Where Is the Breaking Point?

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I’ve been having this recurring dream.

Well, I don’t know if it is really recurring, but I had this dream last night that felt so familiar and lingered with me when I awoke. I felt the need to write it down, to share it with you.

In the dream, a man I once knew was trying desperately to get in touch with me. He would show up to different places where I would be, in a limousine driven by Little Richard. He would come to the front door, dressed nattily in a gray pinstripe suit, soft pink button down shirt, and fedora. He would politely inquire if I was there, and ask if he could speak to me. In every case I told the person who answered the door to tell him that I wasn’t there. But I had the feeling that at some point I would have to confront him and hear what he needed to tell me. I woke up before that happened.

The man in my dream is a real person from my past. From a more unhappy time. A time when I was engaging in all sorts of unhealthy behavior. In other words, my 20s.

He was a regular in the bar where I worked. I remember the first time he came in. He struck me as being both handsome and elegant. He was a light-skinned black man with a shaved head and shimmery, caramel-colored eyes. He walked with a cane. He had had knee surgery, or some such thing, so it was temporary. But it was endearing. It made him seem vulnerable. He wore tasteful sweaters and khaki pants. I think he was a stockbroker – many of the regulars were – but I don’t quite remember.

I maintained a mild flirtation with him for several weeks. That seemed to be the case with many of the regulars. It’s a job hazard when you’re the one pouring the drinks. You help them into their beer goggles. I’m sure it was also an attempt to score free drinks. But our bar had a strict buyback policy, which I had to adhere to or risk losing my job. They had to buy at least three drinks before I could pour them one for free. I don’t know how many of them ever figured that out.

At this time in my life I was desperate for attention. I was recovering from a divorce which had devastated me emotionally and financially. I was a struggling actor trying to make it in New York, and always seemed to be just a few days pay away from total ruin. I did not have the recipe for success. I was attracted to these men who came into my bar and spent hours there drinking, even though I also held them in mild contempt for that behavior. I judged them all harshly for their seeming lack of anything better to do. But I still accepted most requests for dates.

This man was not someone I thought I would ever go home with. But I was wrong. I ended up at his apartment after my shift early one morning. I don’t remember much of what happened, but I don’t think I slept with him. Mostly I think he talked about himself. I learned he had a young daughter with whom he shared partial custody, or at least had visitation. I learned he felt stagnant and unmotivated. I learned he was 40. I learned he was one breath away from being dead inside. Not exactly boyfriend material.

But he lead me on just enough to keep me interested. As I said I was desperate for attention, any attention. I don’t recall ever having gone on a real date with him. I do recall that on the evening of my 30th birthday we had made plans to go out. He was coming back on the train, I think from visiting his daughter in Philly, and he was going to come by my place and take me out for dinner. He never came. I sat on my bed most of the night, waiting for the phone to ring.  He never called. I fell asleep in my date night clothes.

I don’t know who I hated more – him, for standing me up on my 30th birthday, or me for letting him.

I’d like to say I learned my lesson that night, but I didn’t. There were more men like him, probably quite a few more. I finally had to quit that job. I feared if I didn’t I would come undone.

I look back at who I was then, and try to have sympathy for her. It’s hard, because she made countless poor choices. She willingly put herself in harm’s way a number of times, and always paid the price.

At what point do we say we’ve had enough? What does it take to finally have some self-respect? Where is the breaking point?

I don’t know what my breaking point was specifically, but I knew the only solution was to break from my whole life. I picked up, and left New York for good. I have not looked back.

When I visit the city I am reminded of my former self. I feel her in the pit of my stomach, scratching for attention. It’s not a great feeling. But I do occasionally like the reminder of who I once was, and how far I have come since then.  I am so grateful.

I don’t know what the man in my dream was trying to tell me. But I also don’t care. I no longer lay myself at the feet of those who find me disposable. I do not wait for them, and I hope you will not, either. YOU have worth.  You DESERVE to be treated with respect and compassion. We all do. But first we must treat ourselves with respect and compassion.

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel you have no control? Where you were unsatisfied, and as a result not treating yourself with the respect you deserve? How did you overcome it? Where exactly is the line, and what happens when it finally gets crossed?

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