(Part two of Free Falling)
So...there I was leaving my husband for another man.
Life became complicated after High Point Market. I moved into the guest room and Scott and I told the kids we needed some space for a little bit. I communicated a lot with my new love and we tried to see each other frequently, which was easy because we struck up a business venture together. We traveled quite a bit. I live in the West, he’s on the East Coast.
The first six months were more bliss than heartache. We were forging a path for the business venture so everything felt exciting and new on both sides of our relationship—business and personal.
Little by little, small issues started to arise. Social media was one of them. Robert would ask who this guy was that liked my photo or who that guy was that commented. Clearly, he was feeling unsure about me and I naively thought that because I felt what I did for him, he would understand my love for him was true. I did not take into consideration that we met on social media, which also fueled the fire.
My new love was very open about all activities, which is a good thing considering for years he was seeking love in a lot of places and hid it. He made a point of telling me that this woman or that woman had a crush on him. I wasn’t used that kind of thing. I am not one to call things out like that; I never have been. I don’t take compliments well and I don’t presume people have ulterior motives even when they do. In many ways, I innately try to see the good in everyone and everything all the time. This is a blessing and a curse because sometimes, I don’t see clearly.
Several old friends wrote to me on social media—men who I’d known my whole life—to chat online. One said he wished he knew I was divorcing, he would have stood in line. That’s the way he is and I just laughed and wrote back I was flattered but was madly in love with Rob. I shared what I wrote with my love with the intention of being fully transparent about anything like that, as he was being with me. I was surprised to receive his feedback: “I wish you wouldn’t have said you were flattered.” I honestly didn’t know that was a bad thing to say. I thought it was normal. Sadly, this came up in fights over and over again for three years.
One time, after I had openly shared with Robert any communication with the two men I mentioned above and received less than stellar feedback, another man I barely knew wrote to me. He sent me a photo of myself. It was odd and I immediately panicked, knowing that somehow it would be my fault. I deleted the photo but not the message that followed (I don't really know why I did that, even) and then when Robert asked me if that particular man had ever written to me privately, I lied. I didn't want to deal with feeling like I was somehow to blame. It wasn't right to lie to him, but I did. I didn't know he had looked at my phone while I was out of the room and he saw the message before he asked me the question.
I started feeling really on edge about Facebook all together. We had made our relationship very public which was freeing but at the same time, I was starting to feel scared to post. Who would comment that he might feel strange about? Who would reach out and I would feel like I’m not handling the situation correctly? I started having dreams about Facebook because we would often fight there, in Messenger. If he perceived I was hiding something or doing something that threatened him, like saying I was flattered to my friend, then a fight would ensue.
I would dream we would be fighting on Facebook. I could see the words in my dream. I have had a tendency in my life to sleep walk and do things like that in my sleep. I even went on Facebook on my phone, half asleep one time, thinking we were really fighting and I needed to write back. It was clearly consuming my subconscious. I just kept feeling like no matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough.
As for my interactions with Scott, I never felt like I could do anything right there, either. I'm guessing he felt Scott’s true love for me. Even though I was totally convinced I had found the love of my life in Rob, I still obviously loved and cared for Scott as someone I was married to for 17 years and who is the father of my kids. I found that if I talked too little with him, it was a problem. If I spoke too much to him or about him, that was also a problem. I started to feel like I had to hide all communications with Scott (and delete some, because he might think I’m being too nice) or else I would end up in the dog house. And I never truly knew what would put me there.
About six months into our relationship, we were at a tradeshow together and he mentions that he noticed I make a lot of eye contact with men, particularly strangers as we were walking down the hallways. I was honestly shocked but I’m the kind of person who does question herself, so I did just that. Maybe I really did this type of thing and didn’t know it? It’s not intentional—I’ve never been a flirt. I learned early on in my childhood to make sure I looked people straight in the eye and stood tall and proud. Maybe I was too proud? I apologized and made sure he knew it wasn’t intentional. I was not looking for anyone else and I thought he knew that. Deep down, I remember feeling sad that maybe he misread my pesonality and was still not trusting my love for him. I thought of him as my “twin flame” – the once in a lifetime love that felt like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Why would I be looking for anything else? I wasn’t even looking for him when I met him!
The topic of eye contact came up many times over three years. At some point, I started to go from feeling like he had a point to feeling like maybe this was actually projection on his part. Maybe he used to make eye contact in a flirtatious way with lots of women and that’s the core of this. I would start to defend myself and plead with him but that just escalated things.
Towards the end of the three years, I casually waved to a guy at a tradeshow who had taken our photo the day before. I was caught off guard and noticed that he was looking in my direction so I gave a quick wave. We fought for five hours that night in the hotel room. I was crying uncontrollably and shaking because I felt like I was being accused of doing something wrong. At one point, he said, “Way to make him feel good, Kiersten.” This statement brought up so much shame in me that I didn’t even realize I was carrying. Shame from my childhood abuse. I clearly, subconsciously, thought I was to blame for my relative raping me and it was now playing itself out 40 years later.
What had I done? Why did this love hurt so much? Why did I keep going back even though I knew what I was in for? When I was being yelled at, I’d go back for more. I remember being screamed at on the phone and he would hang up and I would call him back. Who does that? Why would I put myself in the position of enduring more pain?
My rational brain was fighting so hard to understand. Eventually, through therapy, I came to understand two things:
Ultimately, I learned that I unknowingly created a wounded attachment to him. Our wounded parts literally drew themselves to one another and then we triggered each other over and over again. This article, along with therapy sessions, made all the puzzle pieces fit:
From the article: “As a child, depending on when the assault occurred and the developmental stage in which it occurred, the person seeks to please the adult and gain affection, attention, nurturing, love, trust, etc. A child who has been sexually assaulted blurs that idea of love, nurturing, trust, attention, and affection, and begins to believe that the only way to receive love, attention, etc., is to please the “assaulter.” This remains in effect as the child matures into adulthood.”
Sure, I was a people pleaser in my marriage with Scott, but there wasn’t any kind of abuse within the marriage at all. I felt respected and loved, even smothered with love at times. This relationship was showing me that subconsciously I indeed blurred the idea of love when faced with abuse. I was in a constant state of “please the abuser” and I wasn’t getting out of it anytime soon because the feeling of “love” was so strong.
My family and friends watched me go from a confident, social woman to someone they didn’t really know anymore who was on edge most of the time.
In PART 3, I’ll talk about the physical effects of living in this eggshell world that included literally pulling my hair out and enduring panic attacks.