Friday, September 25, 2009

Reality: not so overrated after all.

In my post, Stockholm Syndrome, I explained how I ignored the things that didn't work in my relationship for a long time. And once I broke the spell of the “syndrome” I had a job to do; I had to face the reality I spent all my energy pushing away. Let me tell you my friends, that was a hard look.

Let me explain.

When the breakup started, I did the only thing I felt like I had any control over; I proceed to pack and gather my belongings from the home we shared and I did this in such a state of panic that I would often collapse wherever I happen to be standing at that moment, as if someone had punched me in the stomach, my legs too weak to hold me up. I'd fall into a heap on the floor, sobbing, and eventually, after I’d worked myself up into a suitable hysterical frenzy and then tire myself out, I'd get up and continue packing away my life. I was in a constant state of fear. Why? Because I was afraid of the unknown and I had no idea what was going to happen to me or even who I was anymore. And when you’re faced with the unknown, you tend to make shit up. And when you’re that scared, it’s not positive shit either.

During the process of leaving, I imagined the following, albeit highly melodramatic, events would unfold. Be forewarned, it's not pretty.

(a) I would soon go insane and unable to care for myself, be committed to the psych ward of a local hospital for an indeterminate length of time. Picturing it clearly, I imagined my parents coming to visit me, viewing me from behind a protective sheet of shatterproof glass, watching me with sad and pained expressions thinking, “But she’s such a bright girl. Why doesn't she snap herself out of this?” (b) As a result of “a” I would need to be heavily sedated/medicated to combat the impending madness I was sure was going to consume my life. (c) Upon my eventual release from said psych ward, I would move into an apartment by myself and it was sure to be the tinniest, dirtiest, darkest and most depressing hovel known to man.

Can you see why I evaded reality for as long as I did? I mean, fuck, I could put up with ANYTHING so long as I didn’t have to endure what was sure to become of me if I didn’t.

So what actually did happen to me?

Well, I had to examine what I had just been through and I was very, sometimes painfully, angry. For a while, I couldn’t sleep. I thought about all the things that I tolerated for so long and who I really was in the relationship, and I talked about it... a lot. I was honest with the closest people in my life for the first time, telling them what my relationship was and what it wasn't. I was totally honest about all of it and that's how I faced reality; by being honest. And for the first time my eyes focused on what I tolerated and the person I’d been for so long in the relationship and I wondered, "Who the fuck was that?!"

After that, I never again felt the hysteria I felt when I was packing my things. I didn’t need to be medicated or live behind a protective sheet of shatterproof glass. I moved into my own apartment and it’s certainly not a hovel; it just happens to be the brightest and warmest home I could ever imagine having. I’ve made new friends in the past two months that are more caring, kind and supportive than the ones that were in my life for the last nine years. Now that's really saying something.

Sometimes, I think, for the first time in a very long time I can see more clearly who I really am. My future isn't the "great bleak unknown" anymore. My ability to ignore reality feels like some distant memory and my tolerance for bullshit has all but disappeared. I'm standing outside of the relationship, the break-up, and who I used to be. Outside of my old reality, I'm coming into focus again. It's really pretty amazing to witness.

So Dear Followers of my humble blog, if you too have left (or are leaving) a relationship that didn't work out, how do you perceive who you were compared to who you are today? And what about your reality? What was it like to face it? I'd love to know, because I know I'm not alone.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apologies and Ice Cream

Dear Followers,

Sorry for abruptly taking down my latest post, "Stockholm Syndrome," and then reposting it again many days later. It needed some work and I ended up breaking it up into 2 separate posts. I think it makes more sense now. So please check back and re-read the newly posted one. Let me know what you think. The next part is coming soon.

For your patience, I present you with a little something sweet.

Le Bonheur

image by lolita

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stockholm Syndrome

When you’re in the shit, you can’t really see straight. I mean, who can blame you? You’re in shit.

Let me explain.

I began revealing more and more about my relationship to my bestie one day, telling her some of the crazy shit I went through in the years with my ex. I told her about the things that now, for the life of me, I can’t believe that I tolerated. I was telling her all this and she kept asking me, “But why?! Didn’t you know that those things were not okay? How did you put up with it? What did you tell yourself?” I kept saying, “I don’t know, I just did… I don’t know why… I loved him, I guess, I just --” She stopped me short, her eyes got wide and wild, and she started to laugh. She yelled out, “YOU WERE IN THE SHIT!”

There’s this scene in Rushmore.

Max Fischer: So you were in Vietnam, if I'm not mistaken?
Herman Blume: Yeah
Max Fischer: Were you in the shit?
Herman Blume: Yeah, I was in the shit.
Remembering this scene, we both started laughing uncontrollably. The only way to explain why I convinced myself that everything was okay when it most certainly was not, was that... well… I was in the shit. So now when I say something like, “I can’t believe it, I thought he was my partner.” OR, “Why did I think I could live that way?!” My bestie responds, stone cold, “You were in the shit, my friend.”

And this is the truth. I was immersed in the relationship. I was in it, fully. Fueled by love and hope, I believed things were okay when they weren't and ignored so much of what was wrong.

When I think about it. It makes me think of one thing, Stockholm Syndrome. Remember millionaire heiress Patty Hearst, great-granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst? She was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 70s. Originally intended to be held for ransom, she wound up identifying with her captors, joining their army, and found herself robbing a bank while wielding a semi-automatic firearm.

When a kidnap victim identifies with their captor it's called Stockholm Syndrome. One way to explain the phenomenon is to pin it on cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance explains how and why someone can change their ideas and opinions to support a situation that does not appear to be healthy, positive, or safe. When you’re in a situation that you know, deep down, is bad for you, you sometimes don’t want to admit it. Instead, you attempt do anything just so you can to live with it, you turn a blind eye.

Now, I'm not saying my ex was a member of a radical guerrilla army or anything. And he certainly was not abusive in any way. And I do realize that this theory of cognitive dissonance is a way to explain why women stay in abusive relationships and that’s a very serious issue. I’m only using this theory to try and help me understand how I stayed in a relationship that didn’t work for me for as long as I did.

So why did I stay?

What happens when you invest all your time and love into someone? When you love them and only want to see the best in them -- breaking up doesn’t seem like an option. So you ignore the bad and eventually convince yourself that it’s okay to stay. You tolerate things that you would never have tolerated before. And you stay and get further and further immersed in the shit, so much so that you can’t see what’s going on.

When Patty Hearst was on trail, her defense was Stockholm Syndrome – she was only under the spell of the liberation army for 2 months. So what the fuck happens to you when you're with someone for NINE years?

What happens between falling in love and breaking up? Is it Stockholm Syndrome?

Here's how it happened to me...

When I fell in love, I couldn't believe my luck. I didn't think I would ever find someone who seemed so perfect for me. That was what made it so difficult when things started to take a turn. I couldn’t face it. There was no way this man I loved could be wrong for me. And those feelings of love and luck mixed in with holding on to what a truly sweet, loving, and caring person he was (right until the end) helped me maintain the illusion that everything was alright even through the toughest times.

There were times when I would think to myself: It's okay that he doesn’t appear to give a fuck that after four long years of hard work I finally earned my BFA and working full-time while doing it. It’s okay that he dismisses my emotions with a smile and a --"Shhh… you’re not really angry. You’re fine." It's okay that every conversation about our future was stopped short with a --"Don’t worry, it’ll all work out somehow." --and a pat on the head. Yes, all of this was fine, perfectly normal stuff.

But it wasn’t all fine, perfectly normal stuff. The truth was that we were wrong for each other and it was getting harder and harder to dismiss that. Despite the love that was between us, something wasn’t right. Something snapped in me and a cloudy, fuzzy feeling started to seep in -- it was getting harder to ignore myself and my instinct, the voice inside me that said, “You don’t have to put up with this, you deserve more.” And when that voice got so loud I couldn’t drown it out, I began thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen; the end game, the break up. And I have to say here and now, that the fear that came after I said, out loud, that I thought it was over, and right before actually leaving, was much harder than what followed. Snapping myself out of this Stockholm Syndrome was the hardest thing I ever did, but it was crucial. Because when you get untangled and get out, something happens -- you can see again.

I was in the shit.

And now I’m not.

So Dear Followers of my humble blog, what was your Stockholm Syndrome? What did you think was totally normal when you were with your significant other that after you left you thought to yourself, “How the fuck did I let that happen?” I'd love to know because I know I'm not alone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Uh oh, here come the meat dreams.

About 8 years ago I made the choice to be vegan, and shortly afterwards my best friend joined me. We were vegan together, and if you know us, you know that we tend to do many things in tandem. Partners in crime, if you will.

Based on the other’s glowing recommendations, we’ve been known to buy everything from the same purse, glasses, cat food, hair products, lipstick, and even underwear. The other’s opinion is something we each prize even more highly than our own. We know it’s a little sick; its okay, we’re self-aware. So it’s no surprise that we would make this huge lifestyle change together; with very little warning, jumping in head first and fully trusting that we would do this thing together -- as partners.

So shortly after we became vegan, I had these intensely vivid dreams where I would walk into a room and find my best friend eating a steak or a chicken, and she would look up at me and say in-between meaty bites, in defiance, “What?! I eat meat now.” And I would be horrified, and I guess now that I think about it, these dreams were about my fear of being betrayed by someone I loved and who was my partner in something huge.

So it comes as no surprise to me that over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve had dreams about my ex mixed in with images of my bestie eating meat. It’s weird and undoubtedly kinda creepy, but not a total surprise.

I realize now that I feel betrayed by him.

I had dreams that he and I lived together again, but still broken up; living is some dirty old apartment. I dreamed we were fighting in the backseat of our friend’s car as they drove. I dreamt I was trying to talk to him but he was dazed, falling down a lot, falling onto me, not really able to speak. Then I dreamt his face kept shifting. In all the dreams, there was one common theme… I was like insanely angry. And then once in a while my bestie would pop into the picture eating a ham or something. One thing is for sure, this means that (a) I feel betrayed by him, and (b) as a result of “a,” I’m angry all over again.

I thought I was done being angry, but I’m not. I’ve been feeling a seething hatred for him very much like how I felt 2 months into this and would wake up in the middle of the night with clenched fists after dreams of smashing him in the head with various household objects. I’m angry again and I want to scream at him, jab forks into his face, etc. You know the drill.

I wrote a post about blame (see: Blame?) two months ago. At that time, I wondered who was really to blame; me or him? I had this feeling that we were both to blame. In the post, I explained that I didn’t push hard enough to get him to understand what I was going through, and alternately, he wasn’t really capable of dealing with my feelings. So in a way, we were both to blame. But I don’t think that’s fair anymore. Because I did push; I did for a long time and then, after being very unsuccessful, I gave up. I tried to get him to see me, to understand me, to see how his carelessness affected me; and he was incapable of certain things, yes, but he refused to get help, go to therapy, and improve himself and how he related to others. And for that, he is to blame.

And that’s what feels like betrayal to me now.

I tend to be understanding to a fault. I try not to judge others. If someone said, “So have you ever tried bashing a baby seals’ head in with a club? It’s really fun.” I would think, “Hmm. That’s odd ....” Seriously, do your thing, even if it’s not necessarily my thing. I’m sure you’ve got your reasons.

This attitude came to bite me in the ass in the end. I watched as my ex was barely civil to my best friend, barely engaged in conversations with my family, barely engaged in conversations with people who weren't stroking his ego, barely participated in holidays because he hated them, barely acknowledged my graduation day… you get the picture. I watched all this and did nothing because I thought that he had his reasons, I didn’t want to judge him. I thought that’s just the way he was. And I thought that I accepted him completely.

Well fuck that. It’s inconsiderate and above all, it’s bullshit. Because no matter what your reasons, you suck it up because your girlfriend loves you and would do anything for you. She's your partner and you're hers.

But he wasn’t my partner.

Because no matter what I did or how much I gave, tried to understand him, didn’t judge him -- no matter what, he didn’t work as hard as I did. I worked on us and on myself because I thought that’s what you did in a partnered relationship. And did he? No.

Much like my best friend and I dove into veganism together as partners, navigating through vegan cookbooks from the 70’s and sprouting mung beans under our sink, my ex and I dove into our relationship together -- I thought -- as partners too. But where I was navigating how to have a better relationship with his mom, support him in his career choices, deal with the late hours, organize our home, and fit into his life -- he was doing what? Well, nothing of the sort. He wasn’t involved with my life like I was involved in his. He wasn’t really my partner.

And I’m slowly beginning to realize that this is how he betrayed me.

….oh, and he would never have sprouted mung beans with me under our sink either.

photo by richard.heeks


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