I won’t go into the gory details of my separation and divorce because telling that story only gives energy to thoughts and emotions that no longer serve me. What I will say is that I did, eventually, reunite with my soul-mate and we were together for several years. Only recently have I realized that our relationship, while incredibly satisfying to me in so many ways, was not a committed partnership. I could not see it at the time (because I didn’t want to) but what we had was unstable because it was founded on uncertainty. It wasn’t a question of love. We loved each other deeply and passionately. It was more about not being able to transition the romanticized “idea” of our relationship into a long-term, sustainable reality.
Here’s a bit of background about where I was coming from, at the time, and what issues I was bringing to the table:
When I was one year old, after my bio-dad had left, my mom began a relationship with a man who took on the role of my father. They were never married, but they lived together and he became my “dad”. My relationship with him made me feel adored and it was as if I was at the centre of a beautiful fairy-tale. I was the apple of his eye and the centre of attention because I was one of the only children amongst all my parents’ friends.
My dad and I had a mutual adoration for one another and always had a strong connection. Unfortunately, things were going on outside of our relationship, between he and my mother, which caused our family circumstances to change. My dad had to leave, not because of anything I had done, but because he could not sustain the outer circumstances and whatever other stresses their life together entailed.
He loved me and maintained a relationship with me but, eventually, he met a new woman. They became very serious, very fast and she did not want him to spend time with me. In the blink of an eye, he was unreachable. I no longer felt as if I was the apple of his eye or that he still adored me as he once did. He had a new life and, eventually, a new baby, and I was not part of any of it.
I don’t really recall what I felt back then but I must have felt so hurt, confused, discarded, devastated and lost not to mention ashamed and unworthy. How could he have done that to me, a sweet, innocent little girl who loved him and trusted that he would be there for me forever? I had felt lucky that he “chose” to be my dad but now it looked like he had “chosen” to opt out because it was too much work to keep me in his life and still have the other things he wanted.
Now that I’m writing this, it occurs to me that it’s no wonder the memories of how I felt are so vague. I must have been avoiding my feelings in order to survive. I never really put together the timeline but now I realize that around that time (between 8-12 years old) was when a) my mom met her ex-con/gun-obsessed/paranoid schizophrenic/alcoholic boyfriend, b) I was molested my his pedophile friend and c) my mom became infirm, lost her business and sunk into a depression that lasted until I was 19.
This was the beginning of a disastrous period of my life which, in the absence of a strong, stable, healthy male influence to teach me about my own worthiness, ended up making me believe that I was not enough. I was starved for the adoration and attention I was missing from my dad and therefore an easy target for being manipulated and influenced by men in a way that undermined my self-esteem. The only positive re-enforcement I got, in terms of my worthiness, was about my looks, my intelligence and how capable I was at being self-sufficient, self-regulating, self-taught, taking care of others and making them feel okay.
It’s no wonder that these are the things I came to rely on in order to survive and, from then on, if any of those things didn’t seem to be enough to get me what I needed or wanted, I’d go into a tailspin. Not knowing what else to do to change the situation, I’d be in a panic of self-doubt and self-reproach because I had never learned how to acknowledge or trust that I didn’t always have to figure everything out for myself or that it was ok to rely on someone else to step in and help because, at the time, NO ONE DID.
Anything I learned or wanted had to be self-directed because nobody was watching out for me. I had to be on high-alert at all times because it wasn’t safe for me not to be. Life was just too unpredictable and dangerous, practically and emotionally. If I stopped being on guard, I left myself open to being violated or hungry or homeless or motherless and I could not let that happen. At 17, I couldn’t even be vulnerable enough to allow myself to have the very natural experience of losing my virginity to my boyfriend at the time. I had to control that, too, and instead opted to have meaningless sex with a thirty year-old waiter at the Spaghetti Factory, where I worked. I couldn’t let myself open up to an organic, physical experience because the last time I was that vulnerable I had been taken advantage of. My budding sexuality had been manipulated by another person to serve his desires and left me feeling ashamed and confused about the “okayness” my own sexuality. I was alone and unsupported. Nobody was paying attention to what was going on, so nobody could stop it, least of all, me. All the adults around me were indulging their own issues and deep into their stuff and here was this kid – left alone, vulnerable and scared – with no siblings, no cousins, no mentors – just herself.
My dad was right when he said that it was a miracle I turned out the way I did.
Except for my most recent experience, I’ve “picked” the guy in every long-term relationship I’ve been in. I’ve found him, I’ve liked him and I’ve won him, every time. If he didn’t like me, so much the better. That made him safer because, at least, he wasn’t dangerous or trying to manipulate me. It was hard work but, at least, I had the feeling that I was safe and in control.
With my soul-mate, however, it was different. We found each other. We fell in love together and we both knew we had to pursue some kind of a relationship with one another, based on our deep soulful, physical and intellectual connection.
It felt so magical and “right” at the time and, I suppose, I have never been as vulnerable in a relationship as I was with him because, this time, I wasn’t in control of the sequence of events. It was completely organic and I was at the mercy of my soul, which was pulling me and guiding me in his direction, and him in mine. Looking back, it’s so obvious how necessary that was in order for me to heal a major piece of my wounded inner child. The relationship was so beautiful and sacred in so many ways, and yet, it was also tumultuous and uncertain from beginning to end. He was always questioning whether, or not, he should be in it and how sustainable it was in the long run. The truth was, he was never really sure about us and he was honest about it from the beginning, but I just didn’t want to see it. I thought our love, our passion and my resourcefulness would carry us through. The uncertainty only made me want to try harder because I am a (recovering) “fixer” by nature and because I knew that we were drawn to each other in the first place because, together, we were meant to heal the unhealed wounds of our childhoods. But, as we all know, doing the work to create a stable, mature relationship requires two committed parties and one of us was never “all in”.
I suppose a part of what I was meant to learn on our journey together was how I was showing up when faced with the constant uncertainty of our relationship. Even though I was completely committed to him and would have weathered any storm, I had to learn that I could not control or influence the outcome. Eventually, I had to let go and surrender.
I’ve come to feel that a relationship is often like sailing through rough waters. It’s both scary and exhilarating, at the same time. And, when you’re out there, you have to work together in order to keep your boat balanced, no matter how strong the forces are that want to push you off course. If you indulge your doubt and fear, the only options you are likely to find are a) to close your eyes and hold on for dear life, hoping it will be over soon or b) to abandon ship in the hopes that you can swim back to shore and feel safe again. But, if you are able to approach your life and your relationship with a practice of gratitude, you’ll be amazed at the skills you are learning in the process and you’ll be encouraged by how well you’re doing. You’ll be able to appreciate how much progress you are making, even though it’s sometimes hard to gauge when you’re in open water and everything looks the same around you. It be happening slowly, but if you look ahead at your vision, towards the horizon, you will see that it is actually getting closer and closer all the time. What’s more, you’ll be able to remind yourself of how lucky you are to be out on the water with the person you love as your first mate, knowing that, no matter what, you’re in it together.
I guess there are those who, in this situation, are more comfortable going back to shore and looking for familiar things to comfort them. These people really do want to get to whatever is on the horizon, but because they can’t stop thinking of all the things that can go wrong, or because they imagine the risk or the effort is too great, they opt out. Then there’s other kind of person who is so determined to discover something new about who they are and the world around them that, even though they know that the voyage will often be scary, they will do whatever it takes to learn to skipper their vessel, even under the most unpredictable conditions while, at the same time, feeling grateful for the beauty and the thrill of the ride. This kind of person may be in for a much more challenging journey but, in my experience, it doesn’t feel like there is any other option but to keep heading for the new horizon. My soul has already set the course and I have to follow it.
I’m learning that relationships, like sailing, are not about control. They’re about learning how to trust yourself and your partner and to respond, in harmony, with the conditions around you. Sometimes, you get thrown out of the boat, but, hey… that’s what lifejackets are for.
And, in my life, my friends are my lifejackets.
Just as the cells in our body regenerate in seven year cycles, I look back on the events of the past seven years and see that I can’t possibly be the same person I was seven years ago. I started writing this series because I was worried that I was retracing the same steps that I took back then and that, perhaps, I had not learned from my mistakes. But I now see that, in life, we are constantly offered opportunities to show up differently in situations that look similar to those from that past so that we can put everything we have learned into practice. Just because we tried and failed once, doesn’t mean we should avoid making the same mistakes again. It’s not about staying away from the things that scare us. It’s about facing them, over and over again, knowing that we’re stronger and smarter and so worthy and deserving of feeling the accomplishment and satisfaction of, finally, getting it right.
So, seven years later, I’m starting again. I’m setting my course toward the next horizon. There will be many more mistakes and stormy times ahead but, when they come, I’ll remember to keep my head up, pay attention to the warning signs, trust my skills, have plenty of lifejackets on board and, most of all… enjoy the ride.