How to Let Go of Everything You Thought Mattered

PREFACE: Last year, I got a nifty little certificate that declared I had graduated from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy program, meaning I was not longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the mental illness that had sent me to the program in the first place. This did not mean I had been “cured” of Emotion Regulation Disorder (or, as the evil dwarves of the psychological underworld still like to call it, Borderline Personality Disorder), exactly. No, no. For ERD, there is no cure. There are, instead, therapies that teach people like me which of my everyday and, to me, benign behaviors are seen as Fucking Crazy Bullshit by Everyone Else. In DBT I learned new skills and behaviors that, when practiced with diligence for the rest of my damn life, will allow me, at best, to Fake Being Normal well enough to pass, most of the time. Each moment, it seems, is still a fight not to go slip-sliding back into that cold, dark hole where everything hurts. I’ve decided that the best use of this blog might be to talk about my post-DBT day-to-day life, the setbacks and successes. Hopefully these little stories will help those with ERD feel less alone, while shining light for normal people on what it is like to actually live inside the broken mind of someone with this severe mental illness.

If I’m lucky, I am, right now, at about the midway point in my lifespan. I am 48 years old, so probably I am more than halfway to the drop off. We do have longevity in my family, though, so, you know.

I spent the first half of my life as so many people do – figuring out how to GET stuff. An education, a career, a mate, pregnant, parenting skills, health, fitness, the right car, a nice handbag. Whatever. I was focused on finding and holding, on becoming the things I had always imagined I would be.

For the most part, I am happy to report I succeeded at all of it. I got almost everything I set out to get. A good education, a successful career, a husband, a child, a home. But then a funny thing happened, a thing for which no one had prepared me and about which I had never even stopped to think.

I lost it. All of it.

For the young, life is thought to be about getting and becoming. Live long enough, however, and you will learn that the real journey, the raw and incomprehensible reason for existence, is exactly the opposite of this. Life is not about getting and becoming; it is about losing and unraveling.

That great education? Was in two fields that are essentially now obsolete. The career? Also dead. And the mate? After a decade together he met someone better, left me for her. Our child? He’s growing up and won’t need me much anymore, and that is how it should be. The house? Lost it in the mortgage crisis, have another now, thanks to my mother’s generosity. Health? Comes and goes. Cars and handbags? Here and gone.

So, here I sit, a woman I never imagined I would be, when I was young. Single, unemployed, facing a soon-to-be empty nest.

So much loss.

You don’t consider, when you are in the frenzied act of accumulating your accomplishments, what, exactly, you will do once things change – and they will change, for all of us, in one way or another. At least I didn’t.  So when I finally realized that all of the markers to which I had gone to hang my identity out for the world see were no longer there, I was devastated. Depression hit and was not budging.

At least, not until I had a profound realization. I was not unique. I was not tragic. I was not unfortunate.

I was human.

And the human condition, should we all live long enough, is simply this: We are here to learn to let it go, all of it.

Life, by its very design and nature, is about loss. Everything that is, ceases to be. Everything that is, will become something else. We all lose everything, eventually. This can be a reason for terror and sorrow, or, looked at with compassion and non judgment, it can be the very thing that allows us to become open, tender, and curious about where we are right now. Not where or who we were; not where we’re going; not who we will become. What is, now.

Buddha taught that pain was inevitable but suffering was optional. So too, for loss. Peace comes not in accomplishing what you’ve always set out to achieve, but, counterintuitively, in releasing all attachment to everything.

Be open. Be a curious observer to your own life’s changes. Learn to let everything go. That is where peace lies.

 

Getting Over the Guy You Never Actually Had

PREFACE: Last year, I got a nifty little certificate that declared I had graduated from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy program, meaning I was not longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the mental illness that had sent me to the program in the first place.

This did not mean I had been “cured” of Emotion Regulation Disorder (or, as the evil dwarves of the psychological underworld still like to call it, Borderline Personality Disorder), exactly. No, no. For ERD, there is no cure. There are, instead, therapies that teach people like me which of my everyday and, to me, benign behaviors are seen as Fucking Crazy Bullshit by Everyone Else.

In DBT I learned new skills and behaviors that, when practiced with diligence for the rest of my damn life, will allow me, at best, to Fake Being Normal well enough to pass, most of the time. Each moment, it seems, is still a fight not to go slip-sliding back into that cold, dark hole where everything fucking hurts.

I’ve decided that the best use of this blog might be to talk about my post-DBT day-to-day life, the setbacks and successes. Hopefully these little stories will help those with ERD feel less alone, while shining light for normal people on what it is like to actually live inside the broken mind of someone with this severe mental illness.

So, lately I’ve been getting over someone. I am always getting over someone. If I’m not getting over someone, I’m obsessively getting INTO someone else. There has always been a someone, since I was fourteen years old, and that someone has almost always taken up most of my energy and thoughts. That someone almost always falls very hard for me, because we with ERD can seem incredible, at first. Invariably, though, that someone will soon discover that loving One Of Us is like chewing sugar-coated razorblades, and they retreat. This is why one of the hallmarks for my disorder is tumultuous and unstable personal relationships. I piss everyone off. Friends, family, coworkers. I don’t realize I’m doing it, till it’s done. Usually I just think I’m standing up for myself, or educating them. Heh. Nope.

So, anyway. Lately, I’ve been getting over someone. He was a colleague and a friend, and we sometimes crossed the line into lovers. He is 18 years my junior and was clear from the start that any physical relationship we ever had would be “just for fun” and would never lead to more than that. “I will never be your boyfriend,” he said, very clearly. He is holding out for a woman “at the same stage I am, who fits my life and goals,” which means, basically, someone who isn’t one year into menopause and can have his children. Fair enough.

When I was emotionally regulated and reasonable, I could love without condition and accept what we had for what it was. I was open and caring without becoming attached. I was very Buddhist about all of it, letting him come and go as he pleased and never seeking to possess, knowing I was just a placeholder. But as time went on and we got to know each other better, and even threw the word Love back and forth, I became attached.

In my attachment, I did what many with ERD do, which is I created a fantasy world that did not look like reality. In that world, he would realize we were soul mates and meant to be. We would adopt babies and I would have cosmetic surgery and never grow old. He would stop looking for others.

That never happened.

What happened? He kept feeling exactly as he’d always felt, except less and less so as I obviously grew more clingy, needy and attached. One day, as we were working on a script at a bar, I grabbed his hand and asked him when he was going to just stop fucking around and be my real boyfriend. That was the beginning of the end. Things got more tense from there, and finally came to head with him telling me he didn’t love me, didn’t care about me, and had been with “many women since I started seeing you, all of them far more interesting than you.”

So, yeah. That was a wake up call. Now, I know it seems like he’s an abusive asshole. But people like me tend to push decent, honest people to the point of HAVING to say things like that, because unless it is spelled out, we just don’t get it. Even after he was super clear about this, I continued to roll around in my fantasy. He was perfect for me, and he’d come around. He’d realize it.

So, this is where I was when I finally realized I needed to STOP and DO DBT and FAKE BEING NORMAL until I stopped breaking my soul against the jagged rocks of his truth. I’ve spent the past week coming to grips with reality, using a skill DBT calls RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. People like me tend to ignore facts that hurt us, and create elaborate fantasies instead, then try to jam everyone into our stories. This has made me a very good novelist and screenwriter, but not so good at life.

My mind keeps wanting to go back to the comforting lie. Him, marrying me someday. Him, telling everyone how amazing I am. Him, looking me in the eyes and telling me he can’t live without me. None of that happened. None of that will EVER happen. I have had to mentally tell myself over and over and over to STOP fantasizing. I have made myself radically accept the truth – a thing that healthy people would have done automatically.

One of the saddest things about living in this elaborate fantasy has been that I have been emotionally and practically unavailable, for 7 months, to at least two very decent men with whom I might have actually had the sort of relationship I was pretending I’d one day have with the other dude.

Healthy people are able to accept that someone else likes them, thinks they’re beautiful and brilliant, and even likes having sex with them, but doesn’t think there is a future because of the 18 year age difference and desire for children. A healthy person doesn’t take this personally, but instead realizes that it is true, practical, and just the way things go. Someone with ERD, however, tends to derive much of their sense of self from other people, and therefore feels as though they will literally disappear and die if the object of their affections doesn’t want them. Knowing this, recognizing it’s happening, does not mean it doesn’t happen. It just means I get to start the difficult work of dealing with it.

A very important skill I’ve been using for the past two days is PUSHING AWAY. Now that I have RADICALLY ACCEPTED this dude will never be mine – and never was, even when he said he loved me – I must start to PUSH AWAY obsessive thoughts about him. Like? Imagining him with all those other, superior women, for instance. Or dreaming of losing 50 pounds and blowing his mind when I look better than every model or actress in New Mexico. Thoughts like that. Negative fantasies, positive fantasies, fantasies fantasies fantasies.

I’ve found that if, every time I start to indulge a thought of him or us, I instead turn my mind to running scales (I play saxophone) in my mind, visualizing playing the hardest of the scales (Eb minor? Hello?) then my biochemistry comes back to normal and the emotional pathways don’t get lit up all out of control. And it’s a good thing. When the pathways DO get lit up, I tend to do awful self destructive shit like compulsively text him, or call him, or try to figure out a way to get him “back” even though he was never mine.

When I stand back from it all, and write it out, and look at it, the conclusion is easy: From his point of view, I look like a lunatic. But I don’t have to. I can radically accept the truth, and push away the thoughts, and focus on doing things for me.

This is shit normal people do instinctively. We don’t. But I’m learning. Still.

Sigh.

 

 

My Fans and Readers Set Me Straight

A couple of weeks back, I came up with what I thought was a great idea – tour the country and offer luxurious weekend empowerment retreats for my readers and others. Seemed like a cool concept, and there was TONS of interest from hundreds of woman and a few men – but then a funny thing happened. Hardly anyone signed up.

So I called people.

Yep. On their actual cell phones.

Some thought I was joking, that it couldn’t be me. Most were sort of excited. And we talked. I asked them why they were interested but not signing up and they let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was asking entirely too much money from them. I had been asking $1295 for a weekend, but learned through talking to my base that this was unreasonable for most of them.

Fair enough.

What would you like instead? I asked. What can we do to compromise, so that I can meet you and you can meet me, and no one is going broke or feeling taken advantage of? Again and again they told me more or less the same thing. That they were busy, money was tight, but they loved me and wanted to meet me, hear me talk, and socialize and network with other empowered Latinas.

And I heard them.

So, here’s what we’re going to do instead. I’m scrapping the SUCIA Weekends, for now. I am scaling WAY back, to ONE city at a time, and we are going to do brunch instead. Just brunch. A talk. Some writing and empowerment networking exercises. Y ya. Books for sale, book signing. And we are doing it for $149 instead of $1295.

We are launching on JUNE 17, 2017, in SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS. I’ve already put the deposit on the room, so I hope y’all don’t let me down! Let’s fill this thing up. We’ll have so much fun!

The $149 will include food and (non alcoholic) beverages; a free ebook download code; my talk; writing materials; interactive empowerment workshop; and a gift bag.

This seems a lot more egalitarian and fun. Dating, not marriage. We will do this in one city to pilot the idea, and if it works, we will come to the next.

Sound good?

By the way, when I told my friend, the marketing guru, what I’d done, she was giddy: “You just did what every marketer should do. Put an idea out. Test it. Get feedback if it doesn’t work. Find out what people want, then relaunch to meet their needs.”

You’re welcome!

So, San Antonio, who’s in? CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Bestselling Albuquerque Author Alisa Valdes at Bookworks with Jon Marcantoni Tonight!

Dude. I am so excited. This really good (and, okay, kinda hot) poet from Colorado, named Jon Marcantoni, is at Bookworks in Albuquerque tonight, reading from his new novel, KINGS OF SEVENTH AVENUE, and he invited three local authors to join him to read from their stuff. I am lucky enough to be one of the writers he requested. What kind of guy does THAT? And a writer, no less? Most guys and writers are insufferable egomaniacs. And guy writers are especially insufferable egomaniacs. Not Jon, though. He’s all about community and sharing. He’s a badass babyfaced Boricua brilliance brimming with benevolence. No, for realsy.

So, like, if you ain’t gots nothing better to do, please come down to Bookworks on Rio Grande Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. this evening to hear Jon, me, Ebony Isis Booth and Rowie Shebaulin doing whatever the hell it is we do. Jon is an actor who performs his novels with audience help. Isis is a brilliant poet and creator of Burque Noir. Rowie is a national slam poetry champ. And me? I was gonna read from PUTA but then my son decided to come and so, yeah, nah. I’ll be reading from my NM teen novel THE TEMPTATION OF DEMETRIO VIGIL, which looks like it’s headed to a big streaming network for series soon but I can’t say which one because I haven’t signed anything yet.

Pretty sure I will be the least charismatic and animated person there. And I’m a crazy Cuban. So, you know. That’s saying a lot. Love this town. Love these writers. Love you guys. Come see us!

xoxoxoxoxoxo

How To Be As Hot and Happy As Sisyphus – Wait…What?

So, I’m about to throw some badass college-learnin’ booksmart stuff at you. Hold on. Don’t run away yet. I’ll try to make it short and sexy and whatever else we all need in the Instagram Kardashianized Age of Highlightenment.

So, like, there’s this story in Greek mythology, right?  About a dude named Sisyphus. In the interest of making this post more entertaining I will opt, henceforth, to refer to him as Sissyface. You’re welcome.

Sissyface did some stupid shit and pissed off the Gods, and they punished his punk ass by compelling him to spend the rest of time – like forever, okay? – at the thankless task of pushing a big dumb rock to the top of a particularly pointy mountain peak. Why thankless, you ask? Welp. Golf ball, paper birthday hat. You feel me? D’oh! Down it rolls. Back trudges Sissyface, to the proverbial valley, to start again.

Sucks, right?

Yeah, maybe. Or…maybe not.

Along came this other dude, only like a real dude, from France. Albert Camus. In the interest of being more vaudevillian for your enjoyment, I shall mockingly call him Cameltoe, like a sixth-grade bully.

Cameltoe was an existentialist, as so many of the French strive to be. One imagines him sittin’ around his tiny, hipstery, perpetually leaking and drippy flat, fromaging the hell outta some brie and washing that shit down with all manner of alsace and bordeaux. He starts a-thinkin’, about Sissyface. He looks out his smudgy Parisian window and he’s all, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hang on a second there, Sissyface. Maybe your eternal damnation didn’t suck donkey balls after all.”

So Cameltoe smokes a thousand cigarettes, as the French strive to do, and sits his tweedy trousered self down at some old-timer typing machine. He writes this book, way back in 1942, called The Myth of Sisyphus. Critics call it absurdist, mostly because it reached a Most Buddhist Conclusion in a Most Goal-Oriented Europe.

Maybe, Cameltoe surmised between bites of camembert, Sissyface, facing eternity, decided to quit focusing on some imaginary goal and instead learned what all people ought to learn if they want to be happy at all in this Godforsaken shithole of a universe, and he declared: It ain’t about the destination, bitches, it’s about the motherfuckin’ ride.

Cameltoe wrote about imagining Sissyface in the moments after the boulder had rolled back down, him walking, free and buff as a motherfucker, down the mountain to begin again. One imagines the hillside maidens coming to their doorways to ogle He Who Could Be Played By Young Russell Crowe. That was the Sissyface who most interested Cameltoe, the one who was pretty much just like the rest of us suckers, on the train or bus or freeway after hard day’s work, heading home…free at last, but actually, nah.

Mind.

Blown.

Enjoy the trip, babies. That’s my point. Have a goal, sure. That’s awesome. Flex those muscles as you chase it. But don’t forget to luxuriate in the lather of your own sweat. Don’t forget to whistle on the way down. All you have is now.

Be like Sissyface and Cameltoe and Buddha, baby.

Be here now.

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