OK, step away from neuroscience; back to how my life fell apart with attachment disorder. When we last looked at the end of my 27-year marriage, I’d stumbled into a rebound affair. Dan* had a fake southern accent, I was from southern Long Island, and I was toast. I had no idea how the real world works; I thought he was looking for True Love. In “Working Girl” (1988), Melanie Griffith’s character Tess is too nervous to make the corporate cocktail party in her boss’s $6,000 dress, so her friend Cyn passes her a few of the boss’s valiums. Tess then passes out in the cab. Eyeing the bottle later, Cyn quips in New York-ese: “Gee, shoulda checked the milligramage. Oh well, Live and Loin…”That was me in late 2006 – shoulda checked the milligramage.
But Whu Nu, and who cared? After Dan came at me for weeks at the family swimming hole, I finally went to his Maryland farm for dinner. After dinner, we looked at years of photos showing how he had built his house from scratch; in fact, he was so constructive that one thing led to another.
Before I knew it, all my emotional pain from 27 years of married neglect and abuse was being medicated into oblivion. This went on for the next few weeks, as Dan pumped a flood of feel-good dopamine, oxytocin, and other mating chemicals through my bloodstream with enough intensity to knock a gal senseless. I was like a Stradivarius which had been manhandled by a ham-fisted tone-deaf bass drummer (that would be my ex) for 10 years, tossed into storage for 20 years, and then
found by a master violinist. It was a trip from nothing, to a whole lot of something. To call me putty would have be a major understatement.In his college days, Dan had been seduced by the wife of a French diplomat; this exotic lady taught him more things about a woman’s anatomy than Henry Gray ever dreamt possible. If not George Washington University, then at least the CIA should have had him teaching post-grad courses in his area of expertise. Surely there was some branch of our secret services in which he would have been an enormous asset.
Dan was systematic at ensuring my chemical addiction, but he wasn’t just shining shoes to please a client. He took the abandoned delight of a kid in an ice cream store in what he did, and it showed, which naturally made me think he really cared for me. “If you enjoy something, why wouldn’t you want to make it last as long as you can?” he would say, going into hour four at 2 am with no let up in intensity.
New York City Girl found herself literally on another planet, playing farm wife complete with apron, wood fires, and home-cooked meals. (Even though sitting on the tractor, no matter how hard I tried to “go country,” I still resembled nothing so much as Martha Stewart…)
“Grandpa used to say: A woman should be chained to the bed — with a chain long enough to reach the kitchen,” Dan would drawl. We’d go out back down by the lake where he’d give me shooting lessons so that I could one day join his frequent hunting trips which kept the basement freezers stocked with deer and fowl. I got to where I made a killer venison chili.
Suddenly, I had an enthusiastic taker for all that country music I’d been logging mindlessly in my head for months. We’d ride around on the tractor or in his four-wheel drive singing “I Ain’t as Good as I Once Was” by Toby Keith at the top of our lungs (singing and dancing ensued, in fact, at the oddest hours and angles). Everything seemed to fall in place.
Imagine my surprise when, after three months, Dan began to talk up my earlier plan to move to California. One day, he announced out of the blue that it would be a mistake for a gal to hang around him too long. “Why can’t women be like my guy friends? If I don’t call them for two weeks, they don’t care,” he said. (“Doin’ the same gymnastics with the guys?” I considered asking, but it seemed counter-productive.)
“Women are too obsessed with relationships,” he went on. “Guys don’t care about that stuff. Relationships are for marriage, marriage is for having children, and I’m done with all that.Women who want to hang on to a guy need to get over it. Sex is for adults. Women who can’t have sex without getting attached to a guy need to grow up.”
Back to brain science, where one of the first things you learn is that our brain has three or four gross subdivisions, which behave very differently, as Dr. Bruce Perry’s first slide showed last week. First, in the womb, we develop the brain stem and cerebellum for pure survival, aka “Reptilian brain.” After we are born, the neurons of the Limbic brain aka “Mammalian brain” fire up, so we can get emotionally attached to Mom. Only much later, the neurons of the Cortex aka “Thinking Brain” finally come on line.1Reptiles just don’t get attached; they don’t carry their young, they eat their young. That’s because reptiles have no emotions, and that’s because they have no emotional limbic brain. The limbic brain first developed in mammals, who develped the ability to feel. They felt it was better to carry and care for their young. They developed the ability to feel attachment.Dan was militant about not using his mammalian lobe – and of reptiles he was rather fond. On one of our vacations in Mexico, I envied the iguana he found, it got so much TLC. Dr.Stephen Porges explained in a recent article how to detect such folks, but me in 2006? Who Nhu?2
To be fair, Dan had been through a seriously nasty divorce years before. He never knew that his wife, whom he loved to distraction, was having babies with other men while he was hard at work at Reagan National airport, until their third child. He went ballistic, and vowed never again to become attached. “I ripped out my heart with an axe, now I’m heartless and I like it that way,” he’d say. “I’m famous for being heartless, even at work. She did me a favor: she made me bulletproof.”
Dan had years ago declared nuclear war on attachment. Now he tells me.
Instead, he bought 15 acres of wooded land in the Styx of rural Maryland, way out down a dirt road as far west as he could go. He cleared half of it for a farm, and built himself a fortress by hand, a large, airy, three-story building of wood and stone with a huge fireplace which could heat the entire house even in 20 degree weather.
After one particularly tender evening with me, he awoke next morning with a nightmare which had been repeatedly haunting him for a decade. He saw his wife enter his new house with a crew of workmen, directing them to rip out of the walls all the custom made-wiring, conduits and pipes he had built so painstakingly by hand.
He could run, but could not hide, from the pain of rejection still lacerating deep into his soul.
As I said in blog #8, I was like the Singing Nun right out of a cloister on this ball field. And now in my naivete, I was blown away with compassion for his tragedy, hook, line and sinker.
By now, Dan had learned (one hopes unconsciously) that telling his heartrending tale with his big blue eyes full of hurt was a surefire way to get a gal’s defenses down. It brought out the mom in her, her co-dependent wish to rescue the underdog, and all her bonding hormones, in one fell swoop. While she was in the grip of this mindless emoting, Dan could get away with murder. Good gosh, it was crazy-making.
I was the No Eye Deer at the time, but it was a classic case of “Come Here – Go Away.” Dan used his tale of woe and his carefully induced chemical addiction campaign to have a gal bond like crazy glue. But once she got involved, he would flip and say “Go Away.”3
Only way, way later did I realize that it all resembled nothing so much as the scene in the Bruce Lee film “Enter the Dragon,” in which Hahn the drug lord has built a factory for the white slave trade under his palatial Hong Kong chateau.
Stealing in to investigate, Lee’s character discovers rows of red cages, each holding a kidnapped young woman. Nurses in crisp white uniforms are systematically injecting heroin into their shoulders to addict them, so they never attempt escape.
Now, all those organic chemicals Dan pumped into me had me rowing in the same slave galley. Far-fetched? Nope. Helen Fisher, the anthropologist upon whose lab studies all the picky questionnaires on Match.com and Chemistry.com are based, has a book out on it. I was of course clueless at the time.4
I was convinced (and I wasn’t the first gal or the last to buy it) that I could be the one to melt Dan’s heart and save him from his emotional prison. At first, I heard his stern, high-horse lectures about the moral superiority of acting like an adult and not getting clingy, with disbelief.
Then ruminating on it in the months to follow, I began to wonder if perhaps this is how all men are, for what did I know of men?
Certainly my ex had made even less of an effort to relate to me. If I were to do the math, it’s possible Dan spent more time touching me in those first few months than my ex had in 30 years. And it sure felt “right.” As Dan repeated his lecture time and again, I began to wonder: what did I know, anyway, about relating in these matters like an adult, man or woman? I knew the global foreign exchange markets and I knew how to build a nuclear reactor, but I was clueless on this playing field.
Perhaps he was correct? Perhaps maturity is being able to rule oneself entirely by one’s mind and not let one’s emotions run away with the stage coach? Either way, what profit argument? If I just kept showering him with love and compassion, wouldn’t his heart melt one day?
Not only had Dan declared war on bonding – he had sold war bonds to me. I knew I had a problem with unruly emotions, so I bought his idea that if I didn’t understand him, it was my own emotional immaturity.
So what is this lurid tale doing on a mental health website? Have my editors gone nuts? Nope, but the rest of us might have issues.
As low-brow as my story is, it is a very common one and it may have happened to you a time or two. Put it another way: who in their right mind would put up with Dan’s treatment for a month, let alone almost two years? Exactly. Putting up with this is precisely “not being in my right mind.” Something which is definitely not mental health is at the root of putting up with this.
OK, why? Cry “psycho-babble” all you want, but this is exactly what happens to people who did not receive good secure attachment as kids.
And like I say, that’s up to 50% of Americans. The sad fact is, with a population of over 300 million Americans, about 150 million women and men are putting up with something like this right now, and for years at a stretch.
After the “come here” came the “go away,” and I moved to California as planned in November 2006. But Dan wasn’t done with me. He kept calling and emailing; he knew I had Washington DC Beltway defense sector clients offering lucrative consulting gigs which could bring me to his door for a few months a year. I couldn’t say no to the East Coast contracts after what my ex had done to our finances, and I couldn’t say no to Dan and his perfectly legal and lethal natural organic drugs.
Thus it came to pass that the opium-like nightmare simply went on and on. The rest of 2006, all of 2007, and half of 2008 were a blur of trans-continental red-eye flights, working 70 hour weeks for fat defense sector paychecks, making solo trips from LAX to rendezvous with Dan on the warm beaches of Mexico for tequila plus, and very interesting long midnight coast-to-coast telephone calls.
This was a guy with a distance thing and an issue against getting close, all right. A 3,000 mile distance thing. The whole long, painful time I thought he must secretly “in his heart of hearts” want me back. But reality was that the only reason he kept calling me was that I was safely (for him) moved in, 3,000 miles away.
*All names, except for mine, have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, and any resemblance they may have to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Technical writer and author of the upcoming book Don’t Try This at Home: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder – How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Raised on Long Island, New York, Kathy survived a 30-year career in the fast lanes of New York City and Washington DC. Starting on Wall Street researching South African gold stocks, she was an international economist for 18 years, using her Japanese language skills to write and consult on U.S.-Japan trade and finance. In Washington, she became a technical writer, producing complex documents for Pentagon subcontractors, her line for the last 12 years, while pursuing her hobby as an opera singer. She was busy flying around the world instead of having children and building a family. Suddenly in 2007, Kathy faced divorce from her 27-year marriage to her college sweetheart, leaving her bankrupt. A move to California was followed by the death of both her parents and then two bad rebound affairs – five life disasters in two years. Those crises started her down a path of discovery and healing that she is now able to share with others.
This is from Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder – How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.
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