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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 016 ~ separation and self compassion

content warning: sexual abuse, eating disorders, mental illness, addiction

This post is not like my usual posts. I’m not talking about sex as much as I am about love. Dark love, painful love, self-destructive love and joyful love. Love as an addiction, love as an anxiety soother, love as reassurance and love as a mask for self-hatred.

I have been sitting in the challenge of separation for a few weeks now. My love is in London, making a home for himself, thriving. I left him there three weeks ago now. I broke three weeks ago now. My heart quickens writing about this loss, a visceral reaction to separation. I have relapsed, but in a way it’s not as bad as it used to be. But it’s not really a loss, it’s a change. To you, reading this, it will seem banal. James and I are still in a deeply committed relationship, that has not changed. I have changed. I have cracked open, my addiction shrieking. We have had more than a year to prepare for this physical separation, London always the plan, and a reunion date always known. I feel simultaneously as proud and fiercely happy that James is exploring as I feel distraught and abandoned. In fact I feel more joyful than I feel sad. Part of my vulgar love obsession is a deep desire to be an extraordinary partner. I try to be the most divine partner, so I become indispensable. But of course, it is not possible to be perfect and the more I have tried to be perfect, the more the cracks hurt and infuriated me. My anxieties have been cruel and rooted in a deep, torturous self-hate. I have fed myself with abuse, and designed myself to be destructible by your words and mine. I have built a layer of perpetual vitriol within my heart, to be silenced only by romantic love.

For months I dreaded the moment I would walk away from James, leaving him to his London journey. When I thought about it, I was filled with anxiety, helplessness, terror. I buoyed myself with thoughts of the growth that I too would experience in our separation; perhaps I would grow to be self-sufficient. When the moment came for our goodbye, I was internally and externally distraught. Wracked with heaving sobs in Paddington station, tears all morning, evening, day beforehand. Pulling away from James’ embrace felt like a death within my body. The same feeling you know if you feel things deeply. That pain feels absolutely unfathomable, unspeakable, murderous. The flight home, and the days to follow, were dark. Withdrawal symptoms afloat. James, is my anchor. His endless love and support is my drug. I told myself endlessly that it would get better, be better, I would be better. But I was simultaneously torn to shreds by my voices, debilitating me. James will only be gone for four months, he will be back and I will survive, but my body has a deeply black and white default setting telling me that James is gone. There is no way in the world that James will still love me in four months. In four months, he will have had endless moments to discover that I am entirely unlovable. If he is not with me, while I distract him with usefulness and love, he will see in me what I see in me. Something disgusting, something wordless, something so grotesque and broken that there is not anything worth loving within me. The darkness surpasses anything and everything. I am monstrous. I have known it my entire life.

But I have two very loud voices in me, two very opposing voices. The first is the darkness, the ugly, the broken. The second, is so fucking committed to herself and her healing that she will do whatever it takes to be unbroken. She will do whatever it takes to make me realise that I was never broken to start with.

I have been reading constantly, it helps. I think that in this extremely visceral moment of vulnerability, I have become ready for my cup to be filled with something else. With myself. I’m reading all the writers that know how to do this, they’ve already done it, they’ve come back from worse. I’m reading about self-compassion, and becoming untamed. I didn’t realise that people who radiate such light could also have such darkness within them. Like me. I didn’t realise that it could make total sense that I feel the way I feel when I add and subtract my life, my genetic predisposition, my moments.

Born sensitive + ongoing small person bullying + family dynamics + sexual abuse+ shame + shame + shame + bulimia + depression + anxiety + love addiction.

So why, I have begun to ask, if I did not choose those moments, nor those parts of me, would I be so angry at myself for them. We all just have to live with what we’ve been designated in our early days. I read something yesterday that said that children blame themselves for things that happen to them because it is easier than assuming we have been abandoned by our people, that someone who loves us let those things happen. Obviously it’s not as simple as anyone ‘letting’ things happen to us. But it feels like that. My parents were entirely unaware of my sexual abuse until a few years ago. But part of me still blames them for not knowing, for not rescuing me. When I told them, it did not go the way I thought it would. They are human, their own childhoods triggered by my admission. But I felt abandoned again, as an adult this time, who knows objectively that what happened was wrong. I held the information of my experience for 14 years before sharing it. I told myself and other people later it was because I did not want to burden them with the knowledge of my pain, which was partly true. But I mostly hid my dark moments for so long because I was so awash with shame and the knowledge (un-knowledge) that I had been selected for the weakness and immorality that I possessed. I thought that if they saw that they could never ever love me. No one could. I deeply believed that what happened to me as a child was my fault, and made me a disgusting person.

It's interesting. I worked through so much of my feelings about sex last year, in conversation with child Sarah, and don’t feel the same as I did. But I am realising that there are a multitude more of child Sarah’s who have been silenced for even longer, shame hiding them masterfully. Shame and self-identifying as broken, devilish from my tiny years led to the actually quite obvious need for external validation. And of course when your entire self-worth is in self-esteem validation, you are extraordinarily fragile to crumbling and using dangerous means of meeting this. Sex was my language until it was not.

The cure, although I’m not sure you can call a lifelong commitment that, apparently, is self-compassion. It is meeting the darkness with understanding, care, respect, admiration. Things that do not come naturally. I know many of us feel like this. It is exponentially easier to hate ourselves than be kind to ourselves. I have always thought that being alone is the worst fate one could be bestowed. And simultaneously that I am living on borrowed time with James. Borrowed until he sees my truth and rightfully flees. It’s an awful feeling. It means that you set no boundaries, have no limits, wait until you have suppressed an emotion a hundred times before you share it, take the love like it’s your last meal on earth. Your last meal on earth.

But I know that I cannot keep living like this: on the edge of breaking, reliant on someone else’s validation. I feel incredibly fortunate that I am trying to meet this at 25. I know that I could just as easily continue doing my addiction until I am 45, breaking relationships, hurting myself, living off torturous internal whispers. But I am someone who loves healing as much as I hurt. I am hungry for self-help. I am determined to come back to love as someone who does not need love for survival. I know that love is so extraordinarily precious that I will never stop trying to be better able to give and receive it. But right now, that means giving myself a chance to consider that without it, I would be okay. It is a vicious battle already. I have fed the awful voices in me for 25 years, so they naturally dominate. They know my every weakness and will exploit them endlessly. This tiny voice of compassion is not new, she’s often tried to get my attention, but I have always silenced her in favour of my darkness. It’s just easier, and more painful, which is comfortable.

This book I have just finished explained that self-compassion involves three components: mindfulness, common humanity and kindness. Mindfulness to recognise that the emotions that pass through me are not scary if I let them exist and run their course. I can observe them without letting them engulf me, without over-identifying in their messages. I can miss James, without going so far as to think he has already fallen in love with someone else and despises me. Common humanity recognises that we deserve respect and belonging just by existing. That imperfection is the foundation of humans, something we cannot run from, nor should we. If I am not aiming for perfection, I can recognise that I can accept myself exactly as I am. It also suggests that looking for perfection in other people is likely to disappoint, they are as human as we are. Finally, kindness as a self-compassion project involves actual loving kindness, cherishing, gentle parenting and physical embracing of ourselves. It’s very corny, so bear with me (or the author), but hugging yourself elicits the same oxytocin response as being hugged by someone else! How extraordinary! The thought of hugging myself would have been repulsive up until a week ago, but I gave it a go and it wasn’t awful. I’ll keep trying. Speaking to myself as I would a friend, a small child, has been quite lovely actually. I didn’t know this was even an option for a relationship style with myself. I’d gone so far into the rabbit hole of self-hate that kindness presented as a frankly inauthentic way of engaging with myself.

I have no idea what the next three and a bit months will look like for me. As with before, the other external elements demand their own attention. One last semester of my Masters, work in family violence, a four month placement, winter, covid, life, therapy, sexology. I might give up on this after another few days. It’s feeling extra hard today to swap the darkness for light, my period arriving any moment now. I will just give it a go.

I don’t know what happens next, but I suppose we will reconvene when I know.

Ps. the books I've been reading are Self Compassion by Kristin Neff and Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I've also been voraciously listening to Glennon Doyle's podcast We Can Do Hard Things.

Pps. the photos on this post are from our time in Scotland in June this year by James, of course.



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