Tiny Details

As I start this entry, it is 0917. I am sitting at my desk with a cup of Lord Bergamot Stash Tea, complete with French Vanilla creamer. If you don’t have either on hand, Starbucks makes something similar called the “London Fog Latte.” I highly recommend them- they’re a bit addictive. Less caffeine to irritate your stomach, and/or the ability to drink far more of them. Both are equally important in my world (does flavored tea count as being “for young people?”). The added bonus is that the mug is keeping my hands warm, as it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In DC, the cold is no joke. Apparently, it’s supposed to be the coldest Thanksgiving in 20 years, which sucks, because it’s bright and clear outside. Just freezing with no payoff of beautiful snow.

It’s been perhaps 10 years since the best snow of my life. Dana and I were sitting next to the Christmas tree, and as Luciano Pavarotti started the Schubert Ave Maria, large, fluffy flakes began to fall. My memory may be failing me, but I think it’s the only White Christmas I’ve ever had. It was glistening, pure magic. I wish I could remember the exact date, but I am not so good with that information. I tend to remember tiny details, and not the big picture. For instance, I remember Dana opening one of her presents from me- a t-shirt that said “I’m right 97% of the time, but who cares about the other 4%?” She took the bows off the box and stuck them to her head.

Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking about writing a Modern Love column for years called “Seven Christmases,” all the ones Dana and I shared… but what has stopped me is that for some of them, my memory is excellent, and others, not so much. Different memories come to me at different times, so perhaps I will start it and keep plugging away until they’re all there. We shall see… because I tend to remember tiny details, and not the big picture. It would be easier if I had access to the magnificent “Danabase,” but at this point, that is neither here nor there.


It doesn’t feel natural to not be at work today, but I’ll get over it. The Nassers are cooking everything, and as I always say, after cooking for literally hundreds of people over a week at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook for myself. I tend to run on quick energy, like sandwiches and fast baking Quorn “chicken.” And, of course, today’s meal will be entirely omnivorous, but I am never vegan unless I am making my own thing. I’ve used this quote before, but it rings true every day:

Cooking is hospitality, and if you reject people’s food, you reject them.

-Anthony Bourdain

Besides, I am not going to turn down fried turkey. I’ve never tasted it before.

When I make my own turkey, I massage the hell out of it with butter and olive oil, finishing with Cajun spice. I have some Tony Chachere’s on hand, so I might put it on the table, because it is literally good with everything, especially dressing and mashed potatoes.

I also play against type and do a “Yankee Dressing,” even though I’m from Texas- generally all cornbread, all the time. What can I say? I like white bread and sausage more. It’s harder to dry it out, and I can’t tell you how many years I’ve eaten cornbread dressing with good flavor and the texture of, well, there’s no describing it unless you’ve had it… sand, maybe? The only way you can kind of fix it is adding moisture with gravy. But notice I said “kind of.” If I’m going to eat cornbread dressing, my aunt’s is the only one acceptable. Her son, my cousin Nathan, lives with his wife and kids in Alexandria, so perhaps I can get her to make some for me again at some point, even if it’s July. I don’t care. I will stuff it in my face like it’s going out of style at any time.


Dan has been on a work trip for the last couple weeks, so I’m looking forward to seeing her again. I need a big bear hug, as well as the excitement of “what did you bring me?” My inner eight-year-old shows whenever she comes back from traveling, because it’s always to interesting places. She’s also having a holiday party soon, which reminds me that I need to get a white elephant gift. Not sure how I can top last year- a Funko Pop Bob Ross. I’m on a mission (from God). I am sure I will see her before then, but a party sounds nice. They don’t always, because I’m not a big fan of crowds, but these are all “my people.”


My shoulder continues to hurt like hell, even though I accidentally got really high. You’re going to think I’m lying to you, but I promise I am just that dumb. I took all my psych meds, which includes Klonopin, and then because of my shoulder, I took a Vicodin. I know for sure I am not supposed to mix the two, and I don’t… normally, except that taking my psych meds is second nature every single morning, and taking pain medication is not. I will just chalk it up to a dumbass attack and wait for it to wear off. However, I am not as high as I could be, because the shoulder pain is still cutting through enough to make me swear like a sailor. I’ve also had a lot of caffeine as a counter measure. The only upside is that even though I feel like dogshit, I care less…. so at least I got that goin’ for me.

The flip side is that I hate this feeling, which is loss of control. Brain fuzziness of any kind drives me up the wall. I am literally counting the minutes until I don’t feel this way anymore, as I do after one cocktail as well. I rarely have them, but sometimes I will partake just because I enjoy the taste and smell. One of these days, I really am going to order Kraken rum cologne. I swear that when I have a shot of it, I will literally smell the empty glass until the waitstaff comes to take it away. I’m not even much of a rum fan, but Kraken is extraordinary, what with its chocolate and vanilla notes and crazy viscous legs. Pro tip: do not fuck it up with mixer. Please and thank you. As an aside, I think the company that makes Kraken has one of the best marketing and design teams on the planet. Everything they make just looks as cool as the other side of the pillow, especially the lampshade and the shower curtain.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

About the only brain fuzziness I can tolerate is real Sudafed, which is its own special hell. It suppresses my appetite, so I have to choose between losing weight I don’t have the luxury to lose and not being able to breathe. Even though I take an antihistamine, it can’t keep up… and I’ve tried Sudafed PE, and all I have to say about that is that the box should say “Warning: Does Not Work.” It leaves me with a still stuffed up and miserable sinus mask with the same appetite suppression as the original. Good times.


Before I close this entry, I want to give thanks for all of you. Having people in my life who think my words matter is invaluable to my self-esteem and therefore, mental health. You are my Thanksgiving, along with my friends and family that support me in real life as well as being “Fanagans.” I learned yesterday that I’ve gained an important one, but you don’t get to know who they are. It’s enough that I do.

Ok, ok. I give. It’s Jesus. I’ve followed Him my whole life, and he finally returned the favor. 😉

Send Help

I saw a picture on Facebook that resonated with me. Something like, my diet ranges between supermodel and unsupervised child in a convenience store. I haven’t eaten very much this week, overwhelmed with writing to the point I couldn’t even finish a rough draft, like I said I would. This is not because I didn’t work hard on it. It just, in my opinion, wasn’t good enough. I needed more time to think before I put it in front of an extraordinary mind who would see through paragraphs of bullshit in a New York minute. This is because the book I’m reviewing is terrible. The story is solid, but there are so many grammatical errors and therefore, punctuation missteps that the entire novel was just a slog. All of the mistakes took me away from the story and I had to reread pages just to figure out what the sentences actually said. It’s never a good thing when I stop concentrating on what I’m reading and get lost in my own head, trying to figure out how I would have phrased something instead (as if I’m the authority on such matters….. geesh).

And then my anxiety went to 11 because I had to e-mail my editor and say, it’s not ready. When is the next best day I could send it? It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it, which is probably the only reason I was anxious, because I wasn’t sure of her reaction. I told her that the book didn’t even have to be marked as “read” until Monday, and the review didn’t need to be turned in until the next one. I gave myself padding in case something like this happened, because I knew when I started reading it that it was going to be an uphill climb. I was afraid of turning my lack of preparedness into a kink in her day.

So, my appetite went haywire. Most of the week I ate a large bowl of oatmeal for one meal a day. Last night I made up for it by eating (almost an entire) pizza, wings, and a very large chocolate chip cookie. According to bumper sticker wisdom, every pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself. I also drank a two liter of Diet Pepsi, something for which my mother would have chastised me greatly- not because of the amount, but because I was drinking that Pepsi mess, as she called it. I didn’t feel bad about it because most people drink that much wine on a Friday night… and besides, diet soda is my favorite form of caffeine because it’s not extreme highs and lows, it just keeps the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference ages me).

The shame of it is that it wasn’t even Monterey’s or Red Rocks, just plain delivery…. but it was free. Free covers up a lot of pizza sins.

Now the only question remains is how do I not do this? I can’t decide whether it’s okay or not. Some nutrition experts would say it’s fine as long as I’m getting the calories I need over the course of the week instead of every day. Some nutritionists would beat me like a red-headed stepchild. It’s not about weight control. I am extremely healthy in that department. It’s more the binge and crash of it all, as opposed to an even keel.

Being so small is sometimes as equally body-shaming as being overweight. I know this because I have been both at different points in my life. The worst story in recent memory is that I bought six different kinds of chips at 7-Eleven, joking with the cashier that they weren’t all for that night. He said, well, your skinny ass sure needs ’em. I was definitely thinking about responding with physical violence, but, alas, I am too much of a peacenik for that sort of thing.

Setting body issues aside, the reason I took off so much weight is that I’m short. When I am heavy, I bear a strong resemblance to a teapot…. which reminds me of a great story. I met one of my readers a few years ago, and one of the first things she said to me was, I thought you’d be taller. My then-wife and I got mileage out of that one for months (years?). One of the reasons I thought it was funny is that I wanted to impress her so bad…. which reminds me of another funny story. Dana and I both love eye candy, so we both fell on the floor laughing after a few moments of talking with her when I ran into a door and clocked my nose, I thought she was so cute.

The fact that both of these things happened within a few minutes of each other is something that could only happen to me…. as well as overdoing it in the flirting department to the point where she didn’t want to talk to me anymore…. a moment when I truly wanted the earth to swallow me up, I was so embarrassed. Since we were both old and married, it didn’t occur to me that I was over the line, Smokey….. a dumbass attack of gigantic proportions. I’m sure I am not alone in having moments I’d give a limb to take back, and the entire reason I rarely (if ever) have a second cocktail as to avoid my lips being too loose, creating more of them. On the positive side, I make a cheap date. 😛

However, I am absolutely 100% certain I am not the first or last woman to lament what a shame it was she didn’t bat for our team…. just one in a long line of broken hearts all over the world. I so want to tell you what it was that flipped my shit, but I would be even more embarrassed if I somehow outed her real name by a description. Enough people know that story already, including those who didn’t think it was as funny as Dana and I did. By the grace of God, the one person I didn’t manage to offend was my real-life wife, who just laughed through my stupidity. Note to self– wear sunglasses.

I think that’s about enough reminiscence for today. I need to get back to work…. just know that I really, really don’t want to.

Send help.

When the Weather Report is Wrong

The Capital Weather Gang wrote a long article about how they thought snow was over for the season. I have never been happier that they were wrong. Living in a sub-tropical climate for all those years renders snow magical for me…. especially when it is big, fluffy, ski-worthy weather without ice and sleet. Of course, it could turn into that later on, but for now, the goal of the day is to take my laptop downstairs to the picture window in front of the porch and just think. I finally figured out how to start the clock running on my book review, therefore, I have more time than I thought I did to get it done.

I am finished with the basics, but not the editing. So far, it’s turning out to be interesting, even though the book was not something I’d have chosen on my own. I can’t tell you much, only that I chose it because it covers a subject in which I know nothing, and I love Knowing Stuff.™ There’s enough character development so that it’s not all about the sport at hand, but should I want to engage in such sport later on, I’ve found myself a solid foundation. The web site I’m working with has been around for years, which is how I know it’s the real deal, and not just a way to get authors to submit their work for free…. I also found a web site for freelance authors, but I don’t think I’ll sign up for that one. It’s because I think that the ads for work should be paid for by the employers, and this one is $100/month. It says that satisfaction is guaranteed as long as you can prove you’ve actually done the work, but there are better ways to go about freelance writing than having to pay money in the hope you’ll get something. Besides, this is not a job so much as a side hustle.

I’ve applied for jobs in several restaurants because I’ve noticed that I do not have time to write if I am tethered to my phone and laptop with IT. Now, I would not turn down a job in IT should it come along, but there is something to be said regarding being done with a shift and going home to write, rather than having your phone ding at all hours of the night with clients expecting a 30 minute service license agreement. The hard part is finding a job in a restaurant that will cover all my bills in the meantime. It’s a good thing I put in an application at both Starbucks and Costco, because both pay well and offer benefits. With my fanatical devotion to good coffee, it also doesn’t suck that I’m also gifted a bag a week. I also don’t want to go a minute longer without a Starbucks baseball cap. I had a friend in college that worked there for three weeks just to get the hat and the apron and then quit, because he was a Linux server administrator. I will not be doing that, but it was funny at the time.

For those who are wondering why I would rather work at SBUX than an independently owned shop, it has to do with health insurance and not much else. I also learned that once you’re in the system, you can take a vacation to anywhere and pick up shifts wherever there are stores. This was a piece of advice given to me while I was waiting in line at Dupont Circle, from a barista that “took off a month” and went to the original store in Pike’s Market (Seattle, of course).

The biggest problem I have is in getting around the city, because it would be a godsend to work in Silver Spring or downtown DC. If I got a job in the tech corridor or Annapolis/Baltimore, it would take me over two hours every morning to get to work with what would be a 20-40 minute drive. Of course it would be more than that with traffic, but with computer jobs, there are generally programs for both working at home and off-hours so that traffic would be a non-issue. Fingers crossed. This is because everything on the server is keyed by changes in file time and tied to user account. I could work anywhere in the world, but I am reticent to leave the 32-inch monitor on my desk…. although I did once see a guy drag a 22-inch iMac to Starbucks.

Believe it or don’t, there are even terminal programs for iPads and Android tablets, which, to me means my laptop just lost six pounds. Full-size Bluetooth keyboards have made my backpack lighter and my muscles hurt less. Plus, the weight of my backpack with my laptop and all the things I need in order to keep from going back to the house bothers my corkscrew scoliosis so that one part of my spine is absolutely scraped to bits. I even had Hayat (landlady) cover the rip in Neosporin and a thick bandage, to no avail.

I talked to my old friend Meag, an RMT in Ottawa about it, and sent her a picture. She told me she couldn’t wait to get her hands on me, but nine hours is an excruciating trip without a car…. and would make the trip prohibitively expensive whether I was flying or taking an Uber. If I was going to go to a clinic that specialized in both massage therapy and chiropractic medicne, she’s the only one I’d want to see. In Canada, the requirements for getting licensed are much steeper than in the United States, and she is one of the people on the legislative board who approves others. I have been told that eventually I will need surgery, but not for another 15-20 years or so. Until then, I just have to nurse my pain. Making my bag as light as possible is as good as it gets- for the moment, anyway.

It was nice being able to stash my bag in my car while it lasted, but here’s the thing about that. Like most people, I do not like to exercise. Walking and taking the bus/train is the only workout I get, because I don’t even notice I’m doing it. If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, the destination is being mentally healthy. Medication and a great diet help, but there is nothing greater than natural endorphins that adds fuel to the fire. Silver Spring Station is only two miles from my house, and when the weather is nice, I’ll generally walk at least one direction, possibly both. Though I don’t often walk fast enough for true cardio, the landscape is hilly enough to add incline. Plus, the bus schedule for the main road back to my neighborhood runs every ten minutes, in those moments where I just cannot even, I have someone to bail me out (Hiiiiiii, George!) It is absolutely amazing how much walking overclocks my processor, though I wish I could add memory….. and then I think to myself, God will provide the RAM.

But seriously, folks, I do my best writing while mobile. My head space is just so positive, and God help me if I don’t have my phone. I used to carry a notebook, but if I write things down, I have to retype everything when I get home. I now use Google Keep, but my favorite words in the English language used to be, Siri… open Notepad. This seems like a no-brainer, but I have to use my phone rather than my tablet (if you have 3G on yours, that’s fine, too) so that the notes sync immediately. I am a nerd that needs my information on all my devices instead of just the one I have to hunt down- because of course I’ve dropped it somewhere in my house and the battery has died.

Still using my old iPhone while I search for my Android. I am operating system agnostic, so the only reason I really want to find my Android is that I am missing the tons of extra space I have on it due to the fact that expansion slots are par for the course. Apple just makes extra space prohibitively expensive. Yes, Apple devices are designed well, but so are Android. And for less than half the price of a new iPhone, I can get an Android with 128 GB of space. It’s especially useful now that Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will let you download movies and TV directly to your device. But, if you want to pay $1,000 for a phone that you’ll fill up in two weeks, who am I to stop you?

The amount I know about IT is somewhere between organ grinder and monkey.

Well, that’s not true. At least I, most of the time, remember to buy my own bananas.

Twisted Mango Diet Coke

It works. I don’t know how it works, but it does. These are not two flavors that would seemingly go together. Perhaps it’s the fruit and the cinnamon/ginger combo of cola. Maybe I’m just high on antihistamines and decongestants. Whatever it may be, I would definitely buy it again. Keep in mind, though, that my palate is different than most and I like a wide variety of weird sodas no one else will drink. You have been warned, so don’t @ me, bro.

Speaking of drugs, I’m not sick, per se. I just have to take Zyrtec and Sudafed every day because my allergies are that terrible. It seems as if no matter where I live, it’s the worst possible place I could’ve moved in terms of ever-present spring fever, even in the dead of winter. Maybe one day I’ll move to Vegas or Phoenix to settle my “stuffed up doze” (no, I won’t).

Tino, our handyman, is painting the bathroom and the bedroom next to mine, so perhaps I should splash water on my face in the kitchen. Water is the absolute best home remedy for allergic reactions, because it at least removes what’s bothering me from my skin, even without soap. I also take ibuprofen to relieve the pressure in my “mask,” although it probably wouldn’t hurt to get allergy shots and eat local honey. The honey trick is that your body naturally builds up antihistamines over time to whatever pollen is used to make it. Of course, the real miracle is finding someone who has local honey for sale.

A new person is coming to look at the bedroom we have for rent this evening, so I’m hoping for good things. Between the pathological liar, the heroin addict who overdosed (and is fine now), and the psychological torture of hearing The Beatles sung loudly and off-key at all hours of the night, I am looking forward to pretty much anyone else. Actually, it wasn’t just The Beatles, it was screaming obscenities and having my other roommate record it. The .mp3 was as clear as a bell, and the recording was made from the room next to mine on the other side of the hallway. All this is to say that finding roommates who are relatively normal has been rough going. Anyone can put on a good face for an hour, so an interview isn’t necessarily the best indication… but it’s what we’ve got.

I’ve lived here for almost three years now, and it’s becoming amazing how many people I’ve seen come and go in that short a time. I feel very lucky that I’ve seriously found a home and fit in very well. I’d like to continue living here as long as my landlords will have me, because it truly is like having a second family. As Sam has said, I’ve been upgraded.

My living situation is absolutely a miracle. The Nassers were the first people I called after doing some research on where I wanted to live, and I took the room sight unseen after talking to my landlord for an hour and a half on the phone from Houston. I figured that I could live anywhere for a month if it didn’t work out, so I wasn’t terribly worried about showing up at the Metro station in a new city and just rolling with the punches. DC wasn’t new to me, but Maryland certainly was. Alexandria felt like I’d never left Houston- roughly the same politics… city is liberal, state is conservative. Maryland is overwhelmingly blue. Even the conservatives aren’t that conservative. They might have fiscal responsibility issues, but they’ve moved past the politics of kindness. There is much more in the way of statewide health care, both mentally and physically. Being able to get health insurance the moment I moved here without a job was a hug from Jesus. Though I didn’t move here to sponge off the state, having a safety net until I landed on my feet was legit #blessed.

That being said, when I switched to insurance through my employer, my deductible and copays went up dramatically. Anything would be from all free, all the time and drugs at a dollar a bottle. It has just reinforced my belief that universal health care does indeed work, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than thinking about the millions of people bitching about government insurance while on Medicare. Seriously, people. Connect the dots. Not realizing this makes you look one French fry short of a Happy Meal.

In terms of needing insurance, I keep myself healthy, albeit in horrible shape. My weight is under control, but I couldn’t run up two flights of stairs at gunpoint. I’m getting better through walking everywhere, but it’s not enough. I’m not getting my heart rate high enough for true cardio, and I’m not lifting weights to strengthen my muscles….. and everyone knows by now that cardio is rule number one. 😛

However, I do need to go to the doctor once a month for psych med checks and to a therapist four or five times a month. With state-run health care, all of that is free. Private insurance has a copay for drugs and generally offers 13 therapy sessions a year. I am steadily making progress on old trauma, but still need help with visioning, values, and coping mechanisms. It’s not just about where I’ve been, but making sure I get where I want to go. Everyone needs that to some degree. Most people don’t think of therapy when it comes to reaching out for more than they’re currently achieving, but I liken it to sports psychology. Ambition and drive go by the wayside when I feel terrible about myself, because I am a perfectionist to a crippling degree. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time around, obviously I am a straight up failure, no matter how many people I love provide evidence to the contrary. I hear it, but it doesn’t sink in…. I think to myself that they’re just being nice. I know how and what I truly am, which is a disaster. Therapy helps keep things in perspective, that my disorder knows the very best lies to use against me so that they are incredibly vivid and believable. Every negative thing that has ever been said about me is my true nature; everything positive is just humoring me.

Anxiety, especially socially, has a huge impact on my life. I know from past experience that if I am not paying attention, I could really hurt somebody emotionally, so I hide. I only get together with the people I love when I’m feeling up to it, which is always a quarter to sometimes. The hardest is social contact needed to maintain isolation, like shopping. I’m not even friends with these people and won’t have in-depth conversations, anyway, but cocooning in this one is strong. I have taken self-reliance to an extreme, whereas previously, I was entirely too dependent on what everyone else thought. Because I still can be, I just avoid those situations so that I am always listening to my inner landscape of thoughts and feelings. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but no man is an island… from what I’ve heard.

When I am in my right mind about things, I know that I have incredible gifts to offer the world, and indeed, have. But there are days when I just need to back off the nerve that says I’m worthless and just have a Diet Coke and a smile.

Blood Orange Diet Coke

…..it’s as good as it sounds.

I needed to go to the grocery store, so Sam and I headed over this afternoon. They had all the new flavors of Diet Coke on sale for 79 cents a can, so I bought one of each…. even though I have a history of ruining Diet Coke with citrus for everyone in the room by announcing “it tastes like Pledge.” That was in 2001 or 2, so I thought Coke might have figured it out by now. I’ll let you know how it goes…. probably going to save lime for last……. Nothing they make matches the magic of Cherry Coke Zero, with tasting notes of Trapper Keeper, Mall Bangs, and Tiger Beat magazine.

Sometimes, though, I like to branch out… and new flavors of Diet Coke are something my mother and I easily could have discussed for two hours on the phone. I miss that. I don’t have anyone else in my life that can go head-to-head with me on zero calorie soda obsession, because apparently it’s “bad for you” and “causes cancer.” As I was telling Sam when I was loading up my cart, I could have worse vices. While it is true that all sugar substitutes cause cancer in rats, I would have to drink approximately 40 cans an hour, every hour, for years before I’d reach carcinogenic levels in my bloodstream. Right now I’m only drinking five [That was a joke].

Treating myself to soda this afternoon was sort of a celebration. Fifty Shades of Cray has moved out, and the house is blessedly quiet. Sam and I were laughing about it all the way to the store, because in the moment, it was actually quite scary and we needed to debrief. I am no stranger to people with mental illness, and yet, I have never seen anything like it. I felt truly sane in comparison, but not in a mean way. More like eternally grateful, as well as good wishes for her safety and health going forward. The thing about mental illness, though, is that you can’t help a little old lady across the street that doesn’t want to go.

Right now, she is unwilling, undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated…. and if my own experience is any indication, will continue to slash and burn until she realizes that going untreated isn’t doing anything for her. I don’t agree with her scorched earth policy, but only because I’ve done it and it worked masterfully well in pushing everyone away until there was no one left. I know what feeling like a wet cat backed into a corner, claws extended feels like. So, seeing her exhibit that kind of behavior made me wish I could fix it, knowing I couldn’t, and if I could, shouldn’t.

True change will only come when the realization dawns on her, not me.

I make amends when and where I can, without expectation of reciprocity. It may or may not affect the person to which I’m offering them, but it affects how I feel about myself. I am proud of the way I have ruthlessly performed my own emotional surgery, because it’s not something anyone else could have done for me. If removing negative thought processes and muting memories could be taught in medical school, it would be a billion dollar industry.

Maybe even bigger than Coke.

Tolstoy Abridged

…she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.

-Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

It is funny the lengths to which we will go, the things we will withstand, when we think we need something or someone… most likely someone. Things are an achievable goal. People are moving targets of emotion. In most relationships, but not all, there is some bit of lopsidedness to it. Not everyone finds that marriage, that friendship, that boss in which esteem and respect are equal to one another.

And yet we go on, trying to please and tolerating others’ behaviors as if they are normal in order to learn their particular brand of dysfunction. As Leo Tolstoy says in Anna Karenina, “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No family is immune to it- to fit in, we adjust our expectations from the ways we were raised to the way they were… because equality is about compromise, and need is ingratiating ourselves, sublimating the parts of us that are completely different so “we’re on the same page.”

I didn’t learn this from my biological family. I learned it over years and years of emotional abuse. Early and often I changed my behavior so that I didn’t rock the boat, and walked on eggshells, afraid to be myself… because when I was, it was a signal to me that I wasn’t needed anymore. Agreement meant love; disagreement meant “I just don’t know what to do with you. I can’t win, so I’ll just leave.”

Appeasement was the name of the game, and we all do it, but some less than others. Take, for instance, your work phone voice and the voice you use when you’re just shooting the shit with your friends. If “the customer is always right,” sometimes that means swallowing words that need to be said and aren’t… mostly things like “you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Customer service is the only profession I know in which trying not to fake your own death so you don’t have to go to work is a daily struggle…. because people won’t unload on the others they’re mad at, but they have no problem treating the clerk at Target or the waiter at Jaleo like that. They think it’s impersonal, having no idea how deep their words cut… because hey, they’ll never see you again.

And that’s where they’re wrong. They need you. It’s not like they’re going to abandon going to Target or Jaleo, and they’ll see you again whether you want to see them or not. As soon as they walk in the door, you remember their “kick the dog” syndrome and try desperately to find someone else to help them.

But sometimes you’re stuck, and it’s a crapshoot as to whether they’ll remember and apologize.

This same behavior happens in relationships. We’re mad about something else, and unload on the people we love the most, because we know their softest spots. Unsurprisingly, they also retreat, and if the words cut deeply enough, and apology isn’t necessary, because they won’t hear it, anyway.

Because sometimes the emotional abuse is given, rather than received… especially if that’s what’s been modeled for you long enough. Others tiptoe around you, so that you don’t pick up your toys and go home… the exact scenario you were trying to avoid with someone else. You watch as they change their behavior around you, rarely self-aware enough to know they’re doing it, because you’re doing the same thing… your own egocentricity in the way… both saying to each other “please don’t leave me. I am broken and I know it, I just don’t know how to fix it.” Just not with words.

But that’s what happens with fully-functioning adults. As a child and an adult in any kind of relationship, the balance of power is off to an enormous degree… and any perceived anger is all their fault. There is nothing within them that says “this person is treating me unfairly and I need to stand up for myself.” This is because when the child tries to stand up for themselves, it leads to witholding of affection and long, drawn-out silences in which the child takes on the “I have to fix everything” mentality. Instead of another adult compromising themselves into your crazy as you adopt theirs, children cannot begin to comprehend what they’ve done wrong.

And often, this is the root of the problem with adults who also think that every slight is their fault. You don’t get away from it, there’s no relief until you can take back your own power… and it never, ever happens in an instant. It is a lifelong process of examining why you think the way you think, because even when you think you’ve made progress, you’ll fall back into old patterns because they are so ingrained. It is a lifetime of two steps forward, and between one and four steps back. Just like one is never cured of addiction, one is never cured of codependency.

Adulthood modeled badly for children leads to future adults that cannot trust their own intuition, often relying on other people they perceive as just as damaged as they are because they know they can take a healthy person and destroy them. Sometimes it’s a good thing to share experiences, as my friend Donna calls “compatible wounds.” At others, it’s one awful pattern feeding the other with no end in sight, because neither one is aware of just how much they’re doing to excoriate good memories.

The eternal rub, the thing that makes both of you bleed, is that when you’re saying awful words to each other, it’s really just a cover-up as to how you feel about yourself. If you think you’re worthless, that’s how you’ll treat others. You don’t really think that about the other person, you’re expressing your own disgust at yourself, and it comes across as rage and anxiety… words coming out of your mouth before you even have a chance to connect consequences. If someone has treated you that way, why would you? It’s “what you’re supposed to do” in an argument. For two people abused as children, these are fights that are designed to cut both people off at the knees, mutually assured destruction in which both parties have trouble standing back up.

The craziness continues because you’re so afraid of getting “crazy spatter” on healthy people… or at least, the people we view as such… not really taking in that everyone is fighting a battle of some sort. These days, I tend to believe that there are no healthy people, only healthy actions… and, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I don’t know of any story of self-enlightenment that doesn’t begin with getting tired of your own bullshit.” I had to decide to get healthy. I had to decide it was time to, in the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “put away childish things.” However, just like deciding to come out as GLBT, you don’t do it once… you do it every day. I can’t just decide once. I will die having to make these decisions.

If Need accommodates cruelty, it is a choice to step away from it…. not once, but each and every day. I would amend that statement to say that Need only accommodates cruelty when it is based in lopsided affection, when you think you need something not meant for you. Healthy need is interdependence, not wishing and hoping someone will finally realize what you have to offer… because pro tip… they won’t. Users that make it impossible to please them will only move on to someone else when they realize they can’t get adoration from you anymore. They’ll just lovebomb someone else until they’re so wrapped up in the lovebombing that they can’t understand why it would go away, and what they did to deserve it.

“Putting away childish things” is the realization that you know exactly what you did. You took those childhood behaviors and carried them into adulthood, where they no longer serve you… but again, it’s not a realization that happens once, but every time you interact with others. You have to ask yourself if you are really happy and healthy, or in the company of others, whether everyone is just unhappy in their own way. You have to stand up and say………….

I’m not going to get into the ring with Tolstoy. – Ernest Hemingway