Chronic Trauma and Love: A Story of Heartbreak and Hope

The love of my life died 4 years ago from a heroin overdose. When I knew her, she was a brilliant and beautiful person with a big heart. She was an amazing mom to her two daughters, and she put everything into raising them. Her boyfriend was an emotionally abusive alcoholic who used her for a place to stay and never helped with the kids. She was my best friend for years, and I often tried to help them fix their relationship because I hated seeing them both in pain.

One day she started flirting with me, and I told her that nothing could ever happen, because her boyfriend was my friend too, and I didn’t want to lose them all. I loved her kids, and I didn’t want to have to walk away from them when it all fell apart, and I knew it would. But she didn’t give up, and one day we kissed. That kiss changed my life. It was like my entire existence finally made sense, like all the pain and suffering was worth it to experience that connection. But it also felt like a huge mistake, and I was overcome by guilt and grief. I kept telling her that we had to end it, and she would call me up and tell me she missed me. I couldn’t deny our love; I’d never felt like that with anyone before. I’d look in her eyes, and I felt like I had found my home. My soul was at peace, but more than just calm- elated and free.

Her boyfriend eventually hacked her emails and found out. He lost his mind, and she kicked him out of her apartment. He insisted on seeing his kids and she never denied him that right, but he would use this as a way to get into her home and her mind. He threatened to take custody of them, something I knew he couldn’t do. But she was scared because her daughters were her world. He withheld child support, and he even chased her around her kitchen with a knife. Once, when I was there, he started banging on the windows of her basement apartment at 1AM. She was scared. I told her she needed to call the police, but she wouldn’t. She said her uncle was a cop in the same city, and she was ashamed. She didn’t understand that she deserved better, because she grew up in a dysfunctional family with chronic trauma. Her father died right before I met her. He had AIDS from IV drug use, and he was never around when she was a kid. Her older brother was her father figure, but he also abused her. He was an addict like her father, and her mother was emotionally abusive and neglectful.

I think that just like me, she longed to find safety and love. This made her vulnerable however, because all she knew from love is that it caused pain. When we found each other, it’s like the light had finally been switched on in our dark lives. But she was scared to take the leap. She also didn’t want to come out as gay to her family, and we talked about that extensively. Then there were her “friends,” one of whom had been in love with her for years (everyone knew this), and one was my ex who beat me, so she obviously didn’t want me to be happy. They didn’t want to see us together because of jealousy. They told her to stay with her kids’ father because I was crazy and had DID, even though they knew he was abusive. Her ex boyfriend lived 1 minute from her in the same apartment complex with his mother, and I lived 45 minutes away. He constantly harassed and threatened her, and her 4 year old daughter begged for her father to come back. Now that I have a 4 year old who struggles with her moms’ divorce at times, I see how hard this must’ve been for her daughter. I know how much guilt a mom can feel when her daughter suffers from a broken home. This guilt broke Jenn. She gave up, and she thought she was doing the right thing for her girls by taking him back and suffering in a loveless relationship.

I was heartbroken, but I accepted that was what she had to do. I moved on because I knew she wasn’t good for me. I didn’t try to fight it, I just had to let it play out. It crushed me that she used DID as a reason to break my heart despite the fact that she loved me, and I knew I deserved better. Her reasoning was that my anxiety made it hard for me to function sometimes, and it’s true that I was on disability. She had watched me struggle to work over the years and suffer from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. This made me feel like I was too broken to be loved or to be a good partner to someone. Months later she was already begging me to come back, but I had more self respect than that, despite still loving her.

As the years went on, she continued to email me and begged me to come back to her. A month before my wedding, she sent me a letter that said she still loved me, and she just wanted us to be a family with her and her girls. It was so hard to ignore, because she knew that’s all I ever wanted. My sister and therapist told me she would hurt me. I knew she would, so I stayed with my ex wife. I never saw Jenn again, because I stayed loyal to the relationship I was in. I even told my ex wife when she contacted me, because I always need to be honest in relationships… I can never keep secrets from my partner. I told myself that Jenn would destroy my heart if I went back, and I stayed away.

Jenn became more and more depressed. Eventually she started using crack and pills with her boyfriend. Their relationship was a joke, and I knew that she missed me because she would post playlists on YouTube for me. They broke my heart. I would sit in my bedroom after my wife went to sleep and listen to her songs by the window, looking out at the night sky and wondering where she was. Jenn never hid her addiction from me, she would tell me in emails that she used heroin and was trying to get clean. She told me about the overdoses and the time she spent in the cardiac ICU. She almost died, and she told me she wished I had been there. I felt awful, but again I was married, plus no one in her family told me she was asking for me.

Occasionally she’d call me and ask for money, and I’d just say, “I care about you, and I can’t give you money because I don’t want you to die.” But she wanted to die, and she admitted that to me. Sometimes I thought if I only went back to her, maybe she wouldn’t have started using heroin. I guess I’ll never know. She had also lost her brother and father to addiction, and it broke her heart. She wasn’t in pain just because of our failed love. I know that I can’t put that on myself. That’s a heavy burden to bear, and ultimately we are all responsible for our own emotions and behaviours. I knew I couldn’t save her, and that it would destroy me to try. That logic didn’t stop me from wishing I could drive to her city and find her on the streets and bring her to a hospital. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t do that.

I used to lie awake at night feeling helpless to save her. I tried to go on with my life. The last conversation we had was a good one. She told me she was clean and spending time with her girls. I told her I was trying to get pregnant, but that it was a weird concept to use a donor. I said, what if my child looks like the donor, who is a stranger? She said, “I know your kid will be beautiful like you.” Then she said, “Aren’t my kids beautiful as well?!” and shared some pictures of them with me. Months later, after a painful miscarriage, I became pregnant with my daughter in December 2015. I wanted to tell Jenn, but I knew she was struggling, so I didn’t. I wanted to reach out to her at Christmas, but I told myself to wait. I always said happy birthday to her on January 21st, just to let her know I still cared and that she wasn’t alone. Her ex boyfriend and many people that knew her called her a junkie, and I wanted her to know she was much more than her illness, despite the hold it had on her life, and despite how much it changed her. I wanted her to know that there was at least one person who would love her know matter what. I had to walk a fine line of showing her that I cared but not giving her false hope that I’d go back to her. But she died on January 16, 2016, and I was never able to talk to her again. She died alone in the middle of the night on a cold street. I was six weeks pregnant, and I was devastated. I was in shock, but I knew I had to put my grief aside because stress was bad for the baby. I didn’t grieve her death until I went back to therapy when my daughter was 7 months old, and even then it took me at least a year to face the pain.

When I finally had the strength to go to her grave, I was heartbroken by what I saw. It had been two years since her death, and her family had left her with nothing but a plastic sign at her gravesite. The sign was cracked and faded. I sat in that graveyard under a nearby willow tree and cried for her and for the way she had been treated her whole life. People just wanted to use her, and she had tried to love. But in the end, she had given up and the pain consumed her. Her ex boyfriend, who had subsequently treated her terribly when she left him again for another woman, did nothing for her in death and called her a dyke and a junkie when she was still alive. All these people wanted to do was possess her, not love her. He and her family had the money to get her a stone, but they were selfish and angry about her death, so they did nothing. I knew that they were in pain, but I also knew that she deserved better than being forgotten. She was a beautiful soul, and addiction will never change that.

It took me months to get the courage to email her sister in law. I knew she’d respond, but I was scared to talk to her family. She told me that Jenn always loved me and wished we had been together. She said the timing was just never right for us. These words hit me hard, because it’s what I said to Jenn in an email when I told her that I couldn’t be with her. When Jenn had strong emotions, she usually didn’t respond to me, so I never knew how she received that message. At least now I know she had accepted and understood what I was saying, because she told this to her family member, someone who was also her best friend. It was hard to hear this from her sister in law, but it helped me get some closure. Together, we raised enough money to get her a proper gravestone. I called the granite company and put down the first $500, and she got Jenn’s family to raise the second half. It made me mad that it took me to start the process, but I was glad it was finally getting done. Now she has a gravestone, and I feel a little bit of relief. I did something for her, even though I felt like it was too late. But I know I did more for her than that. I loved her unconditionally and showed her what real love was. I’m glad that I made her so happy, if only for a little while.

Today I miss her a lot. I just went to look for photos of her, something I don’t often do because it’s painful. When I truly look at her photos and see her eyes looking at me, it brings me back to those moments where the stars aligned for us. I feel such pain and joy at the same time. The grief comes in waves, sometimes it feels like I’m drowning and life is hopeless without her. It feels like I’ll never find a love like that again, and maybe that’s true. In the end, I try to be grateful. I’ve been lucky enough to find a love like that despite the pain it caused. Some people never experience a deep connection like we had.

I can still see Jenn smiling at me when she opened the door and saw me standing there with a coffee for her. I loved the way I made her smile. We had a soul connection, and when we looked into each other’s eyes, we both felt it. I want to visit her grave today, but I’m sick and my head is pounding. I will go soon. If I’m completely honest, the pain of losing a soul mate has forever changed me. Loss is part of life, but when you lose such a deep connection, that feeling of emptiness is so strong. Sometimes I just wanted to die to be with her. But I have a daughter, and although it hurts that Jenn never met her, I know she’d want me to live for my kid.

I often tell my therapist that I’ll never love someone as intensely as I loved Jenn. Sometimes I have hope for thefuture, and sometimes I don’t. Despite all the abuse and loss in my life, I give myself credit for always giving myself fully to love. Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability described the whole hearted, the people who would give into their vulnerability no matter how scary, and they loved without abandon. That used to be me, before all of this. Now I hold back, hesitate, and question everything. I stayed in a loveless and controlling marriage for almost ten years because I was scared of heartbreak. In the end, I did exactly what Jenn did.

I really think everyone should listen to Brene Brown’s talk about vulnerability, it’s on YouTube. Every human being needs to hear it, regardless of whether they’ve been affected by trauma or not. I need to take her advice and go back to who I used to be. I got very sick from COVID-19, and I’ve been struggling to breathe for almost 6 weeks now. It’s slowly getting better, but it reminds me that life is short and no one is guaranteed another day. I need to be vulnerable again, and I won’t be able to find a connection with someone safe unless I break down some of the walls around my heart. All I ever wanted was to be loved and feel safe. Jenn made me constantly worried that I wasn’t enough because of my mental illness, and that she was going to take her boyfriend back. I learned that sometimes even true love can’t overcome our negative behavioral patterns, and that broke my idealistic heart. Now I know that I deserve a healthy relationship, and I will patiently wait until that comes along.

Because of chronic childhood trauma, I expected love to be painful. Now I’m re-learning what love is, and I’m beginning to trust my own judgment. Our earliest example of love is what we experience with our parents. I was taught that love is painful, confusing, and that people just take what they want with no regards for your wellbeing. I want more than that, and I deserve much more than that. Everyone does. I want a love that is open, honest, safe, and loyal. I want someone to accept me for who I am, but also not make me worried or scared about their commitment to me as Jenn had done. Jenn showed me true love, but she also showed me true heartbreak. I need to take these lessons and live my life. I want to do more than just survive, I want to find happiness and peace. I know that realistically we can’t be happy all the time, but I also know that a safe connection with another person will make my life so much brighter. I don’t know who that person will be, but I have hope.

For those of you who read this, thank you. I needed to tell Jenn’s story. I hope that all of you find your person. Listen to your intuition and pay attention to how people respond when you set boundaries. If they ignore you or react out of anger, those are red flags. If they accept your boundaries and love you for who you are, that’s awesome. Love is never guaranteed, but you can protect yourself from unnecessary pain by looking at the patterns of relationships in your life and reflecting on them. Ask yourself what a healthy relationship looks like to you, what are the qualities of one? Why might you be subconsciously seeking more pain and betrayal? I want to think differently about myself and love, so that I can be happy with someone, hopefully forever. I think I’m much closer now. The difficult lesson I’ve learned is that passion and love are not always enough to base a relationship on, because trauma survivors need safety and consistency to thrive. I’m still working on my happiness, but I can see a future for myself that is bright. If I’ve learned anything from Jenn, it’s that I need to believe in love and live in the moment.

This is one of the few pics of Jenn that I have left.

2 thoughts on “Chronic Trauma and Love: A Story of Heartbreak and Hope

  1. Thank you for sharing this with the world… I can’t even begin to imagine the depths of what you must have felt/be feeling, but if it’s worth absolutely anything from a stranger – you are brave as f*ck for being so open about your incredible connection, and you are always enough, in all ways. I bet Jenn is beaming on you from somewhere beautiful, dancing to all your favourite songs 🙂
    I’m sure I speak for many when I say that I haven’t found my great love, and I do struggle to trust and be open – but you have definitely inspired me to be more open to love (mainly working on the self-love!)
    I wish you a speedy recovery amidst this pandemic & I hope you love how awesome you are every day going forward! ❤ x

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    1. Thank you! It makes me happy to know that my story has inspired someone. It would make Jenn happy too. I like what you said about her dancing to our favourite songs. It’s nice to think about her enjoying herself and being at peace. I know what you mean, I’m still working on self love too. The more I realize that I’m worthy of love, the closer I’ll be to finding a connection like that again (and a healthier one this time!). I wish you all the best. x

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