Last week I had a long conversation with my brothers about our childhood, and immediately my brain slipped back into the toxic cycles that it had already been headed towards.
I am now coming out of that iteration with fresh perspectives.
First, addiction: I come from a context of addiction, and though I have generally avoided substance abuse myself, my addictions are of a more subtle nature. For a long time, I was addicted to shopping, and ran my credit cards up well into the high five digits. That was only fixed by a large inheritance and a major lifestyle change.
Social media gave me a new outlet for addiction. I have had access to it in some form since the late 1980s, when I was in college and a friend created a local chat system for the school’s computers. During the worst of my addiction, in the late 90s and early 00s, I spent significant chunks of every day online, to the point of endangering my work and killing my offline social life.
I generally have it under control now, but it’s far too easy for me to slip again. I’ve had periods over the last few months, for instance, where I’ll lose track of hours while I flip between Facebook, Twitter, and Discord. There are a lot of things I could be doing, things that generally bring me more happiness, but instead it’s flip-refresh-flip-refresh. “Just another twenty minutes, I swear.”
“Time and again I tell myself / I’ll stay clean tonight / But the little green wheels are following me / Oh no, not again” — David Bowie
There has been a lot written on the obsessive nature of social media. I know I’m not alone in it, and I’m not going to rehash that literature. My own frustration is how it relates to another issue: Toxic relationship styles.
I grew up in a very codependent household. My father had a Savior Complex; my mother had a particularly self-sabotaging Personality Disorder. It was an emotional toxic soup in which it was difficult for healthy attention and communication to thrive.
Add to that my own autism and my visible disability. Add to that my father’s job, as a minister, which led to us moving every three to five years.
Oof. None of these elements alone are worthy of a V. C. Andrews novel, but together, they make for a nasty stew. Without supports, my healthy autistic communications went ignored. My mother trained me that negative attention was easy to get, and my father trained me that negative attention was rewarded with maladaptively codependent “healing”, which meant bandages that held the wounds together for a short period.
The crucial foundation for the Savior part of codependency, after all, is the Sisyphusean need to push the “healed” person back into fracture so they can be healed again.
During that period in the 90s and 00s, I managed to insinuate myself into a culture of codependent cyclic trauma healers, where a person’s value was determined by how fractured they were. The more fractured you were, the more satisfied other people were in healing you.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Some of these people I knew in person, but many more I knew online.
And we were in crisis mode. A lot. Often, someone was on the suicidal brink (not really, it was part of the show, the drama). It was exhausting, it was exhilarating.
“Life keeps slipping away / Fighting in a war with damnation / Poised, keep cutting away / I’m looking in through to salvation / Just one fix” — Ministry
(Gimme that Thorazine.)
I associated feeling valuable with my ability to walk someone back from their crisis. And I took my turns being the one on the brink.
“Have a nice day” had an ulterior motive. “Hello” was an overture for “heal me”. Except healing didn’t happen.
My autism played a part, of course: I was practicing scripts. I was learning how to function to get attention that I didn’t understand.
So now me, 2022: Staring at my friends’ names online, thinking about messaging them to just say hi, but then the half century of bile and baggage weighs down on me.
Two steps forward, one step back.
The other day, someone I thought was my friend told me I’m not getting any better. That’s not true, I am. I am far better than I was a decade ago, but healing is a process, and I’m not going to heal from a half century of bile and baggage without a few relapses.
Moreso, though, being told that was a wakeup that I had slipped back into some toxic relationship perspectives. Houses stand on the foundations we build for them, and if the foundation is based on crisis-and-healing codependency loops, that will be the nature of the relationship.
I have to take a more mindful, positive approach to building healthy foundations. Maybe it means I won’t have “friends” in a way that I recognize, but then again, most of the “friends” I’ve had over my lifetime have been based on these toxic foundations.
I have people in my life with healthy foundations in the relationships. I have people I trust to hold my hand through true healing, not the trauma cycles. I will grow myself, and in so doing, I will grow those relationships.