escape artist

Suzanne is forty years old and has nev­er had a close rela­tion­ship. She spends most of her spare time read­ing books and brows­ing the web. Suzanne is most com­fort­able with casu­al, friend­ly rela­tion­ships where noth­ing very per­son­al is dis­cussed.

Suzanne is mar­ried to a man who is out of touch with his feel­ings. He’s more inter­est­ed in being mar­ried than in being mar­ried to Suzanne par­tic­u­lar­ly. He has few friends, and does not expect close­ness from Suzanne. He wants a woman just so he can ful­fill the con­ven­tion­al role of hus­band. Their rela­tion­ship is based on tra­di­tion­al roles, not on real inti­ma­cy. They rarely con­fide in each oth­er.

Suzanne has smoked mar­i­jua­na her entire adult life. She insists that she is not addict­ed — she tells her­self she only does it for recre­ation, and that she has con­trol. Besides using drugs on a reg­u­lar basis, she tends to drink in set­tings when she does­n’t feel as social­ly capa­ble as oth­ers.

Suzanne became depressed, but was not in touch with her feel­ings of aban­don­ment and defec­tive­ness. She spent much of her life mak­ing sure she was not in touch, and try­ing to escape her feel­ings.

With Escape, we avoid think­ing about our life­trap. We push them out of our minds. We also escape feel­ing our life­trap. When feel­ings are gen­er­at­ed, we damp­en them down. We take drugs, or overeat, or com­pul­sive­ly clean or become a worka­holic. And we avoid enter­ing sit­u­a­tions that might acti­vate our life­trap. In fact, our thoughts, feel­ings and behav­iors work as if the life­trap nev­er exist­ed.

It is nat­ur­al that Escape becomes one of the ways we cope with life­traps. When a life­trap is trig­gered, we are flood­ed with neg­a­tive feel­ings — sad­ness, shame, anx­i­ety, and anger. We are moved to escape from that pain. We do not want to face what we real­ly feel because it is too upset­ting to feel it.

The dis­ad­van­tage of Escape is that we nev­er over­come the life­trap. Since we nev­er con­front the truth, we are stuck. We can­not change things that we do not admit are prob­lems. Instead, we con­tin­ue the same self-defeat­ing behav­iours, the same destruc­tive rela­tion­ships. In try­ing to coast through life with­out feel­ing pain, we rob our­selves of the chance to change the things that are caus­ing us pain.

With Escape, we give up our emo­tion­al life. We do not feel. We walk around numb — unable to expe­ri­ence real plea­sure and pain. Because we avoid con­fronting prob­lems, we often end up hurt­ing those around us.

When we escape, we strike a bar­gain with our­selves. We will not feel pain in the short run, but in the long run we will suf­fer the con­se­quences of hav­ing avoid­ed the issue year after year. As long as she escapes, Suzanne will nev­er get what she wants most — to love and be loved by anoth­er human being who real­ly knows her.”

—Reinventing Your Life

They’re always giv­en a name first; a way to human­ize the dis­or­der. Anyone could be a Suzanne. People who strug­gle are one of us, not one of them. I’ve found so much of myself among these pages, but nev­er expect­ed to find her in a book long ago rec­om­mend­ed to me by a ther­a­pist. How sur­pris­ing it was to stum­ble across the sum­ma­ry of a trag­ic char­ac­ter who once had a major role in my sto­ry. A roman à clef, if not for the clin­i­cal dis­sec­tion halfway through.

All I ever want­ed was to be good for her. To help her reach her poten­tial, what­ev­er she decid­ed that was, and at her own pace. As a per­son who cared about her well­be­ing, I felt it was a respon­si­bil­i­ty of mine to take on the emo­tion­al labour of say­ing things oth­er peo­ple did­n’t have the heart to say. Of bring­ing up uncom­fort­able truths, like the fact that she deserved more from a spouse. After all, I knew what it was like to be unsat­is­fied in my rela­tion­ships, and trapped from self-defeat­ing behav­iours. But I also knew the way out was­n’t easy, and she nev­er want­ed to see that.

In fact, almost every deci­sion she made was a way to avoid work or dis­com­fort. To get out of doing any sig­nif­i­cant per­son­al growth, which often involves over­com­ing some kind of dif­fi­cul­ty, she mar­ried some­one who has the most basic require­ments for a part­ner. His sim­ple stan­dards may have made it an easy rela­tion­ship to fall into, but not being involved with some­one she pro­found­ly cared about meant she did­n’t have any­thing sig­nif­i­cant to lose. In doing so, she nev­er learned the impor­tance of tak­ing roman­tic risks, the way to feel secure amidst uncer­tain­ty, or the role vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty plays in inti­ma­cy. And she gave up the chance to devel­op a much deep­er and more ful­fill­ing rela­tion­ship with a per­son who can lift her up, instead of a per­son who encour­ages stag­na­tion.

the last time that I saw her she was liv­ing with some boy
who gives her soul an emp­ty room and gives her body joy

—Death of a Ladies Man

It’s obvi­ous he loves her — as much as he can love any­one — from the way he puts her first when mak­ing plans, and the fact that he accepts her despite the drink­ing and the drugs. The prob­lem is that it’s not enough, cause she’s not just any­one, and some­where inside she knows this. She’s so much more com­plex and spe­cial than the way he treats her, and she’ll nev­er be appre­ci­at­ed as such by a man who only has the depth to under­stand her most super­fi­cial lay­ers1. Deep down, she’s start­ing to real­ize she’s nev­er been tru­ly loved as the per­son she is, only the per­son she tries to be, while the shock of such a real­i­ty keeps it from becom­ing a con­scious fact.

There’s noth­ing wrong with any dynam­ic, as long as the par­ties involved are hon­est and hap­py with the arrange­ment. But as time goes on, and the breaks she needs from him grow longer, she becomes less of both. So she does more clean­ing, agrees to car­ry his chil­dren, any­thing to con­vince her­self she’s a good wife in a worth­while rela­tion­ship, with­out real­iz­ing that every step she takes goes deep­er into the same hole she’s been dig­ging her entire life.

By now, she’s lost the abil­i­ty to sup­port her­self with­out him, but only in the most mate­r­i­al way. It’s left her trapped in the mar­riage, one based more on con­ve­nience and fear — fear of being alone, of being reject­ed, of being aban­doned by some­one she tru­ly cares about2 — than love. On top of all this, she’s avoid­ed any sit­u­a­tion that would have forced her to devel­op the emo­tion­al matu­ri­ty or com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills to nav­i­gate a major con­flict, let alone a breakup or divorce. It’s no won­der she’s com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing the illu­sion.

Which is the most trag­ic part of the entire chap­ter. She deserves so much more, least of which is hap­pi­ness, but can’t fig­ure that out. I may have played a small part in her jour­ney — just one of those peo­ple around her, who end­ed up get­ting hurt and aban­doned — but I’m not ashamed to say I loved the real Suzanne, once, beneath all the lies she kept telling her­self and the world. I loved the awk­ward, uncom­fort­able girl who clung to my arm at par­ties for fear of hav­ing noth­ing to say. I loved the kind, thought­ful woman who saved songs and books and movies so we could share them togeth­er. I loved the wit­ty, intel­li­gent writer who made every expe­ri­ence more enjoy­able with her laugh­ter and insight. I loved her uncon­di­tion­al­ly despite all the pain she put me through, cause that’s what she need­ed and want­ed and nev­er had.

  1. After 10 years togeth­er, he still does­n’t have the insight to know when she’s depressed. And even if he was aware, he would­n’t know how to help or what to do. []
  2. Things most peo­ple have learned to cope with by adult­hood. []

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