From the first meeting of my first Personal Exploration Space:
On page “IX” of Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl says, “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW.” During my recent depression, I relied heavily on the similar stoic saying, “The suffering is in the story.”
In my recent experience (it was over a year ago, but it still feels like yesterday), my friends from my parent’s cult left me without explanation. I know the events that led to it, but their reaction is still inexplicable to me.
A few tortured months later, I realized I was suffering from the negative story: “I am repulsive.” So I spent a lot of time trying to force myself to reject that negative story: “Maybe what they say about me isn’t true…?” This was a step forward. But I haven’t been willing to write a new story. So, instead of a positive story with a period, I have a negative story with a question mark.
I’m addicted to question marks. I enjoy curiosity and exploration, and I allow my addiction because I can see that the vast majority of people don’t question enough. But in a world of pure uncertainty, devoid of periods and exclamation marks, I am not free to say the positive declarative sentences I ought.
I’ve suffered for a year now, trying to get comfortable with allowing the “why” to sit unanswered. “Not all of our questions get answers.” That’s been my work. And there’s no negative narrative there…necessarily…other than them calling me “repulsive” behind my back…and their actions apparently implying that I am disposable…? And there’s that damn question mark on a negative narrative: “Some people say I am repulsive, but maybe not…?”
I loved the people I lost, and for a lot of reasons, I haven’t been willing to tell myself that they were wrong. Probably most of all, I feel that saying something positive about me would be a disrespect or a judgement against them. Who am I to say they’re wrong and I’m right!? So I choose to remain open to hating myself rather than disagreeing with them.
But there is a positive narrative too, that I am resistant to accept. It says that, as much as I loved them and thought I needed those guys, the fact that they responded to me the way that they did, meant that I was not going to find what my heart most needed with them.
The truth is, I can’t judge them. I don’t really know them. I’ve changed a lot in the last year and I don’t know what changes they’ve been through in the last year. The only one thing I know for sure about them is that if I ever screwed up and really needed a friend, they would not (for whatever reason, legitimate or not) be there for me.
That sucks. That hurts. I wanted it to be them. I still do.
I’m tempted to extrapolate a universal principle here and say, “Sometimes we don’t accept the positive messages about our lives because they are more hurtful and scarier than the negative lies we tell ourselves.” And that might be a profound conclusion.
But to bravely take a step back from the principle, the conclusion, the moral of the story…it just hurts. I’m too sad about the loss to learn my lesson quite yet. I can’t put a bow on it. I can’t bury it yet.
And that’s probably why I can’t accept the truer, positive message: I don’t want to accept that this thing is really dead. I still want to hold it and pet it and wish it were alive…pretend it might come back to life…[question mark]
They were important to me and I don’t get to keep them. That sucks. My life is truly better if I don’t keep them. But I’d rather it was just my fault. I’d rather just be broken, defective, repulsive…[question mark].
(But that’s only the hurtful part. There is also the scary part: I didn’t know they were not my people! So how do I know if my current people are my people? Will my current people also leave me? Will my people always be impermanent?
Yes. Of course, yes. Whether by choice or by circumstance or by death, all my relationships are temporary. I’ll need to sit with that.
Maybe that’s my midlife crisis. For most people it’s the impermanence of their own lives. For me, it’s the impermanence of relationship. My current people have proven themselves to be so much more loyal, non-judgmental, empathetic and compassionate than any of my former friends (even that hurts to say, though it’s so obviously true), but even my current friends will not last forever.)
So, no – the suffering is not in the story. The suffering is in the truth. I get suffering in any direction I look, so I guess I should choose the suffering that most vividly mirrors reality. I should pick the suffering that has an end, even if it doesn’t resolve the way I want it to:
Suffering #1 says, “I don’t know why they left me…” and stays the same, suffering forever.
Suffering #2 says, “This new door is open and there are good things in there…” It admits the loss of the past, and is grateful for the death that brings new life…if only I can bear that pain. If only I can sheath the question marks that protect me.