Well, the time has come to follow through with what my adult has been telling my inner child for over a year now.
Two years ago, I was holding on. Holding on to hope. Holding on that things would change. Holding on that a little bit of space would be all that my ex needed to find herself, reconcile, and make our family whole again.
Ok, so I didn’t really give her space. I wooed her, pursued her, expressed my love, “Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.”
I just had a flash back to Rogers and Hammerstein’s King and I. I guess you could say, I was as arrogant, bossy, and demanding as King Mongkut of Siam.
A Habitual Complainer
My adult has been telling my inner child to let go and move on. But my inner child has been stubborn, kicking, fighting, and screaming all the way.
“My ex always had this ebb and flow of her emotions,” I complained to Rafiki. “I’d point out that it was like the ocean tide, flowing in and out. Right after she’d get close, she’d put up this wall and become emotionally distant. If I mentioned it, she’d claim that it was due to my addiction, because I was manipulating, or because I was too emotional and reactive. It was my ‘craziness.’ It was always my fault.”
“Are you positive it was all your fault?” Rafiki asks.
“Yes.” I sigh. “I did things that are unforgivable. I…”
Rafiki cuts me off. “I heard you say ‘are’ unforgivable. It’s important not to forget what your actions did and it’s important to accept the consequences of those actions. It’s also equally important for you learn to forgive yourself for doing something that served you well.”
“Served me well? How the heck did my addiction serve me well Rafiki? I left destruction in my wake!” I argue.
“Phoenix,” Rafiki’s voice softens. “Your addiction helped you manage painful childhood trauma. You did not have tools nor did you have a support network, a community of peers, that could help you survive prior to recovery. Your brain was hijacked.”
“Sounds like an excuse to me.”
“Oh, it does not excuse your actions. Don’t think this is your get out of jail free card. Addiction is a disease that hijacks your brain to help you survive. Until you break through the denial and realize that you must consciously work hard to reprogram your brain, you’ll always go to what you learned to ease your pain.
Addiction is a disease that hijacks your brain to help you survive. Click To Tweet
Addiction is a Disease.
“It’s important to understand this piece so you can forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is necessary for your recovery. Forgiving is necessary to let go of the guilt and shame of your actions. It is necessary to being able to love yourself. You can’t love yourself if you’re constantly shaming and placing guilt on your past actions.”
You can’t love yourself if you’re constantly shaming and placing guilt on your past actions. Click To Tweet
“But it was my actions that caused my divorce,” I protest.
“Yes, there are consequences for your actions. However, it wasn’t just your actions. You are but one person in your relationship. Your ex is the other half. It wasn’t just you. You can’t continue to take all the blame for your divorce.”
“My behaviors during recovery ca…”
Rafiki cuts me off, “I heard you say that emotionally your marriage was like the ebb and flow of the tide. That’s a typical love addiction cycle. The fear of abandonment brings two people close, yet the fear of connection causes them to become distant from each other. These patterns are established in childhood.
“Your ex’s ebbs and flows triggered your childhood wounding. When triggered you did what you learned would keep you safe, your addiction. In recovery, without the addiction, you fell back on being an adult child; you became reactive. You needed to learn how to manage your triggers and your emotions. That takes time.
“Remember, the patterns that you and your ex had, were created long before the two of you met. These issues would have surfaced in your marriage regardless of your addiction. Your divorce is not all your fault, Phoenix.”
What Was Modeled to Me
The ebb and flow of emotional connection was modeled to me growing up. I watched it with my parents. I saw it with my grandparents. I even felt it when my step-sister would visit and we’d come together as a family until she left again.
That cycle was normalized in my childhood.
It was what I knew. It gave me the illusion of safety. It was comfortable. And yet, it was also very painful.
The complexities of my career and being gone much of time exasperated my painful childhood emotions. My career mirrored everything I had ever known. My career also mirrored my ex’s childhood. She didn’t have a father figure and her mother worked numerous hours to provide for her family.
My ex and I were each other’s template.
Moving out of the house six months ago has given me some clarity. I’m finally learning to see and understand our patterns. I’m on the outside looking in.
Well…until I allow myself to become quickly sucked back into the story (which happens regularly).
To cope with those uncomfortable feelings these last few months, I’ve told myself, “The water is flowing back out to the ocean. You can’t stop the water from flowing away. But just wait. It will rush back in.”
And, as I watched the patterns, she always came back. The water came back to the shore. She would open and share with me. Allow us to become close. Then she would become distant again.
I recognized the distance more when I was gone at work. As I watched, from an observer point of view, trying (very difficult at times) to be emotionally detached, I didn’t take the lack of contact when I was gone as personal as I used to. It was her pattern.
In fact, it was curiously interesting to watch.
“Patience and she will come back,” I kept telling myself.
I still have those uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes they are incredibly unbearable. By observing those patterns and changing this belief that it’s my fault she becomes distant has helped me manage my own uncomfortable feelings. Well, and a ton of personal work and many, many calls to Rafiki to keep me grounded.
I Need to Stop the Denial
When my ex did come back, my inner child would embrace it. I’d be everything. I’d help her on a dime. It was all I wanted. I felt needed. I felt content again. I felt “complete”.
I hate to admit that I needed her to feel complete. That I need someone else to complete me. That’s a truth that I find hard to disclose.
I MUST acknowledge that truth. I MUST get out of the denial that I needed my ex to make me feel grounded. In my addiction, I kept looking for someone to make me feel worthy, important, and loved.
Someone else can’t make me feel these things. Only I can!
Awareness is the first step towards change.
I have been in denial for quite some time!
Unfortunately, even though I knew it would happen, every time she pulls away I must once again process the emotions of loss, pain, grief, and anger. Close friends would warn me when I started hanging out and was feeling happy and connected. They knew how much I wanted to be with her and how crushed I would get when her wall came back up.
They hated to see me hurting and they weren’t afraid to point it out to me either. They’d pull back that curtain that hid the Wizard. I would cover my eyes, nod, but still want to believe in the magic instead.
I wanted to believe that someone else had the ability to give me what I needed. I wanted to believe that my ex could give me everything I needed. I wanted to believe she would come back to me.
But like Dorothy and her friends, I am learning that I’ve had it in me all along.
Negative Self Talk
My adult was never nurturing to my inner child. He was shameful and degrading.
Just as he learned from my family, he would scold and shame my inner child for once again believing this time would be different.
And of course, my inner child would argue with my adult, a natural reaction when being attacked. “Just be the friend she wants us to be and eventually she’ll see that our love for her is true and she will come back to us.”
Then, when my ex would emotionally come back, my inner child would celebrate and try to prove to my adult, “Yippee! See? I told you she would come back.”
As any parent knows, when a child thinks they did something right, but that belief comes from a limited viewpoint not able to see the “big” picture, and the child argues trying to prove their point, it’s hard not to get angry.
And my adult got angry!
He would pull his finger out and point, “Look, Phoenix. This has happened numerous times. It always ends up the same. She does not want you. She has told you she doesn’t want you. She just wants a friend, nothing else.”
But my inner child is like most kids; they don’t listen. My inner child refuses to see. My inner child is blind. My inner child knows what’s best. And by doing what he wants to do, and not listening to his adult, he keeps getting repeatedly hurt.
My inner child enables the behavior of my ex. He doesn’t put up boundaries, but drops everything and anything to be there when she calls. It’s this hope that maybe, if he does ‘one more thing’, she’ll see how important she is to him and embrace the love he has for her.
My inner child also doesn’t want to see her fall, see her hurt. He wants to do what he did to his mother so many years ago. He wants to protect her.
In protecting my ex, my inner child gets this illusion that my ex cares about him too.
What I Need to Do
I have said it before and I will say it again.
I NEED to put up boundaries between my ex and myself.
I don’t think it will be forever, but currently, I can’t be the type of friend she wants. It’s too painful. I get too triggered. I run the risk of being reactive. I end up hurting me. When I hurt me, I retaliate and end up hurting her. And indirectly I hurt my girls too.
My therapist said two years ago, “Phoenix, are you done?” Every month for the past two years he kept asking that same question and I’d keep saying yes, but then, my actions would show I wasn’t.
I told another therapist that no matter how hard I try, I “can’t” let go. She told me I needed to change my vocabulary. When you tell yourself you can’t do something, it implies that you lack the ability to do something. It’s more about what we will do or what we won’t do.
“Phoenix, you have a choice. The choice is that you will let go of her or you won’t. If you want to let go you need to change, ‘I can’t let go’ to ‘I won’t let go’.”
Am I really and truly done?
Today, I say I am done.
Today, I hope I can stand up to my inner child and give him what he needs, not what he wants. Today, I hope my resolve will stay true and strong and I can, I mean I will, finally let go of my ex and our marriage.
My Ex Wants to Date
I guess I haven’t told you what happened tonight…
I had to ask my ex the question that was burning in my head for almost two days now. It was poisoning my soul. So much negative emotional energy and fear was dripping toxic chemicals directly into my veins.
“The other day, when you talked about dating, were you saying that you’re ready to start pursing another relationship?” I asked her.
“I’m not actively looking for a relationship, but if something was to come along, I’m not going to pass it up.”
The air was knocked out of me. My biggest fear had come true. I took a deep breath. “That seems so counter to everything you’ve said in the past. I’ve only been out of the house for six months. You spoke poorly about our friend for dating so soon after his wife passed and you talked so much about following Andy Stanley’s Love Sex and Dating and waiting at least a year or more before you start dating.”
“I guess I see things from a different perspective now.”
I knew I should have kept my big mouth shut. I was hurting. I was angry. I was in the zone when I know it’s time to step away from a conversation, but I didn’t. My reactiveness kicked in.
“From my perspective, you haven’t had any time off. You bounced from me to this man you hang out with. You, at one time admitted to having feelings for him, but would not have a relationship with him because he was ‘unhealthy’ for you. However, you realized that since you didn’t want to give up his friendship our marriage was no longer worth working on. Even if you don’t have romantic feelings for him, you still bounced from me to another man in your life as a companion to watch movies with, cook dinners with, to turn to when you need emotional support of some kind or another. And now you’re ready to open the door to something else if it comes along?”
“I don’t believe I asked for your perspective.”
Crap! See, I did it again. No “I” statements, all “you” statements. I reacted and attacked. Ugh!
“You’re right. You didn’t. I’m sorry.”
There was a part of me that wanted to yell at her. She had said if something was to come along, she wouldn’t pass it up. I don’t want to go back to the way it was. I want to date. Baby steps. I would love to start from the beginning again.
She is passing up dating someone. She’s passing up dating me!
At this time, I can no longer maintain a friendship with my ex. I need to get to an emotional place where I don’t feel that pull, that want, that need, that desire. Where it doesn’t matter to me if she hangs out or not. Where it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t answer my texts or my emails. Where I can enjoy her company without the sadness that comes when we separate and I have no idea how long it will be before we talk again.
I need to learn how to put up boundaries!
How the fuck do I do that?
It really sucks to be in your mid 40’s and not to have learned how to maintain boundaries.
Sometimes I feel like I have come so far. Other times I feel like I have so far to go!
I need to learn how to not get pulled in. I need to learn to make everything co-parenting and if it isn’t a co-parenting conversation, stop her and say, “I don’t really want to hear that right now.”
I need to be kind, polite, not mean and passive aggressive. That last one is going to be hard.
I can’t do the walks with her. I can’t have coffee with her. I can’t go to the movies with her. I can’t have her and the two girls. I can’t text her about stuff not related to the girls. I need to do what my adult has been telling me to do for months! I NEED to put the boundaries up and let her go.
My inner child is screaming at my adult right now. He’s a stubborn child that thinks he knows better and wants his way. My inner child does not want to give up. My inner child wants to fight. He’s throwing a temper tantrum. This adult need causes him so much pain!
My adult knows better.
Parenting Our Inner Child is no Different than Parenting our Kids
What would I, as a father, tell my girls? What would I say? How would I parent them? If my two girls were in the same situation, what advice would I give them?
I would tell my girls that they need to separate. That they need to let go. That they continue to hurt themselves by holding on. That I am here when they are sad. That I am here if they feel like they can’t go on.
I will tell them that I love them with all my heart and will never, ever abandon them.
I will not do to them what my father did to me. I will not do to them what my mother did to me. I will not do to them what my Grandmother did to me. I will not do to them what my step-father did to me.
I will NOT DO IT!
But I have done that to my own inner child. I have done that to little Phoenix.
I can’t do that anymore.
My adult looks down at little Phoenix and takes his hand.
“You need to separate from her. You need to let her go. You only keep hurting yourself. You are loved more than you know. I am here for you Phoenix. I am here to hold your hand. I am here to cry with you. I am here to be angry and punch the fuck out of a pillow with you. I will not leave you Phoenix. I am here. I will love you until the end of day. You do not need her love to complete you. You do not need anyone’s love to heal the wounds you carry. I am here to help you heal. We will do this! We will heal. We will be strong. We will pick ourselves up. We will shine so fucking brightly that other people will have to put on their damn sunglasses to keep from being blinded. TOGETHER WE WILL HEAL!”
Together is not just our community of Fledglings giving one another courage, strength, and hope to rise out of the ashes of our collective pain.
Together is where our adult and inner child jointly work to heal our deepest wounds.
Together is where our adult and inner child jointly work to heal our deepest wounds. Click To Tweet
We Won’t Be Shaken
PS: Instead of quoting Rafiki today, I’d like to share what was written from a link he sent me. This message popped up on my laptop as I was writing the last paragraph through a waterfall of healing tears. I have no idea how he does it, but lately, his timing has been impeccable.
“This philosophy does not try to convince us, as many irresponsible traditions teach, that there is any kind of blessing in pain. There is no kind of ‘reward’ for passing the ‘test.’ There is no kind of ‘purpose’ or ‘plan’ in exchange for one’s suffering. As I said earlier, I believe there is almost nothing more offensive than hearing that there is a reason for your loss.
“However, there is the potential in this state of suffering to see more clearly than you may have ever seen before in your life.
“So I am not offering an easy religious solution to horrific problems. There is no blessing in grief and loss. It hurts. It feels like a curse, and it just plain stinks.
“That does not mean, however, that we should try to run away from the truth that the experience of suffering may offer us. What I will continue to offer is a discernment of the difference between getting through our grief and transforming through our grief. There is a significant difference.
“With the former, we are doing anything we can to make life the same as it was before the tragedy. We keep ourselves busy when we should be mourning or sad. We disguise ourselves in an armor of strength to show the world that we are okay when we so badly need to be helped and embraced and held. We just try to get through until we push it out of our minds, the pain ebbs, and we move on without ever healing from within.
“When we transform through suffering, we stay present in our pain. We cry and yell out and accept the support our community wants to send our way. We allow ourselves to lash out in anger and frustration at the world and even, and especially, at God. We allow ourselves to be weak in ways we learned we were not supposed to. We become vulnerable and deeply open because all we want to do is tell our truth since it hurts too much to keep it inside. We allow ourselves to feel small and insignificant in this huge world and thus begin to feel relief because it isn’t all about us.
“We allow transformation, even though it is frightening to confront certain parts of ourselves that we haven’t quite wanted to see. We do what is counterintuitive and show the world that to expose our weaknesses is to eventually find our deepest strength.
“We can transform; we can transcend; but first we must have the fortitude to surrender to our reality.”
To transform and transcend, we must first have the fortitude to surrender to our reality. Click To Tweet