Forgiveness Without Remorse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships and forgiveness. This past week was an anniversary of sorts for me, marking a year since I decided to stop drinking. Although I’d already started to make other changes like running more and eating better, the decision to stop drinking was when everything started to click. But it didn’t come without a cost. I stopped drinking because I didn’t like who I was when I drank. I stopped because I needed to prove to myself and to others around me that I could. I stopped because I never again wanted someone I loved to use alcohol as an excuse (and it was an excuse, not a reason) for turning their back on me.

An important part of changing my life in 2012 was learning to forgive myself: for drinking too much, for not being richer or prettier, more successful or married or finished with my Ph.D. But forgiving myself wasn’t really that hard, because I had felt so awful about my faults and misdeeds (real and imagined) for so long that, looking at myself with compassion, I understood it was time to let go of that suffering. What do you do when it comes to forgiving someone who isn’t sorry?

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The other thing that made me think of forgiveness tonight is that I learned this week that my former fiance has moved to Algeria. It’s been nearly nine years since we met, just over six since we broke up, and about that long since we’ve had any form of communication. We still had a mutual friend, and I would occasionally get pointed feedback from her about how he was living in the same apartment, working the same job as when we broke up. My reaction to these reports was something like Schadenfreude mixed with validation. He broke up with me in a cruel way. He took his time doing it, and in the meantime he spent nearly three months verbally and emotionally abusing me. I was called fat, told that I was unattractive, and he told me he was embarrassed to go to nice places with me because I didn’t dress well enough or have good table manners. He disappeared on me for days when it was convenient. He made me believe that my plans to get a Ph.D. would ruin him financially, and made it clear that he thought I was keeping him from some better future. These things would be terrible to say to anyone, but to say them to someone who had just been through a rape and a trial less than a year earlier–events he knew full well of–were ruinous to me. When it was finally over, I was suicidal. A friend literally drove me to a therapist on my lunch hour because I believed I would kill myself. I believed that I was totally beyond redemption, damaged to a point where I would never be loved by anyone. It has taken me years and many other bad relationships where I put up with bad treatment to get past some of these statements… And even now I still believe some of it might be true, in my darkest hours.

He never apologized to me for what he did. He never showed any remorse, not even to mutual friends. In fact, I found out months later that he’d led his friends to believe that had been the one to break up with him. Years later, I don’t know how to forgive that. I had a lot of emotions when I found out he’d left the country. While he was still living in my hometown, there was always a chance our paths would cross again. I’ve long since left behind any feelings I had for him, but I always had the hope that maybe some day I would see him on the street or at a party, and he’d apologize. I wanted to believe that a person I once loved was capable of empathy and remorse for what he had done to me. But it seems our paths are unlikely to ever cross that way again. In some sense, I was happy that he was gone. I regained some respect for him knowing that he finally did take a leap and do something with his life. But can I forgive him? Sometimes, in life, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is the only form of justice we get. It’s the only thing that truly heals a wound. Sometimes, forgiveness just can’t be given without being asked for.

One year ago, something else was broken. It was broken by both sides. I apologized for what I did wrong because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I changed. But, once again, I never heard the words that I wanted to hear. I always want someone I loved to redeem themselves. I want to take that cloud off the memory of our time together. I want to know I wasn’t wrong to believe that the other person had a heart, or that it hurt them to break mine.

Perhaps I should just give forgiveness freely. I reflect on my resentments every time I meditate. But some resentments are as hard as stone, and wear away just as slowly.

Cheesecake and Suicide

Well, despite skipping a long run this past weekend I still managed to get in just over 22 miles this week. That’s about the only good news I have to report.

This has been a rough week. Very rough. I hesitate to write about it because I think this will come across as a cry for help. The real problem is that I just want to say what’s on my mind, and I have nowhere else that’s a “safe” place to say it and no one to say it to. My roommate told me this week that he is moving out on me mid-lease after 3.5 years to get a place with his girlfriend who apparently “can’t do the long distance thing” for six more months until we both finish our Ph.Ds.

Seriously, aside from the completely asinine nature of his move, having him move out on me just reminds me of how alone I am and how little my life has really changed, for all of the work I’ve done this year. I lost nearly 50 pounds, I run faster than I ever did, I’m a vegetarian again, I’m a coach, I stopped drinking. And yet, almost exactly 11 month ago I was crying every day because someone I loved had run out on me, because I was spending the holidays alone, because I felt isolated and worthless. I have cried every day this week. I still feel isolated. I feel worthless. I have had this discussion already with my parents but, aside from them, there is not one single person in my real life that I feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling to say, “I’m having a crisis.”

I had suicidal thoughts. This week, I chose to eat cheesecake instead.

I am ashamed to write this on a blog. I am ashamed at who I am, and how far I still am–at age 32–from everything I wanted to be. I feel like a let-down to myself and others, and I feel like this will never change. How many therapists have I seen since I first went to therapy for depression as a pre-teen? How many combinations of anti-depressants, therapy, exercise, whatever, have I tried without success in an attempt to treat this? When I’m at or near bottom, as I’ve been this week, my therapist and my parents are fond of reminding me that these bad times are never permanent. But the in-between times are never permanent either. I never seem to reach any true, lasting happiness or security and life always, cruelly, has a way of reminding me that somewhere up the road is another cliff for me to plunge off of. If you are not depressed, just try to imagine how it feels. Try to imagine the anxiety, and imagine always doing it alone. Coming home at night to no human companionship, friends who don’t return calls and never want to hang out, family who doesn’t seem to care that you spend the holidays alone. You’d think I must be a horrible person to deserve this. I think I must be a horrible person sometimes, though I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. Sure, I used to drink a few too many beers. And for that I deserve this?

I’ve become so convinced that I’m of so little value to anyone that I don’t try to reach out much anymore. When I spoke with my parents last, I pointed out to them that if something were to happen to me I likely wouldn’t be missed for very long at all by anyone. The fact that I would say this to my parents just shows how detached I’ve become. Things that once seemed like reasons for living now seem like things that would go on without me. I’m not threatening suicide, but I feel like I’ve known for a very long time that this is how things will end for me. I am convinced of these truths:

  • There is no great, romantic love waiting for me.
  • The longer I live, the more of a burden I will become to those who are forced to deal with me.
  • Eventually, I will get tired of this life, I will run out of hope, I will feel I’ve done all the good I can possibly do, and I will realize that nothing but loneliness stretches out in front of me. That is when I will end it.

This isn’t a cry for help. It’s just me trying to make a clear statement on what my life with depression is like. Maybe these words will ring true for someone else with depression; maybe they will help someone else understand all the things that go on in my head when I’m saying nothing at all. I don’t think this will make any difference for me, though. A handful of people who know me in real life know of this blog. I am betting none of them will read it and care enough to say anything to me. That’s how convinced I’ve become of my own invisibility.

But I really wish I wasn’t spending another Thanksgiving alone.

Gloomy Sunday

I knew today was going to be a lousy day when I started off with a lousy run. Well, actually it started a few hours before that when I was awakened around 3AM by the sirens and shouting of police breaking up a neighborhood Halloween party. I got up a few hours later to run on too little sleep, too little food, too little motivation, and some knee pain left over from last week. Unsurprisingly, I struggled and cut things short just shy of 6 miles, much less than I was hoping to run today.

Though I tried not to be too hard on myself after the poor showing this morning, I failed at that too. Nothing with me is ever as simple as, “I had a bad run, I’ll do better next time.” A day like today reminds me of how out of shape I used to be. It makes me feel like a pudgy girl again. It reminds me of when my fiance, who broke up with me almost exactly six years ago now, told me I’d put on too much weight and how I was unattractive and lazy. It reminds me of how much heavier I was when I was drinking, and how the last guy who broke my heart told me he didn’t want to deal with me because I drank too much and had too many “issues.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense that I lump these things together, but if you’ve been depressed or know someone with depression, I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s hard to forget those words. Even if you believe they aren’t true or if you’ve moved past that point in your life, the messages never go away. In your worst moments you let them attack you over and over. What is said can never be unsaid. And even a bad run creates the opening for those voices to remind me how worthless and damaged I am, and the extent to which I have failed to create the life that I wanted.

Today I meditated on the disordered thinking. I tried to practice forgiveness for myself and compassion to others, even to the guys who have hurt me and left these messages that haunt me. I cooked myself a good meal. I managed to get just a little work done. I gave some old clothes to charity. I’m not going to say I turned things around, but I survived that one little moment where I wondered if life is worth living. I had a bad run. And now I move on.

Football Sunday (and Spending it Without Alcohol)

Well, it’s Week 1 Sunday of the football season. I have some mixed feelings about this… and not just because I’m a Bills fan. Football Sundays for the past few years have been marked by weekly trips to my favorite local bar for snacks and beers and hanging out with the football regulars. Today was different.

I decided to stop drinking waaay back in January and, although I have given myself a few exceptions (such as a beer on my birthday and wine at my friend’s wedding), I haven’t had a drink in months. Not drinking is not particularly hard anymore, but I did feel wistful for the “old me” today. The roommate and I did, in fact, go to the bar because he wanted to watch the Packers play and I wanted to eat a gigantic pizza after running 9.5 miles this morning. I saw all the old regulars there and got a few hugs; two people told me they almost didn’t recognize me because I’d lost so much weight. But socializing wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Why did I stop drinking? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Ultimately, I stopped because I knew I had a problem. I stopped because I felt I had hurt someone I loved, and I stopped because I didn’t want someone I cared about to use alcohol as an excuse for not being with me. Equally important, though, are the things that are not reasons why I stopped drinking. I did not stop because I wanted to win someone back, I did not stop because I believe the drinking is why we were no longer together (I don’t), and I did not stop because I believe I am or was an alcoholic. I do believe that I drank for the wrong reasons, and I do believe that I abused it, but I’ve talked to a number of people about this decision–friends who are recovering alcoholics, friends who still drink, my therapist. It is notable to me that the only person who seems to think “alcoholic” is an appropriate term is the person who had a reason to find fault and who, incidentally, is guilty on his own part of some genuinely shitty behavior that he has yet to acknowledge or apologize for.

This is not totally about bashing someone else or abdicating responsibility for my own actions, but I did take those words seriously enough to seek out the opinions of others and to research the issue. I even went to a support group for a while, but I stopped because I realized I just couldn’t relate to alcoholics. I am not the person who can’t wake up in the morning without a drink, can’t go a day without a drink, skips work or school or shirks responsibilities in favor of drinking, has physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink. I never was. Most importantly, I am the person who stopped and changed when someone I loved told me I had a problem, and I am the person who doesn’t pick up a drink day after day because I remember the commitment I made to myself.

I didn’t drink because I was an alcoholic. And I’m not sure whether I even believe that he truly thinks I was an alcoholic. I did, however, drink because I have depression and I am an introvert and I was lonely. When I moved to Arizona and had no friends, department happy hours and football Sundays and Meetup pub crawls were how I met people and how I made friends. I felt popular with the drinking crowd (though I know a few people just came to the conclusion that I was an ass) and alcohol helped me talk to strangers and overcome the social anxiety I’ve had for a very long time. But those are terrible reasons to drink, and years of drinking that way made me act stupid, gain weight, and probably put me into a lot of situations that I was too damn smart to be in.

What is life like after drinking? I guess I look a lot better, because I’ve been told so by two people today and by two others on Friday at happy hour. I’m proud of myself for having willpower. I’m a bit less depressed overall, and I try to use the time I don’t spend drinking productively. But I’m still lonely, I still sometimes feel like I’m punishing myself for no good reason, and I feel like I avoid certain social situations because I don’t want to deal with “the alcohol question.” Life is never perfect. On Friday at happy hour two of my friends asked me why I stopped drinking. I tried to avoid answering at first, but I finally said this: “I stopped drinking after the man I loved called me an alcoholic and moved out-of-state without telling me.” The female friend who had asked me said nothing at first, but she actually had tears in her eyes.

Yeah… just imagine how I’ve felt.

More Thoughts on Blogging, Men, Dating, etc.

As much as I tell myself that I don’t care about who, if anyone, reads this blog, it’s impossible not to pay attention to the trends. I noted yet again this morning that this post I wrote several months ago on men, disappearances, and the end of breaking up has received more hits in the past couple of days. I believe it has by far gotten more hits than anything else I’ve written on this blog. WordPress is kind enough to also show me search terms that people have used that led them to my blog. I consistently see things like “why men disappear” or “men who disappear for days.” Jezebel also wrote a piece last week about etiquette and the electronic breakup that may be of interest to some of the lonely hearts that visit this site.

I’m rambling a bit, but I felt the need to say that it makes me sad when these things come up in my stats over and over again. Broken-hearted people, I feel for you. Nine months later I’m still angry, unable to forgive, and unwilling to trust. If I don’t blog much anymore about love or dating, know it’s because I don’t do it anymore. Every time I think about the effort I might put into finding love, I think how much more worthwhile it will be to put that effort into running, or into finishing my Ph.D., finding a job, and getting the hell out of Arizona. I’m just saying: Channeling my anger into running has gotten me four new PRs this year and helped me lose 45 pounds. Throwing myself into work has resulted in two degrees and getting ABD status. Throwing myself at men has gotten me a handful of nothing.

There’s only one guy in my life who I can count on standing by me and never running away. Of course, technically he did run away once… and then he came crawling right back to my bed. Sooooo typical.

Short, dark, and handsome is totally my type.

Throwing in the Towel

Yesterday my therapist suggested that I quit online dating. In my brief re-experiment with putting myself on the market, I’ve had dates with three guys who were just OK, and corresponded with two other guys who I gave up on after repeated e-mail exchanges that were no more than two sentences long each on their end. The most “success” I had was the guy I went on about five dates with, over the course of a month, who I never even touched. It wasn’t a huge surprise when he stopped calling me after his last business trip, and it didn’t feel like much of a loss on my end either… except that everything feels like a loss or a failure at this point in my life. I passed another birthday this week with no one to share it with. I’m about to go back home to upstate New York where I’ll see one of my close friends get married, meet another’s new baby, and will be the third wheel on innumerable hanging out sessions where husbands, boyfriends, etc. are always present. I, as usual, have nothing new to share about my love life.

My therapist’s advice to quit dating came after I burst into tears when describing myself as “that thing at the store that’s left on the shelf while all the other things get bought, and you just look at it and you know it’s been there forever.” That is truly how I see myself. I have no delusions about who I am–I’m smart, I’m at least moderately attractive, I’ve lost over 30 pounds and don’t drink like a fish anymore. I run half marathons, I almost have a Ph.D., and I’m a good teacher. But that doesn’t seem to be what matters to men. I feel like I’m invisible sometimes; and I’m as bad at meeting people online as I am when I go out in person. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.

I think my therapist’s idea was that, by taking myself off the market, I relieve the pressure on myself. I save myself the constant feeling of rejection that I get when online dating–or any kind of dating–just doesn’t pan out. She pointed out that I’m planning to leave Arizona in a year or so anyway and that “it’s probably just not meant to happen here.” But in my heart I’ve started to believe it won’t happen anywhere. My last serious relationship ended almost six years ago back in New York. Before that, I was raped by a guy I met at a bar. The last guy I loved here in Tucson just completely stomped on my heart (as I let him reject me over and over again). At this point, even the thought of going out and meeting new guys who can hurt me again makes me a little sick to my stomach. There’s something called path dependence, and I feel like someone who has been so spectacularly unsuccessful at finding and forming healthy relationships in the past is quite unlikely to do so in the future. The truth is–there’s just not someone out there for everyone, and lots of people go through their whole lives without ever finding a love that lasts.

I just wish I could stop wanting it.