Earlier in this decade, when my first marriage ended, I had two significant relationships that each lasted several years. One was with my high school friend (the recovering alcoholic who relapsed) and one with an emotional unavailable graduate student who kept breaking up with me when he got stressed out. Both of these relationships brought me insight and growth as well as considerable pain.
During this time period I also dated a number of other people more casually, each of whom provided a variety of lower-intensity learning experiences. In the part of my online dating profile that asked what I spend a lot of time thinking about, I answered “what is true.”
Through it all I saw my therapist as consistently as I saw any man. Trying to answer that burning question.
Sometimes in these sessions I succumbed to self pity. I would lament the fact that I was ready and available for a relationship while these guys were not. And I talked about how I resented and resisted the notion that our culture tells divorced women that we must “work on our selves” in order to hopefully, finally, one day find men with whom we could have the enduring relationships of our dreams. The relationships we deserved, goddammit. I resented any implication that we divorced women were especially “broken”–that there must be something in us to be fixed otherwise we would not have ended up out here, adrift and alone.
I was vocally pissed at the idea that while I was sitting on the couch “working on myself,” men were doing whatever the hell they wanted, and they never had a problem finding women who would have sex with them or, better still, take care of them emotionally, financially, or in whatever way.
In hindsight, I can see that while my gripes had a grain of truth to them, I was missing the larger point. The larger point is that no one but me is responsible for my happiness. I cannot make other people more enlightened or more available to have good relationships with me. I can’t make romantic, partnered love a priority for another person if that desire is not core to his being.
Gradually, while doing “the work,” I realized that “the work” needed to serve no other purpose other than bringing me peace and clarity of mind–that was the work’s truest benefit and sole aim. I was not a broken person getting fixed to be a better woman or relationship partner, instead the work was learning how to follow a path of my own choice and creation, with grace, conviction, and self-possession, no matter what.
The path was getting clear about why I got divorced, scrupulously clear about what I wanted in my life, clear about how to make decisions that would take me closer to things I desired, and clear about my part in the half-lifetime of decisions I had already made.
Fundamentally, this work was about acceptance. When I understood and accepted myself and my needs, I did not have to or even want to accept people or relationships that were not truly aligned with me. Dating became a whole lot easier when I arrived at this place of clarity and acceptance. I learned how to let go of “potential,” which really meant not right for me right now, gently and gladly.
There is a whole a lot of truth and freedom to be found in the cliched phrase “It’s not you–it’s ME.” But you have to own it and internalize it. You have to feel proud and sure when you say it. Not sheepish.
This journey, I now find, closely parallels my more recent journey to change and end my relationship with alcohol. For years, I resented and resisted the idea that I would have to do the work–any work. I was quietly, stubbornly pissed off that I should have to do something (like stop drinking) that was not necessarily being required of other members of society.
But I was getting in my own way, again.
Now, I am joyfully ditching any notion that I am perhaps a bit broken. That is simply irrelevant, even if it is true. I am ditching the resentment I sometimes feel about doing what must be done. Instead, I am accepting that alcohol is fundamentally unable to provide me with the kind of energy, creativity, connection, and clarity I seek. Drinking alcohol is not aligned with me, and I am finding I can release this habit gladly and freely. It’s not a sacrifice or something I begrudge. I am grateful for the clarity I have gradually been cultivating, about so many things, in recent years.
Alcohol is what it is. I am what I am.
I can’t change alcohol’s true nature, I can only choose whether I let alcohol change me for the worse by taking me off my own path and away from what’s true for me. That choice is no longer acceptable to me, any more than a bad date or an unhealthy relationship would be.
This is true freedom, acceptance, and self-esteem.