A Trigger for the Past

It has been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. New job is cool. I went to Idaho and Utah for work. Silly me– I thought I’d have time and energy to blog in hotel rooms during down time. I was wrong.

I proved to myself that I maintain the ability to be professional. I can successfully navigate the world still, 16+ years after I was last independent and on my own. I am still adventurous. I drove to Oregon last Saturday morning before my flight to Atlanta, just because I could. When I am away from home, there is not a lazy bone in my body. I am only limited by my body’s abilities, which are somewhat constrained because I am so out of shape.

History repeats itself, and I had to have a long chat with Porter and Liam about my relationship with Steve from high school. I didn’t relish sharing with a 13 year old and a 15 year old about how manipulative suicidal self-harmers can be, and it reminds me that even as Steve sits in jail, I still feel every bit responsible for his life because I still have 15 year old me deep inside myself. I thought I’d have more time before I had to share my stories from my past with my children. Alas, it was time to share part of that history today.

The last time I was writing at length for any time on this blog I hadn’t spoken with Steve in about 10 years. Shortly after I ended my time on this blog, he responded to an email. That set off chatting online for much of the past 9.5 years. He is now in jail because of a healthy disdain for the law and because he has a severe drinking problem. I am sad that his life has gotten so far off track but I am hopeful that all of this will be a wakeup call to him.

And through it all, 10 years later, I can still confirm that I am still scared of him. I know in my head that I am not responsible for his life, I am a happily married woman with children with another man, and I am still somewhat terrified of my ex. He is a scary man and I kept him so close emotionally for much of the last 10 years because it felt safer to keep him close rather than to let him be an unknown force in the world. It’s ridiculous because in many ways, Bill was an even scarier force in my life, but I have zero inclination to rekindle that acquaintance. I am happy to know that my personal life is far richer than Bill’s will ever be. But with Steve, I still fear for my physical safety. So I kept tabs on him for a long while.

My therapist says it’s completely healthy to pretend Steve is serving time for all the shittiness he served up to me over the years. That’s pretty much exactly what I am doing.

The big lesson for Liam was that, nearly 30 years later, I still feel responsible for Steve. And, that telling on secrets like self-harm and suicidal thoughts can save your friends’ lives and potentially alter the trajectory of their entire lives.

Steve had no one in his corner when he was cutting. His mom didn’t give a shit, and while he had me, I thought I was protecting him by not telling. It didn’t occur to me that it was a treatable medical condition, that it indicated that he was dangerous both to himself and others. Steve developed an unhealthy skepticism of the psychiatric community, particularly after my early mental health treatment, and to the day he entered jail earlier this year he had not received psychiatric treatment though he’s needed it for probably most of his 44 years.

I had to tell Liam and Porter that Steve told me early on in our relationship that the only reason he didn’t kill himself was that he could picture me standing over his coffin crying and that he didn’t want to cause me that kind of pain.

As a 15 year old hearing that from Steve, I internalized that I could never leave Steve, that his life depended on my presence. At that point, all question of choice, or love, or fear went out the window. All I knew was that I had to protect him, myself or my own psyche be damned.

About that time, he promised that his cutting days would be over. I asked who knew– he said several friends knew, and I was shocked no one ever told on him, to get him help.

I never actually saw the cutting or the results, until we were living together, in 2000 probably. I came home one day to the message “Help Me” carved deeply into his chest. I still don’t know why I didn’t take him to the emergency room then. All I can say is I kind of had bigger fish to fry at that point than his mental health status.

But, I should have seen it as a sign that he could and would hurt me if need be.

For much of the past 25 years, I have slept with the lights on. In fact, it has just been since we moved into our new house in November that I have taken to sleeping with the lights out in our bedroom, much to Jared’s relief. But lights are left on in other parts of the house.

I was always afraid of the dark anyway, but Steve played to those fears. I came home one night to find the braker to the apartment turned off, except the power to my desk. He’d found an email he didn’t like, to another guy, as it might happen.

You know, I think about that night occasionally. The whole situation was premeditated. He turned off the power, knowing I’d panic. He locked me in that portion of the apartment so I couldn’t escape, knowing I’d be terrified.

He wanted me to be afraid. Fear was his tool to keep me in my place. As I stood banging, panicking, at the door he’d locked, I knew then that he was capable of killing me. I thought I was going to die that night.

Liam’s situation doesn’t parallel the situation with Steve, but it has been triggering for my own emotions. In the light of day today, I am less afraid of him. After all, he is jail, he cannot get to me. I don’t have to worry about Steve being homeless or hungry.

I hated coming home to have this be the focus of my brain this week. I came home from work last week on cloud nine. I am utterly living my dream life, between doing photography for a living now and being able to retain my own side business, and everything positive that is going on in our lives here at home. I’ve been drafting this post over the course of several days I feel better today about the whole thing than I have felt all week.

Thankfully, I met with both my psychiatrist and my therapist this week, and both feel like I both handled things appropriately with everyone, and that I am far more stable than I give myself credit for. It is a tad hard to internalize, but that is the inner talk I am having with myself right now: that I am stable, that I am competant, and it is indeed okay to be happy.

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