• juliadestefano

Let's Paint Each Other in Trust

Updated: Jul 12


  Do you ever have those "whole lot of nothing" days? For me, they are few and far in-between. But when they do come, they come hard. I should know. I had one on Tuesday. Feeling pandemic sad, I allowed myself to sit with it. Normally, when I feel off, I push myself to keep moving - else sink into the quicksand of my thoughts. While I did try this, I found I could only manage to uphold the facade between my mind and my body for a little while. The two just could not sync-up with one another. I suppose it's not unlike saying someone is physically present while their mind is elsewhere. Ultimately, I trusted in my body enough to let it win, and hit the sheets. I am not ashamed to admit this. These days, it is not at all easy to sleep - let alone stop my thoughts from churning - and there are many.

   It was not an easy road to get to this place of acceptance of myself. To be human is to have days plagued by feelings of emptiness, self-doubt, and sadness - basically, every emotion that we're taught growing up brings "the Devil" pleasure. This is perhaps one of life's more difficult lessons to learn, especially if you're like me, and you don't subscribe well to your own failure. Perhaps you know that failure is a natural part of life, yet you have a "winner's only" mentality despite this. I get it. I live it. It is truly an effort to make peace with myself on these low days. I have gone from fighting them tooth and nail to better accepting them as they come. Usually, I am able to put my finger on what triggered them. Over the years, I have developed a better understanding of what sets particular feelings in motion. But even still, sometimes I can't figure it out.  

  Recently, S. told me that my writing has been of "great comfort" to her. I couldn't help but think of another friend of mine who was once so profoundly unhappy in life and love. He had begun the curious habit of referring to the sadness that he contended with in nearly every moment of his waking life as "nondescript." Because I knew full well what ailed him, I never could understand his word choice. Looking back on it now, I can see the logic in it. I look at the closures, lockdowns, contending with the threat of illness, illness itself, isolation, and the newfound stressors that exist when leaving our homes - just a few of the things we have been made to live through since March - and I imagine more than a handful of us are experiencing that nondescript cloud of sadness. There are times in life when feelings of sadness just seem to permeate everything we do and are.

  Among the many things that this friend and I had in common was that we would regularly stifle our emotions. We had been brought up with the "put on a happy face" mantra - told, in so many ways, that no one cared to know about our pain. We had been taught that people would much rather keep discussions light and preferably about themselves, rather than enter into any potentially heavy territory. What was conveniently left out of the equation was that the right people would not view our problems as burdensome but would, instead, be a supportive listening ear no matter how despondent we happened to be feeling. On the whole, though, it was generally unacceptable to speak of sadness. As a result, mine found a home within written pages.

  My thoughts drift to my undergraduate years - sitting in the common area. A group of girls who I had never met before got to talking to me about their relationship woes. Before I knew it, I had learned each girl's story. I didn't pay any mind to the man - I would later find out he was a professor - who had been sitting across the way. When they got up to leave, he came over to take their place. I have no recollection of our conversation, other than he felt compelled to ask if I was studying psychology. "You need to be a therapist," he told me. Though I never saw him again, his words would resound in my brain for years. These days, I playfully refer to myself as a "pseudo-therapist." Much like the girls, most every discussion that I have ends in me knowing the life stories of strangers. Interestingly enough, the more stories I amass, the more I realize I could have never been a therapist.

   I suppose what that professor said makes sense. I come from a line of Italian women who, for lack of a better term, should have been called The Givers. As a child, I saw my mother doing absolutely everything for those around her - including me - to the point where she began to lose sight of herself. Her mother had done the same for her daughters, though not nearly with as much intensity - which would explain mine's innate need to overcompensate and to provide better than what she had known. I grew up with these "giving values" instilled within me. At an early age, I began to notice them being woven into the fabric of my being - though I would not understand their significance until adolescence when I began forging connections and relationships of my own. I quickly learned that I could easily be a giver throughout my daily life. Doing so brought me much peace - that is, until I began to feel too much, and too deeply for every living thing that I happened upon.

  Trusting others would prove to be a different story entirely, especially by way of relationships. Each time, I would attract or wind up with the same kind of man - men who ended up saying what I had heard from others. These were men who had initially spoken outright about their intentions and beliefs and in doing so, appeared to me unlike the rest. But ultimately, their presence made me feel alone and uncared for. I had stayed for months, even years, or even just entertained the possibility of being together - hoping they would turn out to be of their word. I know my story is not unique, and certainly not exclusive to the female sex. The fact of the matter was - I had learned to trust myself, but I hadn't fully developed trust in my choices. If I didn't trust myself to know what I needed and what I wanted, how could I trust others to know? How true it is that like attracts like.

   Back then, I was simply spinning my wheels - choosing to be close with people who didn't really know me, much less got who I was because I believed that anything was better than being alone. But all it did was hurt me. I had traded in my principles of love for convenience and didn't even know it. Recently, I happened upon the lines: "As the old saying goes, holding onto broken love is like standing on splintered glass. If you stay, you will keep hurting. If you walk, you will hurt, but eventually you will heal." I guess I had hoped and wanted to be what they needed. 

   I might even be the change that you need - the shift from dissatisfied to fulfilled, but for the both of us. We know enough of life to know that none of us are meant to remain stagnant. The soul needs to grow, and end-of-life circumstances make me feel this tenfold because we don't last forever. On some level, love is meant to free us. But what it comes down to is trust. If you don't trust your feelings, in reciprocated feelings, and in love itself -  then we're a missed opportunity to end up in the "what if" pile. It's a thought that's too big at times, too heavy to fathom. But we all know what makes our lives feel a little bit [or a lot] fuller. We all know the difference between a full, excited heart, and a tired heart that is just going through the motions. Some of our hearts even feel older than their chronological years as a result. Mine is one of them. But the million dollar question is: "How does this person make me feel about myself?" Do I feel loved, appreciated, desired, and supported, like this person could be my person, the one who just gets me and values me - or the opposite? Can I be myself around said person - sexy and fun-loving when I want to be, and serious and contemplative when these qualities are needed of me? I know enough to ask myself the above question now, and to think deeply about the answers I receive from within.  

  The truth is - no two people run on the same operating system. Every relationship comes with its own set of challenges. It's what we do with these that counts. You can be the man who loves me, or you can be another man in my story who had good intentions to love me but was overcome by his own fears and limits - stuck on a chapter when the book was begging to be written - even writing itself in some places. But one thing is certain: you can't love me - or anyone else - until you trust your feelings, just as I couldn't love myself until I began trusting me. Making that choice to trust our gut to love is the greatest choice we will ever make, one that is rooted in the fine art of self-acceptance - and to walk with you is to feel peace in my soul because I feel seen, windblown hair and all.

"Know thyself," still one of the most powerful phrases after all these years - as is a breathy "I love you" at just the right moment. 

Watercolors, oils, or finger paints?

The Red Queen 


© 2020  Julia R. DeStefano

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