I don’t think you can plan a life. I became a psychologist by mistake. I had actually planned to be an artist of sorts. Maybe, in some ways, I still am an artist. I hope so. What I do requires the ability to spontaneously respond to each person’s struggles, authentically. That’s surely done best when seen as an art form? But, for the most part, it has been a wonderful mistake. One that has taken me on curious adventures through the pain and joy of what it means to be human. My latest curiosity is in addiction.
What does it mean to be an addict? What if, each and everyone one of us are addicts to some extent? To be human is to be attached to things, even when they are bad for us. My own chief addiction seems to be for loving people better – a convenient addiction for a therapist, perhaps? For every person that I work with, I try and find something to love in them. If I can’t find that, I can’t really help them. Fortunately, I do not believe that love is a limited resource. It’s like music (I would imagine) – the more you give, the more it flows.
When I look back at more than a decade of this privileged career, I’m audience to a symphony of lives that I am still, in some way or another, connected to. But, like any artist, you can lose yourself in it. There is no detachment. There are no simple “12 steps”. I don’t get away with charging for simple advice or behavioural suggestions. We enter your life story, so that we can explore who you are, why you are you and who you could become. It can be exhausting, rewarding, heart-breaking and satisfying all at once.
Some of these people are truly extraordinary. I get as much from them as they get from me. I selfishly keep them close to me. But, it has to remain about them and not about me. That sort of love is relatively safe. Romantic love, on the other hand, is not safe. Romantic love can be dangerous. It’s what most clients come to me for help with – the everyday trauma of love gone wrong. In fact, I believe that most of human suffering can be reduced to two fundemantal experiences – trauma and love gone wrong (whether this be the love of a parent or a lover).
“Jason…I told him I loved him…what the fuck was I thinking?” Her eyes hammocked with tears of regret, as if she had violated him in some way: sodamised him with those words. Words are powerful things. Words do things. They invent reality.
My job, to some extent, is to try and make sense of love, how we love, why we love, when love fails and how it succeeds. But, to be honest, it still eludes me. There are as many forms of love as there are the times those words have been uttered. Words become stale “chewed by other mouths”, as Don Maclennan wrote. Agnes Obel wants to buy you roses, “because words are dead”. What if Love was more than an action, never mind a word. What if it was something you “be” rather than something you that you “do”; something you “are” rather than something you “give”?
Often, “I love you” is like a spell we try and cast, a snare we try and entrap each other in. What would those words mean if they weren’t full of fear? When we say – “I love you” – maybe we just mean, please don’t leave me? Is it even possible to be loved without getting hurt? Love can sometimes get so possessive that it can almost be an act of violence, an encroachment on another’s sovereignty rather than a genuine wish for that person to be fulfilled and happy.
“Is it okay if I love you”, she asked as she turned and melted the warmth of her back into him, finally, surrendering. What a curious thing to ask… for permission to do such a thing…Love.
What would Love look like if it was afraid of nothing? A love that is both fearless and benevolent. What if, to truly love, you must be willing to risk everything and try your best to want nothing in return? Willing to completely let go and, at the same time, hold on to nothing but yourself: A love trapeze, perhaps? Risk the fall in order to enjoy the leap into the clutches of another and trust in catching yourself along the way. I think Lotte Kestner hopes for this:
I can’t wait
‘Till we’re afraid
Till we hide
It seems as though the more we love the more we fear. The closer we get, the more dishonest we become. We don’t want to hurt each other, or threaten the comfort of enmeshment with each other and so we start to lie to ourselves and each other. It’s a perfectly well meaning process, but as Albert Camus writes, “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” . Damien Rice sings:
That some make it, mistake it
Some force and some will fake it
I never meant to let you down
Some fret it, forget it
Some ruin and some regret it.
That’s pretty much the best summary of love I’ve heard. Perhaps the worst thing we can do is use the words “I love you” as punctuation. We use it at the end of a sentence, in place of goodbye, or simply as a full stop in order to mark the ending of a sentence with the people close to us. Little markers to quell our insecurities. But, what if…
Love doesn’t disappear , love isn’t there one day and then gone the next.
Love doesn’t leave you hopelessly waiting for the day it’ll magically return.
Love isn’t a competition , love isn’t a dirty game. Love isn’t any of those things they did to make you feel insane.
Love won’t leave you suffocated, love won’t cause despair.
Love won’t make you question whether you’re living a nightmare.
I hope that you remember this each time you think love failed. And pick yourself back up from it because you have prevailed.
– Refelina Michelle