(Almost) 3 Weeks In

Almost 3 weeks have passed since I crushed a life that I desperately wanted and hurt the person I care most about in unimaginable ways.

Since then, it has only become more complex and the need to face difficult truths has come up daily; not only for myself but to friends and family as well.

What I have read

What I have learned

“You must love yourself before you can love someone else”. Some sage wisdom that has the opposite adage, “Learn to love yourself through loving others”. For a person that does not have strong emotional awareness, these kinds of wisdom are useful in helping me to understand where focus should go.

I do not love myself. I do not think much of myself at all. I have always had the rule, “other people’s happiness before my own” and I have often been fine with that. Where this thought comes from, I do not know. There is no comparison of myself to others or feeling that someone is better than me and I am genuinely happy when others achieve positive things; especially if I have helped that in some way.

I never saw a problem with this because I never needed to love myself. The problem does become clear when you realise that not loving yourself makes it harder for someone else to love you and makes self-sabotage so much simpler, because you can justify it. “Of course I would need validation from other people while I am in a relationship, I am a piece of shit” or “of course I would betray my partner’s trust and cheat, I am shitty”. So much anxiety and shame has come from believing (and saying) that I hold certain principles dear and I follow them as best I can, but then actively going against that in times of weakness. Believing that I should know how to handle these things, how to stop these behaviours (or not do them in the first place) because I am an adult.

This is just not true.

I am flawed. I want to be honest and I try my best to be. I enjoy efficiency and I almost always need things to be explained to me in a step by step way with clear outcomes. Changes to plans scare me and the idea of someone I love leaving me scares me most of all.

But it should not scare me enough to cause it to happen. It should not scare me enough that I cannot discuss it with them. If I love this person so much, why should I be masking myself around them?

So, I guess, this is what I have learned: I am Chris. I am autistic and I am needy. Needy because I do not fully understand communication or my own emotions. I am working on this and I know I can do it. I do believe that my goal in life is to make others happy but not at my own expense and certainly not when that happiness is overshadowed by immense pain being caused.

I do get afraid and I do overthink and I do question my own ability to handle situations where I rely on myself. So many things have likely contributed to that: the death of my father, the belief that I am “broken” due to the autism and I should mask, the view that I must constantly show value because “just me” is not enough. But I owe more to myself than that, more to those that I have hurt because I have not faced these fears.

I do not have the skills yet and I am certainly not ready to sit in a room in silence for 10 days and feel grateful towards myself but I am (probably) capable and I deserve more.

What I am learning

I do not (and cannot) control outcomes. Attaching outcomes to actions is not healthy and leads me to need a particular outcome and/or panic when that does not happen. Embracing uncertainty is no trivial task and accepting that those close to you have their own agency and choose to be around you is even harder; particularly when you struggle with self-esteem and/or have a low opinion of yourself.

There is a movie, starring the glorious Ben Schwartz, that is average at best but it has a line: “it is not called gently reclining in love, it is called falling in love”. For someone that needs control, that needs things to be in black or white, that cannot handle uncertainty, that is a crippling fear: “I cannot control how much I care about this person and, as time goes on, those feelings grow stronger and my sense of control slips even more”.

The mere thought of that drove my mind insane with negative overthinking, with urges to do unhealthy soothing behaviours to make me feel in control again. Those behaviours hurt the people I love the most and they hurt me. There is no need for that, and explaining why they are done to somebody sounds so stupid. But, in that moment, seeing that this amazing person in your world is so close to you, so important, so integrated that the idea of their leaving creates a pain inside you that feels like nothing you have ever felt before.

Now, without those urges, I need to sit with the pain and the discomfort, as well as accept the pain that I have caused to others. I also need to sit with the fact that I do not know what comes next and that I cannot control it. For any anxious person who shows love through acts, this is the real work. I could distract myself for weeks, months with acts that show how sorry I am, acts that show I care, and they would be real, genuine, caring acts. But to sit with it, to not fix it immediately, to give the other person space (knowing full well that the space could drive us further apart)? This is the work, and it is likely the work I needed to do a decade ago but did not know it.

What I am reading next

To do the work, I need tools. The previous tools I had were harmful and unhealthy, now that the urge to do this is gone, this leaves a gap where my mind overthinks, catastrophises and causes more panic attacks in the last 3 weeks than I have had in my life combined. Tools that come from mindfulness, from DBT, from self-acceptance.

So I have workbooks (so many workbooks), for a month in the UK where I have no contact with the person I most want contact with and no idea when they will speak to me again or what the outcome will be. All I can do is do the work, sit with it and learn to be OK with the uncertainty and the chaos.