Dear sweetheart: When you’re involved with me, you’re involved with my “abandonment issues”

Susan Saybrook
Mar 13 · 5 min read

And I’m sorry about that. I wish it could be a la carte, so we could both fill our plates with other, happier stuff.

I even hate the term “abandonment issues”. Like the term “trigger”, it has been so overused, misused, irreverently used, that it has gotten a bad rap. It makes people think of the character on Fatal Attraction who boils the family pet.

So, let’s set the record straight to begin with. I am not going to boil your bunny. I am not going to act all clingy. In fact, the opposite is likelier. Because if you bump up against that abandonment-scarred part of me, I am probably disappearing, or, at a minimum, pulling wayyyyyyy back.

When you bump up against the abandonment-scarred part of me, I am not Glen Close going into overdrive, trying to prevent losing you. I am in shock and sick to my stomach and grieving because I think you are already gone.

Everyone with abandonment issues has had the same experience, just in different forms. I’ve come to understand this after many years of working in the mental health field, working on my own issues, and having friends confide their experiences. Sometimes it was an absent or disapproving parent, sometimes an out-of-the-blue relationship ending. It might have been one catastrophic thing, or a series of experiences. Whatever it was, we felt it in our bones, and it got mixed up with our self-worth.

So you go through whatever it is, how many times it takes, and then you’re done with it, and you say, Thank God that didn’t kill me, ’cause it really felt like it might. But now it’s done.

Only then you’re in a new relationship, and you find out.

It isn’t done.

Consider you and me. We have been in our relationship (if you haven’t recently left me?) for a good while now, and in that time, I’ve lost you, without actually losing you, at least 25 times. I am not exaggerating when I say that. Granted, some of these have been momentary, like the time we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, and I saw your face go grim, and I knew you were going to break up with me, but actually, you had just (unbeknownst to me) spotted your ex-wife. I tried to tell you about it later, but you brushed it off, thinking my reaction was me being quirky. You found it mildly annoying.

What you don’t know about thohat moment is the physical response I had, along with the certainty that a breakup was forthcoming. My knees felt shaky and untrustworthy. I felt like I might throw up. My whole body felt like it had been plunged into ice water. And then, the numbness. For a long while after that, I couldn’t feel anything at all. I was sleepwalking. Useless. A shell.

That was one of the “little” times. In bigger times, times involving actual fights or comments about re-considering the relationship, I have felt like I had walking pneumonia. My tears have come suddenly and violently. And any small step toward or away from you has felt like a death.

Upon a death.

Upon a death.

And here’s where I sound like the Fatal Attraction woman, right? It isn’t “normal” to go through such intense reactions. How whacko. How unstable.

But I’m not in the present anymore. I’m stuck back in the old experience, and I can’t get it untangled from the here and now.

A person’s initial abandonment does not have to be dramatic. In fact, some of the most wounded people I know have been scalded by the kind of garden variety parental neglect that would be considered dull in a movie.

For me, there was more than one source. But there is one particular scenario that I relive every. single. time. now.

I was pregnant with preeclampsia, and getting sicker fast. I was on bed rest orders, and my then-boyfriend was told repeatedly by the doctor that it would not be safe to leave me alone, because I might need to be hospitalized at any time.

Only my boyfriend was, for a variety of reasons, not a highly functioning adult at the time.

So one day, he tells me he’s going to the convenience store, less than 5 miles away, to get some orange juice.

I lay in bed as one hour became two became five. I was really ill at this point — getting up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water required Herculean effort.

So I just lay in bed, my thoughts vacillating between, “He’s going to come back — of course he’ll come back” to “I’m going to die here alone.”

I wouldn’t learn until later that he had actually gone to a casino.

He stayed there for two days.

Now, I’m a therapist, and I’ve also been in therapy. I know about abandonment, and I know about trauma bonding. What it’s like to be and feel literally dependent on someone who you are beginning to realize has no sense of feeling for or commitment to you. A lot of what I went through — what I still go through — makes sense to me.

But it also changed me.

As a human being, I am biologically wired to need connection.

As a trauma survivor with “abandonment issues”, I seek connection, but do not have any faith in another person’s feelings for me or the idea that they will stay.

I did not date for 5 years after leaving that relationship.

Perhaps it should have been 10 years.

Perhaps I should never date again.

Regardless, here we are, in a relationship (if in fact we are still in one), and I am in and out of a kind of agony I do not want to deal with. When you are mad at me, it feels crushing. When you are busy or preoccupied, it feels like a train pulling out of the station.

I wish I could just be me, minus the “abandonment issues”, at least long enough to sort out what the hell I think is happening in the relationship.

Instead, I am waiting for the axe to fall, the shoe to drop.

It isn’t fair to either of us.

Like the fact that I will never show you this letter.



Susan Saybrook

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Things you might find in this writer's catch-all drawer include: child's artwork, university ID, dog treat, half-written list, & poem on a napkin.