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Archive for May, 2009

Pick the Stereotype

Today I found this website, picktheperp.com, where you are shown a crime, then a bunch of mug shots, and asked to match the correct mug shot to the crime. Essentially, they’re asking you to match appearances with crimes, and it brings up a whole host of issues about generalizations, criminals, and the supposed idea of “innocent-until-guilty.”

I played the game myself, and I found myself looking at the pictures, making judgments, and thinking thoughts I’d rather not acknowledge. I mean, showing lists of crimes and then saying, “Here, judge these by appearance!” I’m deeply ashamed to admit that I gravitated toward stereotypical answers, and then forced  When the question came up, “Which one has been charged with assault with a firearm?” I had to struggle not to pick the angry-looking black guy… but he looked so angry! I picked someone else instead, but it turned out to be him all along. Dammit!

Or the question, “Which person was charged with never having a drivers’ license?” I thought more about this one–the question wasn’t “expired license,” but “never having one.” Everyone in the pictures looked too old to never have had a license, except the youngest person who also was the only Hispanic. Stereotype! Oh no! This is how it went mostly, and I got every question wrong because I refused to pick the person that “looked” like they matched the crime. It was like I had a block against it.

What’s the point of this? Is it to show us how we make instant judgments? To force us to confront stereotypes? Are the pictures randomly generated, or are they pre-determined lineups? Hm.

The only question I got right was the one where I stuck to my instinct: “Which person was charged with exposing himself?” No matter race, status, or anything else, dirty old men are instantly recognizable!

pick perp

Categories: Uncategorized

How Freedom from Fear Changed My Life

part 1

part 2

part 3

Two months after the breakup, I was 15 pounds heavier, exhausted, and living a quiet existence since I wasn’t working at the time. The shock of the loss had taken its toll physically; in two months I’d grown some gray hairs, my skin texture changed, and, inexplicably, I just looked older in general.

But internally, I was feeling better and more clear-headed than I’d ever felt two months after a breakup. I’d done everything I needed to: I focused on myself, I was self-affirming and free from the usual self-deprecation that threatened to grip me. I was probably more confident and self-assured than I was before the relationship itself. But something still wasn’t right; it seems I had one more corner to turn.

I kept going back to accountability. Yes, at this point I knew nothing was fundamentally wrong with me; I’d gotten it into my head that I didn’t deserve poor treatment or to be deserted. So why was I with someone who had the capacity to do that? How is it that I was with someone who didn’t understand what I was worth? And what had been the undercurrent of our relationship that someone could just disappear like that?

These questions made me incredibly uncomfortable; admitting that I might have even the slightest bit of responsibility for the pain I was in was so upsetting to me. But I faced it, and the results were kind of illuminating. Like so many things, the answer was something I hadn’t wanted to admit.

I was afraid! I was afraid of everything. As a single person, I was confident & successful. But in this relationship, I was always terrified. I was always afraid he’d leave (but just aware enough not to show it very much, which caused its own kind of stress). Every morning, I woke up thinking he would get up and leave at any moment, and might even have burst into tears the few times he failed to return a call or email. I tried carefully never to act as though I wanted too much of a commitment, and despite my feelings, never told him I loved him (for fear of scaring him) until it was way too late.

My answer to all of this was to acknowledge the fear, and figure out where it came from. I knew my crazy reactions to his behavior came from somewhere, but couldn’t figure it out until I read something about fear of abandonment.

Without recounting my pages & pages of journal writing, I figured this out pretty quickly. Some online resources suggest years and years of therapy, but I swear, I was changed in an instant. My crazy reactions, my vague sense of dread, everything was explained by this new knowledge–or rather, this new way to frame what I already knew.

I began kicking away fears right and left. Fears about co-workers, fears about friends, fears about family and weight and other things I can’t control… they all melted away.

As for my fear of abandonment, I knew two things: once you unabandon yourself, people are free to come and go in your life as they please (I can’t remember where I found this quote) and that the best way to deal with fear was to face it head on. Armed with these two ideas as my lifelines, I moved forward, prepared to live and think differently.

And I did.

A few weeks after my little epiphany, I reacted to everyone in a different way, and was repaid for it by the new terms created in all my relationships. People at work treated me more respectfully, I started making friends and attracting different people than before. Even my hairdresser stopped calling to make last-minute appointment changes. & taking advantage of my time. Everything improved, and I felt so much better.

About this time, I started paying attention to this guy in my summer class. I’d taken a class during the summer after the breakup, so I wouldn’t have to sit quietly at home with the loss for three hot, workless months. This guy had started suggesting we go to art museums and such, and I blew him off. But I realized all I was doing was being afraid, and once I removed that I thought, “hey, maybe this guy could be o.k.” So I went out with him.

The relationship, of course, was completely different from any I’d had before. Not only was he a completely different guy, but I was completely different. Sure, there were (and are) still some times when I feel afraid. And the first time he didn’t return an email right away, I felt the familiar overblown anger & fear, and was able to let go of it. I knew that I could never again depend on someone else to calm my fears, and I’d remind myself of that when I needed to. And of course, the irony there is that he always returns my calls. Actually, he always calls — I never have to be the one to initiate that.

I think I was always ready to let go of this fear, but this seemed like the last step that unlocked things for me. So one year later, I can’t help but see how far I’ve come, how I’ve changed as a person, and yes, look down at the shiny ring that symbolizes what’s to come.

Categories: Uncategorized

How Pop Culture Helped Me Through My Breakup

In the difficult months following my boyfriend’s disappearance, I’d already uncovered an innate sense that I wanted to surround myself with positive things. I believe that a society’s culture is a window into that society; it reflects our experiences, our hopes, our fears, dreams, intuitions, etc. The key is finding aspects of that culture that will make you better, not worse.

TV: For a while, I couldn’t watch romances. I watched a lot of Law & Order.  But the show that helped me the most was “Charmed.” Yes, “Charmed”! There’s a lot there about trusting your intuition, finding love or finding yourself, when all seems hopeless. In particular, the character of Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) has to learn to trust her intuitions and believe that love will happen for her when it’s supposed to happen. As I was looking ahead to a seemingly endless period of being single, I took particular solace in this.

Film: Two weeks after the breakup, the Sex and the City movie was released. I wrote about it here. The breakup scene, rather than being a trigger, was very well done and thus exceedingly powerful. My decision NOT to be like Carrie was a powerful one.

Another helpful film for me was Shopgirl. The main character’s transition from living life as it happens and falling for an unavailable man, then deciding to give herself freely and receiving love in return, was incredibly helpful. I also found the quiet & slightly ethereal flow of the film incredibly soothing.

Music: This one was hard. I’m a musician, surrounded by music each day, and because of the immense grief I couldn’t stand to hear any music at all for several weeks.

My first return to the world was through the listening of music. Once, on NPR, I heard one of those “new album” reviews. The reviewer described a beautifully sung country song where the singer describes her regret at having left someone who was perfectly fine for her. I related this to my own situation, but in reverse, and my affinity for country music was born.

This was especially poignant, because most pop music (especially R&B) acknowledges romantic pain but offers only misogyny as an anecdote. Hearing singers describe love for their families and their relative happiness was incredibly helpful to me, and I still listen to it.

The album, by the way, was Ashton Shepherd’s Sounds So Good.

I Decided

A year ago this week, I experienced an awful loss. I’ve decided to chronicle it, and its recovery, in this series. This is part two of four. Read part 1 here.

At the beginning, I was confused and bewildered and at a loss as to why things had to end. He treated me well. We laughed a lot. We liked each other’s friends. We had all the “right” things in common. But he obviously had some flaws, the greatest of which was not yet obvious to me.

My mother says things happen “for a reason.” I’m not nearly as religious as she is, but I believe things happen for a reason, too. And if the reason for your trauma isn’t obvious, or if you’re not sure where God is, I believe you should give it a reason. Grief is a big thing, and this is how I got my mind around it.

Even though I couldn’t imagine it, I took the advice of my friends & family who, at that point, had a much better perspective than I, and repeatedly told me that this boyfriend was just a “preparation,” that this was all happening so I could be even more ready for the person I’ve been waiting for. It took me about two months to really believe this.

I also decided that I would be positive, surround myself with positive things, and listen to my intuition and ignore all those self-defeating voices I was used to.

Ceremony: Before he left, we’d been planning our first trip together. He left about a month before were to leave, and when that would-have-been weekend came, I planned my own trip. I got in my car, drove for a couple of hours, and found a beautiful spot to sit and think. Summer was beginning and there were kids running everywhere. I loved it and want to go back.

Travel: I had some money I’d put aside for the aforementioned trip, and immediately booked a three week trip to visit my mom and my best friend. Visiting my mom was tough (two whole weeks!) but it was GREAT to get out of the house.

Religion: I couldn’t yet muster up the energy to pray. My boyfriend had been an atheist, and in my warped “breakup-mind,” praying felt like betrayal. Still, I found a local church where the people were nice enough, and the sermons seemed made for me. I liked getting out of the house, also.

Journaling: Yes, extensive journaling, reflecting, reviewing, examining “patterns” and trying to cobble together an image of what a healthier relationship would look like. For this, I used the help of the aforementioned site.

Visualization: A friend told me that he had an incredibly strong feeling that this breakup was leading me to an even better relationship. On the plane trip home from seeing him, I visualized myself repeatedly running toward him, smiling, ring on my finger ready to show him. The vision sounds cheesy now, but it’s all I had to hold on to. Besides, it’s about to happen in real life. There are worse visualizations to have.

A Year Ago Today

I think people underestimate the pain of breakups. Because the experience of a romantic breakup is so incredibly universal, I think people take for granted the pain it can cause, the extremes we go to avoid that pain, and how it can be a catalyst for the rest of your life.

A year ago today, I sat here on the couch and my life changed. I didn’t know it would be changing. There were no signs, no “indications” I was always on the lookout for. One day, the man I was in love with very simply, and in a flurry of tears and barely coherent statements, got up and left, and then disappeared.

At this point I can see how familiar this story seems, how it looks like another “Modern Love” story (Oh God, I hope not.). But this story has a happy ending, one that is happier than I could have imagined. Looking back, I can see how this is exactly what was supposed to happen, and how the choices I made led straight to this happy ending.

In a breakup, when you’ve been left, you’re supposed to move on; cry for a day or two and go find another “fish in the sea.” In a breakup, judgment is all that’s left. Think of how we think differently of divorced people than we do of widows. It’s absurd, when study after study shows us that, psychologically, the grief is very similar.

When my boyfriend left, I grieved as though he had died. In a sense, he had. I’ll certainly never see or hear from him again. If he’d really died, though, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the fact that he chose to leave. I wouldn’t have lost all his friends and I could have looked at pictures of him as long as I’d wanted to.

When someone dies, we have permission to grieve. Even in our death-averse society, when someone dies, people know you’re grieving. No one judges you if someone has died. They give you the space you need.

On Susan Elliott’s amazing website, she describes the stages of grief more in-depth than I’d read about them before, at least in relation to a breakup. I at least felt less than crazy in feeling similarly to how I felt when my father was killed, years earlier. In analyzing grief this way, I knew that I had permission to feel what I felt, and that I had to face it head-on.

This grief was monumental, and what came after was, as cliché as it sounds, an incredible gift. The first step was giving myself permission to grieve, and then making an active decision that this grief was going to make me better.

This is part of a four part series, the rest of which will be published later this week.

Categories: relationships