Own What You Own, But Not What You Don’t

It’s truly amazing the difference a year can make.

The headspace I was in a year or even two years ago is a distant memory. That’s not to say I’ve totally forgotten it, as that might imply that I haven’t learned anything from it. However, at the same time, I can recognize what I haven’t achieved without beating myself up over it.

For one thing, my attempt to quit smoking has failed …again. That bothers me, both physically and emotially, but rather than feeling bad about it, I’m more into thinking about how to give it another try. If someone were to ask me if the Stop Centre therapy is a hoax, I’m likely to say no: it might work for some, and it did work for me for a little while, although I think it’s more than a placibo than anything else. However, I don’t regret the considerable amount of cash I forked out on it. If I hadn’t tried it, I never would have known if it works or not. I think that’s just one indication of how I no longer beat myself up over failure, be it great or small.

An unfortunate effect of my attempt to quit smoking is that I gained even more weight this winter. I’m back to that familiar feeling from eight years ago when I would avoid looking at myself naked in the mirror or even as I dress or undress. However, recently as I recall how I managed to shed 30 pounds back then as I became disgusted with myself, I’ve been telling myself that I can do it again. So, finally, I got serious about it two weeks from Sunday and, in 10 days, already lost 3 pounds. That’s not enough to be visible and I still have a lot of clothes in my closet that I can’t get into, but I’m starting to feel the difference inside. By that I mean that I’m recalling what it’s like to crave carb-laden junk while in fact not being hungry. So, it’s just a bit of mind over matter as I say to myself, “But Maurice, you’re feeling full and you’re not really hungry, so don’t even think about those chips at the corner store.”

While I know there’s vanity involved, I have trouble with my body image these days, to the point that it’s one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding going out much since last fall. Cognitively I know it’s silly, but it’s very difficult to fight such emotions. So, doing something about it is empowering.

In fact, it’s just as empowering as when I remembered last October that last period in my life when I felt that the world was my oyster. Granted, that sense of confidence led me to making a big mistake, but when I thought about what inspired that confidence in the weeks or months before I started making that mistake, I remembered that it was in large part due to having gained control over my financial situation for the first time in my adult life. So, I worked long and hard on that crazy budget worksheet that allowed me, despite unexpected setbacks, to reduce my debt load by $6,500 in only six months, with a worse-case projection of being debt-free in 18 months from now. While it’s true that we learn from our mistakes, I’ve chosen to learn from my successes, which I think is a far healthier approach.

For many years I’ve been reading/lurking this blog. Its New York-based author has always been frank about how he’s been seeing a therapist for years. Recently, he fired his therapist of many years and got a new one, and even more recently he took issue with a psychotherapist named Jonathan Alpert who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already.” For me, it wasn’t Tin Man’s disagreement that got me thinking; rather, it was my own recent (and only) experience with therapy and the fact that many of my friends as well as my supervisor at work were astonished at how little time I spent in therapy yet emerged from it a considerably changed person. I don’t think of myself as better or stronger than Tin Man or anybody else who’ve stuck to therapy far longer than I did, nor, at the same time, do I assume that my “problems” are/were lesser than theirs. I believe that, fundamentally, I’m at peace with who I am and the fact I’m not a “spectacular” and well-known individual as dear Raymond was…

I think that’s because, in much smaller circles — among my friends and at work — I feel appreciated and trusted. Just this week, for instance, I got showered with praise by some clients and co-workers whom I never met just for the way I do what I do. In a way, it’s funny for an introvert, which I essentially am, to be called “patient with people,” a “team player,” and a “good teacher.” However, without wanting to blow my own horn, those are things I’ve been told well before I started working at the bank. Again, it’s more a case of building on the positive.

There’s that, and there’s choosing not to own what doesn’t belong to me. To my chagrin, I’ve learned that I have a few co-workers whom I consider(ed) friends that I mustn’t trust. However, now that I see that the problem is theirs and they’re only trying to make their problem mine, I can take a deep breath, tell myself, “It’s just a job,” and forget about it for the most part after I sign off work. If I’m comfortable with knowing that what I do for a living won’t change the world, which I am, then I’m equally comfortable accepting that their problem is pretty damn petty and not worth losing sleep over.

In fact, since therapy, I’ve become pretty darn good at not losing sleep over what I can’t control. For instance, when I took time off work last September, I finally began divorce proceedings some two years later than I should have. After each meeting, my lawyer would give me a deadline for the next step; between such a meeting and the stated deadline, I wouldn’t even think about “what if…” (as in, “what if we encounter this or that snag he mentioned”). Even when my mom would timidly ask how things we’re going on that front, I’d simply tell her we’re not at that stage yet and the only thing that matters is what really happens next, not what could happen. Two weeks ago, my lawyer and I hit a snag stemming from bureaucratic incompetence; at first I was annoyed, but then I thought to myself, “The fact we’ve hit that snag probably means it’s on the verge of being over.”

The only thing that mildly bugs me is that NowEx probably occupies more space in my mind than I do in his. I suspect he’s moved on long ago and that any thought of me, if any at all, probably inspires only bitterness or complete lack of interest. I doubt he’s learned much of this experience, sticking to his narrow view that he’s always right and everybody’s else view is wrong or not as right as his. The reason I think that is that he has, in this situation over the last (nearly) three years, repeated the same pattern as he has done all his life, namely completely cutting himself off from whomever he has fallen out with. He’s done it with friends and even his mother at one point, so he’s being consistent — that much I’ll give him. However, for me, the situation along with a few others converged and brought me to shut down for a little while before I decided that I needed to make a long-overdue and profound change in my life. Now I own what I own, but not what I don’t.

Some of what I own isn’t pretty, but better understanding what led me to owning it turns it into a simple statement of fact. For instance, as I marched towards marrying NowEx, I dismissed some uneasiness as “nerves” on my part. Now I own that I shut my eyes to something for which I didn’t have a name at the time. Now as I look back, I don’t feel proud nor ashamed; I don’t feel wounded; I just own it — my decision to overlook that oddity I couldn’t identify, that is. But instead of beating myself up for having overlooked it, I’m choosing to trust my instinct more.

Here’s another example that led me to this conclusion: When I started my downward slide two years ago, my gut told me that something was wrong at work and it wasn’t only that my personality didn’t mesh with my then-new supervisor. A year after she was no longer my supervisor, I learned from others exactly what she thought and said about me, which solidified her standing in my eyes as a Class “A” Bitch (and Moron). I should have trusted my instinct and done something about her; instead, I doubted myself. Today I don’t own what she did to me but what she inadvertently taught me, so if there’s anything good to be said about her, it’s that she was placed in my life’s path at the precise moment I needed to learn that lesson.

So here I am now, four years into living in Montreal (which I much prefer over Halifax), starting my 7th year at my job, and a bunch of self-improvement plans completed or underway. I’m still more anti-social than I probably should, but body image issues will do that to a guy and I’m working on that one. For the next little while, I can only imagine myself as The (Literally) Gay Divorcé. I should spend less time alone, start going out more, and try harder to make a few friends in this wonderful city, but …one thing at a time.

Let’s just say I’ve been busy lately and let’s leave it at that for now.