Essay: A Measure of Self Respect

An unwelcome piece of my past came to visit me this week. I surprised myself with the strength to show it the door.

Certain details I must keep vague, out of respect for the other person (I don’t hold him in high regard, but I’m not one to publicly disparage anyone), and for my own self-protection.

What I can say is that several years ago this person and I shared a rare connection. This person doesn’t waste time with small talk, or trivial talk of any sort, and I love more than anything to sit with someone I know and trust and share inner worlds. We both fall into the same dichotomies on the Myers-Briggs Type test (I just can’t remember what they all are!). We became very close very quickly (rare for me). But for reasons beyond anyone’s control, we had to split, and this person split abruptly, completely and coldly, erasing every hint of me from his life with multiple deletes of e-mails and cell phone calls.

I lost my shit. I had what I perceive as a nervous breakdown on the floor of my studio apartment. I thought I should go to the hospital, but couldn’t drive in my state and the friend that I called that lived close by didn’t answer the phone. Not long after, I got a horrible case of the flu and called in sick to work for the first time in years. This person had to be dead to me, and knowing that brought back the grief I experienced about nine years prior when someone very close to me died in a tragic fall. The pain was almost parallel. On top of that, I hated myself for the role I played in this situation. I suffered from low self-esteem in the past, but never have I just plain hated myself. Any sliver of self-respect that I had gained through the years was gone. I felt like a piece of trash. Worthless and disposable.

I forked over some money for a few therapy sessions (two or three was all I had the money for) and slowly, very slowly, put myself back together again. None of my friends knew I had broken down, and I gave them no sign that I had. Eventually, the wounds healed over and I stopped hating myself, that person, the situation. About six months later, a publisher accepted a book proposal I had submitted and gave me a six-month deadline. So I blocked out pretty much everything to write If These Halls Could Talk around a full time job. After that, life clicked along as if this person had never existed.

Last week, for the first time in about nine years, I saw the person’s name in my InBox. This time, it was in the form of a request to connect on LinkedIn. A matter of minutes later came an e-mail. My stomach heaved. The person had switched careers and overhauled his personal life and wanted to meet and “catch up.”

My fork in the road came on the Internet highway (pardon the dated term). Do I succumb to my tendency to be the “nice” person or do I choose something else? The nice person would write back and say, “Sure! It would be fun to catch up!” And then the nice person would stay tense with anxiety and bite her nails until the great meeting came. Over a cup of tea, the nice person would smile and engage in friendly conversation. Afterwards, the nice person would think the friendly meeting to death and wish that she had had the courage to speak her truth.

The more I thought about being the nice person, the more queasy I became. I had to choose differently. I’ve worked through a lot of crud through the years to become who I am today, and the person I am today is a lot stronger than the passive, agreeable person of the past.

I said no. Meeting this person would not brighten my day or add joy to my life in any way. Anything this person had to say would not bring me any relief, as I forgave a long time ago. I didn’t need to see this person to further my personal growth. Because of the situation, I couldn’t envision resuming any sort of relationship with this person. And any outcome from this potential meeting would only bring pain, sadness, or discomfort on my part and since those are not feelings I welcome, I said no. I’m not good at saying no. Just writing “I don’t think it would be a good idea to meet” took a lot of effort!

By not only saying no, but by choosing not to welcome this person back into my life, I realized that I chose the road of self care and respect. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I have a feeling that the journey on this path will have a few less potholes.

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