The Weight of Regret

disciplineregretHere’s the thing: it feels awful when we aren’t treating ourselves well, or we’re allowing ourselves to be treated badly by someone else, and it also feels terrible when we’re treating other people poorly. The number one thing you need in order to be at peace, is the feeling that you’re a good, kind person who’s doing your best. If you know that about yourself, it sets you up to be forgiving when you make mistakes, and it also creates a foundation for you to be forgiving of others. It’s hard for love to exist without the safety of knowing perfection is not expected. It’s not easy to make ourselves vulnerable, or to be completely honest if we fear that the result might be the withdrawal of love.

There are some things that are really not okay, and I’ll spell out a few of them. If you know someone is in love with you, and you don’t feel the same, it’s not okay to accept their gifts, and when I say gifts, I mean literal, physical or material gifts, including jewelry, expensive dinners, new hiking boots you really want, or any number of other goods and services, but I also mean it’s not okay to accept the gifts of their time and energy and tender heart if you don’t feel in your gut that this is the person for you. Sometimes we care about people, we enjoy their company, we have a good time when we hang out, we’re attracted, but there’s just that certain something that is not there. If you allow that to go on for too long, you are literally stealing time away from a person who may not be strong enough to leave you. Time they could be spending getting over you and moving on, and possibly finding someone who could and would love them all the way. Everyone deserves to be loved like that. Everyone deserves to be cherished. It’s so hard to walk away from people when we’re in love, or we’re “hooked in”. If you’re the stronger party, putting an end to it and sticking with that is a gift you can give, even though it won’t be readily or happily accepted, but the other party’s well-being and your own integrity hang in the balance.

It’s hard to gift someone their freedom when it means you lose your comfort, because of course it feels great when someone is in love with us. Being adored and cared for and thought of is wonderful, but it kind of stinks if you’re accepting that without feeling it in kind. Further, if you know that’s what you’re doing, you’re not going to feel good about yourself. Shame, self-loathing and regret weigh us down. Most of us have had times when we weren’t feeling good about ourselves, and we let someone treat us poorly because we were desperate for love, or a happy ending. Often, that’s really what we’re doing when we’re stuck in a painful cycle with someone; we’re trying to rewrite ancient history, which cannot be done.

It takes discipline to do the right thing, and to stick with it, for yourself, or someone else. It takes a commitment to feeling good about yourself, whether you’re the person taking advantage of someone’s love, or you’re the person giving when you know in your gut you should be walking out the door. Kidding yourself is a terrible business. The number one relationship in your life is always the one you’re having with yourself. That’s the foundation for all the other relationships. I would protect that relationship fiercely. Allowing yourself to participate in situations that make you doubt your integrity, your kindness and your compassion is a sure way to damage your ability to feel good when you look in the mirror at the end of the day, or lay your head down to sleep at night. Don’t let too much time go by like that.

Sending you love out there,

Ally Hamilton

A Leg is a Leg

lincolnSometimes people come into our lives and there’s an instant and real connection there, but circumstances prevent us from exploring it. There’s no need to agonize over this. You can’t pursue every road; life is full of choices. There’s a reason we have the word “bittersweet.” Also, understand that there are times we idealize someone, or the feeling we have when we’re with them, simply because we’ll never get to really test it. Fantasy is easy, even with a real bond. Meeting once a decade for tea, or reconnecting on Facebook with someone you knew twenty years ago can bring you back. It can make you feel like you’re in a time warp, but if you really want to know how things would be with someone, you have to be in the foxhole with them at some point. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel like this would have been the person for you, if only things had worked out. Sending messages, meeting at Grand Central Station for an hour-long wistful coffee while you’re in town on business, that’s easy. Holding your baby at 3 o’clock in the morning as he’s throwing up for the sixth time in four hours, covering you both in vomit until you finally strip down to your underwear to lessen the laundry load, that’s something. Especially if your partner is there to take shifts with you, to discuss the merits of a trip to the ER, to hold you, too, because you’re on the verge of collapse—that’s when you really know, one way or the other.

Focus on what’s real in your life. Try not to take people for granted, or to be reckless with the heart of someone you say you love. If there are problems, welcome to real relationships. Life will never fail to put challenges in your path, it’s how you handle them that defines your relationship with yourself, and anyone else. It’s easy to lose the thread. You wake up with someone, day in and day out, for weeks, months, years, decades, and it’s easy to stop seeing them. I mean, to really take them in, and not just glance and nod your head like you’ve got it all figured out, because guess what? We’re all changing, all the time. Every single one of us. The person you chose to share your life with ten years ago, is not the same person today, and neither are you. We like to “peg” people, to think we “have them down”, but we’re always in process, and so are they; if you stop paying attention, you’re going to miss a lot, and no one likes to feel unseen or unheard. If two people stop showing up for each other, but continue living under the same roof, you can bet problems will follow.

A relationship exists in the space between you and the other person, whether we’re talking about your partner, your child, your parent, or the person behind the counter at the juice bar. What you put into that space is up to you. If we’re talking about intimate, longterm relationships, you have to be especially mindful about what you’re contributing, because complacency won’t get you there. Boredom, rage, frustration, blame and criticism won’t do it, either. You can’t control other people, or where they are on their own path. You can only do your end, you can only work to keep your side of the street clean, but you can inspire other people to be kind, compassionate, caring and present, by being those things yourself. If they don’t follow suit, if you try to communicate but find it’s falling on deaf ears, you may not be able to walk the distance together. It takes two people to make that third thing beautiful; that third thing being the relationship.

Maybe it can’t work, and that’s hard. It hurts. Depending upon circumstances, it can hurt a lot. If there are children in the picture, for example, it’s brutal, but understand that they live in that space between you and your partner, and if it’s polluted, they’re going to suffer. If you can’t make the space safe, loving, healthy and nurturing, it’s time to come up with a new plan. Turning your attention to fantasy won’t help anyone, but people do it all the time. They allow a flirtation at work to grow into a full-fledged situation, with heated emotion, and lying and desperation. It’s easy to justify poor behavior when you’ve felt discarded or rejected for years, but that just adds to the mess. It involves a whole other person, with all their feelings and complexities. It adds a layer of guilt and shame and hopelessness to a situation that’s already bleak. You really have to go to the source. If you’re unhappy, unfulfilled, misunderstood, it’s time to have a conversation. It’s time to sit down and get real with your partner, who already knows things are not okay. If it’s so bad you’re ready to trade in your integrity, and your ability to feel good about yourself, communication is long overdue. Some things are just not sustainable. Sometimes the foxhole is full of broken promises, dreams, hopes and potential. All that stuff has been shot up over the years, and now it’s time to see if you can piece things back together. If there’s enough there to start again, and start new, as you are now, and maybe you’re going to find that you can’t. But dealing with reality as it is, is always the place to start.

When we struggle in a relationship, we all like to think that things would be different if we had a different partner. And let me say this—maybe you chose someone when you were too young to really know yourself. Maybe you got hitched because you turned thirty and it seemed like the thing to do. Maybe you thought you knew your partner, but found out once you were in it, that so much had been edited out. Maybe you thought you wanted intimacy, but once you had it, you realized it isn’t for you. It isn’t for everyone, and that’s just reality, but if the truth is that if you’re not happy on the inside, finding a new partner won’t fix that. It’ll catch up with you. We can’t run from our pain, or gloss it over, or push it down or numb it out, and expect life to feel good. It won’t. Whatever it is, deal with it. Take it by the horns, and own it, because you don’t have all the time in the world. You want to be at peace, and you want the people you love to be at peace, and you want to be able to face yourself in the mirror when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the day and feel you can look yourself in the eye. These things are really important. There’s no judgement here. People screw up royally, all the time. Someone is making a huge, messy mistake right this second. Sometimes that’s what we need to learn a painful lesson, or own the fact that we’re miserable, and start to make hard choices. So don’t go to self-loathing, because you’ll get stuck there. Just start where you are. Yoga is great for this, by the way. One of the biggest things we work on is the ability to lean into our uncomfortable feelings, and to work with reality as it is, to breathe when we feel challenged, to trust that everything is always in flux, to understand that how we feel now is not how we will always feel, and to pause and listen before we act. When you follow your intuition, the way becomes clear.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

You Define Yourself

A-person-can-grow-onlyThere’s no point trying to make someone “see the light”. First of all, you can never be certain that your ideas or opinions about how things should be are right for anyone but yourself (barring the obvious instances where something is clearly not okay, like when a situation puts someone in emotional or physical danger). We never know what other people need for their growth, nor do any of us have a crystal ball. And for most people, strength comes from having been tested. In other words, even if you can see clearly that a loved one’s course of action will end up causing them pain, you can’t know if that very pain will be the thing that causes them to break open and love themselves at last. Sometimes we need to crash into a brick wall again and again before we decide, “Okay, I’ve got that lesson. Next!”

Some people are blinded by anger and their need to be right. It doesn’t matter what you say. Your logic won’t help. Neither will your patience or compassion. If someone is determined to make you the enemy, to blame you for their unhappiness, there’s nothing you can do, except decide not to participate in the madness. If you engage, defend yourself, try to point out those instances that prove your perspective, you’re still not going to get anywhere. Because if a person needs you to be wrong so they can be right, they will invent the story that backs up their point of view. Trying to communicate is futile, but you can go ahead and exhaust yourself for awhile if you must.

When people are attached to blaming others for the state of their life, they’ve made themselves powerless. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It does not matter what anyone has done to me. I take ownership of my own life. I decide what I’m going to do with what I’ve been given. I rise up, or I allow the past to ruin my present and future. It’s up to me. And it’s up to you. It’s up to all of us. Is blaming other people easier? I don’t really think so. I know it can feel that way for awhile. If we point fingers at other people, we can avoid looking at those places where we still need to heal for a bit longer. But eventually, you’re just on a mountaintop, by yourself, shouting into the wind. Because people can spot bitterness a mile away. You may gain sympathy, but what kind of payoff is that? I’d take empathy over sympathy eight days a week. You define yourself as a victim, or a survivor, it’s a choice.

But sometimes a person is so hurt and so confused and so unable to face their own self-loathing, they just spew venom. You don’t help by standing there with your arms open so you can get covered in it. You do them a disservice that way, and you certainly dishonor your own tender heart. Sometimes you have to leave people on that mountain so they can spit it all out until there’s nothing left but their pain. They might die on that mountain, screaming into the ethers about how wronged they’ve been, or they might climb down that mountain eventually, ready to start again. You can’t control another person’s journey. You can love people with your whole heart. You can wish them well. You can offer tools that have worked for you if they’re even remotely open to listening. But if they’re in the blame/rage/shame cycle, it isn’t likely they’ll be able to hear you, anyway.

I know it can be brutal. If someone is close to you by blood, or through circumstance, it can hurt so much not to be seen clearly. That doesn’t even feel good from a stranger. But you know yourself. As long as you know you’ve done your best and you’re doing your best and you’ve apologized when and where it made sense to do that, as long as you know you’ve shown up with love, and in the best way you know how, then you can look yourself in the eye when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the day. Life is too short and too precious to spend a lot of your time and energy trying to rewrite someone else’s story. You have your own horizon to look toward. And you get to choose the path as you walk toward it, and you also get to choose the way you walk it. That’s enough, and that’s a lot. Sending you love. Ally Hamilton