After leaving a toxic relationship with a drug addict, I have found that I can get anxiously attached to people. It does not happen with every relationship. For me, it tends to happen with newer friendships where I feel a deeper connection. I came across an article yesterday that really explains what it’s like and offers some ways to cope with it. I recommend taking a moment to read about it. It is my hope that this reaches others who go through this as well as those who are in relationships with those who go through this.
Please note that I am speaking from my own personal experience. I don’t experience the jealousy that this article mentions, but everything else hits very close to home. For me, being anxiously attached is a phase that I can and have overcome. It takes a great deal of time and an extraordinary amount of patience from the other person to help me move toward a healthy, secure attachment. I think that most people might think that I’m only talking about a significant other type of relationship, but I’m not. I’m talking about all types of relationships.
Last year, I had two friendships that did not start out as anxious attachments. We had been friends, or at least known each other, for years. I got closer and reconnected with each of them after my break up. Within a couple of months, I became anxiously attached to both of them. Thankfully, I was able to be completely honest about what I was feeling with both of them. It took months of consistency and reassurance for me to move to a secure attachment.
I thought that because I had been through it already, that just maybe I was prepared for it. At the beginning of this year, I went through it again with a new friend. This person still has no idea what I went through. Why? Because I refused to say anything about it. I didn’t want to be so open and raw with someone who was just getting to know me. Then, so many things happened that I just didn’t feel I should add my problems to the table, so I backed off and confided in others who helped me move on.
After that experience, I was surely stronger and definitely more prepared to avoid getting anxiously attached. Turns out, I’m not. I’m going through it all over again. I’d like to believe that most days, I’m okay and making progress toward secure attachment. Unfortunately, this is 2020 and stress, depression, and anxiety are never far away. Internal and external triggers can throw me right back into it.
So, what is it? What happens? Again, this is my personal experience and one size does not fit all. When my anxiety crashes down on me, it tells me that my friends might not really like me, that maybe they don’t really want to spend time with me. It tells me that they shouldn’t have to put up with someone who is so broken. It tells me that I’m too needy and no one should have to put up with so much baggage. It stops me from reaching out because saying how much you love and miss them so often will surely drive them away. They’re too busy for you. You don’t need to bug them. Just pull yourself together and back off. All of this overthinking leads to such excruciating heartache. It makes you feel like you’re too hard to love AND that you shouldn’t love people so hard. It literally tears you apart. You are fighting everything that makes you who you are. …and at the end of the day…who cares? What does it matter that you feel any of this? It’s not that important. It’s certainly not anyone else’s fault or problem. You aren’t good enough and should just get used to being alone. Maybe you should just let them go. Fear of losing them. Panic that you’ll push them away. Pain that this is all your fault.
How do I deal with this? Not well. If asked outright, I try to be honest, but it is very hard to be so raw and vulnerable and explain this part of myself that I am ashamed is there (because I should be stronger than this). It’s so much easier to say that I’m fine, except…that method of hiding and deflecting doesn’t work anymore. Why? Because I can’t hold on to the heartache for long, but also because I have a handful of friends who have seen all of me. They no longer settle for “I’m fine.” For me, the best way to handle it is to be honest with the person I’m anxiously attached to. I said that that is the best way, but it isn’t always the easiest way. I’m still struggling with reaching out and sometimes I have no idea what to say or how to explain what’s going on. This is where their patience and consistency make all of the difference.
For those who are struggling with anxious attachment and the reason behind why you are anxiously attached, please know you are NOT alone. Not everyone you meet will be like the person who hurt you. What you feel matters. You are not hard to love, and how you love is beautiful. I see you.
You’re not afraid of emotions;
you’re afraid of feeling.
You’re not afraid of life;
you’re afraid of living.
You’re not afraid of death;
you’re afraid of dying.
You’re not afraid of pain;
you’re afraid of being broken.
You’re not afraid to be happy;
you’re afraid of losing everything.
You’re not afraid of helping people;
you’re afraid of being used.
You’re not afraid of being alone;
you’re afraid of getting lost in your thoughts and feelings.
You’re not afraid of giving up control;
you’re afraid of losing control.
You’re not afraid of putting your heart out there;
you’re afraid of trusting the wrong people.
You’re not afraid of being vulnerable;
you’re afraid of being vulnerable around those who don’t care what that means.
You’re not afraid of the memories;
you’re afraid of reliving the past.
So, this is my 100th post for this blog. I had thought about sharing fun posts from the past, but instead, I’m going to stick with being open and honest. I warn you that this post is long and emotionally raw…this is me and this is where I am today.
Last night in therapy, I was actually able to breakdown and cry for the first time in months. I’ve mentioned before that I have the ability to appear strong and stoic. With my friends and family, I haven’t shed a tear in person since all of this happened…my eyes have watered, but not a single tear escapes. I don’t typically cry easily, but I’ve also never had a problem crying before. I cried a lot during the last few years in my relationship with Tom (both in front of him and not) and also for the first couple of months after the breakup, but only when he would come over to get his stuff. Then, suddenly, I just stopped and couldn’t cry anymore. I still hurt like crazy, but no longer had a way to release it.
I told my therapist that I have been experiencing some rather painful heartbreak again over the last week. She caught me off guard by asking me how I knew exactly what it was that I was feeling and to describe it. (Umm, because it hurts?) But, I took a moment and thought about it. It physically feels like my heart is breaking. It’s how I felt right before I started telling her about everything that was going on. She asked if I thought it was also loneliness. Yes, I do. But, it’s also the same type of really intense pain I get when I’m holding on to too much, like when I’m holding back what I’m feeling because I’m trying to not be a burden on someone. It’s all of that type of pain.
I told her about the concert, which I had written about in my last post, about how I couldn’t feel anything except disappointment. She asked if there is anything I could think of that I want to do that would make me feel good. I told her, “No, not at the moment.” I’ve gotten into a light exercising routine recently and that isn’t even helping me feel better. Her next suggestion was to try walking into a room and pretending to be happy to see if it forces a change in your mental state? Seriously?! Every damn day, I smile at everyone I meet, and it’s not like I walk into meetings as if the world is going to end. No one knows what I’m going through at work. My parents don’t even know how bad I feel. And, no, faking it does not help improve my mood. This is how I stuffed things down for so long.
I have also still been experiencing bouts of moderate to severe anxiety. One time this week, it was triggered by Tom’s step-sister texting me. We’ve always gotten along. She was being nice, and she’s very sorry for what happened. Unfortunately, she will always be tied to memories with Tom. And, I guess sometimes it is harder to talk about him. Another time within the last week, it was triggered by revisiting some old emails to a dear friend where I had just started going into detail about what happened. Apparently, I can no longer look at what happened objectively like I have been doing this entire time. Additionally, I seem to be experiencing general anxiety around the same time every evening somewhere between 6pm-9pm. The meds I have are as needed, so I typically take 1-2 half tablets a day…assuming I don’t stubbornly decide to not take anything.
Then, I decided to bring up the new video game that I am trying to use as a distraction. It’s called God of War on PS4, and it has a good, emotionally involved storyline. Now, I won’t go into all the details of the game because I don’t know how many of you are gamers, but I do want to mention something that I noticed. My mind treats everything like a logical puzzle to solve, as such, you just need the right pieces to see the big picture or to find the right keys that fit into the correct locks (like an escape room). So, why would a video game be any different? Typically, in these role playing games, you have a map. When you first start out, the map is covered in fog or obscured in some way. All you know is where you are. As you meet other characters, you are given advice, items/tools that will help you, and hopefully a direction. So, you head off and slowly the map opens up as you meet new characters, take on more tasks, and finish side quests as part of a bigger main adventure. As you reference your map, you see where you’ve been, you know where you are, and you are more comfortable with the direction in which you’re going because of the choices you’ve made. I told my therapist that I am stuck where the map is covered in damn fog – I don’t have pieces or keys or a direction to go in! I have ideas and thoughts about what to do and what to plan, but I feel like everything I try isn’t working and I have no idea what to do about it.
Therapist: Yes, you do. I’ve told you we can do accelerated resolution therapy, EMDR, or a couple of other exposure therapies. That’s how we treat PTSD. (At this point, I’m thinking – yes, and I finally agreed to try those even though I have my reservations…but I have no idea what you’re waiting on.)
She went on to describe a situation where someone wasn’t able to process the grief of losing her first husband and it was now affecting her current marriage, but with EMDR, she was able to process and finally move forward. Then, she mentioned another situation where someone lost a child after a horrible accident while they were on the way to the hospital in a helicopter.
Therapist: Why do you think this mom wouldn’t want to try to treat her PTSD?
Me, I know this answer very well: Fear. She’s afraid to feel. She’s afraid to experience the loss of her son all over again. She’s afraid to forget. Fear. I realized through some help from friends a couple of months ago that fear has too much control over me.
Therapist: Do you know when people are finally ready to try something different?
Therapist: When it finally affects every part of their life – home, work, when they are with friends, and when they’re alone..
Me: Well, hell, I’m at that point…been there for a while.
Me: I wish I could just allow myself to be angry at Tom. I always told him I didn’t want to be angry with him, so it’s something I always tried to push down.
Therapist: Why do you think being angry would help?
Me: Because it helped me get over my first long-term, long-distance boyfriend. I was angry with him for being more and more disrespectful, for not choosing to move closer for a couple of years (he stopped one class and finishing his thesis shy of graduating grad school), and for not considering what I wanted out of life. There were other factors that made me see I did not need to put up with him, so I ended it. Hah, then I met Tom two years later, and we see where the hell I am now.
Therapist: So, you said that you would cry and get angry with Tom whenever he would finally get home…
Me: Yes…he would pull up under the tree in the front yard so my parents wouldn’t know when he was coming or going. (They can see my driveway from their house.) He would walk up to the door, and I was always there to meet him. By the time he would finally walk in the door, I was relieved that he was alive and not in jail. Sometimes, I could patiently wait on him to tell me what happened. Sometimes, I would be crying and yelling at him. He knew what was going on with me. He watched me change from trusting him to being in so much pain, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There were times when I wanted to flip the latch on the door and not let him in.
Therapist: You really have won the award for being the most enabling person in the world. (I nod in complete agreement to this statement.) You had a choice when he finally would come home. What were your choices?
Me: I could do what I did and let him in, or flip the latch and kick him out.
Therapist: Why didn’t you flip the latch?
Me, Shit. I do not want to admit this answer aloud. (eyes start watering): Because…(starts crying)…because I knew he wouldn’t stay. He wouldn’t choose me. I knew that then.
(Pause…after all, I hadn’t cried in front of her before…)
Therapist: What would you have said to a friend if she called you and just told you what you told me?
Me, I know this answer too…because…this is what I’ve been holding out hope for. (Please note: I am not trying to put pressure on or make anyone feel bad. Everyone who has been there to support me through this has done everything they can, and I fully appreciate everything you guys can do.): I would tell her, “Honey, hold on. I’m on my way over.” (crying harder) I’d tell her that you are not alone, and you do not have to do this alone. I’ve got you. I am right here.
Therapist: But, what if she tells you it’s not you that she wants.
Me: I’m there as one friend supporting another. And…this is what I want, what I need… People don’t want to feel so alone. They want to know and feel that someone is there. To have someone there while I feel this. (So, I don’t have to be strong for once.) I knew, on some level, Tom wasn’t going to come back to me. I…was so angry at his dad for dying. (more crying)
Therapist: That event is probably what started it, but Tom continued to use drugs and then it altered his thinking so much that he is not who he was before.
Me: Yes, but he had a choice before it completely took control.
Therapist: You’re right. He did have a choice, but he chose drugs. You knew about his history and a bit of his family history. Why didn’t you just walk away from him in the beginning?
Me: Because he wasn’t entirely truthful about how much drug use was in his history. But, besides that, I fell in love with what he did and who I thought he was. Our first date, we didn’t even eat. We talked so much. We spent every afternoon together, then we slept over on weekends. He would make me lunch, and we would eat at his jobsite. (crying again) I never had to ask where he was or who he was talking to because he told me. We were open about everything. He knew when I was upset. He could just tell if I was holding something back. (crying even harder) I had been more honest with him than I had with anyone in my entire life. He could hug me, and I felt loved and safe. And, he just threw me out with the trash.
At this point, the hour was up, and we needed to leave. She looked at me as we walked each other out, “well, you can’t say you haven’t cried in a while anymore.” I smiled shyly, feeling just a little lighter, “I guess you’re right there.”
As I finish typing this up, my anxiety is most definitely still present. I know I’m still a long way from completely moving on, but I think this was a breakthrough step in my book. When I tweeted about last night’s therapy sessions, I didn’t expect it to even be noticed let alone receive the likes and replies. I am truly touched by the support I’ve been receiving. Thank you all so much…as someone whose self-worth has taken a severe hit, it really means the world to me. ❤️
In the past, if anyone asked me how things were going, I always tried to sugarcoat or gloss over the negative stuff to protect Tom. I didn’t want to worry people, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I always hoped that he would come back to me and together we could fix things. I was also in denial.
To this day, I’ve always felt some degree of denial. Even when I first started reaching out to a couple of friends about what had been going on, I still felt that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Their responses and encouragement to tell my therapist what happened very slowly started to open my eyes – none of what I went through, what I had been living with, or what I was dealing with was normal or remotely okay. Up until that point, I was only feeling the direct impact of Tom’s actions, particularly when he wouldn’t answer his phone or would come home really late (after midnight or sometime the next day). Everything else (stupidly) didn’t matter to me…including his drug use, the money he was spending, and the emotional turmoil he was constantly putting me through.
When I finally started opening up, I was never actually able to breakdown and cry. My eyes have watered, but I never felt a release or even allowed myself to really feel everything. There was relief that I could talk about things – that I was no longer keeping everything to myself, but there was still a lot of denial, numbness, heartbreak, and lack of being at peace. There is a lot of stuff I still haven’t fully processed – complicated grief, anger, fear, more pain than I care to admit, etc.
In addition to being in denial, I also felt very dissociated from events. I could describe every situation with very little emotion – in some dark way, I could even joke about a lot of it, like “can you even believe that happened?” Some things might be more of a struggle verbalize, but I’ve still managed to keep my emotions in check.
Things that have been harder to talk about were/are
- feeling like I lost the part of me that finds peace and release in being spanked and taken care of,
- feeling like all I did still wasn’t enough when all I wanted was stability, consistency, and a little attention from the man I loved and thought loved me,
- and begging him to stop doing the things that were tearing me apart (these conversations, I remember vividly).
- It’s also really damn difficult to talk about those moments in the middle of the night when I woke up and he wasn’t there…when anxiety and panic were my only company.
Every time I talk about any of this…I feel like I’m talking about someone else. That person over there went through this – I just watched. Which in some gut-wrenching way makes me feel even more powerless and heartbreakingly guilty because I stood by and did nothing. This dissociation has allowed me to be mostly in control of my emotions and reactions and pretend like nothing is still bothering me.
It’s very difficult to compare situations with others when the reasons that cause PTSD can be so different. For instance, I did not experience sexual abuse, yet I can’t deny that I identify so much with the woman in the following article.
Because I did not experience the same type of abuse, I feel that my experiences were somehow “less than,” and therefore, I shouldn’t feel as bad as she does. But, when the woman in the article describes how she had been dealing with everything, it resonates with me on so many levels, even to this day.
Now, if I compare my situation to the next article which talks about an addicted partner, I feel like my experience was far more severe and involved. I have quite a bit more to deal with because it wasn’t only that he was using drugs.
I know that I shouldn’t be comparing situations at all, but I am too filled with my own self-doubt, self-invalidation, and avoidant coping mechanisms. Sometimes, I don’t even trust my own feelings, and I project that distrust by thinking others won’t care or believe me either. My friends have had to call me out and remind me of what the hell I went through for me to even pause in my self-sabotaging cycle. I had to and still have to be reminded that I need to feel and it is okay to feel, but I’m still too wound up, overwhelmed, and afraid to breakdown that wall.
This next link that I came across is a rather long slideshow for those who are interested. It hits on so many things I can relate to. It is interesting that an addict can have so many narcissistic tendencies – they are really all about themselves when it comes to the drugs and their next fix.
Tom would do all of those emotionally abusive things when we were together, and he was very passive aggressive. He is finally no longer coming around to my house or communicating with me, but the emotional damage runs deep. I haven’t been able to breakout of doing the same emotionally abusive things to myself.
Last week in therapy, we decided to push trying something different to this week. Instead, we talked. How is that different from every other week, you might ask. Well, I still tend to be less emotional and more logical when I talk to people in person. But, this time was different. I was able to talk as if I was writing to her in an email, which is where I’ve always had an easier time expressing myself. I was able to be more open, and we finally talked more about PTSD.
I told her about a recent television episode of 9-1-1 where all of the first responders were in therapy trying to talk about what they were experiencing. They were all dealing or not dealing with various things associated with PTSD. I told her that I could agree with something each one of them said when they were expressing themselves and talking about what they were going through. She said that like those characters, I am going to have to move through and release those emotions. I can’t/don’t know how to do that. I said, “[my therapist’s name], I’m too afraid to feel any of those emotions. I don’t want to do that at work, with my parents, or by myself. I only feel safe trying to do that right here.” She replied, “Well then, we need to get you over there in that chair and start feeling.” I eyeballed the totally normal looking but very exposed office chair and nodded nervously. I think that’s when I added, “I hate how easy it is for me to lie and say I’m okay when I am not okay.”
Guess we’re going to try to feel feelings this week…in that chair…where I can’t sink into the couch or hide behind a pillow. Ugh.