personal blog about mental health

Hello, World. This Is Our Story, and It’s Not a Fairy Tale 

My mother-in-law likes to refer to mine and Garrett’s love story as a ‘fairy tale’. 

I suppose if she’s referring to a Grimm’s fairy tale, complete with demons and monsters, then she may be onto something. 

But, I highly doubt that Disney will come calling to buy the rights to our story any time soon. 

To be fair, there’s no shortage of love, connection, or effort in our relationship. To the contrary, those things are almost always in abundance. 

But alongside those things, the constant stream of monsters and demons in need of slaying seems endless.

This is our story. 

(Spoiler alert: it’s not a fairy tale.)

I Feel More Like Myself When I’m With You

I knew from my first date with Garrett that this relationship would be different. 

Unlike most first dates, ours went surprisingly well. It was a real, proper date at a restaurant; something I didn’t even realize existed at the time, amidst the ever-present hookup culture. 

There was none of the pretense or ulterior motives or facades that normally accompany first dates. He was polite and funny and respectful, and I felt like he wanted to be there with me. 

The beginning of the relationship went swimmingly. We got along well, had a shared love of sarcasm and travel, and he was great with Dominic. 

But the thing that stood out most to me was that Garrett didn’t show any hesitation about wanting to be with me. It was nice to feel wanted for a change. 

As someone who has a long history of being disrespected, devalued, and mistreated in previous relationships, that spoke volumes for me. It was like a breath of fresh air to not have to compete for someone’s attention. I was hooked. 

Early in our relationship, Garrett put it this way, “I feel more like myself when I’m with you.”  I agreed with that sentiment wholeheartedly, and still do to this day. 

How Are You Doing? No, Really, How Are You Doing?

Despite all the green flags, there were also some signs that something was amiss. 

For starters, I noticed pretty early on that Garrett very rarely asked me how I was doing, and almost never talked about how he was doing. We could talk about random subjects for hours, but never, ever about what was actually going on with either of us. 

In fact, almost every time I would ask him the simple question, “How are you doing?” it would lead to anger, avoidance, or an argument. It seemed to be the most taboo question in the world. 

I would learn later that in his family talking about feelings was (and still is) to be avoided at all costs. The only acceptable emotion in his family is “everything is fine”. Normal human emotions such as anger, sadness, and joy are perceived as threatening and are to be avoided and repressed.

In retrospect, his triggered response to the most basic of questions makes a whole lot of sense, but it certainly made it difficult to try and connect on any sort of emotional level. 

But, even during those times, there were always glimpses of the person underneath. The person who desperately wanted to connect, and just didn’t know how. 

For the next several years, I made it my personal mission to find more of those glimpses and more of that connection. It wasn’t my mission to undertake, but that didn’t stop me from trying. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately), there was also booze. As soon as the alcohol set in, the barriers came down, and connection became a lot easier. But, so did the fighting. 

In the Beginning, There Was a Hurricane

Garrett and I took our first vacation together in September 2017, for my 30th birthday. Our destination? San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

We were there for less than three days before the island started getting boarded up and evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Maria. 

I remember asking the manager of our hotel what the plan was for hotel guests during the hurricane. His response was, “Get off the island, or pray to God.” 

Fortunately, we got one of the last flights off the island on September 19, 2017 around 10 AM.  We flew to the Big Apple for the last 3 days of my birthday trip. 

Whew, crisis averted. 

Our near brush with a catastrophic hurricane has become the perfect metaphor for how the rest of our relationship has played out. Intense, and stressful, but we always survive. And on our best days, we can even laugh amidst the storm. 

In the beginning, there was a hurricane. And at times, that hurricane is still raging. 

Kayaking in Puerto Rico. September 18, 2017 – two days before Hurricane Maria hit the island.

Sex Addiction Isn’t a Real Thing, Right?

Garrett and I had been living together for just 3 months when things really started to unravel. 

I had been noticing for a while that he seemed to struggle with real life sexual connection, and porn use. I’ll spare you the details, but something was just off. 

It seemed like he feared connecting in real life, but simultaneously sought out porn compulsively. At the time, I convinced myself this was just “normal guy stuff”.

Then, I found the google searches for his ex. 

Long story short, his ex girlfriend had posted naked photos of herself on reddit, and he was googling them compulsively.

This was the final straw for me. 

Competing with airbrushed porn stars was bad enough, but his real life ex-girlfriend that he was still pining over? No, thank you. I had made the choice long ago to never be someone’s second option ever again. 

I left for two days, and agreed to speak to him only in a couples therapy session. He agreed. 

During the session, I read him a letter I had written giving him an ultimatum. Quit porn and seek help for these issues, or I’m out. 

To my surprise, he chose to seek help. He began attending recovery groups, and therapy to try and figure out why he had these compulsive behaviors. 

I’d like to say that these things helped, but any improvement was temporary and fleeting. It was, however, a good start. The real work would come much later. 

Despite my initial skepticism, I’ve learned that sex addiction is a real thing, and it’s not actually about sex at all. Depending on which expert you ask, it’s considered an intimacy or attachment disorder, and/or an emotional regulation disorder. 

In the absence of real life connection, or when someone is too scared to connect or be vulnerable with others, they may use compulsive sexual behaviors as a replacement for connection. Similarly, when someone is emotionally dysregulated, and lacks healthier coping skills, sexual behavior and fantasy can become a way to cope with difficult emotions. 

Again, all this makes sense in hindsight, but it’s certainly a mindfuck for the partner or spouse of someone with these behaviors. 

Remember how I liked being with Garrett because I felt like he wanted me, and because I felt like I didn’t have to compete with anyone else? 

Turns out I was competing with millions of images on the internet, and the fantasy version of every attractive woman we passed on the street, and I didn’t even know it. 

Six years, and several hundred hours of therapy later, and this still continues to be one of our biggest struggles to this day. There’s just something so personal and hurtful about knowing that the person you love struggles daily not to compare you with every attractive person they encounter. 

But, there’s also something to be said for someone who wants to get better, and is willing to improve themselves. So, we both decided to stay. 

No Villains Here

I would understand if you’re starting to wonder why in the hell I stayed in this chaotic situation. I’ve asked myself the same question a thousand times. 

But perhaps that question is flawed to begin with.  

In the beginning of our relationship, I was also struggling with some really dysfunctional patterns of my own. I drank too much, based most of my self-worth on success and appearance, and was carrying around a shitload of trauma of my own. 

But it was also more than that. I wasn’t just showing up for Garrett, he was also showing up for me. 

Every time I challenged him to do better, be better, or improve himself, he accepted the challenge head on. Therapy? Check. Recovery groups? Check. Inpatient treatment? Outpatient treatment? More therapy? Check, check, check.

Garrett is not the villain in this story. There  are no villains here. Just people trying to overcome a shitload of trauma, and learn how to be better versions of themselves so they can connect and coexist together peacefully. 

Outside of the stress and chaos, he’s also the person who (still) writes me love notes 2-3 times a week. (At this point, I have over 3 big totes full of notes from the last 6 years.) He’s the person who goes on field trips with Dominic, helps him with his homework, and plays with his stuffed animals with him at night. And he’s the person who cries because he just wants to be ‘normal’.

Life would be easier if someone could just be the villain, but real life is rarely that black or white. 

The End of the Drinking Days

Our love affair with drinking came to a screeching halt in early 2019, when, after a long night of drinking and arguing, Garrett said to me “I just want to fucking die.”

Full stop, that was it for me. 

I had already lost my best friend, and someone who was like a second mom to me to suicide, and I wasn’t about to let that happen again. 

(I was still under the illusion that I had some control over this. I recognize now that I don’t, but it was still a great catalyst for change). 

That was the beginning of the end of our drinking days. We would have to find a better way to cope and connect. 

Finally, a Diagnosis

Garrett’s suicide attempt, and the subsequent cancellation of our NYC wedding ceremony in September 2019, finally led us to a diagnosis. It was one I had already suspected for quite some time: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). 

I read through the checklist of BPD symptoms and could see how each of them had been playing out in our relationship for the past several years: 

  • Intense mood swings
  • Self harm
  • Suicidal ideation and/or actions
  • Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment
  • Pattern of unstable relationships
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Impulsivity
  • Self destructive behaviors, including compulsive sexual behaviors

At first, having this label was a godsend. Something that allowed us to make sense of what was happening, and seek more appropriate treatment. 

It was also insanely validating for me. I wasn’t crazy. These things were actually happening in my relationship, and there was a name for it. 

We promptly sought out intensive outpatient DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that we completed together. We committed to 8 hours of therapy and skills training, every single week, for 8 weeks. Following the first round of DBT therapy, Garrett did another 6 month round of DBT therapy on his own. 

You definitely couldn’t say that he wasn’t trying. We both were. But, this only got us so far. 

DBT gave us both some amazing skills and tools for coping with emotionally charged situations and taught us to live more mindfully,  but it did very little to address the individual and relational trauma we had both experienced. 

Even worse, it carried a heavy dose of pathologizing. How much can a person really thrive and overcome their trauma if they’re constantly being reduced to a set of problem behaviors?

It was around this time that I started to reject the BPD label. 

I had already re-enrolled in school and was well on my way to getting my Masters (MA) in Counseling Psychology. The more I learned about trauma, the more I started to firmly believe that there was a more human and relational way to get through this. I just wasn’t sure what it was…yet. 

Get Untraumatized, or Die Trying

The amount of time I spent researching trauma and attachment was probably unhealthy. Outside of my school work, I was reading no less than 2-3 books a week (for fun!) about treating unresolved trauma. To say that I was dedicated would be a massive understatement. 

All of this research led us to EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. In a nutshell, EMDR helps people access traumatized memories and reprocess or desensitize them. It’s a highly effective therapy for PTSD, and for many people can lead to long periods of remission and improved quality of life. 

We both spent over 2 years, and at least 150 hours each doing EMDR therapy, with mixed results. 

For me, it was life changing. But I also held myself to some insane standards. I forced myself to re-live every single traumatizing event in my life, in my quest to become Blair 2.0. 

Childhood trauma? Sexual trauma? Relational trauma? Abandonment? Feelings of insecurity? Losing loved ones to cancer and suicide? I painfully re-lived every single last one of these experiences, sometimes pushing myself to do 4 or 5 therapy sessions per week. 

It was painstaking, and it was brutal. But it was so god damn helpful, and I don’t regret a thing.  I’m happier, more at peace with myself, and more mindful. The way I feel about myself has also improved immensely.

For Garrett, it was more destabilizing, but still, he persisted. For over 2 years, he did 2 EMDR sessions per week, to try and desensitize and integrate his childhood and relational trauma. 

Was it helpful? Yes. But it was also very disruptive, and led to two more involuntary hospitalizations. We weren’t out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. 

We decided to pause his EMDR treatment, on the ever-present quest for something more helpful…

Our Lord and Savior….Dan!

About a year and a half ago, I started to ask myself the questions – what if we’re not just totally fucked? What if things don’t have to be terrible forever? What would happen if we dropped all the labels and just dealt with these issues as humans? What if Garrett’s behavior is just a natural response to everything that’s happened to him?

These questions led us to Dan, an expert in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS). 

The premise behind EFT is that all humans have an innate need to connect and attach to others, and when those attachment systems are disrupted, dysfunction can occur. In theory, by helping people rebuild secure relationships, and build secure attachment styles, they can heal trauma so much faster and improve their quality of life. 

Dan is hands down the most capable and helpful therapist we’ve ever worked with. He has helped us build a more solid base in our relationship than every other therapist combined, because he’s taught us how to attune and emotionally connect with each other. 

Our relationship has improved tenfold since working with Dan, and we’ve both been able to become more emotionally connected to ourselves, to each other, and with Dominic. 

But it hasn’t been a cure-all. 

We have been able to experience longer periods of peace and connection than ever before, but Garrett still struggles with some very predictable patterns of self-destruction that we just haven’t been able to shake. 

What Now?

Although our day-to-day life and relationship has improved drastically, we still put in so much damn work every day, just to maintain some level of stability. 

Things that other people do like go to the beach, or take a vacation, or have friends over for a dinner party require a lot of preparation and a lot of mental gymnastics for us. Anything that requires a break from routine, or added stress can be highly debilitating for Garrett, and requires a lot of planning.  

Honestly, it’s exhausting. 

Garrett is also still very triggered when things are going well, and during extended periods of calm or connection. Vacations and holidays are incredibly destabilizing for him, and he will often self-sabotage, by either pushing me away, taking it out on himself, or both. This is what happened on our recent cruise. 

I’m honestly not sure what the sticking point is, or what it will take for Garrett to move past it. But, I do know that’s not my fight to fight, and at the end of the day, Garrett will have to be the one to make these changes. I’m just here for support. 

I also know that Dominic and I deserve to live our lives and have peace too. We don’t have to stay stuck and afraid to live our lives just because Garrett is stuck. This is absolutely easier said than done, but it’s become my primary goal over the past 6 months. 

Garrett has found some relief recently with regular ketamine treatments, and Dan is helping him individually with IFS therapy. They’ve been working through a lot of childhood trauma and identifying the parts of Garrett that keep him stuck. 

Will this eventually be enough to get him unstuck and leading a more consistently stable life? I’m not sure. 

At this point, all I know is that all three of us are ready to start living again, and to stop hiding. I know that all of us need more connection and support. And I know that I’m ready to stop putting my life on hold for when “things improve”. 

We’re more than just our trauma and our struggles. We’re still the same people who like to sing and dance in the kitchen while we’re cooking together. Garrett and Dominic still love to have guitar jam sessions so loud the neighbors can hear. And I’m still the same person who loves terrible karaoke, and sings to Dominic every night before bed. 

We’re still people, we’re still us, and we’re still doing the best we can. 

The time is now, and our life is no god damn fairy tale. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth living anyway. 

The Belfry @ Bruges, Belgium. March 2023


One response to “Hello, World. This Is Our Story, and It’s Not a Fairy Tale 

  1. A WordPress Commenter Avatar

    Hi, this is a comment.
    To get started with moderating, editing, and deleting comments, please visit the Comments screen in the dashboard.
    Commenter avatars come from Gravatar.

Leave a Reply