The Value of an Excruciating Relationship

Once, for sixteen months, I marched straight into the desert but somehow couldn’t extricate myself.

I fell so deeply in love that I couldn’t see how bullied I was … or what a gelatinous ball of mush I had become. I got to see graphically, up close and personal, exactly how far I could go for love and acceptance.

In this relationship, I chose the role of victim and spent night after night on the couch crying my eyes out … yet still I couldn’t leave.

Today I regard this woman as a profound teacher. Because after I walked away licking my wounds, I began the most intense personal growth of my life.

But then desperation can do that for you.

We choose the role of victim because we know it intimately.

Oddly, it’s comfortable. We choose our abusers because we know them somehow, too. Meeting this particular girlfriend was a landmark event for me. I was immediately captivated by her charm, her smile, her wit, her intelligence. In my eyes she had it all.

Yet in the months that followed I disappeared emotionally as she became more and more controlling. We had this deep soul connection, a shared humor that wouldn’t quit, and a true appreciation for each other. Yet at the same time, we also had endless drama, manipulation, and torment. We were in lock-step with each other, creating our suffering together through some silent, mutual pact.

By the end I was pretty much inert and would do anything she suggested. I had lost myself completely and began making crazy choices. When April came I even considered not paying my taxes for the first time in my life. I had chosen an unstable person to be with because I, myself, was unstable as well.

What I see now is that I was needy.

My marriage of 25 years had just ended and I was grieving. The trouble was I didn’t know how to grieve. Instead of holing up and giving myself time to go through the process, I decided to pretend it wasn’t happening. Little did I realize how vulnerable this would make me.

Exploitation is what often happens to needy people — or sensitive, creative, talented people who are trained from young childhood to perform for others, as I was. I was reminded of this by the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy. In it, Wilson, a true sensitive genius, was prey to an abusive, vindictive father, and then an equally abusive, seriously crazy psychoanalyst, Dr. Eugene Landy.

Wilson was both terrified of Landy and yet unable to leave. I can relate to that. I convinced myself that leaving my girlfriend would prove my undoing. I believed there would never be another onr like her, and that I was supremely lucky to have her in my life at all. When it ended, I felt both anguished and relieved.

This is how growth happens, in painful splats and weary staggers forward.

Three years later, I have emerged whole. I no longer need people in my life who disrespect or use me. And I’ve found a love that is right, whole and complete. What is really remarkable about my current relationship is that there is no drama. It simply doesn’t exist. Instead, there is deep acceptance, deep listening and a truly profound joy.

Turns out that’s what real love is all about.

By simply listening to myself and allowing myself to let go and grieve, I became whole. I stopped dating for the better part of two years and progressively became more accepting of myself. I started to trust my own capability, and forgive my mistakes. I found satisfaction in a quiet life, and fulfillment in the process of grieving.

I stopped being the scooped out artist who waited for others to define her and give her value. I started speaking up for myself and became my own fierce advocate — which was incredibly uncomfortable at first but then, remarkably, became fun.

And I did not do this alone.

I found all kinds of groups to guide me through this process — grief groups, 12-Step groups, friends, family, mentors, coaches and a good therapist. It turned out there is no valor in forging a difficult path alone. And there is great wisdom to be gained from a group conscience.

Now I have dissolved back to joy, for that is how it feels. The brittle, artificial structure that propped me up for so many years is gone, no longer needed. I am clean, whole and strong once more.

This is the value of hitting an emotional rock bottom and enduring the pain of finally, sadly telling the truth. For then there’s only one way to go.

If you’re paying attention, that way will be up.


Originally published at suzannefalter.com on June 17, 2015.