When relationships hurt

Relationships come and go. Like everything in life they ebb and flow. But when you find a pearl, you don’t want to let her go. M is a pearl.

When I met M I knew I’d found someone unlike anyone else I’d ever met. She was smart, funny, exuberant, and had a joyfulness to her that was infectious. Her heart was big and generous and she broke through my crusty exterior like a butter knife cutting into soft, melty butter.

I thought the good times would never end; I didn’t want them to.

I thought we’d get married, have babies, and grow old together.

Part of me still hopes we will.

But everyone has baggage, and some of us have a heavier burden than most. I’d never met anyone who’d had to go through what M faced. She ran away from home at 11 and escaped an abusive household, but the scars of her troubled childhood accompanied her into adulthood.

I know a thing or two about troubled childhoods; I have my own scars – some of them etched into my wrist quite literally.

But M has a fighting spirit; her fearlessness mesmerized me from the first day I met her. Her ability to articulate complex thoughts about her past and about her politics was astonishing, especially considering she had never finished high school. Hers is an unusually bright mind.

The closest she ever came to having a supportive family was T, a radical feminist lesbian 9 years older than her that adopted her when she was 16. While she only lived with T for a year and a half, they connected enough that she calls T her adoptive parent. They are close to this day. Note, she doesn’t call T ‘mother’. That word is forever tainted by the unspeakable deeds her biological mother inflicted upon her. Who can blame her.

Maybe that’s one of the keys to our relationship, that bond over non-existent mothers. I don’t pretend to have lived through the horror that M faced with her parents, but I’ve experienced enough parental neglect that I can empathize at least at some level with what she’s been through.

My own mother turned her back on me for good in my early twenties, disowning me for being a transgender man. The last time I spoke to her was in 2006, a year after my father passed away and two years after I first started taking hormone treatments. Neither of my parents approved of my decision to transition. And because they come from a conservative culture, with conservative friends, I did not feel comfortable attending my father’s funeral. I grieved on my own, a continent away.

But long before I transitioned, my relationship with my mother was toxic. In her eyes, I was lazy, stupid, and purposefully disobedient. I could do no right, and when I became suicidally depressed, she refused to talk to me about it, asking that we “let the scars heal”. She meant her scars, not mine. Now, I realize it must be difficult for a parent to watch their child descend into the depths of a suicidal depression, but I wager that most parents would seek help for their child and stand by their side. My mother’s only effort in this direction was to have my father, a psychiatrist, give me sample anti-depressants that the drug reps dropped off at his office. I was never taken to see a psychiatrist (other than my own father) and I was never taken to a psychologist or counsellor.

As far as my parents were concerned my depression was genetic. And that’s all there was to it. Pills were all that were needed. Never mind that they made the suicidal thoughts worse. But my parents wouldn’t have known that. Because we didn’t talk about why I was taking them. They figured it was my job to tell them what was going on, and I figured it was better not to say anything – because who wants to tell their parents they want to kill themselves?

I did eventually seek out help on my own, long after I’d left my parents’ home and fled to a different continent (my parents lived in South Africa and I settled in Canada). But by that time, the depression had gotten quite severe. Long story short, I still suffer from it; and I still see a therapist. Sometimes I still contemplate suicide, but I haven’t acted on those impulses in over 10 years. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

Needless to say, M and I both have trauma, and while that shared experience brings us together, it can also send us in a tailspin apart.

Maybe that’s what happens in relationships. We rub up against each other’s raw spots and we bleed and bleed. And if we don’t learn how to quell the blood, well, things can end badly.

I worry about that, especially these days.

The suicidal thoughts are back for me. And M is struggling with behaviours that I can’t help her with, behaviours that, I’m sure, once helped her deal with the trauma of her childhood but now simply cause her to hurt herself. It’s mostly related to body image and food. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll leave it at that.

Figuring out a path forward, a path that doesn’t lead us in separate directions is the challenge we face. We are at a crossroads. And it’s foggy out there. But I’ll keep looking for the light. Because I love her. And because I want to live. I need to remember that.

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