This is a story that recounts how the most painful event of my life guided me to understand where the problem was and search for a real solution.
In 2016, I met a man who was 17 years older than me. Before him they were all younger, the same age or just a few years older. When we meet, I had already completed four long-term, unsuccessful relationship. My life felt as if it had fallen in to a vicious circle. It was not the question of wrong choices anymore but something more fundamental and I decided to give it a pause and contemplate where all had gone wrong all these years. I was in that process that when I met him. This man, who was only several years younger than my father, had a sharp mind and strict discipline. He was an engineer with a perfectionist attitude towards almost everything including himself. He listened to my sad break-up stories and with his strong Italian accent and Roman bluntness said: “Sweetheart, what you seek, you can not get from a man except your dad!”
Applying his maturity and pragmatism, he spotted the absurdity of the meaning of a man in my life. I had been looking for full acceptance and support in my relationships. My motto was “you and I against the world” and I had dreamed of teaming up with my man and make impossibilities come true. I was extremely unsuccessful. Something was not right. I don’t think it was my expectations but that I sought to manifest them in all the wrong places.
He asked me if I have ever felt accepted and more importantly if I had accepted myself. The next question was totally a cliché—If I loved myself. My voice wobbled as I said yes and melted under his gaze. It took me be back to years ago and reminded of something I hadn’t faced for years: coming face-to-face with a painful reality. I then got angry, disagreed, accused him of being insensitive about the issue and left. Haunted by the most painful memories of my past relationship, I found myself petrified and helpless, like a victim and I hated that feeling so much. Deep down, it was the reality that was kicking me hard. What he said was a wake-up call from all of to the demons I’d been hiding for years.
It took me many days to recover. At the same time I could hear a faint voice whispering inside of me and getting stronger as the pain was fading—a calm and comforting voice reminding me that there was an opportunity and a message within the pain. Working as a therapist and healer for so many years, I realized it was time to work on deeper layers of myself. The pain was showing me that something inside needed attention and healing. I started digging in my relationship with the first man in my life: my father.
My relationship with my father was never an easy one. He, a tall and smart man—strangely quiet, serious and emotionally remote—was a stoic, short tempered engineer who responded to any emotional reaction with absolute silence and a serious gaze. He was studious and a workaholic and whenever he was free he would prefer to sit quietly and watch TV or solve word puzzles rather that take us to a park. He would reply to questions with a simple, cold yes or no and it would be impossible to change his mind.
I hated confronting with him and used to have a lot of stress if I needed to ask him anything. I would count on my mom to talk to him and at times she would put me down and force me to interact with him and I would feel helpless and angry at her for putting me in that situation. Recalling these memories, I remembered the same feelings while expressing myself to any man. Surprisingly most of the men I encountered with had similar behavior, mostly incapable of expressing their feelings, stoic and serious.
The key was to face the fear and talk to him. It wasn’t an easy decision. I had doubts about how he would take it and wasn’t sure if I was ready for another breaking moment, but at the end I took a flight back home. Not sure of what I was going to say I sat with the old man and looked at him. He wasn’t that tall or serious anymore. Maybe I wasn’t that scared because before I knew the words were flowing out of my mouth. It was an overwhelming experience for both of us. I cried as he was sitting there looking confused. I was expecting him to defend himself but all he had to say, after a long moment of silence, was that he’d loved me throughout and that he’d continue doing so no matter what. I think that was all I had to hear. It felt like I discovered that I had a man in my life called father for the first time as the iron curtain between us collapsed and disappeared.
With a shaking voice he apologized for not being a perfect man and making so many mistakes. Not having an easy childhood had made him callus and incapable of expressing his true feeling. This was the first authentic conversation that I ever had with my dad.
As I watched him with not-biased eyes, I could see that more than me he had been suffering from the hardship of his attitude. He was looking not serious or scary but more helpless and melancholic. I was completely in an awkward situation, being insensitive to the pain of my own father as I had always judged him. We hugged and I sobbed on his shoulder for a while until I felt completely empty and realized how much I needed to be there, in between those old arms that belonged to me all these years, from which I deprived myself because I never believed it existed. I realized how much he needed to feel belonged and accepted too. He could express his love by doing something for me and by holding onto my fears, from which I had been depriving him.
On my way back, I felt lighter. It’s not that everything fell into place immediately; however, they did begin to. I observed my relationships become more meaningful and fulfilling. The less I cared about how people would thought of me, the more I was able to enjoy my life. I took a vow to protect myself and make myself feel happy as I started to feel safe. The security came from getting connected to my own roots and it felt liberating. Finally facing my biggest fear, the fear of being rejected, I felt free.
This was to remind you that many of problems that we face in life are not problems but opportunities to find a solution and put an end to something that no longer serves us. As we avoid the confrontation with fear and with pain, we misinterpret the message, like covering an infectious wound with a bandage and taking painkillers, whereas these wounds are to be opened, cleaned and disinfected and stitched so that they heal, so that we are able to feel alive again.
Next time when the pain comes, do not run away from it, do not get angry as anger is the sign of great fear. Do not let fear disable you with illusionary pains because they are incurable. Do not numb yourself with temporary solutions. Next time ask the pain what the message is and allow it to guide you to where the problem lies. Let the pain be your guide in the process of getting to know yourself better.