Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the turn of the year, the winter solstice and all the holidays of the “dark” time of the year are celebrations of the miracle of renewal. The harvest and colorful leaf fall of autumn is over, and the seasons are turning again to the beginning of the annual cycle of life. Our gifts, all our gatherings, the lights and candles are all expressions of joy in our shared warmth, and our faith and hope in our survival through the cold months to the blooming of spring again.
This morning, reading in bed (Richard Powers’ Prisoners Dilemma), I found this line: “Inside each of us is a script of the greater epic writ little, an atlas of politics so abundant it threats to fill us full to breaking.”
It made me want to write you about the “politics” of getting over a relationship with a sociopath. Sociopaths challenge our faith and hope. Our faith in ourselves, and the goodness of the world. And our hope that there are happy endings for us, or that anything we do will be enough to prevail over the forces of evil or the random destruction that appears in any life. In some ways, this is the biggest challenge of healing — to recover our easy belief that we are precious in the world and that what we need is here for us. Somewhere in our hearts, we remember feeling that way. But we are struggling with a terrible lesson that seems to prove otherwise.
As I write this today, I am looking out the windows behind my desk at a grey sky. Sleet is coming and dangerous roads. The snow is frozen hard on the ground, and dozens of finches, cardinals and jays are at the feeders. At dawn, deer came to nibble on the ears of corn my son scattered at the edge of the woods. My furnace died earlier this week, on a day where the temperature never climbed above 25, and it was 12 hours before the repairmen figured out how to get it going again. Now, with the heat turned up, and me wrapped in sweaters and fleece and woolen socks, my fingers and toes are chilled by the cold that falls through the storm windows.
Elsewhere in the house, my years-old Christmas cactus is blooming beside a wildly-sprigging rosemary bush that looks vaguely like a Christmas tree. Wrinkled but still sweet apples, picked months ago from a local orchard, wait to be peeled and mixed with mincemeat for a pie. A leg of lamb is in the refrigerator for Christmas dinner with a man who was an untrustworthy lover, but a loyal and delightful friend. After dinner, we will go to the movies with my son to see Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.
All of it stories of risk and survival, disaster and renewal, the fine edge we walk and the mysterious providence that brings us to each new day. Even the most blessed life encounters harsh weather, and sometimes we find ourselves in trouble that taxes us beyond our conventional wisdom. When our rules don’t work, and our usual insurance policies don’t suffice, we are challenged. And often, we don’t know what it means.
Does it mean that somehow we have fallen from grace, that our luck has changed and we are no longer loved by the world? Does it mean that we are broken in some fundamental way, and no longer dare to be comfortable with ourselves? Does it mean that the world is darker than we once imagined, and that we must struggle harder for less?
This is what a great philosopher called the “dark night of the soul.” In this midst of this challenge, there is something truly great happening. A kind of personal miracle that — depending on how we think about things — occurs in our intellect, emotions or spirit. When faced by something we do not understand and cannot manage with our usual tools, we are learning and growing. Like the germs of life stirring in the seeds buried in the cold earth, we are experiencing the birth of something new in ourselves.
Because the challenge is threatening, because it makes us question ourselves and what we know, the first part of the learning seems like recognition of evil in the world. Sociopaths seem to be dark messengers, informing us that our love, goodness and hope cannot triumph over their selfishness, greed and senseless destruction. But in time, we come to realize that this lesson is not really about evil at all, but despair.
This is about a war — profound and eternal — of belief. Are we, as sociopaths believe, essentially alone in an uncaring and untrustworthy world, forced by circumstance and entitled by the survival instinct to take whatever we can grab for ourselves? Or is there something about us that is blessed by connection to something larger — the love we share with other people, our dependence on the combined strength of our communities, our instinct that an infinite wisdom and strength exists beyond our imagining, larger than us, but also part of us? And that we are meant, by some birthright that we can hardly explain but that is clearly part of our deep character, to find lasting peace, understanding and gratitude.
What we ultimately learn from an intimate encounter with a sociopath is that this battle is not in the world, but in ourselves. The sociopath triggers our fears, our insecurities, our willingness to give up what we value for the illusion that the ultimate source of love or safety is outside of us. In their betrayals, in the brutal disappointments they return for our commitment to the gorgeous illusions they cast to draw us in, we are thrown back on ourselves. They prove to us, in a way that is a perfect mirror of however much we were willing to give them to make this illusion real, that the first source of our love, safety and greatest wisdom is inside of us. That, however important shared love and community may be, the foundation of everything good in our lives is inside us.
It is about what we believe. At base, under all the little rules we’ve picked up from parents and teachers, under all the little restrictions we’ve placed on ourselves as a result of old traumas, under all the lingering resentments or fears we’ve never resolved, is what we believe about ourselves and this life. It is what, under it all, we know to be the truth and the meaning of our stories.
Our lives, like the life of every other living thing, are about survival and growth and learning. Our lives are about understanding more as we age, an evolving wisdom that sometimes grows out of joy and triumph and sometimes out of pain and loss. Our lives are about trying, not waiting around for something to happen, but also believing that trying is not just us working at what we see. Trying also magically attracts new resources to us. Everyone here on LoveFraud knows how trying to get better brought us here, and here we found resources that simply zoomed toward us, challenging us in good ways to wake up to new ideas and use them. That is how the world works.
Our lives are also about seasons. Not just the season of age, but the seasons of mastery. We have little challenges to learn on a daily basis, and we have huge challenges that we inherited, and that are so much part of the fabric of our family’s history or the state of the entire world that a lifetime may not be enough to understand it all or master its opportunities. We learn the immediate things — how to change a diaper, work the e-mail, get along with a boss, drive in the snow. But our lifetimes are also about those immense inherited questions, and part of the meaning of our life is how much we do learn and how our learning affects the great whole.
Nothing, not one breath or molecule of these recoveries from grief and loss, is wasted. We are part of a great turning of seasons. What we do here is important. We are important. The world and the great spirit that gives it life force have given us a gift, an opportunity to learn something amazing. About ourselves. About the meaning of love and belonging, as well as solitary courage. About how to be whole in the face of adversity. About the great cycle of renewal in ourselves, and how truly dependable is the fact that we are meant to learn, grow, thrive, bloom again, and face new challenges as we feel strong enough for a thrilling new learning experience.
The earth is turning toward sunnier days. Seasons when we take the warmth and light for granted. So are we.
As Oxy likes to remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Not just to endure. But to recover joy, confidence and belief that every bit of this is a gift, sent to us to help us clear our internal decks, get rid of fear and grief and anger, and open our minds to the bright spirit of faith and hope, peace and joy, understanding and gratitude that is our birthright, that lives in the center of our beings.
Namaste. The light in me salutes the light in you.