I am a runner. Not a marathon runner, not a jogger, but an emotional runner. When I find myself in a challenging situation my instinct is to run—others may have the instinct to fight, others will freeze. It’s part of our primitive nature and how we respond to what we perceive as dangerous.
In the recent weeks I’ve been working with my tendency to run—I call this part of me the “Runner”—and I’ve been paying close attention to exactly what it is that I perceive to be dangerous. Some months ago, Jake wrote a blog about the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is what I live with when I face the uncertainty of my life—fear is the feeling I experience when a tiger is chasing me. Two very different types of stimulus, but I mistakenly respond to them both in the same way. When I make myself anxious or worry myself, my heart starts to race, my thoughts begin to whirl and my initial instinct is to run, get out, go. Likewise, if a tiger ever chased me I would experience the same responses, with better reason, of course.
From what or whom do I run?
So, with that definition of fear vs. anxiety in mind, I began to look at what do I run from? What is the scariest thing out there for me? What puts wings on my runners? I hate the answer, but it is an honest answer: the single most frightening thing I come up against in my life is intimacy.
I live with lots of uncertainty—my finances are never completely secure, my work is dependent on others, and I live in Toronto with Mayor Rob Ford, so it’s always a crapshoot relying on city services… I could get cancer tomorrow, and although I live in Canada—a lovely peace keeping nation, our leader is currently sucking up to the Israelis and making all kinds of enemies. Any minute now I might eat some Fukishima infected fish, I might get swine flu or I might freeze to death waiting for the bus in the -30 wind chill winter we’ve been having. But none of this makes me crazy; none of this sends me running.
What sets me running is being present in the moment with another human being. Sitting still and looking into someone’s eyes and being honest with them sends me right into a spin of epic proportions and I find that realization to be incredibly sad.
There is only one common denominator in my life
As I’ve been exploring this runner part of me, I’ve looked back at my history of broken relationships—family, friends and lovers. I’ve looked carefully at how the relationships began and how they’ve ended and the common denominator in all of them is me. That’s not to say that I take all the responsibility for the failure of all my relationships, but with each one I see how my unwillingness to be honest and intimate has reaped an incredible swath of unhappiness and pain.
And underneath all that pain is a terrible sadness that I am seeing and feeling in a completely different way. As I own my resistance to intimacy, I find myself grieving for what could have been. I’ve wasted so many opportunities to be loving and kind. I’ve run from love and connection, responsibility and maturity, and I’m left with an emptiness that I had to hide behind the word “victim.”
The only way I could live with the wreckage of my past and my inability to connect with you (and myself) was to blame you for our lack of connection. In every failed relationship I convinced myself that I had done my best, I had really tried and the failure was not my fault. In every case I either blamed you for being a jerk or I blamed my crappy childhood for making me unavailable. Regardless of my excuse I always left every relationship as the victim and therefore blame free.
I’ve done this for over 50 years and when the time came for me to look at my behavior I resisted mightily. I fought, squirmed, spun and wailed like a banshee. If I take responsibility for my inability and unwillingness to connect with you now and then, then the label of victim no longer fits. And if I can’t be the victim then I have to own the havoc, pain, disappointment, sadness and abandonment that I create by running.
I fought hard to avoid taking responsibility. I resisted like a champ. I did not want the fault to be mine, I did not want to be the reason I was so alone and lonely. I fought to keep my membership in Victim’s Anonymous—I fought to be blameless. And then, largely as a result of being in the Live Conscious orientation and using Perception Language, I stopped fighting with myself and I accepted my part in each of my failed loves. The friends I no longer have, the lovers who have left, the family I don’t know—all of them gone and perhaps gone for good.
And now I am here, in this moment, with my pain and sadness and guilt and for the first time I feel honest. I have an incredible load of grief for all that I missed. All my lovely friends who I was never honest with, all my lovers who never truly touched me and who I never truly touched, most of those relationships I can never repair. In every one of those relationships I thought more about me and what I was afraid of than I did about you and what you might need. My selfishness seems boundless to me now.
My work today is to stay crystal clear about my role in all my past relationships and to honestly accept what I did to end those relationships. I have lied to everyone in my life at least once. I have lied, told stories, moved away emotionally and eventually run as fast as possible to get away from a real connection with you. As I sit with acceptance of who I am and what I do, my heart simultaneously breaks and opens a little more each day.
It is an incredible experience to feel free and overloaded with sadness at the same time. I am elated that I have finally admitted this to myself and I am horrified at the depth of the pain I have caused by being unavailable and running away.
What can I do after years of running?
I console myself with the knowledge that I still have time and can do myself differently today. I cannot change how I behaved in the past and I cannot unburn many of the bridges I set ablaze with my selfishness and unwillingness. I can only be better NOW. I can seek to connect with you in this moment with all of my baggage and sadness and reveal myself.
Incredibly there are still many moments when I fall back into self pity and in my sadness I have an almost irresistible urge to find a way to erase what I have learned and go back to living as a victim with my head in the sand. But so far I haven’t been able to do that, the awareness of my Runner has stayed with me and with each day I find my identity as a victim slipping from my grasp.
Who will I be if I am not a victim? Who will I be if I stand honest and naked before you with nothing to hide behind, no story to rationalize my behavior? What will life be if I am honest and available and stop running?
I have no idea, I really can’t imagine how it will be to connect with you and myself from an honest stance regardless of the circumstance. I cannot imagine revealing myself to you day in day out, no matter what. But I aim to try—I am determined to find out how to live with intimacy in all my relationships. I refuse to live with this weight of regret and remorse of being a runner, and so I am going to do the scariest thing I can think of. I am going to stand still with my arms wide and my eyes open and say to you, “Hello Future Friends, Lovers and Family, this is me, I want to know you and I want you to know me.” And I am so very grateful that I still have time.