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Just Ben

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Alchemy, and love [Oct. 26th, 2013|01:47 pm]
Just Ben
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Last weekend was Alchemy 2013. It was the seventh Alchemy, and I’ve participated in all but the first. That marks five years of massive personal growth for me, and more than any other annual event it’s been Alchemy that has consistently situated that growth in an immediate context where I can directly feel it happening. It’s been a stable marker in my life, a fire running through it, lighting it up, burning away the old, and fertilizing what remains with its ashes. This year Alchemy has been especially nourishing for me, and it’s left me both a lot to reflect on and a personal mandate to make the time for that reflection.

I haven’t been making the time for that reflection for several years now. I haven’t been posting here, obviously, but that’s only part of it. Four and a half years ago I moved from far outside Atlanta to just barely outside Atlanta. I did it for a job that became a wonderful part of my life for several of those years. I didn’t at the time connect that with being not long after my first Alchemy, but now, on reflection, that connection seems fitting. I’ve been staggeringly busy these last five years. With work, with school, with relationships, with roller derby, with self-discovery. Moving in toward town has provided me more opportunities and activities than I’ve known what to do with. And I’ve seized lots of those. This year Alchemy burned home the notion that I’ve been seizing too many of them, reveling in the excitement in them, relishing that excitement more than the nourishment that only some of them really provide me, and neglecting myself and my own emotional health in the process.

I hope that this post will be the first of many reflecting on these past few years and on what that burst of activity has taught me. It came to a head at Alchemy, and like so many big things in life, it was catalyzed by love.

At this time last week, I was sitting under the Alchemy effigy with rextrocular, and I said, “I love you.” It surprised me: They’ve been on the periphery of my life for a while now, but it’s been much more recent that we’ve both made time for each other, and only with that time that I began to feel especially close to them. But when that finally happened I fell, and I fell hard.

This post isn’t a paean to why or how that happened. I expect parts of that relationship—as well as my other happily continuing relationships—will make their way out with my other reflections in upcoming posts. This post, though, is a flag in the ground, and it’s a reflection on why it surprised me so much to feel that love and need to express it at a point in our relationship that felt so early to me.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with “I love you.” I haven’t always heard it in a healthy way, and there was a time in my life that I said it with a hefty dose of desperate codependency. I feel like I’m mostly past that, though Alchemy this year also showed me that it’s not entirely gone. But mostly over the past seven or eight years, I’ve settled on a sense that it represents that certain emotion that I feel toward someone I’m romantically interested in. I haven’t had a clear sense of exactly what it is or what it entails—something right around a fuzzy cluster of connection, attraction, and safety—but I’ve definitely felt comfortable recognizing it when I sense it, and I’ve felt comfortable sharing that sense verbally when I feel it.

Last week it surprised me, though. It came quickly. Very quickly. It came with a quickness that set warning klaxons blaring in my head, screaming that love doesn’t come on that fast, and that when it does it isn’t safe. Love is tender and vulnerable, and love quickly grown is easily lost. I’ve been especially sensitive to the pain of lost love in the past. And yet I felt it, and I said it, and I knew that it scared me, but that it was as true as I could imagine it could ever be.

On Monday—forty-eight hours and at least that many eons after sitting with rextrocular under the effigy, now so much ash and memory flowing through my veins—we sat again under a rainbow umbrella, preparing to leave the burn. I told them how I’d figured out that in the past “I love you” had meant not only a certain emotional connection, but also a promise to keep that connection alive. It felt scary to say it so quickly under the effigy because at that moment I didn’t feel like I knew myself well enough to make that promise. I’ve been so busy seizing opportunities that I’d forgotten how to recognize the things that are important to me, much less make adequate time for them. I had been starting to recognize that for months. And right then in my mind I recognized that I didn’t want to hurt them by falling through on that promise, though I hadn’t yet recognized that I was at least as afraid of hurting myself that way.

But in the forty-eight hours and at least that many eons that had passed since then, I had come to understand that I had a real need to change that pattern of overexploration and undercommitment. That I needed to make time for reflection to recognize what was valuable for me and for focus on those things once I found them. And that this particular fuzzy cluster of connection, attraction, tenderness, vulnerability, honesty, and trust was valuable enough to make a promise to keep it alive.

So I said “I love you” again.