Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cycles and worry stones

Most people have a cycle of behavior, a sort of emotional journey that brings them back to the same point over and over as long as there are unresolved issues. Sometimes they talk about the issues but they never really settle anything, constantly hashing and rehashing the same old territory as though telling their beads, working them through their fingers over and over until the stones or wood is worn and shiny from constant use.

A long time ago one of my aunts gave me a worry stone. It was flat and polished and had a depression in the center about the size of the pad of my thumb. She told me I should keep it close to hand and whenever anything bothered me to rub my thumb in the depression, give my worries and anxieties to the stone. "You'll run out of worries before you wear down the stone," she said. She was wrong. I wore a hole through the center of the worry stone and wore it on a thong around my neck for a long time and I still had worries and anxieties. That was in the days before I became confrontational. Don't get me wrong; I still have worries and anxieties from time to time, but instead of wearing down a stone I face the problem head-on and deal with it. Took me a very long time to get there because I spent most of my life being a doormat and apologizing for things that weren't my fault just to put an end to any conflict or disagreement, pleading guilty and taking the bitter medicine of injustice with a spoonful of sugary smiles. I don't do that any more, but back then I had my cycle, too.

Someone would hurt me (usually someone I knew really well) and I would get angry and cry through the pain, endure the silence as long as I could (usually less than a week and most times less than a day), swallow my pride, hang my head, and, with tail tucked firmly between my legs, apologize and accept the blame just so the person would talk to me again, recognize me, accept me back into the fold so they could ignore me and use me and hurt me whenever they felt the need. It's a cycle I repeated endlessly into my thirties. Then a man I was seeing stole my car and all my possessions and stranded me in New Orleans without money or friends or help. I learned that in order to survive I'd either have to grovel and beg for help or I could face my mistakes and make the best of it. I didn't grovel and I didn't beg--ever again. I found out I could survive without help and I learned to do things that previously I would have thought beneath me. No, I didn't become a prostitute; I became a strong survivor who was no longer afraid to let go of whatever didn't work and whoever couldn't see this tree for the forest. For the first time in my life I began to see my own value.

I stumbled along the way and fell briefly into old habits--they do take a lot of killing--but I picked myself up and moved on. What doesn't work, what doesn't make me happy, whoever thinks my welcome smile is an invitation to wipe their feet on me because they have mistaken me for a doormat ends up finding out what my tail lights look like from a growing distance. I refuse to suffer fools lightly or at all.

In some ways, this attitude has isolated me but it has also freed me and given me the strength to walk away from toxic situations and people. It isn't about holding a grudge or not being able to get over the past, but about not repeating the past. It was a hard lesson and one I've tried to teach by example, but it's a lesson that takes study and practice, practice, practice. People think I'm uncompromising and hard, and maybe in some ways they are right, but I'm not; I'm vulnerable; I choose not to let it show. Life is too short to spend it making holes in worry stones and wasting the body's water in in the desert of despair. It's better to confront the situation and simply walk away.

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