Unicorns and healthy relationships, part 2

relationships

Continued from my previous post

As it turned out, the cute math professor liked my crazy socialist rant. There are some guys that will do just about anything to get laid, but it seemed counter-intuitive that this guy would be willing to talk to me about liberal politics in order to do so. I texted my friend Kat and she warned me not to go back on what I had said about him not being sober for long enough. I had legitimate reasons for keeping things with this dude strictly as friendship; I’d ignored red flags in the past and it never turned out well. You can go back and read my posts about red flags here and here. My relationship with the alcoholic that wouldn’t/couldn’t stay sober has been well documented on this blog. Doing things I know I shouldn’t never ends well for me. So we kept talking with me vowing I wouldn’t actually ever meet him in person, but then an unexpected thing happened – I really started to like him. He was cool, and he was really insightful. Then he awkwardly flirted with me and I gave him my number so that we could text.

Getting healthier emotionally and psychologically is an odd thing. I had been single since December 2012, for all intents and purposes. Even though I had hooked up with an ex in early 2013, I had been single for a significant chunk of time. I had all these ideas about what I’d do differently if I was confronted with any of the things that I had ignored in the past. Red flags, deal breakers, lies, addictions, sharing a house and a bed with an ex…these were all things that I thought that I would handle differently if confronted with them again, but would I really? There was just no way to know until I was in a situation again where I had a choice to make a good decision vs a bad decision. I really didn’t think I had it in me to fall in love again. My trust was pretty shattered after the alcoholic. I still have grief around Patty’s death and losing her. I honestly didn’t think I would want to open myself up to potential hurt again, or that I could even if I wanted to. Still, this guy was something different. The way he thought, his commitment to his recovery, his blog, he honestly reminded me of me. Someone who had experienced things and done things they weren’t proud of and found a way to find the core of who they were and become someone different – someone closer to who they were inside, that they hadn’t been able to be before. The more we talked the more I realized that his labels or diagnoses were not the only thing to base my opinion of him on. So after a fair amount of flirting over about a week, when he asked me to a lunch date, I said yes. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, or what would happen, if anything, but when something inside you wants to say yes, you have to say yes. The alternative is staying safe in a bubble and I’ve never wanted safety at that cost.

That date was the beginning of what has become the healthiest relationship of my life. It’s odd and fascinating and entirely unexpected on every possible level. I’ve never met another person as intent on communicating what is in their head and heart as much as me, until I met Jon. There’s really no games at all because we both tell each other what we are feeling and thinking. There’s a level of safety in that honesty that I have never experienced in my life. We somehow accept each other exactly as we are, neither of us is trying to change the other into something else. I feel like there’s nothing I could tell him that would change the way he feels about me and that’s not something I am at all familiar with. Love in my life has always been very conditional, it’s depended on acting a certain way or not saying certain things, or being perfect. I had read that these healthy relationship things existed but I wasn’t really sure that it could be true, it was just much too far from my experience and reality to seem plausible. Yet any time I felt uncomfortable, I would tell him and we would talk about it. We can just talk, no one gets angry or defensive, we aren’t competing to see who will “win.” That’s not to say that everything we talk about is easy to talk about, or non-threatening, but so far we have had nothing but really respectful, open, honest communication. The beginning of a relationship is where you adopt the habits you will have throughout it, so it seems like we are doing the right things.

It is the beginning, we haven’t been dating an extremely long time, just a little over a month and we have only been officially in a relationship for about half that time. It’s too early to say that there aren’t deal breakers or red flags for one of us down the road. I can’t see the future but it’s hard to imagine a red flag that either of us could spot that wouldn’t lead to a conversation, and that’s a really cool thing. At the beginning of part one I said that when you meet the right person you just know, and I found that it’s true. Does that mean I think that Jon is THE ONE? No, because I don’t believe in concepts like that. It would be ludicrous to sit here and think or say that the person that I’m in love with, that I’ve been dating for a month is going to be someone I will be with forever. It’s just too early to tell. That’s not especially romantic to say, but so fucking what. I have said all sorts of starry-eyed romantic things that ended up being bullshit lies I told myself and I much prefer this to that. Is there a lot of potential here? Most definitely. We have a lot of weird things in common. We’re compatible in odd ways that seem to defy coincidence. We love being together but have no trouble being apart and in fact enjoy it although we do the cutesy “I miss you” stuff. All the things I’ve done wrong in the past, I’m not doing now and that’s weird and great and sometimes it’s scary because it’s so real. It’s different because I am different, and it’s different because he is different. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I’m excited about what the future holds. There’s no trepidation, no voice in the back of my head telling me that the things I’m actively ignoring are going to be what ends the relationship. There’s a lot of trust which is also really odd. In the end, I guess all you can do is do the work and hope to god that some of whatever you wanted/needed to learn has sunk in.

Another thing you hear a lot is “we accept the love that we think we deserve.” I know that I accepted a lot of things in the place of love because I didn’t think that I was worthy of real, sustaining, empowering, glorious love. I had to learn to love myself before I could accept love from anyone else. I’m not actually sure that I believe I deserve quite as much love as Jon has for me, but I’m accepting it anyway. It’s exactly the way that I always thought it could be, and that’s abso-fucking-lutely amazing.

relationship

Unicorns, healthy relationships, and other things I did not know actually existed*

There’s an old adage that when you meet the “right” person, you just know. Me being me, I’ve always wanted to know, how do you know that you know? I’m a recovering “love” addict, a codependent, and I have an emotional sensitivity disorder among other things. I’ve thought everyone was the “right” one, even though I always had doubts and I knew things about them were deal breakers and vice versa. I figured that is just me though, I will always have doubts. As it turns out, some of those old adages are really pretty accurate. You know you know because you know. You know? 😉

I was also pretty vocal about the fact that I was never going to meet anyone locally that I wanted to date, nor was I going to meet anyone on Ok Cupid. I’ve been on OKC since it was a fun place to take quizzes to post the results on livejournal. I stayed on there for two reasons, ok maybe three: I have met a couple really amazing friends there; I think it’s important to put yourself out there, it can’t hurt right? and because the OKC app was a fun way to kill time in the middle of the night when I was restless and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t mind wasting time conversing for a minute with poly women in other states I knew I’d never be attracted to or politely rebuffing the random dudes who were nice enough to deserve a polite “no thanks.” I figured I’d meet someone whenever I moved to a larger, more queer city, and until then life is pretty damn good. I love my house, my neighborhood, a lot about my town, my friends, and grad school takes up a lot of time and energy. Not to mention all the time I’d been spending on personal growth – working out, getting to my goal weight (which is like 8 pounds away! I now have a new, lower goal weight), becoming a better person, learning how to meditate and studying Buddhism… I had a lot on my plate becoming the person I knew that I could be.

I guess that my theory that if I focused on being the kind of person that I want to be, the best version of myself imaginable, that I could attract someone I might actually want to be with too was pretty wise. It was just a theory and I figured that at worst I’d become a healthier person. Not too shabby a result! Then one day I got a message on OKC. I got a lot of messages on OKC, and they’d at least tripled since I changed my “looking for” to include men. Around the end of 2013, I finally let myself admit that the close (male) friend I’d had a crush on for years was someone I was interested in actually dating and decided to see what might happen if I made my feelings known. That did not turn out as I had hoped, but in hindsight, being someone that believes everything happens for a reason I’m fairly certain that the point of it all was to make me open to the idea of dating men again. Not that I would date just any man, but I wouldn’t date just any woman either. I’m fairly intimidating to people or so I’ve been told. I’m ridiculously liberal by any standards, especially Mississippi standards, and I am queer and will continue to be queer no matter who I’m dating. A queer feminist whose OKC profile says “heteronormative gender roles bore me” is not going to get many men that read her profile and send a message and it’s fairly easy to quickly determine who didn’t read the profile. So after receiving a pleasant message from one of the guys who actually read my profile and liked it, I checked out his profile. It said that he was in recovery and had been sober for 10 months. After I browsed his questions, I sent him a message back and nicely told him that he hadn’t been sober long enough for me to see him as any potential romantic interest but I was happy to get to know him strictly as a friend.

We chatted a bit back and forth and, as OKC conversations inevitably do, the conversation got boring and eventually one person (ok, me…) just didn’t respond to the last message. I didn’t think anything about it, the summer passed, and life went on as it had been. I decided that Buddhism interested me a lot and decided to start practicing, which if anything was just another nail in the “no one in Mississippi will ever want to date me even if I did want to date them which I probably don’t” coffin. Then about a week before the fall semester of school started, the cute math professor sent me another message on OKC. I was actually quite surprised because by that time all the really creepy mullet dudes stalking my profile had freaked me out to the point that while I was still open to the idea of dating a man, I had changed my profile back to lesbian just to not show up on as many creepy scary guys’ radars. Because unlike most of the lesbians on OKC that viewed my profile, these guys were local and it freaked me out that they might recognize me in Kroger and club me over the head, stuffing me in the trunk of their trans am, never to be heard from again. The math professor did not have a mullet and had seemed like a cool guy in general so I didn’t have any reason to not message him back and say that the fall semester hadn’t started yet for me but thanks for asking.

Somehow we started talking politics, I can’t even remember how, and since I didn’t care if I scared him off, I told him what I actually thought. All unvarnished, anti-capitalist, liberal, extremist views that I have came through in my rant and I figured that would be the last I’d hear from him. His profile didn’t indicate that he was a racist or misogynist, or gun nut or anything, but I really do know everyone in jxn as liberal as me. Or so I thought…

To be continued

unicorn

* The unicorn reference is a private joke. Unicorns do not actually exist. Sorry 😦

Hope never trumps reality

In August of 2011, I visited New Mexico for the first time. It was a trip to celebrate finally graduating from college, after going on and off for twelve years. I went to visit my girlfriend at the time, Michelle*, the active alcoholic that I was dating. We had been in a relationship for five months at that time, and she had relapsed four times. She called them relapses; I was never convinced that stopping drinking for a month and then drinking again was a relapse as much as it was just abstaining from alcohol for a month. It was an expensive trip, because I had to rent a car for the time I was there. Michelle didn’t have a car, her license had been suspended for DUI. New Mexico takes drunk driving very seriously, her license was suspended on her first offense and she had to see a probation officer and go to AA meetings. She lied to the probation officer about going to meetings and had been seeing an addiction counselor for most of the time she’d been actively drinking – both those things should have been red flags.

When Michelle had found me on my blog and we had reconnected, I was ready for a relationship that was going to last. I had done a lot of work on myself, in therapy and independently, working through the issues that had led to some very dysfunctional relationships in the years leading up to 2011. My baggage was checked, and I was ready to really open up and let someone in, to give a relationship my all, to trust in a way I had not before. I picked the wrong person.

For five months, I had dealt with the drinking, the relapses if you call them that, and had never stopped believing that a genuine desire to stop drinking was all it was going to take to keep Michelle sober. I thought that she should be going to AA meetings, but she had lots of excuses for why should could not go – most notably that she didn’t have transportation. It had been a roller coaster of emotions and fights, but the trip had ultimately been a very good one. Although the relationship wasn’t what I needed, or thought it had the potential to be, I was enthusiastic in my belief that Michelle had the ability to meet all my needs and the relationship would somehow magically morph into exactly what I was looking for if only she stayed sober for longer than a month. When the plane took off from Albuquerque, I looked down on the mountains and I knew in my heart that it would not be the last time that I saw those mountains. I was going to move to Albuquerque to be with Michelle one day. What a good story it was! First loves, reunited after fifteen years, perhaps they were always meant to be! When the plane landed in Dallas, Texas and I awaited my connection flight home, I was still in good spirits.

I had a layover that was several hours long. I called her to let her know I had landed in Texas, and I was surprised that her phone went directly to voicemail, but I wasn’t concerned. She had ADHD and was forgetful, so it was possible that she had just let her phone die again. I’ve always been ashamed at how long it took to occur to me that she was drinking. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be ashamed. I trusted in her 100%, it didn’t matter that she didn’t deserve that trust. After a couple hours of doing what I always do in airport terminals: walking the terminal from end to end, exploring the shops, sitting in a restaurant and eating, even talking to a friend on the phone, it dawned on me that something was wrong. Suddenly when I called, her phone was ringing but going to voicemail. It clearly was not dead, but what was going on? Finally, after multiple calls, she picked up the phone. When we had both left the airport, we had been in different places. I had so much joy, and hope for the future. She had gotten a ride from a friend, went back to their house and started drinking. All of my hope came crashing down around me in that moment.

I probably should’ve broken up with her right then. She wasn’t sorry. She didn’t even get why I was so upset. The word “relapse” was enabling to her, she was surrounded by people who told her that every time she drank it was ok, because she was an alcoholic. She couldn’t control it, and she shouldn’t be expected to. What the enablers expected would get her sober I don’t know. Perhaps a “power greater than herself” but she was and is an atheist, she believed in nothing beyond herself except science. She didn’t believe that a power greater than herself could restore her to sanity, because there was no spiritual presence in the world. I’ve often wondered how atheists who are addicts work the steps, when step two goes against their worldview. I know that some of them manage to make AA work for them, but at this point Michelle hadn’t gone. She said that she had gone in the past and it wasn’t for her. Clearly, sobriety on her own wasn’t for her either. That day, in Terminal D of DFW, I experienced shame in a way that I had never experienced it before. I stepped away from the other people waiting at the gate in the almost deserted terminal, standing outside the closed Bennigan’s as I tried not to scream into my phone about my disappointment, how I had trusted her and she had ruined it, and how could she just leave the airport and go drink anyway?

The saddest thing is, that when I finally boarded my flight back to Mississippi, I was coming back to the most positive situation that I had ever been it, career-wise. I had finished up my internship and the non-profit I had been working with found me so invaluable that they had created a paid position for me. Granted, it was part-time, but it was something. Little did I know that a staff position at that same organization would open for me just two months in the future. I had graduated from college, finally. I had just visited Roswell, New Mexico, a place I had dreamed of visiting since I was a child, and had hiked down into Carlsbad Caverns and been awestruck by the beauty of the caves. I should have been celebrating everything in my life at that moment, but it was all overshadowed by a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey, and everything that followed it. It wasn’t even my drinking, it was someone else’s.

I said “I wish” a couple times in my last post and I am realizing that these posts are going to be full of “I wish”es. I wish that I had boarded that plane in Dallas and never looked back. I wish that I had seen that my whole life was in front of me. I had worked hard for what I had achieved, and I was going to continue working hard. I have all sorts of reasons why I spent the next three months not giving up on my relationship with a woman who clearly loved alcohol more than she loved me – if she had the ability to love me at all. Or why I would invite her to spend the holidays with my family and allow my parents to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for her. Or why I would still refuse to let go of the relationship after a blow-out fight in the Marriot hotel of New Orleans over Christmas, a fight that had led to a break-up and an angry alcoholic going out to walk around on her own in the city of booze. Why did I try to mend things, even then? In hindsight, I realized it was December when I gave up, yet I kept on until April of 2012, lending her $2,000 to buy a car that I would never get back and even going to visit her again. Perhaps I thought that letting go meant failure. I had failed at my relationship, I had failed at being the reason that she finally got sober. Maybe I thought that I could show her the life she could have, without alcohol, and that I – and all the perks my parents could bring (paying for school in Mississippi! buying a house!) would be enough. In the end, I’m very glad that she never moved here. She could’ve easily used me just for the perks and money, and for some reason I would’ve let her. Even now, my parents pay for her cell phone. A year after we broke up.

The lesson for me has been this – there is no such thing as failure. Especially not in relationships. Life isn’t that black and white. A success can be a failure, and a failure can be a success. It’s true, I succeeded in prolonging my relationship, had a few more months to continue the charade of being in a happy place, but that was a failure because I was miserable. Maybe the perfect job is less than perfect, maybe the less than perfect job is exactly what you need. There is good on paper, and then there is the way it really is. If you believe everything happens for a reason, as I do, then Michelle came into my life to teach me things that I had not learned up until this point. Maybe I just wish I was better at learning. I know that I will never go back to that place – I will never compromise my happiness for the false security of a “in a relationship” tag on facebook. I will never think that good on paper is the same as good. Yet I had to spend thousands of dollars, and millions of heartbreaks to learn that. If life is the journey, not the destination, then I am continuing to LIVE, all in caps, but a pray that I have learned my lesson this time.

*not her real name

The codependent and the addict

The title of this post sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Once upon a time, there was a codependent who was looking for a relationship. She met an addict, fell in love, and they lived happily every after. Actually, only the “happily ever after” part is a fairy tale, people who are codependent fall in love with addicts every day and I am no different. It’s taken me a year to become ready to write this post.

In the last week of March 2011, I was feeling lost.
I had just come back from a Spring Break trip to visit a friend in Austin, Texas. It was my last Spring Break as a college student and I could feel graduation looming over me, like a villain manically waiting for me to fail. I had an internship lined up but had not yet begun it. I was overwhelmed the night that I drove down Lakeland Drive in the pouring rain and lightning storm, tears ran down my face as I tried to figure out what the f*** I was doing about anything in my life. I had driven right past my house, just kept driving, wishing that I had someplace to run to, as though graduation from college wasn’t in itself a new beginning. Finally, the clouds cleared from my head although they had not yet cleared from the sky – I decided that if I no longer felt like myself, I should start thinking like I had back when I felt like me. “What would seventeen year old Stacey do?” I asked myself, as I drove slowly toward home.

The timing of that question was eerie. When I arrived home and checked my email, I had a message on this very blog. A message from my first love, from when I was fifteen years old. She had posted her cell phone number and asked me to call her. What would seventeen year old Stacey do, indeed.

What transpired from that first message she posted on my blog until our break-up in April 2012 was a relationship that will most certainly go down in the history of my life as one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made. Bad choice after bad choice after bad choice led to a year of misery, fear, guilt, and lots of anger on both sides. There is a lot to say about that horrible year, and I’m sure I will say more as I finally begin to work through some of the deeper emotions and motivations surrounding it, but here’s what I want to say right now: there is no good reason for you to be dating an addict. Not you, not me, none of us.

I wish someone had slapped me in the face and said that to me, but it wouldn’t have done any good. I wish I could remember where I heard or read someone say that the addict is cheating on you with their drug of choice. That is certainly how I felt throughout my relationship with Michelle (not her real name). There was a big love there, but it wasn’t between Michelle and me, it was between Michelle and booze. I felt like the other woman, the one who sits by the phone waiting while the married person is home with the real family and can’t sneak away. She spent time with booze, without it ever having to ask for attention; when she wasn’t drinking she thought about drinking; drinking or (briefly) sober, alcohol was the center of her life, her thoughts, her devotion. Sure, it was a love/hate relationship but it was a lot stronger than whatever it was she felt for me.

Addicts have no place in their life for you. There is only room for themselves and their addiction, you are a bystander. No matter how much it affects you, the active alcoholic will never see it. This is where your codependency kicks in, because at the point where your needs aren’t being met someone who’s not codependent would stop accepting the behavior. Someone who is codependent sees the behavior as further proof that the relationship is exactly where they need to be, because that’s how much the addict needs saving! No one is going to help her if it’s not for me; no one else sees the potential in her, how smart she is, how capable she is of doing so much more with her life! I can help her get there, because I love her that much. I will be the hero of both our lives and get everything I’ve always wanted. My partner will leave the wife and come be with me, the “other woman.”

Why is it that what anyone else sees as healthy, good boundaries, and self-care, the codependent sees as “giving up” on the addict? We are really disrespecting ourselves when we think that to be a good person we have to completely ignore our own needs for those of the other.

I don’t know if it’s true of all addicts, but Michelle was like a black hole of NEED, sucking everything around her into this hole that could never be filled. When I look back on it, I feel her desperation in a way that I never could’ve in the moment. It wasn’t just attention from me or alcohol that she overdid trying to fill up the hole inside herself, it was everything. She did everything to excess – she ate to excess, it was like she could never get full; her drinking binges could last for a day or more; she couldn’t tolerate anything in my life that kept me from giving her every bit of my attention. She needed it all and all of it still wasn’t enough. I was just beginning the internship required for my graduation from college, an internship that I hoped might lead to a job. I would wake up at 6am and text her “Good morning” and the phone would immediately begin to ring. She’d been up all night again, drinking. She’d be incoherent, whether she was happy or sad; she would repeat the same things over and over again and become agitated if I pointed it out, insisting that she had not said whatever it was before. Even though I was the sober, newly awake one, she wouldn’t or couldn’t believe she was repeating herself. There were many mornings that the conversation began when I awoke and did not end until I was outside the office where I was interning, parking my car. She would become angry or cry when I told her that I had to get off the phone. Nothing, it seemed, should have been more important in my life than listening to whatever her rambling, drunken mind had to say at 8:30am after a night of heavy drinking.

She didn’t remember a lot of what happened those mornings after she’d finally passed out and slept it off. She never believed me when I told her that she’d kept calling me over and over again while I tried to go to work (check your phone!) or that she’d been repeating herself. She would either not believe me or say that she did remember and she hadn’t been repeating herself. I don’t know why it matters now. I suppose it matters because that was at the very beginning of our relationship, April and May of 2011. That was supposed to be my red flag, my sign that this was unhealthy, to get out as quickly as I could. There is nothing selfish about self-care. I was in no way obligated to continue being in an exclusive relationship with an alcoholic who lived over a thousand miles away, but I felt like I was. I felt like ending it, “giving up” on her was somehow a reflection on me. I had a lot of guilt about how our relationship as kids had ended, something that she reminded me of time and time again – how I’d abandoned her when we were kids. I realize now that she used my guilt to manipulate me, to make me feel that I somehow owed her for cutting off all contact when we were teenagers; because then as now, my needs didn’t matter to her. It didn’t matter that a fifteen year old, sixteen year old kid isn’t equipped to deal with being in love with an active addict and worrying about getting a call that she is dead. Thirty year old me wasn’t equipped to deal with it either, but she helped me convince myself that wasn’t a good enough reason to end a relationship that was clearly doomed from the beginning.

The relationship with her was important, I realize now, because it sent me to Al-Anon. In Al-Anon I learned more than I had learned in 12 years of therapy; or maybe I learned how to better interpret all the things I’d learned in therapy. I sat in a room where my feelings came out of other people’s mouths, where things I dare not even speak aloud were being spoken. My pain, my fear, my shame, these people shared it, they knew what I felt because they had been through it themselves. Al-Anon changed my life, I heard “Let go or get dragged” for the first time in the dimly lit room on the fifth floor of a downtown church. Not “let go and let God” like I’d heard before, but “let go or get dragged.” I had breakthroughs there about things I didn’t even know I felt. I wish there had been a way to get me to Al-Anon that hadn’t involved me dating an active alcoholic. I have a lot more to say about all of this, but for today, this is it.

If you have a family member who is an addict or alcoholic and you need support, find an Al Anon meeting near you. It will help. And keep going back, it works if you work it.