The Pain of Rejection

Dear First Ex,

Part of me shudders typing “dear” and thinking about you, but I can’t think of another opening for letters. Bear with me, even though we both know that there’s nothing there.

Anyway, I was thinking about you yesterday. A few days ago, I fell into an old addiction again, and I realized that beneath the symptoms, there was an old lie. As long as I believed that my core was made of putrid darkness, and that no one could want to be near me, the addiction would keep coming back, because it’s comforting.

You are one of the people whose actions made it look like the lie was true.

Does that sound like I’m blaming you? It might, but the truth is that I’m too tired to feel any pain over what happened, and in the moment, I was only able to see my side anyway. I was in a low downswing of my depression, coming off of a suicidal period (or going into one?). There are too many emotions and too much brain fog for me to remember. It could have been too much. It could have been strangling the life out of you. Who knows? Regardless, there’s nothing to gain from another angry tirade at you, and I’m not here to write one.

All that I’m trying to say is that the choices you made, especially towards the end, were hard for me to deal with. I still think they show some cowardice on your part, because you recruited other people to break up with me for you instead of saying the words yourself. When I wanted to talk afterwards, just to see if there was a way that we could be civil enough that our mutual friends didn’t have to choose, you had someone insult me so that you could stay silent.

So I let you have our friends and our social spot. Looking back, it sounds a little like a divorce, doesn’t it? Weird.

Reading over my old journal entries yesterday was bizarre. I went from singing your praises to heaping abuse on your name in an instant. I was completely blindsided by the whole thing. I had been pouring everything I had into the relationship. You probably won’t trust me when I say that I know that depressed people don’t have much love to offer. Even before I met you, I knew that love drew energy from my very limited emotional reserves. I spent energy on trying to make you happy when I should have used it for taking care of myself or resting. I tried to take care of your needs. I didn’t criticize your lifestyle and I accommodated your needs. I poured out everything I had for you and you basically said,

“You didn’t get better fast enough.”

Yeah. It was a real high point for both of us. I’m still not “better,” by the way. It turns out that brains don’t fix themselves any more than dysfunctional organs or misshapen limbs do. Weird, isn’t it?

I’m sorry. I’m getting bitter, and I said I wasn’t here to accuse you. Staying angry with you or believing that your assessment of me was accurate is just hurting me. For a decade, part of my energy has been draining off to fuel the lie I mentioned earlier and the defense mechanisms around it. I’m done. I have to be.

Forgiveness is a strange thing. People have told me that it’s a choice: just choose to forgive someone. There are a handful of people that I have chosen to forgive, but I’m still angry and hurt when I think of them, because I still wanted more from our relationships than they gave me. I wanted love, care, an honest connection, to feel safe while I’m near them, but no. And it still hurts. Someone else has told me that it doesn’t sound like I’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness, therefore, must be more than a choice.

Today, right now, it feels like maybe forgiveness is actually part of a sequence, and that it only functions properly when done in the right order. Here’s my working model:

  1. Be vulnerable and get hurt.
  2. Mourn and feel the pain.
  3. Process the experience and its effects on you.
  4. Let yourself heal from it. Let go of the dark, angry words, even if their familiarity is comforting.
  5. Forgive the person.
  6. Move on a more complex person than you were before.

Yesterday afternoon, I just laid on the floor and sobbed. I remembered how my college friends found out about my depression and stopped talking to me. I remembered how a few months later, you left me too. I remembered how our friends just stayed with you, even though I tried hard to avoid asking them to choose sides and I wanted to find separate places to hang out.

All of these people that I was honest with, all of these people that I trusted, they got close to be and saw my broken parts, and then they left. And it sucks.

But here’s the thing- the small group of you are not representatives of humanity. You don’t control the choices that other people make, and just because you chose to leave me alone when I needed you most, it doesn’t mean that no one will ever choose to stay. My husband met me during a breakdown and he just kept walking closer to me. The messier I got, the more broken parts he saw, the more time he spent with me, and his kindness and gentle spirit still blow me away.

It’s unfortunate that my pain has prevented me from accepting him on the deepest level possible. That I’ve invalidated some of his choices and actions because I believed that he would be like you. That I’ve done the same thing with God’s love, because I believed that He would be like you. And I’m done.

What you did, what all of you chose to do, will never be ok. It will never be justified, but I’m not the harbinger of justice. I don’t need to carry the burden of the pain you caused me and the treatment that I needed from you. I don’t need to keep a list of areas where I gave more or tried harder. I don’t need to try to remember any pieces of the storm that was our last two meetings. God will remember for me, and He can measure out all of the pieces.

So this is it. I’m letting go of everything attached to this ball of pain. I don’t need any of the mess any more. I don’t believe the lie any more.

There are good traits in me. There are reasons that people might want to be my friend or enjoy being near me. I am not a toxic waste of space. I am a beautiful mess, just like everyone else.

So goodbye. I know we haven’t seen each other for years, so I don’t expect that I’ll even think of you again for a long time. It will be ok if I forget you entirely. It will be ok if I don’t. Either way, I’ll still be me.

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Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

I’m going to leave you here. I have a lot of walking to do, a lot of me to discover, a lot of talents to develop, a lot of life to live, and a lot of love to give. I’m going to grow into someone better, someone more vibrant than I am now, if only because I’m too stubborn to quit.

I know that the beautiful, glowing me is inside somewhere. I look forward to meeting her and then introducing her to the world. She’s going to love it.

~J

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Somebody That I Used To Know

I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a particular song playing in my head after I typed that title, so here’s a cover of it that I enjoy.

Dear Pysch Major,

I thought of you again yesterday. One of my current friends was apologizing for having forgotten to tell me there was a scheduling conflict with our regular hang out time. She had been crying over it, actually. It was strange, because it was ok with me. I know her character well enough to take that mistake in stride and keep going. While I was reassuring her, I told her about you.

Do you remember the anime convention that you didn’t attend with me? I scheduled time with you and our mutual friend in January, so that you guys would definitely be free in July. We had gone together the year before and enjoyed our day. Moving 3 hours away from you guys after college was hard, but that’s why I wanted to make time to hang out.

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Photo by Mark Cruz on Unsplash

I drove 3 hours, looking forward to seeing you guys. It’s a long, straight road with nothing to see. I arrived and found our friend. We hugged, laughed, and chatted. I asked her if she had heard from you. She hadn’t, but apparently, you had become harder to reach since you started dating your new boyfriend. So I called you. Do you remember what you said?

You had forgotten. I told you that’s why I tried to set this up so many months in advance! You said you hadn’t put it on your calendar. I asked if you were still coming. You said you had something with your boyfriend. I hoped you would say that you were gonna reschedule with him and hang out with me, like you promised.

You didn’t.

I think I asked one last time if you could come or find a way to make it work. You said no. I tried to pretend I wasn’t hurt, and I hung up. I ended the call and I ended my emotional connection with you. How could I trust you or spend energy caring about you?

You wouldn’t apologize for forgetting our plans. You didn’t even try to reschedule your plans with your boyfriend who lived like 15 minutes away to spend time with your friend who drove 3 hours to see you. You expected me to understand. Well, I understood that I didn’t mean anything to you. I understood that I had been pouring more into the relationship than you had. 

I understood that it was over. 

It still hurts me, you know. Yeah, one of the two of you remembered our plans, and was looking forward to it, and she made room in her life for me. We had a good time, in spite of your choice.

I was just completely blindsided by it. I never suspected for a moment that our relationship dynamic was… unbalanced? Unhealthy? Broken?

I know we’ll never talk again, but when I get past the pain, I miss you. I hope you do well in graduate school and clinicians (or whatever the counseling version of apprenticeship is called). I hope that you grow and bloom and help others to do the same. I hope you laugh and run.

I just wish I could be around to see it.

Take care.
~J

A Letter for my Mother

Dear Mom,

Do you remember the day that I asked you if you would just write a list of all the rules down for me? Did I ask you to post it inside the coat closet in the dining room, or wasn’t I brave enough to open the door and ask? I honestly can’t remember what really happened on that day. It makes me a bit sad, truth be told, but what can I do? It’s not like I’m guaranteed perfect memories of each day of my life. Oh well. Let’s move on.

Whether I did or not, I wanted to ask you to just finally write down everything that I could get in trouble for doing and post that list somewhere where I could find it. Somewhere that I could check. Somewhere that I could go and study it so that I could learn how to be good. So that you wouldn’t hit me any more. So that you wouldn’t yell at me any more.

I knew that you weren’t ok. Honestly, I don’t even know if you knew it yet, or if you thought that I was too young to understand or remember, but I knew. I could see how fragile you were, and I knew that you could be crushed by anything that came along, anything unexpected, anything difficult. I knew that the world was a very dangerous place for you, that you couldn’t handle living in it, and that you needed someone to protect you from the bad things in the world.

I tried. I promise that I did.

I was like… three? Five? There wasn’t much that I could do, but I really did my best to protect you. I wish that you hadn’t hit me so often. I wish that you hadn’t screamed at me.

You laughed one day, when you saw me sobbing, making my way back the hall to my room as punishment, before you had even found what I had done wrong. To your credit, you didn’t punish me for whatever it was, which was good, since my self punishment was already enough. But you know, you didn’t come and comfort me either. Didn’t you realize that something was wrong? That there was a reason I was so terrified of your wrath that I just braced for it and tried to minimize the damage?

I guess not. Maybe you weren’t healthy enough for that yet.

Did you understand the terror that I lived in, not knowing what things I could do without getting in trouble? Did you know how it felt, not knowing what choices were safe to make? Do you know now? Do you understand that this is why I still can’t make decisions for myself more than 20 years later? Do you know that this is why I’m so scared of the unknown, why I measure my performance in everything I do, why I can’t relax? Do you see?


I don’t know. I’m not going to ask you. You still get defensive about it, even with your anxiety medication and your years of counseling. You still attack me instinctively, rather than admitting that you did anything wrong. It is possible to be injured enough that you can’t avoid hurting people AND to acknowledge that your actions and words had consequences.

I’m not your enemy. I know that you didn’t even know that you had mental illness yet. I know that you were willing to put in the effort to grow and heal; I’ve seen you do it in the decades since then. I am even starting to understand why you developed those defenses.

It’s ok. You’re safe now.

So please, some day, listen to me talk about the pain you caused me. Please apologize for it. I already know that you never intended to hurt me, that you were already overwhelmed, and money was tight, and your young family was struggling, and you had baggage from bad relationships before you married dad, and there were issues left over from when grandpa was an alcoholic and you weren’t safe at home either, and more and more and more. It’s ok. I don’t hate you, but I do need to hear you say that you’re sorry. I do need to hear you tell me that you love me. I need to know that there is a way forward, and that you’re willing to help me heal and grow as well.

I’ve been processing my pain for a while. I’ve revised my treatment plan many times, and you know that Dora is just the latest addition to the mix. You know that she’s helping me, and I hope you can see the progress that I’ve made over the last year. But now, I’ve reached a point where things are getting a bit hard.

I’m reading a book, mom. It’s in the other room, and I don’t want to lose my momentum by getting up and bringing it here, so you’ll have to forgive me for not telling you the title. It’s about childhood trauma, fractured minds, and the healing process for people who experience more pain than they are equipped to handle. I don’t think I have multiple personalities, but I do know that there are memories that I’m afraid to think about, even today. I know that I have a defense mechanism that provides me with a safe world to live in, where I can be beautiful and smart, powerful and necessary. I know that I go there whenever I can’t stand living as myself. I know that it’s not normal, and that it could be unhealthy, and that it’s quite sad on some level that there have been years when I have spent more time living as a fantasy version of myself than as me.

I want to be whole. I want to be able to look at the darkest times and the brightest times in my life and feel the emotions that go with them. And to look away afterwards! But I’m not there yet.

I’m scared, mom. What am I going to find? How hard will it be? My body is crying, but my face is neutral. I can feel the disconnect even now. What am I mourning? Do you know?


Well, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. I hope your day is going well, and that you make progress in becoming less defensive. I believed you when you admitted that it was a flaw of yours and that you’re working on it. That was…. 3 weeks ago, I think. I still believe you, and I hope that it works.

Maybe one day, I’ll have you read this for real. And I’ll try to keep breathing, and Dora will probably have to perform at least one of her tasks, because I can’t imagine showing this to you without having a panic attack.

Today is January 14th, 2018.

~J

Love that Never Was- Part 3

I have been writing letters to people from my past, trying to gain closure from painful memories. To see the previous entries in the series, click the “love that never was” tag, and it will take you to the other letters. As always, the events are true, but I don’t use people’s names.

I was cleaning my house today and I found the dried red carnation that you got me on my birthday. Do you remember that? The snow was everywhere and it wasn’t even safe to be on the roads, but I begged and pled with my dad to drive meet see you? So we drove almost an hour through the deep snow and got there safely and you were like, “What are you doing here?” You were often cold towards me, but I accepted it just the same because at least you acknowledged me.

Do you realize what I was willing to give you? Could you see all of the love I was trying to offer? Did you know how often I defended your lifestyle to the people around me? Or could you only see my depression?

I can understand that it was hard for you to be near me, and I really do know that people need to look out for themselves. But are you sure that you couldn’t come up with a better reason than “you didn’t get better fast enough” to dump me? Depression had been a part of my life for two decades- why did you think it would be gone in two months? Why did you even date me to begin with? I wasn’t hiding my pain, so you really can’t say that you didn’t know what you were getting in to.

And you know, it’s hard to feel pity for you and the terrible burden of depression that you had to carry, since it was at least twice as heavy for me. At least you even got to have times that weren’t painful. But I’m just lashing out because I’m angry at you. I’m angry that you told your female “friend” everything about our relationship, but didn’t want me to think you were cheating. I’m angry that she knew more about how you were feeling than I did. I’m angry that you brought her to the break up. I’m angry that you didn’t break up with me, because you didn’t have the courage to say the words yourself. I’m angry that over and over and over you kept hiding behind your friends and that you never really stood on your own feet and just talked to me.

I never wanted to date 7 people. Why did you make our relationship into something that involved your whole friend cluster? Why did you bad mouth me to all of them so that the whole group of you dumped me at once, and I couldn’t even see my friend any more? I was going to share our mutual friends you know- hang out at different times, never talk about you at all, and generally do everything that I could to keep things from feeling awkward. But I guess you needed them, so whatever.

Do you want to know what the issue was that led to our breakup- the thing that made me cry on the night that you left me sitting in the hallway while you hung out with your friends for 45 minutes? It was incest. I had met some people my age who had been molested by a relative as young children, who were drowning under insecurity, repressed memories, shattered self esteem, and more. I was strong for their sake, and I needed freedom to weep over how wrong that situation is. 

So here’s your stupid, dead flower- in the trash where it belongs.

Love that Never Was- Part 2

As mentioned two days ago, I have decided to try writing letters that I don’t intend to deliver in order to get some closure from baggage that I’m still carrying around. I don’t use real names, but the events are true, even if they’re vague for anonymity.

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I remember your name today, even though I’ve forgotten most of the words of your language. Is that sad? Maybe not. Do you remember me? Is your English any better?

You know, I never told you, but I learned your name because you wore glasses, so I could recognize you. I know that the people in your country don’t all look the same, but isn’t that a problem that we all have? It just takes a while for us to recognize what features are significant in distinguishing one person from another? We all need to learn if it’s hair, skin tone, eye color, nose shape, cheekbones, forehead size, etc. We all look for the features that we are used to, so I looked at hair and eye color. Black hair and brown eyes were everywhere. You were the first one I met with glasses, and the lenses had a little blue brand name on one of the lenses.

I paid attention, but I didn’t understand most of what I saw. I was young. So young. 

Did you know that you were the first guy that I flirted with? It’s true. I was only going to be in your country for a few weeks, so there was no future, and no risk. I felt so free and beautiful. My appearance was pretty exotic, I suppose. Would you believe that I’m actually quite plain here? Would you believe that I gained more weight since you knew me? You were right to worry about my health, but I didn’t listen to you, because in my culture,  it’s not polite to bluntly tell someone they need to lose weight. Also, I was trying to commit suicide in a socially acceptable way, so that people wouldn’t get angry at me. It was complicated. 

In many ways, I was unhealthy.

So, honestly? I liked you. A lot. I was impressed by your faith and your ambition- how you actually wanted to be someone who changed your country for the better, instead of someone who wanted to complain but wouldn’t get involved. You were remarkable. And intense. 

Do you remember holding our hands up to one another through the airport glass? Did you know that as my plane took off, I mouthed the words “I love you” out the window? It was a perfect moment, like a dream. It felt like a movie. But you haven’t shown up randomly in a coffee shop or book store, we haven’t recognized each other, and our romance hasn’t been absurdly successful. Because this isn’t a movie, and because strangers do not end up living convoluted, destiny-laced lives. Nope. I’m just gone. You go on. I go on.

I don’t know anything about you really. Language barriers really prevent friendship from forming. How can trust or common ground form when we can only talk about a handful of topics? Who are your parents? Do you have siblings? How do you treat people around you? Are you kind or cruel? Do you have a short temper?

Were you only looking for an excuse to immigrate here when you asked me to be your girlfriend via email? Everyone told me that you were, but it didn’t feel true to me, not at the time. But who was I to judge you really? I was just a stranger from a shared dream.

Why did you remember me for so long? Why did you enjoy the day that we caught a salamander together? Two adults, scurrying around the room like children, chasing that little amphibian until we caught it finally, then laughing at the squirming tail in our hands after the little guy had skittered away? Why did that afternoon keep me in your mind? Why did you tell me you couldn’t find a girl like me in your country? Why would you say this stuff?

Am I a bad person for acting like people in my culture do? Is something wrong with me for reaching out to you with only shallow interest, rather than with earnestness? I didn’t know that your people don’t flirt. I thought my culture was universal. I was so young.

I’m sorry. You life would have been much easier if I had never entered it, or if I hadn’t chosen that trip to be my flirting debut. If I hadn’t felt free and beautiful, and if I hadn’t treated that trip like an adventure. But I was so young! I was caught in that stage of legal adulthood and mental idiocy! I’m sorry.

Please forgive me. Please forget me. It’s for the best.

Love that Never Was- Part 1

I was thinking about holding onto scraps again, and I realized that there are several interactions with people that I regret, which would be ok if I didn’t get hung up in them for a few weeks at a time. So in an effort to release the baggage and get some closure, I am going to try writing letters that I will never deliver to people with whom I need closure. These  are fake names and so on, for privacy.

Well, this is awkward, but I guess I should just start, huh? Things never really were weird between us, and we used to be able to talk about even really intense stuff. I just… you were pretty great, you know?

We were good friends and we laughed a lot. It all worked so naturally. I still remember the conversation that ended everything. You asked me if I knew any girls who liked you, and I paused forever, and said no. I paused because I didn’t know if I should say that I did or not. I had thought about dating you, I’ll admit, but you had never said anything that made it seem mutual! So then, when we were sitting in the hallway, and you asked me if anyone had a crush on you, rather than if I had a crush on you, it just didn’t seem worthwhile to take that risk of saying yes.

I know that you visited my family and met my parents. I know that meeting a girl’s parents can be significant progress towards being more than friends, but I also brought my best friend home the break before that! You were another close friend, and I put you in the same category as her, because I had no reason to think of you as anything else. It didn’t mean anything, even though they liked you and everything went smoothly.

I can see it now- the subtle things that I didn’t understand at the time- why you avoided certain topics with me, why you let me take your Star Wars cardboard cutout, why you regularly made time to fight the Borg with me in the Star Trek arcade game, why you were there for me when I needed someone to process my diagnosis with. Why we didn’t really talk much after that conversation in the hallway, when I said no. It looks like you cared for me, and sometimes, that makes it awkward, because we haven’t spoken in years, we both married other people, and I still have that paper cube from your dad’s office. (I’m using it for grocery lists.)

I don’t really know what to say to you, even now, because we have nothing. We are nothing. And it’s your fault. You never took the risk of telling me how you felt or explicitly labeling the times that we hung out as dates. You were a friend, I interacted with you like a friend, I wondered if we could have been more, but you never gave me the slightest sign that you were ever interested in me as anything else. You’re a good guy who finished last because he never actually signed up for the race- just ran along behind people who were actually competing for a prize.

So, I’m not going to feel guilty about not recognizing your subtle mind games any more, ok? If it had really mattered to you, if you had really cared, you could have said something. It’s not my fault that I did not see something you were trying to hide. So, congrats on your success. You fooled me, and I never suspected that you wanted anything more from me than what you had, so I ultimately discarded my budding feelings for you since they were pointless.

I’m sorry for yelling. I just hate that a single conversation can still bother me now. It’s been years. I just… I needed to say that. And you know what? It’s ok that we never dated each other. It’s ok that we never escaped the Borg either. Some things just aren’t meant to be. So take care, friend. I hope you’re living free too, not haunted by memories of me.