Have you ever had one of those moments in which you looked around and suddenly saw yourself with the eyes of a much younger you? I have, more than once. The first time was while I was working as a bank teller and suddenly woke up to the awful reality that the life I thought I was working towards when I was 17 did not magically materialize, and I had no idea how to get there. That event put me into therapy for the first time.
The second time was today.
I realized, suddenly, that I got almost everything I wanted two years ago. I wanted to work for myself, check. I wanted to be debt free, check. I wanted to be free of obligation to just about anyone but myself, check.
Under the heading of 'Be Careful What You Wish For', I'll be honest and say it's not all that. I mean, I am totally stoked about working for myself and being debt free. That part is fabulous. I'm not so hot about the lack of obligation part.
I realized today that I'm lonely. I hitched my emotional pony to so many wrong wagons, although I never knew it at the time. There are reasons for this, I mean, I never really let myself feel anything for years and years and years, so how would I know what I really wanted anyway? Plus, even in the dark hours of the morning when I felt brave enough to admit to myself that I wanted friends, a boyfriend (what a coy word!), or even a husband and family, I never, ever thought I could actually have them. After the nasty boiling lobster pot that was my grade school and high school experience, I was convinced that I am unlovable, weird, unpleasant to be around and just generally Not Wanted. Even though I had friends, even though I did go out dancing and to movies and had fun, I never really thought people could like me. The Real Me, the one I hid away and protected like the gold in Fort Knox. They liked Party Me, the face I put on to show the world so it wouldn't notice how rotten I was at my core. I don't think I had a real friend then, if only because no one knew the real me. More my fault than theirs, alas.
I spent all my emotional energies on dead end jobs, trying to figure out what job I wanted to do, trying to find my employment place in the world. My jobs became my primary relationships, since I was certain I couldn't have one with a human being. I wasn't good enough, so I had to find a job that would save me, give me purpose, love me back. I had good ones, ones I cried at leaving when I broke up with them, and bad ones that beat me up before they kicked me out. I've had my unfair share of abusive employment relationships, I admit. Bad boy offices that dangled success before me like an engagement ring and then snatched it away with a sneer and laugh at how I could possibly think I was good enough to succeed at them!
In truth, falling out of love with work was easier--it hurts less to be rejected as an employee than as a friend or lover. Far, far less. It's much easier to ignore that pain, pretend it doesn't exist.
Somewhere in the middle of it, I gave up on loving my job and started a relationship with a dog. A wonderful dog who wormed into my heart, warmed it up a bit and taught me more about being a good human than anyone else in my life ever had. I began to focus more and more of my emotional energy on the relationship with my dog.
Hey, at least he had a pulse. And he always (mostly) treated me well. In my estimation, it was a step up.
We had many good years together. He was my friend in good times and in bad. He let me cry when I needed to without judging me. He let me sing to him and never once laughed at my voice or told me to stop. He snuggled up against me when I felt lost. He gave my life form, provided me with a schedule and an anchor. A reference point for all my actions, thoughts and words.
Now he's gone. And I've only just begun to realize how much I had invested in him. And what it was really standing in for in my life. And I'm letting myself feel the loss. Feel the pain. I'm letting myself want.
It's unusual to feel. For me, that is. At least, it's unusual for me to feel something this...visceral and deep. I don't like it much, but I do appreciate it if only for the contrast between it and the blankness in which I wrapped myself in my 20s. I never felt anything then--not good, not bad, nothing in between. Now, occasionally, I can feel actual joy. I guess that means I get to feel the craptacular stuff, too.
And suddenly I realize that feeling the bad things has a bigger purpose in my life. It's not just to teach me the error of my ways, it's to prod me into changing my ways. The goal is still to avoid the pain, but no longer by just ignoring it, pretending it doesn't exist and faking the happy until I forget, but by changing my course to seek joy. It's no longer good enough to just avoid pain. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one. For so long, my only goal has been to avoid pain or potential pain, and that has kept me in a very small, narrow circle of actions and feelings. Now my goal is seeking that which makes me happy, which means my sphere of action is much, much larger--there are more possible paths for me to take to get there. Avoiding pain just means shutting down access to me, seeking joy means I open up to possibilities. There may be painful moments on the way, but that's ok. As long as I'm trying for the happy, I won't have failed.
In the meantime, my life has gone completely off script. I have no idea where I'm going other than 'away from where I've been', with a nice shot of hope in my heart that I can make it there in one piece. Then again, I'm told that truly living life means you leave pieces of yourself all over the landscape, so that might be overly optimistic.
I'm totally free. Yes, I have a family and friends. Everyone does. But there's nothing material holding me to this place. I don't have to consult with anyone or ask if it's ok if we move to Whereverland. I don't have to have a specific job with a specific income to pay my credit card bills--if I can pay rent and food, I'm golden. I have no ego tied to how I make money, really, so I don't care. I mean, I love writing but I do that for free as well as for pay, so if I can find a part time job shoveling sod that pays well enough and allows me the mental energy to write in my off hours, I can do that, too.
There is no script. Actually, it's probably more precise to say, I haven't written my script yet. I know sort of what I want in it--maybe an exciting car chase scene, some over-done, Mythbusters type metaphorical explosions, a sweet love scene--but I haven't really put it together properly.
Freedom is the most terrifying thing I've faced to date in my life. And I say that as a woman who has been camping in the Mississippi Delta, where everything is either trying to kill you or give you a rash, so I know terrifying.
This is the heavy thinking I'm doing right now. I am so lost, so frightened and yet so excited. I get to write my script this time. Not the jobs, not my family, not my dog. Me.