Few things make me more happy than witty intelligence.
Category Archives: Upbringing
I love my new therapist. For those of you who are in therapy, I highly suggest switching therapists at least every 3 years. A lot of growth and discovery can happen in three years when you’re committed but after that time, it is necessary to have someone else’s strategies, if for no other reason than to shake you out of your comfort zone. I have reluctantly changed therapists three times (and by therapists, I mean the 3 good ones I’ve had). This time, I took a year off and then finally realized that it was time to bite the bullet and “start over.” That is why it took me so long to see someone else – I just could not bear the thought of rehashing my entire life for someone new. I even thought it may be unhealthy for me to do so. Not so! She has an entirely new approach and expertise in areas I didn’t even realize would be relevant for me, such as post traumatic stress. I’ve learned extremely valuable lessons from each of my therapists – but there’s something different about the one I have now. She questions me, which means she’s really listening. She challenges my thinking, which means she’s not afraid to call me on my shit – who doesn’t need to be called on their shit!? NO ONE. The most important thing she has done so far, though, is to validate me in very specific and important ways.
I have come to a place where I tell “my story” as if I’m reading from a script to anyone who will listen. I almost don’t even thing about the events of my life, I just explain them and then ask, “Why am I not over it?” I didn’t have my records transferred to my new therapist because I wanted to start anew, and this was a wise choice. As I am explaining matter-of-factly the huge decision my parents made when I was 15 that I’ve always said forever changed my life, she stopped me and reminded me, “You realize that a decision means they had a choice, don’t you?” My immediate response was “Well, they didn’t really have a choice… my dad would have lost his job if…” She stopped me. “What may or may not have happened with your dad’s job is part of what they had to weigh when making the decision. But regardless of the factors that played into their decision, it was still a choice.” I was somewhat speechless and shocked that I’d never actually believed it was, which had allowed me to pity them and feel guilty for being angry at their decision for so many years. I had to think about it for a few weeks before I could make sense of it. And it seems so simple, doesn’t it?
I started to realize how often my parents, and my entire family for that matter, present scenarios to me as if another choice other than the one they are choosing is just not possible. In fact, every one of these circumstances absolutely do involve the option of a more respectful, less hurtful choice. So, I started to ponder the concept of choice in general. This realization has freed me in a way 200 more therapy sessions of hearing myself talk never ever could have. I’ve told that particular story my therapist heard at least 20 times to various people in my life, therapists and friends alike. Every time I have presented it as a tough situation for my parents in which they had no other choice. Just changing the beginning of the story will now change the way I tell the rest of it. This particular epiphany is quite monumental.
Since I have decided that this new therapy journey I’ve just embarked upon will be the one that heals me apart from my family as well, I have been pushing myself to challenge my self-talk. And, what do you know? I do it too. I make decisions and remain in circumstances as if another choice is simply not an option. “I hate my job but I can’t do anything about it because I have to stay here so my husband has the freedom to change jobs as he wishes because he’s hated his job longer than I have and our benefits are with my job.” Now, it may seem noble of me to make that decision. But I’ve been making that decision A LOT, practically for our entire marriage. I just figured out part of the reason I have such resentment for my husband – because of CHOICES that I have made. It is a choice for me to stay in my job. I have potential that far outreach my day-to-day “duties” and yet I accept that doing anything but collecting that paycheck and those benefits is “impossible.” It’s not impossible. The resentment plays in when I don’t see my husband actively applying himself to looking for a new job as I feel he should. So, he doesn’t spend every waking hour looking for a new job – the longer he spends procrastinating the longer I have to stay in my job, and you see how the tension in my house remains fairly high. What I really need to do is to make a different choice.
A wise friend once told me that taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do, because if you don’t do that, you can’t take care of anyone else. I used to think that was selfish way of thinking – and the reason I felt that was a selfish way to think is in part because I have been surrounded by people who did not take care of themselves my entire life. I was also taught that any attempt to take care of self was, in fact, selfish. I am still being taught that looking out for myself is selfish.
And, here we arrive at the title of this post. This weekend, my parents were to come to town – for their usual 24 hour visit. The details of what occurred aren’t really relevant. My parents made another hurtful and extremely selfish decision. Considering many recent events in my and my sister’s lives, we were both extra bothered by this decision. My sister has always been the peace maker and regardless of how upset she is, she will never stand up and say why. I usually don’t either, but I’ve been closer and closer to the end of my rope in the last two years and I finally couldn’t take it any more. I refuse to enable their behavior, and that is a choice that I’ve been making for my entire life now – mostly subconsciously but now that I realize there are other choices, I’m going to start making them. I called my mother and explained to her that her decision had caused unnecessary confusion, energy, and hurt. I was respectful, calm, and very direct. I am not normally direct. 10 minutes after I got of the phone with my mom, my dad called. I let it go to voicemail because I knew exactly what had happened in the last 10 minutes. My mom called my dad and told him that I was mean. My dad called me to “punish” me. His voicemail essentially said that he didn’t like my “attitude” and that I could call him if I wanted to discuss the situation. Let’s be clear… by “discuss” he meant lecture. I was not interested in being lectured, so I made a choice to save myself the pain that would have come from taking his verbal abuse in that moment. The voicemail was enough.
So, blogger friends, this is a giant step in the right direction for me. I like this study on the power of choice. I like the perspective it’s given me. The realization that my parents have had a choice in how they treated me and still treat me gives me the freedom to take back the power of my own choices. And I choose not to sit by and let their choices affect my daily life any longer. It will be and has been a long journey, but I am getting there. The first step was today, when I made the choice to SPEAK. And I think I’ll be doing that much more often.
That phone conversation sent me into the dark place… that place where I go when I feel emotionally trapped. I’ve been to that place oh so many times over the years. I’ve lived there for months at a time. I don’t go there very often any more, but when I do, I go with a new awareness that makes the pain deeper, and therefore shorter lasting. There was nothing I could say… nothing. Anything I said would have made me look like the ass hole. I couldn’t believe the tone in his voice, the matter-of-fact way with which he spoke… the absolute void-of-emotion conversation we were having. He was leaving to go back across the ocean in less than 24 hours… no desire to see your sister who is one of the greatest people you’ve ever known??? No NEED to see her and hug her and say thank you, I love you, one more time? No. Nothing but a slight obligatory tone indicative of a family member who is obligated to appease another family member just by showing up when is expected. And then my mind started spinning…
Of course he was acting distant to me now that he’d come home and my parents were completely and amazingly supportive of his situation. He’d called them and told them and given them a few days to think it over before he called back to tell them he was coming home to marry Rachel. I finally spoke to my mother about it and her word-for-word comments were these,”I mean, what are we supposed to do, but be supportive? We can make a big deal about it and worry about what everyone will think, or we can just accept that this is what it is and love them and be the supportive parents that they need us to be right now. It could be a lot worse.”
Pause still for shock and awe.
My jaw nearly fell off my face. After a few seconds of speechlessness, I managed to tell her how proud I was for her and how right she was. I told her I was proud of her three times. She acted surprised… and finally said, “Well, ya know, we’ve been through a lot, Ellie, and we aren’t going to be the kind of parents that aren’t there for our children. I can’t tell you what some of my cousins went through with their families and the lack of support they received. We’re just not going to do that.” She talked a little bit more but I tuned her out… I told her I was proud of her for the last time and we said goodbye.
I shared this apparent awakening with an old friend and was able to laugh about how I feel that I have a right to take credit for some of that obvious emotional growth and development that has occurred in my parents… I like to think I broke them in with my bi-racial marriage and all. They ignored my husband’s existence for 2 years and lectured me about how they’d burn in hell before they had black grand-babies… they told me at the age of 25 that I had no “idea” what I was doing and that I “better stop it now” before it’s “too late.” Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what they meant by “too late.” They never reacted well to any situation I found myself in. They were never supportive of me in my darkest hours when I needed them the most. As proud as I was of them for the way they were handling this situation, their ease and acceptance just dug the knife they planted in my heart many years ago in just a little bit deeper. That is a pain that is profound and very energy consuming to cover up when they are around.
So, here was my brother, home and spending time with my mom and dad who completely and almost immediately embraced him and the girl they once said they could not stand. They surrounded him with the love and support he needed almost immediately, as he said they would. He told me, “they don’t have a choice, they’ll love her and be supportive of her because our family is amazing and that’s what families do.” It has taken me years of therapy to realize that they very much do have a choice when it comes to what kind of parents they choose to be. I am finally beginning to understand this. Parents always have a choice as to how they will react to their children. Herein lies the “ME” part of this chapter.
In my frustration, I tried calling my parents, no answer. I tried calling my sister, no answer. I just could not bring myself to seek comfort from my husband, who had the knowledge to offer the most compassion, but lacks a general ability to actually show compassion, which presents an obvious problem. But, I decided to tell him anyway because quite frankly, he was the only one who knew the history and sometimes I just can’t be bothered explaining it all, nor do I want everyone in my life to know the drama that is my family. I explained to my husband that I was feeling hurt by the entire situation on multiple levels: hurt that my brother was showing no interest or even care about whether or not he saw me before he left the country, hurt that my parents had shown him such support and love when I never have been able to receive that from them. I told him that if it were not for me and all of the things I “put them through,” this would never be. His response did not shock me… he told me “Don’t even take it there, Ellie. Don’t even take it there. This isn’t about you or your parents…” I stopped him and calmly explained that the situation involves me because of the bond I have with my brother. I explained that I am allowed and should be granted full permission in my own house to feel things as I need to feel them as I adjust to the situation. I explained that he must understand my shock and awe at my parents behavior considering that I had received such opposite behavior from them on multiple occasions in my life. Certainly, he could understand that?? Apparently not. So, I told the blog. 😉
They finally came by; it was after their dinner reservations, around 9pm. I’d just put my son to bed. As soon as I saw him, all the anger and hurt I’d been feeling all day naturally disappeared. I hugged him and told him to please keep in touch once he was back home. I’m a bit of an over protective sister at this point and I do recognize that I have some adjusting to do, but who wouldn’t?
My brother is one of the few people in my life who I feel understands me. The distance that grew between us in the months following his stay with us created a bit of a hole in my heart. I have never been very good at letting people go – I understand that people change, but when I feel as strong of a bond as I do with my brother – it is difficult for me to let things be as they are and go about my day-to-day life without thought or worry. I watched, mainly through pictures and emails from my mother, my brother breeze through the initiation into the Navy, graduate first in his class, and thereby taking the privilege of choosing where he would take on his first assignment. He chose Spain, and thus, he fulfilled a dream. He’s always loved Europe and never really wanted to settle down in the US. So, his move to Spain was something that I both admired and feared. His entry into the Navy was something I’d feared for many reasons, the obvious ones and the not so obvious ones. My worry proved true as he continued ignore his alcoholism because he entered a world where drinking alcohol came with the job, much like it came with being his father’s son.
When he called me to tell me how scared he was about unexpectedly becoming a father, his voice was rattled and heavy with reality. He spoke with conviction and desperation and I did what I knew I had to do… what he had done for me so many times. I had to validate him, encourage him, and allow him to feel everything he was feeling without judgement. After he admitted to me that he is an alcoholic, I immediately told him that this was the first step in his recovery – and I don’t mean that in a 12 step program kind of way. My brother isn’t one who would benefit from AA. He was trained very well not to accept such formal treatment. After all, he was the one who got to hear my dad’s reaction on the day I sought formal treatment for my disease. I didn’t use the word recovery, either. I did encourage him to consult his commanding officer and reach out to someone for help. I explained how helpful therapy has been for me and that I, of course, would not suggest he join “something like AA” but I did highly recommend that he give himself the gift of an objective listener so that he could work through is feelings and grow and change as he was so desperately telling me he wanted to. His response to me? “I’m doing that now. That’s why I called you. You are my therapy.” Few things are more complimentary than that. While I was flattered, I immediately told him “Thank you, but I am involved in this, honey. I am not an objective listener, as much I want to be, it’s impossible. You are my brother and I am emotionally involved in this situation.” But, at the same time, I took such incredible comfort in that comment and I clung to it… thus allowing myself to believe that this meant I had a little piece of my brother “back.” I thought, as I had a couple of times in the last two years, that he was coming back to me… that our bond was rekindling, that my friend was mine again.
The next time we spoke, his voice was once again, less familiar to me. He spoke with authority and an almost robotic confidence and conviction. My heart sank a bit, as I knew there was no way I could reach him in this place. I had written him many things in the aftermath of our conversation, including what I thought was valuable information for him to consider. I explained to him that he should wait as long as possible before telling mom and dad. I told him that he should probably tell them in a letter rather than face to face or over the phone, as their immediate reactionary words could be almost irreversibly cruel and hurtful. I still have the Skype chat…
Hey hon… need you to touch base with me, please. I really wish we could make a date to Skype – I know weeks are hard for both of us but if you can just drop me a quick line so I know that you’re okay. I really want to talk to you before you tell Mom and Dad – just to give you some advice. I don’t want to alarm you or make it even harder – but I want to caution you to give mom and dad as little details as possible about this situation. I hope that you will trust me on this and that you will also trust me when I tell you that you must not internalize anything that they may say to you. In fact, it may be better for you to write them a letter so that you cannot hear their first thoughts because they could potentially be very, almost irreversibly hurtful. You know that I’ve been through a lot with them and I’ve shocked them and challenged them in many ways. I really want to make sure that you know that regardless of anyone’s reaction – I am here for you and I want and need you to communicate with me and stay focused on my support because you need to know that you have it. Just like I knew I had yours – knowing that kept my heart beating at times.
Prior to that, I’d sent him many message in my immediate reaction mindset… looking back I realize it is fairly intense, but I know why now. These “My brother” chapters are obviously eventually going to come back around to me. Here are pieces of what I told him after finding out about my new niece/nephew:
I have to be truthful here as well… as much as mom and dad love us and their grandchildren, they are far less involved in their little lives as your sister and I both imagined. This has been extremely painful for both of us and it’s something you probably are very surprised to hear… but it is true. Mom and Dad are very much in their own world and visit the cabin more than they visit their grandchildren. They make excuses for why they can’t make it to birthday parties – mom rarely wants to leave dad’s side so she hardly ever (and I mean once or twice year) comes on her own just to spend time with her daughters, and when she does, it’s almost always when dad is traveling. Two reasons I’m telling you this: so that you know that this is how they are and when they are this way with your future wife, you’ll know it isn’t just because of mom’s fears about her. This is just the way they are. The second reason is because you won’t be able to count on mom and dad’s help and support like you may think you can. Because your sister and I have both been shocked, humbled, and hurt by how often they have been absent. When Dad is with mom on the weekends, they are rushed because dad is anxious in a crowd and can never wait to leave. (when I say dad is anxious in a crowd, I mean anxious outside of his own house… anxious even when it is just our families that are present. He can only handle being away from home/mom for so long and it changes even the way mom interacts with the boys when they are both here.) We have told Mom how we feel more than once, and nothing changes. Our feelings are ignored. This is probably way too much to put on you, but I just want you to have a realistic picture of what things are like – so that you aren’t shocked or disappointed when you don’t get the support that we should all expect from our parents/grandparents of our children. It’s just the way it is.
Here is what he wrote back to me:
Yes, the message I just got was WAY too much. I wouldn’t like to have any other way. We will have to speak, and I wish it could be in person…….. my frickin brain is overflowing. It is my fault that we have not been able to communicate enough. My fault. But, the energy that you just stirred up in your brother, I have told my father once, only once, twelve years ago, that he better not say another fucking thing about this girl, and he got the message. Mom was there. I am truly lucky to have you in my life. I consider you as one of the best influences, and simply one of the best human beings the world has ever seen. And you don’t have to apologize to me, sweetheart. I am the one who has laid this crazy news onto the planet. I’m just lucky to have a great sister that I can spout my mouth off too… they will support us. That is what families do. They do not have a choice. And neither do I. There will be another life on this planet because of me. I just hope it has my last name. The fact is that I am a sailor in the US Navy and my future wife has to go through this all by herself. I know you will be a part of the support structure that she needs and that i can’t give from 3000 miles away. I know you support me, so get on board. I know you already are. goodnight, sis.
And, as our chat continued, this is what I wrote back to him while he was sleeping in Spain:
I love you so much. After talking to you and realizing the incredible bond between sister and brother and how powerful it is, I feel the need to have another baby. Because your little nephew shouldn’t be alone in this world. All I think about is you taking me on that date when we lived in Europe, giving me that rose, showing me that I was human when I felt so very far from it. I remember you walking into the hospital and hugging me, despite the fact that our sister, Mom, and Dad all walked past me like I was an insect. You were the only one that didn’t. And you know what the counselor said to me? She said, “You aren’t the one that needs to be in here… your whole family, save your brother, needs to be in here.” Because what kind of family doesn’t support their own DAUGHTER when she feels so incredibly sad that she wants to end her life? Remember dad’s reaction?? He said it to you. So, remember, above ALL ELSE, that Mom and Dad are NOT perfect and they DO NOT know it all. You are about to feel the wrath of this family – and I have only felt it like you are about to feel it. My advice to you is to tune out as much of it as you can. It does come from love but it will eat you alive if you listen to it. I have had time to think and really reflect on the whole situation and I feel SO much better having talked to you and hearing your voice and knowing that I have my brother “back.” I have missed you.
You need to stay focused, stay strong. No. Matter. What. I am here for you. Fuck religion, fuck tradition, fuck judgement, fuck presumption. Fuck the past. I want more than anything for you to do the same. I have so much faith in you that I know you will rise to this – I know you will be who your dad never could be. I know you will face your worst fears, you will fix your demons, you will face yourself – and you will conquer everything that attempts to defeat you. You are one of the strongest people I know. You can do anything you set your mind to, you’ve already proven that. Alcoholism is no joke and you, more than anyone I know, can squash it like a small bug that lives in my house and is very, very annoying. All it needs is a little vinegar down the drain and a LOT of discipline. You know a little something about discipline, ey? I already love this baby and I already love his/her mother, because I know that if you love her, I will too. Whatever happens in this, I am with you.
And, that is that. That is the last time we spoke from the heart. It saddens me that I miss who he is when he’s drunk, because most of the heartfelt things he said were said when he was drinking. No wonder it is harder for him not to drink that it is for him to drink – that is how he described alcoholism to me. My confession is that for part of that conversation I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol as well. I rarely do so, but in familial stress especially, it just comes natural to me to deal with that particular anxiety with the old familial remedy more commonly known as red wine. I’m never particularly proud of that fact, but it is a fact; and I only do it once in a blue moon. As you can see, our bond is one that only sister and brother could share. The fear and confidence we exchange is incomparable and irreplaceable, and unfortunately, also happens once in a blue moon.
So, my brother is now on a plane back to Spain. He was just here for a week. He flew home on Thursday, came to our house for dinner on Friday, had lunch with Rachel (not her real name but it’s getting difficult to leave names out) and her parents on Saturday afternoon, went to my parents’ cabin to have dinner with them on Saturday night, got engaged on Sunday morning, drove back to town that night to have dinner with us again… but never showed up. He called to say they’d had a long day, told me the ring fit, and apologized for waiting until 8:30pm to call and tell me he wasn’t going to make it. All day I’d been telling my son that his Uncle was going to come back. All day I’d been preparing food and anticipating the time with him. When 6:00 came and I hadn’t heard from him, I called and texted Rachel. No response until 8:30. This is the brother that I don’t know, the one I’m not bonded to, the robot that seems almost void of connection and affection. On Monday, he obtained a marriage license, they were married in a courthouse on Tuesday (while the rest of us worked) and left for their honeymoon. They returned to town on Friday. I didn’t hear from him all day on Friday. Apparently he had dinner with our sister that night. He had told me on Monday night that he’d call me when he got back to town. He didn’t. I didn’t hear from him until I called and texted again, on Saturday. When I finally got to hear his voice again, he explained to me that they had a busy day of running errands ahead of them, furniture shopping and such. I told him that I’d really like to see him before he left because I had something to give him. His response cut a knife in my heart, reopening the hole that I thought was full again. “Okay, well, do you guys live near any furniture stores?” In fact, we do. So I explained where he could buy furniture for Rachel, and how to get to my house from the stores. I asked what their plans were for dinner… again his response all but broke my heart. “We don’t know yet, we may go out, we may just order in.” He had no desire to see me again. I practically had to beg him to just stop by long enough so that I could give him what I had for him. I had a card for him, that was it. I didn’t want to mail it, I thought I was going to get to give it to him on Sunday… and if not then, when he had returned on Friday. I had no idea he was content leaving town without seeing me again at all. That’s not the brother I know, that’s not the brother that is my best friend and one of the few people on earth that understands me, and vice versa.
My brother just had a shotgun wedding.
where one or both parties are forced into marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy
– Urban Dictionary
Everyone must know what that is, but for some reason I felt the need to google it. Gotta love the Urban Dictionary. So, I have a new sister-in-law! That I barely know! This is all fine and well. My brother and I have always had a unique bond and I’ve always felt that he has some kind of 6th sense when it comes to me. Well, maybe not always. He came to live with my husband and I for a while after he almost drank himself to death and could not go home to live with my parents because after 3 times of this happening before, they finally shut their door to him. My husband and I were happy to welcome him into our home with just a few adult rules, including “no drinking” for the alcoholic who wouldn’t admit he was an alcoholic. My mother begged me not to let him live with me, swearing up and down that it would ruin our relationship. “That’s impossible,” I’d tell her, “Me and my brother have a bond that no one understands… it is impossible to ruin.” He lived with us for four months and witnessed a lot of the same problems between me and my husband that we still deal with. At one point, he made the gigantic mistake of inserting his 2 cents into the “problem” that he presumed he understood. He’s always really looked up to my husband for many reasons. He said to me, “Sometimes you just have to let things go. I hear you talking about the same one issue over and over and it’s exhausting. That’s one of my pet peeves! I hate it when people do that! Just let it go!”
Maybe that was the point things started to change… but over the course of the last month he lived with us as he completely ran out of money and as a result became very anxious and unappreciative, he finally told me to “Shut up” and that was it. I told him to get out. My brother and I hadn’t fought since we were kids. Adult fighting really is so much worse. I hated it. I had hated the last two months he was with us, because he had turned into someone I didn’t recognize again. You can never really know a person until they live with you, though. It’s the truth. Living together as children, again, is very different from living together as adults. He would sit on my couch and watch South Park and Reno 911 for hours. I would come home from work, at a job I could not stand, and he’d be on my couch, laughing as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I’d find myself asking his permission to change the channel on the TV that I paid for… the channels on the cable plan that I paid for. He had ultimately no respect for what we were doing for him towards the end of his stay. And, much to my mom’s heartbreak, it definitely did ruin our relationship for a couple of years. He never called me. I didn’t exactly seek him out either, it was pretty hard to swallow the disrespect in the end mostly because I had never experienced anything but the utmost respect and friendship from my brother. When he finally got himself back together and moved back in with my parents, he would always call my sister first if he needed to come to our town, which was quite often as he was prepping for the NAVY and had frequent check-ins. It was painful – I’ll never know if it was painful for him because he has re-entered a shell over the years. He pokes out now and then, usually when he’s drunk. I’ve gotten an email or a phone call about how wonderful I am and how much he loves me in the last two years since he’s been in the NAVY now.
The latest call that made me think he was truly “back” involved the latest news. He was drunk, and shaky and scared out of his mind. The details don’t matter – what happens next does. My brother and I have a wonderful talk and he admits for the first time that he knows he’s an alcoholic and that it is harder for him not to drink than it is for him to drink. He tells me he is afraid of failing and afraid of screwing everything up – afraid of not being man enough to raise a baby or be a good husband. He tells me all his fears and I pump him with the confidence I know he needs although inside I am crying in my fear. I was so honored that I received that call; that he had reached out to me first. He told me that he loved me and that he knew I would know just what to say to make him feel better about things. I told him that I would do anything to help him because he had always been there to help me in my darkest hours. I relied on him for my only support system many times. And, he’s my little brother. But numerous times when my mom and dad did not have the emotional capability to mother and father me the way they should have, my brother stepped up and did his part to be sure I knew I wasn’t alone. The fist time I ever experienced major depression and felt trapped (because I pretty much was) in my parents’ dysfunction emotionally and physically, my brother invited me to go on a date with him… out of the blue. He just asked me one day if I’d let him take me on a date. It was honestly the first genuinely no-strings-attached nice thing anyone in my house had asked of me for as long as I could remember. So, I said yes. We rode the bus to the movies downtown, he bought me a single red rose, and we even held hands. People probably thought we were actually on a date, it was so sweet. I’m sure my parents gave him money and admired his gesture… they had told me just weeks before that I should consider how my depression was affecting my “little brother.” It didn’t seem to be affecting him at all; he seemed to simply understand that I was very, very sad. Sad enough to want to end my life. He understood that I needed some positive human interaction. He probably saved my life that night. I’ll never forget it. I didn’t really understand why he was being so nice to me – he was only 14 years old and I didn’t comprehend how he could be so tuned into the situation. Especially, because my parents obviously had no regard for his emotional intelligence because they had no concept of “emotional intelligence” at all themselves, and certainly a 14-year-old child could not have the ability to think rationally for himself. We’ve surprised our parents, many times over the years.
About 3 years later, I had to be hospitalized because I calmly explained to my roommate that when she left to take her exams the next day, I was going to take my entire bottle of Ambien sleeping pills and call it quits. I was scared to call my dad to ask for the insurance information required for my stay, so my roommate did it for me. I am pretty sure I have an idea of what he said to her that day, but she never told me. She just told me “Your dad’s an ass hole, no wonder you’re here.” Somehow we managed to get the insurance information, which means someone was able to convince my dad that I actually was in need of some serious medical intervention… that depression is actually not something people just make up for fun or boredom. What I didn’t know at the time was that my brother was home the day my roommate called him and got to witness and hear out loud my father’s thoughts after learning that his daughter had been hospitalized for wanting to end her life. I would come to learn that the words he first uttered were “What are people going to think of our family?”
Eight days later, my family was required to come in for a family meeting so that the doctors could be sure that I was going home to a safe environment. Here’s out that played out: two therapists sat in the room with me as my family entered one by one, a small room full of chairs placed in a circle. I stood up to greet them but every single one of them walked past me without even acknowledging my existence, except for my brother. He was last to come in and he gave me the biggest hug you can imagine. Again, he’ll never know that hug saved me because there’s no way to verbalize that to someone. I’ve told him many times how much it meant to me… but there is no way that he could ever know how powerful it truly was. It will not surprise you that approximately 60 seconds later, the head social worker/counselor looked at me and asked me to come outside the room. “That was all I needed to see, honey. Your entire family needs to be committed, save your brother. You’re the sanest one among all of them. We’re not going to have that meeting because what I just witnessed was enough for me to know that it is not safe for you to go home with them. But you are ready to go home; do you have anyone else who you can stay with for now? Is there anyone that you can call?”
And there it was… maybe for the first time in my life… some solid validation that I needed in a major way. There were actual reasons for my depression, particularly this episode, that had nothing to do with my family. They just couldn’t separate themselves or their need to “keep up with the Joneses” long enough to comprehend what was actually happening and what horrific parents they were proving to be in this particular situation. But, my brother could and did.
“Everything you see is, is through a lens, huh?” He said, as if he understood me.*
*conversation with my father, tonight.
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. 🙂
I’ve been waiting to hear these words for quite a long time. Writing my last post was pretty important for me. I needed to release all of that tension and call it like it is, if you will. Since then, things did get better for a few days and then, of course they went back to what has become our “normal.” I never remember what argument triggers it because it’s not the argument, it’s the communication pattern we’re stuck in. We ended up having another talk about the state of things, which started out cordial and ended in tears. I said the same things I’ve said a million times, again. I don’t know why I keep repeating myself. I think it is because I feel so stuck that it only makes sense to keep trying. Perhaps… perhaps I’m just a good example of insanity! I walked away from the conversation when he started to get extremely aggravated that I brought up counseling again. He is adamant that he will not go and has been since I’ve known him. This has always been a problem of pride also tied in large part to his culture. Of course, I know that in general, men have a hard time with it. I finally told him that we should just call it like it is and accept that things can’t change because we both aren’t committed 100% to doing whatever it takes. I told him that I would clean out the guest room and move my things and we’d just be as friendly and accepting of each other as we could be until our financial situation changed enough for us to separate.
I went to the guest room and ripped it apart. I put my favorite pictures in it, I removed things that had been driving me crazy since we moved here; I bought myself a new comforter. I made it my haven. It is my haven… I walk into it and I feel relaxed and comforted by my artwork on the walls, my intention in the air. It’s my space and I have needed a space that is mine for quite some time. Of course, there is more I want to do and it’s depressing how much I’ve been sleeping here, but that was the plan. It’s depressing because that evening as I was preparing dinner, he approached me and finally said the words I’ve needed to hear for so long. He put his arm around me and said, “Honey, I don’t want you to leave, I don’t want us to separate. I want to be married to you for the rest of my life. I’ll do anything.” Again, tears. I really hate my tears these days. I told him, “Anything? I don’t think you mean that. What is ‘anything’ to you?” He proceeded to tell me he’d take me on dates and try and bring some romance back, pay closer attention to me, etc. I did tell him that was one thing I thought would help us earlier, but that isn’t all. Maybe I should’ve been happy with that. But my heart is so hard and I have so much anger built up in me, and resentment that I could not just fold and tell him, “Okay, I’ve waited so long to hear you say that…” It just isn’t that simple anymore. Nonetheless, we ended up having a good couple of days again, until the next argument when we started from zero again.
I guess I still have a bit of hope because he seems to respond and listen better since I made the solid decision to sleep in the guest room when I need to. He doesn’t understand and still repeats the same things, but not as often. He still says that I think counseling will fix everything, but it won’t because I’ve been wanting to leave him for years. I can’t really go into everything he told me because I am exhausted. I am sick of being so exhausted. I get up in the mornings and muster every bit of strength I can to let the sadness drip out of me so I can get through my work day productively. I am taking care of myself by exercising and keeping up with my doctors. I know how important this is and I take pride in doing it and knowing that.
Last night, my son was going to sleep and was particularly clingy. He did not want me to put him down and he clutched my neck and seemed to be somewhat scared and insecure. I was pretty sad last night and I think he could pick up on that. I’ve had enough training in child development to know that he is already affected by all of this. And it kills me. I promised myself I would never put him or keep him in this kind of tension. It is not fair to him. I pointed this out to my husband this morning – maybe he heard it, maybe not. But this is one of the reasons I have to do whatever I have to do to bring back peace in my heart. I owe that to my son. He does not deserve to already feel that he has to comfort me. I asked him, “Do you want mommy to rock you a little bit longer?” He has just started to appropriately answer, “Yes” like a big boy. “Yeah,” he said. It broke my heart and comforted me at the same time. We rocked for about 5 minutes and then he went right to sleep, secure again.
And, so did I. In my “new” bed, under my new comforter. Life is strange and hard, but I’ll make it through this. I know I will. Thanks for reading.
My drives to work in the morning have become quite productive. This morning, once again, I was reflecting on Neil Gaiman’s words, particularly these: “They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind.” My compassion for others has always been one of my favorite attributes – and I am starting to understand why every single thing has to have a boundary, even this. I know that my husband is not an abusive person and that he has a pure and kind heart. I, therefore, know and understand that when he says things to me that crush my soul, he doesn’t do it with malice. But, he still does it, and that is the point.
This weekend I went to my neighbor’s house for her birthday party. It was great – more fun than I have had in quite some time. It was the kind of fun I used to have all the time in college – except very different because the conversations had were much more mature, lol. I had so much fun – and in the middle of the fun and conversations I realized that I am barely really living my life. I struggle so much with anxiety now that I forget how easy it used to be for me to meet and get to know new people. These aren’t your average people I was hanging with – these are people that are real and so much themselves that you can’t help but to be yourself just to try and honor their fearlessness. Sigh, isn’t that only something those of us who are afraid to really be ourselves say? Anyway, on to my point…
I got home late, very late. I was feeling so peaceful and happy that I had given myself that time to relax and have fun, because I rarely let myself do so. I crawled into my bed with a smile on my face, leaned over in an attempt to cuddle with the husband to let him know I was home. I knew he wasn’t sleeping, and he wasn’t moving either. It didn’t take long for the sickening feeling to come over me – the feeling I get when I realize he is unhappy with me for some truly obnoxious and ridiculous reason. I wanted to be sure he actually was alive, so I said, “Are you okay?” I got no response, but the tension began to spread in the silent return. This time, I was determined not to let him ruin that wonderful, warm feeling I had so I just put my ear plugs in and went back to sleep. I didn’t even want to hear what ridiculous things he was saying because they weren’t going to be nice things and I didn’t deserve to hear them. He did answer me, finally, emphatically, with: “Are you fucking kidding me? Do you think that just because you are next door that you can stay out as late as you want?” And, with that, I fell asleep. It felt very good to just tune him out and not internalize the accusation and react to him for the moment.
The next morning I tried explaining to him that he could have expressed his frustration to me in many ways other than the way he ultimately chose to. I explained the same thing I have explained a million times to him (and by a million I mean nearly every time I go “out” and I push the limits of unexpressed rules that he apparently has for me, such as a curfew), that it really is all about communication and the way we speak to each other. I told him how hurt and uncomfortable it makes me feel when he talks to me in that tone for that reason. In the nicest way I’ve ever described it to him, I told him that he is better than this controlling person he sounds like when he accuses me of doing something wrong when all I’ve done is stay out a little later than usual and let myself socialize in an adult world for a change.
He sounds like a controlling ass hole, does he not?? Well, he’s really not! He is simply a product of his upbringing, which happens to have taken place in a part of the world that is largely patriarchal even today (and, more so that here in the good ole’ U.S.A. which I do realize is quite patriarchal still as well.) I have watched his mother and father interact and it is clear that even today, in 2012, there are definite and defined limits on his mother’s actions. She may be feisty and rebellious at times, and by that I mean, she may have an opinion and express that opinion, but she is ultimately guided and willingly follows the standards of submissiveness that she has existed in for her entire life. Now, my husband has explained to me that this is not true in any sense. Because he doesn’t see it. And how could he? It is perfectly normal to him. He has never shown interest in exploring the roots of the kind of behavior he exhibits in these circumstances. So, the story goes that because I am compassionate and I know his heart is kind and pure, I look beyond it, forgive him, accept that he is never “sorry” for how badly he makes me feel during these moments. Which brings me to the title of original title this post, which was “The Subtle, Confusing, Innocence of Emotional Abuse.” You can see why I changed it.
Just saying the word “abuse” feels very taboo and foreign and uncomfortable to me, because it is almost always followed, in my head at least, with the word “victim.” I don’t want to be anybody’s victim, I don’t want to play the victim, I don’t want to over-exaggerate my circumstances, I don’t want to accuse. My husband is not a monster and he really is one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. I keep trying to figure out if he’s always been this controlling or if he’s changed over the years as circumstances have hardened his heart. I’ve thought he’s been depressed now for over a year, and I chalk his behavior up to that a lot and I do understand his recent frustration with life. But, our marriage has had many problems that stem from our fundamental differences for quite some time. This is one of the main reasons it is so hard for me to use the word “abuse” when talking about my marriage or my husband, because I know he doesn’t treat me this way with malice. However, by it’s definition, emotional abuse is “any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal assaults.” This is a fairly basic definition, found on a random college counseling website that I don’t live anywhere near. Google sure is handy. I liked this definition, though, because of this comment, “Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept.”
Now, listen as I explain away the absolute fact that this is what is happening in my marriage. I have blatantly pointed out to my husband that what he is doing qualifies as emotional abuse, and, naturally, he scoffs and says things like, “Please!” Or “Wow, really? This is unbelievable.” Or, my personal favorite, “So if you think I am abusing you, why don’t you just leave?” The more I weed through the problems of our marriage and my contributions to our utter lack of healthy communication patterns, the more I come to realize that in this case, my compassion has started to hurt rather than help me. I understand why he thinks it is okay to belittle and disrespect me on a regular basis. This does not mean I have to accept it. Accepting it includes letting it happen. Letting it happen includes letting it go, moving on with our daily lives as if nothing is wrong because it’s just easier that way. I have tried explaining the way he makes me feel many, many times. I have tried every perspective that you can imagine. The only thing that works, sometimes, is when I ask him to put himself in my shoes and “Would you like it if I said that to you?” In the end, whether he says he is sorry or not, the root of the problem is never truly addressed and thus, the cycle continues. Thus, his insistence that all of our problems are due to my “creation of problems that don’t exist (more emotional abuse).” A good friend recently reminded me of a quote that says something along the lines of, “before you diagnose yourself with any kind of disorder or mental illness, be sure that you aren’t just surrounded by ass holes first.”
I actually would prefer to be married to my husband for the rest of my life. I just need him to love himself enough to make some transformations so that he can be the person I know he wants to be, so that we can have the kind of marriage we both deserve. I thought, as I always do, that I could actually be unaffected by his temper tantrum. It had no logic, was cruel, I didn’t deserve it, so why give it a thought? Why try and explain myself? I just end up sounding guilty and I was not guilty of anything – I was literally next door with people he knows just as well as I do! Despite this understanding, I did somehow still end up defending myself as well. ” know it was late, but I was having fun….” I am an adult – I am fairly far into adulthood… certainly far enough to make decisions for myself. The fact that I even had to have that kind of a conversation and thought process is really the core reason why I feel so heartbroken and disturbed at the end of these little battles. Because, they are battles within my husband that I am trying to fight for him. And I will never win.
This is just one small example of the way things typically go in my house. The sad and excruciating part of this is that the rest of the day, we actually got along just fine. I assumed that he had calmed down and reason had returned to him with sleep. I also assumed that he knew what I said was right and recognized his mistake in treating me like his 16 year old child. So, later that night when he tried to snuggle up to me, I asked him if he felt bad for the way he had spoken to me. Yes, I totally ruined the “moment” but this was NOT my intention! I fully expected him to say, “Yes, I do.” And, herein lies MY neurosis. I didn’t expect an apology, he sucks at them. I figured at the very least he’d ACKNOWLEDGE how dreadful he was to me. But, alas, he did not. He actually ended up emphasizing his point that as a wife and a mother, I should not “behave that way.” It’s quite hilarious when you think about it – because one could conclude that as a wife and a mother, he intends for me never to socialize (even with the neighbors), drink alcohol socially, meet new people, invest in new friendships, and of course never stay out past 12? 1? 2am? And the reason for this is because of… what people will say about me? Him? Because I’d love to know who the hell would agree with him that my “behavior” was inappropriate. If I was bar-hopping every night and standing on a corner, eh, yeah, I can see how that may cross the motherly/wifely line. For the love of GOD, I was NEXT DOOR. (That maybe the title of my book, just sayin’.)
So, when no acknowledgement of any wrong doing occurred, I shut down. I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it either… so, he blurted out, “This relationship is going nowhere with you.” Isn’t that lovely? Again, he implies that due to my complete and utter psychosis, “this relationship” is going nowhere. “This relationship” can’t go anywhere unless we are both committed to its survival. Survival. I am completely okay with it sometimes just being about surviving as a couple. It is like life… sometimes we really do just “survive.” I have been “surviving” now for a long, long time. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to thrive. I want my son to see me as free and happy as I was in the midst of all that fun on Saturday night, the way I am when it is just him and I, laughing and playing and living the magical moments of life together. Maybe I ruined the moment my husband was in desperate need of at that time. But, as I told him later that night, it’s pretty essential that we start asking ourselves the hard questions at this juncture, because I’m sick of the merry-go-round. It is fine for us to have a difference in opinion about what is and is not appropriate “behavior” for me as a mother and a wife. It is not okay for him to shame me for not following his definition. It is not okay for him to do this once… and he has done it many, many times.
As things become more and more clear to me, I realize that I have a decision to make. He won’t go to therapy. The pattern won’t change on it’s own. I can’t be our therapist. I can’t save our marriage. Our problems are fixable. This is what breaks my heart… I am a fighter! I don’t like giving up on people, especially people who I love and believe in. However, I realize now that it is not in my power to change him and that my compassion for him and the way he was raised can only take me so far. Trying to understand and explain away his abusive behavior is only hurting me. It is only a matter of time before my son starts to learn the same patterns that my husband learned throughout his childhood. And, I just can’t let that happen.
It’s been fairly dark inside my head this week as we have barely spoken anything other than necessary words to one another. I think we are both sad, and as usual the saddest part to me is that he is waiting for me to “get over it” while I am waiting for him to give me things he will never be able to give me. I don’t know what will happen, how this one will turn out… if I will feel it is necessary to go back into denial or not for awhile. But, I know that I just wrote this blog and that the fear of what lies beyond the “what if we don’t make it” thoughts are becoming less and less overwhelming. I know that my son gives me incredible strength and a will to live and keep fighting this fight that is unparalleled. I know that no matter what happens, I will be fine. Better than fine. I will thrive. 🙂
Tonight I reached for a glass… okay… a bottle of wine. I had a hard day at work. I just needed to cool down a little and re-claim the pieces of me I felt I may have lost sight of in some exciting opportunities at work. I do that. I get all excited about an opportunity, a window, and I run full speed ahead. I’m kind of like a child in that sense. I still have not decided whether or not this is part of the child that I should’ve outgrown by now or not. Either way, I needed to take myself down a notch and as I have been taught by most members of my family… this is seemingly the best way to do that :).
Lately the skeletons have been creeping around my curves a little too comfortably, so I thought I owed them some attention tonight. I feel like I barely have time to breathe anymore. I am supposed to be committed to this craft of writing again, yet I barely have time to stand still. I am doing important things… raising my son… for one :). I just wish I had a few more hours in the day so I could carve some much needed “me” time in between all the responsibilities pulling me left and right and forward! Okay and sometimes, back.
I really hate the way memory can creep in and ruin a perfectly good drive home. While visiting some old friends in my hometown this weekend, I had the chance to drive down the street I spent all of my teen years growing through. I would say growing “up” but I really didn’t start moving upwards until I was out of my teen years. My stomach turned and for the first time I felt I was having a physical reaction to the painful memories that can still bring me to my knees. My father took me for a walk when I was about 15 years old to explain to me how “different” I am.
The conclusion that I have come to over the years (and through years, and years of therapy) is that all of the whispers of diagnoses never really stuck because there were always real, substantial, circumstantial reasons for my depression/anxiety/mood swings. No doctor could ever truly rule out that I was just a product of my surroundings, which included a substantial amount of emotional neglect. There’s no doubt in my mind that the anxiety disorder diagnosis is dead on… name a person in my family who doesn’t have it and I’ll send you a million dollars! 🙂 And if I am truly bi-polar, however “soft,” I’m cool with it – and I take great comfort in the fact that I’m the only one who has chosen NOT to use alcohol to cope with this awkward state of mind… so I am the healthiest one of us all! I digress.
Back to the walk. I can remember feeling so special when my dad wanted to spend time with me. He spent a lot of time with me when I was little… pretty much up until teen. He did okay even in the pre-teen years. The older I got, however, the more he became a distant, powerful stranger in my life. He was wonderful and inspiring when he was happy. But I never knew if he would come home happy – throw change up in the air and giggle with me and my siblings as we jumped to collect the most quarters – or angry, all but treating us like we were the last people he wanted to bother with. No one is perfect, I realize this. My dad worked hard, for many, many years, at a job he ultimately hated, and he did it for us. I know that now. I know that he struggled through it, for us, his family. I have always wondered how much happier my dad could’ve been had he actually taken a chance or two earlier in life… had he not let go of his idealism as quickly as he did. My dad loves John Lennon. LOVES him… but you would never know it today… because he has been known, more than once, to actually agree with Rush Limbaugh. From John Lennon to Rush Limbaugh… that’s gotta explain a lot about the kind of change my dad has made in his lifetime.
The walk. My dad invited me to walk with him. As most of these “special” moments with dad went, I danced down the driveway of our quiet, suburban house, so proud to be my daddy’s daughter. I wrapped my arm around him and couldn’t wait to share a daddy/daughter moment… hoping this would be one of those rare occasions that he chose to father, rather than coach (he was a great coach!) We didn’t get very far at all until he said the words that have echoed in my soul now for years. “You’re different, Karen,” he said, placing his hand firmly on the tip of my right arm the way he always did. “Yeah, isn’t that a good thing, though, Dad!?” I was always brave when I was younger with him – the fear really grew with age, thanks to moments like this. “Well, yes, you’re right. But you’re different in maybe the kind of way that you don’t want to be different.”
It was something along those lines. I, of course, can certainly not remember every single word – but I remember their impact. I remember that the word “different” established itself in my head that day as something I did not want to be.
He went on to ask me why I am the way I am… and I couldn’t tell you exactly what he meant by “different.” I remember him always wanting to know why I always wrapped my arms so tightly around my friends for pictures… why I was so passionate about the love I had for my friends and pretty much, for anything I was involved in at the time. I had extreme passion… and it was complimented by extreme sadness. I remember the sinking feeling settling in… the self-doubt, rebellious anger, frustrating refusal to accept his evaluation. I knew, though, that I could not argue. What he said must be correct. He told me that people “noticed” this difference. And that he thought I should know that people “talk about it.” I asked him what they said as the first tear rolled down my face… it’s all a blur now and I could fabricate a memory. I am sure whatever I come up with would be close enough to convey the point. I think this is far enough though. The feeling of walking, elated… and then so intensely defeated.
I wish I knew why this particular memory has been at the forefront of my mind recently. I have worked through so many of these intrusive memories in the past; this one seems to be sticking around much longer than normal. Maybe because my mom has been in full abandonment mode lately. I don’t know. I know that it sickens me every time I think of that day and every other day I mistakenly let my guard down with my dad.
I’ve learned a lot. I don’t share exciting news anymore. When we bought our first house, I did not tell my parents until we’d bought it. They were offended… it would hurt dad’s feelings that I didn’t want his advice, my mother warned, but I knew I had to keep it from them in order to maintain the strength to go through with it.
For years I dreaded Father’s Day. This has been a bit of an easier holiday since my son was born and I have my husband to celebrate on this day (and especially since he’s actually been very much worth celebrating lately!) However, it is always very emotional for me to choose an accurate greeting card for my father. So many cards out there say things along the lines of “Dad, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for your encouragement, love, and support…. or Dad, you are the best father a daughter could ever…. or Your love has turned me into a better person…. or even you show your love…” cards that i just cannot bare to read. It takes me at least 2 trips to the card (stores) and then 20 minutes at least to find the perfect, “not too much, not too little” card for him. Sweet enough to make him feel like he’s a good dad, but true enough too. I don’t think there’s any point in buying a card if it does not speak to the reality of a situation. He is not the best dad in the world. He is not my hero, nor is he my inspiration – nor do I feel like I am a better person for the way he chose to live his life – but he’s my dad. And I’m learning more and more every day how to appreciate him for who he is.