For most of my life, I held strong beliefs, which formed the basis of my morality. I was taught that being kind is the most important thing, family is prioritized, and you should always do right by the people you love. In essence, these are all good thoughts; however, it’s clear to me now that they are beliefs rooted in naiveté. Life isn’t as simple as a set of rules; you can be a good person and fail to uphold these standards. Lewis Carroll (1985) wrote, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then” (p. 18). We are all constantly evolving, everything in our lives affecting us, changing the way we think, changing the way we act, and ultimately changing who we are. Mental growth and maturity is a funny thing to me – it’s not something that can really be quantified, or even noticed as it’s happening, but it’s something you see one day and wonder how you could have possibly gotten through life with such innocence. There was inexperience present in the way I thought about life and love before; it was a beautiful, albeit incorrect notion, bordering on magical thinking. I thought that love was unquestionable and unconditional. I assumed that if you did something to hurt the person you loved, then the feeling was not real. In my mind, it was something so strong and present, that I blinded myself to important truths about human behaviour that I was typically apt to see.
I still remember in crushingly vivid detail, the day this fantasy began to crumble before me. My brother picked me up and I could immediately tell there was something on his mind. He stammered on his words over and over again, my anxiety increasing exponentially as the moments grew longer. Finally, the anticipation got to be too much and I yelled at him to simply say what he was trying to say. A moment, I immediately wished I could take back, because not only did this revelation end my relationship, but it was also the catalyst that launched me into a change in reality. After hearing what he had to say, the immediate truth I chose to believe was that the guy I had spent several years with did not love me, nor did he ever. He wasn’t the man I knew; he was an actor with the role of a lifetime and the regret and remorse he showed for months afterward was his commitment to the character. The truth was though, I knew all along who he really was. I saw it in the way he interacted with the people around him, constantly looking for attention, trying to be the funny guy, the tough guy, the anything but regular guy. I could see how easily he got hurt – his back always up against the wall – constantly feeling like the last call. I knew how he grew up, but even if I didn’t, his pain was etched all over him: in the way he spoke, in the way he behaved, in the way he drank. Pain, over pain, over pain, tattooed all over his body, his attempts at hiding it only making it more transparent. So how couldn’t I see it; how couldn’t I know? I saw it everyday: his efforts to shy away from it, covering it up, any way he could, vice upon vice, his pain only becoming bigger. He buried it, compacted the hole, waiting for the day it would explode. He was a ticking time bomb, self destructing, and revelling in it. It wasn’t about me; it was never about me.
That day clarity made me realize that one of the largest obstacles we are to overcome is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fear, bound with our implicit memory of past experiences, affects the way in which we interact. Insecurities and a need to feel important will often lead us to do things we know we shouldn’t. We hurt the ones we love, for fleeting moments of satisfaction and a boost to the ego. In his novel, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate (2012) explained, “the attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain” (p. 13). By this, I think he means that it’s as if we are in a constant cycle with no way out, whatever we choose to protect ourselves with, only creating more destruction. This can be said regarding love too – for aren’t we all in an internal struggle between, wanting to be loved and cherished and pushing others away, in an attempt to avoid the possibility of being hurt? Since this truth has become so clear to me, I see it everywhere. I see it in my neighbour, burying herself in work, desisting a social life, after her divorce last year. I see it in my brother with the succession of meaningless short-term relationships that came after she gave the ring back. I see it in myself, refusing to let my new guy in, pushing him away and telling myself that he doesn’t mean as much to me as he actually does. I continue to push – even though he hasn’t done anything but show me how gentle a man can be – knowing full well if I go too far, if I keep it up, he’ll be gone for good. Like bombs going off in a battlefield, each person racing to be the one to set them off, as if it’ll make it less painful if we are the ones to control our impending demise. If only we stopped and had hope that maybe the bomb wouldn’t go off. Maybe then we could heal, and find a way out, to somewhere better – somewhere great. But that reality is never in sight, it’s never a possibility, because we never jump all the way in. We hold back, never truly experiencing real elation, or complete love, because of fear. In his novel, The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow (2006) said it well “everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression, if you hold down one thing, you must hold down the adjoining” (p. 25). If we think about this, we know it’s best to feel all the things, than nothing at all, for we cannot pick and choose which emotions we want to experience. Shouldn’t the possibility of great and true love be worth the risk?
I believe that though love does ebb and flow, it is in fact a very strong force, that does not dictate our actions alone, but that is simply another one of many factors that does. Hurt, impacts us in such profound ways, that our natural survival system makes us want to flee vulnerability. Mate (2012) explained that, “the automatic repression of painful emotion is a helpless child’s prime defense mechanism and can enable the child to endure trauma that would otherwise be catastrophic” (p. 65). Naturally, we are beings that operate first and foremost by protecting ourselves from emotional anguish– a defence so innate, that even a child will do so, without provocation or instruction. Because of this, unconscious emotions start dictating our actions and reactions, regardless of intention, and regardless of love. A lot of the time we end up hurting the ones we love most of all, taking their apparent solidified positions in our lives for granted. Pain and unaddressed emotions can sometimes cause us to be unkind; and momentary satisfaction, when contested with guilt and possible backlash, often wins. When confused, or set alone, these things make love seem capricious and cheap. A cynical light can be shone, obliterating the child-like dream of this feeling that we have always yearned for. The truth is though, love is great, rather it could be, but like many things in this world, we mess it up, and make it something that could be ugly. We cheat and hurt each other and hurt ourselves, all in an attempt to feel what – not bad? Love is strong yes, possibly one of the strongest things a person can feel, but pain, pain is stronger, and the fear of experiencing it, well that is love’s biggest contender.
Dr. Mate, G. (2012) In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada.
Carroll, L. (1985) Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishers.
Bellow, S. (2006) The Adventures of Augie March. New York, NY: Viking Press.