My grandfather passed away in September. He was a complicated man, so the circumstances after his death were, in a way, also complicated. Looking at his life in retrospect acted as an unexpected impetus for me to attempt to make sense of some tumbling thoughts about the dark remnants I’m dragging into adulthood.
The further I get from certain experiences, the more astounded I am by their lingering, haunting presence. I often forget their impact until I discover a tiny piece of shrapnel from the initial explosion, and then I realize I’m still finding wounds from something that happened ten years ago. It’s extremely frustrating to feel like I can’t quite free myself from the grasp of a trauma I’ve always just wanted to move on from.
Simply put: I lost a desire to pursue connectivity in the wake of tragedy. I created this kind of toxic, mangled mathematical process about security, which largely involved keeping people at a distance because they’re the most unpredictable variable. This idea crippled my ability to build and foster healthy, meaningful relationships. And, afterwards, it wasn’t so easy to go back. For too long, I didn’t even want to.
I told myself the experiences taught me some valuable truths about the world, set them aside, and hoped they would quietly sit in their drawers. But in reality, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t keep those things locked away. They took on a sort of life of their own and seeped into every available crevice. They became ghosts – twisted companions, just hanging around all the time, convincing me to maintain self-inflicted isolation and to believe that no one could really love me if they knew what haunted me.
Together, the ghosts and I have constructed my own personal fortress: a place of protected solitude. I can think of moments where I’ve seen exactly what my ghosts are making and high-fived them for doing so. Every time I avoid investing myself into someone who eventually reveals an untrustworthy character, I feel justified in my coldness and in relying on the safety of my walls. And therein lies the snare: my ghosts aren’t entirely misled in their efforts. The little-bitty truthful part is where I hinge my hypothesis.
It’s taken me a long time to finally admit that I’m comfortable in my dysfunction. I’ve anchored so much of my identity in it, and while it’s not a perfect system, it’s worked, right? Eh. Turns out, it’s super difficult let go of the behaviors that helped you survive, even when you don’t need them anymore. At this point, I’m confident it’s not sufficient to pack my ghosts neatly away and hope they stay put. Mostly because they don’t.
Some of the damaging inferences I drew out of the pivotal events in my life didn’t dissolve over time like I’d hoped, and it’s increasingly arduous to tweeze them out now that they’ve woven their signatures through the person I’ve become.
It’s time to try, though. Because when I really think about it, like really, really face the metropolis I’ve built around me, I’m not proud. To everyone else, it looks like me keeping the people capable of loving me well at arm’s length. It looks like me embracing an aversion of intimacy so firmly that I end up viewing most of the relationships in my life as expendable. I’ve traded a willingness to accept love for a security that doesn’t actually exist, and I’ve hurt almost everyone I care about because of how dearly I cling to it.
From their inception, the deductions I drew were flawed. Of course, I couldn’t tell. My lens was tainted. I believed I was approaching the world from a more logical and objective perspective, when all along, I’ve been horribly biased. I can’t trust the conclusions I came to, because I twisted and manipulated the evidence to mean what I wanted it to mean.
Not rooting my self-worth in another person doesn’t have to look the way it has in my life, so far. Because the most important thing I’ve learned is that relationships are often lovely and worthwhile despite disappointments or missteps. I can be wise and careful without being so careful that I sabotage any semblance of closeness.
I don’t think there’s a perfect or definitive formula for maintaining balance, and if there is one, I’m certainly not the person who can tell you. But I do think I need to take a good look at the barricades I’ve set up and recognize that they have, at least to some extent, compromised my ability to form and cultivate relationships. And I need to realize that healthy relationships aren’t products of one person trying to control all of the variables. And if that’s true, then people aren’t the variable to eliminate. I can bring them back.
I used to believe the worst thing I could do is unlock my ghosts, but I think the real danger presented itself when I pretended they weren’t there. Because if we won’t acknowledge our ghosts’ existence, how could we possibly know the damage they’ve caused? I would never suggest we be consumed by our pasts, but we shouldn’t have to pretend we’re not still healing or to feel guilty about reopening a wound that didn’t heal correctly.
Maybe people can’t see your ghosts, but they can see what those shadows have made. So, I guess the question is: what walls are ghosts building in your name, and what are you sacrificing because of them?