Relationships can build us, define us, sustain us, but they also have the power to destroy us. Not everyone emerges from their first love unscathed, and I was no exception.
“It’s over” flashed on my mobile. I felt as though a part of me had gone—a loss of self. Suddenly, my whole being was filled with excruciating razor-sharp pain.
Three hours prior to the unexpected text, my boyfriend had paid for me to have an abortion. I was left physically and emotionally exhausted. I felt hopeless, lonely and ashamed. I chose to numb the heartache: I drank a bottle of whiskey and took some pills to help me sleep.
The breakup sent me into a drug-soaked spiral. I was locked up in the world's most brutal prison with a life sentence. I was firmly in the grips of my addiction and self-loathing. During this process, I brainwashed myself. My mind rewrote the narrative: Every time I recalled a memory about my relationship with this man, I overwrote it with my own very carefully crafted idealized version of him.
For years, no one else could ever come close to living up to this man. Eventually, when I ran into him some time later, it was evident that he was not the person I had constructed in my mind. I was finally able to start to let go.
Ten years have passed since we split. My addiction enabled me to forget the physical and emotional trauma of the abortion. As my mind suppressed the emotional and physical horror that my body endured, it compounded and replaced it with even more horrific trauma: addiction.
After many discussions with my therapists and people in recovery, my perspective on my relationship with my first boyfriend has changed. As I have developed and grown in my recovery, I realized that there had actually been six people in this relationship the day we drove to the clinic.
1. Who I Thought He Was
I thought he was 32 years old and ridiculously arrogant. I thought he was my best friend, someone would spend forever with, someone I could tell everything and anything to without feeling judged. I thought he was someone who was as in love with me as I was with him.
2. Who He Thought He Was
He thought he was 26 and far superior to others. Someone impressed with his own magnetism, he had a thrusting personality that made people aware of him regardless of what they were doing. He had a tremendous amount of self-confidence.
3. Who He Really Was
He was a misogynist who struggled to trust women because his mother abandoned him as a child. He was a 30-year-old man with a silent scream coming from the depths of his inner child.
4. Who He Thought I Was
He thought I was 23 years old and someone he did not intend to have in his life forever. A sexual object, I would just have to get over it. I was resilient and would eventually recover and bounce back.
5. Who I Thought I was
I thought I was a cool cat, someone with an indomitable spirit, wise beyond her years. I was someone who loved life and knew the way of the world, I was happy-go-lucky.
6. Who I Really Was
A troubled 20-year-old woman who needed help but was looking for it in all the wrong places. I was a woman who had sustained physical, emotional and spiritual injuries as a child. I had no concept of healthy boundaries and no idea how to protect myself from danger.
Through the work I have done in my recovery, I learned that the power dynamics in the relationship were skewed in favor of him. Applying Eric Berne’s three ego states, as described in his book Games People Play (Grove Press, 1964), we had a parent-child relationship. Because of the gap in age, status and emotional maturity and development, the relationship was predatory, exploitative and abusive.
I have also learned that I am not who I thought I was. Recovery has taught me that I am responsible for my own feelings, which include falling in love and choosing to stay in love with a man who had very clearly walked out of my life. I learned that my ego had me hide behind masks because my low self-esteem made me feel vulnerable, exposed rejected and ashamed.
Today I am grateful for my past. I have been given the gift recovery. I am able to be of service and valuable to others by sharing my experiences as others have done so for me. Recovery has taught me that successful people want others to succeed and will empower them to do so. Recovery has taught me that life is too short to hold onto hate and resentments. None of us are here for very long, so we should enjoy life while we can. We need to be kind to one another because none of us really know what anyone else has been through.
Today I chose love, and nothing today would make me turn my back on my heart. Today I am not my past.