Recently I’ve lost a lot of things. I lost my job, my independence, someone I love, two wisdom teeth and subsequently some weight. My health has deteriorated both physically and mentally and there have been times when I’ve lost my grip on reality. In less than two months I will no longer be a student and society would label me as single, unemployed and living with my parents.
I didn’t want any of these things to happen but they needed to. I needed to stop pushing myself to do a job I physically couldn’t do. I needed to lose my independence because I couldn’t cope on my own anymore. I needed to stop fighting for love that isn’t reciprocated. I needed to lose those wisdom teeth (although I could have done without the subsequent infection and weight loss). I needed to become unwell so I could wake up and realise that I’m not ok and that I needed to change what I was doing, even though I really didn’t want to.
Now that everything has fallen away and all I have to do is focus on finishing my degree and my health I can start to build my life back up again from scratch. This time my foundation will be my health, until that is better nothing else is being added in. I always try to be ‘normal’, to have a job, a relationship, a home but I lose these things over and over again because my health is not good enough to sustain them.
I read a blog post about attachment and the writer quoted The Buddha: “The root of suffering is attachment” as well as Yoda: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose” which seem to be good sentiments to try to live by. When you form your identity around your attachments – your job, your car, your relationship status – when you lose them you feel you are losing a part of yourself, but as human beings we have everything we need to be happy within ourselves.
When it comes to relationships, attachment is often confused with love. Attachment is about fear and dependency which comes from not feeling complete in yourself and feeling you need another person to be whole. Love without attachment is about feeling whole by yourself and giving the surplus love you have without needing anything in return.
The relationships I’ve been in have always been based around some form of dependency. My own ill health means that occasionally I’ve struggled to look after myself and people have often wanted to help me without necessarily being asked but then they ultimately begin to resent my illness. My first adult relationship was a very unhealthy one but I didn’t leave for a long time because I was scared: of him but also of being alone because he convinced me that no one else would want me and that I should be grateful that he put up with me and my illness. Most of my relationships have involved co-dependency when I end up giving the other person a lot of support too because they don’t feel ok on their own. Many people, myself included, look to a relationship (or just sex) as a way to escape from themselves. Focussing on someone else means you don’t have to think about your problems, you get a high from feeling wanted and a sense of satisfaction, but ultimately you realise it’s not making you feel good. You blame the other person, convinced that they’re just not right for you, and go straight back into your search for someone else. The other person is not the problem, or at least not the only problem, your relationship with yourself is what needs attention. The happiness you gain from outside yourself is ephemeral, it will never fill the emptiness you feel inside; that hole needs to be filled by you. Once you feel content within yourself and you meet someone who also feels content within themselves, then you can begin to love without attachment from a place of generosity not a place of need.
I described it to my friend as being a cake or an ice cream sundae which is great on its own and a relationship is just the cherry on the top. She’s a teacher and she tells her teenage students this and they love it. Apparently they think I’m some sort of legend without ever meeting me which I find funny but I’m glad they’re hearing this now. I wish I’d known about it ten years ago!
The cherry can be all sorts of things, not just a relationship. Even without a job, or my health, or anything I am still worthy. I am still a yummy ice cream sundae just for being me. On a very dark day I asked a loved one what was the point in me being alive when I can’t do anything useful. But I’ve finally understood that I don’t need to earn the right to be alive, I was given life and I’m allowed to keep it. Now that I have lost most of the things that formed my identity, I find that I am still loved by my friends and family, I am still getting up in the morning and getting through each day. I grieve my losses and sometimes it’s hard but mostly I feel relieved. Of course I want to have a relationship, a job, a home and independence again but right now they’re not what I need. And I’ve finally accepted that.
I am also so grateful. I am grateful that I can be sheltered and supported by my family until I’m back on my feet. I am grateful that I can get the professional help I need. I am grateful that I have friends who want to talk to me and spend time with me. I am grateful that I’m still here. The hole that my losses have made is being filled with gratitude and I feel that’s probably a good place to start.
The blog post about attachment I read can be found here: https://uk.lush.com/article/losing-attachment-way-real-happiness