The above quote is from a book I found yesterday called The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson, a psychotherapist who specializes in abandonment, grief, loss, and trauma.
I was looking for something about this topic because I had felt stymied yesterday when I was trying to do this marketing homework for my business–writing an email series for potential and current clients to get to know me better. It was writing about my origin story–basically, how did I get in this biz of writing.
This month hasn’t been that fruitful, despite a lot of effort in connecting with prospects. Lots of “sure things” in terms of projects became very unsure. There’s been a steep and expensive learning curve with having my own business–let alone saying and really embracing that I have my own business.
But the issue wasn’t the lull in business, or even getting out of the lull. It was writing about this journey. It’s been hell, albeit a now stabilized version of hell. I hit a wall of deep shame when I tried to think about how I became a writer, let alone a freelance writer. It’s something I’m not really proud of yet.
As I sat in immobilizing emotional pain, I started to look back on just this year. One pattern that really started to emerge was how I had opened up deeply to so many people, but how most had bailed, mainly to tend their own shadow work and growth (and maybe I was a trigger for that impulse, too). But I took it personally–and still kind of do.
I then just started thinking about my whole adult life and looked at all the dropouts from my life. This was indeed a long-term pattern, and I was tired of it. As whiny and pouty as this may sound, I know I have helped a lot of people in the way I wish I could have been helped. But it really hasn’t been fully returned to me in the ways I needed, in the magnitude that I needed.
I felt, and still feel, that I have a blindspot when it comes to my relationships. It could probably be explained astrologically, or even in some Big Picture way about the journey I’m on and what I’m being prepared for in my future. But to make it even more brass tacks, as someone who has studied psychology formally, as well as someone who’s a bit into the “woo”–this seemed like something I was perpetuating, since it was cyclical. To borrow from a Caedmon’s Call’s song, I had a long line of leavers.
I’ve known about my fear of abandonment for some time and some events still stick out in my mind, like when my mom left me at school as a teenager and I sat there waiting for her for over an hour as dusk started to fall, not knowing why she hadn’t picked me up. And this was in the age before cell phones were widely used. The wondering as darkness fell, although my mom was very apologetic about it. It’s still a feeling of abandonment that I will never forget.
Years ago, I visited now former friends and going out to see the husband play with his band at a show. The wife was standing with me–and then she just wasn’t. I was an out-of-towner. I didn’t really know anyone except some members of the band and my friends, this couple.
After the show, my friend just disappeared and I was just standing there, in this sort of warehouse space, surrounded by people. I was in a panic, trying to look for her. I’m an introvert and I’m not one to just start chatting up random people.
It felt like an inhospitable act, ditching a friend who had come to visit you, not even telling her what she was doing or introducing her to people you knew. She had wanted to talk to other people but decided she didn’t want to bring me along.
I don’t remember what I did, but I did bring it up to my friend. She kind of blew it off–I don’t even remember her giving me an apology. But it was a bit traumatic for me. It was probably also a good sign that our friendship wasn’t as great as I thought. These same friends came to a theme park near me and never even mentioned being in town. Although that’s a pet peeve for me, this friendship was years long.
We had gone to church together, done Bible studies together, worshipped and sang together, had ridden out emotional upheaval (read: panic attacks), had long talks. These were not just friends but companions. Somehow, though, I had missed the signs of unraveling and just kept pushing forward, trying to be the friend I wanted (which apparently meant ignoring the actions of others).
This isn’t the first time I’ve had that happen, where I’ve been blown off and I’ve ignored the signs leading up to it. Another long-time friend, a woman I grew up with in church, blew me off when I decided to visit her for Thanksgiving almost two years ago. I had bought an expensive plane ticket to fly out to where she lived, which I had to cancel, and not in enough time to get a full refund. We had made plans in August and then she said almost near when I was going to fly out–oops, we’re visiting in-laws out of state, sorry. Also, no offer to cover the cancellation fee.
We had a long Facebook conversation about it which ended with her taking a rather hard line: my relationship and my job come first. And that was that. I told her that she knew what she had to do to restore the relationship, and that she’s chosen her path. We haven’t spoken since. Over 20 years of friendships came to an unexpected, but totally predictable, hard pause.
That event didn’t just come up out of the blue. I had been the one initiating a lot of our conversations and visits (she had never visited me). I said as much, that I had been holding a lot of the space for our friendship–and I owned it. That was on me and I should not have been doing that. I deserved reciprocity.
My tenacity and drive may work really well for overcoming obstacles, but it seems to overlook since of wear and tear in a relationship. It makes me wonder how I came to where I am this year, what I was ignoring and avoiding.
With the friends who have taken leave and have somewhat come back in my life, it’s been strange and strained. It’s not the same and it never will be. Something (beautiful and real) got lost in the interim and it’s most likely irretrievable. And I want to know what part I played in the demise of all these friendships.
My transparency, along with my almost chosen ignorance of how the other person really feels about me and the relationship through their actions, have become huge liabilities in terms of how I relate to myself and to others.
So how do I stop this cycle of prematurely undressing emotionally as well as holding onto dead things for too long?
I have to go back to the beginning.
When I think about my mother, I don’t feel anything. That’s another good sign of trauma. And trauma here isn’t about abuse, but about neglect. I may feel more of a motherly bond towards her, as if I’m her mother and I’m looking out for her, than the other way around.
This fear of abandonment goes back to my birth. My entry into the world was a rough one. My mom thinks we both nearly died thanks to a jonesing-for-a-malpractice-suit anesthesiologist. I just don’t think she and I really bonded.
I know when I was four years old, I got lost in a mall or shopping center. That may have been another traumatic incident, but I don’t remember it.
And not to get too psychological, but when a person doesn’t have a bond to their mother, that’s a big ole hill to climb in terms of developing one’s own sense of self. I don’t know if I have anyone to individuate from, or to mourn that they weren’t there. It’s eerie and unsettling, but that’s been my life.
So I am pretty darn sure I have repeated this dynamic by choosing people as friends and lovers who aren’t that interested in intimacy or I push them away somehow if they are. Yesterday, I hit what I hope is that final wall with that Sisyphean journey.
It is so exhausting to chase, to spurn and be spurned, to yearn and wonder, to leave and to be left.
Desperation is never an attractant.
I got all this from some homework that I didn’t feel ready to do (and still haven’t done– yet).
This is also to say: a trigger can be an invitation to healing, not something to avoid. I RSVPed yes yesterday and googled about abandonment and found Susan Anderson. And now I’m reading her book.
Today, I woke up to overcast skies, but later on in the morning, the skies became brilliantly clear. That transformation is how I feel about dealing with this core wound and my hope that it can be healed. There’s an alarming and amusing alacrity I have about it–like this time, I really am gonna get this right.
I’m sure it’s been hijacking my happiness, causing my business to be a bit halted, and has prevented me from being truly successful. It’s like being stuck in survival mode, no matter what the circumstances are. That is truly exhausting and not really living.
So as I heal, I will focus on the friends who aren’t leaving, and really work on my emotional self-reliance–and I won’t resent having to re-create it.
As Susan Anderson says in her book, a lot of our lives are lived alone. I don’t mean that in some dystopian, post-modern way. Even in community, we still have our own individual lives and journeys.
Through all of my harrowing circumstances, I’ve become a highly resilient person, but yesterday reminded me that I have to learn new, healthier ways of being, and loving, myself.
Coping mechanisms are just that–for coping. For thriving, we have to learn how to find our inner grit, to loosen the grip of codependence, and be fully ourselves as whole and healthy, interdependent people.
I don’t have to feel doomed with existential loneliness. I can now choose to learn differently so I can be a better friend to myself and others.
It’s time for this long line of leavers to end. It’s time for me, and for others to stick around.