Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Nobody Lives in Novels

I used to have this nasty little habit.

I would kinda date (read: make out with a few times and lead on) my male friends. Then I would just disappear, turn cold, or generally treat them badly and make it clear it was never going to work. Then, as soon as they got a new girlfriend, I would suddenly be overcome with a sense that I'd messed up the best thing that had ever happened to me, lost out at my one shot at love, and go to them, telling them how wrong I'd been and secretly hoping that this information would make them turn around, dump the new girl, and take me back.

The truth was that my fragile and all-encompassing ego couldn't take it that they had moved on. I'd treated these men as if they were beneath me, and here they were, falling in love with someone else seemingly so easily that I had to try to prove that I could turn them around once more. It never worked. Solid and sane people do not fall easily for the bullshit of the self-centered, boundaryless and emotionally immature.

I was the only person at the time who was unnaware that I was self-centered, boundaryless and emotionally immature.

And then there was Nathan, who tried so hard but could not handle all the poison seething through my body and brain. For a couple of years after we broke up, I would occasionally try to contact him to find out what he was up to, again secretly hoping that my newfound sense of what I'd done would cause him to recognize that we really did belong together and take me back. I was never overt. In situations where my pride has been hurt, I've always found it most natural to approach with a calm, self-possessed and interested-yet-indifferent air. I am not a lady who enjoys looking stupid, so overt displays of, "Please, take me back!" begging were never my style.

Except that one time, and I was furiously drunk.

I was a very troubled young adult, and our relationship was ridiculous for so many reasons. We both did a lot of drugs together on a regular basis. He was 18, and I was 20. There were a whole set of factors at play that spelled disaster or, at the very least, inevitable breakup. And did I mention I was a very troubled young adult?

During the course of our relationship, I developed another nasty habit. Unable to express in words the kind of internal torture I was feeling on an almost constant basis at that point, I started cutting. And while it felt to me as a release, I realized later after the dust had cleared and I'd worked through a lot of stuff that it had also been about manipulation. I remember slicing my entire arm from wrist to shoulder. That night several of us were going somewhere, and I ended up in the passenger seat while Nathan ended up in the back. It was winter, and I was wearing long sleeves. Nathan hadn't seen the cuts yet. Slowly and dramatically I lifted my arm so my sleeve pulled back and set it down on the back of the driver's seat. My cuts were right in Nathan's face. And we all rode in relative silence, no one else aware that I was making Nathan stare for the first time at the horror that was going on inside of me. I do not belittle my feelings from that time period, although some may think me flip when I toss it off as "crazy" and even label it now as "bullshit." It was all valid from my limited perspective at the time. I had no control.

But that still doesn't make it okay.

I could go on about the episodes from that relationship. Suffice to say I was hell on him. Eventually--not very long after the whole thing began--he came to me and informed me that he'd been down that road once already with another girl and he could not handle it again. He was very sorry. I knew that was sincere. Still at first I was incredulous. How could he leave me in that state? I might commit suicide!

But I knew I wasn't going to commit suicide.

When I couldn't get Nathan to love me in the way that I demanded--although he loved me as much as he could and I wasn't even sure what exactly I was demanding--I turned to self-torture as a manipulation. I got drunk, did drugs, and cried incessantly. I acted as if the whole world was against me, as if the tiniest slight were proof that I was unloved. It wasn't just love I wanted, either, but adoration, and looking back I don't even think that all the adoration in the world would've helped me in my sorry state. I was a bottomless pit of sucking need.

Bottomless pits can never be filled.

In fact, it was Nathan's leaving that probably helped save my life. Who knows if another event would've come along eventually to help me, and it was still a few years before I truly got to the bottom of that previously bottomless pit. But had Nathan stayed, he only would've reenforced my self-destruction. My game would've worked. And I never would've felt all of the regrets that finally forced me to take responsibility for myself.

True regret isn't the same as self-pity. Self-pity is self-centeredness at its most disgusting. Some people admire it as beautiful tragedy, but no tragedy of one's own making can be beautiful. It is useless, a waste. We all die in some way, and all deaths are pretty much the same. But self-pity is a living death, an internal hanging, and it produces nothing. Until it does. Sometimes very lucky people are able to awaken to their own self-centered degradation and feel true regret. True regret takes into account the other. There is compassion mixed in. It is not feeling sorry; it is feeling that you have wronged another as well as yourself.

It is being willing to let that thing go out of love.

Looking back, what I wanted when I tried to contact Nathan all those times and secretly hoped I'd win him back wasn't love. It wasn't love because it wasn't loving. What I wanted was absolution. But I have found those things elsewhere by getting beyond all the things inside of myself that caused me to act the way I did in the first place. I had to go back, way back before Nathan or the cutting or all of the self-pity, and then go forward with a resolution to be different. I still fail. But I forgive myself these failings because it is through the discipline of regret that I am able to live more openly, little by little, every day.

I'd wanted to be a saint and, when I couldn't, I'd tried to be a martyr.

But I am neither.

1 comment:

  1. It always seems that the back we have to get to, the "way back" which you speak of, is further than we ever thought possible. But you can't really move forward without at least attempting to reconcile whatever it is that's back there, can you?

    I'm glad you're neither. Saints are boring and martyrs are a pain in the ass