“Ghosts of the pasts have power over us. Even if we truly want to move on, it’s not easy.” – Abbie Gale, Sleepy Hollow
I’ve been struggling with ghosts lately, ghosts of relationships past, and ghosts of Phoenix past.
My ex is having a hard time with our breakup and has been sending me letters. I have asked him repeatedly to take some space to heal and made it very clear (kindly/ firmly / angrily / calmly) that I do not want to be in a relationship with him. His gestures of affection are not welcome as we are not a couple and he is not courting me. There are several emotions I go through whenever I receive something from him: fear that it will be another letter saying how much he is hurting; indignation because I am reminded that these professions of love were missing when we were dating; frustration because he’s not respecting my boundaries now; and sadness and guilt for my part to play in his hurt.
My girlfriends have suggested I adjust the way I feel about his overtures, to choose to react differently and to just ignore him, as he will probably take a hint. They remind me that he is not a bad person and is just going through a difficult time. But I think that to try to change how I feel because he has issues and needs to get it out, seems like stepping back from what I need (distance, peace of mind, a chance to move on). Seems like the relationship all over again where his needs and issues came first and I’m making allowances again. It has been six months and I want to give up the ghost. It is difficult making room for new possibilities when there is harmful clutter from the past.
Then, last night I found out that the current girlfriend of an ex I dated ten years ago, has an issue with me. I have no idea why. He and I have remained on respectful, friendly terms without even a hint of emotional intimacy or closeness. We are not each other’s confidantes and do not share personal stories with one another. Apparently her issue with me is so large that he is not supposed to come to my apartment, where our writing group of meets. Why am I a ghost in her relationship, when she does not know me?
On a personal level, the ghosts of my demons have been apparating. Yes, I used a Harry Potter reference. I have been feeling trapped and backed into a corner and those demons who used to squirm and bang on doors demanding an escape, have been sitting quietly in the rooms of my mind, watching, waiting and making their presence known. I’m not worried about them because I know I won’t use alcohol as an escape, but I am concerned that they are there at all. They nod when I acknowledge that they’re there, sort of like a roll call: doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, victim, people-pleaser, judge. Over the past two years I’ve been able to handle and dismiss them, but now they’re sort of hanging about, and making them go away is becoming more difficult.
I read once that pain has an evolutionary purpose. It provides information from the environment that a particular behaviour isn’t good for us. I try to pay attention to situations and stimuli that make me uncomfortable or cause me emotional, physical or spiritual pain. I feel better about myself and have a lighter attitude when I honour the way I feel. When I fight against or resist making the changes I need to because I’m afraid or failure, or too worried about someone else’s well being before my own, I am not honouring myself. And when I do that for too long, little by little, I stop functioning: I have restless nights and don’t sleep well, I have constant pain beneath my shoulder blades, my eating habits change for the worse (I’m a stress eater), I get heartburn, I don’t clean my apartment or take care of my plant, I feel nervous before checking emails or answering phone calls, I avoid people. This timidity and lack of self care is against my true nature so I have to change my behaviour to remove that which is not helpful or uplifting to me. I must start somewhere and I can only start with me.