|This essay was featured on ElephantJournal.com on June 13, 2020 under the title “When We Avoid Doing Our Work, We Miss Out on The Lives We’re Meant to Live” at |
I have always had trouble remembering that I am an individual and therefore a separate entity within a relationship when I am dating someone. My body and brain seem to jump to the excellent idea that I am a New! Shiny! Hybrid! of an identity that resulted from the merging of him with me when his love smacked into my love and we thus got to stop being ourselves (which was exhausting, if I’m being honest) and now got to take on the world as a Terminator kind of being never having to be our lonely selves again. (I never saw Terminator, I still feel like this metaphor works, though, so go with me.) I seem to have been humming 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls for the past 14 years.
When you’re 32 and you can no longer avoid staring at your relationship history thanks to Facebook’s adorable way of not letting you forget anything, I’ve been forced to realize that I may not have the healthiest set of patterns in romantic love. This was not an easy conclusion to draw and took many, many instances of crying inappropriately (see: drunkenly) and making unreasonable demands of many exasperated men. When I look at my spotty dating history one thing stands out unfortunately clearly: I have never managed to write while in a relationship. I have existed within a push-pull menage-a-trois between writing and commitment because I can’t live without either (or I have no desire to), so I swing between relationships, finding my writing practice in the spaces between them. I am forced to chalk this up to the routine I have of abandoning myself in the hopes of getting to be someone else with someone else for the duration of the relationship.
Writing, for me, requires going to that place inside myself that is wholly isolated from everyone else. It is the well from which springs my whole personality, art, words and expression of any kind. It is inaccessible to anyone on the outside and sometimes, if I am not careful, can be avoided or not visited by me for (detrimentally) long periods of time. This can happen because of intentional avoidance or because I become so caught up in outside distraction that I forget to do the work of reconnecting with that part of me. Anything can be that distraction — some are better at it than others — vices like shopping, eating, drinking, netflix, social media, but these ones are rather shallow and it’s hard to fool yourself into seeing them as legitimate. The better ones, the ones you can trick yourself into buying into for much, much longer periods of time, are the socially acceptable “adult pursuits” of romantic relationships, career ambitions, motherhood, etc. When pursued from an authentic, grounded, heartfelt place, these pursuits a life do make.
But if you throw yourself into these “smart” pursuits without wisdom and connection and authenticity, they are vapid and draining and soul destroying (I don’t have kids, I’m guessing that’s obvious by now). Full commitment of energy without a connection to your deeper self leads to burn out and dissatisfaction and resentment. And then you blame your life and the areas you decided to put your energy. You may have thought it was virtuous to avoid or ignore the yearnings of your heart, you may have thought that by doing so you’d be rewarded in some way and yet instead feel vacuous and empty, let down and resentful (she says from personal experience). But the only way those pursuits can be affirming and life-giving, is when they’ve been done in conjunction with a captain in connection to her own compass (Yep. I just said that.). This is what I have always been lacking in my own pursuits, whether it be love or travel or career.
And I say that with zero judgement or scorn towards myself. I completely understand because it’s goddamn scary to go to that place and then do it again the next day, and it doesn’t seem to become less scary the more you do it. But this is also what I have discovered, and it is something that I am not good at: I have to force my intellect to trump my emotions in this instance. I am going to be afraid, and then I have to choose to do it anyways. Every. Single. Day.
If you are looking to make these changes for yourself, first you must figure out the way that most easily and efficiently taps you into yourself. For me, it’s writing. Free write, by hand for 30 minutes. One way I can be sure that this is my way and my work is because of the neon sign that is my avoidance and aversion to doing it. I’ll avoid writing like nothing else in my life. I picked up and maintained a yoga practise for three years simply to avoid writing. Do you know how fucking hard it is to start and maintain an exercise practise for three fucking years? Well not very, it turns out, when your sole motivation for doing it is avoiding the one thing you are actually supposed to be doing.
Once you have identified what it is you should be doing (maybe by noticing what it is at all costs that you are finding reason not to do) you need to commit yourself to doing it for 3 days in a row. And just notice how you feel. Really pay attention to how different it feels during these three days compared to the days you’re in avoidance mode. If it doesn’t feel any different, then you probably aren’t doing your actual work. And now, the choice is yours. Now you know what your life requires in order to be fully yours. It is entirely up to you. No one will know if you choose not to do it, many in your life may prefer it if you don’t because you doing your own work will likely reveal to them the work they are avoiding in their own lives (and no one likes to feel inferior). And you will likely get no external rewards if you do decide to do your work. But in the days of doing it and the days of not, you will see what choice is right for you. But a choice it is.
I had to see that I will never be able to trust a relationship — or myself within it — if I am not doing my own work outside of that relationship. It is not the easy way out, it is the goddamn hard as shit way through. It’s identifying what area of your life is less than you anticipated and asking yourself, really truly, why? I liked feeling like a victim, choosing unavailable people to have relationships with and then chalking it up to bad luck. I liked waiting for someone to show up and save me from myself. And I liked running away from myself and towards another person for as long as I did. But here’s the thing: no one is coming, and there is no reward for blind participation. You have to choose to show up for yourself every day if you want the reward of a life well lived. You have to commit to digging out the muck every day, to clearing the slate even when you don’t feel like it, and to committing to yourself first and foremost again and again. If it sounds like it sucks, then I’m describing it accurately. The whole doing it bit does kind of suck, but when you see the alternative, it’s also the only option.