“You don’t choose bad people. You choose people. How they decide to treat you is their responsibility, not yours.”
Wise words from my therapist last week. I’ve been dwelling on these words and hoping to find some truth in there. Hoping to believe it.
When I moved away to a different state at 19, I was escaping heartache. I couldn’t live there anymore. My heart was shattered, and I couldn’t surround myself with the constant reminders of what could have been and what I had lost. I drove for hours with the windows down and music up as loud as my little old Buick Century could handle. I remember driving toward the sunset and smiling. I get a fresh start. A new beginning.
Fast-forward another 20 years and I want to move again. I want another fresh start. I’ve had enough of this place. People think they know me and treat me accordingly. The good and the bad. Like Tom Petty said: I’m “tired of myself, tired of this town,” only I’ve found that I can’t escape myself.
Back home, I fully believed that I was only good for one thing. I thought that a new town would prove me wrong. It wasn’t long before I slipped back into the old patterns, creating a narrative that I despised. It still haunts me. I’m part of that narrative. I created it.
I see it in the way that someone will make me feel special but only for a short time. I see it in the way that someone who I used to care deeply for will ask me to dinner, only to follow that up with a crude, sexual comment. I see it in the way that, for a moment, I’m on top of the world believing that I’m valued by someone and the next moment I’m ghosted. I keep fooling myself with the notion that “this time” it will be different.
I’m tired. I’m just so, so tired.
My therapist thinks this vulnerability is a good thing. It means I have a soft and loving heart that won’t give up. It means that I am trying. I have even written a few articles on the beauty of vulnerability. But man, when your heart is aching and the loneliness kicks in, it seems to be anything but beautiful.
Deep down I know he’s right. I know that with each sadness, there is a lesson to be learned. I know that with pain, there is progress. I know that I have grown leaps and bounds in ways that most people know nothing about (or care to acknowledge). I know that taking chances is the only way I will get to where I want to be. Sometimes, taking chances will lead to rejection and sometimes it won’t. In either scenario, there will be transformation. It’s inevitable.
Growth is uncomfortable. And even though it hurts when someone shows me that they’re not interested in me as a human, but in me as an object, I feel comforted by the fact that I’m just not okay with that anymore and I’m allowed to not be okay with it. I don’t feel the need to explain or justify. I don’t have time for that. I don’t need to worry about how someone will end up treating me, because that’s not my responsibility.
How I react to how I’m treated—I can claim that. I can decide to use it for good, to change my life, and to hopefully help someone else. That is really all I can claim responsibility for. Taking chances means risking pain. Pain leads to progress. I’ll be over here finding new ways to grow from the dirt.
There are a lot of things in this life that we don’t get to choose.
I didn’t choose the things that happened to me that created the feelings of worthlessness. And like my therapist stated, I didn’t willingly choose to be with someone who was going to drive that false perception home. But I do get to choose who I will let into my life and how they will impact me. Again, and again, I keep seeing the potential with these rose-colored glasses on. That part is on me.
What needs to be understood is that I am not responsible for how someone treats me. I am also not responsible for how someone perceives me. And it’s not my responsibility to try and change that perception, because no matter what I say or do, the likelihood that I can change what someone thinks of me is slim. I work hard to change my own self-image and honestly, that’s enough.
Before I left his office last week, my therapist told me that I’m not as damaged as I think I am. “Really?” I replied. “Because I’m hurting. I’m alone. I’m exhausted. And I just keep reaching.”
“Exactly,” he said.