I've been putting off writing this. For years, maybe.
Because I know once I do, there can be absolutely no going back.
Freud held that we are all driven by both fear and desire, often subconsciously, usually simultaneously. To the point that what we fear is actually the very thing we desire. And what we most desire is wrought with a crippling fear we rarely live to overcome.
For the past seven years, I've called Playa Hermosa, on Costa Rica's Central Pacific Coast, home. Not necessarily in the traditional sense of the word, since I've lived there and here and most places in between at some point or other along this transient nomadic journey I call life. So by 'home' I mean the place my soul dwells most frequently, the place my heart longs to be, day in and day out. And as a surfer, 'home' simply refers to the wave I surf most. The wave that keeps me up at night with an anxious insomnia beating hard in my chest, and wakes me up in the morning, desperate in wanting. A lover I can touch and feel every day, but never hold as my own. The perfectly unsatisfying relationship that always keeps me coming back for more.
The beach breaks at Playa Hermosa, known as some of the heaviest in the country, and among the most consistent in the world, have come to define me. As a surfer, as a woman, as a human being on this earth, my physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual self has been shaped, twisted, and molded by my relationship to these waves. Their changing moods. Unpredictable faces. Heaving barrels that often leave me face down on the ocean floor for what feels like eons, before I emerge, gasping for air with hair and eyes full of coarse, dark sand. And, usually, a smile. These waves have taught me strength, resilience, and mystery as they force me to confront the limits of my own power in the throes of their unforgiving majesty. Sometimes it feels like a practice in survival. Of narrow escape by hell or highwater. And only then, when I skirt the impending doom of heavy closeout, or come up for air after a long hold-down, does my spirit feel truly alive.
No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory. Fins pierced skin, leaving scars to tell stories of strength and survival; currency among surfers. Bruises and breaks where body met fiberglass on too many occasions to count. Hardened by my love of surfing a spot that had its way with me, day in and day out, fear fueled adrenaline and pounded in my chest with every paddle stroke, anticipating pain, manifesting destruction, loving it all just the same. It was a self-inflicted abuse that I knew only as unconditional love for a beach break that barreled through my spirit; a wave that owned my soul for seven years of my sweet little life.
But man, the good days, the epic sessions of overhead glass after a gentle rain before sunset, just me and the boys and nobody else, those perfect moments when the light hit the mist off the back of feathering waves in golden rays of rainbow and God, those days linger in memories of magic I'll not soon forget. Those days, amid having suffered the heavy-handed hurt of days before, stoked my fire all the sweeter. Those days made it all worth it. And kept me coming back for more, every single time. Addiction in liquid energy, pulsing across seas of space and time.
God I loved that. Life lived in highs and lows. Beatings and rewards. Cycles of abuse and redemption. For seven years, that was my life.
Everything else, safe and mundane, just felt like passing time.
For the past seven years, by no sheer coincidence, I've been the other woman in a relationship with a man I loved so completely, so pathetically unconditionally that I could never walk way. Not all the way, anyway. As the other woman, I was always the exciting escape; the fantasy that lingered on thoughts of lingerie for days and tropical surf honeymoons in imagined futures somewhere over the rainbow, where the commonplace dramas of coupledom had no place in the perfect passion of our unconventional love-illusion. I blamed destiny for the pain of waiting to be the one he'd choose in the end, once he grew into the person he said he wanted to be so that he might actually deserve to be with me. I drank that sorta shit right up, swallowing it whole into guts as empty as the surf line-up at sunrise after reggae night. I practiced a lonely patience over years of halfway attempts at togetherness between his bouts of short-term break-ups with his girlfriend that twisted hope in my heart to delusion in my daydreams. I'd end up skinny and sobbing, alone on the cool tile floor, usually in the kitchen for added dramatic effect. He'd go back to frolicking along empty coastlines and busy city streets, back together with the wifey he said he'd never end up with in a million years. I was a footprint he could erase as easy as the sea does the sand.
Hot, cold. Yes, no. In, out. High, low. Promises, hope, expectation, disappointment. The cycles of extremes were predictable in ways I grew accustomed to. Always believing it to be something it would never become, I learned to love living the highs and lows. Because in choosing to be the other woman for seven years and counting, I chose to have no other choice but to thrive on the abuse and learn to call it love.
I blamed him. For the sweet little lies I loved to believe. All the two-faced infidelities. All the promises he'd never meant to keep.
You're fucking right I blamed him.
But it wasn't him. It was me. I lived my life as if he was everything he'd never actually be. I refused to see beyond eyes blinded by dreams of every little possibility. Instead, I loved him relentlessly for all that he was not.
I used him to abuse me.
I did that to me. For seven years, and counting.
I called that love. And I thought what I loved was him. When actually, all I really loved were the lies, the promises, and the pain. Everything I could dare to dream. Every ounce of everything I could possibly feel. I called that real. And that's what I decided love meant to me. Everything love was supposed to be.
Living with all the pain my tired heart could feel and still loving a person who was never even real.
So that was me. The beach break girl with the perpetual broken heart. An expert at self-abuse disguised as unconditional love; addicted to the pain and pleasure of feeling and fear.
Dodging barrels and getting dumped by would-be boyfriends, it was the same damn thing. All I ever wanted. Everything I was terrified to know as real. The desire in my fear. The fear in my desire. The more pain, the better. Because it made the moments of excruciating love that much more desirable, unattainable, somehow satisfying in their fleeting, addictive delusion.
For seven years, I lived life between loving heavy almost-barrels and leaving a hard-hearted almost-boyfriend. Together, they taught me to love what hurts me. To crave the highs as much as the lows. To believe in the bowels of my soul that the only joy I deserve is the one that nearly drowns me. To grow addicted to the abuse in such a way that I can't live without. Because it's come to define me. Because I don't know myself as separate from it. Because I am it.
And trust me, that's no way to be.
A little over a year ago, I left Playa Hermosa. I walked away from life as the other woman. I stripped myself of those parts of me that identified with loving the pain that threatened to drown me for good.
There wasn't much left to hold onto, save a heart ripped wide-open; a soul with the will of a martyr emboldened to her cause. I'd be damned if Freud's game of fear-crippling-desire got the best of me any longer.
I decided I was built for better.
I decided I was built for freedom. Freedom from cycles of addiction that manifest in waves of abuse masquerading as love.
I decided it was time for a less heavy wave.
A lighter sort of love.
It would be an uncertain journey to a heart I never trusted enough to believe in.
I didn't know where I was headed.
But somehow, I found the strength to walk away.