I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time, everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else…
…Be lonely Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
Somehow relationships are always stitched into the seams of depression. We’re triggered into dopamine floods of ecstasy, and then, just as effortlessly, with broken hearts, plummet into the darkest version of black there is.
Love, and the often hidden addiction to love, can be very accurate reflections of the gaping holes in our souls. We mirror our pain in the ones we choose to become infatuated with.
The bad boy who destroys me with his manipulation and lies is a recurring messenger with different faces until I learn to see it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.
Here’s the deal: If you have depression, a form of addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, an eating disorder, or anything else in the DSM manual (or any combination of these – the fuckers tend to come in clusters), you will inevitably have much in common with me. It’s the nature of the type of pain we play naughts and crosses with. Sometimes we get our circular ducks in a row, but very often we hear the screech of chalk across the board declaring we have lost again.
That kind of perpetual emotional turmoil is either caused by us being “too sensitive” or results in us being “too sensitive.” Either way, we’re raw when touched, and whether we cement it inside or bathe in our tears, the point is we’re easily hurt. We’re also vulnerable to the pain of others; we tend to sometimes feel it as our own, because its something that is so familiar to us. The official label for our box? Empaths. We want to mend the broken, transform the cold-hearted into lovers, and rescue the ones nobody else wants. That eagerness to love and connect and care for others is so obvious to the abusive, who without necessarily knowing why, have their heads jerked in our direction, as if we were a bright pink unicorn standing in an open field.
And thus begins the toxic dance. From our side there is neediness, co-dependence and splitting open of our souls to give all we have. We want to save them and we want them to save us. They, the ever charming and affectionate beings in the beginning, feed into this craving we have. And then they switch into the person behind the mask they try so hard to super-glue onto their faces. Like us, they can’t help it. They are also dealing with a pathology all of their own.
Breadcrumbs of lies lead us to the truth. We’re wrenched out of orbit, with everything we believed about them and ourselves and our love scattered like dust across the universe. We become lost. Then begin our obsessive search (again) for the next person who will feed this endless need within us. And until we can figure out the reasons why we feel so barren inside, we will keep reaching for broken lovers, white powdered lines, golden streams on ice, hidden razor blades on top of the bathroom cabinet, or sometimes simply a shit load of chocolate and carbohydrates. Each of these come handcuffed to depression.
Our decision to keep returning to toxic relationships, I believe, is the main reason we battle to stay clean, sober, neutrally “mooded” and steady on our road to healing. It’s difficult to not be triggered into a revolving door of depression when we’re being pushed by a self-destructive, screaming person behind us.
When I met *Jeffrey, I had already driven unconsciously through a number of drive-through messed up relationships. I had recently survived my first psychotic break, lost all my money and self-respect, and moved to a new suburb hoping to wipe the blood off the slate and make it clean. He was a sexy, confident, charming vessel holding all the thrills of chocolate, crack and gin in human form. He made me come alive. Our blood cells were millions of small magnets, pulling us together with a force stronger than gravity. He said he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He made me feel beautiful and special and adored. We shared secrets, sent hundreds of whatsapps a day, watched many sunsets over the ocean, and laughed more in a day than all the laughs I had collected over my lifetime.
Only when I came up for air, did I realise that he was the one who was holding my head beneath the water. He ended up with all my savings, tens of thousands of rand in additional debt in my name, and a whole lot of broken promises. I endured his longer and longer periods of absence, forgave him when he joked about my insanity behind my back, and justified his habitual lying. I only found out a year later that there was a skinny blonde model supplying him with ego treats as well. Still, I continued to love him. Long for him. Need his attention.
The bathroom floor became my friend, cliché as it sounds. Somehow it’s always the best place to cry and fall apart. I felt like I was no longer good enough, that something was wrong with me, that if I could just get thinner, earn more, achieve more or dye my hair bloody blonde that he would love me again. Objectively and intellectually I knew I was a complete fool. But my heart was still that of a child. A little girl who had always carried sadness like a doll in her arms.
There are so many psychological intricacies in the reasons why we allow these relationships to happen, and strangely encourage them. There are ways to work through those patterns and learn to receive love in healthier ways. These, of course, could never be covered in one blog post. But if you recognise yourself in this story, which has become a universal one for so many of us, there is one thing you can do today:
Recognise that this love, and your addiction to this person, is a messenger. You are living a familiar pain, one you will keep living through relationship after relationship, until you read the letter this messenger brings. He or she hurts you in ways that you have become accustomed to. If one could take a scan of your soul, these pockets of ingrained pain would light up the screen like a Christmas tree. The key is to print that damn thing out and put push pins in each cluster of hurt. Then, like a detective, solve your own case.
How do you print it out?
Write down every time you feel hurt by him/her and what happened. Write down every time you feel elated with him/her, and why. Write down how the pain feels – physically, emotionally, mentally. Describe it in image form – is it heavy, light, red, black, constricting, floating like a balloon? And in that moment when you want to reach for your phone to text him/her, or reach for the glass, or dig in your bag for your next hit – that EXACT moment before you reach out your hand – allow yourself to FEEL instead. These fine lines of time are the ones that hold the most answers. You will want to run away and send that text, but be brave instead and feel the familiar grating on your heart. Write. Write where and when you felt this same sensation before. Write. Write. Write.
That’s where you need to start.
It’s where I started.
And it’s the reason I am alive.
* Not the asshole’s real name