Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Angela Marchesani, who wrote this stunning piece on rape here on the site. Her essay was anonymous until a few weeks ago. She is also the awesome soul who made me the “Don’t Be An Asshole” wine/coffee cup. Order one by emailing her at email@example.com. Say Jen sent you. And remember, don’t be an asshole. 🙂
I don’t even know where to begin – I have so many thoughts running through my mind right now, so I am just going to write.
As a young child, I endured sexual and physical abuse, I observed my parents go through a horrible divorce, and I was put in adult situations no child should ever be in. To sum it up: I had a dysfunctional childhood.
My teenage years were not any better – my family life was chaos, I had a broken/unhealthy relationship with my father, mother and siblings. I longed for my parents’ love, affection and attention. I unknowingly sacrificed my innocence by offering my body to men/boys as a means to feel loved. Yet, deep down in my soul, I knew all the suffering I had experienced in my short lifetime was not my future.
Since my early 20s, my determination helped me move mountains to heal from my past, so I could live a life I know I deserve. I never let my past be my crutch, so I put myself through college while working a successful full-time job. Throughout the years, I sought out different therapist to help guide me on my journey. I have tried to form a consistent spiritual relationship with God, I have read end-less self-help books, I am constantly on social media reading inspirational quotes and self-discovery blogs (Oprah is my new best friend) – you name it, I’ve tried it. Yet, I still feel empty. I still struggle with depression, weight gain (self-sabotage), and I lack self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance. I often find myself pondering why I am still so broken, if I am a “survivor”?
So, let’s fast forward to the past few years — I have been hit with one crisis after another, and as a result, my mind, body and soul finally shut-down. The stress I was under triggered my past, and I became that fearful five year old girl, immobilized. I became severely depressed and by the summer of 2014 I was suicidal. On the outside in, I appear well put together, the one everyone calls for advice, the person who will lift your spirits, the reliable one – yet, on the inside I was dying. I was in a black hole that I could not get out of alone, so I cried for help, and for the first time, I shared my dark secret with my loved ones. Unfortunately, the stigma around depression made it hard for my loved ones to truly understand what was happening to me mentally. At the end of the day, I still suffered in silence and alone. I fear my depression because I can feel the illness lurking in the background ready to pounce on me when I least expect it. I never want to go back to that dark place, ever!
Now I am going to jump into my relationship. For the past six months, I have put my relationship on the back burner to focus on myself while I was severely depressed. I live with my boyfriend of nine years (it’s more like we are roommates) – we share the daily hugs, kisses and “I love you”, but there is no true intimacy: physically or emotionally. We don’t really share the same interest anymore. I spend more “alone” time with my girlfriends than I do with him – I go to family functions by myself because he would rather sit at home drinking a beer and watching sports. I feel depleted – I don’t feel in love with him anymore, and I often fantasize about being in a relationship with a man that has lots of passion. Our lease is up in a few months and I am torn between working on the relationship or saying goodbye.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I don’t have the mental capacity or the tools do handle this all alone!
Am I Worthy of Love?
Dear Worthy of Love,
You can not- nor should you- handle this all alone. You’re asking for advice about your relationship, but there is so much more to be said.
I’m not surprised that you feel empty. You endured trauma and neglect for most of your childhood, and then the cycle repeated itself in other relationships and situations. I AM surprised you’re still standing, because a different person may have succumbed to a far worse fate long ago.
Brava to you.
You are a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit. You have always known that the suffering was not for you— it’s not how you were meant to live, it’s not what you deserve.
And yet, how do you get out of that place?
Leave this guy after 9 years and just go it alone?
My fear in recommending that right now is that no relationship or external situation will meet your needs as long as you’re in this deep depression. The depression (and possibly some other post-traumatic symptoms) will prevent you from connecting with him or anyone.
So the pressing question, as far as I can see, is not what to do about your relationship with him…. But what to do with your relationship with yourself.
Bad things happened to you. And now it’s time to change that for yourself.
Here’s the hardest thing you’ll hear, and I want you to let it sink in:
Before you can find relief from the depression, before you can feel fulfilled in your life, you have to tap into that tiny little part of you that knows you deserve better, and help that part thrive. Before you can “feel self love,” you have to practice self love.
You have to do it.
Treating yourself with love and practicing impeccable self-care is not an option. You’re at a point where you have to re-parent yourself if you want to get through this. I don’t know whether you’re a parent, but stick with this analogy. I realize it has its limitations- your parents didn’t parent you how you deserved- but I assume you’ve seen some beautiful examples of parenting in your life. I’m sure you’ve looked at a family and thought, “Wow, how different would I be if I were loved like THAT? If I were nurtured? Protected?”
You do deserve that. And you can start by giving that to yourself.
If you were your own parent, what would you do to love your daughter and help her through this darkness?
-You would make her a weekly appointment with a therapist and you would get her there every week, no matter what. You would know the importance of an open mind, a listening ear and a professional opinion. When she resisted, when she said it wasn’t helping or it was boring or it was uncomfortable, you would require that she continue in therapy, because you’d know that the real work happens when shit gets uncomfortable.
-You would talk with her doctor or a psychiatrist about medication, because once she’s reached that darkness of suicidal depression, there may very well be some chemical imbalance that needs pharmaceutical intervention, STAT. You would not let your child suffer without that intervention. You would not take the risk of a suicidal urge overtaking her in a moment of vulnerability.
-You would support her body with the essential elements of health: rest, nutrition, water, and exercise. You would turn off her TV if she sat there in the dark for hours and say, “Hey, let’s go for a walk!” You would open the windows for light and fresh air. You would cook her a nice nourishing soup and you would tuck her in at a reasonable hour.
-You would encourage her friendships with other people, and would suggest she reach out to friends when she is feeling bored, lonely, depressed or restless. If she isolated herself in her room, you would bring her the phone and say, “Call someone. Get out of the house.”
-You would call her out when you see her tolerating bad treatment (and you would get her the resources to address it), when you see her behaving in ways that are against her values, and so on.
-When she makes a mistake, or backpedals, or falls off the wagon of self-love, you would pat her gently, give her a kiss and say, “It’s okay. Try again tomorrow.”
-When she cries, which occurs often and unpredictably, you would hand her the tissues. Let her sob. Draw a warm bath for her to take a private moment and release the pain of years of trauma. You would fluff up the pillows and let her stay there crying for an hour if that’s what she needs. And then you would make sure she got up. Talked with someone. And did something good for herself.
-You might even print these suggestions out, as loving parents always seek guidance in best caring for their children, and post them throughout your home until they become a habit. You might refer to them daily, and check in with yourself: “Am I being her best parent today?”
Worthy, it is not simple. And it will take a long time. But once you’re treating yourself with love and compassion, you will be able to better utilize all that self-help and personal development material you seek. You will be able to make a reasonable decision about your relationship. You will be able to choose healthier friendships and situations, over and over and over.
If you start by taking impeccably good care of yourself, your life will start to change in miraculous ways.
Sending lots of love to you. You got this. xo, Angela
“Angela Marchesani is an artist, a therapist, and the founder of ArtWorks, LLC, an organization in Pennsylvania that provides creative workshops for fun and healing. ArtWorks also sells hand-painted glassware and other locally made art. Find out more at www.facebook.com/artworksinpa.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.