Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Falling in Love with Love
I am and will forever be a hopeless romantic. Growing up I witnessed it through the way my parents treated each other. I watched it in movies, through storybooks. Everything I knew and wanted was love. This admiration as a child however grew into an obsession; an addiction that was rooted in a very real need to be wanted, loved and valued. Experiencing constant external criticism and judgment from my family and my peers, I chased validation and acceptance from them, often ending in me feeling depleted, my cup empty.
Meeting Max was no exception. By the time we started dating when we were 14 years old, I was already well-versed in neediness and over-giving. Coming from a place of destruction, self-betrayal and abandonment, I lived alongside him festering in codependent behaviors until my early 20's. He never gave me any reason to question his love and devotion to me, but I did it anyway. I called him often and frequently. Witnessing him relate to other women, sometimes anyone, kneaded my stomach. I felt I needed to constantly nourish him physically, mentally, sexually in the hopes that he wouldn't leave me. I took his 3:00AM calls and made my own, even if I had clinical at 7:00AM that morning. I drove 1.5 hours only to hold him for a few short hours through his darkest moments. And even with all this outpouring of love and support, I always found myself lying on someone's bathroom floor crying, shaking and loathing the shame I felt but couldn't explain. This wasn't isolated to interactions with Max either, it was anyone I felt I was putting a significant amount of energy to foster, although Max was a major component. I had hard wired beliefs that left me exhausted and alone. I thought:
I'm responsible for other peoples' happiness, but also their pain.
I need to make sure everyone is okay, my own happiness, sanity and health can wait.
My feelings aren't as important as theirs.
Letting other people have their own experiences is risky for me, and I have to control/fix them.
I need to be what THEY need me to be.
I can't let them see that I'm not enough.
I'll be happy when they're happy.
Breaking Bad Habits
When your cup is completely drained of its contents and vitality, there is no longer energy left for anyone to thrive on. When I was 21, depleted by relationships and nursing school I decided to reclaim my power. I started the inner work to care more about myself. Over a decade later, I continue to do the work and feel much more abundant. I didn't realize that healing my relationship with myself would result in a better relationship with the people around me. I think Max was the first to take notice. He noticed that I was showing up for myself and spending time by myself. I did a lot of hot yoga. I sang in the shower. I was speaking my mind a lot more, and asking for what I want. I was slowing down and smelling, listening, feeling more. I was asking for help and asking for more clarity. The magical thing is, the moment I stepped back and stopped coddling our relationship is the moment he stepped forward towards me. I use to think of him as a plant: a being I needed to feed, comfort and care for; there isn't much reciprocity in that. Our partnership is now more like two gardeners tending paradise; we're both doing the inner work and working together for this garden to grow, flourish and feed us. I now brave the fear of rejection and vulnerability by stepping back more often in all my relationships.
There are so many issues I had and continue to weed through to get to where I am today. Of those things I had to accept:
I am not responsible for any one else's experiences, behaviors or reactions.
My worth is not measured by how much I give.
I am not responsible for saving anyone from themselves.
Cultivating a relationship with myself is just as important as how I show up to my relationships.
I need to set my own boundaries that deserve to be honored and respected.
My worth is not measured by how much I give.
Healing from Codependency
I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much internal dialogue and struggle has happened throughout this process. I still cry in the bathroom, I still get insecure and abrupt. The work has simply been a journey inwards to my truer, higher self who doesn't need constant validation and is able to self soothe my inner child when needed. I have had to sit alone, quieting the world around me to talk to the child that needs attention inside. She needs comfort and compassion. She needs to be soothed. How do you take care of a small child when they physically hurt or their heart is in pain? You listen to them, you validate them, care for them. For me, that meant setting boundaries on the activities and behaviors I would accept. It meant taking time for myself, replenishing my cup with vitality, body neutrality... really whatever is needed at the time. Most importantly, it meant asking for help when I needed it and self-soothing when my people just didn't have the capacity to hold space for me when I needed it. It also meant recognizing that everyone else has their own story, threshold and cup to fill.
I no longer feel alone. I no longer fear being alone. The forced seclusion travel nursing brought me during this time became a catalyst for cultivating this relationship with myself. I had to rely on my intuition, my wits and my coping skills to thwart the loneliness and inadequacy that crept in. Being with myself also fosters a sense of gratitude for the intimate and warm relationships that exist with me today. By having a better relationship with myself I have been able to build connections with people that better fit my spirit. It took a long while to rid myself of toxic people and nurture my most cherished ones. Unbeknownst to him, Max was used. When we were younger I used him for comfort, for validation and self-abuse (humming Marilyn Manson's rendition of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) as I write this). My insecurities made me not so kind to him. I expected him to show up for me without communicating the expectations of what that looked like. I expected him to nurture me the way I felt I was taking care of him, not realizing how depleted he was. I expected him, as a young man with little understanding of who I was, to fix me. I had high expectations. He was a drug; something I NEEDED to survive. When the love was good, it was high and hot, when it was bad it was destructive and damaging. Had I not done the work to get over my love addiction, he would be a cautionary tale of young love and lessons learnt.
Max was used in the worst way then but has since been instrumental as a tool to my self-discovery (still used, but in a good way!). He is one of my most cherished. When I found my voice, he truly listened. I let him into my world and he shows up for me, understanding who I am as a woman. He understands my energy comes in cycles. He doesn't retreat or hide at the peak of my sensitivity; like a curious child he notices and embraces my multifaceted emotions. He observes my tenacity, my softness, my lust, my stillness and doesn't label me crazy. He ebbs while I flow. He knows when my reactions are a reflection of my shadow self and not actually about him. He knows when I am projecting my insecurities and challenges me to look inwards for the truth. He asks me to speak earnestly and softly to myself. He is mature and integrated and exudes qualities of the Divine Masculine that I so admire and strive to emulate. He is so much of what the world needs in future males (just saying!). I now relish the fact that I have no control over his emotions or experiences. Every new facet of him that shows up is exciting and a new challenge to navigate. I truly found a partner that I strive to be better with; someone I wake up next to every day eager to do the necessary work to keep us thriving, amorous and woke. I don't NEED him to survive anymore, but WANT him because I like him. :)
How do you take care of a small child when they physically hurt or their heart is in pain? You listen to them, you validate them, care for them.
Still Loving Love
I am not numb to the fact that I was lucky enough to navigate such a common and prevalent addiction to emerge on the other side a better person with the same dude. It mesmerizes me everyday and yet, I refuse to be lulled into complacency. I am still a hopeless romantic. I know that authentic love is work, but I have also learned that it doesn't come at the price of your sanity or self-respect. I have also learned that it doesn't always come in the form of a partner or soulmate. When I was young I remember thinking that love was glitter, butterflies and hopefulness and I thought that’s what magic was. Now I see it is an anchor in a storm; it’s hands and foreheads with crevasses formed from hard work and laughing. It’s much more magical than I could have ever imagined, more than I could physically see through my parents words and actions. It’s a heart that stays young when the bones have grown older. It’s smiling to yourself in the mirror when you get out of the shower. It’s a sun that never sets and a fire that cannot be extinguished. It's the connection you keep with yourself and your tribe without compromising your own health and worth.