This post will be the first of a mini-series so stay tuned…
Hi, I’m Alexa and I’m a recovering addict. My drug of choice was…relationships, and I was addicted to them and rarely without one for most of my 20’s. A few times I was even offered something more potent than a relationship—a marriage proposal. But that was always the point when I’d cut off emotionally and walk away. So when Alex, my now-husband, proposed, I had no idea what I was about to go through in actually accepting and wanting to get married. And what happened was that I lost my shit.
Our relationship was fast-moving and fiercely passionate from the start. There was very little inhibition or caution. Both of us had some pretty sizable wounds from past relationships, but we were two similar souls, with flames burning so brightly that it was impossible to see the darkness that did indeed lurk in our depths. Nothing was going to stop us from having the kind of love we had held out for as lifelong romantics and dreamers.
We were consumed by and with one another. We never tired of each other’s presence, spending nearly all of our free time together. We were lovers, buddies, road trip warriors, music makers and enthusiasts, adventurers, talk-until-the-sun-comes-up-a-la-sal-and-dean-from-on-the-road kind of crazy 20-somethings. We loved intensely, and we fought intensely….our suppressed pasts spilling out into the open as we navigated the many phases of our relationship—acquaintances, dating, love, long-distance relationship, cohabitation. We had never felt so vulnerable and exposed, and we were terrified. But, we kept going.
I had survived past relationships with hefty doses of suppression, denial, and dishonesty. Sure, there were the occasional blow-ups that mostly looked like me trying (and failing) to explain the pain I was feeling so intensely, sobbing uncontrollably, and then the inevitable stand-off that would last anywhere from a few hours to a few days….to a few weeks in the later part of my dating history. In comparison to the version of myself that I would uncover once I started dating Alex, the old me was quite adept at swallowing her emotions and making sure no one, not even herself, was privy to their whereabouts.
I had never experienced something as wild, tumultuous or expressive as I experienced with Alex. The first few months were your standard bliss-fest and arguments seemed so impossible to imagine ever happening (remember those conversations you had when you first started dating someone like, “I can’t imagine ever fighting with you. I mean what in the world would we have to fight about?!….um, EVERYTHING). The bliss quickly melted into a real relationship, but our spark was unendingly ablaze. Reality was no match for our crazy kind of love. And so, that December, on our one-year anniversary, Alex asked me to marry him. It was the single-most perfect moment of my life.
With the exception of a ring on my finger and conversations about wedding plans, everything felt the same…until it didn’t.
I had been so restrained, so closed-up and controlled before Alex. Occasionally, I would fall to pieces while alone, but mostly I spent my time keeping it together so the world outside would not see the mess that I felt inside. Alex changed that. My well-honed relationship tactics and coping mechanisms were totally obvious and unusable on him. He asked what I was thinking and feeling, and would not let up until a real answer erupted from somewhere deep within me. We had met our alter egos. We were the same, but in opposite gender bodies (or so we used to say). We could not hide from one another at all. And so, the truth finally came flying out of all the suppressed corners of our beings. And my emotions became completely out of control. I was explosive and unpredictable.
I suddenly found myself with an enormous past that demanded to be addressed and healed on or before my wedding day. For starters, my parents divorced when I was in first grade. Their relationship was incredibly turbulent and left me with memories that still wake me up panicked and afraid in the middle of the night. But then, there was also the string of subsequent marriages/long-term relationships/engagements that they dragged me through. Relationships have been forming and dissolving around me all my life. How could someone like me make a relationship, let alone a marriage, work? How could I be happy without ever being shown a roadmap? I hadn’t been taught to communicate, to cooperate, to love unconditionally, to be loyal or committed.
But, I had one thing that I had been clinging to since I was a kindergartener. While most kids were busy playing, I was busy thinking. And one of the earliest memories I have of actually sitting alone, pondering life in my bedroom, was a promise that I made to myself. I was sad and scared, and I didn’t like what was going on between my parents downstairs. So I decided in that moment, with afternoon sunlight streaming across my blue and white flowered Laura Ashley wall paper, that I would never have their life. Of course, all of this was on a rudimentary level, but I have a very distinct memory of when this thought began and the many times I repeated it to myself until I was an adult. I still repeat this to myself.
Along with the wounds of divorce, my childhood also left me incredibly codependent thanks to generations upon generations of alcoholics and codependents occupying my life. This issue alone had left me feeling completely incapable of maneuvering even the most basic parts of daily life. I had known nothing but a diseased, unhealthy, warped, addictive way of living from the time I was born. When I left my home, just a month after I turned eighteen, I was not only faced with the task of adjusting to the independence of college, but also began to learn all the lessons—how to behave, and be, and interact with others—that I should have learned as a child. I made many, many….many mistakes along the way. My mistakes and codependence, of course, were most notable in the romance department—Alex was no exception. But, I was so aware of myself with Alex that I began really dealing with these issues. I had been a recovering codependent for ten years prior to our relationship, but I was now on some crazy, fast track to health, which was incredibly relieving and empowering, but incredibly messy.
An epic story all its own, my surfacing issues also had a ripple effect throughout my life leaving me temporarily estranged from my family, adding to the pain of already being motherless.
So, here I was, engaged and planning a wedding by myself with an overwhelming number of ghosts lurking in the shadows of my insides. Ironically, the fact that all of this began to make itself known to me was a positive. It was a positive, because I was really, truly healing at last. And it was a positive, because I was with Alex. I had never felt safe, loved unconditionally, or totally supported before so I relied on so many coping mechanisms that allowed me to look like I had my shit together. I didn’t need to cope with Alex. I was finally able to let go.
Regardless of the positives, though, my
mini enormous breakdown was hard to bear—for me, and for Alex. I had to fall apart to somehow become whole, it felt like the only way. And fall apart I did.
I had been going to upwards of five support groups a week since just after Alex proposed in December. I was totally dedicated to my recovery and my efforts felt like enough until summer came around. The closer we got to the wedding, which was planned for October, the more anxious I became. I begged Alex to elope numerous times. While Alex clung to the idea of all our friends and family gathering to celebrate, I was sure that was exactly what would push me over the edge to a place I feared with my entire being. I began to have panic attacks, often daily.There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. I started to feel unstable in a way that frightened Alex to such a degree that one hot day in July, he suggested we call off our wedding and reschedule it for a date yet to be determined. I felt like I had failed in that moment, like I was so broken that it was just too much to ask anyone to love me. But, Alex did. Although I spent the rest of that day sobbing, and thrashing underneath the covers of my bed in complete disbelief, it was a turning point. Alex and I started couple’s therapy the following week, and I started on a cocktail of medication.
We spent almost three months in therapy. After our first appointment things felt bleak and we weren’t sure how we were going to get through such a challenging time. It felt like we had invited a third party in to add to the already long list of issues we knew we had, and though she never said it, we feared she didn’t believe we should get married. But, at some point in the midst of hours upon days upon weeks of talking, we saw the light. We suddenly worked through what had felt impossible so quickly, because we were ready and because we worked hard. Where we could have folded, we found strength. And it became abundantly clear to all three of us in that tiny corner office with the uncomfortable, musty old couch, that we were ready to get married.
The night before our wedding I had three different pills lined up on my nightstand, I had lost a noticeable amount of hair and weight, and my eyes were dark and tired. I was far from looking my best. But, the next day was the most effortless and joyful day of my life. As much as I had hoped to look my most beautiful on my wedding day, there was beauty in my resilience, and the resilience of my relationship with Alex. I hadn’t experienced my engagement the way I had once envisioned, but it had a purpose. Where we once carried glossy daydreams, we found real life. It ultimately created a relationship that was steady, healthy, and that could stand up to the challenges we would face in the coming years.