In a recent email conversation with a friend, she asked me about what I’ve been doing. The typical simple question that’s phrased in various ways, and yet often so difficult to answer.
How are you?
What are you up to?
You know those questions, right? How about when you’re checking out at a grocery store, and the checker cheerily asks, “How are you today?”
What a loaded question. Naturally, I don’t want to burden a stranger who’s dealing with the public and standing on their feet for hours on end with the whole truth. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…? (probably not!)
I’m so sad today.
I’ve been crying a lot.
I’m not really looking forward to the holiday, because I feel anxiety from bad memories.
It feels like this whole store is full of normal people, except for me.
I tell a selective truth based on what I choose to think about. It’s fairly easy to choose a thankful thought, and respond in a positive way.
The friend that wrote and asked the simple, loaded question recently has been going through her own challenging times. She used to be married to a passive aggressive man. He was the (false) image of respectability, moderation, devoted father, and to the outward appearance, a good husband. Except my friend did not feel loved by him.
There’s a simple reason for that, and most of the readers here know the reason. He didn’t deeply love her, if in fact he loved her at all. He withheld love and nurturing the way that passive aggressive men do, until their partners can be grabbing reactively for shreds of relationship, connection, and intimacy, like an oxygen starved creature can gasp for air. Periodically, he’d behave in loving ways, have a window of intimacy, and then yank the rug out from under again. Familiar stuff.
(His subsequent behaviors reflected the truth of not loving her, and not loving their kids very much.)
Many years with this man took its toll on my friend. For the last five years since he left, she’s been trying to recover. As I wrote back and gave specific responses to what I’m doing, what my personal goals are, what’s been reached, and where I’m hopeful or greatly struggling, she answered by saying this: “You’re so wise to start building your life now. I didn’t have that or do that, so I’ve been somewhat lost. But I’ve never known how to live, so I am not blaming him.”
I replied that I don’t feel particularly wise (quite the opposite), and my attempts to build myself and my life feel much more like crawling rather than walking, but the whole conversation has left me reflecting.
My friend was able to get counseling. Lots of it. I’ve barely been able to afford counseling over the years, and often wondered if it would have made a great difference. Her comment on counseling was: “I’ve gone to so much counseling over the last many years and it is fairly useless. Honestly.”
I feel a little bit like I’m trying to use a teaspoon to fill a house sized hole. I wonder now how much I’ve ever known how to live. I grew up in dysfunction, and married into dysfunction. Is there a song about that? What does it feel like to be healthy (inside and out)? What does a health relationship feel like? Would I know it if it grabbed me by the nose? What does a healthy life look and feel like?
Have I ever known how to live? Just a simple and complicated question that I’ll be thinking about.