The Power of Connection

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Not too long ago, Izzy and I were lounging in a grassy park. I watched as a little boy who looked a few months older than Izzy slowly but purposefully approached her. Izzy stood up. The two moved within a few inches of one another, staring each other directly in the eye. The little boy reached his hand out toward Izzy. Izzy reached her hand out to him and they just stood there, looking directly at one another with their fingertips touching. I watched for about a minute, in awe of how sweet it was. At how easily and unabashedly these two little humans were able to connect with one another.

Ever since then, the word “connection” has been running through my brain on repeat.

For a while there, I disconnected. On every level. I disconnected from my family and friends. I disconnected from my life. I even disconnected from my self. Abuse mandates this. In order to be immersed into a chaotic and twisted world, you first have to be disconnected from your own. And then, after a while, you have to disconnect from yourself. Otherwise, life becomes intolerable.

One of the first observations my ex made about me is that I’m uncomfortable at parties. When he first made this observation, it was with what I perceived as compassion. I saw it as yet another example of him seeing the “real” me. On a regular basis, I’m surprised when even my closest friends tell me that I look comfortable and natural in big social situations, because I certainly don’t feel like that on the inside. I love connecting with people one-one-one and can talk about things that matter for hours, but I’ve never been great with small talk or crowds. I don’t thrive when it’s on the surface. So, when my ex observed this, it initially felt like he was acknowledging a truth about me that the bare eye could not generally see.

A couple of months later, we were at a New Year’s Eve party at his friend’s house. We were only a few months into our relationship, so I didn’t yet know any of his friends. I knew no one at the party aside from my ex, and everyone else there seemed very closely-knit. Almost immediately, my ex wandered away, leaving me on my own. I was confused about the fact that he did this. Since he knew how I felt in these situations, why wouldn’t he just take a few moments to introduce me to people and help me warm up? It didn’t make me feel good (in fact, it made me feel a bit pathetic), but I shrugged it off.

A few more months passed and he started to tell me on a fairly constant basis that I was “anti-social” and that I “didn’t like people.” This is patently untrue. I scrambled to defend myself, but he continued telling me this as if it were gospel, no matter how much I tried to explain and defend, reminding him that I had plenty of close friends and that people generally like me when we meet, even if I do get uncomfortable in certain environments. (In retrospect, what a ridiculous thing to even engage in a discussion about, but so it goes.) He would often tell me this before we went out to events that consisted of his friends. He would then proceed to ditch me almost immediately after we arrived at our destination. It became even more difficult for me to interact in these situations I was already uncomfortable in because I felt like a loser and a leper. I can’t tell you how many evenings I spent trying to look occupied at parties and gatherings, with a fake smile plastered on my face, all the while feeling hot tears stinging the back of my eyes and a burning sensation in my throat. After a while, I just stopped going out with him altogether, which only fed into his argument that I was an anti-social people-hater.

This was on top of the disconnection I felt from my own friends and loved ones because of the two-pronged fork of physical distance and the lies and secrets in my own life.

My world got really small. I didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to be with, and there was also a lot of fear and darkness associated with my house. This is bad news for an introvert, who needs a safe, comforting place to recharge. I was exhausted no matter where I turned. Everything took so much effort.

Before all of this, I had always existed in a world of magic, possibility, general goodness, and, yes, connection. This doesn’t mean that life was always full of rainbows and unicorns, but it does mean that I saw the goodness in most things and people. I was connected to the world and people around me. Ironically, it was my ability to connect that sucked me into this situation in the first place. Unfortunately for me, I also connected with him, despite how unhealthy it was for me. Clearly, this was a person in pain, and I empathized. I thought there was good in him—there seemed to have been good in the person I initially met, otherwise I would have never arrived in this place.

The world after my ex looked much different than it had before. The real fallout of our relationship, I now understand, was disconnection. I felt alone in a way I had never before felt alone. Not in the sense that I was single, because that was a relief. But I felt the void of all the other people in my life who I had held at arm’s distance for a couple of years. I felt the void of all of my people on the east coast, who now lived 3,000 miles away. I felt the void of being disconnected from Boston itself, a city that had always been my friend and with which I felt a deep and profound connection.

It was under these circumstances that I stepped into motherhood. I’m sure that Momma Bear-ness would have come out in me any way you cut it, but now it came out in a world where I felt unsafe. A world that seemed threatening. This was all exacerbated by the Murphy’s Law of this past year, and the fact that it felt like the two houses I lived in with Izzy were under attack, both figuratively and literally. I began walking around, keeping an eye out for people, expecting the worst out of them, rather than the best: Is that the person who has been trying to get into my home? I would wonder, walking a little bit more quickly. Likewise, I found myself bracing for the next storm life would bring. I spent almost a year in this state.

And then … it started to lift, bit by bit.

I left the freelance world and started working for a start-up. I connected with the people there, who I came to realize were legitimately invested in me—and not just professionally. I have leaned on them through many of this years trials (although learning to do that has been a process). Recently, I have begun to share the reality of my situation with more and more of them. I feared judgement, but I have found nothing but empathy and support. Active support. Connection.

I have stopped hiding the details of my past from my people. My great fear was that writing about my experiences in this blog would come off as some sort of slander or “poor me” diatribe or be perceived as me considering myself a victim, when none of these things are true. I am grateful that, what it has done in reality, is to allow me to share my truth and process. It has allowed me to explain to and reconnect with those people I love so much, who had no idea what was going on. Not only are the connections still there, but they are stronger than before, because I’ve had to learn to be more vulnerable, and to allow people in.

In all honesty, I think that most of all I began to fear myself. Who was this person living this life that was so foreign? Where had the person who’d always manifested her own destiny gone? I didn’t want to delve too deeply into where I had been and what had happened because I knew that process would involve pain. I’d had enough pain. Reconnecting with myself involved letting myself really feel the anger, betrayal, and fear. It wasn’t fun. But it had to be done to expunge all of those feelings from my body like the poison they are. Sometimes a few of them still sneak in, but they are momentary. I feel them and let them go because all they are at this point is remnants, the emotional equivalent of running across a t-shirt of his and tossing it into the garbage.

On the other side of this, I have found love, hope, joy, and the knowledge that I am way stronger, much more confident, and far more competent than I ever realized before. I came to understand that I am not the pain or the darkness I felt. I am a person who experienced pain because, for a brief time, my path crossed with that of someone who knows nothing but pain and disconnection. That is his road to walk, not mine. In the end, I have gained way more than I have lost. I am far more connected to who I am, what I am worth, and what I stand for than I ever was before.

This morning I was exhausted, but I forced myself to go downstairs to yoga. As I lay there in a heart- and hip-opener, I started to cry in class for the first time since 2013, when I lost it in a class immediately following the Boston Marathon Bombing. I cried today for the same reason today that I cried in 2013—out of relief and joy at that feeling of connection. Of understanding on the deepest level that, in the end, everything is going to be okay. That, really, it already is.

As Scout and I walked today, I became acutely aware of the fact that I felt physically lighter and more bouyant for the first time in years. I found myself smiling and chatting with people along the way, thinking how lovely they were, rather than wondering what their intentions were. I even found myself flirting back with someone. Connection.

Once again, the world feels cracked open with magic and possibility, rather than the danger. I have remembered who I am and what I’m all about. I have learned that when we connect, it shields us from the darkness and opens the door to let the light come pouring in. It ushers in possibility.

When we are young and unscathed, we instinctively want to connect. In this natural state, we innately know that connection is what we are meant to do. It’s who we are. I watch Izzy do this all of the time, and it delights me. With age and time, we begin trying to protect ourselves by either disconnecting to various degrees or shutting new connections out. We try to protect ourselves from pain because we have been hurt before. We are afraid to let people see all of us. Sometimes it feels like this makes us stronger. But the fact of the matter, I am convinced, is that the deepest and truest form of strength comes from vulnerability and connection. And, at the heart of that, is truth.

It is connection that drives the darkness back into the shadows where it belongs.