A national radio station recently started a prank, which grabbed my attention. They’d call a celebrity and put them on hold, then see how long the celeb would wait on the other end of the line before hanging up. In the meantime, they’d be live-streaming snippets of feed from the celeb, so that the listeners could hear what was going on – did they whistle? Mutter under their breath? Talk to someone else? Wait in silence?
The objective (as well as a bit of a laugh at the celebrity’s expense) was to see how stuck-up and self-important they were; the shorter time they waited, the more arrogant they must be. Which pissed me off because (quite apart from objectifying celebs and turning them into toys) it made me wonder about how much time *I* spend focussing on those areas where I’m ‘on hold’, and whether or not my continued engagement with them is something dogged and loyal, or really just a little bit pathetic.
I’ve always been warned against holding onto expectations, and even though I fully agree with that, I think it’s innate within us that we develop them along the way. We build up a picture within ourselves of what life’s going to look like; the events we’d like to happen along the way; the ways we aspire to handle situations; the situations we’d like to get into (or out of) and ultimately, who we’re going to be.
The disappointment of those expectations can be excruciatingly painful.
I’ve found myself left, more than once (and twice this weekend), in roiling storms of confusion, anger, hurt and frustration, tearing my hear, trying desperately to say the same thing in thirteen different ways in hopes that one of them will make sense to the listening party, tears threatening to choke off my voice anyway, and determinedly restraining myself from shouting (because louder does not mean ‘better communicated’).
It really makes me wonder – am I just doing this to myself?
I feel as though I’ve been on hold and waiting for life to make sense, for many years now.
There was childhood (part 1), where no sense needed to be made, because life was good and we were all happy and safe and looked after one another. There was a feeling of being absolutely free and engaged and never any second-guessing or wondering. There was barely any comprehension of the passage of time, and it all just *happened*, quite beautifully.
There was childhood (part 2), where we crumbled and failed and everything was toxic, and the world became about hurt and blame and trying to carry on as if things were normal – living a lie, as though the perpetration of a lie could make up for the devastation behind closed doors. And though there was no beauty in this part, there was still no questioning, because it felt par for the course – deserved. I neglected to question whether or not this was really about me, and in so doing, assumed responsibility in a way, knowing that whatever role I had in it, was only making it worse. For all of us.
Then there was early teenagerhood, dark days of continuing the lies, hiding and keeping my head down, and waiting, desperate for it all to be over, so that I could begin to live – so that the burdens could be lifted and I could start to engage (though I was never sure that anyone would want to – sufficient numbers of other children had picked up on my inherent ‘victim’ status and sharpened their own claws, venting their own sorrows and frustrations on it, leading me to believe that I would never be worthy of friends).
Late teenagerhood was crowded with Depression and heartache and the cumulative impact of Life Thus Far slamming into me sideways and taking me out. In spite of having a true friend for perhaps the first time in my life, I descended gently into my first set of ‘Abyss’, like a frog lulled into sleep by slowly heating water, and stayed there so long I didn’t think it was possible to return. But I did. Not because I’m made of stronger stuff than that, or because I’m particularly brave or plucky, but because I was too scared (and even judged myself for being so weak) to stop life, make the transition to that ultimate failure, and disembark. And so I slogged, mindlessly, vaguely wondering (without any real hope) when it might be over.
Finally in early adulthood, it was over. There was release. The bubble burst and the toxins were released – dissipated by space and fresh understanding. It was the End I had hoped for, for many years. I began a job and started finding my feet as an independent person with a brain of her own, no longer crushed and sidelined. Yet even there, in taking orders and catching the buck for others, I was unable to see that I was worth more – that the hours of exploitation I endured were anything more than the least I owed to deserve the job, and to keep it. There was friendship and camaraderie there, and good times, but many were dark and although the learning curve ultimately made me a more capable person, I know that in none of it was I a strong one. I never stopped it, or stood up to it – I let it happen and lamented, accepting unquestioningly that this was my lot, and that life would likely be as unpleasant elsewhere, so better the devil you know.
Nine years is a long time to wait, and escape seemed to come in the form of marriage and a fresh start.
Beware the fickle bitch that life is. For marriage led back into the Abyss, in spite of escape, and although there were few points I would have changed back, this Abyss was deeper, sunk in grief and loss and mental illness and heavy combat; staggering back each day into the battlefield half-healed, trying to continue fighting, assuming that deep-down, it was worth it.
This time I was strong, and where I was not, I had people to prop me up. People who sat with me into the night, talking through my options and encouraging me. People who came at the drop of a hat and told me the reality of How Things Would Be If I Left (vastly different than the fantasy, I tellya). People who said to me “Keep trying if you want to, but if it’s not a marriage, there’s no shame in leaving.” People who let me run to them and cry and cry, then patched me up with a hug and a kiss and sent me back out to fight again.
Some of the darkness is gone now, and the Abyss seems more climb-outable, but we’re by no means out yet. My roller-coaster week underlined exactly how far there is to go. In the meantime there are still personal battles to fight, regardless of the other events in life – an underlying false assumption about my own worth, a hope for value which is too tied into self-image, and a changing reflection which is improving but still disappoints.
And I’m still on hold.
On hold, clinging to those expectations and waiting for them to begin:
- Marriage to a man who isn’t sick
- Marriage that is healthy and robust
- Children, and all the wonder and joy they bring
- A family undamaged by toxic relationships
- A sense of self which is rooted in Real Things, not the superficial
- Confidence in my own value
At the same time, there are voices telling me that life is passing me by – I hear them calling from the other room, whilst I’m standing, playing with the cord and hoping that the mechanical voice which says that “my call is important” really means it, and will eventually deliver.
Those voices tell me that the expectations I hold are perhaps hollow, probably unrealistic, and even if they come true, they won’t look the way I imagined. They tell me that in the end, I need to give them up, not because it’s stupid to want these things, or pathetic to be crushed when the opposites happen, but because I’m missing out. I can’t possibly know the future anyway, and all the time I’m hooked into them, tunnel vision is blocking my view of the rest of life.
And so I dither, torn, the edicts of The Wise ringing in my ears, and I cling.
Because to hang up the phone and let go of my expectations; to stop comparing the Now to the Should Have Been; to release the Could Be and watch it float upwards beyond my grasp and the illusion of my control, is terrifying.
It means knuckling down to the What Is.
It means accepting the What Is, engaging with it and trying to change the way I relate to it, rather than hoping that it will change.
It means tying on my kick-ass boots, donning my combats and going back out into the battlefield.
It means pain.
It means living.
And life waits for no-one.