Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Less Is More

I began a solo Bible study a few weeks back.  As with most books, I doubted that I would get anything out of the teachings.  I'm so different from other people; my mind works differently; my emotions work differently; my outlook works differently...and by "differently", I mean negatively, damaged, with bitterness.  And with most books, the words and chapters I read could not have been more appropriate for the mile marker I was at on my journey.

This past week has been trying - internally and relationally (a.k.a. with my bf).  I have been quite discontent.  And with this discontentment has come nagging, complaining, frustration, and bouts of anger and sadness.  I've compared myself to just about every person, place, and thing I could think of regarding education, intelligence, financial status, and careers as well as sanity, healthy living, bountiful relationships, and happiness.  And to officially affirm myself as a Glutton for Punishment, I've compared myself to all of my bf's friends, ex-girlfriends, and family relationships.  Why?  Because it hurts so good.

Discontent is engrained in me.  Comparing my endless deficiencies to others' strengths and accomplishments is like brushing my teeth.  I don't think twice about doing it; in fact, I think it's necessary.  I feel unhappy every day.  I feel "not good enough" every day.  I experience strife in my relationships every day.  It all comes so naturally.  And until the last few days, I was settled on having all of this junk take residence in every area of my life.  So what happened?

After an intense argument with my bf on Sunday night, the next morning we "talked"...you know, the big talk about change and moving forward.  He made a list of what he felt were the most important issues based on the previous night's argument.  Yes, I said a list!  Is it as shocking to you as it was to me?  When I first saw what he was doing, I was enraged.  My defenses were up, he was the enemy, and I was not going to lose this battle.  He explained to me why he wrote down his thoughts and feelings - to stay on topic, to organize his thoughts, and because it was therapeutic for him.  "I am the writer in this relationship," I thought to myself.  Then he began addressing the items on the list.  I couldn't speak.  Sabotaging our relationship.  Finding reasons why we shouldn't be together.  Quick to anger when I say or do something you don't like.  Giving immature, childish jabs.  Bringing up the past and future when talking about a present issue (hence, the list).  When he was finished, he told me not to refute anything he just said.  "You're not trying to save yourself here.  We're just talking." 

And so we did.  What stood out to me the most was how accurately he described the things I do, say, and bring into our relationship and how every thing he said described the way I handle other areas of my life.  All of it was out -- not just the junk between him and I, but the junk within myself, the junk I bring to every job, friendship, relationship, etc.  I was looking into the mirror, finally facing the pain I caused and the pain I carry.  I remembered a quote I once heard -- "Hurting people hurt people."  And I had, and I still did, and I saw its effects sitting in front of me.  It was a powerful moment, a moment that caused me to ask myself, "Where do I want to go from here?  Do I want to deny and run, or do I want to stay in this pain and work through it?" 

Immediately after "the talk", I made an appointment with my counselor.  This wasn't the first time I found myself surrounded by internal muck and guck that had made its way out.  And this wasn't the first time I had no idea what to do with all of it.  I brought "the list" to our Tuesday appointment -- it wasn't even a question if I would bring it or not -- I wanted my counselor to know everything, to have all of the facts, and hear the other person's thoughts about me, word for word.  She, on the other hand, told me that bringing the list to my counseling session was a big step, a brave step.  She also said that the list wasn't off the charts terrible; in fact, it was pretty common things that people experience in their relationships.  "This isn't the list of a borderline."

Deep sigh.  When I heard those words, I felt a weight lifted off of me.  My mother is borderline and I've been trying everything to not live like her, to not think like her or feel like her or speak like her.  But it's like no matter what I do, I can't escape, and this list, this list, was proof I was a borderline as well, that my fate had been sealed, that the work I thought I was doing was not working, that I was doing to others what she did to me.  Shame.  Guilt.  My childhood before me.  My counselor continued.  "This is a list from someone who loves you, from a person who wants to walk through this with you, a person who wants to build a relationship and, potentially, a life with you.  This is a time when you decide what you want to do with this list.  Do you choose to move on because it's easier to not face these things?  Or, do you see this as an opportunity to see inside of yourself, to see the changes that you need to make in your life?  I see this list as an opportunity for you." 

As I was leaving her office, I asked her for an example of something I could do to begin working on the anxiety I feel inside when I start moving toward that place of no return.  Big mistake.  She answered, and I quote, "Take this list and sit down with your boyfriend.  Have him go through the list and tell you his thoughts and feelings for 10 minutes, and during that 10 minutes, you just sit there.  And listen.  Without saying a word."  My face drained of all color and expression.  I swear I heard a ringing in my head.  "Just sit there and listen?  For 10 minutes?" I repeated.  Unfortunately, I had heard her right the first time.  Uh, I'd need to think about this one.  Whatever happened to journaling? 

Later that evening, I told my boyfriend what my counselor had suggested, that whole "10 minute" thang.  He laughed, then told me how great my counselor was.  But, he didn't want to do the exercise.  He didn't want to "rehash the list".  He couldn't think of "anything new to tell me".  Well, that ticked me off and all of the anxiety I was feeling inside escaped through my lips.  "This is to help our relationship," I snapped back.  It had started again.  Did I suddenly forget everything my counselor and I talked about?  It was kind of a good thing because it got him thinking of some "new information" he'd like to tell me.  We sat on the couch, and he asked me to bring him the list.  "Right now?"  "Why?"  "We don't really have to do this?"  "Do you really want to do this?" Oh yes, he did. 

Never in my life has 10 minutes felt so long.  And, he was enjoying this exercise so much that we went well over the 10 minute mark, in part because I did attempt to speak a few times, at which he commanded, "10 minutes!"  The General spoke.  I listened.  Talk about exhausting.  Once he finished, we just went on with our evening like I wasn't completely fuming with responses and comebacks and examples of why he was so wrong.  After a while, all of those emotions and thoughts that were burning inside, well, they died out.  Lashing out didn't seem so necessary.  I didn't see the need to defend myself.  And, I actually understood my boyfriend's points and agreed with him (luckily he doesn't read this blog.)  Damn, that counselor. 

Wednesday morning comes, and I pull out my Cultivating Contentment Bible study.  I begin reading Chapter 3, titled, The Complainer In All of Us which opens with, "One of the most visible results of a discontented heart comes right out of our mouths."  Well then.  I was guided through several Bible verses, one of which really hit home.  Proverbs 27:3, for example, compares a complainer to the heaviness and weightiness of stone and sand.  Eek.  Is this what I want for my life, for those around me?  Do I want to be viewed as a stone weighing down on the lives of my loved ones?  The book went on to include a very relevant translation of Corinthians 3:3.  "As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when things are going your way?  I thought about the list.  Quick to anger when I say or do something you don't like. 

I realized then that I was an immediate gratification junkie.  If I'm feeling angry or anxious and I have that racing, jumping feeling in the pit of my stomach, I immediately release those emotions on whoever is around me.  Holding those emotions inside and waiting for them to pass is uncomfortable and takes too long.  It's easier and provides quicker satisfaction to unload my emotions on someone else than to work through them myself while they are fresh and real.  The last question of the chapter asked, "What is the difference between complaining about your troubles to God and complaining about those same things to the people around you?"  To which I wrote:  Going to God will evoke change.  Going to others puts your burdens on them and they are not equipped to handle or respond the way God will.  

I hold this knowledge inside.  I know better, but I choose worse.  I take the path more difficult in the end because it's easier for me in the moment.  And when I reach the difficult end, I grab and claw at anything and everything that will provide more immediate gratification for me.  I am like stone and sand.  Not only am I thinking of no one but myself and disregarding the feelings of others by unleashing on them everything I hold inside, I'm not bringing it to the one place that will actually provide resolution and peace.  The end of each chapter gives you something to "ponder and pray" about.  I was to pray for the strength to hold my tongue, to see God's perspective on what comes out of my mouth, and to go to the Lord with my grievances and disappointments. 

In the margin, I wrote:  Less fear; more love.  Filter my thoughts from my words from my actions.  Christ-like filter, a filter of love and gratefulness and acceptance for what is, acceptance of the present which God has created.  I prayed for these things, asked for days of no complaining, no arguing, and no releasing uncomfortable emotions on others.  I can do this.  With God, I can do this.

As I write this post, I feel like this whole thing was orchestrated.  Someone very carefully planned this madness and put me in front of the fire at a time when I had the resources to make sense of it all.  And because of it all, because of the pain and strife and tension I experienced, my perspective is a bit clearer.  I have higher expectations for my words and actions.  My grief will go to God.  My complaints will become blessings.  My anxiety will become prayers. 

A life with a little less discontentment and a little more contentment...I could live with this.

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