Email to Leo in response to his messages on March 23 and 25
It’s early morning here in California, outside the sky is black and a set of chimes is ringing in the wind. I have read your letter a few times now to let it sink into my body. There are all of the emotions you’ve described: anger, hostility, fear. You are asking me to step away from a framework of understanding, based in science, that resonates deeply with me.
When I first discovered the study of attachment theory, I was overwhelmed by a deluge of emotions in my relationships. I felt like a paranoid and manipulative control freak. I was confused and lost. Finding these models helped me to see my relationship behaviors in the context of neuroscience and trauma: there is nothing “wrong” with me, my body is reacting out of deep care and love, based on what has helped to keep me safe in the past. There is power and freedom in having this model: free of shame for how I am, capable of asking for what I need to feel safe.
I am able to recognize that I need security, clarity, and structure to feel ease and safety in my relationships, and that this is okay. I am able to understand my body and reactions in the context of my past, and the interbeing nature of attachment (how my parents were raised by their parents and so on). I am able to accept the way that I am. And I can step forward into asking for strategies that meet my needs for ease, by creating safety and security in structure.
Now you are asking me to let go of this narrative. You are proposing instead a narrative where I am afraid to be loved as I am, in this relationship, afraid to recognize the many ways in which you are providing love and care. You are proposing perhaps that I step into the groundless, scary place that is accepting love as it is offered. Step into love without scaffolding, without the structures that help me to feel safe. Step into love without a sword or shield. You are asking me to meet you with an open heart, to let go of structure, to jump. Okay Leo, here goes.
I set my sword and shield down for a moment, and step into a cave. It feels like I am underwater, things are suspended in their place. The air is sacred and reverent, there is wonder. The walls extend up up up into the light, they are built in a circle, with steady shelves of rock nestled into them. On the walls are relics of past love, memories to revisit when the time is right. It is an underwater library of gadgets and gizmos of love. I sit on the floor, on a circular red carpet etched with the dark blues, goldenrod yellows, whites of Levantine homes. A meditation cushion from Shelagh awaits.
Can I accept and welcome the love into my heart in the same way I allow in the narrative of my suffering?
The walls are shaking. A demon emerges, blocking the source of the light. The walls start to crumble. I sit calm on the cushion. I am loved, I am capable of being loved. The demon is angry. Pay attention to me, it says. It is throwing stones at me. I look up and invite the demon to sit down in the cozy sitting chair beside me. Rest a while, dear demon. Check out a book of a memory of love, have a cup of tea. You can continue your destruction later if you like.
The demon reads, and sips tea, and suddenly dissolves, leaving a drop of silver in its place. The walls are repaired. The library somehow is not underwater anymore, it’s above ground, with windows every few floors letting in soft rainbow light.
Can this library of love, now set in the tower of a great castle, pervade my entire reality?
Do I still want the sword and shield keeping me safe, asking for structure and rules to keep at bay the anger and fear? Yes, in many relationships, I still want my armor. Asking others to show up on time, to listen with full presence, to accept and love who I am without judgment. I cannot enter every relationship without armor.
Are there a few souls with whom I can let down my barriers, take off the armor protecting my heart? To say, I am allowing you to love me. I am stepping into the library of wonder and reverence. I am setting down my sword and shield at the door.
If I accept as a precondition that I am capable and worthy of love, what can change?
I can do things without worrying if others will love me, if my actions will warrant rejection and abandonment. I am free to ask for time and presence from those I love and want to know. I can take risks with solidity and confidence when I am not risking my own worthiness.
I can forgive others for letting me down. There is a lightness and an ease, I no longer need to hold my breath wondering if others will show up for me as I need them to. I don’t need to rely on others to carry my emotions or to meet my needs all of the time, I can stop grasping.
I can stop excusing behaviors of others I find harmful. I don’t need to be with friends that are consistently late or don’t reply to my messages, I don’t need to put up with the reckless anger of others, I can let my own anger set boundaries for my time and presence that limit my interactions with those people. I can declare the kinds of friends I want, I can optimize and invest in those relationships. I can live in dignity with boundaries I choose for myself.
I must be careful, for I have the seeds of hyper-vigilance and defensiveness in me. If I choose to stop interacting with those that don’t love me in the way I want, I may end up very lonely.
Loving me doesn’t always mean doing what I want.
Love can be doing what is best for me in your version of the truth, not mine. Love can be my father’s silence, for in his pain he believes it will bring me home. Love can be Leo’s insistence that I step into my own power by recognizing my own worthiness, my own ability to be loved, even when that’s not what I’m asking. Love can be requesting that I quarantine myself for two weeks, or coordinating the return of my things from my house in Bethlehem. Love is not always going to look the way I imagine.
Recognizing true love is to move away from emotional bullying: “If only you loved me, you would…” or “You don’t love me because you’re not…” Sometimes other people cannot meet me in my needs because it goes against their truth. I can be firm on my needs without resorting to bullying others (with money, emotions, words) to get them to comply, for asking for compliance without heartfelt intention is asking others to lie, it is exercising power over. Sometimes, I may need space to grieve the inability of others to meet me where I am. I may need to go into the redwoods to cry, to mourn, to try to meet myself. It is all okay.
This all goes to say, Leo, that I am grateful for your efforts to meet me. I am doing my best to hold to our agreements to openness and to recognizing my own power, and to asking for what I need in the form of agreements.
Thank you for both of your messages, your ability to come back and to try to meet me again, your humility and earnestness. When I saw your second email, I felt a softening, a tenderness inside of me that made it possible to draft the second part of this email in love. Thank you for being open to meeting me: by re-reading the passage in the book on attachment, by considering the agreements I suggested. I hear your request for me to trust you and I am doing my best. Trust for me is built slowly, through experience, like stepping out onto a shaking bridge in the wind, one step at a time, tentative, making sure I am safe. While I don’t want to step away from this caution, I will try to step into your invitations with openness and curiosity. I ask for your patience as I meet my own resistance, anger, fear, hostility, as I try to open my heart and mind.
I do not believe that your narrative or mine stand separately. Perhaps yours can include the understanding that my narrative of attachment, though not the full story, brings me freedom and a sense of peace. I do not want to reject or step away from it. My narrative can expand to include an understanding of myself as worthy, enough, capable of living out my wildest dreams, capable of being loved exactly as I am. I am loved as I am. It is true that I can let this understanding into my awareness with more consistency, concentration, devotion. I can lead with this understanding, step into my relationships with this security, even when I don’t completely feel it. And this security blanket of knowing love will multiply and grow as I see proof over time. In my risk, in asking others to be present with me, I will grow my faith.