I had always lived a life without love. It started early, when my needs were neither acknowledged nor met and I slowly became invisible. My own feelings scared and startled me because they were not important to those around me. Slowly, I grew ashamed of even having them. As a child, I was constantly berated for how I looked, how I felt, what I needed and who I was. A resounding disappointment came across in the harsh criticism I suffered daily. At night, a chilling fear crept into my room as the household grew violent and chaotic. I always felt raw. And exhausted. There was no love with which to fill my heart; no lessons on loving and being loved. As a result, I learned how to survive in deprivation—to literally starve—and I hated myself.
When I left home, I attempted to reverse engineer who I was, swinging the pendulum all the way to the opposite side of how I had been living. I grew loud, aggressive, gregarious, strong, spirited…I was a practical joker. On the outside I was young, free, and a die-hard feminist. Inside, I was still invisible. I made bad choices. I craved love. I wanted to be heard and seen—yet at the same time I was terrified of having real connections with people, especially men.
In search of the unattainable, and unsure of how to “be”, I sought out situations that reminded me of my childhood. There was comfort in giving all of myself and receiving nothing. I stayed in the shadows, did not dare get my hopes up, and chose partners who would never be able to stay the course. Looking back, these choices break my heart. For I know I deserved much better and that it is not my fault that I had gotten so lost. I believe we all tend to choose what is familiar until we become conscious of the root cause of our pain and make a commitment to change.
My choices led me to a place of complete emptiness. I recall waking one morning, looking in the mirror and thinking I was still asleep. What I saw was something out of a horror movie. Blackened, swollen eyes, bloody lip and nose. I looked at my arms; they had purple fingerprints on them. Same with my legs. Had I been unconscious? How could I have chosen this life? This was the first of many times I woke up in that state—brutalized at the hands of someone who claimed to love me. Because of my choices I knew firsthand what it was like to fear death. I realize now that I had chosen someone who could literally render me invisible because I did not love myself. Thankfully, after having to pretend I was in a car accident, I decided enough was enough. At that point in time, things began to shift. I realized I could no longer live without love.
After leaving my past relationship I found that simple things were difficult for me. I could not even pick out china or bath towels because I did not know who I was or what I liked. I was still invisible. I had eluded myself. I had always been what everyone else wanted me to be. So I began to conquer tasks big and small, each day learning something new about myself. I also learned that the vibrant young woman whom I presumed was my opposite was closer to my true self than I had realized. I had crushed her spirit because she was too vibrant and made me uncomfortable. Now, she was ready to thrive. Thankfully, I had kept friends along the way who knew her and reminded me of who she was. They helped me on my path.
Things have certainly not been easy. Breaking myself apart and starting anew has been traumatic and agonizing. The process seems to be never ending. But each time I make it to the other side of pain I feel fuller, more alive and like people really see me. There are days when I recall the brutality that I suffered and I am filled with fear. Sometimes I feel like an emotional burn victim and everything has been rubbed raw. But the majority of the time I am filled with extreme gratitude. By all accounts, and statistically, I probably should not be here. I know that God was with me through all of the bad times because I could not have survived in such an unconscious state without divine intervention. Looking back, as I have here, reminds me of how far I have come and that I can handle whatever comes my way. I try to live in the present. I am learning to trust.
For the past few years, I lived in a state of romantic isolation. I dated but I was not really willing to let someone love me. I chose relatively safer yet unavailable partners and also took a long sabbatical. And then I met a man who changed my life. He has more love to give than any person I have ever met. He listens and tries to understand me. He comforts me and does not judge me for the ways in which I had been living. He respects the work I have done. Most importantly, I let him into my life. From our first conversations I knew he was different. I felt safe.
Things are not always perfect because I sometimes experience an emotional backlash as a result of feeling loved. This causes me to shut down or push him away. But for whatever reason he and I are both able to see what is at stake in those moments. I cannot imagine deliberately hurting him or turning away from this miracle in my life. I cannot destroy the beauty of our relationship. For the first time in my 40 years of life I am building something. I realize that much of my discomfort in the face of abundance stems from embarrassment or shame. I feel that if I cry about something I will never stop; there will be a river of tears that will carry us away. But that doesn’t faze him. He encourages my feelings, wipes the tears and helps me recover when things get difficult. For the first time, I am filled with love.