Loss and Loyalty
The last two years have been filled with some giant losses for me. These losses have made me think a lot about friendship, family, loyalty and the idea of fault. I spent the afternoon exploring some of these things through writing. Because it comes out of my free writing from today, and wasn’t something I originally planned on blogging about, I cannot promise it is as coherent as other blog posts. Also, as you know by now, I am not great at writing anything concise. But, this post explores a lot of ideas in one thread, so it is even longer than most of the other posts- Never-the-less; I wanted to share it with you….
Do all relationships inevitably come to an end? Is it unreasonable for us to think we can hold on to people? Is that a bleak question to even pose? I started to wonder how much of the loss I have felt is necessary and how much is self-induced. I have been wondering about how we hold onto relationships as we evolve. Does a relationship either evolve with us or crash? Maybe. But, who decides when a relationship is no longer evolving? Is it not always about growth- is it sometimes that something irretrievable happens, and it becomes harder to be in the relationship than not? Are there any relationships that are just, well, easy? Is it necessary that relationships grow with us, or are some relationships always there-no matter what we do or who we become? Maybe.
I am not sure if such a relationship exists- and if it does exist, is it simply because both parties choose to continuously pour into it? I’m not sure. I am still hopeful that such relationships exist. I used to believe in loyalty to family, to friends, to the truth and to faith. Now, I am not completely sure how I feel about loyalty. I am learning, that loyal, just like everything else only takes us so far, and is certainly not black and white. Can we be completely loyal to someone and still find ourselves in a great place of loss in our relationship to them? Certainly. And, perhaps part of the reason we feel such loss when the relationship changes or dissipates, is that there was such a deep loyalty in the first place.
These were my deepest loyalties: my faith, my mother, my husband, my childhood friend, and my truth.
In the last two years, the majority of the relationships I thought were “forever” faced a loss of some kind. I can’t help but wonder, if the feeling of loss was made even more extreme because of how deeply I held loyalty to these relationships- how imbedded in my life they had become- that their removal was as painful as removing a part of myself.
Almost exactly two years ago- the weekend after our daughter’s second birthday, I had to hospitalize my husband for trying to take his own life. I sat at home with my little girl and tried to figure out what to tell her about where daddy went, how to tell his parents, and wondering what was next for me. When the person you love the most in the world, your partner, tries to take themself out of the world, you don’t get over it. You learn to integrate it into your daily life, but it never goes away- it creeps up on you from time to time-always an unwelcome guest.
I walked out of the experience of thinking I would lose my husband a completely different person. I realized for the first time in my life, that I had no control over the people that I loved (not that I don’t still try to use my illusion of control). I learned in that moment, true or not, that the only person you can completely count on is yourself. I realized that if that were true, or at least felt true, than I had better figure out who the hell I was. So, that is what I did. I spent the entire next year at home with Adam and Aimee. He was too ill to watch her, or to work. I spent that year figuring out who I was, what I believed, what I wanted and who I wanted. I found myself needing to do that independent of Adam. I prepared myself to learn to be self-sufficient-just in case we had to face something like that again. I huddled around Adam and Aimee and became very careful about who I let in. I had once been someone who befriended everyone- I was lively and outgoing, and more than not, smiling. The world has taken on a different feel since his hospitalization- it is still incredibly beautiful and filled with reasons to be in awe- but, I have a caution towards other people that I never used to have: a conflicting desire to be surrounded in friendship and yet, to keep everyone at arms-length.
In this same process of finding myself, I lost my faith. I don’t say that as someone who lost their way and wants to find their faith again. But rather, I say that to acknowledge how surprised I am at the void that I feel where the church used to be. I am very happy with my spiritual life now, and I wouldn’t want to return to where I was. But, there are moments that I hear the songs that I listened to growing up on Christian radio- they will catch me off guard somewhere- overhead at a store or as I am flipping through the stations- sometimes I find myself weeping and not totally sure why. Sometimes I find myself completely comforted-it is totally possible that it’s comforting because most Christian music sounds exactly the same ( at least to me) and has this sort of lulling factor- but honestly, it is more than that. It is not in missing the church that I feel loss, as much as it is a separation from this large part of who I was.
My life was so intricately woven into the church and into religion growing up, that when I pulled away from it, I lost some pieces of myself. I am not in touch with that girl anymore. While I like the woman I have become better, she was a good girl- flawed and confused, but still beautiful in her own right. I feel no connection to her anymore-I look at pictures of me growing up and I don’t even feel I am looking at myself. The loss of faith, of church, has been as deep of a wound for me, in some ways, as losing a person. God, as I understood him to be at the time, was deeply intertwined with everything I did- every relationship, every choice.
With the loss of faith, came the loss of my mother as I knew her. I am certain she felt a great sense of loss and disillusion as well- I was no longer the little girl she raised, and she no longer was this heroic figure for me. I have already talked about the loss I feel in my relationship to her at length, and will not rehash that here- but, there is hope in this relationship for the first time in a while, and I am excited. After pouring my feelings out to her a few weeks ago- my mother has made great efforts to be incredibly present in my life- it is like we are meeting each other for the first time-but that’s ok- maybe that’s better. I am not sure if you can ever totally start over with a clean slate with anyone- frankly, I have never been successful at it- but, if I can learn, even a little to let the present inform my relationship with my mom more than the past, we may just be ok.
My childhood friend
It’s funny actually, the one relationship that I knew without a doubt would never end, was the relationship with my childhood friend. Not anyone in my family, not even my husband, but her- that I was certain of. We were raised together from toddlers on. We were like sisters in many ways more than friends. We had both done horrific things to each other over the years, but if the other was ever in need, we would drop everything. That’s how it was for almost 25 years.
It’s ironic what makes a relationship crumble- they used to say in church growing up that you needed a firm foundation- I don’t know- maybe that is the case-it’s fair to say we always had a tumultuous relationship-definitely not a textbook foundation. They also say not to mix sex with friendship- they might be onto something with that one.
I think we both thought we could handle it- our friendship could handle it. Perhaps we over estimated ourselves and our ability to handle things-perhaps we forgot about our own humanity- or, perhaps we thought we were more enlightened than we really were. When we sat there as three adults, her, Adam and I, and decided we would enter into a sexual relationship together- I really think we all thought we could handle it. We thought it would be a safe way to explore- and, in many ways it was- very safe.
Here is where I get fuzzy on the concept of fault- would everything have been ok if Adam and I had just kept quiet? Was it our fault, my fault that I lost the only person whom I was confident I would never lose? Is there such a thing as fault, or are there only circumstances, emotions, and misunderstandings? I think Adam and I thought we were the type of people who could be involved with someone if their partner didn’t know- we learned the hard way that we aren’t those people.
I don’t often prescribe to feeling guilty anymore (although it still sneaks up on me), or to believing things are simply either right or wrong (with a few exceptions). I believe in choices- and from choices come significances (I use that word because “consequences” sounds so negative). But, if that is true, I can’t say for certain then, what motivated us to tell her partner about our relationship. I want to say it was all good intentions and that we really thought through how it would affect everyone- but, maybe the truth is, I didn’t want to live with carrying it. I used to be convinced that you tell the truth at all costs- and for the most part- I still totally subscribe to that- but was this an instance where I told the “truth” to make myself feel better? To clear my conscience? Did I think of what it would do to her partner? I think I believed that I thought it through- but, now I am not so sure.
Did we do the right thing? I am not sure there was a right thing. I will tell you this though, if I had it to do over again, it is one of the only things in my life, that I can honestly say I would do differently. There sits a void now in my life where she used to be, and it is hard for me not to wonder if that void was self-created. Maybe the truth does set us free- but does that mean we should tell it if it imprisons someone else? I used to believe in truth at all costs- I still think I do, but it looks different now. Because, the truth is this: She loved her partner. She was never going to leave her partner. Adam and I loved each other and we were never going to leave each other. So, when she went home to her partner as though things were the same, maybe that wasn’t a lie as I thought it was, maybe it was a version of truth.
The truth is a bitch- I used to love her- have her tattooed on my back- but, I gotta tell ya she is one hard broad to pin down- once you think you know her, you better look again….
I feel like I am in the midst of this big break up with the truth. I have inserted my foot in my mouth on more than a few occasions in the name of telling the truth. I have bullied people with the truth- defended myself with the truth- used the truth to make others feel bad- and used the truth to relieve my burden-never considering where the expression of my truth made the burden of truth land. My over sharing has gotten me in trouble more than once- but I never mean it as over sharing- I meant it as a platform to express my truth- I am starting to wonder if that makes it ok.
Is it really as simple as: “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say nothing at all.” My little pal Thumper may have been on to something, but I don’t think that is exactly right either- sometimes the truth is worth speaking no matter what- I just need to figure out when those instances are. I am not going to stop being an over-sharer- I am not going to stop expressing my truth- but, I think it is worth it to take pause and examine what speaking my truth is going to look like from here on out. Perhaps it is time for me to stop using truth as a verbal sword.
I was raised in a family that lacked stability to say the least- I was convinced that if there was one thing I could count on, it was the truth. I held to the truth with an unflinching loyalty, just as I had held on to God. I kicked people out of my life- walked away from experiences- and ran towards strange clues all in the name of pursuing the truth. I, naively, spent the majority of my life to date believing that truth was black and white- that one truth was right and one truth was wrong. The subjectivity of truth didn’t really begin to bite me in the ass until high school when I kicked a bunch of incredible friends out of my life because they did “immoral” things according to my God. When I saw how I hurt them, it gave me pause- As an adult and part of a 12 step program, I spent a lot of time sending apologies to those people-asking them to forgive my ignorance.
Even with that understanding of the subjectivity of truth, and my fascination with memoir, I was not prepared last year, when in my research for my book, I found out that the events that had divided my family and tore me from my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparent’s, most likely never occurred.
It was devastating to have a family one moment and then to have it just be my mom, aunt, and I the next. That was another one of those moments I never got over, just simply learned to integrate. However, the separation from my family became bearable as a child, because I knew, “the truth.” Those separations from family, those lost years, no longer seem bearable now that “the truth” isn’t the truth.
It seems strange to feel betrayal from an abstract concept. Yet, I feel a deep sense of loss and betrayal where truth is concerned. I loved the truth- was loyal to it beyond any relationship I had, only to find, that the main “truth” I believe about my life, had not actually occurred. That kind of thing alters your world view. It is not that having more of the story of my childhood illuminated is a bad thing. It’s not. In many ways it is a freeing thing. Yet, it is confusing and exhausting.
I had grown comfortable with the truth as I understood it. And, it is difficult to start over- to see things illuminated differently- it’s like starting all over- even though what I found out is a good thing- I had already settled on the bad thing being the truth- integrated that in- accepted that- so, changing the “truth” of our narrative even when it is a positive change- does not come without growing pains.
I think I felt that my truth was stifled for so long- be that factually accurate or perception- that now I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when I have a “truth” to express. When I do keep my mouth shut, I feel anxiety about not expressing myself. I unwittingly invite conflict this way. I am overly sensitive, constantly care what people think of me, and wonder if they are mad at me if they have the slightest change in tone or behavior. Often, I expect too much out of people and want them to be around (in other words, I am self-admittedly needy). I am always worried about losing the people I love. And, yes, I had a lot of losses in childhood, so I am sure some of it comes from there, but claiming daddy issues as an excuse seems so Passé.
My recent losses have made me at once want to hold onto the people I have in my life even tighter, and consider that perhaps the way I am approaching relationships isn’t working. Perhaps, part of my problem is that I hold on too tightly.
I used to watch this cartoon, Tiny Toons. There was this girl Elmyra on the show; she loved kittens and would chase them and try to hug them. She would hold them so tightly that they could barely breathe. I feel like her some days- in fact, my mom used to call me Elmyra as a child, when I would hold my cat the same way. It seems I brought that trait into my human relationships as well.
Adam and I were talking today, about the losses that I have faced in the last two years. He got teary-eyed- and said that he was so sorry, but that he realized that he couldn’t really relate to the losses that I felt. He told me that there were very few people in the world that he held tightly to. It isn’t that he doesn’t love people, or want people in his life, but he has the ability to hold more loosely to people- be that good, bad or otherwise.
I think I worry that I have some kind of beacon on me that attracts loss. I realize that many of the things I experience as loss are part of growing into an adult, into the person a want to become- a sort of shedding and growing- which isn’t without pain- but is not necessarily bad.
I find that the big losses often radiate in the small ones. When I have a small loss in my life, I go into panic mode, and the emotions of the big losses come flooding in. If I fight with a friend, and they are mad at me, I become terrified I will lose them permanently- so I push more- try to explain myself more- articulate my truth-instead of just wait.
I did that today.
I got in a fight with one of the people I care most about in the entire world. I pushed and pushed instead of giving space- I did it with good intentions- to resolve our conflict and try to express my truth. I made it a lot worse. I couldn’t even tell you what our fight was actually about, but it turned into a mess of emotions and misunderstandings and hurt feelings-I think, a lot of that was my fault. I held on too tightly, and instead of pulling the person closer, I pushed my friend away. I did what I usually do to handle conflict- I wrote a big long letter. (I do this enough, that I am considering writing an entire memoir through the lens of letters I have wrote during different times in my life).
I write the letters as a way to articulate my feelings- I do it so that I will not get heated and angry and raise my voice. I used to be a very anger filled person, and so now, this is one of my ways I try to diffuse my anger. I believe that I am being more “fair” when I write, than heated in a conversation. I believe that I give the person I am writing to a chance to understand me better and to have time to think about my feelings and take time to respond with their own. I genuinely never mean it bad- but, then again, I have made a lot of things messy with good intentions.
I sent my friend the long email. I expected a completely different response than I got. I thought the letter would open the door to communication. It turns out, it did the opposite- it completely shut communication down. My friend asked me if writing the letter made me feel better- and called me out on the intentions of my writing the letter. I was instantly devastated and thought they most certainly had the wrong impression of my email- certainly not the impression I wanted to give.
The fight has been all I can think about today- I can’t stand how awful it feels to fight with the people closest to me. I began to wonder if my friend had a point. Was writing that email a way to make me feel better? Was it like when Adam and I told my childhood friend’s partner about our relationship with her? Was this one of those moments where I chose “speaking my truth” over my friendship?
I have learned something today. I believe speaking your truth is a beautiful and worthwhile thing, but so is friendship- and sometimes a balance needs to be struck. I know that I never again want to feel the type of void I have where my childhood friend once was. I most certainly don’t want that with the friend I fought with today, whom I love very much. I have picked telling my truth at all costs for years now, perhaps it is time to tone that down a little, and do some listening before I set my truth lose all over the place.
Dear readers: have you ever felt a tension between speaking your truth and maintaining relationships? Have you experienced losses that have permanently changed you? Have you ever experienced losses of concepts or places like truth or religion that left a void? What thoughts-feelings-insights does this post bring up for you- personally or universally? As always, I welcome your stories and experiences, as well as your feedback. Thanks for reading.