The Stranger Within

IMG_4666Each night I lay in the exact place that you first told me you loved me. I occupy the same space, but I am not the same.

That was almost a decade ago. It should come as no surprise that 3,650 some odd days provides ample space and circumstance for individual evolution. Each moment, saturated with inevitability, seeps into our core while we pay no mind. The subtlety of change sneaks in, uninvited yet blindly accepted.

I feel the ambivalence of nostalgia often – the oscillation between grasping for memories too distant to pull into the now, and the calming assurance that some day I may reach for this one in the same way. I do this not only with people, but also experiences, emotions, even sounds. If you have ever heard a song that resonates so deeply at one time in your life, but later hums along meaninglessly; if you’ve ever wished to reconnect with an old friend as if you were still 16, but soon realize that unfamiliarity has replaced the laughter and tears you’ve shared, you understand.

These sublime instances will always fade into insignificance without our blessing. We have no choice in our acquiescence because the person that was once captivated by another person, experience, emotion, or song is ceaselessly transforming into a new entity within each fleeting moment. We ignore change until enough unique nuances culminate into a form who’s presence can no longer be denied. That is where our choice comes in – we can reject this unwelcomed stranger or reserve judgment and greet our new selves, knowing that we will be asked to face this choice again and again regardless of our decision.

For five years I ignored the insidious alterations within myself and resisted this stranger until I made choices that were not aligned with the person that I believed myself to be. Despite my defiance, the stranger carried on as strangers do, living its life unabashedly free of my approval. For months, I did not fight it. Like a child who fears the unknown of darkness, I lay motionless with the comforter pulled tightly over my face until every muscle in my body ached from immobility. I deluded myself into the fallacy that this was my existence now – forever hiding while the stranger wore my clothes, walked around my house, lived my life. In this new space, I heard muffled I love you’s; this time, from unfamiliar voices that spoke without conviction. I could not cry because I was terrified that the stranger would hear me and its apathy made me uneasy. Even worse, removing the comforter would mean confronting this invader and acknowledging that it was my own carelessness that allowed its entry in the first place.

When the numbness of inaction became too tedious, I revealed myself to the stranger. I impatiently tried to discern its motives. I lectured it about the consequences of entitlement and nefarious behavior. I hoped that I could agitate the stranger, disturb the ease in which it had settled in, demand it to leave me alone. But its presence was resolute and I submitted to that determination – a prisoner now allegiant to its captor. I proved my obedience by embracing its sins as my own, whipping my own back and denying myself of sustenance, all under the guise of self-preservation. Meanwhile, change continued its unwavering quest towards infiniteness.

Over the years, many people have tried to release me from the chains of self-judgment. However, they often did so through validation of my inadmissible actions or by admonishing the people I affected by them. I vehemently denied both.

Then, one night, the bold statement: “You have to forgive yourself.” My best friend dropped me off at my house after yet another night of fun that ended with me in tears, desperately searching for answers to questions that I refused to ask. I collapsed into bed, into this very space where our vulnerability became a shared communion, and I remembered the peace of surrender. “You have to forgive yourself,” I repeated. Here I can pardon myself because I am new.

No longer do the pangs of nostalgia wash over me as I lay in this space. The memory is there, but just as the resounding song loses its meaning and friends become unknown, this too is devoid of the vivid emotion once attached to it. As I reflect, I do not strive to relive those days because I finally understand that it is futile to experience a stranger’s narrative, even if that stranger is yourself.

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One thought on “The Stranger Within

  1. Stunningly painful and freeing… Shedding the weight on your shoulders (forgiving yourself) is the hard part, and I’m so proud of you for getting there.

    Like

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