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I get many letters every month asking for my personal advice. I thought I’d start sharing them. Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. I have no professional titles. But I do have one thing a lot of pros don’t. At least 10,000 hours devoted to really bad relationships that I somehow learned to stop having.
I’m really struggling right now in a way I haven’t suffered in months.
I arrived back in Sedona a couple days ago feeling really whole and well in myself. However, I came back not having a home and needing to stay with friends until I find something. I am feeling highly unsettled and uncomfortable where I currently am, and so, I asked J, my ex boyfriend, if I could stay with him since I’m in a bind.
We’ve seen each other briefly a couple times since I returned and he seemed really well and happy in a way I’m not used to seeing in him. It had me feeling attracted to him again and so, I thought I could stay with him and we could enjoy each others’ company. However, he also seemed very energetically over me, as if he moved on. I felt the boundary. When I asked him if I could stay with him he replied it would not be fair to another person that he is getting close with now. I said I understood and asked if I could come by to pick up the rest of my stuff and he said he does not want me coming over for various reasons and that we can get together for business and talk in person tomorrow.
My adrenaline is pumping, my abandonment wound is so triggered once again, and I’m so sad and hurting. At one point, he started laughing at seeing how triggered I was, like he was getting a kick out of my jealousy. I was doing so well and it’s like it wasn’t real. Being back in Sedona feels scary. I feel like I’m starting over from square one with having been gone so long and I feel so alone. He has been my whole life these past few years and I have resisted returning for this very reason of feeling lost and scared and alone on my own here.
We have a plan to get together tomorrow to discuss the business I’ve started… I can source my supplies elsewhere but he has the best prices and when this awkwardness between us does pass and I’m really finally over him, I can see us doing business together. The thing is, when I was in Florida the thought of him dating other people didn’t bother me so much…we barely spoke and now that I’m back it’s like I’m regressing to before I left.
Any support right now would be huge. I’m in a really raw place and wish I could run to the home I don’t have right now. His.
–Suffering in Sedona
Dear Suffering in Sedona,
Ouch! Rejection hurts.
When my father died in 2004 my neighbor Ginny said to me, Hang in there. It was the blandest of clichés and yet, for the first time, it really meant something to me. It really comforted me. I imagined the strength that it had to take to actually, physically hang on to something just so as not to fall. That’s what I felt like. And she was telling me, don’t fall. We never know what to say to anyone anymore to show our support in tough times. You never know if something will enlighten or offend. But, we can just put it out there and hope the receiver of the support understands that it’s coming from a good place. So…
…hang in there.
And while you’re doing that, it might be time to do a little soul searching. Why did you really come back to Sedona? I think you need to be perfectly honest with yourself and once that happens, then, you might have better clarity as to why you’re suffering in the first place.
My guess is that J is not triggering your abandonment issues. Abandonment is one of the most misused terms. We use it as much as we drink pumpkin spice lattes in the fall. And while many of us truly do not like to be alone, many of us also seem perfectly fine with reasonable amounts of alone time when we’re secure within ourselves. Dig deeper. There could be something far scarier than abandonment. How about growing up? Could it be that his rejection of you (not letting you live in his house) is most likely triggering the fact that you need to be independent, financially secure and responsible for your own life? That you no longer have someone to depend on? Fall back on? Feel safe with? That you need to be standing on your own?
I think that scares you to death. It scared me to death. That’s for sure.
I think we tend to carry our child-self with us into adulthood. At least that’s what the pros tell us. And there is a large part of us that still demands to be taken care of. Growing up is scary. And, our relationships–bad ones at least– tend to protect us from growing up. We stay in them certainly not because they’re great. We stay in them because they offer us hidden benefits. They allow us to feel superior (you’re always the better person in a crappy relationship, right?). They help us avoid the hard work of facing ourselves and our own problems (I was never more perfect than when all my energy was directed at trying to change and control my avoidant boyfriend). And, they allow us to continue to act out as immature, needy, dependent children rather than mature equal adult partners.
My single biggest ah-ha moment came when I realized that all my bad relationships up to a certain point were merely devices I used to avoid growing up. Just like the pill popper who uses opiates to remove the pain, I too used love to cover up mine. Worse yet, I became more and more averse to the idea of being responsible the more I avoided it. And the more I did that, the less I grew. I actually dated a guy who acted as a great mirror for me. He was a drug addict for most of his adult life who got sober by the time I started dating him. But he was emotionally child-like. He physically grew up, but, the years he spent trying to avoid dealing with emotional issues stunted his growth to the point that he didn’t even know how to have a proper emotional response to the littlest things (like being told that certain behaviors of his were not appropriate in a healthy relationship. He flipped out when I asked him to please stop laughing at me and cracking jokes when I was trying to be serious).
At any rate, that was a wake up call for me. I too had stunted my growth by burying myself in toxic relationships. I didn’t know how to do basic things like turn my childhood fantasy of being a writer into reality. I didn’t know how to get to college, I didn’t know how to stay in college once I got there, and I certainly didn’t know how to work hard in the field of my choosing to become successful. That all changed, of course, when I finally grew up. I’m a late bloomer.
Second, I love, love, love that you have your own business. Way to go girl! That is one of my top best ways to get over a break-up: throw yourself into creating a business. But, my only concern is, is this business of yours able to sustain you? Will it allow you to buy or rent a place to live? Will it pay your bills? Put food on your table? Help you to not be dependent upon others? Often we have a dream to do something, or a desire to follow a certain path, but, if our dream job doesn’t pay the bills we must find another way. We must work another job while chipping away at our dreams, because taking care of ourselves financially is, hate to say it, the grown-up thing to do. Having money also does wonders to take away your anxiety about where to live and where your next meal is coming from.
I think that once you are able to stand on your own two feet he won’t have any power over you anymore. He’ll merely be filed away into the pile of exs we have all collected throughout our lives. But right now, I think you’re confusing him with a lifeline.
My bold advice: move away from him. Do not do business with him. Let your “stuff” go. Stay with friends. You don’t need him. Focus on making money so that you can stand on your own two feet. Once you do that, THEN, if you want to go back and entertain the idea of doing business with him, go back. But now, you need to be in survival mode. You need to face a bigger reality, one you have most likely been avoiding. Taking care of you.
I have a few final words. I’m guessing you probably do not think that your underlying emotional struggle here is about money. We all want our heartbreaks to be based on something far more romantic, to be soothed with love. We want to keep talking about him. And dredge up, perhaps, ideas of how to win him back or find someone to replace him. But, your struggle has very little to do with him. Sure, the humiliation of being rejected by him is heart-wrenching, intolerable, miserable and cold. But, my friend, your deepest struggle is with yourself and your ability to stand on your own. Once you turn your center of attention to the rather boring, mundane and untapped power of your Responsible Self and stop thinking that your problems are wrapped up in him, my guess is your wounds will heal.
I hope this helps. Keep me informed.