May 7, 2010

Todd and Me

Posted in recovery tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:07 am by eddejae

So, as most of you know,  I am very happily engaged to Todd. 🙂

As you may have surmised from my previous posts, Todd and I have quite an extensive history. We have known each other for about six years now. In fact, our wedding date, July 3, is the 6 year anniversary of the first day we held hands. We were at a Fourth of July celebration at a local park, and yes, there were fireworks. 🙂 I was 17, and he was 18.

Many things have transpired during those six years. We dated on and off, we were friends, he lived in Costa Rica for two years as a missionary for our church, I graduated from college, he worked, I worked, he got his own apartment, I drifted here and there and struggled with my mysterious illness… We broke up, got back together, broke up, got back together… There were good times, bad times, peaceful times, frightening times. My personality and inclinations changed from one moment to the next. He continued to grow and change as well, but at a more normal pace. He was more consistent, I fluctuated unpredictably. One moment I would be giddy with joy, the next I would be in the blackest depression. One day I would be bouncing off the walls, the next I would be wracked with panic and despair. One day I would be clinging to him, the next pushing him away with all my might. One day praising and adoring him, the next cursing and threatening him. Life with me was a rollercoaster. Our relationship (when we had one) was a soap opera, a sitcom, a Liftetime movie, a romantic comedy, and a horror film all rolled into one.

Towards the end of August 2009, in a moment of desperation and intense disassociation, I did something that made Todd vanish from my life forever… or so I thought. After I realized what I had done, the pain and remorse I felt was so horrific that my emotions shut off completely. The morning after Todd and I said goodbye, I went into a hypomanic phase. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. My social anxiety vanished. I became the most social, outgoing, spontaneous, talkative person you ever met. I was constantly in motion, never stopping to think or barely breathe. I got into all sorts of trouble. It was as if I had no fear, no inhibition. I went wherever the wind took me, not stopping to consider the possible consequences of my actions. Most of the things I did were self-destructive – alcohol abuse, cutting, victimization, etc. I won’t go into details of all the things that happened to me during that time, but most of them were quite traumatic and resulted in three suicide attempts. During this time, Todd had no idea what was going on. In addition to our resolve not to have any kind of contact with each other, he entered Boot Camp in November 2009 where he was practically unreachable, and went directly from there into Air Force training.

He eventually heard what was happening from my mother, who had always been like a second mom to him. I knew that they were emailing back and forth, and I was ok with that. To be perfectly honest, I thought about him a lot, and missed him tremendously. As I began to recover, I came to realize how much I really did love him and miss him. I looked back at our relationship in a completely new light, made possible by my new understanding of what I was dealing with – Borderline Personality Disorder. Everything started to make sense. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t necessarily my fault either. It was this nasty mental illness that ruined everything. It wasn’t that we were essentially toxic, or wrong for each other. I had always been so confused about why it never seemed to work between us even though our love for each other felt so real and deep. It was so frustrating, and I always felt so torn between the love in my heart and these fears and insecurities that tortured me nearly every waking moment. Now, I understand them. I can see what was happening. I can also see how patient he was with me. He never gave up on me. I was always the one pushing him away. He always welcomed me back with open arms, with forgiveness, with unconditional love and acceptance.

And yet, for these last few months, I didn’t feel ready to talk to him yet. I was afraid. I was afraid of messing things up again. I was afraid of the BPD monster trying to sabotage our relationship again and push him away. I was afraid of the cycle repeating itself. I was afraid because I’m not fully recovered yet. I was afraid because I haven’t reached my “ideal” yet. I was afraid because I’m not “perfect” yet. Afraid. Fearful. Hesitant. Hiding. Waiting. Stuck…. Well, I expound about this in my April 27 post “Turning Point” so I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say, I mustered up the nerve to talk to him again. And it went full speed ahead from there!… Uh… Obviously… 😉

I have a confession. Todd has proposed to me before in our relationship. Having been together for so long, it was bound to happen at some point, right? The last time he proposed to me, about a year and half ago,  I said yes… And suffered a major panic attack afterwards, one of the worst I have ever had. And why? Well, for a couple reasons. First of all, I still didn’t understand what I was going through at the time and was very ill. Second, at that point in my life (and only until very recently) I still clung very tightly to the notion that before I could truly be HAPPY, I had to be PERFECT.

Throughout my life, I have never let myself experience happiness until I had reached a certain perceived level of perfection or accomplishment. Not skinny enough? Sorry, can’t be happy. Not in control of my emotions? Sorry, can’t be happy. Don’t have my life all figured out? Sorry, you can’t be happy. These are the kinds of things I told myself. These thought patterns have been part of who I am since I was a very young child and have affected the entire course of my life. I keep myself down, I keep myself in a rut, because I don’t let good things happen until I have achieved my ideal, if ever that may happen.

Problem is, my “ideal” is unrealistic and unattainable. My idea of perfection is, well, PERFECTION. And perfection is, simply put, IMPOSSIBLE. So as long I do not allow myself to be happy until perfection is attained, I will never, ever be happy. Until I relinquish my quest for perfection, I will continue to keep myself down. Unless I somehow lower the unrealistic expectations I have of myself, I will never allow myself to realize my dreams and experience any measure of happiness in life. I will never let myself be in love, get married, have children, have a successful writing career, be creative… the list goes on…

I won’t let myself experience life to the fullest.

Perfectionism is a deadly disease.

Once I let Todd back into my life, and opened my heart and mind to being loved and accepted without reservation, without condition (which took a lot of effort and strength and self-acceptance on my part)… I felt something starting to shift in my brain. This may sound strange, but it was almost a physical feeling, like my brain was actually beginning to make new connections. Things started to click….

I AM NEVER GOING TO BE PERFECT.

I AM ALWAYS GOING TO HAVE PROBLEMS OF SOME SORT.

I AM ALWAYS GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT FAIRY TALE ENDING, ONLY A NEW BEGINNING OF A NEW ADVENTURE.

I’m always going to have flaws and imperfections. I’m never going to feel happy all of the time. There will always be struggles, whether it be with myself, in my marriage, with my family, whatever… I’m never going to be perfect…

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT.

THERE IS JUST ME.

I AM ME.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

I AM OK WITH THAT.

For the first time in my life, I’m ok with being imperfect.

Sure, I want to improve. Who doesn’t? But I’m ok with who I am now. For the first time, I’m not beating myself up because I have a few extra pounds around my waist, or because I have scars on my arms, or because I woke up with a few pimples on my chin. I’m not torturing myself because I wasn’t totally happy yesterday, or because I felt guilty for no reason, or because I got irritated at someone. I’m not perfect. And you know what? I don’t want to be.

I’M PERFECTLY IMPERFECT.

Besides, if I were perfect, everyone would hate me. And that would suck. 😉

This new mindset will still take some getting used to. I still catch myself slipping back into the perfectionist, extreme, black-and-white way of thinking. I will probably still struggle with it for a while, and it will take time. But I know what it feels like now to accept and love myself. And I need to hang on to that when it gets hard.

So here I am. More comfortable with myself than I ever have been, and loving it. I never thought I would get to this point. It seemed to happen over-night, but when I look back, I see all the tiny steps I took to get to this point… Finding a good therapist I connected with, opening myself up and talking, expressing myself through this blog and through writing poetry, connecting with others, getting back out in the world socially, welcoming love back into my life… And even smaller, baby steps that made those larger steps even easier… Getting out of bed in the morning, exercising, eating right, drinking water, taking showers, taking my medication, listening to music… The small, simple things DO matter. Tiny step by tiny step until one day you realize you’re where you want to be… or at least that you’ve come very, very far.

And, really, there never is an end to the journey. You will be on it forever. Always learning. Always growing. Always finding new ways to love yourself and to love other people too. Life really is a beautiful, wondrous adventure…

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February 25, 2010

A Wound Reopens

Posted in recovery tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:45 am by eddejae

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. ~Sylvia Plath

Well, I took a small step backward last night. I won’t go into what triggered the self-destructive behaviors… But, basically, I was in so much emotional pain that I regressed into cutting myself again. However, I have to give myself some credit, because after just a few pretty minor scratches I realized that, as horrible as I felt, I didn’t want to go down this road again. So I took the knife to my mom and begged her to stop me, but then experienced a full-blown panic attack. I was pretty much hysterical and it took me a long time to calm down. I hadn’t felt that way in weeks… It scared me. The events that triggered felt traumatic and overwhelming at the time, and I went right to that automatic coping mechanism, both to numb the emotional pain and act out the self-hatred I was feeling in the moment. I guess it was just proof that I still have quite a ways to go before I don’t regress to that place in my mind again. It was awful… For a second I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital again. In fact, I think it was that thought that ultimately stopped me and made me force myself to calm down. I could not go through that chaos for the fourth time… No way.

Again on a positive note, my anxiety attack could have turned into an all-night binge-fest… But it didn’t. I was actually able to calm myself down much quicker than in the past, and though I cried myself to sleep, I was able to sleep. So although I do have a ways to go, I have made some significant progress. And I’m going to keep it in my mind that next time I feel this way, I will find some other way to relieve the emotional pain I’m feeling… Maybe finding someone to talk to immediately, or even just letting myself cry until the pain subsides. I don’t know… At this point I’m really not sure what my alternatives are. Of course I know there are other and much healthier ways I can cope besides cutting, binging, overdosing, etc… It’s just hard to think of anything else in the moment, when I’m in that self-loathing, overwhelmed mindset.

However, in order to make this a “fall forward,” I need to come up with a plan for the next time I’m feeling self-destructive. And as hard as it might be, I also need to deal with both the events that triggered the attack and the resulting thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed me.

One of the thoughts and that coursed through my mind, almost as a plea, was “This is not who I am. This is not who I am…” Last night I had been made to feel like the borderline symptoms I struggle with are a part of my being, are who I am at the core. That hurt so much because I hated those things I used to do. They were not me. THEY ARE NOT ME. Borderline personality disorder does not define me. How could it? I know myself better than anyone… And I know that the real me is above and beyond the illness I deal with. It is so painful to be misunderstood. I already struggle with shame and guilt, both for things that weren’t my fault and things that were… And I am trying to overcome them and make them better, and work through those things that happened. To be told that I would always be this way was like a stab at my very core. I couldn’t handle it. I know I can overcome this… and I am desperately clinging to that knowledge. I know I have made mistakes and I am not perfect. But certain major mistakes I made, I am confident I will never make again, because I have learned from them. As I work through therapy and make healthy choices, I know I can get better. I have to. I want to be me again… Or rather, be that real me I know is inside and that I am discovering more and more every day.

Another thing that consumed me last nightwas looking at the past and some of the poor decisions I made that hurt both myself and others, and wondering… What was me and what was the illness? That thought tortures me because while on the one hand I can’t bear to think that some of those things I did were brought about because of my own weaknesses and negative things about me, separate and apart from my disorders, on the other hand I want to take responsibility for my actions and make reparations. What should I feel guilty for and what should I accept as an aspect of my disorder? Or does it even matter?

After my panic subsided, I came to the conclusion that in the here and now, it doesn’t matter. Moving forward, it doesn’t make a difference. Guilt and blame shouldn’t even be playing a part in this. What happened, happened. The mistakes I made, were mistakes. I hurt myself. I hurt other people. I got myself in situations that were dark and destructive. I can’t torture myself over whether it was a completely conscious decision, or something brought on by the mental state I was in at the time… If I’m going to move forward, I can’t think that way. I am making amends to myself by getting therapy and practicing making healthy choices. I can make amends to those I hurt by apologizing and then just being the best person I can be. I can’t change the past. I need to look forward towards full recovery and put the past behind me as best as I can…even if that means finally dealing with the unresolved, painful memories and feelings so I can lay them to rest forever.

I think, all things considered, I can look at last night as a “fall forward.” Though I regressed in some of my behavior, I was also able to de-escalate fairly quickly, identify the triggers, and deal with the overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, I was able to regain control and move on. And I am proud of myself for that.