This is a mantra that I am pretty sure I should have tattooed somewhere, large and conspicuous. Like perhaps my entire forearm so that every time I stick my hand out to greet someone, I get this reminder.
I will admit, I have NOT done the above. Loneliness, the need to belong, the need to be a part of something or someone else’s life has driven most, if not all of my social and dating interaction. And the worst part was, I couldn’t and refused to admit that I was even lonely.
I would make these broad sweeping proclamations:
“I LIKE being alone.”
“I am better alone.”
“I do not like people all that much anyway.”
And, at times, all of the above have been true for me. But they are, in the end, just statements. If you took a second to look at my behavior, then you would really see the truth. The truth, the ugly, painful truth is that over the course of my lifetime, I have done a lot of fucked up shit with a ton of toxic people just to be a part of...
I will admit, it was hard to walk. I mean in a couple of those relationships, I told what was true for me and they walked, thereby making it not really my choice anymore. And for the most part, I am better for their leaving. There is one who I miss but the fact that she only got mad and demanded an explanation and then argued with me about my reasons, is all I have to remember when I think I want to pick up the phone and call her, which is often.
Toxic isn’t a condemnation although it certainly seems like one. To me toxic is more of a description of how particular people fit, or don’t, in my life. They may be fully functional and operational in their own lives, it is working for them. They do not experience their own being as being anything but healthy and normal, but their interface with me, and my life, and how I am living, creates a toxic reality that just doesn’t work for me anymore.
The biggest price I have paid for admissions to groups that I didn’t really want to be a part of, but was compelled out of loneliness, a desire for popularity or just a desperate attempt to fit in to yet another new place, was honesty. I found that I can and could have all kinds of relationships so long as I withheld the truth. It was the perfect set up really. I was free to think and feel whatever I did, they did not really care to hear the truth as I experienced it, and made it pretty abundantly clear that they would walk if I ever had the temerity to speak it, and I got to feel somewhat safe because I was able to parcel myself out into bite sized pieces to each person, to each group, and they were able to take me in because I was only given them the barest of minimums. They seemed to think that was fine. And I was so lost and afraid that it seemed like a good idea to hold and withhold and tell half truths.
Well, as you can imagine...it was until it wasn’t.
And last year was a clash of internal combustion that resulted in a great deal of external combustion. So many long standing relationships in my life, required that I walk away. Some of them I spoke my truth and my largest fear, realized. They walked, in hours. Just like that, poof, friendships of several years gone without even a care. Within a week it was almost like they were never really there.
Another relationship, one that I depended upon in many ways, I withheld the whole truth. And I still think that was a good call. Leaving was its own reward and the person involved would have never been able to hear or understand my truth. So telling it would have just been a fruitless exercise in nothing but signing up for more abuse. I truly believe them incapable of hearing anything that they don't like or want to hear. So what exactly was the point of me opening myself up with truth?
I also had to create some pretty hard and jagged boundaries with my son. It was excruciating. And none of the above relationships I mentioned gave me any kind of grace for having this most challenging and hard relationship drama. They didn’t see because they didn’t want to. It was my problem and they liked it when I kept it neatly tucked in the recesses of my life that they weren’t interested in...
It was a hard year. And it was fucking lonely.
But it was this refrain: "No matter how lonely I get, I will not re-invite toxic people into my life"...that saw me through. I would love to say that I didn’t find new toxic people with which to relate...I did. But I am going to celebrate and acknowledge that I didn’t re-invite these old ones back in. I accepted their ending and felt the sad and lonely feelings. And guess what? They didn’t kill me. I am still here. Working out my continued feelings of loneliness and lack of belonging...
I speak from no moral high ground here. I am so often outside the circle of popularity, friends and belonging. My perspective is almost always one of looking in instead of one being enthralled with being on the inside. Even those rare moments where I felt like I was on the inside, were fleeting and prone to delusion. Delusion that I could ever truly be a part of what I was trying to belong to.
What I learned was that the best way to not have toxic people in your life is to tell the truth. About how you feel, about how their conduct makes you feel. If you ever want to clear a social gathering, a good truth telling is a sure fire way to cause people to make hasty and abrupt departures.
And telling the truth, at least for me, has been risky because my sense of belonging and safety are always in jeopardy. But I have also learned that toxicity requires silence. And loneliness is the only real result. And when I have had the temerity and courage to speak what feels right and true for me, I have found myself with a lot less social engagements and that is lonely. But that loneliness barely holds a candle to the loneliness I have felt while sleeping next to someone, or at a dinner table with them, or on a vacation that was supposed to be fun, but so wasn’t.
I guess what I have learned in summary is that if I am going to experience loneliness, I prefer being actually alone. The kind of loneliness that really threatens me and hurts me is the kind that I find while surrounded with people I thought were my friends, or lovers or people. That kind of loneliness is the kind I have decided to live without. And I have also come to realize that this is going to be a process. I am not an easy mixer. Some of the things I have done in my life, the things I have accomplished, survived, endured, those things have altered me, changed me and one of the costs was my willingness to pay the price of admission to circles of people who are toxic to me. It isn’t them. They are fine. They can do what I cannot with impunity. They can make deals with the devils in their lives. They can do what they do and sleep just fine at night. But me, for whatever reason, I cannot. And the most miserable times in my life have been the times that I forgot this most basic and fundamental truth:
I prefer being alone when lonely.
And when I use that as a guidepost, my life hums along so much better.