The danger of “it’s not that bad”

the anonymous mommy

it’s not that bad

          My heart is feeling weird and fluttery. But I’ve never been hospitalized for my weight. It’s not that bad.

          I can’t remember the last time I went a day without a drink. But I mean I’m never drunk at work or anything. It’s not that bad.

          He punched through the wall.  I mean, it’s not like I got hurt or anything. He didn’t hit me. So it’s not that bad.

          I am crying a lot and really don’t want to leave the house.  I’m not suicidal or anything. It’s not that bad.

          My boss says gross things to me. But he doesn’t touch me, so whatever. It’s not that bad.

These are all things I’ve said in the past, either out loud or to myself. It didn’t register that anything was wrong with it. In my twisted logic, it was about respect and self-protection. I didn’t want people to think I was being too much of a drama queen. I knew that there were people out there dealing with much worse situations than I was. And I should be grateful that I wasn’t.

But that isn’t’ gratitude. That is settling for scraps.

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

Okay, so maybe you are handling the situation for now. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not that good! The whole reason for saying something in the first place is because there is an internal alarm system going off saying, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But you’re afraid you will be judged for it so you qualify it. Then no one can get mad at you.

But why are we so willing to tolerate what is admittedly not so good?  Your life should be more than “not bad”.  When you think about the hopes you have for your children, is it that their lives will be “not miserable”?  Of course not.  You want them to be happy and fulfilled.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing we can have nice things.

dog ate bed
This could be why

There are a number of times in life when we are slapped across the face with reality.  That some things don’t always work out. Good doesn’t always win.  You can do all the right things, and still end up with what you consider to be less than your share of happiness.  The lesson of “Life isn’t fair” is a very difficult one to accept.  Part of me still wants to stomp my foot at it like a three-year-old.

Serenity

serenity now

The Serenity Prayer is some advanced shit.  It sounds simple enough:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

But damn if it’s not hard to carry out.  Yes, there are things that are simply out of your hands.  Cancer.  Natural disasters.  Who is currently in power. Other people’s will.  The fact that it’s raining…  It feels like if we just point out to others, or to the universe that it’s just not fucking fair, that life will somehow “get it” and resolve things to put them back in balance. We all wish it worked this way.  It feels like it should.  But it doesn’t.

Accepting things does not mean you have to like them and it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  It just means that you stop throwing so much energy at them.

Then there are the things you can change, and this is sometimes harder because the onus is on you.  (Hee hee, onus.)  This is where “It’s not that bad” comes in.  That is the sound of someone realizing this is something that they should probably change – and then chickening out.  It’s scary to rearrange things in your life.  But we can’t sit there and rail about the world being unfair, and then not do our part to make it as fair as we possibly can.  Sometimes it’s about baby steps.  Just giving yourself the leeway to think “What are the GOOD things that might happen if I take action?” – instead of just imagining all the bad ones.

Being able to pick through what’s yours to change can be tricky.  Sometimes we need outside perspective.  And that’s another thing “It’s not that bad” is a placeholder for.  A request for perspective.

Sending out an S.O.S

I’ve noticed over time that it seems like message boards (or Facebook groups and their ilk) have made it a bit more possible to reach out for help. Because it’s a space on social media where we have a degree of anonymity, it allows us to show something other than the glossy highlight reel reserved for most of social media. It’s a place where people can ask each other tentatively – is this normal?

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

I am on a few different Facebook groups for mothers and have found them very honest and useful. But “it’s not that bad” is rampant on them. Thankfully, whenever there is one of those posts, other mothers usually rally around the poster, letting her know that she doesn’t have to stand for whatever it is. But in equal measure, there is often a chorus of “yeah, same here.”

Fear and Change

Whether it’s a friend confiding in you, or someone posting on a message board, one of the reasons for downplaying the problem is that it’s scary to admit that your life isn’t perfect. We spend so much time and energy trying to convince everyone that we are happy and everything is great – even those we are closest to. Because if we admit there is something really wrong, we might actually have to do something about it. Having to “hit bottom” doesn’t only apply to addictions. If something is hurting us, most people are so afraid of change that it takes something pretty dramatic to jolt them out of their everyday routine. We’ll take the hell we have right now because we know we can survive it. We’d rather have pain than chaos.

This is another reason why sharing these things seems to happen more often online. No matter how close you feel to your online tribe, they aren’t likely to follow up with you on what you need to change. Your best friend will.

One-upping

We are all guilty of going to town with our war stories. This is another reason women tend to downplay what they are going through.

          “My child is in the NICU”

          “Oh, yeah, mine was in the NICU for two weeks and on oxygen. We couldn’t even touch him!”

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

Often this is done in a bid to connect, not belittle. But a more effective way to do this is to acknowledge them. You can say “I’m sorry. I’ve been through that. How are you doing with it today?” (Today is key here.  How they’re doing overall is too overwhelming.)  Let them lead the way in terms of asking for your story. Most likely they just need to talk.

That said, sometimes when you have a worse situation going on, it can be tempting to one-up. Because you’re not complaining, so why the hell is she? Back away from the keyboard my friend. More than one person can be in pain at a time. You don’t need to play tug of war with something you don’t want in the first place. But together you can hold it a little more lightly.

Do you know your enemy?

We are at a turning point for women right now. Can you feel it? We have the opportunity of a generation to become more powerful. To level the playing field. To say it IS that bad and we won’t accept that for ourselves. But when you listen to the voice that invalidates your pain, you accept pain as the status quo. As something acceptable.

Men aren’t the enemy here. They almost never are. Overgeneralization is never positive or helpful. The enemy is our culture. Men have their own pain and their own stories. Most just don’t talk about them because they are shamed out of it. “It’s not that bad” is translated to “don’t be a pussy”. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that.

The only way to change a culture is to

1) Talk about it. Say it is that bad.

2) Change ourselves.

It’s not enough to want it to be different for your daughter. You need to want it to be different for yourself.  When you hear it” It’s not that bad” come out of your mouth, it should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong in your life.  And that you matter enough to change it.

The surprising advantage to being unlovable

unlovable

Unloveable

“People don’t like me.”

I say it the way I might tell someone that I’m allergic to cats.  Factual.  A bit of a bummer, but what are you going to do?

can of worms
Guess I’ll go eat worms

While I’ve learned to appear confident and easygoing on a superficial level, I am still petrified of situations involving new people – a new job, meeting close friends of my husband – even a new daycare.  Though I know I have learned somehow to come off a bit better when encountering new people, I also know it’s a carefully crafted facade.  Not that I’m acting, or not enjoying myself.  I’m just strictly editing.  I know I’m only one boneheaded comment away from people giving subtle glances to one another – the ones that mean “weird girl.”

In truth, yes.  I am a little weird.  I love to knit and drink frightening amounts of coffee, and my sense of humor can vary from absurd to Saharan levels of dry.  But I don’t know exactly what it is I do that sometimes puts people off.

Beats me

It’s easy for others to write this off as just my being self-indulgent, or having social anxiety.  But the thing is, it’s fairly rational.  More times than not, when I’ve entered a group of people, I didn’t quite fit.  Sometimes to the extent that people were just vaguely cool to me, or didn’t invite me to outings.  Other times I’ve had people outright ask that I be fired.  They couldn’t point out anything I said or did that was offensive.  They just didn’t like me.  Thankfully this is not a fireable offense, but it really doesn’t feel good.

I could rattle off incidents where this has been the case, but I’ll save that for my next fourth step.  The truth is, it’s happened less and less over the years, and I think it’s something that has had a snowball effect.  I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit that getting married helped a lot.  This definitely would not have been the case had I married a different type of person. It’s not about having a man.

It’s just when you see all your peers pairing off, it feels like you are the kid in class that no one wanted to be partners with.  No one wants to be that kid.  Scratching one of my biggest insecurities – that people would get close but never quite want to marry me – off the list lifted enough weight off my shoulders that I was able to straighten up a bit.  I could walk into a party and just not care as much, which is unfortunately, impossible to fake.

The Unlovables

I’m sure it sounds overdramatic to those who don’t experience this, but more than I had realized, a lot of people live this way; thinking that they are unlovable.  It’s usually left over from puberty or adolescence –  The way an 11-year-old can look awkward and uncomfortable just standing there.  Like their skin doesn’t fit right.

This sentiment comes up all the time in AA meetings.   “I never felt right.  I never fit in.”  That tells me there is something incredibly pervasive about this feeling, and that it is severe enough to make people turn to self-destructive behaviors.

Awkward teen
If the ground could swallow me up right now that would be great.

I have categorized us as “The Unlovables”.  Not because it’s at all true, but because it can sure feel that way. I have a number of friends who have acknowledged that they feel the same.  I look at them and can see that they are extraordinary.  These are whip-smart, funny, kind, interesting women.  For whatever reason, this is a combo that is not terribly well received in the world.  Some people say that others are intimidated, but something about that doesn’t ring quite true with me.  I think that some people’s hearts are just tuned to a slightly different frequency.  For those who don’t get it, it just comes through as static.

The Trap

Mouse trap
Oh hey, I love cheese!

One of the hardest things about feeling unlovable is that you tend to accept less than you’re worth.  In your career, during salary negotiations, and of course in love.  You feel grateful for scraps.  Every woman I know who feels this way has been in at least one relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive.  But it’s so hard to leave because the abuser reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with you, so you should appreciate what you can get.  They act as a mirror to the way you feel about yourself.  You think that if you leave, then you will be alone forever.

And then you do leave.  Because something in you knows that this just isn’t right.  And the shitty part is, you usually are alone for a while.  It feels exactly like what you feared is coming true.  Dating can be so incredibly soul-crushing and invalidating that it can make you miss the person who treated you badly.  Because at least they knew who you were and loved you, even if it wasn’t great all the time.

People don’t stay in these relationships because they are awful all the time.  There are inside jokes and shared histories.  There are movies that you’ve seen together and holidays past.  It’s just that the bad parts are SO bad.  And get closer and closer together.  But when you are staring down the barrel of another holiday season alone, it’s easy to regret leaving.  If you try and talk to your friends about this, no one will listen when you say you want to go back because all they can see is the abuse.  And they’re right, but it doesn’t feel that way yet.  Sometimes your friends play the role of your sanity when it’s on a break.  It’s good to have an understudy.

There is hope for us yet

Puzzle pieces
They all think they don’t fit anywhere

I was talking to a woman in the midst of this the other day, and I felt like she was reading a book I’d already finished.  “Oh oh!  I know this part!” I wanted to shout.  “Don’t worry.  It gets better!  There’s a plot twist in a couple of chapters that makes it all make sense.”

Because there is an upside to being one of us.  It’s not that no one loves us, it’s just that we aren’t for everyone.  But the people who do get us absolutely treasure us. We aren’t interchangeable with someone else.  We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Every woman I have known who has gone through this has ended up with an absolute gem of a partner.  The kind that was worth waiting for.  Who helps you with the dishes and the kids, and doesn’t yell at you.  And it feels really weird at first because it’s almost too easy.

And sex can seem strange.  It’s not that you aren’t attracted to them because you very much are.  But it’s more relaxed.  You don’t have that sense of “I’m going to fuck your brains out so you realize what a great catch I am! Ta-da!”  (Which doesn’t work particularly well anyway.)  It’s not performance art, it’s for real, which is scary until it’s not.  Because when you’re not busy twisting yourself into a pretzel to be impressive, you can actually focus on sensations and start having a good time yourself.

contortionist
No you’re trying too hard.

Friends Friends Friends

Of course, this isn’t just all about men.  Though I don’t always click with people at a party, or in whatever mom’s group I dip my toe into, over the years I have managed to collect my own little island of misfits. A good number of my friends have been in my life for ten to twenty years and I could tell them anything, no matter how weird.

The thing that strikes me about all of them, and all the other self-professed unlovables I’ve met, is that they are unusually kind.   They lack a killer instinct.  This admittedly has its drawbacks, but it’s beautiful and it’s rare.  These are the kind of people you can trust to hold a piece of your heart in their hand.

This world is full of so many different kinds of people.  If you’ve found connection in the past – be it a friend, a lover, or even a dog, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that you will again.

We aren't interchangeable with someone else. We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Click To Tweet

How to Make Mom Friends

mom friends

mom friends

Even before I had my son, I knew that along with the crib, swaddles and Rock n’ Play, there was one more essential to add to my list of must haves, and that was a tribe of mom friends.

I knew this because I saw headlines from the cool mom voices of HuffPo, Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle etc. that were pumped into my Facebook feed as “suggested articles”.

5 Types of Mom Friends Every Mom Needs”

Ok got it. I’ll be on the lookout for those.

“11 Types of Mom Friends – and Why They’re Important”

 Wait, how many now?

 “The 6 Types of Friends You Have As a First Time Mom”

 Oh, so those come preinstalled? Cool.

Hi.  We’re the mom friends you ordered.

It was my hope that these gems would just arrive as if by magic once I had the baby. They would see me with it and they would have one of their own. The shared experience of the insanity that is childbirth and the newborn phase would make us instantly understand each other. Like trauma bonding. Perhaps I’d meet them in the breastfeeding class at the hospital. (Or was that creepy?) Could I meet them at the pediatrician’s office? I wasn’t sure.

Ever the good student, I decided to get a jump on the process. I joined my local message boards and went to mommy meetups for those in my neighborhood that were due at the same time I was. It was exhausting to lug my ever-expanding self over to parts of town to meet with strangers, but I soldiered through confident that I would check off the “mom friend” list item.

At least I didn’t have to worry about one thing: since we were all pregnant, no one was drinking. I was new to the neighborhood, so no one knew that my abstaining was anything other than pregnancy related. The women were all friendly, but nothing really clicked. I felt the way I did when I was dating – putting myself out there, doing the work getting out of the house, being friendly and a good listener, and… nothing. An introvert at heart, every time I came home and sank onto the couch, I thought, “Why the hell am I bothering?”

I’ve been thinking about you all day.

Something I hear a lot in meetings – especially from women, is that they felt different and out of place as a child.   This was certainly the case for me. I was more or less born a tiny forty-year-old. I was strange. I was never comfortable.  Sure I made friends, and some very good ones at that. But in most situations where I met new people, they usually didn’t take to me right away.

And then? Alcohol. The great social lubricant that made me outgoing and charming. (Or at least it did in my own head). It allowed me to mix with people and be silly. It let me have fun. Until it didn’t.

So I have to find a different way to have fun. One of the best things I have found in sobriety is that I have become “me” again. The strange girl with a snarky sense of humor who loves knitting and writing and has zero interest in staying out late, or in what’s cool. But that’s not to say that I can’t still get out my tiny violin in these situations and replay my greatest hit — “People don’t like me.”

Once I had the baby, I had high hopes that we would now have things to bond over in the mom group. While I felt completely shell shocked by early motherhood, thanks to recovery meetings (and the internet) I knew that others were probably feeling the same way and we could all find relief in saying, “Yes! Me too!”

I did make some casual friends this way.  But I was the first to go back to work and the meetings continued without me. Once the others went back to work, they switched from meeting in a coffee shop to meeting in a bar for “girls night out”. While I have been able to hang at a bar with friends now and again, it is certainly not my preference. I recall the saying, “If you keep sitting in the barber’s chair, sooner or later you’ll get a haircut.” I knew my desire to be liked and to fit in was not a good match for this, and my one social outlet went away.

When I put my son in daycare I told myself I would try again with the moms there. But being back to work and then being with my son at night was exhausting and the excuses started piling up:

I’m already exhausted.

It seems like so much work to GO somewhere and have to be ON.

What if we don’t click?  

What if she’s a mommy wino?

Everyone just wants to drink and they’ll make fun of the fact that I don’t.

I can rationalize bringing sand to the desert. So I talked myself out of it time and time again, thinking “soon” or “next time” or “I’ll know my people when I meet them.”

Two years in and I do have some mom friends now. Here’s the advice I would give to my new mom self:

Don’t overlook what you already have

Through all my concern and frustration over not having mom friends, I was still texting my best friend daily, sometimes for hours at a time. She is a mom as well, though her son is older than mine. I was hung up on the idea of having mom friends whose babies were the same age, not realizing I was already getting the very thing that a mom friend provides – emotional support and a dash of humor. An additional bonus was that since her son was older, she wasn’t in a newborn fog and had some perspective so she could tell me what was normal. I still talk to her every day.

They don’t have to be local

Yes, it’s nice if they are because then you can make playdates and get yourself and your stir-crazy kid out of the house on a rainy day.   But that’s the role of your child’s friends, not necessarily yours. I met a great group of women in a sober mom’s group online and we definitely share all the things mentioned in these articles. Again, just because you can’t touch them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Not everybody is interested in drinking.

This is one where I had to see my part. I threw a very elaborate pity party for myself when the mom’s group switched to a bar group. What I didn’t think about was that not all of them were necessarily interested in that either. There were over 30 women in that group and I now know that a LOT of them are not big drinkers. It doesn’t occur to them. That possibility never entered my mind. I noticed the mommy winos because they stood out to me. My ears perked up more at someone talking about meeting up for drinks because I am sensitive to that, so I felt like it was EVERYONE instead of maybe 10% of them. The normies weren’t talking about booze because they weren’t thinking about it. I couldn’t fathom that, so they flew under my radar.

Keep trying

Helpful, I know. Here’s the thing – a lot of other moms have the same excuses going in their heads. I’m too tired. I have too much to do. Not enough time with family. I don’t know this person, why would I want to hang out with them when I could SLEEP? It’s not personal. She doesn’t know you so it’s not that she has anything against you. It’s just tough to motivate.

I often think of AA as an advanced course in Adulting. We learn to do what we can and not focus so much on what others do. We learn to do our part and let the rest go. As a person who loves to analyze everything to death, the simplicity of saying, “Have I done everything I can do here?” and leaving the rest has been really useful.

You don’t know what is going on in the life of the woman who bailed on your coffee date. If her marriage is falling apart or if she broke her toe, or if she’s had zero sleep and Just. Can’t. Do It. Giving her a little grace and trying again may turn out to be all that is needed. If not? On to the next. Don’t get into the game of, “But why does it always have to be me making the effort?” Because we never know what is going on with anyone else. If you want it, it has to be you.

You will keep meeting more

Don’t sweat it if it takes awhile. When you find the right ones these women will be in your life for a long time. Sometimes something that doesn’t click at first evolves over time. I eventually became friends with a couple of women I never noticed because they were both shy. But with running into each other while picking up our kids at the same time, or chatting at birthday parties we figured out we liked each others company.

Simply having a child exposes you to a whole new community of people, and over time the classes, playgrounds, and parties bring you to wonderful people who will become a part of your life.

And as you find your mom friends, make sure to keep an eye out for that mama who is struggling. The one with deep circles under her eyes at the coffee shop holding a newborn. Tell her she’s doing great, and that it gets easier. Wink at the mom in the supermarket with the kid throwing a tantrum and say, “You’ve got this” as you walk by. You never know when you will make a friend for life.

PS – Want to be my mom friend?  Subscribe in the sidebar.  See?  You’ve got one already.