Recently, I got some news that really rattled me. Like, shocked me to the point where I could feel my life shifting and myself waking up from the sleep-like trance I’d been in for months.
The summer season was especially difficult for me. So many changes were happening in my life, my relationships, and my business. I was traveling a lot, I'd moved into a place where, for the first time in my life, I’m living without parents OR a partner, my grandmother died (the first grandparent to do so). and I was thrown headfirst into discovering who I am outside of the relationship I allowed to define me for three and a half years.
Due to all the stress, I went numb. I shut down, which was my body and mind’s best way of keeping me safe when everything just felt so different, strange, and overwhelming.
And because I turned this awareness off, because I wasn’t tapped into how I was feeling in each moment, what my intuition was telling me, I found myself in a relationship that made absolutely no sense. We shared none of the same interests and our baseline perspectives on life were entirely different. He was also into a lot of things that generally put me off, like drugs and alcohol.
Despite the lack of logical reason to be together, we spent most of the summer cuddling, shooting hoops, and hanging out. I let myself slack on my work in favor of spending more time outdoors. I procrastinated writing my book to sit for hours on the couch watching episode after episode of some TV show or another. My energy and motivation were flagging. I felt run down, worn out, and totally out of touch, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring myself back to where I needed to be.
At the beginning of August, after a conversation with one of my roommates and some of my friends, I finally came to the decision to end the relationship. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere and that we wanted different things. It just wasn’t going to work. And even though it killed me to call it off with someone who had brought me lots of happy memories and joyful moments, I broke up with him.
In the following days, we tried to navigate living in the same area, seeing each other almost daily, but not being together. It was terribly difficult, because a part of me yearned for that connection to another person, but we maintained the decision to stay separated.
Then one night we were speaking when my ex dropped a bomb on my lap: “Shannon, I have Herpes II.”
I just sat there in silence, not sure what to say. Thousands of questions were streaming through my mind: "How long have you known?", "Why didn’t you tell me?" and, of course, "Do I have it?"
That’s when I come to find out that this guy I’d spent the summer with had had sex with me knowing that he carried a sexually transmitted disease. Without telling me.
In that moment, I was sure I didn’t know who I was speaking to anymore. Who wouldn’t tell their partner that? Not just out of responsibility, but out of trust, love, and respect for the person they’re with. This man was not at all who I thought he was, or maybe he was exactly who I knew him to be all along.
The first night we went out, I discovered two toothbrushes in his bathroom and asked if he was seeing someone (which I was totally OK with, as long as it was open). He told me it was his ex’s toothbrush and had been there for a while; he’d just forgotten to throw it out. The next day, he told me that he had lied, that the toothbrush did indeed belong to his ex -- the one he had broken up with that very morning, the day after our date. He apologized, and I forgave him. (You can see where I’m going with this, right?)
The signs were there. I kept getting the feeling that something was off, but I couldn’t bring myself to face the fact that this relationship that appeared to be the main thing keeping me happy and sane during a difficult summer was not at all good for me. Despite the things that irked me about his behavior -- the jealousy, possessiveness, trying to control what I wore and where I went and with whom -- I continued to stay in the relationship.
So although I was shocked at the news, there was also a part of me that was not surprised in the least. Of course he would have an STD. And of course he wouldn’t tell me about it.
My reaction when he told me was one of almost complete stoicism. I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel angry (although my friends wanted to punch him in the face for putting me at risk like that). It wasn’t until I called up my gynecologist’s office to ask them about testing, the nurse being very sweet and patient, answering all of my questions, that I started to break down into tears of fear and disappointment.
"How could I let this happen to me?" I thought. And the truth of it came crashing down on me: I had been neglecting to take care of myself. In my distress, I had completely abandoned myself mentally and emotionally. The realization that I knew all along what was going on, that this relationship was slowly depleting me, but chose to do nothing about it made it clear that I had not been loving myself as much as I could have, as much as I deserve to be loved.
But instead of judging myself, I came to a place of peace and acceptance that I was doing the best I could. With the amount of stressors that piled on top of one another during the summer and no real support team in place, numbing myself was the best option I could come up with, and I went for it.
I knew I needed to show myself some more love and dig deep to find the lessons hidden in the folds of this dreadfully unhealthy relationship, so I called in my friends. I talked to them for hours, sharing with them the whole story and my feelings. I told them I just wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come, and they held space for that.
One night, one of my close male friends asked me a powerful question: “What is this showing you? What message was the universe trying to bring to you with this experience?” And the first words out of my mouth were: “I need to be more conscious of who I spend my time with.”
For too long, I had spent my time with people who drained my energy with their negativity, close mindedness, and unhappiness. It was high time I started spending more time with people who shared my zest for life, passion for learning, and drive to change the world.
I also gave myself space to just process. I started doing a lot more inquiry, first on the surface stuff that was coming up, then diving deep into the heart of what was really going on. Why was I putting myself in these situations? Why was I allowing myself to be used by other people? Why was I attracting people who would lie to me and cheat on me (as another ex of mine had done)? The answers that arose from this exploration astounded me and brought me to a place of deeper compassion for myself.
I recognize I am not perfect. I still have childhood wounds that need to be healed, an inner child to nourish and shower with love and affection. There are myriad limiting beliefs floating around my subconscious mind, waiting to be discovered and explored. And I accept that. I know that I am perfect in my imperfection, that I am doing the best in each moment, and that my life will unfold as it will. It doesn’t need me manipulating and trying to control it.
Each story we tell, each chapter of our lives, contains within it a lesson, a powerful parable that allows us to uncover more of who we are, more of what we need to learn, and reminds us that there is still so much that is left undiscovered. I can only wonder what’s next.