It’s Saturday night and I am alone. All I can think of is how much I miss him. I don’t feel well. I do the only thing that will keep my attention; I write for hours. Finally I’ve filled some ten plus pages of paper and it’s just late enough for sleep and I want to give up my embattled, difficult consciousness. My breathing is shallow and I’m feeling anxious, and I don’t care anymore what I think about pharmaceuticals or propriety. I take two Prozosin, two Hydrocodone, a Clonazepam and a melatonin lozenge. Surely, this cocktail will knock me out rapidly and soundly. I drink casein and kefir to prevent a night time cortisol spike.
I go to my friend’s bed and tuck myself in. I roll myself in the old fuzzy picnic blanket I shared with Kevin* camping in the cold. That blanket has seemed extra comforting, and it’s large and warm. I cover myself with the weighted blanket my mother made me. It’s a soothing gift of love. I lay there and wait for the drugs to take me away. I register that I’m in bed alone, that I’ll always be in bed alone now. The punishing memory of curling up with my arms around Kevin* sends a searing stab of agony through my heart. It hurts so much I cry out. I think how at times like this some people just find someone else to sleep with. My gut clenches immediately with disgust and fear.
I think I’m starting to feel numb, and I roll onto my side and look forward to losing consciousness. Thanksgiving is in 5 days. Thanksgiving is the only holiday my abuser never managed to ruin for me. Every year I have joyfully spent the entire day cooking the same elaborate, indulgent meal from scratch–down to homemade sourdough bread for the stuffing. My friend Christian was always there sous cheffing for me–and with him there, the bad behavior never got very severe. Last year even with no home to host Thanksgiving in, even with my stress fractured foot and all my kitchen gadgets in storage we had Thanksgiving in Christian’s very sparse, very male kitchen. I bruised my shins kneeling on a weight bench for 12 hours to cook. I whisked the Tom & Jerry batter with a power drill when the cheap hand mixer I’d bought online broke. I rolled pie crust with a food storage container. I hand chopped cranberries for the relish. In the pictures, I am grinning with delight at my ingenuity; I made it work.
I don’t care about Thanksgiving now. I feel totally fucking ungrateful. I’ve mostly been living on protein bars and baby food because I have no appetite. I don’t want to cook, I don’t want to eat, I just want my favorite holiday not to exist right now so it can’t disappoint me. I’ve been asked to join a friend’s big family gathering, and that sounds terrible too. I literally can’t think of anything that will make it feel ok.
Now that I’m agitated, my mind runs through my many other extremely problematic life circumstances. How do I dig myself out of the hole I’m in? Is there any chance I’m capable of picking up the pieces of my broken life? Why can’t Kevin* love me? My heart is thundering and my body is stiff with fear. My thoughts are frenzied and charged with dread and panic. I’m like a wild bird in a cage, frantically and futilely beating its wings to get free. I feel the way I felt the night he wouldn’t hold me. I am all alone and I’m frightened and there’s nothing I can do about it. I tremble and cry and wonder why the drugs didn’t work and whether I’ll sleep at all. I am frozen in place by my terror. I toss for a long time, pushing away my longing for Kevin’s* body next to me each time it emerges. I startle at each sound from upstairs and each glare of obscured headlights from the parking lot.
Eventually I startle out of my sleep with no obvious provocation, heart racing, gasping for breath, body clenched. I lay there and shake, wonder whether I can make it through my life at all and wait for the alarm to ring.
When I get up I don’t follow my routine; I can’t focus. I’m nauseous. I sit down, write and cry. When my distress has found an outlet I am able to care for myself more normally. Maybe I can try running after morning service. Friends are meeting me. I might feel better after I’ve been with people. I put on yoga clothes and go out to meditate.
Lying there, I cry about how we were supposed to spend New Year’s on the beach. I was finally going to go into a new year with hope. I’m going to throw up. I roll onto my side and heave a couple of times and then wail in pain. I miss meditating at his place and waking him with coffee, and how delighted he always looked seeing me in the morning. I begin to cry more, clutching at my hair, curling up my body as though I could hide from my pain. I think about how he’s probably able to mostly shut out the feelings he’s having, how he’ll distract himself with work and barely notice the loss.
I try to breathe but I can’t calm down. I’m lonely and scared and I keep crying out “Kevin*” and “Ow”. My abdomen is a solid, clenching mess of tension. I’m so anxious I can’t even keep my eyes closed. I give up. I just took benzos 10 hours ago. I don’t care. I go take one, noting there are four pills remaining. I become tolerably calm.
I feel broken and worthless, unloved and sick. I return to my yoga mat with my notebook and my copy of Dr. Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight. I re-read the first chapter’s history of attachment theory. I comfort myself with the findings of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, Phil Shaver and Cindy Hazan and Jim Coan. I feel small and weak, abandoned and invalidated, so I turn to empirical research. I am not a freak. There is nothing wrong with me. My pain is coming from my organism’s primal response to threat. I read again and again;
“The people we love, asserts Coan, are the hidden regulators of our bodily processes and our emotional lives. When love doesn’t work, we hurt. Indeed, “hurt feelings” is a precisely accurate phrase, according to psychologist Naomi Eisenberger of the University of California. Her brain imaging studies show that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the same part of the brain, the anterior cingulate, as physical pain. In fact, this part of the brain turns on anytime we are emotionally separated from those who are close to us.
[…] Love is not the icing on the cake of life. It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water. Once we understand and accept this, we can more easily get to the heart of relationship problems.”
It doesn’t soothe my pain, but it frames it as comprehensible and keeps me from internalizing it as my own failure. I sit quietly on my yoga mat, brow furrowed, body weak from crying and let myself feel the bitter, bottomless loss. I let myself miss him. I let myself grieve. I don’t know how to pull myself out of it, and right now I don’t have the strength to care.
*Name has been changed.