I only wanted to be wonderful, and wonderful is true. In truth, I only really wanted to be wanted by you.
(Damien Rice, “The Rat Within the Grain”)
I wonder what it must be like to love someone who is able to offer empathy, compassion, and kindness in the face of adversity and conflict. It occurs to me that I’ve been seeking out people who are unable to give me those things, perhaps out of habit and routine, perhaps because I hope that I can heal myself as an adult in ways inaccessible to children, but always with the same result: I get stuck in patterns in which I desperately seek out acceptance from people who can barely accept themselves.
What would it be like to walk away when people treat you badly? asks my new therapist, about half an hour into our first session on Monday. I’ve tried, I say. I have panic attacks. My instinct is to explain myself, argue why I deserve to be loved. She pushes: Can you imagine what it would feel like to assume you deserve it, to own the decision to walk away if you don’t get it? And I cannot. I can’t even fathom the idea of not being loved and thinking, Ah, well, too bad. I’ll keep looking until I find someone who can meet my eminently reasonable needs as a human being. This, of course, is a huge fucking problem.
Something else of concern: there’s a reason I have an affinity for Wonder Woman, the arbiter of both feminine strength and feminist justice. If in reality I have neither the will nor the gumption to take anyone to task for their bad behavior, in spirit I find myself wanting to whomp them up-side the head. I want to call people to task, force responsibility upon them, take their lies and their smokescreens and their complete abdication and shove it down their throats until they are mute or, at the very least, stop spewing hate and negativity.
But that’s just a fantasy, and not a very healthy one, at that — the only anger I’ll let myself feel while I wander through an implicitly unjust world making excuses for everyone else and heaping piles of guilt upon my own back. The tattoo of Atlas shrugging that I got in 1999 was supposed to symbolize my refusal to carry those burdens anymore, but in retrospect it seems I’d just grown used to the weight of that world lodged firmly between my shoulder blades. I’m tired of carrying all that shit, but living without it leaves me feeling as though I’ll float away without a burden pushing me down.
I keep coming back to letting go. I can do what I’ve always done — become master at explaining myself in a misguided belief that if I only tell the story the right way, the people who say they love me will change and they will want to take care of me, but that’s a lie. And it’s a lie of the most insidious sort, because it all but guarantees my powerlessness.
I’ve been listening to that Damien Rice song incessantly, hitting the left arrow key on my iPod as the music streams, again and again, through my car’s stereo speakers. I understand, in a way I’ve never quite grasped, the power of a mantra. It’s stupid, it’s silly, it’s pedestrian, the idea that a song could have the power to exact a shift in consciousness, but it’s happening. I think. It’s forcing me to come to terms with all of the things I’ve tried to do — with a good heart, with good intentions, with all the naivete I could muster — simply because I wanted to be loved. And something else, too: it’s helping me to let go, a little bit at a time, of the idea that my wanting to be loved has anything to do with someone else’s ability to love me. I need to disconnect those two things in my mind — my self-worth and comfort from strangers — and place my faith in the realization that I deserve to be loved, and I shouldn’t have to beg for it. In the mean time, though, I’m having one hell of a panic attack.