On Love, or Why I Decided to Go to Therapy

I’m building walls again.

I thought I’d kicked the habit, but I guess not.

I’m building walls so I can hide. I’m looking for ways to feel safe, to protect myself from a constant feeling of hopelessness. I’m buildings walls that scream, “I don’t care,” because if I don’t care then I can’t hurt. If I can build my walls tall enough, if I can hide behind trap doors and drawbridges, maybe I can avoid the feeling of nakedness that comes with the deepest forms of human connection.

Because I’ve lost that connection with people I love. And I don’t know if I’m courageous enough to seek it out again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. The fluidity of how we use the word love to describe emotions about people, animals, things, and ideas. I’ve been thinking about what it means to fall in love, to be in love, to stay in love. All of those are different, and it’s fascinating to me.

Love is a verb. We never talk about that.

Along the way, that’s what I forgot. I forgot that love means doing. It’s a demonstration, physically or verbally, of becoming part of someone’s life and allowing others to become part of one’s own life. It is a way of being towards oneself and others. I think that I haven’t been very good at loving. I have certainly not been good at loving myself, which I think is why I’ve lost track of what it means to love.

I’m building walls because I’m in a process of coming to terms with my choices. And it’s hard.

I was 17 when I fell in love for the first time. The subject of my affection sat on the couch next to me, talking about something that I have since forgotten. I remember that at one point I stopped listening because my breath had caught in my throat, there were butterflies in my stomach, and I was filled with an instinctive drive to hold, protect, and give the world. I’d never felt anything like that before. Oh, I thought. This is love.

I was 18 when love brought me to tears for the first time. When I cried, it was out of despair at not being able to hold tightly enough, do enough, give enough, and adequately express all of my emotions. I was simply not ready to give up what I was giving up.

I was 21 when love scared me for the first time. I realized the feelings I’d called love had taken a different tone. They nagged, reminding me that they were not what they had once been. Those feelings had changed. I learned that with love sometimes comes rejection. I didn’t know how to respond and I didn’t know how to keep asking.

I was 22 when a coworker helped me make the connection between love as an idea and love as a verb. Love became action. It became deliberate demonstration of meaning, of care, of kindness. Love literally grew and blossomed because of attention to the way that thoughts become feelings, feelings become ideas, and ideas become actions. Love was not just evident, but tangible.

I was 24 when love scared me for the second time. I hid behind walls that love had steadily been tearing down from the time I was 17. Afraid of hurting and being hurt, I put up walls to avoid the former. I tried to forget about the latter.

At 26 I realized that I’d forgotten about a key element to love. I’d forgotten about loving myself. And as a result, I couldn’t act in love the way I needed to. All the hurt I’d hoped to avoid came crashing down and manifested in ways I never imagined.

A friend once called me guarded. I am. I have spent 26 years trying to do what is best for others. In doing so, I neglected myself.

Sometimes I remember to approach myself with compassion, which can be really difficult for me. But I have learned that without being good for myself, there is simply not enough of me to also be good for others.

So I’m trying to be good to myself. I’m trying to do what is right for me, at least when I think I know what that is. I’ve taken probably three steps back for every step forward, but at least there’s still forward momentum.

This is why I decided to go to therapy.

I decided to go to therapy because I’d reached a point where my inability to cope with the sadness I’ve been feeling in my personal life was interfering with my ability to direct my efforts towards areas that truly matter to me. Things like the state of the US right now, or developing a more peaceful world. Thinking about, learning about, discussing, and working towards change is the work I want to be doing. That’s the work that gives me the greatest sense of empowerment and self-efficacy.

I’ve been struggling to direct my energies towards that with everything else on my mind, so I’m going to therapy as a way of getting outside my own head and back into what matters.

This may be the most compassionate thing I have ever done for myself. It is also likely one of the most important.

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. – Buddha

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