Upon waking this morning, I slid my hand across my stomach. While I had slept, my PJs had shifted to expose some bare skin. An image came to mind. A lover’s gentle caress across my body while pulling me closer. A few tears soon followed as I realized:
I hadn’t been touched tenderly by a lover in years.
As I’ve learned through the stages of grief and recovery, it’s important not to push away uncomfortable or painful emotions, but to feel them fully in that moment. So I felt sad, telling myself it was okay to feel sad. It was okay to cry.
There was a time when I cried so many tears every day it was surprising there was any moisture left in my body, but those days are long past. Sometimes the tears come now, like this morning, but I find they don’t stay for long. When they do come, I remind myself that it’s natural and it’s okay. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t diminish who I am. There is grief after loss. Of course I’m sad sometimes. Anyone in the same situation would be. It’s part of life, loss, and recovery.
Sometimes I look in the mirror to console myself. As I’m unfailingly too hard on myself, I make a conscious effort to remind myself why it’s okay to cry, to show my deep compassion for others to myself. I tell myself, “It’s okay to cry because you’re recovering from rape. It’s okay to cry because your husband of 15 years was pretending to be someone else by his own admission. It’s okay to cry because you’re all on your own and it’s scary sometimes.”
Then the tears pass, and I can go about my day.
I’ve learned that being fully present with the pain–the loss–the fear, the sooner it passes. The sooner I can let go of those few moments of struggle. For that’s all they are these days, fleeting moments. Most of my life consists of long-time friends, budding friendships, wonder and discovery, beautiful places, serene solitude, and rewarding, fulfilling work.
Over the past years of recovery I have read so much on survival, on grief, on trauma and PTSD and psychology. One of the new(er) modes of thinking (especially in relationships) revolve around Attachment Theory. Psychologists are discovering that many psychiatric diagnoses or injuries can truly be reduced to childhood conditioning. Attachment patterns developed with one’s primary caregivers carry over into adult interpersonal relationships, whether the intimacy is platonic or romantic or sexual.
I’ve always had a difficult time “letting go,” in fact I’m hesitant to even use those words in my life because of how often they are misused to avoid accountability and responsibility in an intimate relationship, to justify escape and avoidance and cowardice. Yet I’ve noticed something change in myself over the past few months, traveling from place to place. I feel more comfortable leaving and turning toward what’s next. Stepping forward, no matter what. It’s letting go in the best meaning. Not running, not hiding, not quitting, not living in denial and fear. Not avoiding responsibility or engaging in a relationship. Just stepping forever forward.
Yesterday I arrived in Leicester, England for a new petsitting gig. The lovely host family picked me up at the train station and drove me to my new temporary “home.” Not only did I feel quickly comfortable with them, but I also felt quickly comfortable in their home. Their three dogs are wonderful (it’s so great to be in the company of canine companionship again), and the people themselves are kind and welcoming. They made me a delicious vegetarian dinner before settling in to watch “The Voice,” something I would never choose to watch on my own, but it was a lovely, fun evening with their company.
The day before I was in another “home” in London, a family for whose pets I’ve watched for the past 3 years. When I walk into their house, it really does feel like coming home, even if it’s only a temporary home. In six more days, I’ll be meeting new friends (2- & 4-legged) and staying in a new “home” for two weeks, before moving to yet another one in Lancaster for a whopping three months!
I marveled at how comfortable I felt at my new “home” so quickly, and then I remembered how comfortable I felt with my work family last (was it just?) weekend. I remember how sad it was to say goodbye to them, but then I landed in London to meet another group of dear friends. It was lovely to reconnect with them, and I even went out dancing for the first time in years! Amazingly, we stayed out until nearly 2am! I felt like I was 20 again (but I wouldn’t actually *be* 20 again for all the money in the world). It was surreal and wonderful and a blast. It wasn’t something I would’ve been able to do, let alone enjoy, only a week before. That’s important.
Perhaps through what I’ve survived, I have morphed into the “secure” attachment style rather than the “anxious” attachment style. I’m still afraid of loss, as I know the pain that follows, but I also know I can deal with it, healthily. I can take care of myself. I need no one else. Through my travels and making new friends again, I find that although I’m sad to say goodbye to them, I know those people are still in my life, whether we talk every day or I don’t see them (or talk) again for months. They’ve touched my life and heart, and I’ve touched theirs.
I also know there will be more kind people to meet soon, more friends to make, more things to experience, more beauty to see. Through travel, facing my fears, and living my dream, I have learned to let go, even from my (soon-to-be-officially) former marriage, with peace. I have learned to revel in the present moment while cherishing the past and looking forward to what’s next.
What’s more, after meeting one special person, I know there will be more good men to meet. I know I will be able to love again, and I know before too long, a lover will be sliding his hand across my stomach, pulling me close to him as we wake to face a new day together.