My favorite author in the world, Anne Lamott, once said something along the lines of it being an act of wisdom to put the spoon down if you know it's poison. When she wrote this, she was talking about relationships, and I was reminded of this over the last few days (I don't actually carry her book around with me, hence the paraphrasing) as I have been coming to grips with the final ending of my relationship. Well, final save for the fact that we have a son together, which means not final at all, just changed. It isn't any easier to lose a relationship at 35 (ish) than it is at 15, when it all seems so new and fresh and lovely. I am considerably more battered around and broken in now than I used to be, my heart is much harder than it perhaps should be, but there is nothing clear cut and simple about any of it. In many ways, in fact, I think it is harder to lose someone as we age, because we are so much aware of how little time we have left.
So. We have been apart since New Years Day. We have tried the staying friends thing, even going so far as to have this very adult, no-strings attached sex for awhile. The basic liking of each other hasn't changed, even now; I might not like some of the things he does (like drinking a large amount of alcohol when he was supposed to be taking care of the kids while I was out of town to be with my dad in the ICU, passing out on the couch and making my 15 year old daughter assume responsibility for the household. Hm. Maybe I still have some anger issues...), but really, I don't dislike him as a person. In fact, the opposite is true. Faults and addictions and all, I love him; maybe more than anyone I have loved in the past, which sounds trite and insignificant and, dare I say it, cliched, but is nonetheless true. But the past few weeks I have been realizing how bad this is for me. I am not against no-strings attached sex as a general rule, nor am I opposed to maintaining a friendship with an ex-partner. In fact, in time I would like that to be the case, because we DO share a child together, and I can see that it may be possible in the future. However, what was happening was that I was allowing him to have all of the benefits of being in a relationship without actually being in a relationship. Soon we had fallen into the same patterns as before-which were not bad or unhealthy ones in a general sense, but under the circumstances became so. A bunch of other small things happened, nothing major or traumatic, just things, but by and by I got to the point where I just thought, this can't continue on this way.
But he felt me pulling away, and I think it scared him a little bit; he grabbed on, for lack of a better term, and it understandably caused some hard feelings. At one point over the weekend, he yelled at me because I wasn't home when I said I was going to be home (my home, by the way, we have never lived together), and I kind of snapped and yelled back, "We are not dating anymore! I don't answer to you anymore." More bitter words, more hurt feelings and anger, and that is when I just knew that it was really over.
I have been through the bitterness and the anger of a divorce; in the beginning of the end with my ex-husband, not only was I put through it, but was also an active participant. I wanted to hurt him somehow as badly as he hurt me, I wanted to try to make him see and feel all of my absolute anger and rage. I wanted to exact retribution of some sort. Of course, it didn't work, because it didn't matter to him (and yes, I still have anger, but nothing near like it used to be, and it has more to do with his son than it ever did with me), and all it did was make me feel sick and ashamed inside. I learned how powerful rage is-it can make you find a job and fill your cupboard and take care of your kids and get through the nights. At the same time, I also found out first hand how harmful it is; every time I lost it with him, every time I screamed back or called him names or otherwise gave in to the fury, it hurt me, and it hurt my kids. Eventually I learned other, better ways to handle things, and things improved.
With Steve, over the course of the weekend, I started to feel the rage again; let's all be honest here, there is such a rush sometimes when the fury takes hold of you. Even better if they have given you reason to be legitimately, honestly, angry! But then I recalled the feelings engendered by my fights with the ex, how it deteriorated what little bit of civility we could maintain until there was nothing left but hatred, and decided that I don't want to go there again. I don't want what we DO have left to be ruined by anger and fighting and constant conflict. I mean, this was consuming me to the point of losing sleep at night about it. We have a son, a wonderful, beautiful toddler son, who deserves to have both parents in his life-even if that means I have to be the one responsible adult who can make that happen. But it was eating at me, and I have been been really working on processing this; the rage isn't just directed at Steve, but at every man who has hurt me or abandoned me, often both-beginning with sexual abuse at a young age, continuing on through abusive boyfriends and husbands, until I got sober and started to believe I deserved better. And the rage is also directed at myself for sanctioning such abuse; I did not want it, but I did allow it to happen (at least as an adult), and there is no excuse.
So I have decided that the best possible way for me to remain at peace with myself and the place where I am at now is simply to accept that my anger is real, and justifiable in many instances, but no less harmful for its validity. I am also coloring my childhood abuse with adult perceptions and experiences, which is not fair nor right for that little girl who had no control over what happened to her. And yes, this does relate to the current situation with Steve, because I really like how far I have come in my life; I like it enough that I am not willing to be seduced by the sweet feeling of rage, and the ensuing letdown and shame. The ultimate in self-love and self-care is recognizing when things are not healthy and taking steps to change it. I am allowed to love Steve and the many very good things about him, but I am not allowed to allow him to dictate how I feel about myself and my life. I am allowed to let him be in my life, but on my terms, not his, and I am allowed to let go of that which was harmful for me and move on. The best, most kind and loving thing I can do for myself is to avoid situations where I might be tempted to sink into the hurt and rage; to avoid conflict and stop the fighting, all I have to do is put down the gloves and step out of the ring.