Recently, Max and I had a conversation about values. I told him that I have been thinking recently about values as defined by where we put our energy, or what we put our energy into.
Well, he asked, What are yours? I told him mine are kindness, courage, and work. Explaining what I meant, I said, I wouldn’t, for instance, list honesty.
You don’t value honesty? He says, incredulous.
Of course, if I made a list of things I value, it would be on there. But in this instance it’s not coming up for me because it’s not where I put my work.
But saying this, I realize it’s not true. I do put a lot of energy into honesty: attempting self-awareness, self-honesty, and communicating honestly with other people. Perhaps, the work of honesty goes under the work of kindness and courage, and so I don’t think of it as a separate value.
Kindness takes work because I’m simply human, and reactive. Courage takes work because I’m made of fear. Or have a solid dose of Complex PTSD. Six of one… And work itself takes work: the will to do it, the will to push past exhaustion, inertia, fear.
I’m also thinking about kindness because of the realization that came that he––we are no longer talking about Max here––that he doesn’t value kindness the way that I do. I’m sure it would be on his written list. And he can be incredibly, wonderfully generous and kind. But which values is he most loyal to in lived, daily life? Which values does he put his work into? It seems to me he’s generous when he feels like it. Kind when he feels like it–rather than as a deliberate, continuous practice.
That I could explain, at least half a dozen times, what’s wrong with being mean to me when we argue. The effect that has on me, and on our relationship. That I had to keep explaining, because it kept happening. That he could say, Well, I was frustrated. That he could say, Asking me not to be mean when we argue is like me asking you not to get upset–as if he doesn’t distinguish between emotion and action. No, I told him, It’s like asking me not to throw things when I’m upset.
He can be unambiguously cruel–for instance, reply to an expression of hurt with a nastily sarcastic fauxpology–and I can tell him that in the moment, You’re being mean, and he just keeps going. Not abashed, not apologetic, not acknowledging. Not even a pause. That’s terrifying, and unnerving, and simply inconceivable. It makes so little sense to me that it’s hard for me to believe.
And yet, the last time we talked, the last time I heard his voice, he accused me of engaging in emotional terrorism.
I want to run off to some island far away and soak in the sun til my hair is bleached and my heart is healed and this is the kind of old wound I only feel when it’s raining.
I keep having the sense: I don’t know what I’m doing. This isn’t true, though. I do: I talk to old friends. I see friends here. I work on making more friends here. I pick up a book of crosswords again. I write, here, to blood let. I give myself enough time to sleep, even though I’m restless. I make myself eat decently, even when I’m nauseated, or, alternatively, want to drown in a vat of frosting. I remind myself I am making room in my life to have, when I’m ready, a relationship that is safe. I remind myself that this will be finite. I put my hand over the place that hurts and give it loving attention. None of it works yet, hence the sense: I don’t know what I’m doing. But the problem is that it simply takes time. As Gil says: you can create the conditions for healing, you can keep the wound clean, but you can’t force it to heal.