The physical space around me is almost always a reflection of how happy I am.
When I’m unhappy and feeling lost, my house becomes a wreck. I don’t clean much. I don’t pick up after myself. Before long, it looks as though I live in a place where there’s been a tornado.
When I’m happy and feeling loved, my habits are entirely different. I’ll happily keep things fairly neat and clean, at least by my standards. When my heart is happy, I keep things looking decent, which satisfies my mind’s need for order — and that reinforces my happiness.
I haven’t been cleaning the house much lately, so it’s been a mess.
But for the past few hours, I’ve been cleaning. I’ve been sweeping and vacuuming and filling bags of trash. (Lucy and the cats still hate the vacuum cleaner.) Late Saturday night, I looked around and realized it was time for change, so I launched into a cleaning spree that might take all night.
Why? The only explanation is that I suddenly had a vision of something powerful — something that I need — which suddenly seemed real and possible.
As Lucy and I walked late Saturday, I was listening to an audiobook in which a doctor was explaining how the human body “rewires” itself to recover from the negative programming that a brain has received from trauma, especially childhood trauma of one type or another.
I recently mentioned psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and his book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” when I wrote about my extreme reactions to conflict and how I can feel panic during conflict which makes me feel like a child under attack again. Much of Van der Kolk’s research seems applicable to my experience with my father.
Later in the book, he talks about the things which can reverse the process of what was done to us — to actually find ways to heal the damage we experienced. But before he talked about specific methods, he said the single most important asset we have when it comes to repairing trauma is in the relationships with those who love us.
Van der Kolk talked about the touch of someone who loves us and hearing the voice of this person. He talked about feeling secure and loved in a relationship of trust — and he talked about the role of a community of people who we trust.
As I listened, the specific words suddenly melted away. I had to turn off the recording. As I continued walking down the quiet streets, I felt the warm glow of love and community. It wasn’t a rational feeling. It wasn’t a specific plan for how to get something. It was just a full-blown image of what this looked like.
For that moment, I felt like a changed man. It felt like a spiritual conversion, but it was nothing more than the powerful feeling that I had the actual presence of someone who loved me and that I had a community of people where I belonged.
This might sound odd — since nothing really changed — but maybe this glimpse was enough to give me hope. And maybe it’s because it seems so real because I’ve experienced this before.
I’ve talked with you before about my continuing struggle to eat as I should and to control my weight. I keep trying to fix this problem, but I keep “falling off the wagon.” There’s only one circumstance under which this is never a problem.
When I love someone — and she loves me — I no longer feel compelled to try to fill a need with food. Over the last few years, I’ve had numerous times when I started down the right path. Several times, I’ve started shedding unwanted weight and then given up again, because I’ve fallen back into the trap of eating for the emotional need.
It was years ago that I last went through a period when I was dropping pounds without any real effort. I was in love — and I felt loved in return. I was excited about a future with her. Everything about life felt different. It wasn’t that I had more self-discipline. No, it was simply that I didn’t need any discipline — because I didn’t have a need that I was trying to fill in an unhealthy way.
So when Bessel van der Kolk talked about how such a loving relationship changes everything and provides the foundation for the rest of recovery, I immediately knew what he was talking about. What’s more, I already had a full-color, three-dimensional version of that reality imprinted on my heart.
After I stopped listening to the book and finished my walk, I felt a glow of being loved. It wasn’t a conscious decision to feel that way. This warm state of being just took over my mind for a few minutes — and the world seemed like a different place.
Was it just hope? Was it delusion? Was it self-deception? I don’t know what to call it. I don’t actually have that love in my life which I experienced for those few minutes. I haven’t talked with her for a long time. I’ve believed for all this time that she still loves me. I still love her, too, despite my best efforts to move on. It’s complicated.
When I got back home from the walk, I was still feeling loved and peaceful inside. And the disorder inside my house no longer felt acceptable or normal. That was about four hours ago — and I’ve been cleaning ever since.
I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow or Monday or next week. I know that nothing has really changed. I know it was just a powerful vision of “what could be” that’s fueled this so far, so who knows how far that could go.
Molly and the other cats are a bit annoyed that they were locked out of the office for awhile. I cleaned the office and then sprayed bug killer — part of the continuing effort to fight fleas — that needed to dry before they could go back to the room where they prefer to sleep.
Molly has been in the bedroom with me while I write this, making sure I know she’s annoyed that she can’t get to her sleeping spot — and she’s being pretty dramatic with her demonstration of looking exhausted.
So I’ll end this and get back to work. The bug spray is dry by now, so they can have the office back. And I have a lot more cleaning to get finished before sunrise.
I just wish I could wake up Sunday and discover that my beautiful vision of love and security is reality. That would be cause for some powerful change.