As I continue my exploration of my loneliness I’m starting to be aware of my feelings and even starting to be able to disentangle some of those. Until recently it has felt like one big confused mess, like a bunch of balls of wool all pulled out and laying in a tangled heap. Until relatively recently I only had the capability to flap my hands about, cry and declare that I felt ‘thing’. Now I understand how disassociated I was with any awareness of what emotions I was actually experiencing. I now understand that they must have been so painful I couldn’t deal with them at all, I shut them off the best I could. I’m now starting to see them, feel them, and deal with them, and can confirm that they are hugely terrifying and painful. My younger self perhaps wasn’t so stupid after all with the hand flapping and crying. 😉
As a child I learned at a very early age that my survival depends on being completely attuned to what another person does and doesn’t do, in my case, like in most, a parent. As a child our very survival hangs in the balance if we don’t have functioning and present parents to take care of us. If a child feels that their parental lifeline is tenuous it is actually life threatening for the child. It’s an inborn instinctive knowledge that we must have our parents to survive at all in those early years. So to ensure we receive care and love from a parent some of us find we need to learn to be a certain way, maybe it’s something we learn to do or say, or to refrain from doing or saying in order to receive the attention we need. We learn to contort ourselves into whatever shape or form necessary to ensure our parents are there to care for us. Our antenna grow outward. We are always one step ahead, we master second guessing the parent to ensure damage limitation in what ever way is necessary. But at a huge cost of failing to develop those antenna that should also go inward. Without the inward antenna we don’t know who we are, what our needs are, what we want, our likes and dislikes, where our boundaries go.
I learned to develop my antenna outward at a very early age and despite my best contorting efforts I lost my parent, it didn’t work. The unspeakable happened, half of my survival team was gone by the age of 4. The other half of my team became incapacitated when I was 11, severely disabled. It’s clearly super dangerous in this world, I need to ensure my lifelines, I need to ensure the people around me are ok and don’t leave at all costs.
The costs however have been very high – ME. At the age of 25 my mantra was still ‘I’ll live my life when Mum’s happy in her life’. I was scared to go to a therapist because I knew they would want me to cut ties with my Mum. I knew in my heart of hearts that one day I would have to let go and allow her to sink or swim, but the pain in my heart meant I continued sacrificing ME for her.
In all my other relationships I have obviously been displaying the same behaviour. I look perfectly sane on the outside, but on the inside I’m terrified, my sense of survival still feels seriously threatened. I’m contorting the outside to what I think will secure me my lifelines – friends, partners, colleagues; playing it cool, being social, the ray of light, staying the prescribed length of time at social events, not overstaying my welcome, helping, but not overwhelming with advice and offers. Never have I even considered what I wanted. I just needed to be allowed to stay, to be appreciated. Not to be abandoned.
So it’s not surprising that in my recovery I find just an empty shell. I don’t know who I am, what I enjoy, what I need, where my boundaries go. Ross Rosenburg and Teal Swan in their interview on codependency talk about an excruciating or pathological loneliness. This loneliness drives us back into codependent relationships, into the caregiver roll, antenna out again. This is where we feel safe.
In recovery I am consciously prioritising cultivating activities and hobbies for myself. So far it is still quite an academic exercise. I have a hard time getting absorbed in those activities, and thats not so surprising really, that would require me to retract the antenna, and thats terrifying. How am I to survive if I haven’t got a constant vigilant eye on my lifelines out there? I’m scared if I don’t ‘maintain’ my relationships they wont still be there when I look up again.
I can also notice now my need for time to myself, time to rest and centre myself. At the same time I find I can’t rest. I don’t feel safe. I reach for my phone and contact a friend. I set up coffee meetings and activities for the coming week. Then realise once again that I’m exhausted, I need time for myself to rest. I can feel my need, but in setting that boundary it triggers such a deep fear, an excruciating loneliness. I’m simultaneously craving time alone and fearing it, creating a huge tension and a push and pull dynamic in me. Planning, cancelling; wanting contact, craving silence.
I highly recommend this interview between Teal Swan and Ross Rosenburg on codependency and narcissism.
I have written once before about my loneliness and touched on the concept of codependency.
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