One of the darker times in my life came after the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. It was the end of Albuquerque’s Pride weekend, a celebration of togetherness and community, but I quickly found myself feeling more isolated than ever. In times of tragedy, healthy people lean on others for support. I didn’t do that.
After a year of shutting out everybody who tried to care about me, I had nobody left to talk to. My best friend was in another city and my parents were in another state. All my friends were seeking solace with their families, their close friends, and their lovers, while I was attempting to drown out the collective sobs of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters with my one true love — work.
But misery doesn’t just love company, it needs it to heal. After a couple days of denial, I fell apart. All I wanted was a hug. I chose to seek comfort in people I thought were sure to know exactly how I felt: other gay men. Not quite finished with my poor life choices, I chose to connect with them on Grindr. I can say with great confidence that one-night flings with strangers will do nothing to fix loneliness.
After the experience, I chose to abandon my independent, icy facade, and began connecting with my friends on a deeper level. I told them about what I’d been through during my abusive relationship. I told them I was bipolar and, for the first time in my life, admitted out loud that I was scared of what that meant for my life. I asked them for hugs, opinions, kind words, and inclusion. It paid off and I soon felt as loved and cared for as I ever had. I felt like I had a team who would go to bat for me. I felt like I belonged.
I opened my eyes to how much I needed to be around people who loved me. About a month later, I moved in order to live with my best friend. Six months after that, I met a man who would soon become my boyfriend. We’ve since moved in together, adopted a kitten, set joint goals, and even talked about kids and marriage someday. My life looks dramatically different than it did one year ago. I’ve learned to open up and show my vulnerability. I’ve even sobbed my eyes out while watching Steel Magnolias in front of him without feeling judged. I feel loved, supported, and connected.
I still talk to my best friend almost every day and I never go more than a week without talking to my parents. I’m now working as part of a team of more than 40 people and get to interact with my co-workers constantly.
But sometimes I still fall apart.
The Sting of Abandonment
The first article I wrote for Talkspace was about adjusting to the idea of being in a healthy relationship when all you’ve known is abuse and pain. It’s a scary concept to let someone in. It’s even scarier when you start to expect a certain standard of behavior. He’s always been open, honest, and upfront about his feelings. One afternoon, however, he let me down, and I forgot how to act in response.
Since meeting, we’ve had two arguments. One was fueled by a lack of sleep, starvation, a touch of heat stroke, and a nicotine craving, so we’ll focus on the other. This one involved hours of seething silence, uncontrollable sobbing, and an evacuation plan. He’d failed to explain a boundary to me, so when I crossed it, he snapped at me. I misinterpreted the situation. Rather than asking for clarification, I got angry, passive-aggressive, and silent. I don’t know about you, but I know what silent rage does to me and my thoughts.
I felt alone again, but this time feeling like I belonged to a group couldn’t fix it. I didn’t need my best friend, my co-workers, or my family. I only wanted to feel like my partner loved me.
Faith Hill talked about it in “Cry.” Cassadee Pope touched on it in “I Wish I Could Break Your Heart.” I craved a sign that told me he took me seriously. He didn’t show that sign. He was aggressively “fine” while I boiled over. It’s easy to feel abandoned by your partner when he or she chooses to put on a brave, stoic face while you lose your mind.
We got a moment alone and I immediately lashed out. I told him I was hurt, that I’d felt slighted and mistreated. When he shut down my attempt at a conversation, it felt like we were hopeless and trapped in a situation with no resolution. I was angry, and it seemed like he didn’t even care enough about me to be angry in return. A couple of hours later, when he tried to strike up a conversation about dinner, I snapped and begged him to “go be fine somewhere else.”
Eventually, I ended up crying on his shoulder and word-vomiting all the bad feelings I’d had that day. He explained his side with patience and fairness. That was enough to help me feel better. Still, it scares me that I can so easily slip back into the dark emotional spaces I thought I’d clawed out of. I know he loves me, and I’m mortified by how easy it was to convince myself otherwise.
I wish I could say that I’ve overcome my feelings of loneliness, my fear of abandonment, and all my other issues. In particular, I wish I could claim I’ve battled the demons on my own and learned to keep them at bay with positive self-reflection. But I haven’t. Therapy has helped, but sometimes I still doubt I ever will.
I still assume the worst when it comes to conflict. I still begin mentally preparing to pack my bags when voices get louder and faces turn red. I don’t know if that will ever change or if I’ll ever stop escalating to hysterics in a heartbeat when my heart starts breaking. If you’re in my boat, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing at least that I’m right there with you.
What I do know: I am more willing to open up about my feelings to the people around me. All the people in my life have proved I can trust them to be responsible, kind, and patient. They have shown that they take me and my suffering seriously, as seriously as my therapist. Most importantly, they’ve shown that they’ll stick around, even when things get rough.
Someday, I hope that I’ll be able to remember this even during the worst of times. Until then, I’ll rely on the moments of reassurance that come after the storm. It’s beautiful to give thanks for the people who show and prove their love.
As my boyfriend likes to say, life would be boring if we were always happy. Without loneliness, we wouldn’t know how it feels to belong and be at peace.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Premium Community.
Photo: Getty Images
(via The Good Men Project)