No one was there for me

All my life I've felt abandoned

By Cary Tennis

Published March 19, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I grew up in the 1960s in what may have been a typical middle-class home. My parents disliked each other, and my sister and I were pretty much ignored. I was an extremely bright child and did well in school despite no encouragement from my parents. I was closest to my father, who died when I was in my early 20s. I spent my childhood looking forward to nothing more than getting away from home.

After two early and failed marriages, I was a single mother of two when I met (who I thought was) the love of my life. We swore to each other that when we married, we wouldn't be like the others who divorced when things got tough. I believed him. He was everything to me: handsome, successful, nice to my kids -- you name it. He was older, and I looked up to him. He is a heavy drinker, and a big part of our lives involved alcohol. While I had never really enjoyed drinking in the past, I caught on pretty quickly. Our entire social circle was focused on drinking -- parties, dinners and the country club. I've traveled around the world and barely remember half of it -- we were drunk from the time we left the house until we returned.

Fast-forward 15 years and I'm miserable. My husband refuses to make love to me for literally years at a time, while he showers attention and money on young men. I've tried twice to commit suicide. After the second attempt, the "love of my life" decides to divorce me because I've become an alcoholic. He just dumped me. He convinced our entire social circle (all heavy drinkers as well) to treat me with "tough love." Even my daughters jumped on the "Mom is an addict and this isn't our problem" bandwagon. My sister was the only person to stand by me through the entire ordeal. I took off nearly a year from work because I just couldn't bear to be near people. I can't even describe the unbelievable pain I experienced. I'm crying while I write this story. I believed he'd never leave me, and yet he did. And he turned everyone against me in the process. I was left almost completely alone.

So here we are -- another five years later -- in the present day. I've remarried and he's a great guy. My sister and I are still close, and my daughters have come around. I still drink, but find I'm much better able to control myself in a home where alcohol is not the main activity. I have a great job. I have wonderful pets. My problem: I can't let it go. I'm still devastated that he left me and not one of my friends was willing to come to my aid. I find myself watching shows like "Intervention" and wondering why I didn't deserve the same kind of help. We had plenty of money -- I could have gone to 1,000 rehabs with what he paid me in alimony. My dreams are infected with the theme "I'm not good enough" and "No one will ever really care about me."

I have pretty much walled myself off from any new friendships -- I stay home with my husband and the pets. The phrase "til death do us part" is something I sneer at. I find myself looking at my ex-husband's and former friends' Facebook pages and feeling almost enraged. It feels like we were all criminals and I was the only one to get caught. Everyone just rolled over me and went on with their lives. I'm the only one whose life has changed.

I realize I have a good life now, but I can't find a way to get past this. I've been to therapy, and everyone wants to talk about my suicide attempts and alcohol use. While I realize these are important factors in my life, no one seems to understand how abandoned I've felt my entire life. I'm attractive, intelligent, successful in my field, and people seem to like me. It's been five years -- how can I get over this?

A friend to No One

Dear Friend to No One,

You sum it all up here: "No one seems to understand how abandoned I've felt my entire life."

You have to find a therapist or guide who will truly understand how abandoned you have felt your whole life. That will be your beginning. The crucial thing is, you must be convinced. It may take some work to find such a person.

But such a person certainly exists. Look at the logic of it: Your feeling of abandonment is real and true. Human beings are capable of perceiving what is real and true. Therefore there does exist a person who can fully perceive your lifelong feeling of abandonment.

Your job is to find that person. Interview potential new therapists. Take your time. Then pick someone.

When you find the person you want to work with, start meeting regularly. It might take a while before you feel you're making progress. Take it slowly. Don't worry if it feels like nothing is happening right away. Use the time as a refuge from the rest of the world. You might want to do nothing else for a while but talk about and relive this abandonment.

I hope you get a chance to do that. Eventually, if you do, I think this lifelong feeling will become less commanding, less urgent and overwhelming. It will begin to detach itself from your other feelings. You will get very familiar with it and learn to see it coming. You will notice your habitual responses to it and learn to distinguish among them.

Then you will be on the road to lasting personal change.

It will have to be someone you trust. The irony of that is not lost on me. I am telling someone with a lifelong feeling of abandonment that the way to get better is to trust someone. So consider this: The right therapist will not abandon you. Repeat: The right therapist will not abandon you. The right therapist may eventually retire, or die (as your father died), perhaps stimulating within you old feelings of abandonment, but he or she will not abandon you.

The paradox of personal change is that we are seeking something truly unknown to us. How can we seek something we cannot directly target? How can we go toward something if we don't know where it is? We are simply required to set out. We reach a point where we are willing to be blindfolded and spun around. We flail about in the dark. We bump into things. But we find something if we keep going.

To reach that point where we are willing to seek what we don't know, we may first have to accept that our thinking is exhausted and can take us no further. Eventually, in comprehending our own plight and our place in the universe, our thinking runs out. Our thinking cannot keep up with what is present right now; our thinking cannot track the many invisible particles shooting through us right now; our thinking cannot keep track of everything; it cannot comprehend the dazzling line of ancestors we arose from, back to those one-celled organisms that organized themselves in the sea and evolved and became complex and began to breathe. So we begin out of desperation. But it is a welcome desperation because it sets us on the necessary path.

It sounds like spirits and emotions but much of it is neuroscience.

We don't need to go into all that now. The urgent, concrete part of it is this: Begin interviewing new therapists. Keep looking until you find one you would feel safe with going into a burning building. Keep looking until you find one whom you can completely unburden yourself with, whom you can be honest with.

This is not something we can understand in advance or map out. I suppose that is why the overused cliché of the "journey" comes to mind -- going into the storm like Lear, descending into the underworld like Inanna.

My journey toward sobriety, I should mention, began not with concern about alcohol at all, but with a journey inward toward some mysterious pain. The quitting drinking only came later. First came the journey to the underworld. First came the shedding of skins.

Maybe it is appropriate that Inanna comes to mind, as "What unifies Inanna is change -- transformation and transition. She is the way in and the way out, the door, the gateway."

Cary Tennis

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