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Memory

I love the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I love the idea that even if you take the memories away, the love between two people remains. And I like the message that we must experience pain in order to experience joy. But lately I’ve been wishing I could erase the painful memories from the past 10 years.

Let me first say that I am thankful for my memory, lest I be struck down with dementia for being ungrateful. It helps in my job because clients expect you to remember everything they’ve told you from the first session on. And when you see 30+ clients a week, that’s a lot of stuff to remember.

The most painful memories help me to have more compassion for other people’s suffering. When I was depressed, I could not conceive of any possible value that could come from my pain. But now that my brother is depressed, I am better able to help him because I know what he’s going through. You’re not afraid to sit with other people’s pain once you know firsthand how lonely it is.

My memory also helps me capture the intensity of my feelings when I write about my experiences, which hopefully makes my blog better. I am guessing that most writers have good memories and intense feelings. But sometimes it can be a tough combination. That’s probably why writers are so neurotic.

Lately there have been some memories that I wish I could forget. Or at least remember without feeling like it’s happening all over again. It’s almost like having PTSD, reliving these hurtful experiences every time they pop up.

Yesterday I remembered how my first husband told me while we were separating that I have a heart of gold. He said it was the happiest day of his life on our wedding day and the saddest day of his life when we signed the divorce papers. How can you feel that way about someone and still choose to leave them? What good does it do to have a heart of gold if it doesn’t help you make a relationship work? In a way I am thankful that he was loving through the entire process, but sometimes I wish I didn’t remember how I felt at all.

The letting go process in my second marriage has been just as painful. It hurts just as much now as it did 4 years ago. It still makes me cry. Every step we take away from each other renews my sadness. When will this grief subside? That whole one year estimation is a bunch of crap. I wish I could just forget the past 4 years–all the pain and all the stupid things I did to try to ease the pain that just made things worse.

The only memories I would miss from the past 4 years are the first trip when my mixed doubles team went to districts, getting Federer’s autograph at the Cincy tournament, and UVA’s basketball season this year. Which makes me seem like some superficial sports fanatic, but it’s true. In my defense, part of what made these experiences memorable is that I shared them with my friends and family. I’m sure there were other positive memories worth holding on to during that period of time, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Right now, all I remember is the pain.

The only good thing about this second divorce is that it helps me understand how you can love someone and still let them go, even when it breaks your heart. I’m not angry at my first husband any more for leaving. I understand why he did it. It doesn’t alleviate the pain of either loss to realize this, but I have a better appreciation for how complex love and marriage are. That’s something.

Today I’m not able to do the things I try to focus on in my blog–practice self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. But maybe tomorrow I’ll feel differently.

Embarrassing Moments

If you were ever to meet my tennis friends, I guarantee they would tell you about several embarrassing anecdotes involving me being loud and occasionally dangerous. But since you probably won’t meet them, I’ll out myself and tell you what they are.

The first thing they would tell you is that we have to keep going to new restaurants because I get us kicked out for being too loud. It all started when we were going to a Christmas concert and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant beforehand. We were getting ready to leave and I made a comment about why you shouldn’t have sex on the first date a little too loudly, and the owners were not pleased. Luckily, we were already on our way out, so I wasn’t officially kicked out, per se.

Later that evening, we went to Starbucks after the concert, and I swear I thought they closed at 11, but they said they close at 9 and asked us to leave. I’ve often been in restaurants where the staff give you dirty looks while they sweep and put the chairs on the tables, but I’ve never been told that we have to leave. Of course, my friends said that it was because I was being too loud again. Two establishments in one day. This sealed my reputation as someone who you don’t want to take to your favorite restaurant.

The next anecdote involved this Mexican restaurant we often go to after tennis. You know how sometimes the waiters and waitresses will sing Happy Birthday to you and give you a free dessert when it’s your birthday? Well at this place they like to startle you by popping a paper bag and smear whipped cream on your face instead. My friends were on a kick of saying it was someone’s birthday so they could watch this happen.

I had a couple of friends tip me off that I was their next victim, so when I heard the pop, I knew what was coming.  When the waiters came toward me, I stood up so they couldn’t corner me. They tried to grab my arms so I couldn’t move, but I freed one hand and flipped the plate in the air. It flew across the room, about 10 feet away, and the plate shattered, whipped cream flying everywhere. Dead silence. The waiters were so shocked they just turned around and walked away.

Again, technically I did not get thrown out, but my friends used this incident against me, just the same.

The last anecdote involved a New Year’s party shortly after the Mexican restaurant fiasco. My friends were relating this incident to all of the people who did not have the pleasure of witnessing this spectacle first hand. I was trying to defend myself, explaining how the waiters were holding me down, and I demonstrated how I flipped the plate out of the waiter’s hand. Well wouldn’t you know I was wearing this heavy watch, and that sucker flew off my wrist and hit one of my friends square in the forehead. Hard. From about 12 feet away. It happened so fast he didn’t know what hit him until the watch fell in his lap.

My friends had a field day with that one. They joked that the he had 8:30 permanently tattooed on his forehead. He bandaged his head with a fake bump made out of a meatball to show how badly he was injured. Another friend filed a fake lawsuit against me on behalf of the injured party. And even though this happened over 6 years ago, they were talking about it last night while we were at the Mexican restaurant.

There was a time when I would have been mortified by anecdotes like these. I felt like everything about me was wrong, so I scrutinized every interaction after the fact to make sure I hadn’t offended anyone. But now I have friends who know that I’m loud and that if you try to hold me down I might assault you with a deadly watch. But they love me, anyway.

Still, if you ever meet me, you might want to choose your restaurant wisely.

Inner Beauty

6655ECA4-615F-4250-ACA1-12AE5BE0F205There’s a lot of talk these days about redefining beauty to include people who don’t look like supermodels. And more of an emphasis on inner beauty, as indicated by the number of FB posts of people with some kind of physical defect.  (“Like” if you agree! Ignore if you’re a terrible person.)

I’m all for focusing on inner beauty, but this tactic is problematic because, by definition, inner beauty is not something that you can see in a picture. I guess we’re supposed to infer that the person is beautiful on the inside, but that doesn’t tell us what inner beauty actually “looks” like. So I’ve been thinking about people who exemplify inner beauty to me.

When I was in grad school I met this guy who had a cappuccino cart in the hotel lobby where I was on vacation. This was the era before Starbucks, so I had never heard of a cappuccino.  He was thrilled to tell me what it was, how it’s made, and what makes it so great. After that, I bought a cappuccino every day while I was there. And it tasted that much better because of how much he enjoyed making them. I thought it was a thing of beauty to see someone who loved their job that much.

I don’t remember what he looked like.

I had a similar experience once while I was picking up a package at the post office, which always annoys me. There was a long line, too. But the woman behind the counter seemed so happy to give everyone their packages that I couldn’t help but smile. I don’t think it was because she loved her job like Mr. Cappuccino; I think that’s just who she was. And there is something beautiful about someone who can be happy, regardless of what they’re doing.

I don’t remember what she looked like, either.

When I was depressed 5 years ago, I had 2 friends who called me every day to check on me. Ordinarily I can talk up a storm, but I didn’t have a whole lot to say when all I had done that day was lie on the couch and will myself to exist. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that they were there for me.

When I was depressed back in December, I hardly saw anyone because tennis season was over, I was off for winter break, and everyone was busy preparing for the holidays. Once again, I had one friend who checked on me regularly, even though she didn’t really know me that well at the time. Occasionally I would venture out of the house and we would see a movie or have dinner.  If it weren’t for her, I could have easily gone weeks without any human interaction.

I am blessed to have such beautiful friends.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes you have to be there to fully appreciate what it means to be in the presence of beauty.

Loyalty

When it comes to sports, I am loyal to a fault.

In a previous post, I talked about the delusional level of optimism that my brothers and I must channel at times to continue to cheer for UVA football. My brother emailed me recently to ask if I wanted to renew our season tickets–which I did. Even though we only won 2 whole games last season.

I captain several tennis leagues every year. And every year, I invite all of the players from the previous season back to the team unless they’ve done something I consider egregious–like not show up for a match. Or not respond to my emails. Or cause drama on or off the court. I can tolerate a player with a losing record, but I won’t tolerate a person who disrespects me or other people.

There are many captains who have the opposite recruiting strategy: they will tolerate a strong but less likeable player but get rid of a nice person who is a weak player.  Because the point of forming a team is to win, after all. I get that. And I’ve had winning teams. But I’ll admit, I sometimes choose loyalty over winning.

I’ve had friends leave my team and play for other captains because of this. I can’t really fault them for wanting to be on a winning team. But I am grateful for the friends who continue to play for me, because it makes our team feel more like a family. In fact, the tennis family that I featured in a previous post are all long-standing members of my mixed doubles team.

This team happens to be my winnningest team, too.  So loyalty does pay off sometimes.

This year, for the first time in 38 years, UVA won the ACC tournament in basketball. And for the first time ever, we were both the regular season and tournament champions. And we did it without any superstar athletes.  Without anyone noticing, really. Because when you win with defense, it’s not flashy.  So we didn’t get as much press as some of the high profile teams in our conference.

I was there when they won the tournament, and what impressed me the most about them–other than how awesome they are–is how humble they are. No one sticking their faces in the camera talking smack about how they proved their haters wrong. Not even any “we’re number one” stuff. No ego at all. Just a joyful celebration of their accomplishment as a team. As a basketball family.

It takes faith at every level to be loyal to a losing team. In the post-game interview, Tony Bennett thanked God for getting his team through the low times. Bennett had faith that a team without a single McDonald’s All-American player could accomplish great things. The players had faith that defense and unselfish play could win championships. And UVA fans had faith that someday, our basketball team could return to the glory days of the Ralph Sampson era.

So this post is dedicated to the 2014 ACC regular season and tournament champs. See you in Texas at the Final Four!

Friendship, Part 2

Warriors in Training

When I was in grad school, I didn’t have many visitors because it was a long drive and there was not a lot to do in the middle of Ohio.  So I saw my family and friends infrequently, and every time I said good-bye I felt this overwhelming sadness–and not just because I wouldn’t see them for a long time.  I was also sad because when I was with them, I was completely myself, and I rarely felt free to be myself.

Part of the problem was that the feeling of being different followed me well into my adult years.  I wasn’t like the other grad students.  I watched reruns of The Flintstones and Gillian’s Island rather than keeping up with what Koresh was doing in Waco.   I wasn’t spending 70-80 hours a week on grad school stuff.  I didn’t listen to the right music, didn’t hang out at the cool coffee places.

I moved around a lot during that time, too.  While I was with my first husband, we moved almost every year because he was never happy where we were–which turned out to be more about him than our location.  Still, I didn’t mind the excuse to not get too close to anyone.

When I finally moved back to Virginia and became a part of the tennis community here, I was a little freaked out.  There was no way I could avoid being a part of the gossip, what with my failed marriages and all.  Plus, I only dated tennis players, so everyone knew who they were.  I had no place to hide; giving up tennis was not an option.  I had to let people know what I was really like.

Of all the gifts that tennis has given me, my tennis family is the best one of all.  These are the only other people who I can be myself around without obsessing afterwards about what I said or did.  They have seen me throw up on the court.  They’ve been there when I’ve gotten kicked out of restaurants for being too loud.  They don’t judge me for always being hungry and constantly having to pee.  They don’t expect me to make anything for potluck dinners because they know I can’t cook.  (But I do bring the Karaoke and board games.)  They even indulge my grandiosity by calling me the Queen.

Often the feedback I get about my blog is about how honest I am.  In an I wouldn’t do it, but good for you! kind of way.  I’m tired of hiding.  I spent the first half of my life trying to be like everyone else.  I want to spend the second half being myself.

Friendship

Last night we had our 2nd Annual Charlie Brown Christmas Party.  The party was named after last year’s tree, which looked like this:
 
 
This year the tree was more normal looking but my friends were more comedic, as you can see in this picture:

We even had prizes for Christmas attire:  Ugliest sweater, Most Festive, and Prettiest Sweater.  Guess which person won each prize from the picture below:

I am so thankful to have such good friends.

In my first marriage my husband and I were everything to each other–just like in love songs and romantic movies–but we didn’t have many friends.  Perhaps at some level we feared that if we told people what our relationship was really like, they would see how fragile our marriage was.

I believe that lessons are often learned from tragedy, pain, and hardship–particularly lessons you don’t want to learn.  What I learned from that relationship is that no single person can be everything you need.  And when you lose that person who has tried to be your everything, you are left with nothing. 

So I vowed never to allow myself to be that socially isolated again, and I have done a pretty good job of honoring that commitment.  In addition to playing and captaining all of those tennis teams, I also organize most of our social events and play the MC at the parties, making sure that our time is evenly spent between eating, singing karaoke, and playing board games. 

However, I am still more inclined to play the role of therapist with my friends than friend in need.  And I use all the same excuses that my clients use for not asking for help:  I am a burden, a broken record, a person whose feelings may be too much for other people to handle.  A person who is too needy, too demanding.

I’ve spent today the way I spend most Saturdays–tired and alone.  I did text a few friends.  And I talked to my brother.  And I’m writing this blog post.  So I’m trying to reach out.  But it will always be more natural for me to help than to be helped.

Perhaps whenever I have doubts about whether my friends want to be there for me, I can look at the deranged elf pictured above and remind myself that only someone who cared deeply about me would pose for a picture that can be posted for all the world to see.

Self-Care

Remember how I said I was following all the stress management guidelines and still feeling overwhelmed? Well that day there was a car accident with 11 students involved, 1 who died and 3 who are still in critical condition. The entire college community is grieving, and we have been slammed at the counseling center.

Every day, multiple times a day, I preach the importance of self-care, which includes:

  • Sleep: I get at least 6 hours but could use more.
  • Eating:  I never skip a meal and eat relatively healthy.
  • Exercise:  I try to play tennis 3x/week and stretch before bedtime.
  • Down Time:  I give myself plenty of down time. One of the perks of living alone.
  • Putting your needs first:  I am terrible at this.

In my defense, most helping professionals are pathologically helpful and run the risk of burnout. In fact, if there were an award for Most Likely to Help Other People Until You Collapse, the physicians in my family would be competing for first place.

I forced my dad to read the blog about him, and after he read it he admitted that spending decades on call 24-7, covering every physician who went out of town over the holidays while we stayed home, probably contributed to his depression. When my dad was sick, my mom saw both of their patients and took care of my dad. My brother recently had sinus surgery and was told to take off at least a week from work but went back after 3 days.

So relatively speaking, I’m actually a slacker in my family.

I have been feeling the loss of not having someone to come home to, someone who I can talk about my day with. I have made an effort to reach out to friends, and they have been incredibly helpful, but it doesn’t take the place of having that person who knows everything that’s going on with you on a day-to-day basis, whether they want to or not.

So I’m doing what I can to take care of myself. I went to dinner with friends last night. I was dead tired but it was a rare opportunity to see my tennis mom, who recently abandoned me by moving to South Carolina. She reminded me of the hazards of my “save the world” mentality. I defended myself by saying that I’m not trying to save the world–just the people I meet. It just so happens that I’m meeting a lot of people right now.

And I’m going to a movie tonight after I go into work to facilitate a debriefing session. I’m a little worried about being too drained afterwards but I’m making an effort to do something other than sit at home alone all weekend.

And I’m writing this blog. This is the one place where everything gets to be about me. I get to talk as much as I want without being interrupted, there are people who are interested in what I have to say, and the feedback is almost always positive. And for this I am thankful.

Warriorism

I captained 5 tennis leagues this year, which most people would describe as an exercise in torture.  Rescheduling matches is a pain, and it’s hard to make everyone happy, but for the most part I enjoy it.  I see it as an opportunity to be a sports psychologist. 

One of the messages I try to instill is the idea that, just as we all have inner children (Sophie, for me) we also have an inner warrior.  Granted, some warriors are more deeply buried and out of shape than others.  For those players on the team, we have the Warrior in Training program (WIT).  A good time to channel your inner warrior is when there is a crucial point, like serving at 30-40 at 3-3. 

The levels of warriorism have evolved over the years.  Last year I had an asthma attack during a singles match.  I’d had a few of them before but I just assumed I was out of shape.  But my friends saw that my lips turned blue and I was wheezing, so after the match they told me I was having an asthma attack and that I should have retired.  It was this match that made me finally go to the doctor, which is how I found out that, in addition to allergies and exercise-induced asthma, I also have GERD. 

For these reasons, I no longer play singles.  But at the time, I just thought I needed an extra-strength dose of warriorism.   I channeled my inner drill sergeant (we all have one of those, too) and started yelling at myself:  soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam didn’t get to quit.  They had to deal with fatigue and lack of sleep and mosquitos and rain and fear of getting killed.  So what if you can’t breathe?  So what if you’re losing?  So what if you can’t move?  You still have to finish the match!

My friends thought is was so funny that I used soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam for motivation that this became our new rally cry.  Before a team mate got on the court, we would yell “jungles of Vietnam!”  Later this got abbreviated to jungles for short.  I even got my team mates pins to put on their tennis bags with the word JUNGLES on it in an army-looking font. 

I also found some monkeys and apes, so I bought those, too.  I would have preferred a variety of jungle animals, but it was pretty amazing that they sold apes and monkeys at all, with exactly 12 per pack–one for each team member.  Even more amazing is that I was able to pick a monkey that represented each player.  So then our rally cry became ape and monkey calls for those team members who can imitate them.  I can’t so I still yell jungles.

The last level of warriorism is when you are in the trenches of the jungles of Vietnam.  This would apply when you’ve lost the first set and are down match point in the second set.  Or when you haven’t slept in over 24 hours and have to play at districts in the deciding match, which happened to me this past summer.  Because it requires you to channel so deeply, this level should only be used in dire circumstances.

I remember at the end of that match, after mentally preparing myself for battle the entire day and spending a good amount of time in the trenches, I was shocked that we still ended up losing.   Then I realized that in war, there are warriors on both sides, and half of them will lose.  In fact, a bunch of warriors on the winning side will get killed, too.  So it’s not a fail-proof strategy.

Still, if I’m going to be in the trenches, I’d rather be there with my warrior in charge than any other part.

Karaoke Pusher

I love Karaoke.  And it’s not because I’m some great singer.  I just love to sing.  And when it’s done in the privacy of your home in front of the people who know you best, it’s not as scary as you might think.

This Friday we are having our second Decade Karaoke Party.  Not everyone likes Karaoke.  At least that’s what they claim.  So I often have to trick people into singing.  Everyone has an inner rock star, and one of my missions in life is to help people let this part out.  I would have been a great drug dealer, but fortunately I choose to use my powers of influence for good instead of evil.

Here’s how I do it:

  • I start off the party with a hard song and sing it badly.  Not on purpose.  I’m really just not that good.
  • I ask them what kind of song they would sing if they were brave enough to do it.  I have a huge repertoire of songs so there’s a good chance the song will be in there.
  • I suggest that we play the song, just to see what it sounds like.
  • I volunteer to sing it.
  • I have 2 microphones, so I coax them into holding the other mic, or at least touch it, just to see how it feels.
  • I suggest that the whole group sing and that the person hold the mic far away from their mouth and sing quietly.

By the next Karaoke party, they’re usually singing solos.  In fact, one person bought a Karaoke machine and hid it so his wife wouldn’t know that he had become a closet Karaoke singer.  He hosted the first Decade Karaoke Party.

If I could, I would have a Karaoke machine in my office and I would use singing as a therapy technique.  Kind of like what Tracy Ullman did as Ally’s therapist on Ally McBeal.  She made Ally choose a theme song, but I think it’s more important to sing in front of someone.  It’s freeing to know that you can enjoy doing something without worrying about being good at it or looking foolish.

Once you let go of those fears, anything is possible.