“Life is like a safety pin. If it doesn’t poke you a little, you’ve missed its point.” ~ My Grandfather
I don’t give myself away easily.
When I invite someone into my life, I want it to matter that they’re there. And when I fall in love, I do it with every part of who I am.
In the Eye of the Storm
Last year my life took such a profound detour, that I wondered whether I would survive the blows. I felt like a sparrow trapped in a hurricane. Wind, rain and fate bashing me around until I lost all sense of direction and fell apart, overwhelmed and disoriented.
I nursed my mangled spirit for a long time before finding my way out of the storm.
It took effort to rebuild myself, and I spent the second half of the year forcing one foot in front of the other, to move along my winding path toward a better route. I fought to reclaim my power.
Heartache as the harbinger of change.
I’d spent the majority of my adult life in long-term committed relationships. Now, a self-sufficient single woman over 30, I began to feel the weight of getting older and being alone.
Moreover, in the first few months of the year, my career stalled, a loved-one nearly died, my rent skyrocketed and the charity where I had devoted my energy and passion began to crumble.
Then came the one-inch punch, a short-range martial arts move intended to create the most impact from the shortest possible distance, that shredded my remaining senses into pieces.
In quick succession, the three most significant loves of my life—men from my past with whom I had shared intimacy, romance and deep connections—independently reached out to me after years of silence. They didn’t just want to catch up; they wanted back inside.
January brought me an old love, the one that got away. February reintroduced my first love, someone I’d shared a life with for seven years. By March, the man I’d called the love-of-my-life asked to see me again.
Each time, I let myself wonder whether our stories hadn’t ended after all.
One-by-one, each emerged to reconnect with me, whisper sweet nothings, snuggle close, wax nostalgically and muse about rekindling the spark we still shared. Then in little earthquakes, each withdrew from my life again, leaving me alone to sort through the wreckage left behind.
To top it off, the two men I kept closest to my heart—as if like echoes—each placed my hand in his and spoke of our enduring bond, confiding in me that I could be the one. They felt warm and familiar, which made me feel worthy and wanted. The allure was intense and seemed all the more real because they said they felt it too.
Within a month, those two men each proposed to women I hadn’t known existed.
Bedlam becomes me.
I’d loved and lost these men once before, grieved and healed. Now I had to do it again, each heartache intensified by the crowded timeline. I felt confused, foolish, blindsided, judged, gutted and finally silenced by those I’d had faith would take the most care of me.
Communication disintegrated between my former loves and me as I tried to articulate my feelings of confusion and hurt to them. I cried alone and then endlessly to patient friends and worried family, all the while rehearsing pedantic analysis on a loop.
It was too much for me to take, and I made for miserable company as I absorbed the hits. I couldn’t understand what the Universe was telling me, or how my intuition had led me astray three consecutive times, into such a heartbreaking, capricious mess.
I watched as though from outside myself as the confident woman I’d always been deteriorated into a pitiful mess I barely recognized. I was anxiety-ridden and withdrawn, consumed with self-doubt. I stopped trusting my instincts and felt powerless.
Mercifully, the whole of who I am is not defined solely by my flashes of raw thought, the actions of others or untamed emotion. My narrative is complex, and I get to define my own experience.
The Universe was sending me a powerful message, and its beat-down persisted until I committed to listening.
So I became still and quiet, hearing my breath and feeling my needs fill the silence. When I finally understood and accepted that I had control over myself—and only myself—I began to heal.
My priority became a spiritual and holistic rejuvenation, and I explored everything from acupuncture and sound healing to supplements, counseling and meditation.
I turned my home into my sanctuary, got hooked on yoga, indulged in retail therapy, cut out refined sugar and alcohol, updated my resume and made a Match.com profile. I decluttered my calendar and my living space, cancelled cable, bought new perfume, devoured self-help books and tried to detach from expectation à la Eckhart Tolle.
My need to find solace launched an epic inner pilgrimage of perseverance. I even found a little peace.
No more shadowboxing.
To transform how I viewed myself and the world around me, I had to get brutally, ugly-cry-face honest with myself.
Part of my healing involved taking accountability for my actions and humbly letting go of theirs.
I had to stop being a blameless victim, admit my shortcomings and accept my role in the implosion. Though not entirely my fault, I acknowledged that my choices added to my resulting anguish.
These men I had once adored were a sight for sore eyes when I embraced them, but I didn’t have to give myself away. I didn’t ask the hard questions (of myself or them) because I was afraid of what I’d hear and I wanted to believe in love.
As things fell apart, I clung to what I thought I knew. I probably came across like a jilted lover, but I felt like a discarded best friend.
After each blow, I desperately sought compassion and acknowledgement from them. I made undignified choices and sent emails I wish I hadn’t, begged friends to be my advocate and kicked around a few revenge fantasies.
Compelled by our own journeys, I was still trying to understand, while they had already let go.
There was no place to put my myriad of emotions, and I hated myself for caring so much.
Creating the space for possibility.
I worked to accept that I did the best I could with what I had, and surrendered to the uncertainty that I may never get the validation, respect or explanations I craved for closure. I made peace with my flaws and squelched the phrase “if only” from tumbling through my brain.
I had to learn how to soothe those needs from the inside out, so that’s where I started.
It takes a lot of effort to build new pathways in our brains, and shift focus from habit to intention, but it’s an undertaking I embrace. I still collapse into a heap of tears sometimes, and I may always find it challenging to pause, be uncomfortable and allow the chatter in my head to calm, but I’m learning how to let in what serves me, and let go of what doesn’t.
As I Know better, I do better.
I’m grateful for my open heart, but now I know how to protect its virtue.
I was vulnerable with my past loves because I was still deeply attached to their ghosts. It never occurred to me that while I had changed across the years, I’d expected them to remain the same. I just knew when they held me, it felt like home.
It took a long time to find forgiveness, acceptance and a purpose for the pain.
With time and conscious effort, I moved anger and regret into gratitude for my shaken spirit. I discovered ways to show myself compassion, never let my heart grow hard and finally embrace my softness as one of my greatest strengths.
Honoring the relationship we have with ourselves.
I had forgotten that we are so much more than any one expectation, person, choice or moment. Now I remember that we are extraordinary, and no singular detail can define the sum of who we are.
Growth comes out of infinite, microscopic bursts of inspiration, and the deliberate choice to undertake hard, humbling work every day. It arises not just from the questions we muster the courage to ask, but in the effort we undertake once we hear the answers.
Each day, I choose to nourish my soul with respect and unconditional love. by recognizing myself as worthy, just the way I am, in this and every moment.
I may just let myself believe it’s true if I hear it enough. From there, anything is possible.
Author: Sarah Haas
Editor: Jean Weiss
Photo: Eddi van W.