The Contrarian

I have a contrarian in my life. My contrarian isn’t necessarily someone who goes against popular opinion. Instead, they are someone who almost always goes against my opinion. Basically, if I say “a”, my contrarian will say “z”. They constantly second-guess me on every level. No opinion of mine is too small to escape notice and question. My contrarian loves to tell me I am wrong about … well, everything. I know you probably think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not. If I say I like something, my contrarian immediately speaks up to tell me — in painful detail — why they do not like that thing. If I say I don’t like something, my contrarian is happy to share with me all the reasons why I am wrong, and why I actually like the thing I have said I do not like. If I am stupid enough to share my hopes and dreams, my contrarian will tell me why these things are silly and why none of them will come true. And so on. I don’t want to bog this post down with examples, but I think you get the idea.

I don’t ask my contrarian for opinions — ever. Instead, I will make the mistake of mentioning something in passing conversation, and my contrarian will seize upon it and offer opinion after opinion after opinion. It’s almost like I can’t have a normal conversation with my contrarian. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s like my contrarian wants to be too embedded in my life. They want to offer opinions and “helpful advice” even when I have plainly said I don’t want any advice. And even when I have said the advice is not helpful.

The thing is, when you have someone like this in your life, it makes you second guess yourself. Constantly. Because my contrarian has been part of my life for my whole life, including my formative years, I developed a habit of second guessing Every Single Thing. Every thought, every opinion, every feeling was always fair game for my contrarian. It often felt like my entire life was laid bare, like someone had taken a knife to my soul and split it wide open for the entire world to see and criticize and comment upon. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting. I never knew who I truly was. I never knew what I wanted from my life. I never even thought of those things. I fell into this pattern of floundering around, feeling lost and like I could not make up my mind about … well, anything. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, other than to say I came into my adulthood feeling like I was always wrong and like I would never be able to make my own choices.

I bet you are sitting there, reading this and thinking to yourself, “What the heck is wrong with you? Cut that person out of your life right now.” We live in such a cancel culture that I think cutting someone out of our life has become the advice of the day. It’s kind of an automatic reaction, isn’t it? However, in this instance, it is probably also the correct advice. I’ve gone through years of therapy, and I have received this advice many times. But the truth is that I’m not willing to do it. I don’t have it in me to do this, because I know it would hurt my contrarian so very much.

And so, I have tried to learn to live with it, instead. Is this the best choice? Honestly, I don’t know. There are times when I feel bitter about it. There are times when I feel angry about it, because I think about all the things I missed out on or all the things about myself that I have needlessly questioned or all the times I felt like a horrible person because of things my contrarian said or made me believe. Sometimes, I wish I could cut this person out of my life. Sometimes, I feel like not cutting them out is a sign of weakness. But, in the end, I know I could not live with myself if I took that step. I know I would not be honoring the type of person I want to be if I shut the door on this relationship.

In some ways, the wisdom of age has helped. Physical distance has also helped. I have learned, over time, to be kind but blunt with my contrarian. I have to temper my bluntness with kindness because my contrarian is sensitive to criticism. (Oh, the irony!) I have learned to tell my contrarian to stop offering opinions and second guessing me when these things feel too hurtful. When the opinions and second-guessing are not too hurtful, I have learned to ignore them. I have learned that I can nod my head and pretend to take all the advice, but then go off and do whatever I want. I have learned to remind myself that I am a good person and that my feelings and opinions have value. I remind myself that my contrarian loves me, in their own way. I remind myself that they think they are helping, and that they believe they are coming at all of this from a place of love and support. In reality it doesn’t work out that way, but “reality” can be a fluid thing, in my experience. And, if it all becomes too much to take, I have learned to cut off conversations that make me feel bad about myself.

Is this ideal? No. I don’t think it is. But I think it’s the best I can do for myself under the circumstances. In particular, I feel sad to know that I will never be able to sit down and have this conversation — the one that I am sitting here, typing out in my blog — with my contrarian. Because my contrarian can’t hear the things I need to tell them. Like, they literally will not hear them; they are not able to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Allowing my contrarian to remain in my life means I will never have resolution or peace for this swirl of emotions. But, maybe, in some ways, having to think through all of this has made me a stronger and better person. Maybe, it has taught me to approach others on even ground, and it has taught me to listen with an open heart and mind. My contrarian could never give me these things. But, just maybe, I can give them to myself and to those around me.

A Rough Day

I’m taking a break from my Maui vacation posts. I had a rough day today, and I needed to blog it out. It is the latest in a long string of rough days. My family’s circumstances are changing right around us. It is stressful and a little scary. We are unsettled.

I don’t usually write about things like this. I mean, I write about my family sometimes. And I sometimes write about difficult things facing us. But I seldom write about myself, my background, and my own feelings.  I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable sharing this. Because I don’t want to hurt anyone, and there is a little kid inside of me who is desperately afraid of the wrong people reading this. Because they wouldn’t understand. And yet, there is something within me that needs to say it out loud, even if it is only to send the words out into the ether.

Sometimes I feel like life pushes me along in its wake. It shoves me this way, then tugs me that way. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really. So you just go along with the flow. What could be wrong with that? It’s easy. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to want. You just float along.

oct2017-mantis3-sm

But it’s not that great. What if you want to choose for yourself? What if you want to know where you’re going? Maybe you have a destination in mind and want to choose your own path. Maybe there are specific things you want to do or see. But none of that is up to you. Because Life.

I’m a floater. I always have been. I was more or less trained to be this way from birth. I always had to be agreeable. I always had to be pleasing. I had to wear certain things or do certain things or care about certain things. Not because any of it mattered to me, but because it mattered to the people around me. Always put others first. Always care about their feelings, but have none of your own. Don’t make choices. Let others have their way. Don’t have hopes or dreams. Just … Don’t … Want … Anything.

When you grow up like this, you get the message. And it is this: You don’t matter. You are not good enough. You are not real.

I am an adult woman who is nearly incapable of making a decision. Or having an opinion. Or making a choice. Even something as simple as “Where do you want to eat?” or “What movie do you want to see?” ends up with me shrugging and saying that I don’t care. It makes my husband so mad.

nf-butfly7-sm

And then, one day, you’re all grown up. And you still can’t cope. Maybe you think you can. Maybe you even feel like you have made peace with all those things from your childhood. You have forgiven and moved on.

Except …

All those things are still there. Every hurt. Every sting. Every bruise ever suffered by your tender heart. Every moment of every time you told yourself, “If I do this one thing perfectly, I will be loved. I will matter. I will be real.” It never happens. And somewhere deep inside yourself, you know it never will. You hope for it and you try for it over and over again. And you end up feeling stupid and foolish.

No matter how much you think you have changed … no matter that you are now an adult … Those feelings and insecurities are always inside of you. Sometimes they bubble up to the surface and catch you off guard. And then you find yourself sitting in a public place in full-blown panic attack mode. You can’t stop crying. And you wonder if anyone would notice if you just put your sweater over your head to block out the world. Just for a few moments.

flowers-vase-shelf-sm

That was me, earlier today. I had a conversation with my mom. It wasn’t any big, heavy conversation or anything. It was just our normal, daily chit-chat. But something she said caught me. All these feelings came bubbling up, too fast and too much.

How foolish I must have looked: an overly-chubby woman with slightly wild blue hair, perched on a stool and crying into my sweater. It was not my finest moment. Luckily for me, I was meeting a dear friend. She arrived and gave me a hug and helped me collect myself.

I wish I could go back in time and meet Younger Me. I wish I could hug her tight and tell her that I love her. I wish I could tell her she is strong and okay the way she is. I wish I could tell her she is enough. And that she matters. And that she is Loved.