It’s taken me a generous distance, as well as a healthy break from the pain, to realize I don’t understand what my mom thought of me. In my earliest years, I believed she loved me, cause none of her demands were unreasonable. After all, children are often helpless and don’t even know what’s best for themselves. Then I grew up, and developed an identity of my own. That meant I had distinctive needs separate from hers, and she would deny every one of them unless they were in line with what she wanted. It was impossible for me to believe there was any love at all when she was the cause of so much of my pain. I’ve since come to realize that relationships are full of nuances, and that it’s possible to love someone wholeheartedly and be terrible for them at the same time.
It’s hard to imagine what life will be like when I’m still trying to survive from one day to the next. I’ve never been more disconnected with reality, but distance is what I need. At first it was days; now weeks have started blending together. Stretches of time feel shorter as they get longer. It’s been more than a month since I took a step outside, and about as long since I’ve seen anyone but Heather. I can’t even remember the last time I answered my phone or made a call.
Every day, it feels like I’m falling deeper into a hole I can’t seem to escape as I slip further away from myself. I used to enjoy being inspired and creative, but somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming. The lines in my face tell me my body has paid a price of it’s own. It’s left me unsure of who I’ll become; if only I wasn’t so fond of the person I used to be.
My new therapist is shockingly young compared to the man who retired and forced me to look for someone new. Every few weeks, we carefully explore the thoughts I keep tucked away in the back of my mind. Heather often serves as witness, to understand what I’ve been through and have to re-experience. It’s exhausting to go into a past that pains me so much, but important work that I hate and need and want all at once.
Not quite two years ago, her stay with me began as refuge from an abusive partner. She was a fragile girl back then; panicky during heavy winds, blind to her own burgeoning nubility, uncomfortable around anyone else for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, my insecurity happened to manifest itself as a need to take care of others, and I found both validation and happiness when I had the chance with someone so deserving. It’s hard to believe how quickly our roles have reversed. Now I’m the dependent, a position I have a harder time accepting than she does1, and one I’ll likely have for the rest of my life.
Through my struggle, I’ve seen her grow into a confident young woman who knows how to cook a steak medium-rare (even though she’s a vegan), enjoys every chance to exert her sexuality, and often understands more about my medication than the doctors who prescribe it. I thought I knew what love was, but every day her unwavering patience shows me how much deeper it goes.
This is the face I wear most often as of late, while exploring a world large enough for me to get lost in. I can set goals at my own pace, whether they’re simple ones that leave me satisfied enough to sleep, or complex, long-term ones that help me feel accomplished enough to do bigger things. Every day, I’m given the chance to be kind, generous, and positive to virtual strangers, while keeping a distance from the real world. I even started a little guild with my friends, and we recently claimed the hall which we’ll call our home; even if I’m not emotionally available to them, this is how they stop by and spend time with me.
It’s hard not to hate myself when my issues are preventing me from being the person I want to be. I’m in a rush to get better, when time to heal is what I need most. Heather reminds me that the suffering I’ve been through is the reason she feels understood and safe. I tell myself that this time is just a chapter in the book of my life — a stop on the way to who I am — and that there’s more left to write.
- I keep reminding myself: she knows what she wants, and what’s best for her. [↩]
The breaking point happened one night, when an acquaintance I’ll call Thomas chided me for not getting back to him sooner about a dinner invitation. Thomas was upset enough that he needed some time off from hanging out. I didn’t understand, as he never expressed his concern, so I had no idea there was a problem in the first place. I apologized for hurting him, and pleaded with him to let me know next time so it wouldn’t happen again. Still, the situation didn’t sit well with me; my belated reply was due to the fact that I was in a difficult place of my own, about which he never asked or considered. I was left confused, and sad that I’d unwittingly hurt someone so much as to need a break.
So I called my best friend at the time, looking for support. “Avail?” was my usual code-word by text, to let him know I could wait until he had taken care of everything else, as I never took his time for granted. But this time, I was shaken enough that I needed more than just an ear, and told him, instead of asking. When I finally got him on the phone, he dismissed everything I tried to say, overriding it with, “This is what you need to do. Mark three months from now on your calendar, and call him then. He’ll forget by that time”. I tried to explain my feelings over and over, that I wasn’t looking to make amends but trying to understand the situation, and this was the most meaningful answer he could offer. I broke down when I knew I wasn’t getting through, when I realized he wasn’t an ally at a time I truly needed it, and that he never was.
It’s been weeks since I left the house for anything but a doctor’s appointment, maybe three times since November. I miss the winter, even though it’s right outside my door. I miss my friends, even though they’re rarely more than a short trip away. It’s especially hard not being able to explain the distance. All I can do is hope they trust me when I don’t feel comfortable explaining, and try not to feel insecure about being so out of touch.
Sometimes, the thought of being away from my safety zone fills me with dread. Other times it’s just easier to not do anything. I barely manage the effort to wash my hair once a week, and the only reason I shave is to more easily wipe off the viscid sadness that so often visits my face. I suspect I wouldn’t even be eating if it weren’t for the fact that Heather enjoys taking care of people to fulfill her own need for security. She’s lived here a few months, and she’s already making sure the cats have their teeth brushed every day and all the bills are paid. I’ve barely known her for twice that time, and I’ve never been more dependent on anyone in my life.
It feels like I’ve taken two steps back, but I’m at this point cause it means I’m safe enough to start processing and understanding the things that led to me trying to hang myself from the railing of my staircase a year ago. I haven’t figured out what it means to keep going, when for so long I believed my life was leading up to that moment, and sticking around wasn’t a choice I made for myself. Just figuring out how to write about such a large and complex experience is often too much. I’m left broken when I simply want to understand.
I’m learning that recovery isn’t a binary process, but a journey with struggles and triumphs. I still suffer the trauma of being moments away from dying. I’m still haunted by the guilt of survival. With so many hair-triggers that lead to wholly consuming breakdowns, I can’t deny I’m not the person I used to be. Right now, it’s hard enough just trying to be okay with that.
July was supposed to be my catch-up month. The one where I connected with a lover instead of being rushed to appreciate her at every turn; a chance to finish house projects and all the cleaning I’ve been putting off; maybe even time enough to go for a walk every day, or the patience to work on fretting cleaner barres instead of emotional doodling and clumsy interpretations.
Now here I am, half way through September. Heather and I are at war with our respective pasts, and waiting for relief. On top this comes her dad’s diagnosis of a metastasized cancer of unknown origin. We’re used to being strong for others, but the uncertainty of what may come makes us wonder if we’re truly ready.
If only my mind wasn’t already drifting back to those unhealthy and all-too-familiar thoughts. It’s hard enough letting go of the sense that everything will fall apart at any second. The depth of my struggle has changed me, and I’m still getting used to feeling unconditionally loved and emotionally secure. Thankfully, I have a partner who tells me every single day that I’m a good person, that I’m important, and that I deserve to be happy. Consistent reminders are what I need, however small, cause the recovery process is going to take far longer than I first thought.
We’ve taken to exploring the massive world of Tyria in Guild Wars 2 as a way of coping. Even when I’m away from my computer, I think of nothing but journeying to new locations, instead of the tiny problems that seem impossible to surmount at even my best times. I’ve always been an obsessive person, and my mind would be full of bad things right now if I wasn’t so busy finding the next point of interest, the next champion to kill and loot.
It’s a way for me to get through the difficult days, until they turn into a past that I can look at from afar. I know if I can turn the page on this chapter, I’ll have a opportunity to become the person I want to be every day for the rest of my life.