Don't take your love away from me,
Don't you leave my heart in misery,
If you go, then I'll be blue,
'Cause breaking up is hard to do...
-- Neil Sedaka
If you follow my writings, one of the first things you'd notice about me is that I embrace everything there is to know about the human condition. Frankly put, I love everything vibrant and human about me -- the good and the bad -- and I'm a man who wears his heart out on my sleeve. Transparency is important in my line of work (I'm a therapist who owns and operates a rehab); my clients can smell crap a mile away, so it behooves me to be honest with them whenever possible, and sometimes this means telling them about my own experiences, if only to diffuse their shame.
If you are going through a bad time, chances are, I've been there. And survived.
I spent much of my adult life in a drug-induced haze. Almost every experience I'd ever had was lived while under the influence of some kind of narcotic or other. And the few that weren't propelled by drugs were certainly driven by alcohol. I was a mess. So, you can imagine what it was like for me when I got out of rehab and was thrown into the world and forced to have real life experiences without the buffer of a foreign substance in my system. Add to this the disjointed education I'd had (because I was a drug addict whose system of values lent itself to ferreting out the heroin I needed instead of figuring out how I was going to be a productive member of society) and you can see how my being let loose on the world was a recipe for disaster.
And then she walked in.
I want to say that it was love at first sight, but the truth of the matter is, most of what connected she and I was just chemistry and great timing. She was beautiful and she liked me as much as I liked her. We were an amazing couple and everyone loved us together. There was passion and excitement and laughter -- I immediately made her the center of my universe. I was in love with her and in love with life.
And then she dumped me.
Words cannot explain how devastating that was for me. I was crushed. I mean, here I was, a self-made man who had survived a harrowing battle with drug addiction; I was upwardly mobile; I had a lot of friends; I was popular... and yet, she'd decided I wasn't the man she wanted to be with.
She'd decided I was no longer worthy of her time and attention (it's a miracle I didn't just hurl myself into traffic that very afternoon). The pain was excruciating -- it struck deep at the core of who I was as a human being and it was debilitating.
I remember being in a place where our mutual friends had gathered and tearfully telling everyone how much pain I was in and how she was the culprit. I was halfway through my diatribe, explaining how sorry I felt for her because she was a woman who clearly had intimacy issues when she got up and abruptly left the room: I'd vilified her. It felt good -- it felt like vindication -- but I was still a broken man; I was still a man apart.
This pain was worse than the pain I'd suffered when my father had died -- and it was a pain that knew no boundary; it infiltrated every aspect of my life. I used to have to pull over in my car on the side of the freeway and sob over this profound loss. We were so spiritually connected and our love had run so deep, how could she do this to me? And how could I get her the help she obviously needed to work on her issues so that she could find it within herself to take me back, just take me back, PLEASE?
My friends, when we would gather, would draw straws to see who would have to walk me back to my car and listen to my tale of grief and woe. My nights were spent alone, with me struggling not to drink or use drugs over this ruined relationship and my days were spent in a cold, dead fugue of anguish as I performed autopsy after autopsy on our failed union. Where had I gone wrong? I wanted to jump off a cliff.
Now, it's important that I interject here that this deep, incredibly epic relationship that devastated me and ruined me and threatened to destroy the life I had worked so hard to build was only four months old.
This relationship wasn't years in the making. It was not as if we'd done more than date for a while and had a little fun and shared some wonderful days and nights together. WE HAD ONLY BEEN TOGETHER FOR FOUR MONTHS.
So, why was I such a wreck? What, exactly, had been the cause of what I had come to call my "Insanity Pain"? Because it really was, you know: It was crazy what I was going through over a relationship which, in the great scheme of things, was just a blip in the radar of my life.
But my feelings weren't imaginary; something was definitely going on there. And I needed to figure out what it was.
I needed to do the work.
Now, in putting myself back together, I realized that my perception of events was skewed, partly, by my own victimhood. She wasn't the one with intimacy issues; she was getting along fine in her life. She had a very clear idea of what she wanted and she was honest enough to not string me along, especially since it was so apparent that what we had was not going to work out.
I was the one with intimacy issues. I was the one who couldn't let go. I was the one whose every iota of happiness was dependent on how she felt about me.
I was the one who'd made her the center of my universe.
That wasn't a relationship; that, my friends, was a HOSTAGE SITUATION. The reason I was attracted to her in the first place was because she was a wounded bird and one of my character defects was a desperate need to rescue her; I wanted to take care of her -- but she couldn't take care of me. And I've discovered over time that I'm not the only one to have made this mistake. I know this because we live in a world where phrases like "emotionally anorexic," "avoidance addict," and "love addict" exist. We live in a world full of people who want relationships, but often times mistake sex and romance for intimacy. Even worse, there are those men and women who have other ancillary issues (abandonment, oedipal, etc.) which get activated when we are rejected or are subjected to a perceived rejection.
The key to overcoming these pitfalls -- the key to not letting a breakup destroy us -- I think, is understanding why we need connection and knowing that we are capable of living without it. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but we need to look at the science of it first and then delve into the aesthetics.
We experience our first dose of oxytocin -- the pair bonding hormone -- as infants when we are fed and cared for by our parents. This experience primes us for future interactions and helps us "sense" when deep bonds are formed. Unfortunately, oxytocin is also produced by our bodies -- in massive quantities -- during sex and, sometimes even, simply when we are held. We feel connected and we mistake this for intimacy, but the truth of the matter is, intimacy is the ability to be truly vulnerable with another person and have that other person truly know you. And this comes with time and intense vulnerability.
I had neither with the woman who seemingly destroyed me. This was a four-month love affair that was passionate and exciting but was, in no way, the love of my life.
Insanity Pain is a killer. It overtakes us and convinces us that we've lost something truly profound and everlasting when the truth of the matter is, some relationships simply run their course and end. And sometimes, whether we like it or not, some relationships are simply wrong for us.
There's a saying, "I don't care how hot they are, someone somewhere has had it up to here with their garbage." And I think that sometimes this is true also. I have many clients who find themselves in abusive relationships and elect to stay in them because they believe the pain of separation is going to be too intense. Now THAT'S Insanity Pain. It is a pain that convinces you that it is going to be so insurmountable, you are better off suffering than being free to seek fulfillment elsewhere.
I don't subscribe to this notion. I subscribe to the belief that we are, each of us, born with the right to be truly happy and adored. I believe that real intimacy is more than just being willing to share the same bathroom.
Intimacy is a partnership. It allows us to feel safe and protected; it allows us to feel valued and understood; and it allows us to trust the other person with our anger and know that they aren't going to leave you for voicing your feelings. Intimacy makes for healthy marriages and relationships, and it creates the kinds of bonds that you would kill or die for because you've worked hard for them, and risked vulnerability to create them.
I am pleased to report that when that woman dumped me, she did NOT destroy me. I did the work and figured out what my part in all of that Insanity Pain was and I stopped letting it govern my emotional state. I also opened myself up to other relationships down through the years until I met and fell in love with my wife. And, I can say with certain conviction, that we have more than just fleeting moments of intense passion; she is my partner and my friend, and we have devoted our lives to making one another happy while raising our three children. I share my pain with her, and my joy. And I trust her completely with my feelings, no matter what they are, because I know she will not judge me for them or abandon me because of them.
And that, my friend, is intimacy.
As for the rest of you reading this, who are in the throes of a breakup or who are walking through your own unique versions of Insanity Pain, I give you this tiny bit of advice:
Your destiny has never been tied to anyone who left you.