Archive for the ‘Human Interest’ Category

I don’t know what’s been with me lately, but I’ve really jumped into this being 40 thing. I finally realized that I skipped the Adulting upgrades from 1.0 to 2.0 and most of the 3.0 upgrade. For whatever reason, Life just kept letting me pass and move forward like a poor kid falling through the cracks of the education system.

As can be referenced in my previous blog post “Option Paralysis,” my M.O. is pretty consistent in regards to my financial (and other stressful) problems. I stick my head in the sand like an ostrich and hope that in my ignoring of the problem that it will just go away. Of course, that’s not generally how things work. And for some reason I’m starting to take responsibility rather than running away.

It probably has something to do with the amount of support groups, therapy sessions and Step Work I’ve been working on for almost a year. October 22 will be my anniversary of Recovery work. Even though my sobriety is not as long lasting as the work I have put in, it’s ok. “Progress not perfection,” right? It doesn’t mean I haven’t learned some pretty incredible things. I’m in Step Four right now, which I’ve barely even begun and it’s brutal already. “One Day at a Time” is probably the most well-known slogan out there. I definitely have days like that; sometimes I have “one hour at a time” and even “One Minute at a time.” A lot of people do. I feel like I can’t even concentrate on someone’s three minute share sometimes. But that’s neither here nor there as this post is about my positive current experiences, not the rough road of Recovery.

I’ve noticed how I have had a more relaxed outlook on things; I’m not so uptight. But don’t mistake my kindness for weakness – I am more honest with others when I feel I need to say something and when I need to set boundaries for my own good. I’m less apt to let others take advantage of me and my vices. It’s probably like the slogan “Let Go and Let God,” although my Higher Power does not have the name “God.” But I understand and it’s not as difficult for me to substitute the word “God” with “Higher Power” as it was at the end of last year. Gratefully, I had some experience in another 12-Step program a few years ago that helped me identify what I understand my Higher Power to be.

One of the things I noticed on my first go round with the Twelve Steps was that they are great life lessons. Even if you don’t have an addiction, the philosophy behind the steps is valuable for anyone and everyone. Kind of like my oft-recommended literary favorite “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I hear and learn things in “the rooms” that seep into my subconscious and some things are a bit less subtle; I can feel that I am changing inside and I’m really ready to embrace these changes, for once.

Yesterday, instead of ignoring the voicemail telling me to call Sprint for “an important notification about the status of [my] account” I listened to it and actually acted upon it. I owe so much money that I have no way of paying until the first of the month. I called and tried to see about what was possible for payment plans and it was indeed, an option. What a wonderful surprise! The other day I tried it with my bank as well. I had two insufficient funds fees leaving me with a -$5 balance. Of course being on a fixed income, that is devastating when I won’t be paid for another 2 weeks. Well, I called up the bank and explained my situation and wouldn’t you know it? They reversed not just one, but both of those fees and I was able to go to Ralph’s and buy some TV dinners. Good times. Both of these things would have had negative outcomes had I not asked. And like “they” say, the answer to any question you don’t ask is always going to be “no.”

I’m also taking my nutritional intake pretty seriously. I’ve lost about nine pounds in the last month or two. I walked my roommate’s bike to the shop yesterday to get the tires filled with air so I could start riding it. I need to find an excuse to get on it every day, just to incentivize myself to do so. I know I shouldn’t have to, but I also know myself. I have to take more responsibility for my actions (or lack thereof). It’s as though the big 4.0 came with a side order of “Grow the Fuck Up.” Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about that, since I’m running the 4.0 on the 2.0 operating system. I just don’t feel old enough to be doing all this Adulting. Which is pretty ridiculous as most people I know (who are my age) are married with kids, and/or well into their career, if not straight up retired, by now. Not to mention the handful of them that have unfortunately even died. This is the year.

Point is, I’m pulling myself up by my bootstraps and finally starting to get my shit together. It’s about fucking time.

NoHo Hallway

20 APR 16 (completed 21 MAY 16)

Maybe they just didn’t notice. At 11:58pm, I posted on Facebook, 4/20’s Eve, my results of a BuzzFeed quiz by Tanner Greenring called “Where Do You Fall on the Kinsey Scale?” I got “Mostly heterosexual,” which of course, I already knew. But you – probably didn’t. I’m not even sure if proclaiming mostly heterosexual even counts as “coming out.” I took the quiz because social and regular (anti-social?) media was making such a big deal out of James Franco saying “Yeah, I’m a little gay, and there’s a gay James.”

I actually took a mindful moment for reflection on whether or not I wanted to post the results for all to see. Granted, my Facebook is supposed to be private and only open to my friends and family and of course several hundred Facebook “friends.” I’ve probably had conversations about this topic with a select few, but it’s really the family finding out that gives me pause. I don’t know if my mom can handle another kid whose sexual proclivities are… let’s just say – questionable at best. I fear my step-father might have a stroke and what of my über religious aunt? She’s a woman with a heart of gold and a penchant for pandas, my aunt, who is unintentionally becoming a spinster in order to care for our grandmother who is slowly being lost to Alzheimer’s Disease.

I was much more cavalier about posting the result on my Twitter account, as most of my followers really don’t know me and frankly, Twitter just feels like a warm blanket of Anonymity despite being just the opposite. Pressing “Tweet” didn’t sting or require the extra exhale as posting it to Facebook. I’m still rather stunned that 48 hours later there are no comments, but two likes – at least sometwo saw my post. [Four weeks later when I actually posted this, it had still gone unacknowledged. That’s a good thing, right?]

Upon reflection, I can carbon date my familial shame back twenty three years and my societal shame about a smidge and a half more than that. I have been asked time and time again if I am a lesbian, as long as I can remember. Is it because the manner in which I sit most comfortably is the man-spread? Is it the sports I played most of my life (the big three, by the way: Softball, Tennis and Golf, not to mention Shot & Discus)? Is it that I always just wanted to be “one of the guys”? I always wanted to be the “cool” girl who was down for anything. But I was also very much the “anything you can do, I can do better” tom girl. In many ways, I still am.

Having had very few openly gay classmates, I was kind of trying to figure shit out on my own. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian because I liked guys and I also like gay guys. Not to mention my parents introduced me to Rocky Horror Picture Show in our living room at the tender age of 13 or so, I was in love with Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) at first sight. Coincidently, Halloween a few years later, a man (whom I still have no idea who was) came rushing up to my counter at my mall job in full drag; I was piqued by his beauty and visual sexuality. He said he just wanted to show me his outfit, as though we were bosom buddies. I was actually turned on by this guy in drag and I had no idea who he was. It was then that I decided to have a conversation with my mom about the way I felt. My memory of the incident is vivid as far as the environment; I remember the lamp and where it was positioned on the end table which was in between me, sitting on the couch, and my mother, sitting in my stepfather’s lounge chair. However, it’s the exact words that were exchanged between us that escape me. I merely have a residual feeling about the situation, that of her being mortified and trying not to show it. I vaguely remember her implying it was “just a phase.” Much to my chagrin, that was not the response for which I’d been hoping.

Of course, at this point I was still in high school, pining over a theater friend of mine, the first openly gay man I personally knew. He also turned out to be the first person I knew to have and die of “an AIDS-related illness.” He was probably not my first gay-man crush, and certainly wouldn’t be my last. That being said, how confusing do you think that was for me to not just like boys, but to like boys that liked boys? Of course, I also liked boys that liked girls… I just wasn’t usually one of them. A seemingly unfortunate situation that would lend credence to a future wildfire that was subconsciously brewing inside me.

Now when it came to women, I usually said that I could “see the beauty in a woman’s body, admire it, but not be attracted in ‘that way’.” I think I said that so much and it happened so infrequently, I even made myself believe it. I may have been a Pathological Heterosexual, which sad to say, I may have not just invented. I was drinking the Kool-Aid sold by society and believed the societal stigma that surrounds sexuality, orientation and gender-fluidity.

So flash forward a couple years, I made out with a girl while I was in college. And a few more when I was in the Navy. That was pretty much it in the experimental category. I always knew though, that I did not want to be in a relationship with a “chick” because I was “one of the guys.” I thought chicks were crazy – naturally, present company excluded.

And what was I raised on? Sex. Pure sex. They say sex sells, but I’m beginning to believe that it also buys, creates, and destroys. And before I lost my virginity, it was my ears that were gratefully penetrated. Madonna’s Immaculate Collection is dripping with musical ecstasy. George Michael “Wants] Your Sex” and has “Faith” in “Freedom! 90.” Color Me Badd only has to say “I Adore Mi Amor” for you to know they “Wanna Sex You Up.” And I’ve always been a sucker for Joey, my favorite New Kid on the Block. Now, I’m not blaming music, movies, video games, etc… I’m just saying having the predispositions that I have, I believe that I experienced all sensory stimuli in a very different way than most. For being so strong and independent I’m influenced by my environment easier than I would like to admit and it’s only now that I’m realizing it. Is Robert Palmer right, am I “Addicted to Love” (and sex; that’s a good question for another time [thanks Maz]). Mmmm… Foreshadowing.

Up until recently, this topic was taboo for me, especially being raised with the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality. The first time I felt even remotely comfortable thinking about my sexuality in more than a one-on-one repartee was in 2011 when I played women’s professional football, where 95% of the players, it seems, are lesbians. I found myself attracted to a few players and fantasized about trysts that could have but didn’t exist. I was asked by one of them one night if I was gay and I responded: “I could be.” She found that amusing, but not amusing enough to call my bluff. Was it a bluff? Regardless, none of those school girl crushes were ever realized, but I felt that I could be whoever I truly was around these women – gay, straight, or otherwise.

It’s partially with the help of RuPaul Charles that today I’m able to finally say that *I think* I’m a gay boy who’s a transwoman drag queen in the body of a nearly forty year old mostly heterosexual cis-female teenager. At least, that’s as far as I’ve worked out so far. It seems to add up to this: 99% of the time I’m 100% strictly dickly.

Truth is, I’ve still got a lot to learn about myself, and the path is being constructed as we speak? Read? Whatever… I’m working on a better version of me. The real me. I’m not even sure I know who she is yet, but the road to Recovery is underway and it’s through honest assessments of myself, continued conversations with others and moments of clarity like this that will get me to where I’m going. Thanks for reading. Peace.

~ Carol Ann M. Van Natten

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                                                   MIC

20 MAR 15

Cognitive Triangle

I had a dream last night. One that, at first, I labeled as “bad.” It, of course, had no beginning and a questionable end. At least that is what I had initially thought. I was in what seemed like a very cluttered room. Other times it was an apartment with an open floor plan. I may or may not have noticed him come in, but he was there now. The love of my life. The man of my literal dreams. I haven’t spoken to him in so long. It’s probably been about six months or more, but it feels like so much longer.

It did not seem as though we interacted with each other. He just rushed around the place unearthing items and collecting them together as though preparing for a deployment. I was used to this – we’ve been through at least two or three. Though I did not scream out to him, I was extremely upset. And much like a night of blackout drinking, my dreaming consciousness darts around the room to piles of stuff, to him walking out the door, to the clutterlessness that now surrounds me.

After I lose sight of him through the window just right of the door, I look around at the mess that was not left. I think, for just a moment, that my stuff is gone. When I go over to the bookshelf on the other side of the room, I see that my items upon it are neatly folded and tucked away, hidden from obvious view. The same was true for dresser drawers in other areas of the room. There was no mess where once there was more than I cared to deal with. From there, the scene degrades from my mind, but the unhappy and unsettled feeling takes longer to dissipate. In fact, with each breath, I can still feel a twinge of pain in my heart.

I woke with mixed feelings. It’s been years since I dreamt about him. It wasn’t long however, that I was onto thinking of other things. The melting images of the dream drifted in and out of my mind for hours. It wasn’t until later that evening, when I began to tell Jessica about the breakthrough I had in therapy the other day, as well as minor details from last night’s dream, that pieces started coming together in front of me.

***

This past Wednesday, as with most recent Wednesdays, I attended my CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Self-Esteem Group through the VA Women’s Health Clinic. We discussed biased expectations and negative self-evaluations. We’ve been working with the Cognitive Triangle, whose corners represent thought, behavior and mood. Each of which can affect the other. When one of those three is negative you must catch, check and change it. Generally in my case, it is a thought that leads to the other two and therefore the “three c’s” are usually used for my negatives thoughts.

Before learning about the triangle, my negative thoughts would put me in a sour mood and lead to less than stellar behavior or vice versa. For example when my thoughts are consumed with insecurity and doubt, perhaps I may drink too much to try to forget these feelings and in doing so I wind up miserable and even more negative.

The three c’s come in when I realize I am having a negative thought and I catch it. Catching a negative thought is not always easy, but once I do, I try to check it, or as I believe that to mean, I identify it and evaluate why it is negative and what evidence I have that the thought I am having is true. With no evidence that my negative thoughts are valid, I can change it with a more positive outlook. In having more positive thoughts, I begin behaving in a more positive way and I will be left with a more positive mood.

The group went well that day. I feel like I am learning about myself and self-esteem in general more and more each appointment. Just after the group, I went to my appointment upstairs with my Social Worker who had referred me to the group in the first place. We talked about some of the positive moments of the group as well as changes in my behavior lately to help better myself. One of the things I mentioned was the way I have been dealing with my obsessive and inappropriate feelings towards potential mates. This behavior, of course, leads to a feeling of neediness, clinginess, self-consciousness, not being good enough, not being sexy enough and general inadequacy.

When she asked me how I was resolving those scenarios, I told her that I realized that the way I treat and feel about men that I am not interested in is very different from the way I treat men that I am sexually or mentally attracted to. That being said, I have no problem being friends with someone I am not attracted to and I analyzed the emotion with which I conduct those friendships. In using the same mindset that I do with those friends, when projected onto someone I may be attracted to, it brings a certain perspective that I would have otherwise missed. Instead of allowing my hormones and emotions to escalate out of control, I treat the person with the asexuality that the meeting warrants. I only just met someone, and even if that person is attracted to me, it matters not – we just met and I cannot build a relationship out of the fantasies in my head. With such an approach I am able to accurately and appropriately have a realistic frame of mind about the person and treat them just as I “normally” would treat anyone else in that scenario.

It was while I was explaining this to my Social Worker that I realized I was having a breakthrough. If I do not jump to conclusions with people, or I do not think instantly that they are a good mate for me, and if I stop trying to impress every single man I meet, I will not have feelings of inadequacy because my validation will no longer be a result of their reactions to me. I will have impressed myself with my control and I will feel better because I made me feel better; my heart-felt emotions will not be hinging on the words, thoughts, feelings and actions of another. If this theory is in fact true, then I can rest assured that in not seeking validation from others, that I will no longer experience the depression that comes from personal rejection as I will not be seeking any approval. Instead, I will feel better about myself, do activities that please me, and work toward getting my own approval. If I am not happy, I will make corrections to rectify the problem, but my happiness or lack thereof shall no longer rely upon outside forces.

When I shared with a close friend about this whole epiphany thing, I also brought up the dream I had about that certain someone (which occurred days after my therapy sessions). I told her of how he came into my cluttered living space, a space that I felt during the dream had been “ours,” and how he seemed to gather things and leave without a word. I told her that when I lost sight of him I looked around the room and there was no longer a cluttered mess or items and personal effects, rather a tidy room with neatly packed drawers and nicely stacked shelving units. I was about to tell her that somehow I knew that everything that had been left in the room was in fact mine and that nothing remained of his.

As those words came out, I felt yet another rush of inspiration, an epiphany if you will, that my dream had legitimate significance and was not random or upsetting as I had originally thought. For the first time, perhaps ever, my dream spoke to me. It represented the fact that he was no longer a part of my life and that without him, I was not only able to survive, but able to thrive as was evident by the immaculate condition of my living space after he left. It may have been inferring that while he was a part of my life, I allowed myself to be so caught up in his world that I disregarded the health and safety of my own. With the simple act of coming in, getting his stuff and leaving I was left with myself, and my belongings in a better condition than I have ever been in to my memory.

It is with these thoughts that I can feel what great strides I am making for myself. I feel like I am on the cusp of greatness for myself. I relish in the idea and the feelings that I am almost there.

UPDATE: Just A few nights ago I had another dream about him. I was having a gathering of some sort – not really sure what kind. And even though we don’t speak anymore, he was there. The only detail, was but a moment, that I remember was that of hugging him and knowing that I was hugging him goodbye.

You Don't Look Sick23 SEP 14: Today was one of my most noticeable examples of The Spoon Theory as how it pertains to my life. Or at least the life I am still coming to know, living with Fibromyalgia, Depression and Anxiety, among other things.

The Spoon Theory explained on Wikipedia, in a nutshell:

Spoons are an intangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity ‘costs’ a certain number of spoons, which might not be recharged until the next day. A person who runs out of spoons loses the ability to do anything other than rest.”

The origin of The Spoon Theory can be found here, in Christine Miserandino’s essay of the same name. It describes her struggle with Lupus and how she explained it to her friend, who did not understand and like many others may have at one time told her: “but you don’t look sick.” I know I have heard that phrase more times than I remember. Fibromyalgia (as I have), Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and other chronic pain diseases and syndromes have taken to using this neologism of The Spoon Theory to explain the struggles we all face with our respective malady/maladies.

So many different things can and do affect the level of pain and aggravation I have each day. One of the worst culprits is not enough/lack of sleep. I don’t usually get up early anymore, but because I was going to a taping of The Price is Right with Drew Carrey (hoping to get asked to “Come on Down” by George Gray) at 0830, I got up between 0600 and 0630. As the late great Robin Williams said in Good Morning, Vietnam, “what’s the ‘oh’ stand for? Oh my God, it’s early!”

Now, despite having lived in California for just over eleven years, I have never tried to get on The Price is Right – why? I don’t know. I guess it never occurred to me the amount of time involved to get in line to get in another line, to get green screen pix in front of the wheel, to wait in another line, to interview with/impress “The Dude,” Stan, to move to another line, to get to order and eat lunch, while waiting for another line to be randomly scattered throughout the audience and wait for just a wee bit longer to finally get the show on the road. Holy hell. But that was not even all that bad as all the lines had seating areas and we are no longer experiencing 100+ degree weather. It was once things got rolling that there was this need to ride the emotional roller coaster along with each contestant, whom, if you are social you have probably already talked to at least once outside during the five hours you were herded about like cattle. It wasn’t long until my arms and hands were sore and weak with what seemed like endless clapping. Of course, this is in addition to the soreness in my throat from screaming at 100% of my all every five minutes, not to mention having the worst dry-mouth ever – a combination of medication side-effects and the fact that no food or drink is allowed in the studio.

As is my tendency, I just kept going full-bore and tried to relax in the few commercial breaks we had in the show. The studio itself is extraordinary. There are hundreds of lighting fixtures and beams, poles, curtains and lights and squiggly designs that made me think this must have been the set of Laugh-In back in the Smothers Brothers days. The stage and audience space are optically intriguing as they are a fraction of the size they appear on TV. But I digress…

By the end of the taping I was spent. I picked up my green-screen memento picture and a deck of The Price is Right playing cards for my collection. I headed back to my car and just sat there for a while trying to decompress and was already dreading the fact that I had planned to go to another taping just a couple hours later. I already knew that I would need reminding to never plan two tapings in one day again. I already felt like I was borrowing spoons before I even went to pick up my friend for the @midnight taping.

Thankfully much shorter an adventure, the @midnight taping completed whatever I may have had left. Endless clapping to muscle fatigue. I had no idea “fun” could be so exhausting and ultimately – painful.

When I got home, I couldn’t do anything but lay on the couch at 7pm and tried to set an alarm for 8:30 to go to The World Famous Comedy Store. That didn’t happen. 3 hours later still groggy and asleep on the couch. I woke for just a little bit. To Facebook, to Twitter, to play @midnight’s #HashtagWars. By 12:30am I was in bed and was able to watch an episode of Deep Space Nine before passing out. Nine hours later… I may have gotten most of my spoons back.

From Miserandino’s essay:

“Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too. I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything.”

At 12:30pm the next day I typed this with heavy eyelids and prepared for my next outing – a taping of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson with guests William Shatner Jackie Geurrido and Judd Apatow. Le sigh… And the beat goes on. Dada doom dadoom dada