Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reality versus Expectations

Months and months ago, I went to my wonderful therapist in tears and told her I hate my body.  And I meant it.  We had a long talk about why I would hate a body that grew and nourished 4 beautiful children, that had been through so many stressors (emotional, mental, and physical), and still managed to be OK ... and one that my husband found sexy.  And we also talked about where my reality was at the time, versus what my expectations were.  And she told me this key:

The gap between reality and expectations is where we hurt.

My reality is that I am a large person.  My expectation at the time was that I should be small, because that is what society tells us we should be.

My reality at the time was that my baby was very young (and still is).  My expectation was that I should be at the gym XX hours a day, eating fewer and fewer calories, and dropping the weight to make other people happy.

In the months since then, I've discovered that she was absolutely right.  The gap between being large and wanting to be small made me hurt.  The gap between having just had a baby and expecting myself to lose all this weight made me hurt.

My reality at this moment is that I am a larger person and I am strong.  I love myself and my body, and I'm so thankful my body is making food for my baby and is capable of lifting heavy things.  Physiologically, as a nursing mother, I may not be able to lose much fat at all right now because my body is producing hormones to protect my fat stores to make sure there will be enough food for my infant, and I'm perfectly OK with that.  FINALLY.  Aligning my expectation in this moment with my reality in this moment has helped me immensely.

It applies to more than just body expectations, however.

Disney and the media have set us up to believe that true love is a movie.  The guy is fabulously wealthy, gorgeous, and perfect, and the girl has a problem that only he can solve, she is a size zero and perfect in every way.  Sure they have fights, but all of that stops once the "I do's" are said because they live happily ever after.  That is an extremely flawed, ludicrous expectation, and far too many of us have bought into it.

The gap between reality and expectations is where we hurt.

We are all human.  We all have struggles.  Most of the women in the world are not going to end up with a prince who can solve their problems and grant their every wish or whim.  And the men of the world aren't going to get the size zero sexpot.  And no one is suddenly going turn into what their partners want simply because they fell in love.  They still get to be human, too, and shouldn't we love our partners for who they are, not what we want them to be?  There is a tremendous amount of hurt between reality (being human) and the movie fantasy expectation.  However, just because that picture perfect expectation is not attainable doesn't mean we can't be happy in the reality and find romance in the real world.

My husband has bipolar disorder.  He has moments where he is not the functional, reasonable, wonderful human being with whom I fell in love.  That is the reality.  My expectation that he not go through those bad parts of his cycle caused pain for both of us -- wasn't fair to him and hurt us both.  Those parts of his bipolar cycle are still going to happen.  We both have to come up with solutions and coping skills for those moments, because they will happen.  And we are all in therapy to figure this out together.  Most of the time, he is a good father, a good husband, and does his very best to make sure we are taken care of, even now while he is unemployed.  If I'm sick, he tucks me in to bed and cares for our children so I can rest.  I feel safe and at home when he holds me in his arms, even if we've just had an epic fight.  And our romantic, unromantic, day to day reality is one that I now understand, accept, and love.

Some people may accuse me of settling, but that's also not true.  I did that once, a long time ago.  That reality was hell on Earth, and when I escaped, my expectation was that I would never be hurt again and that I'd never be vulnerable again.  First, I'm still grateful I got out of that marriage when I did.  But that unrealistic expectation sure led to some colossal emotional trauma.

One more time:  The gap between reality and expectations is where we hurt.

If you're hurting, figure out where that gap is and try to understand why it is there.  Are your expectations truly realistic?  Does your spouse really ignore everything you say or is there something you've been missing?  If the way they express their love for you is different than what you've imagined it should be, can you align your expectation to be the reality you are in?  If you're hungry for attention, in your desperation, are you pushing away the very people who want to give attention to you?  And if your expectations of yourself in this moment are unrealistic, what is the reality you are trying to avoid and why?

It's not about selling yourself short or settling for less than you deserve.  It's understanding that this is the life you have chosen and you have chosen it for a reason.  Why make yourself miserable wishing it's something it's not and likely won't ever be?  When you stop comparing your outtakes to the highlight reel of Hollywood, you'll probably find that your reality isn't so bad after all.

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