For anyone who suffers from BPD, PTSD, or past relationship trauma: pay attention. For anyone who has lived through relationship hell and attempted to love again: this is for you.
Sometimes I find myself speaking to my current spouse as if he were the last one. The one who used me, demeaned me, humiliated me, and objectified me. Sometimes I find myself triggered by things he says, and it isn’t even him. It’s like suddenly, I hear the old voice yelling the same words he is muttering; and I react as if I’m speaking to the old, rather than the new. As you could probably imagine (or maybe you know from experience), this can kill any “new love” buzz. Because our new loves just don’t deserve that.
It’s a real eye opener to realize that the love you are so used to, wasn’t love at all. But it was torture wrapped in lust. It was infatuation surrounding hell. It was turmoil disguised as passion. But that’s why we stuck around for so long, right? Because our abusers pulled the wool over our eyes. Because they were bad at what we needed, but good at what they did:
Obsession. Manipulation. Intimidation.
Coming out of a 5 year episode of a horribly bad movie, it’s like culture shock to have discovered someone with actual intellectual capabilities. Someone with discernment, compassion, and moral standards. Someone who has shown me what love actually is; and no, I’m not just talking about the heartwarming, always happy kind. But the raw, emotional, truthful kind of love that surpasses every limit I ever thought I had.. or needed.
It’s the kind of love that hurts, but not as in ‘pain.’ As in cold hard truths you never wanted to hear. Like being held accountable for wild or asinine actions; like being forced to look inside yourself and mend the bruises.. because your new love shouldn’t have to do that for you.
After relationship trauma, I find it exceptionally difficult to hear criticism of any kind. I am extremely defensive because I’m used to being on constant ‘fight or flight’ mode. I am stubborn about taking advice, I am picky about being told what to do, and for lack of a better word: I have no ‘chill.’
I’ve never quite realized how draining I can be, until the man I love told me he needed a break for a few days. I didn’t understand what he meant.. “Uh, no.. A break means ‘break-up,’ so is that what he’s trying to do? I don’t deserve that.. Hell no. I won’t put up with it.”
My initial reaction was to throw a hissy fit and make sure he knew just how badly he was messing up. But then I reminded myself: this guy loves me. He said he needs time to himself. I love him. He deserves time to himself.
As hard as it was, I went through the motions and made it through the days that he decided not to call. I had moments where past insecurities would creep in: maybe he’ll never call because I’m unworthy. Maybe he realized I’m too much work, because I am. Maybe I pushed him away.
On the third day my phone rang. It was him, and the conversation I answered the phone to absolutely blew my mind. He blew me away with honesty, with love, with hope, and with comfort. Before him, I never thought it possible that a man could connect with me on such a deeper level than emotional means or physical attraction. This man connects with me on a much deeper basis; as deep down as it gets. He understands my past, he knows why I do and say the things I do; and if he doesn’t, he is ready to learn.
What he said to me during that phone call is a lesson to everybody, so here it is:
“I’ve figured out the perfect way that I could express to you how our relationship is going right now- our relationship is fine, I love you, I’m going to marry you. But I have a perfect description of how this is actually working.
So: we both have love tanks. And both of our love tanks are full when we’re around each other, when we can be there for each other. But when we’re away, your love tank.. at the bottom, it has little holes in it -your love tank has leaks in it- and those leaks, have to do with your BPD, and the trauma from your abuse.
Constantly, your love tank is draining slowly. When we talk, I pour some of my love out of my love tank into you, because I love you. I love you.. indiscriminately, I love you more than I’ve loved any woman ever; so I’m happy to give you some of my love tank. Then a day goes by and we don’t talk, and your love tank drains from those holes (from the BPD and from the PTSD) and then when we talk again, I pour more of my love into your love tank to replace what was lost.
The whole time, I’m not making enough love in my love tank -on my end- to fill it up enough. Because then at some point, you have some sort of interaction with your abuser, and it opens up this giant hole at the bottom of your tank.
And it drains everything out.
Then we talk, and you’re on the edge of a breakdown.. So I pour everything I have back, to try to replace some of what you lost. Then I look at my own love tank: my love tank is empty. And you know.. through everything you’re going through, it’s simple stuff that I could normally deal with; you might be quick to anger with me, you might be quick to question me or tell me, “Oh, so I’m always wrong, huh?” but at this point, it’s like I can’t deal with it, because my love tank is empty.
I’ve given you everything I had in my love tank and now mine is empty. And then I can’t deal with it until I deal with it badly.
Then I hang up, and I have to go back and sit in my cell; angry and agitated, and I have to be around these other inmates who are not the most savory characters. And my threshold for dealing with the people around me- I can no longer do, and that puts me in a risky situation. At the same time, I have my own emotional stuff that I have to deal with.
I’ve invested all my love into you, and I don’t have any for myself; and I don’t have any patience for anything because I’m just completely drained. What I need, is I need you to patch the holes in your love tank. And what that is, is I think you should seek abuse counseling because I feel like sometimes when you talk to me, what you’re saying, is completely foreign to me because it doesn’t apply to our relationship.
It’s like the way you’re talking to me, you’re talking to your abuser. Not only do I want you to go to counseling, but I would like to attend with you, at least once a month, so we can talk about this.. and I can better know if what you’re saying is from a trigger of your abuse, or if what you’re saying is real, and how to deal with it.
All I want is for you to patch the holes. And a big hole to patch, is going to be your reactions to your abuser. Because that’s really hard for me, as a man who loves you so much, to see my future wife break down at a single text message; from this guy who I know is not worth the dirt on the bottom of your shoes.
And to see my future wife just break down and there’s nothing I can do.. it’s so frustrating, it’s so angering, I can’t even describe how much it destroys me to see you go through that and know that there’s not a single thing I can do.
Then I have to hang up the phone, and basically just deal with it. I knew what I signed up for when I asked you to marry me, I knew that you had stuff you needed to work through, and it’s not your fault. You have been through some real stuff, and we need to work through it. That’s all I’m committed to doing; if you’re willing to work through it, then I definitely want to be a part of it. Because I love you. I love you.“
As I listened, a wave of calm washed over me and I knew that what he was saying was important.. and truthful. There are so many holes in my heart from my previous relationship that he so tirelessly works to fill. So many insecurities, triggers, and misconceptions.
Before this analogy, I don’t think I would have understood it. I don’t think I would have understood his need to take time for himself. I wouldn’t have thought about how unfair it is to project past hurt onto someone else and expect them to fix it. I wouldn’t have comprehended how draining it can be to be with someone who has been taunted and tormented by an ex partner. I wouldn’t have considered how heartbreaking it must be for the man who loves me, to watch me agonize over past events.
Without this bomb of ‘love tank’ truth, I wouldn’t have been aware.
I have a bad habit of being so ‘in my head’ that I forget to think about how I’m coming off to others. I forget that what causes hysteria, worry, and turmoil within myself, most likely won’t do the same to other people. I forget that when I constantly express those feelings, my loved ones suffer. They are left worrying about me.. when there’s really nothing their worry can do.
My previous posts have highlighted points such as overcoming abuse, moving on, and letting go of the past. Those are all things that I had to work very hard on, and I’m so proud of my progress. But what I never gave much thought to; is how that past pain would creep up in unexpected places. At unexpected times.
Like when my significant other asks me simple questions, like: “What did you do today?” or “Why did you do it like that?” or “What is wrong?”
In those moments, it’s as if I’m taken back to that ex-man in my life; who wouldn’t ask those things with kindness and sincerity. He asked them with a demeaning nature, with a cruel undertone, with a taunting voice that left me feeling embarrassed and defensive. Because of that, I respond snippy and hostile. I put my guard up, I need to protect myself. I lash out. It’s times like that when I realize that past trauma really can take a toll on a new relationship.
Like when my significant other attempts to teach me, or show me his way, or expand my knowledge in a topic he has mastered. Suddenly I’m agitated, I’m checked out, and yes, I’m defensive. Because the man before him shaped me that way. He conditioned me to feel dumb and worthless to a man. He taught me to put up a front; to remain stubborn in my ways. He taught me to disregard my future love’s acknowledgement for growth and progress. He trained me to be an absolute bitter monster.
There are too many scenarios to put into words; but those of you who have experienced relationship trauma, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at. You’ll know what I mean when I say: “It’s as if I react to present situations with past pain.” Because that’s exactly what happens.
I react to present situations with past pain.
I let my love tank run dry, because there is just too many factors that leave it that way. I place a burden upon the love of my life to fill up my tank, when it is a nearly impossible task to successfully complete.
How can he fill my heart with love, when my heart isn’t well enough to handle the load?
I learned so much in that single phone call; the major thing being, that awareness is key.
I need to be more aware of my holes. My triggers, my pains, my stressors. I need to learn how to manage those things, and more importantly, learn how to react to them in a constructive way. Because falling apart at the first sign of distress, is just not working out.
I need to be more aware of how I project my pain on the one I love. When he asks about my day, I shouldn’t be irritated. When he shows me something new, I shouldn’t check out. When he gives honest & constructive advice, I shouldn’t be defensive. Because unlike that ex-man in my life, he is sincere and only wants the best for me. He knows that. I know that. So why do I do it?
I need to be more aware of his love tank.. I can’t be so consumed with my own. I need to stop and take a minute to assess his needs and desires. I need to let go of past relationship issues and move forward with new relationship triumphs. He deserves my full attention; not the ‘leftover’ kind of attention he receives after the meltdown is over and he’s poured all of himself into me. He is worth more than the ideation of my ex-pain.
He deserves to be valued higher than my trauma.
As he mentioned above, the biggest holes to patch are my reactions to past abuse. I can either be a victim or a survivor. A victim dwells on the pain of their circumstances; a survivor uses their pain to better their circumstances.
Having been through relationship hell and back, I am well equipped to qualify as both a victim and a survivor.
But I claim survivor. I claim the ability to take my pain, become aware, and use it to better myself in all areas possible. I claim responsibility for my actions when I lash out unfairly or become defensive prematurely. But most importantly, I claim the knowledge that I have learned from my pain.. because now, I am better able to analyze what I need, and what my partner needs as well.
I would not have realized all of this if it weren’t for that phone call above. Since then, I have had a great deal of time to think about it, relisten to it, and reanalyze every nook and cranny of the analogy that is this ‘love tank.’ I have realized just how leaky my heart can be; and I have foreseen just how full it could be. How full his could be.
I’m writing this tonight, because I’m making a mental note to patch the holes in my love tank. The ones that leave me feeling insecure, unworthy, scared, and stressed. The ones that leave him bitter and prideful and worried and drained. I’m writing this tonight, because I’m hoping that someone who has been there: will relate, understand, and learn.