Here’s how change typically works in my life: it starts with a general sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction—an inkling that I need to make some changes. It’s like I’m standing at the top of a mountain and I realize that it’s time to climb down. Maybe the weather’s starting to change, maybe I see a lion charging up. Maybe it’s nothing more than the vaguest of realizations that fear has accumulated around me and it’s making me uncomfortable. So I get out my telescope and my measuring tools, and I try to figure out the height of the mountain, the angle of its slopes, the rate at which I think I can climb down. I obsess. I think about it constantly and I massage those thoughts obsessively like silly putty, molding and re-molding, sculpting my thoughts into all kinds of scary shapes. I peer down and contemplate all the work I’ll have to do and how much it might hurt—and I wait. I want to change but I’m too afraid of the trip.
So the Universe kicks me in the ass and sends me tumbling down the mountain, head over heels, ready or not. When I finally reach the bottom I’ve got a mouthful of dirt, I’m bruised and bloodied and dehydrated, and I’m not sure where I am.
I am now in enough pain to make my way to the nearest triage.
A month ago my boyfriend of two years came back from a weekend away with his kids, walked into our apartment and told me that he was worried that he was failing his kids by being divorced, and that in order to do right by them he was considering reconciling with their mother (whom he can’t stand and who can’t stand him). Oh and he needed “space” to figure it all out.
And there was my kick down the mountain.
Our relationship has never been perfect. He struggles with feeling pulled in too many directions and I struggle with maintaining a life outside of him. What we have is messy and difficult and complicated, but the love that has come out of the chaos is the real kind—the kind that’s beautiful and generous and ugly, and laced with so much fear and so much hope. So despite the sloppiness of it all, it’s always been a foregone conclusion that our love would see us through anything.
Except nothing is a foregone conclusion. Anything and anyone can be taken away from you at any moment. That’s not me being dramatic, it’s just the fact of the matter. So in light of that risk the question for me now becomes, how do I accept that impermanence without living in the fear that it’s all about to fall apart? How do I accept what is happening—hate it as I may—and move forward anyway?
In other words—how do I become ready to change?
I’m not sure yet. Unfortunately I haven’t found The Answer yet. That perfect recipe for the graceful, dignified way to move through a swamp full of fear and heartache. All I know is what I did, and what I continue to do.
Here’s what I did: I stopped breathing and let the moment flatten me. I yelled at him and stormed out. I stopped sleeping and cried for a week straight. I chopped off my hair. I pled with him, tried to convince him that he could love me and his kids at the same time. I sobbed to my best friends and let them see me with my guts spilling out, wet and shiny and slippery. I stormed out of a therapy session as I screamed that I hated him. I walked around the apartment in my skimpiest clothes. I listened to a voicemail that I’d saved of him telling me that he missed me. I was blinded by the sharp white light of unexpected grief.
And now, a month later, things are different and also, they’re not. He’s conceded that a reconciliation with his ex would be absurd but he’s still afraid that I distract him from his responsibilities. I’m still crying, though not nearly as much. Still staring at my phone, though not nearly as much. I’m no longer trying to convince him of anything. I’m trying to hear what he’s telling me and I’m giving him his space. I’ve moved out. I’m bearing the breathtaking pain of losing the truest thing in my life and of missing my best friend. I’m working through boatloads of anger and confusion and fear. I’m writing my ass off. I’m moving forward despite being in the horribly uncomfortable place of not knowing—that purgatory in which you know that nothing can ever be the same again, but there’s still a chance it might turn into something better. I’m doing something that I haven’t done in a while: I’m spending time with myself and remembering who I am without him. I’m searching within for some answers instead of out there. I’m not waiting for him to move forward with my life. I’m doing all of it so imperfectly and so fearfully, but sometimes there are no points for style. All that counts is the doing.
Sometimes the only way to change is to change. And sometimes the only way to do that is to be brought to your knees in pain, and crawl toward something new.