She tells me to write one positive thing a day. A paragraph, a sentence, a page, a word. Tells me to try as hard as I can to flake away the aching and find something beautiful to focus on. Do not let yourself get overrun with hurt. Focus on the good.
Another tells me to let the emotions pass through me. To notice them, give them breath and life, but let them leave again. Do not hold on so tight they control you. Do not let them plant roots. Pain must wash in and out and leave room for good.
In a Twitter message another woman in my life tells me that she has been fragile lately. That she knows I’ve been hurting and she’s been hurting, too. Says she had to protect herself. Tells me about going to a bar and drinking water. Singing karaoke at the top of her lungs. Doing something good.
It’s simple in theory, but hard to remember. I have to lean on those around me to remind me to look for the shiny pieces of life. The ones that make me feel like continuing forward. The ones that makes this whole thing seem like fun. No, it will not cure us. It will not make as bulletproof. But there’s a certain kind of resilience that comes with making sure to notice the good.
So let’s go out. Let’s pretend we forgot how much this is hurting. Let’s wrap ourselves up in vests and raincoats and take to the woods. Let’s undress and lay down on massage tables and melt into the comfort of another set of hands. Let’s make dinner. Sit on the patio and talk at one in the morning. Sleep in. Wake up early and go for a run while it’s still dark out. Let’s find excuses to laugh more and think about all of this less. Got it? Good.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pallian.
We go back to places we remember. Try to nestle back into the space between tree trunks we grew with, but we no longer fit there. The moss, the roots have overtaken everything. This is not the place we once frequented. That space does not exist.
Visiting with arms I’d forgotten, comfort and safety and memory. A reflection of something I wanted, but never had. A promise unkept. Not made by the person who could keep it, but the one who needed it. People do not become other people by you envisioning a spark and hoping. What you see if what you get, so make sure you’re paying attention.
Nadine reminds me that I almost ended up in a psych ward a year ago. Tells me I am a fire that he extinguished. Tells me how she’s never seen me happier than I am now. Tells me I deserve it. I earned it. Tells me I’m worth it. She tells me, “This is like drinking. You have to just cut him out.”
Inhaling sharp I realize I’ve been one foot in and one foot out. Half-hoping there would be a reconciliation with a man who is only living in my imagination. The one I thought I married, but never actually met. With passion. With emotion. With an unapologetic lust for the relationship. Those attributes did not exist in him and so I thought they didn’t exist at all. Thought I wasn’t the type of person who deserved them. Thought I had to find a way back into a relationship that was not what I wanted, but was as close as I was going to get.
But fuck that.
I broke down the night before and Andrew drove to my house and carried me inside. Put me in bed and wrapped his arms around me even though it was so hot we stuck together like a mother’s skirt and a little kid. He rubbed my shaved head and told me I’m perfect. That he loves every messy inch of me, even as I sobbed and told him I was broken. He told me he trusts me and he knows me and he’s unafraid of what may be coming. And I believed him. And my breath slowed and I relaxed. He’s uncovered the part of me that can be comforted, that can be calmed. That is open to being loved and loving fearlessly.
So when I got back from coffee with my ex-husband I did not sit down and write the email I was thinking about. I did not tell Mason I couldn’t do this, that I need him. Instead of giving up on the idea that I deserve happiness and passion, I drove to Andrew’s work and left a note on his windshield. Too many words to say something as simple as, “I love you. Let’s do this. I’m all in.”
Photo courtesy of Loic Djim.
I’m not sure where it started. A seed planted by someone when I was a kid took root and wrapped itself around everything I learned to believe. This sense of worthlessness. Of being unlovable. Of “if only I were more/less…” thought patterns. If I could just get mentally healthy. If I could just exercise more. If I could just lose weight. If I could just be less jealous, funnier, easier going, better looking, more feminine. The lists went on. Journals full of it, books covering every aspect of how to “improve” myself. My worth tied to a version of myself that never existed. That never would.
This feeling sabotaged relationships from the inside. Sunk its filthy claws into my life and didn’t let go. Colored everything in its image. The impossibility of ever being a capable, lovable, powerful person seemed more fact than opinion. I did not take anything as evidence to the contrary. My entire existence pointed to the truth that I was not worth loving. That I needed to be better before anyone would do that. Before I could do that.
As I packed for my upcoming move I threw away those books. I tossed those journals. I cleared my cabinets of all the little pieces of memorabilia hinting to the fact that I need to be something I am not. All those bullshit motivational magazines. The fabric tape measurers, the food and bathroom scale, the diet plans and lifting regimens. All those letters I wrote to myself about how once I am properly medicated and go through enough therapy someone will want to stay with me. Promises of tomorrows that will find me worthy of existing. Overwhelming and unachievable goals of someday being someone other than who I am. Of someday being the kind of person this or that person would want to love. Would want to keep. I walked them all outside and dropped them in the trash. Take it to the curb on Friday. Never invite them back in.
The shift happened gradually. The acceptance that I am good. Worthy. That I am not broken or in need of fixing. That I don’t need to do anything, change anything in order to be a person other people want. That I want. I am the person I am and I am deserving of every goodness in my life. Nothing and no one can rob me of that.
It does not matter that I’m not a svelte athlete. That I will never grow my hair out. That I wear make up most days because I like the way I look in it. That I’m queer even though I don’t feel like I’m queer “enough”. That I’ve slept with someone who was married when they weren’t married to me. That I used to drink and use drugs and forget about my friends. That I don’t have a petite frame. That I’m the jealous type. That sometimes I like to blow everything off and watch Netflix for hours. That I’ve lied because I thought someone would like me more for it. That I’ve started and stopped running regularly more times in my life than I can recall and will probably do it more. That I used to be able to deadlift 200 pounds, but now haven’t lifted anything in almost a year. That I’m divorced. That I don’t want a “real” job because I love working in customer service. That I dropped out of college. That I talk and laugh way too loud. That I love having my photo taken even though it makes me feel vain. That sometimes I still cry over relationships that didn’t work out. That I said “I love you” obscenely soon to my current partner. That I love to cook, but not for myself. That sometimes I really just want to listen to Top 40 pop songs. That I don’t like to go hiking. That I pour my soul out to strangers on the Internet, but often don’t know how to talk about my feelings to my friends.
All that matters is that I understand that each piece of me is decent and valuable and worthwhile. That I am a good person, an excellent friend, capable and deserving of love regardless of all the reasons I think I am not. And even on the days I have trouble believing it, I have to still know it. To listen only to the part of me that looks at myself like my partner does. Like there is nothing about me that needs changing. That each piece is loved and understood and accepted. A scarred and worn package containing an impenetrable goodness that does not have to be earned or fought for or proven. That exists simply because I do. Because my heart still beats and my breath still pumps in my chest. Just like yours.
Photo courtesy of veeterzy.