I hugged my naked knees to the cave of my chest and noticed my heart still twitching in the sand beside me. I watched myself crawl out of a hole and grab ahold of the flesh with my biggest, reddest claw.
Blood; observed in the trance between alive and gone. Not numb. But distracted from the terror.
My therapist wants to make a “safety contract” with me for times when I want to cut. She is sometimes a triage nurse, neglecting to perform the surgery which would require my body to be open for more than 50 minutes.
If Dr. Kate brought me to the O.R. and saw the inside, she would find cobwebs and echoes that I try to set on fire sometimes. In a cold corner, she would find a crumpled up piece of paper from 1978. Dear mother, I love you. I want you to love me. I want you to see me. I want you to pick me, not the man that hurts me, not the needles and bottles. If I don’t talk back and do what you say, will you love me? Please circle yes or no. Yes [stick-figure of a woman and child holding hands] No. [Frowny face with big blue tears]. The paper would be brown and wet with lighter fluid. The smoke asphyxiates me for the rest of my life.
Dr. Kate says the point of the psychoanalytic journey is to understand, not to wallow in blame. She says the important question isn’t, “What did your parent do to you?” as much as, “What are your interpretations of your parent’s behaviors, and how can you work against them?”
My interpretation: Safety only exists inside a hollow shell, my only relief is to be encased. Sometimes the shell is a person, and my obsession becomes compelling his flesh to voluntarily snuff me out of myself. Sometimes the shell is a shell.
The same year you were born, Dr. Kate explains, psychology learned about attachment styles. In 1971, researcher Mary Ainsworth observed toddlers as their mothers momentarily left them and then returned to the room. Some of those toddlers adapted to the “strange situation” calmly, knowing that their mothers would surely come back and their needs would always be satisfied. Some of the less securely attached toddlers avoided their mothers upon their return, and some of them smothered their mothers. Then there were the ones who oscillated between rage and clinginess- They desperately wanted love, but only knew it as illusory and unpredictable. They grew up playing out this disorganized attachment style throughout all of their relationships, even their relationships with themselves.
I hate you, don’t leave me. I love you, get the hell out. If I can’t get you to love me, I am worthless. Actually, without you, I’m not worthless. I simply am not.
He crawled inside me and covered me at the same time. The questions, invasive and abrupt, peppered the linguini. He ordered for me when I didn’t know which pasta choice would make him love me. There were tablecloths on the tables, and he paid. For me. He called me 29 times that week, and I brushed off the sand from my claws and burrowed under the ocean with him.
He had to work late. I blew out the candles and shut the curtains and put on four layers of flannel. Then I stripped naked and clawed at myself and rolled in the salt water of my tears. Then I put my armor back on and set fire to his chicken dinner in the sink. I bit his lip so hard it bled when he finally showed up. His shirt smelled like someone else. But I still let him rip all my buttons off. Choose me. Not someone else. Circle Yes [picture of your mouth screaming in ecstasy] or no [picture of your mouth bleeding through the pillow I use to smother you].
Dr. Kate gave me some books to read. “If you are in a relationship where you feel great swings in feelings from love to hatred and anger, you can be sure that you are trying to maintain a relationship without having accepted the other person’s complexity. Probably you are hoping to change the other person, which may be, at root, a way of pursuing an old task of trying to turn your unsatisfying parents into gratifying ones. The intensity of this task and the rage that accompanies it can be just as much a part of the addictive tie as the loving feelings. “ – How to Break Your Addiction to a Person
I feed his narcissism. I am a fish hanging from his hook and liking it. I eat only from his hands and feel only from his mind. The waves that crash on this union are eroding my body, but I like how shiny and skinny I look. I like that I exist. When he sets his pole on the pier, I look back. He’s talking to her? I am a crab again, gnawing through the line and inching toward his arteries. I scream in his face and hit a tendon in his neck.
I pour whiskey down my throat and drive my car over a bridge and send him pictures of all the cracks I say he caused. Controlling others instead of myself is my drug, and I can get him to squirm and to jump. Or to predictably slam the door. Where his puppet begins and my wrist ends escapes me. Or is it his wrist and my puppet? I would wear his body like he was an infant; But I’d also crave the milk of his breast.
I say it’s finally asserting myself, and Dr. Kate says it’s a tantrumed regression to 1975. She’s right, because I’m back on the pier with a picnic basket the next day. If I make you sandwiches, will you love me? Will you choose me? Check yes [picture of me in a blue polka dotted dress standing by the ocean] or no [picture of me, blue and upside down, buried up to my chest in the sand].
If there is is something called “emotional dysregulation,” there is something called “emotional regulation.” Dr. Kate says it’s okay to grieve and accept instead of trying to change an unchangeable thing. She says the unchangeable thing doesn’t have anything to do with me. Casually. As if that will unstick my knees from my hollow chest and make me stop shaking. She tells a story of a turtle. An octopus says horrible things to the turtle every day. So the turtle uses her shell to put up a boundary and remind herself that those horrible things aren’t her. And then she crawls to another beach and actually comes out of her shell, on purpose, because there is a conch that wants to be her friend. And she pushes through the fear, and one day while she’s talking to the conch, she actually forgets about her shell for a second and actually feels alive and not bored.
Dr. Kate is weird sometimes, but at least now I’m rolling my eyes instead of shaking. It feels good to have someone see me as a turtle, not a crab. It feels good to have her tell me a story. Mommy. Mommy read to me. But Dr. Kate sees my eager and reminds me, just because I am worthy of a story does not make her my mommy. Worthy doesn’t necessitate Mommy or anyone else. I dip my toe in the ocean of gray, and it feels better than black or white.
The smoke inside is clearing out. The doctor isn’t gloving up for surgery, because she needs me to do the walking to another beach. No more regressing. No more begging others to “make me whole.” She will walk with me, but she can’t carry me.
A wave is coming. He makes me feel small. He makes me feel nothing at all. I want to plunge into a thousand pounds of water crashing on my bones; I want to dig underneath and suffocate under the riptide. I close my eyes. There is something warm and leathery between us. My body, my mind, my home. Inside, all I can hear is the echo of my own voice. I notice a boundary and a self, and I breathe through my impulses to set them both on fire.
He suddenly feels far away while I am embraced. I observe the crash, and only quiet and powerless suds emerge. Then I come out, breathing, holding my heart in my chest. Dr. Kate is on the pier, smiling. I re-read the love letter to myself, Do you love me? Circle yes or no; and I scribble out everything except two letters and keep it in my pocket. ME
That’s all for now, says the therapist whose name is not Kate, but is tired of writing dry articles, and wanted to shine a light on codependence and Borderline Personality….
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