Let Me Lose Time – The Choice of “Alone”

The more I am around people, the more introverted I become.  I am rooted in this notion of needing other people…of building community…of networking and connecting, but my spirit just wants to be alone.  I desire a small, private life with limited interaction with others.  The problem is that I know I cannot have all of the other things I want and need in my life without other people.  Is it terribly wrong to think of people as necessary evils?  That seems fundamentally wrong…but most people drain me like succubi, promising companionship and pleasure but wearing me out with demands and needs and selfishness.  Social interactions make me tired thinking of them, and leave me exhausted with the effort.  I don’t like admitting that, because “nice” people and “good” people like other people…that is fundamental in our society, but there are very few people I actually like and enjoy.  What does that say about me?  Am I intolerant? Am I selfish?  Does that make me a bad and unlikeable person?  Is it wrong to want to be alone, to prefer my own company to the company of others?  Or at least to prefer the company of a select few to the hungry, feeding masses who come at me like a virus, taking over my body and mind, draining me of my health and resources?

People need community for times of pain and emergency.  People need friends to help with jobs and other opportunities.  People need community for companionship and entertainment.  Right?  What happens to a person who doesn’t develop friendships?  Is it inevitable that they are lonely?  Does everyone get lonely when they are devoid of multiple companions?  How many is enough?  How much community is insurance against loneliness and disaster?  And can you actually count on anyone?  Is it worth it to put up with people you don’t like just so you can have them there when times are hard?  Do you even want them there when times are hard or would it be easier to do it alone?  These are the questions I ask myself.

Maybe you develop friendships with just those 5 people you really like.  You focus on them and limit your exposure and time with the others since a) they probably won’t be around in times of trial anyway and b) if they were around, you would want them to leave.  Maybe you don’t spend so much time trying to befriend a lot of people you really don’t care for.  Maybe life is just too short to dread being around people you don’t like.  And maybe it is okay not to like them.  If I am happier alone or with my few close people, why should that not be my life?  Why try to force anything else?  Who am I trying to please?  What am I trying to protect myself from?  What am I hoping to accomplish?

I am going to experiment with this concept of limiting my interactions with people who drain me.  I am going to strive for more time alone and at home, in quiet environments that restore my soul and rejuvenate my spirit.  I am going to schedule quiet time and eliminate chaos.  This is the source of peace, and ultimately the source of strength for me.  I can replenish the water in my creative well when I stop and wrap myself in silence.

Let my soul sit alone in the darkness.

Let my eyelids blanket my mind and still my thoughts.

Let my ears collapse in on themselves in the amplification of silence.

It is there that I dip my finger in the honey.

It is there that I step on the grapes.

It is there that I inhale the cooking stew.

Speak to me with the quietest voice.

Whisper the map.

Breathe a new consciousness into my gears and pinions.

Let me lose time.

The Elusion of Happiness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

The pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Declaration of Independence considered the pursuit of happiness one of the 3 things given to us by God that cannot, under any condition, be taken away from us as human beings. Isn’t that a glorious thing to consider? That the pursuit of happiness is as fundamental to our humanity as our very life, our breath, and our freedom and liberty? Note that happiness itself is not a right – but the pursuit of happiness is.

 

So what does it mean to “pursue happiness”? What is happiness anyway? If you research this concept, you find that there is not actually a universal consensus as to how to define happiness, how to measure it, and what factors go into creating happiness. There are blogs and articles, TED talks and youtube videos. Clearly, we are all, in our own individual ways, in pursuit of happiness. How do we obtain happiness? How will we know when we have found it?

 

I have been dwelling with this concept of happiness for years, and I have determined the following:

  • Happiness is a general state of wellbeing and positive feelings that is unaffected by situation, circumstance, or other people.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Happiness can only exist when one lives with an awareness of gratitude and with a generous heart.
  • We see what we want to see, and what we focus on is how we perceive the world. If we focus on the negative, we will believe the world is a negative place. If we focus on the positive, we will believe the world is a positive place. This is such a simple concept, but putting it into practice is more difficult than it seems.

I have discovered that, historically and much to my consternation, I have resisted being fully happy. Why would anyone do this, you ask? That doesn’t make much sense when you bring it into the light and examine it. However, if you think about it, I think this is a fairly common approach to life for many people…we just aren’t aware that we are doing it and can’t figure out why we are unhappy. I think we all have our twisted and confused reasons for being resistant. I believe that these are some of the reasons we resist happiness:

  • We feel we don’t deserve happiness. This feeling of unworthiness can stem from many roots. 1) Guilt. “I’ve done something so bad. I don’t have the right to be happy.” 2) Low self-esteem. “Happiness is for other people. I am not good enough to deserve happiness.”
  • We are comfortable with our negativity. We “enjoy” the blankets of sadness, bitterness, anger, and resentment. We wrap ourselves up in them and sit on the couch of life because it is a familiar place. It requires very little risk and very little effort to stay mired in a negative place. We get surges of bitter comfort from feeding the dark places inside us, like seeking out the sore tooth with your tongue. We revisit past injuries and nurse on them, we replay difficult interactions in our heads, we focus on the hurt someone has caused us, we think about all the things we want and can’t have, we have an ongoing mental playlist of all the bad things in our lives and all the bad things in everyone else’s lives that we think affects us somehow.
  • We are worried we will not be taken seriously. In many fields and walks of life (work, religion, family life, academia, etc.), happiness can be seen as frivolous. If we are too happy, we are not being thoughtful and serious, right? A light heart is seen as a foolish heart. A light spirit is seen as a flighty spirit. A smile is a sign of weakness.
  • We are afraid. What if I allow myself to feel happiness, and it is taken away? What if I try to be happy and it doesn’t work and I discover it’s just an illusion? What would people think of me if I was happy all the time? Would they take me seriously?

There are ways to counteract these destructive thought patterns.

  • Everyone deserves happiness. (It is an inalienable right!) Even if you have done the worst thing imaginable, you can get forgiveness, you can forgive yourself, and you can allow yourself to embrace happiness. You don’t have to feel like you are worthy of happiness. You can just accept it gratefully even if you feel you are not good enough for it. The acceptance of the gift will possibly increase your feeling of self-worth, thereby remedying two issues.
  • Step into the light. Release the negativity. Look at it square in the face, recognize it for what it is, and shake your head “NO”!. You don’t have to sit on the couch all wrapped up in your dark place. You can run naked through the meadow in the sunshine. You can stand arms outstretched in the rain. You can laugh and run and play and jump. You can love and accept and validate and encourage. You can wonder and explore and learn and grow. You are allowed. You will be so much more attractive to yourself and everyone else around you if you live a life of gratitude and generosity.
  • Happiness is so serious that Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest thinkers, writers, and philosophers in history, considered it equivalent to LIFE and FREEDOM. He certainly didn’t think it was frivolous. You can be happy and smart. You can be happy and good at your job. You can be happy and deeply spiritual. These are not mutually exclusive concepts, even though people sometimes make it out to be that way.
  • Do it scared. It’s worth the risk. No one can take away your happiness. If you try to be happy, you will be. It’s a real and tangible thing. Happy people are attracted to happy people, negative people are attracted to negative people. So if you want to be surrounded by happy people, you should be happy yourself. Anyone who doesn’t take you seriously because you are happy is a negative person who just hasn’t seen the light yet. You should feel compassion for them instead of allowing their misguided judgment of you to diminish your light in any way.

I choose, this day, to be happy. I choose to walk fully in the light. I choose to forgive myself for the many things I have done wrong. I choose to feel worthy of happiness. I choose to release negativity. I choose to not be afraid of the future. I choose to not let the opinions of others to deprive me of my joy. I choose a life of gratitude. I choose to have a generous and loving nature.

 

I choose happiness.

Refiner’s Fire

Pissed.

So here I’ve been, wallowing in the mire of self-pity, guilt, regret. Here I’ve been, processing and pondering and analyzing myself and our relationship. Here I’ve been, trying to figure out if it was really me who was in the wrong. If I was remembering things correctly. If she had changed and I pulled out just a little too soon. If I was wrong to have left.  I’ve spent countless hours reading blogs, talking to friends and family, working Dr. Phil’s “Self Matters” book. I’ve read Beverly Engel’s “The Emotionally Abusive Relationship”, Patricia Evans’ “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” and I have worn out my copy of Anne-Renee Testa’s “The Bully In Your Relationship”. I’ve prayed, I’ve cried, I’ve laid in bed for days, I’ve sung, and I’ve cried some more. I’ve “walked down the path” and “started my journey”. I’ve been so deeply worried about her, fretting and in pain for her pain. I’ve seen my entire experience through her lens except for brief moments of clarity. When she cut off contact with me, I actually had the delusional thought that she might be doing it out of respect for me. That she understood how she was traumatizing me, that she wanted to get some distance to we could work on ourselves and figure things out independently…then come back together and share out insights and our growth.

God…what a fool I am.

My most recent interaction with her proves to me that she accepts absolutely NO responsibility for her part in the demise of our relationship. She has NO CLUE what she has done to me over the years and doesn’t sounds like she is even trying to figure it out! Healing only comes with honest recognition of yourself. She says she wants to “tie up our loose ends” so she can start the process of healing. News flash, sweetheart…loose ends have nothing to do with healing. You can only do that by walking through the pain and acknowledging your part in the last decade plus of our lives. Until you recognize how you’ve hurt me, what you’ve stolen from me, how you’ve treated me…until the lightbulb goes on and you fully grasp what you’ve done, you will remain in the dark. You will remain fractured and broken. And you will do it again. To friends, to family,and to your next lover.

At some point, childhood trauma is no longer an excuse for bad behavior. At some point, a difficult beginning should cease to define what kind of an end you will have. At some point, a person must stand up and take responsibility for their actions. Now is the time and you have fallen remarkably short.

I should be grateful. Actually, I AM grateful. I have not really felt this piece yet. The anger piece. Now I do. Now that I realize that she hasn’t changed one bit. She is still using the exact same bullying techniques she has used our entire relationship together. Only now…now…she no longer has control over me. Now…she cannot punish me like she used to. The threat is gone because I don’t want anything from her.

Fine. Keep changing the rules about which assets you want and don’t want. Fine. Hold some of my possessions hostage. Fine. Try to make me feel guilty because I left you holding the bag of the responsibilities we created together. Wait…hmmm…yeah…I don’t feel that guilt anymore because I didn’t WANT those responsibilities in the first damn place. I didn’t want that life that you are now being forced to live on your own. Maybe if we had built a life TOGETHER, we would still be in that life TOGETHER. If I had had ANY say in our life decisions, if I had been living a life even remotely close to one I would have designed for myself, do you think I would have left it? No! I left that life because it wasn’t my life. It wasn’t our life. It was YOUR life and I was just a facilitator for your happiness. Well, no more. Done and done.

So what now? I suppose I continue to take one step at a time. I continue to do everything I was doing before only with wider eyes and a steelier resolve. Maybe I am being prepared for something. Maybe the greater meaning of this journey, this pain, will be revealed in time.

My devotional this morning has remained with me throughout this difficult day. This related piece in Handel’s Messiah has always resonated with me. Now I think I know why, and I will listen with renewed ears and a raw heart this year.

“He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” Malachi 3:3

“Our Father, who seeks to perfect His saints in holiness, knows the value of the refiner’s fire. It is with the most precious metals that the assayer takes the most pains, and subjects them to the hot fire, because such fires melt the metal,and only the molten mass releases its alloy or takes perfectly its new form in the mold. The refiner never leaves his crucible, but sits down by it lest there should be one excessive degree of heat to mar the metal. But as soon as he skims from the surface the last of e dross, and sees his own face reflected, he puts out the fire.” – Arthur T. Pierson.

Lord, please use this fire to make me an instrument for you. Clear away the dross with the perfect degree of heat until you can see your reflection in me. I am grateful to be considered a precious enough metal to warrant the refiner’s fire. I am grateful to feel your hand on me, always by my side, while I am being melted, molded, purified for the work you have out me on earth to do. May all I do bring glory to you.

Letting Go

I can’t let go.  I don’t even know what I am holding on to…the memories?  The dream?  The pain?  The fantasy?  I can’t move forward because I think about her all day, every day.  The problem is, I don’t really know what I am thinking about.  I flip through pictures of us in my mind, but there is little emotion attached to the pictures.  I recreate moments in my memories – vacations, parties, dates, shared tragedies, times with friends.  They are illusory – vapors.  The only memories that are really sharp are the traumas.  Is this unfair to us, to her?  Or does that say more about the nature of the relationship than I care to admit? 

If I am honest, I think a big part of this is that it may be that I am looking for hope.  I am looking for a possibility of reconciliation.  Is there a tinge of love in there…does the nostalgia bring back feelings of desire to rekindle that spark?  I want to want her back.  I want to be consumed by this desperate need to ask her forgiveness.  I want to be able to go running into her arms begging her forgiveness.  I want to be able to give us both that moment, that chance, that surge of optimism and the reassurance of fated love. “Let’s go to therapy.  Let’s try to make this work.  I love you.  We were meant to be together.  We can do this, together, like we always knew it should be.”  But that rings so false, so inauthentic.  I can’t even picture what that would look like.  It wouldn’t be like it was before, but I wouldn’t want that anyway.  I would want some new and improved version of that, but in reality, it would probably be a worse version of what we had because of the new layers of distrust and pain. 

Her sadness rings through my body like the reverberations of metal on metal.  I feel her pain with every step I make.  My joints ache with it.  The call and response is maddening.  Someone says “You look pretty today.”  I think “She thought I was pretty.  She doesn’t have me to look at anymore.”  Someone says “You seem happy.”  I think “She isn’t happy – I tore our life apart.  I don’t have the right to be happy.”  Someone says “I love you.”  I think “She said she loved me too.  If she did, I have wounded her beyond repair.  If she didn’t, what a tragic lie I led.”  I don’t know how to stop doing that.

I have to stop visiting her facebook page.  I flip through our old pictures, looking for clues, looking for a spark, looking for…who the hell knows.  Comfort maybe?  There is no comfort there.

I really need to just face the fact that it really is over.  Over, over…not just “maybe we will just be apart for a while and figure ourselves out and come back together” over, but really and truly over.  I can’t even begin to tell you the sadness that brings to my deepest soul.  It makes it hard to breathe, difficult to swallow, impossible to hold back the tears.

I have someone in my life right now who is teaching me how to love, who lets me be me, who gives me complete freedom and unconditional understanding.  I can’t fully embrace it, can’t walk down that path, as long as I am holding on to the raft that was my life, my love, for so long.  How do you let go of the only thing that has kept you afloat for your entire life?  I know if I let go of the raft, I can swim in the sea, but I just can’t seem to turn loose.  It hurts too much…what does that say?  What does that mean?  If it was really so awful, I should be happy and eager to move on, right?  So why is it so damn hard?

Ode To Broken Things

Things get broken
at home
like they were pushed
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.
It’s not my hands
or yours
It wasn’t the girls
with their hard fingernails
or the motion of the planet.
It wasn’t anything or anybody
It wasn’t the wind
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime
Or night over the earth
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow
Or the hips getting bigger
or the ankle
or the air.
The plate broke, the lamp fell
All the flower pots tumbled over
one by one. That pot
which overflowed with scarlet
in the middle of October,
it got tired from all the violets
and another empty one
rolled round and round and round
all through winter
until it was only the powder
of a flowerpot,
a broken memory, shining dust.

And that clock
whose sound
was
the voice of our lives,
the secret
thread of our weeks,
which released
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
fell
and its delicate blue guts
vibrated
among the broken glass
its wide heart
unsprung.

Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
making fragments
breaking down
forms
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
perishable
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats.

Let’s put all our treasures together
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —
into a sack and carry them
to the sea
and let our possessions sink
into one alarming breaker
that sounds like a river.
May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.
So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway

Pablo Neruda

Love is a verb

Actions and words.  Words and actions. 

Words carry such weight with me that I often neglect to look closely to see if the actions make the words ring true or if they prove them false.  If you say something, that is what reverberates within me.  What is actually important, however, is what you DO after you SPEAK.  Are the words and actions consistent with each other?

You say you support me…what does that mean?  Does it mean that halfway in the middle of my endeavor, you fall completely apart and derail me? 

You say you want me to be happy.  Does that mean you consistently step in the way of me doing things that make me happy such as allowing us to actually shop for a house together instead of buying the first one you see that you want, encouraging me to buy the vehicle I want, spending time with people I enjoy, doing activities I enjoy?

You say you want me to be close to my family.  Does that mean you find excuses to not go see them and sleep the whole time you are with them?  Does that mean you talk them down and have resentment and lack of forgiveness towards them, making it fairly miserable for me to spend time with them with you?

You say you want me to follow my dreams and have my own goals.  Does that mean that you make it impossible for me to have a job that I really enjoy that happens to earn less than what you deem acceptable to live the lifestyle you want for yourself?  Does that mean that you slowly and subtly get me to abandon all of the things I wanted to do with my life to work exclusively on your dreams and goals and convince me to co-opt them for myself so I start believing it is what I actually wanted?

You say you love me.  Does that mean you talk down to me and don’t appreciate the things that are special about me?  Does that mean that the hundreds of times I ask you to stop drinking because it was hurting me and us, you don’t?   Does loving me mean that you yell at me and cause me anxiety on a regular basis?

Love is a verb.  It requires the actions to back up the words.  I am slowly but surely understanding that concept.  What an exciting and grand revelation.  What a miraculous way to live.  What a reason to be grateful.

Southern Woman

Sweet tea in sweaty glasses,

Magnolia blossom scent wafting through open windows,

Wicker on the front porch.

Small fingers sticky with peach juice,

Folding tables in the shadow of a Baptist steeple,

Y’all and Mama and Yonder and Kin.

Stitches in the DNA as surely as hair, height, eyes and skin.

Sugar smile,

all mary janes and soft skirts.

Peanut Brittle in a divinity disguise.

Laying down on the hardwood floor,

Bending over the vintage settee,

Pliant and supple.

– snap –

The warnings of a southern woman are subtle and quiet.

The low rumble of distant thunder.

The crack of a heavy branch falling from a tree deep in the woods.

The beating of starling wings on a solo flight.

The screen door suddenly, silently slams shut.

You will not see her leave…

Copper Penny

“I am sorry you think I ruined your life.”

The words stick in my mouth like a copper penny, ring in my ears metal to metal. 

“I am sorry you think I ruined your life.”

One thousand responses come to the tip of my fingers to respond to this text.  Of course, I choose the softest, kindest, most diplomatic one – this is the ingrained and trained response:

“I am dealing with what I wrote the other day…dealing the best I can.  Just like you are dealing the best you can with what I have dished out on you.  There is so much..you are right.  I am working through it by reading books/articles/blogs and writing/journaling.”

I am disappointed with my response, because it is not really what I wanted to say.  What I wanted to say was:

“What am I supposed to do with that  passive aggressive and completely dismissive text?  You still continue to exhibit a complete lack of accountability and responsibility.  There are so many insulting things in that one small sentence I don’t even know where to begin.  It sums up one of the major issues in our relationship.  You are sorry (how can you be sorry for my feelings?) that I think (I don’t think…those are the facts on many levels.  Granted, I had responsibility and culpability, but your actions were the underlying root.) you ruined my life (you obviously don’t feel that way, so your use of those words back at me is patronizing.  It undermines and dismisses the significance of what I expressed to you in my last email.).”

See, this is the problem.  My knee jerk reaction is always conciliatory, appeasing, diplomatic.  It is this passive response that helped to reinforce her controlling nature.  She thought everything was okay because I usually told her everything was okay…because I wanted it to be okay.  I am learning that just because you say it is doesn’t make it so.  Just because you want it to be “this way” does not make it so.  I have to deal with reality in truth, even if it is harsh and even if it is painful.  That is the only way to navigate life successfully.