As I know I've said in these entries several times, there's nothing like an annual holiday to help you mark the days and see the changes that each year brings. This year and this Valentine's Day is no different.
"Facebook Memories" saw fit to remind me this morning of what I think was probably my favourite Valentine's Day, ever. Just look how freaking happy I am!
And isn't it interesting how my favourite Valentine's Day memory doesn't involve a romantic partner, but was with one of my "besties", Lisa (and her very patient husband – and our photographer for the day – Paul)?
Earlier that year, another good friend, Shannon (we met over vaginas, as I like to tell everyone, in the 2012 production of The Vagina Monologues, raising money for the Women & Children's Shelter of Barrie), had taken on the task of organizing the Barrie branch of One Billion Rising, and invited me to participate. Somehow, I was crazy enough to agree – and when she heard that Alyssa The Hermit was actually going to DANCE in public, Lisa offered to join me for moral support... and wine... and the chauffeur services of her hubby [edit: I forgot to mention the grilled cheese dinner!]. At least, I think it was for moral support – perhaps it was to make sure I didn't chicken out and run back to my blanket fort.
Because at the time of announcing I would be dancing, I had spent a lot of time in that damned blanket fort. I had finally reached the end of a harrowing multi-year (it could even be considered multi-decade) legal battle that had been dredging up an ocean of family gunk and ancient pain for me – and once the adrenaline of the fight left me, it was a time of overwhelming grief, compounded by the fact that the final "victory" was contingent upon my remaining silent about the details of the case – even from the grave, those who had deliberately caused me harm were still controlling what I could and can say in public about all that I had been dealing with at the time. Just as we were reaching the finish line, my then-newly-minted husband was undergoing cancer treatment. And then once all the documents were signed, hubby's health was cleared, and the family had celebrated, there was the news that my abusive ex had died – and I was as unprepared for the emotions surrounding his death as I had been in 1993 when my by-then-long-estranged father had died. Shortly after that came the Gatekeeper Incident, which pummelled me through the fall, the holiday season and beyond. I had been an emotional wreck. And yet... things had just started to turn around.
I had finally started emerging from that deep depression, after spending much time and energy working out all (all? ha ha ha...) the old crap that had arisen. Inspired in part by the Gatekeeper Incident, I was going head-on full-force with creating the Katie Project with some super-supportive friends who had agreed to join the founding board. My aforementioned husband was heading off to a 30-day workshop out west that he was convinced would help him with some of the issues he'd been dealing with – which had been negatively affecting our marriage as well. I had hope, I had direction, I had confidence, I was making things happen, I was getting things done, I was finding my voice, I was using it to help support others and to make waves – I WAS FRIGGING DANCING IN PUBLIC!!!! I felt amazing, I felt like I could do anything, I felt like the puzzle pieces of my life were finally all falling into place, and I had joy and hope for the first time in years. I WAS ON TOP OF THE WORLD!!!!!
In the immortal words of... er... me: "Do you see where this is going? Because I didn't see where this was going."
How could I have possibly known that only a few hours after the triumphant (if not talented) public dancing of Valentine's Day, 2013, I would start to notice that some of those puzzle pieces weren't fitting right? (Yet still tell myself that the azure sky piece not seeming to fit next to the giraffe piece was merely my warped perception, and certainly not reality...) How could I have possibly known that just over a month later, all those pieces would come crashing to the floor, later to be shot at me with a bazooka? That the following Valentine's Day, I would be trying so desperately to pretend the intervening year hadn't happened, and "start fresh" in a new home with new scenery – but with the very same jumbled puzzle pieces and bazooka? That the next two Valentine's Days would be spent as exercises in bitter disappointment – going for the fancy restaurant dinner and bottle of Amarone, eagerly longing for that night to be different, to somehow feel a connection, to feel hope, to feel seen and cared for, only to watch that Amarone get drained and feel my own anxiety rise as I tap-danced over the eggshells, hoping I wouldn't say the wrong thing to set him off, trying to sound interested as he spent our "special dinner" ranting over Romney or Harper or Ford or whoever his hated-political-figure-du-jour was that night (du nuit?), only to come home and have him open another bottle of something and feel the life drain from my soul? Or that by the fourth Valentine's Day, I would decide it was cheaper and far less angst-ridden to skip the fancy dinner and simply be ignored by a drunk at my own dinner table until I went to hide in the bathroom to silently cry for half an hour, then grunt goodnight and go off to our separate bedrooms, when I would sneak my own bottle of something to my room so that I could cuddle the dogs and numb myself to the fact that I was miserable and looking forward to death?
Nope. Look at that photo. I did not see where this was going. I was oblivious to the deception and betrayal already happening even as that camera shutter clicked – not to mention the next four years of repetitions and repercussions.
I was on top of the world.
But... there's nothing like an annual holiday to mark the days and see the changes that each year brings... And whoooeeeee, this year has brought so very many changes. I can feel my shoulders, for one. And I'm dancing again (though not in public – you're welcome). And creating again. And bursting into spontaneous grinning for no apparent reason. And have already spent most of 2018 – including Valentine's Day – feeling like I'm either madly in love or somebody spiked my tea.
Because I am madly in love.
Just not with somebody else. I'm in love with my life. I'm in love with my SELF.
I won't say I'm on top of the world again, because I don't think I trust that pedestal any more. I'm not on top of the world. I'm in the heart of the world. I'm in my own heart.
And sure, I'm once again trying to support and advocate and change the world – but I'm also allowing myself to take days when I don't do any of that, when I take care of me. I'm putting on my own oxygen mask first, and then figuring out what I'll do with my remaining resources. I'm going for guilt-free coffee dates with friends. I'm sitting on the balcony dreaming and scheming and not worrying about the to-do list. For the first time in the history of Lyssy-land, I'm taking all that love and care that I used to mindlessly give to others and channelling it into myself (okay, and my dogs...) Which, funnily enough, has given me more time and energy to spend on other people – I've had more spontaneous coffee dates or lunches or visits in the past few months than I'd had in the last decade! I have the energy and brain-space to develop deeper connections with people – and be there for them when they need it, just as I've allowed them to be here for me this year.
I am loved, genuinely loved by so many – no Amarone required. But most importantly, I am loved, genuinely loved, by myself – also no Amarone required!
Today, my friends, is now my favourite Valentine's Day. And, as in that picture from five years ago, no romantic partner is necessary to make it my favourite.
In case the above hasn't made it abundantly clear: In that shiny, happy photo from 2013, the romantic partner is elsewhere... unbeknownst to me, doing very un-loving things (well, un-loving to me, anyhow). In today's Valentines Day 5.0, he's also elsewhere (the very same "elsewhere" as far as I've heard – hope she likes lying cheats), but no longer a romantic partner (well, not to me, anyhow). Similarities and differences. One of the biggest differences being that I've finally realized my perceptions were dead-on about the azure sky and giraffe pieces, that they should never be shot at me from a bazooka, and that I love myself far too much to remain standing frozen in someone else's target range.
If there is anything my life to date has taught me, it is this:
Just because the people who are "supposed" to love you are unable (or unwilling) to treat you with kindness and compassion, doesn't mean that you aren't worthy of being treated with kindness and compassion.
Yes, as I've said before, find your tribe, the people who will love you and treat you with kindness and compassion, but I've got a new bit: Treat yourself that way first, and they'll be a lot easier to scope out. As soon as you decide that you are worthy of love (without needing to tap-dance), you'll both be able to see all the other folks nodding their heads vehemently, and not need to see them nodding their heads vehemently. You don't need any one person's love to "prove" your lovability. You are freaking lovable. The only one you need to prove it is yourself.
Which is not to say that we don't need love.
We just don't need love to be lovable.
To be happy.
To have the best damned Valentine's Day EVER.
So, today, I've been showing my love and appreciation to the most important person in my life: MOI (hope you used your best Miss Piggy voice!).
No superficial flourishes that ring hollow without the follow-through – just treating myself with the loving-kindness I deserve every damned day of the year. Giving myself an extra hour of sleep & snuggle time with the dogs. Relaxed breakfast conversation with visitors (yes, breakfast – with fruit, no less!). Yoga, meditation, reflection, relaxation. Some time outside in the beautiful sunshine. Getting stuff done, but not in a frenzy. Making a spinach quesadilla (no frying, light on the cheese) for lunch. Going for massage therapy (ahhhh). Playing. Creating. Writing. Yes, a teensy bit of accounting, but just a teensy bit. And tonight I treated myself to a delicious organic salmon, put as much garlic in the rice as I felt like (because the dogs don't care), and ate my leafy green salad. Once again, no Amarone required... or even desired. Because I'm treating my body with all the love and care that it deserves. And later, as a special treat, I'm gonna lock myself in the bathroom again – this time to soak in the whirlpool – with bubbles!
I will refrain from being cynical and suggesting that one should remain single for the remainder of ones days in order to enjoy "Happy Hallmark Day" – I'm just saying that love comes in many forms and from many places. And that these types of real love beat fancy-proclamations-of-love-without-the-real-life-follow-up any day. And that loving yourself is the most important love of all.
I mean, I haven't started suddenly floating away on a solitary cloud of sparkly self-love stardust, eschewing all love from others. Hell no!!! OF COURSE it felt good when I was wished "Happy Valentines Day!" in the wee hours of this morning (don't let your imaginations go overboard here, this involved a long distance call from a beloved friend – there's a lot of healing still to do before travelling down that road again!). And again tonight, when I saw my cousin's name appear on my cell phone, and heard him wish me "Happy Valentine's Day... because I knew you'd be someone who understood", and we talked about all sorts of stuff, and reminded each other how much we are loved and lovable and always will be – because we know that each of us really needs to be reminded of that these days. Those wishes made me feel connected and cared for (and hopefully made them feel the same way), and all the lovely things that accompany knowing somebody loves you, that somebody is thinking of you, that somebody cares how you're doing and wants to remind you you are loved – it's just that I didn't *need* to hear that in order to feel secure and happy in my life, or feel like somebody has spiked my tea. My love for myself allows me to be open to the love (romantic or otherwise) I receive from others, and to genuinely reciprocate it. [Interestingly, of these two telephone "bookends" to my day, the first was from someone whose ex-spouse served them with divorce papers on Valentine's Day a couple of years ago, the second just signed their divorce papers this Valentine's Day – the Temple Dog in me wants to go smack some people...]
This is the best Valentine's Day ever, because I've finally stopped all the tap-dancing and eggshell-walking and trying so hard to "earn" love from the people who are incapable of giving it. Because I'm rocking the self-care. And because I'm taking care of myself, I'm able to truly see and soak in all the love that surrounds me. There are, and have always been, people who truly love me – I've just been so consumed trying to "convert" those who can't or won't, I haven't been able to fully recognize it, or relax enough to let it sink in.
"As you give, so shall you receive" – I've always mis-interpreted that to mean that the more love I gave away, the more I'd get in return. And I gave and I gave, hoping that eventually I would give that person enough that they'd deem me worthy of returning a bit my way. And got exhausted, and disillusioned, and bitter, and miserable (and often very, very inebriated). But now I see that what I really needed to do all along (oh click those ruby slippers, darling, click them together three times!!!), was to give *myself* all the love that I needed. Not in the "oh Alyssa, you're perfect in every way and you're awesome and big and strong and blah blah blah" sense, but in the "oh Alyssa, you're so freaking human, and I love you for that and am going to take care of you always" sense. Once I started doing that, started treating myself the way I deserve (and everyone else deserves) to be treated... all the love and caring and compassion just started whooshing in from the outside as well.
I've been spending the last couple of months telling everyone that I feel like I'm falling in love, or somebody must have spiked my tea. I'll give you a hint: nobody has spiked my tea. I've fallen in love. I love myself. I love the life I have created. I love the people who love me. I still love the people who will never be able to love me, I just don't worry about it any more (or think it's my fault).