I submitted the story below for a publication, so far no response, but I wanted to put it out there for this space too. It’s a little longer than my normal posts and it encapsulates some of my recent experiences…
I have struggled my whole life with seeing myself as others see me. Like many people, I view myself through distorted lens, and I don’t mean rose coloured glasses. Where others see confidence, I feel fear. Where others see wisdom, I feel ignorance. Where others see kindness, I feel placation.
Where others see strength, I feel weakness.
Right now I am striving to overcome the breakup of a long and often volatile romance. We are two people who believe in love and therefore kept trying even when all signs kept pointing to the futility of it all. Conceding that we are simply not going to make it has been the most painful experience of my life. The future that I had anticipated will never come to pass. The memories we have shared feel heavy and ripe in my mind. Each day stretches long and the nights even longer still. Even worse is knowing that we are both experiencing this pain alone. Though we are fundamentally flawed as a couple, I still long to feel his arms around me comforting me and I want to shield him from this torture as well. But I can’t.
I am learning now to draw upon every resource I have in order to cope with this loss. I am learning that the strength others see comes from reaching out and opening up. It is the opposite of my instinctual view of a strong person as one who is solid, and sure. Someone who stands tall and resolute in any situation with little emotions. It turns out, that is not strength. I am learning that real strength shows itself in nuance.
Strength is crying. Not just quiet trickling tears but full body, snotty nosed, gasping for breath, shuddering and shaking tears. Now that is a full body workout. I have done this alone and, requiring even greater strength, in the presence of my sister. One minute I felt I was doing fine, sitting beside her on a January evening watching The Sound of Music. Amidst the low lighting and winter chill, my mind started down the path of all the things I may never know about my old love. I found myself mourning all the moments that would never be. Next thing I knew, the water glass was trembling in my hand. I stood too quickly and the magazine I had open clattered to the floor as the emotion flooded over me. It took strength to let myself be held in a tight embrace by my sister and to trust her words that the panic would pass. And it did.
Strength is calling a friend on a Friday night. That was our standard date night and the first few weekends alone were scary and dark. I wanted to shut down and hide away. Instead I reached out to my kind and caring friend who knew the pain. She was willing to get dressed up and head to local glitzy venue to listen to music and have a girly drink with me. She regaled me with stories and accepted gracefully that I was only half listening. Her companionship, alongside the smooth vocals melding with the clinking of glasses, momentarily took me outside of my head and offered some relief. I needed the strength to need her in order for her to be there for me in that moment.
Strength is receiving a text or a phone call and not jumping right back into the old patterns. When I am feeling so alone and my memory is fooling me into recalling only the happy times, those messages are compelling. That jolt of energy in seeing his name on my call display is easily mistaken for evidence that there is hope. When I have been feeling this persistent darkness and dullness, any emotion can be taken to be a good thing. It takes strength to know that sometimes the familiar may beckon alluringly but that does not mean that it is the right choice to make. It does not erase the ways in which we didn’t work for so long. As I hold my phone tightly in my palm, it takes all I have to resist responding to that blue bubble of words.
Strength is acknowledging that this relationship did not exist in black and white. Though I have often wished that there was some surety, some sign, it was like all things in life. Infinite shades of grey. And blue. And red. And green… It is hard to know that I can hold two emotions at once; I can love him and know that we don’t work. I can feel compassion for his suffering and feel angry at him for past decisions. I can have good memories and also have knowledge of how I held back on being me in the midst of those happy times. Those can all be true at the same time. Which is utterly confusing, and yet the awareness of this plurality allows the inevitable swings to subside without me acting on a momentary feeling.
Strength is leaning into my parents. When I feel the weight of it all pressing down on me, I can call them. My intellect scolds me that I am too old to still be burdening them with my problems and needing them so much. Yet my emotional side knows that will never be true. My mom’s voice on the end of the line is a balm when I can’t keep up the charade of “okay”. The unending affirmation of my worthiness begins to envelop me. As I pace my studio apartment, bouncing from the cool tile of the kitchen to the beveled windows in the living room, my fathers supportive humour brings me down to earth. That white plastic earpiece represents an enduring cord of strength in my life.
Strength is knowing that it’s okay to not be okay. This one is hard for me. I have guilt issues stemming way back and I want to be able to finally tell my loved ones that I am okay because I know that is what they want for me. I’m not there yet, however. Yet. While I don’t plan on wallowing indefinitely, this is a painful and unpleasant life transition. To deny that would be to limit my human experience. If I am to feel the whole spectrum of what life offers, that means sometimes having joy, and sometimes sorrow. Strength is knowing that it’s okay to feel it all; in fact, it is essential to feel it authentically and fully if there is to be growth and healing.
The healing is happening, though slower than I would hope. I recognize the strength in me largely because those I love keep pointing it out and modelling their own strength. That strength is emerging with help of the community of love that surrounds me. Fittingly, it is the strength I glean from others that allows me to be strong myself.