48 hours ago, at the time I’m writing this, I was driving to meet someone I’d thought I would never see again. I’d thought that but had never reconciled myself to that idea. It’s been a 48 hours crammed with emotion and not a little illumination.
It’s a strange feeling waiting to meet someone you haven’t seen for 20 odd years in the flesh but with whom you were once very close. First impressions on seeing her again was that she still looks extraordinarily good despite the intervening years. Which on one level was a bit of a disappointment. A little bit of me probably hoped she had turned into a hideous old crone in the meantime. Then I would have one reason to think “thank goodness I didn’t end up with her” How terribly superficial of me! Slightly more seriously, if she ever did find me physically attractive, I’m well aware that she wouldn’t now. Not just the passing of the years but other more significant factors (too complicated and irrelevant to go into) have had a major effect on my appearance. Physical attraction is no longer a big deal for me for the same significant factors. I think it does make a difference under the circumstances as it takes away a distraction that might have come into play on a much earlier occasion of meeting again.
When she left I watched her departing back. A significant thing if you read the poem a couple of posts before this one. This time it was a proper goodbye, albeit somewhat belated by circumstances.
The truth is since then I have struggled emotionally and will for a little while yet I think. I expected to as part of the process but I’m suprised at the depth of the feelings that have occurred. Really quite deep feelings of sadness, anxiety and the like. Significantly absolutely no feelings of anger whatsoever. The thing is these are my feelings that I will come to terms with in time. They are not, as they always seemed before, the responsibility of another person to put right. I think I understand what is going on. First time around, all those years ago, I never accepted that the relationship was over and why it appeared to be. So now, having gone through this process, I am finally grieving for it. It’s so deep because it has built up layer on layer over the years and further layers of other incidents and PTSD. From that perspective it ended up being bad timing. I am still, to a degree, grieving for friends and the compound grief is very deep. It is also the anniversary of my mother’s death to add to it all. I’m also currently physically ill and fatigued by that. Tiredness never helps to deal with emotion. And the final piece. it’s the anniversary of the relationship starting. It is something I spoke about yesterday. Anniversaries always feature large for me. But I don’t just mark them. I play the emotions as a massive loop in my mind and actually feel the exact emotions all over again. It’s not a good thing and something I need to find a way to deal with. So part of my problem in the present is I’m feeling the exact emotions I felt way back when what had been a very intense relationship first went wrong. I will get through it and will ultimately be in a much better position but feeling those feelings again now is very uncomfortable. They were horrible to deal with first time round. I was still in the Navy at the time and had just been posted somewhere I really didn’t want to be. This had, in any case, taken me away from the one place in the Navy I had close friends I could connect with on an emotional level. I no longer wanted to be in the Navy really anyway so it being at that base had been something of a haven for me. At the new place there was no one I knew really well and it was always going to be difficult to connect with new people anyway. I was by this time clinically depressed but receiving no adequate treatment (more of which another time). I felt frightened, lonely and very much like the little lost child I described in my “Nottingham” post. It wasn’t a conscious thing but now I recognise I equated being with my ex as not being in the hideous and lonely place. This is a major part, I think, of the reason why I clung on to relationship she no longer considered to exist. (It’s not the only reason. I did consider it was worth fighting for but the way I fought for it destroyed it more surely than just letting it go). The point is, reliving those same emotions again is very tough. But there is a significant difference. I now have considerable support from people I really want to be with. That’s why, although painful, this will ultimately be a positive, healing process. We talked about the death of my mother. My father had already died some years before and I think losing your second parent becomes more significant. Mum died just as I was starting to become quite ill with PTSD again. Her death wasn’t the catalyst for my illness. I was already heading downhill but I think the timing resurrected feelings of being alone at a very significant time. I think it may well be a reason why I became fixated on other periods of feeling abandoned in my life.
The long and winding conversation we had has raised regrets and thoughts of sliding doors. Not necessarily routes that could have led to a “successful” relationship. Maybe it was always doomed to fail. But they could certainly have led down different less painful pasts. I do regret the pain we have both felt in our different ways and so the regrets about things that could have prevented that are currently strong indeed. Once again they are mine to process now. I think I am more heavily aware now that the relationship, at that time and place, was doomed to fail. The warning signs were clearly there but unconsciously I chose to ignore them. Even if people had flagged them up at the time I would probably have ignored that too. It was too intense to want to listen. I know where some of my anxiety of the present is coming from too. Some of the feelings I currently have are so close to my first big episode and then my recent illness it’s bound to cause anxiety that it will lead the same way. I’m determined it won’t. I have much better strategies to fall back on now.
As I said it was an odd feeling preparing to meet someone I’d once knew extremely well and spent most of my available time with but have not seen for so long. I was nervous and anxious to the point of throwing up that morning, which feels slightly ridiculous.Even more strange feeling slightly awkward with someone I’d known that well. But initial conversation was a bit stilted, chatting about the weather and government (not literally but that kind of skirting around the point. I thought it may not have helped that very early on she hit me with the fact that an old acquaintance had died but looking back it may actually have helped in some ways. I shed a few quiet tears (not such a great idea when you’re driving) and after that one’s defences tend to be down.My anxiety and nerves were frustrating at times as I think at some points later on it stopped me from being articulate and properly saying what I need to say. I think the same thing also gave a distorted view of what I was saying at times. For example at times I don’t think she understood the distinction between me describing what I did and felt when I was ill were not always what I feel or think now.Many of my thoughts, opinions and behaviours when ill were extremely different to what they are in reality and at times when ill, whatever psychiatric opinion, my mental state was probably close to psychotic. That was incredibly frustrating for me. We avoided the issues for some time and there was quite a lot of chit chat but I feel it significant there were no long awkward silences. And during the day there was quite a lot of laughter. This very much suprised me. I didn’t expect to be able to be funny or for her to find me funny. (Maybe she was actually laughing at me!) I have had an alternative thought about this which is not too comfortable and it was reinforced by my OH making a similar point. I’m aware that this was a difficult day for her and she may have just been getting an onerous task out of the way in as inoffensive a way as possible and putting a brave face on it. I really hope not because to a degree makes the process a sham and leaves me in a false place with false beliefs and nothing resolved in reality. It worries me as the fact I even thought it means there may have been an element of that which I picked up on intuitively. One of the big things is that we did get onto talking about the difficult things. We talked about a range of things and even things I hadn’t planned or expected to. My only regret about that I skirted over some things I wanted and probably needed to go into in more depth. But pressure of time meant I felt that to do that would mean I wouldn’t get to talk about other issues at all.Some of the things we said whilst driving (which seemed to be using the time well at the time) have bypassed me a bit. This is in no way a criticism of her. It is the nature of the beast and other circumstances. She gave me as much time as it was practical to give and almost certainly more than she was happy to give. There wasn’t total agreement on our versions of the past; would you ever have that? I have mentioned before that I have good (too good) autobiographical memory some of which is diary assisted and she did seem to agree significantly with things. Once again the only problem with that, again reinforced by comments from my OH, is that may simply have been a facade. The path of least resistance being to ostensibly agree simply to get a difficult task over as quickly and painlessly as possible. It’s easier or kinder to let me hear what I want with no belief behind it. I’d find that scenario even more difficult to deal with as it would mean we haven’t actually processed anything at all and everything is based on false premises. If she thinks I’m wrong or mistaken I’d prefer to know that as part of moving forward.
I was left with a final impression that she still believes and sees me as a person and personality I am not. She built a picture of me from a short, very disturbed, part of my life and that picture seems to be unshakeable. Maybe, unconsciously, she had to make that picture unshakeable as a form of self protection. But I don’t think it’s helpful now. Ostensibly it has no direct effect on my life now or my future. But the fact of it does make me unhappy as I think it’s a shame. Indirectly I feel it does affect other friendships.
All in all it was a long day and for the moment has left me in a tough painful place that I’m finding very uncomfortable and tiring indeed. It has to be leading somewhere better and I do feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity.
It’s funny how things work out some times. A few months ago Peter Gabriel released a newsletter saying there was going to be a 25th Anniversary box set of his SO album. I preordered it and had no idea when it would actually arrive. During the time with my ex we stopped briefly at my house for me to sort out my dogs and during this brief time a courier arrived with my box set. The significance of this is that it was released in 1986 and I began to listen to it a lot after I’d been posted and when the relationship was failing badly. It became a kind of soundtrack to my misery and occasionally uplifting. I remember very vividly one occasion sitting on a cliff in a huge storm, soaked to the skin and listening to Mercy Street on my headphones, with the sound of the wind also in my ears. I was considering very seriously jumping off that cliff. What are the chances of that set arriving during the very few minutes my ex and I were in my house together some 25 years later? What is the opposite of serendipity? The set is lovely and money I couldn’t really justify spending; it contains the original vinyl album, a 12″ vinyl single, various live CDs and stories of the making of it and a rather lovely book. So far in my slightly fragile state I haven’t got round to opening and listening to any of it!