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Learning how to love and to be loved

I learned early on that I love you did not mean I will take care of you. In fact quite the opposite; life had taught me that the words I love you were often closely followed by being hit, hurt, thrown, strangled, raped, terrified, vilified, belittled, shamed or cheated on. And the really sad thing about this is not my personal situation (I am here and I am free and I am slowly making peace) but that this is the experience of so many.

When I say I ‘learned’, I did not cognitively or emotionally understand the implications of how I was learning to love and be loved, instead I was subconsciously developing my relating skills, sense of right and wrong and moral compass with this confusion and disconnection between word and action.

I only began to become aware of this pattern when I finally broke free of choosing poor partners and came into relationship with someone who was incredibly emotionally literate and emotionally intelligent, fair and balanced and most importantly, had never laid his hands on a woman. Here was a man who knew the true meaning of to love and be loved, so I still to this day wonder how he came to love me as I was back then; just one year sober and a total wreck. I was completely emotionally stunted, operating at supersonic speed, drinking 12 (no lie) coffees a day, working near on 24 hours a day, asking for drive throughs of nature spots, refusing to eat cooked food, angrily screaming and shouting at him about anything and everything and most importantly pushing him away whenever he started to challenge my behaviour, the only way I knew how to exist.

I was stubborn and fiery and incredibly righteous. I didn’t get sober through a programme because I refused to give in; I refused to trust anyone that wasn’t me. Somehow, quite miraculously, it worked. I think a very lucky combination of circumstances came into play and I ended up in a kind of sober utopia in the middle of London for my last year there and my first one sober. My partner was sober, my bosses were sober and I rarely left the house.

When I say it ‘worked’, I mean I quit drinking but little did I know that all of the other behaviours that had shone through with varying degrees of intensity over the years were also addictive behaviours and they were all attempts to avoid the gaping hole of a heart that didn’t know how to love or be loved. What I had deemed as simply great failings of character and morality were in fact a long line of coping strategies to deal with the experience of being alive and futile attempts to seek out connection. I got drunk to numb the pain and sought out night after night of willing participants to have sex with, for small windows of connection. On more than one occasion I had a one night stand just for the cuddle at the end. So deeply in need of affection, I was willing to sacrifice my relationship and my dwindling reputation.

Fast forward a few years and despite spending years analysing and dissecting patterns of behaviour to find their root, heal the wound and find a new way there is one pattern that is still so unconscious that I struggle to even recognise it until it’s too late. A pattern that seeks to create distance between me and anyone who gets too close or uses the words I love you. A pattern that in romantic relationships shows up by either closing down completely or unconsciously creating conflict and drama that heightens the emotions in the room so much that there are tears. This is a destructive and unintentionally manipulative cocktail that is one part protection, one part learned behaviour. One part that allows me to shatter my protective coating, exposing vulnerability and finally letting feelings of love and connection come pouring out and one part showing love the way it was shown to me.

This pattern played out for the very last time this week because I have decided that this pattern is just as destructive as the drink and the sex and the eating disorders and the 12 coffees a day and I cannot any longer continue on this path without help. This pattern also played out for the very last time because I am lucky enough to live with a person who never lets me get away with being a dick and for that I am in the moment incredibly frustrated and in the long wrong unbelievably grateful.

I have for the first time in my entire life the opportunity to be loved and to love in the truest sense of the word and to sacrifice this because I am unwilling to be vulnerable, unwilling to admit that I cannot work through this destructive pattern on my own would be madness. I have no idea how it looks to live life another way as this is the only way I have ever known but I am so ready to head out on this adventure find out.

Carly x

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