I’ve made significant improvements to my life in the years since the height of my eating disorder. I no longer have wildly inappropriate rages at random strangers. I no longer sleep in cars or move apartments every two months because I can’t pay the rent. It’s been years since I’ve shoplifted wine from a grocery store or walked out on a job or given myself a sponge bath in a gas station bathroom–achievements made possible by hard work in therapy and a couple of 12 Step programs.
And yet, I still find myself completely stumped by the process of forming meaningful relationships with other human beings. I struggle with a pervasive and constant feeling of inadequacy, an inability to feel truly connected in the world. All my life, I’ve dealt with emptiness, deep loneliness, a painful sense of unworthiness. I want, more than anything, to love and be loved—but I can’t figure out how it’s done.
A person watching me flounder in my relationships might think, “Someone must have done a number on her when she was young. That woman is wounded.” Like the wounded, I don’t trust. I hide and dodge and don’t ever let others really see me. And yet, there’s no real explanation for it, beyond the (maybe slightly higher than average) childhood scars we all carry into adulthood. There’s no explanation for why my wounds have not yet healed, why I am still so impaired in my relationships, while others with comparable traumas have learned how to connect.
At my job, I work with recovering addicts in a court mandated drug treatment program. My clients come into the program fresh from the county jail, and I watch them start over again after having shattered their lives to pieces. They struggle with unemployment, homelessness, lack of transportation, child custody issues, poor health, and all the other problems life throws at addicts. I can see the impaired thinking, anxiety, and emotional reactivity so clearly as I watch them in their early recovery. I feel for them, remembering those days myself.
It never stops being a shock when, despite their condition, they fall in love. Which they always do, ignoring warnings to avoid romantic relationships in early recovery. They get out of jail, get their jobs at the chicken processing plant, and within months fall in love with their new boyfriend or girlfriend. Every time it happens, I am just amazed.
Not to brag, and at the risk of sounding terribly unprofessional, but I am proud that I am not as sick as my clients (anymore). I had quite a head start over them on this recovery stuff. Most of the time, I probably pass as a reasonably well-adjusted adult. And yet, I marvel that people in early recovery are capable of experiencing love and connection and safety, while I still can’t, even after years and years of therapeutic intervention.
It can make a person feel pretty hopeless, if you want to know the truth.
If people sick with the same disease I have can connect with others in ways that I can’t, I wonder what helps them do it. Upon closer observation, I notice that many of my clients have the same distant and unsatisfying relationships with family and acquantances as I do. The difference is that they do find a way to meet their connection needs through intimate relationships with romantic partners. Today, this leads me to wonder how much asexuality plays a role in my relationship difficulties.
Is it possible that sexual attraction serves as a sort of accessibility aid, a powerful force that helps to glue people to others when they might otherwise be incapable of attachment? In my observation, it seems that people find a way to love another person who has the means of meeting their sexual needs. This sexual attraction stuff looks awfully powerful–possibly powerful enough to overcome the fears and barriers that keep people locked in loneliness.
I no longer wish to experience sexual attraction, but I do long for an attachment aid of my own. Is there another force available to me that can help me learn to connect with other people, despite my fear? It would need to be something as powerful as sexual attraction, a force strong enough to dismantle my walls—or at least, strong enough to give me the courage to do it myself.