The Anniversary Effect

I think I’ve said this on here before, but spring tends to be really hard for me.

*rolls eyes*. Duh, I’ve only been saying that for like, three months now.

It’s not just the effects of changing weather, as we shift from cold, blustery days into cool, dewy nights. Yes, the lingering of winter can be draining on the soul… but the blooming of trees & flowers is uplifting. The first thunderstorm is comforting. Spring brings with it the promise of summer and its sweet heat.

And yet, still. Spring the last few years has been really hard for me, emotionally speaking.

Yesterday I broke down in tears as I was driving to meet my friend for yoga. Just straight up started bawling in the car. Fortunately, I arrived quite early and took a few minutes to walk up and down a nearby path as my eyes dried and turned white again.

to be quite frank, I was thinking about the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison, who was reported missing Wednesday morning after sending out some concerning messages on Twitter in the early A.M. Their music—specifically, the song “Poke“—helped me through the earliest stages of my divorce 4 years ago this spring. I kept thinking about the pain Hutchison was feeling, how his music helped me with my own pain. And then for some reason I started thinking about all my lost relationships, all my lost friendships, all the things I’ve had to let go of over the past 4 years…I felt overwhelmed like all the loss was welling back up inside me and pushing through my chest in a big wail.


So I cried again. Then I cleaned myself up and met my friend for yoga. We talked for half an hour in the parking lot after. I felt ok again as I drove home in the dark.

Today, I met with my therapist and talked about a strange nostalgia I’ve been having for my last relationship, as well as my apparent inability to come to terms with my decision to rehome my two cats nearly 3 years ago. I talked about missing everything that came with my past relationship—but not necessarily the relationship itself. I miss the friends and the community it built around me. I miss the consistency and security my ex symbolized, even if I was often unsatisfied and lonely, and I miss feeling like I was part of a group where people were genuinely happy to have me around. They wanted me there. I could feel their joy in seeing me when I walked into the room, and I felt the same way in return. I never really had that before. And I chose to leave it all behind.

When I left the first time (around this time last year), I felt like I had made some huge mistake by pulling myself away from something so secure, even though I had been mulling over the decision for months because I was so unhappy and depressed. I was panicked. After only a day or two, I asked (nearly begged) my ex to come back so that we could really work on things. He was hesitant at first, but agreed eventually to try again.

We got back together in late June. We tried. I tried. There were date nights and earnest conversations and honest attempts at deeper intimacy. But, it didn’t work. I ended it again in October. This time for good. I felt sick leading up to the end of it, but ultimately knew it was the best decision I could make for myself. I was so unhappy because, at the core of it all, we were two very different people, neither more right or wrong than the other. We were different people and despite every wish in my body it could work, it wasn’t going to. Not the way I wanted or needed it to.

The beginning of the end was one year ago, in the spring of 2017.

The beginning of the end of my marriage also occurred in the spring, back in 2014. At the end of it all, when my husband told me he didn’t want me or our marriage anymore, I torched the whole life I was building in Denver—threw everything I owned into my little hatchback, along with my two cats—and moved cross-country back into my father’s home. I lost almost everything of my former life: I was laid off from my job, my apartment, my relationship, my friends, my home. I lost my mind. I lost a big part of my identity. I lost myself in a bottle.

In spring of 2015, my first serious relationship post-divorce was slowly unraveling. By early summer it had fizzled completely and ended.

In spring of 2016, I was still quietly grieving the loss of my cats while diving ever-deeper into alcohol. I quit drinking that summer.

In spring 2017, I experienced a depression like I hadn’t ever before. At the deepest points, I was looking over the railings of bridges high above the Mississippi, not ever intending to take that next step but feeling the existential pull nonetheless.

This spring semester was grueling on me, physically and mentally. I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork and drained myself completely by the end of it. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since my internship ended and I feel like I’m still recovering.

Spring is hard. I’m still mourning things I keep telling myself I should be over. I weave through the lush green streets of my city on my bicycle, smelling the fresh budding trees and feeling the humidity creeping back into my skin, and it makes me want to cry. Out of happiness, and sadness, and confusion.

I think about Scott Hutchison, a man I’ve never met who is somewhere halfway across the world, and I am stunned by the pain I feel for whatever it is he’s going through, because in some small way I kind of feel it, too. I’ve felt it before.

That is what my therapist framed as the “anniversary effect.” I know of it. I’ve spoken with my own clients about its power over our subconscious minds. For me, spring has come to symbolize personal loss. No matter the fact that these losses—most of them—have led me toward greater good in my life. No matter the fact that these losses were incurred and endured to make me into what I am today. We all know that’s well and good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. That doesn’t mean I don’t wonder sometimes whether the pain has been worth it.

I mean, of course it has been worth it. Overall, the life I have right now isn’t one I would trade to continue the life I had before, ever. And still, even knowing this, there is that little whisper in my mind that begs the question: are you sure?

Where am I going with this?

The frustrating part is I don’t know.

The frustrating part is that I keep wanting to know myself better: what am I, who am I in this sober life? Who am I now, compared to who I was then? What does folding into my pain do for me, why do I keep doing it, and how do I stop when it becomes too much? How do I process these pains more fully, so I can just move on?

Does it even work like that? I should know the answer to this.

After I had been rambling on a bit tonight in therapy, Brant (therapist) looked at me calmly and said, “this is all about attachment.”

And I nodded like I always knew it—I had an idea—but for him to listen to me going on about my cats, my divorce, my lost relationships, and to bring up this idea of attachment as central to why I feel such poignant pain when I think of these things…well, it made perfect sense and made me feel perfectly silly, that I hadn’t come to the same conclusion.

I’ve historically been an anxious/preoccupied attachment type. For a while after my divorce, I added avoidant into the mix. I craved love and security and intimacy and attention but HOLD ON, MISTER, don’t get TOO close to me now! But wait, give me attention and love…No, not THAT much! That’s too much! Wait, where are you going? Come back!

I wanted autonomy and independence, but also the feeling of being intimately connected and secure. I know these things don’t live in vacuums, but I’ve found it so hard to achieve that harmony in the past 4 years.

So I go back analyzing all aspects of every relationship I’ve left behind in the hopes of uncovering some secret that will help me piece this puzzle together.

In analyzing, I lay out in front of myself every blunder. I remember the stolen sweet moments with past lovers while failing to fully remember the dissatisfaction I felt in the majority of our time together. I wonder if I’m a bad person or bad girlfriend for always leaving.

I am always leaving.

I don’t want to leave anymore.

I got sober in part to stay present in my own life. I got sober to understand these more intricate parts of myself. I got sober to face this shit head-on. I got sober to stay. I want to stick around. Not just for romantic relationships, but for friendships, for clients, for other people in my life who I haven’t been good enough to. I want to stay.

And yes, I’ve done a good deal of that. But I’ve also done a good deal of leaving. And then I’ve done a good deal of crying because I simply don’t understand why I feel so bad. 

Maybe that effort to understand all I feel is futile. Maybe I can just revel in the fact that I’m feeling at all—that even if it’s painful, I can feel my heart pulled toward the sorrow of the singer of a Scottish indie rock band, while being grateful for the effect his words had on me during one of the most vulnerable times in my life—the spring of all things. I can feel reverence for the old version of myself that pushed me into who I am today. I can feel nostalgic comfort in the memories I have of my old lovers, good and bad. I can feel interest and curiosity for my current relationship and all its uncertainties. I can be here now.

Maybe that’s all there is to it, nothing more.

I guess I can be ok with that, for now.

-Em, day 670

10 thoughts on “The Anniversary Effect

  1. Untipsyteacher says:

    Hi Em,
    What I have learned about recovery, and life, is that it is necessary for us to grieve.
    There is no time limit on this.
    I had to grieve my hearing loss, losing wine, and the loss of my dog, my father, and more.
    You have lost a lot.
    You are finding things, and at some point there will be an integration of the loss with our current life.
    Then, there is some peace.
    I have found that with my hearing, and all of the other things.
    I wish you peace today.

    Liked by 1 person

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