Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature where I share my progress through my separation and divorce. Starting last month, I'm including snippets of a therapy exercise where I imagine myself in a healthy relationship. The purpose is to remind myself of what a supportive, caring partner would be like, to try and offset the effects of over a decade without one.
A few months ago, I began rewatching Star Trek: Voyager. It's my favourite of the Star Trek series (though Discovery is becoming a fast second place). One of my favourite episodes is from the final season, one where Seven of Nine is using the holodeck to explore a romantic relationship with Commander Chakotay.
It's a storyline I would have liked to see more of (mainly because I'm a sucker for romance) but this time, as I watched it, one thought kept running through my mind: I would desperately love to have access to a holodeck right now.
A holodeck would have been terribly useful during shutdown, but that's not the reason. The ability to have a "practice" relationship, to restore my confidence in myself and my own heart, that would be invaluable right about now. I've spent a long time believing a lifetime of messages that I'm "too much" and fundamentally flawed. It would be incredibly helpful to hear that I'm interesting, fun, and that someone would want to spend time with me.
As I type this, it strikes me how hard the words are to write. And they shouldn't be. No one should be made to feel that they are unlovable.
I just finished reading Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient, where an autistic woman hires a male escort for a practice relationship. The heroine's struggles of self-confidence spoke very strongly to me. At the end, the author said she'd wanted to do a gender-reversed Pretty Woman story for awhile but was having trouble finding a plausible reason why a lovely, intelligent, and independent woman would hire an escort.
The thing is, I think a lot of women are in the horrible position of having their self-confidence eroded by the very people who should be supporting them. Over and over, as I've gone through this process, my friends have told me how they would never dare to get divorced and how much they would dread having to re-enter the dating arena. Dating guides for divorced women consistently stress the dangers of being exploited or predated on, reinforcing a message that no one could possibly want to be with them unless that person had an ulterior motive.
There is so much that people are told they need to accept. That they should be grateful for what they have and not risk it by asking for what they desire. We are encouraged to be smaller in order to make others more comfortable.
Well, I think I'm done with being smaller. Maybe I am "too much" but maybe I'm also just the right size.
Here's this month's snippet from my ongoing project. This time, I focused on one of the lonelier experiences of single life: waking in the middle of the night from a bad dream and having no one to turn to.
No matter how I struggled to run, the swampy mud clung to my feet with a clammy grasp. I was desperate to escape the lethal creature I knew was pursuing me. I knew I had to find my children before it did. And I knew I was completely helpless as my muscles failed me and I collapsed into the murky water--
"Hey, it's okay," a male voice interrupted.
The images suddenly vanished, replaced by blackness. I was disoriented, confused as I tried to figure out where I was. I'd been standing a moment ago and now I was lying down. The only constant was the frantic beating of my heart and the unrelenting fear that something terrible was about to snatch away everything that I cared for. I tried to move but my body was still trapped in sleep paralysis.
"What's wrong?" he asked again.
My mind slowly put the pieces together and terror gave way to embarrassment. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"Forget that." In the dark, his hands gently stroked the length of my arms. "Tell me what happened."
"It's nothing. A bad dream." I tried to dismiss it, my cheeks flaming hot. The clock revealed it was hours before the morning was due to begin and despair filled me at the thought of losing a night's sleep. I knew how this would work. I'd spend the next hours staring blankly at the shadowed ceiling. Every time I came close to falling asleep, the remembered fear would jolt me back into full wakefulness. If I was lucky, I might eventually drift off a few minutes before the alarm went off. I'd spend a week being exhausted and barely able to function. All for a bad dream.
"I can still feel you trembling. It's not nothing." His finger traced the line of my cheek. "Please, tell me."
He held me as I struggled to find the words for why the sensation of being trapped and chased had been so horrifying. He didn't interrupt or try to analyze what I'd said. He only listened, keeping me close to remind me that I was no longer facing the terror alone. The steel grip of fear faded in the face of that one fact. No matter what happened, I was no longer fighting all on my own.
We're not meant to face the world and its challenges completely on our own. Trying to do so is exhausting. It doesn't take much to be someone else's support. The act of listening can make all the difference, but it sometimes seems impossibly rare. Yet, I remain hopeful that this scene isn't strictly a creation of fantasy. It can be real. Not bad for a practice attempt.