You know it when you hear a song.
You know it when you take a drink, read a book, or see a piece of art.
You know it when you have a new experience, or travel for vacation, or attend a party.
There is rarely ambiguity: It was either good or bad. You either liked the experience or didn’t.
We spend our entire lives trusting our own judgment. Sometimes there’s risk assessment involved—Can I get through this yellow stoplight before it turns red? Sometimes it’s as simple as trusting the colors we see, and the words we hear, and our spatial awareness as we constantly move around, and our memory of—everything (who we are, where we live, the best route to work, 3+7=10, and our phone number).
We spend our entire lives trusting that the things we see, hear, touch and experience are real. That we’re not insane.
And unless we are totally and completely crazy, everything (except for all the silly things we make up in our heads out of fear and insecurity) we experience reaffirms constantly that we can trust ourselves.
I was always right.
I mean, lighting that 101-proof shot on fire and drinking it in college showed poor judgment.
And I probably should have realized more quickly that Gay Dave was trying to sleep me that one time.
And sometimes I miscalculate stuff and suffer consequences large and small for doing so.
But mostly? I was always right.
The grass really is green. I caught the football because I correctly guessed where it would end up and my hands did what they needed to in less than a second to not drop it. I always remember my birthday and social security number and address and telephone number.
When I do X, good things happen. When I do Y, bad things happen. I know the difference. I can trust myself.
I think most of us are pretty good at this. Every second of our lives, we exercise judgment, and we’re mostly rewarded for it by virtue of not being dead.
But Then Something Happens
I have no idea what.
One time I got super-intoxicated and got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and that’s when my wife started yelling at me, which was REALLY annoying because Leave me alone while I’m relieving myself! I really have to go! before waking up enough to realize I had just peed all over a bunch of my own clothes hanging in my closet.
That was life-changing in that it was the first documented instance of me losing total control of myself. Proof that I can’t always trust myself.
But not even that did it.
My marriage ended.
Not in some explosive, dramatic sort-of way. It was—for me—an imperceptibly slow death by a thousand pinpricks I didn’t recognize until there was no going back.
And after 34 years, everything in my life I felt sure of went up in smoke. I freaked out. And there are a lot of reasons people freak out when their marriage ends. But one of the reasons doesn’t get talked about very much. For many people, divorce is the thing that shatters our illusion of good judgment. Once you have invested all of your time and money and dreams and future plans in a failed marriage, you realize something terrifying: I can’t trust myself anymore.
At first I was all jacked up and didn’t even know who I was looking at in the mirror. I sort of looked like me, but my insides told me everything I needed to know: I WASN’T ME ANYMORE.
And that shakes you. Hard. You don’t even get to be the old you again once you lose your I-can’t-trust-myself-virginity. That person is gone forever.
And then you wake up every day a little less sure of yourself.
You’re scared when you used to be brave. You’re insecure when you used to be confident.
You engage in self-loathing and self-destructive behavior because fuck everything.
The Next Chapter
Other life trauma can trigger the terrifying I-can’t-trust-myself-anymore feeling, but for those experiencing it because of divorce, many people insanely, but understandably, try to date while they’re totally messed up and unable to recognize their own reflections.
It’s because people enjoy being kissed by someone who likes them, and being alone all the time feels lonely and foreign to people accustomed to marriage and companionship.
Fools rush in.
We see it all the time. That shit usually crashes and burns.
Others harden their hearts because of anger.
And others build walls around them because nothing feels scarier than going through that again.
But time marches on, and stuff that used to hurt stops hurting. Things, just, get better. Like magic.
If you just keep breathing and stay alive, the pain resides, the fear lessens, and our smiles return.
We’re not our old selves anymore. We can never be.
But we start living again. We start feeling again. And, even though it seemed impossible just a couple years ago that we could ever be with someone else, it starts to feel possible.
We meet people we like. Sometimes we sabotage it. Maybe for good reasons. Maybe for bad ones.
When it’s time to make a decision, how will we know?
When life teaches you unequivocally that you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust yourself? When there’s so much at stake? When there’s so much to lose?
And then I look around. My fingers almost always hit the right keys. I hear the music. I feel the keyboard. I see the sky, and I’m smart enough to know it’s not really blue, but that light refracting off a zillion air particles makes it look that way to our eyes even if I don’t have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads proving it in a dangerously awesome and random color-science demonstration.
I don’t think we ever get to fully trust ourselves again. I think it’s probably always scary now.
You can’t buy heartache insurance. You can’t sign up for a membership to the Easy Life Club. You can’t be assured nothing bad will happen tomorrow.
You only know that, no matter what, you can handle it.
How will we know?
I don’t think we ever know. But I know we never fly without taking the leap.
So maybe now it’s not about trust anymore.
Maybe now, it’s about faith.