“But what if the greatest secret insider trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?” -Anne Lamott
The scary thing about books is that sometimes the characters jump clean out of the pages and into your life. This is what happened the other day when I was innocently reading and looked up to find one of my favourite writers, Anne Lamott herself, in my living room: she didn’t even take her shoes off before she came in, and she had to audacity to snoop around… in my very soul!
I’m reading her book Stitches and she is talking about enduring the pain of private cataclysms, ironically very not-privately invading my insecurities: “we have agreed to pretend to be fine again at some point, ideally as soon as possible, so as not to seem self-indulgent or embarrass anybody. Then people can get on with their lives.”
Her words startle me out of my usual manner of reading along in agreement. Wait, what? Anne, I don’t want to be fine for other people, I want to be fine for me! I want to feel normal again, of course I do. Whole. Healed. Moved on. Unbroken. I know there’s no rush, but it is true that I did, I do, want to be fine again as soon as possible.
But if I’m being honest, I have been in a rush. When I began my journey of rebuilding, my trusty handbook told me most people took 18 months – 2 years to feel like they’d made it through the healing process after their relationship ends. I thought “there’s no way it’s gonna take me that long. I’m gonna smash this.” It took me three. Three years, twice the prescribed amount of time, to really feel like I’d made it through the darkness, completed the quest, like I’d finally actually maybe “gotten over it.”
Also if I’m being honest, I do feel guilty about taking too long. Taking up too much more of anyone’s sympathy, support or time. I wonder how many friends I’ve lost to emotional attrition already. I do just want everyone to get on with their lives… including me.
But what if I still haven’t gotten over it? Cue the pins and needles of fear. Real talk, Anne: what if I never get over it?
Anne Lamott sits down next to me on the squishy old beige apartment couch, leans in almost too close, lowers her voice and practically whispers, “But what if the greatest secret insider trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?”
My eyes go wide as my internal “Inside Out” characters are looking around at each other, stunned (all except Sadness, she gets it). What if… she’s right? What if, in rushing to get over it, I’ve risked losing something along the way?
Anne leans back, smiles as my temporary roommate’s adorable white cat head-butts her ankle, reaches down to stroke the cat’s head and continues: “The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to.”
My mind jumps back in time a few weeks to a coffee date (yes, I go on dates, sometimes… ok, rarely). We are talking about life stuff, as you do, he has asked me a question about my life, and as I am trying to figure out how to answer without going full marriage apocalypse on him he says those most dreadful words, “I read your blog… if that helps.”
“That is… useful information,” I say slowly; I’m stalling. The inner alarm bells are going off and all of the little “Inside Out” characters are running around my brain in a panic.
What did he read? Did he read that blog post? Of course he means that blog post! Oh, no, what does he think of me? Of course it’s publicly available and anyone can read it so it’s totally fine that he read it and it’s actually kind of flattering that he cared enough to read it but what do I say now in order to communicate… what do I even want to communicate to him about myself in light of, well, EVERYTHING?!? What are those Inside Out characters even DOING seriously guys figure it out!!!
I take a deep breath and respond, “Well that’s all in the past now.”
Even as I said the words I knew something was wrong, inauthentic about them. As though by relegating such an important part of my story to “the past” I was disowning it, and thus disowning a part of myself, somehow.
Because I want to seem normal, unbroken, at least at first? (Isn’t it important to build new relationships on truth, not conveniently comfortable, carefully curated conversations?)
Because if you ask my friends which Inside Out character I’m most like, they would probably say Joy… and I’d like that to be true?
Because I’m afraid of being rejected because of it, because the evidence shows… I’m rejectable?
Because I want to appear as though I’ve gotten over it?
Ah, yes, that’s the one.
Maybe Anne Lamott is right, it’s okay to not get over it. That it’s far better to own it, to use it to help guide my emotional GPS, to wear it properly like a hard-earned scar; rather than attempt to cover it up, bury it, and forever be a little bit haunted by that disenfranchised part of me.
And honestly, if anyone could callously say “I’m over it” to the story I’ve lived… I’m not sure I’d trust them.
I can do all the hard heart work of letting go, moving on, making peace, finding freedom, all that good stuff. But it doesn’t mean I have to “get over it.” “It” is always going to be a part of me. Every superhero has a backstory, after all, and this is part of mine.
Post images from Disney Pixar’s Inside Out