Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Finding Your Line, or, Why I Hate Christmas

This post is going to get pretty heavy, but while I don't have the strength to share this individually, I want the people who care about me to really know what has been going on in my life the past few months. I will warn you now, I will discuss suicide (in multiple contexts) and emotional abuse in this post, so if you fear it will be too difficult for you, due to your own lived experiences, that is entirely valid, and I am so sorry; I hope you know that I am here for you and willing to talk, if you think will help you. Otherwise, hang in there with me and allow me to elucidate some events that have had large effects on me. Understand, I am not "seeking attention," so much as using this as an easier way on my own heart and mental health to share this with people- I've dealt with and come closer to reconciling the first big thing, and talking about that is easier now. But that one was easier to keep close to the chest, while the most recent events are still visible right now, in my bedroom.

So, to use the line I have used before and think is just so damn applicable when talking about this dramedy that is my life...

I officiated a wedding in September, for a dear friend from college, in our college town, to wit. It was beautiful, and superbly relaxed, and even though I only knew about 10% of the guests, my speech during the ceremony wowed them all with its wit, charm, and earnestness. I even opened with a joke* that led to this picture being taken by one of the photographers:

 The reception was pretty fun, and the food was amazing- a little old lady was pressing tortillas for the taco bar, and the sangria! It was at a bed-and-breakfast, so the party was in the backyard, and as the sun set and the little lights started to twinkle, I kept warm by snuggling close to my date, the person I had been with for nearly two years at that point- it was our first wedding we were both able to attend together, so it was one of those Big Steps in an adult relationship. While he was inside in the bathroom, I was alone at our table, far off from the dance floor where everyone else was. I saw my phone light up and crinkled my eyebrows. Mom? Why would she call me now, of all times? I gave it a second, thinking  maybe she had butt-dialed me and it would stop ringing, but it continued. Well, this doesn't make any sense, she knew I would be here and  unavailable... So I picked up, and instead of saying hello to me, she demanded I put my boyfriend on the phone. Wait, what? She repeated, a little urgent this time. I explained that he was in the bathroom, and she repeated the original request, more urgently. I said I didn't know when  he would get back, so she asked me, "Are you alone?"

"Well, I'm at a table by myself... Why? What's up?"

"Honey, are you sitting down?"


"Honey, your aunt went to visit your dad today, and she found him in the bathtub."


"Honey, he killed himself."

I felt my chest tighten and my face get hot, my hands shook and my voice cracked. I started to ask questions and panic. At just the right moment, I looked up, tear-stricken and still babbling, to lock eyes with my boyfriend. Even though it was dark, he somehow knew I needed him, so he beelined to me, nearly taking out a chair (or himself) on the way. I held the phone out for him, and he stepped away without saying a word as I put my head on the table and sobbed so hard (but silent- I didn't want to draw attention) I could hear the wine and champagne glasses bobble. After a few moments, which was enough for him to get the necessary information, my boyfriend gave my phone back  to me, took me by my hand, and led me around the side of the house so that we could walk through the neighborhood around the B&B instead of disturb my friend's wedding. After a struggle, I was able to get my mom to tell me my dad had shot himself in the head with his mom's gun. We sat on a park bench for a while, his arms around me as I sobbed and tried to talk to my mom, before heading back to the reception.

My boyfriend told a couple people, the small spattering of those that realized something had happened and were asking after my well-being, but I tried to avoid the wedding guests as best as I could- again, this wasn't my night, and it was supposed to be a happy moment for someone I hold very close to my heart, and I couldn't in good conscience tell her then. That night, I cried instead of slept, and my boyfriend held me the whole time. We had to drive home the next day, but I spent most of the car ride and the rest of the evening in tears, and the same with the next two days, before going back to work. He had to change his shirt a few times each day  because  of all of the tears and snot I was getting on him.

As my life is a dramedy, it wouldn't be complete without some mildly morbid comic relief here: I had started seeing a counselor in July, and we had arranged for bi-weekly appointments to start. I had seen her two days before the wedding (which was a Saturday), but on Tuesday, amidst the crying, I got a reminder phone call from the clinic about "my appointment" two days from then- apparently she had accidentally scheduled me for the next week, so I didn't even need to call ahead to squeeze myself into her schedule!! AAAAND, I also happened to have an appointment with the person that handles my meds for Wednesday, too- so I was able to walk into my already-scheduled appointments and let then know what was happening.

I've had weekly counseling appointments ever since.

Flash-forward to about a month ago. I was having a heart-to-heart with a friend whom I love dearly, opening up to him (or rather, elaborating) about my relationship with my boyfriend. While I still had never been entirely open with him about my boyfriend, he knew things weren't as good as I tried to make them out to be, and as I cried and made excuses, I admitted that while I had thought I knew where my "line" was for "how much" I would put up with, I had lost it. We talked some more, but as he was leaving  he said, "Look, I can't tell you what to do, and I would never try to do that. But all I have to say is," and he put his hand on my shoulder, "Find your line. Just find your line again."

Then a series of necessary events happened last Monday/early Tuesday morning:

1) I received  a check in the mail from my mom for Christmas that morning. I sobbed, first because I feel guilty taking money from her, since  she works retail, too, and then second, because I didn't want my boyfriend to know about it, because I knew he would want me to cash it and give the money to him. So I tore it up.

2) That day, we were supposed to go on what I came to call an "errand date" where we spend  spare time together by getting stuff done together and helping with each other's errands. We did this before, and it usually ended with making dinner together and spooning while watching Netflix. On  this day, he decided to take a nap instead.

3) Later, he started getting irritable because he didn't have any cash, and he kept snapping at my dog. She started shaking, and I didn't feel comfortable with trying to comfort her until he was out of the room.

4) That night, he couldn't sleep, so he kept thrashing and grumbling right beside  me in the bed, getting up and laying back down, going in and out of the room, and about once an hour even getting dressed and stepping outside. He became gradually more and more vocal during these little tantrums  as the night progressed, and at about 2AM he got up and grumbled about how he's "tired of holding on just to hold on" and that I "don't need to worry  about the holidays" because he "wouldn't be around for that shit." And he left the  house again and I heard him peel off in his car.

5) When he got back to the house, he started rattling the door knob, and I thought maybe he  had  taken  shots or something quick to get sloshed. But he sent a text demanding I unlock the door, and it dawned on me: I had gone to the bathroom after he left, and apparently had subconsciously locked the bedroom door. 

I refused to talk to him or let him cuddle (his way of apologizing) that night and the next morning. He left before I got up, so I sent him a text demanding he get his stuff out while I was at work.

The short version of the rest of that is while I started out hoping to take a break so he could get himself together, I realized I needed to cut all ties completely after some pretty horrible stuff happened and two more days passed. I realized he will never care about himself enough to care for me the way I deserve, and I cannot save him. The last time I saw him was Thursday, and I hope it's the last time I ever see him. 

I know, it seems odd, that the man that was so supportive when I found out my dad killed himself would be thrown out just a bit over three months later, but I need to explain some about both.

First, my dad. I hadn't seen him since 2013, summer. And the last thing he said to me was, "You bitch," while I was helping my mom pack up the house in which I grew up so she could leave. See, my dad had changed once I hit 16. A lot of life happened, and his depression won over: He went from being Dad of the Year to a non-functioning alcoholic that was emotionally abusive and manipulative to my mom, myself, and my younger sister. It took time, but he was a completely different dad to me than he was my younger siblings, something I apologized for all the time after leaving for college. By the time I was a sophomore (and thus only home for breaks), I hardly ever saw him sober. And he would pick fights whenever he could, however he could. The house became toxic, and I hated going home for breaks and found every excuse I could to make the visits home short or avoid them altogether. When I found out it had evolved to physical abuse, I finally begged my mom to leave him. I, and she, had held out hope he would get better, would seek help for his mental illness, but he didn't, and Mom had to draw the line somewhere. 

But even after that, I had still hoped. Hoped he would take that as his wake-up call and seek a therapist, medication, whatever. That he would sober and up and get serious. That he would come back to us and be that dad I remembered, the one that sprained his ankle fixing a swing at a park for me, that let me stay home from school to play video games. The dad that used to make me laugh, (gently) stop my tears, and made me feel safe. I had had visions of him barbecuing with my boyfriend at our wedding reception.

So him killing himself, and in such a way, was an even more complex situation for me and everyone else. I had, in a way, already been in mourning over the loss of the dad of my youth, but now I was in mourning for a man that was so broken, in so much pain, he decided to end his life. "Forgiveness" isn't the word I have for how he treated us later on, but that doesn't make the loss of any chance at better memories less painful. Add to it the fact that I had hoped to reach out to him myself, once I had been in therapy for a while and felt more in touch with who I am and at peace with my past traumas (not just caused by him), and you have a huge ball of awkward and pain and uncomfortable and confused and anger and hurt and... Pretty much everything you can possibly imagine. 

So this leads to the now-ex boyfriend. He, too, is mentally ill, and he, too, refused to get help with it. And, like  my dad, he took his pain out on me. Don't get me  wrong, both men had legitimate reasons to be angry, to be hurting, but they projected it and it manifested in passive aggressiveness, unpredictability, manipulation, and isolation. My ex never explicitly said I couldn't spend time with friends, but the way he moped, texted me nonstop about how he missed me while I was gone, and/or picked fights with me over text trained me not to do it. With his mood swings, I never knew how he would react to the same kind of joke (or even exact same joke) from day to day. And the above scenario, where he turned his frustration with himself  over having no money and not being able to sleep into rants  about how  unhappy with me he was, happened far too frequently. He "broke up" with me at least once a month. I would make excuses, hide it from most people, tell myself he didn't mean it, he's just angry and in pain, he loves me more than anything.

And like with Dad, it didn't start out that way. He was charming and attentive and kind and warm, and the first man to see me as a woman and treat me like a human  being. Even though he loved me selfishly, he at least proved to me I can be loved, and for that I am forever grateful. And even up to the last few weeks, it wasn't always shouting and tears: when he was doing better, he could be disgustingly thoughtful and sweet, and he did take care of me during some of my darkest moments, like what happened with my dad. He was good in a crisis... when it wasn't his own. And when he started to boil up, he would gaslight me, change the topic, snap for no reason, act like everything was my fault. I was losing myself, and willfully blind to all of this because I had seen it before. That could never happen to me, I wouldn't let it, I'm far too smart for it. I knew exactly where my line was, and so help me, no man would ever cross it.

Except he did. He crossed so far over it, I lost sight of that line. He loved me, but it was a selfish, jealous love. It wasn't nurturing, not overall, even though it had its moments. It was draining, and it hurt to love him. I was always the one trying to make us work, yet I would be blamed whenever something was bothering  him, something he wouldn't tell me about until one of his blow-ups, something that was his fault in the first place. (Like remember how I said he napped instead of went out with me? That was a patterned behavior, too, backing out of plans- yet he would yell at me he was "tired of never doing anything" with me during his rampages.) So later on during the height of the drama last week, as my ex was saying he was sorry, that he missed me, missed us, missed the family we had made with each other and my dog, my friend's words echoed through my head.

"Find your line."

That same friend has been my rock through all of this, and I will never be able to repay him the kindness and selflessness he has shown me. Remembering that advice helped me find the strength to admit the truth  to myself, out loud, and to my ex.

"You want to know what that is? It's abuse, that's what it is."

And once I said it, I felt myself gaining strength, at least in that first moment, and I kept going. That wasn't the end  of it, but it was the start for me. 

He even kept throwing that it was "almost Christmas" in my face. That fueled my fire then, and I held that line, but once he was actually gone, Christmas was even worse for me than usual.

When I was little, Christmas was always great. Our family had our little traditions and rituals, but we had fun, and we loved each other. As time went on,  things got more and more prickly and fake, and we went from spending all of our waking moments Christmas Eve and Day with each other to barely speaking and staying in our own designated areas of the house. And now that I work retail, I won't get a chance to repair with my mom and siblings. I get that about my life, but I still mourn it. Even before I left my grad program, Christmas reminded me of everything I had lost. Then all of the breakup stuff happened, and I felt more alone than I ever thought possible. I could force myself to enjoy a moment (after all, I wasn't physically alone- I had people willing to take me in, and that wise friend of mine was there, too), but staying up until 2AM (again)  on Christmas  Eve rewrapping because I had written both of our names on the "From" line with Sharpie on all of the presents I had bought (the one year I wrapped as I purchased, I didn't bother to get tags I could attach... nooooo, I had to write directly on the gorram wrapping paper of all but two gifts) didn't help. 

I haven't slept more than a couple hours at a time since the first night he wasn't beside me, and waking up to an empty space in the bed on Christmas morning was awful, even though I had only woken up beside him once on Christmas. I miss the Christmases we'll never have, so I keep seeing  them, the ones I dreamed about, where we had our own home and family, our own traditions and rituals. I would be in charge of the Nativity scene, he would do the lights around the house. And I keep remembering my dad and how much he used to care about his Christmas town, meticulously placing every piece, re-attaching limbs and chimneys whenever necessary; how he gradually let it crack and break before he was too broken to go on anymore. There was a drawer he would put the broken  pieces until he was able to fix them. I don't think any were there for more than a day when I was young; by the time we were packing the house, there were some in there from before I graduated from college. 

And  it hurts. It hurts so much. The truth is, while I never planned to kill myself before, I had thought there was no point in living, the the pain is too much, that others around me would be  better off without me. Those thoughts stopped a while ago, but it hurt so much that it flickered through my mind a little. I know it's irrational, and I will not actually do anything to hurt myself, but this is how much pain I am in right now. I am in so much pain, I can't bring myself to clean the mess he made while packing, just when I had finally started to keep the room cleaner.

I will never get my dad back. I will never be able to reconcile with him, no matter how much I had wanted to. He was in too much pain and valued his own life so little that he didn't try to get any help. Eventually, he killed himself. It has nothing to do with me, and there is nothing I could have done.

I will never take my ex back. I will never reconcile with him, no matter how much he wants to. He will never have my trust again, even if he does get the help he needs (and a job). Because  I will have no way of knowing for sure that it's not to get me back, but because he values himself enough to do it- and it's the latter that is necessary for him to be a true partner, not a dependent. 

I told a few friends that "my Christmas gift to myself this year is freedom." This is true. But freedom comes with a price. I will be in pain for quite some time, and I have no idea when I will be ready to try to love again. But, as my  mom said, it's better to be lonely and alone than lonely and with someone. 

I don't have a witty, funny way to end this. But I can say that I have been thinking of a quote from my favorite movie:

"There are no happy endings, because nothing ends."

That sounds dire, but for me, right now, it means my story is still going, and this isn't my ending, happy or otherwise. My life will go on, and while a part of me will always mourn both of these men that were so similar, both in good ways and bad, I have learned what I deserve, and, importantly, what I do not deserve from a partner. The kindness others have shown  me during both times has helped remind me how good others can be, and that even though I may feel alone, there are people that would more than happily ease that pain. 

I don't expect a happy ending now, and I never have. But I do expect to find some happiness again. And, someday, I'll enjoy Christmas again, forge a family in whatever way I can, to make better memories. 

*Question: What did Batman say to Robin  just  before they got into the Bat-Mobile?  Answer: "Get in the Bat-Moble."

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