My first years living in Los Angeles, I spent immeasurable amounts of time blaming others.
Full of angst and unhappiness, it is easy to tell a familiar, comfortable story about the reasons behind our discontent.
It is easy to blame Los Angeles, it’s practically a way of life here. I’ve blamed traffic, Southern California culture, distances, men, parents, siblings, exes, bosses and dating apps for unhappiness and failed relationships. I was the victim, feeling controlled by the whims of those around me. I felt powerless.
The incessant focus outside of myself to what others were doing to me, so I perceived it, felt maddening. How did I routinely find myself in the same situations over and over again? It was perplexing.
It feels necessary here to pause with a disclaimer before continuing this story. Many of us have been here. Countless women I know share similar stories, often unspoken. We suffer in silence. Perhaps we’re not ready to recognize the realities of the relationships we find ourselves in. Perhaps the details are different but the heart is the same: we were victims. We’ve suffered, often at the hands of men. I wish not to deny that painful reality here.
I deeply empathize with those that survive abusive relationships and intimate partner violence. And I am not just referring to those who have survived physical abuse: I am referring to physical and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can often be just as problematic, if not more. Women know we shouldn’t be hit. We can draw the lines between right and wrong when it comes to being physically wounded.
We may not leave, but we know it’s wrong.
Emotional entrapment keeps us in it. We choose to stay. We hope he’ll change. We hold onto images of who we hope our men will become, not the reality showing up in our daily relational lives.
We often believe there are things that cannot possibly happen to us. We believe they exist in this world, but somehow we are immune from them. Naively I believed I could never be the woman that landed herself in a toxic cycle of power, control, hurt, and pain.
I never envisioned myself as the woman who’d lie to her closest friends, family members, emergency room doctors, therapists, and colleagues in an attempt to protect the very man responsible for the blood dripping down her sundress on a warm spring day in Venice. But there I was. And perhaps, there you’ve been too.
I often joke with my therapist that I never needed to develop a drug addiction, I had men. Toxic ones at that. Men can easily fill the same void that one’s next high can also. Cliche or not, men were my cocaine. I was detached from God, my innate higher self. I looked to men to satisfy me in a way they were not capable of.
We disappoint ourselves when we believe human beings can satisfy us in ways they never were intended to. Following my departure from what I now understand to be an abusive relationship, I felt emotionally detached and avoidant in my relationships.
We gravitate towards what we feel inside. We attract what we feel ready for.
Many of us wonder how we find ourselves in the same relational patterns over and over again. We often speak of a “type” we attract: more often than not this type transcends the physical.
Many of the men I’ve dated had similarities: they were emotionally unavailable and distant.
Histories of addiction were common in their families. They had broken relationships with their fathers. Their siblings were addicts. There were histories of alcoholism, abuse in its many forms between their parents, denial of mental illness. They had their own addictions: work, extreme athleticism, saving others but not themselves, rescuing their mothers and brothers, alcohol, women, and marijuana. Some slept with my best friends. They gave me warning signs. I chose to ignore them. They had intimacy issues. They were intelligent, driven, and charming men. Their relationship experiences were painful. Many were cheated on.
One gave me warning signs of his proclivity for physical violence: he beat his brother physically as a means of controlling his drug addiction. I ignored the obvious red flag, instead choosing to find his willingness to be open and honest endearing. That story would later haunt me: could he, like my previous boyfriend, eventually turn on me?
We know how these stories end. As we look back on failed relationships, how many of us choose to look the other way even with the writing on the wall? What holds us back from making the choice to see what is clearly written?
My body has often spoken to me about men, warning me in subtle and more drastic ways. I became physically ill throughout the course of this short-lived relationship, with debilitating migraines almost every five days through the course of knowing him. They stopped when we parted ways. Even our bodies are sources of innate, powerful wisdom, if only we’d stop to listen.
After we ended things, I had a vivid dream. The night before this dream I began to miss him. My therapist asked me that day what I missed.
I sat in silence before responding: “A warm body next to me at night.”
I’d dream that night of a burning house. If you’re familiar with Cam’s song Burning House, this may sound familiar. In my dream, a childhood version of myself stood, protected, in the middle of a house that went up in flames. Inside it were the faces of many, faces I did not recognize but faces of men I presume I knew. I left before the house went up in flames and smoke.
I’d listen to Cam’s song the next day and would weep as I watched her stunningly familiar music video where she walks away from the fire. The deep, bluesy song struck a familiar chord as she sang:
“I had a dream about a burning house, You were stuck inside, I couldn’t get you out. I laid beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke.” ‘
Unbeknownst to me, the depths of my subconscious had been processing this song and its familiar story for weeks. She spoke to the fires we willingly walk through in our lives.
It was then it would hit me. This was the pivotal moment in writing a new song, in breaking free from the chains of my past, liberating myself from toxic men and relationships. I dated these men because I was these men. I feared emotional intimacy and closeness, exchanging it for sex.
They provided what I felt ready for, lest we forget we attract what we feel deserving of. The only thing more painful than the emotional yo-yo these men put me through, the dance of closeness and avoidance, were emotionally available men. I bolted, cut them free, and ran from the men who I knew could treat me well. I pushed away those that were good to me.
There was safety in the familiarity of their stories. We find comfort in what we know, yet this proved deeply unsatisfying.
Like their many addictions, I was addicted to their brokenness.
I’m a helper at heart. I’ve spent my professional life as a counselor, a teacher, and a therapist. I deeply desired to fix myself through fixing them.
I couldn’t go back and change my childhood, my parents’ broken marriage, or my past. But, just maybe, I could change the men I dated. Then I’d be fulfilled. I allowed myself to burn by nature of keeping these men in my life.
Would we rather go up in flames than be alone?
We can choose to walk away from the fire. We do not have to stay in the fire.
There is warmth in the gentle ocean waves that won’t burn when you wade in.
Let’s dip our toes in at the water’s edge.
This shifts the conversation from anger (sometimes rage) at these men to our personal responsibility in choosing them, staying with them, and giving up ourselves, our identity, and our own agency to live our lives.
We release our victimhood when we choose to step out of the fire, consciously. This is where our power lies, especially as women.
Yes, these men made mistakes. We all have blundered. We all have a past. And I’m not always proud of the messier details of mine. I’ve hurt men, too. We all have stories. They are beautiful, painful, sad, humorous, and inspiring simultaneously. But this is where the blaming ends. It’s where the authorship of a new story begins.
We need not justify behaviors or ever condone violence towards a woman (or a man.) But we can take responsibility for our own choices around the people we let in. We can recognize our role in these stories and choose who we give our love to from a place of wisdom and love, not fear. That is power.
A close friend once said to me: “You are emotionally cutting yourself each time you take him back.” She was right.
We can choose to put down the emotional razors from within when we find the courage from inside ourselves, from God, the Divine, our Higher Self to walk away from patterns that no longer serve us, patterns which only serve to chain us to our own unhappiness.
And with that, I’m done blaming Los Angeles, its traffic, culture, dating apps, my mother or father, my childhood, my anxiety, and the men I’ve dated.
And let me share a little secret: this has been the most liberating realization of my young life.
I feel free. I feel whole. I feel liberated to be the woman I was created to be. I have space to be me. I feel ready to invite someone into this space to share with me, not to tear it apart.
And I feel the cycle breaking. Taking personal responsibility for my relationship choices and releasing my victimhood created space for contentedness and peace, where anxiety and helplessness reigned. It seems simple, but it’s profound.
To the man of my past who might be reading this, know I feel deep compassion for you. Sometimes, I even miss you. I wish only happiness and freedom upon you. But as my father wisely spoke to me, it’s time we stop putting our hand back on the burner. Like the sweet, graceful, joyful hummingbird now etched forever to my left forearm, may we all fly freely.
Author: Whitney Easton
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: Leon Seierlein/Unsplash