You can only ever work with what you have, right?
The experiences you’ve gone through during your life (and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them) are what you’re going to pull from as you interact with the world. What else would you know to do?
If you’ve been told your whole life that a red cardinal is called a blue jay, then you’ll call that bird a blue jay no matter how silly it seems when you consider the bird’s coloring. If you’ve been told your whole life that keeping a window open on a windy day causes irreplaceable lung damage, then you’re probably going to keep the window closed on windy days no matter how good the open breeze feels. And, if you’ve experienced “love” as being chaotic, painful, scary, threatening, or in any other unhealthy and unsafe manner, then you’ll not only expect love to look like that but you’ll seek someone who will love you in that familiar way. You know what I’m saying?
Because when you’ve seen “love” shown as manipulation and control or violence or watched the role models in your life make love all about complete personal sacrifice at great personal risk, then that’s what you’re going to expect to participate in when it comes to love.
So when I found myself young and married to an unhealed Adult Child of Alcoholics (as if one AcoA in a relationship isn’t hard enough) and the red flags began to rain down like I was riding through a New York City ticker tape parade, I didn’t consider it crazy. I didn’t consider it weird at all. Because I had been accustomed to this type of “love” my whole life. So I just did what I knew and, when that didn’t work, I tried everything else. I did everything I *thought* could fix the situation which really just created immense suffering for me and my children. And none of it worked.
As an adult woman from an addictive and dysfunctional upbringing, showing love for my husband took many sad and unsafe forms:
My love was fervorous researching for the antidote to what ailed him – countless hours of studious loyalty and steadfast commitment falling onto ears deafened by the constant thrum of his own pain beating against his brain.
My love was performing the most brilliant personal contortionist acts in hopes of inspiring him to heal…while he munched on popcorn and looked away bored.
My love was tearful, fearful fetal positions while lying in bed always alone listening for his footsteps and praying that the right words to calm him down would drip out of me like sweet honey and make it all okay.
My love was carefully crafting a beautiful paper-thin home out of exquisite excuses and glossy omissions of honesty to anyone who would ever look our way – so that our sanctuary looked shiny from the outside while the inside turned dark and rotted away.
My love was complete fluency in his body language, voice tones, & facial expressions. So much so that I declared myself the one true tour-guide to the isolated island that was him. I was so in step with his every hiccup and heartbeat that I could silently ring the alarms for myself and the little ones when the wind shifted and I knew the turmoil was preparing to blow in behind his humid hatefulness.
My love was guttural wailing giving birth to waves of sorrow through my open mouth while I clutched the bathroom cabinet handle trying not to drown in the realization that I was out of ideas and out of options besides the one I swore I’d never try…diving deep into the flood waters to swim hard for an unknown shore in an attempt to save what was left of me.
And as much as it tore at my innards and shredded my heart to do it, I ended up swimming for that unknown shore. I left my abusive husband and ended up leaving my home and city (not to mention obviously losing my stay-at-home/homeschooling mom status) when I did so because I had to save myself. The good news? I did make it to a new shore. The honest addition that’s hard to hear but has to be mentioned? It’s been a colossally brutal experience which has left me smashed and bruised against the rocks and wondering more than once if I’m strong enough swimmer to survive it. But then what do you know? I continue to breathe in and out, I take it one moment at a time, and I eventually answer my own question: Holy hell yes I’m strong enough! And you are too. No matter what shore it is you need to reach.
When you don’t know any better, you can’t do any better. And “love” plays out the way you’ve always known it to be. The way I loved my husband hauntingly echoes the way I grew up learning how to love my addicted parents. That type of loving was familiar and I was pretty good from years of trial and error. But it doesn’t have to be like that. By doing your healing work, walking through your own personal recovery, and being courageous enough to get real-deal honest about it all – you can set yourself on a new trajectory. You can overcome your past programming and learn how to love in a healthy way. You can swim for an unknown shore! And you can get better. ❤️
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