I often find myself thinking about folks who’ve never unraveled. I wonder what that must feel like – if they feel safe with/in themselves. I’m not talking about that human I just can’t seem to get my shit together right now unravel. I mean the seams of your world rip apart and you just slip right off the Earth unravel. I mean the rhythm of all those basic things involved in functioning like eating, sleeping, thinking, communicating, breathing gets all out of whack and nothing is where it’s supposed to be unravel.
I unraveled once … more than once… but one time is more memorable than others. I was in college. My life broke apart, cracked open, spilled into the air. I stopped and started behaviors that severely disrupted my life. In the end, I failed two semesters of classes, lost my scholarship and multiple jobs, damaged all of my relationships, and put my health/life at risk … basically all the things that needed tending to, I burned down.
I resisted writing this piece. I’m resistant to the idea of someone being their own abuser. It feels messy. It feels askew – like the words just don’t fit right – but when I sat with the framework, uncomfortable truths emerged. I’ve engaged in patterns of behaviors that have harmed me – deeply. That’s a fact. And if these same patterns involved other folk – I would have no issue calling them abusive.
But that’s the issue, isn’t it? I’m pretty good at protecting myself from other folk. It took some time, but I can fairly easily identify, and create distance between me, and someone who’s consistently harmful. But how do you protect yourself from yourself? The things I’ve done to myself. The things I’ve said to myself. The situations I’ve put myself in. Were I someone else – I would have removed me from my life a long time ago – but we can’t just walk away from ourselves, so how do I hold myself accountable for the harm I’ve inflicted on myself? How do I move through/with it?
Forgiving v. Reconciling
They say it’s important to forgive yourself (‘they’ being therapists, think pieces, Tumblr posts, random ass bumper stickers). This advice has never settled right in my bones. First off, when I forgive people for things, it usually involves letting go. And maybe it’s just me, but the harm that I inflict on myself always feels too close and too enmeshed in my flesh and spirit for that type of release.
There are also things I’ve done that I wouldn’t forgive other folk for. When I’m stressed, I isolate myself from the people I love. If some other person, whenever they felt stress, they responded by actively keeping me away from my loved ones, I wouldn’t let that go, I would let them go.
I try and hold my self- destructive actions with as much grace and compassion as I can. However, that doesn’t always amass to some satisfying feeling of full-blown forgiveness. And I’ve learned that that’s OK. My goal has shifted from forgiving myself to reconciling with myself.
I won’t delve into the various standpoints on the differences and relationship between these two concepts, but a basic dictionary definition of reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations or some type of harmony. I can work with that. It doesn’t necessarily require me to shed all the shame, disappointment, guilt, hurt – all those messy feelings involved in both hurting and being hurt by someone. It lessens my burden down to – alright, this was messed up, but I still got to work it out.
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The question shifts from ‘how do I forgive myself?’(which feels really daunting to me), to how do I reconcile ‘shitty me’ with ‘want to do better me?’ Or how do I reconcile my destructive tendencies with the vision I seek to live by? Basically, I see it as I’m stuck with myself and I have to learn how to function with all the facets of me – good and bad.
Trust yourself yes,
but more importantly you have to earn your trust
I’ve forged and crafted so much life since that major unraveling. I’ve shifted. I’ve rebuilt. I’ve learned different ways to move through the world. And for that I’m grateful – but I’ve never forgotten. And the knowledge that I’m capable of driving my life so completely into the ground haunts me. I haunt me. So feelings of trust and safety and self are complicated.
My unraveling wasn’t random, it was in response to trauma. It was actually a really understandable response given the circumstances, but it still left me shook. I did the best I could with what I had going on – which is what most of us are out here doing. I see that. I know that deeply. At the same time, the anxiety is still there – will I do this to myself again? Will I put myself back in the same situations? Honestly, I’m sometimes still afraid of myself. I sometimes still tip toe around my reactions to stress/life. I’m afraid of the damaging things I can do when I become afraid.
I have to remind myself to be gentle with that. It’s important to trust yourself – have faith in yourself, but that’s so much easier said than done when you have a history of self-destructive behavior. Learning how to trust myself has been a long and windy road, but what I continually try to work on and keep at my center is learning how to be worthy of that trust.
when loving yourself means loving someone who doesn’t always treat you well
I am my primary partner. This relationship, this intimacy is guaranteed for life. Sometimes it’s really hard in so many ways. However, finding and forging ways to sustain, maintain, improve, and care for it is worth all the labor.
[Featured Image: Dark-skin individual stands indoors leaning against a wall with hands behind them wearing a fedora over black shoulder-length hair and glasses with a black tank top. Flickr.com/Dionysius Burton]