Part 1: Disassociation

Something horrible happened to me last year. And before your brain goes to dramatic places, no, it’s not as horrible of an event as others might expect when I say such a sizable statement.

But to me… what happened was earth-shattering, soul-sucking, traumatic, even. It flipped my life upside down as I knew it. It spiraled me into a kind of grief I’ve never experienced. A grief that forever changed my outlook on love and life. What happened broke me into pieces over and over and over again because I truly never saw it coming.

My inner voice pictures your reactions and responses being something like: WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED?!

“Well… I went through a breakup.”

A… breakup?

“Yeah, that’s it. A breakup.”

Before we get into this, let me remind my people and acknowledge to the rest of you strangers that I’ve lived about 4.5 lifetimes in my 27 years of age. Without going into all of the gory details, I have survived some horrifying moments and timelines.

But for some reason, this breakup broke me more than anything. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. Maybe it’s because the love felt so real until it suddenly didn’t and my brain just couldn’t handle the shock. Maybe it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe it’s just a bit of both.

You’d be surprised by how even the kindest of people respond to others’ grief. After some time, just like after a funeral, people stop calling, they stop sending flowers, they stop checking in. In fact, some will avoid you all together simply because it’s not very fun to be around someone who’s so damn sad all of the time. I don’t blame them. Not one bit. It’s hard to know what to do or what to say or how to act when someone is grieving… especially if we don’t understand it and aren’t living it.

But for me… I was still stuck with a grief I never sought out, a grief I never asked for, a grief I did NOT know what to do with.

I feel like this grief transformed into an apathy and bitterness over time, swooping in like a giant, oversized trench coat and super gluing itself to me for the better part of six months.

While the apathy seemed to pair well with the giant raincloud over my head, I did not know I had the power to leave the somber setting behind at any point I wanted to. It didn’t feel like an option, in all honesty. I’m not sure I even wanted to leave it behind. It was almost… comfortable for me at that point.

If I’m being real with myself, all of this gloom and doom was nothing more than an honest-to-goodness excuse for me to stay put in my grief. It’s as if I hadn’t felt understood in so long that I became all too familiar and friendly with it. Being misunderstood had become a home for me. And it also meant that any kind and accountable friend of mine who offered any solid advice or encouragement could be easily written off with an inflexible retort: “They just don’t get it. They don’t know the pain I’m dealing with.”

I guess some could call what I did disassociation. My nervous system had been shocked by abandonment to the point of self-preservation. Honestly, this self-preservation might have been necessary for me for the first few months of grieving after my breakup, a temporary effort to protect me while I was at my most vulnerable.

I mean, my world had been turned upside down… and the things I once knew to be true were now completely questionable. It was as if my original home’s concrete foundation magically turned into sand over time and was completely wiped out at the first sign of big storms.

When I left my marriage, I had already spent the better part of 6 months grieving the marriage before it was over. And everyone made it very known to me how much I was glowing and thriving after leaving him. But this breakup didn’t leave me glowing and it definitely didn’t leave me thriving.

It left me so wounded and bewildered, I became a shell of myself, like a ghost floating around. I didn’t think I even held the strength inside me to hold that grief and sit with it like I did before. I continued to shove the grief down deep inside me, doing anything possible to avoid it and destroy it without feeling it. I didn’t want everyone to see how much I was struggling.

I moved to San Diego and in those early months being here, nothing had gone smoothly or gotten better. I had officially cut off my ex after the most dragged out, toxic ending imaginable. My new roommate (and maybe my only friend in the city) was busy studying for the California bar and traveling with her boyfriend, friends and family. This meant I spent a lot of time alone. Just me and my grief.

At this point, disassociation was full-blown and I could no longer separate reality from illusion when it came to my relationships. Was everyone lying to me? Could I trust anyone to be their true, authentic selves with me? Would other people I love flip the script on me, too?

And yet, I started going on dates when I had no business to start dating again. Come August, I had actually started seeing a guy I met at a pool party. We had been dating for all of a week and a half when he told me he was in love with me.

And I kept seeing him… for 2 more months, despite the love bombing, other signs of emotional immaturity and the fact I had 0 interest in him as a partner. I still don’t really know why. My sweet, yet very accountable roommate begged me to break up with him for weeks. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t handle future rejection.

Since when did I get so soft?

So fearful of abandonment or rejection?

If you knew me at all, you know this is heinous to my personality. I was normally bold, the kind who would walk straight up to a guy at a bar and say whatever I was thinking, good or bad. I had experienced rejection before. Many times. Bold people do. But it never bothered me until now.

I started drinking more. A lot more, actually. An embarrassing amount. I’ll even go as far as to say it wasn’t exactly abnormal for me to drink an entire bottle of wine multiple days in a row. It was so shameful for me, in fact, that I often waited until my roommate wasn’t home or was tucked away in her bedroom so I could sneak downstairs to the little market in our building to grab yet another bottle of Cabernet. Even worse, I felt like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs while checking out with the same grocery clerk every day. This stranger of a man had become the only person who could possibly be aware that I am developing a very deep problem.

The guy I was seeing didn’t seem to notice my spiraling problem. I remember he’d make passive statements about how poisonous alcohol was and how he refused to drink often for that very reason, something that I would also passive aggressively respond to with, “Well, what isn’t poison for us, you know?” I’m laughing at that now. What an answer.

All in all, I hid my secret problem well enough.

If you look at it objectively, the drinking was not the real problem. In fact, I don’t think it is for most alcoholics or heavy alcohol drinkers. It was merely a byproduct or a symptom of a very real, deep pain I was running from. It was an easy and accessible pathway to disassociation. I was withering away, day by day.

I’d wake up every day feeling like shit, getting out of bed in the morning with a piercing headache, wine-stained lips, and all the same feelings I was trying so desperately to get away from the day before. I’d then crawl to a reasonable time of day (which became earlier and earlier as time went on), buy a new bottle, rinse, and repeat.

This was obviously going to come to a head at some point. It always does. Luckily my “reality check” wasn’t as catastrophic as it is for some other coping drinkers. But one night, my reality check came for me.

I got incredibly drunk at a bar with my roommate and this new fling of mine on a Thursday night while watching the Chiefs play. When I got home, still very drunk and sloppy, I ended up phoning my best friend and decided to confess some vulnerable secrets to her, which she handled very well for the most part. I believe I had also confessed about my drinking problem.

We hung up the phone and I immediately messaged her, asking gently if she wouldn’t share those drunken thoughts of mine with anyone else. I was scared to be seen, scared for others to see how much I’d been hiding from myself, how much of a fraud I was and how confused I seemed to be. Though I fully expected she wouldn’t share, I was scared and nervous about my confessions. So out of insecurity, I wanted to make sure she knew how important my privacy was around it.

But apparently, she didn’t think the same of it. She actually texted back shortly after saying she had already told her girlfriend while also promising it won’t go anywhere else. I was livid. Hurt. In absolute shock. Completely defensive that her girlfriend had earned some right to be inside the deepest and most vulnerable parts of myself.

But, at the moment, I was also still very drunk. I called her right then and there and proceeded to yell at her over the phone for seven whole minutes in a drunken rage, cussing and repeatedly saying, “How could you do that?”

I actually don’t really remember much of those seven minutes at all. In fact, I only know it was seven minutes after looking at my call log the next morning. She later told me that the things I said were horrible. And apparently they were so horrible, she actually stopped being my friend because of it (her exact words were “our friendship will never be the same” but I would argue that we don’t even have a friendship now at all.) While I might have had some justified and valid feelings of betrayal and embarrassment from her lack of boundaries, I can guarantee sober and healthy Meg never would’ve reacted as harshly as my friend said I did.

This was the first time I was able to recognize my own disassociation for what it was and I was disgusted. That escape, that home I had created in my grief, with the angry and apathetic trench coat glued to me and that raincloud of heartbreak I still had looming over my head, all of a sudden terrified me. Not to mention, the disassociation was only perpetuating my grief. Had I been brave enough to face it, who knows if I ever would have gone on those dates or drank alone every day.

Nonetheless, I knew this grief, this place was no longer a home. This was no place of safety. It wasn’t even comfortable to any degree and seeing it all so clearly, I’m not sure how I ever did see it as so. The rose-colored glasses I had for this safe space, this alleged home I created had officially come off. I had to get out as soon as possible. I had to escape my escape.

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