The curse of the familiar

Just because its always been done that way, does not mean its the way you have to do it. And whoever you were in the past, does not mean that is who you have to be. One of the best part of my whole divorce experience is the opportunity to completely redefine my reality. I did not realize how much I just followed along with the way things always were. You take in that toxic soup into your heart and it breeds, causing misery and unhappiness all around. I lived that way for so long I thought it was normal. There was an unspoken script, this is what is expected of you, and you will do it. I didn't even question it. My job was to go to school, get married, have kids then just maintain that until retirement, at which point I might get the chance to travel a little bit.

Within that there were other limitations, there were clear boundaries of what my role was. Don't get too ambitious, don't think about things like a world hiking trip, writing a book or doing anything that is outside of the traditional Anglo-protestant experience. I was always very obedient, I did what I was told, and conformed to expectations. I conformed to the fact I was a woman and there are certain things that women do not do. There was an ingrained belief that women are to submit and conform to the wishes of their husbands. I was taught very early on that my views had no merit, and my thoughts and desires were secondary. I learned early it was far easier and less painful to go with the flow. I did what I could to just blend into the background and not cause any trouble. Try not to be noticed, being noticed brought criticism and mockery. We are conditioned not to rock the boat, at least I was.

Becoming aware of all these deeply ingrained notions has been a really important part of the process of becoming more self-aware of my own feelings, thoughts and desires. What do I really want? It's a good question, and not one that is really easily answered. One thing is very clear to me, I am absolutely not the person that I thought I was up until this point. That person was the result of years of being told I was this and that by others. That person would not dare step out of line, though there were times I did try to defend myself. My own sense of self was not strong enough to truly make my own decisions. I didn't even really know what it is I wanted. I did not have the confidence to forge my own way, or to try things that were off the beaten path. Failure was unacceptable and unimaginable, I could not afford it. The risk of failing and the subsequent humiliation was a thought too painful to bear. So I stuck to the safe road. The result, I have a safe but boring job with the public service, and I have never ventured outside my comfort zone. I have not really achieved anything outside having a family.

As time goes on, and I get more comfortable with my own identity. The awareness is rising, I have as much value as anyone else. I have the right to feel my feelings and they are valid, even if others do not agree with them. They are mine and I am allowed to have them.

That's what thing I really remember from my marriage, my ex-husband was always telling me what I was thinking and what I was feeling. Even if I would try to tell him what I was really feeling, he would correct me, like he knew better. Truly, he had no idea. How could anyone else know what you are feeling better than yourself. I specifically remember him telling me " you cannot say your feelings unless they are right!" translation, "unless they are what I say they are"

All these limitations were very familiar to me and governed my behaviour, even though I was largely unconscious of them. I lived my life on autopilot. I kept telling myself that I was happy and successful. After all I had achieved all my objectives didn't I? Internally, I was unhappy, frustrated and felt like a failure. I felt like I was just grinding my gears getting nowhere. I had a really had time feeling true joy and spontaneous laughter completely eluded me. Fear kept me still, fear of poverty, fear of failure, fear of disapproval. I was like a timid little rabbit. It also felt like nothing I did was right. I didn't seem to know the right answer.

The fact is there is no right answer except what is right for you. Nobody knows what is right. All we can do is our best and follow our own path. No one can walk it, or tell you which way to go. They can give advice to help you avoid the pitfalls, but ultimately you have to live your life.

I came from a place of a total lack of self-confidence. I believed that others opinions were better and more accurate than mine. I didn't know what was right. and I thought right had to come from someone else. And if you doubt yourself, there are all to many out there who are willing to swoop in and tell you what the answers are, what you should do, and who you should be. I have given away my life to this point. I wanted to travel, move around, explore, try living in different cities and have different careers. I started out with a completely different focus. I had no plans on having children until I was at least 30. I wanted to enjoy my youth, live a little. I met my ex-husband in my first year of university. He wanted to settle down, have children, live a family life. Instead of valuing my own preferences, I gave it all up with out a fight. Before the end of my second year I was pregnant, by third year I had my son, another 18 months after that. I was saddled down with two small children, a partner who was away at least half the time for work before I had even graduated. Throughout my twenties I watched everyone else having fun. I was unfulfilled and miserable.

Why did I though away my own dreams so easily? I had always been told I was going to be a nobody. I was going to be broke, a hooker, and a failure. It's hard to believe any mother would tell her child these things, but mine did. By time I got to university, I was absolutely terrified, and I was tired. He came along, and he looked like the answer to my insecurity. He had a good job, he came from a well to do family, it seemed like I could count on him to take care of me. It's a shame that it would take almost 30 years and a divorce for me to realize that the person who could take the best care of me, is me. With time comes clarity. There is room to think now, room to feel and expand. Life is just easier when your are not constantly under duress. Forgive yourself for not being able to cope in the past, you did the best you could in that situation.

The familiar for me, was being told I didn't know what I was talking about, being told that I needed these other people to take care of me, I was not capable on my own. First my parents told me, then my husband continued the same messaging. He told me, I was lucky to have him, he is the only one that put up with me. I couldn't trust anyone else they would lie to me, and take advantage of me. He was the only one I could trust, that had my back. He raged, insulted and belittled me. I fell in line, because it felt comfortable. It was the devil I knew. Being afraid of all that "out there" kept me in that marriage far longer than I should have been in it. I remember being unhappy by the second year of marriage, and miserable, wanting out by the fifth, yet I was was there another two decades before I finally was able to break free. It was far easier to get out than I thought I it would be, I just had to leave and everything fell into place. I know that now, but I know during my marriage it did not seem so easy at all. So if you are still in that place, know that it will be ok. It might be rough for a little while, or you might find it's better immediately (like for me) but in the end it will be ok, I promise you. I have huge regrets for waiting so long. I often imagine what my life might of been had I chosen a different path and left earlier, or better never gotten involved with him at all.

You do have freedom of choice, you can change things when ever you want to, it's up to you. When we are in those types of relationships, we cannot see the binds that hold us. But those binds are very real and very powerful. You have been told again and again, you are a drama queen, you expect to much, your imagining things, you just like to complain about nothing. You actually have it really good. (gaslighting) You had been unaware of the programming, and sub-conscious messages that keep up stuck. You have to dig down and pull all that out, challenge those beliefs, one by one. This exercise is so freeing. I find often as I go over these experiences and reprocess them, I get really angry at the injustices that occurred. There was a guy I met when I was in university. I met him in my economics class. I was already dating my ex at this point unfortunately. I remember having a real hard time with the math in the class, and I said I was going to drop it. John said to me, no don't we can do it together. I did drop the class. I ran into John a few time after that, then of course he disappeared over time. I think of him frequently and wonder what ever became of him. Where is he today? I remember his kindness, and supportiveness and I have regrets. That was what I really should have been looking for, someone kind and supportive. In abuse recovery, they tell you healthy will feel boring, and you will not be attracted. If someone stirs up strong feelings in you, it's actually a warning sign. You will be attracted to toxic partners because that is what is familiar.

Once we do break free, there are so many different options to be explored. You are far more capable and competent than you ever imagined, and once you lose the anvil of those beliefs from around your neck, the world opens up. Start small, do something that scares you a little bit, just a little outside the comfort zone. Each step will take you further and further from the familiar and soon you will see that mental cage was just a meaningless construct. You are not bound to the past, or what has always been.

Take a chance and give yourself the time and the space to let go of the familiar and allow yourself start dreaming brand new impossible dreams. It's not too late.

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