The Difference Between Existing and Living

“Is it possible to live so defensively that you never get to live at all?” – Rachel Naomi Remen

A long time ago I read my horoscope and there was a line that said something like- You know you can’t own love, right Aries? Years later I still hear it in my head. As much as I know it’s true, I feel like I’ve been trying to own love my entire life. An impossible task, one that ends in heartache every time. I am the Hector the Collector of impossible tasks.

I have a thing with being in charge. When I’m being the boss, when I’m the owner, when I’m the one with The Plan, I feel safer. I think when it comes right down to it the only person I truly trust is. . . me. That doesn’t feel healthy though. I think to be a loving human being in the world you need to put your trust in others too. And I do to certain degrees with certain people in my circle of trust. I’ve been working hard in therapy on this. I’m at the place where I need to let go of the pain my Dad caused me by breaking the trust I had in him. Some might argue that place of letting go was years ago but I’m on my own journey here and can’t let anyone but me dictate the pace.

I was reading “The Book of Awakening” this morning and Mark Nepo wrote about this Zen saying:

A man raised a baby swan in a glass jar, but as the bird grew it became stuck in the jar. The man was caught now, for the only way to free the thing was to break the jar, killing the swan.

He talked about how we can jar ourselves- in an effort to protect ourselves we put ourselves in a jar of distrust but our hearts grow like the swan. He said, “Too often, we can contain our way of being within our way of surviving.” It left me thinking about my survival techniques, so many of which are no longer working for me. Like the way I put so much pressure on myself to always have a plan so that nothing can go wrong. I know why I do this- because growing up in an alcoholic home things felt really unstable and in my effort to change that I became the girl with The Plan. I grew into a woman who feels constantly wound up tight, stressed out, and like a failure because there is no way in hell I can always have the answer. I know this logically, not intrinsically. Or the way I push people away because they disappoint some unattainable high standard that even I can’t live up to on a good day. Or how I “punish” people who don’t do what I want though they have no idea what I want because it is only in my head and so far I have not met a mind reader.

My list of survival skills is an embarrassment of riches. I’m trying to not be too judgmental but it’s not easy. These are out-dated coping mechanisms and realizing they do not work for me is progress. I’m at that place where I can tell when I’m falling back on one of them. In therapy the other day I said something to the effect of, “I am done being like this! Help me change.”

Letting down my defenses opens me to vulnerability. I no longer have my emotional armor to protect me. I don’t have my manipulative devices to trick myself and others into thinking everything is fine when it is totally and absolutely not fine. I’ve sat with the sheer panic of being seen emotionally naked and tried to not use my old cover ups. My mind screams: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! PRETEND YOU AREN’T HURT YOU IDIOT! But I keep breathing. And breathing. And waiting for the internal freak out to subside. All I can do is this. And love myself enough to know I’m moving on to something better. And have a little faith in other people to show up for me if I let them.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” -Serenity Prayer

27 thoughts on “The Difference Between Existing and Living

  1. I’m a lot like you, I think. I could have written this myself. I trust on a basic level, but never 100%. There’s only ever been one person in my life that I’ve trusted and fully opened to 100%, and I doubt I’ll ever do it again. So, I know.

  2. I could have written this exact same thing. With less emphasis on having The Plan, and more stress on letting others plan for me and just following along. I believe I’ve even told MY therapist something along the lines of, “This isn’t working for me, and I want it to stop. Please help make me better.” Or something.

    Every time you catch yourself in a behavior that doesn’t work for you, it’s progress. At least, it better be. Seeing as how I catch myself a lot, now, too.

    Rooting for you. Sis boom bah. πŸ™‚

  3. “Or how I ‘punish’ people who don’t do what I want though they have no idea what I want because it is only in my head.”

    Ooooooh, ditto. And vulnerability *is* difficult – I hate the “emotionally naked” feeling. (BTW, I love the little swan in the jar dealie…gonna have to think about that one some more later).

  4. Reading the words you write about learning to let go the pain your dad caused you is so therapeutic to me. My story isn’t identical to yours, but I had a pretty terrible “relationship” with my dad. He was a drug addict, dealer & thief that repeatedly let my family down. Even in the past few years, he’s tried to “make amends” by calling me, only to fall out of touch a few phone calls later. I’ve spent hours upon hours searching those “Find a Prisoner” websites, just to see if his name comes up, just so I can see what state he’s in. Just so I can see that he’s alive.
    I was in therapy for some time, & we would always get to the point where I would know and understand all of my feelings, but I couldn’t let them go. It was like, rationally, I knew I’d be a happier person if I could forgive & move on, but irrationally, emotionally, I couldn’t let go of all that pain and the eventual issues.
    But, really, back to my original point. Reading you talk about your pain & anger really helps me. It helps me to see that there are ways to overcome these types of things, & that I’m not alone in saying that it’s fucking hard.
    Thanks for a great post πŸ™‚

  5. It’s been really rough on me to swallow my pride and let people see every part of me but I’ve been doing it. In my divorce, I want to act unaffected and pretend to be strong and over him just so that he doesn’t get to see me cry. However, what is the point of putting up armor like that when all it does is hurt me? Who cares what HE thinks because it’s really all about me.

    I’m glad that you are doing the same thing, slowly but surely. It’s not an easy path but it’s one that brings greater rewards when all is said and done. Also, I don’t know about you but I feel way more peaceful when I let my guard down even if it IS scary!

  6. I think what you have to constantly ask yourself is “What’s the worst that can happen?” If I open up and trust again, then I won’t push away people I care about. And worst case scenario? Maybe I fall a couple times. But, there will be friends and family there to pick you up (not to mention your own will power) to see that you keep moving forward. Scary, but you won’t die from trusting again. xoxo

  7. Wow- this could have been written by me. I’m at the very begining of the journey having just now accepted that I need some help. But it all starts with the first step, right?

    You continue to amaze me.

  8. I will always show up for you, babe. Likewise, I feel beyond blessed to have you in my proverbial corner. Here’s to being pleasantly surprised when we let the right people into our hearts and our lives.

  9. “These are out-dated coping mechanisms and realizing they do not work for me is progress.”

    Amazing progress! Now have a little faith in the progress.

    By the way, one of my dearest friends always says “Intention follows habit.” In other words, do it, even if it’s not instinctive yet, and it will become instinctive.

  10. I trust people, I think, but parts of this post say how I feel sometimes.
    We all need to do emotional work and kudos to you because most people push that to the bottom of their priority lists.
    But I think the other thing about always having a Plan and when things fall through is the crushing disappointment I feel (and maybe you feel). I can sometimes waste more time feeling on the frustration of my plan not working than the actual thing that happened. The mantra I learned in yoga really serves me well, and maybe it would help for me to post it here for you:

    If you could call it perfection, how would you know it? What would it look like, feel like, be like? In this moment, call it perfection, and know that it is enough.

  11. Hi, my name is Melissa and I am a love owner. And an Aries.

    Seriously, I totally related to this post. It’s so hard to NOT have the expectation and not set the bar so high for other people. But I’ve slowly been learning to let them “show up” and the good ones totally do.

    Keep at it. And pat yourself on the back for the amazing insights and progress you’ve made!

  12. “I am the Hector the Collector of impossible tasks.”
    Man, I can identify with this.
    Also, I really need to get around to finishing The Book of Awakening. Doh. I have Zen ADD. πŸ™‚

  13. Great post. Making these realizations and accepting them is always the first step! For me, it’s all about FORCING myself to actually think about things I don’t want to think about. When I do, I sometimes find a solution.

  14. Oh, it’s because I’m an Aries that I’m like that? That explains so much! Including, possibly, why I geek out on the musical Rent, which has the actual lyrics, You can’t buy love, but now I know you can rent it.

  15. You just nailed me to a tee. All we can do is to do our best everyday to change, to learn to let love in. We CAN do it. And love ourselves
    in the process. xoxo

  16. I saved this one to read until I could really soak it in. I’ve read it a few times, actually πŸ™‚

    I think recognizing that the coping mechanisms are out-of-date is so key. And the trust thing – good for you for really digging in and working on this. I can relate to the struggle. And I love when I get to the point (painful, though it is) of saying – help me change. I can’t do this any longer. I feel like there’s something about that place. Maybe it’s magic.

    My therapist, who I’ve known for 100 years because he was a prof of mine in college, helped transform the way I think about trusting. He made it less black and white – it’s not, I trust men or I don’t trust men. I told him that I trusted him years ago, and he said, “Really? What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I trust you.” He said, “Do you trust me to perform brain surgery on you?” Um, no. We trust all people to varying degrees, and it’s appropriate to do so. Just wanted to mention what your post made me think of.

  17. I am done being like this! Help me!

    And that is the beginning of the end, my dear. Giving up sometimes is all it takes. And being absolutely willing to try a different way whether it’s comfortable or familiar or not will get you to your new beginning.

  18. not only am i moved but i respect you for having chosen to live than to exist,for the mere fact that im touched by every emotion you have expressed trust me you are living every second to the fullest,you definately have an effect on me.cheers to making a DIFFERENCE from WITHIN

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