the shoes looked and said maybe I should be a shoe model for him.

My ego grabbed ahold of that like a shot of tequila and went to town. What should have been a twenty minute stop turned into over an hour after I virtually created a position for myself in his store as someone who would essentially lurk around customers, getting a read on the one who might be receptive to buying if I saw them hovering at a display, slipped into the back to grab a pair of what they were looking at to wear out and show them, “this is how they look on,” it was brilliant. And the owner was all over it. I gave him my number, after extolling my retail history resume and upbringing, bragging how I knew when to leave customers alone and when to cater, sharing my lesson learned from my mom, who used to nag me to try things on, saying, “go on, try it on, you can’t tell until you try it on,” which was accurate, and he was literally going to create a spot for me. So I left, elated, but only as long as the light from the store’s door closing behind me still reflected upon me. By the time I got in my car, and after calling my neighbor still flying to tell her what happened, I hung up, my mood began to rapidly deflate and by the time I got home, the high was gone, replaced by exhaustion, no groceries, an overpriced to go order and me too spent to be on that support group meeting online. Instead, I checked out on the couch with Netflix and girl scout cookies. 

I don’t want to abandon myself anymore, so today I succeeded in not doing so. I got my groceries, spent the afternoon sunning at the beach and fed myself a nice dinner. So tonight, I committed to myself that I would write this instead. And I love me more for doing so. Now, I can watch a little Netflix and go to bed feeling good about getting to the grocery store and being there for me and with me.

Anti Social Media-My Recent Experience with Facebook and Online Dating

Anti Social Media-My Recent Experience with Facebook and Online Dating

Destin, Florida February 2021

I am sitting on my couch on a Monday afternoon. It is raining outside here in Florida. 70 degrees.  It is March 1st. I don’t know why I am writing but I am. I am binge watching the same Netflix show of seven seasons that I first began in October as a way to cope with so much alone time during this pandemic isolation. I am at the end of season seven for the fourth or fifth time, I have lost track. It is called Offspring, a show complete with hot Aussie men, a dysfunctional family, sunshine, laughter and tears and quite alot of wit and poignancy, but I got bored after sleeping through an episode or so, so here I am typing away. 

I was feeling lonely and started to do what I used to do which was look to social media to fill the void. I got as far as my Facebook page, where I updated my profile picture, knowing that by so doing, I could get some likes and loves and maybe if I am lucky, some comments. Those are the brass ring you know. I mean, anyone can hit a like or a love but an actual comment. Someone actually ambulating their fingers and going to the trouble to make words out of letters, well, that just feels so…empty really. In the long run. Because this is what happens next, for me, and this is the reason that I have abstained almost entirely from Facebook since the middle of December.

Now, I have set myself up for more loneliness, not less. Because now, I have a choice to make. I can go back to my Facebook to see if anyone has seen my new picture and then see if I have had any likes or comments. And then I can spend time living in my head wondering if certain people I find attractive have seen my picture. Or, whether friends have missed me or not. In the past, it inevitably ended up with entire evenings lost in scrolling, reading posts, being outraged at some, tickled at others, touched by a couple of memes, but ultimately coming away feeling spent, tired and MORE lonely than when I signed on and those hours spent scrolling are never coming back to me. Because I have used something outside of me to try and fill me up, when what I am actually doing is abandoning myself in the process.

Social media!?! It really isn’t social at all. At least not in my “I live alone in Pandemia and I am single” experience. Because since the time I have left Facebook, I have only heard from a small handful of the over 1400 friends on my account. Admittedly, there are probably about half of those who are only friends for business reasons. We have a code where we friend each other and then like each other’s business pages to grow those business pages and hopefully grow those businesses. Facebook algorithms give business pages more exposure when they show a higher number of followers and fans.

I am not judging or criticizing any of those people who I have not heard from. It is a two way street. Just observing my behavior that leads nowhere good.

The view from my window

Today, I decided to do something different. I know people who say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane behavior. And I want to feel better, not worse. So that is why I am telling on myself here because who knows, maybe I am not alone in my behavior. Wouldn’t it be ironic if by posting this story on the social media apparatus of my WordPress blog page people relate and take some kind of comfort in knowing that they are not weak or flawed or unloveable, all feelings I have had today backed by the gray rainy sky that blocks my solar mood altering sun from me. 

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of Covid 19 taking life as we knew it, and hermetically sealing it, or in some cases, us in, leaving REAL social interaction in some cases potentially dangerous to our health. I am so thankful that I have remained well from that sickness. 

The sickness I have had has been loneliness. Actually, loneliness is not a sickness, but I have some shame admitting mine. My response to my loneliness at times, is seen by some as sick behavior. I am just going to call it learned behavior. The other social media that I have gone to at times looking for something outside of me to make me feel less lonely is online dating sites. While I do have a valid desire for a loving romantic partnership, I have a pattern there. I start out telling myself that I can do so in moderation. Just sign up for one app, only check it every so often, maintain balance in the rest of my life and before I know it, weeks go by, four dating sites are downloaded on my phone, hours of my nights spent scrolling through pictures of men looking for…something outside of myself to fill my void, entertain me or take away my pain. There have been several dates. First and last, all in ones. I can’t believe I am admitting this on paper, but truth is the only way for me. And the truth is that I don’t want to feel discomfort or grief or loss or boredom for that matter and these are things in me asking to be felt.

I have a support network in place set to catch me when I need to be comforted as I purge losses that I have distracted from in any number of ways. TV, food, shopping, men, women, your life, world news. It is far more exhausting to distract at this point than it is to just sit with the feelings and let them come out. But I still fight just holding still.

I am having to unlearn some bad advice, or better described, “programming” I have subjected myself to for a very long time and took to be gospel truth.  For many years, I have heard the terms, “fake it til you make it,” and “act as if”- two of the worst bits of advice given by people who don’t know what else to say when someone is really in need of dealing with some really uncomfortable feelings. Advice typically given by people who can’t be with their own uncomfortable feelings, so it just trickles down like a bad infection to many unwitting eager for relief listeners. I tried it. It doesn’t work.

For me, it only caused me to believe that I was somehow flawed for having anger or fear or grief or loneliness. And I have them all. At some point or another. Because I am human. I still have shame even writing this here. But I want to be over this. 

So as of this moment, I am not cruising Match.com or Bumble or Tinder or Hinge or Plenty Of Fish, which, by the way goes by POF.com and would be better named POFFOT.com, (plenty of fish floating on top.com), and yet I go there. Desperate. But I want to bring a more whole me to whatever relationship I have coming, which I sometimes trust the Universe is preparing for me.

To be fair to me, and to anyone out there, I don’t bring a healed person to the table, so I am going to do some more of that before I get out there again and I really hope that I allow my daily walk of life to be the source of people I date because online dating leaves me spent. And not in the sweaty, fun way. I rationalize going there by saying “It is hard to meet people out in the world” which I find to be true, but I also find meeting people who I have anything in common with online to be difficult as well. Maybe more so than if I just give it up and see what happens. At the store. At the beach. Who knows. Clearly, I don’t and my way certainly isn’t working.

Honestly, I don’t feel like I am very available right now. I tell myself and others that I want a meaningful relationship and I do. But if I am completely honest with myself, I don’t have a lot to bring to the table right now and I don’t want to lose myself in someone else or use their attention as a distraction for feelings that I am trying to avoid. That is not fair to them. And not good for anyone. Just writing that here is scary because it means getting more intimate with me.

So that is where I will be. Hanging out with friends, open to timing other than mine to fulfill that heart’s desire because I have done nothing but wear myself out, lead people on, lie to myself and spin my wheels. I have caught myself saying “he’s a game player.” “He’s unavailable.” “He’s all talk.” That all may be true, but guess what? I am the common denominator. The laws of attraction are at play here and that tells me that these things are all true of me too, or else why am I attracting this type of man, so I am stepping back.

In the meantime, I have art to create, words to write, a one eyed cat who needs and gives love, a beach to comb, sun to soak up and being to do.