When You Love Too Much

Cover of "Women Who Love Too Much"

Cover of Women Who Love Too Much

Last week I wrote a post about the various and sundry relationships I had entered into with men who were all too wrong for me.  After writing that post, I thought of a core belief that has percolated in the back of my mind for many years.  The belief has been this:

The reason I had gotten into so many terrible relationships when I was younger  is because I was mentally ill.

But that belief got flipped on its backside during the editing process of Monikers.

As I reflected on the different relationships I had been in, as well as the symptoms of mental illness I had experienced over that decade, I realized that my belief about how it all came about was upside-down and backwards.  I now believe this:

The reason I became so seriously mentally ill is because of the relationships I had allowed myself to get into.

Wow.  I am still gaining insight into this issue, 35 years later.

You see, I had all the earmarks of someone who was born with certain emotional tendencies in the first place.  I was an anxious, shy child from the time I was born.  But the glowing coals and smoldering kindling of being a Nervous Nelly somehow got fanned into the flames of full-blown panic disorder and agoraphobia as well as major depression.  So what happened?

I. loved. too. much.

Really?  How can someone love too much?

Someone can love too much when that four letter word ~ L.o.v.e, is spelled with four very different letters ~ F. e. a. r.

I desperately loved my father.  In trying to win his love for me, I bought him expensive gifts, made him his favorite pies, and tried to hang out with him at his favorite bar.  I felt closer to him for a short time, but he still seemed to find it easy to move out of our childhood home without so much as a goodbye.  When he left I felt a lot of fear.

A child who has no security that their parents love them experiences fear because they believe there is no one there to guide them or keep them safe.  They start to look elsewhere to get that need for love and security met.

My own first relationship was with a man (I was fifteen and he was twenty) who physically looked a lot like the father I wanted to love me. I poured my heart into him thinking I would receive love in return. We married when I was sixteen and our firstborn son was born when I was seventeen.  The marriage lasted about a week and a half. So I had to look for someone else to fill the hole I had been left with.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

~Mother Teresa

Robin Norwood provides this insight in her book, “Women Who Love Too Much:”

“We are attracted to men who replicate for us the struggle we endured with our parents, when we tried to be good enough, loving enough, worthy enough, helpful enough, and smart enough to win the love, attention, and approval from those who could not give us what we needed, because of their own problems and preoccupations.”

I first read Robin’s book in 1992.  It was a mind-blower for me.  I felt as if she had sent a private detective to follow me around and document my relationships as I married, divorced, married again, and divorced again, and then dated the likes of “The Weatherman,” “Air Force Guy” and others. Her words forced me to look back over the littered path of the relationships in my own life and reflect on how I got into them in the first place. I asked myself what drew me to each man I either dated or lived with or married. Quite the revelation.

But still, after all these years, I thought what I had done, and what I had allowed to happen to me, was because I had become seriously mentally ill as a young teen after my first marriage fell apart. Now I understand that what caused me to become so seriously ill was how I was treated within relationships that I thought would bring love, trust, security, and peace, and instead brought me abuse, trauma, betrayal, and chaos.

Now, I am a psychotherapist in private practice.  I see women and teen girls all week long.  I see the same patterns in them that I saw in myself.  If I could do anything, I would open up their skulls and insert the insight I have gained about what constitutes a healthy choice in a life partner.

There’s a checklist in Robin’s book that lists characteristics of “women who love too much.”  I took the test, thinking back on who I was over twenty years ago before I met and married someone who truly does love me. Soon we will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.  Ahhh…authentic love…at last.

Anyway, I placed my check mark next to fifteen out of fifteen questions. I was a woman who used to love too much.  So, I brought the checklist to my teen girl’s group.  I asked the questions and had them check off a list of their own.  Most of the girls checked fifteen out of fifteen.  So we’re going to have a little book club.  It’s that important.

Has this been a problem in your life?  Have you, as a man looking for his woman or a woman looking for that perfect husband, found yourself looking back at littered, broken relationships?  Perhaps you are in a broken relationship right now. What drew you to that person?  What was “familiar” about them?   What felt “comfortable” to you?  That’s the key.  Something felt comfortable about that person, and it may be that something about them reminded you of a parent you desperately wanted to love you.  Only what was missing from your parent is also, sadly, missing from your latest love as well.

Please comment and let me know if this post resonated.  Let’s have a discussion!

Broken Pickers

Broken Picker

Broken Picker

Well folks, now you know the worst of it (see post ~ In the Well With Tolstoy).  Being a creative type, I sometimes imagine something worse happening to me in the future, but thankfully, so far, nothing has come close to losing my brother and father to suicide.  Sometimes I still catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I console myself with the knowledge that it already has, and most of us only have one left one and one right one for each pair we own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After my father died, I still experienced divorce and another marriage to yet another abusive, controlling man, a divorce from said man, a broken neck, and a terminal brain tumor, and that’s just for starters.  But as horrible as all that sounds, it still did not compare to the total destruction of my family.

So, I still had a long row to hoe if I ever wanted to feel remotely “normal” again. I was beginning to understand my illness a little bit.  And I believed that the Lord was guiding me through the muddied waters rushing through the storm drains of life.  But I had a problem a lot of people suffering from serious mental illness have.  We really have no idea how much the trauma, abuse, and neglect has hindered our decision-making capability.

We have “broken pickers.”  We tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and it can take awhile to figure it out.  We try, but we tend to follow certain patterns, especially in relationships.  It goes something like this.  The next time, all you need to do is pick someone at least one step up from the last one you ended up with and it’ll all work out.  For me, that meant that the next one must not beat the hell out of me.  That was the deal breaker.  But I digress.

One thing I did after my father died, after much consideration and forethought, is to get pregnant with my third child.  If there is one thing I do not regret in my life, it is my decisions to give birth to various and sundry individuals.  They are all now my best friends, and they make a mama proud.  God knew each one of them before they were even “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and all three of them love him dearly.  So, under ordinary circumstances, my decision to get pregnant at that time of life may have made some sense.  My fantasy of having a nice, calm Christian family life was not to be, however, and it’s possible that maybe I should have seen this coming.

To my ex-husband’s credit, he never once beat the hell out of me.  Not only that, but he was extremely helpful to me during the years I experienced the worst of suffering serious mental illness.  He took me to appointments with my therapists because I could not drive.  In the beginning, he came home early when I called, sick with fear, and he watched the children when I could not cope with the unrelenting anxiety, depression, and grief.  He attended church with me, at first as a way to support me, and eventually, he developed his own relationship with the Lord.  We were as happy as happy could be, outside of the hell I experienced in my own mind.  And having a new baby in the house helped.  He was a joy to both of us.

Then something began to change.  My husband had a problem with drugs before we married, but he had trusted God to take away his appetite for smoking a doobie before breakfast.  And God had come through…that is until my husband took a new job working with a bunch of Deadheads in the next town over.  He just could not resist the stuff and returned to it again and again like a dog returning to its vomit.  I argued and cajoled, pleaded and begged, to no avail.  The following years were filled with alcohol, drugs, lies, and infidelity.  I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more.  I waited some more.  I finally gave up.  A second failed marriage, and I was still not a well woman.  I had progressed, but the fear, anxiety, and depression were ever present, partly because my life was still a series of crises.

Driving down the street one foggy morning, tears popped into my eyes.  I had just dropped my daughter off at her middle school and watched as her friend’s father hugged his pre-teen and waved goodbye as he drove away.  As one thought led to another, an imaginary phone call with my deceased father ensued in my mind.

“Dad?  It’s Linda.  Um, I’m kinda in dire straights (again).  My husband left and I don’t have any way to support us.  Can I come home and stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” my Dad would say, wearing a blue cardigan and smoking a pipe.  “Your room is just how you left it.”

My heart ached with the thought of it.  To feel that kind of love from a father!  To be taken care of, if only for a little while!  I saw myself tucked safely away in my twin bed with the lavender ruffled spread.  I was so weary of constantly worrying about what I would do with three children, no husband, and anxiety and depression still such a huge part of my days. I had not been able to work for over ten years.

Suddenly a thought inserted itself into the middle of my reverie.   As I continued to drive on auto-pilot towards home, a Scripture I had read seemed to force its way to the forefront.

“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 TLB).  For the first time I “saw” God as the compassionate father, one who, unlike any earthly father, can actually change circumstances and make permanent changes in my life.  Instead of band-aid fixes, he could move hearts and open closed doors.

I continued towards home, a little warm glow beginning to melt the icy grip of fear.  There were more battles to face, but it was a start.  I couldn’t quite trust enough to hand over the reigns completely.  But amazing doors were about to open.  And unbeknownst to me, I was headed on a path to healing.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

SPARROW

I had been pacing around the apartment for days.  Once again I walked to the window and peered through the glass, hoping I would see Robert, walking up the sidewalk.  I told myself that it was possible a mistake had been made, and that my brother, as soon as he woke from a coma in the body bag, would slip out of the morgue at the hospital, and just to be funny, come knocking on my front door.  I seriously thought this was possible.

At other moments during the long days at home alone, I sat on the floor, arms curled over my head, just rocking back and forth.  If I denied the truth of my brother’s death long enough, maybe I could somehow undo the last two months.  I felt myself losing ground, though.  My precarious handle on reality was slipping away and a part of me wanted to let it go completely.

Later that week, I sat across from the pastor who had performed the service for Robert.  “Is God real?”  I asked.  “I believe He is very real,” he answered.  “Do you think Robert is in heaven?” I ventured.  I was afraid of this question, more afraid of the answer.  My stomach was at a roiling boil, and I knew the wrong answer would feel like a blow to the gut.

“I think God cares very much about people who are mentally ill,” Wilber answered tentatively.  I didn’t push it.  Just a glimmer of hope was enough for one day.  “I need to find God,” I told him.  “I don’t know how.”  I knew instinctively, for me, in that moment of my life, that if there was no God, I was dead.  I was laying it all on this one man to guide me to Him.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he’s watching me.

-Martin and Gabriel

“Linda, there is a pastor of a church here in town that I think you would like.  I want to talk to him before I send you over there.  Give me a week, ok?”  Fear of rejection filled me as I left his office.  This was unknown territory.

I got the “go-ahead” from Wilber and entered the sanctuary of the small church in El Segundo, California on a beautiful October day in 1975.  I had brought my brother’s widow along for moral support.  Even so, I felt alone.  I grabbed onto her arm and felt myself shaking.  I was sure that the pastor was going to know whom I was and ask me to leave the building.

Everyone looked so nice in his or her Sunday best.  I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb.  At five feet, five inches tall, my eighty-two pounds barely covered my skeleton.  My hair was long and stringy, and my clothes were patched.  The Jesus Movement was going strong in this area of the country but this church was obviously not used to those like me, with my hippie garb and vacant stare.  As the pastor began to speak, my mind raced ahead.  I looked around for the exits.

The pastor was young, close to my age, I thought.  He had looked right at me a couple of times, and I quickly glanced away.  He finally closed his sermon and asked us to bow our heads and close our eyes.  I wanted to be part of this group, this faith.  I didn’t know how to begin and I really didn’t think I would be allowed to belong.  As the last hymn was being sung, the pastor walked down the center aisle and opened the front doors, letting in ocean breeze on shafts of light.  Turning, he waited to greet each parishioner, hugging each one as they said goodbye.  I made it to the door, looking for an escape route through the crowd.  Pastor Don was not about to let that happen.  He grabbed me by the shoulders, gave me a big hug and said, “We’re so happy you are here with us, Linda!”  I forced myself to look up at his face.  I saw compassion and concern. My legs felt funny, and I swallowed hard, nodding at him.

That next week I ruminated.  I feared that once Pastor Don knew more about me, he would regret being so welcoming.  I wrote him a letter.  I told him about how mentally ill I was, how messed up my life was, how I was living with my boyfriend, too ill to live on my own.  I told him about my brother, and about my broken heart. I told him I didn’t think I could come back to his church, but I wanted to.   I slipped the letter under the church doors and ran home. I wanted to get the rejection over with.

Later that afternoon, I got a phone call from Pastor Don.  He told me that he had spent the morning making phone calls and gathering the people of his little church together to fast and pray for me the following Tuesday.  He invited me to be there but told me he understood if I didn’t feel I could make it.  They would be praying for me anyway.

I felt as if someone had handed me a life raft.  I could only cling to the side right now, and attempt to hang on to the ropes.  I had no strength to climb in.   The sea was too rough, and I would be tossed about for a very long time.  But there were others now, grabbing my hands, lifting me up every time I was about to sink.  And sometimes, when I came closer to drowning than He would like, God Himself would step in and take it from there.