"I can't believe that I'm doing this again..."
A couple months ago my partner and I got into a squabble. I don't even remember what the actual argument was about, but the feeling that flooded my system has been familiar for many, many years: ALL-ENCOMPASSING DESPAIR. And the auto-response to that despair has been around for just as long: FLEE!
By the time that Kyle found me, the DESPAIR --> FLEE sequence had mellowed enough that I never actually ended the relationship outright. But every time we got into a bad disagreement, through grand statements and frenetic gestures, I dangled that possibility before him. A brusque, sprint-like exit from the scene of the argument, a charged and charring pronouncement, a grasping dash for vitals--keys, phone, wallet and, depending on the era-of-Aaron, either a pack of cigarettes, a mala or a water bottle--a slamming door and fading footfalls.
Maybe I would go for a walk. Maybe I would call up a friend. Maybe I would post up at the local bar. In the great silence that I imagined I had left him alone inside of, I wanted Kyle to continue with the maybes. Maybe she'll be gone a long time. Maybe I should go after her. Maybe I should make my own grand statements and gestures that forever calm her down.
It was insecurity that made me act this way. That realization arrived long ago. But when this all-too-familiar sequence geared up a couple months ago I was surprised. Hadn't all those insecurities been addressed? Insecurities about Kyle's commitment to me addressed by our leaving New York for a country adventure hand-in-hand, our engagement to be married, by him making up a will with me in it, and most of all by his daily actions and his consistency of character. Deeper insecurities about my own inherent value addressed by having accomplished personal goals on all levels. I was in good health, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I had established a truly satisfying career that challenged me but also granted me lots of free time to pursue other interests. I was getting consistent feedback that my work was truly helping people. I had checked all the boxes, set-straight all the wonky pieces. How was this shitty pattern still a part of me? I thought that insecurity couldn't follow me here, into the core of this life I had built, so stable, fulfilled and validated. How could this possibly be happening now?
As I felt myself being yanked into this old familiar sequence, a part of me refused to go along for the ride. It said, "Wait. This isn't right. It's not what you want. It's totally out of line with your convictions and commitments. Why are you doing this?"
Right before I began acting out the ever-terrible ending, this inner voice caused me to pause, listen and take a conscious breath instead. Here was something other than pain. I felt the air stream in through the parallel lines of my nostrils and join in my third eye, a blessing of sensation for my twisted face and spinning mind. As I exhaled, an awareness moved down to include the whole of me, all the way to and through the soles of my feet which didn't want to run. Feet which belonged here in this home. The immovable sage inside repeated, "You are safe," again and again until most of my parts believed it. My holy feet took me, slowly, into my home sanctuary/office, where I got to work.
I went through the series of questions that I ask myself when I need to regain access to wisdom and love. (Those who did the Big Now with me learned a version of these as "The Coordinates.") Here's the one that brought illumination this time around. "What are you so afraid of?"
The response: to be left behind, deserted, abandoned.
Be it by his choice (How humiliating! How degrading! Would I ever recover my sense of self-worth?) or by some mortal tragedy (How jarring, brutal and sad would it be for him to die on me! Would I ever recover my sense of trust in the universe?), the potential for utter devastation seemed so great that it was difficult to even acknowledge it. But I saw that, until I was willing to look at this fear, it would continue to work under the surface. Triggering me towards words and actions that didn't serve my happiness or my real goals. Though, out in the light of day, everything in my life was going as well as it possibly could be, from its hiding place in the shadows, this fear had the power to pounce in any instant and derail everything.
It was time to stop running, to turn and face that fear, and bring it out into the light.
From recognition of the worst case scenario came the recognition of a perennial strategy that I had been using all along as "protection." I had left this crack open in the door of my relationship so that I could bail any time things got too scary. Yes, I would still face the devestation of losing my best friend and primary support person, etc., but at least if I bailed I could exit the wreckage with something in my hand: a narrative which that left me as the choice-maker, the one in control. I would need that story more than ever, some unconscious part of me posited, while picking up the pieces of my old self and building a new one. But if Kyle left me, be it by his choice or by tragic circumstances, I wouldn't escape with sed narrative. What would be left?
Underneath the fear of abandonment was this greater, more primal fear. That I wasn't all-powerful in the unfolding of my own life. That I could love someone with all my heart and still lose them. That I could want something with the utmost sincerity and still not get to keep it.
Light reveals. It didn't take me long to see that the story of me being in control was never going to be true anyhow. Kyle has his own mind and will and destiny. This is what makes him an invaluable partner to me and not a lackey or a paper cut-out. And as for his death, one of his other fine attributes is that he's a human being, which, at it turns out, gives me crummy odds of keeping him alive forever. How much energy was I going to put into running from an inevitable? How much of my own happiness and integrity would I allow to escape out of this crack in our union before I was willing to close it for good?
Later that night I sat Kyle down and I made this commitment, to him, to myself and to universe at large: "Whatever happens, I'm staying. I will not leave this relationship of my own accord. Life will eventually separate us. I accept this. You may make a choice to leave me one day. I accept this as well. The only thing that I am in charge of is my own choices. And I choose to close the escape hatch and remain inside of this relationship until other circumstances intervene. I choose to stay."
Since then I have felt this sustained sense of groundedness, even when things get funky. We had one argument recently which made that old sequence kick into gear, but it wasn't more powerful than the steadiness, and I didn't get sucked under by it. I felt some feelings, I cried some tears, I expressed what was happening inside of me, I took some time nourishing myself, and later in the day we reconvened and resolved things with maturity and kindness.
Whereas I used to look at our arguments as signs of weakness in our relationship I don't see it that way at all anymore. A healthy relationship makes space for challenging conversations and challenging conversations make space for growth. And, in this case, I am extra appreciative because it allowed me to test the completeness of my own transformation, which stood sturdy. I feel good about where I am and recognize that there is much more work ahead. More fears to face, more integrity to establish, more love to share. But, for now, I'm done running away.