Life Is Messy
Please welcome Kayte, co-host and editor of On Pins and Needles, for an awesome piece on alternative relationships.
I don’t fit in boxes very well. When people have asked me where I belong, I never seem to have a good answer. I was a theater major but wanted to minor in mathematics. I love being alone but need to have enough personal interaction otherwise I get lonely and start to feel disconnected. I can’t be around people too much, though, or else I get overstimulated and mean. I adore astronomy and the universe but am not a solely science-based person as I have some measure of woo-woo in me when it comes to my spirituality. All my life, I’ve found myself straddling the lines of this-and-that, not really fitting in. I’ve just never been one of those people who was easily pigeon-holed.
Why would I think my feelings about relationships would be any different? Because I grew up in a society that told me that boxes make other people feel comfortable. So, I chose one. It chafed.
When I was younger, being faithful in a relationship was a dream I had but could never seem to manage. I wanted that storybook, passionate, all-consuming love that I saw in movies and read about in books. He would complete me. I would be whole again. Reality was a different experience. I was constantly cheating on my boyfriends, especially when I was away at college, because the need for love, sex, and affection was so overwhelming that I couldn’t stop myself from getting in bed with anyone who seemed even remotely interested in me. I also uncovered my bisexuality during this time and discovered a whole new realm of intrigue and sexual fascination. I was never faithful to anyone I was dating, not even once. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and I lied about it constantly. I would break down in tears and apologize whenever I was found out because I really did have feelings for many of my partners. I wasn’t a monster; I did care! The problem was obvious: I was hurting myself and people I cared about, but I could not find a way to stop. I tried multiple times, in multiple relationships. I never succeeded. My obsession with being loved and wanted and important slowly but surely took over my life; it didn’t matter who I slept with or how much they loved me. It was never enough.
Finally, several years later, I found myself at the end of a relationship that left me in a huge amount of grief and pain. Out of sheer desperation, I started going to a 12-step recovery group to help me figure out what to do next. I was at a point where I had no idea what lay ahead, but I knew I couldn’t continue the way I had been or it would kill me spiritually if not also physically. It was terrifying. I started going to meetings, and I eventually got a sponsor to help me work the Steps. I heard my own story echoed in the words of the others that I met in those rooms, and I finally knew that I was not alone. I had found a group where I belonged. I began the process of recovery.
Through the work I have done on myself with a sponsor and in meetings, I have learned that a large part of my issue is not about romantic relationships at all but my own feelings of insecurity, shame, and codependency. I was constantly trying to fill my emotional emptiness with other people, their love, and their bodies. I was devastated to learn this about myself, and the shame was almost intolerable. I looked into the mirror and was disgusted by who I saw. But it is by cleaning out the wounds and exposing them to the air that true healing can begin. My sponsor told me this, and I nodded blindly, just doing the next thing she told me because I wanted the pain to stop. As anyone who works a program of recovery knows, the process of becoming honest with myself and shedding the behaviors that had become so ingrained in me was painful, difficult, and grief-ridden. I hated who I had become, and the path to self-forgiveness and compassion for myself has been a long one. I have learned how to admit my flaws and become familiar with them instead of denying they exist. I am making amends to the people I have hurt, becoming accountable for my actions, and I strive to not make the same mistakes moving forward. I certainly haven’t done it perfectly. But being willing, I have discovered, is one of the greatest gifts I can give myself and has led me to a life that is more loving, more compassionate, and more honest. This program of recovery has very literally saved my life.
Through this process of self-discovery, I learned something else about myself. Part of my nature, I believe, is that I am not wired to be monogamous. This was an absolute no-no in my program of recovery. Multiple friends are fine, multiple lovers are not. One romantic relationship, period. Once again, I was in a space where I felt like I didn’t fit in.
But if I had derived so much serenity and spiritual balance from this recovery experience, how could a denial of this aspect of myself be healthy? Isn’t a deeper understanding of myself a large portion of my return to sanity? Was there a way to be in recovery for my relationship addiction issues as well as be polyamorous? Was healthy polyamory even possible for me with the traps of my addiction in the mix?
I decided that I was going to give it a shot and find out.
I worked closely with my sponsor and my therapist to help me navigate the rocky beginnings of opening my relationship. They kept me honest, and the trust we had built helped me be determinedly transparent during the process. I wasn’t going to pretend everything was OK if it wasn’t. I am willing to ask for help and to hear points of view I may not like. They have been invaluable in helping me to see things that I cannot see on my own including my incredibly subtle codependent behaviors and my desire/tendency to try to manipulate my partners. In moments of stress and emotional tension, I often feel the desire to scrap the whole deal and run away to Guam. (I’ve never been to Guam, but it seems remote enough to run away from everything that is difficult and yucky). This work is hard. It demands levels of honesty I never even knew existed and being willing to look my own insecurity and places of judgment. Urgh.
But when faced with the choice, my desire to be true to who I am wins out every time. I slog through the muck of being authentic and genuine, even when it’s hard. I practice consciously choosing my words in my communication with my partners and truly learning how to listen instead of waiting for my turn to talk. I understand that honesty is not an option for me in poly but a necessity that brings me more intimacy with my partners, which is really what I wanted all along. I have a relationship with a Higher Power now, nebulous in form but strikingly dependable in my moments of crisis as well as joy. My partners are not here to rescue me; we navigate the choppy waves together and enjoy the smooth waters as well. Mindfulness is a spiritual discipline that I practice and brings me the ability to observe and connect in the moment. My partners see me for who I am, and love me because of who I am, not in spite of it. I am learning how to love myself. I am finally capable of believing that I am worthy of loving. I can’t argue it—the payoff for doing the work is huge.
I am coming to understand that my journey is not really just about poly, or just about recovery, but about my human exploration of shame, honesty, and acceptance of self.
I still don’t fit in a single box. And I believe more every day that it’s OK not to.