The Reflection of Me

Everybody wants a happy ending. From the time we are children, we get told the same fairytale through movies, books, and other facets for our imagination. Look at any story of a princess throughout history and it’s usually a damsel in distress saved by her knight in shining armor. She’s helpless and meek while he’s strong and independent. The princesses recently have been stronger and more independent, which I love, but the message from the earlier fairy tales are hard to erase. We want to be independent people who don’t need relationships to be happy but we can’t deny the strong desire to be connected. I went through my own phase of denial but I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m not going to deny my desires. We were made to be connected, to be in relationships, and to be with people. I think we get caught up in the idea that we have to be in a romantic relationship to be happy and that’s where we place all of our value. The thing is we don’t need a romantic relationship to be happy, we just need relationships. I’m sure we could function completely alone but that sounds absolutely miserable. It’s Christmas without gifts, trees, or food, but Christmas nonetheless. It’s a fun board game with nobody to play with but it’s a fun board game nonetheless. These things are better with people and it’s the same thing with life.

I’ve gotten caught up in the phase of life where all I want is a boyfriend. It’s so easy to slip into that mentality when your friends are getting engaged left and right. Some are even married with children and it’s easy to want that for yourself, convinced it’s what we’re missing to be happy. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that we shouldn’t be in a romantic relationship if we’re not okay with ourselves. Other people can’t be the reason we are fulfilled, otherwise, they become idols and I don’t want my joy dependent on someone else. The most rewarding relationships are the ones that come when I reach a place where I’m comfortable with my own company and the person joins me in this walk of life and becomes a partner, not a necessity. It means more to be wanted than needed. That being said, we are human and that means imperfection. Sometimes we stay in a relationship that is completely wrong for us for an unreasonable amount of time. We build up the courage to walk away but the whispers of loneliness raise the hair on the back of your neck and suddenly the person doesn’t look so bad. Our mind rationalizes away each reason to walk away in fear of coming face to face with loneliness, that dark monster that only appears in the corner of our eye. It disappears when you whip your head around, convinced someone is breathing down your spine. It’s the whispers of doubt as you climb into an empty bed and squeeze your eyes tight. It’s the sting that courses through your veins when you glance at your phone and there are no new notifications. The fear of being forgotten flashes through your mind and loneliness, that cruel monster, smiles. It doesn’t care if you’re in a crowded room or sitting at home, it’ll join you whenever it feels like it, even if there isn’t room. It’ll suck the air out around you and make you feel invisible to those around. Everything they say suddenly becomes meaningless and your heart begins to vaporize in your chest. Your lungs become too crowded and oxygen struggles to fill them. Loneliness is the boogeyman we run from. Loneliness is the reckless driver in our brand new car going a hundred miles an hour down the wrong lane. It’s the silence that rings in your ear when you stop running around. The silence becomes deafening and we reach madly for our phones to plan ten more activities for the week just so we don’t have to spend time with ourselves. Our schedule becomes our hiding place. We’d rather run ourselves to the ground, stretch ourselves so thin we’re about to shatter, and rob ourselves of sanity than sit down alone for five minutes. We run from place to place, person to person, activity to activity so we don’t have to stare loneliness in the face. We’re afraid it’s the ugliest sight we’ll see so we run.

Living on my own has changed my perspective on loneliness. When you live alone, you can’t run as quickly from it. I sit down and I feel it sit down next to me. It’s taken me too long to build up the courage to finally look next to me and face the monster I’ve spent my whole life running from. I expected it to look dark and shriveled, I expected to see a snarl and a glare, I expected to see black eyes piercing through mine; something that makes me feel so awful surely must be frightening. What I did see caught me off guard. I saw a girl who looked scared that looked an awful lot like me. When I cocked my head to the side, she did too. When I cocked my head the other way, she followed. I lifted my left hand up as if to touch a mirror and she placed her palm against mine. I jerked back from the touch and she did too, both of us recoiling from the flame. I thought that loneliness was a monster for a majority of my life, not because it was dark, but because it meant spending time in my own company. Sitting down and taking a breath means coming face to face with yourself, demons and all. You relive the painful moments of the day, feel the heat of embarrassment, the hurt of rejection, the fear of the unknown. There is no shield to hide from, no schedule to dive into, and no business to drown out the silent scream of shame. You stare yourself in the face. Most of us can’t even make eye contact in shame of who we’ve become. Loneliness isn’t a monster we each see the same, loneliness is you. Loneliness is me. No wonder we feel lonely in a crowded room. We can never out run loneliness. We can pretend we’re fast but we’re fooling ourselves. Loneliness has been beside us the whole time and it’s in the quiet times when you think you’ve got away that it appears next to you. You can’t run from yourself, not for long anyway. Our shadows may change positions as the sun moves but it is still attached to us. To most of us, loneliness is a horrifying monster we try to run from, never making peace with the ghosts of our past. The tombstones behind us increase along with the howls of the dead. We can’t bear to listen anymore so we jump and sprint as if our lives depended on it because to some of us it feels like it does. It becomes easier to drown yourself in something else that appears to shield you while it consumes you. If we keep moving quickly, the reflection in the mirror of loneliness stays blurred and we don’t have to see the blemishes. Sometimes, I still see loneliness this way. I have days where I can’t make eye contact with myself. My head is hung in the face of the actions I’ve made and words I’ve said. I listen to the whispers of loneliness and feel its fist wrapped around my heart. Other days, I can look myself in the eye, make some hot tea and enjoy my favorite shows, passing popcorn back and forth with the monster I was so scared of.

Relationships drive people mad. We do anything to stop them from ending. We make promise after promise to change, ride out the wave, then continue right where we left off hoping they don’t notice we’re the exact same as before. Our heads are bowed in the face of the continued pain inflicted over and over all the while whispering to ourselves that it’s going to be okay. It becomes our mantra, our lifeline, anything to give us the courage to hang on because we are positive they will change this time if only we stay committed. The rationalizing that happens in our powerful mind is pure insanity. The things we tell ourselves and force ourselves to believe is madness. Why do we do this? Loneliness. The itch of loneliness begins and we scratch until our skin breaks and blood stains our fingernails. And then we continue scratching. The heartbreak that comes with a relationship ending is something we desperately avoid. It took effort to leave the abyss of loneliness and we will stop at nothing to prevent you from throwing us back in while you walk away with someone else. The curious pain of loneliness is a strange phenomenon. Is it painful because we lost the person or because we are once again thrown into the void of loneliness? Or because we lost the kindness of our partner? Does the person that we lose matter at all? I used to think so but I realized the curious pain of loneliness that strikes when we fall into the abyss is the same for everybody we lose. Replace the face with anybody we have lost and the pain is the same. The depth of the hurt may vary depending on how deeply we got tangled with the person but the pain, that deep ache that echoes in the now empty chambers of our heart stays the same throughout time. Their face comes to mind during those pauses in our day and the memories play like a film. Loneliness is our date to the show and I know that I have blown that date off time and time again. The pain is too much, the echoes are too strong for my heart to handle, and I’m convinced the tears will drown me. So I drowned myself in a bottle instead. It doesn’t count when I inflict it on myself, right?

Sometimes, relationships don’t just end, we get traded in instead. The blow of loneliness is painful enough but when it’s coupled with not feeling good enough, our monster has tripled in size. The film doubles in length and features extra footage of who we’ve been replaced with and director’s commentary on how we don’t measure up. Loneliness, that mirror we refuse to look into, pats the seat next to it, inviting us to what feels like the most miserable experience. It feels easier to shut the door and pretend the film doesn’t exist than to sit down and watch it. It seems silly to voluntarily get punched in the gut over and over. It seems like madness. A couple weeks ago, I got the invitation to watch the featured film for the night next to the monster I thought was horrifying. I almost turned around and shut the door the way I usually do, but something pushed me in and I sat down next to the monster that looks like me. I couldn’t make eye contact quite yet but I could allow myself to sit down next to her without having my shoulders tensed up to my ears. The film began rolling and she handed the popcorn over to me. I reached over and grabbed the bag to distract myself from the screen but once my eyes were pulled to the film, I was glued. It was one of those guilty pleasure movies you love to hate but can’t quite turn off when you see it playing. And so, there we were, loneliness and I, watching the film I had avoided my entire life. The film of grief and of pain began and I waited for the ending to strike me through the heart.

It begins with the most recent heartbreak. The film is exactly as I imagined it would be, I see the person, I see me, and I watched as something begins to unfold but slams shut right when the best part of the book is about to be written. I waited for the blow of rejection but it didn’t come. The previous person that broke my heart appears on the screen and my mouth hangs open in confusion. The film reel is longer than I thought and the realization dawned on me: just because I closed the door, it didn’t mean the film ended, it simply waited to be viewed. Years of pain rolled across the screen and I felt my heart sink a little lower each time. I raised my arm, ready to protect myself from the blow I was sure was coming but I waited the whole night. The blow didn’t come. As the credits roll by, I read each name that broke my heart. I see previous boyfriends, friends, family, and people who passed away before I could say goodbye. I had never taken the time to grieve them, not fully. I let them rot in the back room and pretended I was okay with the ghosts haunting my mind. Denial only works for so long and now that I am sober, the excuses are gone and the can of worms has been opened. Instead of running, I let the pain come out and I voluntarily stood in front of the truck of pain as it ran me over again and again. I could feel the same thread of pain that remained throughout the whole movie and watched as the depth varied with each person that appeared on the screen. Their smiles pierced my heart, their words stung my ears, and their daggers rested in my back. I had become okay with dozens of knives, dozens of open wounds resting on my back. Maybe that was why I ran from mirrors. Maybe that was why I ran from loneliness. If I don’t see the truth, then maybe it’s not real.

The film runs out and the movie stops rolling. I hear the sound the empty reel makes as it tries to spin once more, but there’s nothing left to show. There it was, all of the pain I had pretended didn’t exist. When you get stabbed, you’re supposed to leave the weapon in so the wound isn’t open and bleeding. Well, when you have dozens of knives in your back, it doesn’t really matter what you do, a wound is a wound and you’re bleeding. It was time to take them out so they could heal. The thought is terrifying. I don’t want to bleed, I don’t want to hurt, nobody does. But if I don’t do that, the healing process will never begin and I’m stuck running from this mirror. I’m tired, so tired, of running. So I lay my head on my hands and allow loneliness to begin the healing process. She holds my hand and begins removing the knives I had held onto for so long and I can feel the pain leaving and entering my body simultaneously. Pain came when the knife was taken out but as each wound opened, healing began pouring in. Loneliness, the great monster, turned out not to be as big of a monster as I had perceived; she could be a friend. Allowing yourself to cry is allowing yourself to be free. I am free to hurt, I am free to face myself, I am free to face the ones that hurt me and the ones that I hurt, I am free to be a human being. The more grief I come to face, the freer I become. The thoughts that swirl in my mind before I sleep are less frequent and less painful. I can now make my life mean something to those that I have hurt and those I never got to say goodbye to. I had used deaths and breakups as an excuse to put my life on pause and waste the precious time I have. I look back and refuse to hang my head in shame any longer. What’s past is past and all I have is the now. I’m tired of scratching the itch that is loneliness. I don’t want to scratch until my skin bleeds and I’m stained, I don’t want to cave anymore. Loving myself, I’ve learned, is the key to satisfying this deep need. The echoes stop when I allow love to enter this empty heart of mine.

When I found out a friend had passed away in a car accident months ago, I felt that temptation to make it all about me. I wanted to post pictures and write cheesy things in hopes of getting likes the way others were, I wanted to use it as an excuse to abandon my responsibilities and maybe, just maybe take a sip of the sweet poison. Even as the thoughts swirled, I knew they were insane. I cannot and will not use that grief or any grief as an excuse ever again. The next best thing for me is to take the pieces of my life and turn them into something even more beautiful. That’s exactly what I did. I collected the pieces of grief I had hidden away and put them together into a puzzle of imperfect beauty. It became my launch pad for all things great. Loneliness, the old friend, could finally be laid to rest as I stepped out of the fear of grief and into the sunlight of freedom. There in the background, if I stop and listen carefully, I can hear that empty heart of mine beat as though it were full because for once, it actually is.

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