To my Mom’s “Credit”

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Justbreathe826

As I have been visited by memories that I would have preferred to have had kept buried deep in my soul or in Jamie’s coffin, but that I need to work through as part of my own healing, I find myself wondering more and more what it is that I did to be so undeserving of your love, or even just the basic courtesies of nurturing, encouragement, even being heard.

So here goes….

Dear Mom,

I didn’t choose to enter this world and interrupt your life, to be born two months early, at a time perhaps that you were not yet prepared for my entrance. In fact had I known what I was in for, I would have chosen to stay inside much longer or not be born at all. I did not choose to enter YOUR world especially; you chose to take on the responsibility of “welcoming” me! Was…

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Guest Post #11: Life with Complex PTSD

Alexis Rose has a blog about Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) called A Tribe Untangled.  Her C-PTSD was brought about by a family tragedy (a terrible accident that befell her young daughter, something every loving parent fears with every fiber of their being) and it opened up a Pandora’s box of long repressed years of abuse and torture. Alexis Rose also has written a book, Untangled: A Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph.

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From her Book information page:

Recalling her life, the author takes us on a journey of unimaginable abuse with continued explicit threats that eventually led to her being sent overseas on an impossible mission.  She repressed the memories of her past until a family tragedy forced her to face what her life had been. A history of abuse, torture, and threats to maintain her silence or be killed could no longer be denied.

This is the story of facing the truth and risking the consequences of breaking the silence. The author learns to accept the effects of the trauma that echo through her daily life as PTSD.

Through years of self-exploration, she learns to live her life fearlessly, with eyes wide open. Ultimately this book is about resilience; hope for victims who have suffered trauma and for the people who support them.

Alexis is an experienced speaker on the topics of living with courage and resilience in the face of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. She has also presented multiple interactive workshops titled, Using One’s Innate Creativity (writing and drawing) as a Tool for Healing and Personal Growth.

For more information about Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph, to request a book signing, or to ask Alexis to speak to your group or lead a workshop, email alexis@atribeuntangled.com.

Alexis has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog, which when I read it brought me to tears because I could relate so much to so much of what she wrote.   She is one strong woman.  Here is her wonderful post.  Please follow her blog: https://atribeuntangled.com/

Life with Complex PTSD

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I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder about eight years ago, after a family tragedy. My daughter was hit by a van at 30 miles an hour as she was crossing the street on her way to school.

The year following Aria’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our house hold running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant Aria got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I was physically sick all the time, and kept having these bizarre memories leaving me feeling crazy.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was so anxious to tell her everything all at once so I could just feel better and get back to work. I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, or that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing her letters from a dissociated state which made no sense to me when she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours for fear that I was going to hurt myself and I didn’t want to be around my family.

My first therapist diagnosed me correctly but neglected to start my therapeutic process by teaching me any kind of safety or distress tolerance tools.  I was out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my family, and spiraling down a very slippery slope. She did the best she could but was way over her head and within nine months of seeing her, I knew intuitively that I had to find another therapist. I have been working with my current therapist for seven years.

When I first started seeing my therapist I was dissociated most of the time. I was in crisis, I was anxious, confused, and convinced I was going crazy. After a couple of sessions, it became apparent to him that we had to get some safety plans in place. Once that was in place we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

I (sort-of) started to come to terms with the idea that my erupting memories were in fact true. I was so overwhelmed by my memories and what we would process during session that I would remember, forget, remember, forget; until I started to turn a corner and forget how to forget. That’s when I found I could really start taking the baby-steps towards health.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, I also had to start accepting that there were some pretty intense effects of the trauma and that influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.  I knew I had some pretty deep-rooted trust issues. I also had large, thick, almost impenetrable walls holding back any feeling or emotions that I was willing to let the world see. I also began to understand that because of my trauma I had a pretty significant attachment issues, which for me, has been one of the hardest things to learn and accept. For some reason the attachment issue fed into my very low self-esteem and it’s something I still work on.

I also had to face down how my trauma effected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style and career. In the midst of dealing and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of AHA moments, when I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, had been a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Eight years later and one of the biggest reasons I write is because my PTSD symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses PTSD can be invisible on the outside. I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem and shared it with my friends and family. I found that by writing I found a way to share with others and begin to understand what PTSD means for me, and find a way to cope with my fear that I would be plagued by the symptoms forever.

My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed and my brain shutting down, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car back-firing, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.

Unfortunately, my symptoms have left me with the inability to work. I went from having a wonderful career with the fringe benefits that provided me with some comfort for the future and the ability to provide for my family. I’m only able to work about 2 hours a day…on a good day.

It seems as if my symptoms (depending on the time of year) can start a chain reaction, so I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This isn’t easy or comfortable for me and because I’m still pretty new at learning how to work within my symptoms, I can find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD! Actually most days, if I’m going to be honest I am VERY angry at my PTSD. But then I settle down and think about what I want for my life and try to rest and reset.

The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to do, what I want my brain to do but I simply am unable to do it. Making choice at the grocery store, or a restaurant can be so uncomfortable that I will just simply lose my interest in eating and shut down. Sometimes as night approaches it feels overwhelming because I know that its highly likely that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. Even practicing good sleep hygiene listening to podcasts, all the tricks can’t stop the nightmares sometimes and it gets overwhelming. And sometimes I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice at first, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.

What I hope to convey as I move forward: Try to remember to notice those perfect moments. Celebrate each step on the path towards health, know that it is a long and never linear process, and that it really is just one foot in front of the other, you need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing.  And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, through a blogging community and other support systems, we realize that we are not alone.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there. I still need a lot of therapy to manage my symptoms, and I may need a lot of assistance for the day-to day grind, but I’m motivated to keep moving forward, spurred on by the hope for a better life. A life where I am living, not just surviving.

http://atribeuntangled.com

Making your inner judge work for you.

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Credit: Me (click to enlarge image)

I’ve recently met my Inner Critic, who from now on I’m going to call my Judge, because it’s funnier and seeing the Critic as cartoon-like helps me be able to make him seem  (I think of the Critic as male for some reason) less intimidating and scary.

I mentioned that the Judge, while keeping me trapped on a very thin tightrope, making me afraid of a lot of things, really is trying to protect me. Unfortunately the Judge’s overbearing manner can be abrasive and downright abusive, attempting to keep me trapped in old shaming thinking patterns (which apparently it thinks are best because it’s a big clueless dummy).

You need your Inner Judge, because it keeps you moral and doing the right thing. It also gangs up on you when you’ve let others step on your boundaries or abuse you (“how could you be so stupid to let that person take advantage of you AGAIN?”) The problem is, the voice isn’t very nice and feeds into your already low self-esteem. It makes you feel like a bad person–or a pathetic loser. As a result, you can be afraid to take any action.

For me, although I’ve used all the Four F’s, my primary defense has been and still is Dissociation.  Pete Walker talks about the Four F’s of C-PTSD–Fight (narcissism), Flight (obsessive-compulsiveness and workaholism to escape), Freeze (dissociation; withdrawal from humanity, self-isolation), and Fawn (being codependent).

The trick is to make your Inner Judge work FOR you instead of against you. My therapist had me try to think of “him” as being afraid rather than mean and judgmental. By having compassion for your Judge, you can actually change the way the Judge talks to us.

Changing the Judge’s script.

My Judge used to (and often still does) tell me things like:

1. You are worthless. You never accomplished anything of any value.
2. Who would listen to you? You think you’re some kind of expert? What sort of credentials do you have?
3. You’re over the hill and it’s too late for you. You will die poor, miserable and alone.
4. All your friends and everyone in your age group are making more money than you, own their own homes, can go on vacations, have real careers, etc. What’s wrong with you?
5. All your friends are still married or re-married, but you don’t have anyone and will never find anyone else. You’re too old to find anyone now.
6. You’re so weak and such a pushover.
7. You are too crazy to have a good life. You have too many mental issues.
8. You made bad choices, that’s why your life is like it is.
9. You’re embarrassing to be around and are socially awkward so it’s best if you keep your mouth shut.
10. Your accomplishments aren’t real, they don’t really count, so bragging about them makes you look like a narcissist.

And finally…
11. What is wrong with you?

These are lies, the same lies my abusers used against me as long as I can remember. These lies became internalized and now that I’m NC with my abusers, my Inner Judge still does their dirty flying monkey work. But unlike my abusers, my Judge can be trained to change the unhelpful, judgmental statements to things that can be more helpful, like:

1. You are worthwhile. You have accomplished as much as you have been able to, and that’s enough for right now.
2. Many people enjoy your blog and tell you how much it’s helped them. You have friends who love talking to you and like your insight about things. Just because you don’t have a piece of paper deeming you as an “expert” doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about.  You have the expertise of life experience, which is more valuable than any degree.
3. You’re never over the hill. Age is just a number. We evolve with age and get wiser. Getting old isn’t bad, but society likes to tell you it is.  even if you remain “alone,” you can still have friends, happiness, and a full life.
4. You might feel envious, but many people are doing worse than you. You have many blessings, and you also shouldn’t compare yourself to others. You should only compare your accomplishments to previous accomplishments, not those of others. We are all different and have different reasons for being here.
5. Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. What’s so bad about being single? You could still find someone anyway. In the meantime, cultivate your skills, talents, self esteem and friendships. Those count for just as much if not more than “being part of a twosome.”
6. You’re strong and are getting good at setting boundaries that work but are also permeable enough to let others in sometimes.
7. You are not crazy. You have PTSD, which isn’t a mental illness, but a normal reaction to a series of abnormal events. And you’re getting better every day.
8. Yes, you made some bad choices, but who doesn’t? You also made those bad choices because you didn’t have a choice but to make them (you were programmed to always make the choice that kept you from taking any real risks or chances–which usually meant not making a choice at all–and this is what kept you from growing emotionally). This was NOT YOUR FAULT.
9. You are smart and a lot of people like you. You have a right to express what you feel.
10. You should be proud of your accomplishments. Talking about them sometimes isn’t bragging, it’s showing healthy self esteem.
11. What happened to you to make you believe such outrageous lies?   There was something wrong with the people who told you these lies.

The “Four F’s” of C-PTSD

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I just began reading “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker. I can already tell I won’t be able to put it down (I will write a book review when I’m finished, which shouldn’t take long). I’m also going to bring this book to my next therapy session because I want my therapist to see it.

Walker, who is a therapist and also a survivor of narcissistic abuse and sufferer of C-PTSD, is an engaging writer and definitely knows his subject matter. In one of the first chapters, he discusses the “Four F’s”–which are four different “styles” of coping that people with C-PTSD develop to cope with their abusive caregivers and avoid the abandonment depression. Whatever style one adopts may be based on several factors–natural temperament, the role in the family the child was given (scapegoat, golden child, “lost” or ignored child), birth order, and other factors.

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Available on Amazon

The Four F’s are:

1. Fight (the narcissistic defense): often “golden children,” such children learn to project shame onto others; may go on to develop NPD
2. Flight (the obsessive-compulsive/anxiety defense): these children will grow up to become highly anxious, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant.
3. Freeze (the dissociative defense): these children “protect” themselves by dissociating from others, themselves, and their environment.
4. Fawn (the codependent defense): the child learns to avoid harm by people-pleasing or siding with their abusers.

Walker speculates that if C-PTSD were recognized in the psychiatric literature, the DSM could probably be reduced to the size of a pamphlet, for many people diagnosed with other disorders actually have C-PTSD, which encompasses symptoms of many other disorders and have common roots.

What you may have been misdiagnosed with (or diagnosed yourself with) if you have C-PTSD (these are the most common):

Personality Disorders:
Borderline Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Dissociative disorders

Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Panic Disorder
Social Anxiety
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Mood Disorders:
Depression
Bipolar Disorder

Developmental Disorders:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
ADHD
ADD

Codependency

Addictive Disorders

While any or all of these diagnoses can be co-morbid with C-PTSD, they miss the mark or don’t tell the whole story. Personality disorders such as BPD can develop from severe, unrelieved C-PTSD and they do share many similarities, but personality disorder labels are stigmatizing and not very helpful for someone who has suffered prolonged childhood trauma and abuse. Labels like “panic disorder” or “depression” aren’t helpful because they only address one or two symptoms of C-PTSD and therefore can’t even begin to address the roots of the depression or anxiety. You can treat anxiety or depression with drugs or short term therapy, but you can’t cure the person of the C-PTSD that’s causing their chronic anxiety or depression. The same goes for labels such as alcoholism or codependency. These are merely symptoms. People with C-PTSD are also sometimes erroneously diagnosed with developmental disorders such as ADHD or autism, which not only don’t address the trauma that led to the ADHD- or Aspergers-like behaviors, but also have completely different causes.

Narcissistic Victim Syndrome (NVS): What the heck is that?

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This is a very informative article about a type of complex PTSD suffered by victims of narcissistic abuse called Narcissistic Victim Syndrom, or NVS. Neither NVS or C-PTSD are currently recognized by the DSM, but are under consideration for future editions. Although this article is written for therapists, I think it belongs here and can be well understood by people who live with or whose lives have been seriously affected by narcissists. The author stresses that to be able to effectively work with patients with NVS, it’s necessary to be well-knowledged about NPD and narcissism(which abusers are most likely to have).

Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: What the heck is that?

Borderlines: incurable demons or trauma victims?

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The symptoms of Complex PTSD are almost identical to those of BPD.

Something has come to my attention during the time I’ve been blogging, which I think is important enough to merit another post about it.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD, DSM code 301.83) is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a Cluster B (emotional/dramatic/erratic) personality disorder having many similarities to character disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Both NPD and ASPD are characterized by a lack of empathy, entitled behavior, and disregard for the rights or feelings of others. It’s also true that some Borderlines act out in ways harmful to themselves and others. Hence, “Cluster B” has become a pejorative category and some ACONs (adult children of narcissists) and others have demonized people with BPD as being amoral, immoral, and almost inhuman, nearly or as bad as as people with NPD or ASPD. Some even go so far as to lump all borderlines in with the “narcs” and barely make a distinction between them. In their minds, if you’re a Borderline, you’re no better than a “narc” and that’s all there is to it. You’re a bad person and to be avoided.

To make matters even worse, many mental health professionals refuse to treat people with BPD, believing them to be troublemakers, incurable, or both. I remember one therapist I saw years ago for an intake session and seemed to connect well with, called me a few days later after he received my psychiatric records, and told me he couldn’t take me on as a patient. “I don’t work with borderlines,” he said.

It’s true that there are some similarities between the Cluster B disorders, and both BPD and NPD/ASPD have roots in childhood abuse or neglect. But the similarities don’t run very deep. What I mean by that is while both a borderline and a narcissist cn be manipulative or abusive to others, the reasons are very different. There’s also the matter of intention. Borderlines, if they act out against others, aren’t usually aware they’re being abusive and/or manipulative. If their bad behavior is brought to their attention, they normally become very upset and feel terrible about it (unless they have a comorbid NPD or ASPD diagnosis). They act out because of overpowering emotions that they haven’t learned how to control. In contrast, a narcissist or person with ASPD acts out because they can. If their behavior is brought to their attention, they’re likely to become angry and rage against the accusation, make excuses, blame-shift it onto someone else, or deny it.  Unlike most borderlines, they don’t feel remorse, guilt or shame for hurting others.

In addition, many borderlines are much more harmful to themselves than to other people. If they do act out against others, most are as frightened by their own outbursts as others are and sometimes more so. In a nutshell, people with BPD know they have a problem and wish they could be different. Untreated BPD makes a Borderline’s life miserable, while people with NPD or ASPD are usually not bothered by their disorder. That’s why, even though Borderlines can act “crazier” than narcissists, they can get better and are much more responsive to therapy or behavioral treatments such as DBT or CBT.

But we’re still caught in a gray zone, neither here or there.   The stigma against borderlines (in my observation) has grown worse, and most narcissistic abuse sites pretty much regard people with BPD  as the “female or over-emotional version of NPD.”  (actually, Covert/Fragile NPD or Histrionic Personality Disorder would come closer).   If we’re narcissistic abuse victims suffering from complex PTSD, it takes a great deal of courage to admit you also have a BPD diagnosis.  It took me a few months to come out about it on this blog. Fortunately,  I haven’t received too much (or really, any) flack about it.

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Click to enlarge graph.

The good news is, a number of BPD bloggers are helping to reduce the negative stigma that we’re “bad seeds” with an untreatable disorder just because we’re OMG “Cluster B.” Think about this: have you ever noticed that there aren’t too many people with NPD (or ASPD) blogging about their challenges and insecurities, or fighting to reduce the stigma against their disorder? If they blog about their narcissism or psychopathy, it’s usually to brag about how NPD/psychopathy makes them superior or allows them to have control over others and be successful in the world. That’s because they don’t think they have a problem (They just cause others to have problems). Most Borderlines know they have a problem and struggle with it constantly, since it makes them feel so crazy and lowers their quality of life. I can only think of ONE blogger with NPD who was unhappy with his disorder and successfully treated for it (or so he says). That man probably had low-spectrum and probably covert NPD; a person with malignant or high spectrum grandiose-type NPD will never have enough insight or willingness to admit that THEY are the ones with a problem. In contrast, I can think of about 20 bloggers with BPD who are in treatment or therapy or have even been healed! I’m sure there’s many more that I don’t even know about.

BPD also seems to co-occur a lot with complex PTSD or PTSD. Most BPD bloggers I can think of also have complex PTSD or are in treatment for it. The symptoms of BPD and Complex PTSD are almost the same. The DSM does not recognize Complex PTSD as a diagnosis; it only recognizes PTSD, which is not caused by chronic trauma over a long period of time (such as having been abused as a child), but by one traumatic incident (such as fighting in a war or being raped). Therapeutic treatments for complex PTSD and BPD are also almost the same (for that matter, NPD and other personality disorders are treated almost the same way). Both BPD and Complex PTSD have a higher cure rate than NPD. Since Complex PTSD isn’t recognized as a valid diagnosis, I think a lot of people (especially women) who might have been diagnosed with complex PTSD if it was recognized get slapped with the “Borderline” label instead. Although I accept my BPD diagnosis (and have even become a little attached to it), I wonder if I might never have been diagnosed with it at all had Complex PTSD been recognized by the psychiatric profession. I think in some cases, BPD may not really be accurate, or could even be the same thing as C-PTSD due to their many similarities. At least one blogger (BPD Transformation, who used to comment here but stopped for some reason), doesn’t even think BPD is a valid diagnosis and shouldn’t exist at all.

Further reading:

Are BPD and Complex PTSD the Same Disorder?

Is BPD a Real Disorder or Should it Be Eliminated as a Diagnosis?

Feeling Overwhelmed: it’s a PTSD thing

I think this is something a lot of us can relate to, especially those of us with PTSD and complex PTSD. I know I sure can, and there have been times where writing a new post seems like moving a mountain and I just can’t do it. Welcome back, Linda Lee!

A Blog About Healing From PTSD

3i1_this_charming_charlie_tumblr_584Image from This Charming Charlie on Tumblr.

TWO WEEKS AGO, when I started this brand new blog, I had big ideas for my first post. I was thrilled that the name I wanted — A Blog About Healing From PTSD — was available. I picked out the theme, loaded a header picture, wrote my description page, and got all the settings the way I like them.

But when I started to write my first post, I froze.

No, my problem isn’t writer’s block. I’m not depressed, not anxious, not sick, and I’m certainly not too busy to find the time to write. My reason for waiting two weeks before writing my first post is something that happens to me a lot, in all kinds of situations. It’s maddening, it’s debilitating, and most people don’t seem to understand it at all.

My problem: I AM OVERWHELMED.

When I’m overwhelmed, the simplest…

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Shouting at cars

I can relate to the “exaggerated startle response” and always being told by everyone to “relax” and “chill out” that this blogger describes. People suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD have to deal with the impatience of other people who don’t understand what it’s like to walk through life feeling like you might get ambushed any second.  You feel constantly in danger and become hypervigilant about everything. It’s not like we want to be like this, you know!

I’m only 6 years old.

Therapy was more productive tonight…

The One Who Got Away

Living with Narcissism is a new WordPress blog written from a man’s point of view. He suffers from C-PTSD and writes about his toxic relationships with character disordered women.

This is a highly readable account of his devastating breakup with a young woman who had Borderline Personality Disorder. While BPD is highly stigmatized, many women with active BPD behave just this way. I’m ashamed to admit I recognized some of Kerry’s behaviors in the ways I used to act in my relationships. This was an excellent post from a wonderful new blogger. Please go visit his blog and leave comments there.

Living With Narcissism

Even after 15 years of marriage there was this one woman who I just never got over completely.  In my mind, she was my soulmate.  The one who got away.  Leaving her was like an addict giving up their drug of choice.  She was my heroine.  My soul was so enmeshed with hers that it literally felt like a tearing apart inside my heart and soul when I finally left her.  After all of those years I still pined for her and yearned for closure.  I had no idea what I’d done wrong or why we couldn’t work out.  I felt like our relationship was just an innocent baby and she killed it.  I should have hated her for that.  If it had really been a child, no doubt, I would have.  But it was a metaphorical child.  I didn’t hate her.  I missed her and still loved her even…

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