Adolescent Drama and Adult Trauma - Only The Strong Survive

Photo by  Charles Eugene  on  Unsplash

I hang on to relationships far longer than is healthy for the other person involved or me. Ending relationships can feel impossible.

My sixteen-year-old self knew it was over when I passed his car that night. I’m surprised he stopped because when we rolled down our windows to talk to one another, she sat in the front seat. My stomach dropped.

Only a few weeks later, that boyfriend and I fought on my parents’ front lawn. We should have sold tickets to the neighbors.

My Scot boyfriend was solid, the weight-lifting champion at our high school. He had already graduated by this point, and I hung on to him by a thread. We did not take our conflict toe to toe as equals as I was a young woman who pled and begged him to show me mercy and stay. The desperation rose in my throat, and my vision became myopic. Nothing mattered more than to fight with all I had to keep him.

My adrenalin pumped so hard; I ended up jumping into the passenger seat as he went to drive away. In a flash, I grabbed the keys out of the ignition and ran down the street. He chased after me, and I only made it about half a block before he cut in front and turned to face me.

What I remember most was his disdain. He wasn’t just rolling his eyes at me, but he seethed anger and disgust. In a last-ditch effort, I contemplated throwing the keys down into the sewer grate. But he knew how to talk me down. The lead in our school play when we started dating; he knew how to turn on the act when he needed to. He promised me we could talk if I gave him his keys. He coaxed me while I sobbed. Eventually, I handed them over, surrendering to his charismatic manipulation. It is no surprise he bolted. Now I chased him. Reaching my parents’ front yard again, he jumped into his car and screamed out of there. I collapsed on the lawn in loud, dramatic, and utterly heartbroken sobs.

Reading this, you might think that was that. That somehow I got up off that lawn, put my heart back together, and recovered as teenagers always think they won’t but usually do. Nope. While the timeline starts to get a little fuzzy, I remember several dramatic scenes that must have happened after this.

He dated that girl in the passenger seat. He and my best friend slept together. He started dating an older woman from his college theater department. But I clung on, demoralizing myself over and over to grasp at straws.

One time, I remember crouching in the dark in his bedroom. The college girlfriend had shown up, and I could hear them arguing in HIS parents’ front yard. The next thing I knew, the pocket door to his bedroom slammed open, and there she stood. Once again, I crouched in terror and meekness while someone filled with anger and disgust raged over me. The rest is a bit blurry, but somehow the three of us ended up outside, again on a front lawn. He wept and pleaded with her while I wept and pleaded with him. Guess what? My pleading didn’t work.

When people pull away from me, even today, my natural reaction is utter panic. If you’re familiar at all with the Enneagram, I am a two, and a two’s greatest fear is the loss of a relationship. Throughout my life, I can see where I hung on too long, where I put up with anger, disdain, and demoralizing behavior. Somehow this felt better than facing and living with the feeling that the bottom would drop out from under me if this or that person did not love me or had to walk away.

When my daughter, my youngest, left home two years early, my already devastated marriage strained under the stress. We were like deer in the headlights, unable to find each other or know what to do in the dark. I wasn’t sure we would make it. I didn’t even know if I wanted to. My few confidantes didn’t understand what had happened, couldn’t necessarily relate to the feeling that my life if without connection, was over. I woke up not in my usual bedroom during that time and thought, I am truly, truly alone. All my work for the last twenty-plus years of building a family hadn’t worked. My life purpose had shattered.

I found myself living with my deepest fear. It’s wasn’t the kind of fear like facing a rope course with coworkers at a teambuilding event. It wasn’t about clenching my eyes shut and just going for it anyway. It was a fear like walking along the street, avoiding all potholes only to step on a maintenance hole, and have it fall away. Down I went, my stomach rising into my throat with utter terror. How was I to recover, crawl out, and stand in the sun again?

Well, thankfully, maintenance holes have ladders. One rung was enough social skills to be able to reach out anyway, so I didn’t stay isolated. Another was my therapist. A third was reaching out to my husband in kindness so we could begin to move back towards one another. One of the strongest rungs was to run a small business and have a reason to get up every day.

But one rung that was never there and I don’t think ever will be is the rung that could tell me I would be ok. There was no rung where I could make sure everyone would love me as long as I did whatever it took.

I don’t think I’m alone when I write this. I feel so many women in my stage and culture wake up one day and find that the bottom has dropped out in one way or another. It’s scary. It shakes us. We have to learn to rely on ourselves over others in ways where only the strong survive. I think I can finally say, I’m one of the strong ones, despite how high school drama might say otherwise. At least today.

I won’t wrap this up in a bow of rainbows and unicorns, but I will say this. Find your rungs. I can help with one of them. Write your story, on paper and in life. Find your way back to the theme of your story, the story you’re meant to tell and live. Sign up for my email list to start. It will give you 30 prompts that can be answered in less than 10 minutes a day and provide you with the clues you need to find your way back to yourself.

Take care.