human nature

While poking around for a video for Kiki's First (Re)Birthday Party, I rediscovered this 1995 Madonna gem. The sexuality might be a little in-your-face for some (it was pretty hot by '90s standards), but the dancing is incredible and I love the message. These lyrics resonate with me, how about you?

You wouldn't let me say the words I longed to say
You didn't want to see life through my eyes
(Express yourself, don't repress yourself)
You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies
(Express yourself, don't repress yourself)

i thee dread

the metamorphosis of marriage

I once heard the phrase "don't borrow trouble." The idea is that if you're worrying about things that haven't happened yet, or might not happen at all, you're borrowing potential trouble from your future and turning it into real trouble in your present. Well, I'm borrowing trouble, big time.

I dread weddings and funerals. Specifically, weddings and funerals which my parents might attend. Even more specifically, funerals of relatives that I love, and the weddings of my unmarried siblings. 

Nobody is dying right now, so that pot is sitting cold on the back burner. But the weddings. Oh, god, are there going to be weddings? Brother #3 has a long-term girlfriend. He's had others. Will this one be "the one"?  Will I have to spend thousands of dollars on traveling and hotels and other wedding-related expenses, for a wedding that I don't really want to attend, but feel obligated to? My sister has been with her boyfriend for several years, and more and more lately, I wonder if an engagement announcement will be forthcoming. I told myself, hey, maybe they're just the cohabiting type. Maybe they'll never get married. Maybe they'll break up (sad, wouldn't wish for it, but could happen). Maybe they'll suddenly elope and spare the rest of us the ordeal of a family wedding. If they do have a ceremony, it'll most likely be closer to home, but still, ohhhhh...I don't want to go. Her college graduation was hard enough, but things between my mom and myself have gotten much worse (well, better for me in most ways, but you know what I mean) in the years since then and I Just. Don't. Want. To. Go.

But I will go. She's my sister, and I love her, and her wedding isn't about me or my mom, and I'll suck it up and go and be supportive and happy for her and not let her *know* that I'm sucking it up. I'll bring my kids, because she's their auntie, and they love her, and they should get to be present for the celebrations of people they love.

But I worry.

I worry about having to be near my mom.
I worry that my mom will try to talk to me.
I worry that my mom will try to touch me, or kiss my cheek like she did at another family gathering.
I worry about looking perfect, and not being too fat or too frowsy or too...something.
I worry about having to stand next to her in a receiving line, or sit near her at a table.
I worry about the interactions with relatives that I don't want to see, many of whom may lecture me about burying the hatchet.
I worry about bringing my children.
I worry that my mom will approach my children.
I worry that she will talk to them.
I worry that she will touch them and kiss and hug them.
I worry about whether or not I should allow her to go near them.
I worry that there's no real way to keep her away from my children if they're at the same event.
I worry about maybe telling my kids to stay away from Nona.
I worry that she'll sneak behind my back, when I'm away from them for a moment.
I worry that I'll feel like I want to protect them, and that I'll do something that leads to her causing a scene.
I worry that in the name of not drawing attention to myself during my sister's wedding, that I'll put on too brave a face and subject myself to too much.
I worry about the more-intimate rehearsal dinner, where all of this will be a thousand times harder.

And as of last week, I know that my sister is looking at rings, and that she'd like to have a simple ceremony but that it will at the very least be a small ceremony, not a private elopement, and that she is counting on me being her maid of honor.

And I know that I will go, and bring my children, and act natural, and that it will be really, really hard.

And I worry, and I worry, and I worry. 

front row seats

Another visualization from my friend's therapist, which I've fleshed out a bit. This one pertains to situations in which you choose to interact with your abuser (my friend has chosen NC in order to give herself a break, but knows that, due to current affairs in her family, she will be interacting with her mother in the near future). 

Imagine that your Nparent is running a video projector (I picture it as the old-timey silent-picture type). S/he plays movie after movie after movie over and over and over again, without cease. It's a 24/7 picture show. The projector is casting its images onto you. 

Tou reach for a screen and set it up between yourself and your parent. Now the images can no longer be projected onto you. Instead, they are cast onto the screen. The images on the screen have nothing to do with you. They are old movies, being shown again and again by the projectionist. 

While reflecting on this today, I thought, you may have been given complementary front-row tickets, but you don't have to go to the show if you don't want to!

ticket image found at Alpha Stamps
vitascope illustration from Who's Who of Victorian Cinema

hooks and suckers

A friend is going through her own ACON-ish situation right now, although in her case, her mother probably has borderline personality disorder. The two disorders are very similar, and my friend's family dynamics are startlingly similar to mine. For that reason, she has been talking to me a lot lately, because she knows that I've BTDT (been there, done that) as far as crazy mothers go. Hey, at least there's some benefit to a crazy family - you can support other people with crazy families and all of you can reassure each other that you're not all alone. Yay!

The other day she was talking about a therapist she visits, and shared a visualization that the therapist had described to her. Caution: not for the squeamish.

Imagine looking down at yourself and realizing that your body is covered with hooks and tentacles. These things didn't all latch onto you at once; they were attached to you one at a time, over many, many years. You didn't ask to have these hooks put into your flesh. You didn't put them into yourself.  The suckers clinging to your skin restrain you and prevent you from moving about comfortably.

Picture yourself removing them one at a time. You have to work slowly. Some of the hooks go quite deep and you carefully detach them while trying not to cause more harm. It takes a long time, but you finally pry every last sucker off of yourself, and you throw them all away. 

It's not the most perfect analogy, but I do think there's something to the idea of the things dysfunctional parents do to their children being like barbs that stay embedded in their skin, causing more harm the longer they stay attached. To think of their tentacles holding their children back. We ACONs must work slowly, gently to undo the years of harm.  Some of the hooks and suckers take longer to remove than others. Some come away easily, and some are quite painful to extract. Some have been inflicted more deeply than others - we may carry some like shrapnel, buried within us for the rest of our lives. We may have to heal around them if we can't excise them.

Going no-contact helped me tremendously in getting enough time without new hooks being thrown at me so that I could start to remove the hooks that were already there. I don't know if I'll ever be hook-and-sucker-free, but I do know that I've removed enough of them to move about much more easily. And if I ever have to be around that hook-slinging octopus ever again, I'll remember to wear armor and be ready to duck.

octopus illustration via The Graphics Fairy
fish hooks via Clip Art ETC

this place, this time, this spring

in the green green grass of spring

An updatey post that ended up longer than I had originally intended.

In the past week, I had a visit from my sister and also spent a morning with my sister-in-law (wife to brother #1) and her children. The filling in this relative sandwich was the Easter holiday, which I know my extended family (siblings/nieces/nephews/parents) spent together at my parents' house, celebrating with the annual egg hunt and dinner. The difference between my sister and my SIL has never been more dramatic. My sister and I were always close, but she's much younger than I am, so it wasn't really a relationship of equals beforel it was a little-sister-looking-up-to-big-sister thing. During the last few years I've been getting to know her as an adult, and she is seriously a rock, a compassionate witness. She's insightful and articulate in general and about our family in particular. One of these days I must blog about her perspective on the fam. She is the one and only sibling who is able to be accepting and validating to me while simultaneously keeping an open, relatively-drama-free relationship with all of the other members of our family. I have made a point of not discussing my parents with my siblings in recent years, or at least not being the one to bring it up and controlling what I do say even then, but during her overnight visit last week, we just talked and talked and talked, and it was SO cathartic. I think I have needed that for a long time, and it's good to have a fellow daughter of my mother to talk to.

On the other hand, there's my SIL#1. Our relationship is a strange and awkward dance. During some phases of life we seem to have a lot of in common, and be able to talk about lots of important things together, especially parenting-related things (we parent similarly, and our parenting beliefs don't get a lot of support from my parents). During other phases, she's stand-offish or even disapproving of me. She's consistently reserved in how much of herself she lets out, and that's ok, but it makes it hard to really connect. We do. not. talk. about my family, or about my currently-nonexistent relationship with my brother (she only plans things with me at times when he's not around). She has been pretty maddeningly, purposefully neutral ("I can see both sides...both of you are hurting...your mother really loves you...") about my parents, despite their shabby treatment of her in the past. It was very, very strange to know that she and my brother and their kids had just spent the previous day at my parents' house, but for it not to come up in conversation at all. I mean, regardless of my estrangement from my parents, that visit and the holiday in general are what's going on. It's weird to get together with somebody and have them not mention at all what's going on in their life - heck, not to mention the holiday that happened YESTERDAY. It felt like the elephant in the room - or the elephant in the playground, rather. 

I don't know what to make of these relationships. I'm so happy to have some closeness with my sister, and yet ever so slightly mistrusting of her. I don't want to get burned, but I'm happy like a puppy about her support of me, and I really crave the sisterly adult relationship that we're forming. I don't know what to do with the relationship with SIL#1, who isn't open with me, whose children are related to my own and are beloved by my own, who can't tell me the day-to-day details of her life because she doesn't want to talk about anything related to my family, and whose husband has avoided me for nearly a year because he thinks I'm a narcissistic bitch. 

The bookend to this week of tricky relationships is that I had a first-time appointment with a therapist this morning. My reasons for seeing her are threefold. The first, most important reason is that I live with mild depression and moderate anxiety, for which have been taking medication for almost three years, and I want to continue to develop the ways in which I work with those parts of who I am. The second reason is that my oldest son seems to have inherited his father's and my anxious/depressive tendencies, and as he cruises into pre-adolescence, it's getting harder for him to deal with negative feelings and harder for us to support him. I'm working on finding a therapist for him, and I also want support for myself as a parent who also experiences these tricky personality traits. And thirdly, I'm going into therapy because while I've certainly worked through a TON of my family stuff on my own, it's obvious to me that it's never really going to go away. The sibling relationships are hard. The way my mom pops up from time to time in my life is hard. Trying to figure out what to DO with my childhood memories and feelings is hard. So I need support. For all of this stuff. 

I've never had a long-term relationship with a therapist, despite many years of thinking through my family dysfunction. I visited an LCSW three times over my Christmas break when I was in college and engaged, but that was because my mom thought I was crazy. (It did help, but only because it gave me some perspective on who SHE is and how to avoid being drawn into fights with her. In the meantime, she crowed about how the therapist "fixed' me, which, of course, should be credited to her, the genius mother.)  My husband had a few visits with a therapist about a year ago, and I went with him to one session. I also have friends who are therapists, and have talked in general about some concepts as they apply to dysfunctional families. But I have not had an actual, ongoing, self-imposed course of therapy. And it's time. I don't have any particular goals, except to have a person who can help me to sort out hard things as they arise. I don't have a particular time frame in mind - this could last months or it could last years. 

The woman I met this morning, who was highly recommended to me by my family physician, felt warm and easy to talk to. I liked how she drew all kinds of history out of me, especially since that morning I had been wondering where the hell to start. I'll admit that at times I thought maybe she was a little chatty, and maybe she's sharing too much about herself (should I know anything at all about her family, or that she's related to somebody I know?)...but the thing is, those things don't feel like red flags. They just felt like getting-to-know-you first-session stuff. They feel like the way I *want* to relate to my therapist. I actually don't like it when people are uber-"professional" and never reveal a single iota of personal information about themselves. It feels cold and I can't relate to somebody like that. I absolutely LOVED that her first selection for a homework assignment for me was reading a book that is actually one o my favorites. I told her it's the book that saved my sanity. Good sign that we're on the same page! I also discovered that she's not super-religious, which was a concern for me, because my beliefs fall closer to secular humanism than to the staunch Catholicism with which I was raised or the Baptist school of thought that's very pervasive in my Southern town.  I had been worried about the ability of a conservative fundamentalist Christian therapist to put their own beliefs aside in working with me. I'm interested in her other homework - to check out The Book of Awakening and see what I think about it, and to read about dysthymia and see if it clicks with me and my family history more than cyclothymia or depression, which were my previous assumptions about myself. I'm not sure it fits, but I'm willing to explore. So I'm going back in a couple of weeks.

I stopped on the way home and bought The Book of Awakening and also If You Had Controlling Parents, which I stumbled upon. It has good reviews. Has anybody read it?

And that's what's going on in this place, at this time, in this spring. The trees outside are bright green with tiny leaves, the sky has been a beautiful clear blue for several days, and the air is breezy and cool. It feels like good changes are happening.