Story first written October 2015
When I met my partner 3 years ago I fell completely in love and I fell hard. It was an experience I never really had before. Usually I took a more apathetic approach to dating. Before I met him, I was always working so hard on being successful in life that I didn’t have time to think about becoming emotionally mature or worry about how to act in relationships.
To me he was perfect, he seemed to love everything about me and the chemistry was amazing. It just felt like coming home. I used to joke that I thought he was a serial killer because it was too perfect. I was sure we were going to take the relationship escalator straight to blissville and never look back.
Looking back, I can also recall the terror I felt as well. But I played it cool… acted like I knew I was a catch and that I loved myself and all that shit. I mean, it wasn’t totally disingenuous. I was busy measuring my worth externally and I was doing pretty well by society’s standards. Well at least I thought I was but something was always missing.
Secretly, I was counting down the days until he got bored or he saw the “real me” and it’d be over. I thought I’d even beat him to the punch and point out all the ways he seemed to prove that he didn’t really want to be with me. No amount of reassuring would suffice. A year or so went by and it was still a mystery to me that I hadn’t fucked it all up by now.
Since I’m a mental health therapist by trade, I like to think have some very sophisticated psychological defense mechanisms and I know alllll the jargon to sound like I’m not an emotionally stunted 12 year old pretending to be an adult. I mean, I was literally teaching classes on co-dependence and how not to project your shit on to other people. Meanwhile, I was not practicing what I was preaching.
I remember one day, at the inpatient drug rehab I worked at, I was running a group educating them about healthy relationships. We talked about loving yourself first, asking for what you need directly, and using “I statements”. Then right after group, I ran to my phone to finish my epic text battle with my partner, saying
I feel like you never make time for me…
I feel like you’re so selfish and immature…
I feel like if you really loved me you’d show it by putting my needs first and rearrange all of your plans for me..
Then I went and cried in my office, wiped my tears and pulled myself together to go run another group. Then I’d come home, have a 4 hour fight with him and complain that he wasn’t giving me enough quality time.
<sighhh> It’s a mystery how I could be in complete denial of my own behavior and co-dependent tendencies. But denial is a pretty amazing thing actually, it’s very comfortable… for a while…
You see, I thought all of our problems could be boiled down to one thing: he was not being a good partner and if he’d just change, then I’d be totally cool. Whelp, he disagreed. So we found a couples therapist and I was SURE she was going to scold him and tell me how right I was. Instead, she focused on me. She told me I had all these symptoms of co-dependency, that I was minimizing the impact of my “less than nurturing” childhood and worse yet, I was being emotionally abusive, controlling and pushing my partner away.
I was like FUCK. THAT. I’m a therapist! I have my shit together, I help other people get their shit together…. (smh)… The real mystery is how this shit didn’t get thrown in my face sooner.
We continued to go to therapy together for a while. We’d talk about the same stuff over and over. I’d defend my actions. We learned a couple new tricks to sound like we were making progress. And, things did start to feel a little better. So what better way to throw more strain on a struggling relationship than to sign up for a week-long, intense, roadtrip to the middle of the desert? What could possibly go wrong?
So naturally, we bought tickets to Burning Man! I had never been before, my partner had been once, right before we met. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a week-long festival in the desert. I always thought it was just a big party, good dubstep music, lots of hippies doing lots of sex and drugs. But it’s way more than that. It’s also known to be really challenging both personally and on relationships. We joked to other people that we had to at least stay together long enough to make it to burning man. But behind the joke was a real fear that we wouldn’t even make it one more week let alone the 5 months til Burning man.
So anyways, the next few months were very painful and confusing. We talked seriously about breaking up at least a dozen times. Things got so bad that my partner moved out of our room and into the spare room and we talked seriously about me moving out permanently. This went on for months. I was devastated. I felt abandoned and ashamed. I would come into his room begging him to move back into ours and when he’d refuse, I’d go cry myself to sleep.
We stopped seeing the therapist together but I continued on my own. And I went all in. A therapist in therapy right?….. soo meta! Somehow, things started to rapidly shift. In the midst of that chaos, I was starting to get more awareness, and getting more hints at what I was really needing and wanting but just trying to get in the most ass backwards of ways. I started to see that innocent, scared, wounded part of myself that needed a lot of love and support from ME. I actually put a picture of myself from one of the worst days of my childhood in a frame and I looked at her every morning and told her I was going to be there for her.
As Burning Man got closer and closer and things got worse and worse between us. Neither one of us was very excited to go to this intense event together. Less than a week beforehand we considered selling our tickets and taking the $500 in camp fees we’d already contributed as a loss. For some unknown reason, we decided to go for it. I was prepared for the worst. I imagined he would abandon me, be off trying to have sex with all these beautiful festival girls (btw we’re in an open relationship so that’s not completely out of the question), and I’d be alone crying in our hexayurt for the majority of the week.
I asked myself if I could handle that and something told me I had to. I was so scared and confused on what to do, and then a strange thing happened; I just relaxed and surrendered. This didn’t feel like a conscious choice, it was the only option left. There’s a saying that “you don’t get the burn you want, you get the burn you need” and I decided to see what that might be.
I think some credit should go to divine intervention. Like one night, a few days before we were to leave for Black Rock City, I came home and I was pissed that he hadn’t taken the trash out. I started to go down the rabbit hole of he is so disrespectful, he doesn’t show me he loves me, no one ever considers me etc. So I decided to take it out, you know, so I could throw it in his face later. On my way out, a giant purple dragonfly nearly hit me in my face. I believe in all those animal totems so I rushed to look it up and it meant and invitation for transformation. There was nothing left to do but surrender and trust. I said oh well. This relationship might be over. And I’m still ok. It was lots of moments like that over time that lead to a new understanding of my inherent self-worth. I accepted the invitation to transform.
And obviously, I survived! Actually, I did more than survive, I thrived!! I’ve never had so much fun and felt so free! I was completely myself, my inner child was having a blast but my functional adult was on board to set limits, nurture myself and not get hooked into unhealthy relationship dynamics. Our relationship felt like how it did when we first met. We genuinely wanted to be around each other all the time. He even remarked on how much progress I’ve made in my recovery and how it scares him because now he knows it’s his turn to work on his shit. . .
We’ve been back from burning man for about a month now. Since then, things have been a lot better with our relationship. I don’t know, maybe it was the thousands of dollars of therapy I endured, or maybe it was the hundreds of hours I spent journaling and listening to self-help audio books. Or maybe it was an act of god or all the Molly I did on the Playa. Who knows? It’s a mystery… but something really clicked. I feel like a completely different person. I’ve started to feel this really empowered, courageous, kind and wise part of self. Now, I feel THAT part of myself more than I ever have before.
Lately, I’ve been attracting the most amazing people and experiences. I found a circle of amazing people to support me. I feel so grounded and secure yet expansive at the same time. I feel more love for myself than I even knew was possible. I feel like a mature adult for the first time in my life. At first, I was suspicious and confused. How could these amazing people like ME and want me in their lives? Why am I not freaking about that person’s objectively bad or disrespectful behavior? It just didn’t feel like my “normal”.
There was this place at Burning Man that you could stick your head in this little hole and ask a fortune teller any question you had. I asked, what does the future hold? He responded with “It doesn’t matter. Move along”.
And you know what? He’s right! Because now I know no matter what happens, I have a good foundation of my own recovery and maturity to deal with anything. It feels so good, so exhilarating. Now I actually look forward to the unknown. I can’t wait to see what mysterious shit will undoubtedly happen to me in my life. And for the first time, I feel more excitement than fear.