Bridge closed…

I am terrible with boundaries sometimes. Correction: most of the time. I never really grew up with an understanding of what was my space and what was someone else’s space. As far as I knew, there was no reason to have a “personal bubble” around me, neither physically nor emotionally. Everyone around me needed to know my business, and I needed to know theirs. I couldn’t (and still often can’t) stand it when someone disliked me or didn’t feel a connection with me. I needed to hug everyone in sight. A handshake was never sufficient (nor desirable). I’ve yet to understand how I survived all those years without any boundaries.

Somewhere around the middle of my time in undergrad, I began noticing how… unhealthy… my relationships were. It felt like I was always giving but never really receiving. This may be partly due to the increase in depressive symptoms I was experiencing, but not completely. Much of the time, I felt empty, as if my cup always only had a few drops left in it. I didn’t feel like there were many people pouring into me. Reality was that I never gave myself enough time to let my cup get a refill. Whenever someone invested time, energy, or emotion into me, I felt the compulsive need to go use that energy elsewhere. Someone else needed it, and since I had it, I was obliged to give it out to them.

Entering grad school (UIC, not Garrett), things got worse. I’d knock on a friend’s dorm door and walk in without an actual invite (that got me into trouble a couple of times). Keep in mind, I never had ill intentions. I wasn’t trying to harass, threaten, or intimidate. I was just trying to feel connection. In 2007, I finally got my own apartment. For the first time ever, I wasn’t living with someone, or right next door to someone who I could interact with whenever I wanted. I was, well, a grown-up. At 23, this was a scary reality, especially for an introvert who compulsively desired interaction, sometimes calculating his own self-worth by the quantity of his friendships rather than the quality.

I can’t really place my finger on when things started to change. It probably wasn’t until 2008 when my relationship with TJ ended. Unfortunately, being the extremist I’ve always been, this meant that I retreated completely. I went to work. I came home. I stopped calling, texting, emailing, or having any other interactions with people, even those I loved most. Sure, there were spurts of contacting people, but never had I had so little energy or desire to connect with other people. This didn’t stop me from adding any and everyone as a “friend” on Facebook. Again, I’d focused on quantity instead of quality. Hell, I still am connected with people on various social networks, not because I do talk to them, but because I want the option (preferably with as little hunting as possible).

I was just telling a close friend the other day how much I hate cutting people off. In the old days, rather than severing ties with those whose impact on my life was less than positive, I would do any and everything I could to get them to cut me off. I could handle rejection and abandonment. I could handle people leaving, ignoring, or telling me off. One could say I was used to that from certain people in my life. Having as little self-worth as I had (and sometimes still have), it was familiar, comfortable for people to go away, stop responding to all my reachings out, or simply tell me to buzz off. Pain was an old friend of mine, and I was accustomed to his company.

Since Frankie came into my life and I started seminary, it would seem that much has changed. Don’t get me wrong: old habits really do die hard, if they even die at all. Most of the time, they simply lay waiting in the wings, anxious to re-emerge when the climate is right. But for me (and Blake, my shrink), change has been noticeable. No longer am I really that willing to keep people in my life whose presence makes me feel “less than.” Take me or leave me, and if you can’t or won’t take me for all of me, then please just leave. There is a difference between changing behaviors that truly are unhealthy and changing for the sake of appeasing someone else’s fantasy of who you should be. I shouldn’t need to lower my voice, have hair, act butch, lose weight or be straight for someone else to love me. I should just be me.

Most recently (last week), after the whole Chick-Fil-A debacle had somewhat died down, I took some time to figure where most of the messages I was hearing in my head began. I had suspicions about the answer, but I was almost fearful of confirming it. Finally, after last week’s session with Blake, I stopped hiding from the truth. I realized what needed to happen most.

My mother and I never really had a parent-child relationship (a reality I’m sure some of you can understand). Instead, we related more like siblings, partly due to her having me at the age of 20 and partly due to the fact that, since she didn’t really want me, her mother, my Nanny, stepped right in to fill the role. Instead of being a child for her to love and cherish, I was a sibling she could resent and mistreat, abuse and neglect. The majority of my life thus far, while I’ve hoped for a change in our relationship, I frequently tolerated the bile she spewed at me and the apparent hatred she projected. Since I started my relationship with Frankie, my tolerance for her behavior has, well, diminished. I love her, but I’ve realized that far too much of my time and energy has been spent on waiting for her to love me. Given my union to Frankie and being welcomed into his family, and given the created family I find myself surrounded by, I realized I don’t need to do this anymore. I’ve admitted my faults and wrongdoings, asked for forgiveness, and attempted reconciliation. I’ve done everything I can.

Last Monday, I called her. I reiterated my love for her and my desire to be in relationship. I acknowledged our differences in beliefs and lifestyles, character and personalities. I also reaffirmed the reality of my relationship and personhood and gave what I feel and hope is the last “ultimatum” I will ever have to give to her. She’s my mother, and I will always love and care for her, but she is not the center of my life. I’m an adult with a good heart, a kind personality, a bright mind, and a storehouse of ambition. I have a family to care for and love, and I cannot make the decision for her to be a part of that family. Only she can. If she chooses not to, it will be time to “close the bridge.” Like I said, I’m not good at burning them, but I’m learning to close them… to make space for healing, reflection, and growth. If and when something changes on her end, there will be ways in which to reach me. I have hope, but I also need to be realistic about the possibilities.

Life is about growing and changing. Learning to love yourself, and experiencing what it’s like to love and be loved by others. Unfortunately, the reality is not everyone will love us. Not everyone will like us. Sometimes, things can change. Other times, we must merely move on, close the bridges for repair, and wait for the day when creation will find redemption. It’s not easy, but just as we are called to love others, we’re called to love ourselves. Learning to do so can be a painful process. But I think and hope it’s worthwhile.

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~ by Michael O. on August 14, 2012.

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