Eight years ago, I was 24 and tattered, in the almost-end of a three year noxious, helter-skelter relationship with a woman eleven years older than me. Too many months of her reckless chaos—of her drug binges and jobs lost and arrests and suicide threats and promises that I was her only, greatest, last hope for a happy life, and truest, deepest love always followed with accusations that I was really her very worst, sworn enemy, to blame for every one of her failings—broke me. My teenage anorexia came screaming back. Or maybe I went screaming back to it. It’s hard to say. Months of nothing but protein shakes and broccoli and hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of mill treaded, and I hyperventilated my way into a local eating disorder outpatient treatment program. My therapist there listened compassionately to me detail the past and the present nightmare of my relationship, week after week after week.
One day, just before the hour was up, she said something like, “You know, you can come back here next week, and every week after that for the next six months and tell me the same things about how miserable you are with her, and what exasperating new thing she’s done now. Or you could go home and do something to change your life. You could come here next week with a new story to tell about yourself and your future.”
What she said was simple, and obvious, and my mind was completely blown.
I desperately wanted to tell a new story.
So, I embraced her challenge. I went home and I ended the relationship.
And just like that, I released myself from the crazy-making cycle of manipulation and emotional abuse. I gave my girlfriend’s chaos back to her. I had my own mess to clean up of course and I could finally really do that once I stopped chasing her tornado. Thank goodness for all of that because, a few months later, I started dating the person I would marry, with whom I would create a family and the kind of calm(-ish), nourishing life that I had wanted all along. Of course it wasn’t easy, not the breakup nor the building and maintaining something new and healthy with someone else—those struggles could fill two books—but the lesson I learned was that I’m not responsible for anyone’s actions but my own. I have no control over the way people in my life behave, but I have total control over how I react and what I accept, and whether or not people are in my life at all.
The stretch of road I was driving when “embrace and release” bubbled up to the surface in my ceaselessly roiling mind back then was one that I had driven almost every day of my adult life in Atlanta, which also meant that every triumph and heartache and the messes in between had each been mulled to a pulp up and down it, sometimes many times over. “Embrace and release.” Each word seemed important on its own but also as part of two halves of a whole mantra. Applied to the imbroglio of my life, these words gave me a sense of order. They seemed to be a prescription or a raw sketch of what I had to do to get the life I wanted. I’m not a religious person but I do believe in the power of revelation and meditation. “Embrace and release” became my own little silent, powerful prayer to get me through and vault me out of that tumultuous period and others that have followed.
To embrace is to first make a decision to open up to someone or something. Next, there’s the physical or emotional taking in of that someone or something. Then, the letting go. Without the letting go, an embrace turns toxic. It becomes a death grip or a codependency or a disorder. But letting go isn’t easy, or it isn’t for me anyway. I tend to hang on to people, painful memories, negative feelings, and coping mechanisms long after they have ceased working for me or added to my life in any way. I need to remind myself to release. (Embrace aaaaaand release…. Ahem. I said, RELEASE!) Lately, I’ve gotten really good at choosing the right, healthy things and people to embrace. I still need a lot more work on the releasing part, hence the drop of the “and” in my blog title. Embrace release. Open up, let people in, let go. Again and again.
After years of yearning, I’m throwing open my arms and embracing my dream of being a writer. Every time I hit “post,” I’ve had to take deep yogic breaths and release the fear of failure that has kept me silent for so long. (Not that I don’t continue to hover over my posts, obsessively and tediously adding and deleting words and commas and whole paragraphs.) The support I’ve already received for my meager efforts here from family, friends, other writers, and perfect strangers has been overwhelming. It turns out that opening up and sharing honest, sometimes hard, old stories can lead to connections with people that actually feel really amazing, connections that can lead to all kinds of wonderful, new stories to tell.
Thank you all so much. My mind is once again completely, happily blown.