I woke this morning around 5am. I’d gone to sleep way too early last night and my body was telling me it had had enough of lying there.
As I pushed the fingers of sleep away from my mind, I could feel the remembrances and feelings of my dreams running away from me as fast as they could, as though, the more I contemplated them, the faster their exit became.
They had been of my new life in its earliest moments.
The foggy feelings of the first time we met and the first time we touched were fresh. My mind was full of the tingly feelings of a love barely born and a complete and utter lack of preparedness for the adventure I was embarking on.
So very afraid.
Yet so very willing to go where I had not gone before in order to discover a newer, safer, more hospitable world.
There are remembrances I have of our “first’s” together that have pinned themselves to the top of my mind sort of like the electronic sticky notes we see in Facebook groups. When I look backward, these are the first entries in my mental journal that pop up. I can dig deeper, but normally don’t.
A blue shirt and very short hair.
A gift of a green candle, no doubt selected at Walgreens on the way over.
A starry night and a blanket in the front yard.
Electricity jumping back and forth in the spaces between where we laid under those stars.
Talks about who were are and who we were and who we’d like to become.
He was so unfamiliar then.
So wonderfully unfamiliar.
And yet, having tried love on a few times, I can tell you in a heartbeat that I would gladly trade in the electricity of the new for the warmth and comfort of familiarity and belonging and loyalty.
Fully awake now, I let my mind wander for about an hour thinking of all the places we’ve been since those – our first days together – took place. Like all great adventures, much blood and many tears have been spilled, and I fear that if I’d known the great price of freedom and health when I first set out, I might still be living in Minooka, IL, buying booze at an alarming rate, and living out the nightmare of codependency in my world infused with addiction.
I am new.
The old me is gone.
I do not miss her.
Even my name is different. Which I find to be the simplest and yet, most profound of ironies.
Along with the missing me that I used to be are other casualties of my warfare. There are full appendages that I have been forced to cut off from myself and leave by the wayside as I have battled on further and further into this war for my freedom and survival.
The circumstances in my life have come to a very calm place, yet the inner workings within me need constant repair and assistance.
I feel like a small water vessel that has endured many sad nights on the ocean being tossed around in dark, raging storms. Somehow, I found my way to this still pond, but the tattered pieces of bark that hold me together often don’t do their job well.
The storm broke me.
It broke my health and my mind and many, many relationships.
And yet, here I am now. At last, in a land where I can float peacefully and not be beaten to a bloody pulp at every turn.
I find myself asking if it was worth it. All the losses. All the wars. All the heartache borne completely alone. All the misunderstanding from the world looking in on me and casting large stones as they disapprove of my methods for survival.
And then there he is again in that blue shirt with that short hair holding that little green candle and a blanket asking me to look at the stars with him.
How could it be that a whole me existed before him? A whole world. A whole psyche. A whole life of sad and hurt.
Oh, it was worth it. It was worth it just for getting him, but even if it weren’t for him, there were other reasons.
My guiding light when I set out was this: to get my kids as far away from the world of alcoholism as I could.
That was it.
The only thing guiding me.
I did not know where or how or when or who.
I just knew we needed to flee.
And if our journey never brought us to a place of rest ever again, we would just continue to flee because I knew what it looked like back there, and I vowed to never let them see it with eyes that were old enough to understand.
The greatest impact of my journey has been the sheer volume of people who have left my life since the old Heather decided to strap on the walking shoes and get a move on.
Recently, I went looking on Facebook for a particular old photo. I had to look through several albums before I found it, and I could not help but notice just how many people who had left comments in those albums of photos that are now blocked and fully removed from my life.
For days, that reality sat around my neck like a chain.
What have I become?
How it is that I can be so unlikeable by so many?
What’s wrong with me? Why do I seem to repel people?
I remember a lifetime of being a pleaser. Of being owned by the approval of others. Of holding that up as my highest aspiration. I remember feeling that I had somehow uncovered a corner of the universe as I seemed to have an uncanny ability to turn haters into lovers.
I think of old workplaces and past acquaintances and count a sad tally on my hand of the amount of people that I convinced into loving me.
The constant adaptation.
The constant hiding of who I truly am.
The inability to show how I truly felt for fear that all my work of enchanting them would be undone.
The smiles that hid tears.
The tears offered in false humility.
The complexity I showed to the crowds to make myself “interesting”, all while concealing depths of dysfunctional complexity that, if bared, would mean my full and utter excommunication from all the people that I thought I’d learned to play like a piano but who were really playing me.
The insults cast upon me.
The betrayals that I would overlook.
The utter lack of loyalty from friends and family members.
The anger I would feel in response to maltreatment.
And then the guilt I would feel for the anger.
The work of pleasing.
The agony of rejection when all that I had was not good enough.
The hidden ideas and opinions that lay sleeping inside me.
I locked those doors and did not give air to them should they betray me and wake and show themselves.
I could not say “ouch” for it was simply not in my vocabulary.
Such is an irony as I was in constant pain.
Constant pain from keeping those I lived to please at bay. Keeping them from changing their minds about me and hating me. Or worse, forgetting me.
I recently read a book about a woman who found herself in a very miserable and mediocre life. One night, her husband just up and left her. With nothing more than a note, she was left to piece together the mystery of his disappearance. Motivated and driven with passion to find him and make it right and win him back, a slow and painful metamorphosis unfolded within her. And after months of setting out to change herself to fit his desires, she woke one day to realize that her transformation had lead her down a very unintended path.
Emerging from her chrysalis, she unwrapped her wings, beat blood into them for the first time, unfurled them, and flew away.
A completely new creature.
In her wake was a full life of relationships and habits and ways of living that she simply shook off like an old skin.
You see, she set out to transform herself in order to. And what she realized when her transformation had come full circle was that though her end goal was to win him back, if keeping him meant that much self loathing and that much self denial, perhaps he wasn’t the prize she thought he was.
And in many ways, that is the story of my journey as well.
My world was filled with those I pleased.
Those I could not say “no” to. Those to whom I could not express a true and honest feeling.
Those who, should I come out and say what is truly true inside of me, would walk away shaking their heads in disgust.
Paddling my way through rough waters had a way of helping me let go. It had a way of showing me that I must find my own feet. I must be okay with my choices and my beliefs and my feelings even if every single person around me disapproved of them.
The first person who ever allowed me these basic human rights was that beautiful man in the blue shirt with ever such short hair holding that green Walgreens candle asking for stargazing companionship.
Others have left, but he stayed.
He has taught me to listen to my own voice and has encouraged me to speak it.
Others have shunned me for telling the stories locked deep inside of me, but with every story told, he has built platforms under my feet to help me to continue moving forward. He has cheered my every step.
And those names blocked out in black on my Facebook comment section.
What am I do to with them?
I came back about a week later to reassess those names. To ask myself just why they might be gone from me. To face the realities of our true relationship.
In each and every instance, I saw a truth so stark and plain that it pained me that I had not noticed it the first time I became aware of the situation.
The old Heather is gone. And with her are the machinations of her world. The pleaser stopped pleasing and those who were present for such left in a loud huff. The instigators saw that their instigations were now futile efforts and so have left, flinging their loud insults on the way out the door. The manipulators have cried in disgust over this new person inhabiting my old body. The liars have told their stories and taken countless others with them. The backstabbers have backstabbed their last as I have finally found the ability to stop harming myself by allowing so much harm to come uncontested.
It should bring little wonder that this sort of thing would unfold, but the truth is that the opposite has happened. I feel distinct awe and wonder that I have discovered my peaceful pond and am now learning how to navigate it. That when the ships sail near me who would seek to lie, cheat, steal, betray, use, and manipulate, they are most positively repelled by me. That the metamorphosis that I was forced into and intended to carry out to win back the cheers and support from my temperamental and capricious fans has been so utterly thorough and complete that they have been relegated to the outermost reaches of my life, whether by my will or their own.
One of the most insightful and helpful bits of advice I’ve been given along this journey is to stop crying over those who will not cry over me. Sadly, I have discovered that I had arranged for myself a universe in where there were very few people who were actually willing to cry over me. Very few people who were willing to exert any sort of positive energy into maintaining a real and honest relationship with me.
The desire to blame myself entirely, wallow in self loathing, and think myself an utter waste sits temptingly near the surface.
But as this new skin becomes more and more my own, I see a different truth emerging. In order to truly love others, one must most indeed love him or herself. Must have a basic understanding of their worth and value and must have the tools to execute the protection he or she deserves. Without these basics, the trajectory of every relationship stemming from such a person will exist solely in an attempt to assuage the deep emptiness. But when basic self-love has been affected, suddenly there comes within an abundance worth sharing. In a word: love. Real love. The ability for real love. And in its dawning years, the likely truth is that friends will be sparse and few in number. That those who are truly willing to go the distance are hard to be found. That the former occupants who must be removed and banned are many.
Beneath that truth lies another: that seeds planted now will bring a much more abundant harvest when they are carefully and meticulously gardened over the course of many years. And so it is for that that I toil, and I do not toil in vain.