Even Black Belts Get Imposter Syndrome

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You know that time for a minute or so when I thought I didn’t deserve the big office that was offered to me when I relocated for my job? Yeah, I got over that fast, which you can read about in this post. Things at work could not be better. I am having a blast and sincerely love my job. I’m building lots of great relationships and am involved in some exciting projects. Even when I’m not sure what to do or feel like I didn’t give the best answer or flubbed up a presentation, I can still move forward with a smile, feeling confident and satisfied.

I don’t exactly feel that way in my personal life. I’m not isolated and broken hearted like I was two months ago, but in the dojang, for example, I still feel like I have some overinflated, false sense of authority and necessity. I feel like I’m a fraud and a joke who doesn’t deserve a black belt. I have had to miss several classes lately due to work obligations (thank you, awesome job!) and some personal things, but I also have a thought in the back of my mind that maybe I should stop going altogether. Maybe it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” I don’t get the regular camaraderie and fun and see my incremental progress, so I lose sight of why I kept going.

Here’s how I feel about myself as a black belt, whether this is accurate or not: Why am I entrusted with anything? I’m just a clumsy first degree who makes more mistakes than progress. I teach some things the wrong way, and there are certain movements my aging, aching body refuses to do even when I know damn well how to do them, and they’re easy for lower ranking students but not for me. I’m really not that great at it and I feel like I’m an embarrassment and disappointment to my instructors. Sometimes I don’t even know why I have a black belt other than being good at hitting stuff with my hands. I’m pretty good at forms too, so I guess that counts for something.

And now my instructors will probably be mad at me for writing that. I never said those thoughts were based in reality. They’re just feelings that bubble up sometimes. I really want to test for second degree later this fall, but at times I’m tempted to not go back at all. Why bother if I’m so awful at it?

Sounds like I have a good old fashioned case of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, or Imposter Phenomenon, was first identified in the 1970s and is typically occurs among people who find it difficult to accept their successes and often question whether they will be found out as a fraud. In my case, I think I’m a crappy black belt, and I’m just making a fool of myself by continuing to show up at the dojang. It’s even more debilitating with my personal friendships and relationships and one of the reasons why I’ve lived a very isolated private life up to this point.

Imposter Syndrome is also typically seen among high achievers, so maybe I’m just a self-centered Alpha Female looking for reassurance. Maybe I’m just a big jerk.

I’ve never really had a real case of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace, which is stereotypically where it tends to manifest. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve panicked because I didn’t know what to do or didn’t feel like I was up for a big task, but I found ways around them and kept going. I never let work anxieties affect how I felt about myself, and as a result, my confidence has grown as I’ve matured professionally, which I think has at least partially contributed to my continued success.

On the surface I keep up a good front of being seemingly put together with advanced education, career success, owning a home, and the added bonus of being physically attractive, at least by societal standards. I didn’t do any of those things to impress anyone, though. I wanted to build my own life and figured early on that I wouldn’t have any support so I charged ahead solo. Things fell into place by happenstance and hard work. I liked school. I liked to work. I liked to exercise and pick out stylish outfits and make myself look nice. Good stuff just happened to ensure from that. That front has helped me hide my true feelings, but in a way, they’ve trapped me into that image as well. I look very good on paper, but now I can’t let down the facade.

I think the difference between my work life and personal life is that with work, as much as I care about the people there and as much as I love my job, there’s a healthy sense of detachment. I could drop the mic, walk away, never talk to any of them again, and never give a thought to that part of my life again and be totally fine. I’d still be me and feel just fine about myself. I’ve always felt that way when it comes to my jobs, and as a weird result, good fortune seems to follow. It’s effortless.

Here’s a good example of Imposter Syndrome creeping into my personal life: shortly before I went back to taekwondo I briefly dated a guy who seemed like a great catch. He was handsome, fit, charming, funny, and owned a business. He seemed to have it all together…on paper anyway. The sad thing was I could never relax and be myself around him. I always questioned how I looked or what I said. I wondered why a guy like him was with me. When was he going to become disappointed in me and ultimately reject me? Why did he even want to date me in the first place?

I didn’t think I was good enough for him, and that is still difficult to admit. It makes me sad that I thought so little of myself. I’m sure he saw a lot of good qualities in me, but I was too mired in self-doubt to see what he saw. I ended up blowing it by overreacting over something minor, and I sabotaged the relationship as quickly as it began. In retrospect it was what needed to happen, and I couldn’t care less about that guy now, but I do remember the lesson I learned. The best thing that came from that failed relationship is that it catapulted me into the best thing that’s ever happened to me even though I kind of have a love/hate relationship with taekwondo right now.

While professionally I’m open to opportunities and possibilities and actually think I deserve them or at least have earned them, I don’t allow myself to relax and enjoy the ones I experience personally. Deep down I’ve never felt like I was good enough. I knew I was capable of being loved, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think anyone would want to stick it out with me for the long haul, whether it was a friendship or a romantic relationship. Guess what happened? As a believer in the Law of Attraction, I set myself up for failure.

The people I care about probably don’t know that I struggle frequently with old harmful emotional habits such as defensiveness and fearing rejection (well, until now. Oops. Hi, y’all.)…or maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve and they’ve known all along. This is so frustrating–as much work as I’ve done on myself over the past seven years, I still catch myself wondering if their fondness for me is conditional and temporary. My mind latches onto every thing said or unsaid (it loves to dig it claws into the unsaid) and analyzes the crap out of them and keeps me up at night with its silly notions and heartache-inducing, trouble making nonsense. Those bad habits have caused me so many problems in the past that I inwardly work overtime to control them.

Just as I am tempted to shy away from taekwondo so I am not faced with my own failure (at least in my skewed perception), I am tempted to shy away from the very people I care about. Why bother? They’re going to find out that I’m not that great and come to the conclusion that I’m not worth hanging around, right?

I know I am a good person and worthy of love and friendship, but old deeply ingrained habits die hard. I don’t want to burden the people I care about with these thoughts and feelings mostly because they aren’t real. They are lies and fears cooked up by the parts of my mind that I haven’t yet gotten under control. They’re not even fully formulated thoughts. A lot of it is good old fashioned, reactionary anxious garbage that doesn’t need to be dragged out in front of company.

Disclaimer: I didn’t write this for sympathy or reassurance.

I know a lot of stuff that flows through my head is bullshit that makes my life unnecessarily difficult. I’m simply admitting what I’ve figured out.
Carry on…

When does self-consciousness morph into self-centeredness? Am I a decent person currently plagued by doubts but sincerely trying to overcome them or am I an egotistical maniac just dismayed that I’m not being adored and worshipped? Did my self-consciousness make me inadvertently shoot myself in the foot and sabotage those relationships I supposedly cared about?

Did I just out myself to the people I truly care about? What if they find out that I really don’t have it all together? What if they don’t care and still love me anyway, but I’m too blind and selfish to recognize it? If I really loved the people I claim to care about, I would trust them to love me back, and even if they didn’t, I’d still be okay with who I am.

My mentor has told me more than once that what other people think about me is none of my business. Whether they love me, hate me, or simply don’t care about me isn’t a reflection on who I am or the qualities I have. Easier said than done, but I try to keep that in mind. It seems to work in my professional life, and as a result of being detached, confident, and carefree, my work life has been on an upward slope since my early twenties. I’m reaping rewards without seemingly trying at all.

One of these days I’ll feel that way about my personal life too. I won’t question whether someone cares about me. I won’t doubt myself in the dojang. The scary truth that just occurred to me is that to be totally free and happy in my personal life I need to be able to drop the mic, walk away at any moment (from friends, taekwondo, whatever), and still feel whole and satisfied and confident in myself even if I lose what I think I love the most. Even if I’m found out.

But you know what? I’m awesome, no matter what anyone thinks or doesn’t think.

I’m ready to drop the mic.

 

I Am My Own Nemesis Part 2: The Comeback Tour

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Gotcha!!

A funny thing happens when I get what I want and am in a happy place in life. Having not yet mastered the practice of true detachment, any success or gain I have comes with a fear of loss. It’s a package deal. I thought I had gotten past that feeling, the one where I get what I think I want but am still unsatisfied and continue to chase that elusive momentary high. I thought I had progressed. I’ve done SO much work on myself in the past six years. As I leave my thirties I’m proud to say I’m a much different person than I was when I entered them, but it looks like I have more work to do.

I’m in a good place in life. No, scratch that, I’m in a VERY good place in life. I’ve made some gains that I would have NEVER thought would happen for me. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is all real. I had a good day today. Like, an Ice Cube song-worthy good day. I woke up feeling relaxed, ran some errands, and chilled out at home for a while. And then….there it was. BAM! Anxiety and sadness rushed in and grabbed me in a bear hug.

My mind wasn’t necessarily racing with erratic thoughts (it was still pretty focused on one or two things), but I know I was freaked out because my physical symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety manifested: my neck felt hot, I had visible tremors, my breathing was shallow, and I felt the telltale sign of when I’m really in it deep: a squeezing sensation in my chest. The telltale heart, so to speak. The pressure around my heart is a rare symptom and only happens when I’m feeling extreme stress, even if I’m denying that feeling to myself.

“I don’t want to feel this feeling again,” I said to myself as I nervously pawed through laundry. It wasn’t the anxiety that bothered me. It was the attachment that got my attention. That pesky act and thought of attachment has messed up my life in more than a few ways. It has caused me to sabotage my life with foolish actions based on foolish thoughts. Nope, I had worked too hard on myself. I was not going to let this happen again.

I tried to go about my afternoon but I burst into tears when I was chopping vegetables, and I hadn’t even tackled the onion yet. I don’t let myself cry in front of people anymore. I can talk to a trusted few people about things that are bothering me, but there are certain things that I have to work through alone. Processing it, mostly through journaling, helps me take an objective look at the situation and offers both some possible reasons and solutions. Sometimes I’m able to resolve my problem without seeking outside help. It has helped me avoid many unnecessary confessions and more importantly, unnecessary confrontations. I have a pretty good system going. It’s a lonely process, but it works.

Or maybe at least I think I have to do this alone. Maybe I’m making it too difficult for myself. I don’t want to share certain thoughts because I feel it will cloud someone’s vision of me and ultimately condemn me. I’ve been wrong on many occasions, but old habits die hard. I hate being vulnerable, and I’m afraid of being rejected and hurt. I’ve weakened my capacity to trust and have faith in either a person or a process.

So there I was, crying in my kitchen, and then…I laughed. I had caught myself red-handed. I hadn’t defeated my nemesis but I’d found that bastard hiding in the shadows.

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post called I Am My Own Nemesis. I discussed some of the ways doubt and self-sabotage can creep up on us. This line caught my eye:

“Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.” The very first post on this blog is about fear.

And that’s what I’m feeling: good old fashioned fear. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of giving more than I’m receiving (or conversely, taking too much), fear of offering love that evaporates against a brick wall, fear of losing my material comforts, fear of once again having to trudge through all this shit alone. Ha! Here I go again…

The good thing about all the work that I’ve done on myself is that I’m self-aware enough to catch myself when this happens. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. It has worked too many times for me in my favor not to be real, especially the seemingly serendipitous steps of my (so far) successful career. It’s also worked against me. Like attracts like, and I know damn well if I dwell in anxiety, fear of loss, and fear of rejection I’m going to attract what I dread the most. I have ruined more than a few relationships with actions based on my (sometimes) unfounded fear. And with that fear comes attachment and dependency on something or someone else to make me happy. And with all that, I make choices that cause me to feel more fear and anxiety and pain.

I only allow myself conditional happiness, and that’s the problem. I really want to be in that constant state of contentment and more importantly confidence. I’m getting there one day at a time. When I’m on the other side and have finally overpowered my ultimate nemesis I’ll let you know.

Can I Live Without Taekwondo?

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I haven’t been to taekwondo class in over a week. Not by choice–a sinus infection thanks to Texas allergies knocked me back pretty hard. I was thankfully able to attend a lovely banquet for the U.S. Taekwondo Grandmasters Society in Dallas last Saturday, but other than that my participation in the taekwondo world has been nil.

I haven’t done any forms at home, I haven’t mentally worked through my self defense techniques, I haven’t watched any training videos. My uniforms are all washed and neatly folded in a drawer, and my belt is coiled in my duffel bag, waiting for me. I didn’t do anything related to my practice. It seems like I can live without taekwondo. Or so I thought.

I talked to some of my classmates and instructors off and on for a few days, getting the gossip and funny stories about things that happened in class. By the end of the week communication dwindled to a trickle and finally to nothing. Having been burned several times in the past by giving my heart too freely, I’m pretty gun shy about pursuing communication with people who don’t appear to be very communicative. So I didn’t bother. I was too stubborn to reach out. Maybe I should have been the one to call, text, or even stop by, but I was too afraid of being rejected. Decades of hurt and mistrust overtook me and poisoned the relationships with people I love. Apparently they can live without me too.

Boredom set in, then an aching loneliness, then depression. I have cabin fever. Other than a ballet barre class yesterday I’ve been too tired and congested to exercise. I’ve hidden in my office during most of the workweek. I’ve been reading voraciously during all my time at home, taking full advantage of having a well-stocked library in my house. I’ve written in my journal a lot. I began mixing substances just to get the night over with, not really caring what effects they’d have on me.

To my horror I’m tempted to wrap my protective cocoon around me tighter and mutter, “Fuck all of you, I’m done,” when what I need the most is my familiar dojang and friends. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back at all. I’m safe at home with my books and my mood-altering substances. I’ve whittled myself down to 110 pounds and feel especially elated every time I step on the scale. I could get used to this. I’ve sunken into isolation before, and I’m very good at staying there. Maybe the relationships I thought were solid are just as superficial as all my other ones. Hiding in plain sight is easier than it sounds. Taekwondo is just an addiction that’s been masking my other addictions.

I’ve made the cruel discovery that not even taekwondo, what I thought was my saving grace, can fulfill whatever it is my heart is looking for. I was just clinging to it, like I had to other things or people, to make myself “happy.” I have to generate that within myself.

I can live without taekwondo, and taekwondo can certainly live without me. How arrogant of me to think that I’m an essential part of the school, part of the gang, one of the boys. I’m only a first degree black belt, just a student who plays dress up as teacher once in a while.

But I don’t like how I feel without taekwondo. I still need it. I’m heartbroken without it, yet I don’t like that I feel so vulnerable to admit it. I see how rapidly I declined without it in only a week. I’m angry that it has such a hold on me that I fall apart without its constant presence in my life. Will the spell be broken once I’m back in class?

Have Growing Partners, Not Growing Pains

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This is still too much commitment for me, but I like the idea.

I had this boyfriend who claimed at the very beginning and at the very end of our relationship that one doesn’t grow in isolation. I think he said them both as a means to convince me to (1) get together with him in the beginning and (2) not to walk away at the end…even though he technically broke up with me, but that’s a different story.

I recognized his point but disagree on the absoluteness of it. I’ve done most of my growth, and I’m talking the really hard, gut-wrenching, gritty, life-changing, come-to-Jesus stuff “in isolation,” other than with the guidance and confidentiality of one trusted mentor. It was my only option, or at least that was my thinking at the time. First of all, my destructive behaviors drove people away, so that took care of any crowdsourcing for help, and second of all, I wouldn’t allow anyone to see me at my worst. I had to face some really hard truths about myself, and I had to fight that battle alone.

But…when given the opportunity, having other people guide us, give us feedback, and share their journeys with us can be one of the best ways to grow. At the end of last Saturday’s sparring class my Chief Instructor reminded us that we couldn’t just go in to class with the singular mindset of fighting for ourselves. We had to be good partners, whether that was being mindful of safety, respecting the other person’s age or body capabilities, or knowing how to challenge them in just the right ways. He’s since reminded us in other classes that being a good partner is just as important as practicing our own skills.

I subscribe to that philosophy as well. At the beginning of that particular sparring class I had reminded a teenage green belt, who seemed dismayed at the prospect of having to spar little kids, that part of his job as an older student and one who was moving into higher ranks was not just working on his own practice. He needed to be able to look out for and mentor the younger, smaller students, which is a good challenge in itself. For me being a black belt has partially been figuring out what I don’t know (or one might see it as moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence), and just as importantly, if not more so, living up to the responsibility of sharing what I do know with other students.

I started taekwondo training as a means to heal in a number of ways and give my life some purpose. It was self-centered motivation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Since then, though, I’ve learned (albeit a little slowly) the importance of community and the part I need to play not only for my own fulfillment but for others, in some cases, more for them than for me. My life is much richer and happier because of my taekwondo family. I’d like to think I’ve done some good for them as well. The desire to serve and to, as my Chief Instructor would say, “be a good partner,” is inherent. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Having a good partner, whether it’s in the dojang, the workplace, or the home, offers us a fresh perspective. They help us see our blind spots and the potential for greatness we haven’t yet recognized. Good partners push us just beyond what we think we can do and encourage us when we want to give up. They help us through the painful times and celebrate the good times. Being a good partner lets us share our wisdom and sometimes hard-learned lessons with others. It allows us to serve others and get outside our own self interests and agendas. It allows us to see our passions through another person’s eyes.

We can grow more quickly and more fully with the help of a good partner.

I don’t always practice what I preach or what my taekwondo instructors preach in my daily life, though. In fact, I veer towards the other end of the spectrum. I hate sharing my struggles (so that last post about my sort-of eating disorder was REALLY hard to write). I hate opening up my life to other people. I hate sharing my precious down time with anybody, even people I like. I think I want human interaction and connection, I’ve finally admitted that I need it to have a more fulfilling life, but damnit, I HATE asking for it.

I even hate sharing the good parts other than the insights I write about on this blog. It’s not a matter of wanting the glory for myself. I simply don’t know how to ask. It doesn’t occur to me. I was a loner as a child and learned to rely on myself for everything. That thought pattern has followed me well into adulthood, sometimes to my advantage because I’m very independent and autonomous but other times to my detriment. It’s easy to get tunnel vision without any feedback or an objective perspective.

I still have a hard time accepting the fact that I do need other people. They enrich my life in ways that I’m not able to do in isolation, try as I might. I’ve gotten better at it at work. During my yearly performance evaluation my boss remarked that I had a knack for building and maintaining relationships. It wasn’t always natural, but as I grew into my “caregiver” roles (first as a librarian and then as a leadership development consultant) I embraced human interaction and connection as my means of doing my work. I’m good at it, and I think I’ve helped a lot of people grow. I’ve been a good training partner.

I don’t do that in my personal life. I don’t seek out relationships. I’m not loyal. I’m not consistent. I don’t stick around. The urge to do my own thing, and more importantly stay off the social grid and viciously guard my free time, almost always wins out over the desire to spend time with other people. I have long-lasting acquaintances but very few long-lasting friendships. Frankly, I’m not a very good friend or partner, and there is a big part of me that couldn’t care less.

What would my personal life be like if I looked to family, friends, and coworkers as my “life training partners” just as I do with my taekwondo instructors and fellow students? What could I learn from them? What could they learn from me? Would it bring me as much fulfillment as taekwondo training does? What would I bring to others’ lives and experiences? Would it help me be less self-centered and keep me from sinking into tunnel vision thinking or depression? Would I really have to keep shouldering my burdens or even my triumphs alone?

Am I ready to share my journey instead of stubbornly growing in isolation? I’m not sure about that one. For now taekwondo is a good start.

How Eating a Bunch of Carbs Helped Me Stop Hating My Body

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Foundation of the old school food pyramid, yo! But really, who ever got 6-11 servings in a day? Eleven servings??

After twenty-five years of disordered eating and a poor body image I think I can finally, ultimately, safely say…I’m over it…for the most part, anyway. I’ve had a few false starts before, but something would trigger me, and I’d go right back to restricting or overeating, obsessively weighing myself, and glaring at my reflection with dismay as I pawed at my flabbier (and much despised) body parts and somehow hoping something had changed overnight.

I got pretty stressed out this year, as did everyone else since we all know 2016 has been a shitstorm. When I get stressed out, I turn inward and become more self-destructive. Anger and anxiety about what was going on around me morphed into self-loathing and hyper-criticism. I turned to comfort foods and would then punish myself with restriction. I hadn’t forgiven myself for putting on a few pounds since my black belt test last fall. I further isolated myself so I could spend more time at the gym but got antsy and depressed when I missed a workout. I told no one. There was no point. No one has ever believed me when I complained about my body, and many have been annoyed and flippant with me on the subject, so I learned long ago to deal with this problem alone.

At one point I was finally so tired I couldn’t take it anymore and willed myself to be grateful instead of hateful. I’m too old to still be dealing with this crap. I’m an adult with a job and a mortgage. I will turn forty in a few short years. Why am I still wasting my time and energy on something that has haunted me since I was thirteen years old? Why am I letting it ruin my life? I turned to sports to help boost my body confidence.

Every time my eyes (or thoughts) drifted to the parts I didn’t like I would remind myself of how badass my body was: Look at you doing box jumps like a ninja! You just swam 1.5 miles and you still aren’t tired! You can do more push-ups than the teenage boys in taekwondo class, Black Belt! You are standing on your toes and doing leg lifts in ballet barre class like a boss, and look at how strong and graceful you are! You. Kick. Ass. If I can do all those things despite my soft middle or cellulite-studded thighs then I must be doing something right.

I realize I may be using my athleticism as a crutch. Taekwondo has helped immensely in improving my confidence and overall happiness level, but it’s not a magic bullet. If I weren’t fit or had sports as an outlet I’m not sure I could just be with my body and accept it. I don’t know if I could love myself in a larger body, and I have thoroughly convinced myself that no one else would either. I try to remind myself that when I am sick or injured or just plain really old I’ll probably give anything to have back the body I have right now. (Whatever, I’mma still be kicking ass at ninety.)

Body acceptance (or lack thereof) aside, there’s nothing wrong with exercise and in fact, in my opinion, exercise is crucial to staying healthy mentally and physically. Bodies are meant to move whether it’s running a marathon or simply walking. Movement keeps the body healthy and functioning. I’m at the point where I don’t exercise to try to lose weight anymore. I just happen to like it, and I really do prefer exercise over shopping, watching TV, or other activities. That endorphin high can’t be beat. I have fun when I work out, and I only do sports that I enjoy. I’d still swim, do taekwondo, and go to my ballet barre class if there were no health benefits. To me exercising is like recess for grownups, whether it comes from a healthy mental motivation or not.

Appreciating my body for its athleticism helped me, but what really gave me the final push was, of all things, a Mario Puzo novel. During the Thanksgiving break I read a copy of “The Fortunate Pilgrim,” a story of a family of Italian immigrants living in New York in the late 1920s. I had picked it up out of curiosity after hearing director Francis Ford Coppola mention it in an interview. Coppola worked with Puzo to adapt his most famous novel “The Godfather” into the movie we know and love today.

I was especially interested in the book because my maternal great-grandparents came to the United States from southern Italy around the turn of the 20th century. I’ve always been curious about their experience and thought Puzo’s novel might give me a little insight into what their daily lives in America might have been like.

“The Fortunate Pilgrim” wasn’t the easiest book to read. It had a good storyline, but the dialogue was very stilted. Chapters were bloated with sentences like, “Today you are not going to your beautiful school!” or “He gave us our bread. He protected us all when no one but Zia Louche would even spit on our doorstep.” Who talks like that? What’s with the formality? Was it because English was their second language? Imagine if the entire “Godfather” movie was filled with stiff lines like, “And you come to me on this, the day of my daughter’s wedding, to ask of me a favor.” No…just…no. And if I had to read one more sentence about a man having to earn his “bread.” Ugh.

Cardboard-y dialogue aside, what really caught my attention was the food. The main characters were poor so they ate simple but hearty fare: homemade pasta, eggs, beans, leafy greens, freshly grated cheese, a cherished piece of fruit, bread slathered with olive oil and vinegar. I wanted that food. I craved it. That’s typically how I cook anyway, meaning, I can make marinara sauce in my sleep but I still don’t know my way around a good stir fry or platter of enchiladas, nor do I care to try. I cook everything in olive oil. I’ve been known to toss an egg or a half can of beans in a bowl of pasta and call it lunch. Hell, I even put olive oil on my SKIN at night. So I decided to eschew peanut butter sandwiches, frozen food, and my weekly pan of boring roasted vegetables for something a little closer to home.

Gnocchi to the Rescue

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving I spent over an hour at home preparing potato gnocchi after I got home from work. I hadn’t made gnocchi in years, and when I had made it I usually took short cuts like substituting a blob of ricotta cheese for the potatoes. This time I went old school. I had peeled, boiled, and mashed the potatoes a day or two before, and when I was ready to make the dough I plopped an egg into the center of the potatoes, added a cup of flour, and got to work. Eventually I got into a meditative rhythm kneading the dough, rolling it into ropes, and rolling the individual pieces with my finger, just like my grandma (daughter of the aforementioned immigrants) had taught me to do. I didn’t have the TV on for background noise. I didn’t even listen to the radio. I was completely in the moment. Just me and my gnocchi. I was very proud of my work.

After my gnocchi triumph I began to incorporate simple but delicious Italian-inspired food into my daily meals: fettuccine with butter and hot peppers, farfalle with asparagus and olives, fresh fennel and escarole with oil and vinegar for my side salads, small squares of fresh pecorino and mozzarella cheese nestled in my refrigerator. If I was in a hurry to make my lunch for work I would boil a cup of quick-cooking brown rice pasta and toss in sun dried tomatoes, oily roasted red peppers, and artichoke hearts. I excitedly dug into my Mario Battali cookbooks and frequently updated my half-Italian mom on what I was making. After Christmas I plan on making lasagna with homemade marinara sauce, and for New Year’s I’ll make (or attempt to anyway) ravioli al uovo, or ravioli with egg….yuummm.

Something about being away from my daily routine during the Thanksgiving break kick started something in me. I just ate when I was hungry and didn’t put much thought into food other than when I was daydreaming about a recipe I wanted to try. Sometimes I used whole wheat or alternative grain pasta, but much of it has been the good old-fashioned white flour kind. It’s not like I ate big ridiculous Olive Garden-sized bowls of pasta covered in obscene amounts of piping hot cheese. The more love, care, work, and pride I put into my meals made me slow down, appreciate, and feel satiated with the food in front of me, even in smaller portions.

I let myself eat sweets when I felt like it–turns out I didn’t feel like it all the time. I kept a stash of peanut butter crackers in my drawer at work when I needed a snack, and I’m still making my way through the package. I didn’t save up for a “cheat day” that would inevitably morph into a “cheat weekend.” I stopped cringing and feeling resentful when I felt full. I just ate, no strings or meanings attached. I envy people who have always eaten that way.

And what do you know…I stopped glaring at myself or frantically looking for a minuscule change in the mirror every time I passed by. I continued with my fun playtime sports, ate my pasta, and enjoyed them both immensely. To my surprise (and bewilderment) I noticed I was looking leaner, and after a few weeks of hiding the scale in my closet, I discovered I even lost a few pounds. I realized that I just wanted to be happy, and wasting my time obsessing over my body and all its made-up flaws was going to hold me back even further. I don’t care anymore. I can’t care anymore.

I’m not out of the woods yet. The void of body image troubles has been filled by the realization that a sense of contentment and optimism I’d had for a while has been sneakily replaced by an overall sense of unease, emptiness, and unhappiness, as I’ve hinted at in some of my other blog posts. Or maybe my mind is just whirling like an endless roulette wheel, looking for something to criticize or hate, and it’s panicking that the opportunity is dwindling. It’s not quite sure what to do with this newfound freedom.

Either way, I’m glad to have this weight (no pun intended) off my shoulders.

I Am Who You Think I Am

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I have one for every day of the week…

Lately I’ve gotten some positive feedback from people in different areas of my life. They see me as strong, calm, and a perfect fit for a taekwondo instructor. One of my coworkers calls me an “Activator” because I am quick to complete tasks. Another coworker asked me a lot of questions about taekwondo when she found out I practiced it, and said she saw the inner strength and peace within me befitting of a black belt. During a period of job upheaval a coaching client was adamant that I HAD to remain his coach, and he would be “devastated” if I weren’t. A mother of some of our taekwondo students told me her kids love me and appreciate the “gentleness” in my style of teaching.

I’m having a hard time believing them. No, you have to understand, I feel like I’m pulling a fast one on people. I’m not that nice. I avoid socializing. I’m sarcastic and judgmental. My first priority is looking out for Number One. What inner peace I do manage to have is often dashed by worry and doubt. Privately I struggle but I’ll be damned if I share what I’m going through with anyone. I’m lonely but I’m thrown off when people express an interest in spending time with me and actually start to get anxious about sharing my precious free time and scheduled activities with others. And…sigh…sometimes I still think I’m fat and worry I’ll be rejected because of it (as a petite size 4 who kicks ass in the gym–I know, I’m an idiot).

Why doesn’t anyone see the dark, self-serving, angry, mistrusting creature looming just beneath the surface? Can’t they tell?? I don’t think I’m completely hiding my true nature or what I believe my true nature to be. I get along with people easily and feel comfortable interacting with small or large groups so I’m pretty much being myself (well, some of the time). But something feels off when people tell me how awesome they think I am. Half the time I’m counting the minutes until I can get away from them and go hide by myself. It is more comfortable to wear a mask and hide behind my walls than to let relationships flourish. I don’t understand why they like me. I don’t see what they see. If only they knew…

I started to wonder if it wasn’t so much that people didn’t know the real me but instead, I didn’t know the real me. I am the one pulling a fast one on myself with self-deprecating lies. I only see the flaws and magnify them until they crowd out all the other good qualities. I am SO guarded against letting people get close to me that I would rather entomb myself in my own mind with all its biases, exaggerations, false assumptions, and bad habits. I’m so wrapped up in my own self-destructive BS that it’s threatening to drown out all the good qualities I DO have.

Okay. Now that I realize that…now what? Maybe it’s like winning a lottery but at first not realizing you have the money and instead you still choose to live in a cardboard box. Now that you realize you have all that money you can get yourself out of that situation. I can be friendly, funny, and engaging if I let my guard down although right now I still don’t want to. I can be strong and calm if I don’t allow worry to overtake me although right now the habit of worry is so deeply ingrained I have to put all my energy into breaking myself of it. I still kinda want to live in my cardboard box.

I guess I’m not so bad after all. In fact, I’m pretty great. Now I have all these resources to tap into—calm, creativity, connectivity, people who want to be friends and spend time with me, a body I can enjoy and appreciate rather than hate or punish….that’s pretty cool. Once I stop spending so much time ruminating on the darker parts of my personality I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands. Hmm…

So it turns out I am who you think I am…and maybe someday I’ll believe that too.

Am I Substituting Taekwondo For Relationships? (Or, Part II to the Vices Post)

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Looks like paradise to me! I don’t even want a talking volleyball.

A few nights ago I was watching a Facebook video of a hometown friend playing guitar and joyfully singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Just as he jumped up and started to dance I suddenly started to cry. It wasn’t the song or feeling nostalgic for my WestTexas hometown that was getting to me, but rather it was a feeling I dreaded would make an appearance sooner or later.

I am profoundly lonely.

My second thought was, “STFU, you’re not lonely. You’re just bored because you got home early and don’t have anything to do tonight. You’ll go to class tomorrow night and forget all about this being lonely and wishing you had someone to talk to nonsense. Don’t you have a dishwasher to empty? A book that needs reading? For that matter, don’t you have a book that needs WRITING? A jigsaw puzzle that needs puzzling?”

Damnit, I was wondering when this was going to happen. Let’s be clear, I am no stranger to being alone and in fact gravitate towards solitude. I grew up in rural, big skied, and most of all QUIET West Texas. I’ve always been shy and preferred to spend most of my time alone, so when true loneliness strikes me it is deeply unsettling and confusing. I don’t particularly like spending a lot of time with people. It makes me uncomfortable, bored, and antsy to escape. The thought of an entire weekend to myself to do whatever I want whenever I want is heaven…And yet here I was feeling mopey and wondering if I should entertain the idea of dating again.

I HATE this feeling–not the feeling of loneliness, but the feeling of longing. I feel weak and undisciplined! After my last serious relationship ended a year and a half ago I committed to embracing a solitary life. Never before had I appreciated being single; I’d always resented it. Now I truly appreciate it and relish in my freedom and self-reliance. I’ve made peace with the fact that I may spend the rest of my fabulous life alone…fine by me, I’m retiring to Marfa, Texas by my own damn self. And I’ll probably be a taekwondo master by then. Bye Felicia!

Being single has been really good for me. No, I’m serious! I’ve made huge strides since I stopped dating. I became more bold and confident, I took more risks at work that paid off for me, and I tested for and received my black belt all on my own with no one backing me up. I am an independent woman. I am a walking Beyonce song. And yet here I was, sitting on my bed crying because I realized I didn’t have anyone to share my pretty spectacular life with. God I hate myself for feeling that way.

Of course  after my little Facebook video-watching meltdown I worked a long day and then spent about three hours in the dojang the next evening, and I was fine…Although I had a moment at home afterwards sipping whiskey and working on my jigsaw puzzle when I thought it would be nice…just once…to be able to tell someone about the fun things we did in class. Or to get dressed up and go out to dinner or an arts event. Or to go wandering around the lovely downtown part of my city. But I swallowed that feeling–and another few drops of whiskey–and continued working on my puzzle.

These conflicting emotions have confronted me with a disturbing theory: I am hiding behind taekwondo so I don’t have to interact with people, especially potential romantic partners, and also, it keeps me so busy I don’t have to confront my feelings. I tell myself that interaction with my instructors and classmates is enough interaction for me. I’m afraid any change in my routine, one that might keep me from going to class or make me start slacking off on practice will also keep me from the warm, fuzzy emotional highs I get from taekwondo. I’m not sure any guy is worth that sacrifice. I’m not yet able to believe I can have both.

Crying over a Bob Marley song was what made me first wonder if I was using taekwondo as a crutch to mask darker feelings, which I explored in a previous post. I still stand by my stance that there is nothing wrong, defective, or sad about being single by choice. Being in a relationship is not somehow the human default. I don’t put a “yet” on the question of whether I’m going to be in a relationship or get married. If those things happen, they happen. If they don’t, they don’t. I’m still me either way. I wish everybody had the opportunity to be single for a while so they can truly focus on themselves, who they want to be, and what they want to accomplish.

Taekwondo is incredibly fulfilling, and at this point I think my life would be pretty empty without it. It has taught me to love, which in the past I’d only reserved for blood relatives. It’s graced me with the opportunity to give, serve, and hell, I’ll even throw in the word fellowship with other human beings. I am a better version of myself in the dojang, so why ruin a good thing? (Here’s a fun game: every time I get starry eyed and mention how much taekwondo has changed my life for the better, do a shot!)

I’ve been very open about not wanting to be in a relationship. At first, I needed time to heal. Then I needed time to get used to being independent again. Then I needed time to truly embrace being alone rather than resenting it. Then I needed time to enjoy how far I’d come. What I haven’t admitted is that I’m scared.

Relationships have been nothing but trouble for me. I was not my best self in relationships, and in fact some brought out the worst in me, whereas taekwondo of course brings out the best. (Do another shot!) I stayed too long in abusive situations and tolerated neglect and non-commitment. But the bigger problem was myself. I made mistakes, impulsive decisions, did and said things I regret, and embarrassed myself. I had my moments of being abusive too, and I’m so ashamed.

I was not who I am today when I was someone else’s other half. If the men I dated saw me now they wouldn’t recognize me. I wish some of them could see me now. And as life plays out they’d probably think I’m awesome. Guys always think I’m super cool right at the point when I don’t give a shit about them anymore. Or maybe they’re still glad they dodged a bullet, whatever.

So what am I afraid of? Let’s start with the tired cliches: I’m afraid of getting hurt again, duh. I’m also afraid of being rejected for superficial and not-so superficial things. I’m afraid of being rejected for my pesky demons and skeletons in the closet. Digging deeper: I’m afraid I’ll revert to my old ways and lose myself in seeking approval rather than riding on my own wave of self-respect and confidence.

And honestly, do you know what I’m most afraid of? This is going to sound silly. I’ve convinced myself that my new kick-ass reality (superficial stress and all) is the result of eschewing dating or even the thought of dating. Notice I’m not placing the blame on men. I like men very much and actually prefer their company over other women. I’m saying not being in a relationship has been one of the best things for me. I’m afraid I will lose this life I have now–my freedom, my independence, my past times–if I begin to open up my life to someone else. I keep going back to the fact that I don’t want to admit: Spending my time in class rather than pursuing love protects me from potential heartache and rejection.

I haven’t convinced myself that it’s possible to find someone who is complementary to my life rather than consuming or conflicting. I’m afraid at my age all that’s left are aging, out-of-shape party boys or crabby workaholics. Who out there works out like a monster but also likes to get dressed up and go to an art museum or enjoy a good bottle of wine? Who’s going to be cool with me getting up at 4 am to swim or staying late at the dojang because I want to help a few kids who are testing for their green belt the next day? And more importantly, who is going to be down with drag shows AND country bars? (The drag shows because they’re fun and the country bars for the irony and they’re unintentionally hilarious. Plus I’m Texan and I like to two-step.)

Let’s be clear, I’m not looking for the male version of myself. I don’t want a pet or a puppet. A partner doesn’t have to have the exact same interests as I do, nor should he. Maybe I can learn about something new and interesting, or we can continue to pursue our interests separately. For example, I hate bicycling, and if I were with someone who cycled, I’d politely decline the invitation for a couples ride, hand him a bottle of Gatorade, and wish him luck on the ride. See ya! Fishing trip? Bye! Camping! Enjoy pooping outside by yourself while a bear is watching! NOPE!

Would it be nice to meet someone who is into martial arts? Sure, that’d be great. But if not, hopefully he’d just politely decline the invitation to join me in class, hand me a bottle of Gatorade, and wish me luck in my sparring match. (Showing up for my next black belt test, however, is mandatory). People, single or coupled up, should have time to independently pursue the things they love. If their partner shows an interest or participates with them, then great, that’s more time together. If not, that’s okay too, and hopefully their time together is richer because of their own personal fulfillment and satisfaction…but I’m still not convinced that type of symbiotic partnership is possible for me, and I’m not wiling to sacrifice what I have on a whim.

I’ve come too far and made too many personal changes to let a temporary, fleeting moment of sadness send me spiraling back into codependency and living for a g-ddamn text message from some guy who probably isn’t that into me anyway. I am set in my ways and really like being able to do what I want and when I want. I really can’t comprehend finding someone who could mesh with my lifestyle and who’d be willing to share me with my commitment to my dojang and my taekwondo practice (one more shot!)–although there’s a part of me that hopes that will happen somdeay.

I am going to ride this Single Lady storm out and power through this temporary loneliness. Wanting to be with someone is just a feeble lie my mind is telling me. That has gotten me into trouble too many times before, and I have too many scars. A relationship is a nice-to-have, but I certainly don’t need one. Taekwondo has been too good to me and too good FOR me to let it slide. Relatioships are fleeting. Black belts are forever.

So, the conclusion is..NOPE. I’m going to class tomorrow and will continue to keep myself safe and preoccupied. And probably start a new jigsaw puzzle. And maybe shoot for two-a-day swimming workouts on the weekends. Here’s to vices! (Clink!)