Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Pattern

I have a pattern. I’ve had it for years – probably since I was in Spain in 2001, and I found that I had to escape on a regular basis in order to feel normal, or, better yet, to feel anything but overwhelmed in the process of a year abroad that started right after 9/11, where I was trying to learn Spanish in Andalucía, where Spanish is not spoken, but chewed.

The pattern is recognizable and firmly entrenched, to the point that it was the introduction to my yet-unpublished book, Confessions of a Travel Addict, and also the introduction to this blog, which I created long ago with the idea that it would be the marketing arm of the book when it was published.
Over the years I have questioned the pattern, I have denied the pattern, and I have grown angry with those who asked me about it. “What are you running from, Morgan?” people would ask me. “Will it really help if you leave?”

Yes, god dammit. Even if I didn’t say it aloud, I would think it, angry that they even asked, and yet unsure as to why: why I felt I had to escape, what exactly I was escaping from, and how on earth to break the pattern at all, even as I saw myself play it out, over and over again.

The pattern is simple: go travel, rejuvenate, remember why I am so in love with life, remember the miracles, the joy of being in a new place, experiencing new things, meeting new people. Get to a point where I become comfortable with the idea of going home, and go. Take all that newly-minted enthusiasm and joie de vivre and try to apply it to my life; try to slide back into something that tells me what I am supposed to do and who I am supposed to be based on someone else’s standards, and slowly but surely begin to hate it. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Here are the subtle parts of the pattern that I did not realize were there: the need to put physical distance between myself and anyone who needed anything from me. Travel gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself, only socializing as much as I wanted to, spending as much time as I wanted alone, far away from anyone who might miss me, love me, or want me near them. It gave me the opportunity to simply walk away from people that were pulling the very life out of me, whether I wanted them to or not.

This is not to say that I am constantly surrounded by soul-sucking humans. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I am surrounded by people who want to be near me, who appreciate me and love me, and I have not been able to separate that genuine human interaction from the people who would take from me until I had absolutely nothing left to give. The part of my pattern that I did not recognize until now is that the answer is not in finding those who don’t need or want me in their lives, it is learning to stop giving when my quota has been reached.

It is rarely one person. Instead, it is a multitude of pinpricks in my life vest: each one is small and insignificant, until I realize that I am no longer buoyed. Instead, I am using all my energy to stay afloat, even as more and more come to me for the smallest measure of help; surely, I think, I have just a little bit more to give.

I have found something in Boquete that I have not had as far back as I remember. It is a desire to stay. As usual, I have found myself connected with people who pull pinpricks of my energy away from me; who do not understand that they can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and that the camel is old beyond its years and worn from taking on all those tiny straws. For once, however, I don’t want to leave. Instead, I want to gently move those people out of pinprick range; I want to say no, gently and firmly, realigning my life with what I want and need instead of realigning my surroundings again, again and again, in search of the perfect situation, where I am not required to give, and I do not have to take.

That situation will never come. There are people everywhere. Everywhere, people give and receive; give and take. The part of my pattern that was unsustainable was not in the leaving to rejuvenate, but in the thinking behind it, that my life would always be a chore, and that the only way to survive it would be to escape, regroup and come back. I thought the weakness was in needing to leave in the first place. Now, I see that the real strength lies in realizing when a life I have created is unsustainable; that the answer lies in carving out my space wherever I am instead of needing to extract myself and exist on the fringes, where I am safe, unnoticed, unneeded. Not only is that not actually a possibility, but it's a lonely place to be. By distancing myself from everyone, the ones who genuinely love me as well as those that would use me up, I am distancing myself not only from the unhealthy interactions, but also from the healthy ones, that would not be about taking from me, but that could literally feed me, my energy, my person, and yes, even my joie de vivre.

I am not sure if this seems like a huge discovery to you, invisible audience, but it has quite literally changed my world. It’s a little scary to think that I have created this pattern, and that the way out is to change not my location, but my situation. It means that I will no longer be able to blame others if I can’t say no; it means that I am responsible for me, and contrary to what I’ve done most of my life, I have to say no to others and yes to me.

You would think that, the way I’ve been treating it, “no” is a word much larger than it is; you would think that it has the ability to stop or start the universe. You would think that I somehow thought that my saying no when others wanted me to say yes was something that could bring the world to a screeching halt. The truth is, as egotistical and ridiculous as it sounds, that is always how it’s felt. In the past, the only time that it felt ok to say no was when I was completely at the end of my rope; when the only choices were no, or my own insanity. Even then, I couldn’t always choose myself.

It sounds ridiculous, unless you’ve done it. It sounds crazy, unless you’ve ever managed to catch yourself giving everything you have, everything you are, until you are shaking and exhausted, dizzy and spent, all because someone else wanted something, and surely, that one little thing wasn’t too much to ask of you. And perhaps that one little thing isn’t too much to ask, but on top of the rest of the requests, the needs and seemingly small pieces of straw that others want you to carry, there is enough to be too much. The answer for me, now, in these cases, in no longer to run, to fall back on the pattern that to this point has kept me alive, but to say loudly, emphatically and with no amount of kindness, speaking as much to myself as to anyone else, “Fuck you. That’s enough.”

Love and hell no kisses,