A long time ago, I had an idea if I kind of recorded my healing process, someone could benefit from it. If I am healing, maybe that points to a way to heal. Now, don’t feel that way. I don’t really know what I’m doing, what works, what is working, whether things are actually working or if I just imagine they are.

I do think I know more how I feel, and that I am processing sensations in my body that were once not even registering as information to me.

I woke up today from a nap—I was awake in the night, missing C and feeling sad I hadn’t gotten to hear her voice in a really long time and in all likelihood, my chance of doing that would be gone for another week. But mainly I am just very, very tired right now. I sometimes feel that I could just sleep all day. Wake up to eat. Sleep again.

So I woke up and eventually realized I feel separation distress. I wake up and there is an ache all through my chest and abdomen. It’s quite physically painful. This is really why waking up from nap is so difficult and why I am in a haze for a long time. I am trying not to feel that distress. Okay, so I feel that now.

I know that’s progress, but I don’t really have any idea what to do about it.

The other thought I have is that in the night, when I couldn’t sleep, one of C’s classmates whom I know from 8th grade—I substituted in her class every day during first period for a couple of months—sent me a series of pictures of C taken in the classroom. I don’t know when it was, but there were clearly no teachers around. The girls were just playing and C had taken a bunch of photos of herself.

Well, I calmed down and felt like I could sleep again.

That leads me to this other thought about reaching out—that it helps me. I think I had this idea that it’s kind of pointless, just an endless, unfilled longing. And it’s not. I had this kind of indirect contact with her—it wasn’t even her, the photos were not even taken that day—and I felt better.

It violates all of these rules I had in my head about how we are supposed to relate to others, how we need to be independent. Dependency pushes people away.

This might relate to other thoughts I have had when it comes to my interactions with C, because I was so dependent on other people to help me stay in contact with her and to take care of her, and it was something I thought about and worried about.

I was chatting with the girl who most frequently took items to school for C and I thanked her. She said, “Anything for you ma’am.” Well, that was kind of her to say. But I used to see her and wonder if she was filled with annoyance at the thought of what I would ask her to do.

This is sort of the pattern I followed, hoping it made a difference in how they felt about helping me. Of course, it isn’t the US. People are more interdependent. There isn’t any real expectation that anyone will do things entirely for themselves, and they understood I had no family to help me. It’s much easier to be an orphan where dependencies are openly acknowledged and seen, rather than a kind of invisible privilege people pretend they don’t have.

Anyway, my idea about it was to not treat her as an object, but as a separate human being with a life outside of the errands she did for me. It wasn’t much: just, how are you, have a nice day, best of luck with your test today. And so on. I asked her to take my things and I thanked her as though she had the right to say no. In reality, kids in Country X don’t really have the right to say no to adults, but they don’t necessarily like that, and it gets expressed by avoiding the person assigning the task. She wasn’t going to say no to me, but it’s nice to be spoken to that way, perhaps, and it’s nice to be thanked. Sometimes I gave her some of what I was sending to C—I really should have done that a lot more often. Even a lollipop shows gratitude.

Well, that’s what I wonder about. I wonder if the problem in “enmeshed” relationships is that the dependence is not expressed in a vulnerable way, where someone is treated as a human being outside of what they provide to you. If you use control to get your needs met—anger, histrionics, quid-pro-quo, emotional blackmail—then it doesn’t feel like a relationship. It feels like you are a machine providing a product. It’s not a good feeling.

I wonder if the problem I have had with past relationships has been that: not my abandonment of my self, not my overinvestment in the relationship. Those things happened because it wasn’t a secure attachment, and it created a lot of anxiety for me. I think so anyway. But I have been thinking the real problem was the lack of willingness to be truly vulnerable. Without vulnerability, there can be closeness without intimacy. In therapy, it seemed like vulnerability was confused with self-disclosure. If I share more of my emotions with you, if I psycho-babble my way into discussing my inner life with you, then there will be a more authentic connection between us.

And I think that’s not true. Without the freedom to say no, or to say yes, to say I don’t want to share that with you, or I don’t want to talk about it right now, or I don’t want to listen right now, there’s no intimacy.

Our couple’s therapists might have tried to tell us that, but I didn’t get it.

Because what is really going on is that the people inside the relationship are having attachment feelings, they are feeling separation distress or remembering distress and responding to it by reaching out, and they have learned that it isn’t okay to feel separation distress. You are not allowed to soothe it by reaching out to another person, and in those moments when we felt like reaching out to one another, we instead reached for control.

Or, she did, I very well may have too. It’s hard to really remember who I was or what I was like. Criticism and rejection are about control. They are about denying the warm feelings of connection or the need to periodically get another jolt of those warm feelings, because you might not get that jolt. It might not be available. And that hurts. It hurts when our attachment figure is not available. I suppose that’s obvious, but what I mean is it didn’t make sense to be worried about rejection when I didn’t understand that the problem isn’t really the fact of rejection. It’s the sad feelings inside which have always been forbidden.

We used to carpool to work together, and in the car my partner did not want to talk to me. She wanted to listen to the radio. We came home and she wanted to listen to the radio. The only way to get her to talk to me was to talk to her about her. It was incredibly hard for me to understand this, and the response I got from our couple’s therapist at the time was a correction of my language and an attempt to get me to talk about the source in the past. Well, I have no idea how my parents responded to me when I wanted to talk to them. I don’t remember wanting to talk to them. But the thing is they were fucking insane.

The person I was riding in the car with conducted herself like someone fairly normal. She didn’t threaten suicide on a weekly basis. She wasn’t a murderer. It was a different deal.

Anyway, I do get it now. It was about control. If I behaved like a person with interests and thoughts and desires, she might have warm feelings toward me. I might become an individual to her and not an object, and then she might need to experience painful feelings related to the possibility of loss. It wasn’t about me. It was about avoiding triggers.

But it hurt me.