Dating Lee stirred up a lot of inner demons.
A main one was this: I had grown accustomed to severing myself from anything that brought me discomfort.
My background with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD made this obvious--it was the only way I'd learned to protect myself or construct some semblance of safety. But something had to give. Something had to break through to help me decipher the difference between discomfort and a true threat. Most everything, up until meeting him, had processed at Mach Con Level 10 Red Alert threat. And that threat, however actually trivial, must be (and was!) eliminated.
Getting married has made me think a lot about getting divorced. After all, marriage and divorce go in hand in hand these days. I've seen miserable couples stay together and chalk up mental abuse to "He's just moody and can't help it." And I've seen couples who used divorce as a way to break free from the doldrums of the normality of life.
I did some serious work on myself in my 20s. There was a lot to sort out in my heart and mind. The biggest lessons I learned were how to prioritize self care; how to set safe, loving boundaries; and how to choose what I really want in life. They were my top priorities and no one came in between us. But eventually I reached a point where I was at peace with a lot in my life, but there was something missing. I still had deep, reactionary impulses in my life. I still hid a lot from people who tried to get close. I could see myself, my habitual patterns and wondered how I could possibly break free.
Keeping the love you find
Somewhere in the mix I discovered Dr. Harville Hendrix's book, Keeping the Love You Find. After 30-something years in private relational/marriage practice, he arrived at this conclusion: we can only heal so much on our own. We need other people, particularly a romantic partner, to help us heal deep, core wounds. His clinical work affirmed what religious traditions of old have always insisted on: we are interconnected and truly need one another.
His book was my wakeup call. Renegade Solo Amanda could only go so far relationally in life. Sure, I could try this business venture or travel to this far off city (both activities are thrilling). But that hollow feeling, those ways in which I emotionally catapulted away from anything uncomfortable -- those were highly unlikely to be transformed unless I truly let someone into my heart.
Dating Lee created an uncomfortable set of circumstances: I was conditioned to personal healing and growth alone (my boundaries! my goals! me first!), however, the nature of relationships is collaboration -- something I knew little about. It was now our boundaries! Our goals! Us first! This is threatening, folks, because I had set up an unrealistic rule in my mind:
You're only safe if you can kick people out.
Without going into sappy details, Lee was someone who created a safety I'd never experienced. There wasn't a whole lot of courage to muster with dating him. I knew I was fine. My body was at ease around him. My anxiety didn't crop up until we started wading into uncomfortable territory, but when it did I had a reminder prepared for myself: "He's been safe this far. Let him in a little further and see what happens." It turns out, letting him in helped let a huge part of me out -- I found myself inspired to look at a lot of my anxiety-prone habits and let them be transformed with the truth of reality.
They say that in an anxiety attack, you should touch five tangible things and name them out loud like a lamp, couch, wall, window, floor. Doing this brings your mind back to reality and can often put the anxiety in your mind in perspective. I created five things for Lee when I wanted to create a reason to push him out: your body is at ease around him; he's always honored your feelings; he's available and accessible and has never demonstrated shifty behavior; he's known by dozens of people for decades who stand up for his character. These things were my foundation to create a new space where my self care, boundaries and happiness could safely co-mingle with his.
The slippery slope of self awareness
This whole conversation makes me think about feminism. If you remove preconceived ideas and biased images of women holding pitchforks, the feminist message at its core is quite reasonable. It was built on a simple premise: that women should be treated equally as men. Practically speaking, in order for movements to be effective, they must stir up the thoughts, feelings and emotions of people who tend to be complacent about the issue at hand. The byproduct of these battlecries is that some people get a little unnecessarily stirred up and empowered to take the message over the edge. There are the misguided folks who take it to extremes and turn a simple message into one that admonishes hate and fear ("Men are always the problem. Men are evil at their core.").
I think the self-knowledge movement is similar. What likely began as a collective awakening to self awareness and mutual respect seems to often disintegrate into a poisonous version of narcissism. Somewhere in the battle cry to honor yourself and discover your natural giftings, we elevated self knowledge above being beneficial to our neighbors and people in our lives. In a lot of ways, "An eye for an eye and the world would be blind" applies here.
What is the reasonable alternative? I don't know. But I'm testing out this idea that instead of creating a happy life, I can create a meaningful one. This means that I'm empowered to cultivate what only God can know has been placed deep in my heart and mind -- but it also creates a sort of accountability to use that inner energy for someone besides myself. It requires me to look up at the world around me, and how knows, maybe smile once in a while.