About 4 years ago, when I was 25, I started to actively heal from my past abusive relationships.
I had just broken up with a man who was, previously unbeknownst to me, married to a woman in Canada. During an argument in November 2015, my anger at his lack of emotional support bubbled into me yelling If you’re not talking to me, who are you talking to and him whispering back, I like talking to my wife. At the time, I thought he was joking, convincing myself that he was talking about me: a cutesy little reference to our relationship of over 2 years, to the love that was almost electric. Awwww. He wants a forever future. What was I trippin about? Shortly after, during yet another clash centering around communication, the wife came up again. Replaying the November conversation in my head, like a broken CD track, I couldn’t let it go. Other sly comments he had made were hovering just below the surface: I had gained weight and if I wanted to be with someone with his athletic body, I should up my game; I was too emotional; my problems weren’t real problems; he didn’t think I was stupid but I was acting stupid. These thoughts rattled around with all the times he was sweet and tender, how he insisted on opening car doors and would randomly stroke his fingers along my thigh as he was driving, the guy who taught me how to play Red Light/Green Light (not the children’s game- the two consenting adults in the car one), who helped me study for the GRE and was my biggest cheerleader as I applied to grad school, the man I fell in love with who was uplifting, willing to drive around and talk about nothing, the guy who brought me homemade porridge in bed blowing on the steam in the bowl before handing it to me, the same kind his mom used to make for him. Everything stuttered around in my brain incessantly and I finally confronted him about it shortly after we rang in the new year together. He admitted that he was married to a woman in Canada, but they were legally separated. Every reference to him travelling to Vancouver to visit “friends, family, chill with my cousins” popped into my mind. He was really going to see his wife, wasn’t he?
Well, you should’ve known. I would travel for long periods of time, and I told you I didn’t want our relationship to go anywhere or move to the next step.
You said you were taking care of family!
It was both!
How could you not tell me about a wife… I’ve been the other woman for over 2 years…
You’re not the other woman. When we first met, I didn’t want to lose you and I thought you would dump me if I said I was married. But it’s not a big deal, we’re separated.
Do you want to be with her? You like to talk to her.
How does one get divorced anyway?
If I look into it, would you get divorced?
Why get divorced? I’m not technically with her and it’s too much money. You shoulda known. But it’s not a big deal.
The gaslighting was the final straw. Admittedly, I didn’t end things until a few months later in April, a few days before my birthday. I was trying to salvage a feeling of companionship and mutual respect- because he had become my closest friend and confidant, until I realized the thought of spending my birthday with him was something like despicable. I thought he was different, that he appreciated, understood and loved me as a person, not as something to control on the side. More importantly, I thought I was different. I had left my abusive exes in the past, constantly analyzing my actions to make sure I wasn’t pushing away from my first healthy relationship. I was convinced I knew how to spot a creep; I wasn’t that teenager and young adult with such low self-esteem that abusers could smell.
I had felt hollow before meeting him, and thought that he had filled some void.
I had convinced myself I had healed, but hadn’t put it any of the work.
After this, I went to different therapists, digging into my past with at least 3 different psychologists trying to name and unravel all the Trauma that had spit me out, a product of an environment of loneliness, isolation, survival and anger. I had done everything I was supposed to do, had been working on positive affirmations and journaling, was consistently on the anti-depressants.
I still felt empty, like something was missing. But there was nothing left for me to give: dejected and defeated, even years after actively working on healing.
I would see co-workers, random folks on the street, family members laughing with a lightheartedness I had forgotten was possible. It would pop into my head at haphazard points during the week that *joy* was right there. Why da hell couldn’t I reach that point? It seemed out of my control. So close, but still I was unable to fix it. And because I couldn’t at the time, I thought it must only be able to be fixed by something or someone outside of me.
Maybe if I could get him to divorce his wife and see what I good girlfriend- and therefore person- I was. After another degree. Another round of therapy. After I lost the weight I had gained. After I stood up to that family member. Then I would feel happiness from within. I was so close!
I was often around friends, nice humans who knew when I needed a pick me up, but still I felt riddled with self-doubt. It didn’t click until the fourth quarter of 2019 that combating loneliness was an inside job.
The answer to feeling seen, loved for who I am and able to come as I am, started with how I saw myself. My goal was to see goodness. So I looked for it. I started writing down the random moments that brought me joy, no matter how small:
- I laughed on the phone with my best friend, JD, for a good 3 hours that night
- Flowers, I had no idea what kind they were but they were aesthetically pleasing, were in bloom on my way to the office
- That breeze felt pleasant, not strong enough to water my eyes, and the leaves on the trees looked like they were waving at me
- I made bomb.com shrimp fettuccine for dinner
- I was grateful for working heat
- I looked cute as all get out
- That outreach event I worked at as a volunteer went well. I wasn’t awkward
- buying Sour Patch Kids. Eating the whole bag of Sour Patch Kids
It was about goodness. About filling my days up with my inner desires, nourishing what my inner child wished for and giving it to myself. I was good to me, for me.
How do you gift yourself joy? Comment and engage 🙂
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