For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to the margins—the places inhabited by the lost, the wanderers, and the disenfranchised. Growing up as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I became adept at revealing just enough of “me” to fit in to whatever community I desperately wanted to belong to. As an emotional chameleon, I was able to slide through my life on a superficial high, while deep inside I was uncoiled and disconnected.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sense of community and about where I belong. So much of our identity is enshrined in our community, so is it any wonder that when we subvert our “true” identity simply to satisfy our thirst for belonging, we sabotage any hope of actual connection? I can attest from my own experience how exhausting this can be, and how it is a fast track to depression, anxiety, and increasing isolation. It is said, “It takes a village to raise a child,” yet we are quick to dismiss the importance of that village once this child becomes an adult.
When I speak of “community”, I am not referring to the colloquial use of “neighborhood”, but rather to the feeling of belonging we receive through mutual identification at a deeper level with like-minded individuals. The most important communities in my life are at a collegial level, my friends in the running community, and at a more impassioned and emotive level, other addicts battling through addiction, and fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The danger of any community is that by its very nature, it can be prone to elitism and exclusion. In my mind, “real community” exists when individual differences are seen as “gifts”, and thus, are worthy of being born to light. Failure to embrace these differences breeds sects, divisiveness, and a destructive mentality of encampment.
Any discussion of community would be remiss without at least touching upon the philosophy of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Vanier believes that at the heart of everyone lies the insatiable need for community, and belonging, which in turn validate our sense of worth. Founded in 1964, L’Arche is now an international federation dedicated to creating communities of caregivers and volunteers who work with and live along side people with developmental disabilities. In Canada alone, there are nearly 200 such settings. In the words of Jean Vanier, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
I am struck by the absolute beauty of Vanier’s belief that even when we are in distress, community can help us “find self-confidence and inner healing”. When I consider the importance of this word in my life, I envision three characteristics that I look for in a community.
1. Gravitation Towards Growth
An overriding sense of inclusion reminds us to have faith in the fact that we as a community share more similarities than differences. There is an acknowledgement of “space”, and the importance of allowing individuals, and the group itself, time to reflect, rejuvenate, and grow. Feeling safe to develop naturally combats our greatest fear—loneliness. Again, I would turn to the insight of Jean Vanier: “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unlovable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”
There is tacit acceptance that there will be a lot of overlap within our community, as all of us belong to diverse communities outside of this one. I believe the strongest communities are those whose mission is to question rather than to be enmeshed in confining dogma. Individuals ought to feel empowered to question others when something simply does not “sit right”. In a sense, pseudo-politeness can be viewed as an impediment to community wellbeing. In the same regard, unity is nurtured through a belief in the healing power of forgiveness.
By embracing vulnerability, there are no personal masks or protective armor. More than likely, it’s this very fact that accounts for why I’ve always been attracted to the margins of society. When we are weak and at our most vulnerable, it’s very difficult to muster the energy to maintain a protective veneer, and thus, I would argue this is when we are our most “authentic” selves.
I invite you to consider the role of community in your life, and to explore the elements that underlie this connection. Finally, I’ll leave you with some further words from Jean Vanier that I find particularly illuminating. “A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.”
I should probably start off by telling you that I am an addict—and “no” I’m not referring to drugs and alcohol here—I’ve been clean and sober for over 17 years now. My current addiction is far more insidious, as it doesn’t entail all the social taboos of a drug and alcohol addiction. Whenever I crave a hit of dopamine, all I have to do is reach into my pocket and hit the shiny icon on my iPhone. It’s the first thing I do when I crawl out of bed in the morning, and it’s the last thing I reach for when I head to bed blurry-eyed at night. The symphony of my life is composed of whistles, buzzes, and pings, the intoxicating mainline to my social media high.
I, of all people, know that “admitting you have a problem” is the first step to recovery from addiction. You see, my problem is, I am always the last person to realize that I have the addiction! My wife, ever so gently, pointed out that maybe I ought to consider scaling back the amount of time I spend staring at my phone engaged in social media. To be honest, my initial reaction was to be pissed off, and that quickly segued into construing an argument to justify my behavior. I never really considered that my giggles, smirks, and grunts in response to a Facebook comment or a tweet, were isolating and disrespectful to the real-life person sitting beside me on the couch.
None of my behavior should really be surprising to me considering the same was true when I was in high school—I was much more concerned about hanging out with the smokers at the south door than I was about making it to my afternoon chemistry class. So before you start jumping to conclusion here, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that spending time with my wife is like sitting through a science class, but rather, as far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a problem prioritizing what’s in front of me for what “I might be missing.”
I’m amazed at how the universe drops things into your path just when you seem to need them most. I was reading through the paper this morning when a headline immediately caught my eye, "Facebook's killing the high school reunion." The writer brought up an interesting point that because we are all connected through social media and are intimately aware of where we vacation to what we ate for breakfast, the need for high school reunions has become somewhat obsolete. College-alumni associations are also struggling to maintain their membership and justify their existence beyond the incessant fundraising brochures that arrive in the mail.
All of this got me thinking that my addiction to social media has allowed me to stay in high school and hang out with all my friends. Come to think of it, social media gives me that mainline angst that so typified my time in high school—How many “likes” will my post get? Will that cool person accept my “friend request”? Or even worse, how do I “unfriend” this guy without hurting his feelings?
The more you think about it, all the different social media compete for our attention, and they tend to attract a certain “type”, just like the cliques in high school. Pintrest is populated with scrapbooker, sentimental types, who radiate positivity. Meanwhile, Facebook is all about showing off your gourmet meal, new grandbaby, or athletic achievement. It’s no wonder that so many of us aspire to be “liked” by the extroverts and social butterflies who call Facebook home. Twitter’s 140-character constraint is the playground of smart-alecks with their quick one-liner retorts, and to those online bullies who seek comfort in Twitter’s anonymity. Instagram has become the refuge of the younger generation who fled Facebook once their parents opened an account. Whenever I scan through my Instagram feed, I’m reminded that sometimes on sober second-thought, it may not have been a good idea to post that picture from the club last night. And finally, not to be ignored, Linkedin, which promotes itself as a networking site for professionals, is really nothing more than a “who’s who”, like the Honor Roll or Dean’s List posted outside the high school office.
When it comes right down to it, I guess it really doesn’t matter what social media clique I align myself with. What does matter is accepting that I have problem, and that it’s time that I stop stooging around with my friends in the hallway and get back into the “classroom of my life”.
While watching yesterday’s news coverage of Emma Watson, star of all the Harry Potter movies, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, I was struck by two things—one, where did all those years go, and second, why in the year 2014, do we still need to debate the equality of the sexes?
For those of you who may not be up to speed on all of this, I'll provide you a little backstory. Ms. Watson was in New York to launch the HeForShe campaign, a program designed to enlist over one billion men and boys globally to become advocates working towards ending the inequality that women and girls confront worldwide. The actress referred to herself as a reluctant feminist in that historically the term itself has denoted hatred or aggression towards men. Watson raised the point that gender equality will continue to face an uphill battle as long as only half of the population “is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation.” As a man, I’ve always felt at worst, shut out of this debate, and at best, unsure about how far I could wade into this discussion. So, I was optimistic to hear such an impassioned and articulate spokesperson declare: “Men - I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation… Gender equality is your issue too.”
As a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape, I’m no stranger to stigma and butting heads with societal reluctance and institutional intransigence. There are still those who feel that advocating for more resources to address male survivors of abuse must come at the cost of taking limited resources from women, who have traditionally been portrayed as more vulnerable. This spurious debate is disheartening because continuing to address trauma from a binary approach doesn’t serve either men or women. It’s with this in mind, that I’m eager to answer Ms. Watson’s call to action. I’m reminded of the words of the human rights advocate Imani Perry who points out that a simple change in language can change the discourse entirely. She says when advocating for our rights, we ought to say “freedom to” instead of “freedom from”. Such a simple turn of phrase denotes so much because instead of waiting for our rights to be bestowed upon us, we acknowledge our “freedom to” envision and create a world we choose to live in.
I believe that men no longer have the “luxury” to sit back and expect that gender equality will magically arrive. I challenge all the men in my life to join me in actively creating an environment of real equality. You may be asking yourself, what can I do to enact this change?
1. Mentor your sons.
The power of example is the power of change. As fathers, we can instill values of equality and inclusiveness in our sons. Ask yourself if you are entrenched in views about gender participation in sports, gender roles in dating, or even gender roles in social interactions at home.
2. Reevaluate your language.
Words are insidious weapons, so be aware that language such as “nag” or “bitch” painfully reverberate.
3. Remember: What you condone, you promote.
I invite you to challenge other men who perpetuate gender stereotypes by engaging in sexist comments or jokes. It’s never comfortable to confront someone on this behavior, but remind yourself that your silence is a tacit promotion of this toxic environment.
4. Porn is not innocent.
There is no such thing as “innocent pornography”. This multi-billion dollar industry exploits both women and men, and by consuming it, we legitimize further exploitation and entrench an unhealthy power dynamic, of which many adolescent boys are particularly vulnerable.
5. Speak with your wallet.
There is no doubt that the advertising industry will quickly get the message if we no longer patronize companies or buy products promoted by means of overtly sexist and misogynistic advertising.
Help me to continue this dialogue by sharing this post with the men in your life, and by remembering that many whispers can become one voice and ultimately a resounding echo.
There are days when you feel like you’re a majestic Siamese cat prancing around in a beautiful shiny coat, and there are others that leave you feeling like a coughed-up hairball lying on the edge of the carpet. No doubt about it—life can be messy, and it can throw you a curveball when you least expect it. In the words of the immortal Gilda Radner, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”
Once solely the purview of the Birkenstock-wearing, granola-loving ashram devotees, mediation and mindfulness have now entered the mainstream. And with this desire to “be present”, yet envision a more “authentic you”, comes the need for the language to project that self-fulfilling visualization. Knowing that others are following this path, I thought I would invite you to consider adopting your own transformational mantra.
Thanks to the increased popularity of yoga and meditation, many of us are familiar with the term mantra, yet there is still a lot of confusion about whether a mantra and an affirmation are one in the same. The way I look at it, an “affirmation” is a lifeboat, and a “mantra” is a passport. Affirmations go part in parcel with the self-help movement, as they tend to be positive statements expressed in the first person--I am enough. I am strong. I am not my past. Mantras come from a deeper place within us, and they do not necessarily express today’s truth, but engender pathways to growth.
Before landing on your own mantra, you might want to give some thought to the beauty of language and its ability to transform our thoughts into action. A mantra vibrates your inner energy and breathes it to life. Think of it as giving words to your heart, a voice to your passion, a purpose to the perceived purposelessness.
Forging my mantra, I set the intention to incorporate my mind, body, and spirit into framing a “passport” that helps me to be present where I am, and gives me permission to travel where I need to grow. My mantra has become allowing ~ empowering ~ opening. By “allowing”, I bring the space for me to accept where I am and to acknowledge that the opposite to what I believe may also be true. I view “empowering” as a means to acknowledge that the hurt and trauma in my past can sit with me in the present and serve as a reminder of my resiliency. Empowering also entails a responsibility to others to permit them the space to become who they are meant to be, not who I want them to be. And finally, “opening” creates a channel of connection to the people in my life. Where I once built walls, I now build bridges to hope.
I’d like to leave you with the words of Alice Walker, and the wish that you too find peace in your own mantra—your passport to transformation. “Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening… Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
I am not depressed! What I am is angry, frustrated, and weary—This is the refrain I’ve been saying far too often this past week as more and more people close to me are commenting on the fact that I am “withdrawing” and being “quiet”. I’m reminded of that evocative Dylan Thomas verse:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Yes, maybe that’s it—I’m “raging”. I’m raging because it feels as though I’ve been in a constant hyper-alert process of recovery for so damn long. There is nothing more humbling than realizing that you’ve been banging your head against a wall for years and going about the business of “getting healthy” all wrong. It’s taken me over thirty years to finally realize that by itself, no drug, 12-step program, medication, or therapy, can address the feelings of shame and self-loathing eating away at me.
I once heard a yoga teacher say that Western medicine has become susceptible to symptom-based treatment, rather than looking at our body as a whole. She said it was like removing the battery from a smoke detector instead of looking to put out the fire. That image really resonates with me because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Yanking the battery out does stop the immediate crippling noise in my head, but it does little to get to the underlying problem. As soon as I achieve a little distance and quiet from what is bothering me, everything comes shattering down when I go back to the business of living my life.
Yesterday, I watched the documentary The Anonymous People, which was about the addiction recovery movement in the United States. The movie raised some important questions about whether or not the “anonymity” at the core of 12-step programs, and which initially attracts newcomers to recovery meetings, may in fact be hindering the potential reach of these treatment programs.
It’s not too difficult to stay sober when you are sitting around the table with other recovering addicts in a church basement, or to feel somewhat “sane” when you are safely sitting in a comfortable chair in your therapist’s office. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to overcome a significant trauma, addiction, or loss in isolation, or all on your own. Recovery, or “moving forward” from any setback, requires transformative self work, but the most obstinate barrier to “change” may not lie in the individual but within the community he/she interacts with on a daily basis.
There is a growing movement referred to as “wellbriety” originating in the Native American communities. It’s a holistic approach to recovery that professes the importance of the entire community embracing change, and not simply treating individuals. They use the metaphor of uprooting a dying tree and giving it care, rich nutrients, and an abundance of light, only to later return it to its original deprived location, where disease and death again threaten it.
I’m left with so many unanswered questions—How can I create a “healthy forest” in my community? What does it really “look like” to support family, friends, and neighbors through loss, trauma, and addiction? My hope lies in my belief that within my own frustrations, are the solutions. Just as we have come to rely on advocates to protect our environment, so too do we need to engender stewards to foster healthy families and communities. Through adopting an overall empathetic vision, we can turn to role models, mentors, and healthcare professionals as we move away from symptom-based treatment towards community-empowered support.
Lately, I’ve been crawling out of my skin—feeling restless, withdrawn, and disquieted. The stark reality about living with an addiction is that even though I’ve been clean and sober for 17 years, I need to be vigilant about my mind’s ability to default to a desire to escape every uncomfortable feeling in my life by drowning it with a drink. If you’re not an addict, you just won’t “get this”, and that’s fine. After a long, frustrating day at work, you can come home and have a glass of wine or a beer to blow away the cobwebs of your day. The difference being, you can stop after a drink or two. I once heard an old-timer in an AA meeting say that “battling his addiction felt like coughing up a monkey.” That’s exactly what it feels like! You wrestle and wrestle to get that monkey out, and then when it finally gets out, you’re left staring at a crazy monkey.
A friend of mine recommended I read Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is because she recognized that I was fighting a losing battle against “acceptance” and “surrendering”. In her book, Byron Katie suggests you can find three kinds of business in this world: "mine, yours, and God’s … the word God means reality. Reality is God, because it rules. Anything that’s out of my control, your control, and everyone else’s control—I call that God’s business.” Katie's premise is that, “Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business.” As a recovering addict, I acknowledge the importance of “surrendering” when it comes to not picking up a drink or a drug, but I struggle when it comes to applying this principle in other parts of my life.
Each of us walks around as a “mirror”, and everyone we interact with is confronted by the image in that mirror. The people I’m most drawn to reflect love, strength, and acceptance, yet I have a tendency not to recognize that those qualities are in me, and that’s why I’m seeing them in someone else—my mirror. Equally important for me to remember, and what I’ve been painfully reminded of recently, is that the repulsive qualities in those who frustrate and disturb me, are merely reflections of those parts of me I’m unwilling to acknowledge exist in me. It’s becoming apparent that the “disquiet” I’ve been feeling originates in what Byron Katie refers to as living in “someone else’s business” instead of in “mine”.
I like to overcomplicate things, and that’s why I’ve expressed the process of self-discovery as learning to “unpack my reality.” But in fact, getting to your truth is not so much a “journey” or a “quest” as it is making the conscious choice to simply take ownership of “your business”. No one, no matter how much they love you, can tell you what your truth is—It’s an inside job, a moving target. Stable relationships can be an anchor in rough seas or an albatross that haunt your personal growth. I need to accept that if I’m not willing to do the “hard work” myself, then I hand the reigns over to someone else. In my marriage, I’ve been on both ends of this discussion, and I can say it’s not an easy thing to say to your partner, especially when time and entropy can subtlety nudge even the healthiest of relationships towards co-dependency. I think this is where "space" comes into the equation. If we trust and let go of what our partner “should be”, we make room for what our partner "must be".
As is the case with most feelings of disquiet in my life, if I dig deep enough, hidden in the dark recess of the corner is “fear”—my fear that my choices aren’t right, my fear that I’m not good enough, my fear that what lies in my heart and fuels my passion is unworthy of being breathed to life. All of this reminds me of an excerpt from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address: “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
The one inescapable fact of our humanness happens to be the one thing that we seldom have the courage to talk openly about, and that is coming to terms with loss and how it reverberates through our life—at times like a quiet seismic wave, and at other times, like a torturous crack that fractures to the surface.
The tremors of loss can cause us to pause and possibly ache for what once was, but loss can also shudder us awake making us lose our bearings as we grasp for the stability that’s been pulled out from under us. Any degree of loss coincides with feelings of disorientation, and self-questioning; however, often the most disquieting aspect is learning to endure the pain that comes with the loss. It’s almost instinctual that we push away from this pain by denying it space in our lives, or by avoiding it entirely at any cost—even through defensive self-sabotaging behavior.
Happiness has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and it is most likely a by-product of our post-modern upbringing, which leads us to believe it’s our inalienable right to be cushioned against discomfort and immune to soul-deflating loss. Compounding this fallacy that we can somehow sidestep the emotional scarring of loss in our life, is the naïve belief that personal growth takes the path of a steady upward trajectory. When we subscribe to this belief, any setback has the ability to completely derail us, and thereby deflate any resiliency reserves we may have at our disposal.
But is there a better way? Are we resigned to having to sit back and helplessly witness battles with addiction, mental health struggles, and broken relationships lying scattered before us because of our unwillingness to directly confront the loss and trauma that echoes below the surface in so many lives? Is it foolhardy to believe that what we intuitively desire to run away from what may in fact be our greatest teacher? Are setbacks really just awakenings—pathways to be traversed to greater understanding? If this is indeed the case, why do we as a society continue to counsel friends and family struggling through a hard time by telling them to “get over it”, “put it behind you”, and “move on”?
The American author and Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, offers some valuable insights into what lies at the core of this perennial human struggle to recoil in the midst of discomfort, pain, and loss. “In life, we think the that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem. The real truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together for a time, then they fall back apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that.”
When I launched Breathe Through This just over a year ago, my guiding principle was to learn to “Live a Bigger Life” by fearlessly digging into those darker corners of my life I’m most afraid to confront. What began as a therapeutic writing exercise has gradually grown into an open dialogue that appears to resonate with many of the more than 200,000 readers/subscribers to my blog. I’ve written candidly about what sobriety “really” looks like, the challenges associated with mental health issues in my past and present, and my coming to terms with the childhood sexual abuse I had buried deep inside for most of my life.
What generates the most response from readers are my posts about how all these issues impact my relationship with my wife, and how this process has challenged, stretched, and enriched our relationship. Having said that, lately I have not been cultivating a “bigger life”—In fact, I’ve been actively pushing away the discomfort I once delicately moved towards. By closing myself off from these feelings of loss and discomfort, I was also not allowing the space for joy, love, and support to enter where it was desperately needed.
The words we choose can have such power over us, and they offer a window into what sits in our heart or eats at our soul. Words have had such meaning and alchemy in my life too. They govern my life when I say I’m a “recovering” addict, not a “recovered” addict. This was the case even last year, when I began to see myself as “survivor” of childhood sexual abuse, rather than as a “victim”. Yesterday, as I sat with my wife, once again I searched inside for the words to attach to the pain and loss that was beginning to consume me. I can’t explain why my wife, the one person who has never wavered in her support of me, was the person I had the hardest time saying these words to. For the first time, I found the courage and the words to say to her, “I was raped when I was 12 years old.” Simply speaking those words out loud helped to dispel some of their power over me. What I thought was my “breakthrough” last year turns out to have been a therapeutic appetizer for the deep-dive work I’m about to begin. I should also add that every fear that I harbored about what my wife might say, how she would react, and what this could do to our relationship, never materialized. Even though I felt incapable of looking her in the eye, she reached out and held my hand, and at that moment, I knew I didn’t have the answers, but I knew that everything would be ok.
I guess this is what Pema Chödrön was referring to when she said: “Let the hard things in life break you. Let them affect you. Let them change you. Let those hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop out on that. Don’t run away and hide under your covers. Lean into it.”
Words have always had the magic of alchemy in my life—They captivated me as a child sitting in a circle on the floor at our teacher’s feet as we sat entranced by the ominous fear of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. And later, while studying poetry in university, I was in awe of wordsmiths like Emily Dickinson and Tennyson who gave the raw emotion of human existence a vocabulary, where there was none before. It’s not surprising that I went on to become an English teacher, where my bricks and mortar are the words and phrases that I immerse myself in every day.
This morning I stumbled upon the poetry of Marie Howe, and once again I’m humbled by the power of words on a page, and a writer’s ability to bestow meaning to feelings that would otherwise remain forever trapped inside me. In a recent podcast interview, the poet Marie Howe was speaking of the power of words to reveal the human condition, and how the older she gets, the more of herself she unmasks through her writing. She later said, “to be able to move through your life transparently would be a relief.”
We all know far too well that aching disconnect between who we really are and what we project into the world. For many of us, we consciously choose to disappear—to be "less than" because the fear of allowing ourselves to be completely "exposed", and yet still “unseen” by those who matter most to us, is simply too painful to endure.
It’s tragically ironic that I’ve chosen to spend my life in the “company of words”, considering as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I traveled through life for almost four decades with the most “defining” words buried deep inside me. It is no coincidence when people publicly disclose their abuse, that we say they have “found their voice.” From my experience, the only way I can describe this process is to say that I needed to breathe life into a vocabulary where one had never existed before.
I have written candidly about the disclosure process and its jarring impact on my relationship with my wife because we both passionately believe that substantive healing takes place when you heal the entire relationship, not just one partner in the relationship. For many years, I thought of the trauma I experienced in my childhood as something that cleaved a huge hole in my heart—something that would never be mended. Today, I see that “hole” as an entrance, an opportunity, for my wife to reach a part of me that lies beyond the boundaries that many relationships ever get the chance to traverse as a couple. At times, the experience leaves us raw and vulnerable, but I can honestly say that the experience has brought each of us to the other’s complete attention. In the words of the poet Marie Howe, I am now “transparent” with the one person who means the world to me.
I’ve heard it said that a lasting relationship is “two imperfect people unwilling to give up on each other.” I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the negativity of that statement and the fallacy that somewhere out there, the “perfect” person exists. But what I do believe is that love encompasses embracing “what someone is” and not focusing on “what someone is not.” Like any long-term relationship, our 27-year marriage has bended and twisted through everything that life has brought to our door. It’s shown me that no “hurt” is ever completely “healed” and that it’s completely fine, and I would venture to say “healthy”, to revisit discomfort from time to time. I like to use the metaphor of a bandage—You need to rip it off to let the air heal the wound for a while, but then you put another bandage on to protect the hurt until the next opportunity arises to let the air get at it. Many issues we are working on as a couple during this disclosure process are too painful to heal all at once, but we have faith in our ability to step through the healing journey together.
I’ve come full circle in that once again, I am witness to the power of words in my life. When we were married 27 years ago, neither of us ever expected we would be sitting facing each other, fully present, grasping for the vocabulary to explain what we are feeling inside. I’m reminded of the poem “The Meadow” by Marie Howe:
Those words are the essence of the frustration I feel at my struggle to find a way to articulate what I’ve never been able to say, but they also give me hope that lying in the midst of that lexical chaos is “the sentence that could change [my] life.”