Every day, it gets easier for me to call things like they are. I really only see my mom these days when there’s a birthday or a holiday involved. Lots of people are around to keep things traditional and wonderful and we appear from the outside to be as close as ever. My family has always been all about appearances. It took me years of therapy to realize this and I’m still learning about the depth of denial and vanity that exists in our family. But, it is what it is. I have learned, for the most part, to love my parents for who they are and I choose regularly to remind myself of their good traits. I do the best I can to keep those forefront in my mind and to be thankful for ways in which they help when they are here. I know that no parent is a perfect parent.
With that said, let’s get to the truth of the here and now. I worked hard in therapy to forgive my parents for many things. At one point when I was exploring why they are still able to have such an impact on my emotions on a semi-regular basis, we discussed that this is not a situation in which I have to muster forgiveness for something that happened years ago and the effects fade (for lack of a better term) or at least improve over a period of time. It isn’t something I can exactly “put behind me” when “it” is a series of behaviors that still happen on a very regular basis. As in, every time I see them. On the rare occasion that my mother is able to visit on her own, it is maybe once a year that she stays for more than 24 hours; she cannot leave my dad for more than that. During those times, and on the occasional evening phone call when my dad is out of the country, I feel like I have a mom again. She listens, she responds, and that “mother” voice that offers unparalleled comfort, is alive and well. If my dad is in the house, even if in a different room, her voice is that of a distant and removed mother. She doesn’t listen, she hardly responds, and if it is, it is not a response that she would typically offer, but instead one that my dad would approve of overhearing. It truly is sickening. It’s heartbreaking for those who hear about this dynamic for the first time… everyone has sympathy and wants to talk about how “wrong” and “abnormal” this is, but then we always finalize the thought process with the age-old understanding that every family has its dysfunction. I realize this. And, this happens to be my family’s (ha! one of them!) and it so happens this is the one of them that is particularly affecting me lately.
I could really use a mother right now. This morning, my mom took care of my little one while my husband and I slept in. That was very kind! I got hope and went down to see what kind of schedule they were on in hopes that just maybe, they’d be willing to stay for a full 24 hours and let my husband and I have lunch together, outside of the house. I, for some reason, am still a little under the impression that if we had more alone time, things could be better – even now. I was about 90% sure that my dad would be ready to leave as soon as he could – but there’s always that psychotic hope in me that they’d be able to chill out for an hour or two more. I didn’t even have a chance to ask if they’d be okay with this because after about 3 minutes of sitting on the couch with my mom, my dad said, “So, are you ready to go, hon?” And, there it was. It didn’t surprise me at all, but it still stirred up some anger and disappointment. I didn’t bother asking anyway, because, I’ve done that before and it almost always makes it worse. My dad went to pack the car, and my mom and I had about 2 minutes of bonding time. Here’s how it went:
“Your eye looks swollen honey.”
“Well, I’m getting old (half joking)… it’s just bags.”
“No, they look bloodshot…” This was followed by a look of concern.
“Yeah, they always look like that in the mornings lately. I’m tired.”
Here, I got the mom stare… the inkling of engagement and concern. I’ve learned not to latch on to this, but my tears apparently haven’t learned that kind of self control yet. Because, as soon as she looked me in the eye and said, “Are you okay?” I couldn’t lie without them falling out!
“I’m okay.” Not sure why I can never leave it at that, tears or not. I tried to think of a way to sum up my life for her in the 45 seconds left of our bonding time. So, I just said, “I’m stuck; but I’m okay.”
And, my favorite part is next:
The concerned, sad look came over her and she said, “Oh, honey. We’ll have some alone time in a couple of weeks where no one can interrupt us.”
Now, let’s talk about how many times I’ve heard that promise. There was absolutely no reason we couldn’t have had some uninterrupted mother-daughter time right then. No logical reason, anyway. But, my dad was tired and ready to go and that’s all that ever matters. I may have already posted about this once, but about 10 years ago my mom wrote me and my siblings a letter that very clearly laid out the emotional map for our lives. She said a bunch of things about how wonderful and loving my dad is, about how much he had done for her, and then, proclaimed from the codependent hilltops (I am not exaggerating here), “…so I hope that you can understand that if given a choice in life between you and your dad, I will always choose your dad.” This is not word for word because I don’t think it’s in my best interest to actually dig the letter out (I’m not sure why I haven’t burned it by now), but this is what it said. I didn’t believe it either at first. What mother would ever say that to their child, even if she had the thought? What mother would feel like she had to choose between her husband (the father her children) and her children? If a woman feels that that is a choices she has to make… something is VERY wrong. Tragically wrong. Well, welcome to my life. This is how my mother lives hers. It isn’t as if she had a moment of insanity and didn’t mean it how it came across. It was clearly well thought out, intentional, and prophetic. What is still amazing to me is that I’d pretty much been watching the transition from her “choosing” us and “choosing” him for years, I just didn’t think it could be a conscious one. Up until that point, I’d started to really see my mother submit to my dad in ways that went against her basic self-worth. My mother used to be a strong and independent person. She used to do what she had to do to make things happen for her children. I saw her stick up for us and for herself many times throughout my childhood. I watched her continue her education amidst teaching my dad that just because she was far surpassing his, this did not mean that she was going to leave him in the dust. The last true moment I can remember of my mom talking about her fight to stand up for what she believed with my dad was when she got her doctorate degree and he was having a moment where he felt the need to ask “Why is this so important to you?” My mom explained to me that my dad was insecure in this area of his life, but that she was not going to let that hold her back or stop her from pursuing her ultimate dream of obtaining that degree. I could not have been more proud of her. After a series of events, however, all of that changed. Every year, I see less and less of that strong woman my mother used to be. All my sister and I see now is someone who has almost no individuality and certainly no strength left to hold my dad accountable for his own issues. Instead, she takes his on. She chooses to sympathize and explain away his alcoholism, his selfishness, and his denial (which is the cause of it all). It truly does not matter how hurtful this behavior is, because in her mind, my dad is the most selfless, loving, sensitive man she’s ever known. So much of my anger is towards my dad, and I suppose at least 2/3 of it can be attributed to the resentment that has built up over time for the fact that he stole my mother from us.
Last night, I threw a party for my little guy’s birthday. After everyone left and we were cleaning up, my dad broke into his fairly regular routine of sitting back and reflecting on how proud he is of his children and how happy he is about, well, pretty much everything. But, it usually centers these days around how proud he is of his children. This is a very strange and confusing thing for me. Up until last night, I guess I’ve been thankful for these moments. Regardless of the fact that he’s drunk as hell every time he has them, I generally welcome the compliments that come my way. My dad and I are a lot alike and I like to think I got most of his good traits (sigh). He also has a strange distrust and underlying frustration and anger towards me because as far gone as he is in the denial department, I think he senses that I can see right through him and it makes him nervous. Perhaps that is why he can particularly never relax when I’m around. I can’t relax when he’s around either, so we’re even, I guess. Last night, he called me over to him for a tearful hug and it felt more like a routine than it has any other time. I went through the motions: hug him, let him hug me tighter, hug him tighter back, let him cry and tell me how wonderful I am. For some reason this time I asked him what was wrong (ha!) and he said, “I’m just happy! Nothing’s wrong, I’m crying because I’m just so happy. I love watching you and your brother and sister living your lives and being such wonderful, happy people. You know how wonderful you are, Karen? I’m so proud of you!” He tried to lock eyes with me this time and get me to enter this drunk, happy world with him, and instead, I just disengaged and told him, “Thank you, dad.” I continued cleaning, he didn’t miss a beat. In his mind, we’d just shared a father/daughter bonding moment. He felt even better and even more accomplished as a father. I’m not saying he never did anything for me – I know he worked his ass off so I could have anything I wanted as a kid… but those were just things. I’d much rather still have time with my mother today, perhaps some detox for him? Perhaps some compliments instead of insults when he isn’t drunk? Perhaps some anti-anxiety meds for him? Sigh.
I think this most recent visit from “The Sentimental Drunk” angered me because he felt so proud in that moment – through that lens of denial the alcohol gives him – that allows him to sit back and pat himself on the back and feel like he’s accomplished as a dad. Last night, I really felt like telling him that he could thank my therapists for my wonderfulness. I am finally realizing just how fabulous I am. So, when my dad asked me how I liked the flowers on my table and I replied, “They are very pretty, Dad…. kind of like me… ya know? I’m just sayin’…” He turned to my brother and said, “See what I mean? That kind of confidence you all have makes me so proud.” Ha! It actually made me laugh out loud that he thinks he can take credit for that. It actually makes me want to tell him that he’ll need to write me a check for about 10,000 dollars, which is probably low-balling it for how much all my therapy and trips to the hospital have costs before he can take even partial credit for it.
Confidence is something that I’ve only known in the last couple of years. I may not sound like it now, but I have more of it now than I ever have. That is why I am so lonely lately. I finally have boundaries and walls built around me that I never had before. I’m finally protecting myself. And, I know these are healthy and necessary walls. I have even returned to the gym and am getting physically stronger as well. Man, does it feel good to take a boxing or weight lifting class! I think it was the missing element for quite some time!! Also, I have this blog that allows me to lay it all out there and feel accepted and understood in a small way! I know I don’t have many followers, but every comment and every “read” validates and excites me! And, that is something! The point of this blog was to do just that! I’m currently not in therapy, so getting all of this out of me is important. I’m proud of myself for finding a way to do it. And, it is working. So, if you are reading I can’t thank you enough! Even if you don’t leave a comment, it really encourages me just to know that people are popping in and out from time to time.
Every one of these things gives me strength. Ya know, I am wonderful, Dad. I’ve worked my ass off to be this wonderful. 🙂