Q: Hey I’ve been a big fan of your blog for a while. I remember you mentioning that you went through a period of self imposed celibacy in order to find out who you were before getting into another relationship. I’m currently in the midst of getting out of a relationship that is toxic because of me, I’m the bad one he’s suffering and stressing and so am I. I’m a serial monogamist I got into this relationship before I really knew who I was and even though he’s a wonderful human being who deserves all the good things in the world I am not. I’m verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative, and riddled with mental illnesses and self destructive behaviors that he’s had to bear the brunt of. He doesn’t want to break up because he says I need him, saying I can’t function without him and saying no we’re not breaking up every time I said we were. He wants to compromise, But I feel like there isn’t one. While we’re still together I can’t get better and he’ll continue to suffer.
Sorry for rambling on. My point was I want to know how you went about cutting yourself off from men and romantic relationships and how you managed to find yourself. Anything that you watched, books you read, seminars you went to, did you journal? Google isn’t being helpful and I really need help. How does a girl find herself when she’s literally defined herself through various relationships with men practically her entire adult life?
For anyone who was wondering why I’ve said before that you shouldn’t date while you’re on a journey like mine, this kind of thing is why. It’s difficult and overwhelming to discover some things about yourself. It’s virtually impossible to try to find a viable partner (or be good company, honestly) when you’re in this kind of self-discovery mode. And heaven help you if you should happen to encounter a predator who preys on women struggling with this side of themselves, eager to take advantage of you by telling you nice things all while ruining your credit, running up your utilities, jacking up your car, and basically being a hobosexual.
Yeah, it’s like that.
So, my start with my decision to abstain from sex was about the fact that during my journey, I’d come out of a difficult break up. I just… didn’t want to be bothered. I was still hurt, still shook, and had this one way—my weight loss goal—of entertaining myself outside of thinking about how miserable I was feeling alone.
It wasn’t deliberate or intentional, either. It was really about me going where my positive energy took me, because the negative energy had me folded up on the couch watching Adult Swim and plotting on how to get my man back. I couldn’t do that during the 18 hours of the day I spent out of bed. I needed to work. I needed to not stay in the mud, as I frequently refer to it.
That your boyfriend believes you’re going to collapse without him is complicated—is he being thoughtful and helpful and a concerned partner? Does he think you’re having an episode? Or is he trying to manipulate you into remaining under his thumb? Should he really leave, or do you simply feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when you look at him because of what you know you’ve put him through? There’s all kinds of options, so I’ll assume his best intentions going forward.
(If his intentions are the worst and you decide you do need to leave, under no circumstances should you isolate yourself. You need friends, you need to be social, and you need to be active. Friends, family, social gatherings like exercise classes? These are all great options and should be core parts of how you move forward.)
For me, so much of my catharsis has been reading. I absorbed so much knowledge about myself and the world around me simply because I needed something to do with my hands that didn’t involve putting junk food in my mouth. I needed to listen to audiobooks while I was walking. I read when I wasn’t moving. I read while I was moving. I took in everything I could, and relished the opportunity to do so.
That being said, the first book I read–The End of Overeating, and if you use my link to buy it, Amazon throws me a handful of pennies to thank me for referring you!—made me realize that there was a lot about the world that I didn’t learn growing up, a lot of lessons that I never explicitly learned from my parents. I realized that so much of how I moved through the world should’ve gotten me arrested or pregnant or at least hospitalized at some point in my life, but that wasn’t the case. Reading and learning about who I was, why I might’ve become that way, and what it would take for me to become the person I aspired to be, helped me realize that there’s a whole world full of characteristics and traits that I could choose to adopt for my day to day life. I just so happened to rest on compassion and empathy first, thanks to all things Brené Brown, though I didn’t call it that at first—I’d simply ask, how would I want someone to talk to or treat me?
And, sometimes, when the way I’d want someone to treat me didn’t match the way I treated them, I had to apologize and ask myself why they were different. That’s how I started to sort out the things I still carried residual shame and guilt about—being a single parent, not having the kinds of money my peers have as adults, being overweight, the sexual assaults, the mistreatment I experienced as a child, and so on—and that helped me at least figure out a path of targeting the things that left me hurting and slowly coming to a healthy understanding that it’s not only not my fault, but it’s often not the fault of the person who committed the transgression, too.
(I know that sounds f’ing crazy, but listen to me.)
A position of healing means empathy both for me and others. I may never forget being molested as a child, but I can forgive that. Why? Because the person who did it was also young, and I had to reach a point in life where I asked myself—where does an 11 year old learn to do the things he knew to do? I may never forget being assaulted, and I may never forgive that (because we were adults), but I can ask—in what kind of world is it okay to deny a woman the power to control her own body, the right to say “no you may not enter?” We allow people to say ‘No, you may not enter my home,’ but a woman cannot say ‘no, you may not enter my body?’ Learning the answer to that question changed the way I think about the world, and myself as a person who survived that experience. (In fact, dealing with that helped curb my own serial monogamy.)
I may never forget the way my parents treated me as a child, (and I see some of y’all snarking on my mommy issues… not like I’m disagreeing or anything, but damn, y’all) but I’m at a place where I can empathize. My experiences with post-partum depression weren’t kind to my daughter, and it left me asking myself: if I’ve truly lived with depression all this time, what’s the chances that my mother was struggling in more ways than I could imagine? (A question I unfortunately learned the answer to as an adult.)
Sometimes, being “verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative, and riddled with mental illnesses and self destructive behaviors” is the way we’ve learned to cope with the world. Sometimes, it’s the way we react to the world around us. Sometimes, it’s the way a cruel and unyielding world taught us to be. Resist the urge to say these are “choices”—choosing to be manipulative, choosing mental illness, choosing verbally abusive behavior. If you’ve only seen people get what they want through being manipulative, that’s all you know what to do. If you’ve only seen people control the behavior of others through verbally abusive behavior instead of appealing to their intellect and humanity, that’s what you’ll do. And, trust me, no one chooses mental illness. But if you’ve never had anything else modeled for you, it’s ultimately the only choice. You might not even know other choices exist.
When you look at yourself and the path you’ve taken through this lens, it’s easy to see how one keeps busy on a journey like this, either with or without a partner. You don’t really have the mental space for it, at this point. It’s difficult when you have a partner, because they’re very used to you being a specific way (and have likely molded elements of it to benefit themselves, either with or without malice) and may balk at or fight against change. It is then where you have to put your foot down and part ways physically and emotionally. But this is a journey where you should want to be surrounded by as much love and support as possible, so that you are constantly affirmed as human and in a process of emotional growth as you go through this. (And definitely don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist about all of this, too. In fact, that may be most important.)
Don’t necessarily separate yourself from the opposite sex, either. You can still go out on dates—if you do decide to part ways from your current partner) and learn what it looks and feels like to simply have a no expectations good time with people you like. That’s how I found my current partner. You just have to spend some time being thoughtful and careful with your emotions and evolving mind. And, most of all, protect yourself (in all meanings of the phrase.)
You don’t ever really “find yourself”—you just get closer to who you aspire to be with each passing day. So, be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be empathetic to yourself—your experiences and emotions are not unique and rare, they are human because you are human. And, like all of us, if you can hang on until tomorrow, every tomorrow, you will get closer and closer to being “okay.”