Part 3 of the 3-part series on attachment disorder.
If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade. That’s what they say.
However, if actual lemons are all you have, your lemonade is going to suck. You need some sugar and water mixed in the proper proportions to really make real lemonade.
Thus, even if life has given you figurative lemons you still need figurative water and sugar and maybe even the guidance of a figurative recipe to pull it all together.
Failing those, you’re going to have lemon juice, and that makes for a sour puss.
This fantasia based on a short piece of bumper-sticker wisdom came to me very gradually.
For a long time I tried to deny that I had been given lemons, because after all, who would give a kid lemons to eat? Then I tried to deny they were sour as I tried to choke them down whole. Then I told myself “Though I know these are lemons, I’m going to pretend they are peaches. These lemons are hereby officially proclaimed to have always been peaches. I have mentally traded lemons for peaches, and now everything is peachy because it always was peachy! Thank you. Want some peaches?”
But none of those worked. I still only had lemons. I still hated them.
Finally I decided to make lemonade, and because I had no water nor any sugar (that I could discern) and lacked a recipe, I got lemon juice instead of lemonade. And after I drank it down and it ripped and scraped at my esophagus and made my gut churn I turned to people around me, spat at them and said “This is all you fucking get. Enjoy your fucking lemonade. A little bitter, perhaps? That’s because it’s fucking acid! Hahahaha!” I shouted through gritting teeth.
I was still unhappy.
All I had were lemons.
Recovering from attachment disorder means reversing the effects of years of bad behavior. It is behavior adapted around negative circumstances.
Coming back is difficult. It’s worse than being on a diet.
You’ll find it’s necessary not only to force yourself to entrust your feelings to people you ordinarily wouldn’t have opened yourself up to at all, but even before that step, you need to confront your own weaknesses as a feeling creature. You need to admit feeling matters to you. That step takes vulnerability.
You have to give up on tactics that worked for you earlier in life. Your well-proven coping techniques get thrown out because they never really worked in the first place. Laughing off your own needs for intimacy and belonging won’t do any more. You can’t pretend the lemons don’t taste horrible. And you can’t just project your own pain onto others by spitting lemon chunks out at them.
You need to be ready to lose the things — physical things — you had acquired to try to compensate for your ingrained lack of attachment. You need to shed the compensations for having a basically shitty emotional life. It might be hard to part with th0se.
You need to approach the people in your past you might have offended, angered, injured, dismissed along the way as you tried to thrash your way out of situation you didn’t understand. Some of them never trusted you after some initial encounter and won’t have a reason to now. Others will try to kick you when you’re still down. Some will choose not to forgive you. You need to let them go.
You need to admit that you screwed up because you lacked a fundamental experience of human life, and although you probably saw the cost of your behavior years and years before you finally worked up the courage to do something real about it, you chose to just keep at it. You did this because you had eventually gotten to somewhat enjoy thinking of yourself as an indomitable bad-ass to whom absolutely nothing mattered. You enjoyed hiding in the dark cloak of your own nihilism. It gave you a kind of sick comfort.
You need to let go of a lot of things that got spoiled. When you only had lemons, they made a lot of things sour.
And you have to give into the idea that it’s going to take a long time to rebuild your nervous and hormonal system around a different model — a model where someone is there for you in the way no one was when you were originally getting used to the world.
And trough all of this, you need to dilute the bitterness. You need to sweeten the mixture.
You need a recipe for lemonade.
I really don’t think there’s any therapy like a real relationship.
I’ve been to enough expensive 50-minute therapy sessions in dimly-lit rooms with a box of Kleenex on the desk. After a while I realized I was paying these professionals to act like my friends. But they were lousy friends, in a way. A friend doesn’t cut you off just as you are coming to realize something important about yourself just because an egg timer goes off.
Also, a friend who gives you drugs to feel better usually shares them with you and turns it into a social occasion. Not usually so with a psychiatrist.
The best therapy for this sort of problem is a relationship. The right kind of relationship. It needs to be the kind of relationship where you can share everything, but starting with the fundamentals. Trust doesn’t exist, so it needs to be built from scratch. Basic cues need to be learned. You need to share everything honestly while knowing that you’ll be accepted. And through fits and starts, eventually you’ll come to know what you have to work with, and what can be made with it.
At first there will be baby steps because you are a baby. You missed out on what you were supposed to have learned as a baby. So now it’s back to the nursery to slowly re-learn everything you thought you knew about fitting into the world and being with other people–starting with a simple reach and touch.
You’ll learn to let go of the death-grip you have on yourself — the remnant of the times when your self was the only thing you could be sure would be there for you. You need to learn to trust that someone else is there.
All of this is very worthwhile. It lets you feel that you’re living. It lets you escape the oppression of your own self-consciousness. It can let you emerge from the sadness and desperation, and will allow your efforts in life to be grounded in hope and confidence rather than a ruefully mad, desperate, suicide dive.
It’s a worthy destination. But to get there, you need to find someone with water, sugar, and the recipe for lemonade.
And that person is probably closer than you think.
See earlier installments here: