[Before you think, oh no, Catherine’s going crazy with the writing, remember that the writing is the evidence I’m not going crazy.]
I have made a decision, but still every now and again I find myself doubting it. I wonder at what it is I’m trying to achieve and what it is that is driving me. My motivations are probably not all good, and that there are probably some faulty goals hiding within the good intentions. That said, maybe I’m underestimating myself.
Option one is to make certainty. It’s to draw a line. It’s to say there’s no looking back. It’s time to move on. Turn my back and walk away.
In a way, being about certainty and control, this is the safest option. It’s a sharp pain but then without quite so many triggers of what has gone before, the healing becomes easier. It’s no longer taking a risk but taking a decisive course of action.
Some friends advise me along this route although they hide from acknowledging the true amount of sacrifice they would be forced to make because of my actions. Cutting myself free can’t be done in a half-hearted measure. If I wield the knife, I break their toys too.
This is not what I would naturally choose as I believe a stronger healing comes through talking and working though problems rather than avoiding them. I want to grow and learn, not keep repeating old mistakes. It kind of feels rash and desperate to me just to run away because you’re too much of a coward to hurt a bit. So far in this decision taking malarkey I’ve found that even though not running away leaves me open to occasionally tripping up, it’s given me the opportunity to learn to laugh at the situation. Nothing heals faster than laughter.
Option two is to numb, everything. Option two is not really an option but the inevitable place you end up if you don’t make a choice. It’s a pit of misery and despair. I refuse to go there again.
Since I can find humour in the situation and can laugh at myself, there seems no risk I’m going to head down this path. There is no need to worry about my mental well-being.
Option three is what I’ve been trying to do. It’s the choice to let go of any control. It’s to trust that I’m going to find my way back to my feet without trying to stand. It’s to watch the trigger being pulled, feel the emotion as it hits and then, with great difficulty put myself back in front of the gun and relax.
This sounds hard, but it’s just a matter of iteratively improving your self-awareness. Since I’ve taken control of my happiness, rather than put it in the hands of anyone else, I’ve found that the time it takes to get back on my feet has become shorter and shorter. This weekend for example, I was laughing at a situation within less than 24 hours that not so long ago would have left me miserable for weeks. Just 72 hours later and I’m wondering why I bothered being so upset about something that on the grand scale of things doesn’t really matter.
I have to be able to acknowledge what it is I feel and think. The two often contradict but that’s ok. There’s no theory of everything when it comes to what’s going on with me. I can’t be understood by a series of beautiful symmetrical equations. I’m the sum of a whole heap of irrational constants and unrelated variables.
The contradictions are the interesting points. My feelings come from fierce self-preservation, the claws-out catfight to avoid pain, the struggle to find comfort and my values being thrown into the arena.
My values set me apart from other people, but my values also include a heavy weight of caring what others think of me. Getting to the point where I’m not making my choices based on other people’s values, but instead on what I believe in, is taking considerable time and will probably be my version of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity.
Improvements are however noticeable. I might feel a mess right now, but in action I am focused. It’s not like my last months at work where I didn’t want to get up in the morning. My experience of forgiveness has illustrated this, as does the fact that I wake eager to live the day ahead and make something happen.
Still though, feelings of shame exist because of my thoughts about other people’s expectations. Like everyone else, I want to be seen as strong and confident. Instead I am very much aware that when I’m exposing my fears, sobbing on the floor, reaching out to friends with a bouquet of pain that I look neither strong nor confident, despite genuinely believing I am both.
The problem comes with the contradiction between what we grow up thinking strong and confident looks like and what the courage that makes both illusions possible actually is like.
When I look at my life now, and compare it to my life of the past I see how much more courageous I have become. Not only have I opened up more in the last few months to some of the people I love most dearly, but I have also been to Egypt, refocused my life on my writing and what I want to do and be, lived abroad for a considerable amount of time and much more. But when I imagine what other people see, I think of the mess that I must appear to be.
Wider social expectations are problematic for me too. I’ve made considerable mistakes trying to fit inside boxes when what I want is freedom and my own independence. My perfect day of today is incredibly similar to my perfect day of ten years ago. The only difference being that now I’ve got more experience to flesh it out with. It’s taken that much time for me to realise that I don’t need a piece of paper that tells me I’m clever, to possess a few square metres of ‘my space’ or to please anyone just for the sake of their devotion. Such awareness helps me understand what really matters to me, and what is worth fighting for.
The ‘not good enough’ terror surfaces. Like a jack in a box, it catches me by surprise. You can sharply slam down the lid to make it go away, but it eventually it springs back up. Instead it can only be conquered by looking hard and realising it’s a doll on a spring. It’s not real. Such fears of not being ‘good enough’ are just fabrications too.
Everything is impermanent. Even in my long ago moment of blackness when I was incapable of seeing that any change could possibly happen, change found me.
At that time, I did not have the strength to wield a knife. But by not wielding the knife I accidentally saved a friendship. (I also caused damage to numerous others.) At that time, I didn’t have the choice, I was too cold and numb to react in any way but that which in the moment seemed to give the most instant protection. If it had been a friend’s life and I was sharing a thought out logical opinion, I would have said take the knife with two hands and save your imminent self from all the future pain.
Not everyone gets such an option. Often the knife is plunged in for them. The bonds are severed. The friendships are torn apart. Being given the choice as a blessing.
I have to accept reality. It won’t always be so painful, but right now it’s going to hurt from time to time. I think of it like holding your arm out for a blood test. Despite the prick of the needle, you know it’s in your best interest. My veins though are tricky things. If you look at my arms you can barely see them. The nurse removes the needle and says they’ve failed to get any blood. They need to try again but with the other arm. Acceptance is holding the other arm out too, even when you know what’s coming, and that they probably won’t get any blood from the other arm either.
The funny thing is that blood tests never hurt as much as you imagine they will.
I’m working on accepting the difference between what I want and what I have, or what I think I should do and what I am doing. I also have to accept that other people are different and that I do not understand them, must not judge them and must not draw them any boxes. It’s letting go of trying to control others or myself.
I must move forward without wearing a mask.
Reading Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving I initially thought that what I was absorbing from the book was a lesson that love is a combination of ‘care, respect, responsibility and knowledge’. He describes love as ‘the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love’. Such a definition certainly helps me widen my understanding of love. It adds to my understanding from The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck where love is described as the allocation of importance. To clarify here, I’m talking of love as that which I feel for all those people I can deeply about, not the lusty or romantic love of infatuation.
And then, in Fromm’s book, I came across a paragraph that struck me hard.
“To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defence, where distance and possession are his means of security, makes himself a prisoner. To be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and stake everything on these values.”
Faith is important. It’s an action not just a state of being. It’s not a blind hope for a fantasy outcome it’s a belief that it’s worth it to love all those people you care for. This faith is an awareness that things are changing, and that if I keep my heart open for long enough, continue even though I might be played like a fool, keep breathing steadily through the pain, then the friendships I cherish more than anything else in the world, will not only remain intact, but will grow stronger.