Disappointment

A common theme has bubbled up into my life again.

“Disappointment” has been the word of the past month for me- which is difficult when compared to past themes I’ve observed, such as authenticity, joy, and bravery. It’s, of course, disappointing when life seems to shift to a negative focus, but it’s always worth learning from and observing for what it’s worth.

Winters have always been hard for me. Every year, when the nights get longer and the days get shorter, everything seem to crowd in on me the way darkness encroaches on the light in the waning hours of the afternoon. School is cluttered with finals, the holidays present an ever-increasing amount of tension for nearly everyone, and the culmination of stressful weather and stressful events means all kinds of relationships get strained particularly thin (which is particularly unfortunate when considering the fact that this should be the time when families and friends come together in harmony).

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Last year, my winter was centered around an obsession with doing it all. I wanted to complete teacher training, I wanted to teach as soon as possible, I wanted to get perfect grades, and I wanted everything to abide by my schedule. But this winter, although I’ve released my ridiculously high exceptions of myself and the world for the most part, I’ve felt the unsettling cold of disappointment creeping into my life. At first it was small- not hearing anything from colleges when my friends were already receiving acceptance letters, having my second SAT date fall through at the last minute, one class that was inexplicably bumbling and awkward. But then I started to notice bigger things, more unsettling things, that left me feeling not quite able to settle back into the little cocoon of happiness I’d been engulfing myself in for the most of the past sixth months.

At first I was afraid that I was suddenly becoming hypercritical of people in my life. Things that “hadn’t bothered me” before were suddenly causing me pain that grew from the sting of a paper cut to that of a long-lasting wound that wouldn’t quite heal, to the point where you couldn’t ignore it anymore. I started noticing patterns that hadn’t been quite apparent before- plans falling through, things coming up, questions not being asked.  I started feeling homesick for a home that I thought I still lived in, a time when things that had once felt “put on hiatus” now felt like permanent altercations to a world I had been happy with.

All these little fractures, so thin they could hardly be seen, started to spread across my surface. Things were going so well in so many parts of my life- my recovery, my practice, my teaching, my community- that I brushed off things that hurt me deeply because “I have it so good already”. Who was I to feel sad about these things when a wealth of opportunity was appearing at my fingertips? Who was I to speak up and complain about how I felt? Who was I to be hurt by disappointment when expectations on others are only set by the foolish?

But as these inflictions started to culminate, it was only a matter of time until I’d shatter. And I did. It was a hurricane of emotion- at first it was just a drizzle of rain here and there, a few quiet tears shared with no one, a few worries not even written down. But then when the real storm hit, it tore down everything in its path. Finals. Tests. Grades. The final earthquake to awaken the tsunami.

And when it all came out at once, it was like reading a hidden timeline of my life, like watching myself in third person. I could see the times I’d swallowed my words, the times I’d bit my lip and held it inside, the times I’d told myself “it didn’t matter”.

I was disappointed. Disappointed by people in my life. Disappointed by circumstance. Disappointed by myself, for not seeing it soon enough.

This storm bubbled up over the course of a weekend, settling for a few hours like rain retreating back into their angry grey clouds, waiting for their next attack. And then I’d be back with lightening for words, words I’d been holding inside without even knowing, remembering things that hadn’t given me pain before. I’d retreat and attack, retreat and attack, saying angry things, sharp things, burning things.

Hurt things.

I found a quote over the course of that weekend, after accomplishing nothing more than emptying myself of old grievances, by Martin Luther King Jr. It reads:

“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

And suddenly, I realized why I was so hurt. It wasn’t coming from a place of hate, it wasn’t coming from a place of evil. I wasn’t even really mad. I was sad, I was missing a time where I knew better of these people. I was missing a time where I felt safer, more trusting, more able to love. I realized I’d become jaded, expecting less and less, unless what I felt didn’t feel so raw.

I’ve come to realize that disappointment is just a sadder form of nostalgia, a longing for what you have once known and has once made you happy. The love was not missing, it just was being expressed in a colder, more underlying way. Like winter, it was a muted, harsher way of seeing the world. We would never miss summer had we not known its sweetness. Winter, in this sense, is the nostalgic longing for warmer times that we’ve once known, once basked in its golden light.

It’s okay to be disappointed, I know that now. It’s not selfish, or gratuitous, or overly dramatic. It’s an acknowledgment of what you’re worth. To expect any less, to allow people to treat you as any less, is only a disservice to yourself. And it’s because of this that it’s okay to express it before the tiny fractures split you open, bleeding your sorrows all over the world with the unfair, indiscriminate torrent of a storm.

There can be no disappointment where there is not great love. It’s not the absence of love, just another way of finding your path back to it.

Something about acknowledging your sadness makes it slowly start to get better, assurance that you’re not alone in your perception of life. Your experience, while not validated by others, does involve others, and their understanding and awareness of your feelings is important to their realization and conclusion. You have to ride out the course of emotion, following it over the bumpy hills to rest at the bottom once all it said and done.

And of course, no one can change if they don’t know how their actions affect you. All you can hope is that your disappointments don’t fall on deaf ears.

But if your disappointment truly comes from a place of love, be it for yourself or for others, it’s hard for them not to be heard.

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