We are complex beings. A lot of very important things happen in dark places deep in our soul. These things often transpire without us being aware anything is going on and without us realizing we are making life-changing decisions. We process a certain amount of information and make observations on a conscious level. But sometimes, the really big, earth-shattering changes that forever alter the core of our being are made in corners of our heart we barely sense and don’t actually know exist. Sometimes, they take place at such a deep level, the only reason we know we have been analyzing something is because of the outcome. Because there is a consequence. Because of the fissure that forms within us. Because we start doing or thinking or believing or acting certain ways that are out of character for the person we were moments before. We have a new norm.
Switches are activated. Valves are turned. We are suddenly a very different person than we were but a fraction of a second ago.
There have been two crystal clear instances of situations when the valve closed inside of me and I felt it closing. I tried to stop it because I knew, I knew, I knew the turning of that valve was bringing the death of something that was very important. I desperately labored to prevent it from shutting off with a permanence that gravely frightened me. But the valve turned. And in a blink of an eye, I changed.
The first time I felt this terrible phenomenon, I had been married less than a year. Within weeks of our wedding, I had an unsettling premonition of doom. I could feel what my new husband was feeling toward me, even though we drove in separate cars as we relocated halfway across the United States. And I knew in my gut he didn’t love me.
That night, I tried to talk with him about what I had sensed, but he verbally denied it. I was certain he was lying…or deceiving himself. I wanted to be reassured by his words, so I let them be. But the knowing and the doubt never left me.
Time revealed the truth.
One afternoon several months later as we worked in the yard of our tiny rental house, I saw him watch a beautiful girl as she rode by on her bicycle. It hurt. I started crying and he became extremely angry, denying he had been longingly watching her. As I cried, I asked him what he wanted me to do because the fear that he didn’t love me was ever present and his actions weren’t reassuring. I told him I knew I was damaged because of the years of abuse I had experienced growing up with my unstable parents. I explained that, as a result, trust was difficult for me. I told him I realized my brokenness made me challenging to love at times. And I asked him if he would bear with me as I tried to work through the damage and put my soul back together again.
His response? “I don’t want to hear it. Keep it to yourself. You’re right, I don’t love you. I don’t want to be bothered with all this.”
As I stood, numbed and frozen, brokenhearted, I felt the switch flip and the valve begin to turn. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It happened before I fully realized my life was forever to be changed. But I had a bad feeling. And I knew I needed to stop that valve because my future surely depended on it.
I tried. I pushed back. Mentally I fought it with every ounce of strength I could muster and with all of my being. To no avail.
His rejection lodged in the innermost part of me. And froze me solid. The numbness started in that dark and secret place and penetrated every cell, every thought and every hope.
The light within me grew darker than the darkest night.
The second time was less dramatic. I realized what was taking place and though I also tried to keep the valve from turning, all my strength and struggling didn’t change the outcome.
I had a friend I had come to love. Perhaps the friend was more important to me than they should have been. But living in a loveless marriage where I was constantly rejected and where my husband never wanted to be bothered with my heart, their friendship was a lifeboat on a stormy, lonely sea.
But they were dying.
They needed an organ transplant and it was, at that time, considered to be experimental. This meant insurance wouldn’t pay for the operation. A group of those of us who were his friends were doing everything possible to raise the money, but the odds weren’t good. And as we sat talking at a gathering of these friends, the realization that I was losing the one person who accepted me to any degree overwhelmed me. The switch was flicked and all my emotions began to shut down, just as they had when my husband told me he didn’t love me and wanted me to me keep my mess to myself.
I didn’t shut down as slowly as I had previously. The battle was short. The damage done in a millisecond.
My soul became a frozen tundra.
Since that day, I haven’t been able to connect with another human being.
I’ve tried. Fighting to undo the damage that resulted from the turning of the valve that shut off the flow of life in me. I’ve prayed. I’ve been left only with the option to pretend. To pretend to feel.
It’s not that people don’t matter. It’s not that I am not lonely or that I don’t want to connect. It’s simply that I no longer know how. Something vital was lost and I can’t get it back. And in losing the life-giving flow that was throttled when the valve was shut off, I’ve lost the ability to truly live.
We are complex beings. Things happen in places we can’t control and they can destroy us in the time it takes us to breathe a single breath. There is no going back. The valve, just like time, only moves in one direction. Carrying us ever closer to death with each revolution.