As longtime readers of this blog know, I am a bit of a control freak. OK, OK, I am a HUGE control freak. In the past, I have made my world small enough so I felt it was manageable (look, honey, I shrunk my life!). The illusion of control was just that, an illusion, but it gave me some (cold, my favorite kind) comfort.
Well, let’s just take that illusion and blow it the fuck up, shall we? Remember the entry I wrote about how I couldn’t talk to my mother about my father? When my therapist asked me which part I couldn’t say, I retorted, “Fucking any of it!” No way I could talk to my mother about how my father ruined my childhood. Uh uh, no how, no way, never in a million years.
Well, I did it.
Let me recount to you how it went down.
Tuesday, my mom and I had a few errands to run, then we were going to go to dinner at Taiko, a local sushi bar. My mom had gone there the Friday before with a friend of hers (moved to a new location), and she said it was as good as ever. So, we reach the location, and the place is deserted. There isn’t a car in the parking lot. The sign says they are closed for the fifth and sixth of July. Oops. For me, it was no big deal. Yeah, I was disappointed, but we could go another time. For my mother, it was A Big Deal She started griping about how they hadn’t told her they would be closed and why would they do that? She kept up with it as we drove until I finally said, “Mom, it’s not a big deal. Let it go.”
I have to tell you it’s really frustrating to watch her do what I do because it reminds me of how out-of-proportion such a reaction is. But, it also helped me see that I come by my control issues honestly. At any rate, we ended up going to Acapulco, which is a decent Mexican chain.
We started chatting about this and that. We got into a tiff because I will state something strongly (this time, the value of tradition), and she will listen, but not say a word. Then, she will completely change the subject. When I pointed out she did that, she said that she didn’t agree with me, but she didn’t know how to say it without making me mad, plus, she needed the server to give her a separate salsa dish (I put hot sauce in mine). I said that to me, it seemed like she wasn’t interested in what I had to say. We hashed that out a bit, and I got to see that my avoidance personality also comes from her. She let slip that she learned from arguing with my father that it wasn’t worth it because of his terrible temper.
That led us into talking about my father, and this is where it gets surreal. As I have written about in the past, my father was the kingpin of the family. We had to cater to his every mood, tiptoeing around his very loud silences lest we disturb him even further. I told her how it affected me to have to do that. She said that her first therapist told her something she’d never thought of–my father was the outsider of the family. I said, “Well, yes. I knew that even when I was a kid.”
Then, my mom said, “So it made it easier for him to be angry because it was one against three. He was actually the weak one because he could not break us apart.” I admit, I have a terrible temper of my own (especially with the family), and I got pissed. I said, “That doesn’t give him the right to have acted the way he did.” She said, “Not an excuse, but an explanation. He felt left out.” I said, “But, Mom, he was the adult.” Mom, “Yes, but, he worked so hard and then couldn’t be a part of the family.” Me, “But, Mom, he was the adult.” And, I told her that he didn’t want to be a father. I had no memories of him attending my performances or plays or whatever. He never said, “Minna, good job. I’m proud of you.” Mom: “He was a better father than most at that time. He changed your diapers. He did the dishes.” I said, “Maybe he was a good husband to you in that way, but he was not a good father to me at all.” And, because I was getting even more pissed off that she was defending him, I added, “He ruined my life!” It’s the one line I wish I hadn’t said because it was so melodramatic and is a real stopping point. However, it’s true. Even taking away the abuse, he had a very big negative influence on my life. I learned from him that I as a person didn’t matter.
As an aside, but related, I was talking to my mom about my frustrations with dating because it’s hard to find a man who is, quite frankly, strong enough to be with me. She said a woman as smart as I am can be intimidating to men. Then, she said, “You don’t have to show how smart you are all the time.” Well, you can imagine how I reacted to that comment. She added, “You have strong opinions which can also be intimidating. You don’t have to show that all in the beginning.” This was mixed in with the discussion about how she doesn’t know how to disagree with my strong opinions.
So, to recap, I should act stupid in order to get a man. This is pretty much what my father told me twenty years ago. I said to my mom, I have spent most of my life hiding the real me (largely because of my father, as I pointed out), and I wasn’t going to do it any more. I mean, I can understand in certain situations like work, yes, one has to moderate one’s view points. And, I am not going to spew my opinions on someone the first time I meet him (believe it or not, I am actually not so in-your-face in real life with people I don’t know very well).
However. I have a brain. I have strong opinions. These things are not going to change any time soon. In my intimate relationships, I do not want to have to hide these two things. The former, well, no way I can hide the fact that I have a brain. As for the latter, I choose not to hide that any longer. I know a reason my mom doesn’t voice her opinions is because she’s afraid of the reaction. She said that that was a big reason–she didn’t want to make someone mad at her (like my father). That means she feels she doesn’t have the right to have those separate opinions, which I have felt for a long time.
If I am going to be with someone on a daily basis, I am not going to hide a large part of my personality. First of all, it’s tiring. Second of all, I would lose respect for a guy if I had to do that to keep his fragile ego intact. Third, I have realized that I do best with people who have strong opinions and are willing to argue them with me. I may not like someone knocking my opinions, but I respect that a hell of a lot more than someone who nods to my face and then feels sour about it afterwards. Fourth, I am not a coddler. I am not really good at doing the cooing feminine thing. I don’t bat my eyelashes, either. Don’t get me wrong. I support my partner, and I have no problem telling him that he is great in many different ways. I love many things about men, and I can be very vocally appreciative. However, I am no longer willing to cull my own likes and dislikes for fear I might hurt a man’s feelings.
Even though I have been itching to be in a relationship lately, I know that I am fine with being single for the rest of my life. It would be nice to be able to explore being in a relationship, but it’s not a necessity in my life. And, I have also realized that in the past, I went into relationships from the vantage point of weaknesses. I mean, I wanted to be with someone, and it didn’t matter whom. Plus, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted from a relationship, so I got into relationships that reinforced the negative impressions I had of being with someone. And, my own damn ambiguity about being in a committed relationship reared its ugly head over and over again.
In the past year or so, I have realized that I prefer to come to a relationship from a place of strength. I know what I can and can’t compromise on, and I know what I want from a relationship. I want someone who is strong and who can also come into the relationship from a point of strength. There are men who think strong, intelligent, opinionated women are sexy; I just have to find one or a dozen. I have played my mom’s role in relationships before (the placater, the one who anticipates the other’s every need, the cipher), and it didn’t feel good at all to me.
Shit. When I digress, I do it with gusto. Anyway, back to the convo with mom. It was uncomfortable. It was unnerving. My heart was pounding in my chest. But, neither of us died. Neither of us checked out or got up and stormed out. We both stayed present for the conversation, and I have to give my mom lots of credit for that because I didn’t think she could handle such a discussion. I was telling my therapist how two years ago, there was no way I could bring up the topic (that’s when she pointed out what I said a month ago), and there was no way my mom could have dealt with it two years ago.
My mom asked if my father lived for ten more years, what would I want from him (in terms of a relationship)? I took a deep breath and said, “I don’t want anything more than what we have right now. A superficial, civil relationship. He doesn’t know me or want to know me, and I don’t know him. I don’t see that changing.” She absorbed that and added, “If I live for fifteen more years, what do you want from me?” I floundered on that one. I said that I wanted a relationship with her, that it was important to me, but I wasn’t sure what that relationship would look like. She asked me how I would deal with her being with my father. I said, “How so?” She said, “He’s the most important relationship in my life.” I half-smiled, and she said, “What? It’s true. He’s one of the most important relationship in my life.” I said, “You had a Freudian slip of the tongue. You said he was the most important.” She vehemently denied it was true. She said my brother’s happiness and mine were the most important things to her. I said it wasn’t true when I was younger. She said because their relationship was so unstable then. I pointed out that when I was a kid, she always stood up for my father. When I used to beg her to divorce him, she would do a one-eighty on her complaining of him. She stared at me with incomprehension and said, “Why would I have ever divorced him?”
My own mouth dropped (not really, but it felt like it) as I said, “You used to tell me all the things he did that hurt you. That’s why! Then, you would say you would never divorce him. That hurt.” My mom said divorce was never even a thought back then, and she said she probably shouldn’t have told me those things. I said, “No, you shouldn’t have told me.” She said, “But we were so close.” I said, “But you are my mother. Those are the kinds of things you tell a girlfriend or a therapist, not your child.” She apologized, but then it was as if she dismissed it. She didn’t want to talk about it any further. That bothered me. “Oh, sorry for repeatedly crossing boundaries, but now that’s in the past. What’s for dessert?”
Then, she asked how I would deal with my father. She added, “Are you more angry with me or with him?” I said it fluctuated and that it didn’t have to be mutually-exclusive. I could be mad at both of them. She wanted me to quantify my anger (as is her wont), but I couldn’t. She made it clear that she wasn’t leaving my father, and she wanted to know if I would be all right with it. I said as long as she doesn’t talk about him all the time. That’s when she said “He’s the most important relationship in my life” remark. I said that I was really mad at him right now (which surprises me because I had thought I’d resolved that issue) and that because I am working on my issues with him (in therapy, she asked? Yes, said I), I cannot be neutral about him right now.
Note: If you are going to have a painful, intense, uncomfortable conversation, it’s best to have it in public so it doesn’t get too out-of-control. Caveat: This only works if you’re someone who doesn’t like to make a scene in public, obviously.
This whole conversation is mind-boggling. The weirdest part is that it was pretty much organic. For some reason, I can’t do the same amount of hiding and dissimulating that I once did with ease.
I related this convo to my therapist in my session yesterday morning. We marveled at how many untold family strictures are being eradicated this summer. I don’t say no to the family–until I did. I don’t talk about my father-until I did. I don’t stand up for myself–until I did. And, as I said earlier, I have to give my mom credit for being willing to go there with me. It can’t be easy on her, even without the heavy context of sexual abuse.
You know what, though? I am dealing with an overwhelming amount of sadness right now. Partly, it’s mourning the past and letting go of the woman I was. Partly, it’s a sense of how much time I’ve wasted with my severe depression and the lost years. Beyond that, though, it’s also being sorrowful for the person I was. She never really had a chance to live. So, phrasing it like that makes me realize it’s like a death in a sense. The person I am now is so different than the person I was, say, two years ago. That woman was a mass of fear, hurt, pain, insecurity, misery, and dumb agony. The irony is that now that I am not her any more, the pain of who she was is almost crushing me.
I am trying to be gentle with myself during this time, but many of the old insecurities are flaring up. I have the urge to slip back into my ED thinking. I want to be a twig, but I also want to be strong and resilient. I feel like a freak and sometimes wish I could be normal, but I know that I would chafe in such a life. I see all the things I still have yet to do, and I get discouraged. I am in a place of turmoil.
I need to remember to breathe, but not deeply. That makes me dizzy. I need all the oxygen I can get.