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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More Than I Can Handle

 

There is this common statement among those who choose a Christian religious base for their belief system.  I hear it often.  I hate it more every time it is said.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I call bullshit.

I am dealing with more than I can handle.  I’ve been dealing with more than I can handle since childhood. And every day I wait for the moment when pretending at control is overcome by the chaos of being overwhelmed.

So, here is the thing I need to say:  either the Divine absolutely gives out more than one can handle, or the Divine isn’t a part of the equation at all.

Please do not misunderstand and read that as “God doesn’t exist”, because I won’t challenge anyone on that point.  I believe in divine intervention and live a spiritual, but not religious, life.  The existence of some Divine source is a part of my belief system.  And it does not need to be yours.  If you are not religious, I suppose you could ignore this post altogether.  (But I hope you don’t.)

The statement that the Divine will not let you be overwhelmed, however, is bullshit.  I’m overwhelmed right now.  I was overwhelmed two days ago.  I was overwhelmed last week.  I am consistently given more than I can handle.  And if the Divine exists, and I am overwhelmed, then god does give you more than you can handle.  If the Divine does not exist, then the statement is just bullshit from the very first word.

I’ll try to elaborate without getting into a weird rant or too many details.  When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted repeatedly.  I couldn’t cope with that.  It was too much.  And while my actions were often a cry for help, they went unheard or were misunderstood, so I was marinating in more than I could handle.  I was feeling so much pain and shame and confusion that my brain literally stopped knowing about the sexual molestation.  I had a complete dissociation from the events.  My brain shut those events and any and all memories of those events down.  They were tucked away in a place I didn’t have full access to, and they didn’t become known to me in a conscious way until my first year of college.  And when I became aware of those events once more, it was more than I could handle again.  I became depressed, suicidal, and easily enraged.  I was a mess.  I dropped out of college, moved away, dropped out of another college, harbored a runaway, became a drug addict, and got married.  All of these events were too much to handle.

My husband was violently physically and psychologically abusive.  I got pregnant, got divorced, had my baby, went on a blind date, and started a relationship with a man who influenced my return to drug use and eventually became physically abusive, as my ex-husband had been.

Too much.

And then, it would seem, I “got it together”.  I worked hard, cared for my daughter, went back to college, got a master’s degree or two, and ended up working in Chicago.  While these years seemed like the most excellent years of my life to the onlooking outsider, inside of me there was just as much struggle as there had been in years past.  I smoked a lot.  I ran often.  I did everything asked of me, until I could not do it anymore.  What most don’t know about those years is that my kitchen was a mass of dirty dishes half of the time, I was drinking too much, I was fired as a teacher’s assistant because I didn’t have enough time to read and grade papers. I failed a few classes. My daughter resented me for leaving her with others and not hearing her needs often or well.  I was struggling to keep it together, and looked fabulous on the outside, while the inside was being ripped and torn into ugly, bloodied chunks of flesh.

I had become a master of pretending at a very early age.  It took a lot for me to fall apart in front of people.

But behind closed doors, nightmares and weeping and screaming and praying and begging for the pain to end kept on happening.  They didn’t stop as I grew up and developed and became a “responsible adult”.  They just got pushed under layers and layers of façade.

Around 2010 was when things stop staying hidden.  I couldn’t control it anymore.  Tears would come at the most inopportune time.  The lack of sleep from nightmares and insomnia was causing my body to suffer.  I started experiencing chronic illness, and I started to look and sound like a person without hope—crazed with the desperate state of my psyche and the onset of more and more symptoms of illness.  I was breaking down in front of people, instead of doing it behind closed doors.  And people ran away rather than be sucked into my despair.

It’s hard for people who are not given more than they can handle to watch you crumble under the too much.  They don’t understand it.  And it is frightening.  But what I think is the hardest thing for those people to come to terms with is that the platitude they have believed is not true.  Some of us are given way more than we can handle.

Because some of us are given more than we can handle, we need help.  Help, need, care, and the like are not things that most want to offer, so they cling to the lie and insist that god won’t give me more than I can handle.  But I know that is just an excuse not to get involved in the pain of others.

Empathy hurts.

Walking into the center of another person’s trauma is painful.  Feeling what they feel is terrible, because it is completely and utterly too much.  And nobody wants to feel what I feel.

Nobody wants constant physical and emotional suffering.  Nobody wants to face fears and be struck down and struggle through depression and suicidal thinking and destroy relationships through mistrust and sob with such intensity that you need to sleep for three hours to recover the ability to stand.  And, on one hand, I don’t blame you for not wanting to experience what I experience.  On the other hand, leaving me to suffer alone and offering me platitudes that I know are lies makes me despise you for not standing in solidarity.

Because if you cannot handle what is coming at you every day, and if you are overwhelmed, you need others to help carry the weight.  I have approximately six people who help carry the weight in a consistent and generous and loving way.  One of them I pay, because she is my therapist.

I understand more than anyone how heavy and exhausting and painful carrying the load of my life is, but I don’t have the option to step out from under that weight.  I have to cope, shift, manage, and try not to be crushed forever by that weight.

There is another saying—less religious and more true—that I sometimes use.  “Many hands make light work.”

A heavy burden becomes light when there are twelve people lifting, and not just one. I would love for us to acknowledge our avoidance of the burdens in the lives of those around us.  I would love for us to accept that the only way to make things better is to add our hands and help carry the burdens of others.  I would love for us to admit that there is a lot that is overwhelming, and that it won’t go away because we pretend that god makes life easy enough for us (or hard enough for us, depending on your perspective) in relation to our ability to be weighed down.

You don’t keep placing items in a grocery bag until it breaks.  You open and fill a second bag.  You disperse the weight, balancing things out and making certain that there isn’t too much pressure in one spot.

(Yes, I just unintentionally made a grocery bag analogy to suffering.  But I can’t really think of a better analogy right now, so it stands.)

So, we are given more than we can handle.  Which is why we need others supporting us.  All of us need others to carry a bit of the weight at times.  That looks different at different times and in different spaces.  But none of us is immune to being overwhelmed.

My life has had too much to handle for a really long time.  I get better at handling it through coping strategies.  But I still haven’t worked through all the burdens or had the weight lifted.  I still make valiant attempts at handling it all.  I still pretend I am well while I am carrying immense pain just under the surface.  But I fail all the time.  I hurt all of the time.  I feel too much.  I need too much.  I falter too much.

And my only hope is that others might find their way toward helping, and that hands would be added, and that my burden may become light.  Help me Obi Wan Community, you are my only hope!

I hope that empathy might become something that we embrace, despite the hurts, because it also brings shared joys.  I hope that generosity rules the day.  I hope that we start to dissect the lies that the platitudes reinforce, and come to understand that we need one another to survive.  I hope that we find the strength to share, to respect, to dignify, and to accept.  I hope we leave behind individualism, judgment, marginalizing, and rejecting.

I don’t know that this is an eloquent post.  It is a needed expression.  Mostly, I need to say it, because it is boring a hole through my mind.  But I also hope that it is heard and accepted.  Because I have always known that the Divine isn’t giving me any number of things to handle or not handle.  The Divine gives me an assist when all the things are too much.  The Divine doesn’t give anyone burdens for the fun of watching us struggle.  And the Divine doesn’t give burdens to prepare us for assisting others in their burdens.  The Divine is the opposite of burden.  The Divine is love.  And whatever is burdensome is what we need to fight against, not for.

When racism tears apart a community, we fight against that.  When illness strikes a body, we fight against that.  When fear creates divisions, we fight against that.  When poverty leaves people in the streets, we fight against that.  When little children are violated, we fight against that.  When women are not given a voice, we fight against that.  When gun violence steals lives every day, we fight against that.

And we fight together, in solidarity, and as one entity.  Because there is more in each of those situations than we can handle, and ridding our society of these evils requires our many hands, working together, to unburden the most vulnerable.

I happen to be one of the most vulnerable, because life tossed all sorts of challenges at me, and so my plea for justice—the unburdening of the most vulnerable—ends up being a plea for my welfare also.  I beg for hands to help on a regular basis through my fundraising site.  But I want, today, to express that there are so many more burdens than mine.  And there are so many who do not have hands helping at all, where I have a few.  So, I’m not just advocating for myself.  I’m advocating for all the poor, disabled, homeless, captive, imprisoned, endangered, devastated, depressed, and unsupported victims of all the ills within our society.

Lend them a hand.  Live in solidarity.  Challenge your assumptions and preconceptions.  Dig deep into your heart and your mind, and figure out why you let burdens continue without intervention.  Smash those excuses that keep you from moving toward empathy and solidarity and understanding and care.  Do things that change lives.  Do things that save lives.

And stop saying that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  Stop spreading that lie.  Start spreading love.

 

Silence

Silence beckons. Silence heals. Silence opens. Silence kills.

Speaking seems so easy.

Open up the mouth. Vibrate the vocal chords. We do it all the time. We even do it inadvertently and involuntarily at times. Snoring, sighing, yelping with surprise. Speech shouldn’t be difficult for most of us. Those of us who are not abled in speech have found other ways to communicate. So there is communication, regardless. There need not be silence.

Though, some days the only thing I can tolerate is silence. Some days I hate noise. On the street, on the bus, on the television, there is always noise. Sometimes noise makes me stressed and angry. This constant noise angers me because it is useless but oppressive noise to the hypervigilant mind. I listen to all—continually anticipating threats–and everything frightens and places on edge. Little soothes.

Music often soothes, so I blast it in my headphones whenever and wherever possible. Even now The Nationals are screaming in my ears, to keep out noise that doesn’t come from inside of me. Because my internal noise is all I can afford to hear in this moment, or I might write something disingenuous…something frightened or pressured or monitored in ways that feel dishonest.

Some days I need to create silence in my own mind. Yoga poses and meditations. Listening to my breath and to my self has become one way to cope…and hope. That silence—that listening only to my spirit and the place it holds in the universe in the moment—and that presence brings the knowledge that noise and fear and pain are not all that my life holds. That silence heals me. That silence is my best defense against a life of trauma and struggle and shame and loss.

But there is yet another silence.

There is the silence that hides.

There is the silence that harms, denies, and destroys. It is the silence that says, “I don’t want to carry your pain. Your trauma—the injustices against you and the pain in your heart and the chaos in your mind—is too much for me to want to deal with or process.” So you stand silent. You don’t acknowledge the wrong or the suffering or the victimization. You just don’t get involved. You don’t speak it. You stay silent.

What you may not realize is that evil craves your silence. Injustice demands your silence. Perpetrators want your silence. It is all they want from you, and you willingly hand it over. You willingly hand me over to them in your silence. By keeping it secret and keeping it safely outside your experience, you give permission—you give your consent. My raped and beaten and broken body is lying here before you because your silence is your consent.

Your silence is your consent.

Your silence makes you my enemy. You choose an alliance with the ones who have harmed me…and harmed so many others. Your silence keeps justice from me. It piles shame and stigma upon me. It forces my own silence, which further harms me, because my community recognizing my victimization and offering restitution is essential to my healing. You won’t let me heal, because you choose silence.

All you need to do is speak. All you need to do is hear me speak, and echo my cries!

End the silence. Stop the killing silence.

I understand the many ways that silence is easier. I was silent for years and years. It seemed harder to face the truth than to stay silent. Some days it still seems easier to stay silent. But what is easiest isn’t often what is best. And the silence continues to break people already broken.

Speak out and refuse to allow the breaking of others. Speak out and let victims know that you are on their side—that the perpetrators in this life do not own your allegiance.

Stand with us. Raise your voice.

Speak.

 
(For more on the perpetrator asking for silence or the victim’s need for restitution and recognition, see Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror by Judith Herman.)