turning away from narcissism

There was a period after I entered therapy when it dawned on me that almost all of the people I considered myself close with were, surprise surprise, emotional vampires. I sort of hate that term because it sounds dramatic in a way that diminishes how desensitized our culture has become to its rampant narcissism. Look at influencers. Look at our president. But anyway, that’s really what dealing with narcissists feels like. They suck you dry emotionally. And for those of us that are empaths (sup Type 2 enneagrams!?) and perhaps haven’t yet learned how to rope in the endless well that is our attentive listening for those who actually deserve it, it can be devastating to our mental health.

Engaging in one-sided relationships exacerbated a cycle that kept me down and unsupported. I had almost no one in my life who cared for me in a reciprocal way, save for some lovely boyfriends, and thought the people who would talk at me about themselves without pausing to see how I am doing or ask questions about my life were a sign of social success. I also look back on other friendships and wonder if I mirrored those traits because this is what I thought friendship looked like. I had people who wanted to drink beers with me or told me they loved me sometimes if I behaved the right way. I don’t want to negate the love that developed in certain relationships in my life. Just because it was fucked up doesn’t mean it wasn’t love. We all have our own way of giving and receiving it. It’s just not always healthy. 

Over time and with the counsel of my therapist I eventually phased out almost all of those relationships and, in the case of family, I learned better boundaries. I still get frustrated and don’t fully understand how to deal with wanting someone to fuck off because, I realized, not all emotional vampires are mean or ill-intentioned. Some people just need love in a quantity that is both exhausting and insatiable. I’m sympathetic to this scenario because I very genuinely see myself as someone who used to behave that way. This is where self-awareness and growth are necessary. There are people who don’t want to seek help and rather choose stay wrapped in their cocoon of safety, their vampiric lair. 

You can learn appropriate ways to give and receive love and to take care of yourself so you aren’t constantly asking too much of others. Because it’s not up to others to satisfy an unending or unquenched thirst for love. Especially if you didn’t get that growing up. Seriously, it’s a deep well and it’s okay to need it filled up with love and support. It’s okay to ask for help from friends. It’s okay to need to be heard. It’s okay to find your support system. But it’s also imperative to consider the person of whom you are repeatedly turning to for support. The frequency. The emotionality of your support system. And it’s imperative that you learn to fill your empty well up by yourself instead of turning to others to do it for you. Because drying up a well is not just exhausting for the empath, it’s draining on the relationship that exists between you as well.

Anger

I believe women are deeply shamed for anger in our society. It’s an emotion men are encouraged to feel and one women are not. I hope in the years to come those standards change. I hope men are encouraged to embrace all emotions on the spectrum. I hope women embrace their anger. It’s healing. Anger shows me when my boundaries are being violated. But that doesn’t make it any easier to express. I preface this piece with a note that I wrote this when I was first starting to processing anger instead of ignore it. I ended the essay with a note about how much I love my cat because I felt at the time the essay was too heavy with emotion and I was concerned about making other people feel uncomfortable. My point in publishing is to convey that anger is just another emotion on the spectrum of healing. Embracing it doesn’t have to be scary. And discomfort is fine.

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The truth is that I feel really angry deep in my core. I’m angry about everything and I’m angry with everyone. I’m angry my friend can’t ever fucking show up outside of our text relationship. I’m angry my ex is getting healthy while I’m still stuck in a depressive cycle. I’m angry at my family for being so fucking needy. I’m angry that old friends have moved on. I’m angry I was their sad friend they used to feel better. I’m angry that my English teacher isn’t more effusive. I’m angry about how unsure I am of myself. I’m angry that being emotionally raw is disgusting to society. I’m angry that I can’t be my most wicked self and unforgivingly so. I’m angry people are repulsed by me being the loud, outspoken feminist. I’m angry about years of patriarchal oppression. I’m angry about feeling shame around fucking everything. I’m so fucking sick of feeling shame. Fuck shame. I’m angry and I want to break things. I want to hit things and shatter windows and break mirrors and get cut and bleed all over fucking everything. I’m so MAD. I’m angry that I will never ever actually find fucking meaning in life. I’m angry that life is so useless and stupid. I’m angry that I will never find my tribe. I’m angry that I’m having to write this stupid essay about how angry I am because I don’t even have a women’s circle to be angry in for the first time. Because an angry woman destroyed the trust of the circle and of the group. Fuck anger. Fuck dealing with it. Fuck expressing it. Fuck having it take over your life. Fuck every happy, normal person who ever lived. Fuck feeling depressed. Fuck feeling stuck. Fuck feeling like I’ll never realize my full potential because I DON’T DESERVE IT. Fuck feeling bad. Fuck being told that I am broken. Fuck being broken. Fuck me for every time I’ve been a blind, oblivious, stupid fucking prick who has hurt someone. I’m angry at my fucking mother. I HATE NOT HAVING A MOTHER. I hate it so fucking much. I hate being stuck on this planet without a woman to love me and hold me and care for me. I hate having to do this work. I hate the struggle. I hate that every day is so hard. I hate fighting through it when things are really difficult. I hate that my cat is the only thing I truly love in this world and I hate that I have to leave her for two years in college. I hate being depressed. I hate abusing alcohol. I hate being poor. I hate biting my nails. I hate feeling smarter than most people and wanting to shut myself away because everyone’s stupidity and obtuseness makes me sick. I hate knowing I am stupid and obtuse in my own ways and that I cannot fully understand all of it in context. At least I have Martha. Martha, who has been through so much trauma and has barely survived, and been through so much pain, only to become the most loving, cuddly thing I’ve ever had a relationship with. Who gets under my feet when I’m walking because she knows I’ll pick her up and touch her and play with her. Martha, who squeaks at me in the morning to say hi and let me know she’s awake and wants a pat. Martha doesn’t make me angry or disappoint me. I love Martha.

Does real love exist?

Does real love actually exist? Like the kind that everyone is always waiting for. Or is this just a long wait in vain and a never ending string of filtering through people that for some reason or another start to annoy you or disappoint you or you realize you’re the fucked up one and you leave to head off the entire mess? But you don’t actually ever leave when you should, in the beginning, because the bandaid would hurt to rip off fresh so you have to wait until it gets dirty and is already peeling around at all the edges. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop filtering through people because being alone is scary and boring and sad. It’s sad. It feels sad. Instead I want to keep connecting with people and believing that they’re the one and that I’m going to be happy with this person and that they’re the answer to every question I’ve ever had about whether I’m good enough and deserving enough because they are actual living, physical proof, an embodiment of how good I am and how lovable I am and a guard against anyone who thinks anything otherwise. I am lovable. But that’s really a form of using someone and not actually loving them, isn’t it? That’s fucked up. That’s what I do. I am fucked up. The story I tell myself about myself is that I am fucked up. I am not good. I am bad. I am spoiled on the inside but my packaging is nicely designed and so it fools everyone into investing in me and then I’m really just rotten to the core and will make you sick.

But what are the facts? The facts are that I fall in love easily and that love feels tangible and whole and like life should be and safe and beautiful. The facts are that I connect deeply with others. The facts are that I fall in love with everyone I meet. The facts are that I have good intentions. The facts are that when I am with that person the feelings are real. The facts are that romantic relationships are the only sustainable way for me to receive as much attention and love as I need in order to feel connected and to survive without sucking everyone else in my life dry. The facts do not make ripping the fresh bandaid off any easier.

I believe I have become a person wholly incapable of commitment. I cannot bear to pin myself down to one person forever right now. I don’t want to because then I have to be disappointed by someone. Or more honoestly, because then I have to disappoint someone. I cannot cuddle anymore for fear of sex. I hate sex. I love sex in the beginning when I am in love and then I hate it when all the sparkle fades and it’s just two people’s wetness spilling out everywhere. I don’t want to have sex. But of course I do because admitting that I don’t want to have sex all of a sudden is shocking and scary and hurtful to my partners. They take it personally and think they are the faulty factor in the relationship, when really of course it is me. It is always me but people never assume it because the packaging is so delicate and beautiful and how could anything be ruined when I am so good and give so much to others?

Last night I dreamt that I birthed a child. I was swimming, at one point, in a pool of my own placenta and fluids and it was wet and disgusting and I had to get out. Then I remembered I had this child. It was clean and dry and warm and sexless. And I kissed its head but didn’t really want to hold it. My partner was some vague amalgamation of every person I’ve ever shared romance with and they left, angry, disappointed, the baby a burden to them, turning their back to me and bowing their head and strutting off to some corner of the world where I would never see them again. And alone I realized I had to tell everyone I had to give this child up for adoption. So embarrassed to disappoint everyone who I had told about the child that I actually didn’t love it after all and that I was going to have to give it away because I was leaving for school and school is my number one priority, I’ve been saying that all along, so obviously I can’t keep this child. It was sort of really someone else’s fault because I’ve always had these plans to leave for college and I made that very clear so it’s not really my fault. Please don’t hate me.

Then my shadowy partner returns, on his knees, crying. I am heartless to lump these people together, even subconsciously, every tender person who has ever given themself over to me, and here I am, leaving again, because I feel I have to. Because I cannot stay for this reason or that. I am tired of hurting people. It has become a responsibility, or perhaps it always was, just one I could never see or comprehend before, to abstain from hurting people. So I can’t commit. It has to be my responsibility. There is so much at stake. I am sorry for giving the baby away. It takes two people to care for this thing. But I can’t hold up my end of the bargain. I feel sad. I look for solace in other people’s approval of my actions.

Going Back

It’s a peculiar thing, self-sabotage. I think by this point I’ve become an expert in it, yet I’m still always surprised or upset once I’ve done something to get in the way of my goals. We do it to keep ourselves rooted in a way, I suppose. Moving forward requires change, and our brains would rather stay right where they are, surviving, even if our existence is flat. Taking chances is scary. I’ve  put off writing this blog for many months now. The vulnerability it takes to put my thoughts down for others to see scares me. I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want others to see how messy I really am. But I also live in a reality where I feel frustrated by a lack of meaning and honesty in the world and I don’t see any other way around that belief than to open myself up and expose what’s really going on. So I sabotage. It’s the easiest and most unconscious way of making sure I don’t have to publish anything. I’m too anxious. I’m too fragile. I have to do this or I cannot do that. I make bad decisions that I can point to and say, “Look at this. Look at what you did. You ARE messy. You cannot share this with people.” And I struggle with being open. But here I am. Here is my chance to connect. To offer something genuine to a world where others want to appear infallible. No one is untouchable. Everyone struggles with something. It’s part of being human. It’s the beauty of our species: in it blooms compassion and empathy. It’s so easy to see this in others and forgive them for it, and so difficult to give ourselves space to struggle and accept our faults, and at times impossible to love ourselves despite. But no one else is going to love us enough or support us enough if we don’t do the work first. It seems like a simple truth, but it’s difficult to overcome the part of the brain that wants us to remain stagnant, safe. You have to argue with that voice in your head. You have to set goals and decide to do what it takes to meet them even when it means coming to a wall and seeing no way around it. You have to get uncomfortable.

Phase III

I don’t really understand how the healing process works. It’s so long and there’s so many parts and people involved. And emotions. It’s difficult to name or describe such a big thing. It happens in fragments. Pieces that take you off guard. And the next thing you know you’re on your knees weeping. Tonight was the first time in my life I have wept from joy and not sorrow. I recently decided to stop overdrinking. I’ve been avoiding it through my recovery from bulimia and then again throughout the spiritual process. But last week I gave it up. I saw my future self calling me from across a river bank, beckoning me to join her on the other side. She looked healthy. I suppose I trust myself now because I followed.

Today, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I left a party early after discretely pouring out my beer and headed to a park to watch the sunset by myself. I did a walking meditation. I breathed the fresh air and felt it on my skin, realizing that nature is what my soul has been calling for for so long. I missed my ex-boyfriend. I sat on a bench and watched the ducks diving under the pond. I was present, and then not. I got home and prepared a bath with oils and salts and visualized my old emotions and patterns of behavior as scabs, turning to dust and being carried off by the wind. A dew descended and covered my new skin, nourishing, healing.

I realized that I would, after this day, never be the same. There are some things you can’t undo. I had transformed. It brought me to my knees. I wept at this final shift. I felt it coming on for a few weeks now, this great letting go, a release of such sadness and destruction and safety. I wept at my strength and my beauty and my ability to hold myself, to care for myself, to love myself and protect myself, and I wept for the power of all the work I’ve never given up on for three years. Tonight was the time. The time to let go and move on. To release the fear around my power to control my life and who I want to be for others. The power I have to love each person I meet for who they are and expect nothing back. The power to love myself the same way. The power to feel discomfort arise and simply be.

Tonight I stood over a toilet, for the first time in my life embracing its cold porcelain to support the weight of my weeping body, not because I was purging or numbing out or fucked up or drunk, but because the totality of this healing work set upon me tonight and I had the strength of someone who has supported the world for so long that she couldn’t hold herself up while it all came out, releasing hormones in my tears, leaving my body once and for all. Tonight I wept because I am a woman of self-care, of love, of understanding of my faults, embracing my fuckups, my insecurities and missteps and misguided attempts at bettering myself and the world. I wept for the loss of who I was. I wept for the sanctity of what I have always pictured my life to be, realizing that, in that moment, my life had come to embody everything I had always wanted it to be, and accepting how long the journey of recovering truly is.

A letter to the editor

Dear Sarah,

Maybe it will prove challenging to write this letter, but only because your adorable cat won’t let you type without putting her face in between your hands. It’s pretty cute.

Anyway. Here we are, the many parts of us that we have discovered along the way. The part of us that is a tiny little girl, confused and looking for comfort and approval from everyone around us, to the teenage punk kid who doesn’t give a shit what anyone says and blacks out to avoid the pain that life has delivered unrelentingly for so many years, to the wise woman who quietly sits and observes it all, to the put-together work woman that provides, the brilliant student, the long-term girlfriend, the caring and consoling friend, the fearless beauty, the vixen, the saboteur, the bleeding heart, the truth teller, the socially awkward one, the lonely girl with an eating disorder, and the woman who sits behind the keys, the one where all of those parts are represented equally.

Today I write you a letter, future Sarah, to remind you how difficult this journey has been. And how long. To write from a different perspective of a journey that has been undertaken in the name of mental health. It is easy to think back on the past and come from a place of shame. Shame has underlain almost every suicidal thought and destructive behavior I have engaged in. It is a second home. But it would be a lie to say it is something I have conquered. At least I can say it is something I loathe. But the future is not emboldened by any past behavior. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that. Now I stand at a great forking of my paths. To the right is a future where I envision and make happen everything I’ve ever wanted for myself. I harness all my power. And to the left lies a softer, gentler struggle through the same muddy swamps I have been navigating for years. I am ready to let go. I am ready to become the woman I was meant to be.

I do not write this last sentence with any disregard for how difficult my journey still inevitably will be. If choosing to become the person you want to be was an easy choice, everyone would do it. The world would be different. But I am acknowledging for the first time I am aware of the power I hold in getting to that destination, and reminding you that, no matter how many times you fail from this point onward, it is our responsibility to continue to forgive ourselves and try. Because, of all the lessons that have been learned these past three years, forgiveness reigns supreme if the self truly wishes to grow and continue to move forward. There will no doubt be missteps. A lot of them. Wide ones that last forever. Ones that make us forget what it feels like to really live, unforgivingly so, without doubt about our true beauty and purpose in this life. Thoughts of suicide will come to pass, and with all strength and grace this world offers, we will see them through to the side of safety as we always have. That personal statement didn’t mean anything if I wasn’t honest about seeing others through as well.

I will tell you this, if you will believe nothing else when reading this letter again in a time of desperation or solitude: You are destined for great things. You will figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing one step at a time. You will study whatever it is you’re supposed to study. Become a therapist or a doctor or any variation thereof. Whatever you choose, you will be great. Because you have deep and caring compassion. And whatever is standing in the way of your self-esteem and your goals today are just that: they are obstacles. Life is filled with these. Keep forging on, my fierce and brilliant beauty, and someday the world will feel like home. And if it doesn’t, then at least we may have changed it for one person. One soul. One heart who bleeds the way ours does, who is desperately groping in the dark for answers. Let’s give them all we’ve got. We will never forget what it’s like to be hungry.

I love you.

Sarah

The Human Condition

I realized today the expansiveness of the human inability to inherently experience negative emotions. Why is it so hard to do? Why do we avoid it like it will kill us? It happens to everyone. The pervasiveness of it is what is baffling to me. We all run from it in some form or another. It is what drives the madness of the world, the unending suffering. The inability to sit with anger instead of acting on it, or the need to run from loneliness and into the arms of those who aren’t right for us, the itchiness that boredom brings, the escape we find in drugs to remove ourselves from the pain we don’t want to feel, the dark and rich abyss of an alcohol-induced blackout instead of drowning in our shame, the satisfying twinge of pain of biting our nails over the anxiety that plays on a constant loop in our heads, the need to feel some form of relief to the extent that we stuff ourselves to bursting and throw it all up or starve ourselves to death to feel some level of control in our lives. The irony is biting.

We do things that will kill us instead of sitting with an emotion for thirty seconds that isn’t actually harmful, yet we associate it with levels of discomfort so unbearable we wind up putting ourselves in real danger. Is this societal or is this the human condition? Can the answer to this be learned as whole? And better yet, taught? Must we continue to suffer as a species or can we evolve? I wonder how many times these questions have been asked by greater thinkers than myself, by smarter and more studied philosophers and buddhists and everyone in between.  Why can’t an answer be synthesized into something more tangible? I want a pill to swallow. Why must healing and suffering be so complex and so personal? Something with the answers to nourish my body if I drink it with a glass of water. Why can’t there be some simple, step by step solution to explaining this process to someone else? Instead we’re all running from our fear, or at the very least turning our backs steadfastly to it, if not drinking or fucking it away. So we suffer.