While writing and illustrating the book for J, something deep within me cracked open. My heart, which had been protected by an icy layer of detachment, felt the first pricks of sunlight and slowly began to thaw.
The vulnerability was exhilarating at first. I could feel-- really feel-- love for J again. It was heady and hopeful and so very, very precious. I basked in its warmth for an evening as we went ice skating, grinning like fools and holding hands like newlyweds. But no sooner had I closed the door on his retreating back was I hit with the full weight of the heartache that had been held at bay by that same detachment. I panicked.
Are you a complete idiot?
Nothing has changed!
You're in for a world of hurt!
By Monday, when he joined the kids and I for dinner and Family Home Evening, I found his very presence profoundly painful. To avoid his gaze, I kept my eyes glued to the screen of my iphone. He tried to engage me in conversation, but I answered his queries in monosyllables. It was all I could do to stay in the same room with him. I was terrified and desperate-- desperate-- to regain detachment.
He was confused.
Over the next several weeks, he tried to goad a response out of me. My quick withdrawal sent him into some kind of spiral, and he responded by persecuting and playing the victim. This only served to confirm my fears and drive me away further.
And so the pattern began:
- We would connect.
- I would get scared and back off.
- He would grow frustrated and livid.
- I would detach.
It was an exhausting roller coaster ride; one which our therapist calmly tried to teach us to exit.
"It's a trauma response," he'd tell me. "You have a right to be afraid of being hurt."
He'd say, "You can stop this cycle," turning to J, "Comfort her. Validate her feelings. Be patient."
As the holidays approached, we found that to be so much easier said than done.