by Jo Lawrence-Mills


I was brought up to believe that love meant clinging to others for dear life, or allowing others to cling to you. Love was drama. Love was pain. Love had an addictive quality.

I believed that love meant neglecting your own feelings and needs, silencing your precious and unique voice, and desperately trying to free everyone around you from pain, take away their loneliness, metabolise their unmetabolised feelings.

A full time job. Exhausting. And impossible.

I couldn’t heal them. I just couldn't. And I thought there was something horribly wrong with me for not being able to heal them. Maybe I needed to try harder, give more of myself, exhaust myself more. Bad me. Inadequate me. Unkind me. Selfish me.

I had no idea who I was. I was flailing around in the dark. I only knew that it wasn’t okay to stop, to rest. There was no refuge; I felt responsible for everyone else’s feelings, day to day. I wanted to be ‘good boy, caring boy, sensitive boy, sweet boy, nice boy, kind boy’. To rest would be selfish. If I walked away, I would be plagued with feelings of guilt. I was controlled by guilt, a slave to guilt. And everyone around me was happy to keep nourishing that guilt.

They needed me as much as I needed them; a prison of unhappiness and unfulfilled needs.

But at least I felt needed. And love was need, right?

I was disconnected from my body, my breath, my feelings, my truth. Volcanic rage and a terrible and unspeakable grief bubbled and boiled inside me. Sometimes I felt like dying. Sometimes I felt like killing. Anything to bring relief from the tension inside. Anything to remove the numbness. Anything to feel ALIVE. My strange thoughts and fantasies only fed the story that there was something horribly wrong with me. That I was broken, incomplete, damaged, worthless, a terrible failure, destined for the scrapheap, condemned to be lonely forever.

Simply put, I felt unworthy of love, and so I became a beggar for a love that would never come.

Yet I got great grades in school.

And then, in its supreme intelligence, life brought me to my knees.

The addiction collapsed under its own weight.

I think I would be dead by now if I hadn’t broken down.

I awakened from the dream of love. Suddenly a new life dawned. A life where it wasn’t my job to save everyone, rescue them from themselves, take away their pain, their loneliness, their disappointment, their anger, their fear, their anxiety, their sorrows. Where I was no longer a slave to my guilt. Where my feelings were not mistakes, or signs of my failure, but precious energies just wanting to move. Where I never had to be ashamed to be myself. Where I had a right to say yes and a right to say no, and a right to not know. A right to stay, and a right to walk away. A right to take space. A right to speak my truth. A right to decide who I spent my time with. A right to my faith. A right to my own heart. Where kindness didn’t mean punishing and depleting myself to save or heal others, but loving myself enough to stand in my own power and listen to others without taking on their pain as my own. There is a power in presence! And being willing to feel guilt, bowing to guilt; not numbing it or acting to avoid it. What you own no longer owns you.

Sometimes, when you stop trying to save people, they don’t like it. They lash out. They call you bad, unkind, an abandoner. Instead of meeting their own feelings of rejection, they try to make you feel guilty. They blame their unhappiness on you. They want the ‘old you’ back; they want their fantasy of you.

They don't want you; they want the dream.

The most liberating lesson you will ever learn: Nobody can make you happy. And you are not responsible for anybody else’s happiness.

You are free. Freedom is your nature, and always was.

So, like the Sun, you shine. You don’t wait for others to shine, you don't need an excuse to shine, you simply shine. You don’t feel responsible for all the suns that haven’t yet discovered their own shining. You simply shine. You teach by example. You walk your path with courage. And if others are upset by your shining, if they judge you, if they attack you for not making them the centre of your universe, that’s okay. That’s their work. That's their path. You wish them well.

And when you stop trying to save others, when you stop trying to be the mother or father they never had, you can finally love them, instead. You can be present, unshakeable.

You can love them enough to let go. For love has the fragrance of freedom.

“Be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.” – The Buddha

- Jeff Foster