The first time I talked to my dad after I left my husband, he said I had relational PTSD. He’s right. It’s been almost two years since that day and I still see it sometimes: little flaming flashes of anger or panic when something goes wrong in a relationship. Self-Sabotage. Fear. Recoil. A tendency to assume people are angry with me/disappointed in me/leaving me, even when everyone is just trying to reassure and love me.
Recently, I was browsing the Spokane Humane Society’s website in search of veterinary services for my cat and fell down the black hole of animals in need of a forever home. They mostly seemed very adoptable – praised as family-friendly or sweet-tempered. But once every five or six animals there would be one with a gently-worded warning. “Fluffy has a complicated history with people, and prefers a quiet home without children or other pets.” I understand Fluffy.
Maybe people should come with those same warnings. “Mandy has a complicated past and needs a forever home where people don’t raise their voices. She prefers companions who hold her with a loose hand, as she is ferociously independent. She is occasionally known to see threats where they do not exist and engage in unnecessarily sharp verbal combat.”
I’m a handful, and I’m not the only one. The more I watch myself (almost in an out-of-body experience) becoming, and then recovering from, this fiercely self-protective and frantically independent person, I realize how many of my friends and loved ones operate the same way. It’s a predictable byproduct of abuse. Wounded animals snap at their rescuers too.
The only solution, I decided in the year following my escape from a marriage I couldn’t survive, was to set the bar very high for the future. People in my life, from that point forward, would have to have to work for it if they wanted me. I stopped putting up with things that stung. I stopped letting people make my decisions for me. I started calling people out for harmful behaviors, no matter how mild, and I played it fast and loose with the “unfriend” button.
Maybe subconsciously I assumed these changes would result in my being alone forever. Maybe I secretly thought no one would meet my ridiculous standards. Maybe it didn’t cross my mind that anyone would try.
Early – very early – in our relationship, I outlined all of this for my boyfriend.
“You can’t tell me what to do. I have to be able to make my decisions.”
“At least for now, you get no say in how I raise Molly. None.”
“If you yell at me, I’ll end the conversation.”
“If you throw things, we’re done.”
“When I say stop, you stop immediately. Doesn’t matter what we’re doing.”
“I want to sleep in separate beds.”
“I’m not your housekeeper. We row together or you get out.”
“I’ll support you but I’m not going to drag you through life. I move fast. Keep up.”
He didn’t even flinch. “That’s a high bar you’ve set,” I remember him saying, with that infuriating little smile that I’ve since learned means he loves me despite my neuroses.
“It is.” I looked him dead in the eye, and I know he saw that I was serious. “And if you want to be a part of this family, clear it.”