I am giving you permission to fall apart.
To crumble and drop to your knees.
To cry so hard you can’t catch your breath and your whole body trembles.
I want you to know that it is okay to break and feel like you are losing your mind.
It is okay to feel hopeless.
To hit rock bottom.
To go places so dark and so desperate you feel terrified;
of getting lost there forever.
But forever isn’t a place you can inhabit.
Forever is an illusion.
Forever does not exist.
And even when you feel like you can’t go on and there is no hope,
I promise you that there is.
You are going to pick yourself up off of that floor.
You will find your strength, your hope, your resilience.
Never forget that tomorrow is another day.
But today, you are allowed to break.
There is beauty in breakdown.
My name is Amy and I am a relationship addict.
Yes, it is a thing. A very real and very debilitating thing.
From Ann Smith via Psychology Today:
The relationship addict experiences intense “abandonment anxiety”. This anxiety triggers panic, low self worth, feelings of emptiness, isolation, and possibly depression. The addict may believe they are worthless without their partner. They almost always feel unbearable emptiness. Love addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. The causes of love addiction are fairly easy to identify: inadequate or inconsistent nurturing, low self esteem, absence of positive role models for committed relationships, and indoctrination with cultural images of perfect romantic love and happily ever after endings.
It dawned on me as I said goodbye to the last relationship I was in, just a week or so ago, that something wasn’t right with the way I was reacting to the loss. Something felt off, so I did what I do best, I did some investigative work on myself and my behavior. I took a look back at my actions with this person, within the relationship, and found myself kind of disgusted. I wasn’t necessarily shocked to discover that nothing about my behavior had been healthy or ‘normal’, just kind of disappointed. It was a realization that I didn’t want to make or admit.
But deep down, I knew that it was time to deal with it.
I am addicted to love.
I was a rollercoaster of emotion and anxiety during my last relationship (something I thought was just me, in addition to my current grief over the divorce). I thought my explosive (head-over-heels love) and intense emotion was fueled by love and my big, huge heart. But, my anxiety would be more pronounced when I wouldn’t hear from him for longer than a few hours or, god forbid, an entire day. I would feel nothing short of despondent; panicky. And when his feelings didn’t seem to match my own in intensity or explosiveness, I got even more anxious and more emotional. It was exhausting. I have no idea why he put up with me.
Since we have said our respective goodbyes, I have been an anxious wreck. Mornings seem to be the hardest. I wake up, and without that good morning check-in fix, I feel anxious, undone, and completely alone.
To be perfectly honest, I feel terrified. But of what, I have no idea (a fact that is really pissing me off). I am home alone right now and literally just screamed to no one: “What the fuck are you so afraid of?!” And promptly burst into tears. Sigh.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle.
I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Ever since boys noticed me in the 8th grade (and I noticed them back). I suspect that the behavior took root because I grew up in a home without a father and had an emotionally distant mother who I didn’t easily connect with. I watched my father die and never had a male role model. After his death, my mother relied on me to be the other parent in the household. I was 9. Perhaps, as a result, I was left with a void, a hole, severely low self-esteem, and a debilitating fear of abandonment.
Love (and relationship) addicts are terrified of abandonment. They rely on others to fulfill them, and to make them feel happy and whole. Without their love object, they feel worthless and incomplete. This is often due to a lack of love and nurturing from their primary caregivers while growing up. The abandonment they experienced may have been emotional (i.e. – their parents were physically present but emotionally detached), or physical – one or both of their parents left, died, was ill, or absent much of the time.
Perhaps my childhood ended at age 9? I am almost 43. That is 34 years of emptiness. Holy crap.
From what I have read, true love addiction is less about the search for love and more about finding a way to control tough emotions. Going from one relationship to another without any room for grieving, mourning, or processing through a previous loss means getting to avoid feeling those tough emotions. I thought I had a failsafe way to avoid dealing with my father’s death and subsequent abandonment shit when I married my first husband.
But that relationship didn’t satisfy me, so I found another more exciting guy and married him. We lasted 16 years. I thought I would be safe forever; we had 2 kids! That meant commitment – a guarantee, a promise, right?
Holy shit. NO.
When my second marriage failed, I had no choice but to deal with the grief from my father’s death (finally) which came back in one giant terrifying matzoh ball of horror. When that train wreck came, in addition to grieving my marriage and my family, it is no surprise that I ended up in the hospital.
But wait, I didn’t I really have to deal with any of it, did I? After I got out of the hospital, my subconscious knew just what to do. I did what I had always done when a relationship ended or seemed unsatisfying. I jumped right back into online dating and I hopped right into a new romance. Surely this new and exciting person would save me and help me feel better and I would be happy?!
Again, holy shit. NO.
Since the split a year ago, I have had 3 relatively serious, sexually intimate relationships. When each one ended, I broke all over again. They were unhealthy relationships (though I didn’t think so or realize it at the time) as they were a means of getting that love ‘fix’ and avoiding the big, huge, debilitating emotions that accompany being alone (for me). I was still hiding from my demons; my inability to feel whole, complete, or satisfied with who I am as a person without that constant need for external validation. Seeking internal validation from external sources for most of my life has done so much damage I really don’t know where to begin picking up the pieces.
For me, being alone feels like I am dying. And right now, in this moment, I feel like I am dying. The longest I have ever been single was a mere few weeks when I was 19 years old. It was during that time period that I had a suicide attempt. That is how scary it felt then. It feels just as scary now but thankfully, I am 42 and have 2 beautiful children that anchor me to this world.
I know that this realization/admission is huge. I know I am on the right path and acknowledging my underlying behaviors and motivations has felt very scary but also very empowering.
Life and love feel like this big ball of tangled up shit that I have to finally sit down with, examine, and sort through. On my own. My goal is to be single for 6 months.
That is not until April. Gulp.
Am I scared? Hell yes. I am completely terrified.
I have been leaking out my power and my essence and my very self all over the damn place. It stops now.
It is time for me to go and find all of my missing pieces. And put myself back together.
I am Rebuilding Amy.
Resources on love and relationship addiction for you:
I was in my yard the other day and there were leaves on the ground – not on the trees where they SHOULD be; all green and perky, glinting with dappled sunshine. The leaves I saw were brown and crunchy; shriveled and dead, pathetic. I internally shuddered.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fall. The colors, the smells, the crisp, clear air, the cozy feeling of sweaters and jeans and boots. But fall means one thing:
WINTER IS COMING.
I can’t talk about winter without saying things like; I don’t like winter! I don’t like feeling cold! I don’t like the lack of sunshine and daylight! I don’t like the feeling of being trapped inside and feeling isolated! I do not like snow!
But this post really isn’t about any of those things.
It is about this: The seasons are changing and time keeps moving right along; life is passing by. Fall is this epic shift of letting go, and change, and new beginnings. Death makes way for new life.
And life is flowing all around me – it keeps marching on, but fuck! I feel so anchored to where I am. Days are turning into weeks, weeks into months, and months into seasons.
I am standing still.
It has been almost a year since my husband left. One trip around the sun. Time feels like it’s in some sort of warp. I feel like he left last week. A year?! It just doesn’t feel real.
But it is.
The world keeps turning and I am standing still, feeling completely and absolutely STUCK.
I am stuck inside of my grief, and my hurt, and my heartache. I cannot shake them. Yes, I’ve made lots of progress, but there are still some days where I am literally rocked to my core with pain.
And all around me, life goes on.
Winter is coming.
My kids are doing as well as they can with their new life; split between the 2 people they love most in this world. They spend half the week with their dad and half the week with me. Of course they want their family back, but they are really happy and they are thriving. I imagine that my ex must be happy too. He has everything he ever wanted. He told me once that he is happier than he ever has been in his life.
And me? I am still struggling. Still aching for that family I want back. I am sitting in an empty house filled with ghosts, memories, and lost dreams. A future that will never come to pass. It is a life that is no longer real. It was the future I was counting on.
There are no guarantees.
I think this is just the rollercoaster that is grief. I think, perhaps, that this is what I am supposed to be doing. Feeling my feelings and moving through the pain and the trauma. Perhaps I am not actually stuck but just slowed waaaaaaaay down.
If it were possible, I would curl up into an emotional chrysalis, and hibernate right through fall, straight on through winter, and wake up when it was spring. I would bypass the rest of this so-called ‘grieving process‘ and skip to the end where I emerge from my chrysalis as a beautiful fucking butterfly.
But winter is coming.
And I have no choice but to go along for the ride.
I am finally acknowledging something that hurts to admit.
My age is starting to bug me. It is becoming a ‘thing’ my mind keeps coming back to. And per usual, I need to pay some attention to these thoughts; to process through them and make sense of the acute physical distress they are currently causing me.
I didn’t mind growing older until now. Age made no difference! I had a husband and a family. I had my partner in life and in love; we were growing old together! That was the plan, god damnit! Now that I seem to be growing old alone, I feel sick to my stomach about what this means. I constantly feel the pressure of time; and I feel as though it is running out.
I can’t explain why, but I feel terrified and alone and scared. This is causing me distress and the fact that it is causing me distress is pissing me off. Royally.
Get it together Amy!
I don’t want to feel old. I don’t want age to be a ‘thing’ but fuck, it is and I cannot ignore it any longer.
I have no idea why it is that I seem to keep connecting with people who are 10-15 years younger than I am. I am one of the older people in many of these new social circles I seem to gravitate toward. I am starting to feel self-conscious, a new feeling for me. Is it because I am in this new ‘adolescent’ stage in my life? I am literally rediscovering who I am and where I fit into the world, and this has me out and about, meeting new people all the damn time. But why should it matter what age these new friends are?
I suppose that most people my age have families and marriages and lives that involve family stuff. I don’t have that any more (that fact still hurts like a mother fucker). But at the same time, I don’t want that. I don’t want that life of complacency or stagnation. I don’t ever want to stop learning, growing, or playing. That doesn’t seem like really living to me.
I want adventure and laughter and new experiences. I want a partner in life and love. Explosive love! Unhinged, unabashed, unfiltered LOVE. Bring it.
(And yet, don’t. Because I am scared shitless of getting hurt again).
I seem to like younger men and society dictates that I am a ‘cougar’ because of this. I do not like that label. Actually, I fucking hate it. It is disgusting and rampantly sexist. Being called a so-called ‘cougar’ takes away from who I am as a fucking HUMAN BEING. I am a woman, and my age or my status in life should not be what define me. Sure, those things make up an integral part of who I am, but I am much more than that ridiculous label would imply.
I don’t like being called a MILF either. Aside from the gazillion reasons this label is offensive, I know exactly why it irks me. Being referred to as a so-called ‘mother-I’d-like-to-fuck’ defines me in terms of my physical self and also in regard to my kids. I am literally in the process of clawing my way back to myself outside of that role. It has taken a momentous amount of energy to untangle those cords that bind me to my children.
Labels such as these make me feel ashamed and embarrassed – like there is something wrong with me. Age doesn’t matter! (That is what I tell myself, constantly). A connection is a connection regardless of how old I am or how old someone else is. But I can feel myself silently snickering – laughing behind my back so to speak. This older woman hanging out with much younger people. It turns my stomach and makes me feel like some hopeless loser chasing something that doesn’t exist. A life that isn’t for me. I feel separate; like an outside observer.
I am also endlessly running in circles trying to figure out my path as far as all of this romantic/love shit goes. I am drawn to real, genuine, honest people who are doing the hard work of knowing themselves and working on themselves. It doesn’t matter if they are 27 or 37. At this point in my life, I can recognize a meaningful connection within the first 5 minutes of being near someone. I have come to understand that I am a highly intuitive person with a gift for connecting with people. My heart is huge and I am still trying to be ok with this – to celebrate it instead of curse it as I get hurt again and again.
This post isn’t going to end with something uplifting or happy.
I can’t bring that to you today and for that, I am sorry.
When I sit, and give all of these nagging thoughts about age and time a voice, I feel like an old lady. I feel used up, beat up, like a weirdo with kids and a life of responsibility. I feel like I’ve lost an entire decade of my life. My marriage feels like it was a joke. Resentment toward my children rears its ugly head and I feel a loss so deep I feel scared I will never be able to move past it.
Big, deep sigh.
Why is it so important?
Why does something so (seemingly) simple hold so much weight?
I know connection is what is missing from my life. Real, genuine, meaningful connection. I have interactions with other humans throughout my day; the small and the large variety of bipedal creatures. I am blessed with wonderful people that I chat with at work, online, on the phone. But those connections are brief and generally not diving into the deep end of the pool. We, as human beings, absolutely prefer the shallow end of things. We feel safest there.
The connection I am longing for is the one with that person you can bare your soul to and feel safe in doing so. That someone who is on your same wave length, gets you, and whatever crazy you might bring to the table. You can share anything and everything with this person and they not only hear you, they see you, and they validate you.
So, why do I need this? Why do you need this? Why do we all absolutely need this?
I think it is the sharing of ourselves, our emotions, and our stories with other humans that makes us feel seen. Sharing our deepest and most vulnerable selves is gratifying and authenticating. When we have people in our lives who hold space for us, for our most secret selves, we become whole. That connection becomes a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly. We feel accepted for who we are. We become more adept at diving into that deep end.
We all have very rich inner lives; busy brains. We feel, we think, we love, we hurt. When we share those most vulnerable pieces of ourselves and the stories and emotions that go with them (in a safe space) our ability to be vulnerable is validated and supported, thereby making room for more vulnerability in the future.
Vulnerability –> Connection/Validation –> Increased Vulnerability
And we know now, that a life lived in a vulnerable and aware state, is the best and only way to live, right? We know that a life lived on the surface of things isn’t living at all. Don’t be a watcher or a surface dweller! Be a participant! Get in and get dirty!
We all have deep insecurities we wrestle with. Shit we may not even admit to ourselves. When we allow vulnerability into our lives as a daily practice, we are making room for those parts of us that feel uncertain; unsafe. When I sit in a meeting with my fourteen 4-yr-olds at work and I cry, I tell them I am okay and that it is okay to cry.
I can cry on the phone with my sister now. It has taken me years to be able to do this. And I’ll tell you something, every time I cry and open up to her, I feel better.
With practice (sadly, I’ve had lots lately), I can bare my soul and my sadness to people and when they see me and hold space for me, it reinforces this fact: I know I will be okay. With every hurt and every gaping wound, I grow stronger and simultaneously more vulnerable. I feel and I share and I learn and I grow. It would seem that we have ourselves another paradox. Being vulnerable creates room for joy, pain, connection, growth, and strength.
I think that the connection I lost when my marriage ended has been the single most devastating part of this shit-show of a divorce. When you live with, and love someone for 16 years, you speak your own language, you have inside jokes that literally no one else would understand. I miss that like an ache in my chest. When that connection is severed, you are left reeling and wondering who the fuck you are without it.
I thought I had found the possibility of that again, just recently, and I opened myself up and allowed love and vulnerability back into my life. And now I am hurting again nearly as badly as I was last fall. And it’s the loss of the connection – the validation – that hurts the most.
This leads me down a path that I don’t want to go down. But trudge on, I must.
Shouldn’t I be okay without that connection? Shouldn’t I feel validated and whole on my own without someone externally reinforcing my sense of self? Yes? No? I don’t know???
I love being alone. I struggle with feeling alone. I love my independence. I struggle with not having anyone at home to talk to.
I shall investigate this further at another time when I am not so utterly exhausted. I will leave you with this little gem:
The other day I had a conversation with some lettuce.
I can’t believe I just admitted that.
*A bit of a rant this morning as I work my way through this latest hurdle*
I have a vulnerability hangover and it’s bad.
I opened myself up completely to someone and let love back into my life and into my heart; slowly and steadily over the past 5 months. I said goodbye to this person and that relationship 2 days ago and now I feel physically ill; sick to my stomach with anxiety and hurt and pain and regret. I want my fucking walls back. I want my suit of impenetrable armor. I want my PTSD-numbed emotional state of mind back. Because this hurts too much and I want OUT.
This is why smart people fear being vulnerable and keep themselves in check.
Boundaries, Amy! Balance!
I’m back on my emotional rollercoaster. Everything feels so raw and so frightening right now. I am feeling more alone than I have in months; questioning my sanity. I went and fell in love. Damnit, what was I thinking??? Once love blossomed in my heart, I dove straight in. Head first and with complete abandon. He held space for my love and intensity with a careful and gentle grace. But then we reached an impasse. I wanted more – I wanted it all – and he couldn’t give me that. This person wants children of his own. I am going to be 43 this year. I have children of my own and I do not want more. There is more to it than that, a lot more, but for me, that is the crux of it.
I guess I don’t understand why my kids and I aren’t enough for this person. We could have made an awesome, funky-type family. I know he wants his own children but he could have found an instant family with the 3 of us. I wanted to walk by his side for the foreseeable future. Meet his more of his friends and his family. Dance, laugh, discuss life, wake-up together, cook, camp, live, love, and explore. I would have been his partner and friend.
Sigh. Fantasy. All of it.
I considered it for a minute (okay, it’s still on my mind); having a baby with this man. What would that be like? It was, and still is, a tantalizing thought. But here’s the thing, as much as I love this guy, and would love to have a life with him, I cannot go through that again. Losing myself, my life, my body, to an infant. The fact is, that somewhere, deep inside of me, that pull to get lost is still there and this absolutely terrifies me.
And this: Maybe I don’t like who I am on love.
Love feels like a drug in my system. I feel like I’m going through withdrawal. Maybe being in love brings out the insecure and codependent me and there is nothing I can do about that. Maybe no amount of therapy can help me to untangle that deeply embedded shit. This relationship brought up all of my insecurities, but only when we were apart. When we were together, everything seemed crystal clear, healthy, grounding, and fucking amazing. I felt like I had balance – seeing him a few times a week, maintaining my friendships and my life outside of that relationship. But then this weird shit kept coming up when I wouldn’t hear from him in between seeing him:
Why didn’t he call? He said he would call! Why didn’t he say hello when he was online? Does he really like me? Does he really want a relationship? Just sex? Who am I if this imagined future with a man I love doesn’t actually exist? What if he says no? What if he finds someone else? What if he fucks someone else and he’s too afraid to tell me? He doesn’t owe me anything. I don’t own him. What if I am alone again? Without that connection that feels so right, so good, and so true? Who am I without that?
Am I still me?
Am I still ok?
What the fuck IS THAT? Why does the fact that someone’s messaging/not messaging or calling/not calling determine my sanity and sense of self/well-being? UGH. Is that just my codependency and sense of self-worth or was it the relationship itself? I really thought that I was complete on my own without this connection. Have I been lying to myself for months? Jesus, that would be fucking scary. I don’t think that is the case. I think I am feeling sad and confused. I am not an insecure person. I never have been.
Or perhaps I am complete and fine with who I am and this is what heartache and romantic confusion feel like. Wanting someone and a life with that person and realizing the hard truth that isn’t possible. Wanting ALL THE THINGS. This is only the second time in my life I have had to deal with heartbreak. The first was when my ex left in October. Every other relationship I have had, I have walked away from and been fine.
Fuck, I wish I knew how to casually date without getting attached.
My sister said it best:
“Well, you’ve never done anything ‘a little bit’ in your life. Go big or go home”.
I wish I had an in-between setting. I don’t know what it is about me that my tendencies lie in black and white, on or off, hot or cold. Where is my gray? I have the ability to love fiercely with all of myself and to alternately shut down and throw up walls of steel. I am working on that last part. I haven’t deleted this person from my life completely – I think that is a good sign. I am tenacious to a fault. When I want something, I get it. I don’t know how to give up. I chose to stop this relationship because it doesn’t have the outcome I desired. I said no to great sex, love and affection, epic 4-hour-long conversations, and lots of laughing.
And now I feel like punching shit. And puking.
I want to have someone in my life. I know that now. A partner. A lover. A friend. A goofball-buddy. Man, I fucking miss those things. I want a connection that runs so deep I feel it in my bones. I have/had that with this new person. In spades. And every fiber of my being is screaming: “WHY CAN’T THAT BE ENOUGH”? And worse: does this mean that I am not worth it? But how could I not be worth it AGAIN? This doesn’t seem possible!! I am worth it. I know that I am. It’s not a question of my worth at all but of life circumstance and a shit deal-breaker of wanting biological offspring. My uterus would probably fall out if I had another baby; I’m completely serious.
My ex has everything he ever wanted. He wanted the girlfriend – to live with her. And now he has that and this amazing life. A full life of love, and family, and friends he inherited with that relationship; a community. He has moved on.
I am literally rebuilding myself and my community from scratch. I am trying to find friends and start over. When the shit hits the proverbial fan, I really have very few people to rely on; who I feel emotionally safe with.
So, what do I have? An empty house I don’t want to live in any longer. No relationship. I have approximately 4 friends. I am exhausted and terrified. I had totally placed all of my hopes and dreams into a relationship that does not exist – something my therapist told me explicitly NOT to do. But the hopes and the fantasies kept coming whether I wanted them to or not. I pictured this person I love living here. Being a dad/role model to the kids. I pictured waking up next to him a thousand times. I had seen a future with him. Glimpses of gardening, keeping bees, laughing, being ridiculous and silly together.
Fuck this feels scary. I completely underestimated how much I was relying on that connection. I still have so much work to do. I don’t want to keep swimming around up in my head but it seems to be what I am doing right now. Trying to be gentle with myself and my emotions as they come. I am trying not to shut down, dissociate, or shame myself for feeling too much, loving too much, hoping too much.
I will not break.
My fluctuations in mood, my state of being, and my every single moment-to-moment, keep having this disastrous effect on me. Their unpredictability and persistence are really messing with my mind and my confidence that this will some day be OVER. That every day will eventually be an empowered and happy one where I am totally self-reliant, confident, and whole.
I have never been a patient person and this moodiness leaves me with worry and frustration – am I EVER going to just be happy – with smaller bumps in the road? Will life ever reach a place of slow-and-steady minus these fucking pits of despair? Last week was a really good week. I was ecstatic and happy and confident. Today I woke up to gray skies and no children in the house and that achy uncomfortable feeling is back.
And this has happened: I finally admitted/acknowledged that I am still very much in love with my ex.
I had been trying SO HARD to turn that off.
It felt stupid and embarrassing to love someone who hurt me so badly; weak. A person who doesn’t seem to give two shits about me and who I am becoming now. It felt too risky to allow that love into my hurting heart. I know it is not reciprocated any more – if it ever was, to the depth that I seem to be able to feel it. When I made space for that love, it filled up the empty places in my heart (I am really questioning the emotional repercussions of this).
Admitting a love for someone who has hurt me more deeply than anyone in my life ever has, did one really powerful thing – it aligned my two selves. The hurt me, who put up walls so thick and so tall that nothing was getting through them, with the girl standing on the other side. The one standing there, looking up at the wall, waiting patiently, knowing you cannot simply turn love off. No matter how scared or hurt you may be. I was spending so much time trying not to feel, that I was exhausting myself – just as I spent so much of last year trying to be someone I was not ready to be.
Extending myself outward – always stretching myself too thin, still keeping parts of myself in check.
I have a lifetime of trauma to unwind. 32 years of compartmentalized emotions; always making sure they didn’t get too out of control. Don’t love too much – you’ll get hurt. Don’t get too sad, you won’t recover, don’t get too happy, it will end in disaster. Don’t feel anything too much or love anyone too much because life is a lie that cannot be trusted and people die and leave you. They rip out your heart and stomp all over it leaving you broken.
Never feel too much, it won’t hurt as much when people disappoint you.
Now my heart is learning to open up and I AM SCARED. What if someone else leaves me? What if someone breaks my heart into pieces again? What if one of my kids gets hurt or God forbid dies? I know what that emptiness feels like – that horror of not seeing someone you loved with your whole self – ever again. Doesn’t it make more sense to have a life of half-feeling? Walls made of steel?
I’ve finally come to the conclusion that no, it doesn’t. Living in constant fear of being hurt and only exposing half of your heart isn’t living at all. Denying your own children, your spouse, your friends and family, the absolute essence of who you are means you are also denying that piece of yourself to yourself.
This is the only shot we have. There are no repeats, redo’s, or second chances. This is the one life you are given and that means that you need to give it all that you have. I am learning to do this. Learning to trust my own emotions and to trust others. I am allowing feelings to be as intense as they need to be without the fear that they will swallow me whole and never go away.
I think that the deepest hurt for me, in terms of my marriage, is the fact that my husband of 11 years and partner of 16 didn’t think that I was worth the wait.