Knowing how to live

In a recent email conversation with a friend, she asked me about what I’ve been doing.  The typical simple question that’s phrased in various ways, and yet often so difficult to answer.

How are you?
What are you up to?
What’s new?

You know those questions, right?  How about when you’re checking out at a grocery store, and the checker cheerily asks, “How are you today?”

What a loaded question.  Naturally, I don’t want to burden a stranger who’s dealing with the public and standing on their feet for hours on end with the whole truth.  Do you solemnly  swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…? (probably not!)

I’m so sad today.
I’ve been crying a lot.
I’m not really looking forward to the holiday, because I feel anxiety from bad memories.
It feels like this whole store is full of normal people, except for me.

I tell a selective truth based on what I choose to think about.  It’s fairly easy to choose a thankful thought, and respond in a positive way.

The friend that wrote and asked the simple, loaded question recently has been going through her own challenging times.  She used to be married to a passive aggressive man.  He was the (false) image of respectability, moderation, devoted father, and to the outward appearance, a good husband.  Except my friend did not feel loved by him.

There’s a simple reason for that, and most of the readers here know the reason.  He didn’t deeply love her, if in fact he loved her at all.  He withheld love and nurturing the way that passive aggressive men do, until their partners can be grabbing reactively for shreds of relationship, connection, and intimacy, like an oxygen starved creature can gasp for air.  Periodically, he’d behave in loving ways, have a window of intimacy, and then yank the rug out from under again.  Familiar stuff.
(His subsequent behaviors reflected the truth of not loving her, and not loving their kids very much.)

Many years with this man took its toll on my friend.  For the last five years since he left, she’s been trying to recover.  As I wrote back and gave specific responses to what I’m doing, what my personal goals are, what’s been reached, and where I’m hopeful or greatly struggling, she answered by saying this: “You’re so wise to start building your life now.  I didn’t have that or do that, so I’ve been somewhat lost.  But I’ve never known how to live, so I am not blaming him.”

I replied that I don’t feel particularly wise (quite the opposite), and my attempts to build myself and my life feel much more like crawling rather than walking, but the whole conversation has left me reflecting.

My friend was able to get counseling.  Lots of it.  I’ve barely been able to afford counseling over the years, and often wondered if it would have made a great difference.  Her comment on counseling was: “I’ve gone to so much counseling over the last many years and it is fairly useless.  Honestly.

I feel a little bit like I’m trying to use a teaspoon to fill a house sized hole.  I wonder now how much I’ve ever known how to live.  I grew up in dysfunction, and married into dysfunction.  Is there a song about that?  What does it feel like to be healthy (inside and out)?  What does a health relationship feel like?  Would I know it if it grabbed me by the nose?  What does a healthy life look and feel like?

Have I ever known how to live?  Just a simple and complicated question that I’ll be thinking about.

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12 Responses to Knowing how to live

  1. Exodus says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking questions that we should all examine.

    I’ve been writing about what I believe happy and love look like.
    I do believe that I know what it looks like because I recognize it when I see it and I get an all-over good feeling when I’m around happy people. However, recognizing it outside of myself is one thing and seeing myself having it and living it is another. There is a book that a counselor gave me a long time ago by Claudia Black, ” It Will Never Happen to Me” and that was my first introduction to codependency and the idea that ‘ I’ll see it when I believe it’.

    I was also wondering if I should seek counseling. It occurred to me this morning that after all I’ve been through it only seems that I should need some, right? But, the thought of discussing my life with a counselor or anyone else feels so exhausting and I’m no dummy. I know what the hell is wrong with my life and my marriage and I know how to fix it : stay away from toxic draining histrionics. It’s not that I have anything against counseling but I have had so much counseling in my life that I am just tired of it and I don’t want to spend the money.

    There are so many ineffective and incompetent counselors today that I never put a whole lot of faith in believing that counseling will help me. On the other hand, I don’t expect anyone to solve my problems. I know that counseling is only as effective as I want to make it. I suppose that it’s nice to have someone to talk to though – someone objective enough to help us view our circumstances from a distance and help us put experiences into their proper perspective.

    Now that I’m older, more mature and wiser, as well as fed up with all the negativity and drama that has cloaked my life for so many years, I really believe that I know what I want in a relationship and I don’t believe that I would be willing to compromise at this point. Why jump back into the frying pan? I’m already fried or rather burnt to a crisp. I hope I never ever have to meet anyone (male or female) like Norman ever again.

    The fact is that our parents model our relationships with others and they help us develop a value system. In my case, I was verbally taught all the right things but my parents modeled the bad thing. Sort of like the way Norman could say that he loved me and then treat me like shit every single day of our marriage. I believe that actions speak much louder than words. I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to make sense of all the confusing and opposing elements of my upbringing. I think I have enough insight and wisdom now to be able to determine what is toxic and what isn’t, what is sincere and what isn’t. It’s really not all that complicated PJ’s. One thing I’ve learned is that if we find ourselves having to question a person’s behavior then we need to stay away from them. Happy people don’t hurt people and happy people who make mistakes are even happy to acknowledge them and make amends and not repeat. Only angry people want to hurt others. I don’t want anymore angry people in my life.

    If you want to go to counseling, look for a place on a sliding scale. I used to go to a Christian psychotherapy place that only charged 30 dollars per visit compared to the 1-200 dollar an hour range and the counseling was just as good. Oh and there are also counselors on Skype too but beware that some of them are nut-jobs. Ask for a free consult before you commit. I did the phone therapy thing a few years ago and ended up with a nut-job from Utah that was so abusive and psycho that my skin crawled for days after I hung up on him.

    Speaking of angry people….I tried to call a very old friend this morning ( hoping she might be able to help me relocate and get a job where she lives) and a woman answered the phone and when I asked for my friend she said wrong number and then when I asked if the number belonged to my friends husband ( by name) the woman yelled, ‘ Wrong number you f’n bitch’. I was so startled by her anger and I’m still feeling rather unsettled by the whole experience. My gosh, I can’t imagine ever talking someone like that. Has the world gone mad?

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  2. This post is very timely. Thank you for sharing these feelings. Here is why it’s timely for me: I was summoned for jury duty and had to report this morning to find out if I’d be on a jury. The particular case I was randomly selected to be a potential juror for involved the following: a middle-aged man accused of harassing a woman (presumably his wife or ex-wife) and of stalking and taking nude pictures of her. The instant I heard the charge of harassing that caused the woman to feel emotionally unsafe, I knew I couldn’t be fair to the guy. But as juror selection works, you respond to a series of questions. So what ended up happening, which resulted in my being excused, was me saying to the very nice judge and in front of the attorneys, defendant, police officers, and clerks, that I couldn’t be fair to the defendant because I’m in a terrible relationship. Like I said, they were very nice, but saying this stuff in person to people I don’t know, when look, I’m a lawyer for god’s sake, but I can’t be fair because my husband has treated me poorly. This is what my life has come to. I feel awful right now.

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    • newshoes123 says:

      MWH, it might be time to be not married at all!! The great thing is that you acknowledged to everyone which makes you accountable for being honest with yourself. Now you have to think of your next steps and see if being “unmarried” is the best option for you. My very wise good friend many many months back said to me that she would never stay with someone to make them happy if she couldn’t be happy in her relationship… that made me think long and hard for a long time. I remembered those words when my then pah came to me to apologize for another round of abuse, I stood my ground and I remembered her words. It didn’t make me happy to accept his apology, it didn’t make me happy to take him back, it didn’t make me happy to bend over backwards once more, it certainly didn’t make me happy to listen to his excuses of why he was abusing me again and I stood my ground over and over again until it sunk in that we were finally truly done. No one should live with someone who makes them feel like the bottom of their shoe, insignificant and unloved. NO ONE DESERVE THAT EVER!! from whatever walk of life you come from, anywhere in the world. These men are nothing but bullies – they’ve been abused yes, but it does not give them the right to turn around and crush someone else. Don’t make someone else happy if you yourself is miserable. It’s not worth it. They are not worth it. But you are dear, think of you and get out.

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    • Exodus says:

      Married et al,
      I can’t believe this! I’m going out of my mind. When I first read your post, my stomach sunk because I had filled out one of those preliminary jury questionnaires a few months ago and the same day that you posted above, received a letter that looked like it was from the courts. It wasn’t thank goodness. But, last night, the summons arrived and I’m on call in November from the 14th to the 28. I’m just sick about this. I’m so full of anxiety. Every time I think I’ve reached a window of opportunity to make something happen in terms of a job and home, something blocks me. I feel like the forces of evil are working against me.
      Anyway, Married, I called the courts this morning to discuss the summons because I didn’t understand what they want from me. Apparently, I’m on call so at this point, I have to fill out a form with my personal info and then I have to call them on Nov 14 after 6:30 pm to get further instructions. The clerk I spoke to suggested that I request a deferment but he also told me that the judge has become less forgiving in recent years due to the many non-shows. I need advice. On one hand, I want to serve and get it over with and on the other hand, I feel like I should request the deferment for 6 months. Then again, if 6 mos from now I am still in the area and I have started a new job, then I don’t want to have to take off for jury duty. What would you do? The other thing that scares me is that if I defer and have moved from the area and the summons arrives here at this house and I never receive it, I could end up in jail for not showing! Mistakes happen even with address changes. I wouldn’t care about if it were my credit card statement but a summons isn’t something I want to miss. I feel like I’m contemplating a root canal- should I do it now and get it over with or should I wait? I really hope that once I’ve served I never have to do this again.

      Could anyone, everyone please offer me advice? I don’t know how this all works anyway. It’s in the district court so I don’t think the trials are any long drawn out thing but even so, it’s a real pain. The only thing I know is that when I call the number in November, it’s to receive instructions when to attend the jury selection process- not the trial. HELP please.Could someone clearly describe the process to me and how it all works and if trials are sometimes just one day or if they are weeks on end? The other thing I’m confused about is what if they don’t select me? Does that mean that I’m still on call after the 29th?

      PJ’s sorry to bombard your blog with this but I’m really torn about what to do relative to my moving. I need a big fat valium!

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      • Hi, Exodus. I don’t know how the process works in your county, but here’s what happened where I am. I was summoned to appear on a certain date. I didn’t ask for a postponement because I wanted to get the obligation over with. In my county, the judges and attorneys pick juries for all trials scheduled for that week on Monday morning. Any trials start on Tuesday and most last only a day or two. This trial was unusual, in that it was scheduled to and did last four days (Tuesday morning to Friday afternoon or evening). I was part of a large group of potential jurors for this particular trial. There were at least 50 of us and possibly more. Once the 12 jurors were selected, the rest of us were considered to have fulfilled our jury duty obligation for at least four years. That means, we can’t even be summoned for another four years. Also, the people who were on the jury can’t be summoned for at least another four years. The judge was kind of strict (but nice) about excusing potential jurors because of “hardship,” which means schedule conflicts. He and the attorneys were very careful about asking questions intended to “deselect” jurors who they felt would be inappropriate for this trial.

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        • Exodus says:

          Thanks Married. I think you described the process very well and how it works in my county as well. I have to call on that first Friday (14th I think) and receive instructions for the selection ( probably on the following Monday). Then, if I’m selected, I have to call again to get instructions as to when they need me. The clerk told me that they give us 72 hour notice of actual jury duty. I have a juror number and I’m on call for that two week period except for T’giving day. Lovely. I haven’t decided whether to ask for deferment or not. Hopefully, the trial will be a short one. Maybe by then I’ll be so insane that they will determine that I’m unfit and incompetent.

          SO, here’s the even more upsetting news. Norman the psycho SOB has been wanting new equipment. Whenever Norman wants something that he already has, he somehow manages to destroy the thing he wants to replace ( same thing he did to me really) in an effort to force me to have to pay for new stuff. If he wants a new cell phone, I usually find his current phone ‘ accidentally’ run over in the driveway or he’ll lose it two months before our contract ends. ….and so guess what happened this afternoon? Norman, who has been shopping for new equipment, totaled our trailer and all our equipment and one of the victims was carried away in a rescue squad ( supposedly uninjured). I’m beginning to believe that there is truly a demonic presence in this house and that it’s trying to keep me here.

          The last time he totaled a vehicle, it was my car on my birthday because he wanted a new truck. At the time, I thought it was a blessing in disguise ( since I would have never purchased a truck that we did need) but now I know how Norman operates. This is why I’ve been so terrified to leave him in control of our business after I leave.

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      • WritesinPJ's says:

        You can usually talk to your doctor and get a waiver. Once you move, it may start all over again, but you’d be summoned to an entirely different court/area etc. Put in your change of address with the postal service, and then you’ll be covered legally.

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  3. newshoes123 says:

    PJ, you’ve learned your variations of how to live, the way you thought was best including your learned disfunctions, along with lessons learned along the way, basically you survived / existed just like all of us.
    If you think about it, life is just what we make it, life is about doing the best that you can, following a path already written for us. I’ve learned so many things since I’ve left my pah, one of them is the fact that I merely existed and didn’t really live. I blocked out experiences because I was worried about the back lash from my pah, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with my friends, family, kids because my pah was jealous, I didn’t take trips or vacations because I didn’t want to do that with the pah, I didn’t have people over because the stress it caused with the pah, basically I merely existed. Since then, I’ve begun to do things for myself, for my soul, for my heart, for my mind and for my health. I feel great!! I remember how I felt so energized prior to dating my pah when I went out for dinner with friends, when I stopped by a friend’s house for a drink, when I spent time with my family, when I laughed so hard that my sides hurt 🙂 For me there is no going back to where I was before, no more tears because someone is abusing me, no more pent up anger because I cannot really say what I feel, no more hiding my thoughts behind a fake smile, no more faking that I’m doing alright…. I actually am doing alright and when someone asks me how I am, I can truly answer what I feel, it’s an amazing feeling believe me! I’m finally learning how to live in the moment, enjoy what life has to offer and trust me, life has a lot to offer!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exodus says:

      Oh New, I’m so happy for you. I sincerely mean that. What you just described in your post is exactly what my life was like with Norman and you’re living proof that there is a better life awaiting us and that we shouldn’t waste time suffering because of selfish angry people. I’m so glad that you’re breathing again and that your life force has been restored.

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  4. Jane Thorne says:

    I feel ‘the learning how to live’ starts with learning to love ourselves, exactly as we are right now..then bit by bit light starts to filter through and we re-discover things about ourselves and create space for new discoveries…and trust, in the self nurture, we trust. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an intriguing post… I think what is ‘healthy’ to one person may be different for another person… as well throughout life I think we are always searching to become better versions of ourselves… All we can do is trust our instincts and help others when we can be there for them.

    Liked by 1 person

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