It isn’t so often that I meet people who have been through as much darkness as I have. Although I know there are plenty of people who have, it’s not exactly like there are clubs for us. So yesterday was a bit of a beautiful reprieve, when I spent the afternoon with a new friend here in Ohio.
On our first time meeting each other for coffee last year, we spouted off one thing after another that we had in common. Like me, she is an artist. She also happens to be a transplant from Texas, like me. We have both lost our parents at young ages. We both lost someone else significant in a traumatic way… for me, it was my fiance. For her, it was her brother. We both came from families of dysfunction and substance abuse. It was unreal… and I can still remember our eyes widening in surprise as we looked at each other feeling like twins. As we shared our horrible facts nonchalantly, knowing we didn’t have to worry about what the other person thought. It was the biggest “me too” I think I’ve ever had with another person.
Sadly, it’s probably been a year now since that initial coffee date, and we have failed to hang out all this time. Because for people like us - it’s easy to isolate from the world. When you have already had so much loss and trauma, it becomes easier to just not get attached to very many people. You become extra guarded. You have such an acute awareness of people’s mortality and you know, that they are all going to leave you. It makes you a lot choosier about who you let in… sometimes, that’s a good thing. But sometimes it prevents you from letting in the right people too. I have fought with this my whole life. It seems, my friend has too.
It’s a hard thing to put in words, so the only word I have for it is darkness. It’s not apparent in my day to day life really. Most people wouldn’t even have any clue that it is there. But it’s there, in the parts of me that have been to unspeakable places. The alcoholism in our family growing up. Having to care for my dad in my teenage years when his drinking got worse, and led to drugs and prostitutes. Everyone sweeping my mom’s death under the rug, never really speaking of her because, God forbid we have emotions. The control and abuse from my first relationship - which was an unhealthy attempt at escaping from my dad. My dad’s death, and my inability to be there for him in his last year of ailing life, because he had so damaged our relationship and I was too young to realize I would later regret not being there for him.
Hardly anyone in my life today knows much about any of that life. Not really. They might know of it, having heard my share a generalized story here and there, but they don’t know it the way I will always know it. The life where I felt not only that I wasn’t normal, but that I was somehow just wrong. Or that I didn’t deserve a better situation in life. That person was broken… she was scared, and felt worthless, and lost, and alone, and completely dysfunctional. Most people don’t really know her, because I have mothered her for a decade now on my own... growing her into a beautiful, loved, confident woman. It has been a fight to learn to love all of me, even the darkness. And I do.
For all that I have been through, I cherish my darkness and the lessons it has taught me. Darkness isn't all bad, after all. For one, It has an incredible sense of humor. My favorite sense of humor. It helps you appreciate things other people might not, and have a more open mind about what is beautiful. It leads you to be more compassionate, and to build deeper relationships with the ones you do choose to hold dear. And it can keep you appreciating all the good things even more. There are many gifts in the darkness that have made me come to love and cherish it over the years. To meet someone else who understands this journey, especially in a new land where few people really know me, makes things feel a bit less lonely.
I guess that’s what it’s all about… finding those people in life who share our own darkness - whatever that may be. So that we can put our armor down for a while, and not have to worry what everyone will think of our darkest selves. Without having to worry that they will try to make us feel better when all we wanted to do was just share. Without having to worry they will see us any differently or be uncomfortable themselves.
It’s like having two candles lit in the dark instead of one. When someone gets your darkness, you both light up that space, and the whole thing feels brighter. It might even help you see parts of yourself more brightly. Maybe in the end, that's what we're all here to do - to be candles looking for other candles so we can light up each other's worlds.
I was so grateful for this talk my friend and I had at the end of our work day together. It made us each feel a little more warmer, a little more like just maybe, we really do belong. That’s all any of us ever really want, isn’t it? Whatever is happening there, we agreed, we are good for each other, and we should definitely do this more often.