Sunday, January 31, 2010

Me time, part 3

I've come to look forward to my Sunday morning alone time. Today was no exception, and I couldn't wait to get to my reading for the morning. I chose to leave Bella at home and concentrate, instead, on the book my new friend let to me on Wednesday. I'm amazed at how much I've read in the book. I've made more time for this book than I have for anything else for myself in quite a long time. That, of course, is the whole idea right now, and is much of the reason my friend lent me the book.

Healthy Selfishness by Drs. Richard and Rachael Heller is a book about finding the balance in your relationship with yourself and with others. It's about not cheating yourself of the things that you want and need. It's an aid to those of us who deny our feelings and thoughts, replacing them with false beliefs about ourselves and our relationships. According to the authors and their matrix for measuring self-denial, I am a Level 3 Self-Denier. I suppress my feelings and needs in favour of meeting the needs of others. I discount my own feelings when faced with what I perceive to be opposition to those feelings. I suppress my needs so as not to conflict with the needs of others. I overly accommodate. I overly sacrifice. I don't serve myself first, I leave myself out.

This past several days, since I began reading the book, have been a time of discovery for me. This book describes the struggle I've waged against myself ever since I can remember. I've been thinking about events and situations in my life in an entirely new light. I'm beginning to see how I got to this place where I am prisoner to self-depricating thoughts, and a total lack of respect for myself.

I'm not one to reach out for help, especially not from a book. I am at a place in my life, though, which is not a place I want to be in. I am riddled with guilt, fear, and uncertainty in almost all aspects of my life. I've convinced myself that I am destined to live this life, and that there is no other way. I am realizing that dating back into my early years, I have denied my needs, invalidated my feelings, and worked to please others at the risk of losing my own happiness.

The act of going out each Sunday morning has not been an easy one for me. There are so many things involved that most people probably wouldn't think about. I was assigned the task of leaving my house for a set period of time at a set time and duration on a weekly basis. This could be Friday night, it could be Saturday afternoon, as long as the date and time are consistent, and everyone knows and expects it. My husband and I, together, agreed that Sunday mornings would be my time. I chose 8-10AM, which we both agreed was a good time. Sunday mornings are his day to get up with the monkeys, under the assumption that it would also be my morning to sleep in. OK, let's be real, sleeping in is something I haven't done in over 5 years now, and I find it almost impossible to do. I hear the kids stir before they stir, and once I'm up, my brain hits the ground running long before my mind and body catch up. My brain is already making lists, planning days, scheduling chores, and thinking about meals. It's pretty brutal. So, Sunday mornings are a good time for me to get up and go, since it doesn't interfere with my sleeping, any activities, and is generally an open time for all of us. The idea behind my leaving the house is to give myself a break from my role as Mommy (at least in the physical sense), and give my husband that time to embrace the role of Daddy without my interference. Interference meaning that the kids will know they have to turn to Daddy, and Daddy is allowed to play his role without my putting my nose where it doesn't belong. We both need to be allowed to play our respective roles without being made to feel we're doing it wrong, something which Daddy gets cheated of more often than not with me around.

Breaking from my role is not easy. I have become a control freak to an extreme. Leaving the house, and leaving things behind me is one thing I don't do enough of. Getting in my car that first Sunday morning was the first step in my taking alone time. Next was the battle of where to go.

I described my choice of venue after my first outing a couple of weeks ago. Originally I had thought about the library, but for one thing it's not open at 8AM, and for another, I wanted some place where I would not be quite so alone. I don't need a mall or huge crowd, but need some noise around me. So, I settled on Panera, and my alone time assignment began.

Aside from the library, there are few options to choose from which are entirely free, at least in the winter. I can't sit in the park, I'm not an avid enough runner yet to consider a morning run in near zero degree temps, and visiting a friend would be fine, but wouldn't really give me true "alone" time. I know I don't *have* to be solo every week, but, for now I need to be in order to return my focus to me. With so few free options, my mind reels over how much my alone time will cost me. See, for me, money is a huge issue. Even spending $2.00 for a refillable cup of coffee is very challenging. I can't describe it in terms that would make much sense to others, but, spending money, especially on myself, has become next to impossible. I find it hard to justify myself getting anything when I know we have unfinished projects in the house, the kids might need x, y, or z, and if I could instead spend that money on food for my family, that's what I'd do. One year I tried bi-weekly manicures, and I kept that up for about four months. Then when finances were tight one week, I canceled the next appointment and never went back. The following year I decided to do something I'd never done before and got a haircut with a color. Yes, I'd had hair cuts before (never with any regularity), but never the color part. That has always seemed so frivolous to me, and I never felt that it was something I deserved, or should spend my money on. But I did it. I think that year, I went four times. That was a LOT for me. Again, though, before that last appointment, finances were tight, and rather than reschedule until after the next pay day, I canceled and never went back.

I try to find the negative in things when I see them at the store, convincing myself why I should not buy it. The kids are too young for that toy, that game will suck up all of Daddy's time, that thing would be cool but I'd get bored of it quickly...the inner conflict continues. It goes on in the background of my mind, but it takes front and center in my decision making. Only when I decide to deny my thoughts, and throw all caution to the wind will I actually slap that money down and bite the bullet and buy something. Push really has to come to shove, though, and usually I am faced with the option of buying said item, or explaining to someone why I don't want to. That would mean, though, revealing my inner struggle, and nobody wants to be burdened with that, so I give in and put all the dangers of spending that money aside, and I'll buy it. It could be something as simple as a candle, something that would make me feel good, but I won't do it.

So going to Panera is a huge step for me. To spend money on myself, and combine that with time spent on me, that's monumental. This morning, seeing a $5 in my pocket, I felt secure that I would be OK even getting a little snack on top of the coffee, and I headed out.

Today I brought Healthy Selfishness rather than Twilight, and I was excited to get to reading more of it. I carved out time Wednesday and Thursday nights, and I knew I'd make much more progress this morning. When I got to Panera, I brifely scoped the seating, only to find that the two comfy chairs and the booth I sat in the first week were all occupied. Today is a bright, sunny day, so I decided to sit near the front of the restaurant and take in the beautiful light. No booths over there, no big comfy chairs, though. There are two long bar height tables, but I ruled those out because I am one person, those would be for a small group. Even though I'd benefit from the most direct light, I opted for a little 4-seater table next to the tall tables. I'm not confident enough to stand and look around long and hard to find that just right spot in the restaurant, so I quickly chose an open table and stuck with it.

I mentioned the first week how anxious I sometimes get when ordering a coffee at one of these coffee places. Luckily, Panera has three sizes, and despite having names other than 'small, medium, large' on their menu, they still acknowledge this language and will give you the size you are looking for. I've gotten used to it in my now three visits. What I'm still unsure of is how one gets the elusive mug instead of disposable cup. The disposable cup has its merits, since I can refill and take a hot coffee home with me when I leave. Still, I feel like I haven't graduated to the elite level of the ceramic mug. I also tend to prefer reusable over disposable, but, I'll save that Earthy talk for another post at another time. Anyway, I figured today I'd mix it up a little and instead of ordering a large or grande coffee, I'd tell the girl taking my order that I wanted a cup of coffee. So, I did just that and ordered the chocolate pastry and a cup of coffee. Sadly, I discovered that the 'cup of coffee' is not the mug, it's the small disposable cup. Next week I just might tackle the ceramic mug issue, but for now I was satisfied with my choice, and I took my seat.

I sat with my back to the door, with a not so great view of the ordering counter. I did this on purpose because my tendency is to people watch. With this book in hand, I knew people watching had to take a back seat, and my focus needed to remain on the reading. Still, there were some people that caught my eye regardless. My table was situated in the middle of the carpeted area at the front, with benches and small tables along the wall, tall tables along the windows, and a select few 2 and 4 seaters. A vulnerable position, being in the middle of the area. Still, it worked. At the benches were two gentlemen, probably in their 60's, casually dressed and reading the paper, having breakfast, and discussing the issues in the news and their community. The table next to me on my right hosted a gentleman of about the same age as the other two, alone, reading the paper. He was dressed in a nice yellow sweater over a dress shirt, and a nice pair of pants. Perhaps this was his before or after church stop, or perhaps he dresses well in general. Either way, he was also enjoying some alone time. The lady seated behind him, at the end of the benches against the half wall dividing the seating area from the bagel cutting machine, was in her own little world. She reminded me of a movie character that someone like Olympia Dukakis or Shirley Maclaine would probably play. Well kept, dressed a step up from blue jeans, slightly eclectic, small reading-type glasses, colored hair, and a stack of well-worn books atop a spiral bound notebook. She was deep in thought most of the time, reading a page or so, then holding the book veritcally on the table top, eyes closed, breathing steady, concentrating on the words she's just taken in with her eyes, absorbing them with her mind. Seems that each time I glanced up, she was doing so with another book from the stack. The spines of these small paper back books were quite worn, so I wasn't able to see what kinds of books she was concentrating on, or what she might have been writing about in her notebook. Toward the end of my stay, she was on her mobile phone with her hand over her mouth as she spoke, leading me to believe that she was taking in some pretty important words, or at least only wanted to share them with the person on the other end of the call.

Amazing to me this morning was the number of customers who were so picky about their breakfast foods. More than one of them led the women behind the counter to specific pastries, bagles, or muffins, because apparently all the others were just not right. A couple had very specific requirements about the toasting of their bagels, and one woman seemed to be buying for an entire church congregation, keeping the girl behind the counter very busy for quite some time, grabbing 8 of these bagels, 4 of these, 7 of those. Then a very peculiar couple of customers arrived, and I couldn't pull my eyes away. A woman and (I believe) a man, most likely siblings based on their utter resemblance to each other. The woman had blonde hair with waves that seemed difficult to style, and I think her glasses only stayed on her face because of her keen ability to raise her upper lip, tilt her head upward, wrinkle her nose and furrow her brow as she tried to read the menu. Her companion, whom I believe was a man, brought the name "Pat" to my mind immediately. I'll leave it at that. I don't know why these two characters drew my attention like they did, but, they did.

Despite the people watching, I was able to absorb quite a bit of this book, suddenly finding that I've now read over 100 pages of it. That's more than I've read any book in as long as I can remember. It's a great feeling, and what I've learned brings me more positivity than I've felt in a long time.

Before I left, a group of three women, probably late 40's, early 50's, sat at the table behind me. Before they'd all ordered and taken their seats, they greeted a young man, about my age, who apparently has a pulled back and just joined a gym, and grew up in DuPage county. It's funny the things you learn about people you're not even talking to in such a short time!

At first, it seemed like just Sunday morning coffee for the ladies as they updated each other on the events of the past week. One got to sleep in and "go marketing" on Thursday (apparently this is her speak for "grocery shopping"). One spent a day driving around a lot getting to various appointments and obligations. The other is considering a part time opportunity to work somewhere like a library or something. Before I knew it, they were talking about how to get a job collecting for the US Census. They all made it obvious that they don't want to go door to door, but, they definitely want roles in data collection. One woman even pointed out that by working on the Census, you'd get this attractive tote bag, and it's a good credential to have in your arsenal of "I've done this" for a resume. I decided to wrap up my reading when the women, and the young man, began to voice their displeasure with citizens who don't wish to disclose information about their lives to the Government. Realizing that this is a hot button topic and one which I would tend to disagree with these folks about, and since my two hours were nearing an end, I chose a good spot to end my reading in my book. I refilled my coffee as the young man with the pulled back was filling his first cup. After exchanging a quick agreement that coffee is a morning necessity, I returned to my table, finished my chocolate pastry, gathered my jacket and book and bid my neighbors a good day.

Morning coffee in hand, I returned home to the sounds of excited giggles from my children as they watched Daddy play a race car video game. More relaxed than I've been in a while, I'm enjoying my Sunday with my family, and have agreed to take the day one step at a time. Writing has helped me to sort my thoughts, and to escape the hurtful dialogue that my mind holds every moment of the day.

I now look forward to Sunday mornings with my coffee and a good book, and to returning to my husband and children. I'm excited to know that this is only the first step in my long journey toward happiness and freedom. Who would have thunk that a cup of coffee could serve me such a wonderful new beginning. I certainly didn't.

Until next time...