Saturday, September 13, 2008

My letter to Derek, here it is...

Derek dear—

I have to start this letter somewhere, so let me start it here: I love you. I love you so much it hurts I mean usually it doesn't hurt but right now it's stuck in my gut stuck in my throat stuck in my head when I'm planning out this letter in bed while I'm trying to sleep and then when I get up I'm so exhausted I can't possibly write this letter.

Of course I don't want it to hurt, I want it to inhabit that place between here and the sky though that place is me and me and you and that means us and right now instead it's scary. It's scary because I don't want to be alone here, or I mean I don't want to be here without you, even if I'm not alone I'm more alone and I don't need or want that anymore. I mean I haven't wanted that for years, starting right around when I met you it wasn't because I met you it was because I decided I wanted to feel and you were part of that feeling that joy and that striving that embrace that became hope.

I'm so much more hopeful than I used to be, I mean about myself -- not about the world, of course. And I want to thank you for helping me to get here, here in myself, here in myself with you. And maybe that's what I treasure most about our relationship: that I can feel totally embodied and present. I treasure the safety our relationship provides, the physical intimacy that is more than physical it's an emotional communication through the gestures of intimacy even just a brush across the cheek or a quick holding of the hands this is what I am so worried about losing.

I guess I've sensed you pulling away, I mean before these recent conversations, maybe it's not away its back and forth but it still feels scary sometimes because I don't feel like you communicate. I mean communicate to me in which direction you're pulling and it's like I just have to figure it out and that's draining. Or, I have to be the one to initiate a conversation and that also feels tiring. I mentioned that a year or so ago, when I asked if you could check in with me from time to time to see how I'm feeling about our relationship, but unfortunately you haven't done that.

Which brings us to our recent conversations. I started the first one by saying that you're the most important person in my life, that I feel confident about the longevity of our relationship and our trust and intimacy, but I don't feel secure. I don't feel secure because I'm always on edge about critiquing you in any way and then everything circles in my head and gets stuck there. It's a pattern I have from that five-year period starting when I first moved back to San Francisco, that five-year period when your drinking was most obviously out of control, when you were on the psych meds, when you were totally nihilistic and would lie about absolutely everything. There were things I told you somewhere around the beginning of that period -- that I felt the psych meds were making you more manic and more depressed, that I couldn't deal with you lying to me all the time, that I didn't like being around you when you were drinking. These things enraged you, and as I've admitted several times, I wasn't good at talking about the psych meds and also the end of your veganism, that I was judgmental about both of those things right away and so then it was hard for you to hear me.

With your drinking I feel like I was clearer and actually not judgmental at all -- I've always understood drugs and their place in my life and the lives of people I love -- mostly I just told you that I didn't like that you lied to me all the time, and I didn't want to be around you when you were drinking because you became a macho asshole. Those things also enraged you. Any time I pointed out contradictory behavior, you became incensed -- even when it was something completely obvious, like when we would go out and you would say ahead of time that you weren't drinking but then within minutes you would go into the store and come out smelling like liquor. If I mentioned that you’d said you weren't drinking, you would act like I was accusing you of something preposterous. You were asking me to be complicit in your lies, over and over and over and sometimes it felt like the only way to continue our relationship.

I came back to San Francisco for these three close friends who had encouraged me to return and build family, and then two of those friends had left within a month and I was scared I would lose you too. So I made the decision that you were too important to lose as a friend, and I became hypervigilant about what I said and when, and tried to say things in the least confrontational way possible and that's the pattern I still have today, even though you haven't been drinking for a while now and you're way more present and engaged and thoughtful and it's incredibly inspiring to see you grow.

So I wanted to let go of that pattern, I felt like it was irrational because now you can deal. And so I told you these two things that I hold inside, and yes one of those things was about Alex, about how I felt abandoned when the two of you left me here and yes, we've talked about that before and the reason I wanted to mention it again was because I notice I become resentful about people you're dating and it doesn't actually relate to those people at all, it relates to feeling abandoned by you 12 years ago. And yes, that's a long time ago. All I wanted was for you to listen to me, is that really too much to ask?

Since that conversation, of course, I've had more time to think about it. I've thought about how, over the last few years, you've done a lot of work on your pattern of immediate over-attachment to people you're dating and you've done a great job of breaking that habit, but I guess you've never acknowledged how that pattern has affected our relationship. Not just with Alex but with others too. Maybe I wanted you to acknowledge that.

But I'm not attached to that outcome -- as you keep saying, "those are your issues," and I guess I can take that one on.

There's no way, however, that I can possibly say that your disastrous alcoholism was one of my issues.

I find it ironic that you keep saying "I'm a different person," as if that means you don't need to be accountable for the choices you made in the past. Yes, you did issue a one-or-two sentence acknowledgment that you were sorry for that time, and if there was anything you could do to make amends, then to let you know. I remember your eyes got all teary so I knew it was heartfelt, but I kept waiting and waiting for something deeper. That felt like one tiny initial step and I kept wondering if it would ever become something substantive. I'm still waiting.

All I wanted was to tell you how that period continues to affect me now in the way that I'm scared to critique you about anything. All I wanted was for you to listen, and that would have actually made me feel more secure. Instead, now I feel way less secure.

I don't understand what was so threatening about that conversation. I don't understand why it was so stressful to listen to me "go on for 10 minutes," as you complained, or even 20 or 30 or 40 minutes or four hours -- that seems like very little to ask in a deep relationship of 16 years.

You said several times that I should have pulled away and taken care of myself, and I don't know if you said that with the awareness that for me to pull away from someone for five years would mean that we would no longer be friends. But that's the truth of the matter. And I'm glad we’re friends. I wanted to tell you some things that circle around in my head because I thought it would make us closer.

I find it ironic that you keep saying "I'm a different person," because what I've learned from this ordeal is that actually you're not a different person when it comes to listening to critique from me. Not only are you not a different person, but you actually can't deal any more now than you could deal when you were a disastrous alcoholic. So I've learned that my fears were not irrational at all. Now I have to figure out what that means for our relationship.

Another thing you keep repeating is how much work you've done, and I think I've been quite supportive of all that work. I'm totally proud of you. But that work does not directly relate to our relationship. Sure, there are ways that it impacts our relationship, but actually I don't feel like you do the same kind of work on our relationship: deep, interrogating, consistent work. Like I said before, every time we have a conversation about our relationship, it's me who brings it up, and usually you say that what I’m addressing is too much for you to respond to right away, and I say that's fine, take some time and think about it, and get back to me. And you never get back to me.

Sure, sometimes I notice that you've taken what I say into account, like with your anger. I noticed that after I brought it up a year or two ago, you tried to become more aware about the times when you get enraged. But you've never brought it up with me, never involved me in the process. Maybe you don't feel safe doing that, because it makes you feel vulnerable. Maybe that's a fundamental tension in our relationship -- I want to feel vulnerable. Maybe you don't. I'd love to hear what you think about that.

Our second recent conversation was scary for me. It was scary because you were talking to me in this snide, dismissive, condescending, scornful way and I've never seen that from you. You were using these stock phrases like "you're dumping on me" and "those are your issues," phrases that might relate to some relationship but don't actually relate to ours. I don't have a habit of overly revealing my interior emotional terrain, I have the reverse pattern -- and I'm trying to break that, I'm trying not to hold everything in, not to deal with it all on my own. Actually, you've asked me to do that, to involve you in my process. I wanted your participation in helping me to feel more secure. And, as I said before, yes, those are my issues, and they're about our relationship. There are two people in our relationship.

The conversation was scary because you immediately became so enraged. When I looked you in the eyes, you looked at me like we were in the military and this was a staring contest and you were going to win at all costs because the loser dies. That's how it felt -- it reminded me of when you were on the highest dose of the psych meds and we were on the beach and you said wouldn't it be great to know how to gut an animal with your bare hands. Except this time you were looking right at me.

That conversation was scary because I couldn't believe that you’d thought about our previous conversation for a week, and come back to me with eyes so distant glazed over with rage. I felt like you were delivering some kind of script to pull away from me, hollow recovery language as a barrier to intimacy. The way you were talking felt formulaic and reductive.

Over and over again, you've said I'm the person you feel closest to; often, you say I'm the only person you feel close to at all -- I can't help wondering if you know what you're risking. And why?

In some ways, I'm still in a state of shock because I thought the hard part would be speaking, that you would listen and everything would be fine. Obviously I was wrong. And now I'm stunned.

In our most recent conversation, I could barely speak at all. I could barely speak because I was so scared I was shaking it was horrible, I can't remember ever being like that with anyone in my life. Sure, it was an old feeling of childhood trauma, but here in the present day with this person who I love and generally trust so much. Then you were telling me that I talk for too long and it overwhelms you, and you were asking for the exact opposite of what I want, the exact opposite of what you've previously requested. I want to tell you more, to tell you what I'm feeling in the moment; you've asked me not to process everything so much before bringing it up. And here you were telling me that I needed to condense everything, and to take 10 minutes of speaking and make it into two sentences and that actually means way more processing.

I guess I want some clarity. I wonder if you're really asking me to tell you less, if you're asking for more distance in our relationship. Obviously we have that now. We have that now and it scares me. I still want to be closer, but I also want to be aware of exactly what you want to offer me, so that I can figure out what I want to offer you. That's why I'm writing this letter.

All my love, really all of it—


gina said...

dearest mattilda,

you are so loving and so vulnerable and so direct all at the same time. i totally admire you and love you love you love you all your bravery and love honest love no hidden agenda love makes everything grow.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Gina dear--

I would never suspect any hidden agenda from you, my love -- thanks so much for the support!

Oh -- and I was just telling Gina de Vries, another supportive friend, that with all the support from two Ginas I'm certain that the answer to my problems is to find more friends named Gina.

Maybe Derek could change his name.


keidy said...

Mattilda: Thanks for sharing the letter with us. That level of honesty must be very difficult. I am glad you started the letter by telling him how much you love him. I am sure Derek has received the letter. I hope he gets back to you soon.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I know -- honesty, I try! Oh, deep breath...

Love --