Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash

What we can do with that great void which opens up when we end a toxic relationship

Part of aging vibrantly is how we grow personally. In fact, even as I rebuild my body after all those surgeries and injuries from the last few years, as I put time into the gym and get my body to learn how to walk and work out normally again, the real challenge is the internal.

The internal drives all else. To that, during a recent conversation with my friend Melissa, we explored this idea of what to do with all the energy that we have put into people who didn't, couldn't reciprocate.

It's a fabulous, in-your-face question, too.

Why aren't we directing that kind of passionate love and self-care to ourselves?

The question makes me want to play dodge ball with the truth.  I've never felt worthy of such care, so I've asked others to validate my existence.

All too often those folks, at least the ones I've chosen, feel equally unworthy. We are left to chase our tails and never find one another.

We love being seen and acknowledged by the object of our love. No wonder we adore our dogs, right?

That said, the journey to honoring ourselves seems a long one, at least in the lives of those close to me who have had early childhood sexual trauma. We seem forever attached to getting our validation from others, most particularly those who are patently incapable of giving it.

Frankly, often for the same reasons, we can't give it to ourselves. There's that.

Recently I reported that I had ended a toxic fifteen-year relationship. There's a lot to unpack there. All that time I've been unpacking, studying and pulling that apart like a cat with too many rolls of toilet paper.

In case you're in need of a mild distraction:

The signs were there all along, but hope is one powerful opiate. As is the ingrained belief that this is what I deserve.

During that same time Melissa had also gone through a marriage and divorce which was deeply painful. She also has had to ask how we got into such relationships, why we stayed, and at what cost. She's in a better one now which involves deep personal work, as do they all.

From that perch she often offers profoundly important insights.

With a new friend, I discussed this whole idea around what happens when an aggressive, breast-stealing, life-threatening cancer overtakes your entire existence, distracts you from all else, then finally reaches the three-year remission point? When you are free of that rat bastard, cross fingers, for life?

Suddenly there's all this space.

What now, that the cancer no longer takes center stage?

What happens when Dionysius removes the Sword of Damocles?

Anyone who's ever dealt with an addiction, and my hand is up given donuts and sugar (okay, and that ex), knows the feeling when we finally bid adieu to it.

It's not just the partner. It's the partner in distraction - the drug, the bottle, the compulsive (exercise, eating, handwashing, handwringing, etc.).

When it's gone, what then?

All that available space and time and nothing/nobody to suck it out of us, as we struggle for external validation.

Why, Melissa asked, can't we direct that validation at ourselves, where it is most needed?

Why is it such a lifetime journey to learn to validate, love, respect, protect and honor the self first?

Well it depends, doesn't it?

My beloved mentor Meg had validation from her family from the start.  I didn't get any indication that incest or sexual abuse were issues in her family or her life, albeit so many of us have dealt with it at some point.

She was able to  invest her considerable intellectual energy into a career spanning decades. She was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame for her efforts.

I think because she was available to herself for so much longer she likely changed many more lives. She didn't waste decades apologizing for her existence, in other words.

Without that baggage, it's amazing the amount of energy and love you have.

I am of course directing this at myself.

instagram @ lil_african
Photo by De'Andre Bush / Unsplash

Love yourself first.

That's something I personally have been mouthing mindlessly for forty years before I had any real handle on what that would take after so much sexual abuse and trauma. No clue at all.

Self-love, like eating well, rest, good relationships, time to heal, and moving a lot. All those things which make live more livable because we have a healthy body and mind.

They feel like home, in other words.

Nalini MacNab wrote this in response to a recent Patreon post:

The phrase 'close to home' is interesting these days as we become the sacred space we need to inhabit.

"Home is where the heart is" also takes on a whole new meaning as we age. Our world is so very fluid right now, nothing is for certain. Not even the great firs which abut my deck, which are susceptible to time, disease, fire, wind, earthquakes. Perhaps in my lifetime, too.  ‌‌

Everything is impermanent.

In that, then, Nalini's comment lands well.

I've returned to this idea a lot. Each time it's like picking up a fine stone and capturing its color in a new way. While I genuinely appreciate external validation, can I detach from the  need for it?

That's one reason I've turned to Buddhism. Being so one with everything that the need for so many things vanishes. I hope to touch the outside edge of that, if for no other reason than I want to feel deep gratitude for the gift of existence. Not the gift of being able to afford, say, a Mercedes.

There was a time in my twenties when a Benz might have been terribly important.

These days I'd just like to be able to bend.

This past year has been all about bending.

Bending to invite certain people out and others in. Certain habits out and others in. Good habits which served me well in the past and which needed to be reinstated, renewed. All of that and so much more finally has a great deal more room now that my ex is gone.

I might not have the Benz. But I've learned to bend in so many new ways.

As long as I can keep limber, I can keep allowing much more of what looks like love in my life.

That can be meeting Sam (a newish neighbor who moved in almost next door two years ago) or just spending time reading on the gazebo as the long, slow, sweet sunset of September extends its handshake to autumn.

Denzel Washington is often quoted as saying that it doesn't matter that you were sixty when you got the house, you got the house. Fifty when you fell in love, you fell in love. It doesn't matter when it happens. It only matters that it does.

I'm falling crazy mad in love with so much more of life. That, I believe, is what can happen when we remove toxic relationships, no matter what or with whom they may be.

Let's make more room for the best things in life. I sure am doing a lot of that right now.

Photo by Raychan / Unsplash

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