I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Laura Brown’s keynote address at a clinical conference last week. As a therapist who specializes in trauma work, she shared some of the amazing insights from her book, Not the Price of Admission: Healthy Relationships After Childhood Trauma.
The price of admission. Just sit with that one for a minute. Those whose stories have included the Otherness of adolescent peer rejection and humiliation due to our body shape or size, our gender behaviors, our social awkwardness, or whatever other features marked us as the kid who was different often are willing to pay a very high price to be loved…or in the absence of love, to relieve our experience as completely touch-deprived.
How much have we given of our physical and emotional health, our dreams, our very identities so that we might participate in relationships that offered us little?
Some of us didn’t believe that love could be ours so we accepted sex. Sometimes, we did things with our sexual bodies that were significantly beyond what we wanted or were comfortable doing because we believed we must.
Some of us sacrificed major financial resources to a relationship. We may have worked extra hours, even more than one job, to win someone and keep her or him in our life. We may have allowed the person not to work. To our way of thinking, if our partner depended on us financially, we’d never be left behind.
Many of us gave up other significant relationships with friends and family who were trying to help us see how harmful the relationship was for us. We knew they were right, but pretended they weren’t. We told ourselves that whatever we were enduring from our partner was part of his way, how she showed love because she’d endured so much, that the love that came our way was real. We knew we could change things for the better if we just stayed in long enough and worked harder.
On and on goes the list of things we paid up as admission into these relationships. Reflecting back on my clinical experiences, I recall so many stories such as:
“Cassandra,” who struggled with obesity her whole life. She learned early in her adolescence that if she gave enough of herself sexually, she could have attention. Her last boyfriend told her that she “fucks with total gratitude.”
“Ronald,” who bore a major scar across his face and jawline, and willingly searched out and rescued destructive women because he still believed he believed that if he eventually rescued the right one, she’d love him for life. He allowed his most recent girlfriend to bankrupt him, and he stayed in the relationship even after he found out she was cheating on him.
“Sherene,” a transgender woman who until her current relationship, had believed she’d be single forever because as the last man she’d loved told her, “no man wants more than sex from a tranny.” She worked two jobs to support her live-in boyfriend because she believed that this was the only way she could keep him; foregoing her dreams of going back to school.
Each of them, each of us, lost so much of life’s joy, creativity. The stories mix and match genders and backgrounds.
The most important piece that I want readers to take away from this is that you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. Most importantly, you’re not damaged; and you don’t have to pay dearly just to be loved.
This is a good place to leave off for the week. I’ll pick up next week with a continued discussion of how we start moving away from paying high admissions for love.