When I was seventeen, I started dating a guy who was 37. I’ll let you take a minute with that if you need one. My first boyfriend, who was, and is, an awesome person, had left for college on the other side of the country, and as irrational as it was, I felt abandoned. I cried my heart out the night he left, and if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know what I mean when I say somewhere inside myself it was as if I was looking through my parents’ closets again and realizing all the corduroys and men’s shoes and denim jackets were gone. He left me, that’s all I could feel. Enter way older man. With roses and phone calls and a total full-court press. I wanted nothing more than to be distracted from my broken heart, even though my sweet boyfriend was calling every day, and talking about Christmas break. Something inside me had shut down to him. He couldn’t reach me anymore. I broke his heart and my own in one sweep. Not that it would have worked out. We were too young and if it hadn’t been college and my inability to trust that a person who leaves might actually come back, it would have been something else. But it was what it was, and this older guy came at me with his attention and his confidence and his power, with his charisma and private plane rides to his place in the Hamptons. With his boat and his cars and his trips whisking me away to St. Barts. Also, my parents are nineteen years apart. Coincidence? Um, no.
I ended up in one of the most painful relationships of my life for three formative years. I was convinced I was in love with him the way you’re convinced of everything at seventeen, but in retrospect I was simply trying to rewrite history. I was hooked, and I went for a devastating ride. My parents individually tried to talk me out of it, but I knew everything then, and they knew nothing. This wasn’t like their relationship, this was different. And I was going to change this guy who had always had trouble being faithful to anyone, who was emotionally distant once he had me, who was scheduled from the moment the alarm went off at 6am, to the moment his eyes closed around midnight. When I would talk to him about wanting some quality time, he would tell me I was lucky to be living in a high rise and heading to the Hamptons on the weekends. But I knew, even then, all the sparkly fancy stuff, all the toys in the world, don’t make up for a lack of connection. I thought eventually he’d see that, he’d see me. I was going to be such an amazing girlfriend, he’d never need to look anywhere else, and in time he’d appreciate what he had. Because of course, other than being in college, I had nothing of my own going on yet. I didn’t know who I was, or what made me happy (getting his attention made me “happy” when I could do it, but it wasn’t really happiness, it was just a fix. He does love me! He does see me!) And there were other women, and times I sat on the floor of his apartment, sobbing like a four year old because I knew, although I couldn’t prove it, until the one time I did. He wasn’t a bad person, just running from his own demons, in pain, and spilling that pain all over the place. I played out so much history with him, when I look back on it, it’s almost remarkable one person could have embodied so many qualities that pushed my buttons and left me feeling raw to my core. I got an early, thorough, heartbreaking crash course in, “The Past is the Past, You Cannot Rewrite It, But You Can Make Yourself Sick Trying.” When it ended, it was painful, brutal and very hard to manage at twenty. It was like re-living every painful thing that had ever happened in my life in Technicolor. I was in my Junior year at college, and while my friends were going to parties and pulling all-nighters, I was struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. He begged me to come back, but he had broken me of the notion that the past can be fixed. I wouldn’t have put it like that at the time, but I understood going back was not an option. All I’d done was make my present unbearable. I walked around in a fog like an accident victim for the better part of a year. I had allowed, created and participated in my own suffering, and the loss of time I could never have back. Not that I regret it, because I learned so much about myself, and I learned it at warp speed. It was the catalyst that set me on the path toward healing, and eventually landed me in a yoga class.
I share this with you because people do it all the time. They walk around with raw pain on the inside. Then they meet a person they’re attracted to, the hormones take over, and they feel healed. At peace. But of course, without work, without soul-searching and sitting with the pain and opening to it, without accepting everything about yourself, it’s a temporary salve and nothing more. When the party’s over and reality starts creeping back in, any pain that was there before will be there again. You can push it down, run from it, deny it, and try to numb it out, but if you do, your pain owns you. It owns you. And as a result, you will hurt yourself, and everyone around you. You won’t mean to do that, but it’s inevitable. People in pain hurt people. The path to healing is not another person, or shiny stuff. It’s an inward trek you have to take alone. The only question is how long you’re going to wait. Some people never set out. They just act out. And then one day they die. Life does not have to be mostly painful with tiny breaks of light based on circumstance. Life can be beautiful even when it’s painful if you open to it. There’s something excruciatingly gorgeous in being with things as they are. Your pain will only own you if you run from it. If you turn and face it, if you allow it and accept it, the chains fall off. Wishing that for you so much if you’re shackled, and sending you love, Ally