I stare at this blank screen and it is full of potential. Potential words and thoughts and dreams and desires. I love potential because it isn’t really real.
Last year I found myself very alone again, but this time by choice. I spent the summer working harder than I ever had before, building up my share of the cleaning business I had started with my best friend when I left my husband in August of 2017. My best friend was away in another state visiting family for the summer, my divorce had been finalized in May. I was between relationships.
At the end of a long work day I would sit alone on the porch of my teeny tiny rented cabin watching the bats and birds flitting around and I made a conscientious choice in that moment to embrace that feeling of alone-ness I found myself repeatedly running from my entire life. I made a choice to stop trying to fill up that emptiness with chatter. I didn’t really have any sort of goal in mind, other than to stop running from the empty void. I realized every time the void started to make me uncomfortable I would fill it to no longer experience the discomfort it always brought with it.
So as I sat there in the dusk, I chose instead to embrace it and see why I was so uncomfortable. What I started to realize was that discomfort was a lesson I was running from. The void is a space full of potential. But it is empty of action. I am an active person. I research, I learn, I take action, I make choices. These are all things of “doing”. Sitting is nothing, and I tend to not be very good at doing nothing. Slowly, as I sat and practiced my alone-ness and became comfortable with it, I became aware of my own self-defeating behaviors, actions that kept me busy, but were also toxic. These were survival tactics I learned from early childhood abuses, and they became so enmeshed into my behavior I thought they were character traits. As I began to see these traits for what they really were, I was able to acknowledge the ways they had helped me survive when they were necessary, and then started to say goodbye to them, because what had helped me survive were all the things that were holding me back as I began to thrive.
One of those things was falling in love with a man’s potential. I would meet a man, and not see him clearly for who and what he was in the moment. I would see him and fall in love with what he was capable of doing, and who he had the potential to be. I would make it my mission, often times to the detriment of my own self, to help him actualize the potential I saw. Sometimes this worked out for the man, but more often than not it was like pouring a bucket of sand into a canyon hoping to eventually fill it up… a hopeless task. All I ended up doing was exhausting myself and the canyon never even got close to being filled in. Eventually I would see how futile my efforts had been all along and decide I’m done dumping buckets of sand into the canyon and walk away from it.
So last year, as I practiced “alone-ness” I saw this behavior clearly for the first time. I realized I was worthy of all that attention and love I had been trying to pour into other people, I deserved it even more than they did, but I never felt worthy of it. I basically changed that behavior almost overnight. At first it felt very selfish and uncomfortable. I decided that it was okay for it to be uncomfortable, as practicing “alone-ness” was also teaching me to practice sitting with discomfort until the source of the discomfort revealed itself to me.
Any time we learn a new skill it is hard and awkward and uncomfortable at first, but eventually it becomes less difficult until it feels normal. I made a decision that any future dates I went on, I would be keeping my guard up and not fall in love with “his” potential, but stand back and make sure I am seeing him for who he is and what he is in the moment. It was uncomfortable. I wanted to fall into my old habits, but my old habits meant ignoring toxic behavior both from myself and my potential mates, it meant ignoring red flags and focusing on what could be. So I started seeing a therapist.
In practicing my alone-ness I fell in love with myself for the first time in my life. I loved myself! What a radical idea, right? I loved myself so hard that it no longer felt like an act of selfishness, but the most important thing I had ever done. I became a better mother by loving myself. I had love to share without feeling empty and drained. My anxiety went away almost overnight. I still had to see my therapist because I had anxiety about ending up in a toxic, abusive relationship with a narcissist, and falling back into my negative self-defeating patterns. I dated a couple people at the same time for a while just to spread the anxiety out and not feel like I was putting all my eggs (hope for love) in one basket (person). Eventually three partners became two, and then two became one.
I still pinch myself when I catch my sweetheart looking at me with adoration. How did this happen? It feels like it was by chance, or magic. But I know it never could have happened if I hadn’t decided to choose the discomfort of alone-ness last summer. It couldn’t have happened if I had not chosen to love myself the best and most first. It definitely could not have happened without a whole lot of hard work, and facing uncomfortable truths about myself. It also could not have happened if I kept only seeing potential and ignoring reality.
Sometimes the things that allow us to survive trauma are the very things that keep us from growing and thriving once the trauma is past.
I’m in love now with a wonderful man. We didn’t just get lucky, we both worked hard to end up in the right place at the right time