When I was young, I was very much a rule-follower: do what you are told, do all the right things, do not do any of the wrong things. My motivation was simple -- when you behave properly, you get what you need. (I did not identify it in so many words back then; yet we are all creatures of id at such a small age, and are driven by simple needs: if I am "good", I will be loved, cared for, supported.) I tried very hard.
As I approach the half-century mark, I am still very much a rule follower -- and still likely motivated on occasion by similar reasoning. Those ancient habits are thoroughly ingrained.
With this in mind, I have come to understand that I still periodically long for external support and validation: in the parlance of a toddler, that I am a good girl. It would be meaningful for me to hear from another person that I am doing the right things, that I should not worry because it will turn out fine in the end. That someone will gladly help me and take care of me. That it will be OK.
I yearn for such words, to bring consolation and support when I am fraught -- words that, like cool water, wash clean the burns of daily life and bring soothing and healing.
Yet: to hope for such words from others is both foolish and infantile.
The world is, ultimately, indifferent to a single human being. Even when we have people who love us -- and I do, this I know -- it is critical to remember that such people are still their own individuals, with their own needs, goals, desires, plans. We cannot make other people care for us in the way that we care for them. We cannot mentally will other people to say what we would like to hear, or to give us what we need. Like blood from a stone, as the saying goes.
In the end, we can only take what others willingly give.
This may, at first glance, seem to be a bitter truth: yet to accept this truth is to free oneself from unrealistic hopes. And in this freedom, there is a certain peace.
And so, I will talk to myself. I am here for you. I know you are doing the best you can. And it will all be OK in the end.
Elderly three-toothed dog prefers to sit ON things. Especially square things. Much like cats all over the world who will sit in boxes or even in shapes constructed of tape on the floor (thank you, Internet, for the plethora or photographic evidence of such occurrences), if there is a dishtowel on the floor, or, perhaps, a computer bag, he will make himself comfortable there instead of on the tile.
He's an old dog. We let him sit wherever he likes.
The only drawback to having a pleasant weekend, is the post-pleasant-weekend-doldrums that arise as the work week begins once more.
The overarching sensation right now is one of clutter: clutter in the house, mental clutter, and the clutter of impending change. (I have never been particularly adept at handling changes.) There are only a few weeks more until Offspring the Third makes his foray into college life six hours away, followed in quick succession by Offspring the Second’s return to ten-hours-distant for his last year of college. There is much to do to prepare, and yet it is hard to focus on the minutiae. And in the erstwhile, all three Offspring are perpetually busy, going hither and yon; I am never certain who will be in the house at any given time. (Except for the chihuahuas, who eagerly await my arrival.) And everyone's clothing and possessions and dishes are, still, dispersed throughout the house.
Despite the clutter, there is also a void: an absence of fellow adults. Beloved Husband is extremely busy with work, and does not have much time to spare for leisure activities (or even for non-work conversation). Cherished Friend remains five hours away and is tremendously busy as well; a much-enjoyed weekend visit in his corner of the desert now seems to further emphasize his intangibility. Siblings are vacationing and helping a new spouse adjust to a new home; parents are traveling. I do not want to send any of them a text or an e-mail, lest I intrude on their precious downtime or otherwise inconvenience them. And there is no one else I could call, just to chat for a few minutes. (Not that I necessarily would, for I dislike the phone --- but the thought that perhaps I could is a pleasant, if unrealistic, idea.)
A portion of your soul has been entwined with mine A gentle kind of togetherness, while separately we stand. As two trees deeply rooted in separate plots of ground, While their topmost branches come together, Forming a miracle of lace against the heavens.
-- Janet Miles, Two Trees
A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain? -- Kahlil Gibran
The errant pinky continues to be errant. X rays indicate "degenerative changes involving the distal interphalangeal joint with joint space narrowing and a small osteophyte". It is all rather fascinating from a physiological point of view, and rather annoying from an "accidental painful finger squashing" point of view. I am curious to see what the hand specialist will say. We shall see.
Perhaps your hunger to belong is always active and intense because you belonged so totally before you came here. This hunger to belong is the echo and reverberation of your invisible heritage. You are from somewhere else, where you were known, embraced and sheltered. This is also the secret root from which all longing grows. Something in you knows, perhaps remembers, that eternal belonging liberates longing into its surest and most potent creativity. This is why your longing is often wiser than your conventional sense of appropriateness, safety and truth. ― John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong
Quite serious today. Herself speaks.
I do not have a healthy relationship with food.
This may not come as a surprise, given my periodic posts about weight and body image and related matters. Yet to admit that there is something here beyond mere lack of motivation or willpower, is something I have been unwilling to do previously. It is embarrassing. Yet it is the truth.
As I mentioned over five years ago now, we -- particularly women -- are trained from a young age to be weight- and shape-conscious, and to look down upon those who are fat. Those early teachings haunt us all our lives: if we do not meet the standards we have learned, we are shamed, either by those around us (whether through subtle put-downs or more overt commentary), or by our own internalized standard whereby our worth is tied to our thinness. Self-loathing arises, so very easily; to be overweight is deemed a moral failing.
We were standing on the back porch of the house. It was the early 1980s, and I was a teenager, average in size and build compared with my peers. I am not sure how the conversation started, or why. Yet at its conclusion, she glared at me and said with tremendous disgust: "You're anorexic. I wish you'd get help." She stomped inside, the screen door slamming behind her. I was left standing on the porch, bewildered.
I did not understand why she said what she did then, and I do not understand now, some thirty-something years later, either. I was not anorexic. In fact, I had a healthy attitude toward eating: I ate when I was hungry, and I did not eat when I was not hungry. I was busy, active, naturally on the thin side. Why was she accusing me of something that I did not comprehend and had only briefly heard about in health class? And how on earth was a teenager, who could not yet drive and did not know even where to make a doctor's appointment, possibly enlist help if it were needed, anyway?
I contemplated, and then dismissed her statements from further thought. Yet, embedded in the recesses of my brain, was the thought that somehow, I was not right.
I have been fortunate in that I have not experienced either anorexia or bulimia (nor any of the other permutations of more serious eating disorders). Nevertheless, I periodically turn to food in an unhealthy way.
Most of the time, I try to make healthy choices and eat appropriate meals. Oftentimes, I succeed. Sometimes, however, I do not.
I sometimes use food to self-medicate: to placate myself in times of stress, loneliness, despair, frustration; to ease tension and to smother heightened emotions; to soothe myself when I am in need of comfort and there is no human adult to whom I can turn in the moment. To fill the emptiness. To chase away the Dementors.
It can be said: I eat my feelings.
I do not exactly know why I do this.
I just know that I do. I was in grade school. My grandmother, who was looking after us that day, had walked my sister and me downtown to the five-and-dime store. Someone's -- either mine or my sister's -- change purse was missing on the way home, and we had to all retrace our steps. The purse was, fortunately, found back at the store. My grandmother's relief was palpable, even as she snapped, "You made me need a cigarette!"
Then, I did not understand what my grandmother meant. Why would stress, and then an accompanying relief, trigger a need for a cigarette?
Now, though, I understand what my grandmother had felt. Instead of cigarettes (I have never smoked), however, I prefer sweets -- simple carbohydrates and simple sugars are my addiction of choice. The problem is, too, that one small piece can so easily lead to another. Furthermore, if a food is something that is headache-inducing (such as certain types of chocolate), the craving for sugar to combat the developing ache in my brain becomes stronger: one wrong dietary step thus so easily begets another. And if I give in to the temptation, I berate myself, criticize myself. Hate myself -- for being weak, and gluttonous, and needy.
That is terrible to see in print. Yet there it is.
So where do I go from here?
I've already begun more often to consciously prepare meals that I know are particularly "good" -- more vegetables, olive oil, lean meats, fiber; fewer baked and processed goods. I feel good about these choices, and perhaps that will provide additional motivation to continue on this path (and to get back on the path if I fall off).
More importantly, though, I've enlisted help to cultivate better coping strategies (i.e., ones that do not involve food). I am looking forward to receiving some good advice, and perhaps some empathy along the way. And even perhaps, at some point, to talk about the why.
Things will get better.
I am optimistic.
I can do this.
Because there have not been enough minor annoyances lately, I present for you a new inconvenience: the pinky bump. It mysteriously appeared a few days ago, just on top (and slightly on the left side) of the last joint of the pinky finger. It waxes and wanes over the course of the day, being less problematic first thing in the morning, and more so after a day of being accidentally squashed over the course of use of the finger.
Research tells me it is likely a digital myxoid cystor ganglion. Good news is, such things usually resolve themselves (in the "medium to long term"), although they do tend to recur. In view of such matters, I shall wait for a bit and see what it does before trundling the errant digit off to the doctor's.
At yesterday evening's family gathering, there were fireworks. It was a useful opportunity to work on discomfort with loud sounds and unexpected noise/visuals. Surprisingly, being close to the action made it easier to tolerate things. Success.
This musing is a follow-up on the previous contemplation of intermittent reinforcement. (Reading "intro to psychology" bits is an interesting way to pass the time while waiting for one's 30-month, 30,000-mile tune up at the car dealer's.) There appears to be a relationship between intermittent reinforcement and attachment type (for a general bit on what attachment types are, you can look here). What attachment type are you? Secure? Anxious-preoccupied? Dismissive-avoidant? Fearful-avoidant? Read for yourself, and see where you lie, here: what attachment type are you?
It's abundantly clear to me where I fall, even though I have a few tendencies toward another type as well. (You can probably guess where I stand, too, if you think about it hard enough.) Knowing this now -- and giving some thought to why I am the way I am -- perhaps I can take better action to move toward secure, lest I become a self-fulfilling prophecy of my attachment type.
Improving oneself is frustrating work. Old patterns of behavior are hard to change, and vulnerability is frightening. Nevertheless, if I look back carefully, I can see that I have been, ever so slowly, making progress with the help of those who are important to me. With this new additional information, perhaps progress will be quicker. And perhaps, if I manage to find the right words at the right times, I can do better.
I try not to think of myself as damaged because of my flaws. In more confident times, I just think of myself as a work in progress. (As we all are, in truth.)
Intermittent Reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward or punishment (reinforcement) is not administered every time the desired response is performed. This differs from continuous reinforcement which is when the organism receives the reinforcement every time the desired response is performed. For example, on a continuous reinforcement schedule a mouse who pulls a lever would receive food (reinforcement) every single time it pulled the lever. On an intermittent reinforcement schedule the mouse would only receive food every few times (it is typically random and unpredictable). There is an increased likelihood the desired behavior will continue with intermittent reinforcement conditioning and the behavior lasts longer than continuous reinforcement.
If a response is intermittently reinforced, then the animal grows accustomed to periods of no reinforcement. If an experimenter tries to extinguish the behavior by cutting off all reinforcement, the animal is less likely to notice that extinction is taking place, or more likely to persist with the behavior in the expectation that reinforcement may resume again as it has in the past. The result is that animals with a history of intermittent reinforcement do not stop a behavior as quickly as animals with a history of continuous reinforcement. Instead, they show resistance to extinction.
This explains so much.
Some days, we are merely laboratory animals, trying and trying in the hope we will receive again the things we crave, even though we are not guaranteed any consistency or success.
(I cannot expound further; some things are best left unsaid. Yet even to understand is helpful.)
I joke on occasion that I was a rodent in a former life. Sometimes, though, I suspect there may be more than a grain of truth about it.
NinjaHead resides with a muffin-baking woman known herein as Herself. Herself has a Beloved Husband, with whom she shares three nearly-grown Offspring. When she is not writing Things, Herself nurtures a visceral fondness for small furry creatures. The household menagerie, which has varied in size and composition over the years, presently contains a minuscule middle aged chihuahua, a most mild-mannered senior chihuahua, and a very small hamster who, due to the prominence of his gonads, seems to need trousers for decency.