Relationships in the best of circumstances can be tricky waters to navigate. They require not a captain and a first mate, but two co-captains, who are not only plotting out a similar course but are willing to stick together when the tides change their direction. Surviving childhood sexual abuse leaves emotional scars that can twist your views and feelings on life and relationships, and the after-effects tend to weave their way into various areas of your life, often on a subconscious level. One of the main attributes of borderline personality disorder (BPD), aside from the intense fear of abandonment, can be a pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships. For me, the combination of the two is like being a one-eyed captain trying to navigate the seas on a raft, with no compass and a map in Latin. In dealing with both of these things, I had to self-protect in order to survive — and my coping mechanisms involved shutting down, among many things, trust and love.
That being said, living behind that wall of safety can also limit both our life experiences and the corresponding emotions. We may miss out on a lot because we are lacking in confidence, and remaining behind our wall in our comfort zone can seem a lot easier than facing the unknown fears outside. In my mind, it is a matter of weighing out risk versus reward. Is the risk worth the (in my mind) inevitable pain that will come at some point? I also tend to compare if this impending pain could be worse than something I have already been through, again trying to measure out the risk, and when emotionally rational, I realize there is very little in life that could traumatize me any more than what has already occurred. Now don’t get me wrong, that by no means implies I have broken down my wall and jumped head first into my fears. It is more a case of taking down a few bricks at a time, enough to sneak out, but leaving those bricks within arm’s reach in case we need to rebuild in a hurry.
Being a survivor, I carry with me a sense of shame, a lack of trust and self-worth, and the constant feeling of being a “burden.” I have major attachment issues, which are severely increased in intensity with the BPD — and the combination of that, depression and anxiety leaves me feeling almost unworthy of a relationship. How could I weigh someone down with my baggage and complexities without feeling guilty, or expect someone to put up with the frequent and extreme mood swings that come with BPD? If I feel all these negative things about myself, how could they not be clear and apparent to someone else — or is it me projecting my thoughts onto somebody else? Do I even know how to love properly, or can I trust enough to let someone pass through the door in my wall? Am I just too messed up to be loved? All those things have run through my mind so often and for so long they have become true to my emotive mind. And so I deem myself unworthy of a relationship, and by convincing myself of this, it becomes my reality. It is shoved to the back of my mind as a truth that no longer needs to be dealt with. After all, there are more pressing issues to deal with at the moment.
Life tends to throw things our way at the most unexpected times. I find it happens often in therapy, where you think you have done the work to get past an issue, and boom, there it is in your face again, and all you can hope is to put some of the new coping mechanisms into action before the innate instincts of self-protectiveness take over. So after having spent the last few years convincing myself I would be alone for life, suddenly someone walks right on in. At first, I don’t take anyone’s interest in me seriously, because I can be a convincing outside package, but when they find out the truth about my emotional instability and traumatic past, they don’t stick around anyway. In the past, I have tried to hide it, but one can only mask their true identity for so long. So this time I decided I would just get it over with up front — part of the basics: “I love soccer, animals, ice cream, and I am diagnosed with more mental health issues than you can count on one hand.” After my spew, I put my phone down, fully expecting that — like with everyone else — that would raise enough red flags to have her running in the opposite direction. Instead, the conversation continues. She starts asking questions about BPD, and every answer I give her comes with no reply of shock or judgment.
The longer we talk, the more she asks, and although she may not understand everything, she seems to be accepting it, which is amazing. But it also sets off my BPD abandonment issue; the closer they get, the more it will hurt when they leave. It also raises red flags with the survivor part of me that has yet to develop a proper sense of self-worth. So as the days pass, some of my past comes out, and again it is met with understanding and empathy rather than intolerance and apathy, which brings both a sense of ease and fear to the table. Ease because the comfort level has almost a sense of familiarity to it, like you have known each other for years, and the fear because the closeness is completely overwhelming. Taking a few bricks out of my wall was the plan, but now there’s a full door, someone standing at it and not leaving.
I would like to say after all the therapies, workbooks and readings, I employed all my acquired and practiced coping mechanisms and am dealing with the situation in a rational manner with a level sense of emotion, but that would be untrue. Instinct and BPD took over in full force, and although I tried to fight it, it carries the same comfort and familiarity as that favorite old sweatshirt you just can’t let go of yet. BPD has this fabulous quality that can in essence make you test people as a child would test their parents, almost a form of “go away, you are too close” to “please don’t leave me.” And as with most everything else BPD-related, these emotions can bounce around five times a day or 100 times a day, with almost incalculable speeds.
So I push her away, thinking every time will be the last. And she stays, so I pull her closer, and the cycle repeats. I discount the positive things she says about me, and she patiently reinforces them without hesitation. BPD can also include this fantastic trait of impulsivity, which for me, is primarily verbal. When my words precede my thoughts, she doesn’t get angry, but rather quietly listens and asks to learn more about BPD and depression. I figure if I tell her about the suicide attempts and constant thoughts as well as the history of cutting, that will be her breaking point and she will definitely leave. But instead, she says she is sorry I had to go through all that and allows me to express the ideations at my darkest moments, without fear of judgment. My mind is spinning. This is not how life works for me.
Fast-forward to today, and even with a countless number of tests, the rounds of verbal impulsivity and the rest of the issues that come with my mental illnesses, she remains, and despite the inconvenient circumstances which I will not get into, she makes sure I wake up to a morning text and go to sleep with a sweet goodnight. Despite the physical distance and her hectic schedule, she makes an effort to spend time with me and is always willing to provide an ear to listen or kind words of support. I have only ever had this depth of relationship once before, many years ago, and she remains my best friend to this day. I am trying again to learn to accept love, to believe I am worthy of it, and to grasp the idea that someone sees not what I think of myself but the things I can no longer see. And as much as the BPD is screaming at me to push and pull, I am trying to recognize when my emotive mind has taken over so perhaps I can control the impulses a bit better.
This is a big risk for me, letting someone get this close, allowing vulnerability and trust, all while trying to put a muffle on the BPD, which is screaming about fear of being left yet again. That being said, being a minimizer, I convince myself the possible impending hurt of being left can’t be worse than the other traumas I have endured to this point in my life. My instincts (my gut feelings) have kept me alive this long, and if they are saying take a chance, then I follow that path. After all, the heart truly is a remarkably resilient organ.
I hope she knows how appreciated and cared for she is, and how thankful I am for her support, patience and understanding, and for choosing me and following me down this often dark and unpaved road when she easily could have exited and taken the highway.
Image via Thinkstock.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
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