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Reading the signs: getting clear on connection and commitment

I’ve been repeating a pattern for a chunk of my life which involves getting attached to people who are, for one reason or another, unavailable for the kind of relationship that I’m interested in at the time. Or any relationship with structure or commitment. It usually begins with them telling me so and me nodding, and ends with me in floods of tears wondering why on earth they won’t just love me in the way I want them to and what terrible character flaw I possess that makes me so deeply unloveable.

Most recently, after falling head over heels for someone who had expressed clear disinterest (for good reason) in forming a committed relationship I found myself almost a year on licking my wounds and trapped in the pain of unrequited love. Pushing it down and kidding myself that what was on offer was enough. After finding myself in an Airbnb on the other side of the world for work, mooning and missing this person and writing to tell them so, and feeling utterly unmet by the response, the blackout curtains of denial fluttered open for a moment and I saw the light. We were in different places, he had been right all along telling me so as I sing-songed back my totally-fineness and utter lack of attachment, deceiving myself totally, and him by extension. It had to stop.

So I wrote and told him so, with as much kindness for the both of us as I could muster, in the middle of a tear-soaked coffee stop in a day of walking the streets for money (not like that – I collect data for a living, sometimes). After about 20 minutes (quite the anomaly) there was an answer back. He had suspected as much and was truly sorry but was not in a place of being willing or able to commit to a relationship, as stated, nearly 12 months ago… I’m trying hard to be kind to myself right now as I write, about how long this took me to truly grasp and to him for not nudging me a bit harder, against his interests perhaps, to wake up – though nudge me he did. I stormed with grief for the rest of the day, flooding the streets with salt water and stamping my pain into the Tarmac. Howling into the wind and the faces of passersby and singing out my sorrow to every pop power ballad I could summon.

Almost 2 months on, it has taken daily courage to keep walking away, step by step. I’ve had to turn myself back around several times, as I find myself metaphorically stood knocking at a closed door again. My good friends have listened to me talk myself back into a world of delusions and self abandonment and back out again more times than I’d like. I’ve sent messages I regret, made myself feel vulnerable, worried I’ve hurt his feelings. I’ve received beautiful listening, compassion and friendship from him. I’ve met silence and confusion. I’ve raged, fantasised and broken apart. I’ve doubted myself and derided myself and watched with detached disbelief as I disentangle myself from the affection of a wonderful human being.

Breaking my own heart, for my own good, is the weirdest experience. Emotionally it’s like cutting off your leg to get out of a bear trap. Hideous analogy but anyone who has experienced the withdrawal pains of breaking free from this unilateral pattern of relating will know that in the most arm-gnawing, hair-pulling, eye-scratching moments, it is true what science has shown us – the emotional pain of a breakup is experienced in the brain in the same area as physical pain and is hardly distinguishable by our nervous systems in the moment.

It is in those moments of anguish and disorientation, when just dropping them a text or going back for just a cuddle would make it all stop, that it is hardest to uphold the courageous choice to walk. In the moments when my head is clear of anguish and ambivalence, and I am not pacing around clutching my mobile waiting to receive the response that will never come, I know the choice was the right one and that I am healing a pattern that does not serve me or anyone else. Repatterning feels very disorientating and sometimes I find myself experiencing a sort of inner scrabbling for ground, clutching for false anchors, seeking out a shelter I have dismantled, and I know I’m on the cusp of building new ones that will stand.

I know I’m not the only one to go through this. People choose, at certain times of life or perhaps for their whole life, not to be available for deep emotional commitment. It is a totally valid choice to be respected like any other. The difficulty comes when these people, still wanting to connect and enjoy the company of those they are attracted to, lay this out dutifully and clearly and… for psychologically complex and I’m sure totally varied reasons… the other person just does not hear it/believe it/accept it and gives the go ahead.  Maybe we think it won’t be a problem for us, maybe we think it might change, maybe we just flat out don’t understand what they mean. On we go hurtling headlong into heartbreak.

As a woman, I know that my brain chemistry works in such a way that as soon as I am physically intimate with someone, then my brain releases oxytocin and gets me nicely bonded and emotionally attached to this person. The more this repeats, the stronger that attachment becomes. I might think I have a handle on the situation but all of a sudden I am playing out all kinds of attachment behaviours and my capacity to think rationally about the situation is going fast out the window. I’m in deep, and getting myself out activates the same regions of my brain as heroin withdrawal. So just know yourself. Know what’s happening in your body and brain, know your attachment style, know your vulnerability.

I believe in loving whole heartedly, I believe in going all in, and because of this I need to take better stock of what I’m getting all into, read the signs and read them again til I am clear what I’m signing up for, and what I’m not. Work on understanding the beliefs and desires that cloud my vision. Get clear on what my own vision is for relationship, and be brave to say no when what’s on offer doesn’t fit.

 

 

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No Ball Games

A: Wanna knock a ball around with me?

B: Sure – I love tennis.
A: No, I really definitely don’t want to play tennis, I’ve just finished a long tennis match, I’m kinda done with tennis for a bit and don’t have the capacity to focus on all the rules and the structure and the lengthy commitment of a tennis game… Let’s just knock this ball around.
B: Ok sure… I can do that that’s fun too… And yes, there’s not really time for a tennis match right now for me either, good point.
… A few hours later…
B: Hey why don’t we play tennis now, we are pretty good at this, tennis will be fun
A: No, I don’t want to play tennis. Just knock this ball around.
B: Ok….One- love!!
A: What are you doing?
B: Nothing, definitely not playing tennis in my head, we are just knocking the ball around right? Fun…
… Match point!!!!
A: Wait… What? We are just knocking the ball around… What do you mean match point? Are you playing tennis? Because I’m not, I’m just knocking this ball around and you are hitting it back… Doesn’t mean it’s tennis.. that’s all in your head.
B: You’re right. It takes two people to play tennis and for it to be meaningful.
I’m just getting frustrated and hoping you might get keen for tennis, I see that you are not…Well it’s sad, I’ve been having loads of fun with you, but I’m just ready to play tennis now… So… I guess let’s stop knocking this ball around, and I’ll go see who wants to play tennis…
…some days later…
B: Wow I really feel like playing tennis.., ah yes I’ll call my friend, we had such fun that day playing t… Well, knocking the ball about, it was kinda like tennis, I guess it would do, maybe later he will want to play tennis…
…so here we are, knocking this ball about again. I really love it…. You know what I love even more? Playing tennis!! Wanna play? Seems like maybe now you might be ready for a game?
A: No, I told you, no tennis for me… Now can we knock this ball about and just be content with it or are you gonna keep trying to make it tennis??
B: Sure… Let’s knock the ball about some more… Maybe we can play tennis in a couple weeks… Meanwhile we are good at this and I like how we play together….it’s fine…
…no. No, I really just want to play tennis!! This is so frustrating!!
If I keep knocking this ball around with you for weeks on end, I’ll never get to play the full game I so enjoy. Gotta go find a tennis partner…
…Hanging around the nets, nobody is about just yet for a tennis game….
B: hey, dude, wanna knock that ball about? Maybe it was ok after all, maybe it doesn’t need to be tennis. Maybe…. Maybe you are wishing now you had agreed to have a go at tennis with me…
A:…No reply…
B:… Hey dude… We can just knock the ball back and forth real gently, come on, what do you think?
A: I’m too tired now to even knock the ball about and worried you will just hassle me to play tennis with you again…But…. Hmm ok, let’s give it a shot knocking this ball about…
B:… No, you’re right…. Let’s just both wait here, not playing ball. Til someone comes along who wants to play tennis and someone who wants to just knock the ball around for a few weeks. Will be so great to both be playing the way we want to play, and maybe we can have a lemonade after the game.
…. Stand there, looking sadly at each other over the net, nobody is having fun… Better just go home.

Stories

Check In & Baggage Drop

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As I sat rocking on the bathroom floor, unable to stand from the agonising twists in my belly, sweating and pale and vomiting from pain, I knew that all I could do was sit with myself through the intense waves and know that they would pass and I would be OK. I couldn’t move from where I was, or do anything to stop the pain. At the points where I felt that I would pass out and perhaps I could not after all cope with the level of pain I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to cope. I was not in any danger just having intense sensation, and there was nothing I could do to change it in the moment so I just had to accept it and ride it out. Time was gone, the intense physical experience demanded my complete presence and filled the entirety of the moment. I just breathed and cried and surrendered.

September a month of much letting go – of old stories, traumas, delusions, dreams, attachments, plans, a home, a base, a lover. So much that comprised the little house of forms and ideas and assumptions and safety and comfort I had built around myself has gone this month. Much grief has been surfacing, rising in waves at inopportune moments, demanding my embodied presence. Perhaps predictably, I experienced the most intense bout of menstrual pain I think I have ever experienced as my womb released all it had been carrying. I could do nothing but bleed, cry, groan and allow the waves to pass through me, I could keep nothing down to numb the pain, my body gave me no choice but to feel it and let it be.

That night, after the physical pain had subsided, a wave of emotional pain passed through of similar magnitude. Grief, rage, fear, catastrophic aloneness, confusion and a sense of being totally at sea and disoriented took over my entire space. I wanted to do things to numb it. Play out patterns, reach out for reassurance to where I know I probably wouldn’t be met, chase delusions of intimacy, cling, adapt, try to make myself the right shape to fit into someone’s pocket, guess the right choices to be adored, surf social media, write angry poems, convince myself I don’t need anyone, find a valley to hide out in, do something else, anything else but feel it…

As I began to fear the feelings of desperation and loss would overtake me completely, feeling increasingly lost and disoriented and alone, I remembered my earlier experience and that all I had to do, was just to be there and feel my feelings, in all their overwhelming intensity, and know that they will pass and I will be ok. To know that they are releasing now because I am strong enough to allow myself to feel them. To know that my system is cleaning itself and nothing is amiss.

I can feel a deep swirling tide of emotion wanting to come through. It leaks over the breakwater every night. I have been busily lining up retreats for myself where I can get deep enough out into the countryside to let it rip, let it tear through. I feel a need to take myself deep into nature and solitude so I can roll around and roar it out like an injured animal hiding out to heal.

I remember this morning, vomiting from pain until there was nothing left in my stomach at all. In the end I was drawing up dark blue/green bile from the depths of my being, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I thought of the word bile, and of anger. I thought of how the liver holds repressed rage and grief. I knew this was coming from the deepest place in me, literally. I realised what was coming out of me, and why I had to let it go, and that I really needed to stop holding on. I remember saying to myself “ok I get it, I get what this is about….surely that is is it now, is that it ??” retching myself inside out as the biggest wave yet of pain racked my body…. And that was it. As abruptly as it had all started, the pain stopped. Just really stopped happening, the cramping stopped, the nausea stopped.

To end the month, we had a second new moon, known as the Black Moon, in Libra – the sign of balance and relationship. I decided to let go of the pain I was literally carrying around with me and continuing to relive again and again.

When I moved out of my home and bundled my belongings into storage, I decided on a whim to keep and carry with me some journals from a time in my life where I experienced major rejection, betrayal and a series of events which devastated my confidence and sense of self worth. To protect myself from this pain I had framed it for a long time as a series of valuable lessons in non-attachment and unconditional love. This is true, I learned alot about those things for which I am massively grateful, I also experienced a lot of trauma and pain. Which I could barely admit to myself let alone anyone else.

I felt attached to these journals and like they held so much that was of value and that it was important to hold onto these experiences. It felt so necessary to treasure all the pain as learning experiences. I felt like there was a story that held value and had to be told and never forgotten. Again, this is partially true. There has been much learning and there are stories to be told. I realised on this new moon, that I had brought these stories with me to release those that no longer serve. To let go of the pain, the anger, the self doubt. To keep only the gifts from those experiences and let the rest go.

So I sifted through them, page by page, feeling into each passage of writing for what it was carrying. Some carried hope, joy, a sense of expansion, enlightenment, love, clarity. They stayed. Some carried stories of my own smallness and the most magnificent giving away of all of my power. These went. Some carried raw pain, repeated on a loop, helpless, blinded, thrashing and frantic. These went too. Shredded by hand and gone from my space.

In a way these stories, and the anger and grief attached to them, were also forms of security. They were the structure around which I oriented my sense of self and the blueprint for relationship. They were not serving me well in either of these roles and it was a painful realisation.

With so much now gone, I face the void again. Knowing that the cave I fear to enter holds the treasure I seek, doesn’t make it any more enticing. Having been here before on such a precipice, wrestling with so much Unknown, surrendering so much to the flames, doesn’t make it feel any safer this time around.

“Our Descent starts with disillusion and ends with dissolution. There is no escaping the process, and it can be hard. The Descent is a time of helpless wandering, of grief, rage and alienation. There is no quick way through. But the destruction which takes hold of us is required to initiate us into the mysteries, to set in motion the long, difficult game of transformation. In staying with the dark, we gather the strength which we will need to find the way back to our path and to face the rest of the journey ahead of us. In that place of destruction, gestation and rebirth, we begin to learn the answer to the biggest question of all: if we strip away everything we are told we must be in the Wasteland, what is left? When everything we once valued is taken from us, what then do we become?” Sharon Blackie – If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of The Celtic Woman

Image: from a collection of photos by Jon Crispin of suitcases left behind by inmates of the Willard Asylum in New York