The Story of Us

 

What happens when you shoot two Sagittarius South Nodes in the butt with cupids arrow? You get two souls who spend their entire existence roaming the earth together in search of a home. That’s been us, since the day we left Chico, California where we met in college over ten years ago. It’s always been like that, every two years or so, the both of us get the idea to try something, somewhere new. Usually for me it’s been on the coattails of Mando’s jobs. They have been my safety net, what’s allowed me to go to cities where I might not otherwise go because I didn’t think I could rely on myself or my salary alone. It was easy for me to follow him and his jobs without ever really having to take a risk.

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Me and Mando in my college bedroom in Chico, California

But in January of 2018 the traveling pair I once belonged to, split after moving back to the same city where we met and fell in love. I saw the irony, as I drove down the no-so-secret road out of Chico, leaving my college town once again. It couldn’t have been more of a de ja vu-I was headed back to live at my Mom’s house only, she wouldn’t be there this time…

Our breakup wasn’t all that surprising though, conversation and well, overall life, prior to the breakup was not exactly going well. To be exact there had been three parent deaths, one chronic illness, an infidelity, financial and emotional dependency, an alcohol addiction (yet to be acknowledged), and a partridge in a pair tree. Well, everything except that last one. To make matters worse neither of us were aware the depth of trauma pain we’d endured individually and also as a couple.

Although I recall one particularly solum yet insightful day driving up north before moving to Chico, I declared in an exhausted haze, “If we keep fighting like this, we have to break up. It’s not healthy.” I was hungover, my face sticky and dry from the booze and from crying, my throat coarse from smoking pot to take the edge off the hangover.

Given the state of our relationship and the state of health and wellness I found myself in, it as no surprise I drove left our apartment in Chico and never looked back. I was however, thwarted by how cruel Mando was about our separation . How he’d said that he just couldn’t handle all my pain anymore, over the phone and how easy it seemed to be for him to move on. I didn’t realize until later that his cruel behavior mirrored that of avoidant-attached behavior. He was avoiding the pain of a more thoughtful breakup by being quick and heartless about it. 

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Mando and I at an art exhibit by Yayoi Kusama at the Prado Museum in Spain, 2011.

There was one good thing that came from all of this- I finally had something other than my Mom’s death to obsess over. I was almost happy to have the grief of the breakup take its place. Many times though it wasn’t grief I was feeling it was anger-anger at being abandoned, anger at being left to deal with my own life at such a difficult time during it. Anger at the lies, the betrayal, anger that I felt that I was just too much for him, my life, my problems were too much. Some of this anger was justified, some of it was displaced from not wanting to dedicate myself to my own reparenting.

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After moving back to my mom’s house to live with my sister and aunt, I spent a lot of hours agonizing over the breakup. At home, at work, with anyone who would listen. I would recount that ways he wronged me and hurt me over the years. How his cheating while he lived abroad in Nicaragua was part of the reason I was sick. How he was a narcissist, spoiled, sexist and held expectations too high for me fulfill. How he’d pulled away from me when I got sick and how could he do that? How could he never see me as a sick person with compassion and get angry at my limitations. It got to the point where it felt like the words were just pouring out of my mouth like word vomit. I couldn’t shut up about it or him…I realized that my behavior was extremely anxiously attached and that it didn’t really matter what he did, what mattered was how I was handling it because how I was handling it was greatly affecting my health-I went back to my old ways, drinking to numb out, slipping on my self care routines, not eating or sleeping enough.

But as time passed and I worked with my health coach and therapist to improve my nervous system health and mental state, things began to progress in other areas of my life.  I realized many of the things I felt about Mando were things I had felt about my Dad as well. Focusing on this allowed for less time to put toward bad-mouthing him although I still secretly ached to be with my best friend again and just wanted to understand why he cut me off in such a harsh way. But I had other things to worry about, I would have just a few months left at my mom’s house, a last summer there in the backyard in the sun amongst the beautiful landscape my aunt did, the last time sitting on the cold cement in the small part of the garage to cool off, the last time watching Stella the cat chase Poppy the dog around the green bush. The last time…

I slowly began to pack up my own things and what was left of my mom’s stuff and made plans for moving on. By my birthday at the end of June I found my own room in a place of my own and was starting to feel better about being alone. It was mercury retrograde and I had hired a health coach as a birthday gift to myself and we had just began sessions together. I really felt that I was on a healing path.

And then Mando called.

He wanted to apologize for how he’d acted, how he’d ended things. So I met up with him after work and he took me on his roof in the sunset and said everything I’d spent nights, devastated wishing he would say. That he was sorry, that I had been right about some things. We spent a couple of months trying to rekindle a torched flame before realizing that what we had was dead and gone. And thank god because it had become a toxic relationship. In a spiritual session recently with my highly intuitive health coach she described our past relationship as ‘wound-mates’ and her words hit me like a ton of bricks. Always going through something painful and reeling, I didn’t want to get back into a relationship like that.

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Mando and I on a hike after moving back to Chico, California in November 2018

 

He was leaving for Poland where he would live, write and teach, because he’d become tired of the grind in San Francisco. I still had my childhood home to pack up forever and sell in Concord nearby suburban city. Secretly I knew that if he went to Warsaw I could never be with him. I had a new boundary after my old pain as part of reparenting myself and that boundary was having people in my life who were there for me when I needed them. Mando had a history of not being there when I needed him to be, of getting uncomfortable in the presence of my pain and even if it was true that I didn’t always resolve it in the healthiest of ways, I deserved to have someone in my life who could hold it without shame. I deserved to have my love, compassion and affection reciprocated.

I was staying at a friends house dog-sitting when Mando came to say goodbye before going to Poland. I cried as I walked my friends small dog home leaving him at BART to disappear down the steps and out of my life. But it wasn’t long before he contacted me from Poland and we began talking again regularly. We were speaking with honesty, for once, and it felt good because we ended without me really understanding where he was coming from. I better understand how us breaking up made sense for him at the time and that he had every right to do what was best for him, his life and his health. It was  the cruel way he went about that really tore through me leaving what I thought to be irreparable damage. We talked about how his behavior allowed for a safe way out for him without having to be honest about secrets he was still keeping. We talked about how his was avoidant-attached behavior, we’d both learned from reading the book Attached. Making me of course, the anxious-attached in the relationship. I was happy that he was taking interest in the materials I was using to reparent and heal myself. I knew that if I were to have him in my life he would have to be open to healing as well.

We were both going through a tough time, me selling my mom’s home, him getting accustomed to a new country. We were also both dealing with challenging living arrangements and alcoholism. We chatted and commiserated, he sent me pics of the vegan food he was eating out at European cafes, because of my influence. It flattered me and I had FOMO but not the kind that was devastating which I was grateful for and fit felt like real growth to me. It was nice to see but I didn’t need to be there. I didn’t miss him like I thought I would. I didn’t need to be with him.

We discussed in depth how alcoholism had so deeply touched our lives without us realizing it, he shared clips of his apartment, the dry erase board in his room where he scribbled illegible notes about us, poetry and European. We talked about how him keeping his TRUTH from me manifested in not only my illness but as terrible skin problems which miraculously disappeared once he told me the full and entire truth of his infidelity. He listened about how hard it felt to give up my mom’s home, my childhood home and he told me how older Polish women were randomly shouting at him in the streets since he’d been there.

 

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Mando and I inside an art installation also by Yayoi Kusama this time at The Broad Museum in LA summer 2019.

 

The sell date for my mom’s house was getting closer, I had done most of the packing on my own and with the help of my amazing aunt Loretta. But I needed more physical help, and honestly, emotional support as well to finish such a feat. I’d told Mando about how I needed the help and after becoming fed up with his living arrangements, he flew back to California one night, unplanned and drove to my hometown a few days later to help me pack up and move out of my mom’s house. 

After finding out from my friend that I couldn’t stay at their place closer to work, I was left with little options. I had friends in other cities I cold stay with, I would have to quit my job which I wasn’t so attached to so that was OK but I was unsure of what my financial situation would look like. While we were packing up boxes Mando offered what he had once before soon after my Mom died which was to stay with his Mom in her house up in Northern California. I was hesitant but with one day left to decided where to go, decided to take him up on his offer. The car ride up we laid out boundaries. My first firm boundary was that we go to couples therapy. Some others were centered on more independent time and making sure we had our own separate support systems.

An astrologer recently told me that if I’d asked him five years ago, there’s no way we’d be together but that because we both went through and are still experiencing massive transformations of our own, we are a better fit for each other. He said that at this point we have have been able to work through many challenging times. And WORK is the keyword of focus throughout this relationship. We have to work make things work. This can feel kind of exhausting sometimes. Especially now as I feels so many things coming to fruition in my life, big changes and massive shifts in independence and on the work and spiritual front for myself.

I’ve questioned whether it is right for me to get back together with someone who could so easily take advantage of my kind heart. I’ve wondered if I will become overly dependent again. The same astrologer who did the reading I mentioned earlier brought up our controlling nature over one another and said as long as we reigned that in we could succeed. I see that playing out today in our relationship when we’re focusing enough on our own things, career, relationships outside of us-we tend to do so much better. During the spiritual session I mentioned earlier, it was also said that, “Ashley is more Ashley with Mando.” My heart warmed after I heard this and I knew that as long as this reigned true for me, our relationship could succeed.

When it comes down to it though, the truth is, I don’t know how it will all end up. I don’t know if he’s going to cheat again. I don’t know if I’ll drink and rage again. I do know that we’re both trying our best to be honest with ourselves and with each other. I know that becoming aware of and healing the wounds of our parents, is a start. I know that I have a healthier nervous system now and am more securely attached than I was before. Something I worked on with my health coach through reparenting. It’s important for me to share aspects of my romantic relationship as a health coach not because it makes me feel comfortable, it’s actually pretty uncomfortable sharing this story, but because it has everything to do with healing my endometriosis. Part of the reason I became sick is because I was putting all of my energy into my romantic relationship and because I didn’t have the TRUTH about my own relationship. I’ve learned how important it is to my health to work through challenging issues in my close, personal relationships.

I know that continuing to create and uphold boundaries is a part of the necessary act of daily reparenting required to make my relationships flourish. I know that allowing myself or anyone else to cross those boundaries takes me away from the best and healthiest version of myself. A self I worked hard for. A self I’ve fallen in love with. Most importantly, I have support to hold me accountable to these boundaries when I find it hard to keep them. Living a life based on secrets, shame and lies may have set me up for a life of dishonesty and even for a life of chronic illness, but if there is one thing I have realized after all the grief, loss and pain I’ve experienced it’s that anything can heal.

 

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