I spent years in therapy, simultaneously traveling around the world, and practicing downward dog. Now I teach yoga and have become a therapist. I started doing this work because I underwent a deep inner transformation and now know from experience that it is possible. I also know that there was no big single “Hollywood” moment that changed everything. It was a journey that took over two decades. Thousands of seeds were planted along the way and they continue to bloom in brilliant and unexpected ways. Many people and many moments played important parts in my unfolding. Some were magnificent but countless were painful, gut wrenchingly devastating. My personal pain was often so blinding that I was unaware of the anguish I caused those around me. I lived with feelings of chronic disappointment and could not help but internalize other’s inabilities to show up for me as evidence that I was still hated. I prematurely ended countless friendships, relationships, and jobs on that pretense alone, and I was lost. Spiraling in the eye of my own storm. Yet by some miracle (seriously a miracle), I was blessed with the gift of being magnetic. No matter where I went, people were often drawn to me and I was able to connect in an instant. New fast friends were abundant. Unfortunately, the emotional tidal waves of my inner turmoil often left me washed me up on the shore alone. I used to fear that one day I would run out of new people to befriend and wind up with no one left to replace the friends I’d divorced. By some grace, I kept swimming and reconnecting through infinity.
I could not grasp the concept of self-love back then. I mean it actually baffled me. I was frozen by the idea that I was supposed to independently teach myself to do something I intrinsically did not know how to do. Looking back it is so clear why this puzzled me -- because when you are on the receiving end of unconditional love, there is nothing required of you. All you have to do is show up and the love washes over you. You don’t need to change anything about yourself, or apologize for being you, or offer anything to receive it, it is given freely, and that’s what makes it unconditional. But since it came from someone else and was not self-generated, learning this passive skill that apparently had no requirements and required no effort, perplexed me. I only experienced love through other people. My problem was that I could not hold on to it. A boyfriend who loved me passionately and with exquisite intimacy once told me “your love tank is always on empty.” The love I soaked in evaporated moments later in my emptiness.
In those dark times, my relationships were rocky and of the few friends that I managed to keep constant, one moved, two I’d broken up with, and one shunned me. I was drowning in the fear of being swallowed up by eternal darkness and self-hatred. Many days I fantasized about being dead but remained alive without taking any joy in the miraculous phenomenon of life. I did not feel “felt” anywhere or by anyone. I remember the pain of feeling there was no one left to call, knowing solemnly that words couldn’t fix it and I’d run out of compassionate listeners. I wanted to come out of my skin, disintegrate into stardust, to be liberated, I wanted peace.
Now, these are not the kinds of things that make for great happy hour convo. So I stuffed it all down with a margarita and sent the emptiness out on waves of hip-hop and disconnection. My transmitter sent out fuzzy signals of static and I wondered why no one seemed to respond. I was untethered, a broken eggshell, dripping with discontent.
And then I met her. I was sitting at a bar in a neighborhood gastro pub visiting a bartender I’d gone to high school with. As soon as she approached, I could feel her. I mean literally…feel her. She vigorously threw herself down on the bar stool next to me and after a quick introduction said, “I need a martini!” She spun around and pierced me with her radiant eyes, then told me she had just come from yoga. We laughed hysterically and that was it. We were instantly forever friends. I was enamored with her. I remember sitting there, and just admiring how beautiful she was, envying how effortless her openness was and wanting to drift away to some far off utopia on her laughter. Her laugh was perfect. It wrapped me up in its It bold, warm, soothing, and undeniable goodness. It was a laugh that made me feel like everything was right in the world. I didn’t know it that night in 2008 but I would come to find out later that she and I were made of much of the same stuff.
We made plans to hang out immediately. We went to hear jazz in a smoky Hollywood lounge and afterwards I sat in her car listening to her album drunk on her music. As soon as I heard Blue I knew I loved her. I mean truly, deeply, hungrily, and defensively loved her. That night we slept in her bed like teenaged girls having a sleep over, and laughed until our cheeks were stiff and our guts were cramped with glee. We were already making plans. We had a thick and sticky connection like two different colored piles of oil paint mixed together on a palette, separate, different, combined, the same. She loved me too and went out of her way to make sure I knew that. She felt safe with me and found comfort in my strength. At times she needed help finding the ground, so I held her down, making sure she wouldn’t float away and I was honored to hold that string. I held it tight. Together freedom was our anthem and music was our heartbeat.
We quickly grew to know each other’s pain. I told her about my hideous darkness and she told me about hers. We were deep, and vulnerable, and talked night after night about life, power, courage, true love, and forgiveness. Within weeks I was getting emails with subjects like “Calling on my bestest girls” and “For my favorite people”. Our friendship wasn’t easy but she never stopped trying. Like all of my complicated relationships, I tried to break up with her over and over but she never let me. She held me close even when others left me for eternity. And in one of my darkest hours when all I could think about was a warm and toasty deathbed it was Lisa who came to my house and walked me outside into the sunlight. She continued to walk with me and be with me for what seemed like hours. There are countless moments, phone calls, video chats, lunches, yoga classes, coffee dates, Korean spa days, music shows, long drives, and airport runs that I can hardly remember. But some moments we remember in high-definition and that was one of them.
She called me the day she got back from Bali and asked me to take her to the hospital. She told me when she was thinking of who to call she somehow knew I would be the one to take her and thanked me for always showing up. I went to the hospital cafeteria and got her food and then stayed with her in the waiting room all night until she was admitted. She wanted me to take a picture of her in her hospital bed but it was all in goofiness. She wanted evidence. We were simply documenting the side effects of a life lived to the fullest. As she threw up a peace sign and posed from across the room, I knew that’s all it was but I hate that that is the last picture I personally took of her. Sorry but I hate it. They said she had dengue fever and the next day she was home again. I kept stopping over to bring food and be with her. She was different to me, depleted. She wanted to sit outside in the backyard and she asked me to braid her hair. I braided it, over, and over, over. I brushed her hair quietly and braided it with tenderness, with love, and affection. Maybe it sounds weird but we were just two girls. Two girls who knew each other in this weird event called life.
And then I did the unthinkable. I broke up with her. In the past we had often congratulated one another for managing to hold onto our friendship through the rough patches, for never cutting the cord and letting it fall too far away. She text me after a brief period of silence, “Been thinking of you a lot lately. Hope all is well. I am really sorry if I upset you. After the fever I had a string of serious health issues, but now finally getting back to good and traveling abroad for work. I'm back in a week and would love to see you. Sending you lots of love. Xoxo.” And I never responded.
She’ll never know the truth now. That I didn’t really break up with her, I was just taking a step back. It was never intended to be permanent, I just needed some time. And now I have plenty of it…without her. I am grateful that I am not the same person I was when I met her almost nine years ago because I would be filled with guilt and anger and who knows what else. Instead I learned a terribly hard lesson. I understand the power of darkness. I think about those who left me in my darkest hours and imagine the way they rationalized that choice. I was “too heavy”, “too needy”, and “too crazy.” Too whatever. The stone cold truth is that when we stand next to someone under a dark cloud it often conjures thunder from our own buried storms, and that is why we move away. Not because we don’t love them but because we are afraid of getting caught in our own electrical storm. I know now that there is nothing it be afraid of, they’re just feelings and we can survive an emotional storm better when we have friends. If I had to do it over, I would stand in a million thunderstorms just to tell her I love you, I see you, I’m with you, I love you, I see you, I’m with you. She loved me, she saw me, and she was with me, and words cannot explain how I feel about not having been able to do it in return. I am more than sorry.
The awareness is so strong in the aftermath, so clear, and so profound. I know how to make it right. Thanks to Lisa, I understand the other side of compassion now. The kind of compassion that is uncomfortable, that is hard to muster, that demands active surrender, and requires unconditional love. Thank you, I promise that I will NEVER forget this and I will bring it with me into all of my relationships. I will honor you by sharing your compassion, your light, and your music. Maybe one day I will carry out our elaborate plans to make the music video for “home” the place I hope you have finally found.
You are with me now and always, and I feel you still.
May we be vigilant in our effort to share our light and compassion with those who need it most and be selfless with our love.