As part of my journey into discovering who I am and what the fuck is wrong with me, I’ve found out quite a few things about myself. Self-discovery, for me, is usually steeped in denial; anything I realise or discover about myself I more often than not decide is a negative trait, something to be ashamed of and avoided. Something I can and should not admit to. Whilst I have always strived to be honest with my counsellors and other mental health professionals, there are definitely some things I have left unsaid that it would have done me well to discuss with someone sensible, instead of stewing on things I or others may or may not have done, and allowing myself to form negative patterns and thoughts around these things.
One thing I have noticed, and something that almost certainly contributes to my mental ill health, is my inability to let go. For nearly four years I have been in a relationship with my partner, meaning that at some point over four years ago, I broke up with my previous partner. This is something I thought about, up until fairly recently, with alarming frequency. For maybe even as long as three years I was still thinking about this on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. What happened, what I did, how could I have handled it better? Not only was I not letting go, I was staunchly refusing to forgive myself.
The healthy thing to do would, presumably, be to accept what happened, accept my part in it and move on. As someone who suffers from intense self-criticism, this was not an option. I have not once thought about the actual break up with regret; I do not regret that we spent years together, nor do I regret that our relationship ended. All that needed to happen, and that is fine. What I think about instead is my part in it, how I made others feel and (harking back to the classic mind reading from my last post) what they must think of me.
I was consumed by seeking ‘proof’ that others thought I had misbehaved or was a bad person and felt entirely unable to let go of past events and their impact on me, or anyone else. It absolutely did not help that this break up caused a rift between a once-close group of friends; as the instigator of the break up, I was the one who stepped back from the friendship group, and who some members of the group would see separately from time to time. My reaction to this made it harder for me to let go, and more keen to show myself that these people thought of me as inherently bad.
As time went on, my relationship with the remaining members of that friendship group has also deteriorated, and you’d better believe that this is something I have stubbornly refused to let go of as well. It’s the long-awaited proof that they were just biding their time before slowly cutting me off; now they can freely enjoy their friendship group and not have to worry about maintaining a relationship with the heartbreaker.
Around this time, perhaps six months to a year after this break up (what a great time in my life this was), another very close friend of mine simply ceased all communication with me. Literally overnight. My messages were left unread or ignored. No one was able to give me an answer as to why – this person was not involved in the break up nor were they part of the aforementioned friendship group. Naturally, my mind went down that route anyway, and decided that this person too had concluded I was a bad person and no longer wanted anything to do with me. Whilst I can accept that this is probably not the case for my other friends, and that was just inevitable drifting apart, this felt cold. Calculated. I didn’t know what had happened, so it stood to reason that my terrible behaviour and personality must have been the final straw for this person.
It did not, and rarely does, cross my mind that perhaps my behaviour and I had very little to do with it, and that there may have been other circumstances completely irrelevant to my own that caused this shut down.
My inability to see things through anything other than my own distorted filter leads me to assume that anything negative happening in my life is somehow my fault. Instead of taking it for what it is, feeling some sort of appropriate emotion for a time then letting go, I clench it firmly in my fist until it is tattered and torn, then smooth it out, have another look and clench it up again.
If I’m standing firm in my belief that some unpleasant event or feeling is my fault, then it is impossible for me to forgive or show any sort of compassion towards myself.
It’s perfectly natural to feel bad after a break up. To feel sad and guilty, and to feel scared about adjusting to your new life and circumstances. I don’t think it’s natural to hang on to it for as long as I did; often, as time went on, I wasn’t even thinking about what had happened or scolding myself. It was just there, lurking. I didn’t attach feelings to it all the time, but it would still crop up. It’s as though I just wanted to remind myself that this thing had happened, and I wasn’t allowed to forget in case I tried to think of myself as anything other than a heartbreaking harlot.
It’s been a solid three years or so since that friend has spoken to me or acknowledged my attempts at communication. I still think about it. Sometimes I want to try again, to see if we can establish a new, different friendship. Now, I can just about accept that it may not have been all to do with me – but still, whatever did happen, they wanted rid of me. How am I, as a mentally complicated woman with too much time on my hands, supposed to think of it as anything other than personal? How am I, whose strongest talent is self-criticism, going to be capable of letting a fucking gold mine like that go? There’s so much material, so much room for speculation – the critic inside me is rubbing her gnarled hands with glee, spittle flying from her mouth as she crows insults across my brain.
So much has happened over these past few years that I have been unable to release from my grasp. It isn’t enough for me to stop and realise that relationship breakdowns happen to everyone. A lot of people lose their jobs – although, admittedly, not so many for the precise reasons I did. These things happened to me because of my actions, and I deserved the fall out. I can’t let them go or move on, I need to live with these events, this baggage. To carry my load and to keep adding to it until my knees buckle under the pressure of carrying every single mistake or bad thing I have ever encountered.
I have made mistakes. I know that. Mistakes can often be forgiven; as I’ve mentioned before I’m far more likely to forgive others than myself. Letting go of or forgiving painful events does not come easy; for all I know anyone on the receiving end may have forgiven and forgotten a long time ago, but not me. I can reduce the frequency of my thoughts, maybe even push them aside for long periods, but forgiveness never comes.
Slowly, I am starting to accept. I can look back and see that although I may have handled things badly, it has not necessarily changed me or my personality to the point where I enjoy hurting people for fun. I can fleetingly allow myself to consider that I can learn from these things. It is still uncomfortable to consider completely letting go. Who would I be, if not a sum of my failures and poor choices? Am I made of good choices, well thought out decisions and positive life events? Of course not.
I am a patchwork of everything I’ve ever done wrong, or even not done right enough. When I struggle to understand who I truly am, it’s hard to let go of the past as I don’t know what replaces it. A future? The present? How ludicrous. I drag these things behind me, to remind myself and others what a bad idea it is to let me do anything; to prod at the wounds as they try to heal and whisper affirmations to myself. I behaved like this once, so now my current relationship is doomed to fail because I deserve it, it’s payback. My friends left me because they could no longer support or care for such a heartless, cold witch.
It’s exhausting, and I’m ready to cut the ropes. I want to accept, move on, and shut myself up once and for all. I need to let go of the idea that everything I do should be ‘right’, and I ought never again make a mistake. If I was any sort of person, I wouldn’t do these things.
Well I am a person, some sort of person and I’m made of more than what I did four years ago (side note: the way I go on about it, you’d think I’d murdered my ex, all my friends and their families for good measure. I didn’t). Clinging on to mistakes and refusing to forgive myself is not a learning or healing process. It leaves me stuck with my back firmly towards the sun, not allowing any more experiences or happiness until I have truly paid penance, and who knows when that will be.
I cannot expect to feel better or to grow with my feet rooted in the past. I am fooling myself if I think I can live – actually live, not just exist – in this bubble where I am saturated by negativity and self hatred.
My grip is still tight, and the ropes are digging into my hands, but every now and then I take a break to flex my muscles, look around and have a stretch. I’ll still pick it up, but maybe one day I’ll lighten the load a bit. Leave some things at the side of the road where they belong, and carry on without them.