Dismantling Illusions

I am exhausted.  Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  My sleep has been even more sporadic than usual, and I even when I get sleep, it doesn’t make me feel refreshed.  I know it’s because as my therapist said, I’m doing some fucking heavy psychological work here.  No, she didn’t say fucking, but she implied it, I could tell.

When I walked into my session, I was heavy with grief.  I have written about it before, but it’s lingering.  I have never had someone close to me die.  I have never felt this kind of grief before.  I am not sure what to do about it.  My body is heavy, physically.  I am having a hard time keeping my eyes open, even when I’ve had relatively enough sleep.  I have been crying on and off and at the silliest things.  My emotions are battered, and my spirit is frayed.

As I was recounting my feelings to my therapist, my voice was low and a bit deadened.  I have numbed out somewhat in order to take the edge off the pain.  She asked me where the grief was and what form did it take.  I said it was raw, pulsing, and almost a sentient being, and it was residing here.  I tapped myself on my chest where my heart is.  And, I immediately teared up.

In the days when I was depressed, I prided myself on not crying.  I hated to be seen crying in public, and I tried not to cry even when I was in private.  Now, I can’t seem to stop myself from crying–and I am deeply ashamed every time I do it in the presence of someone else.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a trusted friend; it still feels shameful to me.

I see it as a weakness.  I hate being weak.  Correction:  I hate looking weak.  And, many of the things I excoriate myself over fall into that category.

In the session, I was saying how I know that I could not keep living the way I had been (using the term living very loosely) and that the changes I have made were not conscious choices–I just could not do the same old shit any more.  I know that the changes in my family are a good thing, but it’s so fucking hard.  She pointed out that I am dismantling the whole fabric of my family’s dysfunction.  When I refuse to do the same old, same old, I am demanding that my family change with me.

And, it forces me to acknowledge that the illusion of my family was just that–a sham.  We looked like the perfect family.  Immigrant parents who came to the States (Tennessee, of all places!) for grad school.  They met and fell in love there before moving to Minnesota so my father could earn his PhD in economics at the U of M.  Both he and my mother worked full-time while raising my brother and me.  Rather, my father did school and work while my mother did work, took care of the home, and raised the children.   We went to church every Sunday, and we steadily climbed the American economic ladder.  We were living the American dream, damn it!  Look at how shiny we were!

As anyone who’s read my blog knows, this mask hid a mass of dysfunctions that run deep.  My father was never home–whether it was work, school, or his affairs.   When he was home, he was usually pissed off about something, and we had to tiptoe around his rage.  He was the despot of his little domain, and the rest of us were just serfs.

My mother was seriously depressed and would tell me all her marital problems when I was eleven.  And, yes, I begged her often to just leave my father.

All of this is ancient history.  My therapist asked if I’ve ever talked to my bro about it, and I haven’t.  By a mutual unspoken agreement, we don’t talk about the past.  We don’t even say, “Hey, remember when we did this?  Wasn’t that fun?”  My brother will let slip with a memory now and then, but that’s it.  A part of me is afraid to talk to him because I’m unsure I want to hear what he remembers.  On the other hand, I am profoundly aware that my brother and I have a relationship which I’ll never be able to duplicate with anyone else.  He and I share a perspective and a shared history.  As my therapist said, he’s the only other person who knows what it was like to grow up in that house.

Interestingly, my father, my brother, and I had dinner while my father was here.  My brother was talking about his FIL who is dying.  His FIL is not a pleasant person at all.  My brother said about his FIL, “My wife was afraid of him her entire childhood; she can’t understand why her mother stays with him; no one will care when he dies.”  My brother’s voice got heated, which is unlike him.  I was watching the exchange, and I realized that he could have been talking about my father.  Hell, I think he was talking about my father, even if he (my brother) didn’t consciously realize it.  My brother also said about his FIL that he (FIL) didn’t enjoy life.  This also holds true for my father.

My father travels around the world as part of his job.  He has been to France, Italy, England, Hawaii (no, he didn’t see Obama’s long-form birth certificate), Mexico, Canada (he went to Montreal after visiting here), Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and a bunch of other countries.  He gets fed the best food in each country, and he doesn’t enjoy any of it.  He doesn’t like food at all. Even the affairs he had were more about validating his worth as a man than anything else because he certainly does not like women.

Anyway, I was talking in therapy about how I really wanted to find that grace to give to him, and I was really beating myself up because I couldn’t.  I said I knew he was really trying, and why couldn’t I give something back in return?  An interesting aside:  I initially said I appreciated that he was really trying and quickly amended it to acknowledged.  My therapist said, “Appreciate from the root____”–I can’t remember the Latin.  I said, “Which is similar to apprehend.”

Anyway, my therapist said something that really struck me.  When I was talking about my guilt at not being able to give my father that grace, she said that maybe he needs to sit with the uncomfortable feeling right now.  My urge to rush in and make things better would be counterproductive because it would return us to the past patterns.  It would be me saying, “Everything is fine.  We’re OK.  Nothing to see here–move on.”  In other words, I would be re-erecting the very illusions I’ve been dismantling.

And, there’s a part of me that wants to just that.  I know it’s fucked up.  I told my therapist that I know all this shit I’m doing now (dismantling the family) is a good thing, but it’s so fucking hard, and I’m grieving so fucking much.  She pointed out that in dismantling the family, I am ripping apart the very fabric that has held us together for the past thirty years.  Yes, it’s dysfunctional and toxic and all that shit, but it’s still what we all agreed to uphold as the way our family operated.  So, now that I am dismantling, I’m leaving us with absolutely nothing.  There is nothing behind the curtain–which means starting at ground zero.

I pointed out to my therapist that with my father, it’s actually starting from a negative because not only do I have no relationship with him, I don’t trust him.  I assume he is negotiating in bad faith, which makes everything he say suspect.  He is making steps, yes, but he has a long way to go before I even consider us on neutral territory.

Now, take the same concept (dismantling the family) and apply it to me.  At the same time I’m ripping apart my faux family, I am also dismantling the persona I have so carefully constructed over the past thirty years.  Choolie said that it was a persona forced onto me by my family, which is true to a certain extent.  The basic tenets of the personality were made by my family, certainly.   However, much of my persona was crafted by me as a defense to the unbearable heaviness of being.

My OCD traits really emerged as a way of having some illusion of control when I knew I had none.  My rigidness in the matter of scheduling events was for the same reason.  I started self-harming as a compromise for not killing myself.  Even my deep depression was a way to hold the demons at bay for awhile while I regenerated.  My determination not to commit to life, keeping death in my back pocket, as it were, was also a way to make it through each day.  As long as I had the choice to kill myself, I wouldn’t do it right at that moment.  In the same vein, my belief that what was over on the other side was worse than life was also kept me alive.

The thing is, as dysfunctional as all these behaviors were, they fucking kept me alive.  I have no doubt I would be dead without them.  However, they are no longer useful to me, so I have to let them go with my thanks.  In doing so, I am letting go of many elements I considered fundamental to my persona.  And, it’s fucking hard.

My favorite Tarot card has always been the Tower.  It represents the extremes of my nature and how I am drawn to said extremes.  I found comfort in the idea of the Tower back during my lost years.  It’s not so easy actually living it, though.

I know it’s also a good thing, a healthy thing, that I am letting go of many of my outmoded personality traits.  It scares me, though, because I’m not sure what is under all that persona.  If what I believed to be true about myself for so many years can be gone just like that–then what really is true about me?  The persona I created was part lie, part self-defense mechanism, part wishful thinking, and mostly dysfunctional functioning.  I am healthier now than I have ever been, but that’s relative.  How do I know that the new persona I’m creating isn’t just as fucked up?

I will say that the one reason I can believe the new me is better is because it’s more organic than the last one.  With both my mom’s visit and my father’s, I simply could not act in the same way.  I didn’t deliberately say, “I’m not going to follow the old patterns of interaction”–I just physically and mentally couldn’t do it any longer.  The change inside has already started, though it’s not so easy for me to see.

And, now that I am unfrozen, the part of me that wants to kill myself is unfrozen as well.  When I was depressed, I didn’t have the energy.  Now I am fucking exhausted, but I still feel things and can do things I haven’t done before.  There is a small voice in my head that tells me that all this hard work is not worth it, that my new life isn’t worth it, that once again, I am not worth it. The dark part of me that craves oblivion is not as strong as it once was, but it’s not going out without a fight, either.  The urge to self-destruct overwhelms me at times.  Then, I slip back into self-harming, which is not good, but it’s better than self-destructing.

I told my therapist about my self-harming.  I said that I am dealing with it by using that dreadful cliche, one day at a time.  And, when things get too hard, one hour or one minute at a time.  She said it’s not dreadful because the actual ‘one day at a time’ thing is sound thinking.  It’s making the decision to stay present in each moment without getting too far ahead of myself.  Take the case of binging and purging.  Usually, when the feeling hits, I make the choice to binge.  Then, a haze takes over me.  I binge, I purge, I cry, I wash my hands, I’m done.  It’s very ritualistic, and it feels like each step is inevitable.  But, as I teased out in therapy, I can stop anywhere along the road.  Even if I binge, I can not purge.  I know that sounds ridiculously simple, but it never occurred to me before.  After a binge, I can think, “OK.  That was bad.  I don’t have to make it worse by purging.”

Again, this sounds trite, but it’s all about making conscious decisions every step of the way.  It’s actually the way I operate in general.  I have to talk myself into doing each step of something I dread while giving myself the option of backing out after each step.  When I talked about this earlier with my therapist, she said it’s actually about making the deliberate choice to do each step.  She’s right.

I tend to trip myself up by projecting into the future.  I say, “If I do this, then I have to do this, and then and then and then.”  For example, “If I volunteer for the Dayton campaign, I have to stick it out until the election.”  Um, no.  I can go once and then decide it’s not for me.  Again, I know this sounds very basic, but it’s not something I’d ever really thought before.

In addition, I’m feeling very defensive because I’m so raw.  Everything hurts, and I feel like I’m a big-assed burden on everyone.  When I get like this, my impulse is to withdraw from my loved ones so I don’t spread my toxicity to them.  Even though I have been assured that I am not a burden–it doesn’t make me feel like any less of one.  And, I am in that place where I question everything I do/say because I worry that it stems from a place of dysfunction.  Since I am in the transition between carefully-crafted dysfunctional functioning persona and something more raw and real, I am afraid that everything I say and do is wrong.

Forgive the even more than usual disjointed rambling.  It’s late/early; I’m exhausted; I am grieving.

8 Responses to Dismantling Illusions

  1. Dude, the one day at a time thing is how most of us function in this day and age. You’re coming into the majority, not the “lonely freak” that you have always thought you were.

    The emerging persona will be accepted by those who love you simply because it’s part of you. But as your twin, I have to stand up and be brutally honest here, because that how twins roll. If you start liking Hello Kitty, I’mma hafta kill you simply as a “mercy killing” thing. =)

    Smile. It’s the first step.

  2. One day at a time: I know. It’s not how I roll, though. If I could structure an entire year at a time, I would.

    “Hello Kitty cannot say hello back because she has no fucking mouth!” /Margaret Cho.

  3. Making changes to your self-harming ritual is absolutely not ‘trite.’ The OCD you mention would influence the ritualistic nature of your self-harming. To break with that ritual would be huge.

    You are so not a burden to me! You’re even helping carry my load. Tell yourself that when you feel like you’re asking too much of me.

  4. Choolie, it just sounds so trite to me. One step at a time. One minute at a time. But, it truly is the only way for me to break the cycle.

    Burden: Thank you. It’s hard for me to see that, though, when I lean heavily on you and my other friends.

  5. You can lean on me all you want. There’s plenty of room in the wheelchair, and the kids love taking turns pushing. =)

  6. anonymous, thank you for stopping by my blog and for commenting. Feel free to browse the archives and comment at will. I read the article, and I intellectually agree. Tears are natural, healing, and not a sign of weakness. It’s just emotionally, I still respond to the way I was raised–don’t cry; it’s weak. It’s something I am working on, but it’s not easy.