Last year, during a women's gathering at my home, I was reminded of a memory I’ve thought about countless times over the years – being in a university dormitory with Jim (my high school boyfriend and first true love) and his friend Noah and all their artsy, druggy friends. It was nighttime and we were most certainly high and the boys were causing some kind of trouble. The moment that haunts me is this: I was sitting in a chair in a corner. Above the haze, I could see myself clearly. How did you get here? This is not who you are. Almost before I could finish the thought I quieted that part of myself (the truest part). It was too painful. I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t know how to be anywhere or anyone else besides this girl, pretending to be carefree but in reality so alone.
As I was writing about this, I began writing about Jim. About the love and the heartache and the heart-wrenching cycle that was our relationship. It dawned on me: This is the pain I have been feeling. All the pain that I thought was from Ian alone. It was old pain. Rooted in so many years of love and disappointment. All along the people I trust had been saying to me, “It doesn’t sound like you need to forgive or trust Ian again. It sounds like you need to forgive and trust yourself.” It didn’t make sense to me. Forgive myself for what? Where does this deep self-doubt come from? In that moment, it all made sense. It comes from so many years of betraying myself, of putting my heart in the wrong people’s hands and allowing it to be broken. Of choosing them over me.
I was telling my amazing psychologist Peter (God bless him) about all of this a few days later and I suppose it made sense to him, too. He paused and asked me, “What do you think your 17-year old self has to say about all of this?”
I started to cry hard.
Through my tears I answered, “How could you do this to me again? How could you fail me again, after all this time?”
“And how does it make your adult-self feel to hear that?
“Shame. So much shame. I can’t believe I did that to her – to myself - again.”
It was as though something had shifted in that instant. There was space. I could see what was going on. I could see these two parts of myself - that they had been at odds with one another and that this is where I needed forgiveness. This is where I needed love. I am the one who needs to love, forgive, and trust myself. It has so very little to do with Ian at all.
It was not long after that that I had the experience in yoga that I’ve written about before. I’ll quote it again here, because I think it completes the story in a pretty beautiful way:
The class ends and we are lying in savassana. It’s quiet and dark and I feel peaceful and steady. Almost out of nowhere, I hear a calm, tender voice within me say “I’m sorry,” with so much love and humility, so much grace, that it catches me off guard. But I know it is me – the deep, warrior, divine, adult me – speaking to my younger, scared, teenage self. I hear her reply with love and forgiveness, with a knowing that my apology is real and true, that her fear, hurt, anger, and disappointment have been acknowledged and heard. “It’s okay,” she says. And in that moment, I know that there is no easier softer way. There is nothing, no one, to exhale into except my own arms, that great inner resource inside me. I am what I have always been looking for. There is no one else to be my savior, no one else to be my hero or my best friend, except me. And because God loves me just as I am, just as I have always been, I can forgive myself for loving myself so imperfectly. I can exhale completely into myself. I don’t have to wait for Ian or anyone else to make me feel loved or held or safe. I am in charge of that now, and it’s not lonely. It’s liberating. To trust that if I keep paying attention, keep listening, keep coming back I will always know exactly where to put my body, my heart, and my soul.