When I was in college, I had friend who could likely be diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. She had used drugs heavily in high school, gotten cleaned up and then went abroad her junior year to Denmark where she began to use heavily again. She had been intensely traumatized growing up, and made poor choices as a young adult that resulted in more victimization.
Finally, when we were both around 22, she went into rehab, got cleaned up again and shortly thereafter committed suicide.
I don’t really remember when she died, but her funeral was on Bastille Day. My now-ex and I had been invited to a Bastille Day party in the evening, and we rather foolishly decided to go, not quite anticipating how surreal this would feel.
My friend is having a party today. She usually has a Fourth of July party. It’s been a tradition for more than 20 years–she does it most years anyway. This year, she has these two huge dogs in the house that aren’t particularly well-socialized and her daughter and son-in-law (the dog owners) were on vacation in Europe that day. So it wasn’t the best circumstances for a party.
She opted for a Bastille Day party instead. When the topic first came up, I tried to bring up the the death of my friend–not as a big heavy conversation, but just it might be nice to have a party as it’s kind of a sad day for me and a little distraction might not go amiss. But she interrupted me and changed the subject. Not pointedly, but perhaps to avoid the emotional discomfort of it. She tends to do that. So I did not bring it up again.
I have become more aware recently that some people can’t cope with their own internal experiences. They just don’t have a lot of emotional skills. And so their response is often to try to control their environments so that nothing ever happens that might upset them. They try to avoid making mistakes, so that they don’t have to manage shame or guilty feelings. They avoid conflict so that they don’t need to try to understand their own anger or face anyone else’s. It’s not that it helps to just force your way through emotional difficulties, but because my childhood was so horrific, I never realized before that there are other people in the world with less ability to cope than I have.
Some of that might be about resiliency factors. It’s complicated. You can be less intentionally hurt than I was, and yet be more deprived of nurturing and warmth, and so just end up with fewer opportunities to learn emotional and social skills that then allow you to get the nurturing you need later to get through things. And I hadn’t thought about that.
Some of it is also probably about will. I look at my friend and the energy she put into her career and her family–one child is autistic–I know I put into trying to improve myself. I suppose I couldn’t help but know the pain was inside me: it wasn’t something outside me I could fix by altering my circumstances. So consequently, here I am at midlife, single with no children and a career that’s kind of in an uncomfortable place. When I got to be about 30, it got to be kind of do-or-die.
That is harder for me to understand, because it’s hard to grasp why someone who might find it easier to improve their internal state than I find it wouldn’t try harder. I mean, if it’s easier–why not do it? But there is also less motivation. There are things I have to deal with, because my pain is just totally inescapable.
Anyway, it’s a big piece of my puzzle, personally. All of this pain I need to deal with and I have been surrounded by people who lacked the coping skills even to be in the same room with it or with me if I am going to be honest and authentic. Many times, I have had to choose whether to have the physical presence of other people at the cost of holding my emotions myself. I can be alone and at least be in some kind of honest conversation with myself or I can be with people.
I know the conventional wisdom is that if we extend ourselves, we will find ourselves pleasantly surprised that people are more open to us than we might expect. Sometimes, yes. But sometimes they are less open.
And I have really started to come to terms with the idea that in order to manage life and get through it, to be whole and coherent internally, I need to make peace with a lot of things other people simply push away. They hear about it in the news perhaps, and are shocked, but they don’t ever need to find a way to accept that it does happen. Very great horrors are part of the human experience. I can’t do that, because those horrors happened to me, so I can’t turn my attention to something else. It’s in my head.
And it does make days like today very lonely for me.