I have sat down three times over the course of the last month in an effort to write this post. I have stared at the blinking cliche of a cursor and I have typed, backspaced, typed again, backspaced (with a little more fervor this time), typed again and then finally shut the laptop with a sense of defeated finality that the words in my head just won’t move through my fingers in the way I hear them in my heart. I have stared blankly into the spaces of the rooms of my house so often that Greg has started asking if I am seeing ghosts…(ironically enough I believe wholeheartedly in ghosts, which I think might be the most surprising fact people learn about me so feel free to ask about my other worldly theories the next time you see me).
I wrestled with an old demon all last year and I think I was hoping 2018 would bring a sense of clarity or accomplishment or, at the very least, a pure and utter boredom with the pesky topic and I would just move on. But instead 2018 has proven to be little more than the weird reality that suddenly I write my “8s” differently. Has anyone else noticed that about themselves? For years I wrote my 8s as two little bubbles sitting one on top of another and now, for some unknown reason, I am writing them as one fluid motion like I was taught in kindergarten, like a snake chasing its own tail only to find its head at the end of it. Anyways, I digress because I’m hoping even now in the chasing of rabbit trails I will find something more poetic or helpful to say about my little frenemy.
Rejection. Even as I type the word I feel that familiar sinking pit in my stomach and my cheeks raise a degree or two in temperature. We all deal with rejection in one way or another. It’s actually close to amusing all of the ways we can feel rejected these days: an actual rejection where someone we care about says “I don’t love you anymore”, a “can’t go” response to a Facebook invitation you were gracious enough to extend, a job promotion you didn’t get for reasons you don’t ever get to know, not enough “likes”, not enough customers at the shop, or simply unreturned phone calls or texts. We face rejection daily in life. Some people handle it better than others. Some handle it by not handling it. A rare few grow from it. Most of us, I think, just embrace the sinking feeling in our stomachs as an old unwanted but familiar friend, attribute the flushed cheeks to sunburn and remind ourselves that life is hard and messy and we just need to deal with it…like we think everyone else does.
On two occasions in my life I have been rejected in ways that have cut me down to my quick, that have reached inside for the essence of who I am and then declared it definitively not enough. In a twist of irony, both occasions, though more than a decade apart from each other, were marked by an actual list given to me in the ways in which I had fallen short and therefor relationship with me was made to be intolerable.
One such incident happened last year. And while in many ways it was deserved, my behavior had in fact been deplorable, no amount of apology or acknowledgement of my wrongs was going to save me from receiving The List. I won’t bore you or allow myself to dwell on the contents of The List here because I am working like hell to put that list to bed once and for all in my life. Suffice it say, though, I think we all have had to come face to face with our own Lists. They tend to be complied of all the worst traits we know we possess but we secretly hope we have somehow shielded the eyes of others from. We also know the closer you become to someone the more likely it is those character traits and flaws will become like neon flashes of light, completely unavoidable to the naked eye. Receiving The List is the ultimate rejection letter. And after you have received it you vow to yourself you will never ever put yourself in a position to become its recipient again.
What do we do to protect ourselves? This isn’t rocket science or even complicated psychology. It’s not a trick question. When we feel attacked or found out or rejected, we retreat. We find a hole and crawl into it. We convince ourselves why yes, I really am an island! The reason I hurt is because I was dumb enough to let someone in and I will learn from that mistake and rise from the ashes a solo but powerful phoenix.
Here’s the problem with that logic: we are social beings. We are meant for relationship and community. Even us introverts. In an effort to keep ourselves safer and to avoid The List, we cut off our arm to save our leg. We still end up lame and broken. Just a different kind.
I did an awful lot of retreating last year. I convinced myself I didn’t need the things I had needed in my 20s. I told myself real grownups don’t have real friends. I got a job. I got busy. I accidentally got depressed and then I purposefully got better.
And now here it is 2018 and being the obsessor I am over resolutions, I have made a few. I usually talk to God about my resolutions, I talk to Greg, I talk to myself and this year one blasted word kept coming to mind every freaking time the topic came up: Gather.
Gather. The exact opposite of hide in the hole.
Invite more people in, more often. Let them see The List. Maybe probably unintentionally bang a few of them up with it. Apologize. Be forgiven. Repeat. Stop hiding.
Gather. Invite and risk the possibility of rejection. Throw a party and risk no one showing up. Go to Chili’s and risk drinking #2for1 alone. (This actually is not possible because c’mon, everyone loves Chili’s.)
While the logical left brained side of me is screaming, “Don’t be a moron! The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results! Save yourself!” The right side of my brain, the creative part who loves to cook for people and loves to hear her home filled with bad pop music and good laughter is taking huge gulps of fresh air that have been withheld from her for way to long.
Rejection is inevitable. The sting is inevitable. The List will always be handed to you by someone who doesn’t really love you. But I’m willing to bet there is at least one person who has been hurt by my List and still loves me. In fact, I know I can count on at least one hand, maybe even two, the number of people who have burned my List for me because they love me.
Maybe 2017 left you feeling a little rejected. By people, by social media, by life. Feel the pit in your stomach and your cheeks redden, cry, (maybe go to Chili’s) and then gather again. Don’t cut off your arm to save your leg. Sling them both up and try again. Gather.