the agony aunt’s secret

I spout a lot of advice, particularly relationship advice, because I have been about as fucked-up as they come. Never outright abusive, but with distinct potential. Never a cheater, either; it was probably the one clear truth to me, that cheating is WRONG, before I got my shit together.

You would call what I did “getting treatment for borderline personality disorder”. You would be right.

The circumstances of my initial diagnosis with BPD are sketchy — I still think the psychiatrist said it because I was refusing mood stabilizers — but as it happened, that was part of what was wrong with me. (Tack on depression, panic disorder, and anxiety.) Someone called an ambulance on me because I’d blogged, the night before, about a way to kill myself.* It was go with the ambulance or go in the police car; I picked the ambulance, because I forgot that those cost big bucks and thought the EMTs were nicer than the fuzz. Fast forward through a pretty miserable afternoon-turned-evening waiting to be evaluated. End result: I wound up in a day program at the hospital. For all of a week, because I seriously could not cope with Linehan and DBT. Still. I was supervised. Pissed, but supervised. I think the healthiest part of my stint there was the afternoon I spent reading medical journals in the little library down the hall.

Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars or picking at oneself (excoriation).

And did it go on? Did it ever. I stopped making noises about suicide… because I had learned it was not going to benefit me. I resumed starving myself, hoping I’d drop dead. I’d been cutting before; that didn’t stop, either. The last scar is still there, white against the blue of a vein in my right elbow. Auntie Cass in the bathtub with a razorblade to, I recall, the tune of “Days of Future Passed”. 2008. A difficult play. (A difficult playwright.)

A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation . . . markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

I may have mentioned elsewhere that I didn’t see my natural hair color for about a decade. It’s no coincidence that whenever my identity shifted, I went to the salon. I’d been trying on selves since I was thirteen or fourteen. Before that, I didn’t feel I was much of anybody. Once I decided to be somebody, I had to figure out who to be. This is common enough to adolescents, as are fashion fads and blunders**. It stops, though, as naturally as it comes on. It never stopped with me. I was always looking for a new start, especially since I left a trail of drama wherever I went.

Oh, did I ever.

I have made a lot of apologies over the last four years, each one warranted. To the man whose career I could’ve derailed, a long one. To the man with the unstable girlfriend, a “live and let live”. In the van on the way home from one of my more devious failed plots, an abject “oh shit, I just used one of my few unconditional friends, please don’t go away, I’m very sorry”. (In reverse order, forgiven, “okay, but let’s never get in touch again”, added on Facebook. Huh.) Many more for many offenses; these are just the ones that stick out. That says a lot about the chaos I caused.

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

Ann at MCC taught me about boundaries. The concept was entirely new to me. I didn’t know when to stop sticking my nose into other people’s business, or what constituted other people’s business, for that matter. On the flip side, I let people have a lot more of me than I could safely give. I damaged myself by letting people in to damage me, or forcing my way in to damage them. I’m not blaming myself, exactly, but I might have avoided a lot of hurt if I hadn’t been so desperate to belong to someone. I almost violated my cardinal rule, and that was the cold bucket of water to the face. I was ready to let a man cheat on his wife with me.***

Ann taught me. It just didn’t sink in for about a year. Then it sank hard and never left me again.

Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood . . . Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger[.]

Which is not to say I was cured. I just woke up to my own sickness. “Cure” is asking a lot. But I can manage it now. I have firm boundaries because they keep me healthy and offer me an opportunity to check my thinking. I still have to be careful when it comes to emotions, especially anger. Am I feeling or am I having mood swings? Am I legitimately angry? More and more, I am genuinely feeling. The anger is justified. (Um. That came out weird.) I still have to fight the urge to hit people. I don’t always win. But I’m ashamed now, when that happens. I never was before.

I am telling you this because it is odd, being twenty-six and understanding relationship concepts most people take a lot longer to grasp. I grasp them because I’ve experienced more than you’d think. No, I wasn’t the only culprit, but I recognize the part I played and desire to play no longer. My penance, if you will, is to help other people not do it or be done wrong by it. I know who I am now, even the ugly parts. Now I get to pay it forward.

* For the morbid(ly curious): pills and booze.
** I used to think black bras under white shirts were daring and sexy. Oh, fourteen-year-old Cassie.
*** And once I let a guy have fun with me that his girlfriend wouldn’t provide, but fair’s fair, it was high school. Harry Potter aside, high school relationships that don’t involve teen pregnancy don’t usually advance past “we’ll write from our respective colleges”. I’m only marginally sorry about that.


3 thoughts on “the agony aunt’s secret

  1. Pingback: invis-ability | Refuge in Audacity

  2. Pingback: things to be reconciled: checking in. | Refuge in Audacity

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