I had to think long and hard about writing this post and truly examine my reason for sharing. Despite having so much of my health info shared on the Internet, you’ll notice that I rarely share other personal information and don’t really talk too much about my personal relationships. Some things are not meant to be shared with the world, and some things aren’t meant to be shared until they’ve ripened to goodness, like a fruit. By waiting to share this story, the fruits of my labors in love have been ripened to a juicy goodness – and I haven’t hesitated to share my apples with the worms. If a worm doesn’t want an apple, it’s poisonous and full of pesticides, and as the following one-sided narrative illustrates, I’m fresh out of Prince Charmings and Snow White is a fairy tale.
A good friend of mine suggested I write about this during one of my many bouts of writer’s block. It just didn’t feel right and my energy wasn’t behind it. Not because it isn’t a good topic, but because I would have poisoned the garden with my anger, without even realizing. The topic? Dating and chronic illness.
Or, back how back in late July/early August 2011, my boyfriend and I broke up
because of cancer.
That’s how I viewed it at the time. That would have been a sensational story to write. But it would have been largely fiction, although that was my immediate perception– and thus reality– at the time. Cancer wasn’t the culprit though; cancer was the catalyst. We broke up because there were problems in the relationship already – my health just forced me to examine them and shine my flashlight on the skeletons in the closet. No longer could I blissfully deny their existence. The skeletons and I could have coexisted, they could have been peacefully buried in a beautiful ceremony that focused on the glory of life and the rest of the relationship, but that’s not how it went down, at all.
Sparks and fire can be a good thing; they’re a good thing when the flame of romance is warming the hearth that is your heart; fire is “bad” when it burns down your house and you’re reduced to living in a cardboard box under a bridge, because you’re heartless, so you’re homeless… (until, of course, you’re living in a beach house in Costa Rica and the cardboard box is but a memory and a funny story about the journey to Costa Rica). My former flame and I went out in a blaze of fury that left both of us hurt for different reasons. He hurt because of the loss; I hurt because of the perceived betrayal.
The day we broke up, he brought his father with him to return some of my things. I prided myself on being unemotional, unfeeling and as cold as a corpse six feet under. Unfortunately, I maintained that act for months after the breakup. I refused to allow myself to feel the impact of the break up and examine the betrayal. I was far from broken-hearted, but underneath, I was seething with anger. He and I would not exchange a single word for over 6 months.
In the meantime, I maintained a sense of normalcy. Few people asked me about what happened because I made the change from Facebook official to free agent as discreetly as possible by taking notes from the Lebron James playbook and doing the exact opposite of what he did.
The ex and I did not speak again until January 31, 2012. I was scheduled to have a laparoscopy, a surgical procedure where they peek in on your ovaries, on February 1. Given the role of the thyroid in women’s reproductive issues, it was difficult to tell if the issues I was having were secondary to the thyroid, or if there was another problem that needed to be addressed. This procedure carried with it the risk of a cystectomy, and there was the possibility that one or both ovaries could be taken, as well.
Given that my reproductive health was a source of contention between he and I, it was only natural that I was nervous about my future that evening. I was thinking into the future, and I was having anxious but understandable thoughts: “What if I lose my ovaries? What if the next man I date isn’t okay with that?” Mind you, I know the answers to these questions. But our brains and our imaginations love to take miles and miles when we entertain them and give them even an inch. As I entered meditation that night, I set my intent upon healing and accepting outcomes. It was then that I received a powerful message.
I was angry with him all these months and that was okay. I accepted that. As soon as I gave myself permission to be angry, I was able to explore the charred remains of the burnt down house. That anger and that fear is where some of those intrusive thoughts about the future came in. I hadn’t let go of the past and I was unwittingly carrying it with me into the future.
I did not accept the outcomes in my relationship. I instead tried to force my will. I felt betrayed because he didn’t act how I thought he should act in that situation. I had not been betrayed at all. He had shown me who he was time and time again before this happened; I just wasn’t listening because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I never considered the realistic implications of his behaviors.
Like a garden will have pests, partners and relationships will have flaws. It’s up to you to decide what you are willing to accept, and more so than that, what you are willing to tolerate. When the pests are killing the garden, it’s past time for an intervention. But is it an intervention to poison your garden to prevent the pests?
I made the decision to live with the pests; I made this decision by completely ignoring them, instead of focusing on managing them. When I was forced to acknowledge them, my garden was a mess, taken over by the worms and weeds. As I hacked through the remains, I never allowed myself to dig down to the roots, much less yank them out. The decision to do nothing is in fact a decision to act.
I did something else that night. I sent him a text message and I told him I forgave him. I also apologized to him. Yes, that’s right. I apologized.
A close girlfriend of mine thought I was nuts. “You did WHAT?!!” she shrieked.
I explained to her exactly what I explained to him – forgiveness doesn’t mean that what he did was right, or a good thing to do. It was douche lord behavior. It doesn’t free him from the consequences of his actions, but it frees me from being a victim and carrying around a poison that I may inadvertently poison my future gardens with. The relationship has been over and will continue to be over, but he’s the one who’s always wondering “what if”- not me. Me doing what I did shows that I used the relationship to evolve; for personal growth, while he continues to use the same self serving, albeit destructive, behavior patterns and wonder why he isn’t seeing different results. I can’t be angry with someone who is so unhappy with themselves that they cannot see outside of the self; I have nothing but compassion now.
That’s what I apologized to him for. I was so caught up in my stress about my health and what he was “doing” to me, that I was acting like him. I didn’t see that his aloof response might actually be a defense mechanism for fear of losing me. He attracted what he feared most by operating from fear instead of love. Love says, “How can I help you get through this?” Fear says, “Let me stay away, because you’re going to leave me.”
I didn’t ask him how I could help him cope with me being in the situation I was in. Much like him, I couldn’t get past myself. Relationships really are a mirror.
Now granted, I am not justifying his behavior– but I don’t have to validate my choice to apologize either. I am sharing because I learned a valuable lesson, not for the purposes of painting a picture of a hero and a villain. Simply put, he wasn’t there for me when I needed him, at all– but I was not on my best behavior either- I was lashing out because I was hurt he wasn’t there.
You shouldn’t have to ask someone you love to be there for you. But rather than assume it’s an act of betrayal, perhaps it would better serve you both if you got your hands dirty, started digging down to the root, and asked them for an honest answer about why they aren’t there.
And you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. In fact, by stepping up and taking responsibility for your role in the situation, however small and seemingly insignificant, you’ll find that most people will leave it at that, unwilling to undergo the kind of brutally honest self examination an exchange like that requires, and are all too happy to let someone else shoulder the “blame”, which deters an argument all together. Me telling myself that the breakup was all because of cancer was in fact my own defense mechanism to avoid undergoing what I knew would be a brutally honest, raw, examination of self that I just wasn’t ready for.
You can’t control what other people do, you can only control your reaction. Anger won’t grow a garden, let alone produce crops that will feed a soul. It’s a proven fact- plants exposed to “angry” music show stunted growth, while plants exposed to classical music grow better.
Nurture is a verb; nurturing requires action. Inaction is action – it’s a decision not to act. Remember that whatever you nurture will flourish and grow, so watch the seeds you’re planting. And manure makes great fertilizer.
And when your boyfriend is a douchebag, be the better person, not the better douchebag. Just saying.