Owning My Story
It’s been fifteen years since that halcyon afternoon on the Caribbean Sea when we smiled and promised enduring love to one another. That we would grow together into the second century of our lives was never in doubt. Was it? In that moment it was a question of when, not if. The future might have seemed as airy as the curved folds of a dream, but it unquestionably contained us both. Together. I banked on it.
And yet it didn’t, even after all those years. A year after we swirled bisque in silence, I find myself stunned by it.
Relationship constructs don’t transpose into bubbled answer sheets. Emotional connection happens in an indefinable space between people. And despite decades of research and centuries of inscribed stories, it is a space that will never be fully understood by us. When confronted by family, friends and therapists with how and why did this relationship ever happen between you two, I find it impossible to shade any other bubble than “all of the above”. There is no clear answer nor a single stream of confessions that winds through it. He was injured by his divorce and child alienation, I was still feeling the effects of a fulfilling twenty-year marriage with his brother, we shared the sudden traumatic loss of his brother and shattered dreams, I was in shock, numb, and emotionally see-sawed back to the arduous childhood roles of witness and victim of parental indignation turned into caretaker.
Our innate need for connection is the strongest and most primal human condition in our core. It informs us to reach outside of ourselves to create greater communities that serve both our own emotional, physical and social needs as well as service to others, completing a circle of need-based benevolence. It is the nectar in the pistil of the orange blossom. This is how we grow and evolve as individuals, communities and a species. This is what makes the consequences of disconnection so profound and dangerous.
Sometimes we only think we’re connected. Love belongs with belonging. It’s not an accidental entanglement; it’s an intentional knot. What I am learning is that I allowed myself to be boundaryless and vulnerable. The deeper my intention for belonging, the more disentangled Rich became. Rich’s love for me was an illusion. I now believe his love was misplaced longing for his brother, not me or the boys. He felt injured from his first marital dissolution. I appeared at the edge, in the injurous gallows of 9/11, losing my illusory sense of security. We shared a common loss. An exquisitely timed fate. A perfect eclipse of Venus with a fiery edge. A warm glow in the twilight of our smoldering relationships. In the footprints of the crumbled towers, our communion was borne of pure presence. Because we had not yet discovered our true essence in inner peace, we embraced the illusory spell of longing and security, which served as an elixir to our personal and shared pain. Carnal surrender became the consolation for our tender hearts. But it wasn’t soul-mate love. Although fondness always felt like a driving intersection in the course of our journeys, it was a union of our physical state rather than spiritual. The illusion had to fade.
A wholehearted sense of love and belonging is a deep need for me. I am spiritually wired to love and be loved. When I found myself unable to function as I was meant to, both in widowhood and in my second marriage, I realized those needs weren’t being met. In my former marriage I was happy. In the sudden leaving, Dave took the dream of our future with him. Our love had become my own and the pain of containing it was raw when Richard entered the mourning space.
After fifteen years of severe marital challenges, Rich and I became suffocated under the pressures of our individual and shared lives. My love tank was empty. We fell apart, became numb and I ached. The absence of love and belonging was pinning me to the grief over the absence of my love with David and I was suffering.
To paraphrase Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, 2012; “a critical piece of owning our story and claiming our worthiness is cultivating a better understanding of love and belonging. Love is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within EACH of them. Love and belonging are a PRACTICE.”
The absence of apology, empathy, and resolution nor acknowledgement of what partners are communicating in relationships, leads to the building of a protective armor that deflects defensiveness and self-advocates while invalidating the partner’s value in the exchange. Self-righteous justifications for behavior without acknowledging your partner in the exchange is followed by the withholding of affection, damaging the roots from which love grows. This creates love injuries. These injuries were dynamic with us because Richard was not a communicative partner. In the resonant silence, I gradually developed a permanent bruise
I had approached the separation with impassioned fervor, striving to re-invent our relationship. Sadly, he did not respond to it, continuing his ghosting. His refusal to own his behavior and offer adjustments, continues to this writing. I gifted him compassion, acceptance and gratefulness for what he has brought to our conjoined lives and he has given me silent darkness in return. It feels like I had just not been enough for him to put the effort into the relationship, for the ever-after. He refused to be vulnerable and go deep. The result is I got crushed in the gravity at the surface. Empty excuses were his justification for ghosting me. He says he doesn’t speak because he can’t think of the right thing to say, “I’ll always be wrong”. This is what has been practiced. For as long as he continues this silent punishment, he may rest his eyes at night content to be removed from the stage, but for me, the relationship wound remains raw and open.
Now, with hindsight given by the distance placed between us, I see that Richard has a history of ghosting through the difficult spots in relationships with no understanding of how to remediate and grow. I am not his first relationship casualty.
I have to stay away from convincing myself that I feel disdain for him or that he deserves to feel bad so that I can feel better about holding him accountable. I don’t want to have to dislike someone in order to hold them accountable. I don’t want any of the hot and angry feelings that go along with it and I don’t need any more relationship regrets. What I want of the universe is to know, what is the lesson?
There is a difference between professing love and practicing love. When you betray someone or behave in an unkind way toward them, you are not practicing love. And, for me, I don’t just want someone who says they love; I want someone who practices loving me every day. Cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional. These are priorities. This is what I am practicing now. Goodbye lady in the illusory glass.
But my heart feels wounded. It hurts like hell when you know that you need to let go of someone but you can’t, because you’re still waiting for the impossible to happen. But it’s been fourteen months since he drove down the maple tree-lined driveway (in the truck I bought him), and I am learning that what I need to let go of is not the man, because he’s clearly gone, but the woman upholding the illusion.
I cannot decide if the near two decades we spent together were an advantageous fortune or not. It is not false to think that my life, and that of our boys, would have taken different trajectories. Maybe some for the better, others for the worse. I wouldn’t mind taking a magical Ghost of Christmas future tour to have a glimpse of what our lives may have looked like had David remained and Richard had gone on with his life without us. Or, if I remained single after David.
From my eight-year old self when I mothered a baby sister my mother’s delicate, confused mind could not, to extracting the first words from another sister’s smashed brain eighteen mos. in the wake of my own carnage and that of the lives of my two young sons, I’ve spent most of my life with the urge to be everything to everyone, leaving myself vacant. I sold my daily worthiness for the currency of promises. David promised he’d never leave me, Richard promised to love and cherish me in good times and bad, and I promised my beautiful boys that the time will come that I may feel happy again. With Richard, I settled for a future banked on promises that our relationship would be valued above all else and I wanted to believe his vows…“When my debts are paid, when the child custody is done, when the kids are on their own, when I retire…”
My struggle for worthiness has always felt like a haggle. It’s a cacophony of messages that replay “never good enough”. I am not ashamed to say that this year of separation has not been easy. I have been pulled into the undertow of tearful languishing, angry scolding and desperate sermonizing. I am human, I feel, I am neither proud nor ashamed. I am a journeywoman seeking a way from survival to a creative life worth living, every day from this day forward. In just a few days our legal dissolution will be dropped into my mailbox by a stranger in patriotic uniform and it will be tucked into a file marked “obsolete”.
With my remaining and future relationships, I no longer force things. What flows, flows. What crashes, crashes. In the half century through which I have loved and lost, perfected the bake and made mistakes (according to Bob Ross, there are only happy accidents), I have learned that I only have space and energy for things that are meant for me. I have finally arrived in a healing space and what is truly at the core of healing is self-love and compassion. I am worthy now. Not if. Not when.
© Deborah Garcia, 2019