It’s April 2, 2012, close to midnight. I’m sitting next to my boyfriend of five years—who is drifting into sleep—on our carpet-hugging queen mattress, listening to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune
.” I’m trying desperately to connect with him, to lull him to sleep in the tunnels of black sheets and blankets with dreamy piano while my wide awake eyes drift back and forth between his bare back and a dark, abyssal landscape that exists only in my head. I know this, and yet I can feel it around me more surely than I can my own palms or fingers, and I’m dropping my thoughts into it like snowflakes—words and imaginings that seem to come from nowhere and melt as quickly as they crystallize.
I feel completely alone. I can’t concentrate; I can’t remember what I was thinking moments before, and as I realize this my eyes refocus, and what seemed like emptiness or some other, far off place is now a row of books—most of which I’ve had for years but haven’t had the mental stamina to read—and a doll with sleek flaxen hair and cobalt blue eyes that drift with the same lifeless gaze I’m prone to. I can’t seem to shake this invisible heaviness that clings to my body like a wet suit, swirling slow and galaxy-like with memories that shackle my past to my ankles, and fears that cast all possible futures like broken limbs in bone-white plaster. This doom is a part of me now; this moment is all I have, and I’m not even present for it.
On May 24, 2012 my boyfriend will leave me. He will drive away in a rented van that carried the last of my things five thousand miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to my aunt and uncle’s home in Mission, British Columbia, as I stand in the middle of the street behind him in a strange suburbia—but not before I wedge my shoulder into the closing driver’s side door to keep us together one minute longer, before I tell him with tears sliding down my face, “I told you I would make this difficult.” Not before we cross the border (a mere half hour away) the night before and surrender my status, pass through the city in which we fell in love and spent much of our best years—and I cry and ask him if we can stop, just for a minute, because I want to remember us that way, not this way. But we won’t.
And now, here, he will cry, and squeeze my hands, and kiss my face, and avoid my gaze, and sigh out years of emotional fatigue with a seatbelt strapped around his chest (which I claw for fear I will never touch him again)—despite the fact that he broke up with me two weeks prior, in the middle of couples counselling, and assures me he is certain this is for the best. I will want to scream as the van turns the corner but instead I will be flooded with calm and hot sunlight as I receive a text message from a good friend (the previous night’s couch crash, and ironically, my previous ex): ‘It was good to see you guys. I hope you’re doing great.’ And I will text back, ‘Your timing is impeccable. This is the worst moment of my entire life,’ though won’t state why, will let him think I might be joking. I fucking hope I’m joking.
I’m getting déjà vu.
It’s July 24, 2002, nearly ten years prior, and I’m sitting on a plane flying back to Canada. I don’t really understand how I got here—all I know is that I’m looking out the window over Boise, Idaho, trying desperately to spot my boyfriend’s house to anchor my gaze; that I feel hollow and afraid and I’m listening (on my discman…oh those days) to the fourth track
on Silverchair’s Diorama
—”take the world upon your shoulders / and burn, burn, burn, burn, burn”—and THAT…that I understand fully. And it makes me cringe right down to my cilia.
I’m wearing the same clothes I wore the day before, because I slept in them. I ran in the desert heat in them, I sweat and cried and screamed in them. I dreamed in them, next to him. And when I woke, I was in the backseat of a car on the way to the airport, pulling out strands of my hair and knotting them, hiding them in his yearbook next to a ballpoint essay for him to remember me by. And just before airport security we sit in blue chairs, run through a disposable camera to immortalize our last moments together, our separation, painful and shocking as it is. Because we tried to avoid this. We tried to run from this. We said FUCK YOU to Alaska Air, Air Canada, WestJet, got in his car, and drove back home, my suitcases packed in the trunk with evidence of having planned this for months: all my favourite shoes, my tarot deck collection, my novel on a floppy disk. Smashing Pumpkins in the CD player and a hand to hold in the darkness. Everything I needed in a ’93 Chevy Cavalier sports car.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details. Suffice it to say my walk through airport security was supervised, and performed twice, because the first time I tried it, I panicked and ran back through the metal detector for an emergency hug.
The difference between these events is that this last time I was over it in about a month. Ten years ago, I suffered terribly in that pain for months, years…and in the crags of my memory, that pain is still there. I still consider that the worst day of my life, and maybe that’s why. Because at the time, I allowed it to destroy me.
This is the essence of self-loathing.
…of despising oneself so much that one cannot stand to be alone. That the thought of being without someone you love—the only one you love—severs you. And you’re left with a huge phantom limb—this empty space still attached to you, filled with pain and longing for someone you spent five years slowly hand-sewing to your soul. All I could think the first week after M initiated our breakup last May was that I would rather have a double mastectomy. My brain repeated this over and over. That I would rather lose both my breasts than lose this love. And I completely meant it. Because that phantom limb was more real to me than the real me. The fact that I had already lost that coveted love long ago was beside the point. (It should be noted that I am largely indifferent to my breasts. Still, in retrospect, such a notion seems completely ridiculous.)
If you’re doing it right, it all sounds like common sense. But it took me a long time to learn two very important things:
1. Anything you demand in other people is something you’re not—and should be—giving yourself. Totally. Fucking. True.
2. You can love other people without loving yourself, but it’s not a good thing. And it will inevitably fail.
Trust me. I’ve been in love six times (give or take, depending), and there’s only one person who’s still there for me when it’s all said and done—and that’s myself. I love so intensely that in the past I have always gotten tunnel vision and forgotten myself when I began to love another. When I began to lose my grip on myself, and the other person, in a relationship, I began to see the relationship as a separate entity. I mourned a breakup the same way I mourned death. Because when I’m separated from myself, I see the relationship as its own living, breathing thing that can die, and as soon as I see it beginning to suffer I make it my life’s mission to repair it. Which consists of the same strategy many people use to attempt to write poetry: instead of letting it unfold naturally and allowing insight and understanding to manifest, they constantly try to beat meaning out of it and refuse to leave it alone, which inevitably ends in failure (if you can’t tell, I’ve bombed at both these tasks multiple times).
Every time I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve been bombarded with thoughts that life was not what I thought it was. My whole worldview felt turned upside down and unable to right itself, and every time I’d have to wait for the strength to rebuild it again from the ground up. Feeling hopelessly alone and hurt and being completely unable to comfort oneself is one of the hardest things a person can endure—that’s where the real heartbreak starts. In the past I’ve managed to somehow overcome it, despite my persistent wallowing (how did I listen to music that sad
all the time while suffering so endlessly and not resort to drugs, self-mutilation, or suicide attempts? This still completely boggles my mind; sometimes I think writing is the only thing that saved me), but I’m honestly amazed I’ve remained on this earth as long as I have with the amount of pain I’ve allowed myself to suffer. Yes, allowed
. Because the degree of suffering you endure on a psychological level is a choice, as soon as you recognize it as one.
This is something I’ve been sort of feeling my way through. There doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to love oneself as long as it’s genuine, but for me it was remembering, acknowledging, practicing, and recreating who I am. It was saying to myself, “this is what matters to me (or what once mattered to me, and perhaps deep down, still does), and this is why.” It was embracing the parts of myself I’d left behind in favour of practical goals like finishing grad school, and sacrificed in order to connect with people who did not share in or nurture those aspects (in some cases taking advantage or belittling me until I outright rejected those parts of myself out of misguided self-defense): my empathic nature and endless capacity for love, my spirituality, my honesty, my complete fascination with tarot cards, my intense creativity and passion for crafting. I’ve been a chameleon, changing colours and tones to fit into new situations and get along with different people. But not until recently did I fully realize that I had been gradually burying pieces of my true spirit in order to gain acceptance from others. It makes me cry just thinking about how much of myself I suppressed out of desperation, out of needing to be loved by others (as if that’s love, anyway) because I’d forgotten how to love myself.
My life has been a constant battle against believing I’m unlovable.
The name I was given at birth actually means “beloved”
; it has its roots in the French word “amer” and Latin “amare,” which both mean “to love.” Even as a child I did not feel beloved, though I felt I was a slave to love, that I was doomed to love more than I would ever be loved. I haven’t liked that name in a long time; my first memory of this distaste (aside from the yearly instances—beginning at age six and continuing through grad school—that I felt I would always be second to some other girl with my name on the class attendance list) is when, at the age of eleven, I lied to several of my classmates, telling them my real name was in fact Amanda, which I thought was inexplicably better—and, though I didn’t know it at the time, means (and I quote Wikipedia
): “having to be loved,” “deserving to be loved,” or, simply, “worthy of love.” I find the irony in all this quite cruel (nevermind that I was once jilted for a girl with that name). It’s possible there’s no connection, but eleven was also about the age I really stopped having faith in life and in myself (more on that later).
I’m still learning to love myself separate from someone else. Even when an obviously bad relationship ends I become sad and mourn the loss of the happy times, like I’m mourning the loss of those people we were when we met. It’s a mourning of the loss of the self, or one version of the self. I die and am reborn every time this happens, and the mourning is that in-between stage after I’ve died but before I’ve rediscovered my purpose. Though, in a way, I honestly believe learning to love more fully and purely—to give and receive unconditional love both to others and myself—is an essential part of my purpose. So perhaps I should learn to embrace my name along with myself.
“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” – Wayne Dyer
This is true. I know it’s true because for the past few months I’ve been mostly isolated, and falling in love again, with myself first and foremost, and with all kinds of people on various levels. And I’ve felt happy. But I can now tell when I’m happy because I’m loving/being loved by someone else versus when I’m happy because I’m loving myself. I’ve experienced both several times in the past week alone (true self-love takes a lot of practice), and there is an enormous difference. Learning how to be alone is essential to knowing oneself, and knowing oneself is essential to learning to love oneself. I know myself—and become myself—more and more each day. I feel the most loved I have ever felt in my life, and am by far the most loving I have ever been. I’ve rebuilt my worldview again—and for the first time, I can sense that with a little more cognizance, it will be unshakable.