A lot of things have got me thinking about relationships lately… and my relationship to being in relationships… and my history of attachment issues and glomming onto people who are bad for me.
For historical reference:
At the oh-so-mature age of 15, I attached myself with a vengeance to the first person to show me any romantic attention ever. I think this is because I had somehow been led to believe, from watching the behavior of many of the adults around me, that “romantic” attention (or, what I interpreted “romantic” attention to be — which was really less on the romantic side and more on the blatantly sexual side) was the only kind of attention that really meant anything.
Anyway, this person, the one who first showed me this attention, happened to be an Army private stationed near my hometown (and 4 years older than me). In true “romantic,” (read: not-so-romantic) classy style, he gave me my first kiss, felt me up, and shortly thereafter took my virginity, with me lying on my back in the dirty gravel of the open carport in the front of my mother’s house.
And because I don’t do anything halfway — and also because, of course, I thought I was in looooove — I followed him across the country as soon as I graduated high school, where I proceeded to marry him at the ripe, super-mature-and-responsible old age of 18.
When the marriage turned sour (is anyone surprised by that?), I jumped into a relationship with my then-work-supervisor (who was, probably not surprisingly, only the 2nd person in my life to show me any serious so-called “romantic” attention).
To make things even more emotionally confusing for me, this happened while I was still in the process of filing divorce papers and doing my best to stay off the radar of my soon-to-be ex-hubby, so as not to encourage his stalker-ish tendencies (which included but were not limited to: calling both my mother and my grandmother multiple times over a period of months, and regaling them, for hours, with his tales of woe about how much he missed me and asking them again and again what he needed to do to win me back).
Okay. So fast-forward through a series of subsequent sh*tty, ill-considered decisions (that I made in the throes of desperation, aloneness and neediness, and silent but spiritually violent outcries for love and attention), and a few months later…
I found myself pregnant by the aforementioned work supervisor (and still not yet divorced from my ex), with both of us soon to be out-of-work and out of health insurance, since we’d just found out the company we worked for was closing down the location we worked at and laying everyone off.
And I suppose, given the potential shock and awe accompanying that bit of information, you might think that’s where the hammer dropped completely, and that that’s where the interesting part of the story ends.
But it’s not. At least not in my story.
I really, really wish it were.
But in my story, it was at this point that I found out that:
- my work supervisor was not only still sleeping with his soon-to-be-ex-wife (because he was, like me, ALSO in the process of a divorce when we hooked up… though he’d told me when we first got “romantic” that he barely had any contact with her anymore, because they didn’t get along very well), but ALSO…
- he had another girlfriend (the very same someone he’d falsely called an “ex-girlfriend” when casually mentioning her to me once) whom he was, of course, sleeping with at the same time, and…
- all three of us oh-so-lucky females had been simultaneously impregnated by this f*cking winner of a human being. Yes. Yes, I really did say…. at. the. same. damn. time. (Apparently, this guy was on some sort of a “spread your seed far and wide” trip that fed his ego and made him feel more “needed and important,” according to what he told me about it much later.)
And because that just wasn’t enough of a one-two-three punch of hurt and humiliation to have to deal with, somehow (because, amazingly, miraculously, the main thing I was worrying about was losing him, in the middle of this clusterf*ck of a situation), I let this dude convince me that the only way for he and I to stay together was if I got an abortion, and that me agreeing to doing that would somehow “fix” everything that was wrong with everything that was happening in the world, and that we’d then be able to ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after.
Honestly, I have no idea what I was thinking to believe this line of total f*cking BS… except that I was 19 years old, and he was a good decade older than me… and that I believe that I was actually addicted to him in the same way that I later got addicted to alcohol, because he said and did things that made me feel “good” about myself in ways that nothing and no one else ever had (I mean, not truly and honestly good… but he made me feel needed and important, no matter that it was a false feeling… and, no, the irony of the fact that the sense of presumed fulfillment that he and I were both searching for had pretty much the same roots in our respective psyches is not lost on me).
Anyway. Yeah, I was addicted to how he made me feel. Or how I thought he made me feel. And I didn’t think straight about anything concerning him for a long, long, long time.
Long story short (too late, I know), I got the abortion (he drove me to the abortion clinic, like a true gentleman… and of course, just to make sure I actually did it… okay, probably more the latter than the former), and the whole abortion experience was emotionally utterly awful and physically unexpectedly painful and spiritually just all-consuming and depleting, and I felt a leaden-heavy, all-encompassing sense of guilt about the whole thing for years afterward.
The experience opened up a huge sense of ineffable and unspeakable LOSS inside me that I will always have with me.
I mean, I’ve always supported a woman’s right to choose (and still do), but I’d never, before that moment, thought about it in terms of how the experience might affect me personally, and I hadn’t realized that I’d feel such a STRONG sense of attachment to that life growing inside me, or that it would hurt so, so f*cking much to lose that connection to that tender spark inside of me. It was an emotional pain more sharp and vast than I even have words for… more than I will ever have words for, I think, really.
But there’s something else about this experience that bears mentioning, too.
Because while I know a significant part of that feeling of enormous loss had to do with the winking out of that tiny ember that had been growing inside of me… for a long time, I thought that was the ONLY place that sensation of loss came from.
But it wasn’t.
I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, that another HUGE component of that sensation of loss I felt came from losing so many other things at the same time.
I mean… I lost my faith in the innate goodness of humanity. My innocence. My ability to trust fully (not just in others, but in myself).
And this man, this winner of a man, shortly after this seriously traumatic yet relatively unacknowledged event in my life… he told me that while his ex-wife had gotten an abortion as well, that the other girl — the not-really-ex-girlfriend who was also pregnant by him — was not getting an abortion, because she was in the military and could support the baby on her own (because the government would pay her extra for having a baby, basically).
And because he supposedly wanted to do “the right thing” by her, he was staying together with her and her baby. Not with me.
Okay. I know I was super gullible, y’all. I can see it now, looking back, with years of life experience under my belt. But I saw NONE of this then.
I mean, looking back, I’m 99.9% sure that this was what he planned to do all along. But I never saw it coming. Not one little bit.
Yeah, I’m a sucker for pain, apparently. And back in those days, I naively always just believed that what people were telling me was the truth. Because despite all the bullying that I’d endured in my school years, I hadn’t yet been truly and fully hardened by life.
(This was, of course, one of the major turning points in my life’s journey, where I started turning away from innocent naivete and toward cynicism and suspicion of others and their intentions.)
Anyway, back to the story.
As it happens, this guy’s ex-wife and this other girl who was having his baby — they were apparently all three somehow still good friends even after everything that had happened (which is super strange and honestly still confuses me to this day).
And one day the two of his “other women” were hanging out together there with him at his place, and I guess he got pretty drunk (a daily occurrence) and told them about me and my pregnancy by him (thank you very much, ex-supervisor guy who shall remain unnamed here), and then the two of them decided they were gonna conference-call me together, from his house, probably also at least half-drunk, because they were pissed that I had, as they put it, “taken advantage of him.”
So I got a page from his number.
Yes, this was indeed back in the days when people didn’t all have cell phones, but a lot of the “cool kids” did have pagers, which meant that we could call our friends back when they paged us. (I was not a cool kid, but somehow I had managed to get my hands on a pager. The universe works in mysterious ways, I suppose.)
Anyway, I got this page.
Thinking that it was him paging me, I was excited of course, and I called back right away, from a payphone in the front of the Wal-Mart parking lot, where I happened to have been doing some shopping at the time.
And this is where I was standing — on the sidewalk in front of a Wal-Mart — when I found myself on the receiving end of some serious verbal harassment by these two very hostile, angry women. They spent the majority of the time that they were on the phone with me taking turns calling me a whore and a homewrecker and explaining how this guy (whom I was still hung up on, even then) didn’t even like me.
I wish I hadn’t responded at all. I mean, their abusive statements didn’t warrant a response. At least, not from a mature, collected person with healthy self-esteem.
But I did respond. Because I was hurt, and naive, and unsure of myself in so many ways, and because I knew that what they believed had happened was untrue, and I thought that if I just explained, they would understand, and then maybe they wouldn’t be so angry anymore.
Did I mention that I was naive?
So I tried to defend myself by explaining that I had been with this guy at his place just the night before, because he had called me and asked me to come over, so I obviously wasn’t “stalking him” as they claimed. I mean, I hadn’t even been the one to initiate the relationship in the first place.
Explanatory sidenote: This guy, my ex-supervisor… he’d actually used confidential company records to get my phone number and call me at home one day, asking me if I wanted to “hang out” (code: f*ck). And being the soft, unbaked cookie that I was at the time, I never once questioned the invasiveness or complete lack of professionality that this action implied. I was just grateful to be called, y’all, if you can believe that. Because I was amazed, honestly, that anyone thought me worthy enough to hang out with. I surely didn’t think that highly of myself at that time in my life.
Anyway, back to the story. I defended myself on the phone. And of course, when I said all this stuff in defense of myself, these two girls, they laughed and called me a liar. (I wasn’t lying, but apparently that was too much truth for them to process.)
Oh yeah, and to add insult to injury, this guy’s roommate, who was sitting right there with this guy and these two girls as this conversation happened, picked up the phone at their request and proceeded to lie for him, telling them that I hadn’t been at his place. (Where, BTW, my car had been parked all night, visible to anyone who might have driven by. And the roommate was home. And didn’t just say hi to me. We all ordered Jack-In-The-Box that night and watched TV together. I got the cheddar wedges.)
Anyway, this very painful conversation went on for quite a while, during which the two girls took great, vindictive pleasure in revealing to me that:
- the ex-supervisor was actually gonna marry the not-really-ex-girlfriend,
- I was just a piece of trash who needed to stop harassing him like a desperate slut, and
- they hoped my abortion hurt a LOT, because I was a wh*re and totally deserved it (yes… I had, for some reason, at some point during this call, been WAY more honest than they deserved, and had admitted to them that my abortion was a very painful and traumatic experience… primarily because I was 100% naive and trusting at the time, and I had just assumed that women with shared experiences of hurt would naturally support one another rather than ripping one another to emotional shreds).
Anyway. I have no words for how that last piece of their verbal assault felt… it went too deep, and I can still feel it today, sometimes. I mean, it was detailed, y’all.
Like… just for comparison purposes, they felt the need to tell me that his ex-wife’s most recent abortion procedure at the Planned Parenthood was, according to her, “so awesome and not painful at all, because they gave me lots of valium and I didn’t feel a thing, cause like, I was feeling kinda high and stuff and mostly just happy” (but, I think, also because apparently this was her 3rd time getting an abortion as well… so she was pretty much a pro at it by this time).
But the big question here really is… why did I stay on the payphone with them and let this verbal abuse continue for so f*cking long, y’all… I mean, the whole time snotting uncontrollably and sobbing my eyes out in the very public space of the Wal-Mart parking lot?
Why did I allow myself to be assaulted and harassed this way?
Did I mention I had low self-esteem at the time?
But also… I think I kept hoping and praying that what I believed about the world being essentially a good place was true, and that this guy would eventually stand up and do the right thing and tell them the truth and get them to stop verbally abusing me.
I kept hoping that good would win out in the world. You know, like it always did in the movies I watched in my youth.
But good didn’t win out. At least not right then.
This was one of those pivotal moments in my life, though. I know that emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way that matters… I marked it.
Because this was when I lost the biggest piece of my innocence — the innocence that I had somehow managed to stubbornly cling to throughout my school years, despite growing up with a series of physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive addictive personalities as live-in father figures.
And because I know for certain that this is the point when I started to consciously and deliberately use alcohol to drown out my feelings, rather than just using it as a social lubricant to be a “fun girl” and fit in.
Because I had feelings that felt WAY too big and unspeakable to hold on to, and I didn’t want to even try to hold onto them. I wanted them to float away.
I also think this is the point when I started to believe that I deserved having bad things happen to me. Because, god help me, I internalized a lot of that Wal-Mart payphone conversation, on a very deep and insidious level.
(Which is why I urge you all: Be thoughtful with your words. Especially your angry ones. Because, my friends, we can hurt each other so very deeply. We can create lifelong wounds in each other, whether we intend to or not.)
Back to the story, though… this guy… he did eventually marry the not-really-ex-girlfriend, just as predicted, and he ultimately had not just one but two children with her. In quick succession.
And then he divorced her.
All within the space of less than 2 years.
(I’m sorry, no, the story doesn’t end there. I wish it did.)
This guy. He started calling me again. And you all… OMFG y’all… I cringe to think about it… but I went back to him.
And I have no excuse but youth and utter brokenness. Because the familiarity of the evil you already know and have dealt with before… that feels more comforting than the vast yawning scary emptiness of an unknown potential future, sometimes.
But after a while, this guy… he had to move several hours away due to a job transfer. And we drifted apart.
Which was a breath of fresh air for me…
But then he moved back to the area I was living in. And he emailed me “just to say hi” and let me know he was back in town. And I went back to him. Again.
Yeah. A cycle of brokenness continued there that, like a broken record, I had to eventually completely jump tracks to get out of.
It wasn’t easy. Or fast.
The fact is that it took me almost a decade to shake this guy and his dark influence on my life. Eventually, I had to just tell him to stop contacting me.
I don’t know how I got the energy or the will to do it. I’d like to think that the universe was guiding me.
I think my actual last words to him were something along the lines of “hearing from you reminds me of some very bad choices I made in the past, and that’s just not a good energy for me to hold in my life anymore, so please know that I wish you well in life and that I don’t hold any resentment toward you, but also.. please don’t contact me ever again; if you do, I won’t respond.”
It really did feel like the universe was guiding me in finding those words.
I’d like to think this is when I started rebuilding my self-esteem. Which is still an enormous work-in-progress. But this one small thing… it was a huge step forward for me.
Anyway, I’m still working on acknowledging some of the past traumas in my life, because I think there are a lot of sh*t-storms that I’ve been through in my years on this earth that I tried to get through by pretending them away or pretending that they didn’t affect me, when they very much did.
And I believe there is a lot of wisdom to be found in acknowledging the things that happened in my life in the past, and in looking at my part in all of it, in how things went down, in how I got to where I eventually got to with alcohol and everything else, and in striving to just be a better human in general.
P.S. I love this Buffy video speech about cookie dough because it kinda just speaks to my soul. (And I feel like there are lots of things about me that are not “cookies” yet, outside of the relationship stuff even, and I need to be patient and keep moving forward until my cookies are done baking.) And this video just makes me laugh. Hope it makes somebody else laugh a little too.
For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.