Finding my way home

by Keith Barber

On Monday, I came upon the following entry from my personal journal. The entry is dated May 1, 2011:

“This weekend I discovered a secret.

After getting into a heated argument with Audra Saturday afternoon, I went to that dark, low place inside of me. It took me back to some of the most painful moments in my life. It’s the feeling that’s stirred up every time I feel loss. Audra said she thought we needed to take a break and my fatalistic thinking interpreted her words as, ‘I want to break up.’ “I could feel her slipping away as each agonizing moment passed. Soon, I could feel myself pushing her away, totally conscious of what I was doing and hating myself for doing it. There I was, where I had been so many times before — speaking into a phone with no one listening on the other end. She had hung up. I couldn’t blame her.

“The next hour was complete hell. I must have called her cell phone 10 times. I left two voicemails — the second one was a goodbye. I sent a number of text messages. The final message was a quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson — ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’” I should explain. Audra is my girlfriend. We’ve been dating exactly three months. We had a disagreement that day and I overreacted. From the day we met, we’ve acknowledged our differences. I didn’t realize until that Saturday afternoon I wasn’t coping very well with those differences.

I fell in love fast, and I wanted it to work out so badly with Audra that I placed way too much pressure on the relationship. Love is irrational and makes you do foolish things.

In hindsight, I can see the reasons for the disagreement. I had created an impossible situation where if every moment Audra and I shared didn’t go perfectly, I would interpret that as a harbinger of doom.

I was so frightened of the prospect of things not working out with Audra that I had practically ensured they wouldn’t.

I had to speak with the woman I love. I went to her house and we talked. I apologized for the things I said and the manner in which I said them. She assured me that her idea of “a break” was a couple of days apart at most, that her feelings had not changed. As we talked, my feelings of fear and anxiety subsided, but not completely. I felt physically and emotionally drained, yet peaceful and serene. I mistakenly thought I was in that dark, low place; I was wrong.

The next day, I had the same feeling but stopped associating thoughts of sadness with it. There was no anxiety, only peace. That’s when the secret was revealed.

Last year, I read the book, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, by John Welwood and it made a profound impression upon me. In the book, Welwood offers his advice on relationships and conflict. Welwood explains that conventional wisdom tells us to move toward conflict, not away from it. He agrees with this philosophy, and my life experiences have led me to do the same. Welwood goes on to say the same philosophy applies to our emotional wounds. Most people spend their lives running from their pain, but Welwood says we must move toward the pain and actually inhabit if we hope to receive the enlightenment that none of us are wounded and could never be wounded for our hearts are invincible.

It struck me that the emotional place I went to that Saturday was a childhood wound, and what I perceived as a dark, low place was actually one of the most productive days of my life.

My intense love for Audra brought those old wounds to the surface. But this time, instead of running from the pain by pushing her away, I stood firm and let the pain wash over me. In that moment, I felt connected to everything and everyone in the universe. I was kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more loving and most of all, more vulnerable than I had ever been in my entire life.

I opened up and shared my revelation with Audra on Monday. Perhaps it was the intensity of my feelings, but she asked if we could take a short break. Her words stung, but I handled the news graciously. I hugged and kissed her before going to work. For the next hour, I was trying to understand what was happening inside of me. I began to see that I needed to focus on myself to restore some balance to my life. The time alone was good, but I missed Audra so much.

Around 4:30 p.m. that day, Audra sent a text that read, “Thinking of you.” It brought a huge smile to my face, and restored my faith that all we shared was real. She invited me over for tea that night. As I listened to her express her concerns, I was keenly aware of my emotional state. I sensed a difference in myself. The fear had evaporated, and that allowed me to truly see and hear Audra perhaps for the first time.

She must have picked up on that vibe as well, because she began to soften. We held each other that night, and I was able to tell her that if we lived happily ever after, that would be wonderful. But if we didn’t, we would both survive and hopefully, remain lifelong friends. We returned to that space of absolute love with a newfound strength that would allow us to remain there forever.

Audra and I are still madly in love.

Challenges remain, but we’ve built an incredibly strong foundation and a better emotional vocabulary for resolving conflicts. I believe my story is a perfect illustration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Compensation,” where Emerson essentially makes the case that life is fair. I finally know that my pain is my gift. I will always move towards my pain without an ounce of fear for my heart is not wounded and never could be wounded.