And Bad Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

I am incredibly sad right now.

I had to throw that out there because it’s the prevailing feeling I have.  Well, along with the emotional fatigue, that is.

I can’t stop thinking about how my family is falling apart.  And, right or wrong, I can’t help thinking it’s all my fault.  Oh, I know it’s folly because there has not been more than an illusion of an intact family for a very long time.  I have a self-selecting memory (for the negative, unfortunately), but I would be hard-pressed to remember fondly many warm family memories.

When I look back on the trip to Taiwan, I see that it’s a perfect microcosm of the family dynamics in general.  I really didn’t want to go because I wasn’t sure how I would react to my father after the flashbacks.

No.  I have to be honest.  I did not want to go at all.  As I have mentioned, my family does not work well at the best of times.  Family vacations are always filled with tension, snapping, bickering, and differing ideas of what we should do.  It’s rare that the four of us are in the same place at one time, and quite frankly, it’s better that way.   My parents have been after my brother and me for years to go visit them in Taiwan.  I finally gave in because my brother said that he and my niece would go.

Anyway, even if I hadn’t been dealing with the flashbacks, I still would have had a difficult time because I feel like I have to completely remove my personality when I’m around my family.  I don’t swear; I don’t talk about sex; I don’t discuss politics or religion; I try very hard not to offer my opinion on anything.  Considering that I got laughed at by my brother and his neighbor for commenting that I take my cats to the vet every year, I really don’t have much to say.

Part of the power-imbalance is because I have always been afraid that my sister-in-law would prevent my niece and nephews from seeing me if I ever displeased her.  The problem is, like my father, she can be set off by the smallest thing.  So, no matter how careful I am, I inevitably say something wrong at some point, causing her to snap.

But I digress.  Well, not really.  The problem I have with my SIL is the same problem I have with my parents–there is no way I can be the person they want me to be.  Or expect me to be.  Or think I should be.  Or envision that I am.   So, even though I trimmed every bit of personality off of me before I went to Taiwan, it wasn’t enough.  I wasn’t positive enough or happy enough or grateful enough (which is why my father threw out the money amount, I think), and thus, the letters.

It was all I could fucking do to make it through alive.  I thought daily of killing myself while I was in Taiwan.  I had to stop myself from acting on the impulse more than once.  And, god help me, if I weren’t so demoralized by the whole trip, I might have actually found the energy to follow through on the desire to just make everything stop.  It was all I could do to deflect all the comments on my weight and on religion and family and whatever else.  I didn’t have the energy to pretend to be happy.  I just didn’t.

But here is the point.  I stripped my personality of everything that I thought could possibly offend/shock/embarrass my family (couldn’t do anything about my fatness, unfortunately), and it still wasn’t enough.  Like I said in the last entry, it will never be enough.  I seriously would have to be a size two (and yes, I am fixated on being a size two, sad to say), get my PhD, get married, have two kids (and only two), have a nice white-collar job, clean the house every day, cook meals for my family every night (let me pause while everyone who knows me enjoys a hearty laugh), go to church on Sunday, never have an impure thought (now everyone can have a hearty laugh), and tithe to the church.

Not. Gonna. Happen.  Any of it.

So, since their idea of the perfect daughter and the reality of me shall never touch, it’s time for them to meet the real Minna.  Oh, not the full monty, as it were, but bits and pieces of her.

It’s the same with my SIL.  I can never predict what’s going to piss her off.  Once, it was me asking a child who had fallen down if she was OK.  Me saying stupid in the house set her off.   She thinks my parents act Taiwanese just to spite her.  She constantly snipes about my brother doing this or that wrong.  She is better now that she has three kids (can’t be as OCD as when there was only one), but she is still difficult to be around.

What I am realizing is that with both my parents and my SIL, they are all perfectly free to say whatever they want around me, yet, I am restricted as to what I can say in return.  It’s an unwritten rule.  With my SIL, it’s just so damn unpleasant to deal with her when she’s in a mood, that it seems easier to let her say whatever she wants without calling her on it.

I’m tired of it.  I’m not going to go out of my way to call bullshit on her (such as Jesus being the reason for the season), but for my own sake, I need to stop being a doormat.  I realized that I have slowly stopped going to my brother’s house because the tension is so thick over there.  I used to do Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with them.  Easter got cut a long time ago (rightly so as I am a heathen).  Then, Thanksgiving stopped a few years ago.  This year, I didn’t go to my bro’s for Christmas, mostly because we were going to Taiwan two days later, but also because I simply wasn’t up to dealing with his family.

Somewhere along the way, I took to heart the notion that I was a bad person.  I had to hide who I really was from my family because I was bad.  I can wrap it up in fancy verbiage (and you know I can), but that really is the heart of the matter.  I had to protect my niece, nephews, my SIL, my mother, my father, and my brother from the badness that was me.  Bad, bad, bad.   Going-to-hell bad.  I’m-praying-for-your-soul bad.  And you know what?  So be it.

I’m so tired.

I think about all the years I have wasted as I struggled to keep up the appearance of my family.  The lost years, 15 of them to be exact.  My therapist says I have to come to grips with it, or 15 years from now, I’ll be talking about the lost 30 years.  She’s right, but I can’t help mourning all the fucking years I threw away.  I am almost 40, and I have very little to show for it.

Sixteen years ago, I made the decision not to face the issues in my family.  I froze my life instead and went into a deep depression.  One year ago, I really started making an earnest attempt to crawl out of the abyss.

I am still out of it.  I am not depressed right now.  However, I am so sad about my family, I almost wish I were depressed.  The sadness is more than I can bear.  All the notions of family–gone.  The facade of the happy family–gone.  Not being depressed is also a way of giving up the family.  As long as I was depressed and dependent on my family, everyone could focus on me and what was wrong with Minna.  Kinda like my middle nephew is considered the problem child of his family.   The family didn’t have to look at all the other serious dysfunctions as long as I was depressed.

At the end of my last session, my therapist commented that it was too bad my parents sent me the letters now because I had been working on becoming self-reliant for so long.  She said mockingly, “Now it’ll look like you did it for them, damn it!”  She quickly added, “But you have to know you didn’t.”

I do know that.  I know that I need to be self-reliant for my sake.  I need to know that I can take care of myself.   The fact that it coincides with what my parents want–well, let me put it this way.  When I became a feminist, it seemed to me that the definition of a feminist was doing everything exactly opposite of what was expected by society (this was in the early 90s).  I realized that to truly be free from the expectations of society, I had to choose what I wanted to do, not simply do everything opposite of what I was told.  If I did the latter, then I was still letting the patriarchy dictate what I should and shouldn’t do, only in reverse.

It’s the same with my parents and the self-reliance thing.   I know I have to separate from my parents.  I am no longer going to resist doing it just because it’s also what my parents are pushing me to do (at least outwardly).

Here’s the rub:  The sadness is overwhelming right now.  I feel as if I’m going to shatter very soon as the despair fills me.  I actually feel…like it’s harder to live now that the depression is gone.  I am closer to broken than I ever have been.

ETA: My mom has a new tactic that is guaranteed to set my teeth on edge.  It started in Taiwan when my brother proposed the idea of a family reunion in five years in Taiwan.  He said his two boys would be old enough to appreciate the trip, and his wife would go, too.  My mom latched on to it as gospel (as is her wont), and as we were leaving, she made my niece promise to return in five years.  After my niece did (saying she’d want to bring her boyfriend, so cute), my mom turned to me and tried to extract the same promise.  I equivocated with the ultimate non-response, “We’ll see.”  My mother said, “Dad and I are getting old.  We don’t know how much longer we’ll be around.”

In her letter, she brought it up again in relations to what will happen to me after they died?  She informed me as to the average life expectancy of women and men.  She said my dad had maybe six more years and she had maybe twelve (or something like that).

I wanted to ask her if she’s going to pull out the ‘who knows when we’ll be dead?’ card every time she wants me to do something from now on because it’s already old, and she’s only done it twice.

However, though I see it for the manipulative trick it is, the guilt is still there–as is her intention.

I am so fucking tired.  I am going to try to sleep now.

9 Responses to And Bad Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

  1. I can’t stop thinking about how my family is falling apart. And, right or wrong, I can’t help thinking it’s all my fault.

    Yeah, of course, because your parents have made it so you have to do all the work while they do none, so that naturally when that fails — and I say when, not if — it isn’t their fault. But not only is that outrageously cruel, it also makes it pretty much their fault, and your understanding of that fact is yet another reason to push away.

    Shame on your family — or anyone, for that matter — who isn’t willing to accept you for who you are.

    I hope you got some rest.

  2. Your parents programmed you to feel responsible for holding the family together, even when you were a little girl.

    That’s way too much for a powerful adult, let alone a little girl who needs healthy role models (and needs to be cared for and encouraged).

    I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: your primary responsibility isn’t to pretend the family is intact (even though your parents broke that family decades ago by their own actions), but to the little girl who was damaged by the family (and, more importantly, to the adult woman you’re trying to become).

  3. Your family isn’t falling apart, Minna. It was never intact to start with, my friend. Your chosen family is always here and is always standing with you. Your bio family is so dysfunctional on so many levels, but in no way does that reflect on you.

    You have a twin and Kellions and Steven, and a few others as well. You are a fantastic influence on them, and I’m glad you’re in their lives.

  4. Gregory, I can accept intellectually that what you say is true. I am not there emotionally. I have a lifetime of shit to unlearn, and it’s really weighing on me right now. My family is what is normal to me. It’s hard for me to step outside of it and see just exactly how dysfunctional the dynamics are and how much of the burden is placed on me.

    I did not get much rest. I have a feeling that real slumber will only come with some more hard work on personal issues on my part. In other words, it’s a vicious cycle.

    Alex, I know. I saw my best friend tonight who told me that the shit started with them. But, the question is, how do I get past knowing it’s true and actually feeling that it’s true? I get stuck at that point.

    I know I need to take care of me and the little girl who is so fucking tired; I just don’t have much of a clue how to do it.

    Kel, I know this, too. It has always been an illusion that there is any there, there. I have to come to grips with that, grieve for the loss, and…eventually…move on. Eventually.

  5. I can really understand why you’re so sad. Sad because all these years you’ve carried around the burden of pretending to lie along with your family about how together they were, when all along you knew it was a lie. You can finally let yourself be sad. But the sadness won’t last forever. If you don’t believe me, ask your therapist.

    But you, the real you, fucking rocks. And if your SIL tries to arbitrarily manipulate you again, you just keep your calm, and she’ll have no ground to stand on. “Stillness is the master of unrest.” -Tao Te Ching

    I love it when you use your real voice.

  6. Choolie, you hit it pretty much on the head. Denial, resistance, depression, and now, grudging acceptance. So much denial over what was plain to see. So much energy wasted in trying to maintain the status quo–to what end? None. That’s the heartbreaking part.

    My SIL, yeah. We’ll see. She is uniquely talented in bringing a room down. Thanks for the compliment. You certainly get to hear my real voice often enough!

  7. It’s mourning. Which is never fun.

    But when we refuse to let go of it, we remain stuck in it. My own attitude towards mourning mirrors that of Winston Churchill: When you are going through hell, keep going!

    You are making progress. Sometimes, that is all that can be asked of us.

  8. Your biological family is just that, biological. As the mother of an adopted child, my opinion is that family has nothing to do with genetics. Family to me is people with unconditional love and acceptance for each other. Your family is toxic to you. I understand your sadness. It is their loss that they can not experience you as you are. And you are, incredible!

  9. WereBear, good to see another BJer! Welcome to my blog, and thank you for commenting. I like your avatar. I also like the quote from Winston Churchill. I know I am in mourning. I also know that I have a tendency to hang on and get stuck. As for the progress, I know I have made steps. I just wish it were more.

    Leora, hey, girl. Nice to see you commenting on my blog. I know that I have to separate from my family. I’ve known it for some time. It’s just so fucking hard to do. Thank you for the compliment. You are pretty damn amazing yourself.