Shame On You

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging lately.   There are many reasons for that, but the main one is because I have been retreating into myself the closer my mom’s visit approaches (Monday.  Six in the morning.  Brother is picking her up).   It’s not that I think she will read my blog because she won’t.  It’s just that I am so used to hiding myself from her, I can feel myself instinctively retreating.  And shutting down.  I feel the real me gingerly retreating from the edges of my body and curling up into a ball.   In my mind, I can see myself curled up into a ball trying very very hard not to move.

I actually wrote an entry a few weeks ago but didn’t publish it because I feel too raw right now.  However, I don’t want to give up blogging completely because it’s good for me, and I like doing it, damn it.  So, I am giving it another shot while I’m waiting for my mechanic to call me with an estimate.  Then, I need to sleep, but I’m drinking twenty-four ounces of coffee, so who knows if that will happen?  It’s mostly water, though.  Don’t worry.  No triple-espresso for me.

OK.  Back to the topic on hand.  Shame.

The last few months of therapy have been incredibly painful, but in a much-needed way.  We are working on some deep-seated issues, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Here’s the thing.  I have no illusions about my father.  He has no capacity to think of anything from someone else’s point of view, and he isn’t truly capable of seeing the real me, let alone genuinely loving me.  I knew that a long time ago, with or without the molestation (funny aside.  I wince using the word abuse when describing what my father did to me.  I don’t know why, but I prefer molestation).  I don’t expect anything from my father because he’s not able to give anything.

In the same vein, I have very few illusions about my brother.  He’s my ride to the airport whenever I need to catch a plane, and he has yet to ask me where I’ve gone on a flight, nor does he ask me how it was when I come back.  It’s only fairly recently that he’s evinced any interest in my life, and in all our late-night, him grocery-shopping and calling me conversations, he’s asked how I am exactly once.  However, if I need something fixed, he’s there.  If I’m lost and I call him, he directs me where I need to go.  I know that if I call him at three in the morning and need him, he’ll be there for me.  My brother loves me as best he can.   I accept that, and I am grateful for whatever relationship we can have.

So.  My mother.  Talking about our relationship is taboo, and I feel as if I’m betraying her by even mentioning it.  However,  the magic sparkle dust has fled from my eyes, and what I have valiantly tried to deny is true.

The myth of the family is that my mother and I are very close.   When her brother died of an aneurysm many years back, I was in Thailand at the time.  I didn’t get her initial letter because the mail system in Thailand sucked, so by the time I received her second letter, it was ten days later.  I actually got both the same day.  The second was full of pain asking me why I hadn’t responded.  She said my brother and my father were of no help.  I felt crushed by the guilt because I hadn’t been there for her, never mind the fact that I hadn’t known. It wasn’t until years later (many years) that it was pointed out to me that it wasn’t my job to be her emotional buttress.  Of course it was!  I’ve done it all my life.

I recently talked with Natasha about the letters someone from our church sent my brother and me when we were kids about my father’s affairs.  My mother had intercepted them so my brother and I didn’t see them.  Natasha said, “But you found out about them somehow.”  I said because my mom told me about them later, when I was in my twenties.  I stopped and said, “She shouldn’t have told me.”  Natasha said, “No, she shouldn’t have.”

It’s taken me this long to realize that our relationship is backwards.  I feel so much guilt for not being the daughter she wants me to be.  Choolie pointed out that my mom should feel guilty for not being the mother I needed.   My mom did not protect me when I was little, and she constantly chose my father over me.  She still does in many ways.

In addition, in her own way, my mother is as unable to see me as either my father or my brother is.  Due to her issues and limitations, she truly cannot understand why I am joyful to be kid-free, not married, and not being a Christian.  She cannot fathom that I would not want to have a traditional life and be a traditional wife.  From the time I was 26 until the just last year, her big theme was me having children.  She kept telling me that having children was the best experience of her life, and she was so sad that I would never have that experience.  I wanted to tell her, “I feel sad for you that you’ve never had sex with someone who is capable of loving you” and “I feel sad for you that you’ve never been with two guys at the same time because that’s quite the experience”, but, of course, that would not have been appropriate.

She is so invested in her world view and the fantasy of how her life is, anything I do that differs from that is considered a threat.  Obviously, that means that my very existence is a threat to her fantasy world.

So.  In my last session, I got teary-eyed talking about my mother.  I said it’s hard for me to talk about my disillusionment of my mother.  I said that if I did, it meant that I had to give up my own fantasy that I could have a mother who would nurture me and cherish me as I am.  It means that I will have to accept that my mother will never be the mother I want her to be.  And that hurts.  A lot.  It’s also hard to deal with this realization so close to the time of her return.

My therapist went to a conference on the brain and how it works.  I was talking about the ruts of my brain (my OCD) and how I can’t stop thinking the same thoughts over and over again.  Or, doing the same behaviors over and over again (such as self-harming, which I’ve been doing lately).  Most of my negative thoughts are about what I should or shouldn’t be doing and what a worthless piece of shit I am.

My therapist said that she learned at the conference that it takes time to lay new tracks, and it takes repetition for the tracks to really take root.  She gave me a homework assignment.  Whenever I caught myself going down the shame road, I was to think about a positive experience instead.  She wanted me to write a list so I would have the experiences handy because chances were, I wouldn’t catch myself right at the beginning of the shame game.  We wrote a list of ten things in that session.  She told me to add to it later.  She also said that I might just want to check in every five minutes for an hour a day because I was filled with shame so often.  She said it was going to be hard for me, and that was an understatement.

I couldn’t do the check in every five minutes for an hour thing.  I did manage to check in several times a day, and every time I did, I found at least a low-level of shame going on.  It’s much like I always have a headache–it’s just how bad it is at any given moment.  I always feel shame–just to varying degrees.  Or, if I’m not feeling shame, I’m feeling self-loathing.   There was never a time I wasn’t feeling something negative about myself.  As for the list, I couldn’t write it, so I pulled a few experiences off the list my therapist wrote down (as I dictated to her) in that session.

I realized that as I recalled a positive experience, the sensations and emotions I felt at the time flooded back as well.  I know that’s the point, but it surprised me how strongly the physical/emotional/sensory recall was.

I have to say, I am not a big fan of positive affirmation stuff.  You know how when you say something negative about yourself and people say, “You wouldn’t say that to your friend, would you?”  My immediate thought is, “No because I LIKE my friends.”  Iratwo said she started thinking that she should treat herself as she would treat a stranger, and that made more sense to me.  Anyway, I don’t do positive affirmation stuff because it’s just bullshit to me.  “I’m beautiful and worthy of love”.  Yeah, whatever.  No matter how many times I say it, I’m not going to believe it.  However, recalling positive experiences works for me because they are things that actually happened; I don’t have to imagine them at all.   So, as I was in my therapist’s office waiting for my appointment, I scribbled down more experiences.  I received three journals for my birthday (two from Rubo and one from Kel), and I’ve decided to use them all for this project.  One is my journal of positive experiences.  One will be the journal of things I like.  The last will be the journal of things I want in the future.

My therapist told me to get as specific as possible because I tend to generalize.  So, instead of saying something like, “I like snow”, I will instead write, “I like going out at three in the morning, topless, and letting the snowflakes fall on my bare skin.”

The other thing is that I am going to try to be as honest as possible.  My therapist said the list of positive experiences should be what I consider positive, not what other people would consider positive.  Even when I am alone, I tend to censor myself, so it’s interesting to write things I wouldn’t necessarily say out loud.  For example, on my “Things I Like” List, I would list not having kids as being very high up on the list.  I LOVE not having kids, though I hesitate to say that out loud.

My last session was on Monday.  As I talked with my therapist about my fucked-up relationship with my mother and my attempt at doing my homework (true to my nature, I only finished it with the deadline breathing down my neck), I just felt so much sorrow.  All I thought to be true about my relationship with my mother (or forced myself to believe to be true, at any rate), was pure hogwash.   We are not close, and chances are, we will never be close.

And, as irrational as it is, I still feel like it’s me who’s killing the family.  I know I am merely ripping away the curtain to expose the fraud, but that’s not how it’s gonna play out with my mom.

I confessed to my therapist that I was worried about how my relationship with my mother was going to work out.  She said in a compassionate voice that I didn’t need to focus on that.  I needed to focus on doing what I need to do to reach my end goal.

Tangent:  My parents have always emphasized having a career.  After my brother graduated from college, he wanted to be an architect.  My dad highly disapproved and put his foot down.  My brother caved and didn’t go into architecture.  When he got engaged to my SIL, I wasn’t here, but I know it got ugly.  My parents put their collective feet down for many reasons, and it’s the one time he stood up to them.  That was his big gesture towards freedom.  And, he doesn’t have a typical career, either.

I realized a few years ago that I didn’t view a career as an end but as a means.  I thought about what I wanted and realized that I wanted a job that would allow me to do what I really wanted (write and perform) in the meantime.  In other words, not a career (not a traditional one, anyway), but just a job.  One I don’t have to take home, emotionally, that is.  I want my own house and to be able to keep feeding my boys high-quality food.  I want lots of books.  I want to meet Alan Rickman (but, alas, money can’t buy me that).  Those are the basics.  That doesn’t need a six-figure income or a PhD.

Back to my mom.  My therapist pointed out that part of my retreating into myself is a way to not have to do.  As much as I mourn the fact that my mother doesn’t accept me, I don’t accept myself, either.  So, I’m kind of waiting for her to accept me before I accept myself, which means I can’t do anything until she accepts me.  Vicious cycle, yes.

Now, here’s the crazy optimist in me who just refuses to be squelched, damn her.  If I do what I need to be doing in order to get my life on track, I will become more accepting of and comfortable with myself.  As this happens, I will react less and less to my mother and my need to be accepted by her will lessen as well.

This all sounds good, right?  It does to me, too.  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to incorporate it into my being.  I can still feel myself curling into a little ball and holding very very still so I won’t be noticed.  I can feel the defenses springing up into place and my nature going in full defensive mode.  I have had a really hard few weeks emotionally.  My dreams have been pretty damn bad, and my sleep has been worse.

I haven’t cleaned the house yet (though it’s not too terrible since I cleaned it before going to visit Kel), and I am reluctant to do so, more than ever.  I never am pleased when my mother comes back for a visit, but even less so this time.  The old way of being chafes.  I tried to completely prune my personality for the visit to Taiwan, and it wasn’t enough.  I wasn’t happy enough or grateful enough (and I certainly wasn’t skinny enough).  I just plain wasn’t enough.  I know the same will be true when my mother comes here.  And, I know that she will try to guilt me into doing things I don’t want to do.

See?  My mind is getting on that hamster wheel again.  Stop the world.  I want to get off!

8 Responses to Shame On You

  1. Hey! Glad you’re blogging again. And what an outpouring it is. Wow.

    I also hate ‘affirmations’ on principal, too. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe most slogans, so I’m not going to believe some made-up one about myself, either. You hold out for new insights and understandings that are real! 🙂

    I can tell you that you won’t literally ‘kill your family,’ but you know that. But I wonder if it’s your mom’s illusion of family that you feel like you may have to kill. You might not have to go that far. She clings so dearly to her fantasy, and may find a way to prop it up even after you’ve carved out the lies you can’t stand.

    No arguing that what your optimist hopes for won’t come easy. But it’s still worth trying. Keep it going, babe!

  2. Choolie, once I started, I just couldn’t stop (as you can see. This is the longest entry evah). I think the reason I don’t like positive affirmations is because whatever I pull out of my ass smells like shit.

    I won’t literally kill my mom or anyone else in my family, of course, but I know there will be times when I’m tempted. We shall see. I am not sanguine that this visit is going to be anything other than gritting my teeth and trying not to do something stupid.

  3. “She is so invested in her world view and the fantasy of how her life is…” Sadly, everyone lives in our own world and it is even sadder when we hope that they will change their way of seeing themselves and the world but they won’t. Maybe your mom can’t change her vision of her life orit simply will be too painful. Her fantasies protect her. You need to not inly understand but accept this so you can pull yourself away. I agree with your therapist that we need to and can train our minds to think and work in other ways: heaven knows I’ve done it and do it every day or I wouldn’t be here today. Keep looking in the mirror and seeing who you really are, separate from that daughter you see in their eyes. Start looking in your own eyes and heart and find the wonderful, smart, funny, talented woman you are. Oh, if we all sunk under the weight of what we thought we should be for others, that guilt of “I should be a better daughter, sister, wife, mother…” then we’d just disappear. It is too great a burden and more likely than not not even what they are thinking! When I think about NOT being the wife or mother I should be I also think “but I am still pretty good and what I offer is really great for them, too!” xoxo

  4. Jamie, you are so right when you say that we all inhabit our own world. The ones of us who are lucky enough to realize this can then participate in other people’s worlds as well.

    The mirror thing is a problem because all I see are distortions when I bother to look. You are right, though, in that I need to think more about what I am (and what I do well) rather than what I am not.

  5. Oh thank DOG. I dug around in my bag and realized that I’m missing one of my saddle shoes, my pom-poms are shredded, and there’s a suspicious stain on my sweater. (Chocolate, not THAT!)

    Wait…ok, I found my clown shoes…got the Uzi…oh never mind. Wrong scenario.

    Let’s try again….Ah ha! Got ’em! OK, just let me get ’em tied… Done. The cleats of Tough Love are on, along with my bloodstained rugby jersey.

    I’m not going to give you advice; in your own words, you don’t take it anyhow. Instead, I’m just going to be my blunt, obnoxious self, and you tell me to shut the fuck up and go away if you want. But since I love you muchly, and we’re Twins, I ain’t going anywhere without you!

    Here’s the thing. At the bottom of all of this, the end of the line, the only thing that’s left is power. And with that power comes choices. No one is going to make them for you; but at the same time, eventually, you’re going to be left with no one to blame but yourself. It’s time for you to exercise that power, and make the choices that are positive and healthy for YOU.

    Your father did a lot of shitty things; but luckily, with a few exceptions, your interactions are few and far between. Your mother’s damage was almost more insidious; she wove her betrayal with guilt and false displays of love until you were so damn confused that you didn’t know what was right, wrong, or somewhere in between. The pisser is that she still tries to exercise the power she used to have over you, and in certain ways, she’s successful. Since she stays in the same house when she visits, you have a much tougher time maintaining distance, asserting your decisions regarding activities and meals. That will change when you have your own place, but there wasn’t enough time to make that happen before her arrival.

    But you -do- have choices to make here, Minna. When you allow her impending arrival to shove you back into that spot where you don’t move, you abdicate your power over to her, the one person you resent most right now. And the arguments of “it’s hard” or “I can’t…” are bullshit. I’ve sat and talked to you. I know how incredibly strong you are, and the myriad of things you have already overcome. Giving yourself the power to hold your own soul intact while your mother is here will not any more difficult.

    Remember too, that you always have backup. You have a list of cell phone numbers and email addresses at your disposal ANY time, day or night if you need one of us. We, as your friends, CHOOSE to stand with you, and we CHOOSE to be there for you whenever you feel like you lack the strength to do what is right for you. Call us, text us, email us, whatever you want. We’re there.

    You have the power, Minnachick. Use it. *smooch*

    Now…help me find the rest of my clown suit? The coworkers are driving me to the clock tower…

  6. Kel, first of all, you have quite the way with the images. In a few deft strokes, you paint quite the picture.

    Strength: I really don’t see it. That is the core of the problem. I don’t believe in myself. So, I have to do things despite not believing in myself (one definition of faith), which can seem impossible at times.

    I know that at this point, I am the one who is placing the restrictions on myself because I have completely internalized them, which actually makes it more frustrating for me because if I can realize the problem, why can’t I just fix it? Rhetorical question.

    However, it’s not that cut-and-dry. Life rarely is. I certainly am a mess of things, that’s for sure. Your line about my mom getting me so confused over what’s right and wrong pretty much says it all. I doubt the sky is blue when she gets going, and I really cannot differentiate between truth and fiction at those times.

    We shall see. I am not sanguine about the visit (then again, am I ever sanguine about anything?). By the way, I love the word sanguine, but I love the word exsanguination even more

  7. Well, thank you. I’m back into the bare feet of my normal, laid back self. =)

    You may not see it, but we do.

    Here’s a weird, semi-sordid way of looking at things: if you have a negative view all the time, and you think that negative things will happen regardless of whether you do the things you need to do or not, then there’s no reason not to do them. =) Yeah, I know, I’m fucked up. But we knew this.

    Exsanguination is a lovely word. I think I still like defenestration better, though. =)

  8. Kel, your view is not fucked up. It actually makes sense. Once in the throes of my severe depression, I mentioned killing myself to my best friend. She said, “Why not do all the things you want to do instead and then think about whether you want to kill yourself?” It really helped me at the time, and your sentiment is similar. Might as well do what I want if I don’t think it matters, right?

    I love defenestration. I love many de-words.