Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflection of TEN YEARS of blogging as Zoe Strickman.

I'm not sure whether I am writing this for myself of for a reaction from you, but the readership of this blog has dropped to almost zero.  "This affirms that I am really using this blog for the right purpose -- a true journal," I think, and then I get sad that I only have two or three readers left from the olden days.  Hundreds of hits PER ARTICLE; ten, twenty comments in each post, arguments back-and-forth between readers in the comments section, drama, marital suggestions, etc. used to be a normal part of this blog.  No more.  Now it is just you, you, and me -- an echo chamber.

Its a bit shocking that ten years have passed since I started writing a book on understanding who we are.  I was fighting with the concept of the "I" after coming out of yeshiva and first starting law school.  But to go back to 8/26/2004...

I was starting my first day of my second year of law school.  I was working hard on becoming an attorney, and I had a pretty difficult courseload ahead... Evidence, Constitutional Law (which I eventually failed), and who knows what else.  I had my friends, and I wasn't even thinking of marriage yet.  My excitement came from waiting to receive the Netflix DVDs in the mail -- who would ever think that their streaming service would ever be something of value?

I was fighting a struggle of identity.  Who I am.  I was trying to reconcile it with the idea of a "frum" person, as it was taught to me in yeshiva.  I was frum, but I wasn't that person I had in my head, yet at the time, I did not yet come to terms with it.  Appearances were so important, and I was a soldier of the Lubavicher Rebbe feeling pressured to do what a Lubavicher does.  I was careful to dress, act, and be what was expected of me, and the fact that I lacked in certain key areas (e.g., davening with a minyan, or thinking like a Lubavicher) was a deep source of angst for me.

I started this blog thinking that there must be something wrong with me.  Kiley's blog resonated with me so deeply that I decided that I must be like her.  It was her style and her honesty that inspired me to look deeply within myself and find the reasons for my angst.  She found a reason for her pain, and I wanted a reason too -- something that I can point to and say THAT is why I am the way I am.  I made a decision that there was something wrong with me, and then I went to visit a psychologist to prove that I was a manic depressive, and already knowing the answers to the diagnostic questions I would be asked, I answered in a way that I knew the doctor would agree with me.

[With all sensitivity and respect to those who truly suffer, I made a mockery of them and when it was no longer convenient, I stood up and said, "nope, that's not me."  In the meantime, however, I experienced true feelings of helplessness imposed on my by those who were supposed to be protecting me.  I felt as if I was not trusted by those with whom I entrusted my health, and that I couldn't trust my own thoughts, my urges, or my own energy patterns.  When I had an all-nighter rush from studying for an exam the next day (or more likely, my turn for being "called upon" to be the Socratic method punching bag of the day to give jollies to some law school professor's sadistic urges), I blamed my adrenaline rush the night before on being manic depressive.  When I was sad that I had no relationship and nobody to love, I blamed this sadness on being a manic depressive.  The definitions were too easily applicable to my minor mood swings, and so I was hit with a label that was so damn difficult to remove, even though I never gambled away all my earnings or attacked a cop while running naked through the street, or booked a cruise to Hawaii naked in the middle of some manic rage (there are obviously extreme examples).  I was just a law school kid who was having a difficult time keeping up with the pace that was required of me to succeed in what was a nasty, ego-blasting, often humiliating, cut-throat environment that was law school.]

In giving myself the title of being manic depressive, I also forgot that I had roughly twenty large cups of coffee a day during the week, and did not consider that this might affect my moods a bit.  I forgot that I had an abusive childhood where I had not yet scratched the surface of resolving the emotional trauma I experienced as a child.  Heck, I didn't even remember whether my feelings and my memories were real or not, and I felt like a liar for not remembering whether memories of abuse were real or not.

But it wasn't only abuse.  It was my parent's divorce.  It was the breakup of my home, my security.  It was the guilt from feeling like I caused the divorce.   It was the failed relationships and inability to form meaningful friendships over the years which hurt deeply.  I was selfish and self-centered in all of my dealings, and the other for me was a tool to be used for my own growth an personal development, but at the time I was blind to this.  I probably still am.

But it wasn't only my parent's divorce, or my failed relationships.  It was my explicit failure in my chosen profession in school.  I did not get into medical school because I withdrew my application over a technicality -- a core course which I was having trouble with, "physics" reflected to the medical schools that I failed it when in reality my transcript showed that it was an incomplete.  I was sucked in around the same time to a MLM / pyramid scheme which eventually landed many of my peers in jail.  I was spared because after leaving the chosen medical field to do this full time, and after giving it my all, I lost $20,000 and I was in debt up to my ears trying to make the business work.  But I couldn't pay my bills and the income from the business stopped coming in.  I died inside and admitted defeat, and then the pyramid scheme went under.  Then a few months later, it morphed into something new and I was dumb enough to give it a try again.  I fell so hard on my face from the business failure that I thought that I would never recover.

...Then I found religion.

Religion didn't solve my problems, it compounded them.  I suddenly had to be someone else, and I had to leave behind many things I held very dear and close to me.  Ballroom dancing, the occult, tarot cards, dating, bars, friendships, freedom -- these all vanished when I decided to hide away in the frum world and remake myself.

I came out a changed man with a plan.  A religion as a toolkit on my belt, and a belief that if I did X, Y, and Z, I would be rewarded with spiritual goodies, a good life, a wife, children, riches, and all that my heart could desire.  Wrong.  "We don't make deals with G-d," a rabbi once told me after I was devastated that I bombed the first LSAT exam when I finally decided to go to law school.

"If we don't make deals with G-d, then what good is he?  Isn't he supposed to be my father, my owner, my creator, my friend, my consolation in times of pain?  Isn't he supposed to save me? From myself?  From others who oppress me?"  "And why should I serve Him if he does not reward me?"

I went through years of this, yet somehow my life has shown me that everything I believed was true.  He does reward us for our hard work and our prayers.  He does help us in times of need.  What I did not understand at the time, however, was that he does for us what HE believes is good for us, not what I believe is good for me.  In other words, no Porche in the driveway; no million bucks in the bank and naked models at my side when I walk down the street.  No fame, and no recognition -- just little old me.

It is ten years later, and after a number of rough years, for the moment, things have been good.  My law practice is for the moment successful.  I have six children all of whom were born in succession.  I have my health, and I have a good wife.  Now my marriage has been one hell of a shaky one over the years, but after a few years of bumpy times, I have learned how to appreciate my wife even with her faults.  Even today I still catch myself being a judgmental prick, noticing some task (today it was no laundry, no shirts, no undershirts, and no underwear), but instead of getting upset about it, I still love her even though she often doesn't have her act together.  But, then again, I almost never have my act together either, so who am I judging?

I'm reading a book right now by Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements," and I am very impressed.  It teaches that you should love your wife the way you love your pet.  If they don't want to play, no sweat.  We don't take it personally, and we don't question whether our relationship will survive, or whether the cat treats me with enough respect or whether the cat loves me the way I want to be loved, etc.  Even on bad days, we still love our cat.  We feed her, we hold her, and we play with her.

Another point in the book that I am working on grasping is that "your wife is not perfect, and neither are you.  But her flaws are her flaws.  Her mess is her mess.  Her problems are her problems.  Take care of your own mess, work on your own flaws, deal with your own problems and love your wife as she is with her mess."  So this morning, I stayed home and I did the laundry -- I did the whites load and the adult color load.  Thus, I am wearing underwear, I have a clean undershirt, and I'm happy.

So, ten years, huh??  Am I really that much different?  Not really.  I am still the same person with the same flaws.  I've figured out a few things as far as my own emotional makeup; I've come to terms with my failings in my religious observance; and I'm seeing a therapist to deal with the childhood traumas I experienced so that I can "decompartmentalize" various experiences and emotions that I have locked up over the past, that way I can live healthily and lovingly with my family.  Ten years... I learned that money and support comes from G-d, and whatever he believes is appropriate for me, I'll find a way to make... as long as I go to work.

And are there still areas in which I need to improve?  You better believe it!  I wouldn't be surprised if I read the blog from the beginning and I found that I still have most of the issues I had ten years ago.  But I'm older now... wiser, sort of.  And, more calm about my world, my surroundings, and my life.  I have a deeper sense of G-d, and a deeper understanding of how he forms and expresses himself in our screwed up, corrupted, anti-semetic world.  But I don't worry (actually, YES I certainly worry), but in theory, I don't worry -- everything is all according to G-d's plan.

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