hold on

My iPod decided this morning to treat me to this blast from my past, and I immediately knew I had to share it, because it so perfectly described the process of awakening from ACONhood.


(Argh, Vevo won't let me embed it - but it's worth clicking over to YouTube, if not for the uplifting message, then for the fab cheesy '90s earnestness of Chynna Phillips and the Wilson sisters singing in black dresses while sitting on a beach or perched on a mountaintop)

Most of the lyrics are below (after that, it's pretty much variations on the chorus). As far as fitting the child-of-narcissist situation, I'm sure we wouldn't fully agree with "you got yourself into your own mess," although by the time we're waking up, it IS time to take responsibility. From that time forward, it's YOUR choice whether or not to accept ACON life as usual, or to "break free from the chains."

I know this pain
Why do lock yourself up in these chains?
No one can change your life except for you
Don't ever let anyone step all over you
Just open your heart and your mind
Is it really fair to feel this way inside?

Some day somebody's gonna make you want to
Turn around and say goodbye
Until then baby are you going to let them
Hold you down and make you cry
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day
Can you hold on for one more day
Things'll go your way
Hold on for one more day

You could sustain
Or are you comfortable with the pain?
You've got no one to blame for your unhappiness
You got yourself into your own mess
Lettin' your worries pass you by
Don't you think it's worth your time
To change your mind?

I know that there is pain 
But you hold on for one more day and 
Break free the chains 
Yeah I know that there is pain 
But you hold on for one more day and you 
Break free, break from the chains

Hold on for one more day, my ACON brothers and sisters!

she loves me, she loves me not

"Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." —Robert A. Heinlein

One of the questions that tortures adult children of narcissists is whether or not their parent actually loves them. It cannot be denied that the parent feels strong emotion, and that the parent may even believe that this strong emotion is love. Many of us even heard "I love you" growing up, which makes it even more confusing when we realize that we don't feel loved. 

When I start going into a "maybe I'm not giving her enough credit, maybe she really does love me and miss me" tailspin, it helps to ask myself, does she act in a loving manner? How does a person behave when, as Heinlein says, the happiness of another person is essential to his or her own? I'm guessing that they would not belittle them, or attempt to control them, or act like they dislike them.

As a kid, I was taught that sometimes you don't like family, but you always love them. Today I would say that this isn't true. While I might be irritated by somebody at one specific time, if I don't like them as people, how can I truly love them? And if I have been aware for many years that my mother dislikes me, I have my answer to the love question, don't I?

for all the loving mothers

This is for you
the mothers who strive each day
to nourish
to embrace
to be healthy
to be whole
to raise children
with compassion
with grace
with insight
with humility

This is for my mother-in-law
daughter of a mother who has just left this world
this is for the nurture she did not receive from her mother
this is for the nurture she tried to give my husband
this is for the nurture she gives to me

This is for my friend
daughter of a narcissistic father
daughter of a deceased mother
this is for the mothering she gives to me
this is for the nourishment she gives to her children
this is for the honesty she gives to herself

This is for you
daughters of the self-absorbed
this is for the women you strive to be
this is for the mothers you may become

May you always be willing
to look into your own soul
May you always be ready
to extend empathy to your children
May you receive love
from those who mother you.

what dreams may come

Last night brought another nightmare about my mother. I haven't dreamed about her in a long time, and this one was worse than most.

In some of my dreams, she's just somewhere around. Others are more directly about her. Sometimes she's trying to stalk me in a way that is annoying and maybe comical, but not scary. Sometimes I tell her off, strong and direct. When I wake up, I figure she's been on my mind, roll my eyes, and move on.

Last night, I dreamed that I was living with her again, and that I was trying to explain to her what I needed her to do in order for us to re-establish contact. I told her that I needed her to take responsibility for her own actions, to express this to me, and to treat me with respect.

She laughed at me. It was a mean laugh, a mocking laugh. I felt powerless, debased, and afraid. She told me that I was the one who should be taking responsibility, not her. I felt the way I did when I was 21 and she picked fights with me and told me that I had said and done things that I couldn't remember having said or done, and at the time, I entertained the idea that maybe I really was crazy, and that I had done these things, and had some psychological issue that made me block them out. In the dream I was back in that gaslighted place, half convinced that I was experiencing some kind of psychosis. At the same time, I knew she was the madwoman, not me. I started trying to plan an escape. How much of my stuff did I need to take with me? Could I afford an apartment? Could I do it that night?

There was a lot of fear in the dream. Fear of rejection, fear of getting caught, fear that I was the problem, fear of her mockery, fear of what she might do to me. I think I was worried about being consumed, becoming nothing.

The dream has bothered me all day, lurking around the edges of my normal routines. I'm fairly certain that it was induced by the arrival of a Mother's Day card from her on Wednesday. My eldest son found it in the mail, recognized an envelope addressed to me, missing a return address, as suspicious and called my attention to it. I recognized her writing and hated that my son knows which mail comes from her, and that it's unwelcome mail. My husband opened it - I had guessed that it was a Mother's Day card and told him that if it contained crazy-lady rantings, I would add it to my file, but if it was just signed minus the overt crazy, recycle it. Of course, I got it out of him what it said (simply signed "We love you and miss you, Mom & Dad"). I know I should just toss everything, unopened, but I have a morbid curiosity and a need to know all the facts. Knowing is better than not knowing. Still, I hate that I let her succeed in getting mail to me.

What does it mean, that I was talking to her about reconciliation?  Is it just a random thing? Is it my brain reminding me that I needn't feel guilty about opening it or about my son recognizing the card, because ultimately, she's a crazy lady who mocks and disrespects me? Or is there some deep-down desire for reconciliation? I don't think I want that. I don't like her. I don't want to be near her. So why the dream?

mother myths

While shopping in Target a few weeks ago, I came across some stickers in the dollar section, and in each pack, one of the stickers bore this quote:
As fellow ACONs, I'm sure you've guessed that I did NOT buy the stickers. I'm not terribly big on mother worship.

This phrase is one of hundreds that our mother-idealizing society plays on repeat, increasing in frequency as we get closer and closer to Mother's Day. To honor your dear mum, you may buy this quote on note cards, on picture frames, on refrigerator magnets, on plaques, on jewelry, on art prints, and on vinyl wall transfers. I even saw a cross stitch sampler pattern. I'm sure it doesn't stop there. The message is strong: your mother should get credit for everything in your life. Everything. Even if you did something yourself, it's because she raised you to be somebody who can do that thing. Have positive personality characteristics? Inherited from or instilled by her. Your children? Also her accomplishment. Did another person positively influence you? Well, only because your mama gave you the social skills to network, or was related to that person, or sent you to the college where you met them. And on and on. 

As an ACON, phrases like this hurt. They erase me and my experience. They perpetuate the myth that mothers all genuinely love their children, that mothers are the ones who are always "there for you," that all mothers are nurturing, that mothers who do harm only do so inadvertently, because they had the best of intentions and were trying as hard as they could, and really, what kind of ungrateful child complains about the (surely trivial) harm done in the past?

Phrases like this disregard the many, many people who are hurting because "all they are" sometimes - or often - feels like crap, due to a childhood - and often an adulthood - filled with abuse. 

Now, I don't think that people who utter this (and I'll include the supposed originator of the quote, President Lincoln himself) really believe this to the core, even if they say they do and think they do. And that's because deep down, we all know it's not true. It's certainly not true for those of us who have had to break away from abusive mothers. Sure, your life bears her marks, some good and many bad, but there's also a hell of a lot that YOU did yourself, and it's absolutely OK to claim it and be proud of it. 

It's not true even for normal, healthy mothers. No matter how supportive, how nurturing, how fantastic a mother a woman might be, she is not her child. And since the child is his or her own person, he or she deserves credit for doing whatever he or she did with the raw materials provided by dear Mama. As for all a person "hope[s] to be" - can you imagine anything more defeatist than saying that you cannot ever be anything other than what your mother made? How awful. Even if Mama was truly an angel, how horrible to have no destiny other than what she provided. In the case of a child born to an emotionally unhealthy mother, what a terrible life sentence for "all I hope to be" to have no actual hope.

This relates to personal accountability, which is a theme often touched on in discussions of dysfunctional mothers. If "all that I am" is due to my mother, than all she is is due to her mother, and so on back through the ages. Nobody, then, is really responsible for her own actions. You know this not to be true. Each of us receives some DNA, some nurture (or neglect), and some programming from our mothers. Many of us may have run on the scripts handed to us for a long time, but if we're able to come out of the auto-pilot of our family programming, we receive something that is entirely ours: autonomy. We get to decide what to do with the DNA and the history. We can make changes to who we are and what we do. We can work to heal our wounds, enrich our lives, and pass a different package on to our own children, for them to use in their own way when they are ready. 

With apologies to Mr. Lincoln, I suggest we throw away his mother-worship for something more true, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." 

All you are, or hope to be, you owe to yourself. 



Almost a month. I had wondered how long I had been checked-out of the ACON world, and looking at my last entry tells me: almost a month. That doesn't seem so terribly long, but when I think what it represents - that I haven't felt a deep need for fellow-ACON connection, that I haven't felt a deep need to share what's in my head - it's significant. It means my mother is, at the moment, taking up a little less space inside my head. That's a very good thing.

I've found myself busier - or at least busying myself with different kinds of things. In the last month I have:

- done a lot more reading than usual
- started to see a new therapist
- re-examined my eating habits and tweaked them so that I'm snacking less and re-balancing the veggies vs. bready carbs
- focused more on good hydration
- joined a daily workout team
- cut down on some overcommitments

As a result I have:

- been more reflective in peaceful, productive ways
- gained muscle and lost some fat
- felt a lot better inside my body
- felt more emotionally and physically resilient*

*this is excepting the knee injury that I've inflicted upon myself, which I am currently resting and icing. OW. Nothing like hobbling and humbling yourself to make you slowwww way down and realize the value of being fit.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was just a week into the new workout regimen and excited that I was already gaining some upper body strength, a friend said "Claire, I'm really proud of you. You're taking really good care of yourself in lots of important ways. That's really inspiring." And I felt like, YEAH, I am taking good care of myself! I'm making changes not because I want to be thinner and look a certain way (not that I would complain), but because I want to feel good in my own skin. It's not about appearances. I want to be strong and flexible. I want to be able to run and jump and play with my kids. I want to foster a physical and emotional state that forms a good springboard from which to handle all that life throws at me (and what I throw myself into). When I'm 80, I want to be feisty and strong and still having adventures.

For the first time in my life, I'm enjoying exercise. I mean, really enjoying it. Ok, in the middle of an intense workout I'm a tiny bit miserable, except that I'm loving it. I could never understand my athletic, fitness-addicted friends before. Why would you want to hurt like that? But now I get it. It feels strong. It makes you able to do more. (And it feels great when you stop.) Since hurting my knee a week ago I've been itching to get back to my early-morning exercise and have even started some ab work and weights at home so that I don't lose all my progress. Who is this woman? I think I like her.

What are you doing to become an even better, more cared-for version of yourself? Why are you doing it?

(PS: I just realized I used this photo before...time to start building a stock photo library for myself. More reason to heal up the knee so I can get down on the ground with my camera again!)