Monday, August 18, 2014

The Other Side of the Darkness: I had a co-dependent relationship with a depressive cutter

I've often wondered how much of my personal history to reveal.  We are all created by our layered experiences and how vastly similar or different they are still amazes me when I hear a new story.  As I continue to seek light and daily contentment, I (as do so many others) draw on my experiences to guide or guard me.  In light of the news of the beloved Robin Williams, I feel the air is appropriate to tell this part of my story.

I spent five years in a relationship with someone who struggled with bouts of depression.  For the sake of this article, we'll call him Tom.  Tom and I had been friends for years before we started dating-so I knew him before he built up a tough exterior and shaved his head.  I knew Tom when he would call and talk for hours and really open up about how he felt.  Tom was incredibly sensitive, he was shy and funny and unassuming.  He wasn't very popular with the ladies at first, but he had this light in him that drew me to him and we became close.  I was there for the greater part of his first love and when that love dissolved.  After, Tom was quick to try and pick up with me, but I refused-he still had too much baggage.  While I cared about him deeply, I knew I couldn't play second-fiddle to his ex.

A few years went by and we reconnected again.  Tom had formed a band and they were doing well.  The air around him changed as he had this new lease on life.  We talked for hours everyday before we began dating.  I was 22 and ready to be with someone who I felt my soul had this connection with.

I knew Tom had his dark days.  He was a dark person half the time-and I'm not sure when I discovered the cutting, but I know it was in the first apartment we lived in together.  There were too many exacto-knives in the bathroom and box-cutters all over the place.  He would say he got them from work, and I took that as-he forgot to take them out of his pocket...but that wasnt the case.  Tom was always hoarding sharp objects in the bathroom.

At 22, with zero experience, I didn't take this cutting-thing very seriously.  I couldn't begin to wrap my head around it and saw little evidence on his body that it occurred, at first, so I chalked it up to a phase and ignored it-for the most part.

At 23, we decided to cool the relationship and not live together anymore.  Tom moved in with a bandmate and started looking around for weekday companionship (unannounced to me) as Tom worked 3rd shift.  I would come around on weekends and stay-pretending not to notice certain things that were changing in the house.  The ever-presence of drugs, the unclean environment, the darkness that begun to creep in around Tom's eyes.  The color of his skin even began to change and his mood was a constant state of agitation.  He was barely sleeping because he was trying to keep up with two relationships-the other I found out about a month or two after it began. 

He had found someone who had this darkness in her.  Who took him seriously and understood the place he was coming from.  This person encouraged his darkness and depression and encouraged him to feel it more by loving her and creating an impossible situation (as she was married) so that as he grew in his love for her-the Romeo and Juliet romance would increase the intensity of the situation and Tom would be in a constant state of depression.

Now, I know this wasn't the goal of Tom and his lover, but the situation was incredibly manipulative on both sides.

This is when I remember Tom doing more and more cutting.  Hiding in his bedroom, chain smoking, getting high and not bathing for days at a time.  The band was performing so frequently, the weekends were often 48 hour benders of drugs and booze before everyone had to return to work.  If I was there, Tom would gripe that I was and if I wasn't Tom would call until I answered or showed up.  It didn't take long for he and I to fall into a dangerous co-dependent pattern.  I protected him from the darkness he was so drawn to.  I made him laugh, brought him food, entertained him as a martyr and told him he was a good person.

It didn't take very long for the affair to end.  With the affair ended, Tom and I didn't pick back up right away.  We stayed friendly and actively participated in each others lives, but not as publicly as before.  The affair process had opened up a new facet of Tom's personality to me.  The depression and cutting was now active and real, always waiting right under the surface for an opportunity to emerge.  I knew that now.

Tom moved out of the disgusting flea-infested house and into a new apartment with his responsible and ambitious brother.  Tom started to look healthy again as he slowed the drug use significantly.  We still kept up with each other, maintained a responsible distance until about Christmas.  It had been about 6 months since the move and Tom was looking better, rejuvenated.  He had a new spring to his step and was becoming the person I remembered from years past.  After Christmas, he wanted to get back together.  We went on a few dates before I confessed to him that it wasn't going to work.  We both cried.  I just felt as though there had been too much damage done.

The next morning at 7:30am I got a phone call from Tom.  It was an emergency, he was hysterical and kept saying something about 911 that I couldn't decipher.  I jumped into my car and drove to his apartment, walked into his bedroom to see him sitting on his bed covered in blood.  He had taken a knife and sliced up his left arm on the outside.  He kept telling me, that he 'had gone too far' and 'a T-shirt wont cover this up'.  He was crying and scared.  I ran and grabbed a towel and began to clean him up.  Upon examining him only a few cuts were deep, probably worthy of stitches, but the amount of blood had scared him more than the pain.

Shortly after I had cleaned him up, his parents walked into the room.  Tom had called them after calling me.  They immediately wanted to take him to the hospital and get him admitted to psych, but Tom convinced them not too.  I just kept attending to his arm, cleaning each cut with peroxide and butterflying the larger ones. 

I stayed for 2 days, never leaving Tom's side.  I wouldn't even let him close the door to go to the bathroom.  I made him dinner and we watched his favorite movies.  I held him and I told him I loved him.  We were inseparable after that day.  I moved in shortly after and began to cook him real food.  We went on dates with friends and we were happy.  After the lease was up, Tom and I got our own apartment together.

Within a month, Tom was uncomfortable, irritated.  Box cutters began showing up.  I would notice drops of blood in the bathtub from time-to-time.  I tried to compensate by cooking him huge dinners and making sure his sleep was uninterrupted.  Tom would draw himself inward and stopped going out if he didn't have a show.  I became the PR person of my relationship.  Going to support friends' bands and events for the both of us.  I over-used excuses such as, 'sick' or 'exhausted'.  If I thought Tom had cut the night before, I'd smack his arm to see if he'd wince at the pain.  I had actually become annoyed at his depression and cutting.

Tom had begun looking for an emotional outlet again in another person.  Reaching out to ex-girlfriends and band groupies.  Detailing our personal life and how miserable it was.  We would fight about his past lovers, the cutting, the drugs, anything that could be ammunition, was.  The fight would always escalate into an 'its over' and end in a dusk-filled room with us crying and holding each other promising for change and vowing our love for the other.

This went on for years.  It was my new normal.  One day, after a lengthy fight, I was done.  I told Tom we were over.  Suddenly, he began to nest, buy flowers, buy things for the apartment that he'd often claim he hated, he would write me love songs and poems.  We were in a new place.  I nice place.  He began taking me out on dates again-we even took a weekend together and had an incredible time.

Fast forward only a couple months, it was a Friday night, I had to work and Tom had a show in town.  I went to our favorite bar after to grab a drink with friends.  Tom and his bandmate where there talking to some girls-obviously from the show.  I walked by and smacked him on the butt.  He would get mad if I interrupted, because he was 'working' and 'a girlfriend doesn't encourage potential fans'.  After some time, he and the group left.  I ended my night with my friends and went home and waited.  Well after bar close, I called him.  He gave me a story about his buddy passing out and taking him home.  Then I heard a girl giggling in the background.

Tom came home the next day around one in the afternoon.  He was strung out, hungover and looked like hell.  I told him I knew he cheated and he insisted he hadn't.  This went on for a few days and on Monday I received my confirmation after overhearing a phone call with his buddy from that night.

'She said the whole night had been perfect.'  That's all I needed to hear.  I was done.  The confrontation was brief, he confessed and didn't put up a fight when I told him to leave.

Depression, cutting and people with severe psychological issues are not alone in their cycling and their feelings.  The way depression manifests itself can be a very dangerous and parasitic activity.  I envision it much like a haustoria parasite, tangling itself around its host and drawing on its nutrients and energy.  Thus, untangling yourself from this situation can be a timely process.  It took about 9 months to break up with Tom.  He spiraled through his depression, a near-suicide attempt, excessive drug use, showing up to my work or apartment with roses, coming home to cards and poems, his band writing a few love songs about me, late night calls and text, recruiting friends to rally me to get us back together or spy on me.  There were many times I questioned whether what I was doing was right.  I begged him to come back at times-I promised I could change and be better.

I eventually coped by going to a therapist.  Allowing an objective person assist me in figuring out where true North was-as I was on an emotionally abusive hamster wheel and couldn't see a way out of it.  I felt responsible for Tom and he felt responsible for me.  We had convinced each other our situation was unique and no matter where life took us-the connection we felt for the other would never be broken.  Anything that occurred outside of each other was a farce.  I also felt like I was the only person who was going to take care of him and if I didn't keep tabs on him-he would die.  I had wires crossed in my own head, thinking this was love.  These desperate acts, this emotional turmoil was normal, was proof that love was real!  Love had to be a constant state of stomach-flips and mind-f*cks.

Stepping away from Tom and us agreeing to keep distance (this took time) was not my way of disregarding the severity of his depression.  It was our way of trying to help him.  After all my work and effort, I finally saw that I was enabling his behavior.  We were co-dependent and my presence was dangerous to him.

Tom and I talked a lot.  One day this is how he described to me his outlook on us:
You were my light or my angel-you made me feel like I was doing something right because you were good, and if you're good, then you like good people and if you LOVED me-then maybe I was good too.  You also made a clean home, which is good and you cooked which was good.  So maybe, I could be good too.  And sometimes I wanted to be good, so I would do good things thinking that good feelings and goodness would come with good behavior.  

But then the darkness would come, and it was familiar and I knew I was really bad and the darkness would creep in and it felt safe.  With goodness comes responsibility and with darkness-there isn't any.  I'm free in the darkness to feel everything I want to feel.  But sometimes I want to feel and can't.  I try, I listen to music or watch videos, or write, but the feeling won't come-I don't feel anything, just then if I can't stand it anymore, I cut.  And this wave of feeling would come over me and I can see the feelings leave my body by way of the blood.  And I know I'm present in this moment because I can actually feel that moment in time.  I can see that moment.  

When the darkness comes in, I am convinced its right, because it feels more honest.  Being good was too much work and I don't fully understand it.  There are people out there who understand the darkness and they are my friends because they understand me.  They accepted me and when I speak they relate.  Not like you, you listen, but you don't understand.  You tried, but the trying wasn't enough.  I have to talk to people that understand the darkness.  

Its been years since I've spoken with Tom.  I hear things every now and again or will see a photo shared on Facebook from time to time.  I have nothing but love and light to send to him and I know in my heart he feels the same about me.

What I understand now, solely based off my experience and not from anything I ever learned as a psych major, is that depression is an alternate universe-something we all may glimpse into from time to time, but there are individuals who take up residence there.  It is a world I have given up trying to understand-because my attempt has only pissed off and pushed away those I've tried to help.  Instead, I become a listening ear-compassionate to everyone, while still protecting myself.
I also had to force myself to learn that whatever Tom does, is not my fault.  Its painful and when you are that close to a person-its so easy to take on all the blame and for others to blame you too.  If I cannot say that Tom made me do something-why would I ever project that responsibility onto myself?  Even when Tom tried to blame something on me, he would later confess he was doing it to get a reaction.  Leading me to the other thing I learned the hard way, Tom had an unhealthy relationship with his emotions.  He didn't know how to assign them appropriately to situations, thus using drugs to often force or repress his feelings.

It saddens me to see so many of the opinion that suicide is a selfish act.  How easy it is for those who have never experienced depression to assign it such a condescending adjective.  We need to take ourselves out of their equation-as those who suffer from true depression are overwhelmingly lost in a sea of every emotion and sometimes, in their eyes, the only way to shore is by letting go. 

I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing this story in this way had Tom and I not talked it to death before finally quitting each other.  Allowing us to completely gain perspective from every angle...having every argument about it possible.  While this article may not completely demonstrate it, Tom is a wonderfully talented and funny individual.  He writes beautifully and anyone who gets to know him, knows him as a very special individual.  I've always looked at Tom's heart like the Yin/Yang symbol; for even when it seems so full for darkness, the goodness is there.

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