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I take a breath, hit “send,” then set down the phone.
It’s just a text; it’s not like I can die from a response or a lack of response. But it used to feel that way.
Not only did it feel like I might die if I didn’t get a reply, but I would scrutinize the text I had just sent and second-guess the wording and timing if I did not get an answer back immediately. This whole process shot my adrenaline through the roof and dysregulated my nervous system. It would spin me out.
The specific party on the receiving end would sometimes reply back right away, but would sometimes take hours or even days. There are rational and legitimate reasons for the slow response time: in and out of cell service, spending time with kids, or he simply missed seeing it. There’s another reason, though. He was avoiding it.
That possibility used to set off all my alarm bells (as well as my abandonment wound) and though I knew I was safe, my whole system would go five-alarm alerts.
The relationship dance that I am describing is what is commonly referred to as “the anxious/avoidant” dynamic in attachment theory. These opposing attachment styles rather perfectly agitate the other. There is tremendous potential for healing, but there is also a propensity for trauma bonding, aka: repetitive relational injury.
There is a lot of vilification around what is going on with an “avoidant.” Typically the “anxious” is seen as “just wanting connection” whereas the avoidant…well, you get the picture. What is really happening is two nervous systems that have opposing strategies for dealing with overwhelm.
We, the anxious ones, like to think that we are more primed for intimacy, but how intimate can you really get with a live wire?
That was me: a live wire. It so happens that I have been anxious for most of my life—I just didn’t know it until a few years ago. I had tons of classic anxiety-based symptoms: stomach troubles, rapid talking, sweating. I was even a skin-picker.
I was also avoidant. I hated conflict. I’m still not a fan, but I can do it. You see, I grew up in households where conflict was a common dialect, as was volatility and intimidation. The most frequent modes of operation in these domiciles were “fun” or “fury.” There was very little in-between and there was little to no structure. I still struggle with structure, and that is exactly what is needed for us to regulate our nervous systems.
You see, boundaries are both internal and external; they are not walls we throw up to keep people out or bridges that we burn when we are over other people’s shit.
Boundaries are doors and gates that show other people how to get into our world.
In some ways, I am kind of an open book. I write about deeply personal subject matter. I have often “bled ink” for pure strangers in my articles. This kind of writing is a way for me to discharge anxiety—but it doesn’t necessarily create more intimacy. It is often easier for me to spill my guts for complete strangers than it is for me to do so with the person with whom I am sharing my body. Sure, not all physical intimacy is actually intimate, but ours is, with or without a label.
We like to think sometimes that labels make us safer, but that is not necessarily true. I was in a nine-year committed relationship and there was little intimacy (physical or otherwise). Our “commitment” in no way created safety. And when I left it, I had suppressed tons of anxiety,
As adults, safety is something that we hold internally, but if we did not have a safe environment and stable adults modeling this for us as children, you bet your sweet butt this is something we may struggle with. I still do. In my teens and early 20s I chose to fraternize with people who mimicked the conditions of my childhood, but with increased toxicity due to shared substance abuse.
It was a shit show.
There were multiple occasions I was seriously hurt, emotionally and physically, and it could have been worse—way worse.
When we first begin to break out of these kinds of toxic or predatory relationships and situations, it’s not uncommon for us to need to blame someone else, especially if we have been genuinely victimized. However, as we progress in our healing, we need to also take accountability for how we (as adults, not children) wound up in those situations. Accountability is the only way that we can actually change our circumstances, and it is hard work that requires radical self-honesty.
In my anxiety, I am avoidant.
It’s not something we are supposed to say (as the anxious one), but it’s true. I have pushed more than a few people away with my anxious, rapid-spewing, and toxic stress. I thought I had nearly lost another one recently—my dear avoidant. He put up a firm boundary with me for reasons of his own, but reasons that reflected back something that I have been desperately trying to get a grip on for years now—my fucking anxiety.
So, uh, hey! Let me call you up and offer you the gift of my dysregulation. Gross!
Now, granted, I have been dealing with some situations that are rightfully anxiety-inducing, however, that extreme dysregulation can also lead me to panic attacks, and it is as much of a habit as it is related to recent circumstances. Besides, what is under the anxiety? Sooo many fucking feelings!
I wonder if anxiety is really even a “feeling” of its own? When I tune into my breath and body and begin to soothe my nervousness, I often find anger, grief, fear, sadness, and even desire. It is all held in place by this sense of helplessness which frequently dissipates when I tend to my body and get curious about the sensations.
I have written this before: ”My anxiety is just me—vivid and tender.”
Now back to that text I sent this morning…
It was a song I had never heard that gave me those full-body chills; those indicate that my nervous system and subtle body is “lighting up.” And I thought of him, my dear avoidant. I once shared a song that this one reminds me of, and that is now one of our songs. That was my road trip song. This one will be my “Who needs church when you have this kind of music and mountains!” song. He’ll see the text when he sees it and one day we will listen to it together.
It was too good not to share, as is my whole bloody, over-feeling heart and wild woman’s soul. And ya know what, not only am I not anxious—I’m not avoiding myself any longer.