Damage and Doubt

I have been damaged.

Over the past couple of years, my world and the people I wanted in it hit the wall and splintered apart. I was left with loads of pain that I didn’t know how to carry by myself, and not a lot of support for putting myself back together. A couple years ago, I wrote a bit about some of the things that were happening to me, but we’ll catch up anyway.
Our community is good at offering certain kinds of support. When secondary relationships break up, people are there for everyone involved. The poly community in any metro area is typically pretty small and relatively close, so breakups can be awkward. You are going to run into your former partners and their partners.
There are sympathy hugs and statements of empathy like, “I know you really cared for each other,” and, “What you had was special. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out for you,” or, “I was wondering why you two were together to begin with!” Then someone would often ask you out to dinner to help you feel better. Sometimes that would provide an opportunity to fill that vacancy. Sometimes it wouldn’t.
When a long-term primary relationship breaks up, it’s a different story. People back away to a minimum safe distance and try to figure out whose fault it is. When the word “divorce” is brought up, it gets triggery for poly people. It reminds us that the foundation necessary to make this work is something we had taken for granted. And that is not a bad thing – you need to be able to take it for granted. You need to be able to have that level of trust and know that the promises you made to one another are going to help keep you safe and keep you together.
Now, something you need to realize about me for the rest of this to make sense is that in my life I am very “right.” That most certainly doesn’t mean politically. That means, “correct.” I don’t feel at all comfortable doing things that are improper. I cannot not follow the rules. I don’t act in a way I know will put me out of bounds. And I am compulsively honest, so if I did break a rule I can’t keep that to myself. That truth needs to get out of me and I need to reset myself to being on the correct side of the line. That means that everything I do, I can explain the logic behind why I didn’t think it was wrong.
I’m not a rationalizer or a justifier. I feel like those are excuses that come after the fact. I own all of my decisions, good or bad. I make bad decisions, sure, but I don’t make wrong decisions. See the difference? A bad decision is one that I made using the boundaries and data available to me and it turns out that there was a better way to go. A wrong decision means I chose to break a rule or do something I knew was not allowed. I don’t always make correct decisions, but I don’t make wrong decisions.
I was blindsided when my marriage broke up. Now, a couple years on, I have gotten a better understanding of her grievances and I am certainly not trying to prove my innocence or throw around any blame, but at the time didn’t really know what was going on. I started getting in trouble for doing things that I “should have known” would bother her. I am very vocal and pragmatic and practical. If I don’t know what is expected of me, then I do not know how to succeed. I followed the rules. I did everything we said we were going to do and I didn’t do anything we said we weren’t going to do. I’m sure she thought she was telling me what she needed, but not in ways I could understand.
Toward the end she told me every day, “It’s okay. We have our problems but we’ll work it out. Things are getting better.” And I thought they were. Then I took the afternoon off from work on my birthday and came home so my wife and I could go out and celebrate and she told me that she was leaving. She’d bided her time and saved it up and pretended things were okay for a while, she told me later, so that she could deliver the blow on my birthday. She took my daughter and moved two hours away.
I turned to the only support system I had: my poly “family.” These were high-quality people that I had chosen to be important parts of my life, who had also wanted me to be a part of their lives. Some were supportive. Some didn’t know what to do. But they all had their own lives going on and the my universe cracking apart was not convenient to any of them. One had a visit from her mother and she took it very personally that she didn’t get to vent about that because I was “all caught up in [my] problems.” Another got on with her life while I was out of commission and I was not able to process another changing relationship. It was hard and I offer sincere apologies to all of them for making them feel bad. I expected more support and more sympathy. I had no right to demand it or be offended that I feel like I was getting it.
My last ongoing poly relationship was close to being really great. I ended up living with her and her husband and being completely monogamous with her for over a year. We had a lot of difficulties keeping our relationship open and eventually, difficulties staying together. We broke up after a year and a half and that left me with scars, too. They still hurt.
I found another remarkable girlfriend within a couple weeks of that break-up. We’ve been monogamous since almost the very beginning. Stories about that and about her will come later.
Your friendly neighborhood poly man whore has been monogamous for about two and a half years now. I’m starting to feel it. If I have a really great day, I have less people to share it with. If I am having a bad day or I need support or advice on some problem, I have less people to talk to. When my daughter and the girlfriend and I are out together on the weekends, my phone is mostly silent. No more texts throughout the day from a network of people who love me and care about how I’m doing and what to tell me how they’re doing.
I have a part of me that really doesn’t feel good. It’s the insecure part that feels inadequate and replaceable and unworthy. I hope I have finally smoothed out enough of the dents in my psyche to blend in the happy, confident, sexy, charming, witty, well-spoke, and desirable parts back in, too. The life I had wanted and the people I wanted in my circle of trust crumbled. I’m still shaken.
After Goose died, Maverick blamed himself. He couldn’t get back in a fighter plane for a while, and when he did, it took him a long time to get back to being an ace. Oddly enough, the exact same thing happened to him in Days of Thunder. He had a bad crash and it took him a long time to get back into a racecar and get on top of his game again.
I’ve said before that every poly situation is different. And now mine is different even from the way mine used to be. The girlfriend has never been in a non-monogamous relationship. I’m fragile enough that, once again, I have the same doubts I have seen in poly-newbies. I have been able to help put their minds at ease over the years. I’m having a much harder time convincing myself that if I get back in the fighter plane, back in the racecar, that I’ll get back to… Well, somewhere. Not who I used to be. Too many things have happened for me to ever be who I used to be. “At the top of my game” doesn’t sound right, either. It’s not a game.
I used to be an ace. I used to love myself, love my partners, love my situation, love my family. A lot of that is gone now, and now that I’m healing, I’ve started to notice that it isn’t the old wounds that are still hurting. Now, it’s the void that is hurting. It took me a long time to figure out the difference. I missed me, but I’m coming back.
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