“Well, there’s a rose in a fisted glove…” – Stephen Stills
From the age 19 until about 27, I lived alone, and I liked it. I didn’t particularly like being around people for long periods of time, and I was perfectly okay with that. Around 2011, when my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I decided we should try living together, I was really scared. I didn’t know how I was going to look at someone all the time and not want to strangle them. I was also sure that after a few days he would get tired of looking at me and find some thinner, more interesting, more beautiful girl with less hang-ups. I was petrified of living with him: not because I didn’t think I could love him enough, but because I was really scared I COULD love him enough. This probably would not end well for me.
It was about one week before I was set to move into his apartment, and I get the call that my father was in ICU…five hours away. I felt completely paralyzed with fear, and suddenly felt like all these stacked boxes in my apartment were going to tumble onto my chest and suffocate me. My then-boyfriend, now-husband offered to finish packing me up, and if I wasn’t home before the 1st, he would move all of my things for me.
On February 23rd of that year, my father did pass away, and as promised my husband and his family packed and moved me into his apartment. A few days after my father’s funeral, I made the five hour drive back to my new home feeling like emotional carpet-burn. I was scared to move in with him before, and now we just added grief to the long list of things I thought were wrong with me. I could try to hide those other undesirable parts of myself, but I didn’t really have the emotional fortitude to be anything but a massive ball of bereavement. I walked into my new apartment to see stacks of boxes filled with my life in neat columns against the wall, and I felt struck with brief panic.
How as I going to unpack all of this? Where would I even begin?
I saw my husband standing in front of my literal and figurative baggage with open arms, warmly smiling. In that moment, I had to make the choice between shutting down and falling into those arms. I was really good at shutting down because being with someone (anyone) never really felt safe. It was much easier to just avoid all human interaction than deal with the belief that I didn’t trust anyone, including myself, to catch me. In that moment I chose to fall, and I’m grateful everyday that those arms were and continue being a soft place to land.
Loving anyone (husband, family, friends, and yourself) means making that same choice. Do I shut down or do I open up? We get our boundaries confused with this choice sometimes. We think that if we choose to open up to someone that it gives them the power to do whatever they want to with us, but that’s just another way we’ve learned to avoid love, compassion, and vulnerability. We can look in the mirror and tell ourselves we are so loving and we would be SO MUCH MORE loving if it weren’t for all of those shut down people that are out there. Yet, I remember walking through the door of my apartment and seeing my husband’s open arms, and I melted. Open arms have that effect on people. Your willingness to be vulnerable can move mountains.
Everyday, I have to make the choice to go to those arms and keep mine open as well, and let him love me the way I want, the way I didn’t think I could ever get. My mind can do a lot of convincing that it isn’t safe to be open, that it isn’t wise to fall, or that I need to wait for an obvious sign that these people are going to catch me. Yet, when I get really still, I notice that my trust (or lack thereof) of others is intimately tied up in trust of myself. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, because I would pile so much guilt and blame on myself if it didn’t work out.
If I open up and there is no one to receive me, can I receive myself? If one day I don’t fall into my husband’s arms and fall face first in the dirt, do I compassionately pick myself up…or do I berate, and judge myself? Do I say, “I told you so.”? Do I say, “Never again.”?
Can I be my own soft place to land? Then, I can begin to know love.