A new year; the same me?

It’s January 2011, and it’s been over two months since I’ve updated my blog. Sometimes I’ve forgotten about it, sometimes I haven’t had anything to say, and sometimes I’ve wanted to say things and not known how to do it. But the only way to get back to it is to get back to it, so, well, I’m back.

A new year often inspires people to be reflective of where they’ve been and where they are going and I am no exception. As I write this, much is the same as the last time I wrote. I am still unemployed, I am still living with my parents, I am still getting a divorce – hell, just like previous years, I didn’t do NaNoWriMo.

I feel like these are facts that I should be upset or discouraged by, but somehow, even though they look bad written out, living them feels better than I’d expected.

I have had a long history of self-flagellation, of fighting myself, of wanting to be different, to be better, and my definition of better always managed to be something I never consciously chose; it just lurked in my head, waiting to chastise me for not living up to the ideal. Whether it was my body, my career, my relationships, even my hobbies – you name it, and I never thought I was good enough. And isn’t this the story of every striver, every Lisa Simpson-esque overachiever? My inclination has also been to beat myself up for not even having original angst, a self-defeating cycle if ever I’ve seen one.

This mindset has resulted in me being extremely risk-adverse. I don’t know if I ever articulated it as such, but I would think things like, oh, I would rather not get my hopes up and then be disappointed, better to just not try. I can’t even really think of any examples of things that I wanted and didn’t go after; more, I just didn’t aim for very much. The risk of rejection or failure absolutely paralyzed me.

And so here I am unemployed, the longest stretch of unemployment I’ve ever had, and as much as I am aching to get back to work, I have to say that it hasn’t been an entirely negative experience. For one thing, it has forced me to experience rejection, and realize that I can handle it. This seems so obvious, but previously, I have always gone on an interview and been immediately offered the job – I am almost 37 years old and this is the first time I’ve gone on job interviews where I wasn’t hired! I know that I’ve been fortunate in the past, but those easy experiences kept me sheltered. The thought of not being chosen always seemed like it would be such a crushing blow, such a referendum on my worthiness as a human. And yet, now that I’ve been on three interviews where I haven’t been hired, I’ve been disappointed, but it is much more manageable than I’d expected. I feel much more realistic now.

What has also been helpful has been contemplating exactly what kind of work I want to do. Again, the over-achiever syndrome – I have always had these vague feelings that I should be doing something amazing, something incredible, get a Ph.D., become a CEO, a bestselling author, something that will publicly affirm my worth. Yet this is not who I am! The more job descriptions I look at, the more I realize that I am not a leader, an innovator, a star – and finally, I feel okay with that. I am looking at jobs with titles like Program Associate or Project Administrator and realizing that that’s the kind of work I like. I like taking people’s ideas and executing them, thinking of the little details and figuring out the snags and coming up with other ways to get around them. I like working with people, and helping explain things, and providing good service. I like working 40 hours a week and not bringing my work home with me. Part of me thinks, I have a masters degree and a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League university, shouldn’t I be aiming higher? But feeling like I should be aiming higher, according to some amorphous external standard, hasn’t made me happy, at all. And the more I accept that what I like is what I like, the more at peace I feel.

This is something I have been experiencing in my personal life as well. (And just a warning – I am going to talk about my sex life. Not very explicitly, but if that will weird you out because you know me, you might want to stop reading here. It gets really personal.)

When Carl and I decided to separate, we also agreed that we would be free to see other people. Initially, the idea seemed very academic and theoretical to me, but after about a month apart I got curious, and I started exploring aspects of my sexuality that I had fantasized about for decades, but had never dared to act upon except in the smallest of ways. (Again, no details, but let’s just say it’s kinky stuff.) I had often felt conflicted about my desires, felt like they were a representation of my low self-esteem, perhaps a way to feel bad about myself, and I often did feel guilty or ashamed or dirty for the things I wanted.

Yet I chanced upon meeting someone whose desires very closely matched mine, and took a huge risk in making my fantasies a reality. Not only was it better than I expected, but over the past few months he has been acting as a mentor of sorts, and under his guidance I have done things I never imagined I would, and it has been simply incredible. Not just physically; it has been mentally and emotionally liberating in a way I absolutely did not expect. The guilt and shame I’d felt for so long about what I wanted has melted, dissolved – I did these things, and the world did not end! I am still the same person I ever was! Again, I like what I like, and I can’t believe I fought against it for so long.

And in keeping with this blog’s theme, I have to say that even as positive as my body image has been in the past, being sexual in this way has been an entirely new way to experience my body, experience myself in my body. I have discarded self-consciousness I didn’t even realize I still had. I am not just comfortable in my skin; I revel in being looked at, at being seen. I move and touch and receive touch seamlessly; my body and my skin and my mind act in absolute concert. I didn’t even imagine this was possible!

It has been somewhat hard to know how to integrate this into my life; for one, it is so heady and overwhelming that I fear that for the people I do talk to about it, I’m pretty much shouting my bliss from the rooftops. And yet I have also felt unable to talk about it in other ways – some of the things I have done are so extreme and out of the ordinary that to say them out loud sounds almost like abuse, and in the beginning, I worried that perhaps I was fooling myself. I have a long history of being in bad situations that I could find any way possible to justify to myself, to convince myself that everything was fine when it really wasn’t. And I’m not cocky enough to say 100% that this isn’t the case now, but I have been making it a point to check in with myself after each time and see how I’m feeling, and goddamn if I don’t feel peaceful and blissful and just plain happy each time. And in a way, having experienced abuse in the past has been a very useful yardstick – I know what abuse feels like, and this doesn’t feel at all like that. If that changes, I’ll deal with it, but for now, it feels amazing to trust myself like this.

So. Wow. This is a lot of navel gazing, and a lot more disjointed and less cohesive than I generally aim for when I write, but so be it. My goal in writing for an audience instead of a private diary is not just to share my experiences in the hopes that they’ll resonate with someone reading, but to keep myself honest, bring things into the light of day. It feels so good to accept who I am and what I like and what I want – my initial inclination is to bemoan how long it took me to make such simple strides, but you know what? I’m just going to enjoy it.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “A new year; the same me?

  1. You GO, girl! I’m proud of you for taking the risks. As for periods of unemployment, they can be a blessing (but here’s to your blessing coming to an end, eh?) because they allow us as adults time to reflect on our true happiness in a way that is nearly impossible in the hustle and bustle of our daily employed lives. Consider that in Alcoholics Anonymous a newcomer scratching together his or her first 90 days or more is greeted with “congratulations” when he or she loses a job. This is because many alcoholics hold onto jobs that don’t make them happy, either because they don’t derive joy from the work they’re doing or they’re underpaid or under-appreciated or whatever it is that makes them resentful but, through self-medication with alcohol, they’ve ignored, suppressing the feelings and staying numb to the impetus to change something about the situation. (Same goes for staying in bad relationships.) With the unemployment comes a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the self–and with that comes the ability to make changes and to heal. Savor the time you have to explore your desires; they often will lead you on to joy.

  2. i too feel the same way. 3 years ago i was in the darkest space every…unemployed, husband finalizing the divorce. i met a wonderful man via craigslist and after putting myself out there we are getting engaged. not only that but i have had similar (i think you didnt outright come out and SAY bdsm) thought processes. I was in an abusive relationship in college and people assume my fasination with…control…and surrender…stems from that. but i have had these dark fantasies lurking in my brain for YEARS…like since i found out about sexuality. I too have thought well maybe this is because of the eating disorder…..
    “I had often felt conflicted about my desires, felt like they were a representation of my low self-esteem, perhaps a way to feel bad about myself, and I often did feel guilty or ashamed or dirty for the things I wanted.” OMG this! but if you find the right person who a. love you for you or b. gets the kink it can be SO much more. a good partner in thought things are about pushing boundaires in a safe sane way that is CONSENTUAL.

    in a way joining the swinger/bdsm lifestyle (not sure if this is what you are doing but it is whats going on on my end lol dont want to assume anything about you) is freedom for me. most swingers are married couples…aka the woman has had babies, is raising a family and those women have CURVES. the fact that other women there LOOKED LIKE ME made me feel better.

    “I have discarded self-consciousness I didn’t even realize I still had. I am not just comfortable in my skin; I revel in being looked at, at being seen. I move and touch and receive touch seamlessly; my body and my skin and my mind act in absolute concert. I didn’t even imagine this was possible!” YES this!

  3. “it feels amazing to trust myself like this.” YES!!! Yay, I am so happy for you! I had been wondering where you were hiding, but confidant that you’d come back with a story to tell. I am dying to know what your kinks are, but I respect that you’re not ready to talk about them here. Just glad that you’ve explored yourself in some magnificent way. Woo!

  4. I would argue that you’re not in the same place. You’re in a better place with many of the features of the old place.

    It sounds as though this has been a powerful and useful period for you. You’re starting to understand what truly makes you happy, in work, in relationships, in the bedroom, and that’s important. You’re starting to disengage from old patterns that weren’t making you happy. You’re exploring YOU.

    Now that’s what I call exciting.

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