To All The Kristins I Have Been: Thank You

light-sign-typography-lighting.jpgIn this special birthday post, I need to acknowledge a few people.
This post is to all the Kristins that I have been.
To the 4-year-old girl that climbed up on the bathroom sink to look at herself in the mirror and was disappointed in what she saw.
To the 7-year-old who had her first suicidal thoughts and was shamed for it after expressing them.
To the little girl in elementary school who was a bully because she was so angry.
To the chubby 10-year-old.
To the bulimic 14-year-old.
To the 17-year-old with the awkward haircut and who felt ugly inside and out.
To the 19-year-old who felt achingly alone.
To the 22-year-old who settled and mostly got married because she was shamed by family and religion.
To the 27-year-old alcoholic with crippling depression and body dysmorphia.
To the 28-year-old who took anti-depressants and struggled retaining her short-term memory for two years.
To the newly divorced and complete train wreck 31-year-old.
And now to the 34-year-old today who has grieved and forgave. To the me who accepts that I am worthy and won’t settle and have learned to love again and most importantly, learned to love herself.
To all the Kristins I have been: I love you and thank you for being you.
Advertisements

Limits

freeimage-2252862-webIf you read my last post, you’d know that from April to October of 2017, I struggled with depression.

In addition to what I talked about in that post, I had also started a new job at a state park, Ian and I moved further away from Nashville, and Kill Me Now, a web series I made with my older sister had wrapped and was being edited by Ian. 

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all those changes. My life didn’t really feel like mine for awhile. My time and energy was being dedicated to my relationships and filming. I felt stuck in my path and by wanting and trying to do everything, I wasn’t doing much of anything.

Everything I was feeling, manifested in physically debilitating ways. I had been on high alert, on edge, and on guard for 30 some odd years anyway, but my body was going into overload and rebelling. I was so tense at times that it was difficult to turn my head to the side.  I started seeing a chiropractor. I read a lot about toxic stress and how to subdue it. I was relearning how to breathe correctly. I started paying attention to my triggers and responses. I still have to tell myself to put my shoulders down every two minutes.

I made the decision to focus solely on healing myself emotionally and physically. So, I gave up everything I had been wanting, wishing for, doing, and suppose to be doing. I didn’t write except when I needed to journal to clear my head. My sister took over promoting Kill Me Now.  I donated the majority of my art supplies. I wasn’t looking into submission deadlines or upcoming writing classes or acting workshops.

For a few months, I was fine, but having no goals or to-do lists, the question of my self-worth gnawed at my psyche and will to live.  This caused a lot of second guessing. I didn’t know what I believed in, what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be with.

I was overwhelmed with maybes and what ifs and it left me searching for answers.

In October, needing space, I went camping alone. I had to challenge my attachment to Ian and all of my fears. I laid awake in my tent for a long time. I cried. I wrote in my journal. I wrestled.  I knew I had to start being fully accountable for myself. I had to grow up and let go.

A lot of my misery was due to me chasing too many damn things. I’ve always had an interest in a variety of things. I would passionately pursue an interest but then lose focus it. Then I would turn to another interest, only to do the same. Having too many “choices” left me with an inability to choose something and actually do it. I couldn’t commit to anything since I was chasing twenty different things.

Out of all the shit I thought I was suppose to do and wanted to do and felt obligated to do, what did I really want and need to do?

I knew I had to cut back on interests and passions and whittle it down until I didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore. So, I focused on three major areas in my life (Relationship, Career, Personal Philosophy) and narrowed it down until I only had one choice in each area.

So, what did I decide?

Relationship: Ian

I want to marry Ian. He is a great partner and wonderful companion. He has challenged me in so many ways. Ian stays accountable and keeps me accountable, as well. He is always willing to try, to change, and work on issues.

No one is going to be perfect. Anyone I date will have flaws. But Ian is someone I can trust to have children with. He is someone I can share my life with, growing along the way.

Career: Writer

Writing is the only thing I’ve done consistently throughout my life. I know I’m good at it. I know it’s a craft that must be practiced everyday. It is the only thing that gives me hope, excites me, and creates contentment.

I had to say goodbye to becoming an actress, a director, an archaeologist, a counselor, painter, graphic novel artist, travel guide, park ranger, whatever. I can’t live all those lives, but I can create characters who do.

Personal Philosophy: Stoicism

In August, I stumbled across the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and it just clicked. Stoicism is practical wisdom. Stoicism is about self responsibility, accountability, reflection, maintaining emotions, and taking action. It is a tangible philosophy to practice every day of one’s life.

I came away from that camping trip and long battle with depression a changed person. Of course, things didn’t magically fall into place right away but over time, I have flourished all areas.

A person can’t just make a decision or write a list or make a resolution and then do nothing. What matters to you and what you want for the rest of your life must become a life long practice. You must cultivate it every day before it will grow.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many options, focus only on the major areas of your life. Be honest with yourself and cut the shit. By this process of elimination, you will be free to choose what truly matters to you. And you’ll be a hell of  a lot happier and content when you do.

The One After The One

HeartDuring my separation and eventual divorce, I exclaimed I would never love again. (Though I very much hoped I would).

For a year I was, to put it bluntly, a train wreck. I went out frequently. I drank a lot. I took on various lovers. I “fell in love”, i.e. became infatuated or overly attached a few times. They progressed differently. All ending in rejection.

One I slept with, hopes soaring, only to be ghosted. Another one I never had feelings and advances returned and months later the quasi-friendship fizzled out. Yet another one, I even dated for a month. He brought me flu medicine and after he left, I texted him to make plans when I felt better. He called me right away to break it off.

I also did some rejecting of my own.

I was startlingly unknown to myself still. I set out to date and possibly sleep with guys in all different shapes, shades, and personalities. Maybe I was trying to figure out who I was by trying others on?

By May ’16, I had had enough of dating and casual sex and swore it all off indefinitely. I started a new job at this time.

Over the next couple of months, I got acquainted with the company interns. One in particular, was quiet and shy. He wore skinny jeans and cuffed his short sleeves.

In late June, at a company mixer, I found out he had recently turned 21. Shit. Though I thought he was cute, he was much too young. I gave up on pursuing him but over the remaining summer, we started to talk frequently and became friends. We often lost track of time by way of long and sometimes deeply personal conversations. He didn’t make my heart flutter but he sure warmed it.

Our eyes would linger sometimes. He wasn’t someone I usually fell for. Despite his age, he is mature and responsible.  He is stable and sweet. Engaging. He enjoyed my company and I his.

In August, full of liquid courage and at yet another company mixer, we crossed into romantic territory.

The first three months were thrilling and terrifying. I assumed he’d get bored of me after two weeks. (He thought the same of me.)

By the second or third month, we were discussing serious topics which took us both by surprise. November we moved in together. April, we were engaged.

A happy occasion which set in motion a six-month long bout of depression.

I felt angry all of the time. I went back and forth between wanting to be with Ian and wanting to end it. I did it so much that even I got sick of my indecisiveness. My co-dependency was kicking into overdrive the more he withdrew.

We started growing apart.

Mid bout, I came across an article by Dr. Henry Cloud. It all suddenly made sense.

That train wreck year of mine wasn’t me trying new things and having fun but me avoiding the healing process for my divorce. Unknowingly, I was carrying around suitcases full of guilt, shame, hurt, grief, and fear.

Before, I had triumphantly and smugly thought that I was way over my ex. But I had never let myself grieve for the whole person. I only acknowledged the parts that hurt me. My pride didn’t let me acknowledge the complete person and good qualities that, to my dismay, I missed. I contributed to our unhappiness and toxicity and I also had to assume full accountability for my part.

My crushing guilt came from feeling as if I had moved on too soon. I felt as if I didn’t deserve to be happy yet. I felt like a cliché having discarded my first husband and moving on to a younger man.

After reading the article and doing some soul searching I knew I had to let myself grieve and I had to forgive myself.

I also took time out and questioned why I was with Ian and why I wanted to marry him.

My intention was to stay single for at least a few years. But Ian and I became friends and it just progressed naturally. Turns out, he is someone I have always longed for and we complement one another well. Most importantly, I trust him. When it is “all hands on deck”, our little ship sails smoothly and beautifully.

We still had a few rough months after this. We were both very hurt and distant. Ian was cold and resentful of my indecisiveness. I felt abandoned by his withdrawal.

With time, though, we found our way back to one another. We gathered our courage and poured our hearts out, agreeing to start with a clean slate.

We haven’t looked back.

We still have disagreements and we always will but we explain ourselves now. We get to the root, discuss what one of us did or said that was not healthy, and we find ways to fix it then and there. We are committed to the long haul. I am committed to the long haul.

By letting myself grieve the end of my marriage and for the person I had known for ten years, I was healing and strengthening my heart to love again. And to love them with a healthier and more mature heart.

It’s okay that I still love my ex. Once we’ve loved, I don’t think it ever goes away. We may think we hate them but I think the hate is really only hurt and disappointment.

All of this is okay.

By acknowledging the pain from lost love and agreeing to grieve, forgive, and let go, our hearts and emotions will heal much quicker. This process will fortify us and allow us the ability to truly love, not only someone else, but ourselves as well.

 

Enough

pexels-photo-618545.jpegI’ve done a little updating recently. I changed the name of this blog from Kristin Growing Up to simply, Kristin Cox. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still growing as a person but I’m hoping to do more with this oft neglected site. I still don’t know what my niche is but I think for now, it is about life and what I think and feel about it.

I haveve wrestled with many of the same issues over and over and it’s been a long (and still ongoing) process of weeding through it all. But one thing remained true throughout is a need to write.

For the majority of my life, my mindset has been that I had to do everything and be perfect at it. While reading over my old posts (some I’ve kept, some I’ve deleted), it was a running theme. Especially this one.

You’re a Grownup Baby, Now What? was written back in 2013, before intensive therapy. Since that post, I’ve had over 4 years of hundreds of self-help books and articles read, navigated new relationships and jobs, and a shit ton of trial and error.

I like reading that post in particular because it reminds me of how far I’ve come. I know why I wasn’t trying or why I was falling short: I was scared to death.

I believed that I was suppose to do it all. Be it all. That I was suppose to be a master of something right out of the gate. I didn’t know it was okay to mess up and make mistakes.

My parents told me I could do anything, acting like I was the last savior of the family. The hope rested on my shoulders to carry everyone out of poverty. One can only imagine the crushing burden it had on me.

During the same time, I was constantly shamed, ridiculed, and made fun of. Anything I did was criticized, either outright or subtly.

My dad always pointed out weaknesses in my drawings, never including any strengths. My dad is also the master of backhanded compliments.

Once when I was 15, I wanted to try cooking oats for myself but keep them chunky. My mother always cooked everything to death and liked her oatmeal kind of soupy and gelatinous. She deemed my oatmeal a failure and the entire potful was thrown out in a rage.

I vacuumed wrong. My tone and volume of voice was too loud or too low. My hair wasn’t the right length. I wore too much makeup sometimes and not enough other times. I came to believe, wholeheartedly, that there was something inherently wrong with me.

When it came to writing a story, I assumed I had to write it linearly and have everything sound perfect the first time through. Getting stuck or not knowing some scenes or writing weak sentences meant I was no good and there was no hope. (I also believed everyone else in the world could mess up or not be very good at something at first, just not me.)

I didn’t know I could write a draft over and over. I didn’t know I could write shitty sentences then go back and make them not shitty. I didn’t know that I could make mistakes and go back to correct them.

I rarely read books on writing. I thought I didn’t need to. Well, SHOULDN’T need to. In the past couple of months, though, I have been reading them. What a revelation they have been! Published authors write badly at first or they still write badly but they know they can go back and fix it.

I have gained so much from reading about the fears and apprehensions they experience. I have also found that how authors approach ideas and the writing process is similar to my own. (I just thought I was doing it wrong since it was me.) It turns out, I’m human like the rest of them.

There has been this life long blockage that seems to have finally been freed. I did a lot of soul searching and asked a lot of questions and had more healing in 2017. I went into 2018 knowing that I want to write. I NEED to write. I MUST write.

And it’s okay that I mess up. That I have to rewrite a story 10 times or more. That I can let myself write and not judge myself to death. I’ve been trying to be perfect at everything for so long, all the while not believing I was worthy enough for any of it. I’ve expected everything to be perfect upon first attempt and you know what happened? Nothing. I did nothing substantial I cared about for a long time. A lot of years spent too afraid to really try on my own.

But I know better now. I don’t have to be afraid. I can be me and that is good enough.

 

Lessons from Solitaire

solitaire

I’ve been playing a lot of Solitaire lately, not with actual cards but on my phone. I don’t think I’ve owned a deck of cards in years. When I play, I lose more than I win. Every four to five games that I lose, I win maybe one or two.

I always know which ones I’m going to lose as soon as they’re dealt. The ones I do win are a complete surprise and I really don’t know how I even won them. Very few hands are easy and won quickly. Mostly when I win, I’ve had to stack them one by one; number by number, suit by suit until I can even get to the few cards left face down. I have had to fold with only a few cards left unturned but sometimes that happens.

Solitaire has kept me from thinking constantly and it’s given me a break from the ever persistent task of healing. It has been over a year since my last post and everything has changed yet the same undercurrents remain. I’m still dealing with the after-effects of a traumatic childhood. New (old) things come up. Every big life change brings about a fresh wave of feelings and memories and challenges me to deal with them.

Since May 6, 2016, I’ve had two jobs and I’m moving into a third one in a week. I started dating someone, Ian, who I am now living with and engaged to as of this past April. My sister and I filmed a web series which is being edited right now and will premiere on YouTube any day now.

This past month has been trying. I’ve been very miserable at my current job which has been full of triggers.  It is emotionally and physically draining. Taking such a huge step with Ian and just plain trying to figure out my life and what I want next has caused insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, and bouts of depression.

I stumbled upon Marie Kondo’s book “The Magic of Tidying” and assumed a life of minimalism (mostly thanks to The Minimalists). I purged my home of probably 80% of my stuff since March. Letting go of sentimental items that I kept hanging onto primarily because of guilt and obligation, released me from a lot of things I didn’t realize I was holding onto. I also dredged up many repressed emotions, memories, and ingrained beliefs.

Despite some turmoil, I feel like I’m taking even more control of my life by letting go. I feel raw and real; exposed and vulnerable. What I’m risking, what I’m showing to others, and the decisions I am making, are things I never thought I would do. I’m allowing myself to be genuinely loved and in a relationship which challenges me in all the right ways (even if they are painful and terrifying). I’m trusting someone for the first time and becoming more and more authentically me. For the first time, I have someone in my life who has allowed me the safe space to do so.

My current job was a mad dash for money and I knew in my gut from the get-go, it wasn’t right for me. However, I am glad I took it. It is yet another situation which shows me what I don’t want and where I don’t want to be.

Soon, I will be working and living in Gallatin, which is 25 minutes outside of Nashville. I’ve been wanting to get away from the city for a long time and since Ian and I are not in a position to move out of the state of Tennessee right now, moving further from the center at least, will help for the time being.

Solitaire (or any card game in general) is a lot like life. Every card I move, either conscious or unconscious, leads me to the next one. I may get this close to the perceived end and have to fold. I may move a card and regret it. I may randomly choose and have everything else fall into place. It may take me three minutes to complete one game then 30 minutes for the next. I may know I’m going to lose at the onset but play anyway and see how far I can go. But often enough (which keeps me playing) I am always pleased to win one, either easily and quickly or slowly and hard earned. And much like life, a card game is full of chance and playing the odds. We may lose but we can always start over and play again, hoping to win when we can.

Red Flags and Fairytales

IMG_4890May 1st marked a year since I got a divorce. It will be a year on May 31st that it was finalized.

I have tried to tell this story over and over during that year. At one time it was going to be told through a graphic novel format. Because to put going through a divorce into words was tough. I thought illustrating those emotions would be easier. I have numerous drafts of this story. I’ve pieced it together and printed it out, and then went over it with a red ink pen.

But I guess what I really needed was the distance because this story—my story—has changed again and again.

So here it is, straight and to the point.

Like I said, it’s been a year. I can’t believe it’s already been a year. At the same time, though, I’m asking, “It’s only been a year?” My life has changed drastically in a year. I’ve done a complete 180, slowly turning degree by degree every day. Even when I felt stuck and deep in grief. When I was covered and weighed down with regret and painful memories that I felt as if I couldn’t breathe.

I have met and befriended so many wonderful people in this last year. I have also met people that didn’t turn out to be so wonderful but still taught me exactly what I needed at the time. 

I will say this, my marriage was not a failure. Ten years with that person allowed me to become the person that I am today.

It didn’t work out because, honestly, we were two broken children. Two flawed humans. We treated one another like shit. We played games. We went back and forth with blame. We both had toxic baggage we didn’t even know we were carrying.

My marriage was another byproduct of my childhood. He fed into my codependency and I fed into his narcissism. I went into that relationship torn, tattered, and bruised already. I never witnessed a healthy relationship and never knew of unconditional love, I was ill-equipped for that kind of commitment. We were married at 22 and looking back, that is really fucking young to get married.

Added to that, we were both emotionally stunted because we had similar parenting. We sought one another out. A toxic person will search out another toxic person. No one healthy and stable will date let alone marry someone who is toxic. For many years, I was led to believe (by him, my mother, and myself) that I was a terrible monster that destroyed this poor sweet, innocent boy. But he wore a mask and he wore it well.

There were some happy moments. But mostly that relationship was full of fighting and heartache and more ups and downs than any rollercoaster. What we experienced in 10 years, many experienced in 30. We dealt with mental illness, chronic illness, near death, hospitalization, and infidelity. Needless to say, it was exhausting.

But what made it finally end was that I wanted to change. I wanted a better life. I was tired of settling, of waiting, of going around and around in circles.

I wanted to be happy.

And I couldn’t be with someone that refused to take responsibility and didn’t want more out of life. I didn’t like being blamed for everything (even his infidelity). I had to get out and move on.

Losing a loved one, regardless of how means A LOT of grieving. I had to grieve the life we had together and the life we planned on having. I grieved for dreams and wishes going unfulfilled. I grieved for the little things I thought we had and for what we were going to build together. I even grieved for those five Braden babies that will go unborn

I had to mourn. I had to let go. Some days I really thought the grief would kill me.w

Despite the toxicity and pain, I did love him in some way. And I still hope that he loved me in some way back. There are still days that I miss him terribly. There are nights that I can still feel him next to me and my body aches to feel his warmth. He knows my deepest, darkest secrets and I know his. He was my best friend for a number of years. But he also broke me in ways I didn’t think I could be.

A year out, I am so grateful that I was shattered so utterly and completely because at last, my God, at last, every part of me could be exposed to the light. I could finally uncover core issues and come to terms with things from my past. I threw off burdens, responsibilities, shame, and problems that were never mine and should have NEVER been mine in the first place. I could finally take responsibility for what really was my doing and grow up.

I pray that he has found or finds himself, that he finds peace and contentment. I really do hope he’s happy. Wherever he is, whatever he is doing.

Regardless, I have chosen happiness. For 31 years I never thought I had a choice or that I was even allowed to be anything but someone else’s burden/caretaker. But thank God, I know better now. Amid the rumble I found me. I found wonderful, worthy, beautiful me. I have rebuilt (and I’m still rebuilding). I am free.

Epilogue

Writing Backstory was a very in-depth and intense three days. I have other stories lined up and I felt that it was crucial to tell my personal story before I launched into more personal tales.

Telling my personal story inspired a real change in me. I’ve been on a long journey and over time my mindset, perception, and attitude has slowly shifted and sharpened in very dramatic ways.

Sometimes I will sit when I have a moment of silent solitude and I will think back on what I was doing on this very day a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, and so forth. And it really is awe-inspiring to know how different my life is from one year to the next.

As you can see, it’s been one month ago today (the 24th) when I wrote the conclusion. Of course, I didn’t mean for so much time to elapse but like I said, those were three very intense days.

In that month, I still got down and discouraged. I always will. That’s life. Even though I’ll have these fleeting moments of sadness and lows, they really are just fleeting and momentary. And honestly, each day is the happiest day of my life.

Changing and growing, especially coming from a less-than-ideal beginning and having to almost rebuild from scratch takes a long time. It is something that takes months and more than likely—years. It’s a long, arduous journey but it is so very worth it.

In the month that I let my story out, I have grown even more. I’ve rediscovered some passions and I feel like I figured out what I really want to focus on and what I really want to do with my life. I feel for the first time in my life that my feet are firmly planted on a solid ground of hope, faith, and commitment. I truly understand courage. And now that I have self-worth and self-respect and self-love, I feel like nothing can stop me.

I never really meant for this blog to be anything but a personal journal. A place to share my struggles and inner quirkiness. To share my random opinions and show you my weird little drawings. My posts have been few and far in-between. But that seems to be my cycle. I get these strong convictions, stories, or ideas that sum up my epiphanies. I ruminate over them until I absolutely have to share them.

I write this blog post today because I felt like I had to recognize this tiny little milestone. In one way it’s only been one measly month. But in another way, it already feels like many, many months ago. Sometimes it takes years for your life to change but other times, everything changes in a matter of moments.

Life is momentary and fleeting and terrifying but life is gracious and beautiful and incredibly satisfying.

Sometimes I feel so old. I can’t believe that I’m already 32 years old. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too old for some things and I’m sure there are things for which I am. But then I also feel very young and brand new. Many days I feel like I haven’t even gotten started and I’m only now beginning.

I feel like I can start over and begin anew but then with a lot of wisdom and life lessons under my belt. I already have a head full of words and techniques and tools that help me cope. But it’s exciting to know that I could possibly have decades worth of life left to learn even more.

Life astonishes me every day. Every morning when I wake up it is no longer dreaded. I truly get excited about starting a whole new day even if I end up not doing much with it. I am still so excited to have a second chance day after day after day.

This post is a little bridge to what comes next, whatever that may be.