Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes.
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My name is Angie. I have never asked for help on a advice column but my life right now seems out of sorts.
I’m 33. I feel lost and confused in every aspect of my life.
Right now I am in a relationship but I am scared of the future of this relationship. You see I’m gay and no one knows aside from a few close friends. My family has no idea. My GF has been very supportive but I know the fact that I am not out has bothered her a bit. I would like to come out but am afraid as my parents are very religious and European. I don’t think they would understand. This lays heavy on my heart.
Another issue is the fact that lately I feel unable to accept touch from her. She is a very touchy feely person and I feel lately I can’t take all the feeling. Part of me wonders if its a sign things are not good between us. I love her to death and can’t see time without her. But I am just so uncomfy with touch. I am not even sure if I can explain it to her.
Anyways, do you have any advice?
Truth. It can be hard to live with it, but I believe it is impossible to live without it.
And sometimes our bodies are way ahead of us. We keep secrets deep in our cells; our bodies work hard to diffuse the pain, spreading it among our limbs, holding it deep in our hips, tamping it down in our bellies, until there literally is no place left to store it, and we hurt to even the lightest touch. A few years ago, in the middle of a very stressful period in my life, a friend suggested that I get a massage. The massage therapist put his hands on my head, his thumbs resting lightly on two spots on the back of my neck, and just stood there, while tears poured out of my eyes, streamed down my face and neck, pooled in my ears and in my collar bones. I had not been living truthfully. My body had waged a fierce battle trying to protect me, trying to keep me moving forward, and it was just saturated with pain. My body was loyal to me, doing everything I was asking it to, until there was just almost nothing left to give. I had refused to listen to its pleas for rest, for nourishing food, for good company, for love, basically. I was not good company for my body, not a good caretaker, and I was now useless, to myself, and to anyone else in my life. Our bodies hold our stories; every last little thing that has ever happened to us, been said to us, everything we’ve witnessed, it’s there: be gentle. Be patient. Be loving. Listen.
It would indeed be hard to explain something to your girlfriend that you don’t understand yourself, but I think it’s really important to try. Your body is sending you messages; it is most likely sending her messages as well, ones that are likely as confusing for her as they are for you. It is enough right now to say “I am upset; I feel strange; I’m not sure why I feel this way, or even what it is I’m feeling.” Being honest with her is the most caring thing you can do. She might be hurt by what you’re experiencing, but my sense is that she can probably already tell that something is wrong, if she’s paying attention. If this isn’t the right time for this relationship, that is really okay; you will be okay, and so will she. It’s far, far better to be healthy and feeling good about yourself than to stay in a relationship out of fear of being alone. Staying in a relationship where you feel inadequate, where conflict and uncertainty are muddling your ability to feel love, to feel joy? You’re not being fair to yourself; you’re not being fair to your girlfriend, either. And perhaps by being honest, by expressing how you really feel, you, and your girlfriend, will see a path you hadn’t seen before, and who knows where that will take you?
And as hard as it is to contemplate your parents not accepting you for who you are, it might be a possible outcome of you telling them that you are gay, so before you do, I would suggest sitting with your feelings about that. Let yourself feel what you might feel in that situation, let yourself process the painful emotions if they come, and let yourself become okay, sad perhaps, but okay, with the possibility that they won’t understand. They might surprise you and be okay with it, they might come to accept it over time, it might in fact be as hard as you fear. But you can’t control the situation, or control them; you can only take care of yourself. When you sit with your fears, try to notice where they might be located in your body. Start there, bringing your attention, your care for yourself, to that place, and let it begin to heal.
I’ll leave you with a quote I have kept for years, on a tab torn from a box of tea. It’s from Marcus Aurelius: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second rule is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” Sometimes that “face” is simply our own reflection. Self-knowledge is hard-won. You are the only one who can truly know you. Your body, your mind, your spirit; these are really just all one thing, not three. They are all one beautiful, magnificent you.
Go. Live. Be true.
About Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes: I teach writing and literature at a small private college in Maine, have written for the New York Times (Modern Love,) Time Magazine, and the Washington Post (shortly forthcoming) and am currently writing a memoir about growing up in rural Alaska. You can find me on twitter at @efstokes.
Featured image courtesy of Fede Racchi.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.