My father died when I was twenty-three. He was fifty and my parents were married thirty-three years. They had a tumultuous and volatile marriage–with moments of excitement, magic and joy. My father was the typical chauvinist of the fifties. My mother was a borderline personality who abused herself and the family. Through all the turmoil, violence and the miraculous rare moments of tenderness and vulnerability, they stayed together. Loyalty was my father’s mantra. Loyalty. You stay loyal. We’re the family, we’re first. I learned that I had to stay loyal to my family or I was scolded, “You’re a bad, selfish and mean child. Unlovable, and not a good, loving child.” I believed if I left my home, or even loved anyone other than my family, including myself, I was betraying them. I had to love my parents first and foremost.
I have been married for forty-two years. It was a destiny that only God could plan. When I married, the staying became more complicated. My parents wanted to break up my marriage. They wanted my husband to come second, and myself third. I didn’t know who I was supposed to stay with and be loyal to.
I wasn’t ready, able or mature enough for marriage. It only created a war between my husband, family and I. Who was I loyal to? My parents tortured me, day in and day out. Whose house for Thanksgiving? Passover, New Years? Who to visit, who to bring presents for? Should I give my father the attention he wanted over my husband’s needs? Did I hang up on my father when he told me to leave my husband? My parents were the thorn in my side, the blood and the brokenness to understanding love.
The staying in my blood transformed into something else as my marriage progressed. It became an independent road map of self inquiry. What did healthy staying feel like? How did it make me feel alive and true to myself? How did I stay with my own values and needs? This impasse of conflict forced me to create, uncover, strip my ego, my resistance, even my scorn against love. But in the quiet of my heart, the whispers of my soul showed me the fire to stay and find out what true love meant to me. It was my choice, who I stayed and did not stay with.
I lusted to heal what I thought could not be healed: that I was unlovable and could not love. It was painful to draw lines, boundaries and individuate from my family patterns. But the staying, in spite of its dysfunctional origins, gave me a fighting chance. It grew an emotional muscle of persistence and determination, adamant to know true love and fight my parent’s possession over me. It taught me commitment. It taught me self-examination. It taught me to seek out the voice that whispered, love is real. It taught me to seek God’s love through intimacy with another.
In a long-term marriage, you have to learn to become allies to each other’s woundedness, learn compassion, honest expression, vulnerability and trust. So it backfired on my parents, the staying that shamed and bonded me to their empty love. I thirsted to drink in a staying as a porthole to know true love.
My husband and I have gone through loss, two separations, hate, sorrow, hurt, betrayal and the questions, Who are you and why am I with you? I met him at a fraternity party when I was sixteen. At that moment, I saw his sky blue eyes and something said to me, “I’m going to marry him.” I didn’t know why. There was something in his eyes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I saw his soul. On the surface, he was a jock. I was a hippie-artist. We both were highly attracted to each other and highly repelled by each other. We came from different backgrounds; different commonalities. Night and day. oil and water. Tooth and nails. We dated three times. He came to my sweet sixteen and gave me beauty soap. I thought he was a jerk. I didn’t see him after that.
A year after I met him, I returned to Brooklyn College after a semester away at college in Boston. I was going to night school and saw him again. It was nine o’clock at night and there he was, standing on the steps of Boylan Hall. Long hair, moustache, and bell-bottoms. Our eyes met. He asked me, “Do you need a ride home?” I said, “No.” He called me two weeks later. The rest is history.
We learn mostly through example. It is osmosis. What you see and experience in your family’s behavior and beliefs is drilled and branded into your brain, cells and skin. Your body can ache, your bones can rupture from the beliefs you are taught about love. I was taught that you stay, even if you hate the other, even if you are lonely, alone and angry, you stay. You stay even if it damages your self-esteem and worth. Soon, you don’t know where one person ends and the other begins—so you stay—questioning your right to happiness and individuation. This is the pattern of abuse. You stay because it is familiar, loyal and drummed into your brain.
The staying was in my cells. And at the same time, deep inside of me, beyond my understanding, a voice called out to me—love is real. Dig deep, dig far.”
Throughout my practice, I witnessed many of my clients’ desperate need to earn the love of their parents, even if they were dead. They went through relationship after relationship, never satisfied, empty and alone. The push/pull, fight-flight, attachment-detachment, fear and need for intimacy and love is inherent in their humanness. This painful hunger to be loved turns into addiction, chronic illness, depression, anxiety, isolation, and many other imbalances in the mind/body/heart if you resist the journey to go within and mend.
To clarify, I am not encouraging anyone to stay in an abusive relationship, or one that does not bring you any joy. That is another story. However, when abused, you unconsciously seek abuse. It is familiar. Identifying an abusive relationship is mandatory in order to heal. There is a difference between the plight of the human condition and the healing and mending of abuse. Abuse recovery is not easy to forge into. The pain of that experience takes a staying power, to not leave YOURSELF—in order to leave the abuse. And even then you need to learn to stop self-abusing before you can stop choosing others to continue the familiarity of an abusive relationship.
Mostly, the human dilemma is dysfunctional. Our culture, society and families can’t escape abnormalities. There is a “normal” resistance to love and intimacy because there is a surrender, a relinquishing of power/control and a deep vulnerability that comes along with it. Most of us have never been taught honest and authentic transparency. Even those who come from healthy, loving families still experience forms of control, power, conformity and repression—a lack of being accepted. It is difficult to let love in when you have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and even slightly judged or criticized. Our hearts are tender and we build walls.
Sandra Ray, a spiritual teacher and infamous rebirther, once said, “Love brings up everything that is not love.” All the pain of abuse will surface when one finds love. And it takes a lot of staying power not to run. All the mistrust, shame, terror, hurt and rage of what was recorded in our mind/body begins to shift and form scar tissue. How do we learn compassion and let go of what Dr. Tara Brach, author and Buddhist therapist, names “the trance of unworthiness?” How do we allow our most broken feelings, our greatest fears and deepest needs to show themselves and be held in the arms of love and compassion? To stay, listen, receive, surrender, commit, be ordinary, impeccable, vulnerable and imperfect? To stand naked emotionally, your heart on your sleeve with your beloved?
How does love last, romance grow and friendship endure?
True love is a destiny that makes no sense. True love is a journey. True love is a spiritual path. We have people who come and go in our lives that ignite us, challenge us, cause us to feel the deepest core of confusion, pain, love and desire. These are minor player soul mates along the way in life. They wake you up, but they are not meant to stay in your life, only in your heart.
Many believe that true love is entitled, deserved, a certainty. But true love is a calling to first love God, then yourself, then another. Not everyone has the guts, wisdom, understanding of giving and receiving, or ability to be dependent and interdependent. Not everyone knows balance, compassion, commitment, or can identify feelings and expression. True love is a full time job.
True love, the one who comes to you for a higher calling, a lifetime soul mate, emerges when you can see beyond the physical. Like your family or children, a lifetime soul mate is here to help you find your true self and purpose. They are here to break your ego and your limited patterns that come from unrealistic expectations. They’re here to make life hell, and to make life magical, mystical and miraculous.
Today, my husband and I experience more passion, aliveness and intimacy. We had no idea we were soul mates. In fact, for many years we thought, “Are you kidding? Really? What the hell is going on?” But, there was something, a force beyond our control that kept bringing us back to each other. We’d laugh and say, “We’re just flaming co-dependents, terrified, attached at the hip, lonely, immature, crazier than loons.” All the reasons to leave a relationship. But something wiser and more mysterious kept drawing us back. Something kept saying, if we didn’t work it out with each other, we would need to work it out with someone else. Because we knew that we were together for a reason beyond rationale to stay and learn love. An intimate relationship is the microcosm of the macrocosm. It reflects the world’s sorrows and woes, the deep hunger to know another that takes you closer to yourself and God’s love.
A therapist once told my husband and I, “You’ll need to be very creative to figure this relationship out.” We had to live outside of the box, the rules, the have to’s. We had to find our own language, values and purpose together. We had to find ourselves, mature, come back and leave, leave and come back. I had to face all of my family patterns of abuse, addiction, mental disorder, terror, depression and anxiety. I had to strip myself of all my walls in order to break through a heart that had been battered. To heal traumatized emotions is a very painful, physical experience. As is allowing tenderness, trust, loving-kindness, vulnerability and passion to be a real part of my existence. Not a fantasy or an addiction, but something grounded and steadfast.
True love is a journey, not a goal. You don’t find true love like a flash of light. It grows as your soul grows, your heart opens, and you work through your personal Olam Tikkum, the wounded parts that need to be whole. It takes every fiber of your being, every inch of your flesh, every bone of your body to live true love. It is the treasure chest waiting for you at the bottom of the abyss. When you find that one willing to journey through the dark and light of true love –.it becomes a practice, a spiritual path, a continual communication to allow growth, change and for the unknown to exist. It is the most creative and spiritual endeavor of life’s mission.
A Course in Miracles states, “If a light is suddenly turned on while someone is dreaming a fearful dream, he may initially interpret the light itself as part of his dream and be afraid of it.”
It takes time to know when the nightmare has ended and it is safe to love.
For years I could not discern that my husband’s intentions to love me were real. It takes time to know what love truly feels like. We can betray love, betray ourselves and betray others by blaming and judging instead of staying, allowing and growing creatively and spiritually together.
True love is messy, juicy and the most explosively spiritual teacher. Ultimately, I stayed the course.
What repels you the most about your partner?
What does this piece reflect in you?
How much defiance do you have in relationship?
Do you run when someone gets too close?
Do you hide secrets in fear you will be judged and unlovable?
How much can your heart open?
How much does it close up?
Are you willing to face every pain, fear and trigger that your partner sets off?
How does your relationship bring up your family wounds and patterning?
When you truly open your heart and soul, authentically and with vulnerability, it will ignite a fire with the other that matches the eternal flame of God’s light.
Sit with your partner. Breathe. Feel where you are opened or closed. Angry or warm. Happy or sorrowful. See if you can look into the eyes of your beloved without laughing, distracting yourself or going numb. The emotional body will show you the way to intimate communication. The body knows true love… not the head… not rules… not techniques. The body/heart and soul is vulnerable. It is vulnerable to surrender to another. It is terrifying to allow another and say yes, and also set boundaries and say no. It is balanced interchange. That takes maturity and growth. And we cannot do this alone. We need to have another to do this with, or we stay in denial, delusion and fantasy about true love.
Stay… stay for love.