Toxic 2.0

I don’t know how to do relationships.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know how to advise about relationships.  I’d make a great family therapist or marriage counselor.  I marry people—to one another, of course—in ceremonies, as the ordained minister with credentials recognized by the state.  Ask me about your relationship and I will give you fabulous advice about how to do your relationship well.

But the second I get involved with another human in an intimate relationship, I turn into a raging lunatic.

I literally chased a man the other night.

Ran after him.

Ran.

People, I don’t run. If a bear chases you, you lie down in a ball and protect vital organs.  If a person with a gun demands something of you, you give it to them.  If bullets start flying nearby, you get your body as flat to the ground and as behind cover as it can get, and you stay there.  Fuck running.  I have not run in years and I don’t intend to start now.  But I ran to catch up with a man who was running away from me.  Literally.

It’s like I give out some sort of inaudible and unintended signal that can only be heard by people who will help me create crazy in my life. A dog whistle of sorts emanates from my person.  (Granted, we usually also create crazy in the bedroom, which is amazing and which I love with an intensity only matched by that of my orgasms.  So, there are definitely perks.)

But I cannot figure out how not to be the most insecure woman on the planet when it comes to being in a relationship of a romantic nature.  And even if the person I start the relationship with is totally secure, normal, and stable at the beginning, I make them nuts by the time we are a couple of months in, because my crazy is so intense that it spreads like a virus.  And I’m not sure how to stop that.

I can keep you from getting my herpes, but not my insane, obsessive notions that I am unlovable and not good enough and being “punked” every time you attempt to love me well.

I constantly think I am being tricked into something.  Into what, I do not know.  But I am convinced there must be some form of deception happening.  How could there not be, given my history?

It’s strange, because I see great models of what a “good man” is all around me.  And I don’t mean that bullshit “real men _____” that accompanies toxic masculinity and the vomitorium that is men’s rights groups.  The last thing I need in my life is some controlling, machismo, hyper-masculine ass.  I’ve been with that.  It didn’t go well.

When I say “good man”, I mean a balanced, thoughtful, feminist, who cares about the world and the people in it, and treats all people with respect, but offers an extra layer of that care and love to the partner in his life.  My dad is one of these people, though he might not love that I call him “feminist” (I mean that you believe in equal rights for all people, Dad—which I know you totally do.)  My “brother”, Adam, is one of these people.  My friend, Luke, is one of these people.  Andrew, Allan, Josh, Brian, Bryan, Matt, Joshua, Dan, Phillip, James, Ted, David, and the list goes on.  Not to mention the long list of good women out there who model great personhood and great partnership for me to follow.

So, I see these good men and women, and then I think I pick one of these good men or women out of the lot of single people out there around me, and then things go really well for the first month, and then…

Then my mind starts to play the game where it thinks that I am not enough, so I need more and more evidence that I am enough.  So, I cling and I push and I beg and I get all sorts of unreasonable.  I know I am doing it on some level, I think.  I used to try to deny it and to believe that I was constantly being gaslighted. (Not that I was never being gaslighted, because there was lots of gaslighting going on in my history, just not at the times that I was creating the problem.)  Now I am more aware of it, and I have come to accept that I have a nervous attachment style—I need lots of assurance that the person I am with wants to be with me and considers me enough.

It has taken a long time for me to consider that valid—that need for assurance.  But it makes all of the sense that I would need extra assurance, given the fact that I was locked into abusive cycles for much of my relationship history, and those cycles told me repeatedly that I was not worthy or enough.  Now, I just sort of wait for the person I am with to start that cycle of abuse.  And when they don’t, I start to become confused and anxious and weird.

That sounds stupid.  To put the words on the page feels really strange.

To admit that I become confused, anxious, and weird when nobody starts a cycle of abuse is terrible.

It is sad.

It is devastating.

But it is so true.

So, I think that I have started it myself.  I have convinced myself that now is about the time that my partner should start to treat me poorly, so I make comments or do things that cause conflict.  I get angry that he leaves to go to his on-call job—even though I know he is on call.  I ask if he is embarrassed to be seen with me, when he and I have just been walking down the street hand in hand.  I push when he asks me to pull.  I go when he asks me to stop.  I accuse him of not wanting to be with me when he is with me.  I do the weirdest things, because I think that conflict should happen now, and he isn’t starting it.

I’m breaking my own heart and blaming him for doing so.

Let’s be fair—bad men broke me.  The toxicity of relationships prior to now was all their fault, and not my fault at all.  I was captive, beaten, raped, assaulted, and abused in all sorts of ways.  They are responsible for that.  And part of that toxicity is seeping into my present, so they are also partly responsible for what is going on with my relational challenges today.  There is no doubt that the breaking that was done before is still affecting me now, and some parts might always stay broken.

But what worries me now is that I fear that I have become toxic.  What worries me today is that my only way of being in relationship has been the way of toxicity, and I might not know how to be other.  I might not know how to be the partner I expect my partner to be, because of the brokenness that lingers and the places that are still wounded and scarred.

What if I have become the face of my enemy?  An enemy that I was in love with, and whom I thought was in love with me, by the way, so I somehow tie love to the war that we were fighting inside our home—inside our life together.  What if I can’t figure out how to love without warring?

How do I love without warring?

I suppose that is the question for which I need an answer.

And that question isn’t easily answered.  Because you can give me the facts and the formulas, and you can tell me how to move forward without warring, and you can tell me how to love well, but that doesn’t mean that my psyche knows how to follow that instruction.

We all have certain areas in life where we act somewhat automatically.  Muscle memory is an example of this.  You don’t keep thinking through the way that you are swinging a bat or whisking some eggs or signing your name or rocking the baby.  Your body remembers those sensations and it starts to do them automatically, without you having to use up conscious thoughts about how or when you perform particular movements.  Your body does the things.

And I have some sort of “muscle memory” about the way I do relationships.  Doing them differently takes rewriting the code that is already imbedded in my brain.  It’s like trying to become left-handed after 44 years of having a dominant right hand.  It’s nearly impossible, and it is excruciatingly difficult and hella frustrating.

It sucks.  And I’m not certain that I am capable of making such a huge change.   I am certain that making that change soon enough to salvage my current relationship will be some sort of miracle, because I have already pushed it beyond a point where anyone should decide to continue trying to love me, know me, or understand me.  Once you literally chase a man down the street, things are likely beyond repair.  If this man returns and states that he wants to keep trying to be in relationship with me, I will likely wonder what is wrong with him, and only become more suspicious.  What kind of man would date someone so crazy??!  Not a balanced, normal, secure man with healthy boundaries, right?

See, I am already planning the next wave of mistrust before I have cleared up the chaos of the last one.  I’m a fucking mess when it comes to doing relationships.

Was I single for twenty years because I was focused on other things, or was I single for twenty years because I knew that this was how messed up inside I was feeling, and how poorly dating would go once I began to pursue it?  It was definitely simpler to have short-term affairs with people in close proximity whom I didn’t find attractive as long-term partners.  It was also morally ambiguous at best, and using people to fulfill my needs in a selfish and terrible way when you didn’t put a positive spin on things.  But it got me through and kept me from having to address all of the things that I am putting on paper now.

It kept me from having to face my insecurity, my dependence on cycles of the past, my inability to move forward in healthy ways, my desire not matching my state of mental health, and the deep and difficult work that I still need to do to find balance and some semblance of “normal” in my life and relationships.  Letting go of that buffer and finding myself leaning into loving someone has opened up all of those things and put my face right up in that shit.  I don’t want to look at it.  I don’t want to deal with it.

It isn’t that I don’t want a healthy, long-term relationship.  I do.  It is just that I have been doing the hard work of dealing with the effects of my past for so many years now, and I am very, very, very tired of doing that hard work.  Opening up my heart to someone means opening up a new set of vulnerabilities and challenges and problems and ugly truths that I need to work hard to overcome.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

That wasn’t a typo.  I literally needed to write that twice, because it is doubly true.

It isn’t fair that I am forced to overcome all sorts of evils and errors and offenses and other things that other people placed upon me—things that I did not and would not choose.  I keep fighting to clear away terrible things that I never gave consent for in the first place.  I have to work to fix what other people broke.  I have to deal with things that were forced into my life, and the perpetrators who forced this upon me, for the most part, work at nothing.  Most of them have jobs, partners, good health, financial security, and what look like lives of happiness and fulfillment.  Granted, things aren’t always as they seem, so I won’t claim with certainty that none of them are haunted by their past or struggling in some way.  But I can say that they have much that I do not, and that I do not have those things because of the consequences of their actions.  I need to overcome the consequences of their actions.  And it looks as though they need to overcome very little.

I know that life isn’t fair.  I can hear my mom’s voice saying it each time I think to myself or say to someone, “It isn’t fair.”

My mom would always be quick to remind me that life isn’t fair.

But maybe it should be fair.

Maybe those men who did the bad things should have to make reparations of some kind.  Maybe those men should have been punished for their crimes against me, instead of rewarded by a system that honors the white man above all things and casts victims to the curb as though they were not human.  Maybe I should have been protected from the abusers, or given an opposing perspective, at the very least, so that I didn’t grow up to believe that I am worthless and unlovable and cursed and terrible and shouldn’t be alive.

But life wasn’t fair, and none of those maybes became realities. So, I muddled through the unfairness with my toxic thoughts until I became the maker of my own chaos.  When nobody else was here to tell me how worthless I was, I told myself.

And now that a person is getting close enough to love me, I am showing him that I am too messed up to be lovable.  He didn’t say it, so I said it for him, by chasing him down the street.

He came by to check on me the next day and asked me to forgive him for arguing with me.  He asked me to forgive him! He took the blame for my actions.

I offered him forgiveness.  Things have been strained and he has been a bit distant since then.

I text him periodically, asking if he still wants to be with me.  He replies by saying that he is very busy at work and very tired, but he will call me as soon as he can.

I’m trying to choose to believe that he is very busy with work, and that this is all there is to the story—the truth being the text taken at face value.  But there is a part of me that wants to create all sorts of scenarios where that text isn’t true, and he is using work as an excuse to keep his distance until he can fade out of my life without fear of some sort of crazed retribution.

And, honestly, this post doesn’t end with a nice little resolution and a happy, encouraging anecdote, because the story here is just what I stated:  I’m trying to believe what he told me is true when the “muscle memory” inside of me is screaming objections at that belief.  My mind is shrieking mistrust, and that is how it will continue, unless or until I can find a way of changing that part of my mind and the perspective on my history that leads it.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present are warring.  So, no, I haven’t figured out how to love without warring, because a war is happening inside of me every moment.  Even if I don’t fight with the one I love, I need to fight with myself to keep on trusting and to not let the ones who broke me in the past break my present, and my future.

At the end of this post I am still where I was at the beginning:

I don’t know how to do relationships.

…but I am trying to find a way.  And that is progress of some kind, I hope.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Last night the chased man (definitely not the chaste man–to be clear) called and asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I chose burgers, and he took me out to the best local spot for burgers.

While we ate, I was telling him about the article I wrote about our wild night and big fight and how I feel about being incapable of positive, healthy relationship where I don’t push him into madness and create chaos.  And he said, “I’m going to stop you right there.  No.  No.  There was rum involved.  And nothing you did created that situation.  You didn’t do that. You didn’t do anything.  I know that I shouldn’t be drinking, and I have not had any liquor since the moment I left you that night, and you didn’t … no.  Just no.  Don’t put that on yourself.  Don’t even think that for a second.  I heard you say to me you forgive me, is that still true?”

I nodded in agreement, a tear rolling down my cheek.

“And you did nothing wrong, but if you feel you did I forgive that too.  I think that we can work through this.  I think that we are going to be fine.  I still want to make this work, and I believe that it will.  Unless you don’t want me around anymore?”

“I don’t want that,” was my quick and impassioned retort.  “I want you with me.”

“Then I am with you.  I would never deliberately abandon you.  I would never try to harm you. I am with you.”

And all of the anxious attachment needs were met, and all of the wrongs felt righted, and dinner was lovely, even with tears in my eyes.

Maybe I overestimate my power to destroy things, and maybe I underestimated the power of this man to care for me well.

Later he took me up on a rooftop, high above all the neighboring buildings, and we watched the fireworks.  It was the most amazing display I have ever witnessed!  Perched above the city, as we were, we could see the shows put on at each beach, downtown, in the suburbs, and in the nearby neighborhoods.  It was a 360-degree canvas bursting with light and sound, the winds starting to come up off the lake cooling our bodies, stripping down to our skivvies and dancing to his music and lying on my blanket and laughing.  It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present may still be warring.  They may always be warring.  But nights like these—when someone meets my fear and my failure and my feelings head on and not only answers with the best response but shows me something so positive to replace the negative in my mind—can do something that I hadn’t considered before now.

Nights like these can rewire the brain.  Nights like these can form new memories.

And enough of these nights, added together, can make new muscle memory.

They can reform my system of beliefs about relationships and brokenness and trust and truth and love and commitment.  They can rid my body and my mind of the toxins and replace them with healthier things.

I couldn’t imagine that before last night.

Now I can.

I guess there is a happy, encouraging anecdote after all!

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In the Name of Love

I was doing a bit of reading last night, in an attempt to fill insomnia time with something that makes it seem less like insomnia and more like productivity or entertainment.  The book is one I am almost ashamed to be reading, because its pages are covered with philosophies of giving = getting, and those philosophies almost always include a measure of victim-blaming and exclude concepts of systemic or institutional factors and their influence upon one’s current situation.  So, I usually get annoyed with such philosophies quite quickly, and sometimes I even get really angry with these types of books—yelling at no person in particular about the ways that my bed was not made alone, so no, I don’t have to “lie in it” unless those who victimized me have to lie in a bed far worse. (The number of times I have been told that I made my own bed, and should now lie in it makes me shudder.)

What I gave to the universe was NOT equal to what I received.  Innocence and autonomy lost at a young age cannot be blamed on the innocent who do not choose their victimization.  Did I make some unsavory choices in my lifetime?  Absolutely.  But did I make them without any influence of childhood trauma?  No, I did not.

I gave the universe love and empathy and kindness and creativity and beauty.  It gave me a lot of terrible crap in return.

But, I kept reading the book with the really messed up philosophy of giving = getting, because the thing it kept saying I needed to give and receive was love.  And as I read, it occurred to me that at certain points and in particular situations, I have stopped giving love.  The reason I stopped giving it, was likely because I wasn’t seeing a return on my investment, and because I have complex PTSD and suffer from chronic pain and am an addict and have all these reasons that the world became a place that hurts you, and not one that loves in return.  So, my choice to be mistrusting and build walls and shove my earbuds in my ears and blast Kesha instead of listening to my seatmate on the bus is a valid one, considering all the aforementioned reasons.  But, it isn’t getting me what I want.  And, let’s face it, what I want is what every being on the planet wants:  LOVE.

The challenge for someone who has been so deeply wounded that the scars will never heal is to continue to offer love and trust and vulnerability, even after doing so created the conditions for your wounding to happen.  When you offer someone your trust, and they betray it, or when you offer your vulnerable self, and someone takes advantage of that and uses your openness to harm you, it makes it really difficult to keep offering up your heart and mind and body to another—hoping that by some miracle this time is different and that this offering of your heart doesn’t add brokenness upon brokenness.

In some ways, we should never expect victims to trust again.  In many situations, the one who has been wronged should never give pardon and should never offer another the chance to wrong them in a similar manner.  Why should they?

The answer, again, is love.

Love is the reason I give pardon for past offenses.  But, that hasn’t put me, in some automatic fashion, back into a space where I can receive love with ease.  Because I try very hard to protect myself from further injury.  And that protection requires shutting people out and keeping people at a distance and creating walls and not opening up too quickly.

A friend once told me that I was not vulnerable.   And I was shocked by that statement, because I have been candid about my struggles for many years.  I feel like I share readily with people.  And I do share my story, but I do not share myself.  I don’t put my heart where it can be harmed.  My story doesn’t need to tell about the ways I feel vulnerable today.  I can offer a history without opening myself to others.  And that was the distinction that my friend was seeking to make.  He wanted me to understand that I couldn’t be known and loved if I had an alligator-filled moat around my heart.

I’ve improved a bit at letting people into that space.  The drawbridge goes down for my dad, and for my friend Luke, and for my daughter.  But, as time passes and I read books with terrible philosophies that tell me I get what I give, I realize that there is a tiny crumb of truth to the chapter that tells me I am not receiving what I am not giving.  Because I cannot expect love and trust and vulnerability from another if I won’t offer it to them as well.  And maybe one of the challenges to opening up is that I want the other to do it first, but their wounded parts want me to open up first—we do a dance of waiting and hoping and not receiving because neither of us wants to open up a space where a sword strike might land.  We all wait to remove our armor until the other has removed theirs.  And that gets none of us any closer to the love and trust and vulnerability that is required to further the relationship (be that a friendship or a familial tie or a marriage or whatever).

Yesterday, I was talking with my dad and said that my website seemed aptly named when I started posting online.  I really thought that I was learning to be whole.  But now I am realizing that I instead need to accept that I am broken, and that I might continue to break, so I ought to have chosen a website named “accepting that I am broken”.  He and I both, as though it had been practiced, said at once “Maybe, accepting the broken is how you learn to be whole.”  And I believe that may be the crux of the matter.  I need to accept breaking as a part of offering love.  And I need to acknowledge that offering love first is the best and fastest way to connect to others and to receive love in return.

I will get a few jabs from the protections (or even weapons) of others in the process.  I may increase my scars.  But, I will also be in a position to encourage others to let down their defenses if I have already dropped mine.

So, “Vulnerability” goes on the list of things I am working to improve.  And the shameful book of giving love to get more of it will probably be read to completion in a first attempt at finding the vulnerable self hidden deep beneath my strength and intellect and independence and lack of eye contact and background noise-removing earbuds.  I won’t paint a target on my chest.  But I will try to lower my sword, at the very least.  And hopefully, that won’t injure too much, and I can move on to removing one more bit of protection and psychological isolation.

I anticipate that this process will take years.  I’m heavily guarded.  But, it is a step in the right direction, I am sure, so I am committed to heading down that path.

I know that honesty begets honesty.  I know that trust begets trust.  I know that openness begets openness.  I even wrote a paper on such connections in an undergraduate communications course.  But, for some reason (or for many valid and obvious reasons) I stopped believing that love begets love.  It does.  It doesn’t always and instantaneously, but it will eventually bring you love in return.

So, here is a start at being open:   I don’t have enough love in my life.  I’m deeply wounded, in ways I am afraid to express, because many people in my past have shut me out rather than deal with the depth and breadth of my pain.  All the times I have allowed that pain to surface and become evident, people rejected me, avoided me, or insinuated I was some form of “crazy”.  But, I am trying very hard not to let the response of those people be shaped in my mind as the normative response to pain.  I am trying very hard not to let others shame me for expressing my suffering.  I am cutting out of my life the people that are gangrenous and make my wounds deeper and more affecting.  But, to the rest of you, I am going to try to open myself up and let down defenses.

This blog might get uglier before it becomes more beautiful as a result.

No amount of good grammar can make what ails me seem like entertaining prose.  Some of it—much of it—is a horror story.  But, I’m going to start letting it be such, and not sugar-coating struggle in ways that I believed protected me from harm.  I can’t be protected from what was.  But I can look with hope at what is yet to come.  And I refuse to believe that my story is a tragedy.  There will be a happy ending, but before that happy end, I need to find my way to vulnerability, and unceasing love … an epic goal, so maybe my life is an epic tale.  I like that idea.  I think I shall embrace my life as an epic story, with a glorious end yet to be written.  In the end, as with most epic tales, the main character finds love and peace and good, so I will embrace those, and perhaps emulating them will actually bring them nearer.

I hope I haven’t just agreed to the terrible philosophies of giving = getting.  But, I will at least admit to believing that proximity to good brings about more good.  In the moments when all seems lost, there is a good guide, or a good friend to carry you forward, or some good to fight for after a rallying, inspiring speech.  I need to start finding ways to trust in the good.  I need to find ways to start believing in love, once more.  And one way to believe in it, is to give it.

So, here I stand, ready to give more love.  I’ll let you know what I get in return.