SACRIFICING LIBERTY FOR SECURITY
“For his anger endureth but a moment, in his favor is life, weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”Psalm 30:5
I spun around in my seat and peered out the back window of the station wagon as our house disappeared behind me. In my mind once we reached Boston University my life was finally going to begin. It was finally going to be mine.
But, when the tires screeched to a halt outside of Rich Hall I frowned at the sight of the bare campus. I had signed up for a First Year Student Outreach Program that started a week before school and entailed five days of community service with a group of fellow students and there weren’t many people around.
A volunteer brought us a blue bin on wheels and we loaded the provisions for my new life inside.
Our trio was silent as we pushed the cart up a small hill, through the front doors and into the elevator. We unloaded it into the dorm room and made two more trips. It was dinner time when we finished and my parents were meeting family friends at a restaurant downtown. They were distracted. They didn’t want to miss their reservation and forgot to give me a hug good-bye before turning to leave.
I looked around the dingy room at the bags and boxes that lay strewn on the floor and thought about unpacking and settling into my new home, but my stomach growled. The dining hall was already closed. I grabbed my purse and went downstairs to ask a security guard for directions to the nearest grocery store.
Freshman year consisted mostly of classes and copious amounts of time spent studying alone in my dorm room. The only thought that terrified me more than the debt I was accruing was one of a GPA low enough to cost me my scholarship or even worse, disappoint my parents.
I didn’t go to parties. The only friends I made were in class and on the benches beneath my dorm room where I took my cigarette breaks. I didn’t date.
The largest source of my anxiety was what my roommate and I called “the black line”. My cell phone bill had been my responsibility since before I moved out senior year of high school. But, when I started college my mother paid to have a landline installed in my dorm room.
She never called on the same day or at the same time. Sometimes she’d call twice in one week and sometimes weeks would go by in silence. She knew how to keep me hungry for her and each ring activated my startle response.
She always asked about my grades. She always expressed concern over parties and warned against them in my condition with my history. She always told me if I wasn’t enjoying myself, I should just transfer.
But, I was desperate to stay in one place for four years and declined the offer. She seemed to have a sixth sense with her timing, whenever I felt myself beginning to relax and settle into college life … the black line would ring. Was this the act of a concerned mother checking in or covert aggression? I don’t know.
During sophomore year my laptop died and my parents refused to purchase me a new one. I was not given a reason. The lack of this single item had a large impact on my daily life. It translated to a long cold winter of trudging back-and-forth to the computer lab.
My aunt and uncle sent me an old word processor halfway through the year and I was grateful. Even without internet, being able to print off research and tote books to and from the library still made writing papers easier and I was struggling to keep my grades up. As the year began to etch to a close I grew more and more depressed.
A carbon monoxide leak in our building that landed me in housing court left me weeping alone in my bed for days. My parent’s paid my rent, but the budget was small and the basement apartment turned out to be illegal.
I had no where else to go on such meager funds and went to court to beg the judge to let me stay. He conceded. He was also kind enough to give me his business card and insisted if I had any issues with the landlord I should call him directly. I kept the card, kept to myself and never called.
I felt like a soul trapped inside a body that was just going through the motions hoping the next part of my life would be better. That eventually, it would get better. I hadn’t asked to be born, but now I was afraid to die. I moved forward in a zombie-like state with steady determination. I focused on school and work and doing what needed to be done to graduate and start a career in public relations.
I returned to the Hamptons that summer and took an internship at a local firm during the day and a bartending job.
The night I got back a girlfriend picked me up and drove us straight to our favorite local bar. It didn’t matter who was bartending — the music was always hot, the drinks were always cold and you could still smoke indoors.
That night there was a guy there I had never seen before. He had moves. He had swagger. And as fate would have it, he was single.
The most dangerous myth handed down to women from generation-to-generation is that if we are ever in trouble we need a man to rescue us. I bought into this belief at a young age and clung to men the same way a drowning person clings to a life vest.
Motivated primarily by feelings of inadequacy and an overwhelming fear of being alone I sought out anyone who would provide acceptance. These pairings were also symbolic of the approval I never received at home. Relationships and promiscuity were also another way to numb the pain.
At the time, I treated pain like a hot potato and it would be many years before I revered it like a traveling professor.
I slipped him my phone number at the end of the night and he called the next day around noon. We became inseparable. He swept me off my feet. I only ever saw the bait, never the hook.
Later in life I would learn that healthy intimacy develops slowly overtime. And that this type of behavior is a red flag clinically referred to as “love bombing”. It feels wonderful to be given excessive affection and attention in the beginning, but when it is retracted it becomes a weapon used to gain control and force manipulation.
It’s a tactic often employed by narcissists, because when you can’t earn respect through compassion you must command it through fear. And it’s incredibly effective.
I resembled a well-trained dog. My parents had broken me using a specific method and taught me to heel. And now, I came running to anyone else with the same whistle.
Attachment theory is a psychological model that explains why we are attracted to intimate partners later in life. In the most basic sense, we mimic the type of bond we formed with our early childhood caregivers with our romantic partners throughout our lifetime.
Around 56% of people in the world are securely attached and easily form healthy bonds. These are the people that marry a partner, tend to stay married and maintain relationships with relative ease. About 20% are anxiously attached and preoccupied with their relationships. Roughly 23% are avoidant and are phobic of commitment. And about 1% are a mix of both anxious and avoidant or what some psychologists call fearful avoidant.
As a child my emotional needs were inconsistently met by my caregivers, which left me feeling empty. And these patterns caused me to form an anxious attachment style.
When a drowning person finds someone to hold onto that person becomes our only source of oxygen and we’re terrified we are going to lose them. I wish I had someone to tell me that sometimes the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare us the most.
Instead I became his ride or die girl. I did whatever he asked of me. I submitted to my surroundings with a level of commitment resembling a chameleon.
We dated long distance while I started my junior year.
The lion bought me a laptop and my academic life became a bit easier. However, my step-father found himself embroiled in another controversy with his current temple board and my family life became a bit more complex.
I heard the news when my boss called me at school to read me an article that had run in the local paper. It triggered my feelings from the scandal we endured while I was in middle school. And going home to the Hamptons now meant returning to a place where our family was once again the talk of the town. And once again I never know who or what to believe.
By senior year, I scheduled all of my classes on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Thursday, I had class from 9 to 11 a.m. and then I’d catch a train to New London, Connecticut. From there I walked to the passenger ferry and would take that to Orient Point, New York where I kept a car in the parking lot and would then drive the rest of the way to the Hamptons.
On Mondays, I did the reverse commute.
I worked Fridays and Mondays at the PR firm in the Hamptons and during the week in Boston I worked as an administrative assistant at a bartending school. The responsibility and the expense to bridge the gap in the distance was solely mine.
When I graduated we moved in together and I started a full-time position at the company where I had been interning the summer we met.
Coming from broken homes we were both adamantly opposed to marriage. However, after we had been dating for four years, our parents each played a hand in orchestrating our engagement.
On my 25th birthday my mother gave me the engagement ring from her first marriage. A few weeks later while visiting his family for Christmas we found ourselves standing in a jewelry store they owned. When his step-mother spotted the ring dangling from a chain around my neck, she immediately ripped it off and began examining the diamond through an ideal scope.
She quickly took the ring into the back and returned with a loose diamond. She began showing me settings and encouraging me to pick one. After I made a selection she had the stone set, put the ring in a box and handed it to my boyfriend. He stood in front of me and opened the box, but said nothing, I put on the ring and we were declared engaged.
I wasn’t a victim of circumstance. I was an adult who “said” yes. I can’t justify the frustrations and failures that would follow by hiding behind victimhood.
Why did I say yes?
I was suffering from several co-morbid mental illnesses at that time, but the heart of my most devastating condition was fear. It was untreated and all-consuming.
Why did I say yes?
I was trying to fix the inside from the outside.
I had a belief that with marriage my fears of abandonment would turn into a fantasized sense of security and with that would come joy. I wanted change without sacrifice. Peace without struggle. Turns out the world doesn’t work that way.
I bought into the fallacy of being pot committed. I convinced myself there was love in this relationship. Now I know you should never believe a thing simply because you want to.
Mostly though I felt an inner drive and an unexplained need to take care of him. I believed the most noble act was one of helping someone else to find happiness. And I wanted to save him.
In the years that followed I would learn that while a starving and scared dog may very much want to be rescued … that doesn’t mean he won’t bite you.
We’re taking off for the holidays and hope everyone has a happy and healthy New Year! We’ll back after the break with chapter eight!
The goal is to shed light on the current epidemic of narcissism in our country. It is also my most sincere hope that this story will help people who are survivors of abuse or suffering with mental illness to find not only solace, but salvation.
Bonus points if it also sparks a national dialogue about how the prominence of this destructive personality trait is shaping future generations, altering the fabric of our culture and impacting our society as a whole.
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