Exploring Positive Thinking

Positive thinking. Can you really learn it? Can I really learn it? No one can be happy all the time—that’s just not how life goes. In the face of tragic events, how does one stay positive?

Maybe my interpretation of positive thinking has been all wrong. The story I got was that no matter what, you can stay positive, and you can affect change in your life by thinking positively. Let’s take Louise Hay for example. She had a painful childhood, yet she grew up to become someone who seems to me to be an overwhelmingly optimistic, idealistic person. Same with Wayne Dyer. Did they become optimistic because they achieved success doing what they loved, or did they achieve success because they became so idealistic? They would tell you the latter—Dyer would, and does in his books, but I don’t know if I’m buying it. Maybe they were just born with an idealistic outlook, and that’s just how some people are.

For example, take this positive thinking card from Louise Hay:  “I am safe in all my relationships, and I give and receive lots of love.” I did not feel this way a week ago when I read this, and therefore it seemed like a big lie to me. Today I feel it, because I’ve communicated more with my boyfriend, and we’re in a better place now. But I find it hard to believe I can just read some cards and they come true as a result. You have to take action; you can’t just live in la-la land while the world crumbles around you.

This one I like:  “When I make a mistake, I realize that it is only part of the learning process.” This acknowledges that something painful happened, and yet I can learn from it. The idea is not to beat yourself up over something you’ve done. You did what you knew to do at the time, and learned from it. What happened was meant to happen so that you could learn, and now you know a healthier approach to use for next time.

Again maybe I am looking at it all wrong. I want to think more positively, and I believe I’ve been trying to do that. I’d been trying to do that just before Mom died, and then she died, and I decided screw that, because no amount of positive thinking can bring my mom back. Now I am looking at it through a new lens. It’s not about negative thinking, but about acknowledging that life happens and that means that sometimes bad stuff will happen. When that happens, you’ve just got to keep going.

What has happened so far in my life is not that bad in the grand scheme of things.The thing is, I want to hurry past the pain and get to the good part, today. I’m not yet convinced that I’ll get what I want, which is peace within myself. What I want is self-confidence in knowing I’m on the right path, and to convince you that it’s possible for you too. But there’s still doubt in my heart, that maybe this is just it, and some people get it and others don’t. Or maybe no one really gets it, and those that do are liars. I won’t give up though. I see no other option but to keep trying. My hope is that one day when my life is so much better I’ll read this post and remember how hard it was, and then you too will know I really was there before, but not anymore because now I’m stronger and wiser. And really, I am stronger and wiser today than I was even a year ago.

And I do have hope, and that’s all it takes. It takes only a glimmer of hope for positive change to take effect. Two years before I got sober, I had a glimmer of hope that I could get sober. Now I have six and a half years of sobriety, and I’ve been through some devastating times without the need of a drink to cope.

Maybe I just need to feed the good wolf some more. Sure, I have doubt. But I also have hope. Why not water the seeds of hope more, rather than feeding the doubt? What good does feeding doubt do? It just makes me feel bad.

Here’s a good one:  “I think big, and then I allow myself to accept even more good from Life.” I don’t know how, when, what, or when, but my life is about to get much better. Life is already getting better. For example, I don’t want to scream at customers right now. When I go into work today, I can put myself in their shoes and remember that once upon a time I too was surprised that a specialty organic grocery store didn’t sell Advil. I too believed I could randomly pick up some supplement off the shelf and get expert medical advice on its benefits.

And life can and will have its downs too, but do I really need to focus on that? Just be in the moment.

Now, if only I knew what action to take.

Baby steps… Just remember baby steps.

Today I will get up, finish my laundry, eat a healthy breakfast, write a gratitude list, pray, meditate, and go to work with a… positive attitude. No need in raining on everyone else’s parade just because I don’t know what my long-term plans are. Be kind and helpful to people today (but be assertive and honest too! To thine own self be true.). Those are the actions to take.

My goal is to be positive, have hope, and grow stronger and wiser in this sometimes bumpy journey of life, and I wish that for you, too. ❤

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My First Steps in Coping with Childhood Issues

My laptop was in the shop for a week, and now that it’s been returned I have another problem… Ugh! The past two weeks have been incredibly frustrating, and even more so without my usual therapeutic writing outlet. One thing I learned is that I do not need to take St. John’s wort. What I wanted was a happy pill, some instant happiness to relieve the pain of a possible break-up, following my mother’s death, during what I now consider the worst time of the year:  the holidays. Instead I became angry and edgy, and felt like I might go postal on the customers at my retail job during this holiday season, after listening to one complaint after another with holiday music droning on repeat in the background. At the same time the full reality of the effects of my childhood hit me, and I was pissed.

The thing is, these childhood pains are affecting my life today. As I read Darlene Lancer’s Codependency for Dummies, I recognized myself, not in everything, but in many of the described situations. She presents it like this:  if you have this particular issue today, you probably had this thing happen when you were a child. Issues like this:  fear of speaking my mind, fear of rejection, uncertainty about my feelings and thoughts, difficulty in making decisions, extreme self-sufficiency, attraction to those who are unavailable. As I read this book, I recognized that THIS is why I am where I am today. THIS is why I work in a grocery store yet have a master’s degree. This is why I can’t decide if I want to go back to school again or just do something else. It’s why I would rather not try at all. It’s why I am in a relationship with someone who ignores me every three to six months when he has an episode, and refuses his love to me. That’s what happens to someone who grows up in a household where their voice is not heard, appreciated, or valued in any way. When the older kids don’t want you around because you’re a child, and the adults don’t want you around because they’re too busy with their own problems. The older kids tell you to go away, the adults tell you that they work so hard and you’re so selfish and ungrateful. No one believes what you say because you’re just a child and you don’t know anything. If you say the wrong thing, you messed up because that was a secret you were supposed to know not to tell anyone. There’s more but it’s too personal, even for an anonymous blog.

What happens today is, for example, in my house full of roommates, when I hear a group of people in another room talking and laughing, I wonder why I wasn’t invited, and if they’re deliberately leaving me out. Maybe they don’t like me, and that’s why they closed the door. I reject other people before they can reject me, to remove or lessen the pain of being rejected. I am afraid to ask for a raise at work. I do not want to move up at my job or try anything new because I’m afraid of failure.

This blog post may come across as a pity party or a rant, but I want to acknowledge my feelings and be honest. Not everything will be rosy all the time. As much as I love my mom, she made a lot of mistakes that I am pissed that I don’t get a chance to discuss with her. The premature forgiveness days are over. Quite frankly, I’m angry with everyone in my family. I was the forgotten child, the lost child, the invisible one. They have so many opinions and feelings that they feel free to voice, and often I don’t know what I think or feel, or I feel like it’s useless to go on about it. Sometimes I’ll use my voice, and my words get dismissed, or so it seems to me. I’m aware that my perception is not necessarily reality. But when I feel that way, it’s hard to say anything else. It’s hard to speak when I feel dis-empowered, defeated, dismissed.

I have faith that I will get through this. Right now is the painful part, but there is hope. My hope is that I will gain more self-confidence and just do something, take the right actions that will lead me not just to self-sufficiency, because that’s easy and I already have that, but with contentment in my choices. My relationship is getting better because I finally used my voice and declared that I will not be ignored or refused love. That kind of behavior is unacceptable to me, and if it has to be that way, I will have to move on. If he needs space, he can have it, but I will not stay in a relationship where I am completely left in the dark about what’s going on. He wants to try to work it out, and for that I am grateful. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll stay together, but I hope that we do, and that we’re able to work it out in a way that’s healthy for both of us.

Sometimes bad shit has to happen in order to get to the good stuff. Having lived through some terrible times, and come out on the other side, I know that solutions abound. It’s just a matter of finding them and working through them. If I can drink away my problems almost every night for 20 years and then get sober, stay sober for nearly seven years, and find a spiritual solution to life, I can get through this. If you live long enough, you suffer the pains of loss in the form of death, divorce, job loss, friendships, relationships. Yet you can get through it. It’s up to the individual to choose how to get through it. And my threshold for pain has become really low. I do not want to be sad or angry or feel lost all the time. At the same time I want to acknowledge the pain and then get through it. I don’t know exactly what that looks like but I am doing the best I can through reading, joining support groups, and going to therapy. Everything is temporary. Today is my day off, so I will start by creating a gratitude list, reading my Louise Hay “I Can Do It” cards (which sometimes feel like total bullshit but I do it anyway), and I’ll go to church, and then I’ll go to my support group meetings (I have two today). I want to write more about how to stay positive during tough times without glossing over the pain of the situation, but I need to get ready for the day. More on that later.

My Personal Bill of Rights: My First Steps in Overcoming Codependency

In Darlene Lancer’s book, How to Speak Your Mind:  Become Assertive and Set Limits, she recommends that you create a personal bill of rights. In this bill of rights, you are to consider the situations in your life in which these rights apply, how you currently handle them, what you want to happen, and to write statements setting your boundaries. She suggests that you think about all the times you say “yes” when you want to say “no.” She asks what prevents you from asserting your rights, and how you feel about all of this.

This has become paramount to what I’m experiencing right now in my life, and in fact, is quite overdue. Under the belief that I was living a more spiritual life, I neglected my own rights, out of fear of rejection. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I learned that my opinions and feelings didn’t matter. While I believe my family did the best they knew how at the time, and I don’t believe anyone consciously tried to put me down, that was what I learned. I felt small, weak, and unimportant. I made myself invisible so that I wouldn’t bother anyone because they all had their own problems, and I believed I would be loved if I didn’t contribute to those problems. I felt that I didn’t have a voice, and that belief has followed me throughout my entire life.

Well, let me tell you something. I do have a voice. And the world is about to hear it, loud and clear. I am woman. Hear me roar! Here’s my personal bill of rights. Maybe you will recognize yourself in this post, or find some hope regarding your own situation.

  1. I will be treated with respect.

I am a smart, interesting, beautiful, capable, and competent woman. I can do anything I choose to do. Sex is not the only thing I am good for, nor do I deserve to be in a relationship in which my partner asks for sexual favors as their Christmas or birthday present, under the excuse that they’re only thinking of me and how I don’t have much money. I can afford to buy thoughtful gifts. I am good at money management, and I can save for a nice gift, should I choose. I’m also an artist, capable of creating beautiful paintings that make excellent gifts. I deserve to be appreciated for the thoughtful gifts I have to offer. I am worthy.

  1. I will be treated with love.

If I find myself in a relationship in which the other person is incapable of saying the words “I love you” in return, such as when we’re in conflict, that will be my red flag to get out of this relationship. I don’t have to invest my time, energy, and heart into someone who’s unwilling, unable, or incapable of expressing his love for me. Just because someone else may have a mental illness, alcoholism, or simply be unable or unwilling to show me love does not mean I have to accept it and stay in the relationship. If that person warns me in advance that they will be cold and distant in a particular situation does not require that I accept those particular actions. For someone to refuse their love to me is in fact punitive and abusive behavior, and I will not tolerate it.

  1. I will love myself.

I will stay in touch with my friends and those people in my support network, and I will do what I need to do to stay healthy, happy, and sane. I will go to the gym, church, meditation, support groups, or whatever outlets I need to take care of myself. I will not allow myself to focus only on one person, or spend all of my free time doing what I think they want me to do. I will find a partner who loves himself.

  1. I deserve to be given attention.

If conflict arises and my partner needs time and space to sort out his thoughts and feelings, that’s okay, but not at the expense of my well-being. I need to know he’s invested in the relationship, that he still loves me, that he’s willing to work through it. I do not deserve to be ignored and left hanging indefinitely, without knowing what’s going on with him. I do not deserve to be attacked for not doing what he wanted me to do, or saying something he didn’t like.

  1. I deserve to be listened to.

When someone tells me they don’t like a certain behavior, I don’t need to file that away in my memory bank of things never to say or do. Instead, I can ask that person to explore why they feel that way, and I can speak my mind about the issue. If the other person feels attacked when I express my feelings or opinions on a subject, I don’t have to take it personally. Whatever someone else feels is not my fault or problem; I do not force another person to have a certain feeling. I can be sad when my feelings get hurt, but I choose my feelings. If someone attacks me, purposely or not, I can remember that whatever they feel is about them, not me. Think about it this way:  a person can make a statement that one person would find hurtful, while another person might take it an entirely different way. It’s the same statement, but two different reactions from two different people. I am allowed to disagree.

  1. My opinion matters.

If someone else doesn’t like my opinion, that’s okay. No one has to like what I have to say. I am not obligated to agree with everything another person says or does. I am allowed to voice my opinion. We can agree to disagree. If the other person doesn’t like it, they don’t have to be around me. I will no longer shrink to fit someone else’s ideal of me, nor will I be quiet out of fear of being unloved. I am allowed to change my mind. I am allowed to stand up for what I believe in, and to hold my ground. If someone doesn’t like me for my opinion, I can live with the rejection.

  1. My feelings matter.

My feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Just because my significant other may not always be capable of rationality or kindness does not mean I have to silence myself or allow my needs to go unmet.

  1. I agree to do what I feel comfortable with.

“No,” is an acceptable answer, and if my partner doesn’t accept that as a valid response, I am not obligated to grovel or stay around because I didn’t take an action when they wanted me to, or in the exact way they wanted me to do it. I don’t have telepathy, and if I did, it wouldn’t matter, because I am not obligated to become someone else’s puppet. I am my own person, and I stand my ground.

  1. I am allowed to make mistakes.

I deserve to be forgiven when I apologize for the mistakes I’ve made. I do not deserve to be punished for my wrongdoings, nor do I deserve someone else’s refusal or inability to let go of a grudge. Scorekeeping has no place in a healthy relationship, and I refuse to allow myself to stay in an unhealthy situation. If a person is incapable of forgiving me, the relationship is not going to work. No relationship is without conflict, and no one is perfect. Each individual is allowed mistakes. Forgiveness is key; if one person cannot forgive the other for their mistakes, then it won’t work. Nothing I have done is unforgivable in my mind, but if he feels it is, then he’s allowed to believe that. I do not have to apologize repeatedly, especially for not being there emotionally for someone 100% in the way they wanted only three months after my mother died.

  1. I will speak without being interrupted.

When I have something to say, I will say it. I will not fear that it’s the wrong thing to say, or that whatever I say may be rejected or damaging beyond repair. If someone else interrupts me, I will say, “Please let me continue, and then you can have your turn.” If they refuse to hear me, I don’t have to be around them, and we can end the conversation right then and there.

  1. I am self-supporting.

I do not need someone else to validate me. I have been taking care of myself emotionally for my entire life, and am quite capable of continuing to do so—but now I know I have the help of God, which I did not know until six and a half years ago. I have been taking care of myself financially for my entire adult life, from the age of 18, without the help of anyone else, including my parents. I do not need a sugar daddy, nor do I want one. Everyone wants to feel supported, and sometimes that can lapse into unhealthy dependence. What that happens, you stand up and fight for your independence. You do not, as was suggested to me by my acupuncturist’s assistant, go to a fetish website and find a sugar daddy. That suggestion quite frankly pisses me off. I stand strong, on my own.

Interestingly, the thing about me feeling small, weak, and unimportant as a child and well into today is that, as a child, I felt that way because of the chaos around me, but then I reinforced my feelings of insecurity by making myself invisible. Throughout the years I’ve reinforced those feelings continually, so that my feelings have become reality, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The real eye-opener in relationship is how the couple handles conflict. If one person is unwilling to try to work through it, there’s no use in continuing. My belief was that each of us can get through anything in life as long as we’re willing, and even those with mental illness (depending on the illness and treatment), alcoholism, or whatever issue they may have, provided they’re taking steps to take care of their illness, can be in a healthy, loving relationship.

In Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, the authors (Julie Fast and John Preston) write that something like only 10% of relationships in which one partner has bipolar disorder work out. I thought my former partner and I would be part of that 10%. I thought if I just tried hard enough, if I just read enough books about it, if I just went to enough support group meetings, if I just apologized enough, if I just treated him with love no matter what, if I just let him do and say what he wanted whenever he wanted without voicing my opinions or feelings until the time was right (which turned out to be rarely), then it would work out. In hindsight, I can see now that nothing I could have done or not done would have caused this relationship to work (or not work). I cannot control someone else’s feelings or actions. I can only do my part, and I did the best I could with what I had.

When I explained the situation to my friends, family, therapist, and acupuncturist, they each said, “That’s abuse.” These were exactly the words I needed to hear. If you have a loved one in a similar situation, they may not know, as I didn’t know, that they’re in an abusive relationship. When someone withholds their love from you or refuses to talk to you, that is abuse. It became an unhealthy, codependent relationship.

I had no idea that I was allowing myself to be emotionally abused. I thought I was being a spiritual person. The thing is, I am not Mother Teresa—and I doubt even Mother Teresa would allow herself to be treated like this. I am learning a lot of hard lessons from this relationship, but I will come out stronger for it. I will not give up. I am resilient. I am a strong, smart, and beautiful woman, and I deserve to be treated with love and respect.

In these rights I have asserted for myself, I do not mean to imply that what I’ve done or haven’t done is anyone’s responsibility but my own. I choose my own actions, and I will not hold someone else responsible for what I do or say. That person may choose to hold me or others responsible, and if so, that’s their choice and not my problem. My responsibility is to myself, and I choose to learn and grow from this. Unfortunately, for me, growth has only come from pain. But that’s okay. I will survive. I am a survivor.

Speaking of being a survivor, here’s one of my new theme songs, “Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child: