By Jill Doneen Clifton
I was in college.
I was in a great deal of emotional and psychological pain having left home for college just a month after placing my firstborn, a daughter, for adoption.
I entered school in January instead of September, so everyone in the dorms already knew each other. I didn’t seek out a therapist, and I knew exactly no one in the larger community. I was completely alone, and I could not have felt more like an outsider.
I suppose that people avoiding grief attract people avoiding grief.
And so when this guy whom I wasn’t interested in started pursuing me, I literally felt like I didn’t have anything better to hope for… and I accepted his advances. It was an inauspicious start for sure. His dad had died unexpectedly his first year at college. It wasn’t something his heart or mind could comprehend, and he missed his dad like crazy.
If we were more mature, we might have had a chance at helping each other. But we were both tormented by our losses, and occasionally beyond furious at our misfortune.
I remember one time when he was banging my head against the kitchen cupboards for God-knows-what, that I had this hyper-logical string of thoughts going through my mind.
“What does he need in this moment?”
I tried acting sorry, I tried fighting back, I tried walking away, but all of it just made him more furious. I had no idea how to calm him down. I desperately wanted to make it okay for both of us because I needed him to make me feel… well, anything…as long as he needed me.
We had a bond of desperation.
We were both so incredibly heartbroken, and adrift in a sea of sorrow. Instead of trying to find a raft together, we grasped at each other, and created situations that sabotaged our trust in one another. Things got worse over the years… and we’d break up briefly until jealousy and fear pulled us back together.
He told me I couldn’t find anyone better and I believed him. Much of the abuse was emotional, some was physical, and some sexual. The contract of abuse was mutual agreement of unworthiness. We agreed that neither of us deserved better than what we had.
And until one broke that contract, we were both stuck in it. I was offered a job in Hawaii and I’d be gone for four months.
He told me that if I loved him I wouldn’t go.
The thing is, that job was the one thing I had truly wanted for me for as long as I could remember. We had been broken up for a little while, and so I was brave enough to take the leap.
It was remote. In 1996 everyone didn’t carry a cell phone in their pocket so there was no communication with friends or family for the duration of the job.
I got away from his messages about who I was and what I was worth long enough to learn something about myself. I learned that I can be strong, sensitive, that I have limits and boundaries, and for the first time in almost a decade, I felt alive. I had strength, and hope, and faith.
Left to my own thoughts, I found that I didn’t really believe those things he told me, or that I had come to understand through my pain.
And when I got back to the mainland and he called me and said, “I think we should meet,” I easily said, “I don’t.” And that—after eight lost years—was that.
It still took decades more to undo the web of self-doubt, worthlessness, not-enough-ness, shame, and guilt from those years of abuse.
I still dance with them to this day. But now it’s more of a cha-cha and less of a knife fight.
Jill Doneen Clifton stands for sovereignty and wholeness for all. She came to that space from desperation, co-dependence, and a rad inner persistence that wouldn’t let this life experience go by for naught. She learned to connect deeply to her body to find healing, peace, and well-being. Today you can find her practicing her healing art as a Body Wisdom Mystic, and making the most of each moment with her family in Santa Cruz, CA.
Editor: Dana Gornall