Confession: For 30 some-odd years, I thought I needed to be important.
How self-focused is that? It’s terribly, terribly needy in every sense. “I need to be important.”
Wow, well, if I needed importance so damned badly, then I have only recently realized how completely vulnerable this leaves me, not to mention, left utterly at the whims of others. How terrifying. That I would place my very contentedness in the control, behaviors, and actions of another. My, my. How terribly deceived I was.
And yet, I have never dropped this belief of needing importance until 36 years of age, only a few weeks back more specifically. No, it’s not entirely gone, but once I recognize I am clinging to importance again, it is becoming easier for me to drop it altogether. For the first time in my life, I have actually contemplated and considered how damning this is to our very existence. I need importance. Jesus Christ… Why would I yield such power away?
I suppose as I backtrack and think about where I must have picked up this belief, we could determine it likely started at infancy. So many of our developmental problems happen at such vulnerable, precious ages. And we pick up the attachment so subtly, so early on, and carry it with us for the rest of our days. Only to find ourselves angry and accusing others of being terrible monsters and evildoers when they don’t fulfill the very detailed and precise ways in which we have decided we need our importance to be fulfilled. We lash out as the loss of importance from others is threatened. We have tremors and terrors, triggers and traumas all based around these attachments we have formed to this idea we have of what we have deluded ourselves into thinking we need.
We become shits.
Ash is a Shit
Let’s talk about how I have recently realized what an absolute shit I was being with my guy. This is prefaced and based on how I first identified a few attachments I have LONG carried within where I have thought I have “needed” different concepts like admiration, appreciation, respect, and importance. Hell, I even wrote a whole whiny post about it here, talking about how I needed to tell my guy of all the things I do for him so that he’ll appreciate me more. (Yes, part of this was my desire to obtain appreciation, and yet the other part is based on me truly hoping to increase his joy through noticing the love that lives in our relationship… but I am getting off the point).
I have been harsh to him. Sometimes warranted, sometimes not. I have called him out and sometimes to my shame, very ruthlessly. I am not one to shy away from saying shit as it is. Mind you, I often will attempt to say those things incredibly gently at first (many times) but when I sense my words are not being digested after multiple attempts, I have a tendency to become inwardly enraged and digress to shoving them down the recipient’s throat. When it gets to that point, my words are usually accurate and honest but delivered without much regard to their emotions in the process.
While I often believe the words I am saying are true, this is unkind to the other party.
My guy seems to have almost no interest in learning himself or others at a deeper level. This conflicts with some of what I value dearly, and so of course, I have often believed it is my duty to bring this discrepancy to light so it may be addressed and the other person (i.e. he) can grow. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but truly, my desire is to see the other person grow. My methods are erroneous, but my intent is good. So, I haven’t fully grasped the realization that you while you may be “right,” you’re still wrong…
A few weeks back, I unleashed on him in one of those not-kind, but good-intended, ways. This was the actual day I finished reading the transformational book I keep talking about, Awareness, by Anthony de Mello. I proceeded to lay into him thick (not the best choice after having about 4 glasses of red wine…):
“You’re basically an asshole. You only see your world, your viewpoint. You keep me boxed into some version of who I used to be instead of welcoming and allowing me to change, grow, and forge my own path. You can be such a selfish dick sometimes!”
It was basically that for about 45 minutes… Major accusatory statements on repeat. Not my finest moment.
I don’t think I need to mention that it didn’t go over too well with him. He went silent (as is his normal response when I’ve just laid into him in such a direct manner). That night, I set up camp in our guest bedroom. I wasn’t going to sleep next to him when I am not wanted… no way, Jose.
The next morning I awoke to an empty house. He had chosen not to do our customary wake-Ash-up-kiss and say goodbye. I was left with a head swimming in slight pains from the red wine and trying to recount the conversation that led to me waking up in a different bed.
Oh… yeah, I said that… Ooh… ouch. Yeah, that was pretty harsh.
Ash owns her Shitty-ness
I proceeded to sit with my thoughts for a while. I began wondering to myself, what is it in me that needs him to be this way? What demands am I making on him that I shouldn’t be making? What attachment am I clinging to that is making me so upset by this?
That’s when it all started clicking…
Ahhh, I “need” him to find me important, to appreciate me. Right now, I am perceiving he doesn’t. He used to compliment me on how awesome I was at work, how smart and strong I was, and would talk about how impressed he was with how quickly I could climb the corporate ladder. He used to brag to his friends that I made more money than him and that I am basically a badass business woman. But now, I was in a place planning to throw it all away in a few short months, and I felt like he wasn’t impressed with me anymore. I wasn’t valuable to him any longer. I recognized that while I am learning to be okay with my decision to leave it all behind, I had been for the past few weeks trying to get him to see me in a new impressive light with my decisions, to show him how brave I was. I was trying to make him see how I was still important so I could have his appreciation back. But my “need” for feeling important was driving everything. This fight, my harsh words the night before…everything.
I got ready that morning and began my hour ½ commute to work, in silence. Contemplating everything that just transpired, once I arrived to work, I parked and text him, asking if we could talk. He called.
It was one of the few times the onus was on me to apologize to him first. But something was different about this apology. Once I realized where my attachment had been in this whole situation, it was clear to me that I could apologize in freedom and not burden myself with this anymore. I could own it clearly and without shame, and acknowledge that I was acting unaware. Yes, I was foolish. 100%, I was an ass. I was being blinded by my attachments. I explained to him how I realized I was clinging to a need for his validation for my choices, and that wasn’t fair to place on him. I explained how I recognized I am trying to force him to assuage some insecurity in me to feel important and appreciated. But that regardless, if he didn’t find me important anymore, that was his freedom to chose and feel that way. I apologized for expecting him to validate the choices I knew I wanted to make and that it was truly unfair of me to expect that he should automatically be on board. I re-emphasized that he is free to have his own opinions of what I am doing with my life, and even more so, he is free to decide if he wants to continue to travel this path with me. He may rather have financial security and we could break up – his choice completely. I didn’t need to have him agree with me. I didn’t need to have him appreciate me or admire me for these choices. I apologized for attaching to the need to feel important by him and subsequently punishing him for not fulfilling that erroneous need in the first place.
I am not going to lie, I am pretty sure he LOVED having heard that I was wrong. While he said he forgave me, he seemed to have prized the “wrong” I did over the next 2 days, still holding it against me. And while this annoyed me at first (OMG, can you not see that I just apologized and owned all of it? Do you not see your part?!), I dropped the expectation of him reacting how I thought he should have reacted and let him free to do with my apology what he wanted. We went about in mostly silence over the next day or two, him escaping to his garage tinkering and building things. But something was different in me about this situation. For the first time, I just let him be, exactly where he was, instead of trying to make it right between us. I already apologized, and I meant every single word. He wants to hold on to anger or hurt? Let him. He is free to do so. I don’t need him to be happy with me. I don’t need him to be okay with me. That is his anger and hurt to work out.
Later that night, we talked again while out in our backyard on the patio. I opened up the conversation, and he obliged, but I was clear if he didn’t want to talk about it, that is fine with me – I’ll go and do my own thing. Thankfully, he chose to talk.
We began discussing for about an hour as he recounted the wrongs done against him. However, this had triggered his anger more and it reached a boiling point. He unleashed on me (in prose). This time, his words were cruel and hateful. I have seen this side to him a few different times over the last 3 years, but I basically handed him the proverbial crowbar and he went to town.
During that conversation, he said some of the most painful things I’ve ever heard from him. I would tell you those in detail, but they wouldn’t make sense without a great deal of background and context. Let’s just say he insulted the very places in me that I have placed the most effort in my life to try to understand or obtain – my inner sacred places. These areas are where my greatest fears lie, my greatest struggles are birthed from, and my greatest strivings are founded. Basically, he insulted me for my methods in my deep search of the truth (implying I am gullible), for my unyielding search to be “happy” (implying I am always unhappy), and for my intentional appreciation of contemplating death – calling me “morbidly obsessed” (This makes me giggle. My fascination with death has nothing to do with the morbidity of it all, but rather on contemplating it to remind myself how short and precious life is).
While he spoke, I merely listened. Yes, tears streamed from my eyes. I calmly asked him to not let the tears distract him, this is just an emotional response to his words, but to please continue. As he went on, bashing and beating me with his words, I had begun mentally packing my bags. For a moment I had never felt so misunderstood in my entire life. He has no idea who I am. I had never felt so alone while in this facade of a “love relationship” with someone. I felt betrayed to finally have learned the truth of what he thought of me after 3 years. I looked over at our big black puppy, Bella (his dog), and began mentally saying my goodbyes to her. In my head, I was packing up my pup, Sammie, and we were driving to Florida (why Florida? I have no clue – perhaps because at one point in my life I was trying to move there to be near beaches). I was gone. Mentally, silently, we were over.
And then I saw a sparrow.
Ordinary bird, lovely little brown bird with white and black markings. It was building its nest in the eave of our roof in a birdhouse previously installed by the lady who owned the house before us. In one moment I was lost in my own emotions, packing my bags and severing the relationship with this man I’ve spent the last 3 years with. In the next, I was watching this sparrow in wonder. Joy in my heart… My heart captivated by the subtle beauty of this creature. For perhaps the first time, I was observing reality. The reality that in this same shared moment, we are ending this relationship, and yet simultaneously this little beautiful sparrow is building its home for its future nestlings. Immediately, I forgot my pains. Everything dropped. I felt removed from the entire situation.
I turned to my guy, wiped my tear-streaked face and simply said, “Thank you for telling me that. Thank you for telling me how you feel.” For somehow I had realized… I don’t have to identify with his words. Sure, he’s misunderstood me – he’s misunderstood the very essence of what I see as “me,” but that is okay. He is free to see me however he wishes. I don’t identify with being obsessed with death. That is not accurate. I don’t identify with being unhappy all the time. That is not accurate. I don’t identify with being a gullible person while seeking the truth. That is not accurate.
Sure, it’s sad he couldn’t see how inaccurate those things were. Sure, it’s unfortunate. But I don’t need him to see them. It is fine that he doesn’t. He is free to see or not see me however he sees fit. It is okay. No matter what, it is okay. I don’t need his approval to follow my curiosities. I don’t need his relationship to assuage some erroneous need for stability. I don’t need his love. I don’t need him or how he may or may not think of me, to be happy. I am content and full of joy at this moment, watching this sparrow, not actively applying the identities he has of me to myself. No, those identities I am being accused of having or told I must put on, they are not mine to wear. I get to choose what I apply to myself. And these are not those that I am willing to put on.
In a moment, I was free. The angst, the pain, the betrayal…dissipated. I was not upset. And even as I write this, no anger or hurt or pain exists in recalling that moment. It happened. It was what it was. And it was sad, but I am not sad.
Freedom. I’m learning a new type of freedom within me. One that doesn’t need appreciation. One that will let our relationship move and flow and breathe just as it will. Together is okay. Apart is okay. We will both be okay. Sure it may be painful at first should we separate, but eventually, we will be okay. Our happiness does not depend on our co-existence or our separation. I can see him and gift him his own freedom to this end as well, and I can love and appreciate him just as I will. I am free to love him despite how he thinks of me. I am free to love him despite if he loves me back, or even likes me. For the first time, I am free to love because my love is not dependent on some blinding need I am asking him to fulfill. No, the sparrow moment helped teach me I am okay. I can be content (or learn to be) with or without him.
Perhaps needless to say, we are still together. Today we are in it and working through the next steps. He is asking himself some deeper questions, and a few calmer, loving conversations have given birth to a little more understanding of one another. However, we also are now both fully aware that we are free, and yet we still choose each other, for today.
Be free, and in your freedom allow others to be free. Don’t attach to some identity others have directly or indirectly applied to you. Don’t attach to some identity you have applied to you. Because you are free to apply it or not, to be that thing today, and choose to not be it tomorrow. Today a businesswoman, tomorrow an artist. Today someone in a relationship, tomorrow someone single. Today employed, tomorrow unemployed. For we are not these things. We are so much more than that. We are free.