recovery

When you’re the crazy ex

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My post this week was going to be on an amazing kale salad recipe and grad school doubts. But to be quite honest, I’m not in the mood for peppy vegetable banter or trying to make sense of the choice I need to make about grad school. Especially not since I apparently have hella unresolved feelings about being the crazy ex. Now, when I say I’m a “crazy” ex, I mean to say that I have a mentally illness, which is a deviation from our societally accepted connotation of the term. I’ve previously written some brief thoughts on the problematic concept of crazy ex’s but I’ll restate this much:

And maybe his ex is bipolar and maybe that’s why she did some things that he found to be confusing, hurtful, heartbreaking, manipulative, and/or cruel. That’s often the context I hear the word “crazy” thrown around- when someone baffles us or hurts us or is maybe just inconvenient. Because “crazy” is a cultural term of convenience, one that so quickly strips the subject of logic and potential empathy.

I clarify this because my most recent relationships have included vindictive ex-girlfriends and I in no way intend to condone someone’s choices to be that needlessly hurtful to a complete stranger. Especially if that stranger is me. This in itself (being pointblank, not letting my empathy cloud my common sense) is surprisingly enough progress in my recovery. After all, sometimes it’s in our best interest to forgo forgiving someone for our own present sanity. Maybe we’re not ready. Maybe we never will be. Maybe we’re better off severing that tie to someone who is deeply toxic. And sometimes that someone who shouldn’t or can’t or won’t be forgiven- is us.

Going to the Forecastle music festival a few weeks ago was undoubtedly a good time but it was also a perfect recipe for nostalgic feelings I’d artfully forgotten. Not only was I in my hometown but each of the major acts I went to see (Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, and Death Cab) all have ties to different past romantic relationships. The positive byproduct of this bag of mixed feels was that I felt the need to make amends to several people I had hurt in the throes of my mental illness. All stone-cold sober with years of recovery under my belt, mind you. It’s not necessarily easy to make amends for drunken or high behavior but at least to me, there’s no leveling of pride like having to admit I deeply hurt someone while in recovery, mentally ill or not.

Here’s the first crazy ex commandment I had to learn: just because your behavior can be explained, that doesn’t mean it’s justified. Yes, when I found out I was for real, for sure, no doubt bipolar, it helped everyone in my life (including myself) understand why I had been making some seemingly inexplicable choices at the time. But understanding doesn’t have to automatically equate to forgiveness. Understanding doesn’t automatically heal the wounds we have caused. It doesn’t take back the hurt. It doesn’t make a relationship less toxic. It doesn’t erase what’s been done.

Then there comes the time after we have been granted forgiveness from others but still the guilt, shame, remorse, regret persists. To be perfectly honest, I am uncomfortable writing these words. I’ve been working on this entry off and on for awhile now, debating about posting it or not. Because as someone who has publicized her mental health recovery, I sometimes feel this self-inflicted pressure to be bright!!! and shiny!!! and composed!!! all the time. In case you haven’t gathered from this post or any other, I do not have my shit together. It’s better than it has previously been, that’s for damn sure. But I’ve also been more stable and content in other times of my life. So please know that I am writing this from the perspective of a woman who got out of the shower an hour ago and dazedly realized: I haven’t forgiven myself. I don’t know if I can forgive myself. I don’t know how. And the only thing I could think to do about it was write.

In various points throughout my using or clean time, I have been that ice-cold woman who flinched away from her partner’s touch, on edge and unnerved. I have been the woman who left before she could be left- then demanded to be let back in immediately. I have been the howling, sobbing, shaking cliche of a heartbroken woman who couldn’t comprehend living day-after-day with all of this mad grief. I have been the woman who was never satisfied, feeling caged, trapped, uncertain always- but keeping her partner strapped in for the ride. I have been the woman who juggled the attention of multiple men to pass time and (unsuccessfully) heal old wounds. I have been the woman who stayed in thankless situations, eyes downcast and cheeks flushed at the constant realization that I was actively and willingly being used by someone who did not care about my well-being- and yet, I stayed. I have been the woman who left, who stayed, who loved in retrospect, who wanted too much, who went mad. I have been the crazy ex. On some days (and I’m sure, to some people) I still am.

It’s a relief to write that, to step down from my little self-made pedestal and speak openly, honestly. Lately, I’ve had several people approach me with mental health conversations and I’ve witnessed this amazing trend of people opening up about their struggles on social media. And not just in the “here’s me on the other side” way (which is totally fine, obviously I go that route instinctively.) But to those of you who have or who do talk about the ugly side of coping with mental health issues, thank you. You give me the strength to write entries like this. You bolster my confidence when I doubt my future research goals. And beyond me, there are no doubt other people that are comforted to know they aren’t alone in what they’re feeling. So sincerely, thank you. That being said, I am obviously still in the middle of all of this. But here is what I have learned so far and I try- on my good or just plain okay days- to apply:

It’s easy to get angry when someone else can’t forgive our mentally ill behavior. But just because it has an explanation, that doesn’t mean that whatever we did in mental illness is okay. We cannot demand the forgiveness of someone else and then expect both parties to feel at peace. The best we can do is hope that others act in the way that most benefits their own mental health and emotional wellbeing. And sometimes, that doesn’t include us. Sometimes in recovery, we have to know when to exit, when to bow out. Our absence can become an amends.

It doesn’t mean we are terrible, unloveable, or bad people. It doesn’t mean the world is a better place without us. It doesn’t mean that a relationship is irrevocably broken. It doesn’t mean we won’t have to grieve what we’ve lost or that we’ll immediately feel okay about ourselves. It just means that we can know better next time and value the relationships we have now. And maybe in doing so, we can forgive ourselves. At least I hope so.

– LD

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