There are times in a woman’s life
when she cries and cries and cries,
and even though she has
the succor and support of her loved ones,
still and yet she cries.
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves
This year they overturned Roe v. Wade, and I hardly cared because I felt like I was in love.
Of course I still listened to the podcasts; to the descriptions of women looking dejected and pissed off in hallways; to a fourteen year old rape victim asking, “What am I supposed to do?”; to the chorus of I’m so sorrys coming from clinics across the country. Passively, numbly—as I packed green eyeshadow onto my eyelids like some sort of jester—I listened to all of it. And then I ran out the side door to get myself buzzed on something that felt a lot like being on crack. And then I crashed. Again and again. Until the humanitarian rage of my former self was eclipsed and forgotten—like so many other parts of myself that I’d once held dear—and all that was left was some shell of a girl living for nothing but validation.
This year was filled with loss.
My car crashed. My cat died. My boyfriend and I broke up. Somebody else broke my heart. (This list is boring and so am I.) In August, I saw a therapist for the first time in two years. Sitting on her sofa, I drowned in my own tears as she stated something that would have been obvious to anyone else but, to me, sounded like a revelation: “You’re grieving a lot of things right now.”
How do I describe these months of depression?
I was the kind of depressed where watching a TV show felt like work. One night, I watched the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy, This Is The End, and laughed hysterically when Michael Cera got impaled: I was shocked by the sound of my own laughter, the idea that I could make it through a movie. I told everyone about it at work as if it were a novel experience: I watched a movie, and I laughed. Mindless joy had become a foreign concept to me as an internal dark forest of longing kept unfolding and leaving me exasperated, like: What is it? What the fuck is it that you want so badly? (This thought process was becoming cannibalistic: I’m depressed because I want something. I’m depressed because I don’t know what it is that I want.) I watched that Jeffrey Dahmer series on Netflix and cried when his father found it in his heart to forgive him. I wrote cheesy affirmations and reminders with oil pastels on pieces of colored card stock; I tacked them to a plywood wall in the recesses of my parents’ basement as if I were in a psych ward of my own creation. (You are in a place of possibility. Find something to fall in love with everyday. The way people mistreat you is not your fault. It won’t be this way forever. There is more to life than being happy.) I watched endless YouTube videos about borderline personality disorder and cried as I mourned the life I could have had if only I’d known sooner. Counting up all the people I’d shut out, I wondered whether I’d ever be able to trust a single thought or perception ever again. For the first time in my life, I was consciously wondering: Am I capable of loving in a normal amount? (One psychologist described people with my condition like this: “They will never feel satisfied.”) I was learning so many things about myself. (I always love passionately. My intense feelings mimic addiction. I dream of an ideal romance to cope with psychological pain. I want validation from dysfunctional relationships despite the constant failure. I have a compulsion to fix things that aren’t working. Breakups are devastating for people like me.) I wrote in my journal: It seems like all I do is wait for things to end. I ran until my foot bled. I spent an absurd amount of money at 7/11. One night I went out to a bar by myself, and then, afterward, this guy I was talking to, this guy with a gnarly stomach scar, started love bombing me with black heart emojis—you know, because he’s edgy—and I just couldn’t get it up for him. I thought: I’ve dated this guy before. I took an edible and listened to Demi Lovato’s new album at my coworker’s recommendation. I tried to clean my room, but I couldn’t stop crying after Demi asked: “Will I ever know what it’s like to be fine without pretending?” I gave up. I succumbed to my wayward mood and slipped into my bed where I cried even more, thinking about my ex-boyfriend living alone in the remains of our apartment. I was high and feeling every emotion at full volume, completely uninhibited—my ex was living inside a tomb! I thought about this episode of Black Mirror where a woman’s boyfriend dies unexpectedly and her friend recommends a company that uses a combination of AI and digital footprints to recreate the deceased. At first the woman is skeptical, but eventually she relents as her grief pushes her to the point of desperation. She texts her AI boyfriend and the relationship snowballs to the point where she finds herself ordering an identical robot. Of course this robot creates a nightmare scenario—it’s her boyfriend, but it’s not her boyfriend. It has no passion or desire or ingenuity; it’s composed of pieces from the past and it cannot do anything new without being told. Eventually the woman is driven crazy by the robot’s presence and she leads it to a cliff where she tells it to jump. Being complex AI, it can show emotion just like her boyfriend—it can beg to live. As a result she can’t go through with the order; so she takes it to the attic where it “lives” out its days, staring out the window, feeling nothing, hanging over her head just like her inability to let go. I imagined our relationship as being like that robot in the attic, not dead but as good as dead—trying to recreate the past only to reveal the same harsh reality time after time: something has gone stale. I cried so much that night, just thinking about that robot in the attic, how so many good things can never be replicated.
I decided to text my old situationship, being unable to get him off my mind.
His response was warm, as if we’d never stopped talking. I blinked and he was winking at me again like fairy lights. I was riding in his car. He said, “You smell the same. It’s nice.” And then he bought me a Diet Dr. Pepper. At some point, we wound up at Home Depot; we watched as a group of meth heads stole a cart-full of Christmas inflatables—one of them hit the automatic door and bounced backward like a cartoon character. “We love Christmas!” they cackled. After that he gave me a hickey and I told him it made me feel special. “You look different,” he said, “It’s a good thing.” And I resisted the urge to say, “Thanks, I’ve been eating.” We watched cartoon adaptations of Pecos Bill after he determined that it was a pivotal piece missing from my childhood. (In one, Pecos Bill’s lover, Sue, is sent to the moon by a horse named Widowmaker. Pecos Bill fails to save her and he never forgives himself; he returns to the wild where he howls at the moon and all the coyotes feel his pain.) He said, “I’ll send you to the moon.” Then we ate gummy candy and drove around looking at Halloween decorations. Eventually, he noticed that I was laughing a lot. He said, “You seem so joyous.” At which point, I decided to play dumb: “Do I?” (I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was the happiest I’d been in months.)
Is it possible for a person to make you too stupidly happy?
In her book The Recovering—a book about alcoholism—Leslie Jamison describes addiction as a “narrowing of repertoire”. She explains this narrowing, saying: “For me, that meant my whole life contracting around booze: not just the hours I spent drinking, but the hours I spent anticipating drinking, regretting drinking, apologizing for drinking, figuring out how and when to drink again.” (Basically, she was explaining how addiction is the narrowing of pleasure. Priorities get reorganized around one thing, and that one thing, little by little, steals the small joys in a day. Your brain tricks you into believing that you need this one thing to be happy, even though that one thing, ironically, is reprogramming you to live for nothing but survival.) Shortly after my situationship and I reconnected, I started to feel this old familiar agitation. I lost interest in my morning coffee. I felt my appetite plummeting. I could hardly pay attention to my book. (I was reading Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and at least one line stuck out to me: “If you don’t pay attention to the treasures, they will be stolen from you.”) I thought a movie would distract me from the nagging thing inside me, so I got a large popcorn and cherry pepsi and went to see Don’t Worry Darling. I didn’t even make it half way through: women were trapped inside a 1950s virtual reality by their aggrieved boyfriends and even that couldn’t overpower the anxiety. I went home to lie down. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. He texted me and my intuition said: You can’t have that, you’re just too sick. (I remembered my dwindling star; the way I shrunk out of all my clothes and compulsively checked my phone; my dogged devotion, my ears perking up at a compliment, or any other sign that I was wanted; how I was always crabby, too exhausted to laugh at my own dumb jokes; never feeling like my better qualities were being reflected back in the form of appreciation; always wondering whether I was just another token in a numbers game; his words from all of our arguments like scorpion stings.) Was it worth it, just creating more moments that would need to be grieved? Was it worth going into withdrawal every time a person did something as simple as leaving the room? (He joked about it once; he said, “That’s what I’m doing, I’m making you addicted.”) At some point, Olivia Rodrigo came up on shuffle. She crooned: “I watched as you buried me, doe-eyed as you fled the scene…” And I thought: I just can’t stomach this shit like I used to.
The answer is yes. It is entirely possible to like someone too much.
I decided to end it. I texted him something long; the main premise being something, like: I need to focus on myself and moving on. I said: “I don’t know, you mean a lot to me.” And he said something to me, like: We hung out once. You didn’t have to say all that. After which, I came unhinged. I began to contradict myself all over the place. Saying things like: I miss you all the time. And: I haven’t been doing well. Only to get to the point like a final Hail Mary: “I want to like, be together, and I don’t feel like that’s something you want.” (I felt like I’d slit someone’s throat and was trying to put the blood back in.) He never responded, and I couldn’t hold it against him: from everything I’d initially told him, I’d made my choice, and you can’t blame a person for taking your choices seriously. That night, I got sent home from work early because I couldn’t stop crying. My mother said, “This is what happens every time you see him. You’re really happy and then you crash.”
I was right back where I started, crying upon waking.
I sat on my hands for days. It was physically painful to not text him again, like: I take it all back. I kept asking myself: Why does it hurt so bad? The spotify algorithm played every song that specifically reminded me of him, all in a row, and I wondered aloud: “Are you fucking kidding me?” Someone at work said, “You look like you need caffeine.” And I said, “I need a lobotomy.” After that we googled the symptoms of major depressive disorder and determined that I met all of the criteria. I dreamed of giving up entirely; of not washing my hair or brushing my teeth or even getting out of bed in the morning. But I had to make a living, so I gave up in all the ways I knew I could get away with: not washing my hair for a week, only brushing my teeth in the morning—skipping the mouthwash and flossing—staying in bed until 2 PM. I told myself constantly: Forgive yourself for being afraid. I escaped through books. (In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes said: “We all begin as a bundle of bones lost somewhere in a desert, a dismantled skeleton that lies under the sand. It is our work to recover the parts.”) I decided to ask a friend out to eat—you know, to maintain a sense of community. To her, I said, “I’m thinking about reading Eat Pray Love.” And we both laughed so hard we started choking. “What’s that even about?” she asked. I said, “This woman gets divorced and moves to Rome as if that’s something people can just do.” We both laughed some more. I told her, “I need a guidebook for my divorcee journey.” I said, “I’m not doing well at all.” And then I started crying into my seafood scampi.
Needless to say, I did, in fact, get so depressed that I read Eat Pray Love.
You see, my parents regard the end of my four year relationship like a divorce, and so I thought: What could be more appropriate than the story of a privileged white lady’s post-divorce quest for “pleasure, devotion, and balance”? I found a copy for a dollar at my local library’s book sale. It caught my eye instantly: that’s right, Eat Pray Love was destined for me. And although I was treating it like a joke—despite my reading it out of some deep need for feel-good fluff—there were a lot of parallels between the circumstances surrounding Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey and the current state of my life. (The termination of a long term relationship, a deep dissatisfaction with domestic life; the maddening infatuation with what many would call an exciting new rebound; the realization that the majority of one’s life has been consumed by some form of “boy drama” to the point where one doesn’t know who she is without it; the subsequent renunciation of romance and a desperate search for self; the resulting exhaustion, the belief that one simply cannot survive another loss…) What resonated most was the way she described how romance had taken up two decades of her life; how she’d failed to love so many different kinds of men, time after time; how these preoccupations impacted her choices and personal development and created “something of a liability” on her “path to maturity”. She said: “Dear God, I could use a little break from this cycle, to give myself some space to discover what I look like and talk like when I’m not trying to merge with someone else. And also, let’s be honest—it might be a generous public service for me to leave intimacy alone for a while… Think of it this way—if you’d had ten serious traffic accidents in a row, wouldn’t they eventually take your driver’s license away? Wouldn’t you kind of want them to?”
I was begging someone to take my driver’s license away as I found myself driving to my ex-boyfriend’s apartment.
I was crying, naturally. And when I asked him to hold me, I wondered whether I was being sadistic, asking him to comfort me through whatever it was that I was going through. Regardless, I slept over every night that week, his arm gently draped over me. I remember thinking: It could always be this sweet. (I wanted to want to get back together, so badly.) We watched every Saw movie in chronological order as I insisted that the severed limbs—the exposed intestines and the senseless mind games—were the only things that could alleviate my suffering. (Something about seeing a girl with her jaw locked in what is, essentially, a reverse bear trap—timed to rip her head apart in one minute—really puts things into perspective.) I wondered what Jigsaw would tell me I didn’t appreciate enough, and then I looked at the man beside me. I kept praying to wake up like some character in a rom com—I wanted to wake up and realize it had been him all along. But I couldn’t reach that level of resolve. One day, I went over to clean up my old bedroom under the pretense that I might move back in. My hope was that it would kindle some clarity. But picking up my things wasn’t cathartic at all; it was just overwhelming and more confusing. I arranged my ceramic cats back into their original spot and felt the absurdity of what I was doing in full force: Can you really just go back like nothing ever happened? I felt like my ex was hindering my path to self-discovery. Every day, I told myself: I will not go over to his apartment tonight. But I just couldn’t carry myself through that dark night of the soul. Every night I pulled into the parking lot, defeated; trying to convince myself: It’s all part of the process. Eventually, I had to tell him that I couldn’t move back in; and so I asked him to join me in the uncertainty instead. He said, “Do you think you’re just afraid to be happy?”
I thought about it, seeing that it was a valid question.
I went for a walk—you know, for the endorphins. That day the trees looked like phoenixes, burning brightest just before they died. It was morning and it was foggy and I could smell the dying oak trees, damp and deep—bark stained black from the humidity. It all reminded me of my childhood best friend who had every Disney movie on VHS. (Our first sleepover was on Friday the 13th when we were 8 years old. We stayed up until 3 AM, eating white fudge covered Oreos—we’d been waiting for the headless horseman after watching The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.) She grew up not too far from the top of my street, and so I decided to walk past her old house; I found the same fort and swing set still standing, like some act of defiance against her parents’ divorce. I stared at the house and thought about how it exists in tandem with one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. (In the house behind her house, a man cornered me in the garage when I was 11 or 12—we had been playing sneaks with his grandson.) Looking at the house behind her house, I felt nothing. (Even after it happened, I felt nothing; thinking: Well, that happened, as if I’d just experienced something as forgettable as an awkward interaction at the grocery store.) Earlier, the night before, I’d been watching Secrets of Playboy; and I thought about how, after a certain point, these stories of sexual abuse all start to sound the same. (This is not me trying to say that I’m unempathetic, or that all stories aren’t worth being heard. It’s just that there’s only so many times you can hear about girls and young women being groomed—about girls and young women being told how special they are just to be fed quaaludes and constantly head-fucked—before your brain turns to mush and your emotional capacities shut down. There’s just no way to fully process that frequency of cruelty. It’s everywhere and it’s too much.) I thought about how my therapist kept asking me to talk about this—she wanted me to talk about it all the time—and all I wanted to talk about was some guy. I stared at that house, and I felt the same way: all I could think about was how much I missed some guy.
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, this isn’t completely deranged.
In Eat Pray Love, she talks about a psychologist friend who was asked to treat a group of Cambodian refugees. Her friend wondered what she could possibly do to help them: these people had experienced the worst crimes against humanity—rape and genocide and starvation. They had witnessed the murders of their relatives, the corpses being fed to sharks. But when the psychologist friend sat down to talk with the refugees, according to Elizabeth: “She was shocked to find that most of them wanted to talk about some guy they met at one of the camps, how they thought they were in love until they were assigned separate boats and he took up with someone else.” She said the refugees would say: “I know I shouldn’t, but I still love him. I can’t stop thinking about him.”
So, why did the end of my situationship hurt so bad?
It was a question I kept ruminating over as I walked. I thought about how they say our childhood traumas show up in our relationships. (An infographic said “they show up in ways we can’t reasonably explain”; it said trauma occurs in childhood “when nobody around us could help us process our pain”, and “these things go on suppressed inside us and then show up in our attachment styles and the kinds of relationships we attract subconsciously.”) I thought about how attachment theory says that those with anxious attachment styles and those with avoidant attachment styles are subconsciously drawn to each other; how having complimentary wounds can be the starting point for romance; how we often dream of giving our lovers what their parents couldn’t give to them. (Avoidants grew up in environments where they were not free to express themselves, and the anxious party attends to that missing piece by holding space for the avoidant’s feelings. Meanwhile, the anxious party grew up with an emotionally unavailable or inconsistent parent and, as a result, felt unheard and unseen. An avoidant can provide a lending ear; they ask questions and sit back, relieved that they don’t have to reveal themselves as the anxious one finally feels seen and heard.) I remembered this time when my situationship asked me what made me angry. (I told him, “Not being listened to.” And when I began to over explain myself, he said, “You don’t like feeling unheard.”) I thought: Maybe it hurts because I lost what I thought was recognition. And then I thought about how we grew up one street apart; how I have this memory of him that I’m pretty sure is real: I was on my bicycle and I heard yelling and he came storming out from the back of his house, teenaged and brooding. (Our little houses of horrors occupied the same space, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether these subconscious realities, for me, ran deep.)
Later that week, I had the animal urge to text him.
He didn’t respond, which was understandable—to be expected. Still, it hurt. My ex-boyfriend and I went to the Kinzua Bridge. When he picked me up, he worried that it was going to be a bad day. I eyed my coffee suspiciously, the workers having a tendency to fuck it up. I sat leaky eyed in the passenger seat. At some point we started talking about the stabbing of Salman Rushdie. My ex said, “I wonder if the guy who stabbed him ever got paid,” and, without thinking, I sincerely got angry at the idea of a terrorist not receiving his due diligence. I said, “He better have!” And then, once I realized what I was saying, we both laughed at the absurdity of my reaction. Mocking me, my ex said, “Like, he worked for that!” I perked up after that. At the bridge, we hiked as far as we could. We climbed up the rungs and sat on a beam overlooking the gorge until someone yelled: “Get down!” And I felt relieved to have accomplished something, to have gotten into trouble, to have done something that forced me to exist inside my body without thinking. That night, I went to a halloween party. I glued black gems around my eyes and called myself Black Swan—because I didn’t know what else to say, because I was grappling with my own dueling identities. Over an NA beer and a Diet Coke, I told my friend with complete sincerity, “I deserve to be in love.” And she said, “You sound like someone from Love is Blind.” I danced to Dancing Queen—with people who cared about me—but all I felt was empty. My will to pretend had been completely depleted: I wanted to have a drink, but I didn’t. Eventually I wound up at my ex-boyfriend’s apartment—again—crying off my face gems. Mascara stained everything; and, as I peeled glue from my face, I said, “I wish I was angry.” My ex said, “I know what you mean.” I asked him, “About me?” He said, “Yeah.” And then I told him, “It’s hard to be mad at anyone when you start seeing everyone as just a scared little kid.” And, when he didn’t look away from me, all I could think about was how intimacy could be so ugly and frightening.
Eventually, my therapist advised me to “date myself”.
She told me I should start doing things that made me happy as a little kid. And so I went for another walk, determined to find a swing set and rekindle some inner bliss. On the way, I stepped over cracks to spare my mother’s back. I walked through parking lots where I’d kissed people. I noted that the sky was blue and white and streaked like acrylics. On the swing set, the world pulled me in and then it pushed me away. I felt nothing about any of it. I trudged home and cried on the swing set in my parents’ backyard: full circle. Eventually, my mother found me. I told her, “I’m not doing well.” I told her I was having trouble getting over my situationship; that it was stupid, and I was starting to feel like I was going crazy. She reassured me: “He cared about you. He just didn’t care as much as you cared about him.” And I remember thinking: Can it really be that simple? (Having a habit of intellectualizing everything to the point of obsession is such a bitch.) I told myself: It really is that simple. Stop acting like such a psycho.
Unfortunately, I did not stop acting like such a psycho.
I desperately liked his pictures and then blocked him on everything to dash all hopes of being together to pieces. I took an Ativan and watched Titanic. I related to Rose: dead-eyed and straight-faced at the dinner table, pressed up against the wall by circumstance, excusing herself to kill herself. (She said: “Outwardly, I was everything a well brought up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming.”) Later that night, I went for a ride with my parents; we drove around looking at beautiful lake houses, and I thought about how I never dreamed of what it would be like to live inside them. (I never dreamed of marriage or children, of money or power—I don’t think I ever even really dreamed of being a successful writer. As a feminist, I’m not supposed to admit this, but: I’ve only ever dreamed of being in love.) This, I suddenly realized, had shrunk my world of possibilities down to the size of a pinhole. I watched The Corpse Bride: she gave up her dreams of love for the living girl, and then she burst into a thousand butterflies. (You best believe I wept.) I went for an intense run on an empty stomach and had an Oreo heaven sundae immediately after. (This was as decadent and stupid as it sounds.) And as I found myself sick in the Wegman’s bathroom, I said to myself: You can’t regret anything because there was a time when it was what you wanted. I watched a documentary called 32 Pills. It was about a woman who had to go through her dead borderline sister’s things. I watched as she wept over her sister’s stuffed animal collection, saying, “She was just trying so hard to be happy.” And I eyed my own stuffed animals, suspiciously. I wore the same mental illness-gray sweat suit for weeks. My ex-boyfriend said to me: “You’re trying to look like a psychiatric patient at this point.” And I was! I was sick and I wanted everybody to know it! I was the kind of depressed where I was starting to lose sight of the point. I kept thinking: I’m tired of this story. What witchcraft do I need to do? Lord, deliver me from this demon! Clarissa Pinkola Estes advised me to make an “ofrenda” to my inner child, as a means to some inner healing—as evidence of my “past hardship, valor, and triumph over adversity”. So I tacked childhood pictures to a cork board, dreading the entire process, just waiting for it to end. (I felt disappointed with the results, and, believe me, the metaphor was not lost on me.) I did an “open heart” meditation and quit halfway through: I just couldn’t do it. My heart wouldn’t budge. I punched a wall as if I were some sociopathic white guy. The “I, I, I,” of my depression was making me claustrophobic. I thought: I’d give anything to feel something beyond myself. Everywhere was the message: Don’t be afraid to reach out. But I was starting to feel like a broken record: I’m not doing well, I’m not doing well… And, besides, I’d grown frustrated with the limits of empathy. Opening up, I always heard: “What’s wrong?” Except I always interpreted it as being more exasperated, as sounding something like: What could possibly be wrong? The look of confusion on peoples’ faces—the disbelief upon seeing someone in such shambles—made me want to freak out, like: HOW DO YOU NOT FEEL IT TOO?
I dreamed of drinking, more than ever.
My threshold had been reached: the thought of suicide had become a comfort. My coworker asked me to describe my chronic feelings of emptiness, my general discontent and feelings of disconnect from other people. And I said, “It’s like all your friends are having a party and you weren’t invited. Except you feel that way all the time. Even when you’re invited.” I watched a docu-series about a woman who dabbled in ice diving as a means of coping with her trauma. My dad said, “I don’t get why she needs to do that.” And, shrugging my shoulders, I said, “I get it.” One day, one of my coworkers barged into the back office, saying, “This town will make you bipolar.” And I couldn’t help but agree with him—all political correctness aside. I felt desperate for new sights, fresh faces. My hometown was starting to feel like a trauma tour. One night my ex and I watched the new Halloween movie, and, despite the bad reviews, I connected with its theme of a small town being unforgiving; how Jamie Lee Curtis couldn’t even smile at the grocery store without being reminded of what Michael Myers had done to her. I was trying so hard to accept where I was at, but the feeling just wouldn’t come. I kept thinking: I need to fix it, and fix it now. I was so uncomfortable with my sadness: I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t be present. And, on top of that, I was so bored with myself. I thought about drinking—I mean, it wasn’t like I couldn’t. (Long gone were the honeymoon days of my sobriety: I was raw-dogging depression, compounded by heartache, for the first time since high school.) I thought about something Leslie Jamison said in The Recovering: “Falling in love was the only sensation that had ever rivaled drinking.” I wondered: Maybe I’m still dealing with the consequences of quitting alcohol. (My life was replete with hope, but it just wasn’t the same as euphoria. Without some kind of buzz, all I had was dread—there was nothing to muffle the bully inside my head, always reminding me that all good things come to an end. This had left me an anxious mess, wrecking everything under the pretense that it was already doomed.) Sighing in the tall boy section—a root beer zero in my hand—I contemplated the canned cocktails and thought: You can’t have that, you’re just too sick.
In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert said something about karma and the disruption of harmful cycles.
She said: “The karmic philosophy appeals to me on a metaphorical level because even in one lifetime it’s obvious how often we must repeat our same mistakes, banging our heads against the same old addictions and compulsions, generating the same old miserable and often catastrophic consequences, until we finally stop and fix it.”
It was the end of an era, sort of.
I was banging my head up against my same old addictions, my same old compulsions. I found myself texting my old situationship—yet again—to no response; and I realized I’d been left starving for something that just wasn’t there. I remembered one of my favorite proverbs: “The full soul loathes a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” Eventually my ex asked me, “Do you think you try to be perfect?” (The answer has always been yes.) I thought about how they say addicts struggle with control, that self-medicating with alcohol—with sex, with love, with whatever you choose—is just a form of trying to control imperfection. (Imperfect thoughts, imperfect emotions, imperfect circumstances…) My therapist asked me, “What would happen if you went as crazy as you wanted?” And I realized I had exhausted my repertoire of unhealthy coping mechanisms; that there was no trying to be perfect anymore. What now? I wondered, What comes next? (I’ll be the first to admit that I can get so caught up in the fantasy of a thing, and for a moment I had hoped that I could be made sun-kissed and pure, completely emptied of self just like the girl next door; that my black sheep had turned white and I’d found my chosen family like some kind of Cinderella story.) I thought: Letting go of what hurts was supposed to make me feel better; why don’t I feel any better? And then I came across this TikTok where some girl said: “The decision to sit with rather than escape dysfunctional attachment patterns involves grief. Grief not so much related to missing or losing another person so much as missing or losing a version of yourself that doesn’t exist anymore. There comes a point at which you know better than to engage in things that used to get you high, because you know where it leads. There’s no more playing into the love bombing, future faking, highs and lows, of an insecure attachment. And the good news is you’ll never tie your worth up in someone else’s process again. The bad news is there’s no longer any illusion or escape or drug.” (What comes next is just the grating continuation of existence, I guess.) I admitted to myself that—this year—somewhere along the way—I’d been reacquainted with the addict in me. And she showed me a glimpse of the ever-evasive something I hadn’t dared to admit that I wanted, glittering from beneath the grate. Out of reach, like always, I looked away—the shine of it occupies a part of my heart that hurts too much to talk about.
My friend said, “I’m sorry that this is so heavy for you.”
I accepted that there was nothing I could do. (The discomfort was there and it wasn’t going anywhere.) I read about how a woman from an AA meeting told Leslea Jamison to keep waiting for a moment of clarity. “Don’t leave before the miracle happens,” the woman said. Meanwhile, Leslea was thinking in response: When? (She wanted to know the exact date of the miracle.) I decided to take a hike. (What could be more fun than getting Tim Hortons and going to the audubon to cry alone with the trees?) Trudging through the woods, I saw baby evergreens and red poison berries—a dandelion hanging on for dear life in the winter cold. Crying on the overlook, I thought: I need to get a hobby. I thought: I should read more philosophy. And then I decided I was an absurdist; that I believed the universe was silly and barbaric and all that was left to do was make the most of it, despite the futility of my best efforts. I went home and read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus—in it, he said: “Whether or not one can live with one’s passions, whether or not one can accept their law, which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt—that is the whole question.” In response, I thought: Indeed. I told my ex I was suicidal. He said, “Just keep trying things.” I stuffed my face with donut holes and acquired a taste for root beer. I told myself: This is healing. One day I asked my coworker, “Did I tell you I’m reading Eat Pray Love?” And then I told him about how I was at this part where Elizabeth Gilbert explains how Americans seek constant entertainment but understand very little about pleasure; that, in Italy, pleasure is woven into the culture. After that, we googled pictures of Sicily and our hometown just so we could put them side by side and die laughing at the juxtaposition. He pointed to our rusting skyline and said, “All these buildings are completely empty!” (Meanwhile, Sicily was nothing but blue water and crystal clear skies.) We concluded: Of course Italians know more about pleasure. Later that night, when I got home, I went for a midnight walk—something that, as a woman, felt like stashing away contraband. I followed streetlights like the north star, and looked over my shoulder at pine trees—tall and dark and many-armed, like the bogeymen that survived. The cold was like a knife and the sky was so clear you could walk through it; I felt the voyeuristic intimacy of someone’s late night TV, glowing through the window. My hands went numb and my nose ran and there was no one to make me come inside: I wanted to stay out until I got hypothermia. I felt good—that was why. And I needed another moment with the sky—with my solitude and the stars. I thought about how nothing ever felt like enough, and it was always moving faster than I could take; including this moment alone, so beautiful that I wanted to show it to everyone. But everyone was fast asleep, and it was getting later and later; my fingers were turning white, and there weren’t going to be any miracles. (In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes said: “If there is but one force which feeds the root of pain, it is the refusal to learn beyond this moment.”)
I went inside.