Dana found the recording of me singing the Pie Jesu solo with the Bridgeport choir and community orchestra. The date on the tape surprised me. It was a reality check that the performance was almost ten years ago now. It feels absolutely wonderful to be in a different place now than I was then, because everything in my life was in upheaval. I literally had no friends, because I had a fling with someone that became a real relationship when we were both smart enough to know better and dumb enough not to care. My friends called it long before the inevitable heartbreak, and instead of just being my friends through thick and thin, they dumped me.
It was a good thing, because I never would have made friends with Dana if they hadn’t. In retrospect, in fact, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me, because it was then that I slowly started to take inventory of my own life and discover the role I was playing in all of my relationships, not just the fling. It was the beginning of becoming Leslie Lanagan. Well, it’s not like I wasn’t before, but like I have said, I have been a very reactive person in the past. Now I can hold my own, and for that, I will always be grateful to this time in my life.
As my friend Wendy said, “you don’t have to love it. You just have to live it.” It’s become my mantra when times get hard.
Right now, though, things aren’t hard. I have a roof over my head, a great job, a spouse that adores me (and vice versa). It doesn’t get any better than that. Grief over the past is wasted energy, and I’m coming to a new understanding of exactly what that means. Enough time has passed since the fallout with my abuser that I am able to look at it more objectively than I ever could’ve while I was in the relationship, especially since I constantly held myself responsible for actions that couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be my fault. One of my friends said, and I remember it all the time, that I needed to stop taking responsibility for her actions by thinking I had power when I didn’t. At 12 and 13, it was not my responsibility to take care of her, and at 14, it was not my responsibility to try and be the person that she seemed to need, because it took away my power to direct my own life.
I point to the moment she gave me her college journal as the exact time in which I lost control. I wasn’t so much interested in having sex so much as I thought that was part of making an adult happy. I thought that I wouldn’t be worth her time and energy. It was much the way I’ve fallen in love as an adult. I don’t pick people to date based on their looks. I fall in love with their stories. I fall in love with their quirks. I fall in love with their vulnerability, and not their strength. It was such a mature relationship on my part that for a lot of years, I didn’t realize how “little” I was. This relationship stopped my own growth into the Leslie you know and love today. In some areas of my life, when I was 14, I was ready to be an adult, and would have welcomed the chance. In others, I was barely out of sixth grade.
I couldn’t see the pattern that defines abusive relationships- the absolute sunshine and the dark chill that comes when they see your reaction and shut down. It’s a pattern that, once you recognize it, you start to take inventory of all your relationships to try and figure out whether they’re healthy and whether that’s due to you. Abused people pick up the traits of their abusers all the time. It is not unreasonable to think that my relationship with this person has influenced a lot of the relationships that came afterward.
The difference between being trapped in that abusive relationship and taking my leave from it is that now, I am able to voice those manipulations and take responsibility for them. I can stand in front of someone and ask for forgiveness because I was wrong. I don’t have to deflect everything away from me and pretend that things are perfect so that from the outside, my life looks way more normal than it actually is… which is what I’ve been doing since childhood.
I have found that this outlook on life has served me well. People are generous when I offer apologies, and I have a sincere sense of what it means to be in relationship with others. It creates roles and responsibilities that I ran from in order to avoid conflict. Knowing the difference between healthy and abusive relationships has literally allowed me to rejoin life and live in community, rather than trying to go it alone.
I have days where I just don’t want to deal, but they are few and far between. The wound is starting to heal, and the new pink flesh is starting to cover the scar. It feels good to be on the right track again, because there were just so many years where I couldn’t differentiate between the life I wanted and the life. Now that I do, there’s just no substitute.
Where I fall short in all of this is that some days, I start thinking about my own life and I get mired in what was. And I’m really not talking about the relationship with my abuser. It’s looking back over all of the shame I felt and the role I played and how all of this mess became untenable in the first place. Just because I’ve stopped taking responsibility for her actions doesn’t mean I don’t have a metric fuck tonne of emotion regarding mine.
I repeated the same pattern I had with her when I was a child when I was an adult. Neither one of us saw the damage she had done, so it was just this weird amalgam of needing to take responsibility for my behavior and not knowing how. I didn’t have those tools, because to start a new relationship is one thing. To change entrenched patterns over a lifetime is another. I’d be fine and then when we’d get together, I’d just regress into my inner teenager, because that’s what we do with people we’ve known that long. I know you do it; you all have relatives.
Where I go mentally in all of this is that when I began to recognize my role in our relationship and tried to change the balance of power, it did not sit well. She would beg and plead for me to take an adult role with her, and when I did, it was met with brick-wall resistance. Why shouldn’t it? Why would you give up a place of power voluntarily when you’ve always had it?
It is only by the grace of God that I came through this whole and happy. I did not know what kind of relationship I had with this woman until I was ready. I did not realize how detrimental it was to see all relationships as those in which I needed to make other people happy.