Say It to My Face

There are many ways to leave, and among the most heartbreaking and cruel is the scenario of one person slipping away without a word. You know the story: someone comes home and their loved one has taken all their belongings, and simply vanished. Listeners claim there must have been signs along the way, but isn’t that just putting the blame where it doesn’t belong?

This form of abandonment is not just in love affairs or marriage. It can happen with a best friend, suddenly behaving as if you never existed. It can happen to children who lose a living parent without explanation. It can happen at work, when one slowly realizes they have been excluded, uninvited to the regular gatherings of their peers.

Some people do the slow fade for damage control, constantly excusing themselves from your efforts, or canceling plans at the last minute. Some people never reply to your texts or answer your calls. Some people play nice, even hugging you when you unexpectedly show up somewhere. They politely ask if you are well, but then they slink away as soon as they are able.

We, the exiled, are first confused, even deny that it is happening. Then we ask, “What is happening? Why have you moved away from me?” It is a bitter taste when they refuse to discuss it, or worse, lie to your face in an effort to avoid getting real.

I am not sure why people do this thing, but I know it feels absolutely unnecessary, and much like a giant punch to the throat. The word coward comes to mind. Self-serving. Perhaps self-righteous. Even neglect. Yet, these words are too small to match the harm of such an irresponsible act; this is a choice of dishonesty and chaos and lingering regrets for all parties.

Wait! Am I just too scary to confront? I have been told this is true. So I double down and determine to always be calm, humble enough to hear the difficult truths, and capable of a dignified conversation. I make damn sure I am safe and approachable. I prepare for whatever it is. Please, I beg of you, just tell me.

There is little we can do, though, when we are not given the chance to hear it. And we will spend great spans of time wondering how we became unlovable. Somehow, this person you called friend, this person you trusted, decided you were unworthy of an explanation, and you have been robbed of any opportunity to fix it, or even understand at all.

This is why I promise the people I love that they will never have to wonder. I promise to tell them swiftly and directly what has left me disappointed or angry or hopeless regarding our relationship. I honor people enough to say the difficult things, hopefully with grace and compassion in my voice, but at least some honesty, absolutely looking them straight in the eye.

In order to respect myself, I must respect others. Even those who have done some really bad things, or those I must leave for any reason at all. Especially those who don’t even know what they have done, or if they even did anything. Telling someone in person why you wish to pull away is an act of integrity and courage. Life is not fair, I know. But where is your soul?

Today, I seek champions who feel the way I do. I watch to see how they treat those they leave. I watch to see how they behave when they are left as well.

Perhaps people who leave without explanation are merely weak and undignified. I guess I’ll never know.

The Ferocity of Trust

Whom do I trust? Ultimately, to be honest, no one. Not that I don’t choose to trust certain individuals under particular circumstances. I trust my sister to show up five minutes early. I trust my partner to tell me if he is annoyed. I trust my girlfriends to respond when I reach out.

But I am always aware of how humans are vulnerable and can be manipulated, easily pulled to even subtle levels of dishonesty, small white lies, omissions, and hidden agendas. People can be seduced and pressured, and then they fall. They fall from their own values due to secret longings or most often their fears. It is ridiculous to fully trust people when one has been repeatedly betrayed. I have always trusted too many too much and it was foolish. The lessons and even the trauma never leaves. We become suspicious. We may even project our fears onto those who have every reason to be trusted.

We can ruin our relationships because we refuse to trust, waiting around to prove we are correct in our fears, thus pushing people out. No one likes not being trusted. I have battled with trust for years. I even purposefully put my energy into those I knew could not be trusted just to avoid all the promises I was sure would be broken anyway. No trust, no shock of betrayal.

However, as I grow and build a new life, I can see that trusting no one is deeply painful, bitter and lonely. I have come to see that no one can earn my trust. I must take a measured risk and choose it. I must act as if. I must live without investigating them. Being a detective means learning things I am not supposed to know. And if I am supposed to know, it will naturally surface.

Yes, yes, of course I will be far more discerning now. I will observe the people in my life. I will note who says the very things that give their intentions away. I will recognize when someone tries to reason with me but their actions suggest otherwise, even when they believe themselves. It is impossible to convince me that you are trustworthy, since I have seen beyond a doubt that all people are capable of betrayal. I no longer try to convince myself of their purity or their devotion. I have room for small betrayals now. I still forgive easily, but I know what I will no longer tolerate.

So how do I find joy in such a dark belief?

I am learning that the best way to trust others, a lot or a little, is found in the decision to trust in myself. Trust in my ability to be okay even if. Trust my intuition. Trust the solid boundaries I set. Trust in fate.

If I feel powerless over the choices that others make, I must fall back on who I am. I must remember myself. I remind myself that I am a warrior spirit. I am a fighter with two feet planted. I am a survivor. If the worst happens, I will accept the disappointment; it is not a reflection of my worth. I will pick myself up in the end. I will rebuild. I will eventually thrive beyond any wreckage someone left in their wake. There are some fundamental reasons I will heal: I like myself. I like my life, the one which does not rely upon any singular human. I will continue to live and find joy despite them. And it is a comfort. The beauty I create is soulful. It is not dependent on so-and-so being in it.

I remember that moments of love with another person are a gift. Laughter with my children. Intimacy with my lover. Fragile moments with the elderly, the healers, the magical sprites of the world. These gifts are not meant to be permanent. Even we earthlings are not permanent. And in this way, I can treasure them, instead of clinging to the inane idea that it must always be this good.

When I look back on the people who have left or lied or betrayed my trust, I don’t beat myself up anymore. I gently review the peaks of glory or tenderness we shared. Those things were real too. I can be grateful to have known that part of them that wished to know me and played with me for a while. We will always be a part of each other.

I can have boundaries about what I will allow and take responsibility for the risks I take. I must avoid overly enmeshed relationships. I must declare to my loved ones that they are free agents and not mine to shackle to a self-righteous moralism. Go and do what you will.

Free will is the reality of our time here. I must let others have free will to do as they see fit. It is not my job to judge it or control it. It is my job to be honest in it. I will hold people loosely and show compassion for their journey. If they falter in their trust between us, I can protect myself by showing them forgiveness and compassion. I can cry if it hurts, until it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I understand that to love someone is to accept that they may not always serve my needs, but the divine universe will always provide.

I am able to love you, here, like this, because I trust in the divine orchestration of my life. I trust in myself fiercely.

The Epic Rewards of “No”

There was a time for me when saying “No” was nearly impossible! I recall an old friend asking me almost daily to drive her places, out for the night, over to her lover’s, back to her home, the store, anywhere and everywhere. And I would. Since I was afraid of her, and she must have known this on some level.

But after I became a teacher, my students would take advantage of my kindness (which was really just fear) and chaos would rule my days. Learning to say “no” to younger people was great practice for me because the one thing I needed more than their love was their respect. Eventually, I learned to say no to my peers, and family members, even occasionally beautiful and selfish men as well.

I didn’t have to be mean about it. I could say warmly and confidently, “I am sorry, but no.”

It became almost amusing to practice saying no without apology, to simply own the power vested in me and declare a simple Nope. Sometimes I’d soften it for those I truly liked. “No….(soft warm smile…wince)…sorry.”

Sometimes I was willing to give my reason calmly, but it was important to not give a tone of deference. It was important that the explanation was an act of compassion and not an obligation. It took me a long time to see that people do not always require an explanation.

My students occasionally suggested that I would be the coolest teacher ever should I grant their wish. I learned to reply that I was already entirely cool without their approval. I would even help them to understand that whining repeatedly was a form of manipulation I did not appreciate. This left them puzzled and melancholy, having grown used to their lifetime success at begging.

Saying no takes hutzpah, and that means one must conquer one’s fears in order to do it. Fear of another’s wrath. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being blamed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of causing someone discomfort, and of course fear that people will condemn you and leave you behind. Let’s face it. It happens.

People really do not like hearing “no.”

However, setting boundaries with a clear “no” is fruitful too. People learn that you will not be submissive at the expense of your own needs.

People are less likely to take advantage of you, period.

People will come to know that you are capable of saying Yes, just not every time.

People begin to respect you. People also think twice before pushing too far.

Life becomes fair. Less stressful.

The greatest gift of saying No is that you come to learn who your true friends are. Loyal people don’t go away just because you say no. Even you will like yourself a bit more.

In the social circles of addiction recovery, there is an unwritten code that one should never say no when they are asked to be of service. Addicts are by nature selfish, thus we encourage selflessness as a new behavior.

But in the fellowship of recovering codependents, this rule cannot apply. For codependents spend their lives serving relentless sponges in order to feel needed; and codependents pay for it with their souls, becoming a mere husk, blowing hither and thither at the beck and call of the ones they love.

For saying yes indiscriminately and without regard for one’s own needs is the surest way to resent our loved ones. It creates bitterness and eventually a passive poisoning of any love that once existed.

Here is where the spiritual part comes in…

Because I am certain that my soul is divine, a natural result of intentional communion with the gods, because I recognize my own holy, mysterious and powerful essence, a Yes is often and simply not required. The beauty of this capacity to decline is that no one ever has to wonder if I am secretly feeling burdened, or if I am disrespectfully pretending to comply with feigned affection.

When I say Yes, it is because I wish to say Yes. You can trust me to say what I mean. You won’t need to repeat the annoying question, “Are you sure?”

Please, do not ever say yes to me unless you truly want to, for sayin yes when you want to say no is, according to divine law, a form of dishonesty and cowardice I could not abide.

Say No, and watch me cringe and squirm. I will love you for it.