We are works in progress

I have been in Arizona for just over a month. When I first arrived, I saw familiar faces everywhere I went. At least, I imagined that I did. In the grocery store, at a local bar and restaurant, I would do a double take and the face of a friend would turn into that of a stranger.

Days and weeks passed, and I seemed to float in a haze of cleaning, organizing, and what I might describe as domestic bliss of some sort.

Within this haze, I experienced moments of clarity, when the reality of this great shift would occur to me. I felt them in my stomach, throat, and heart.

A couple of nights ago, a wave of reality and emotion hit me suddenly and with great power. Tears began and images swept through my mind, so quickly that I could not quite put them into words when my partner gently asked if I was ok. Maybe, if I just let them wash over me, they would continue on their way and leave me in peace.

Images of dinners with my parents, performances, faces of friends, brick and stone, my cat sleeping soundly beside me on a pillow all washed over me and with them, waves of tears I had not anticipated.

They had been just beneath the surface. How had I not noticed them until they forced their way out? I have worked so diligently to become aware of my own mind and body. I suppose that decades of dedicated training to ignore pain is not unlearned in a mere year or two or even though.

“I guess the honeymoon period is over,” I whispered in a voice muffled by emotion.

“It’s ok,” came the calming response. “We are works in progress, and we have our whole lives.”

I marvel at his ability for patience and grounding. I am not a patient person. I want resolution for painful encounters to happen right away. I try to create am immediate resolution in the wake of an argument, however false. Just make the pain go away and let everything be all right.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1992) has written of damaging effects of the desire to eradicate parts of ourselves that cause us pain, suggesting that we “throw out what is unwanted and keep only what is wanted. But what is left may not be very much. If we try to throw away what we don’t want, we may throw away most of ourselves (p. 52).”

I do not wish to be a hollow shell of my self, and I recognize that each experience of joy and pain and everything in between blends together to build the person I am today.

Thus, I am trying to embrace the idea that it is healthy to wallow in my feelings. I may not ever make sense of relationships that have gone awry or be able to fix them. But I can try to practice acceptance.

When I explained my predicament to a friend, he offered advice.

“Perhaps, you need to give your spirit time to catch up with your body.”

I am certain he is right. The quick and seemingly easy path to perfection is likely more damaging than helpful in the long run.

So, I am listening to the words of wise friends and reading the words of wise thinkers.


And in the words of David Byrne, “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out.”

10 thoughts on “We are works in progress

  1. I clearly remember having to learn to stop suppressing my emotions, something I’d been doing since whatever elementary school crying jag was one episode too many of embarrassing episodes.

    It was 2010 and I was upset that the first relationship with promise after my divorce had ended. But my rational side wouldn’t acknowledge that, even as I slid further into depression. I could reasonably and logically explain all of the reasons that I shouldn’t be upset over losing her and felt that should be enough to see me through.

    It’s only when I realized I was doing the bare minimum to survive, had failed my second grad course that year, at $2,000 a pop, due to sheer apathy, and that even my go-to video game escape no longer offered me respite from the thoughts that plagued me that I sought help. From there it took another couple of months to blast through all the reasons I had for not feeling sad and admit that I was very sad.

    I remember spending the last week of 2010 learning how to let myself feel sad and then once I’d figured that out, letting myself cry. Weird at first, but then very cathartic. It took me over a year and a half to notice those things that were just beneath the surface for me.

    Despite the end of my marriage, the uncovering of the affair that had motivated her, the death of my father from dementia ten days later, the guilty relief of no longer having to visit the disease-changed man who hadn’t been my father for more than two years, and the attempt that same week to start a relationship with a new pediatric ER doctor with a 6-month-old daughter who was going through a divorce, I was still convinced that I was both fine and ready to start another long-term relationship.

    The effort of keeping all of that bottled up nearly broke me. I say nearly only because I actually broke a few years later after the 2011 patch job didn’t hold. So, to recognize and acknowledge your stuff just 30 days in seems pretty good to me, given how long I ignored that first wave of emotion and the additional nearly two years where I ignored the second wave.

    There is no long and difficult path to perfection, never mind a quick and easy one.

    1. Thanks for sharing all that. Appreciate your honesty and candor.

      While I am doing well, I recognize I have far to go and the last year has been full of very pronounced highs and lows. Nothing worthwhile comes to us quickly – it’s a long process, and accepting that is a huge positive as Jim alluded to.

      The relationship thing is a tricky bit, no? My closest friends are on me about that, and more than a few have suggested I take a “heathen” view on things. Not my style. I am in no rush for a long-term deal – although I am open to the possibility, given the right person – and would much rather spend this time improving myself in every facet of life.

      No patch jobs – let’s all do this the right way.

      1. Wait, are you thanking me for my comment or M for the post? Perhaps both? Thanks if for me.

        The failed relationship I mentioned came on quickly and it was absolutely worthwhile considering how it pushed me to grow. From the standpoint of what I was looking for it can be viewed as a non-worthwhile investment of time. From every other standpoint it was exactly what I needed at the time. It could also be argued that it was the only thing that could have happened and the only outcome that could have occurred, like every relationship that followed that one up to and including the one I’m in now.

        All of those led to this. It’s only a matter of perspective that shifts the view from that time could have been better spent and was wasted to that time was fruitfully spent and I remember it fondly to that was the only way that time could have been spent. People have an influence on each other. I would argue that, all of us being part of a larger universe, said influence may even exist on levels we cannot perceive, but nonetheless affect us. We are linked as one, but we are not the same.

        I read about this theory here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/18/deluded-individualism/

        Relevant quote here: “Spinoza also questioned the human pretense to autonomy. Men believe themselves free, he said, merely because they are conscious of their volitions and appetites, but they are wholly determined. In fact, Spinoza claimed — to the horror of his contemporaries —that we are all just modes of one substance, “God or Nature” he called it, which is really the same thing. Individual actions are no such thing at all; they are expressions of another entity altogether, which acts through us unwittingly. To be human, according to Spinoza, is to be party to a confounding existential illusion — that human individuals are independent agents — which exacts a heavy emotional and political toll on us. It is the source of anxiety, envy, anger — all the passions that torment our psyche — and the violence that ensues. If we should come to see our nature as it truly is, if we should see that no “individuals” properly speaking exist at all, Spinoza maintained, it would greatly benefit humankind.

        There is no such thing as a discrete individual, Spinoza points out. This is a fiction. The boundaries of ‘me’ are fluid and blurred. We are all profoundly linked in countless ways we can hardly perceive. My decisions, choices, actions are inspired and motivated by others to no small extent. The passions, Spinoza argued, derive from seeing people as autonomous individuals responsible for all the objectionable actions that issue from them. Understanding the interrelated nature of everyone and everything is the key to diminishing the passions and the havoc they wreak.”

        Part of the reason I was so surprised and so clueless about the affair was that I would never have done that and thus couldn’t imagine her doing it. I projected my view of the world onto her.

        And that havoc comes about because of our expectations. We can lead ourselves to believe that because we feel one way that the person we are with feels the same way. When the truth of the matter is that we can never really know what the other person is thinking, even allowing for us to be linked. We can only know what they share with us, even as what they share changes us and then our reaction changes them. We exist in a quantum state with each other.

        Those long term relationships come about when those quantum states create more harmony than discord. When even the chaos of uncertainty is soothing. There’s no finding that without interacting and taking risks and there’s no forcing it either.

        As for the patch jobs – you’ll never know if it’s a patch or a true repair. Not for certain. I patched myself up and declared myself well. Others declared me well also. I’d hit bottom and bounced back. Then the variables combined to put me on my back again. I’d say I’d hit bottom for real, but what I learned from that greater fall is there’s no telling where the bottom really is. There’s no true repair. I also learned that I thrived on the challenge and pain of standing up again and that leaves me confident that I can right myself after the next fall. There’s no true repair, but the cracks from the fall heal stronger. The more more falls one recovers from, the stronger one is and the more empathetic one is to those around them. We start to recognize the cracks in each other.

        Another fall is coming one day. Or maybe not. But I know now that those are the moments that build character, change perspective, and increase both appreciation and acceptance. I believe that significant growth comes often only through failure and failure comes from risk. I can set up a list of resolutions for 2015 – eat right, walk more, loose weight, be mindful, etc. – but will achieving all of that improve me as much as those falls throughout the last four years did?

        I suspect not. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club. Even if we haven’t lost everything, the perception of such is enough to start freeing us.

  2. Thank you for sharing yourself so openly and honestly. This post in one of many over the past several years, where I keep rediscovering and relearning how to be self-aware, embrace pain, and meet my self exactly where I am rather than expecting that I should be somewhere or someone else. All I can do is practice acceptance, especially the acceptance in my lack of control over anything but how I respond to what I discover about my self.

    1. You are welcome. I have my own blog, I really need to start putting stuff like this over there, but it seems my writing is often triggered as a response to someone else’s pondering.

      1. Ugh, wish I could edit replies. Letting go of control and embracing acceptance was and is the hardest thing for me to do. I spent a week in Block Island with Heather and a bunch of friends a few years back under her rules that I could do no planning and make no definitive statements about what was going to happen. I had to yield control to those around me and let go of my need to have everything planned just so. It was a wonderful and freeing experience and quite the intellectual experiment. Kudos to her for thinking up such an interesting teaching method.

        Letting go of that control was a big part of my attempts to move past my ego and start living with less fear and more acceptance. Thinking nothing bad would happen to me if I could just control everything was a laborious way to move through life and the efforts of attempting to maintain that are a big part of what crashed me. Letting go of much of that gave me so much energy to do so many other things, including continuing to remind myself to let go.

        There’s no destination, only a path. And, thankfully, all the people we meet along the path, whether they are paused and resting, passing us, or moving along with us.

      2. I was thanking you, Jim. Marieke is fully aware of my appreciation of her sharing and my feelings for her 🙂

        Letting go, going with the flow, accepting what is and what cannot be changed, etc… All things I had struggled with in the past and all things I have made huge leaps and bounds on. I can analyze until I pass out but two events this week have convinced me I’m doing as well as can be expected and moving forward at a positive pace:

        1) A co-worker who I haven’t seen in many months saw the pic of me under the hair-dryer with Jaci at Eyeful Beauty and mentioned that in 15+ years of knowing me, he had never seen me that happy.

        2) My acupuncturist who hadn’t seen me in a year (important timing there as I was only a month at my new home, and 2 months away from a finalized divorce) was amazed at my overall life progress and congratulated me on making a life happen that I had verbalized wanting to him at that time.

        It is a path, and I think you and I are in good shape.

        Now get on that blog, dammit.

      3. A woman I dated described her divorce as “the best worst thing that ever happened to me.” It’s not the best catalyst for driving change in one’s life, but it might be the most effective.

        I would go a step further and suggest everyone on the path is in good shape. It’s our expectations and judgment that seek to define points along the path as better or worse. Better or worse for us, yes, but perhaps neither for them.

        Yes, must blog more and must write more and must start memoir. I read something Monday that I started in 2012 and then put down and it wasn’t terrible. I’m going to revisit that and post it.

  3. “Imagine you are a lotus blossom.” Thich Nhat Hanh. I find that helps when life gets tough.

  4. Oh, thank you, Nicola. I close my eyes and envision the words on the page that he suggests, but I am not sure I completely believe them just yet. I will try to imagine I am a lotus blossom today 🙂

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