How would you describe heartache? Does it have a face and a name? Do you associate it with a particular place or a single moment in time? Is it a memory that you’ve desperately tried to erase, or at least, store in the back of your mind? Is it merely a feeling?
For the longest time, I couldn’t put heartache into words — at least not ones that accurately described what I’ve wanted to share in this post. But if anyone asked me to describe it today, I might say something along these lines:
Heartache is a pain that lingers each time I buy into the lie that something is inherently wrong with me. That something about me makes me unworthy of acceptance and love. That my internal scars, inflicted over a span of thirty-one years, are far too visible, and that no one wants to deal with them or at least look past them long enough to see me . . . Never mind my attempts to hide these scars. Without fail, heartache has a way of making them known and reminding me that the path to true healing is a journey.
I’d like to share with you how I’ve seen heartache at work in various stages of my life. Perhaps you’ve seen it in some of the same ways in yours.
Heartache silenced my voice in my youth and went on to rob me of every bit of self-esteem I possessed as a young adult. In those days, heartache had two distinct faces, but altogether, one temperament, and I knew it well. He was close yet far off; accessible yet out of reach; present yet absent when it truly mattered. At every turn, heartache met me with opposition, and ultimately, made me feel like his enemy rather than his beloved. I never heard compassion in his voice, so I plugged my ears when he spoke . . . I couldn’t see love in his eyes, so I learned not to look at him. Even so, he always knew how to get the best of me, and eventually, broke me.
The pain of heartache ran deep and left me in a constant state of grief that I never fully understood. Who knew that, that pain would follow me from adolescence to womanhood? Who knew that, that pain would manifest itself over and over again, through uncharted territory of love and loss, and that I would be ill-equipped in the art of escaping it — in maintaining a clear (and healthy) view of self in the face of heartache brought about by rejection?
I sure didn’t.
In college, heartache looked more like a single moment in time from my freshman year. What began as a typical conversation between friends turned into an indirect assault on my confidence and self-worth. It was there that I first believed the biggest lie: that the things that set me apart, that made me “special” and uniquely me, were – from a relational standpoint – of no real substance or value in comparison to the next girl. Thus, I needed to become someone else, or a least a new version of myself to be accepted, noticed, and pursued.
I can’t tell you how many times I replayed that moment over and over in my mind before I realized that there was no way I could re-write my story, to become someone other than me. So I pondered how I might change my outward appearance — to at least appear more worthy in the eyes of the (then) eighteen-year-old object of my affection — but I failed. From then on, I processed new and ever-increasing interactions with him (and subsequent romantic interests) through hurt feelings and tear-filled eyes; and I was never the same.
“Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” — Unknown
Post college and throughout graduate school, heartache became an unwelcome companion that I desperately tried to distance myself from by re-inventing myself (yet again), trying new things, doing life with new people, and experiencing new places. Still, at the slightest sign of rejection, heartache was right there waiting for me . . . at my doorstep, in my room, and sometimes, in my sleep. Around this time, heartache grew stronger and played on my insecurities as I received false impressions of acceptance from random prospects, only to look like a fool.
Thereafter, heartache was the ability to recall (without much effort) every moment of rejection I’d encountered. These thoughts were compulsive and loud, particularly when I had too much time alone and/or after I had allowed myself too much time to forget. Despite my attempts to reject and replace these thoughts with words of truth, they continued to haunt me. When I looked in the mirror, heartache was written on my face. When I spoke, heartache was sprinkled in my words. With a single thought, I could experience the feelings of heartache all over again, isolate myself, and take days to recover. My inability to let go of the past and detach heartache from my thoughts and my overall identity was crippling — making the healing process extremely difficult.
As a finale of sorts, heartache made every attempt to outdo itself just after my 30th birthday and succeeded. What was already a source of negative self-talk and other unhealthy patterns of behavior was compounded by betrayal and rejection on many fronts, all at once and without warning. To make matters worse, I was forced to deal with this experience in a nightmare-ish sort of way . . . with people I didn’t trust and in the middle of a difficult time that I’ve yet to fully recover from. Needless to say, this added massive amounts of salt to my wounds; and I continue to nurse, but oftentimes pick at, these wounds as I push through life today.