Dealing with regret: Step 3

This morning I listened to an episode of The Cut on Tuesdays that talked about shame, forgiveness, and apologies. This episode resonated with me, and had deep connections to my goal of facing my regrets. While I was most definitely the victim of abuse, my actions during that dark period hurt a lot of people. Actually, they hurt most of the people I love, and I’ve struggled with finding ways to apologize and repair those important relationships. Were my apologies good enough? Was I able to make those I hurt feel whole? Have I been forgiven? Clearly, there is a lot of regret to be dealt with here.

Step 4: Strengthen your ability to focus on things you can control.

The fourth step in Tiny Buddah’s advice for dealing with regret speaks to my desire to apologize and feel forgiven. I want to be absolved, to feel better about what has happened, to make things right. However, a lot those desires are completely out of my control. Here’s what I can’t control:

  • The past. What’s done is done, yo. There isn’t anything I can do about it, regardless of how many “if only” scenarios I concoct.
  • People’s perceptions of me, both now and during the period of abuse. Many people didn’t know I was being abused, and that would have made my actions seem out of character and unreasonable. And for others, learning about the abuse, that I had “let it happen,” creates an entirely different negative perception. I can’t control these.
  • The presence of the more visable consequences of my relationship with my abuser. The thing (ahem, person) that comes immediately to my mind is my son. He is a positive consequence of that relationship, but he’s also what ties me to my abuser. I love my son, and I’m grateful for him, but his presence isn’t something I can control, for better or for worse.

Of course, there are plenty of things I can control:

  • I can continue to make amends with the people that I have hurt. I can strengthen those relationships through regular contact, talking through our collective pasts, and listening to what they need from me in order to forgive me.
  • I can avoid going down those “what if?” rabbit holes. Practicing meditation and mindfulness has been helpful in this regard.
  • I can raise my son to be kind, compassionate, and empathetic. He is a wonderful boy, beloved by everyone he meets, so I think I’m on the right path here.

While it’s not incredibly difficult to work on the things I can control, letting go of the things I can’t control has proven to be more difficult. These things stick to you, they hold tight and whisper promises that they can’t keep. I’m hoping that being more aware of them will help me to loosen their grip.

Dealing with regret: Step 2

If you’re just joining us, I’m puttering through an article from Tiny Buddha called “Dealing with Regret” as a way to process some major regrets that held me back during 2018. We’re on the second of eight steps, and things seem to be going swimmingly.

Okay, so we’ve identified the key weakness that led to the bulk of my regret: my lack of confidence. Interestingly, I don’t think I lack confidence in all things. Athletic pursuits? No problem. Debating educational policy or pedagogical practices? I’m game. But I do tend to have problems asserting myself when it comes to topics where I don’t feel I’m an expert. Perhaps one of my secondary weaknesses–perfectionism–comes into play here. I don’t like looking dumb (although living abroad has cured me of that to a certain extent), so I tend to do more listening than talking when I’m in situations where I feel unsure. Normally, this would be a good thing, but in the Bad Old Days, it created an opening for my abuser.

Anyway, back to Step 2: Use your mistake as a teaching tool.

The article suggests that I use healthy responses to my weakness as a tool of empowerment for those around me. I think I already do this, to a certain extent. The process of extracting myself from the grip of my abuser required a good deal of strength and courage. I had to do things I was afraid of. I had to speak up and make myself heard. I had to say no and disappoint people, something I’m often loath to do. I had to become the badass I always wanted to be.

As a result, people in my life tend to think that I’m brave, that I’m confident and have my shit completely together. And once they’ve heard my survival story (which I don’t tend to share as often as I should), I’m elevated to an even higher level of badassery in their eyes. While perception and reality don’t necessarily align here, I’m glad I get to serve as a source of inspiration, especially to my children. My husband calls me Wonder Woman, and our youngest still says “Mama” whenever he sees his Wonder Woman action figure. I never tell my children that I’m brave or fearless, but I do tell them that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, that we have to face our challenges head on (or at least obliquely), that there are ways around even the most challenging obstacles. At the very least, I believe I have hit the goals of Step 2 with my children.

Last year, I volunteered to be on the call list for the Committee to Aid Abused Women, now known as the Domestic Violence Resource Center. I remembered all of the times that I reached out to their 24 hour call center, all of the women who let me tell my story without judgment, who advised me on how to escape a violent situation, who gave me a shoulder to cry on and told me I could call back any time. They shared their own stories, which let me know that I wasn’t alone. They fully embodied the spirit of this second step, and I was hoping to join their ranks. While they couldn’t use my services at the time (being overseas was a hindrance), I do hope to be able to counsel women who are in similar situations, whether in person or online. Giving back in this way might give a purpose to the abuses I suffered. While I don’t buy into the idea that everything happens for a reason, I do think that I can find a way to use my experiences to make the world a better place.

On to Step 3…

Dealing with regret: Step 1

Okay, time to get to work.

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for 2019 is to process the regret that I’ve carried away from an abusive relationship. I’m not looking forward to this. I’m already super introspective and over-analytical, and I’m concerned that spending too much mental energy on the past will lead into some sort of emotional spiral that will only make things worse.

Of course, that’s not how this works. In order to be free from the past, this kind of processing must be done, hence the resolution. Ugh.

Most self-help literature dealing with regret is grounded in Christianity, which just isn’t my bag. However, there is some solid secular advice out there. There’s a quick list from Psychology Today that I might explore in the future. But I’m going to start with an article from Tiny Buddha called “Dealing With Regret: 8 Ways to Benefit and Move Forward.”  

Step 1: Identify and Address Your Weaknesses

Is this in general, or just pertaining to regret? Cause man, I have some weaknesses. The article suggests that we acknowledge our weaknesses as normal rather than judge ourselves for them. People make mistakes, and recognizing this might be helpful in overcoming regret.

My biggest weakness during the abusive relationship was that I didn’t know how to deal with conflict, and I wasn’t confident enough in my own principles and philosophies to make a stand against a much more aggressive force. I had a very easy childhood, and a rather conflict-free young adulthood, and while this was obviously great at the time, these periods didn’t prepare me for interacting with a practiced abuser and narcissist. I’m a people pleaser by nature, and I prefer a more Socratic method of discussion, which left me open to manipulation and doubt. On top of all that, I tend to be a slower processor; I like to have time and space to consider all of the angles before I come to any conclusions. This characteristic left me vulnerable to my abuser’s verbal assaults.

In short, my lack of confidence made me an easy target.

Of course, my abuser knew this, which is why he targeted me. Very early in our relationship, he surprised me by coming to lunch with a picture of me he found on the Internet (yes, creepy). He told me that I didn’t look confident in the picture, that I would need to “step up” if I wanted to be with him. Nevermind that the picture he chose was of me proudly receiving my Master’s degree, or that I used that degree to secure a highly coveted teaching position. No, my hands, which were clasped in front of my body, were evidence enough to him that I was lacking in confidence.

The ironic part of this encounter is that he was right, to a certain extent, and his insistence that I was not the confident person I wanted to be was enough to crumple my burgeoning sense of personal certainty. And he knew that he could do this. It’s a tactic he continued to use throughout our tumultuous relationship. It was effective.

I can confidently (ha) say that I’m much more secure about myself and my place in the world now. Escaping my abuser meant that I had to be sure about what I was doing. It meant being ready for a fight, and being confident that I was in the right. But my lack of confidence in my late 20s most certainly had a major role in keeping me in that abusive relationship.

Can I forgive myself for this? I’m sure that’s one of the later steps in this journey, but it’s a solid question to start asking now. I am something of a perfectionist, and learning to accept my mistakes has been a lifelong challenge. But maybe by accepting that everyone makes mistakes (both big and small), I can take baby steps toward radical self-forgiveness.

One thing that I can already recognize, without having to go through the next seven steps, is that I am not to blame for my abuser taking advantage of my weakness. Instead of helping me to overcome my weakness, my abuser capitalized on it. Understanding this is undoubtedly a breakthrough. I need not beat myself up for being victimized. Instead, now that I have pinpointed this weakness as the one that left me open to attack, I can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Dealing with regret

As I sat in my standard half lotus yesterday, nursing tender IT bands after my last long run of 2018, I considered my goals for the upcoming year. By all accounts, I’m doing fairly well in most of the standard life domains. My health is solid, and I routinely engage in challenging and rewarding athletic pursuits. I’m married to a wonderful man who is a terrific father and an outstanding life partner. We have close friends, and while I wish our ties to family were stronger, the fact that we currently live abroad accounts for a lot of the emotional distance. Work and finances are chugging along, and the hubby and I have our sights set on some interesting prospects for 2019. In short, life is good.

However, looking back on 2018, I can see one major issue that I’d like to resolve in 2019: I carry around a lot of regret. Like, crushing regret. The vast majority of my regret stems from the abusive relationship I endured from 2009-2014, and while I’ve been free from my ex’s emotional and psychological warfare for five years now, the consequences of being with that man still haunt me. I have occasional bouts of PTSD, moments that stop me in my tracks and force me to take a moment to catch my breath. But a lot of what keeps me up at night is my own regret over my decisions within that relationship.

Why did I risk everything on such a volatile and clearly dangerous man?

Why did I ignore the numerous red flags, flags that were pointed out to me by any number of people?

Why didn’t I leave when things got worse? Why did I hang on and hope things would get better?

Why did I make decisions that tied to me that man, irrevocably?

The decisions I made during that relationship are completely alien to the person I’ve become, which is probably why the regret has lingered as long as it has. I am generally a cautious and predictable person, and my actions during that relationship were completely out of character. Thinking back on those times makes me feel stupid, worthless, and unlovable. I am utterly embarrassed by the person I was, by the way I impacted the people around me, and I’ve realized that I need a way to deal with the older, regretable, more vulnerable version of me.

I’ve decided that 2019 is the year I finally deal with this regret.

A lot of the books that I’ve found that explore regret are based in Christian beliefs. While this might work for some people, as a recovering Catholic, I didn’t find this approach appealing. I’ve been studying Buddhism for most of my adult life, and while I’m not a practicing Buddhist by any stretch of the imagination, I find that Buddhist philosophies often match my own world views. That’s why I was pleased to come across an article from Tiny Buddha called “Dealing With Regret: 8 Ways to Benefit and Move Forward.”

Perfect.

For my next couple of posts, I’m going to walk through the eight steps suggested by the article. Hopefully I can make some progress toward what will likely be my most important undertaking of 2019. You’re welcome to play long, dear reader. Here’s to a happier, healthier New Year.

Yoga, Self-Acceptance, and Negging

“Yoga is not about self-improvement, it’s about self-acceptance.” — Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

Back when I was teaching yoga regularly, I liked to frame my classes around the concept of santosha. In Sanskrit, santosha means “contentment.” It has to do with an acceptance of where you are (and who you are) rather than a focus on where (or who) you want to be. Rather than berating yourself for not being able to to touch your toes or carrying more weight than you’d like, santosha urges yoga practitioners to approach their practice from the exact spot where they find themselves. This approach encourages self-love and discourages comparison, which, as we know, is the thief of joy.

Santosha goes beyond yogic ability. Being able to love the body you’re in means accepting its limitations, including its “flaws.” I’m using quotes here, because sometimes our “flaws” are really just unique features that don’t align with cultural beauty standards. These “flaws” are often things that we can’t change, such as the color and smoothness of our skin, the texture of our hair, the natural shape of our bodies, or any other hereditary trait. Chastizing yourself for these “flaws” is totally unnecessary. Give yourself a hug and try to love even the things you don’t necessarily like about your appearance. However, chastising others for these “flaws” can be abusive, which brings me to negging.

Negging is a type of emotional abuse and manipulation in which the abuser gives a backhanded compliment that is meant to devalue and undermine the confidence of their victim. It encourages the victim to seek the abuser’s approval and admiration, thus giving him more control. You can read all about it here. There’s a whole dark corner of the internet dedicated to teaching men how to successfully neg women. It’s insidious and disgusting, and unfortunately, it works.

We’re hardwired to seek people’s approval, especially if we’re interested in them socially or romantically. Negging can throw even the most confident person off-balance, making them question their sense of self. My abusive ex was a pro at negging, but he didn’t use it right away. He waited until I was already interested, until I was hooked, to start crushing my self-esteem.

Early in our relationship, he found a picture of me online. I had just received my Master’s degree, and I was decked out in my graduation regalia. I had completed a challenging series of courses, successfully defended my thesis, and was ready to take on the world. At least, that’s what I saw in that picture.

“You have zero self-confidence in this picture,” he said. “You’re not a very confident person.”

That one comment knocked me for a loop, as I had always seen myself as confident. But here was this person, who I trusted and was coming to love, telling me that I don’t appear confident to the outside world. Of course, this comment came with promises to help me with my confidence, and since I wanted to improve my standing in his eyes, I listened.

The negging increased from there:

“One of the first things I noticed about you was your runny nose.”

“I’m glad it’s my job to point out the food that gets stuck in your crooked teeth.”

“Those crows feet and grey hairs are really charming on a woman your age.”

“You carry a lot of stress in your ankles, which is why they’re always swollen. I can fix that for you.”

“I love that you’re trying to be environmentally conscientious. You remind me of one of my ex-girlfriends. She was my favorite.”

“I usually prefer strong women, but I somehow fell in love with you.”

“That new makeup looks nice. I can hardly notice your acne.”

Each of these “compliments” were designed to knock me down and make me grateful for his attention. And for a long time, they worked. I wanted to look, act, and sound like the woman that he wanted me to be, because I thought that woman was a better version of myself. I went to great lengths to mold myself into the woman I thought he wanted, and yet the backhanded compliments never really stopped. Actually, they increased as I started to pull away from him, and they continue even now in his harassing messages to me.

It took a long time (and a lot of therapy) to rid my self-concept of his criticisms. Yoga and running helped, as they allowed me to be grateful for the body that I have, a body that works pretty damn well despite its “flaws.” While I don’t necessarily like everything about myself, I now know that my abuser’s negging did not constitute truth, and that his need to tear me down likely says more about his insecurities than my own.

 

Online Teaching and Tight IT Bands

adult apple business business woman

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Three years ago, I made the leap from brick-and-mortar teaching to online teaching. There’s a lot to be said for online teaching: there’s literally no commute, your schedule is more or less your own, and it doesn’t require the same amount of extroverted energy that is often difficult to muster for introverts like me. In a lot of ways, however, online teaching is very similar to brick-and-mortar teaching. I work long hours, I’m often up way too late grading papers, my dreams are usually filled with teaching nightmares where I’ve forgotten my lessons or my computer has crashed, and my stress level usually goes through the roof.  Yoga does help with this last one, although it can be hard to make time for your mat when you have tons of work waiting for you once you’re done.  Oh well.  This is the life of a teacher.  Word to the wise for all you wanna-be teachers: don’t do it unless you really have a passion for it.  Seriously.

One unforeseen consequences of teaching online hit on one my biggest physical challenges: extended sitting time always results in tight IT bands.  Always. This is true for both brick-and-mortar and online teachers. Being a teacher is rough on your body.  Brick-and-mortar teachers spend most of the school day either standing in front of the kids (usually in shoes that, while fashionable, do nothing for your feet) or kneeling by their desks, and then they spend hours sitting while they grade and lesson plan.  Ouch.  My IT bands are always touchy as we get to the end of the school year, which is super annoying, as this is also marathon training season.  Tight IT bands + lots of running = sad yogi.

While foam rollers and massage are an awesome way to tackle IT problems, yoga also provides some relief (although yoga can be painful with tight IT bands).  Here are some of my favs for tight IT bands, which I will be using profusely for the next couple of weeks until my body can unwind itself (ouch).

  • Revolved poses, such as Revolved Triangle or Revolved Side Angle
  • Half Pigeon, Supine Pigeon, and Double Pigeon (the latter is especially helpful for me, but again, ouch.  This pose is also called Firelog Pose.  Why can’t we agree on a single name with some of these poses?  But I digress.)
  • Marichyasana C
  • Frog Pose
  • Legs up the Wall Pose (this relieves a lot of the pressure we put on the IT band)
  • Reclined Spinal Twists
  • Low Lunge

Another thing to keep in mind is that the It band itself isn’t responsible for it’s own tightness.  As a big stabilizer, the IT band is connected to lots of other problems areas, all of which you have to take care of if you want a healthy IT band.  Think about your postures, strengthen your psoas, wear the right shoes…all this “extra” stuff comes into play.  More than anything, avoid sitting for long periods of time.  I’m talking to YOU, online teachers. Get up, shake it off, do a couple of the poses above, and then get on with your day.

A confession and a return

It’s been six years since my last post.

So much has happened in those six years, more than I can possibly cover in a blog post. I’m sure the details will trickle out as I return to the blogging format, but it’s enough for now to say that this time period was one of both death and rebirth, and that I’ve come through the crucible as a more complete person.

My retreat from blogging was also a retreat from yoga. Yoga had become increasingly difficult. I couldn’t be still. I couldn’t sit quietly with my own thoughts. I couldn’t face the realities of my life and the choices that had brought me there. So while I still taught yoga weekly, my personal practice waned. I was no longer living the yogic lifestyle that I was espousing in this blog. In fact, I was doing my best just trying to survive.

So here’s the confession, and it’s a big one: from 2009 to 2014, I was in an abusive relationship. His manipulation was subtle at first. He went from making comments about my appearance, to making suggestions about the media I consumed, to making demands about the way I talk. He alienated me from my friends and eventually cut off contact with my family. He engaged in every crazy-making, narcissitic, gaslighting behavior in the books, and then he started with the physical abuse.

I stayed because the physical abuse “wasn’t that bad.” I stayed because of the children. I stayed because I had backed this horse, and damn it, I was going to see this thing through to the end. I stayed because I wasn’t a “quitter.” I stayed because I was embarrassed. I stayed because he convinced me that I was the crazy one. I stayed because he had demeaned me to the point where I felt unlovable. I stayed because I didn’t know where else to go. I stayed because I had kept the abuse a secret. I stayed because I was afraid.

And then I couldn’t stay anymore. He was arrested for a charge unrelated to his abuse, but it was wake-up moment for me. I could ignore or rationalize or wish away the daily misdeeds I suffered at his hands, but I couldn’t ignore the mugshot. I packed his things, changed the locks, and never looked back. Once I was free, it was shockingly clear how damaging and insidious his behavior was, but I couldn’t sense the degree of abuse when I was in it.

So why am I speaking out now? Maybe because there has been a shift in our culture, and men like him are finally facing consequences. Maybe it’s because I’m far enough removed that I can actually talk about these things without shaking uncontrollably for hours. Maybe it’s because I feel like my story could help someone who is in a similar situation and is struggling to get out. Whatever the reason, my voice has finally returned, and I’m ready to talk about it.

I grapple with outing my abuser. I have personally experienced the limits of the #metoo movement. Powerful men in high places are toppling, but for those of us who live normal, quiet lives, very little has actually changed. I have moved far, far away, but I must still occassionally co-parent with my abuser. He has skipped child support payments with no consequences. He has continually engaged in child abuse and neglect, but he still has access to my child. He has harrassed me via email with no repercussions. For the police and the courts, none of these things is “enough” to warrant taking action, and so my abuser gets to continue these behaviors. In fact, he flaunts them. He does this because for the rest of us, #metoo doesn’t matter. Not yet, anyway.

But let’s make this clear: my abuser deserves to be outed. He has a pattern of abuse stretching back 25 years, and has left women and children shattered in his wake. He is also a massage therapist, and his clients deserve to know who they are (literally) exposing themselves to. So what’s stopping me from outing him? Perhaps fear. Perhaps embarrassment. Perhaps doubt. His cruel voice still pops up in my head from time to time, telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m crazy, that I brought the abuse on myself.

I’m working through these things, and maybe one day soon, I’ll be ready to name my abuser and expose his behavior. For now, it’s enough to have a voice. It’s enough to return to the mat and do my best to find repose in the asanas.

Namaste.