View this post on Instagram
This summer, I broke up with my boyfriend of 18 months.
The decision to end the relationship wasn’t a hard one, but getting to that decision—now that was hard.
Turns out, I’d lived most of those 18 months backsliding out of my recovery.
I am a recovering people pleaser and a comparison addict. As any addict will tell you, the road back to recovery is painful, and the shame that rides shotgun will just talk nonstop the whole trip until you decide to kick it to the curb.
I haven’t written in four months and even now, I struggle with what to say. I struggle because the weight of climbing back out of rock bottom is hard and painful, and altogether exhausting.
Nonetheless, I need to share this journey.
As I came to realize that the relationship I was in was toxic and no longer serving me in any healthy way, I was also realizing that the part I played in its ending was this: I became invisible.
People pleasers usually are; it’s the easiest way to get someone to like us. And boy, did I ever have that man liking me.
Having to feel the shame of letting myself become invisible has been one of the most painful lessons I’ve endured in quite some time.
I tried traveling for a while to avoid feeling anything: in the last two months I’ve gone to the oceans of California, the hills of Texas, the mountains of Colorado, and back to the California ocean. I tried eating all the ice cream and chips and salsa I could find—my jeans aren’t too happy with me for that one. I tried drinking a bit too much for a weekend—my college binge-drinking days are clearly over since I couldn’t hang like I thought I could. I tried these things to avoid feeling the shame and the pain of being invisible in my own life.
It didn’t work.
Okay, so maybe sitting alone on the beach for two days letting the ocean soothe my soul worked a little.
But, as with any major mountain in life, the only way out is up and over and through. So here I sit, wondering how to become visible.
As I look at what kind of life I’ve built for myself, it has become abundantly clear that I have made decisions that allowed me to remain invisible, or at the very least, in a less than position.
For example, when I first started dating my ex, I became ashamed of where I lived when I saw where he lived. I had just bought my first home, and while it is a townhome in a gentrifying complex on a busy street, it’s still my first home. When I saw my ex’s townhome, my first thought was “Ooooh, look at his neighborhood. It’s so quiet here, and the landscaping is prettier. He has an attached garage while mine is detached. His view of the mountains is so much closer than my view.” Looking back, why did I care? It’s not like my house was a shack and his was a mansion. We had the same type of house, and quite frankly, I was proud to be living in a gentrifying neighborhood where I know my neighbors.
But when a brain is conditioned to act invisible, the first thing it does is to find all the ways I am wrong and you are right…whatever that may be. For me, it’s usually in the form of money I don’t quite make, things I do not own but wish to, or slim thighs and a flat stomach I do not possess. Seeing my boyfriend’s beautifully landscaped neighborhood automatically made me think my place was less than, and therefore, I was less than.
Raise your hand if you are surprised this relationship didn’t work out considering this was how it started! Exactly.
As the months wore on, I kept saying “yes” when I wanted to say “no.” To be fair, I stood up for myself and reaffirmed my boundaries more than I ever had in any other relationship. However, he always found some way to work around them in a way that made me think I was compromising. What I was really doing was continuing to lose a piece of myself.
I can’t exactly put the blame all on him though. From where I am standing today, I can see that I was conditioned to give my boundaries up and to give myself away. I was conditioned to find people like him and place them into my life on a level of importance that they didn’t deserve. I’ve been people-pleasing since I can remember.
My grandmother always told me that I should never show any emotions, and that children were to be seen and not heard. Given that she babysat me almost every day until I was nine, I can’t imagine another way I could have turned out.
But I am not nine anymore. I am a woman in her early 40s, and I am currently assessing every relationship I have these days. I am coming up short in almost all of them.
My group of friends from my early 20s? I am the one who really doesn’t know how to decorate my house or buy fun clothes. My group of friends from college? I am the poorest among them, monetary wise. My group of friends from grad school? I am the only one still single and unsuccessful at relationships. My job? I am the lowest paid director in my organization and in the least respected department on top of that.
I have managed to tell myself “this is who you are” for so many years. Not once have I thought I am more. Not once have I looked to see what I have to offer. Not once have I thought that I deserve more; that I am an incredibly smart businesswoman. Instead, I’ve been busy being grateful that they are my friends or that I have a job or that he wanted to be with me, even with chubby thighs.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these people in my life are lovely humans and I recognize I am the issue. Some, like my job and my ex-boyfriend, I am weeding out and searching for the courage to break free of being invisible.
Not once, until now, have I questioned how I have thought about my place in my own life. And I don’t want to be invisible anymore.
Like a caterpillar shedding its cocoon to become a butterfly, the process is painful. However, the beauty on the other side is worth it. The path to rebuilding yourself is a journey that has no shortcuts. The only way out is through. Buckle up.