Last week, I had a perplexing dream.
That ED (aka my on-again-off-again Epic Disaster of the past) had a starring role was strange enough, but even more disconcerting was my realization that I’ve been having some variation of this dream for the past several months.
Considering it’s been seven years since we parted ways and at least four since I’ve seen him, not to mention how happy I am with my partner Zane, these recurring nocturnal visits are surprising. The details are usually fuzzy in the morning, but what I do know is that in every dream we are together. Sometimes, it’s only briefly. At others, we seem to have picked up where we left off, though even then, much like it played out in reality, I am a reluctant companion burdened by his neediness, wondering how I could still choose to be with him.
In last week’s dream, I had planned a getaway for Zane’s birthday, but as I was handling the last-minute details on the day we were to leave, it was ED’s voice on the other end of the phone, ED who appeared at my doorstep and ED who accompanied me along the winding mountain roads to our eventual destination.
And throughout this entire turn of events, I was baffled. Somehow, in the dream, I knew I was no longer with ED, felt my tense resistance to his proximity, heard the protesting screams in my head. And yet there I was, reliving our strained and lumbering dance and crucifying myself for whatever weakness had once again bound me to his side.
In the past, I was sure such dreams meant I would soon run into him or that he would attempt to contact me, and I would awake as bewildered as I was anxious. The last time we spoke had been four years after I left him standing in a park, finally cutting myself free in a crashing wave of anger and exhaustion, my tears and accusations heaped at the feet that had so carelessly tread across a heart too willingly offered.
When he called, it was out of the blue but with characteristic narcissism, he expected me to be overjoyed, somehow swayed by his insistence that I was the only woman for him and he would do whatever it took to win me back. I almost laughed at the absurdity of his call. But what I was most proud of that day was how composed I remained.
There were no churning emotions as I listened to his words, and when he chose not to hear that I wasn’t the answer to whatever he was seeking, I simply hung up, feeling the sense that, finally, I really had moved on.
To have him haunting my dreams three years later makes me question whether I truly have. It’s not that I feel there are loose ends to tie up or any more words to speak. And I certainly don’t doubt the depth and certainty of the love Zane and I share. But while puzzling over this most recent dream, it occurred to me that these nighttime visits have very little to do with ED and a whole lot more to do with me. For as I thought about my indignance in every dream at just being in the same room with ED, a feeling that sometimes spilled into my waking hours, I realized that while I had stopped judging him for the person he was and wasn’t in our relationship, I was still berating myself for the five years I felt I’d mostly squandered with him.
After all the hours of emotional release and excavation, and all the weekends devoted to self-empowerment, here was yet another layer of healing calling for attention. I’d like to think I have forgiven ED, that my easy detachment in that long-ago phone call was a sign of it. But last week, emerging from the shroud of yet another unsettling dream, I realized I had yet to fully forgive myself. The evidence, I saw, was in the way fleeting thoughts of him over the years often unraveled into a quiet lambasting of the things I should and shouldn’t have done, the ways I should and shouldn’t have been.
I know I am not the same woman I was when I met ED, a charismatic man-child running from a tragic boyhood, a history that should have been as much of a warning sign to me as his admitted record of troubled relationships. I am no longer the woman who dove in despite the scent of danger, who opened herself to the razor’s edge and believed that love would somehow triumph even when he pushed me away, when he cheated, when he exalted my presence in his life with the same tongue that sought to deny its significance. Today, knowing that version of myself even existed makes me cringe.
Yet all the chaos and heartbreak did ultimately serve a purpose. In the aftermath, it would have been easy to focus on everything ED did wrong. But I would also be forced to face my own weaknesses and flaws, to confront my fears and a past that I, too, had been avoiding. ED was my launching pad into the life I have now, the beginning of a transformational journey that we perhaps never stop traveling.
This recent invitation to self-forgiveness is but another step along that path. It may not come easily, but I’m willing to start here and now. And so I forgive myself for choosing to settle for anything less than whole and equal love, for myself and from another. I forgive myself for overlooking the blatant warning signs, for choosing to live with the stain of each tarnished promise of change, for making excuses for the inexcusable. I forgive myself for swallowing my voice, surrendering my self-respect and stifling the pain that was only nudging me to an awareness of my deep unhappiness. And realizing that we are not born with relationship roadmaps, nor are most of us taught how to build and sustain healthy partnerships — and without such a model in my own life growing up — I accept that, with ED, I did the best I could.
Perhaps we both did, playing out unconsciously familiar patterns that brought with their sting an opportunity, too: to trim back the shadows in which we hid and bring more of our light to the world. That may well be our highest calling in our most challenging relationships, but whether we seize that chance while in their tempestuous throes or after we’ve moved on, forgiving ourselves is essential to freeing our hearts to be open to the better tomorrows that beckon and the greater love that awaits.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times