I didn’t know I’d lived so much until I reflected back

I am absolutely terrible at keeping track of time.  Not short time, like the hours in the day, but long time, like years passing by.  I think about things like when I first got on the path to stop drinking and I’m like hmm, that was a few years ago right?  A few years ago feels pretty short in my brain.  Then fb memories remind me that it was five years (and forty days) ago that I first truly acknowledged I had a problem and then took a hundred days of sobriety, which then led to learning moderation, and eventually the last year+ of complete sobriety.  Five years. When it’s a number instead of a vague concept of a few, it seems a lot longer.  Holy crap, has it really been five years?

Likewise, I often struggle with putting concrete times and dates on other big events, until I have something to measure them against.  My ex-fiance left the same year I stopped drinking, so now I know when that was.  That’s pretty exhilarating.  I love being able to concretely date the times of things better because it makes me feel more accomplished.  I’ve spent five years without a person who only saw how I could fail.  Five years later I’m sober, have gotten one degree and am working towards another, have a bunch of lovely stable relationships with fantastic communication and none of the toxicity of the ones in that older time period, have held down jobs where I literally saved lives (I mean, doggo and kitten lives, but that’s legit), and decluttered the mess of a house I once shared with him to have a home that on it’s messiest days is still eons cleaner then it ever was in it’s cleanest state before.  I’ve begun pursuing my BIG life dream of having an intentional community, and my life has been basically a whirlwind of forward momentum with a few little bumps in the road.  Oh, and I have a flat chest and facial hair now and get gendered correctly all the time, let’s not forget that.  Being able to recognize where events fit into time really helps me in feeling excited and accomplished about life, because I can see how much progress has been made.  In the day to day moments it may not feel like things are moving fast enough, but reflecting back really shows the huge transformations.

Often I look back and wonder how I’ve packed so much -stuff- into such short amounts of time.  I’ve been an adult for a bit over ten years.  I spent about three or four of those years in a drunken haze.  Yet just in that time I’ve lived with 20+ people in households of various sizes, had 20+ relationships that on average lasted a bit over 3 years, gone to 4 different schools and gotten 2 college degrees and now working on a 3rd, raised my own livestock and fed my family with the meat and eggs from them, traveled to 2 countries outside of my own and 12 states within my country, worked 9 different jobs, and tried to run my own business.  I’ve had an uncountable amount of experiences trying amazing new foods, exploring new kinks and developing deep bonds of trust, making absolutely phenomenal friendships, taking ridiculous risks and feeling ecstatically alive, and generally living life to the fullest.  And I mean, I spent quite a few years drunk on my couch and pretty much out of commission, so when I think of where I packed that all in, I can’t even really include those years.  I don’t often reflect on it all as a whole, I may think of specific moments or dwell on specific relationships, but it takes looking at it all at once to put it into perspective.

Now I know this whole post might seem like some sort of long humble brag.  First of all, there’s nothing fucking wrong with that if it is.  I am all for each person listing their accomplishments that make them feel fantastic, reading the fuck out of that list, and feeling on top of the world because they are a rad fucking person who can do anything.  And I’m happy to do that and feel no shame in celebrating what I’ve done.  But, this is more then that.  I don’t know if I’ve always come across as confident to others, but I’ve always felt I was a confident person.  I’ve realized recently that it was because I’ve gotten very good at telling myself that narrative and ignoring the parts where I felt like I wasn’t enough, or was failing somehow to do this whole life thing.  I hear those parts of my mind, I recognize them, but I didn’t let it disrupt the view I had of myself as a confident individual with great self esteem.  It was a discordant note, viewing myself one way, and feeling things that were quite to the contrary.  And therein lies the problem, I could tell myself I had great self esteem and believe it, but that didn’t actually make me feel any less shitty and like a failure when those were the messages my brain meat focused on for the day.  So instead I’m learning to recognize those, to see that I do struggle at times and I can admit that.  Oof, that vulnerability hurts.  I don’t want to be a person who has to admit that.  It is part of me though, and in recognizing that, I can begin to accept and heal parts of myself that were damaged by years of abuse, by the hands of others, and even more so by myself.  I hurt myself when I spent years being a pretty toxic being to my own body and to everyone around me.  Healing that means recognizing the time that was my reality, and how much time since I’ve begun to move on from that.  It means acknowledging all I’ve done, the amazing life I’ve led, and what I can do when I am a better little human.  Somewhere in there I might have to forgive myself for the person I was through some of the dark years, though I’m not quite there yet.  For now, I look back at time, and I build a real confidence rather then a fabricated one, through seeing the journey and really cementing in my mind how far I’ve come.

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Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.