Distancing & Disconnecting
I do it...a lot. I guess I have done it the whole of my life. Like if I sense that you are going to break up with me, or leave, or do something shitty to me, I leave before you ever get the chance. It is a good strategy, well, not really. It is an immature strategy that was solidified in a delicate adolescence and then honed over the years...most dramatically in my last relationship.
I am not blaming him. I had this tendency to create distance and space when frightened. That was my MO. That was how I did things. I am sure that I avoided some pain over the years but it wasn’t until this last relationship that I realized how much more I created with this behavior. And the way that last one ended, I know now definitively how much it hurts when someone you love withdraws and cold shoulders you out.
And it was with that painful ending that I was forced to look at my own behavior and how I treated people. People that I cared about deeply...people that mattered to me, but that I treated in a manner that was not befitting a close friend, well, hell, it was befitting to anyone!
I guess I feel like being in close, intimate contact with another person, makes me feel like I am walking a plank. We are both out there on the edge, but then the other person will do something that makes me feel that they are going to bail, and that creates in me an immediate need to retreat. Back down the plank to the ship and relative safety. The perceived threat can be real or imagined. I have been right in my life just enough to give me a false idea that I am right far more often than I actually am. And it has also given me this ability, well excuse really, to pull back and away when things get too close for comfort. I can see now that my behavior was to retreat onto what was a sinking ship...no real safety there at all.
For years, I blamed some little, tiny, almost imperceptible movement or lack of movement in the other person, for my own conduct. They did this, so I had to do whatever the fuck I was doing. It is not a great way to live, having everything you want or need controlled by this other person’s conduct, and that isn’t even really true. It is controlled by my own perception of the conduct, I didn’t even confirm that my “feelings” or “perceptions” were correct. I just felt like they were off, told myself a very believable story that they were going to leave me, so I left first. The door slamming behind me a not so quiet confirmation that I was the one that left. So HA! Childish and really unbecoming...
The truth is that I didn’t even see it as an issue until I was in my mid-forties. I had been doing it so long that it was just how I was, it wasn’t until I saw someone else doing it to me that I realized how much I had it going on. It was a painful realization. And it continues to be. But I continue to see how it shows up in my life, not in the “I left first, so I am not wounded by you” kind of way, but more in the “I am worried that you don’t care about me, or I care more about you than you do me, or you are going to leave me, so I will leave you first” kind of way. I think that I always thought that my leaving skills were something to be proud of...I could leave anyone at anytime and this was something I was dreadfully prideful about. It was only a few years ago that I saw that what I was really doing was shitty. Shitty to do to someone I professed to care about and shitty to do to myself. And it was very dishonest. All those years I walked away as if it didn’t hurt, and it did hurt. My lack of caring and door slamming was all an act designed to protect myself. Which never really worked, because I always felt that my leaving and the other person letting me walk out sure fire evidence that they never cared in the first place, which is never a kind or good thought to have.
I still struggle. I get afraid that caring somehow makes me weak and I don’t like feeling that way. I become hyper focused on not getting hurt so I do things that ensure that hurt is the only thing that can happen. And I am incredibly grateful for that realization today. I lived under the delusion that disconnection would someday bring connection for a very long time.
As usual, the joke is on me. Seems like only I could desire and want a true, deep, intimate connection and then develop as a coping strategy a behavior that assures that I am never going to find that because I am too afraid and run away every time I get scared. But I know that I am not the only one. I see it all the time in people I know and care about. I have been on the receiving end also, which has shown me in a very painful way, how my behavior might be perceived or experienced by others. It was the blow up of that last relationship that caused me to really have to confront my own conduct and its attendant aftermath. Now, I see it when I do it, it makes me super uncomfortable and I have to do the one thing that I do not want to do...ever. I have to own it. I have to stay and say that I am scared. Stay and say that I am in pain. Stay and say that this other person matters to me and that their disconnection is making me feel like I need to run. Often times, I am finding that the disconnection isn’t even about me. It is their stuff and when I disconnect from them, I am doing so at a time when they need me most.
I never really let anyone in before and then when I finally did, my worst fears were to come true. What if I love someone with all that I am and they leave me? Well, I can tell you that it takes a long time to heal and longer still to realize that me projecting that pain all over future relationships futile and self defeating. Just because one person did something horrible, doesn’t mean that the next one will. I am learning to inquire, ask questions and check in when I feel insecure. I have had to table my story telling bullshit and instead be vulnerable when everything in me wants to run. What I am finding is that while I am not often wrong about a disconnection, what I have been very wrong about is the reason for the disconnection. It is almost never me. It is finances, kids, work, lack of work, exhaustion, insecurity, fear, pain, life busyness. It is rarely what I fear most: that one day, in spite of a loving, good relationship, that the person I care about is going to wake up and just decide that they no longer care about me, or want me in their life. That because it happened once, it can and will happen again. It might, but living like it will almost assures that no other possible result can happen.
It is hard to own your own trauma and pain. Hard to see how it continues to fuck up your life even though the event is over and done with. Hard to see how you begin to be an unwitting accomplice to your own pain. That you become so afraid of being hurt again, that you hurt yourself in some misguided effort to avoid pain that you are sure will come, and you are wrong repeatedly. But you have created your own pain, almost out of thin air but you hold the other person accountable with a made up story that is loosely, very loosely based upon fact.
I wish that I could state that I was farther along here. That my knee jerk reaction to feeling distance was not to wholesale run and disappear. I seem to be hard wired for that. But what I can own and be grateful for today is the new found commitment I have made to no longer doing that, to myself or anyone else. I may get pummeled, but at least if that happens, I will know that I cared deeply and so will the other person. Because I have learned walking away as if you don’t care, when you really care a lot, is not less painful, but more. And I don’t want to cut those deals anymore. If whomever it is that I love decides that their life would be better without me in it, let me do us all the kindness of valuing what is no longer instead of cutting it short and pretending like it didn’t matter at all.
I guess what I am really getting at is that I would rather cry and hurt and be in pain and have you know that I am suffering, than to spend one more minute of my life cauterizing my pain in some sort of completely misguided and trauma soaked reaction that never gets me closer to what I want and need - connection, love and intimate relations with other beings. I cannot have one without the other: safety/comfort and authenticity/intimacy. Authenticity and intimate connection require a great deal of courage to say what you really think, talk about how you really feel and stay connected when everything in you wants to run. And the only way you are ever going to get safety and comfort is to be willing to do, over and over again if necessary, to stay when you want to run, to own that which you are afraid to own, to love even when it appears that circumstance is pulling the beloved away. Comfort and safety can only be the result when you have been authentic and intimate...and that requires staying when you want to go, talking when you are afraid and loving even when distance looms in front of you because distance and disconnection will always only bring more of the same.