The Wretched Life of a Lonely Heart
All About Love: New Visions
Author: bell hooks
The first time I got my heart broken was in October of 8th grade, which was in 1992. The following playlist to accompany this month contains 25 years worth of music, chronologically from the time I discovered these songs, which is the soundtrack to my broken heart.
This is such a fucked up book. My god. And I’m not going to talk that much about it.
It started out really spectacular. The first couple of chapters had me hooked, but as it pressed on and the thesis statements of the book became clear, I felt less connected to the message. It was hard to read.
But I don’t write these every month as a book review, that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to write a passage every month about the last book I read and touch on what I pulled out of the writing.
So I can do that, even with a book I didn’t really like, because one of the central themes of this book that I read in May correlated with a central theme of my life this past April. I’ll get to that soon.
All About Love starts out by defining love as:
“the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth. ... “
I can get with that. I have that. I have that with myself. A commitment to expanding myself through spiritual growth is one of the main focuses of my life. Having a husband who supports me as I nurture my relationship with myself helps me want to support the same exact thing for him, and we have a damn good relationship full of love and imperfections.
The book goes on to say that nobody experienced a childhood that was loving if any neglect or abuse was present. Maybe we were in caring households, maybe there was affection, but there was no love if nurturing spiritual growth wasn’t the goal.
Abuse and neglect are broad terms. There was definitely some verbal and emotional ‘lack of spiritual growth’ in my household. I also believe my parents loved me, and each other, and still do.
Because bell hooks says love can’t exist in these houses, little girls grow up to not knowing love, they don’t trust themselves, they pick men who were once little boys were who raised not to feel anything, they were raised to chase sex and power, not love, so they can’t love, they can’t love the women, and this has been passed down for centuries. Also love can’t exist without justice, these marriages have no justice, so most of All About Love feels more like All About NO Love.
The end describes how love is possible in community, with friends, and with yourself. And maybe it’s possible with a man or a woman if you’re willing to nurture their spiritual growth. Maybe.
No dots were connected. The arguments fell flat. I could barely finish it. And I didn’t agree with a lot of it. I’m not trying to compare my experience with bell hooks. I’m just saying I have felt the constraints of ancestral damage in my bones, I have learned to love myself, I am quite capable of being manipulative, neglectful, harmful, even to people I love, but I still love and I call it love. Enough about the book.
But man…. next month I am reading something much, much lighter.
Leading up to my wedding in the fall of 2019 I was confronted with a lot of frustration over my wedding planning. I felt very strongly about having my wedding be exactly how Steve and I envisioned it. We planned everything together: the venue, the spot where our ceremony was, the music, the menu, the readings. We wanted it small, with just close friends and immediate family. We wanted those people involved on our wedding day.
I expected, perhaps naively, that my decisions would be not only respected but embraced, because I thought our wedding was going to be so beautiful and special. But I received more criticism than I did encouragement. A friend of mine who was married a few months before me said she felt the same way about her wedding planning, and that it’s to be expected. I wondered why it was to be expected. I wondered if I acted the same way when friends I knew or my family members got married, since it was so expected.
Separate from that, or so I believed at the time, I was aware that some of my emotional baggage from my childhood and from previous relationships sometimes crept into my relationship. And I was just so sick and tired of that. Like beyond sick and tired. I remember having a miscommunication or a difference of opinion with Steve the Labor Day before our wedding— which was one month shy of our wedding— and being so distraught over it that I was dizzy. I remember at once knowing two things: 1) what I was so upset about had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship because a scab had been ripped off a wound that I’d developed in 8th grade and 2) what I was so upset about was one hundred percent shaping my perceptions of my present-day relationship.
When we were packing for our honeymoon, I told my husband that when we got home from Europe I was going to be taking action on what I was feeling and that I intended to do some shadow work. He asked what shadow work was, and I told him it’s a psychological practice of uncovering all the parts of ourselves we want to hide, confronting those issues, and integrating them as a way to enhance personal growth. I told him it’s not of the faint of heart, it’s very challenging and that I’d be unearthing some buried aspects of myself and I might cry a lot. He told me he supported me, and thanked me for waiting until after our honeymoon to do this deep dive.
I did shadow work for about a year. Writing this is a gentle reminder to myself that I should revisit shadow work again. I learned so many things about myself, about my family, about my family’s family. I had several epiphanies too, and I was able to shift my perception of myself and others in a more accepting way.
This opened me up even further into love. And this was the year after my 2019 wedding, which was all of 2020. The pandemic was a turbulent time for our country and the world (it still is) but in terms of my personal development and my relationship with myself, I was reborn in 2020. It was a really beautiful year for me. I’m lucky.
I shed a lot of skin that year. I still am.
I stopped tolerating a lot of bullshit too. I think we all did.
I discovered a really ugly side of my personality that makes me ashamed to talk about. My closest friends know about it, I’ve shared about it in 12 step meetings in a general way, and my husband is aware of it, but it’s nothing I’m proud of. I’ll share it here anyway.
I discovered I am capable of being a toxic friend to women. Not all women. Not most women. Usually just one woman. I can have a friendship where I recreate a power dynamic I experienced early on in my childhood, a dynamic where I felt powerless, so I exert my will and my power onto someone who was drawn to and subconsciously attracted to these hidden traits of mine.
I had friendships like this in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, my twenties, my thirties. In my forties, I was done.
Being done meant more action. It meant losing people. Some people didn’t even notice that I left. Others asked me to not go when they felt me being gone. I was honest with those people, I humbled myself as best as I could and I explained that the person I showed up as in our friendship wasn’t good for me, and I couldn’t be that person anymore. If I ever learned to change, I’d call them. It wasn’t easy to do, but it was what I needed to do and what I wanted to do.
This didn’t start with me, it was taught to me on a subconscious level. That wasn’t my fault but I’m to blame for my behavior once I got to the age where I understood right and wrong. I swept so much shit under the carpet. I could have changed a long time ago, but I wasn’t ready to take accountability for my part a long time ago. I only saw it sometime in the last year. I believe, like most lessons, I was blessed to be shown the same thing over and over and over again until I didn’t need it anymore, and the lesson was learned.
And since it didn’t start with me, and this was a learned dynamic in my household of origin, here’s the part where I looped in the disappointment I felt around my wedding planning. It was connected. And I could name dozens of other things, if I thought long and hard about it, but I don’t have to think long and hard about it right now, because I’m truly learning to let these things go a little bit. But letting it go a little bit only took me so far.
Another thing happened in the pandemic of 2020 that I realized this past April tied into this as well. After years of not speaking with one of my old best friends, from another lifetime ago, I reached out to her on Instagram last summer. The racing of my heart as I hit ‘send’on that message was the same racing heart I felt the last time I saw her, in 2011 at the Anthroplogie in Short Hills Mall, the same racing heart I felt the last time I spoke to her when our crumbling friendship imploded in March of 2005. She didn’t respond for months, because the message was hidden since we’re not ‘friends’ on IG, but eventually she wrote back and gave me a similar response she gave me in 2011 when she said she had no ill will toward me and that she hoped for the best when it came to me. I trusted she meant that, and truly, she owed me absolutely nothing, and she even hinted a tiny bit toward something personal regarding her feelings, not the form letter response most of note back sounded like, but I still knew she didn’t really want anything to do with me. I understood I had absolutely nothing to lose, 15 years had passed since we were friends and I didn’t want to wait another 15 or even another day not knowing if she’d ever sit down and have coffee with me, so I asked her if she ever thought she might want to have coffee together. Not to catch up. Just to talk. Presently. She didn’t respond, but I got my answer. The scab of that friendship got torn off, and it hurt for a few days, and then I was okay. I finally laid the Jessica stuff to rest. Finally.
She was another person I showed up as toxic with. She was right in the middle of the line of friendships I hadn’t been my best self, and that I had outgrown. I’d go meet her for coffee in an hour if she asked me to, but it’s unlikely she will. She’s outgrown me too. And she wishes me the best, and I feel nothing but love for her.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. Sometimes I feel like the voices of my podcasting friends in my airpods and the candles burning in my apartment when I am alone are the best friends I have. I heard two different episodes this year on the Almost 30 Podcast that made me realize something about these past friendships of mine.
I listened to one with Bethany Webster on the Mother Wound, it is explained that these codependent, enmeshed female friendships (the ones that make me feel toxic) have this trait where there’s one subject that really binds the friendship. Whether it’s divorce or a particular drama or a job, whatever, it’s a theme of discussion that the enmeshment revolves around. For me and the friendships I let go of recently, the theme was fear. Fear and struggle. Our conversations were always long, intense, and one of our struggles or fears were always discussed. One of us always had ‘something going on,’ and it was rarely anything positive. It was generally fear based. And that fear based conversation allowed me to show up in a way that I’m not proud of.
The second episode I listened to was with Kiki Robinson, who was interviewed earlier this spring, and I’d heard of her before by another name she goes by which is the Opulent Witch. And her episode really resonated with me, so I booked a session with her. I wanted to learn from her how I could cut the energetic chords that I had with all these past friendships.
My session with the Opulent Witch was unreal. Like everything else I’ve written about in this newsletter I don’t know what I expected. She was very easy to talk to. She spoke to some of my guides and asked many to stay, and others to leave, since the space we were meeting in was sacred. I wondered if the guides who were going to be asked to leave would be irritated. I didn’t want my excluded guides to be mad at me. She asked me why I was there and I told her. I talked about it for awhile, and she told me that my guides wanted me to know that what I was experiencing wasn’t because of my last friend I had the enmeshment with, or the first friend I had the enmeshment with. She told me it was ancestral. That it was inherited. That I came from a very long line of women who did the same thing, too.
Then we did a cord cutting, which was a long, visualized, meditative session with bells, chanting and sounds I can’t quite explain. Then she asked me who I felt guilty about leaving behind, and who haunted me that had been left behind years ago, and I told her. She told me that it was time for me to stop doing the work on this aspect of myself, because it was over. She told me I had to move on. She’d cut that cord, and she said once again, that it was ancestral.
These words are all I have to tie into what I read in All About Love. The ancestral ties that bell hooks wrote about that made it seem like we’re born doomed to suffer and experience a life full of lovelessness are ties I broke less than two months ago by a witch I hired on the internet. And yet, I’ve had a lot of love in my life, along with a lot of suffering. I have also had close to a decade of a second chance at life, where I have had a love and acceptance for myself that I never thought possible. I also know that years before the Opulent Witch cut my ancestral cords of toxicity, I fell in love with an amazing man who became my husband.
And my experience is far different than bell hooks when it comes to love. I know that two imperfect people can fall in love and have a healthy relationship if they try.
More from me:
I am launching an online workshop over Zoom later this summer. It’s called Ex Cargo and it’s designed to teach you how to stop communicating with your ex. Here’s a link to sign up for the waiting list where I will announce the first session and the pre-sale price. Space in this workshop is limited.
Cosabella Blues — my short story was published on Joyland earlier this month
The Inner Child and Shadow workshops, among others I have used, can be found here on the To Be Magnetic website
Further Reading for May:
Cord cutting is described here
Them Bones by CK Kane on Hobart — May is my last month editing fiction for Hobart and this story is remarkable
Woven: What’s The Story? on Entropy — Nikki Volpicelli wrote an exceptional personal essay that went live a few days ago and I can’t get enough
This insanely good essay by Mary Retta written last January called On Vibing
that Mother Wound episode of Almost 30 I mentioned
and that Opulent Witch episode of Almost 30 I mentioned
Thank you so much for reading this.