From Unloved to Loved
- Tug of war
The turning point in my emotional growth and development came in my mid-thirties. At that point in time, my husband was also beginning to identify and solidify what he wanted out of life. The trouble with this was that what he wanted didn’t line up with what I thought I wanted then, which was children and a family. He and I pushed and pulled and picked at each other habitually around the subject, sometimes passionately, sometimes tearfully, always meanly, while never fully dealing with it or resolving things directly.
One night, he finally sat me down over midnight breakfast at a local diner to tell me once and for all that he thought the world was a terrible place and that he didn’t ever want to bring a child into it. I heard him say the words. I heard him repeat the words. I felt the tears roll down my face. Then I automatically pushed the incident out of my mind. I simply refused to believe that we couldn’t be “normal” and have it all (or something like that) like everyone else around us.
- Control issues
I once overheard someone telling my parents what a good child they had because I sat so still at church. After hearing that, I remember trying to sit absolutely, perfectly still every Sunday at church and being proud of myself whenever I accomplished this difficult feat as a child. I purposely tried not to move a single muscle except to breathe, respond when prompted, sing along with the choir, or transition from sitting to standing or praying modes.
It was hard to remain in perfect control at all times.
- Logic be damned
Since childhood, I’ve become accustomed to letting my anger, disappointment, and frustration sit in dormancy, brewing on low boil, building up slowly over the years until I met a random and often seemingly innocuous trigger. Whenever that happened, boom. The floodgates opened!
My major emotional reactions may have varied over the years, but they’ve all been similarly intense and consuming in nature. I’ve sobbed wildly. I’ve been wracked out of nowhere by stomach-punching, heart-wrenching pain. I’ve screamed like a banshee. I’ve thrown and destroyed things. I’ve scratched myself raw until blood came out. I’ve wandered the city aimlessly until my legs gave out. I’ve crawled on the floor because I had no more strength to stand. I’ve stared at a screen for days on end. I’ve eaten my emotions. I’ve stopped eating anything. I’ve pushed people away, and I’ve destroyed relationships. I’ve run away more times than I can count.
The end result was always the same. I’d feel guilty, remorseful, wrong, stupid, and inhuman. I continued in this way for years on end, repeatedly letting my unexpressed emotions build up inside and in private until I could bear them no longer.
When I learned my husband cheated on me, the harsh reality of what had happened and wondering what might have caused this to happen was too much for me to deal with this time. I failed to connect with most of my usual reactions, except for my tendency to push everyone away. I became utterly lost. I fell into what I later learned was a deep depression, so that for some time, I knew only the abyss.
I watched YouTube video after YouTube video of alternately sad or angry songs by Nine Inch Nails, Hole, Nirvana, et cetera. I would stare endlessly at the same word or phrase on the same page of the same book, temporarily shocked back to life any time someone called. I would cross the street without looking both ways, temporarily shocked back to life any time someone honked. I felt nothing at times and then everything all at once. The minutes became hours, the hours became days. I had no firm idea where I was at any given time or how my life would be from one day to the next.
Although I had subconsciously chosen to stop fully living in the external world for the moment, somehow I continued to go through the basic motions of eating and sleeping and working and crying and numbing and then crying again all on my own. I followed my body’s new schedule without question.
- Clinging to Stockholm syndrome
Later, during a routine visit to my doctor, I learned that what I was going through was depression. The doctor tried to prescribe me antidepressants right away, and raised the issue again on subsequent routine visits, but I refused to go on them every time. This was in part because I didn’t want to have to pay for or take more meds, but also because I had already been living so long with what I never fully acknowledged was actually depression.
Like someone experiencing Stockholm syndrome, I was learning to become comfortable with my pain. I held onto it so fiercely that I didn’t want to let it go. I genuinely thought it was all I had left. Inadvertently, my pain became my reason for going on. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or whether I wanted to live or die, but instinctively I kept on grieving and numbing.
- Futile attempts to become human again
I recall the details of the depression period, but not how long it lasted. I did come out of it gradually over time, regressing often, but trying whatever I could to quell the pain.
I abhorred therapy and feeling vulnerable in group sessions where the majority of the members appeared to be approval-seeking or generally vapid and inauthentic.
I tried healing art therapy with an excellent teacher and enjoyed the validating and low-key experience, but it was unfortunately too far away to commit to on a regular basis.
I must have bought and sold whole libraries’ worth of self-help books and videos about infidelity and narcissistic personalities, believing my husband to be undiagnosed personality disordered. I briefly obsessed over the possible PD reasoning for awhile because it felt like a reasonable explanation for his unreasonable betrayal.
My PD obsession eventually extended to including examining myself and my immediate family. It must be my own fault I was drawn to this kind of relationship, born into a narcissistic family I didn’t ask to be born into! I must be a woman who loves too much!
In what became a cyclical habit of thought, I went from blaming my husband to blaming myself to blaming my family of origin.
- Lost adult orphan
Following the trail from that family of origin, I enrolled myself in courses at what a classmate called the “school for lost adult orphans” to become better informed on the subject of child development. There I found the content to be generally validating to my thesis that a combination of nature and nurture (along with perceived inadequate love and support in my formative years) was surely to blame for who I became and how I responded to crisis as an adult. Immersing myself in mountains of textbooks and getting “As” on essays was such a welcome and soothing respite from the real world!
- Just breathe
I continued living in this newly erected, self-protective survival bubble for a short time until one day I came across something I hadn’t tried: Meditation.
Perhaps I was in the right place at the right time and just happened to be open to the experience, but when I participated in the meditation that day, I embraced it desperately. I convinced myself it did help at least a bit—and it did. I wanted relief so badly. At last, I could close my eyes and focus on something as simple as my breath and everything else would melt away, if for just a moment. In that brief moment, I could maybe, finally, not have to face the shame and the shadows and the pain. I came to crave more moments such as these, moments where I could just stop and breathe and be.
Many deep, meditative breaths later, I came to a crossroads of sorts in the form of a realization: that I would never be fully healed so long as I held so firmly onto my pain and closed myself so tightly inside.
Despite this realization, it wasn’t until much later that I finally let my friends and family back into my life one by one, through a tiny crack of an opening each time, including my worried and now penitent husband. Eventually I allowed them to give me the love and the hope that I still couldn’t give myself. I forgot how much I missed and needed them.
- Mirror didn’t break
I took a long look at myself in the mirror every day. It was hard to like what I saw, so I recorded my facial expressions in every emotion I could think of and every angle my camera could reach. I deleted more pictures than I kept. But I did like some of the faces I made.
- Giving myself permission
I learned how to be sad, how to be angry, how to regret, how to be okay with being vulnerable, how to forgive myself for failing or disappointing others, how to be more comfortable in my own skin, how to deal with intense feelings and emotions in general—and how to be okay with being okay with all of these things. On this list is every single thing I never felt I had permission to do for myself when I was a child or even, for the longest time, as an adult. It’s still hard for me to let myself feel these things sometimes, but I’m still learning. I’ll never stop.
- Benign acceptance of the non-baby ending
A love story doesn’t always have to end with marriage and a baby carriage. It won’t end that way for me. When I chose to take back my husband, it was with the understanding that the baby carriage would never be. At this point in my life, however, perhaps any excuse not to have a baby anymore becomes increasingly aligned with the new me, someone who would rather not revisit or repeat the mistakes of the past by being the same person I was before.
While monogamy may not necessarily come naturally to human beings, we’ve decided to have another go at it anyway. The fact is that starting our marriage anew after my husband’s affair meant newly focusing on ourselves, repairing our bodies and minds from the trauma, and reworking our relationship and goals long-term. No easy task.
Still, we’ve made some measure of progress over the years. My husband and I have each since rediscovered the values of enduring love, mutual respect, and a partnership built upon friendship. These are the things that are sexier, more meaningful, and much heavier to us both in the balance.
Certainly, not having a traditional family means adapting a long-term living strategy that may not necessarily click so well with everyone in our traditional, family-centric circles, but I’m learning to become more okay with the otherness of our choices.
And to be truly honest, the desire to mother and nurture is still in me. It will likely always be there and I will neither repress this desire nor deny it exists. But hopefully it will continue to translate itself naturally into the healthier ways I seek to care for myself and others.
Not becoming a mom in the end also means having to rewrite the traditional happy ending and reroute my path towards an alternate, not-yet-known destination or series of destinations that no longer appear to be as completely barren and bleak as they might have seemed before. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me after all. Maybe there is hope.
- Parenting myself
All my life, I’ve struggled to consistently love and forgive myself. While I’ve learned to accept my otherness, or rather the otherness I feel about myself and the way I relate to the world, I still try hard to live within the confines of what I define as relatively normal. Some days, that’s a lot of work.
What’s my truth?
One truth might be that my parents are emotionally immature and narcissistic people who were incapable of giving child me and grown-up me the kind of idealized love I hungrily consumed in media or openly envied in so many of the families in my life.
Another truth might be that social expectations and status anxieties endemic to our obsessive culture and compulsive ways of living may be emotionally crippling and mentally strangling more of us each day.
But perhaps a more responsible and simpler truth is that I’m an emotional being with independent thoughts and feelings that is as free from the rest of society and the world around me as I allow myself to be. I’m disappointingly human and still prone to making mistakes all of the time. But most of the time, I don’t really mind just being me