How to heal with what I've learned?
September 9, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I’ve been doing some heavy lifting lately involving my mental illness. For the first time in my life I think I’m finally facing the root cause of my problem, rather than the symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, lack of initiative, etc. More details

Twelve years ago I was engaged to my high-school/college girlfriend and I loved her very much. But because of my self-esteem issues and an inability to trust my own feelings, I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough for her. I broke up with my fiancée to be in a relationship with a co-worker, who I later realized would not have been appealing if it hadn’t been for my undiagnosed major depressive episode. By the time I was healthy enough to survey and appreciate the damage I had caused, my fiancée had moved on and wanted nothing to do with me.

I’ve spent the last twelve years getting healthier. I’ve learned about boundaries and what healthy relationships look like. I’m on medication for my depression and OCD and I know what it feels like when my illness makes me second-guess myself. I’ve prepared as best as possible to never again let myself behave the way I did then.

I understand why I acted the way I did. What I can’t do is get over it.

I often read stories of people who have fought through mental illness with the help of a spouse. I can’t understand how they kept their romantic relationships alive when I threw mine away. Part of the issue is that I still lived with my parents and she lived with hers, so we didn’t have that “must survive together” mentality that being on our own would have offered. We were 22 and 21 at the time, so I understand that youth played a role.

My fiancée was my first love. The relationship was always tumultuous because I was trying to balance being a loyal son and a good boyfriend. I now realize that nothing I did for my mother would have ever been enough, and that when it came time for a major life change, I broke up with the wrong person – I should have left my mother.

No matter how much I learn and heal, I can’t escape the feeling that it’s all pointless. I can never get back what was.

How do I use what I’ve learned to have a happy, fulfilling life without always being focused on what I lost? It all feels too little, much too late.

Being in a loving, committed, mature relationship with someone else doesn't seem to be doing the trick.
posted by fredmounts to Human Relations (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No matter how much I learn and heal, I can’t escape the feeling that it’s all pointless. I can never get back what was.

This is what you must accustom yourself to. You CAN'T get back what was lost. Not in this instance and not in any other instance. Lost is lost. Gone is gone.

What you need to do is to move on. You are assuming that with your first relationship, that you also lost your only chance at love. That is NOT true.

We can have many loves in a lifetime, but we have to allow them into our lives. If you are forever comparing a relationship to the one you had in your youth, it just won't be the same.

You are not 22 anymore. You have your lifetime of experiences behind you now. You can't step into the same stream twice.

Do you think that if your fiance came around today, unencumbered and full of forgiveness, that you could be together again? Probably not.

Also, who is to say that the relationship would have stood the test of time? You were both VERY young and you were already having other problems. Chances are, you would have broken up anyway. If not you for another person, her for another reason.

I'll also point out that you can't be in a loving, committed, mature relationship with ANYONE if you're still thinking about something that happend a long time ago.

So, more therapy, until you can think on this whole episode as 'something unfortunate in my past."

If it means anything to you, I met my husband and married him right before I turned 40. Sometimes you have to be at a place in your life where you are ready for a real relationship.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:46 AM on September 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Have you discussed this hyperfocus on your past relationship with your therapist? You mention struggling with OCD, and this seems like possibly an intrusive, obsessive thought which could be part of that.

For what it's worth, almost everyone loses their first loves. It is very painful to cope with! And many people continue to mourn that first relationship for some time. You're not particularly alone in your regrets and the need to work through them. Many many posts on AskMe offer brilliant, compassionate advice on getting over your first breakup.

Being in a loving, committed, mature relationship with someone else doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

Relationships aren't medicine or band-aids and they aren't fixers for the past. They won't cure you or do the work for you; they just stave off the inevitable. You have to do the mourning and the healing for yourself.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I can’t escape the feeling that it’s all pointless. I can never get back what was. How do I use what I’ve learned to have a happy, fulfilling life without always being focused on what I lost?

The thing is, you don't really know what you lost. It seems like you are idealizing what you had, and you are mourning the loss of that ideal. Maybe you can try to cast a more objective, and critical gaze on your past. Think about how young you both were, and the likelihood that you both still had a lot of learning, developing, and growing up to do, even without your mother's interference.
posted by fikri at 10:55 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could it be that, instead of focusing on what you lost, you are really focusing on some kind of imaginative version of what you lost? Like, maybe you're beating yourself up because you don't have the wonderful loving marriage with wonderful kids and warm cuddling every night that didn't really exist - it's more an extrapolation of what *might have been* had the relationship not ended.

If that's the case, try to gently direct your thoughts away from that imagined reality and back to what you actually know and what you actually lost. Linger, if you will, upon the sweetness of those moments, but try to reign yourself back in when you start extrapolating and imagining what might have been.

Because those imagined moments never happened. It's just your depression doing the thing that depression does so well - creating elaborate "what ifs" and feeling bereft at their absence. Imaginary reality always seems so much better than real life - there's no awkwardness, no bad breath, no grouchiness, etc. It's also unreal and provides no real satisfaction. It's like eating cotton candy - very sweet for a moment but with no real value.

Also, if you're preoccupied with the past and your imaginative elaborations of it, you're missing out on the present! There might be wonderful opportunities for living right now in front of you. If you're spending all your time in this interior world, you might miss them.

If your therapy has been helpful, make sure you bring these behavior patterns up. And be gentle with yourself. The sweet sadness of first love gone is something to reflect upon lovingly, not something to beat yourself up with.
posted by jasper411 at 12:32 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you tried to get your fiancee back and she did not want you back. I got married at age 19, so I don't think youth entirely explains it.

I was married more than two decades. It was never a happy marriage. I think you are deluding yourself. Had you married her, you would still have had to deal with mental health issues. It would not have been "...and they lived happily ever after." It still would have involved a lot of misery, even if things had played out differently. You cannot ever really know if that would have been better or worse than what you did go through.

It took me 15 years of marriage, 17 years into the relationship, to have the epiphany that I and my spouse both blamed all sexual problems on me and my history of having been molested and let him completely off the hook for his part in it. We both let him pretend to be perfect and innocent and a martyr. I no longer accept answers like that. There were reasons he wanted me and it wasn't just that he wanted all the "nice" parts of me. He wanted all of me and he had his reasons why getting involved with someone with certain issues was actively appealling.

So one fateful night I called him on his bullshit. I no longer am willing to be the fall guy. It takes two to make a relationship work. I am now divorced and although I could certainly benefit from some assistance, I am unwilling to accept a relationship where a man tries to frame himself as my savior or some bullshit like that.

I think you need to seriously examine this fantasy of idealized perfection you have about your former fiancee. My husband married me when we were 19. The two of you could have married but did not. Then you apparently tried to go back but got rejected. Think very carefully about that. One possibility is that she really had no plans to marry you and was perfectly happy making you the fall guy. If so, you lost absolutely nothing.

These things are hard to parse. But you need to stop thinking as if you have godlike powers and unilaterally created this situation. There were other actors. You were not the only one with agency. The outcome is the result of multiple factors, not just your choices. Understanding that can help you make your peace with it.
posted by Michele in California at 3:28 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

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