Thursday, July 24, 2008

Your issues

It probably doesn't feel like it's been a week, because it took me a while to write about the last part. But it's been a week. Derek is tense right away and I think about asking, except that I know, I mean I know he's tense because we're going to have another conversation. When he hugs me, it's not really a hug. I mean he pulls back. We talk briefly about things that matter, but don't matter to our relationship. Then I say what did you think about our last conversation?

Derek says I was really angry afterwards and I've been thinking about it all week and I'm still really angry. It felt like you were being manipulative. I've been having conflicts with everyone I'm close to and I felt like you were taking advantage of me. The things you were talking about -- my relationship with Alex, I mean that was 12 years ago. And my alcoholism -- we've talked about that before: I'm a different person and I've been doing a lot of work on myself. I feel like you played a part in all that and you should've pulled away and taken care of yourself, even if what you did do was one of the reasons I stopped drinking. You should've taken care of yourself. Those are your issues, and you have to let it go. It felt like you were dumping on me. I feel like we've never been good about talking about difficult things in our relationship, we've never been good about that but I feel like you were being manipulative.

I already feel like I'm losing Derek. He's so angry, a couple of times I can tell he's about to cry but then he covers it with more anger. I uncross my legs, probably I'm holding tension there. I lean my elbows on the table, so that I don't hold my body too upright. I breathe, keep breathing. Breathe.

I wait a minute after Derek has finished speaking. I say: thank you for telling me how you're feeling. I have a lot of questions about our relationship and how you see the world and how you see our relationship in the world, but I won't ask them now because that might be kind of distracting. Before we talked last week, I thought the hardest part for me would be telling you how I was feeling, because I’ve become so scared about critiquing you, but I thought I was being irrational and you would be able to listen. What I realized is that I wasn't being irrational, that actually you couldn't deal and I'm not sure that you can deal with any critique.

Derek interrupts me: those are your issues.

I say: yes, those are my issues, but they're also issues in our relationship, and that involves both of us.

Derek says: I don't have to be in this relationship.

I say: you're right, you don't have to be in this relationship. I didn't realize I was keeping you in a relationship, but what I'm trying to say is that last week all I wanted to do was to tell you how I was feeling, all I wanted was for you to listen. It didn't have to be adversarial.

Derek has this snide fake smile on his face like he doesn't believe me -- I've never seen that before. He's trying not to empathize with me and I could cry but I hold in because I know he doesn't want me to cry, he doesn't want to support me. He interrupts me again: you said everyone I dated has been stupid.

What? What are you talking about?

You did -- you said everyone I dated was stupid.

I think I said...

You did -- those were your exact words, you said stupid.

That's never even entered my mind. Obviously you heard me say something like that, but that's never even entered my mind. I think some of the people you’ve dated have been brilliant.

That snide fake smile again and he's totally enraged, I start to say something and he interrupts me: that's not your business. When I look him in the eyes, just to see what's going on, he looks at me like it's an endurance test, a staring contest and he's going to win. I look away. I can't even remember what I was going to say. When I look at him to see what's wrong, like you would look at a friend, he looks at me again like we’re in the military no he's in the military and we’re enemies -- he's not going to let any of those enemy thoughts in.

My stomach is a mess; I go to the bathroom, but I can't shit. When I come back out, Derek has opened the window to the fire escape and he’s staring out. I put the carrots and celery in my beans to cook, put some more food on a plate, sit back down at the table. Derek looks at me with all this rage that he's trying to keep in, I almost feel like he's going to hit me. I mean I know he's not going to hit me, but that's what it feels like. I say you're not listening to me. He says I don't feel like you're listening to me either. I say I can't talk to you. He stands up and pushes his chair back, picks up his bag, turns and walks away, out the door. I lock it.

After Derek leaves I'm shaking, I call Grant but I can't form sentences. I keep mumbling or talking really fast and I'm not breathing. It's because I didn't experience what I was feeling in the moment, I mean I held back because Derek didn't want to give me that space. He didn't want to help me feel safe. I haven't done that in a while -- held everything in like with my father -- and it feels horrible. I mean horrible. I mean I didn't even do it when I visited my father before he died, that's what felt so great -- even though nothing was safe, I was still able to express myself. And here I am with the friend I generally feel the most comfortable with, and I'm shutting myself off.

I keep repeating the things Derek said: those are your issues. Those are your issues. I don't have to be in this relationship. I don't have to be in this relationship. I don't have to be in this relationship. You're dumping on me. That's none of your business. You're dumping on me. That's none of your business. You said everyone I dated was stupid. I don't have to be in this relationship. I don't have to be in this relationship. Those are your issues. Those are your issues.

I kind of feel like I was talking with someone in a cult, he was speaking with all this AA language but it didn't really relate to our relationship. I mean I believe that you can take things that you learn from different healing modalities and apply them to the details of your life and that can be empowering, but this just felt formulaic, like he’d planned it out and he'd already decided he wasn't going to give me any space. I definitely think AA has helped Derek in certain ways, helped him not to drink and helped him to build a support system around that. Even though I offered so many times to be part of that support system, I mean direct help in crisis moments, he didn't want to be vulnerable like that around me I guess. So I'm glad he has AA -- he's definitely in a much better place than when he was drinking. But it really felt like he sat down with his sponsor and planned out what he wanted to say or even that his sponsor suggested some of these things, and then he just said them without thinking about the actual reality of our lives together. He even said: my sponsor remembered that we had a conversation about my relationship with Alex five years ago.

I said: I'm sure that's true, but the problem is that every time we have a conversation, you say it's too much to talk about right away and I say that's fine, take some time to think about it and get back to me. And you never get back to me -- I don't think you've gotten back to me once.

Those are your issues. And sure, if he wants me to I will own my feelings of abandonment when he went out with Alex and left me here -- yes, that was 12 years ago. Twelve years is a long time. Really I just wanted him to listen to how I was feeling, even if I think it's ridiculous it's what I feel and when I was talking about how it comes out, that's the part about the people he's dated: I said it made me think who is this stupid person, but then I realized that actually it wasn't about that relationship, it was about my feeling abandoned. Maybe I even wanted to say it so that I could let it go, but I guess now that I'm thinking about it more maybe I also want him to say that's not something he'll do it again. I know he's been working on those issues over the last few years, the way he gets totally tied up in a new relationship and so he's been resisting that pattern, but he's never talked about how that pattern has affected our relationship.

But if I can own that feeling of abandonment, even if I don't really think it's just about me, there's no way in hell that I can say that the fact that he was a disastrous irresponsible drunk on a bunch of psych meds that made him totally nihilistic and at the same time he was a compulsive liar about everything -- there's no way in hell that I can say those are my issues. And it's hard for me to imagine that by sharing my emotions I'm being manipulative. I mean, I actually have the opposite problem -- I hold everything in and Derek knows that. It makes me sick that he would accuse me of using these emotions that are so hard for me to articulate as some kind of twisted game.

Everything he said felt hyper-individualistic -- I'm doing my work; you need to let go of that; those are your issues; I don't have to be in this relationship. And he wouldn't let me speak, that's what I meant when I said you're not listening to me. It's hard for me to imagine that he really thought I wasn't listening, when I sat there so outwardly calm and allowed him to say anything he wanted without trying to cut him off -- I mean no, I didn't agree with him -- that's a different story. I didn't even get to say half of what I wanted to.

All his rage and the irony is that’s what his rage feels like when he's holding it all in, I mean when he's trying to hold it all in. I wonder if we’re in a committed relationship, I mean what the commitment means to him.


grantatee said...

Look at all these complete sentences and thoughts (only referencing your noted previous challenge of doing that after the situation). What a service (sorry Al-anon talk) to yourself and the relationship to take the time to articulate what happened and how you felt about it.

I imagine this must be a really hard time, especially since this relationship historically has been one of comfort, but it really sounds like you are attempting more connection with this conversation, addressing older behaviors from the relationship that don't work for you (like your need to be able to have a mutual relationship that is honest and sharing and one where people think about things and get back to the other- I would argue that this is work that you are doing, challenging your old behavior of holding things in).

i hope the conversation is not over, but maybe it's been revealed that it will not look how you maybe want it too, or need it too.

loving you lots,


CaroleMcDonnell said...

"Those are your issues" <-- Computer mode speak. The kind of language where someone speaks in a way as if to seem like the clear voice of truth instead of entering into the conversation with a total heart and bare caring soul. I totally hate computer mode speech. Very few ways to defend one's self against it once one has said something that gives the computer moder to speak. I can only say I'm sorry about this.

Hope your tummy is better. Will say a prayer. Right now am avoiding ALL grains. Seems doing that, avoiding caffeine, and drinkingwater are the only thing that makes me sleep. Be good to yourself. All my love and care. -C

Gina de Vries said...

Oh, fuck, sweetie. I'm giving you a thousand hugs tonight.

I don't know this person of the full context of your relationship, but this all sounds really hard. You're being brave, having these talks. Don't forget that.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Grant, thanks so much for the support and articulation -- complete sentences, indeed!

Carol, that's a great way to look at it -- definitely computer mode speech, you are so right about that... and there are few ways to reason with it...

And Gina, brave is such a sweet way to put it -- I hope so!

Love --

Anonymous said...

When two people are in a relationship, don't one's "issues" become the other's, too? Even on just a basic friendship level... You need hugs and enough sugar to set your eyes spinning...


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

TPQ, you read my mind -- thanks for the support!