Saturday, September 14, 2013

Emotional Landmines - What to do

It has taken me three days to write up my emotional response to a single phrase during a conversation with Hawk last Tuesday evening. I'm shocked at how deep and irrational my thoughts were at the time. It feels miraculous that I kept enough sanity to shield him from the explosion.

You see, he is busy, very busy, with his life and work and local friendships. I knew he was making time in his schedule to talk with me, but I had no idea how much pressing business he was pushing aside to open space for our conversations. As he told me of all the tension he's been under, I suddenly realized I hadn't valued our calls nearly enough.

Along with that realization came the trigger thoughts that have been lurking ever since we agreed on active friendship. "What if I'm too much trouble? Am I a burden? Maybe he hates the fact that I want to talk to him! Maybe he just doesn't know how to turn me down."

One thought slipped through, into the conversation. "Oh, I hope I'm not part of that pressure." I knew very well that making space for me would be an added tension, especially since he's been far more busy than usual. Obviously it would be another element to that whole collection of "things to do." But, no. I had to say it.

And because he promised to be honest with me about everything ... he said, "Well, sometimes."

My heart dropped. I wanted to cry because it hurt so much, and at the same time I was so grateful, and thrilled that he had taken time for me in spite of it all. And it was the increase in gratitude that I communicated ... which is amazing, in retrospect. It was the only worthwhile response I had to that phrase for the rest of the evening.

Our conversation was pleasant and full. He had a cough, but wouldn't get off the phone even though I offered to wait and talk when his throat healed. There were so many beautiful topics and realizations, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

But the moment I hung up the phone, the fear that his voice had pushed aside snatched me in a strangling grip. I'm not sure what I did for the next hour or so, though I could hardly stay still. My mind was completely wrapped in how to free Hawk from the burden he had inadvertently stumbled into by accepting my friendship.

Could I stop loving him?
Should I never text or call again?
Maybe an explanation would help him realize I hadn't meant to hurt him.
Maybe I'll never be able to fix this horrible situation.
Will he ever forgive me?
Who do I think I am, loving anyone!
Don't I know that love from me isn't a gift, but a burden?
Why would I think anyone could tolerate me?
I should just let him know I won't bother him anymore.

Shaking, I logged into facebook and saw Ree was online. "Want to help me regain my sanity?" I typed, hoping she'd help me figure out how to phrase the email to apologize.

After a quick summary of the pressure he'd been under, what I had said, his comment, and an overview of my emotional response after the call ended, she sweetly said, "Forgive me if it sounds like I'm not being serious, but you are so cute .... I'm serious. YOU ARE ADORABLE," which was so complete an improbable and unreal response to my confession that I had to laugh at the shock of clarity it brought.

"This is normal," she continued, "You're overcompensating. You're supposed to go through all this."

Suddenly I was able to remember how excited he had gotten when I mentioned I would soon have a *guest post published. And the rest of our conversation came flooding back through the sudden gap in my angst, restoring perspective. As we talked, I remembered more and more of the positive interactions Hawk and I have shared.

I felt sane again. I couldn't figure out why I had reacted the way I did. It was so totally out of proportion to that small comment. Why?

A similar incident last spring during a visit with another friend triggered a series of painful incidents. It took me several days to realize that my fade into an alternate reality at the time had resulted from the latent fears still lurking from my relationship with my ex. I acted in a way that was completely out of character, and it scared me to lose so much of myself without even realizing it, unable to see anything but the fear.

Ever since, I've been desperately hoping to catch myself before inflicting damage on anyone, again. This time I hadn't acted on the emotional possibilities, all of which would have definitely harmed our friendship and possibly hurt Hawk as well.

The next evening Mica and I had a chance to talk it over. She was angry at Hawk for not sensing how much damage he would cause, as I'd known she would be. Her anger gave me a chance to explore all the reasonable explanations why he had said it. Since Hawk has only seen me being strong in this area, how could he know how much it would hurt me? In fact, I'm purposely not telling him about this particular landmine, because I don't want to give him a reason not to be honest.

Mica agreed that the emotional landmine came from my experiences with my ex, also, and forgave Hawk for being human. She's very protective of my heart, since she was my safe place to explore what I was learning from my marriage before I finally buried the stinking skeleton of the relationship and let it rest in peace.

I learned something important from this. I have an insane terror of being a burden. (This is what comes of being treated as a burden for 17 years. Even on my best days I was always in debt to my ex for something.)

If I must have emotional landmines, at least I've begun to learn a few helpful techniques for managing them this time around.

  1. Remember to be grateful. 
    If I had responded out of fear, our conversation would have ended very badly. But because I remembered to thank him we were able to have an enjoyable conversation that helped me to snap out of the emotional explosion later that evening.
  2. Don't act on terror-induced plans.
    NOT doing anything right away was a good move. Once I stabilized, I realized there was nothing to do because there was no problem beyond my emotional instability. But if there had been a problem, I'd have come up with a far better solution after the storm. My ideas were terrible!
    (Please note, I am in a safe place. If you or a loved one are EVER threatened physically or have been trapped in long-term, emotionally abusive environment, please do follow a 'crazy' plan to get away and get out. Fear's adrenaline rush can take you past those internal barriers that would keep you caged otherwise. It's best, if you think you might need an escape plan, to start making one now even if you think you'll never have the courage to follow through.)
  3. Contact a trusted friend.
    Ree knew the history and context of our relationship. She knows what I've been through, and she accepts me no matter what. She also appreciates the clear descriptions I've given of Hawk's character, so she wasn't going to let me turn him into a monster just because I hate myself sometimes.
  4. Look at the conversation from the opposing perspective.
    (To the best of your ability.)
    Mica helped me think of less destructive reasons for his words that fit him better. Of course, I can't know for sure unless I ask him, but I trust what I know of his character. No matter what, I have to keep his own life-story, words, and actions in mind. He isn't my ex and he doesn't deserve to inherit a full dose of misapplied fear and mistrust. 

Will these action points work in other situations? I don't know. I'm still figuring this out myself.

*edited later to add the link