As I discussed my discoveries about my childhood self with Dr. X, she asked me to investigate why my father did some of the incredibly hurtful things he did. Eventually I hope to find the time and space to ask him before it’s too late. After writing down a series of questions from a place of curiosity in my journal, I got a message from another single mom I know telling me she’d been reading about Attachment Theory, specifically this article. And boom, there was my father in all his flawed, deeply pained, unrealized self. “A child with an avoidant attachment attempts to meet their own needs, because it is too painful depending on others who consistently fail to respond to them. They develop a sense of shame, thinking, ‘I am not worth paying attention to.’ They then disconnect from their needs in an effort to avoid feeling this shame.”
I know little of my father’s upbringing. Much of it clouded by editorializing from my mom, who despised her mother-in-law and confronted her in-laws in such a disrespectful way that my father was emasculated and didn’t talk to his parents for many years. By my mother’s accounts my father was left alone much of the time, ignored in favour of his younger sister, etc. I often wonder about my father’s appalling social skills, whether he would be diagnosed on some sort of spectrum if he were born now. And if that undiagnosed neurological quirk made him a difficult child, therefore causing small town rural parents with little resources to deal with him via neglect. I will never know. But I know that my father’s distance has to do with his feelings that it’s better if he’s not around, he does not feel worthy of love. We’ve had to work our way up to hugs and kisses and occasional I love yous.
They say there’s nothing more damaging to a child than a parent’s unrealized self. Let that sink in. For those who know my real identity and know how much I do, it largely comes from this place. Life is full of experiences and opportunities for joy. All we have to do is say yes. I’m also learning that my energy stores will dwindle as I age, and that despite my desire to do and try all the things, I have to be selective about where my energy goes. My children provide me that checkpoint: What am I modelling for them? One of my most favourite things Dr. X ever said to me was when I was speaking about my parents, talking about how I don’t want to live like they do. “Aren’t you lucky to have such great teachers in how not to be?” Game changer. Positioning and perspective are everything.
As I learned more about attachment theory, I learned that people who grow up with an avoidant attachment parent are also prone to insecure attachment and that can show up as avoidant or anxious attachment where you may seem needy or jealous. So boom again. Guess what I am?
This article, also by Lisa Firestone, PhD really spoke to me. “An anxiously attached person assumes they want closeness but engages in patterns that actually leave a certain amount of emotional turmoil and distance. Although they may perceive themselves as feeling real love toward their partner, they may actually be experiencing emotional hunger. Their actions, which are often based on desperation or insecurity, exacerbate their own fears of distance or rejection. When their partner does come closer or gives them what they want, they may react in unconscious ways that push their partner away or create distance. They may find that their true tolerance for intimacy is much smaller than they thought because real love and closeness would challenge their core beliefs about themselves and relationships. Therefore, while they may believe they want security, they actually feel compelled to remain in a state of anxiety.”
WHOA! Wait a second. I’m actually attracted to the conditions which make me feel shitty and then I do shitty self-sabotage-y things to keep me in the shitty feeling state that I’m used to because that equals love to me? HOLD MY BEER! Why am I, as Glennon Doyle says, not “speaking my insides on the outside?” Oh, because my brain is used to this weird dance of “Come here, go away! Gah! Boys are so confusing! No one will love me the way I waaaaaaaant!” BOOM!
What I love about this kind of deep work is that once you become conscious of your behaviours and patterns, you have to stay conscious. Because it’s no longer a reflex, now it’s a choice you’re making. I’m not saying this work is easy folks, but much like how my body hurts whether or not I exercise but only one of those choices keeps me healthy, staying in a place of self-harm and self-sabotage hurts worse than doing this kind of excavation. Also, I’m not suggesting you should do this on your own. Much like having a trainer or a yoga teacher, having a therapist, homeopath or life coach can help to make sure you’re figuring this stuff out safely and correctly. (I have all three.)
So now I know what’s going on. Now I have compassion for 12-year-old Maria and I meditate while giving her a hug in my mind. I’ll take care of you, I tell her, we will overcome this together. You don’t need to be scared anymore. You don’t need to crave the affections of a man with the same desperation any longer. We are safe. We are resilient enough to stand on our own no matter what comes. We will figure it out together.
It still took some courage to speak my insides on the outside. I chose the liquid form. While day drunk on sangria this weekend, I decided to send a simple text that amounted to, “Hi! Haven’t heard your voice in three weeks. So are we doing this or taking a break? I can roll with whatever, but I have zero influence over this right now. If we’re doing this, here are my minimum requirements:
- I see your face every 2-3 weeks
- We talk on the phone once a week
- You share with me what’s going on with you. It has to be a 2-way conversation.”
Couldn’t get more basic. That is the bottom of the barrel as a single parent. This is where I need to start. The baseline. We build from here.
Meditation and journalling gave me the insight to see I was suffering and I could end it, simply by asking for what I needed and risking losing someone in the process. Because real love comes from within, not from something or someone outside yourself. You can know it intellectually, but knowing it in your soul takes some work and consistent practice until you form the spiritual equivalent of muscle memory. 12-year-old Maria needs me to take care of her and she needed clarity.
Monsieur Magique responded with a typical for him slew of “I have all this stuff going on right now and I tried to see you last weekend but got shut down.” PETTY SIDEBAR: hilarious because when I’d initially asked him for that date he’d responded with “Bastille Day…” which — what the fuck does that mean? Are you storming something? Can I come? Also why do I have to make myself available when he wants? And why does he feel rejected when I have to say no? That’s for him to uncover, because he doesn’t give me enough time for me to ask. He went on to say that what I proposed made sense, seemed like something we could both handle and sorry. Pfft.
My response to his overwhelm was good and true to me, and came from a place of compassion for us both. I said: “I’m sorry too. You have been going through a ton, and I get it. I hoped that I could be someone you could lean on during this super intense time. I honestly don’t need much, because as you said I’ve got my own things going on. Unfortunately I feel like my minimum threshold for feeling secure in this relationship was below the red line, and it just doesn’t feel good. I just want to be your person, Magique. I don’t want to be put on a shelf like a box of old photos. I want to fight your fights with you and vice versa. But it’s too much right now and I understand.”
I felt free. Hugely free. (Like I even went dancing and smiled a genuine smile the whole time, and I happened to be five minutes from his house). Because I could finally see what I was resisting. The truth. This is not someone who can make me a priority right now. He’s said it countless times, but also enjoyed keeping me shelved to take out like a toy when he was able, and that’s not enough for me, but I was scared to admit it because he’s so amazing in so many ways. He had asked for patience until September, but I couldn’t reduce my expectations any lower without compromising myself. The person he was asking me to be meant I had to fight my brain daily to accept things that made me feel insecure.
This has been a truly positive experience because now I KNOW. He has been a gift, because he lead me to truly see what I deserve, both through positive and negative interactions. I’m not afraid anymore. I know what I want and I will no longer apologize for it. I want my person. As I said to a friend yesterday, “I have four vibrators, a great house, an amazing career, two incredible children, a body I take good care of, a mind that I’m constantly working on and a spirit full of love and energy for anyone who wants to bask in it. I need nothing. I’m basically a cactus. This is a turnkey property. You just move in and enjoy.”
I don’t know if this is the end of Monsieur Magique for good. I use au revoir in the title, because it connotes that you hope to see someone again soon. But what I know is that I still have a few things to get my shit together on, and he has to do his work on his own. I’m not his person. He isn’t ready to make me his person. But you know what? I AM MY PERSON! And while it feels lonely in situations full of couples, or when I notice the foundation of the house crumbling and look around to see who knows how to take care of that (which should not be gendered, I know), it’s also liberating as fuck.
Let me say it louder for the people in the back (and shout out to my friends who are right now thinking, “Girl! I told you so!”) I DO NOT NEED TO SETTLE! I’m so proud of myself for finally figuring it out and speaking my truth. My horoscope on Co-Star yesterday said, “Climb to the top of the mountain, from there you will be able to see everything.” So friends, I’m rising higher. Today’s horoscope said, “Clarity is the same as transcendence.” Breathe that in. Is that not just beautiful enough to get a tattoo of? The air is getting thinner, so the work to keep going is getting harder… but the view, the vantage point, the perspective… it’s worth it.