Updated: Oct 10, 2020
I have always wanted to believe that I was self-aware. But I was recently reminded how much I have very visible patterns of self-neglect and fail to see them until it gets to extremes.
After Christmas 2019, I wanted two days to myself to do some writing outside of my job. So between my father’s house in Missouri, and my home in Texas, I stopped for the weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It had taken a lot to get me to do that because of my financial goals of buying my own place, but it felt very much needed. The ramifications of not taking time for myself seemed to be staying stuck in this lull I had been in for three or four weeks. A Christmas Carol could have been written as my biography, I was so cantankerous. I just wanted some silence, and to be left alone for a few hours. And stopping mid-way between two homes seemed like a decent compromise between doing nothing and going on a lavish vacation.
Between the rare item that’s published, I have thousands of unpublished words. Some are in the digital trash, others, I try to return to. Upon this weekend, I opened an old document from 2016, an essay called “Counting on Change” which was about my relapse that year into self-harming behavior.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve had these crying spells, stemming from a hormonal imbalance. When they strike, I can cry for hours. When I started re-reading that essay, things that I was experiencing that year came flooding back. I had been dealing with the loss of a friendship that I treasured. The relapse came in part when I realized that he didn’t want to be friends again, a crying spell started, and I cut myself to stop it. I worked hard to rebound and came through with this conclusion.
“Giving without cessation made me empty and warped my perception of friendships and relationships. It was hard for me to view boundaries as important, because the word in itself seems to denote walls. Walls are ways to keep people out. But because I had no walls, I think a deep-seated part of me was expecting people to do the same. And in giving without cessation, and expecting others to join in, I was always disappointed.”
So three years later, I was in a hotel in downtown Tulsa on a writing weekend, reading those words again. It was incredible, because that friend that didn’t want to be friends anymore, the one that made me feel like I had been tossed in a landfill - I had kind of forgot that he existed. Time can do incredible things and strengthen hard to reach muscles in the heart. I hadn’t cut myself in three years, the crying spells had become far less frequent with finally the right medication. I was a devotee of my FitBit, which pushed me to new physical peaks and maintained the importance of exercise in not just my physical health, but mental as well.
I had treated a lot of symptoms. I had survived a lot. But those words smacked me across my face because of their relevance to my current situation.
One of the reasons why I was on this writing weekend is because it felt like my creativity was stifled. For months and months, all I had been writing about this breakup that crushed me. Writing about it so much had meant that I stuck to my healthier habits - I wrote pages to express myself, and didn’t even think about cutting. I’ll take progress where I can get it. But I wanted to know that there was more in front of me than exploring the depths of this pain.
Life had a slight detour to get me there. Reading those words from 2016, despite being about an entirely different person, was like seeing myself in how many positive, healthy ways I have changed and how I’ve stayed the same. And my recent breakup came back up.
I don’t want to write about my recent heartache - not fully at least. I want to stay committed to reorient any words that come forth to people who choose to stay in my present and future. But I what I learned about myself from loving him is valuable.
When I love, it’s loyal. And what I realized that with him, there were these moments where he was going through major lows and engaging in some of his own self-destructive behavior that made it worse. And because I loved him, it was like I was in the darkness too. And when he left, I struggled because it was like he left me there, right there in the bleakest midnight, without a map. I felt so given up.
He’s under no obligation to stay, because for love to be real, it should be a choice. I don’t want to be someone that seems inescapable - what a horrendous way to live. It is far worse to be someone’s resented obligation than being single. But outside of being dumped after eight months over Messenger, bitterness lingered, which is an invitation to examine where healing is needed.
Any self-care, whether it’s facials or watching movies or a writing weekend, is futile if the practice of setting emotional boundaries for oneself isn’t there. I’ve treated many symptoms of my emotional imbalance, and seen enough to know that I’m tougher than I seem. But feeling bitter was a side effect of lacking emotional boundaries for a man, who while loveable, didn’t show the investment needed for me to love him like I did.
I got carried away. It’s nothing to beat myself up about. In fact, I like that about myself. I love very hard - it makes me feel proud, to know that I am capable of loving someone through their darkest days and I didn’t give up. It’s just something to be aware of, going forward. That part of myself is not for anyone to have.
I wish I had more practical advice to set boundaries. Unfortunately, I think it’s a lot of trial and error. In the past three years, I’ve learned that frequently my boundaries are not so much saying “no” as “not right now”. I want to be generous and be the type that others can count on.
The most relevant thing I can say was this trip to Tulsa, alone, for the express purpose of being alone and doing what I wanted, made me realize that self-care should come with goals and check-ins. It should come with a plan that’s part about what’s on the surface, for to look good is to feel good, but it should dive deeper. Realizing faults and areas of improvement is only the first step of the journey. Whether its a monthly check-in with a therapist or a routine calendar entry asking about boundaries, life should be dedicated to being the best possible version of oneself and boundaries help that.
I hope that the next time I find someone to love, I go at a pace that guards my heart and remind myself constantly - not everyone deserves what I have to offer.