by Shannon J. (Munro 1999)
Music has always been a big part of my life. Well, when thinking of Love, only one song comes to mind: Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.” No truer statement was ever spoken to describe my love life. Strategy, manipulation, chaos, trauma, unconscionable behaviour … leaving others wounded in my wake. Not a very pretty picture, and one governed entirely by fear.
At the beginning of high school, when most girls were thinking about parties, dresses and dates, I was facing a number of surgeries to deal with a pre-existing health condition. The word “deformed” was used regularly by doctors to describe my body. This condition was chronic, progressive and extremely painful. Many days were spent bedridden, feverish and isolated, with only my imagination for company. Daydreams of that ideal relationship were created – that fantasy man who was going to rescue me from my life, release me from my pain. The surgeries took up the majority of my high school career. When I was able to make it to school I was on crutches, in casts, or in wheelchairs. I was an easy target, and endured countless hours of ridicule and bullying by my classmates. But when I was alone, with the opiate painkillers prescribed to me, I could retreat to that idyllic place with my fantasy man, and all would be well again.
I began dating while at university. By this time, I was so desperate for someone to love me that the “Somebody/Anybody Syndrome” was born. I had discovered alcohol by now, and with this in addition to the painkillers I found courage. I could finally be with my peers, the alcohol masking my self-loathing. I dated the first man who paid attention to me. This defined my dating career for the next 20 years. The only requirement for me to date them was that they thought I was pretty. I hated my body, convinced of the deformation and my ugliness, so I felt lucky when anyone wanted to date me at all.
I dated the exact same man from the time I was 17 until I was 38 – except every two years or so he would have a different name. I became a chameleon, becoming who and what I thought he needed me to be. My choices in men were directly proportional to my level of self-esteem.
I came into the recovery program of AA at 35, totally broken. I was absolutely willing to give my life over to a Power greater than myself. However, I practiced a selective program of recovery: I was completely unwilling to turn over romantic relationships to the care of God. That, I thought, I could manage just fine. Despite my sponsor’s suggestion that I not date for at least a year, I ran into the arms of the first newcomer who would take me, and began an illustrious career of recovery dating.
I was spiritually sick and dated the like. But without the alcohol to hide the pain, I floundered, becoming this crazy, stalker-like woman. I had no control over my behaviour. I hated myself for not being able to be alone. The idea absolutely filled me with terror.
Shortly after my third sobriety birthday, completely spiraling out of control and in an indescribable amount of pain, I finally surrendered. I was done with selling my soul for the sake of romantic love. And an amazing thing happened. I was free.
I spent the next year delving into the emotional consequences of my health issues and how they resulted in my co-dependency. I thoroughly applied the steps to this area of my life, and I stayed single by choice. I stopped flirting. I got very quiet, and in this meditative state I found God – my true Higher Power that is infinitely greater than myself. And God is Love. I forgave myself, creating a platform from which I could not only accept myself exactly the way I am, but embrace and love myself. I was not terrified anymore, and I wasn’t alone. God was with me every step, every tear, and every discovery along the way. It was the most powerfully beautiful year of my life.
And an incredible thing happened while I was doing this work. God brought into my life a kind of Romantic Love that I never knew existed and which I am deeply humbled and grateful to receive.
Today, well over a year later, I am a transformed woman. I finally surrendered to the idea that without self-love, I have nothing but drama, trauma and chaos to bring to the relationship table. And that is true with all relationships, romantic or otherwise.
I am in a place of love, serenity and peace. And I am amazed. And you will be too, if you do the work. You will be amazed before you are halfway through.