no exceptions acceptance
I settled into my chair at my favorite writing spot – a local coffee shop that has macadamia nut milk as an option for lattes and puts real bacon in their chopped salad – and booted up my laptop.
What am I going to write about today?
Feeling unfocused, I began to click around in my iCloud drive. A folder titled “old writings” caught my eye. Hhhmmm what could be in here? I glanced through the documents – there were letters to old boyfriends, two failed attempts at starting a book, and one titled AC. Oh boy. AC are the initials of an ex-boyfriend… a relationship that forever changed my life; a relationship that almost cost me the trust and closeness in all my other relationships.
Somewhat reluctantly, I clicked on the document to open it…
Lying on the couch surrounded by the clothes that covered our bodies just hours ago, with our faces not even inches apart, legs and arms entangled around one another, eyes staring with an intensity I haven’t felt in years (if ever), my heart beat increases. Not because I’m wrapped in the arms of a man I find so attractive I can’t stop myself from touching him; and not because our bodies are still damp with sweat induced by our passion; but because of fear – a fear that I’ve forgotten how to handle feelings like this, or moreover fear that I’m not ready to learn again. But mostly fear because he isn’t the type of man I’m supposed to be with… I’m 25, he’s 38; he’s divorced; and the kicker – he has one child and another on the way… with a woman he still lives with.
How did I get here?
How did I manage to go against all logic and ignore my brain as it screamed that this was wrong? This isn’t me. I don’t do things like this. I’m a good person. My mind begins to race with fears and questions and doubts… they move so quickly I can barely focus on one long enough to really think about it. And suddenly my mind loses control of the situation and my heart takes back over… and there he is… staring at me with those eyes. The chemistry that sparks between us while our eyes are locked is so intense it tiptoes along uncomfortable. But I can’t look away.
Every now and then we smile.
Every now and then we kiss.
But mostly we just stare.
My eyes explore his beautiful body as I glide my fingertips slowly up his arm and onto his chest. I can feel those three infamous words… three tiny little words that hold more power than any other combination in the English language… I can feel them bubbling up inside of me; clutching at the back of my throat, begging me to set them free.
But I restrain.
I can’t say them. What good will come of it? The complication of the current situation combined with the vulnerability I’m not yet ready to tackle overpowers the hopeless romantic that resides hidden behind the walls I’ve so carefully constructed. Walls he so desperately wants to tear down.
As I walk him to the door, he turns to embrace me one last time. Our goodbyes hold a certain sadness only a forbidden love knows. Because when he leaves, he doesn’t go home to a football game on a big screen TV in an apartment with a refrigerator full of beer. He goes home to the sounds of cartoons on a TV in the family room with a child playing with dolls on the floor while Mommy prepares her bottle. He goes home to a home.
I shut the door and pause for a secret moment as I let my brain acknowledge them just one time…
“I love you.”
I stared at the screen and immediately felt an all-too-familiar sadness. A sadness I’ve spent the last ten years trying to overcome. Tears attempted to well up in my eyes but I denied them. I’ve cried enough over this man. Wait, no – I’ve cried enough over the me who chose to be with this man despite every red flag and proverbial kick in the ass that told me not to. Our two-year relationship flashed before my eyes and I felt another familiar but almost forgotten feeling… one I always experience when I think back on my twenties – I don’t recognize myself.
Those years, those experiences, and those decisions happened. I know they did. But they don’t feel real. Looking back on them is like recalling a movie I saw years ago and have never wanted to watch again. I remember the basic plot but don’t care to re-experience the details.
The details pull up too many questions I’ve never been able to answer. Questions like how? How did I let myself get there? And furthermore, why?
I’ve spent countless moments of self-reflection trying to answer those questions. I’ve had tough conversations with friends – and tougher conversations with my mother – admitting I had completely lost myself and trying desperately to come to grips with all of it… trying desperately to forgive myself. I probably should have talked to a therapist but I never did. Damn pride.
I like to think I’ve moved on. I’ve come to peace with all of it. I’ve forgiven myself. But reading back through that journal from 2009 hurts my heart just enough to question those statements. Because that version of me didn’t stop there. Sadly, that wasn’t her rock bottom. She wreaked havoc on my life for several years to come, leaving that love triangle only to jump into another one.
That girl – that twenty-something version of me – had YEARS of relationships she couldn’t post pictures of… dates she couldn’t bring to family weddings… boyfriends she never saw where they lived. She lied to pretty much everyone in her life, including herself. She cried secretly and quietly in bed at night… alone… despite someone lying next to her. She knew what she was doing, and she did it anyway.
Who was she?? I’ve never been able to reconcile Me Then and Me Now. How can they be the same person?
My work around has always been to view Me Then as a deviation… a short-term abandonment from who I really am. I recognize that she existed but I don’t identify with her. Not at all. She was young and naïve and stupid.
But that doesn’t solve the hows and whys. How did she come into existence? And why? Those questions make room for an army of thoughts I’ve been battling for a decade…
You’re a bad person.
You don’t deserve happiness.
More punishment is coming.
And as I sat there and fought those thoughts with all the positive psychology, personal growth, and spiritual artillery I could muster, I couldn’t help but wonder – do we ever really move on from certain chapters of our life… and certain versions of ourselves?
I know we try to. We try to get over them… put them behind us… leave them in the past. But maybe that isn’t doing them justice.
Maybe they all… and I mean all… require acceptance.
Perhaps I don’t recognize myself from those years because I’ve ostracized her… pretending she wasn’t really me. It’s an easier escape route than claiming her. But by not claiming her, am I really just egging her on… giving her power to fuel all the self-deprecating thoughts of unworthiness?
Maybe instead I should bring her in, recognizing and accepting that she is me. She may have stumbled along the way, but maybe she still moved me forward. Perhaps she played a painful yet necessary part to make me the person I am today.
For everything we have ever been through – everything life has thrown at us and everything we’ve thrown back at life – is all part of our journey. It is our journey.
Maybe moving on isn’t about never looking back, but instead seeing our life as a continuous path. Each step – whether it be forward, sideways, or backwards – was still a step we had to take to progress. There are no deviations.
And true peace… true acceptance… lies in how we view our overall journey. And why. Do we see our path as full of disparate, broken pieces… because that is how we view ourselves? Or do we embrace the path – and every version of ourselves along the way – as always leading us in the right direction?
That’s easier said than done, of course. Accepting ourselves means owning our decisions… and every direction those decisions sent us in. It means understanding that every step of our journey is a step we chose to take; we were not pushed. It means embracing the fact that we are the creators of our life, not the bystanders.
That level of ownership requires pushing through a lot of fear… fear certain versions of ourselves will be judged; fear we will not be understood; fear the complete us will be rejected… ostracized.
But all fear does is cause separation. It is only acceptance that creates connection… first within ourselves, and then with each other.
Maybe if we can accept the many versions of ourselves and start sharing the messy parts of our path, someone will relate. Maybe that someone will then feel less broken. And maybe… just maybe… we will see we are not alone.
And it is with that hope that I take every version of myself – all rolled up into one messy, zig-zagging path – and enter the New Year armed for the first time with total acceptance.