Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, the dreaded holiday of paper hearts and shattered illusions for women who have experienced betrayal trauma. At this time of year, we are always mindful of the complicated emotions that this date can bring for the women in our community.
I have been thinking a lot about love lately. I remember what my old ideas about romantic love were: I looked up to my parents as the ideal couple. They were high school sweethearts, prom king and queen, and each other’s one and only love. My dad seemed to worship my mom, and he continues to spoil her with expensive presents and fancy dates, even after 40 years of marriage. To me, it always seemed, and still does, that he only has eyes for her.
This youthful ideal cast an unconscious shadow on what I expected my relationship with my husband to look like as I entered marriage. When I learned of my husband’s addiction to pornography after three years of marriage, and his eventual infidelity eight years after that, this comparison with my parents’ love story made my rock-bottom all the deeper.
I was devastated. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I worthy of the kind of love that I saw in my parents, in the movies? Hadn’t I given everything? Hadn’t I said yes every time? Hadn’t I forgiven and supported every time there was an “incident”? Hadn’t I tried to be the perfect wife and mother? After all my trying, my only conclusion could be, that I just wasn’t, would never be, enough. There was something deeply, inherently, unloveable about me. This felt like the most damning, undeniable truth.
It wasn’t until 2 years into working recovery, after full disclosure and my own trauma egg (Step 4/5), that it finally dawned on me. These words from Step Six slapped me square in the face:
“In the past our understanding of such words as giving, helping, and loving had become confused. We gave, helped and loved others only in an effort to change or manipulate them. Our love was conditional; we expected a return on our investment. In turn, we blamed others for not giving us what we expected. Our ulterior motives for loving were hidden, even from ourselves. We did not know how to express our own feelings and needs to others. We did not know how to be responsible for our own happiness. We tried to use the sexaholic (or being skinny, or being successful, or having a perfect house, or sacrificing ourselves for others) to make us happy instead of developing our understanding of God’s presence within us.” -S-Anon 12 Steps, p.64
I had no idea what love even was.
I had no idea how to really love another human being.
I needed my Higher Power to show me.
Since that time, the fundamental practice of my recovery each day comes back to this concept: “developing our understanding of God’s presence within us.”
Through this practice I have found that, at His very most essence, God is Love, and at my very essence, so am I. Discovering and developing that essence within myself was the only thing that could have pulled me away from the deep conviction that I was worthless. Developing that presence within me freed me from the fear that unconsciously led me to use my “giving, helping, and loving others” to manipulate them into thinking I was good. Good enough to be loved.
It’s like this poem from Hafiz states so simply:
We are afraid
Every moment of our lives
We Know Him.
Learning to love with God at my center has given me an entirely new perspective on what love is.
Loving with God at my center means being true to my own heart, body and mind, and speaking my truth and holding boundaries when I feel unsafe.
Loving with God at my center means surrendering my own will and my own ideas of what life or love “should” look like. Instead I find the courage to accept what is with serenity.
Loving with God at my center means seeing the people around me as people with their own deep mysteries, hopes, and dreams…not obstacles or accessories in my own agenda or sweeping self-centered life drama.
Loving with God at my center means opening my heart and being willing to be vulnerable and share my inner world when I feel safe.
Loving with God at my center means taking accountability for my own resentment and doing the work needed to become aware and responsible for my own stuff.
I have had to grieve my old ideas, and mourn the loss of the idealistic dreams of what my love story would look like. This has not been easy, and pop-culture romance movies or comparisons with others can quickly bring back the sting of shattered dreams.
But, I have found a deeper, more grounded satisfaction and joy in embracing the love story I have today. It is, at its heart, a love story between me and God, and as it grows it extends to every meaningful relationship I have in my life. With my spouse or partner. With my child. With my parents. With my in-laws. With my friend.
It’s not flawless, bright, and shiny.
There are no pedestals.
But there is empathy and honesty.
There is true intimacy and mutual respect.
There is personal accountability and there are healthy boundaries.
And there is God, the stable center creating the space for real love to materialize, in its own way, at its own pace, ebbing and flowing one day at a time as I continue to do the work.
This Valentine’s Day, may we all have the strength to let go of our old ways of loving, and wiggle a little more room for God to show us HIS way. It is worth the wiggle. It is worth the work. It is worth the wait.
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