In one of my favorite books, intimacy is defined as “an exchange of affection between two people who are not lying.”
Re-read that a few times. How’s do your insides feel? Sit with that.
Last week I wrote about the journey that has led me to a year (and thirteen days) of being consciously single. What that means is that that exchange of affection needed to take place between me, and the woman I see in the mirror. I needed to learn how to look at her and tell the truth and not look away. We can have staring contests now - I usually win.
I wrote about how afraid I once was to get to that place. Bold aloneness. I got down on my hands and knees and drug myself through the mud so that I could know what it felt like to build my own support structure. Standing firmly in that rooting now, it turns out that there’s an opposite side of the relational spectrum that scares me just as much as being alone did once - letting someone in again.
Navigating a return to life on your own after having been in relationship for some time is no easy feat and it’s a task that I’ve watched people retreat from over and over and over again. Untangling the threads that have woven the tapestry of your joint life can be tedious and pain-staking and that isn’t masked by the reward at the end. I’ve been in that brand of resistance and can recall how viscerally I felt the transition into true aloneness. And now I’m on the other side, witnessing myself in resistance on the opposite face of the coin.
To cultivate true intimacy is to risk. It demands that we become vulnerable in the exposing our soft underbelly. Being in an exchange of the truth - the real truth - with someone else, is to shake up the proverbial snow globe of all of our shame and shadow and perceived unworthiness. It breeds the perfect environment in which to feel pain. In our truth we might be turned away from and rejected - but we might also be claimed.
Last week I was texting my friend Sarah Claire, a brave risk-taker, champion for vulnerability and gifted therapist. I told her about a friend I’ve been growing increasingly fond of over the last few months. “I find myself wanting to connect with him more deeply.” I said more to myself than to her. “I notice that I keep retreating from and rejecting that. Like I don’t want to own it.”
Our back and forth dialogue allowed me to continue to unpack that declaration.
“I’m afraid he won’t/can’t/doesn’t want to/won’t choose to reciprocate.”
“He says no > I’m not good enough > no one that I consciously choose to love is going to love me back”
I stared at the screen having seen myself in these feelings for the first time and thought - “Oh fuck”.
Afraid. I am afraid. I’ve been deeply hurt and rejected by all of the men that I've consciously chosen and allowed to truly see me. We write stories with our wounds. Chapters we’ve long since turned the page on, subconsciously continue to influence what our present selves transcribe. Having my friend ask intelligent questions and hold up a mirror with an invitation to see, revealed that I’m guarding against the cycle of pain I’ve experienced by having revealed myself honestly to someone. In having the opportunity to do that again, red flags emerge from their hiding spaces beneath the surface and try to warn me of impending danger. When I I realize how I’ve been in unconscious patterns of self-preservation that are limiting my fullest expression - I call that an ‘Oh fuck” moment. It’s when you see something you can’t unsee and then have to choose to shift if you want to expand.
“Healed” is not a destination I believe we ever arrive at. Despite the work I’ve done to feel solid ground under my feet without company, I still have deep wounds that tell me subconsciously to build a fortress of protection. I can literally see and feel it in my body. Months of tension in my hips and my belly - bracing muscles that are firing because my body senses vulnerability and goes into “safety” mode. Rather than “to be healed” what we can strive for is heal-ing. The work is to tend to the wounds as they arise, knowing that another will follow and to nurse ourselves gently when they do. I meet those “Oh fuck” moments and even I get down on myself for a second. How the fuck did that get there? I’ve been doing that? I chastise myself just like any of you do - for a moment. And then I allow the information to place a cold compress on my forehead.
But now what, right? Equipped with awareness, what do you do exactly? And how do I allow protection to serve me without preventing true intimacy from entering my life?
I share the narrative with someone I trust. I apply volume to the sensations in a safe home to be held in. I evaluate how I’m deciding what makes me worthy, and I go inward with curiosity around where and when in my life I first decided that I wasn’t. I do that only without obsessing and I stop when I’ve had enough of doing deep work and I watch Grace and Frankie and eat thin mints. I activate practices of pleasure in my own body and allow myself to feel loved by my own hands. I fail at doing all of this and I try again.
Maybe I let him in to see me in my fear and just…see what happens when I admit that I’m afraid. Maybe nothing. But also, maybe something...
In the space between the jump and the free fall, we are alive.
If you're still in the space of building a foundation in your relationship to yourself and separating from another, check out UNPACK and TUNE IN | Breakup.