On December 4, I had an epiphany. It unlocked a sort of sixth sense. I can see these intangible things we call “relationships” and “communication” as a circuit board, and I’m like a supernatural engineer. This sparked a sort of chain reaction of epiphanies, and now I’m epiphing all over the fucking place. And it started with me — with drinking.
I mean, I never really drank much; I’m not too into the taste. Over time, I simply started to say I didn’t drink, at all. And, then, I didn’t. During my time in undergrad, my friend Adam would buy me drinks when we went on film-related adventures. We were at a bar one night after a shoot and he asked if I’d “ever had an aborted fetus” — a drink. He described it to the bartender, and we all had aborted fetuses.
I’ve got my issues. They led me into one of my most abusive relationships; the judge granted me a restraining order for life against my ex. He had PTSD from his time in the Marines piled on top of the PTSD from childhood trauma. He once immobilized me by holding my arms across my chest and said he’d “bite my fucking face off.”
We lived together and, then, we didn’t. I moved back home my senior year to save money. I didn’t realize I’d moved from one abusive environment back into the one with which I was so familiar; I just called it “love.”
I went through three court cases and a school hearing, representing myself and winning. I wanted to appear strong and “okay.” He was expelled. I lost a lot of friends. I was exhausted and burnt out, and I didn't work for two years after graduating.
I had changed. Rather than sit in my feelings and process them, I learned to throw myself into my work and mask those feelings. I compartmentalized the pain so I didn’t have to deal with it, and I kept my walls up due to my home environment. I was completely broken.
I cultivated an image to become incontestable. Temperance, among other things, created a sense of control in my life. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of rejection — being rejected for being me. By controlling everything so I wouldn’t get hurt, however, I turned into that nightmare — that person who rejects others for being themselves. My fear of rejection was the most elusive monster over which I had no control, spilling out and projecting onto those about whom I cared.
It was at this point I started dating my most recent ex. While he had his own issues, I projected a lot of mine onto him. Already broken from his own past, he said he felt inadequate with me. He had put me on a pedestal and, maybe, he did. I realized, though, that I had put myself on a pedestal. I projected what I wanted others to see. When I did express my feelings, it shattered his world — the world I helped to create — and we exploded. (It was actually more of a fizzle, like wet to a candle flame.)
Through his own introspection, he learned he’s an ACoA or “Adult Child of Alcoholics.” He gave me this book to read called “A Struggle for Intimacy.” And, then, my mom wanted to read it. It all clicked: a common denominator across my relationships. If you’re interested, here’s something I wrote about it in 2017.
I was compartmentalizing my pain and emotions to such an extent that it’s taken me a lifetime to figure this out. Stew on that for a minute. This compartment, it’s like a pressure cooker; we only have one place where we keep our emotions, and we don’t let anything in or out. And, so, when love enters into my life, I have nowhere to put it. When I open that compartment, out come all of these old, unresolved feelings.
I figured this out by repeating the pattern with someone else, a fellow pressure cooker. The phrase I’ve heard all too often, “I don’t deserve you” crossed his lips. He thought I had my shit together, he said, that I was too good for him at this point in his life. He thought I would reject him and, so, he pulled away. The cycle repeats. That pressure boiled up and overflowed and turned into expectations and fear – and everything fell apart.
I realized there’s a me that is intrinsic, and a me that I project. It took me hurting someone else to learn where the two meet, and how I could make changes.
This someone else was the catalyst for my greatest epiphany and the many that followed. It’s important for you, for everyone in my life, to know that I love you just as you are, not who I believe you could be; I like you for who you are intrinsically. I don’t simply “accept” you, but admire and appreciate you for everything you are in this moment.
I get these sudden “bursts of I love you,” I call them, like steam escaping from the pressure cooker. Do you ever feel that way? – you just want to yell “I LOVE YOU!” to anyone nearby. I think, maybe, it’s a part of me trying to love myself in order to heal, so that I’m not relying on validation from others. I can see other people so clearly; I see their pain and suffering and scars, and I tell them “I see you” – but I hadn’t been able to see myself.
In reality, I’ve secretly wished I could let go. I want to do something for me, for myself and not for someone else. I feel embarrassed admitting I don’t know so many basic human things, so I dismiss these things and act as though I’m above them. You know, “reject them before they can reject you,” a push-pull dance we do for lack of words, for lack of understanding.
If everyone is scared or in pain, I thought, maybe I need to take the first step. After all, the fear of rejection is rampant and can masquerade as anger. We all want to be loved, to feel safe and to be accepted, but fear prevents our communion. If we acknowledge someone else’s pain, maybe we could communicate our thoughts and feelings without projecting our fears.
Enter the push-pull dance: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/love-matters/2018/08/7-ways-to-overcome-a-push-pull-dynamic-in-your-relationship.
I try not to regret things in my past. The universe has a plan to help us achieve our goals and teach us lessons in order to be successful in life. Looking back on who I was just one month ago is sort of like looking back at someone from a decade ago.
And, so, I recently reconnected with someone from my past – a decade passed. “We did the push-pull dance,” I said. “I think we felt the same way in that we were insecure and left a lot unsaid. We needed things from the other person we only assumed were unattainable. I needed that constant reassurance and you needed that space. It was so much of that need for space and my inability to trust. I didn’t see it, and we never spoke about it. I mean, we didn’t know to speak about it. How do you know what you don’t know? You don’t.”
The old friend wrote back, “I was always withdrawn, trying to avoid letting you down. As I withdrew, you’d only want me more, and I liked that attention. But then, you’d get frustrated with me for not being the person you needed. We never saw the dance we were in…I don’t think I ever saw you as someone that was like me. I didn’t see you as having your own struggles, and for that I’m sorry.”
I’m learning that, just because someone isn’t talking to me, it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about me, or care. I need the verbal assurance in order to let them breathe, but I also need to have to trust. The more I cling, the more space they need. The dance repeats – until now.
Every message since has been a series of “thanks” and “sorries,” and no conversation has ever been so clear. It’s relieving to be able to describe these things in words, rather than incoherently feel and act.
The other day I’d said to that new guy, that pressure cooker, “your need for detachment fits me need for attachment.” It was the day after Thanksgiving break, the last time he would speak to me while he was sober. I was quoting a line in ‘A Perfect Getaway,’ and he didn’t know it. The words resonated with him in a much different way than the film-student way in which I stupidly blurted them out because it “sounded good.” He said that phrase to himself aloud three times.
A few weeks later, I watched this video on love versus attachment.
The conversation rushed back. It hurt to think about this exchange; it hurt to acknowledge how much I hurt someone else, someone for whom I care. Apparently, half of the adults in the world have attachment issues. I feel like that’s a shockingly low statistic.
While I’m trying not to project onto other people, I will gladly project love, an equation of trust + respect, and will show support as opposed to attachment. Love is respecting boundaries.
Before we left for winter break, this guy had his arms around me, needlessly apologizing. Drunk, he told me that I’d “empowered his life in ways I don't even know,” that I deserve America, and that he respects me so much...he trailed off. He gazed into my eyes, placed his hands on my neck, and said, "Geena, I love you." Then, he told me he doesn't deserve me in the state he’s in, that he isn't ready for me yet – that he’s putting walls up against me.
I thought I was respectful of this person, but I didn’t respect his boundaries to the point he had to armor himself against my pushing; he pulled. I’ve struggled to respect the boundaries of others because I haven’t respected myself, and I haven’t been honest with myself.
I remember watching an episode of ‘Law & Order: SVU’ in which Detective Benson says that abusers were often victims. What’s more, we don’t just do it to others – we do it to ourselves. This is the idea of self-flagellation.
A friend developed an eating disorder as a sense of control, mirroring her mother’s eating disorder; she caused herself the same pain her mother had caused. I see people harming themselves with substance abuse, cutting and sex because their parents and former partners used these methods to cause them pain. We all know the pain these actions cause, and to punish ourselves for “letting it happen,” we enact these behaviors. We know they will cause us the harm we feel we deserve. Part of us may think, too, that if we don’t feel the all-familiar pain, we haven’t “earned” that happiness.
We have learned that we are more deserving of pain than we are worthy of love. Sometimes we can’t recognize love, or parse through our emotions, so we try to shut them off in the only way we know how. And, so, we often recede into something familiar or comfortable. Sometimes we get stuck there, or rationalize and pretend that “things are better this way” or “everything is fine.” Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, a palatable excuse so you don’t have to deal with the real.
I’ve always sought people with great pain and trauma and, due to my empathic nature, punish myself with their pain. It seemed to satisfy an emptiness I thought I deserved as well as simultaneously fill that emptiness.
After these epiphanies, I went to craniosacral therapy. As she was working on my head, she said, “You are very full of you right now.” And wouldn’t you know it, I felt very full of me. She told me to continue on this path, exuding the vibrancy and colors she was feeling, and I would attract all good things.
We need to learn how to be honest with ourselves, and treat ourselves with respect – the recipe for giving and receiving love, for healing. This is the new cycle we must repeat.
I moved to Syracuse, NY this past summer for my one-year Masters program. When I arrived, I thought the place was absolutely magical. I was consistently happy for two days – and then, two weeks – and then, two straight months. I thought it was the energy of the place, the people, something…separate, from me. It was only recently I realized that, for the first time in my entire life, I was in a safe environment. I was in a space where I could put my walls down and process my thoughts and feelings over the last decade. This is how "normal" people must feel, I thought – this is how people feel when they are safe and loved.
I’ve spent so much time projecting ego that I haven’t had energy to work towards healing myself. I gave this advice to a friend a month back, entirely unaware that I, too, needed to hear it. As the old saying goes, “When you point a finger at someone else, remember you have three pointing back yourself.”
And, so, we return to the night of December 4. I’m looking to the past to inform my present, and my future; I am looking in a rear view mirror to show me what is to come. I told my mom I “just wanted to let go,” that I needed to let myself lose control – to realize and to feel I am human. I said I’d been “hiding myself from…myself.” I needed to stop projecting onto others, damaging them in the same way I so desperately didn’t want to be damaged or hurt.
She said it was incredible I’d just said this. In 2004, she bought a book of affirmations because “the cover looked cute,” unbeknownst to her the book was for recovering addicts. She recently stumbled upon the book in the attic, and had read the affirmation for December 4th that morning. I had, unknowingly, quoted it almost in its entirety. She took a photo of the page and sent it to me. I couldn’t believe it – I said “holy fucking shit” about ten times.
And, now, I’m reconnecting with myself. I feel different. I feel the color green. I feel very human right now, and I feel like doing very human things – for me. That’s what you’ve been seeing, and will continue to see – that I am human. I’ve always been an open book, but some pages stuck together and never told the whole story – even to me – until now.