If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself

The title of this post is a music reference, for those of you who for whatever reason don’t remember the 90s or aren’t into obscure tunes; it sounded so much more interesting than my working title “Emotional Blackmail.”

The first time I heard the term “emotional blackmail” I was a child. My mother told me she would not allow herself to be “emotionally blackmailed” by me. I can’t remember what I said or did that prompted it, nor do I know where she heard the term, probably from a book about parenting a difficult child. Out of the Fog, a website for people who have a loved one with a personality disorder, describes emotional blackmail as: “A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone’s behaviors.” As I’m sure you can imagine, growing up with an undiagnosed emotional sensitivity disorder (or personality disorder if you prefer, I find the clinical term too stigmatizing and prefer to use the phrase that Dr. Linehan mentioned when I saw her speak at the 2012 NAMI National Convention) was difficult both for me as well as my family members.*

I know I said and did many things that were manipulative as a teenager, I think that’s pretty common. Some teens are difficult and it’s hard to know where the line is between “teenager” and “has a diagnosable disorder”, it can be very blurry. What happens though when manipulative maladaptive behaviors aren’t something we grow out of? Some people – perhaps many people – grow into dysfunctional adults who use techniques like emotional blackmail and gaslighting to get their way, people who have no diagnosable disorder at all. It can be hard to know what to take seriously and what to dismiss, and it can be even more difficult to know exactly where the boundaries should be with someone who engages in these types of behaviors whether they are a friend, family member, partner, ex-partner, boss, etc.

One of the most extreme forms of emotional blackmail I have ever encountered is what I call “If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself.” It happened after the alcoholic and I had broken up. As can happen with relationships, especially dysfunctional ones, a break-up had not stopped us from fighting with one another. I was trying to set and maintain clear boundaries, but that can be difficult for me as I did not grow up with boundaries and didn’t realize I even needed them until I was in my 20s. This particular day I was traveling for work (my job covers the whole state) and I happened to be driving back from the Gulf coast. My ex called me and we started to fight about one thing or another, I don’t even remember what at this point. She was baiting me with some secret mean thing that she had started to tell me but then said “no never mind” knowing it would drive me crazy. During the call, the man that I was working with to secure a mortgage called on the other line. I told her that I had to take the call, my mortgage broker was calling and it must be important. I switched over without giving her time to protest. During the twenty or so minute call with the mortgage broker, the alcoholic called me four times in quick succession. I did not answer, because it made no sense to. I had told her the call was important, in fact this was the middle of my workday and I was traveling for work!

When the call with the mortgage broker was concluded, I picked up the 5th call. I told her that it was inappropriate to call me multiple times like that, especially when she knew I was on an important call. I told her that there was really no point in us continuing to fight, because we had broken up, and then I terminated the call. Not the most mature thing to do but under the circumstances it seemed like the best way to not have to spend another half hour fighting with her on the phone. At some point in the hour and a half between that call and my arrival back home, she sent me a text message saying it didn’t matter anyway. She had taken a “bunch of pills” and was feeling “sleepy” now. Threats of suicide, whether the person is serious about attempting or not, can be a form of emotional blackmail. However, as a mental health professional who is trained in applied suicide intervention (ASIST) and mental health first aid I knew that one thing you should never do is not take someone seriously when they talk about suicide. There is no “boy who cried wolf” when it comes to suicide threats, because the 9th time may be the time they succeed or decide to actually go through with it. Whatever the reason someone decides to either threaten or attempt suicide, action has to be taken. It is possible however, to help the person while maintaining your boundaries.

In this case, I did try to call her, which I am sure was the intended response. I had refused to talk to her before, and now she had manipulated me into calling her. She did not pick up, and I realized that I had a choice. I could frantically continue calling her, violating my previous statement that I did not want to continue talking to her on the phone and validating the power that her threat had over me, or I could take action to make sure that help was given to her whether or not she needed or wanted it. In case you’re not familiar with my story, this ex lived over 1,000 miles away from me in New Mexico. As it happened, I had her mother’s (whom she was mostly estranged from) phone number in my cell phone. I texted her mother and told her that her daughter had told me that she had taken pills in order to kill herself, that I did not know whether or not it was true but that someone needed to get her help. Thankfully, her mother intervened, going to her house with one of her friends and knocking on the door. Apparently she did not answer at first but eventually they did get into contact with her. Her mother texted me to let me know that she was ok.

I do not know whether or not she did what she said she did, and really it doesn’t matter. Every life is important, every person deserves to live. Later, the alcoholic did accuse me of “bothering” her by sending her mother to her home, and claimed that she had been in serious condition, implying she would have died if intervention had not happened. I also do not know whether that is true or an exaggeration/outright lie (she was prone to lying.) I simply told her that because of my licensure with the state, I am a mandated reporter of suicidal or homicidal intentions expressed to me. Had I not been able to get in touch with her mother, I would’ve tried a friend and finally the local police. Truthfully, she has been slowly killing herself with her drug and alcohol abuse all these years, but that isn’t my responsibility. By telling me that she was in the process of attempting suicide, she made her possible impending death my responsibility.

Obviously her intention was not to be bothered by her mother. Whether or not she intended to die that day, the response she wanted from me was attention, perhaps guilt, quite possibly the guilt of feeling like she had ended her life because of me. Often emotional blackmail suicide threats have an attitude of “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry when I’m gone.” The entire process was very emotionally draining for me, and in a lot of ways she did get what she wanted by upsetting me, forcing me to deal with her, and then acting as though I had somehow wronged her by asking her mother to intervene. Emotional abuse takes a toll on us whether we set boundaries with the person or not. In the end, I had to finally tell her that she had no place in my life. I did not want to be her friend because we were never friends in the first place. Anyone in the throes of addiction is much too self involved to be a friend to anyone else anyway. I wrote this post partially because I find blogging about these things to be freeing, the ability to let out what I am holding inside. This was one of the most extreme situations I’ve ever been in, and it was incredibly difficult to experience.

My final thought is this – don’t give in to emotional blackmail, it does no one any good. Think outside the box if someone’s life is at stake, but you don’t have to allow them to get whatever they are seeking from you. Also, take all suicide threats seriously. You can take measures to save someone’s life even if they don’t want it, and you can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise your boundaries. Read through the different types of emotional abuse on Out of the Fog too. Just because someone has a mental illness, a disorder, an addiction, etc it does not give them the right to treat you in a way that is abusive.


* If you want to know more about BPD and my experience having an emotional sensitivity disorder, visit my “What is BPD?” post.


Inspirational quotes that shouldn’t inspire

I’m a big fan of the inspirational quotes on pretty graphics that seem to make up about 20% of all my friends & liked pages facebook posts. It’s nice when having a rough day to see a quote from Depak Chopra or something from Rumi to put things in perspective. Maybe even a song lyric or Audrey Hepburn insight to brighten a dreary day. If it’s on a pretty background, hey all the better!

I realized something the other day though. You have to be really careful what you deem “inspirational” because you can paste just about anything on a sunset or graphic of a jumping silhouette and make it seem positive if no one reads it closely enough. Such is the graphic that I spotted posted on a friend’s facebook page the other week:

hopeless romantics

Now, at first glance this seems like your typical, albeit not super pretty, inspirational graphic. However, most of what is on this isn’t inspirational at all. Yes, the part about falling and still getting up is indeed, a good plan and should be celebrated, but the rest of this is really dysfunctional crap. If you love someone that doesn’t love you, don’t keep daydreaming. You’re not going to get the happy ending you dream about by loving someone that doesn’t love you back. In fact, you’re not going to get a happy ending by dreaming – period. There’s nothing wrong with being a hopeless romantic, most days I consider myself one, but don’t be a brainless romantic.

If someone doesn’t love you, pining for them doesn’t make you a hopeless romantic, it makes you a person who is clinging to a hope that is unrealistic. We don’t win people over when it comes to love, you shouldn’t have to convince someone that they want to be with you. Sometimes we look at things like these quotes, or songs, or books, or other people’s blogs to give us an excuse for inaction – “other people have felt this way, so therefore it must be ok for me” we say. Yes, it’s ok to feel what you feel but don’t pretend that refusing to let go gives you some sort of courage or nobleness. Refusing to grieve the hurt of not being loved in return is a decision to stay mired in pain, loneliness, and imagination. Daydream, but don’t daydream that she is going to turn to you one day, out of the blue and say “It’s you, it’s always been you. My God, why didn’t I see it before?” after you’ve waited for years and years for her to “see” it. She’s going to turn to you and say “Do you mind if my new girlfriend comes to the movie with us?” and you will be crushed, yet again.

No, refusal to move on is not being a hopeless romantic. A hopeless romantic cries for her broken heart and still believes that even though she thought that this one was the one that would stick, that someone is still out there. One that will love her back and meet her needs and not make her feel like a failure or too fat or not pretty enough or like she should’ve been “better” in order to “deserve” their love. We have no control over the emotions of others, or their actions. We want to believe that we do, so we tell ourselves if we were _________ they’d love us back and want to be with us. Even if that were the case, if you changed everything about yourself so she would love you, she wouldn’t be loving YOU.

So ignore the crap that reinforces your negative habits. Half the inspirational crap about love and relationships is codependent. “If I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I’d say I love you with my last breath” is pretty, but it’s also pretty fucked up. I choose breathing, I will find love again. (yes, that is a real saying that has been turned into a graphic!)

Try this one on instead:
worth it

Is there a right way to grieve?

Today I have been thinking about the subject of grief. It has kept coming up throughout the day, as I stumbled upon something old that I found still stung, and in a conversation with a friend. I suppose I have kind of done it to myself – in a fit of unnecessary productivity over the weekend I decided that I would go through and organize the 10,000+ emails that I have in the inbox of my yahoo mail account, an account that has been open since 2003. The last ten years have had a variety of relationships, of ups and downs, and being the emotional packrat that I am, I quickly found that I have apparently never deleted an email from a friend, family member, or lover (former or current at the time!).

Things that I had completely forgotten about were suddenly right back in my face. The good and the bad coming back to the surface with travel confirmations, receipts for flower deliveries, and in a lot of cases emails from both the beginning and the end of relationships. I have emails after my ex-husband and I separated that I know are just full of us being horrible to one another and saying awful things meant only to hurt. Those emails I didn’t delete but I also didn’t open. As I created new folders called “Old friends”, “Family”, “Old relationships”, and began moving things into folders that already existed, one name in particular kept hurting me in a way that I felt it should not. Subject lines like “To my S-” and “My love” cut my soul in a way it seemed like should be long gone, and I began to realize that maybe it wasn’t long gone so much as long buried.

I began to wonder if there is a “right” way to grieve. Grief is a misunderstood process I think. People seem to believe that closure is what’s needed to move on from the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss but grief is ultimately what closes that door. Grief is allowing ourselves to feel exactly what we feel in that moment; opening ourselves up to all the pain, all the sorrow, all the doubt and fear and shame because all of those feelings are legitimate, they are normal, and most importantly they are there whether or not we choose to allow ourselves to process them. What if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve though? Will those feelings just come back, washing over us when we least expect them, like when we see an old email? In my experience, yes, and much of what I’ve read in psychology and self help subjects say that if you don’t deal with it now, you will be dealing with it later.

Part of my problem is, for the majority of my life I was terrified of my feelings. I have an emotional sensitivity disorder that went undiagnosed until I was in my early 30s. I don’t talk about it openly a lot because there is a lot of stigma surrounding any kind of mental illness, let alone one of those scary “personality disorders.” When I do describe the feelings to people, I ask them if they’ve ever been in the ocean. Feelings to me have been very much like the waves in an ocean: they can very suddenly loom larger than you expected, crashing around you, knocking you down, pulling you under so that you have to fight to breathe. Your brain can tell you that you need to be calm because panicking will make you more likely to drown, but when you’re under the waves, salt water in your nose, short of breath, not sure which way is out, the panic will set in. For a moment, you might think you are going to die, that there is no escape from all the water that engulfs you.

Luckily it is not possible to die from drowning in emotion, but it is the despair in those moments that cause many people to attempt or complete suicide. Because nothing besides what is in that moment is real – what you feel right then you will always feel. It will always be too much, it will always overwhelm you, it will never be ok again, only the moment is reality and until you try over and over, painstakingly reprogramming your brain to react to uncomfortable, unwanted emotions in a different way, this is absolutely what is real to you. That is really hard for people who don’t have an emotional sensitivity disorder to understand, but that ocean analogy is the closest I have ever gotten to explaining in a way that I felt was understood.

So how do you grieve something that happened 3, 5, 12 years ago; something you probably “should’ve” already gotten over? Now that I’m ready, is there a “right” way to grieve? I don’t really know the answers to some of those questions. I know that I never really dealt with the feelings around this particular situation, and I know that I have to now that I realize it’s a problem. That’s the problem with denial, once you’re out of it you can’t continue because that’s an active choice and no one wants to actively choose to be unhealthy. So now I have to try to feel and let go of feelings that I should’ve dealt with years and years ago. Sometimes it’s really exhausting being me. That sounds melodramatic, but I don’t care. 🙂 Every one of us has days when it’s hard to be us, the ideal is just that those days are few and far between. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

ocean wave

what is “in love”? (or, how to distinguish between love and obsession)

this post is inspired by a series of ongoing conversations i have had with therapists, friends, and loved ones. i hope i am able to get my point across, sometimes it’s hard to get things out of one’s head the way they are inside it. i once again this evening find myself talking about love and “in love” with a dear friend, or more importantly: what is the difference between “in love” and obsession?

this is something that i’ve been actively trying to figure out for the last three years, but it goes back much further than that. a few self-help (personal growth, whatever the heck the bookstores are calling that section these days) books have come into my possession over the years. the first was “how to break your addiction to a person” by howard halpern which my then-therapist, holly, suggested that i get when i was separating from my husband almost eight years ago. i’ve re-read it several times since then, which i guess means that i’ve never successfully broke my person addiction, or really “love” addiction as i’ve come to think of it. then, three years ago when i was dealing with that particular situation i happened to be working in a bookstore, so there was no end to the books that i could read without buying them. i read and then purchased such horrifying titles as “obsessive love: when it hurts too much to let go” by susan forward and “addiction to love: overcoming obsession and dependency in relationships” by susan peabody. i even broke down and read “codependent no more” by melody beattie, a book that i had been fighting the desire to pick up for most of my life. when i was promoted to “merchandising specialist” at the bookstore and someone left a copy on the endcap of teenage vampire trash i was to reset, i thought maybe God or fate was sending a message i needed to finally stop ignoring.

i felt a bit like the character of charlotte in my favourite tv series “sex & the city” when she was embarrassed to buy the (fictional) book “starting over yet again”, and pretended to be looking for the travel section, going home to buy the book in the safety and anonymity of her own home, via the internet. is it the horrific titles of these books that shame us? “when it hurts too much to let go” really does send a message; or is it the fact that having a problem, a crisis, something internal that we need to do some work on is so socially unacceptable that we cannot fathom letting anyone know that we are not perfect? whatever the reason, i was getting to the point in my life where i was tired of hiding the fact that i am a flawed person on a journey; so i picked up each and every one of those titles, and i sat on my lunch half-hour each day reading them at the bar of the coffee shop in the bookstore. “what are you reading?” a co-worker asked, making a face as she saw the title.
“A very good book.” i replied, “It’s helping me a lot.” there wasn’t a soul there that didn’t know i was in a really weird relationship with my boss who was also having an affair with my other boss, i don’t see how reading “obsessive love” was going to make them think any less of me. lol.

that was the first step in reclaiming my authenticity. we don’t need to be ashamed of our journey, we are all on one. sometimes we need a little help, whether it’s a book with a mortifying title or going to therapy, whatever it is we need there is absolutely no shame that should be found in being honest about the fact that we do no have all the answers. no one has all the answers, there’s really no point in lying about it. over the last year or so, i have gotten a few more “personal growth” books, either because i bought them or because my mother decided she didn’t need to grow anymore once she got back with my dad after divorcing him. some of the books i’ve read in part, or over and over a few times. what sticks with me is the fact that i’m still on a journey, that i don’t quite know all that i need to know yet. i shouldn’t, i’m not even thirty.

so tonight i was having a conversation with a very good friend about how we can distinguish between “in love” and obsession. how do we ever know? she wondered. i can’t have answers for her, i don’t even have answers for myself. i learned that i don’t need to feel bad about not having answers for her when i read “codependent no more”. 😉 what i can do is share with her what i’ve learned on my own journey, if it helps her that’s awesome, if not well, it’s not my job to help the people that i love grow – i need only support them while they grow in their own way. she said, “obsession must be stronger than ‘in love’.” i said, “oh yes, obsession is 1000 times stronger than in love, because obsession is about us. how we feel, how they make us feel. love is about what we can give to someone else. how we want them to feel.”

i didn’t say it, because i didn’t need to cloud her personal journey with this, but i thought to myself, “except when you’re codependent and then you have to deal with that part of it too…” then i thought, my God, when the fuck does anyone catch a break? if you’re a codependent and a love addict, which i am, how the hell do you find a happy medium between it being all about how you feel (obsessive “love”/love addiction) and codependency (how they feel, protecting them, controlling them)? i wanted to tell her, “you need to seriously reconsider getting better, because it’s a hell of a lot harder trying to get well than it is just dealing with the aftermath of our addictions.” of course that wouldn’t be good for her in the long run, but the part of me that has been in therapy for the last decade trying to work through all this shit felt like screaming, “RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!” i mean, when do we deal with any addiction? at the point where it’s going to destroy us, of course. it’s much easier to be a raging alcoholic/drug addict/sex addict/love addict/codependent/etc than it is to be in recovery from that addiction; and even though they took addictive personality out of the DSM i can tell you with absolute certainty that those of us who are addicts will just trade one addiction for a more socially acceptable or easily hidden addiction until we either die or have to deal with the next one. it would cause a stir probably if anyone read my blog, but i’m pretty much convinced i was born an addict as much as i was born non-heterosexual.

i have watched my friends trade one addiction for another (it was always really odd to me that i had so many friends who were in AA or NA) booze turns into relationships turns into anorexia turns into cutting turns into eventually you work your shit out because otherwise you die. it may not be true for everyone, but then maybe every alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an addictive personality. addicts want highs. i don’t care what the high is, where the control or release from the need to control comes from doesn’t matter, but i know i have it and i know addicts know each other. i may not be a drug addict or an alcoholic or a sex addict, but i am an addict. i’m just addicted to something that is a socially condoned addiction that we are taught to seek out, like caffeine. i am addicted to “love” or more accurately i am addicted to the high that i get off of “falling in love”. there’s not a hell of a lot of resources out there for love addicts. six years ago i joined an SLAA group (sex and love addicts anonymous) but everyone was a sex addict and as much as i love and support them i just didn’t have anything in common with a sex addict aside from addiction.

i got to where i missed the love of 12 step groups. i have never felt more accepted than when i walked into a room full of 12 stepping addicts. you feel like you could say “i killed your grandmother and i liked it.” and they will just love you and say “it’s ok, you’re among family now.” unconditional love, i’ve never felt it any other place before, not church, not with family, nowhere; but you do get to the point where you need for people to understand your experience, and i’m not a sex addict, i’m not an alcoholic. it may be personal to me, but i need to be authentic. i’ve been told, “well you can go to open AA meetings and just work the steps for your addiction.” well sure i could, i suppose. i love the LAMBDA group here in jackson, but they don’t get where i am in a literal sense, only in the sense that we’re all addicts. i haven’t been where they are, nor have they been where i am. i can hide my addiction. i’m not going to be pulled over by a cop for having a series of monogamous relationships that i end when the high goes away. i’m not going to go to jail for that, no one is going to force me into rehab for cheating on my partner with my boss because i’m in love with her and i just had to throw away someone i was “in love with” for six years because of how i felt when she looked at me.

it’s not going to land me in jail or rehab but i am secure in saying now that it absolutely destroyed my life. i can excuse it any way i want to, sure i was unhappy, yeah we had problems, we fought like any couple will, but it is not normal, it is not natural to go from being head over heels in love with one person to being suddenly head over heels in love with someone else. if you think that is normal, you need to examine your own life. we are bombarded with images of what “love” is supposed to be like, from the time we are children. it’s not like our parents’ relationship, it’s disney princesses and happily ever after, and meeting on the top of the empire state building with someone who you have never seen before but you heard on a radio show and knew that they were “the one” just from the tone in their voice. this is fucked up, people. this is a sick, fictional, and for some of us it causes us to keep seeking out the unreality that is complete “love” addiction. it’s obsession. for me, acknowledging it took falling “in love” with someone i couldn’t have. slowly i realized that of course she was “the one”. she was never given the opportunity to not be “the one.” i could romanticize her in my head as much as i wanted. i could excuse away anything by saying “if only we were together…” finally i realized that she, like everyone else i had ever been “in love” with was only a fictional character, romanticized in my head. the only difference was that she never have the opportunity to really disappoint me. i never got to be with her, so i could chalk any problem, any disappointment up to the fact that she was never “mine”.

well, what about all the people that were “mine” before that? every person that wasn’t what they seemed, everyone who disappointed me, everyone who hurt me, everyone i abandoned because the “spark” was gone? what made more sense? that this one woman, the first unobtainable woman, was “the one”? or that i had a serious problem that i had never acknowledged before? it helps that we stayed close for a long time after that. i saw exactly how she would’ve disappointed me if we had ever been in a relationship. the romanticized her that i was in love with wasn’t who she is. i do love who she is, but i know we’d kill each other if we ever lived together. she’s one of my best friends, and probably always will be, but now i get to love her and see her for who she is, not this made-up character in my head that i thought she was. it wasn’t everyone i’ve ever dated letting me down and disappointing me, it was me making them into something that no one could ever live up to, because i’m a love addict. i hate to burst your bubble if you believe this, but there is no “perfect person”. there’s no one out there that is meant for you who is just going to love on you when you’re an asshole, and not want anything from you, and not disappoint you, and not annoy you or piss you off occasionally. ask couples that have been together for 20 years, they will tell you (i know, i’ve talked to quite a few) that they bug each other, they make each other mad, they do stupid thing sometimes. we’re all only human afterall. i remember a really beautiful moment talking to someone i dearly love who i don’t get to see nearly often enough, where she was talking about how she knew she would do something unconstructive that upset her partner and didn’t help their relationship at all. she smiled, ruefully, and they are to this day a couple that many cite as ideal.

there’s no such thing as a happy ending. we don’t have an ending except for death. we do end chapters of our lives, and begin others but there isn’t a moment where in reality it goes “and they lived happily ever after. the end,” that doesn’t involve a headstone. relationships are compromise, disagreements, fights, but in the good ones, the ones that last, those are overshadowed by a mutual respect, a caring that we term “love”. there’s nothing remotely sexy about that. that’s what comes after “and they lived happily ever after.” if you don’t want to be romeo and juliet. my apologies to john lennon, but life is what happens after “and they lived happily ever after.”

where we find the balance between obsessive love and codependency i am not really sure because i’m still learning the lessons, but stick with me. i’m going to figure it all out; and then i’m going to write a new story. a story about what comes after all of the hollywood film, nyt bestselling novel bullshit, and it’s going to be based on my life.