On the topic of Love

[Disclaimer: this post is not about {healthy} romantic love. I’ve yet to know that.]

Love is hard to explain
It swirls in your mind into your mouth
Beating in your heart like you’ve never taken a breath without it
It’s hard to describe
Like trying to capture the view of a sunset on a shitty camera phone
Like trying to describe your favorite food to someone who’s never tasted it

Im going to try to describe and probably fail miserably but hopefully I make you, the reader, think about what love means to you. Think of your sunsets and favorite foods

I’ve know four kinds of healthy love. I’m sure there’s many. I’ve known four. I’ve also known unhealthy love. That’s important too. It teaches you how to love, not in the ways that people love you, but in the ways that they don’t. It’s important to know what love is NOT so that we can love ourselves better by making informed decisions about who we let love us. So that’s where I’ll start.

Unhealthy love is an interesting soul vexing beast. It’s crazy making. It’s an illusion. It feeds off empathy. Abuse intensifies attachment. We feel obligated to end on good terms with people. As an empath, the need to help people heal often took precedent over my own healing. Unhealthy love leeches. I’ve known two kinds of unhealthy love. I’m sure there are many. The romantic love is tragic. Convinced of my own incompetency, the ways that insecurities are used as shackles to bolt you down and keep you from leaving. On your back, belly up, constantly disoriented, confused, unsure, distorted reality. Wings struggling to find footing right side up to fly away. It’s like trying to get thread through a needle eye. So close every time. Try again. One more time. Wow I’ve been here 20 minutes trying to get the thread through. Wow I’ve been with this person for a year, for five years. One more chance. It’s intoxicating. Being so close. Like a mirage. Tasting water that’s really sulfur. Feeling the burn at the back of your throat each time. Never quenching thirst. But you can’t give up finding hydration. That’s the catch 22. That’s the hook. Bait. Fish. Hook. Caught. Like clockwork. Every. Time. Research shows abusive relationships change your brain the same way drug addiction does (after accounting for brain damage from drugs). Abusive love literally changes the way your brain works. It’s hard have agency when not even the cells in your brain can get their shit together so you can leave. Abusive love makes you feel small. It puts all the emotional control in someone else. It’s a damn shame. I’ve had friends like this too. That shit was easier to walk away from for me. That’s not true for everyone.

What’s worse is abusive love from family. TALK ABOUT OBLIGATION. Like the socialization to be fixers and passive family members is so engrained and overbearing. Realizing a family member is toxic is a revolution. What a radical idea to think that people who share your DNA could hurt you. It cuts deep. It’s jarring every time. Like it’s the first time every time. Because leaving feels like it’s not an option. The feeling of never having a way out is depressing. Down the rabbit hole of helplessness. It hurts more every time. Like do you not see that I bleed the same blood you have, the salt in my tears is the same as yours? Why does my pain not wake you up for you to stop hurting me? Because that’s abuse. CLASSIC. TEXT. BOOK. ABUSE.

Learning to love at a distance is a life saver. Maybe you love yourself at distance where the other person is cut the fuck out of your life. THAT IS OKAY. Family or lover. It’s okay to say deuces to keep yourself safe and sane. It. Is. Okay. Please. Love. Your. Self. It’s okay to love family at a distance, know yourself and know the other person. Know what your capacity is. Know their character. Arm yourself with the mental resource of clarity and certainty. Draw strength from being the source of predictability. It’s okay to protect yourself. You do not owe anyone anything.

It seems like an oxymoron to say abusive love. Call your experiences what feels right to you. I say abusive love because all the people who abused me, family, friends, romantic partners, with the exception of two from all three of those groups, were not malicious. These people don’t always mean to hurt me. That’s the saddest part. That’s what keeps me trying to love them. And the truth is i did or do love them. I really care/d for these people. It’s because it’s not all bad. There are good moments and memories. But then when you recognize how it’s damaging. When you taste freedom to move about the cabin unafraid. All of a sudden you can see the truth. The truth is the people who hurt us without insidious intent are a mess. And it must be so hard to be a mess and be so calcified in that mess that you cannot do anything about it. And that still does not mean you owe them anything. It is not your responsibility to fix anyone. You only have obligations to yourself. I am obligated to radically love myself in every way. And sometimes that means telling people they are not allowed to love me any more, that they are not allowed to be in my life, that they can only love me on my terms. That’s OKAY. I SWEAR.

What fills me. What makes my heart full. What brings me joy. Is healthy love. And it’s so present in my life. Undeniably life giving. It’s my source of energy. So let’s talk about that.

I’ve loved children. Maternal instincts are weird. I don’t know the science, sociology, or otherwise behind the truth to the concept of maternal instincts. What I do know is I was a preschool teacher for 2 years and I loved kids like they were my own. I talked to a five year old about his gender identity. I changed diapers for a one year old. She calls me mom. To this day. I gave love to kids. I gave my heart. I taught kids how to read and write and spell their name. I changed diapers and kissed booboos. A three year old punched me in the face one time. I held crying kids when mom left for work. I taught kids to walk and use spoons. I ran in circles on the play ground. I put on coats and tied shoes. I sat and lead circle time. I gave them tools to see the world with light and love. I encouraged kids not to make guns but to invent. I gave love. And I received love. Innocent pure unhindered uninhibited untainted love. Attachment. They cling to you for safety. That’s fucking love man. In a child’s eye, looking at your face. It changes the way you see the world. It makes you think of all the dark ways that this world can hurt a child. But it also makes you realize the impact that you can have on a child, and the world. I worked with children of families with low income. There was not a single white student in my classes. Mexican, black, and Indian. The power in telling the dark brown girl with the Oaxacan last name that she’s beautiful, the power in telling little black girls they are smart, the power in telling baby black boys that they are important. To give children of color empowering and encouraging words to use knowledge, education, compassion, and advocacy for self and others is life changing. To make them feel loved and to receive love when they depend on you to keep them safe moment to moment. That shit is unprecedented.

I work now as first responder and crisis counselor for sexually exploited minors. Saying my job is hard doesn’t even begin to cover it. There are some parts of my job that I HATE. But to do these pieces so I can sit with a young girl who’s been through significant trauma. There’s a 13 minute drive home from my work place and sometimes I just sob because I’m so fucking grateful I am in a position to support this population. 90 percent black and Latino young women under 19 who have been assaulted and exploited. THEE HARDEST AND MOST VULNERABLE POPULATION. And some divine power led me to THEE FULLEST AND MOST SATISFYING CAREER. I sob on my way home because I had to sit through some part of my job that was real hard and yet I am thankful because sitting with a young girl who needed me at 1am in a police station made me matter. In this great big world I did something selfless and it made a tangible seeable difference. There is no greater joy than this. And there is no greater love than that which comes from selfless acts that bring joy. My job has a lot of elements of selflessness though. True love is to know true selflessness. I work with clients from 10-12 weeks. In this time I bond with them. We laugh together. We make jokes and they ask me about my hobbies. I make them feel safe and create trust. I show up for them in juvenile hall. Sometimes I show up and parents don’t. I show up to court. I show up when it matters and that shit matters too. I help them through panic. I hold secrets they’ve never told anyone. And at every second of every day their life is in danger. I cry for them. I sad cry for their sorrows. I happy cry for their successes. I angry cry for their negative experiences. But most of all I love them. I would give up an entire life of happiness to see the end of sexual exploitation. Lord knows I wake up every morning and jump out of bed and slam my fucking feet on the floor. I look the devil himself in his face while he is puppeteering the system and exploiters and I am not afraid. I charge at him running. Every day. And every day I see my clients and they hug me and they tell me they love me and I say it back because it’s true. I love these girls. We are bonded in trauma and in healing. And my heart aches when a client dies. That’s how I know this is love. Because my whole body aches when they’re hurt and my whole body rejoices when they’re happy.

I’ve known love when it’s been returned after I’ve given it like being a teacher or a counselor. I’ve also known love when it’s been given to me first. My beautiful little broken family rounded up our rag tag village members and raised me. And everyday I’m astounded by their selflessness to have had cousins only ten years older than me play mom, teach me to ride a bike and swim and roller skate. To have grandparents act as surrogate parents. Man that’s love. To have people be selfless in the way that they love you. That is some real shit. To have people who did not need to love you step up to love you is some break ya ass down fetal position Kim k ugly cry level shit. Because the alternative is they did not step up and I was not supported in the way that I was. And Lord only knows where I would have ended up without them. Not at ranked college. Not with a career this young. Maybe I wouldn’t have even made it to my fifteenth birthday. That is humbling. That is divine. I can’t even describe that. It’s just like if all the beauty in the world came together in you’re heart and breathed “you are worthy. You are enough. You are loved.” Into every heart beat. It pumps through your veins and seeps into your soul through your bones. You feel it in between your toes and in your ear drums. It fills your heart with gratitude. It whispers into your belly and sings a lullaby.

Then there’s love that’s some lifetime hallmark Oprah days of our lives ass shit. So I’ve got a shit ton of family. And for one reason or another, family tension or geographic distance, I lost touch with them or never got to meet some. This year, 2016 I met/reunited with 23 family members. That is fucking divine. I cannot even put in words what it’s like to hug someone who’s same blood pumps through your veins and theirs when the last time you were in their arms was 14 years ago and seven years old. It’s tears. Straight dry heave snotty tears. Because when you came up in the streets and the streets can take anyone, holding people is all you’ve got sometimes you feel me? Let me tell you what this love is. How can I love someone I don’t know? Because they remember me and they can describe my mannerisms to a tee. I love them and they love me. And the things that live in a hug between me and them is all the lost time, the missed milestones, the missed births and birthdays and thanksgivings and easters and christmases and graduations and promotions and funerals and baptisms and weddings and fights and reconciliations and joys and sorrows and home made meals at the dinner table and cartoons and cereal and movies and inside jokes and shared snacks and and just basic physical contact. 14 years of missed moments is heavy. It brings me to my knees. To know people cried about me. To be in someone’s arms and y’all are both sitting there crying swearing up and down that we’re not going to lose any more time and we’re going to make up for all the lost time. And we’re gonna heal and we’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna grow. And we’re gonna laugh. And we’re gonna be whole again. And we’ll be another gang of beautifully broken family members ina rag tag team of village members just trying to get by. And it’ll be glorious. And you can never tell me that’s not love. Love is yearning, you’re whole heart aches deep within your bones for the people who used to know, and then all of a sudden the yearning stops. Love is sudden wholeness.

And from this day forward, I will only give and allow myself to receive healthy love. I hope you can reflect on the love in your life. But most of all I hope you can love yourself. That is my wish for you.

Arieana

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