What Does Heartbreak Mean to You?
What does first heartbreak mean to you? How do you classify it? Is it something you tuck away into the lover file? The boy or girl who didn’t pinch you back in elementary school? Or perhaps the boy or girl in high school who smashed you into a million pieces by sleeping with your best friend? Maybe that marriage that went rancid and turned into the most demoralizing scandal of your life?
But what if it started way before any other had a chance? What if it all began with a parent? A guardian, a protector, a defender of your livelihood?
The person or persons you did not choose but were chosen for you through the cosmic fate of the universe. Here is where I am at. And here is where I commence.
My life hasn’t always been hard and my life hasn’t always been easy, but it was hard enough to make things that are supposed to be easy, hard. I wish I could say I was “born this way” and that I could really buy into the stock, but I can’t because I know that’s not accurate. I know that at my primary state of being, I was born to love but bred to fear, bred to expect constant disappointment, chaos, and turmoil.
The way the coin works is that some children have it breezy growing up and some children experience volcanic eruptions from day to day. It’s cruelly beautiful and justifiably unfair, and we are all trained to say “that’s life” and turn the other cheek.
As you may have guessed, I have spent more hours than I like to admit comparing apples to oranges and trying to pick apart why the cards really never fell in my favor. Or why I was placed where I was placed. Or why I didn’t get nurture and love. Or why I was so lucky to not be raped or beat day in and day out by a fist. Or why I was not a wanted child. Or why I was verbally abused by an unhinged alcoholic Vietnam veteran. Or why I got everything I wanted materialistic wise. Or why my own Mother just sat back and watched my entire childhood in a hamster wheel of fear and blame.
I am an unfit parent – blame the child.
I am suffering – blame the child.
I can’t stop drinking – blame the child.
My marriage is not working – blame the child.
I can’t enhance her creativity – blame the child.
She has too many interests – blame the child.
Everything in my life that does not make sense is because of this child. This child that I had for someone else. This child that I worked so hard for to save my previous marriage. This child that just exists—this child that I simply do not know how to love.
This child who always asks me if she was adopted.
This child who knows that something is not right here.
This child who will agonize until she can no longer take it.
Until my child breaks.
And break I did.
I am currently in The Cheesecake Factory at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Looking at my 12-year-old self in the bathroom mirror hoping that I am still alive. I stare down at my hands and they slow shutter at every wave. My heart is racing like nothing I have ever felt before and the room begins to close in.
I can’t swallow, I can’t breathe. What is this elephant sitting on my chest and suffocating me from the inside out? Why do my hands now feel like they are being pricked by sewing needles and why are my toes starting to hurt in my shoes? Are my ankles about to give out? I need help. I think—I mean, I know—I am dying.
I stumble back to the table where my family is gathered and sit, hoping it’s just a case of vertigo from the flu I had a few days prior. Sounds start to intensify and yet, I have told no one. I reach for a packet of sugar and dump it into my water. Maybe my blood sugar is low? Wait, how do I know about blood sugar being low? I am 12. My friend Mallory has diabetes. That’s how I know. Chug the water, it’s going to cure you. I can’t finish the water; I can hardly sip it. Just tell someone. They are used to you “ruining everything.”
I look to my right and whisper, “Mom, I can’t breathe. Something is wrong. I am sick” as my family chatters around me. She questions me. Disorientated, I repeat to myself, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I am dying.” We get up and rush away with no time to explain. I can barely walk at this point as she is essentially dragging me through the casino and down the strip to our hotel room.
“Laurel, you’re having a panic attack. This is a panic attack,” my Mother confidently mutters. I don’t understand. I am 12. At this point I am hyperventilating as we cross the hallway to the final destination. With the tears I can shed between gasping for air I scream, “What is a panic attack? I am scared. I am so scared.” As it exacerbates, they call the Hotel Doctor, and I am administered a tranquilizer by needle. Finally, my eyes are heavy as I fall into a shaking sleep.
Morning comes, and I am awake. I am in a second panic attack. My Mother won’t be leaving the room our entire weekend vacation and neither will I. She sits in a chair staring at me, then reads a magazine, then stares at me some more. She occasionally comes to my bedside and lays by me, but it’s clear I am an inconvenience. I have terrified questions and no energy to comprehend the brushed-off explanations I am given. I am lost as I slowly start my journey into the ether. God, if I only knew what my fate was.
Day three, a Sunday, time to head home. I overhear my Mother telling my Step-Father she will be taking me to see the doctor on Monday to ease my nervous. Ease, my, nerves. Okay.
Driving down the long interstate watching the desert, the trees, the clouds, the cars pass me by, I am more afraid than I have ever been. And I had witnessed a few years prior, my own Step-Father try to break down the door to their room while I sat on the other side, in a blue velvet chair, on my Mother’s lap, crying and defecating my pants because I was convinced he was going to kill us. I digress.
Monday is groggy—my Mother has given me a “thing” called “Xanax” to tide me over until I can see the doctor. The car parks and I am startled out of my conscious black out. It’s bright, it’s hot, and I just want to sleep. The elevator goes up, the doors open—I am still glaring at this point to deflect all the lights as we walk into our Family Doctors office. Dr. Lee is my Mother’s, my Step-Father’s and my Grandmother’s physician and he’s a kind, gentle homosexual man, who knows more than he should about our little “family.”
It’s time to head into the examination room. The gray table awaits me and my Mother takes a seat in the black chair a few feet away. I sit frightened. As soon as I see his face, I let out another series of tears. I explain my symptoms and how I feel as though I have suddenly been detached from reality. He leaves the room to return with a piece of paper and a pen. I look at him perplexed as he smiles with doubt and says, “this is a test, I want to you to answer it honestly and please, don’t hold back.”
Still thrown, I read the questions and want to light the sheet on fire with the heat burning inside of my heart.
I might be young, but I am not ignorant. I am so unsettled. Am I damaged? Will anyone ever want to be around me?
I check my last box and warily hand it off. No comments from my Mother as she watches this all unfold. More of the power glaze of discontentment. Here we go.
I focus on the lips of Dr. Lee as he softly speaks to my Mother: “Laurel is suffering from major depressive and anxiety disorder. And you know why she is like this, you know why she is falling apart, you are stripping her of her life.”
I bite my lip and feel my nose twitch as I hold back a cataclysm of emotion. Watching her, daring her to speak with my eyes. What will she say…will she save me or will she throw me to the wolves.
What will Mother do?
Crying and perfidiously astonished, she mumbles, “I can’t leave him. What would my Father say? I can’t leave him.”
PAUSE. DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? Yes.
My world obliterated in seconds and my mind swirling in another galaxy. This is what a first real heartbreak feels like. This is it. So, now what?
What does this mean for my well-being? How do I get better when things won’t be getting better? I can’t escape. My Grandparents are just as gnarly. My older Sister is a raging alcoholic. My own Father pretends I don’t exist and is preoccupied with his new family. My friends can’t take me in—I am not old enough. Foster care would be even more awful. Running away would leave me on the streets. I am not ready to kill myself yet. Or maybe I am? What’s the alternative? Someone tell me. I am still only 12.
Let’s try this new medication on her, “Prozac,“ for the depression and “Xanax” for the anxiety. I mean, she is only 100 pounds and just starting puberty, and this all still very new so let’s put her on an adult dose—what’s the worst that could happen?
Cut to 19 years later.
With no relationship with Mother and Step-Father and a partner who only wanted to save me…
I recount. I recount it all.
19 years of misery. 19 years of trying to escape. 19 years of guilt. 19 years of addiction. 19 years of breaking everyone around me the way they broke me. 19 years of robotic function. 19 years of not knowing how to love. 19 years of questioning anyone who got too close. 19 years of sabotage. 19 years of burden. 19 years of disgust. 19 years of being a prisoner in my own mind. 19 years of wishing I could remember decent times because I know they exist. 19 years of not knowing how to be human. 19 years that took me from a good hearted, kind, sensitive child to a jaded, unstable, loose cannon that cursed the world for all of its shortcomings. And 19 years of internalizing my torment and ennui with myself.
I lay in bed on the brink of departure. Drinking and puking. Drinking and puking. Drinking and puking. Wishing for death. Begging that the next sip just takes me out. I was spared, again. I still don’t know why, but I was. I came to and was given another chance. I was finally going to be pure.
19 years of being on something whether it was Xanax, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Marijuana, Alcohol, Cocaine–I was with it. I tried repetitively to get clean and time and time again, I failed. If I wasn’t drinking at the time, I was secretly popping pills, and if I wasn’t popping pills, I was drinking all the time. And sometimes, I did both.
I lied to so many people about so many things because there was no way I wanted to brave this life without being numb or remembering how I got here. And what I needed was positive attention because all I ever really remember was negative. I needed to be praised for the things I was/wasn’t doing but would be shamed on for the secrets I kept. When I said I was fine, I meant I was falling apart. When I said things were great and looking up, I had my head buried down. When I said I didn’t need help, I cried to my walls to save me. When I said I loved you, I knew I would lose you. When I said I was happy, I was writing suicide notes in my mind. I, was, a, ticking, time, bomb, waiting to be lit.
As I braved my journey of sobriety, I had this crazy thought that now life would be perfect. That everything would go exactly the way I wanted because I had finally rid my system of all things. I thought confidently, “I can be my authentic self. I can live open and honest and this weight will be lifted.”
Oh, was I fucking wrong.
That heartbreak I experienced as a child molded me in such a way that it didn’t matter how sober I was, I had some serious issues to bash through. As more and more days went by, the more I saw my behaviors, my actions, my choices, my reactivity, my fear, my grief, my anger, my always-on mind, my constant investigation of trust, my hindrance, my stagnate leveling, my lack of understanding boundaries, my inability to let anyone in and my rollercoaster of juxtaposition.
Now more than ever, I felt infected, malignant and downright dented. As I started to fall through my “pink” cloud, I was being devoured by my trauma and decided, as a coward, to purposely sabotage my then-relationship with a person who had so kindly took me back after a repulsive blackout. Which, in present day, I still have no recollection of.
I was sober, single, spinning out of control, thinking of all the ways I could have done things differently. I began rationalizing how my past could really have led me to such destruction, and why was I allowing it. And how I could impede it. After losing my mind for months, I started to make moves. All the moves in the world except the right ones, that is.
I was suddenly feeling pretty solid and ultimately made peace with loss of my partner. Even knowing that she had met and fallen in love with another. I was genuinely happy for her and was on a decent track. But something was still missing…it wasn’t her, it wasn’t loneliness, it wasn’t friendships, it wasn’t attention. It was phantom.
So I tried something else.
I changed jobs, and I met someone new. I know now that it was only I running from what inevitably needed to happen. The start of the healing process of years and years and years of confusion, loss and that choice my Mother made so long ago. But I lost track. It was what I had been trained to do. To cover up, deny, replace—whatever you want to call it.
“Just don’t deal with it head on, pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Nonetheless, I was convinced I landed my dream job and, even more convinced, my dream partner. And that all those things would cure me. Life was great. I was learning so many things at work, falling deeply in love with my new partner, enjoying friendships and genuinely at ease. For a moment at least. Then all at once, everything started to pull to pieces.
My former employer began emotionally abusing me to the point that I could not think for myself, and I had no idea who I was and felt every trigger from my past slap me in the face. I could not form sentences around him, I could not remember things out of fear, I could not breathe the closer I got to work in the mornings, I could not think for myself, I could not use my talents, I could not live my life without demeaning comments and it sucked the soul right out of my ass in the blink of an eye.
Because I hadn’t yet shed the coat of my Step-Father, another layer was added. I was so confused yet wasn’t willing to give up on him. So I stayed. I stayed because I thought perhaps if I changed my perspective or if I catered to him more or if I silenced myself and praised him, he would throw me some crumbs. He would finally do right by me—a thought I always had growing up because I endlessly needed my parents’ love, attention, and approval, even when they spat on me.
I endured so much word-lashing from my former employer and kept half of it hidden. Out of embarrassment? Or out of trepidation? Out of shell shock? I am not sure.
But what I am sure of is the more and more I lost my confidence and my will to push through, I internalized it all yet again. In return, I started to fail my relationship. I doubted reality so passionately, I started doubting her and projected all the things I was not telling her onto her. I, yet again, convinced myself that love was not meant for me. That this woman did not love me.
And I gave up long before we split up. I stopped being the person she met. In a matter of a month or so, things drastically took a dip because it had gotten so bad in my head and in my heart. And G-d bless her, she tried to snap me out of it, she tried to push me into therapy, she tried to get me painting and creative again, she tried. And I just faded away with the clouds. Because that is where I lived.
I knew that in this state, I could never be her person, even if I loved every drop of her. But I still wasn’t willing to face it. I plotted my escape, which consisted of My Famous Sabotage Maneuver, because I am never brave enough to leave first. I fought her even though deep down I loved her so. fucking. much. I investigated, I questioned, I blew a fuse, I became the coward I despise. We ended, and I got my wish.
And even though it was what I wanted, it was not what I really wanted. But, you see, it’s all I know. I never saw a relationship growing up that wasn’t devastating. Bowing out gracefully was something I did not know how to do. And as I look back, I have many things to tell her that I won’t get to. Because I didn’t deal with my baggage sooner.
But then one day something happened. I sat with my face in hands and I got up to go to work and I knew it would be the last time. As I walked out of the office, I realized I was now unemployed and going through the loss of another person that really loved me. I had a series of moments. First panic, then relief, then melancholy, then empowerment. It was like everything I needed to do and all the information I needed to receive surged through me like an electric volt. And the only way to do this was to do this and do it with no regret and no one else’s authority.
I found a therapist. I saw a psychiatrist. I was told I had anxiety disorder (obviously). And I was given a new diagnosis: ADHD.
I told my Doctor my feelings toward medication, as it had shattered so many years of my life prior but that I was willing to do whatever it takes this time, to take another look at it as an Adult. And as long it was done properly and I felt zero- to minimal-side effects, I was in. I timidly asked him, “Am I like this because of early trauma?” And he said, “Most likely, but with time and help, you will feel relief.”
I took a deep breath and all at once in a rapid fire, I played into my dialogue of “what if they didn’t fuck me up;” “what if I was dosed accurately at a younger age;” “what if I had been diagnosed properly;” “what if I hadn’t had been so stubborn and not self-medicated with drugs and alcohol for so long?” “what if someone had actually cared enough to find the core of my struggle?;” “why didn’t I care enough?”
As he wrote my prescriptions, I looked up the real symptoms of ADHD and I laughed because I laugh when I am unconformable and said, “Well, if only I knew this sooner, a lot of people’s heart would have been spared and my ex-partner wouldn’t think I am totally lunatic.”
He smirked and eased my disposition:
“Laurel, you aren’t a lunatic. You are a trauma survivor and with willingness and the proper tools, you will find your voice.”
I did my typical bobbing of my head with one deep exhale and stood up and hugged him. As I walked out with my medication and the idea that Western practice goes against everything I believe in, I thought, “What the hell—worth a shot.”
Within a week I was different. I was getting out of bed, I was working out, I was finding my passions again, I was calm, I was focused, I could sleep through the night, I could pinpoint single thoughts and communicate, I was laughing, and I was light. But remember, drugs aren’t miracle workers, they don’t solve every life issues in our book. I have definitely had moments of anger, sadness, and pain throughout this whole deep dive into my nutshell. Sometimes I want to scream and blame, but most times, I work through it in a healthier way. Ways I never knew I was capable of.
I also found my art again and it spews out of me like lava—I couldn’t even stop if I tried. I make things, I sell things, I channel things, I uncover things, I realize dark and light things, I use my heartbreaks from start to finish. And yes, sometimes I make choices that I regret and then I make choices that I am so proud of.
I am in place now of acknowledging my faults as assets. And taking ownership of my own form of abuse on others. I apologize when I can, and I genuinely mean it. I am not seeking anything but to cleanse my soul of what was placed on me and what I allowed to continue. I grant closure and answers to those who need that from me. I tell people my true feelings on matters.
I do not allow people to walk all over me or get away with doing something that hurts my feelings. I flat out ask the questions that need to be asked to avoid games.
I do not withhold how I am feeling. If I am sad, I am sad. If I am happy, I am happy. If I need space, I take space. If you need space, I give you space. If you need a friend, I am here. If you are wicked, I am gone.
If I am not your cup of tea, I suggest you find coffee.
If you want more than I can give, I will tell you. If you want to know my story, there won’t be any gaps.
If you think I am crazy, let’s take a walk to psych ward—I will show you crazy.
If you don’t like how I express myself, don’t look. If you have things to tell me, tell me and I will listen. If you want to judge, do that silently. If you want to be my friend, ask me how I am doing. If you can relate, please share with me. If you want to love me, just ask how.
I am all in. I am fragile, I am wounded, I am brave, I am sensitive, I am strong, and I am kind. My armor of self-preservation has finally been cracked. And I am never looking back even if I trip along the way.
All it takes is a choice to change and everything else will fall into place as long as you stick to your word. As long as you believe you deserve what is meant for you. And I promise you, misery is not meant for you. Freedom of invisible weight is.