Breaking Contact vs. Breaking Connection
Hey guys. I’m “back” – sort of. I’m trying to be. First, some news. I didn’t go out of my way to broadcast it to everyone in my network (that’s never wise about any kind of news, in my experience), but I’m making it known now that it’s been over for awhile and so that my absence makes sense. I know I don’t have to explain or justify anything to people, but I did want you to know there’s a reason I went missing.
I took a few weeks off from writing because I was dealing with some acute PTSD symptoms that just about sent me into a breakdown, after my home was broken into and burglarized during the holiday season. That would have perhaps been inconvenient and triggering enough, but I was also home at the time, when the person broke in.
I was asleep in a bedroom and woke up to the sound of the door being battered and kicked in. I called the cops and hid until they arrived. I later determined that the person most likely didn’t know I was home. They were not armed. But when it’s happening, you don’t know whether they’re armed, whether they intend to hurt or kill, what they want, or what they’re willing to do to get it.
As far as outcomes go, it was the best possible scenario. I wasn’t hurt by the intruder; the criminal and I actually never even laid eyes on each other. The police came quickly, they arrested the person within 6 hours, all of what was taken from me – materially speaking – was returned more or less undamaged. Which was super helpful, because one of the things they’d stolen was my computer, with all of my writing on it. So getting all of that back before they had a chance to wipe my hard drive clean was an almost-unheard of blessing. The perpetrator obviously wasn’t that smart, and obviously didn’t know me, because for all of their trouble they broke into the home of someone who doesn’t even have much of anything to steal in the first place. My place isn’t even fully furnished at the moment. I’m at the upper end of the poor working class, but I’m still poor working class.
Emotionally, it’s taken me a bit longer to get back on my feet. I was in a fog for days, if not weeks. I couldn’t think clearly. People would talk to me and it made no sense…what they were saying sounded like gibberish. My system (speaking as a multiple) came almost completely undone…not directly because of the robbery, but for other marginally related reasons that I can’t discuss here. Any relationship that wasn’t pretty solid before the robbery, just got dropped. It wasn’t on purpose; I just didn’t have the energy to attend to anyone or anything. People on the fringes of my life would contact me and whereas I normally try to accommodate people when possible, my hand would move almost of its own accord and hit “Delete.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep up any sort of facade.
I think I’m making progress. I’m not nearly as jumpy at night as I had been during the time period immediately after the crime. My head has cleared a bit. My system is *starting* to settle down. But I’m not quite “myself,” anymore either, and haven’t been since then. Maybe one day soon, I will be. Or maybe not. Maybe I have been permanently changed by the event in some way. I’m not sure. Either way, I’ve determined that however I evolve, it needs to be okay with me. I accepted it first because I didn’t have the energy to do otherwise, but I accept it now because that’s what I need to do, to move forward. It needs to be okay for me to just be; however I am or am not. Trying to force myself to be “normal” according to how I was before this, is not helpful or productive. Trying to just allow myself to proceed with life at my own pace is probably the best thing I’ve been able to do for myself – and seeing that modeled in the amazing friends I have in my life has helped me exponentially, too. I really do have some astounding people in my life. I do not deserve them. I love them more than anything in the world.
At any rate, I’m back to writing about attachment, because that seems to be the daily issue that never goes away. It is the one deeply-rooted pain that drives me insane with the relentless suffering it causes.
I realized something this morning that I think I need to spend some time sitting with. The thing I realized is this: there’s a difference between breaking contact, and breaking connection.
Breaking contact just means I’m ceasing to interact with someone in real-time, at this very moment. If I was having a phone conversation it would mean that one or both of us has to go now, and hanging up. If I was PM’ing them on the computer, it would mean ending the convo. If I was spending time with someone in person, it would mean going home when it’s time to go home. Or whatever. That – that ending of the live interaction – is breaking contact.
It is not the same as breaking connection.
Breaking connection means some sort of loss of relationship. It is a change in, or loss of, the relational connection I had with the person, where we are not relationally connected in the same way as we once were.
These are two very different things. Why can’t I learn this?
There’s so much overlap with DID, Borderline, attachment problems, and etc, and I’ve never known it to not be messy. It’s messy when I’m trying to attach and relate to another adult, and an outsider would suppose that it’s a relationship wherein 2 adults are interacting, but that’s not always the case internally… at least, not for me. As an adult I know that things have to end (or pause) eventually. People need to go home, go to sleep, go to work, do chores, spend time alone (gasp), take a break, re-charge. But I have lots and lots of little people and even baby parts on the inside who do not understand, who do not know. Emotionally, they drive a lot of what goes on in the system and have a huge influence on my overall state – with or without my awareness. They have not learned all this yet. They haven’t learned that breaking contact is not the same as breaking connection.
It can be. For instance, when I cut my toxic family out of my life, I was doing both. I was breaking contact and connection, because both of those things were damaging to me and I was done letting them hurt me. But for the rest of the relationships in my world, the ones I want and need and value, it’s a constant struggle to differentiate between the two things. I certainly do not and cannot expect another adult to provide the constant reassurance that they will return, that nothing is wrong, they are not mad, they have not disappeared.
There are some things that I have personally found helpful, which I wanted to pass along to you in case there are any relationships in your life where this may be relevant. Whether with a therapist, a close friend, spouse, or etc, I have found several things that may lessen the anxiety a bit within a relationship. They are very small tips, but to me, every little bit helps.
I actually haven’t done this yet, because I’ve been too shy to ask…but I wish that I could: I’ve heard that some therapists who work with people who have attachment issues (whether related to DID or borderline or not) will sometimes give their clients a small item of theirs – like a small stuffed animal or figurine or token of some sort that the therapist values – so the client can have and keep it while they are apart. Like in between sessions, or in cases where the therapist will be on vacation. The point is not to give it to the client to keep forever; the point is that it belongs to the therapist and they are going to want it back, thereby essentially reassuring the client that they’ll see them again. The client is basically “babysitting” the object, for safe keeping. I like this. As I mentioned, I am too shy to ask, but I know that my little people would also tend to value this technique even among close friends, but I’m not at a point where I feel ready to take such a risk and ask. I already feel weird enough, being the only SRA survivor/ multiple/ semi-notorious pen-name writer friend of my kind in people’s lives. I don’t want to ask if my little people can also have a borrowed item of theirs to hold onto, so that we may remember that they still exist even when we can’t see them. It just feels…much more muchier than I can manage at the moment.
Sometimes really small things are mighty in their ability to reassure. I had a friend that would say to me recently “Talk to you soon,” when we had to end a conversation, and likewise “See you soon,” when physically departing. Even if we had no immediate concrete plans to talk or see each other. It still really, really helped. It told me and everyone on the inside that this temporary goodbye wasn’t a forever goodbye (not that forever goodbyes are necessarily called what they are, but still…). I should probably tell her how much that helps me (see shyness referenced in above point). Sometimes just the phraseology between friends can build some trust…as long as you mean it. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
The biggest thing friends or therapists or anyone else in our lives can do is to understand that attachment issues do not amount to anything personal. They are not doing anything wrong. I’ve known my T for ten solid years now (even though I’ve only been working with her for barely three), and I still just about have a borderline meltdown when she goes on vacation. And that’s a known event. I’m informed ahead of time. I am able to play devil’s advocate in almost any situation, and even I tend to get snippy with myself, thinking thoughts like: you’ve known her for ten fricking years – when are you going to finally believe she’s always going to come back? When will you finally trust her? What does she have to do to prove to you that she is really on your team? And that, really, is the point. There are things that help, but probably nothing any one person can do that can definitively “fix” these deficits once and for all. Part of it is an accumulation of new experiences over time, and a re-training of the brain. But part of it is not something another human being can just repair by way of 24/7 reassurance that they still exist. Even though I want that, you want that, we all think we want that, it would only exhaust the other person and ultimately not achieve the goal, in the end.
That’s all I have. I need to focus on the thought that breaking contact is not the same as breaking connection. If anyone else has any tips of things that they do with their T or their friends, please feel free to share. I Googled “restoring object constancy” and there were frightfully few results other than scholarly books that pinged in the search engine, all of which costed mucho dinero.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a great New Year. My goal is to have new posts about once a week if possible. There are some career changes coming up that make this goal a bit unpredictable, but, that is the idea. Cheers. ~J8