The same thing that gave me shelter kept me bound.
We all develop coping mechanisms for trauma, some more healthy and effective than others. My self-preserving weapon of choice was detachment — From circumstances, people and their egregious actions. Though, I wouldn’t really call it a choice. If we could just detach on command, we’d do it in every unbearable situation. For me, it just kind of happened. The more experience I obtained with situations that destroyed me inside, the better I became at not caring enough to allow this to happen. I got good at it, too good.
I saw myself on the outside of events that directly affected me. I wasn’t concerned, not really. An empath at my core, I learned that I couldn’t care if I wanted to survive. Like a movie, I’d witness something sad and think, “well that sucks.” This sounds robotic and emotionless, but it’s accurate.
I’m not sure how exactly I managed to be so far gone. I couldn’t tell you how to do it. All I know is that I found myself here. I wouldn’t call this space blissful, but it was quiet(er) than the alternative. My perpetual state of detachment protected me from ruin in my younger years, but that cocoon became an obstacle as I grew into an adult.
Once I got older, out into the world and away from much of the familial drama I’d learned to avoid in plain sight, I found it difficult to intimately connect with any person of interest. This was kind of the point initially, to be uninvested. But now, I wanted to cultivate meaningful relationships. I wanted to feel passion for someone. I wanted to be in love. Despite my desire, I could never quite get to that place I needed to be, where this state exists. Indifference had me shackled from head to heart.
Have you ever wanted to care, but just didn’t, and couldn’t? It’s an odd sensation. You wonder if and then start to believe there may be something wrong with you. You think you might be dead inside because you know that you should care.
I’d date people for significant periods of time and then just decide I was no longer interested. Strangely, it seemed to make them even more interested in me. Imagine my surprise to learn that my aloofness was attractive. I didn’t want it to be though. Once I decided I was done I just wanted to be left alone. This wasn’t a game. I didn’t want to be held on to or chased. I think that was the most confusing aspect for the unfortunate fellows on the other end of my apathy. They couldn’t believe I could just move on without a second thought, with no emotion or struggle.
My very first love was in my life for about two years. I mean, I really loved him. We were together and talked all the time. Whether out, at home or on the phone, I never grew tired of him the way I did others. He was my best friend, biggest supporter and greatest source of inspiration. I was different with him, softer. No topic of discussion was off limits for us. We were psychologically naked in front of one another. It was the pure, beautiful expression of fondness I’d previously never experienced.
I loved him so much that when (wrongfully) accused by a friend of his of being seen with another man, I broke down in tears trying to convince him that it wasn’t true. He told me he needed time to think, and I was distraught, hoping with everything within me that he didn’t decide to end our relationship. I don’t know if I was more upset at the idea of losing him, at the thought of him feeling that I’d betrayed him, or because it would all be the result of a false claim. The point is that I gave more than a few damns about the outcome — More than I’d given about anything in a very long time.
Alas, my love came to his senses and we continued writing our story. Then about a year later, I decided that I wanted to close the book. Nothing happened. He hadn’t done anything. There was no reason. I was just over it, and told him as much. I felt I’d outgrown the relationship. Maybe that was justifiable, I was only 21 at this time. We were both changing and growing. I didn’t feel as though the people we’d become were still compatible. The kicker is what came next.
I literally never thought about him again. I never looked back, never wondered how he was doing. For years he tried to fix what was broken, despite my constant assurance that this was an impossible feat. He’d call, less frequently as time went on, but consistently. He’d bring me flowers and try to take me out on dates. I’d always refuse, however. I may have been low on sentiment but I’ve never been heartless. I didn’t want to lead him on or create a false sense of hope. I know myself too well. And I knew that it was over. But he persisted, confused, looking for answers that I couldn’t give him.
Just as I’d finally connected with someone, the tie severed itself. This propensity to detach continued to be a challenge ever since. I’d scare myself with how easily I could let go. Anytime I started to like someone, I’d grow afraid that soon I wouldn’t, because it always happened eventually. This ability to ‘love them and leave them’ without so much as a scratch may sound appealing to some, but it really makes for an unfulfilling love life. Nothing means anything, or lasts.
I believe in learning to practice love without attachment in the sense of being clingy, codependent and losing your identity. That’s important for healthy, empowering unions. Being explicitly detached from the person and situation is something else entirely. It means you’re not fully engaged or devoted. You don’t give of yourself or your energy as you should in order to establish the necessary foundation for a more intimate bond. You’re emotionally unavailable.
One day, someone came along from whom I couldn’t just decide to detach. I ended our relationship with just cause but against my wishes. Maybe that’s it. Before, I always broke things off once I felt the relationship had run its course. I’d never had my hand forced or needed to walk away prematurely. I wasn’t ready, and I felt it. There was a persistent unfamiliar pain. I’ve never been the same. My heart was broken open and that’s how it has remained.
With this newfound vulnerability, as life goes, I soon got a taste of my own medicine. A different someone did to me what I’d done to several others — Got me hooked, and then left me dangling as I held on to a cord that had been cut without warning or explanation. I got to see how horrible it felt. Though I had an idea, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience.
There’s something to be said for walking in those shoes — understanding the heaviness of that weight, battling that confusion, anger and mental fatigue. I don’t know that this will change anything since it’s not as though I’ve done this to others intentionally. In fact, I’ve always been hesitant to get close to people, or allow them to get close to me, until certain that I’m interested in more than casual interaction. I do my best to avoid hurting anyone. Guess I had it coming, nonetheless. The law of karma doesn’t stop to assess motive.
I still don’t connect as easily as the average person, but infinitely more effortlessly than the average version of myself. I’m free to experience heartache and feelings of romantic failure just like everyone else. All I look forward to now, is that one day I won’t have to.