I’ve been on an 8-10 week bender. High as a kite and feeling no pain. As a result, I finally got off all forms of nicotine and decided to take a break from alcohol. It’s a great ride, and I’m still often flying high, but I’ve slowly been coming back to reality.
You see, I fell in love. It’s the best drug I’ve ever known, and I had convinced myself it wasn’t available any more. I spent a long time in recovery from being a relationship addict and had to quit the kind of love I used to know. It was codependent and needy. It certainly never lasted. Now I’m discovering something new.
When I was a relationship addict, I jumped from one relationship to another without getting to know myself in between. I wasn’t able to be healthy in a relationship because I didn’t have a strong enough sense of self. I stayed in painful and sometimes destructive relationships because I was afraid of abandonment or loneliness.
As a result, I picked up bad habits and dysfunctional ways of being in relationship. Many of those weren’t conscious, in spite of my reading a constant stream of relationship and self-help books. I accepted the premise I was flawed and needed to change to be loved.
I had to quit my love addiction cold-turkey. By then I had been hurt so many times I had completely shut down. I withdrew into a false sense of safety by closing off my heart. However, I did the work of digging deep to excavate and eliminate self-flagellation. I learned to be self-compassionate, and I spent time getting to know what I liked, who I was and what I wanted.
Even though it was necessary to spend a time alone, I’ve found it takes a relationship to reflect if real change has been made. When I first came down off my mountain of singledom, my initial forays into the dating world were eye-opening. It’s easy to be and feel at peace when one is in isolation, but it’s an entirely different experience when in relationship. I discovered many of the issues I had worked to eliminate were still right there waiting for me.
For example, I discovered I had to unlearn being a chameleon. I was used to changing myself in a relationship to become what someone else desired. When preparing for my first few dates after being single, I felt afraid of being accepted as I am. I was thinking of things I shouldn’t say or how I should change to be who I thought my potential date wanted before we had even met. Fortunately, the personal growth I had done on that mountain of being single meant I recognized my struggle and consciously made the choice not to repeat my old pattern. So I showed up and stayed true to myself.
None of my first few dates ever called or texted for a second date. So much for just being me. Seriously though, it only meant those people weren’t a good fit.
During those first few months, I also found I was still struggling with self-doubt and low self-esteem. Yet, I knew I’d spent too many years trying to be someone else and trying to meet someone else’s ideals. I also knew deep down that I am a kind and generous person. I felt proud of myself for showing up authentically even if it meant I was rejected. At least I wasn’t rejecting myself.
However, in my attempts to counter-balance, I dug in my heels with a dogged determination of who I assumed myself to be. So the next couple of people I went on dates with were presented with a fairly rigid and inflexible me. “This is who I am; take it or leave it.”
Trust me, that approach didn’t work either.
It’s a delicate dance between being fully ourselves and compromising in a relationship. I don’t think this dance ever ends. It certainly takes a strong sense of core values and knowing oneself in order to determine what’s worth holding onto and what’s worth giving up.
For example, prior to healing from my love addiction, I had latched onto a partner who was threatened by my gregarious nature. I’d always been someone who had an active social life and never met a stranger. I gave up my friends and stopped being so outgoing thinking perhaps this would make my partner happy. It didn’t become clear to me until much later that giving up my fun-loving nature was killing a deep and core part of who I am.
On the other hand, things like my love of staying out late playing poker aren’t so important to me anymore. I remember driving home after one such evening thinking how fortune I was to be single and not have anyone at home upset with me for being out so late. When I was digging in my heels about who I am, I was clear I had no intention of giving up those late nights for a relationship. Now, I don’t even care about staying out late. It’s not because my girlfriend would have any problem with my doing so, it’s just not something I want to do anymore.
I have been a huge advocate for being single. I needed those years of personal reflection to grow into the person I am today. While single I grew in ways I never could have grown if I had continued jumping from one relationship to another. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and it’s helped me be a better dancer in my intimate relationship today.
However, it definitely took being back in relationship for me to continue growing. I’ve been able to recognize how closing my heart to love wasn’t really keeping me safe. I’ve been able to see where I still need to change dysfunctional relationship patterns like hiding my feelings or not speaking up for myself. I’ve had to learn to trust again. Perhaps most rewarding has been having the opportunity to see where all the personal work I did while single has paid off. I’ve grown and I handle things so much differently; responding instead of reacting.
I’m grateful to be dating someone who is emotionally intuitive and who also places a high value on personal and relational growth. As our whirlwind romance has been settling down, we’re facing our fears and having discussions that aren’t always easy. We both allow ourselves to be vulnerable by telling the truth and sharing our doubts and/or disappointments. The pay off is enormous.
It’s scary and it’s exhilarating. I posted to my Facebook page: “Falling in love is great. Being in love is wonderful. Loving is divine.” Like layers of an onion, we each unfold and reveal deeper levels of ourselves and deeper levels of love. It’s a process and a journey. Neither of us know if this love is for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, but we are both committed to loving. In the end, this is all that really matters.
In the meantime, I’ve felt encouraged to explore my next steps with this blog and with my calling. I am feeling a draw to delve deeper into self-compassion and to helping others untangle their stories and learn to have a more gentle inner dialogue. All true love begins with the self. Ultimately the way to peel away the layers and get to the core of who we are starts with our ability to be kind and loving towards ourselves.
So, stay tuned for some more exciting changes to come! As always, thanks for being here … and thanks for being a part of my journey.
With deepest love,
As always, thank you for being a part of my journey. I share freely so that I may assist those who can relate to what I’m saying. We are not alone — each connected to one another in our own unique and individual ways, a part of a greater cosmos beyond understanding. I am committed to this connection — to unity, to growth, and to love. This, I know.
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