I had dinner Saturday with a friend. She was already seated when I arrived.
“You look terrible,” she said, almost laughing. I didn’t disagree with her, but I was surprised it showed so easily.
I haven’t been sleeping well. When I do sleep, my dreams are often confusing. I wake up feeling as though I’ve been wrestling with something which leaves me exhausted. And I’ve been eating horribly, which makes it harder to sleep and makes me feel terrible when I’m awake. But I didn’t realize any of this showed on my face until my friend said so.
My life has felt lately as though I’m going through a dark hall of mirrors at a carnival. It’s not just a three-minute trip with a quick exit, though. I work here. I eat here and sleep here. Somehow, I’ve brought myself into a long nightmare in which things are distorted and scary — and I can’t find the exit.
When I woke up Saturday morning from another restless night, I found a note which I had made for myself at some point in the night. I don’t recall having this thought or making the note, but I make such notes in my sleep every now and then.
“Looking back on it now, I can see that she was afraid of intimacy,” I had written.
I must’ve been dreaming about her again.
There are times when I suddenly realize something — weeks or months or years later — that should have been obvious to me at the time. Her fear of intimacy was one of those things.
It was six years ago — close to seven years ago, now that I think about it — when I fell in love with her. It was one of those magical experiences when it seems that all is right with the world. When it turned out that she loved me — and wanted a future with me — it seemed that nothing could possibly be wrong.
But during that period of deeper and deeper disclosure — when you want to make sure the other person knows everything necessary to understand you — there were warning signs that I ignored. I wrote a couple of long letters to her in which I tried to explain some of the most painful things in my past which had shaped me. It was the sort of vulnerability that you don’t give to everybody — only to those with whom you’re willing to be most emotionally intimate.
After each of the two letters, I waited for her to respond, but she said nothing. She acted as though nothing of importance had been said. I finally told her that it hurt me for her to ignore things this personal and this difficult to share.
She told me that she was going to respond. (She never did.) She said it was difficult for her to respond, for reasons which she couldn’t explain. She kept making excuses not to deal with what I’d said. I was madly in love with her, so I let it go, thinking we would eventually deal with it — but I was confused about what had happened.
Those of us who’ve been through some sort of formative dysfunction are typically afraid of things which we hide from others — and which we hide from ourselves until we’ve done a lot of inner work. My observation is that we’re ultimately most scared of what we need the most.
In my case, I’m afraid to completely trust that a woman will really be there for me. My mother’s early abandonment set the pattern for me and it took me many years to make the connection. I was afraid to trust the women who wanted to love me. Of course, I didn’t think the fault was in myself. I came up with excuses — really good ones — about why I couldn’t trust them.
So by making excuses not to trust, I allowed myself to find reason after reason to run away from women who wanted me to trust them. And I also made sure to attract women who were too emotionally damaged to stay anyway.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that tendency to run away from the thing we need the most — with myself as prime example — and that’s what finally led me to consciously make the connection which I’d overlooked almost seven years ago when I fell in love with her and she fell in love with me.
With the perspective of time, I finally saw that every time she had the chance to commit to what she said she most wanted — the deep love and emotional trust she said she needed — she pulled back. She was afraid of being too close.
She was willing to love me — and even talk openly about planning a future with me — but when it came time to commit to the deep intimacy which she needed, she pulled back. In the end, she had to ditch me — with no explanations — rather than move forward with what she kept promising.
Because moving forward required going to a level of intimacy which scared her so badly that she could’t trust herself to accept it. I doubt she would have seen it that way, of course. She almost certainly did the same thing I had done in the past. I’m sure she came up with really good reasons why it wouldn’t be good to be with me — but I’ve come to believe it’s really because she’s terrified of the emotional intimacy that she needs.
Why am I obsessing about this tonight? Why did I wake up in the night and write a sentence about it? There’s plenty more than that which is going on right now, but she looms as a rather large part of this carnival hall of mirrors right now.
As I was driving home from dinner, I found myself thinking of words from an old Charlie Peacock song, “In the Light,” which was memorably covered later by a better version from DC Talk:
Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a savior
In this carnival hall of mirrors, there are different rooms, each one representing a part of my life which feels twisted, distorted and confusing.
She’s one of those rooms, but there are others. I was slow to understand the emotional damage that I had to overcome in life. I made poor choices about my career over the last 20 years, tending to take the easy and obvious paths that people offered to me — rather than setting new goals to take the place of the ones from my younger days.
I’m unhappy with what I’m doing with my life. I’m unhappy that I’m not making art instead. I’m unhappy that I don’t have the wife and family which I crave. I’m unhappy that I’ve made so many decisions which have left me in the dark — when I’ve been desperately trying to find my way back to the light which I’ve always needed.
The light represents so much to me. It represents being in right relationship with my Creator. It represents defeating the darkness and fear and evil which lurk in my own heart, especially in these days when I’m alone and unhappy. My fears get out of control — and they lead me back to this hall of mirrors where I confuse myself.
I don’t know what’s going on inside me, but I know I’m trying to break out of this dark place. I take responsibility for the choices that have kept me here — and I loathe the fact that I haven’t learned to trust something outside of myself. And on this Easter weekend, all of this reminds me again that I am still a man who needs a savior.
It’s hard for me to admit that I can’t save myself. The American ideal of the rugged individualist makes me want to say that I don’t need anything else, but I know better.
I need the light. I need love and connection to others. I need a savior who connects me to all love and light, not in the narrow evangelical Christian sense of salvation — which I found years ago — but in the far-broader sense of a love and light which connects all of us — when we allow it to.
From the confusing inside of my carnival hall of mirrors, it’s hard to explain what reality ought to look like. I just know that if I can find that light — the real Light, whatever you want to call it — the rest can fall into place.
If I can find my way to that light, I can set aside my fears. I don’t have to feel shame that I might not be worthy of love. I won’t have to feel hurt that someone won’t accept the intimacy which I want to share with her. In the light, we can love and be loved. We can be understood and we can understand all that confuses us today.
I need to find my way out of this hall of mirrors and the darkness which surrounds it. I need a partner who wants to make the same escape — to find the same love and light.
I know it’s my choices which have kept me in the darkness. I accept that. But I’m ready to trust the light to pull me out of this. I’m ready to accept that fixing this on my own is beyond my abilities.
I need to find a way to the light — and the only way to get there is by accepting again and again that I’m a selfish and sinful man who must trust in a savior to lead the way every single day. That’s an appropriate confession for this Easter weekend.