Dare I Come Out of the Foxhole?
As Pat and I wrestle down our self-diagnosed attachment disorders, I come to the realization that in grade school, high school and in college, and at church throughout my life, or later in my career at the office or in numerous other groups in which I was active, I did not have what I would call true friends, communities in which I felt I belonged and could be fully myself. Perhaps a ubiquitous issue, but one that seems to be my life’s work and purpose to address. Recently I was pleased to find a diagnosis for this heretofore mostly unconscious malady: attachment avoidance disorder. This means I have not come to value attachments to other people as a staple of my life. Rather, my life has come to be centered on many things apart from friendship and community. I built it this way and am not sad about it – I compensated in so many ways that I never came to miss true deep friendships or community. Of course the pain of such a state cannot be avoided forever, but for much of my life the pain was just unconscious. I was happily busy and satisfied with my life, even fulfilled – consciously, while unconsciously much fundamental humanness was left unfulfilled and in ruins.
So why do I say I have an attachment avoidance disorder in the first place? How can I have very deep conversations with so many people on the one hand and say I avoid healthy mature attachments to people on the other? Why do I insist that I don’t belong? Some of my “friends” say I’m crazy to carry around such a self-diagnosis, saying that this is not at all their experience of me. And maybe I am crazy, but please hear me out and we’ll revisit the question of friendships and community in my life at the end of this brief writing.
Before I launch into this I want to emphasize that I am not judging myself as defective or stupid. Nor am I blaming others – Mom, Dad, teachers and others in authority, or my peers – for my social struggles and underdevelopment. Quite the contrary; I am responsible for my own life. While I have various strengths of course, a significant undeveloped part of me, that is, a pervasive weakness in me, is in the area of relationships, and part of my job on the planet in this lifetime is to mature and develop in my capacity to build and hold deep relationships that bring meaning and fulfillment to my life and the lives of those around me .
I have chosen to tackle this growth area with my partner Pat, and she has chosen to do the same with me. I might add that while this is scary territory for both of us, for whatever reason we are both very committed to each other and to our development in this relatively undeveloped side of our personalities. We want to experience connection, love, Eros, and belonging in our relationship with each other. As we do this work our awareness of the scope and degree of our underdevelopment in this core arena of life becomes more sobering each day, yet we walk headlong into these treacherous and daunting waters of “intimate connection.”
First the Mom part. When I shared with a friend of mine that I had not grieved the untimely death of my parents 40 years ago, she said, “Of course not, from what you’ve shared you never really bonded to them, so how could you grieve them?” A bit shocking, but real. For whatever reason I did not feel close to Mom. She was busy in her organizational work, and her and my relationship seemed more related to my chores around the house and the organized things we did together such as cub scouts, school programs, and church activities. In this environment I filled the vacuum created by this not feeling closeness to Mom with my hobbies – all kinds of hobbies. I could live in my own world with no problems whatsoever. Friends? Who needs them? Mom? Who needed her? Really? Or so I thought, but unconsciously. Consciously I “loved” Mom.
Next there was school – grade school, high school, and college. When I arrived on the scene at school at age six I did not make friends, did not know the value in having friends. Over my nearly twenty years of schooling I enjoyed class work, homework, and my many isolated hobbies outside of school. Socialization remained structured – recess, scouts, church youth group, and later the painful years of fraternity life in college. In general it would not occur to me to call someone up and have a conversation about something that interested me or to go out for a talk or a drink or to play cards or basketball. Dating? You have got to be kidding. And I was very comfortable in my room studying away. I did not miss what I did not know: friendships and sense of belonging.
Finally there was the bulk of the rest of my life – job, family, church, and other organizations. Again I had no really close friends. Rather, just let me play my organizational roles, prepare a presentation, paint the house, or take the kids to soccer and I’ll be fine. Personal interaction apart from the meetings, the soccer games, etc. just did not happen – I had not come to value friendships per se. In this vacuum of limited socialization I was not aware of being lonely. In fact, I would say I was quite happy thank you, just not social. Again, I could not miss what I did not know. At least I did not consciously miss friendship. But underneath? …
And so with my activities today. I am very active in my Pathwork organization – on many boards and committees. I am faithful in leadership; I get my jobs done well enough. But I would say I have no “friendships” in my Pathwork community – people I would call up just to connect. I do not feel I really belong. In fact when I go to meetings in Virginia and one of the more gregarious of us invites me to stay at his house, I turn him down. I rationalize that I am an introvert and simply need my down time. Is he not a “friend”? Well he is a colleague, but is he a “friend”? I say not, on some level
Let’s look elsewhere in my life. For maybe five years now I have had a Pathwork “buddy” – Jenny Zia. She is a psychotherapist and committed 30-year Pathworker who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. We talk on the phone for 90 minutes every two weeks. Our conversations are intense, lively, and deep, centering on our respective challenges in our spiritual growth. We are open and quite vulnerable in our conversations. In addition to our biweekly phone conversations we get together twice a year with a third person for several relaxing days of sharing. I enjoy this time with Jenny a great deal. However I tell her that I do not see her as a friend. She is shocked and dismayed. “I certainly consider you my friend. What would our relationship have to be beyond what it is for you to consider me your friend?” An insightful question. I have no answer, yet something is missing.
On some deep level I somehow resist friendships. Somehow the pain of rejection by Mom when I felt and expressed my love for her set the stage for expecting rejection from everyone. My belief: the only relationships I was destined to have were those initiated by the other – be that my ex-wife, ex-lovers or others. I dare not initiate where I longed to go with the people I longed to be in community with, the pain I fear in my expected rejection is too severe to bear. I’d rather stay in the safety of my foxhole than stand up and take on a barrage of bullets of rejection. This is a root problem for me in this lifetime.
Early in my relationship with Pat I came out of my foxhole. But I was unskillful, clumsy, and forceful. A shocked Pat retreated into her foxhole, disappointed at my initiating in such a boyish and immature way. I had recreated my relationship with Mom all over again – and I felt rejected by Pat. So I retreated, and I’ve stayed in my foxhole for 10 years now, resigned to my unfulfilled longing. And Pat has stayed in her foxhole as well for her reasons from her life. Thank God we understand this now. In our counseling we are trying again, each daring to come out of our respective foxholes. We are aware of some but not all of the risks and dangers. But we are also trusting that this is our journey in this lifetime, our respective lessons to learn in life, our goal for personal development. We realize we’ve taken on a challenging task. We trust it is for the benefit of all beings. Pat and I are now out of the foxhole and in this friendship boat together. Pray for us. Amen.
Shared in love, Gary
(First composed for my writing group 5/14/13)