Started a group coaching course recently. I’m finding that talking to someone (other than myself and this blog) helps me sort out some of the more tangled stuff. It’s also helpful to interact with people who are also going through stuff. Maybe it’s not the same stuff that I’m going through, but it’s still stuff.
Anyhoo, in our first session, we touched on grief. That spawned a discussion about loss and how it impacts who we are. This got me thinking about the losses I’ve experienced over the years, and I challenged myself to wrap my brain around them in a new way.
Our assignment after the session was to write a journal entry that answered the questions below. I’m sharing my entry here on Finally Felix because it took me to a place I did not expect.
What is your most significant loss and how has it changed you?
What is one way you can honor that loss?
The easy answer to this would be to say that it was the loss of my mother 5 years ago. Her death was the catalyst to many changes in my life, including how I saw myself, how I viewed my role in the relationships around me, and how I understood my own strength and perseverance. But for this question, I’d like to talk about another loss. This is the first time that I have written about this in this way…
One year after my mother’s death I made a new acquaintance in an online community for lesbians of color. She was highly intelligent, funny, and made me feel amazing. We started talking on the phone in May of 2012, and from that point, we would speak everyday … multiple times a day. We shared stories of our lives, made each other laugh, and boosted each other up in the way that friends do. She was very special to me.
But throughout our growing friendship,she never shared of picture of herself with me. No matter how many times, I asked. She always had a reason for not letting me see what she looked like … namely because I was married and our exchanging pictures was wrong (even though we were just friends). Similar reasons were used for us never meeting … even just for a cup of coffee or a walk through a local park. For a while, I found her excuses to be noble and protective. She’s thinking of my well-being. She’s keeping the lines of our relationship clear so we don’t cross any boundaries. In my mind, she had my best interests at heart, and I loved her for doing the right thing.
We remained in that holding pattern for a long time … talking every day, sharing every aspect of our lives verbally, but never meeting. And despite the fact that I never knew what the person I was speaking to looked like, our friendship blossomed into what felt like real love. I yearned to hear her voice every day. I sought her advice on many things, as she did mine. She was a part of my life in a large sense. For a while, she made me happy.
I can’t really tell you when things began to shift: when her anger over my not answering her calls went from “cute and bossy” to downright mean … when she criticized the way I mothered my children and spoke about my friends and family in the vilest ways … when her response to a simple joke or playful debate was to explode into a rage of tears, name-calling, and ugly accusations … when her reaction to me spending time with family and friends, rather than on the phone with her, was to shut me out or try to make me feel guilty … and when the only time she could show me she cared was after breaking me down to my most raw and vulnerable state. Despite all this, I made excuses for her behavior and continued to speak with her every day.
How long did it go on? Three years. Looking back from the space I’m in now, I can’t believe I remained in that situation for so long. But I can certainly understand how it happened. I was in a vulnerable space … and she took advantage of it. She was abusive and saw something in me that would allow her to exercise power, and I did not have the capacity to stop it, much less realize what was happening. In a sense, I supposed I felt that I deserved that kind of treatment. I was stuck in a place of tremendous guilt over the breakdown of my marriage, worried about destroying my family, feeling like a failure in every sense. She thrived on my defeated energy like a vampire; chopping me down and sucking up every drop of misery, and when there was nothing left … building me up so she could do it all over again. Three years … Three fucking years.
So how does this qualify as “my most significant loss”?
We had a “love and friendship” that devolved into something harsh and dark, but the aftermath of it gave me insight I did not have before. It absolutely changed me, and here is what I learned:
- How to recognize the true good in people, especially in myself.
- That how I treat myself is how others will treat me … when she called me a vile, heartless bitch and treated me like I was the worst person on earth, I accepted it because that’s what I thought I was.
- What it means to be fully and wholly loved by someone…for exactly who I am.
- What it means to fully and wholly love myself for exactly who I am (something that I still struggle with, but I’m getting there).
- The kind of people I want and need in my life, not simply whoever shows up and shows interest … but those who are truly honored to be a part of my world because I feel the same way about them.
- That I am much stronger and wiser than I ever gave myself credit for.
The best thing I can do to honor the lost relationship that led me to this understanding is to continue moving forward in this same way. Out of darkness and into light.
Another thing, I can do is to forgive her. A brilliant person once told me that forgiveness is not saying that what the other person did is OK. It’s not acceptance, quite the contrary. Forgiveness is release. It’s when you let go of the bitterness, anger, feelings of betrayal, your desire for vindication, and even your need to understand why someone would treat you so badly. You release them unto their own karmic consequence and in turn, you release their hold on you.
Freedom in the best possible sense.