“The root of suffering is attachment.”
I never used to believe that. In fact, I thought the ability to attach yourself to something or someone was a guaranteed path to happiness - a privilege, even - and certainly not something just anyone could do.
I’m actually quite impressed with just how long I was able to continue telling myself that complete and utter lie. I was stagnant. Bored, uninterested, and unhappy in my relationship, my job, and the general state of my life. But it was so important to me that I appeared to have my shit together to outsiders, even though my life was literally the opposite picture internally.
When I used to hear stories about people who were high-school sweethearts, who had been together for 10 or more years and had only ever been in love with each other, I thought about how lucky they were to have found each other so young. To be able to avoid the messy process that dating is made out to be. To be attached to someone they were “meant” to be with.
So for ages, being in a relationship was always something I was 100% positive would make me happy and fulfilled. Getting married and settling down, or at least the idea of it, seemed to make others happy. So why wouldn’t the same apply to me? Finding a person I could spend all my time with - finding a routine, comfort, and stability - all seemed like the norm. And that’s what I somehow managed to convince myself I wanted.
I attached myself so deeply to this societal ideal - this idea that I was doing what I “should” be doing. That I was accepted, and even envied by my peers for seemingly having everything figured out so early. I didn’t know any other 26-year-olds who were engaged, owned a house, and were so in-sync with their partner that they shared quite literally everything with each other. Every interest, every friend, every activity. This, I thought, was completely normal.
Apparently, I should’ve taken up a career in acting, because I had myself fooled for over eight years. Let’s take a step back, though - I think some background is in order.
At the beginning, it certainly was all fun and games. I found my high-school sweetheart on a trip to Denmark. What a great story we had! It was so romantic; unlike anything I’d ever heard. Friends and strangers were always excited to hear about how we met. And that honestly might’ve been the highlight of the relationship. The initial excitement - the newness and uniqueness of it all - probably carried us through the first couple years. That and the fact that because we went to different colleges, we didn’t have to see each other every day.
In the first year at least, I still had a bit of myself. A small bit, but it was there. I still had some independence. But eventually, it faded away.
I’m not sure exactly when it all started to go downhill, but my mental timeline indicates it must’ve been within the first two years. I started to dread those weekends spent at home with him. I kept it all inside, though, thinking maybe it was just a phase.
Well, the phase never ended. It got progressively worse. There weren’t really “ebbs and flows” like you might experience in a healthy relationship - those periods of alternating ease and discomfort that relate to each person’s individual struggles. With us, it was all connected, all the time. If he was in a bad mood, I had to suffer, too. We were that attached. If I was happy, it was only because he was also in a good mood. And because we hadn’t fought (yet) that day.
I lived in a constant state of fear. Always worrying what the next fight was going to be about. The arguments seemingly came out of nowhere. One second I’d be telling a joke, or talking about someone I’d met earlier that day, and the next, my joke was too offensive, or it was suspicious that I’d had a conversation with a person he hadn’t met (and if it was another man, all bets were off - I was doomed to a night of jealousy-driven interrogation). Trust issues is an understatement.
I can’t say for sure whether there was a specific event that triggered the distrust for him. Because it seemed to creep in out of thin air. It just got progressively more present with every passing day. Maybe it was always there, and the more he got to know me, the more he felt threatened. Maybe distrust was a defense mechanism. Maybe it was just that we were young and inexperienced - still trying to discover ourselves while trying to maintain a relationship that was much too serious for either of us to be healthy.
Neither of us really knew what we wanted, but the relationship gave us a way of completely ignoring that fact. Instead, we attached ourselves to each other. And the relationship became the only thing that mattered. It became, at least for me, a question of failure. And the perfectionist in me needed to make it work. It didn’t matter that I was literally making myself sick because of it. That my mental health was deteriorating from all the stress and anxiety I went through on a daily basis. I succumbed to the suffering because my need to succeed was so strong.
Even though I succeeded in holding my relationship together for so long, which seemed to be the goal, I still wasn’t happy. And eventually, I had to find something else to prevent myself from coming to that realization. Everyone has different coping mechanisms, ways to distract themselves from the pain they’re going through rather than actually dealing with it. And for me, it was an eating disorder. I had lost so much control of my life that the only thing I felt I could do was to stop eating. That was the one thing that was mine. The fact that I could deny food - that I could make myself smaller, both in my physical and mental presence, was what held me together. When I look back on it, the only way I can describe how I felt during those years was completely aloof. I had no clarity because all I could think about was how I was going to avoid eating, meal after meal, day after day, year after year. It was the ultimate diversion.
It’s extremely difficult to think now about how much of myself I denied for all those years. Not only because it was time I spent completely ignoring my own wants, needs, and desires. But because I’m sure that deep within myself, I knew exactly what I was doing.
It’s taken nearly a year for me to even begin to think objectively about the whole situation. But through that time, I’ve found through conversations with others, that so many of us have gone through similar situations. We’ve all lost parts of ourselves, and now we’re trying to find them again.
It’s all about how you frame your own story. You can feel bad for yourself. Decide that you’re a failure and choose not to come back from it. Or you can look at it as an opportunity to rediscover the parts you lost, and explore what you never had a chance to find.
What I’ve come to realize is that attachment is a powerful drug. It is a basic human need that feels amazing, but if left unchecked can consume all aspects of your life. It is terrifying to leave something you’ve been comfortable with for so long. But there is so much more than that aspect of your life that needs attention. Everyone has their own issues, but I implore you to learn from my story. Don’t be afraid to look deep within yourself. To recognize when you’ve been blinded and when you’re in a situation that doesn't align with your core values and beliefs. Don’t allow your attachment to make you lose sight of yourself. Without your self, you can’t survive.