Just Say No


Can you say the word no out loud?  Easy, isn’t it?  No.  Two letters.  It’s a very useful word.  I can use it in just about every capacity except one–I have a really hard time saying no to my family.   Well, really, I have a hard time saying no to anyone, but especially to my family.  As I have blogged about before, it’s verboten, and it’s ingrained, so I have had a hell of a time trying to break through this particular wall.

Just to recap, for most of my life, I didn’t feel as if I had a right to be alive.  I thought that I was born into the world under a heavy debt, and no matter how many good deeds I did, I could never pay off said debt.  Somehow, I began thinking that doing everything other people wanted me to do would help pay off my bad karma.  The problem was, I was garnering the negative karma points faster than I was able to do good.  It felt hopeless to me. I felt as if I was failing, failing, failing.

Add to that the indoctrination I had received as a child that I was supposed to cater to my father’s whims and be my mother’s confidante, and I was destined to be a yes-woman–albeit a grudging one.  I seethed with resentment with every yes wrest from my lips.  I radiated my disapproval, but apparently, I am better at hiding my resentment than my father was.  Or, for that matter, better than my SIL is right now.  At any rate, I would be fuming on the inside as I went about whatever it was that the person had asked of me.  I would be tense the entire time (especially if the event occurred in my brother’s house).

Ed. note: The above was written in the wee hours of last night.  As of now, it’s June 16/17, 2010, 1:29 a.m.

This was especially true if I had to drive to my brother’s place.  He lives forty minutes away, and I hate to drive in the best of times.  My mother had told me earlier last week that my brother had invited her over either Saturday or Sunday of this past weekend.  She said I could go or not, and I said I probably wouldn’t–especially since I had to finish the final proofread of her book.

This weekend, I had a great Taiji class led by a substitute teacher whom I like a great deal.  We did the whole solo form in silence (it was just me in class), and it was the first time I had ever done that.  Before, we’d do it to music or with Julie saying the posture names.  I really liked just doing the form.  The sub showed me the short form as well; we chatted; I went home.

The minute I walked into the house, my mother told me that my brother had called and said we could go to his house that afternoon, and then we’d all go out to dinner.  She asked if I wanted to go.   As I said, in the past, I would have gritted my teeth and barked, “Fine.”  This time, however, something inside of me wouldn’t let me.  Instead, I paused, listened to something inside, and then quietly said, “No.”  She was taken aback and asked, “Oh, you have something to do tonight?”  I said, “No.  I don’t want to go. ”

That was change enough in and of itself.  I NEVER say no to going to my brother’s house, for whatever reason.  My mother could have gone alone, of course, except for the fact that her eyesight is terrible.  Part of the reason she is here for so long this time is because she is having cataract surgery on both eyes.  Normally, I would be sympathetic, but she couldn’t read the highway signs the last time she was in town (a year ago), and she put off doing anything about it until now.  Just like she put off doing anything about the pain in her side for about a year until she had to have emergency gallstone removal surgery.

At any rate, she can drive when she’s going somewhere she knows, but she doesn’t like driving at night, anyway.  Sure enough, she started talking about her eyes and how she couldn’t drive.  This was the point where I was supposed to say, “Oh, OK, I’ll go.”  I know that particular dance very well as I have participated it in it countless times.

However, this time, I said nothing.  I have slept even more poorly since she’s been home (thus, slamming the car door on my forearm, but that’s another blog entry completely) and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I could even make it to my brother’s place without falling asleep.  In addition, I knew that I would be tense the whole time, waiting for my SIL to say something nasty, irritated by every little thing the kids did, and in general, not having any fun at all.  And, I would have been a bitch.  Oh sure, I wouldn’t have been too noticeably a bitch, but as I wrote in my email to my mother in answer to her letter about her concerns for me, my family does not get to see the best of me because I have a hard time dealing with our family dysfunctions.

I said to my mom, “No.  I have to work on your book, and I am exhausted, and I don’t want to drive out there.  They can come here.   I don’t think it’s fair that we always have to drive there.”  Which is only a slight exaggeration.  I would say it’s a ninety-ten split, and yeah, they have three kids so it’s easier for us to travel, but still.  I know the SIL doesn’t like coming over, but hey, I don’t like going over there, either.  Then I had my breakfast (at three in the afternoon) and watched some baseball (Cubs vs. White Sox).

I didn’t get defensive or mad or huffy (well, a wee bit the last).  I just stated my case calmly and went about my business.  My mom called my brother who said he would talk to his wife and then call us back.  Fifteen minutes later, he did just that.  They were coming over, sans SIL.  We had a really good time, and the sky did not fall.

I know it sounds like a little thing, but it really was huge for me.  I actually said no to my family, and the world did not fall apart.  My mom pushed it a bit, but I didn’t rise to the bait.  I didn’t back down, and in consequence, I was able to enjoy myself much more that night than I would have if I had caved.

I have always said in context of women and their sexuality that if they couldn’t say no, then their yes had no validity.  I realized that it was also true for me personally.  As long as I felt I couldn’t say no to my family, every yes was false.  Ironically, now that I’m starting to say no to my family (specifically my mother), I feel more free to offer to do this or that for my mother.  If I’m not being badgered/cajoled into doing something, then I can actually decide if I want to help her out or drive her somewhere.  Sometimes, I have no problems doing just that–when it’s truly my choice.

I had my therapy session today, and I revealed that I was really, really, really sad.  Now, this surprised me.  I mean, I was taking steps to change my negative traits.  I’ve been having honest, painful discussions with my mother.  I’ve said no to her.  I am making priorities, and I am changing my behaviors and habits in order to further said priorities.   All of this is good, right?  Then why the hell do I feel so sad?

There are many reasons.  One, the lost years.  When I said no on Saturday to my mother, nothing bad happened.  I thought, “It was that easy?  Why didn’t I do this before?”  I spent fifteen fucking years frozen in a desperate attempt not to…what?  Not to get hurt.  Not to be obliterated.  Not to vanish into nothingness.  I have said before that depression wasn’t easy, but it was comfortable.  And, it felt safe, even though, ironically, I thought about killing myself every day.

This new me?  Uncomfortable.  The fact that the world did not fall apart when I said no?  Unfathomable.  And, I mourn the fact that I lost fifteen years to my depression.  Now, I know that on some levels, I’m confabulating.  There is no way, two years ago, I would have been able to say no to driving to my brother’s house.  I would have went, been a martyr, inwardly seething, and I would have felt utterly powerless.  I didn’t have it in me to say no, so even though in retrospect it seems like such a silly, stupid little thing, it really is a big fucking deal.

In addition, it’s something I’ve worked up to for a long time.  My way of moving is to think about something for a long time (some would call it stewing).  Then, I start thinking about doing something other than thinking about it.  Then, I research.  This can take years.  Then, in a flurry of weeks, I do the deed.  This is how I got my cats.  This is how I moved to SF.  This is how I started my blog.  This is probably how I’ll buy a house.  So, the big fucking movement at the end is the result of years of hard work.

Why else am I sad?  Because I have to let go of the person I was.  No matter my complicated feelings for her, she kept me alive for those fifteen hellish years.  No, her coping mechanisms weren’t the best, and no, she did many many regrettable and foolish things, but I’m still here, damn it–with the scars to prove it.  However, much of what she did to keep me alive is now outdated.  Self-harming, it goes without saying, is not a good thing.  The constant red alert for danger is not needed, nor welcome.  The endless loop of what-ifs in my head needs to be muted somewhat.  That’s just the short list of behaviors that are no longer useful to me.

I don’t know how much of her I am taking along with me on this journey, if any.  So, in a way, it’s as if a part of me has died.  I am mourning the loss of her.  No matter how much I need to part ways with her, it’s hard to let her go.

I am also mourning the loss of the illusions.  Yes, I know it’s better to face reality than to be in denial, but letting go of the illusions means letting go of my fantasy of what a family should be.  My ideal family does not exist, certainly not for me, and maybe not at all.  That was reinforced today by my mom not wanting to talk with me about my laptop problems (another entry).  She wants to talk to me about her problems ad nauseam, but if she is not interested in the topic I am presenting, she simply will not engage.  In that way, she’s like my father and brother.  I have to face the fact that I am not going to get the bulk of my emotional sustenance and nurturing from my family (technical, on the other hand, my brother is all aces in that department).

As I stated above, being depressed was comfortable for me.  This metamorphis of mine chafes badly.  My therapist commented it was similar to a baby learning to do something for the first time.  When a baby learns to crawl, she is crabby because her hands don’t work the way they are supposed to.  She may crawl backwards or do the soldier crawl.  There will be many bumps and bruises along the way.  My therapist’s point is that all this changing is damn uncomfortable.  One thing being severely depressed afforded me was the excuse not to think about the rest of my life.  I don’t mean excuse as in, “Oh, that’s just an excuse.”  I mean excuse as in a reason.  When all I could think about was not killing myself, well, I had no time to plan for my future. If at that time,  someone asked  me where I saw myself in ten years, and if I had the balls to be honest, I would have replied, “Dead.”  I couldn’t see a future for me, and I have been a big believer in the idea that if I couldn’t picture something, it couldn’t happen.  What did I want to be doing?  Blank.  Where did I want to be living?  Blank.  Whom did I want to be boinking?  Alan Rickman.  OK.  Some things are a given in my life, but seriously, the question of being in a relationship?  Blank.

Now, I am actually planning for the future.  My first priority is buying my own house.  To that end, I am starting to budget and plan how I am going to make enough money to sustain myself and to provide the lifestyle for my boys to which they are accustomed.  I am thinking of starting my own business (editing) while also planning some other solo ventures that might eventually bring in some cash.

You know what all this means, don’t you?  It means I am starting to picture my future.  I am starting to think I have a future.  And, paradoxically, it’s making me grieve for the past I am leaving behind.

The last thing that is making me melancholy–by the way, my therapist said it’s good that I am experiencing melancholy instead of depression.  While this is true, it hurts a hell of a lot more.  However, I like the word melancholy much better than I like the word depression.  Anyway, back to melancholy/sadness.  When I was depressed, I didn’t have any wants other than to kill myself and/or to stop being so fucking depressed.  Now, I have actual wants.  I want to buy my own house.  I want to be on stage again.  I want to publish a novel, and I want people to read it, damn it.  Lastly, and this is the hardest for me to admit for many reasons, I want to try to be in a relationship with someone.  For so long, I had convinced myself that I didn’t want that.  It was easier than admitting that I never thought it could happen to me.

That’s the bottom line with trying to cut off my wants.  I never thought any of them could be fulfilled.  Therefore, it was easier to not want.  That way, I would never have to experience the pain of not getting.  If I didn’t want to be in a relationship, then not being in one was no big deal, right?  However (and I know most of you spotted this right away.  You’re smart like that), cutting off all my wants meant I never got to experience the happiness, the joy, the bliss of having one of my wants fulfilled.

So, now that I can admit out loud (I feel like I’m confessing a crime) that I want to try dating, I am immediately overwhelmed by fear and sadness because I am afraid I will not get what I want, and it will hurt doubly much because I actually acknowledge that I want it.  When my therapist and I were talking about me buying a house, she said, “If you buy a house, you may lose it.  You may find you hate it.  Or, you may find it’s exactly what you wanted.  Or, it could be you find it’s both good and bad.”  Her point was that there was a whole range of things that could happen if I put a want out there (and got what I wanted).   That’s what terrifies me and what I’ve been trying to control all my life.  I have been trying to insulate myself from bad things, which meant insulating myself from good things as well.  And, as my therapist pointed out, very few things are exclusively good or bad.

Her last comment was that I can grieve and mourn and be sad and still continue to move (literally and figuratively).  It’s not one or the other.  I just have to remember that.

P.S.  I love, love, love Apocalyptica, and Rubo posted this vid to her FB wall today.  Gorgeous, and the title is apropos, too.

11 Responses to Just Say No

  1. Kat, then I am dated because I still get a kick out of hearing that. Thanks.

    Sis, don’t hold your breath! It might be a few more years.

    Artist, aw, thanks. It means a lot to me.

  2. Rock on with your Minna Self, now that she’s emerging. =)

    And you do have family…just not biologically tied to you. I’mma keep repeating that little detail til it sinks it. =)

    Love you, Twin o’ mine.

  3. Kel, thanks, babe. You in your cheerleader’s skirt shaking your pom-poms has really helped. Family: Yeah, it’s hard for me to redefine family, but I’m working on it. Love you back.

  4. Woooo you! I was a mini-me of you in all sorts of things for soooo long that I know just where you’re coming from. I remember the first time I said “no” and was listened to – and the sky didn’t fall… it is a revelation when that happens. Keep working, yaaaaaay. Love you xxx

  5. I’m so happy you are getting there.
    I told you once you start to live differently, your family would have no real choice in the matter and would have to change how the “deal”.
    Getting to where you are is awesome, and remember my frustration at not trusting the change and fighting the habitual reactions?
    **Virtual cheers biotch!**

  6. Brit, or should I say Mini-Me? Yeah, it’s weird, isn’t it when the world doesn’t collapse under the weight of one no? And, as I pointed out, the whole event was actually more enjoyable in general. Love you, too, girl.

    whabs, yeah, I remember that period of your time quite well. You have been an inspiration to me, and I am so glad we found each other on the interwebs. *Terrorist fist jab, bee-yatch! And smooches*

  7. I am so proud of you, too!

    You do not know that saying ‘no’ would’ve been ‘that easy’ fifteen years ago. In fact, I doubt it would have been easy at all. Your mom didn’t have those additional fifteen years to get used to you being an adult. She may not always like it, but at least she doesn’t dig in her heels when you state your adulthood.

    Rock on, babe! Even mourning is part of your rocking.

  8. Choolie, so true on both accounts. I don’t think it would have been as easy fifteen years ago. And, to give my mom credit, she’s trying to change a little, too (more on that in a future entry). Thanks for all your support, the Taiji instruction, and the listening ear.