I came out of an ugly, sixteen year marriage angry and exhausted. A lot of my anger was directed at myself. I had worked so hard to be the wife who didn’t upset him, the woman who didn’t look at him the wrong way, the girl who didn’t say his name in That Tone Of Voice. As time went on, it became harder and harder to keep the peace, and I was too tired to walk on the eggshells any more.
So I left.
Fast forward to Friday night. This very last Friday night, August 24, 2013, at approximately 6:15pm, Mountain Standard Time.
Special Man was upset. Irritable, tired, and a little snappy. It doesn’t happen often, and it didn’t last long. He had worked himself up over something I’d said, or not said, that, to him, looked and felt very different than the actual conversation we’d had a few hours earlier.
I don’t think this exchange lasted much more than ten minutes, before he apologized the first time.
But I couldn’t get over the sick feeling in my stomach. I told him to just take me back to my house and go home. He told me no, we were going to dinner, and he kept driving. I felt like I was going to throw up.
He apologized again. He said the words, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
And I couldn’t get away from it. All the unspoken things my voice hadn’t let me say for all those years, with a completely different man, were sitting, clenched into a knot, at the base of my throat. I kept swallowing, and trying not to cry. I felt afraid, and I felt hopeless. I had failed to make this man I loved desperately, happy. I was doing it wrong, and I had messed everything up, because I hadn’t anticipated his unspoken needs.
Even as this anxiety was taking hold, my brain was soothing me, feeding me all the logical and rational comfort that it could push onto my neuro-transmitters: He is not that man. He is not your husband. You are not going to pay for this later. He loves you, he adores you, and HE IS SORRY.
By the time we got to dinner, he had not only apologized a third time, but it was over for him. He was relaxed, he was happy to be with me, he was affectionate and conversational. He had moved on. Gradually, I thought it was over for me as well. We had dinner, and then we spent the rest of the evening in my home with good conversation, plenty of physical touch and periods of comfortable silence.
The next day I woke up feeling unsettled; restless. He was home with Meta, and as I went through my day I just felt off. Work necessarily kept him unavailable to me, but I found myself needing to connect. We had a brief late dinner that night, and though I felt alright, there was a thought playing on a loop in my brain. What if I say the wrong thing?
He called me on it. “What’s going on in your head?”
I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t say. I started to cry.
“My stomach still hurts from last night”, I said. “I can’t come down from it.” And then, “Maybe I have PTSD.” I giggled and tilted my head away from him, wanting to make things light and make things better. (I’m pretty skilled at deflection. It’s a gift.)
He just looked at me. “Maybe you do.”
I couldn’t speak. “He would go after me for hours,” I said, so quietly, I wasn’t sure he had even heard my words. I looked away from his eyes, and slid my sunglasses on so that the very busy Mexican restaurant would be spared my breakdown.
“I’m sorry,” he said, again. “I don’t want to ever make you feel the way he did.”
I tried to tell him, that it wasn’t him, it was me. I wanted to tell him that I was broken and ruined, and maybe I’d never be fixed. But I couldn’t speak. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and I stayed silent. He didn’t look away.
Special Man held my hand, and smiled, and I could breathe again. He led me outside into the parking lot of the restaurant, and we wandered around a small gathering of classic cars. I fell in love with an exquisite, deep red ’53 Corvette. I stood there, with a man I loved, appreciating a beautiful car, on a summer night. I wasn’t ruined. I was loved and cherished.
(Also, I really wanted that car. I’ve never lusted after a car like that.)
Conditioning is a powerful thing. The present reaction I was having to conflict with him, was reinforced by a past bad relationship, an unpredictable, sometimes violent man, and a scared voiceless girl. I am not that girl anymore, Special Man isn’t that man, and this is not that relationship. There are so many “inspirational” quotes out there, that speak to not living in the past, not letting the past determine your future, yadda yadda yadda. I did a quick Google search for some kind of quote about reconciling past and future, and I thought my teeth were going to fall out from the sickening sweetness of the sentimentality.
Except for this:
“What’s past is prologue.” ~William Shakespeare, The Tempest
It just IS.
4 thoughts on “~After~”
We both had meltdowns at restaurants this weekend!
Must’ve been a full moon…. ~Ginger
It’s not fun, but THIS is how you undo the conditioning of your PTSD. What is conditioned can be unconditioned. We habituate, or just become unresponsive to a condition if we are around it enough and we no longer react, or we are desensitized. There is also unconditioning, like what you just did. We are presented with the stimulus without the conditioned stimulus (argument without assholism) and eventually our response is unpaired. There is also counterconditioning. We are presented with the old stimulus without the conditioned stimulus and are given a new incompatible condition (such as walking and talking in a parking lot, rather than hours of ire, and we begin to condition a new response.
It takes time and energy, but we can undo our buttons. I’m thinking a lot about counter conditioning and extinction myself. And I love that quote. I too hate saccarin sweetness. I like acknowledging it as it just is.
I’m trying to be mindful and intentional in my reactions. Some days it’s exhausting, but I like to think I’m figuring it out…(slowly, maybe). ~Ginger