So I went to individual therapy extremely frustrated last week. Not only had my therapist cancelled last week (cue angry abandoned borderline feelings), but recently I feel like I’m getting nowhere concrete. Even though I do find myself able to think of things in a better light most of the time, all it takes is one really horrible day – even one really horrible moment or mood – and I lapse so easily into bad old habits and thoughts: nothing is ever going to work; nothing is ever going to change; something is wrong with me, etc. etc. I decided I was going to try and be up-front. By which I mean I wasn’t going to lose it, but I wasn’t going to mask my every emotion and self-invalidate by saying everything was fine. Here’s how my initial dialogue with Karen went:
Karen: How are you?
Me: … not great.
Karen: Why, what’s up??
Me: (SIGHHHH) You said you’ve successfully treated borderlines.
Me: How? What did you say? What did they do? How did it start? I want this to stop and I feel like all I’m learning to do is adopt some relaxing breathing techniques that pussyfoot around the actual problem.
Karen: What is the actual problem? The “I hate you, don’t leave me” intensely irrational feelings?
Me: YES. Exactly. That. I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to think of that as the real me – this crazy bitch who flies off the handle when she perceives the slightest invalidation or abandonment.
Karen: Why do you think you’re so sensitive to those things? Why do you think you’re so prone to feeling abandoned?
Me: I don’t know… I’m pathetic and needy?
Karen: It’s time to come to the core of this. It’s because you’re abandoning yourself.
Me: No, that’s not… wait… Whaaaaaaa????
Karen: You have emotions. You just called yourself pathetic and needy for having them. You just called yourself a crazy bitch for having them. You’re not even there for yourself; your logical conclusion is, why would anybody else be?
Me: *stunned silence*
Whoa. That conversation, and particularly that phrase, really hit home. REALLY hit home. I’ve been turning it in my mind for days.
You are abandoning yourself.
Do you ever get that goose-bumpy feeling when words really resonate because you know, deep in your gut, without having to analyze or intellectualize it, that they are true? That’s how I feel when I think about that phrase.
You are abandoning yourself.
It was like a veil – or at least a corner of a veil – had been pulled back. I’m working on self-validation and all the DBT stuff that I should be – but I’m so far from genuinely knowing how to “be there” for myself. When I’ve been angry at people for not meeting my crazy expectations, I’ve said hollow things like, “Forget about it – you can’t fix me.” But I didn’t mean it. I never meant it. What I desperately wanted was exactly the opposite – someone to mend all my internal chips and cracks. It never worked. It never would have worked. I know this, but I didn’t know it – not really, not deep down. Now, I feel like I’m starting to get it at last.
You are abandoning yourself.
As far as I can tell, it’s not like half of me abandoned the other half. It’s more like, most of me abandoned certain parts I didn’t like as I got older and gained the ability to control (i.e. suppress) my emotions.
When you have emotions as intense as those of a borderline, its not hard to see why you’d abandon them. They’re the reason people (horrible people anyway) attack you. They’re the reason you can’t live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself – or that other people have set for you. They’re the reason you feel weak, stupid, abnormal, ashamed and vulnerable. You start to think that the people who invalidate you are right – after all, who would want to put up with someone so contrary, so needy, so difficult to control? As a result, the older I got, the more I separated from the parts of me I couldn’t handle.
When I was 8-10, I was only (“only”) suffering stuff like random anxiety and trichotillomania. By 11-13, I was pushing into kleptomania, anorexia and self-harm. But then something happened over the next couple years, to my total surprise, that I could never explain until now: all of those outward manifestations of pain started to disappear. It seemed effortless. I never needed help with them. They just left. It just happened. Numbness set in instead.
Now I realize that Grown-up Cat got bigger and stronger than Child-Cat. As most of me matured, I got the upper hand on the “immature” parts of myself. Success! (or so I thought) No more of that nonsense. Sure it’d crop up from time to time, but only at the very worst times. And feeling numb wasn’t so bad compared to the constant agony of adolescence.
This is pertinent because Karen asked another question that struck hard because I’d never, even thought about it: “How old do you actually feel when you’re depressed or upset?”
The answer came so fast it was startling. For me, it’s about 14. Right about the time I started to be able leave that uncontrollable and suffering part of me behind. That freaked me right out. Mostly because it clicked; it made so much sense in a tragic and horrifying way. She’s still there. She’s right there where I left her, at 14. Abandoned and miserable and all the rest of it – just more and more gagged and imprisoned with each passing year.
And of course, she’s not really under lock and key the way I think she is. When anything happens that elicits a strong emotional reaction – there she is, as I found out when trauma struck in my late twenties. Emotionally, I’m about 14 years old.
That’s a lot to take in. I feel like I’m wading through years and years of unravelled, unconnected thoughts and feelings, trying to put them back together in the right order.
But the main thing I feel is… horrified. I feel shocked and guilty and horrified. For so long I’ve thought of my suppressed emotional self as crazy – in fact, I’ve literally casually named her Crazy Bitch, as I posted just a couple weeks ago. That was what I called the part of myself that could still feel and hurt: a crazy fucking bitch.
Not only did I abandon myself, I’ve been absolutely eviscerating myself, calling myself things that I would never, ever let someone else call me. Treating my emotions like they’re insane. Treating my pain like it’s nothing. Treating my thoughts and desires like they’re wrong and screwed up. Treating a whole crucial part of myself like it’s broken, diseased, and in need of amputation. Holy shit. No wonder this hasn’t gone very well.
When I was a teenager, something happened that immediately came to mind as I thought about this. I was once a big-time diarist. I’d kept all my diaries since I was about 7 years old under my mattress. My little sister and I, much to our constant chagrin, shared a room for most of our lives. One day, I realized my diaries weren’t quite in the spots I left them. I eventually got it out of my sister that she had been reading them. Were the diaries particularly incriminating? No, I had done nothing remotely scandalous or interesting by that point in my life. Were they likely to get me in any trouble? No. But I was so filled with shame and self-loathing, so angry and disgusted at the idea of anyone knowing my true thoughts and inner self that later that day, I dumped them like a murdered corpse and never kept another one. I slowly stopped playing music even though I had loved it for years. I stopped painting or drawing. I stopped expressing anything – pleasant or painful, minor or intense, unless my BPD took over and I exploded. Even now, as I start to slowly edge back into acknowledging and expressing my feelings by writing in this blog, I know that it would fill me with terror and rage if anyone who knows me in “real life” read this.
Could I be sending a stronger message to the vulnerable and emotional parts of myself? You’re embarrassing. You’re something I’m ashamed of. You make me feel pathetic. I don’t want anyone to know about you.
I know that based on a lot of blogs I’ve read, borderlines seem to have a really hard time with a fixed identity (as I addressed in an earlier post). This is why. You are abandoning yourself. Some borderlines are so distant from themselves, so ashamed of who they are, that they can’t even voice a preference for a particular type of music or food. You have abandoned yourself. Until you can stand by yourself through good and bad, intense and awful and wonderful and embarrassing and everything that comes with a human being – you have abandoned yourself, and every perceived invalidation from someone else will hurt like hell because it’s only reinforcing what you’re putting yourself through.
It’s hitting me that this is going to be horrendously uncomfortable. I feel ill at the thought of facing my unleashed 14-year-old self, and even more ill at the thought of all the self-love and touchy-feely compassion that’s going to have to happen to make her okay. But honestly, I’ve run out of options. I’ve suppressed and self-loathed til I can’t suppress and self-loathe no more, and it’s never ever worked. I’ve made enemies out of so many people I considered soul mates and best friends that I can’t go through that anymore either. It’s destroying my faith in people and my hope for any kind of future for myself.
I’m not entirely sure about the “how” but the “what” is clear: it’s time to stick with myself and stop vilifying other people for what I’m actually doing to myself.