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. 


  1. Whew! You've had an interesting week! Just an observation, but your sister sounds like a burgeoning source of support for you as well as a friend. Amazing any of these family systems end up with ANY sibs in contact with one another-that whole "divide and conquer" works its perverse "magic" on the relationships between the kids as well. Sadly. In later years, the NPs are known to sigh and moan, "I just wish the kids were CLOSER." As if they didn't set in motion and nurture the dynamics for sibling interaction years ago.

    It also appears your first "meet-and-greet" with the T went well. Of course if the NPs get wind of this it will surely be twisted into some sort of confirmation that it's all because you're 'The Problem.' The concept of tackling the Legacy through therapy wouldn't have occurred to The Perfects: It violates every "Thou shalt NOT talk/tell" rule that's been shoved down our throats since time immortal.

    Go Claire :)

  2. My sister is AMAZING. She actively pursues a relationship with me, which is pretty surprising for our family. She's very respectful and validating and lots of other awesome things. She is also totally able to stand up for herself to my parents or to me. It's incredible that she's as healthy as she is (although she would say that she has baggage - and I'm sure she does - but she's doing pretty well with what life doled out to her).

    My parents tend to shame & blame their kids if/when we don't have the "right" kind of relationships with each other. Heck, I even remember being shamed/blamed for not having a close relationship with a younger cousin. I was a teenager. Somehow having a relationship with a cousin who lived hundreds of miles away, whom I almost never saw and didn't know well, and who was much younger than me, was all on my shoulders. Sheesh.

    And yes, if they hear I'm in therapy, it will prove to them that I'm crazy and the source of all the family problems. Thing is, they think that about me anyway. I'd be lying if I said I didn't care at all, but at least on an intellectual level, I know their opinion doesn't matter. And at least being NC means it's unlikely that they'll hear, and even more unlikely that I'll hear their reaction.

  3. ".....even more unlikely I'll hear their reaction."

    Yk, I read a question from a woman on another website (unrelated to these sites) regarding her elderly parents. Her question essentially had to do with how to respond to a vicious smear campaign initiated by her father with her mother's complicity in response to her inability to perform some really minor chore on some given day for them. What struck me was the profound sense of helplessness and hopelessness behind her question. She felt she had no options because "they are elderly." She tolerated and continues to tolerate abuse even in HER aging process. How I wished I could take her hand, and take her on a "tour" of her parents' lives going waaaay back so she could see this: They were nasty kids. They were nasty adolescents. They were nasty young adults. They were nasty middle aged adults. Now they're nasty old adults. The "Old Age" Excuse for Abuse is the Age Old Excuse for Abuse: Because they CAN. What a waste of this woman's time, energy and efforts all in the pursuit of the unattainable: Acceptance by her parents.

    How beyond-belief pleased I am for all the younger women and men I see on these pages who have the courage to CHANGE. The courage to control what they can, the audacity to STAND UP for themselves, their kids/spouse and say, "NO MORE." The just plain blind faith that even if they don't know what's at the bottom of that cliff they're about to step off of, it's gotta be better than where they are now-STUCK. When you tell your truth, you gotta believe your parachute is gonna open. You packed it yourself with care and attention. It's in the sum total of your experiences and knowledge up to this point in your life and the self does NOT lie to the self. It simply knocks at the door of our consciousness and says, "Please. Let me in. I'm the REAL you. ALL of you."

    Your 'parachute' is working just fine, Claire. And FWIW, you have an old lady with a geriatric cat living in the middle of no-where cheering you *every* step of the way. I can not convey how pleased, excited and just plain blown away I am to know you will never be that aging woman who has come to believe life is a life sentence because she was 'trained' and groomed to accept the unacceptable.