Love is the great equalizer. We are born conditioned to seek it and we spend our days living into it.
I was 19 years old when my mother told me that she loved me. I waited what felt like a lifetime to hear those words from her and I imagined the time being more sensational than it was. I could dismiss the forgotten birthdays, the abuse, the fact that she was crazy. Because she was my mom and deep down, I knew she must have loved me because she gave me life.
The one and only time my depression landed me in the hospital was at the start of my sophomore year in college, and I had convinced myself that no one could ever or would ever love me—and most importantly, that God didn’t love me. Since coming out, and being isolated from family and my church community, and growing up with parents who could not care for me, I was convinced that I was unlovable and on a road to hell.
I started that day planning my escape from this life and I ended the day in the cardiac unit of Regions Hospital—the same hospital I was born at and the same hospital I interned at each summer throughout high school because I was in their summer scholar’s program and thought I wanted to become a doctor.
Because I was in the hospital as the result of a failed suicide attempt, I was under suicide watch and I could not be alone. The first full memory I have of being in the hospital was groggily waking up to see my grandmother standing over me. It was still daylight. She had sorrow in her eyes and I knew that she regretted her attempts to exorcise and isolate me because of my sexuality. Then I fell back into a deep, and heavily medicated sleep.
That night, I woke up and I saw my mother. She was sitting beside my bed and she looked so lovingly at me. For that split second, I felt like a kid again and instead of running from my mother, I wanted to run to her. As she sat in the chair in that dimly lit room crocheting, I wiped away the tears in my eyes and my vision refocused.
It wasn’t my mother after all.
The tears began streaming down my face uncontrollably and the woman in the chair stood up and came to my bedside and put her arm around me and held me while I cried. She asked me if I was scared and if I remembered what happened. Yes, I remembered and no, I wasn’t scared. She asked me why I was crying and I told her that she looked just like my mom. She said she wished she was my mother.
A few days later, I was transferred from the cardiac unit to the psych ward, and once I was settled in my room, I decided to call my mother. I was angry for all the years of unresolved pain that led me to that point and I was angry that she still hadn’t come to visit me. It wasn’t a forgotten birthday, or a memory of her berating and violating me as a child. I almost died and she didn’t care. I was surprised when she answered the phone and I told her how I felt. She let me speak and she claimed to not remember any of the events I recalled from our past.
How could she not remember the things that brought me so much pain? I later learned about compartmentalization and her schizophrenic mind’s ability to block out traumatic events. I asked her why she never said she loved me and she ended the call by saying, “I can’t come to see you but if you want to hear me say, “I love you” then I love you.”
As she hung up the phone, I realized that all the pain I had stored from all the people who hurt me was pointless. I was suffering because of what they had done, and at any given moment, they could either forget or conveniently not remember the details of the pain between us. It is then that I learned that my searching for acceptance and love could not be fulfilled by external sources. If I waited on my mother to love me the way she was unable to love me, if I waited on family and friends to accept me in spite of my identity, if I waited on society to affirm every aspect of who I am before I love, accept, and affirm myself, then the pain and resentment that I carry is at will.
After I hung up the phone from talking to my mom that day in the hospital, I decided to step outside of my pain for the first time in my life. I stood in the commons area and looked around the room. I looked at each person and it was as if I was seeing for the first time. I looked at their faces and saw the struggles in their eyes. And for the ones who spoke, I sat and listened to what they had to say. I reserved my own talking for when it was time to see my therapist, and for the first two days I was there, I spent my time listening.
Love is the great equalizer. We are born conditioned to seek it and we spend our days living into it. We love through family. We love through our contributions to the world. We love through listening.