“It’s over” flashed on my mobile. I felt as though a part of me had gone—a loss of self. Suddenly, my whole being was filled with pain.
Three hours prior to the text, my boyfriend had paid for me to have an abortion. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I felt hopeless, lonely and ashamed. I chose to numb the heartache: I drank a bottle of whiskey and took some pills to help me sleep.
The breakup sent me into a drug spiral. I was locked in the prison of my mind. I was firmly in the grips of my addiction. I brainwashed myself and my mind rewrote the narrative: Every time I recalled a memory about my relationship with this man, I overwrote it and idealized him.
For years, no one else could ever come close to living up to this man. When I ran into him some time later, it was evident that he was not the person I had constructed in my mind and I was finally able to to let go.
A decade has passed since we split. Addiction enabled me to suppress the emotional and physical horror that my body endured, it compounded and replaced it with even more horrific trauma: addiction.
After discussions with my therapists, my perspective on my relationship with my first boyfriend has changed. I learned that there had actually been six people in this relationship .
1. Who I Thought He Was
I thought he was 32 years old and ridiculously arrogant. I thought he was my best friend, someone I would spend forever with, someone I could tell everything and anything to without feeling judged. I thought he was someone who was as in love with me as I was with him.
2. Who He Thought He Was
He thought he was 26 and far superior to others. Someone impressed with his own magnetism, with a tremendous amount of self-confidence.
3. Who He Really Was
He was a misogynist who struggled to trust women because his mother abandoned him as a child. He was a 30-year-old man with a silent scream coming from the depths of his inner child.
4. Who He Thought I Was
He thought I was 23 years old and someone he did not intend to have in his life forever. A sexual object, I would just have to get over it. I was resilient and would eventually recover and bounce back.
5. Who I Thought I was
I thought I was someone with an indomitable spirit, I was someone who loved life and knew the way of the world.
6. Who I Really Was
A troubled 20-year-old woman who needed help. I was a woman who had sustained physical, emotional and spiritual injuries as a child. I had no concept of healthy boundaries or how to protect myself from danger.
I learned that the power dynamics in the relationship were skewed in his favor. Applying Eric Berne’s three ego states, as described in his book Games People Play (Grove Press, 1964), we had a parent-child relationship. Because of the gap in age, status and emotional maturity and development, the relationship was predatory, exploitative and abusive.
Recovery has taught me that I am responsible for my own feelings, which include falling in love and choosing to stay in love with a man who had very clearly walked out of my life. I learned that my ego had me hide behind masks because my low self-esteem made me feel vulnerable, exposed rejected and ashamed.
Today I am not in the prison of my mind.