Love Is Not What Left

Dear Can You Feel This,

My story seems to never end. My father left when I was seven. My mother drank too much to forget that he left. It wasn’t like she would blackout…just that the alcohol changed her enough that it took her away. This one time I remember she was drunk enough that her words became meshed together—she asked me to go get my father and tell him dinner was five minutes to done. That was over six years after he left. She remarried eventually to a man named Robert that I despise, because he enables her and pushes me out.

I’m 27 now. I still live at home because she won’t be capable of functioning under just the care of Robert. I don’t even know what it’s like to leave the house without anxiety anymore. My boyfriend that I was with, he broke up with me because he said I’m too closed off and gray. He needs openness and color. I didn’t tell him I would change for him, but I want to. I don’t want to be this person with baggage anymore. So how do I start being color instead of gray?



Dear Rainbow,

I think gray can be misjudged—it matters, too. The preamble of this question, I don’t know what it would feel like to have a father walk out. Or to have that sorrow disregarded by the lack of remedial action from the other parent. I can imagine though, your mother must be in a great deal of pain if she can’t see yours. Yes, too much has been taken, a childhood of joy is not your reality, the story does not end, and yet here you are.

Your ability to give and receive love is tethered to your father’s absence. I don’t think it’s the gray your boyfriend walked out on. I believe it’s his inability to connect with the gray. Over what has been lost, terminal anger must rip you down the middle, stuff your soul into his or another, because there finally you can be numb.

When you needed compassion from your mother to honor your own grief, the poison of co-dependency made her shove dirt in your mouth instead of love. She may need you to never get better so you stay. The heart in you must be so dehydrated, from half-built everything that should be built, it can’t turn red.

Know this: the search to fill the absence of your father, the betrayal of your mother, and the disappointment of Robert, love isn’t another version of you in color it’s you in gray. Color is designer purses, highlights, beach vacations, refrigerator magnets with inspirational quotes, and brunching in heels. But gray is a labyrinth of rich wisdom that is earned through fathers leaving, mothers anguished drinking, and Roberts bruising the other half of life that was meant to be saved. You see, pain has this amazing ability to transform us when we stop fighting it. Gray is a gift.

There was a man I was to be engaged to. He was older, traveled, and my best friend. After we picked out my ring, I found out he was also engaged to someone else. In seconds, I went from to-be fiancé to becoming the other woman.

The day that he married her, I screamed at God over why he took him too. I still remember his birthday, the soapy smell of his skin after a shower, how he counts money in piles, and the way he would flatten his empty chocolate bar wrappers. He left me with a hole that can’t be filled. It doesn’t need to be. That hole has haunted me in ways that ache and ways that walk. I forgive him every day, because love is not what he took or what he gave, love is me.

Honor what your past means. Whatever floods you to not feel all you’ve lost, and whatever pauses the beautiful gray in you, finally just feel it. Curse at it, get angry again and again at it, cry harder over it, and then forgive not for them but for you. Never carve the absence of your mother and father into un-washable truths. Love isn’t what left, love is you.


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Can You Feel This: Self-Help for Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression and Mental Health Advocacy

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