The AntiLeslie is More Important Than Me

Dana tells me that I talked for two solid hours, and told me that I needed to write because I was talking like I was writing. I don’t know how much of it to believe, because as I’m sure that some of my readers can attest, Dana has an interesting relationship with the truth. I’m not calling her out on it, because I think that I do, too. It’s just that her version of truth is often more dramatic than the actual situation at hand. I’m sure people would say that about me, too. I’m probably just getting a taste of my own medicine.

When Dana told me this, it sent up a huge red flag. It could be a sign that my medication isn’t working, that something is physically wrong with me, or that it just seemed like two hours. It also felt as if she was saying to me, “I don’t want to listen to you, so go tell someone else.” That is the biggest hot button issue I have- when someone close to me says that I talk too much and to just, in a sense, go away. It’s not Dana’s fault. That hot button has been there since I was 13. She does have to deal with me when I’m scared and lonely, however.

As I have said before in this web site, I was keeping secrets for a friend that a teenager should never have had to keep. As I grew, the friend became more and more distant, and all of the sudden, I didn’t have a place to go with those secrets anymore.

I don’t mean to imply that what I learned was all that bad. In fact, if I had been an adult, there would be no problem whatsoever. I wasn’t, though, and I learned a lot of operant conditioning- “if you do this, X will happen.” X was whatever behavior in which I learned my part of the dance.

I was not trained to deal with being an adult at 13, but I did my best. I think I was pretty good at it, but it limited me socially. I was much older than my peers, emotionally and spiritually. I retreated into myself, and just wrote and wrote and wrote. Tackling a blank page was my therapy, and it went well. Because I have been a writer for a long time, I have consistently had a way to deal with my problems. Art comes from pain, and there’s a lot in me. Getting it out is my way of funneling anger into beauty.

Because of writing, I never felt alone. Even if I didn’t have my friend in the corporeal sense, she was in my head. She became a diary in which I could grow and develop from the inside out.

It was also a dark time in my life because I related more to a blank page than I did to live people. When I was a preacher’s kid, it was easy to put on the mask of separation. Ministers and their families have the same problems as everyone else, but lay people have a hard time believing it. Living in the fish bowl wasn’t that bad, actually, because no one ever knew the real me. The real me was in a notebook at the back of my closet.

The same friend, so amazing as a pen pal, predictably turned out to be much different than expected when the pages and pages of letters over the years turned into you and me, face to face. Because I was only myself in my letters, she knew everything there was to know about me, except my behavior.

It is a terrible conundrum, because for me, face-to-face had to somehow line up with reality, didn’t it? Phone calls weren’t nothing, were they? Here I am, all of about 19 years old, tortured with my friend’s secrets and now I couldn’t even talk to her about them, either. The balance of power was off to the point of insanity, and neither one of us could figure out why, until the scary truth found me in a pink and purple book called The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond, by Patricia Evans. It gave me the coping mechanisms to see that I had unintentionally been manipulated because my friend needed someone to listen and I was completely harmless. The amount of emotion that she was pouring into me had some unintended consequences, and I grew up fast… both in thinking that by confiding in me, it created some sort of romantic notion that she wanted me to protect her like a husband… and that by confiding in me, she wanted me to protect her like a father. Passionate and companionate love swirled in me until I no longer recognized myself. I wanted to invert our relationship the way children of alcoholics start to raise their parents. The amazing thing is that I really thought I could do it. Every day, I’d walk past a sign in seventh grade homeroom that said, “hire a teenager while they still know everything.” I’d think to myself, “if you only knew…”

The passionate love ended when my friend got married, but the companionate love didn’t. I was hooked into the grip of thinking that my friend needed me to protect her, and because it was a learned behavior in childhood, it wasn’t anything to mess around with. It was so intrinsic to my personality that I am now rewiring almost a quarter century of memories so that I can learn to act appropriately.

By that, I mean that enablers are used to being caught in the grip of their abuser’s sunshine. She gave me so much love that my heart would flip when she walked into a room. It felt to me like the air changed, and I choose to believe that it did.

The problem is that with abusers, the sunshine doesn’t last. It is a ploy to get your attention so that they can use you for something. The dopamine in your brain gets used to the heightened sensation of emotional sunshine and then, usually without rhyme or reason, the abuser disappears… often without saying goodbye.

In my experience, which is vast, this is because abusers feel guilty about the way they’ve treated their enablers. If you have been abused in any way, there is only a small percent chance that you will ever receive the apology that you’ve been waiting for a very long time.

If you get the apology that you’re looking for, there is a large chance that your abuser has not grown with you, and will not hesitate to step all over you if you are determined to believe that all relationships go through a few troubles and this time will be different.

In my case, “this time will be different” came around several times, and each time, I fell for it hook, line, & sinker. Each time, the sunshine lasted until I started to emote. I couldn’t talk about my feelings and my e-mails became “emotional bombs.” What used to be keeping all my friend’s secrets became “let me dump all my crap on you and mysteriously disappear when you need me for anything at any time.”

I was silly to go back for seconds, and disastrous to myself when I thought it was okay to try thirds.

My friend agreed to meet with me, and I told her that I was not in a good emotional place. Please don’t let me down again.

A few days later, still in the same emotional place I was in when I said, “please don’t let me down again,” I got an e-mail saying we were beyond reconciliation. It was just one more “thanks for being my friend since you were a teenager, now let me spit venom in your eye.”

My problem is that I was willing to wait until I got verbal venom before I was willing to admit that my friend wasn’t.

The revelation in my mind was that I never intended to treat myself so badly. For so many years, I waited for a moment that was never to come, and that future lived with me for a long time until it collapsed under its own dead weight.

I tell this story to bring it back around to Dana, and how I’m so sensitive to the way we talk to each other (about certain things, anyway). When she says things like, “you talked for two solid hours,” I only have one response- “why didn’t you stop me? Why did you just let me keep talking instead of telling me to shut up?” If people are passive aggressive, they rob one of a chance to correct their behavior and the other of compassion and forgiveness when they learn the other side of the story. They just get more and more resentful.

I get verbal diarrhea trying to start conversations with people who are totally absorbed in their screens. I want someone to interact with; every once in a while, I’ll try to think of another cool thing to say that will grab someone’s attention because I feel like no one is listening to me… another direct hit from my abuser. I try to start conversations because it seems nicer than “you’ve been on your phone for an hour playing Candy Crush Saga. I’m really sorry to bother you while you totally check out.” In response, people get more and more involved with their screens because you’re trying to get them to interact. It is a Catch-22, and I am often thought of as high-maintenance because I think human interaction is important for me to maintain the personality I have in public. Equally as important as the one I have online.

Now that I’m writing and people know that I have an outlet, they’d rather just read what’s happening on my blog.

And again, no one knows the real me.

It’s a good thing I do.

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