It is Sunday morning, the day I was supposed to attend an event with Kevin*.  We’ve been talking about it for over a month.  We haven’t spoken in almost a week–a week of panic and grief, confusion and anger.  A week of troubled sleep and half-eaten food that tastes like dirt.

Christian is meeting me in South Durham to run; I don’t drag my feet so much as I get ready.  While we run, we talk about what I’ve been going through and what conversation I plan on having with Kevin* and where and when and why.  He’s very analytical and when he doesn’t understand my conclusions he asks.  Sometimes this frustrates me, but he listens as I talk attachment theory and explain the work of John Gottman.  He interrupts to ask for more detail on Dr. Gottman’s predictors of relationship failure.  He asks me to define stonewalling.  He has no emotional response and pronounces no judgements, in stark contrast to Margy who tears up when I cry and has harsh judgements about avoidant behavior.  Eventually, I articulate my fear that I can’t have a healthy relationship and break down crying.  Christian continues to run silently by my side as I sob a few times and then gasp for air and calm back down, never breaking stride.  I know Christian isn’t going anywhere and is entirely unflappable–this sense of safety allows me to move through my emotions without much drama.

A few hours later, Ivy sits with me in morning service at ERUUF.  I’m half-present, listening sometimes and often trailing off to miss Kevin* sitting beside me and grieve over not being with him today instead.  When a small ensemble stands up to sing, I become attentive.

“Turn the light off, go to bed,
Tell me all about the day you had.
Lay beside me, it’s time to rest.
You can close your eyes, you’ve done your best.

Let me be your sanctuary.
Let me be your safe place to fall.
I can take away your worries,
The refuge from it all.”

I swallow hard and feel tenderness and longing, grief and hope all swirling together.  It’s like someone climbed into my soul and pulled out precisely what I’ve yearned to give and receive with language perfectly evoking what love should feel like.  Hearing it articulated stings and soothes in equal measure.

“All this time we have together
Is our shelter from the rain.
I will share the weight you carry,
Let me be your sanctuary.”

I remember the first time I slept in Kevin’s* arms, the sense of intimacy and security and a deep well of peacefulness that seemed to rise within me as I slept—rendering life suddenly clearer and easier, myself more capable of taking chances and playing joyfully again.  It did indeed feel as though, magically, an impossibly heavy burden fell off.

“We have weathered through the storms,
Taking comfort in each other’s arms.
When the dark clouds come again,
I will lift you up and take you in.”

I remember him asking me; “When’s the last time you felt like this?” and answering;

“This is different from anything I’ve felt before.”

Crying very quietly, I notice Ivy sitting beside me and Joan sitting across the aisle in her Sunday hat.  I look at the faces of the women singing and the back of Reverend Brett’s head and the trees outside the windows and my own hands, holding one another.  Right now, this is my sanctuary.

“Let me be your sanctuary,
Let me be your safe place to fall.
I can take away your worries,
The refuge from it all.”

I know that I am capable of offering in return exactly the safe, sacred love I am seeking–so that if it isn’t given in relationship it shines brightly within myself.  I am right here, I offer to the frightened child within me, so vulnerable and close to the surface.  I am right here, and I’ve got you.  For all the kind words and gestures Kevin* has offered, he might not be as committed as I’ve been led to believe. Here it comes again; the deep black void of abandonment and pain wells up with ferocity.  I will stay, I tell myself.  I see you. I love you. I will never leave you.

“Oh this time we have together
Is our shelter from the rain.
I will share the weight you carry,
Let me be your sanctuary.”

I feel beyond my own sorrows, considering the fears gripping the nation this week; my trans siblings defined out of existence by a hostile government, black elders killed by a white terrorist, Jewish people gunned down in their sanctuary gathered just like we are now.  The words and spirit of this service penetrate into me, and I want to be strong and skillful so that I might help to heal the world around me.  I am only crying with the most fundamental imperative of humanity–to kindle love and connection.  Everything we need–me, Kevin*, all of us–is hidden right behind our fear of separation.  How can we love more skillfully?

“I will share this weight you carry,
Let me be your sanctuary.”

After service Ivy and Lea hug me and we talk.  I meet Margy and Doreen and their little boys for brunch.  When Margy’s son sees me he throws his arms around my waist.  I’m moved by this unexpected gesture of acceptance and affection.  My breath catches as I rest my hand against his soft curls.  Our meal is the first food I can actually taste since Tuesday night.

My friend Megan is a massage therapist.  We talk, and then I lay with my sacrum in her hand until I am breathing again.  I doze off with the soothing of her touch and come back, comforted.

When I am alone at the end of the evening, I feel stronger.  I notice with enormous gratitude that this crisis is testing the moorings of the relationships I’ve built since leaving my abuser–and they hold firm.  Last winter I flailed adrift, noting with growing alarm that some friends didn’t have time for me and others said invalidating, insensitive things.  I felt unwanted, alienated, unseen.

This time I have not faced peril alone–rather each friend I have reached out for has responded swiftly and lovingly.  I have been held and comforted, listened to and fed.  My friends have raged with me and cried with me and shown me that I matter to them.  The jolt of my severed connection with Kevin*, as heartbreaking and painful as it’s been, has revealed the tremendous grace with which I feel held.

I love Kevin* in a way that feels precious and miraculous to me.  I have seen in him rare openness and emotional bravery.  He is kind and loving, sensitive and generous.  He’s playful in many of the same ways I am, and delightfully compulsive in some of the same ways too.  He feels familiar in a way I’ve never experienced in my lifetime.  He is divinely sexy in his confidence and beautifully tender in the rare moments I sense the child deep within him.  He has communicated more clearly with me than most people I’ve ever known, and that has gently coaxed me out of my fear of men into loving him, deepening my connection to him with great joy and pride.  I have felt profoundly safe; our growing relationship has indeed felt like a sanctuary.

That seems to me the essence of secure attachment, that relational safe haven which soothes all of our wounded places. I want to have that and be that for Kevin*.  Here without him, I reflect on a day of love and connection. The resulting sense of secure attachment helps me to feel that if I must, I can tolerate this loss.

*Name has been changed.

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