PTSD of the heart

For no real reason, other than maybe my distaste for unpacking boxes and getting organized, I sat around and read through all the emails I had sent since I opened my Gmail account in 2006. If you’ve ever done this before, then you’re already aware that this is usually a mistake. I’m aware too, but I am also weak to the fascination and horror that envelopes me when I read old letters. Who is this person that wrote these words? The events they reference are only a vague memory. And the words themselves? They could have come from anyone. I identify with almost nothing. I can read back 3, 4, 5 years. Sometimes more. I see the rise and fall of distinct relationships. The ways in which I am currently intertwined with people and their lives seems entirely unrelated to our previous correspondences. Why are there so many excruciating emails of clinging and terror when in just a few short years none of it is even really relevant anymore? The only thing I have in common with the person who penned these letters is the arrogance with which I often write and the physical body I possess. (And if you want to get right down to it, that’s not even entirely true.)

Here’s something that reading these emails confirmed for me: my feelings in terms of love and romance are flat out fucked. I had a conversation with a close friend the other day where I expressed my frustrations with my previous romantic relationship. (And while it was a serious relationship for a long time, I’m gonna go ahead and use the word romantic pretty lightly here.) As I’ve mentioned before, (surprise! we’re talking about “John” here. See for further reading) I spent a few agonizing years being woefully codependent and crossing my fingers that this shit relationship would work itself out. Not that I was passive, to be clear. I tried every single thing I could think of to make it work. I’ve become a pretty introspective person as I’ve grown up, so I spent a lot of time examining the things I did wrong in this relationship. The problem with this was that when I tried to adjust my behavior and take responsibility for things I ended up throwing myself under the bus a little bit. I owned up to more than was really mine and my ex was never big enough rectify that. Or probably even recognize it, actually. Reading these emails forced me to see that again. I’ve begun to realize that I experienced such emotional turmoil for so long that I’ve been rendered nearly incapable of sorting out and naming the things I feel. I have never had this problem. Ever. It’s like PTSD of the heart or some shit.

I told my friend that I felt as though I no longer had any idea what it felt like to be in love. “You’ll know when you are,” she told me. No! No, no, no. I loved someone for years and years and my love for him became twisted with fear and resentment and bitterness. The love I felt for him made me feel nauseous and gave me waves of anxiety that made me feel short of breath. It was laden with tension and neediness and jealousy, but when I dug deep I could still find my genuine hope for his well-being and success, even if it did not involve me. A few of these issues were simply ones that I brought to the table from the start. A lot of them, though, I’m coming to realize were only the result of being in a broken relationship that satisfied neither of us. Maybe not quite that simple. A lot of  my issues arose from being with somebody who constantly told me he did not want me–in both his words and his negligence–but kept a firm grasp on my wrist. I was weak and inexperienced enough to mistake his hold for a secret caress and as such I set myself up for a very long and painful two and a half years.

“You’ll know when you are.” That’s a thing that people get to say when they haven’t been in a relationship like that. I think really, really hard about it, but when I reflect on the feelings I had for John, I just can’t isolate a memory of feeling in love with him purely. There’s no muscle memory for it. I believe that it existed initially, but that was a long time ago. I cannot recall how it feels to love someone without also feeling anxious. I cannot separate it from jealousy or neediness or codependency.  I did know when I was in love. But the last love I felt was mutilated and impure. I’m afraid that my previous relationship has damaged me to the point that I cannot recognize certain emotions for what they are in either myself or other people.

My little sister used to throw “the L word” around really casually. The second she started dating someone when she was in 8th grade she told him she loved him. It drove me absolutely crazy. But I think it’s just a thing that teenagers do. After a few hours of reading my old emails, I came across a few from the beginning of my relationship with John. Just a couple of weeks into our relationship we were writing to each other between classes to express our love for one another. I was 17 years old. Could I have really fallen that hard and fast? Or is it because I was only 17 that I was genuinely able to do so? I honestly have no idea. I am so different from the girl who wrote those emails. Maybe I am jaded and damaged now. Mostly I’m just not that girl.

I’m also not the girl who wrote the emails a year ago pleading for the phone call promised and then neglected by an ex-boyfriend. Or maybe the confirmation of a weeks-old plan. When she received no response, which was often, she’d take to writing a new email that cited her frustration with his careless and negligent attitude. Soon after, there would be an email full of apologies, self-condemnations, and promises of changed behavior. God, that makes me feel sort of ill. I am not her.

What a strange personal history. Old emails are far more telling than any blog could ever be.

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