A few months ago I noticed that there were a number of things in my life that made me unhappy--and I was holding onto them with all my strength. I had good reasons for keeping those things, but there seemed no way to alter the fact that they simply did not bring me happiness. There were time consuming habits online (daily Facebook drivel, Youtube video binges, waiting for chat people) and offline (trying to sleep on weekends when I was no longer sleepy just because Darrin wasn't up yet, reading magazines that came in the mail even when I had no interested in them and didn't order them, shopping when I had nothing I needed to buy), and there were a few relationships that I'd been clinging to that needed to change in some way.
The offline habits were easy to let go. I simply chose different things. I added a new piece to my practice schedule, went to the library and borrowed new books, increased the amount of time I spent on physical therapy assignments, and as the weather improved, I added daily walks to my routine.
The online habits weren't as easy. They still aren't. I spend a great deal of time online because I work there. But I find myself feeling restless and dissatisfied as I waste time doing things online that aren't fulfilling to me in some way.
I was talking with an online friend--he's a motivational speaker and does amazing things to help people learn to find happiness in their lives (also an abuse survivor at the hands of a Catholic priest--yeah, one of those kids--who has learned that the Church isn't bad, but sometimes bad people hide there--I learned the same lesson as a child). He's started a Facebook group about unplugging social media one day weekly and one weekend monthly. He wants to see if it affects how he feels about people and how his PTSD symptoms react to the experiment. The number of people asking to join the group is incredible. He wants me to participate. I've joined the group but I have difficulty with people telling me what to do--I like things to be my own idea. I can see myself subconsciously sabotaging myself or REALLY wanting to connect online on the days when I'm supposed to be unplugged. Unplugging includes cell phones. I haven't committed yet but it might be a good idea.
There are other things I've come up with to limit the amount of non-work time I spend online. Some overlap with the offline changes of habit I've implemented. But now that spring is here, I'll be planning things like planting and weeding and vacations and fall classes...I think I'll be able to master myself in regards to online time.
The relationships in which I've felt unhappy were more difficult. I had to decide why I felt that way, and if it was because of something amiss in myself. But in some cases I made my relationship counterparts aware that I wasn't feeling happy with how our relationships were evolving and asked for their input about the situation. In others, I simply began to limit the amount of time spent together (online or in person). It was different from my former cut-and-run routine, because I wanted to continue contact with those people, just in a different way.
Of those I spoke to, only one responded positively. Probably it's not fun to have someone say, "My relationship with you is making me unhappy. These are the reasons I believe this is so. What do you think?" With the exception of the one, the others blamed my PTSD, or my recent surgery, or the past four years of stressful things I've experienced. There was no give/take proposal. I was expected to take complete responsibility for being unhappy in the relationship. I'm pretty sure that's not what they intended for me to take from our conversation, but what I heard was, basically, "If you're unhappy, that belongs to you. There are many possible reasons, but probably if you just give it time, everything will resolve itself."
What they didn't take into consideration (and they should have--they've known me for quite a few years) was that I'd already given the situation a great deal of time and thought. I'd made some changes in myself, and I'd considered all the possibilities they proposed. But there were other reasons I felt unhappy that had nothing to do with my past, recent trauma, PTSD, or surgery. When I was dismissed and told to solve the problem on my own, it actually helped me decide how to manage those particular relationships. And I did. And I was happier.
There were a few relationships, however, that I knew needed to change in some way. I didn't want them to end. I wanted continued closeness. But I understood that somehow I had gotten stuck and I didn't want to allow those relationships to evolve as they should. I was clinging to past memories and feelings that had been enormously helpful to me, and while I wasn't trying to duplicate those feelings and memories, there was a huge fear that allowing the people involved to move forward and away from me would steal those moments from my life.
I don't believe, for someone who has experienced dissociation, which for me involved lost or detached memories, that this is an unreasonable feeling. As I tried to allow the relationships to evolve--and I did try--my attempts were met with an intense feeling of crisis. My reaction to that was that the relationship had become unhealthy/toxic and needed to end. My brain would rescue me, tell me to wait before acting, and I would think some more--trying to come up with solutions which wouldn't catapult me backward a decade to my inability to manage close relationships.
Integration taught me that I can claim my memories again--I MUST claim them, for they are a part of me. As I thought about that, I understood for the first time that while I remember things in an individual, unique way, my memories are often shared by another person. I'd never thought about that before. It was unsettling, upsetting, and aggravating to me. I tried to talk about it. I was unable to. I felt that my privacy had somehow been invaded. It was ridiculous but I had no means of figuring out how to manage what I was feeling.
Fortunately, Therapist, while perhaps not knowing exactly how to help me, knows how to guide me to help myself. After a few discussions and suggestions from Therapist, I tried some strategies to help me figure out the emotional mess that was causing me distress. I can't say I was completely successful, but some of the work I did moved me toward what I needed to do to deal with allowing relationships to evolve.
There is a difference between pulling back/adding distance, and letting go. When I would try to let go, allow autonomy in my relationships, I knew I was doing the right thing, but I would feel horribly sad, a little bit desperate, and completely overwhelmed with panic. And I couldn't make it happen. Even though I had no idea what "it" was, I knew nothing had changed. I was still unhappy, I still felt mistrust, and I did not feel safe in the relationship. Somehow, moving forward, I was certain, would bring me some peace.
So I wasn't letting go. I didn't have the capacity to do so. I do now.
Letting go still brings a feeling of sadness, but it's soft and quiet. It understands that some things are ending, and those things were joyful, things I have cherished. I might miss them. But it also understands that putting those things away means making room for more, and relationships are living, breathing entities that require new and different in order to thrive. Letting go also brings a feeling of acceptance--an acknowledgement that things must change. Not all of the change will be what I wish, but much of it will bring growth that will enhance past feelings and experiences.
It still makes me stressed, but now that I can do it, with practice, I think it will become easier.
Talking/writing about it still makes me feel a bit of panic, though, so I think it's time to read a book now.