Y is for Yuck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was small I wanted to be her. I thought she was the most beautiful, graceful, perfect creature ever to walk the earth. I loved everything about her from her curly hair—so unlike mine—to her pink painted toes. I looked more like her than I did my own mother, and I often wished she was my mother. When she asked me to be in her wedding I decided she was a goddess. If she had told me she invented sliced bread I would not have been surprised.

When I was small she would give the best hugs. She never complained if I wanted to cuddle. If I could, I would have melted into her, soaked her up, drowned in her.

Of course this hero worship did not last long. I don’t know if it was the pain her husband caused me or if it was just part of the normal aging process, but eventually I saw who she really was. A beautiful person, but flawed. The older I got, the more flaws I saw until not only did I not want to be her, I didn’t want to be near her.

She was my aunt and I have not seen or spoken to her in five years. I still love her. How could I not when she was my favorite aunt as a child? Due to a schism—isn’t that a great word? It makes me feel so smart!—due to a schism in my family I no longer have contact with her or her children, except through Facebook.

Have you ever walked by a mirror and caught a glimpse of yourself out of the corner of your eye and swore it was someone else? I did that the other day and swore it was my aunt.

Yuck.shadow face

I nearly threw up.

Then I studied my face and found all the little family resemblances I could find. The nose, the eyebrows, the eyes, even the shape of my face, are all like her. And my father, and brother, and cousins. I hate it. And love it.

I love my family, even my aunt. Who did not protect me or her children from the pain her husband inflicted on us. I love that I resemble them so much. But I hate it too. I hate that every glance in the mirror reminds me of her. I hate that I can never speak to her, hug her, hear her voice. I hate that I cannot have contact with her children in real life. I watched those kids grow up, saw their first steps, their school plays, first boyfriends and girlfriends. Now I’ve missed their weddings, the birth of their children.

Every time I look into the mirror I’m reminded of what I’ve lost. A whole chunk of my family that lives in my heart but are, more likely then not, forever lost to me.

One day I may tell the story of how thirty-odd years of cracks resulted in a schism (that word again!). I hesitate to publish it in this forum as those who do not know the story may stumble upon this blog. It’s unlikely, but possible. Some of those people would be hurt. Some would be horrified. Some would never speak to me again.

I’ve been told (by my counselor) that I should tell the story again and again until it no longer hurts. Until I can forgive my aunt and her husband. And myself. By telling the story on this blog, I may even help someone else. I don’t know.

All I know is that every time I look in the mirror lately and am reminded of my aunt, all I can think—all I can say—is “yuck.”


 

Blessings to all of you.

Be well.

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F is for Frustrated

For all those Mothers, Grandmothers, and “acting-as-Mom”s out there in the U.S.:

ma day

 

You have the hardest, most important job in the world. Please know that you are appreciated.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m frustrated. Mostly with myself. It’s common for me to be all mixed up during the last two weeks of April and the first week of May. Why? Let me list them (because it’s easier to deal with bullet points right now):

  • I was born in the first week of May. I’m not particularly fond of my birthday, you’ll find out why as you read further.
  • You know those little kid birthday parties that many parents throw? I’ve only ever had one of those in my life and sometime between the beginning of the party and the middle of it, the party became less about me and more about the other kids until eventually I was ignored.
  • Someone I love dearly attempted to kill themselves the day before my fourteenth birthday. They were not cryingsuccessful, have since recovered, and are living a happy life now. But I felt guilty at the time that I didn’t see the pain they were in.
  • My maternal grandfather died on my sixteenth birthday. I only saw him two or three times a year, but he was the only relative who I could point to and say that he loved me unconditionally.
  • In my twenties, my mother got sick and eventually died in the last weeks of April three states away. I’ve always felt guilty that I wasn’t there when she died and that my brother had to deal with all of that on his own.
  • We buried my mother on the day after my birthday.
  • In my thirties, my paternal grandmother died in the first week of May. I was her caretaker almost up to the very end and she was a huge part of my life.
  • Last year, I broke my wrist and shattered my elbow on the last day of April. I ended up spending my birthday in the hospital. Recovering from this injury was difficult and eventually lead to my spending time in the psych ward.

To be honest, I’m glad that nothing too awful happened during these weeks this year. Yes, my car got repo’d, which was upsetting. I loved that car and it was the last thing I had left of my life from when my grandmother was alive. Losing it meant that I could no longer pretend that I was the same person I was then. But it was only a car, an object, a thing, a symbol. I am grateful no one died, no one was hurt, no one was buried.

So why am I frustrated? Because I am still in the midst of a rather large transition and I can no longer see myself and my life clearly.

I spent last weekend at a friend’s house helping them with some projects and some church activities. It was an running grassexhausting time because I’m not used to spending so much time on my feet, not to mention running up and down stairs. My feet, knees, and back were in constant pain. Trust me, there’s nothing easy about being circus-lady-fat when it comes to physical activity.

Despite my pain, and the not inconsiderable social anxiety I was feeling, I made it through without an anxiety attack. Whoo hoo, right? Nope. I felt like a fraud. All these people (at my friend’s church) were thanking me for helping out, my friends were complimenting me (“you have such a pretty face”, “you can do anything you want, if you set your mind to it”), and all I could do was wonder how I was making it through. I should have been collapsed on the floor in the fetal position, but I wasn’t. I’d made it through the anxiety and pain and kept a smile on my face. How? Why? What was different?

Then I came home. And for a few days I was okay. I thought, maybe I’ve finally reached the point where I can take better care of myself. Get some exercise, lose some weight. Maybe the anxiety has retreated to a manageable point. Maybe the fact that I seem to be destined to live a minimum wage life won’t be so bad.

I rode that wave of false optimism until Tuesday night. For some reason, that night I started to feel a part of myself weaken. I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t had much “me” time for awhile, or if it was the fact that I binged, or if it was just time for me to cycle through a negative period again, but I slowly became more and more sensitive. On Wednesday, I had trouble getting out of bed and ended up rescheduling an appointment. On Thursday, I slept most of the day, almost missing a counseling appointment.

On the way home from that appointment, I was triggered. You see, I live in a college town. And, because I’m poor, I live in an area with a lot of college kids. And by college kids, I mean drunk and/or stupid people. The kind that yell stupid things out car windows or ogle you when you walk by. Directly across the street from where I live is a house with several of these drunk/stupid kids who like to hang out on their front porch. During the wintewooden spiralr, this wasn’t so bad cause it was too cold for them to be out there long. But now that it’s gotten warm, they spend a lot of time out there. They never say anything directly to me, but I can tell they are watching me when I walk in or out of my building or when I’m pulling the garbage cans to the front or back. I can’t tell if they are talking about me or not, but my skin crawls regardless. This, to me, is triggering.

When I got home Thursday night, they were hanging out on their porch, watching. I could feel their eyes on me as I pulled the garbage cans behind my building and walked inside. I could feel their eyes judging me, judging my fitness to be amongst them. Judging and finding me wanting.

I didn’t leave my apartment again until Sunday night when I knew they weren’t out there.

So who am I? The girl who fights through her social anxiety and helps out at church functions despite the pain in her joints? Or am I the gross, fat woman too afraid to leave her apartment because of the judgmental eyes of some college kids? Am I getting better and the past few days are just a set back? Or am I selfish failure who spends her days feeling sorry for herself because her birthday’s not so special?

Who am I really? Who am I becoming? And what will it be like when I get there? I want these answers now. As you can imagine, it’s frustrating that I can’t get them.

breaking thru clouds

Blessings to you all.

Be well.

R is for Resentment

r white woodI love my family. I do. But I also resent them. A lot. And lately it’s been really bothering me. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe because the weather’s changing and I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to take a stroll with my sister-in-law. Maybe because I went a few days without a phone and realized that no one would have known if I hadn’t posted anything on Facebook about it. Or maybe it’s just time to get over it.

So, like I always do when I want to do something, I warmed up my favorite search engine and looked for anything I could find on resentment. I came across this quote:

resentment2

This pic was created at brainyquote.com.

It stopped me in my proverbial tracks. One of the things I truly value (and I know this cause I’ve gone over my values a couple of times in the last few months in counseling) is trying to do God’s will and grow spiritually. The fact that I’m disrupting my values by holding onto resentment gives my bone marrow frostbite.

So I sat there and thought about it. Why was I so resentful of my family? Here’s why…help

Somehow growing up I picked up the conviction that getting help by asking for it means less than if someone figures out that you need help and offers it. I’m not quite sure why I picked up that conviction, but I did. What’s worse, I typically don’t ask for help until the last possible second, usually right before disaster strikes. Like right before I slit my wrists.

Unfortunately, most of my family doesn’t think the say way as I do. Especially my brother and sister-in-law, the ones I feel most resentful towards. You see, I needed a lot of help the past year or so. As you may recall from this post, this post, this post, and this post, I was suicidal and went through a major traumatic injury. My brother and sister-in-law are the only family members who could help me (everyone else lives too far away) during those times and I resented it when they didn’t help me more.

What was I expecting from them? Well, when I got home from the psych ward, both times, I expected them to check in with me once in a while. By phone if nothing else. If I didn’t call or stop by, I expected them to call me or stop by my place (I live less then 10 minutes away from them). I didn’t receive any check ins. Ever.

After I broke my arm and was in a cast from my armpit to wrist, I expected a daily visit until I was able to do things fat ladylike pull up my pants up one handed and cook myself dinner. I got daily visits the first two days. I couldn’t pull up my own pants one handed for a month after I was released from the hospital (they kept getting caught on my fat rolls. Remember, I’m circus-fat-lady fat), and I couldn’t cook for two months. In addition, I was on pain killers for six weeks. Pain killers and a history of suicide…not a good thing.

The part that I hate most about how resentful I feel is that I knew I wasn’t gonna get any help from my family unless I asked for it. My brother works too much to be able to help me (he works twelve to eighteen hours a day, typically seven days a week. He’s been known to go three months without a day off). So it was my sister-in-law, a “Domestic Engineer” (aka housewife) who would/should be checking in on me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my sister-in-law. She’s the best thing to ever happen to my brother and a wonderful person. She just believes that it is a person’s responsibility to ask for help; that one shouldn’t just help a person without that request. Her belief comes out of her own past of domestic violence and addiction. And that works for her. It just doesn’t work for me.

Why? Because when I’m deeply depressed, suicidal, traumatized, and in pain, I don’t ask for help unless it’s an

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli 1781

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli 1781

emergency (like gotta call 911 emergency). I can’t. And I mean that in an almost physical sense. I spent hours lying on my bed keeping myself alive by telling myself over and over that if I just stayed in bed, I would be able to resist the impulse to kill myself. That if I got up, took that step closer to the drawer where I kept my medications, I would take every single pill I owned in an effort to die. The thought of calling someone for help did cross my mind, and, in occasional moments of logic, I tried to get myself to do it, but I couldn’t. I remember the words piling themselves up at the back of my throat. And I couldn’t get them into my voice box and out of my mouth. No matter how many times I tried to get my hands to pick up a phone, they wouldn’t move. It was almost like psychological paralysis. It sounds dramatic, even soap opera worthy, but it’s true. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything other than breathe and fight the impulse to kill myself. All of my energy was used up in that fight. I had nothing left to ask for help.

So I didn’t get any help from my family. And the only family member in any position to help me was not pre-supposed to help without being asked. And I knew this. I knew it and yet it still hurt when I didn’t get the help I couldn’t ask for. It still hurts today. And so the resentment grows. And grows.

I haven’t spoken with my family in any way other than through social media in about two months. And I hate it. I miss them so much. I want a hug from my sister-in-law. I want to tease my brother and see that twinkle in his eye that makes him him. I want to hug their dog and chat about NCIS and their grandchildren. I want to find out what home improvement plans they are gonna tackle this summer. I want to see my brother and sister-in-law laugh and kiss and hug in that way that is their own.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

But I can’t do it until I let go of this resentment that I know is totally irrational. I know that they were never going to be able to help me in the way that I wanted, or even needed, to be helped. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I knew it. And yet I still expected and wanted it from them.

I suppose that ultimately what’s preventing me from letting it go is that I can’t forgive myself for expecting the impossible from them. I can’t forgive myself for needing help. And if I can’t forgive myself, how am I gonna be able to forgive them?


 

Blessings to you all.

Be well.

R is for Relationships

r recycledSince this is the week dedicated to all things heart shaped (aka Valentine’s Day week), I thought I’d write a bit about my issues with relationships.

I am horrible at all kinds of relationships other than your superficial kinds. If you want to talk about stuff while at work, I’m your gal (or I would be if I was employed). I’ll talk about anything other than politics (and/or religion if you’re not able to be open-minded/respectful of others’ opinions). If you want to tell me all about your life, spill your secrets, discuss your sex life, whatever, I’m good to go. I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and may actually be able to give you some insight or help with whatever you’re going through. No problem. Just don’t expect me to tell you more than the superficial stuff about my own life.

Sure I’ll tell you a bit about my parents, brother, grandmother, and so on. I might tell you stories about growing up heart conversationpoor in a mostly affluent suburb or about taking care of my dying grandmother. I’ll tell you about the safe stuff in my life: career dreams, places I want to travel to or live. But I’ll never get to the meat of anything unless you divulge it first. And even then I’ll stay at the surface. For example: I’ll tell you that I suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, but I won’t tell you who, what happened, or how it was resolved. I might tell you that I suffered guilt and shame over it, that I never told certain people about it, that I’m still somewhat angry about it, or that it took about thirty years for it to become a “minor” part of my life. But I’ll never tell you the details. You’ll never know that my shame isn’t that it happened, but that it hurt those who never knew about it.

In the past, when I’ve told people about some of this superficial stuff, they’ve told me that I’m “open” and that they feel close to me. I nod and thank them for their thoughts but inside I know that it’s just a sham. I know that I’m incapable of real relationships.

How do I know this? Because, to me, when it comes right down to it, real relationships are those that survive outside of the boundaries of the structures of modern life.

Two years ago I worked at a job with a woman who was having trouble in her marriage. She told me about some of her struggles with a previous marriage where her husband was abusive, verbally and sexually. She said that her past made her hesitant to trust her current husband. I divulged to her the superficial details of my own sexual abuse, correlated it to some stuff I learned in school, and gave her advice about talking to her current husband. She took my advice and said it helped. Later she told me that my openness helped her to realize certain things about her relationships. After I quit that job, I never saw or heard from that person again. To me, that was not a real relationship. Was it a worthwhile relationship? Sure, she got something out of it and I enjoyed helping her. But it was superficial. It was the only kind of relationship I am capable of. Other modern life structures that my relationships don’t survive past are school, apartment buildings, even online support groups. After I’m done with a class, graduated from college, moved from a building, left a group, those relationships don’t last. They’re gone. Like they never even happened.

I’m aware that some of those types of relationships are meant to fade away. My counselor tells me this and I read about them in school. But if those are the only kind of relationships I’m capable of, what does that say about me?

The other day I sat down and tried to think of who I’m always honest with (outside of psychiatrists, counselors, heart metaltherapists, etc). I counted seven people: my high school best friend, that friend’s parents, my brother and sister-in-law, a cousin, and a neighbor. Only one of those people is within walking distance of me. Two are in another state all together. And I only speak to one, my neighbor, on a regular basis.

Yes, all of them (and more) are Facebook friends and yes, I can text, email and/or speak to them by phone pretty much anytime. But I don’t. Even when I know I should. I’ll reach for the phone or keyboard and something will stop me. Something dark and ugly will rise inside me and I’ll put the phone or keyboard down.

Sometimes I think that dark and ugly thing is my mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, and/or the eating disorder). And sometimes I might be right because those things seem to clog up my brain and throat until I can’t communicate with anyone other than God.

But other times I think that dark and ugly thing is just me. My innards are so disgusting that I don’t want to expose them to the light, to my friends and family, to anyone with even a little bit of goodness in them. So I shove that ickyness deep down with food. I keep relationships superficial. I keep everyone away from my ugliness.

It’s safer.

Maybe for them.

But mostly for me.

I’ve accepted my inability to have real relationships with anyone other than those seven people. Mostly. Sometimes I surprise myself and make new friends. Like my neighbor, I’ve told her details about my sexual abuse, about my mental health issues, about my previous struggles with cleaning, and so forth. For some reason, I haven’t scared her away.

I think she may be Superwoman.

I know she’s extraordinary.

We’ll see if my relationship with her will last after one of us moves away. I don’t have much faith that it will last, but then again I also didn’t have much faith that I’d live past thirty either so it might. I hope it does. Because if it does, that means maybe I’m capable of a real relationship. One that lasts beyond the boundary of our building.

And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be capable of having more of those relationships.

And then maybe, just maybe, I could date, have a romantic relationship, marry. I haven’t dated since high school (I’ll be 41 this year.)

Would you date, or marry, the circus-lady fat gal?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

I’m not holding my breath. I’ll be satisfied with becoming capable of having real relationships. Down deep, I know I’m not meant for a romantic relationship. All that disgusting ugliness may be tolerable in friendships (superficial or not) but it would be impossible in a day-to-day-till-death-do-you-part relationship. After all, you can get away from a friend and wash off that gross scum. A romantic partner (in my case, a man) is required to live with it, carry a bit of it in their heart, meld it to their soul.

I couldn’t ask any man to do that.

Does that mean I don’t miss those types of intimate relationships? Not on your life. At one point, when my biological clock was ticking with the power of Big Ben, I thought the yearning, the loneliness, would kill me. I cried at the sight of a baby, leaned toward the TV when watching romantic comedies, sobbed myself into migraines.

Even now, years after my biological clock short-circuited, I still yearn for closeness. There are days, weeks even, when I just want someone to hold me. Someone to tell me it’s gonna be okay. Someone who would worry with me about bills, broken down cars, unemployment. Someone to hold my hand under the dining room table when my social anxiety kicks in. Someone to bring me an apple when I’m binging on chocolate. Someone to look me in the eye and tell me I’m important, worthy, loved.

I want that someone. But I don’t think he exists. At least not for me. I only know one man out there who is that kind of gentleman, who would have that kind of patience, that kind of acceptance, that kind of pure-heartedness. He’s my high school best friend’s father and currently married to her mother. They have a son, but unfortunately he doesn’t take after his father. I doubt very much there’s another guy out there like him.

So I’m assuming I’m gonna live out the rest of my life alone. Slowly working on having real relationships but never having that ultimate relationship that makes life worth living.

It’ll be lonely.

It’ll suck.

But I’m used to that.

I’ll just have to content myself with a cat.

cat sofa

Happy Valentine’s Day to all who celebrate!

Blessings to all of you.

Be well.

T is for Thanksgiving

t fancyFor anyone unfamiliar: in America, the fourth Thursday in November is a Federal Holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday commemorates a peaceful harvest meal celebrated by the European colonists and Native Americans nearly 500 years ago (more on that here). Somewhere along the way it became about appreciating your blessings. Now it’s mostly all about food, family, football, and Black Friday. (Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally considered the first shopping day of the Christmas season, when most retailers go from “being in the red” to “being in the black”. More on that here.)

Growing up, my family spent Thanksgiving with our paternal relatives as they lived nearby. Back then, Black Friday wasn’t such a big thing. (Or at least it didn’t seem like it, maybe because the media wasn’t so omnipresent with the internet and all.) Typically, we would go to my paternal grandparents’ house where my grandmother would cook. Stuffing came out of a box and cranberries out of a can, but we always had mashed potatoes freshly smooshed by hand. The kitchen was too small for more than one or two people, so usually I wasn’t allowed to help until the meal was nearly done. As usual for family gatherings, I was in charge of drinks. Then we would all sit around the table, pose for a picture, and dig in. Sometimes we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, sometimes we just ate until there was nothing left (grandma hated leftovers). The Friday after Thanksgiving was spent at home, relaxing.

After my grandfather had a stroke, and my grandmother sold her house, my aunt (I mean, the only aunt who lived in the area) took over holiday dinners. I hated this. Not because my aunt wasn’t a good cook (she was a fabulous cook), and not because I didn’t like her (she was actually my favorite aunt for years), but because she was married to the man who abused me. I didn’t tell her about the abuse until I was an adult, and when I did she asked me to keep it a secret (and did little about it). My aunt’s house was even smaller than my grandparents’ and somehow it seemed as if I always ended up sitting next to my abuser.

The older I got the more uncomfortable I was with being in that household. There were years where I became physically ill from the stress of being there. I hated having to act as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t taken away part of my childhood. But I had promised (because of my own misguided sense of shame) not to tell the rest of the family about the abuse, so I felt obligated to act as if I was fine being there. I learned to smile through the pain in my stomach, to hug him without revealing my revulsion, to keep from shaking with anger.

It wasn’t until my paternal grandmother died that I experienced a Thanksgiving without the stress of being near my abuser. From 2009 to now, I’ve spend Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law is a great cook and loves to host holiday/family dinners. She lets her kids and grandkids help and makes as much of the dinner from scratch as she can. There are always prayers and laughter. Often, friends are invited. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I may or may not participate in the Black Friday shopping.

But the holiday still gives me anxiety. As much as I love my brother and sister-in-law, their celebration of the holiday is different than how I would celebrate. It’s more rambunctious, louder, crowded. It works for them, and I love that about them. I love that they open their home to friends. They’re wonderful people and deserve every bit of happiness they have. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t enjoy loud, crowded and rambunctious. I like quiet and small. Rambunctious I can handle (as this usually comes from the under 10 crowd. Kids I’m good with.) I’m just hoping that one day I can celebrate this holiday stress-free with an emphasis on thankfulness and peace.

That said, this year I am thankful (in no particular order) for:

  • You! Thank you for reading my blog.
  • Health. Both physical and mental.
  • Family and friends
  • Blue skies and fluffy clouds
  • Cats!
  • Books
  • The internet. It helps distract me.
  • Unemployment insurance. Otherwise I’d be homeless and car-less.
  • That I’m not in a hospital. For any reason.
  • Modern medicine. Without it I’d be either dead or in a hospital.
  • God “from whom all blessings flow.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate!

Blessings to all of you.

Be well.

S is for Sibling

s goldI have one sibling, an older brother. Growing up, our parents compared us to each other, often to his detriment. When he was born, there were complications. When I was born (three years later), everything happened perfectly. My brother was a fussy baby. I was quiet and slept right through the night immediately. My brother threw temper tantrums and ran away from home, repeatedly. I didn’t. My parents often said that I was the “perfect” child, the “good” one. My brother was rebellious, “bad.”

I still feel guilty about these comparisons and not just because they made my brother feel bad about himself. You see the instances that my parents claimed were proof of my “goodness” were really just proof that I kept my mouth shut. My brother wasn’t rebellious; he was just willing to say what he thought. Yes he was loud and occasionally violent about it. But he usually had good reason. When it comes right down to it, my brother got the short end of the proverbial stick. And then had that stick used upside his ass.

My brother was our paternal grandparents’ first grandchild. They lived about a half hour away and insisted that my brother spend as much time as possible with them. As a male child, he was a perfect way for my grandparents to try to fix whatever mistakes they thought they made with their only male child. By the time I came along, my brother was more their child then our parents’. I don’t remember a time when he didn’t spend most of his weekends at their house.

I was jealous of his relationship with our grandparents. I thought they loved him more than me. They never said anything, but I may have been right.

My grandfather often planned activities with by brother in mind. I was never invited. Never even asked if I was interested. My grandfather’s big hobby was model trains. I wasn’t allowed to touch them. My brother was allowed to touch, rearrange, and play with the trains. I have distinct memories of my grandfather driving away from our grandparents’ house with my brother in the car, leaving me behind in an empty house (my grandmother was at work). I was eight.

siblings

No this isn’t us.

My revenge was that our maternal grandmother liked me better. She said so. Out loud. With my brother in the room.

We always went to visit our maternal grandparents during our school’s spring break, which usually fell on or near his birthday. They lived on a farm seven hours away from us and talked with a southern accent. My brother complained about these visits every year. He hated that we had to visit on his birthday, that it took so long to get there, that there were strange smells and stranger people. Everyone always commented on how well behaved I was, how I was such a “good girl” for helping out our parents, how much I looked like my mother. I loved our visits.

The older we got, the less our parents compared us. It wasn’t necessary. My brother and I were stuck with the labels of “bad” and “good” child. Each year, our various resentments grew. He resented having to spend weekdays with our parents. I resented our paternal grandparents love for him. He misbehaved and was spanked for it. I kept my mouth shut and nothing happened to me.

He ran away from home at least once a year. Usually in the summer, which he wanted to spend entirely at our paternal grandparents’ house. He had to be bribed into going to our maternal grandparents’ house. I crept into the persona of “good girl” and rarely allowed myself to act otherwise. The shell of goodness felt safe, comfortable, even if it wasn’t always genuine.

Then my brother became a teenager. Our paternal grandmother bought him his first car and we rarely saw him. When he was seventeen, he moved out of our parents’ house and into our paternal grandmother’s apartment (our grandfather had died years before). I watched our parents endlessly discuss my brother’s rebellion. And I wished I was anyone other than what I was: a boiling mass of jealousy and anger within the façade of a “good girl.”

Then my brother became a father and a husband. An adult. Seemingly all of a sudden he stopped rebelling and became “good.” He got a job, provided for his family and treated our parents with respect. He didn’t go out of his way to spend time with them, but he no longer argued with them, no longer picked fights with them. Our parents began to spend hours discussing how much he’d changed. I was still angry, still jealous and still hiding behind my “good girl” façade. But now, no one noticed.

Years later, my brother and I discussed a little about how we were compared. He told me he had hated them. He said that he had always felt as if our paternal grandparents were his real parents. That our parents were just these people he was required to live with. I told him that I thought our paternal grandparents loved him and not me. I also told him how sorry I was that our paternal grandparents and parents used him as a way to work out their problems. And that I had grown up angry that everyone, our parents included, loved him for who he was, not for what he let them think he was.

You see, by allowing myself to crawl inside that “good girl” shell, I had prevented anyone from knowing the real me. I stayed silent whenever anyone said or did anything that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with. I rarely said or did anything troublesome because a “good girl” didn’t do that. But I wasn’t a “good girl” inside. And no one really knew me.

Looking back at all this, I also can see the seeds for what became my arrogance. Our parents called me their “good girl,” their “perfect” child. People, both related and unrelated, praised me for being there for our parents, for my polite behavior, for my “goodness,” even for my intelligence (long before I showed any signs of being anything other than an average student). Growing up I was constantly thinking I deserved things just because I was there. As an adult, I fight against the bitterness of not having my “goodness” acknowledged. I fight resentment every time I hear about special programs for people with kids or for veterans. Not because I think they don’t deserve it, but because I think “what about me? I deserve those things too!” I think I deserve them without working for them. Why? Because I’m me.

I’m me and I’m not a “good girl.” I don’t deserve to be handed things just because I’m alive. But I also don’t deserve to be labeled as any one thing. I’m not just a woman. Not just mentally ill. Not just fat. I’m all of those things and none of those.

I am a human being. A human. Being. And somehow my sibling learned those things long before I did. And without my shell of “goodness.”

F is for My First Memory

abcalphabet_block_blue_fI’ve spent the last few days avoiding writing this blog post by searching for new graphics to use. Hours upon hours of looking at different versions of pencils, letters, and so forth just so I didn’t have to talk about this memory. The really stupid thing is that I’ve told people about this before since it’s a common “ice breaker” type of activity to ask people to describe their first memory. I’ve told this story to several different college classes, three or four different spiritual institutions and more counselors/therapists/shrinks than you can shake the proverbial stick at. That said, I’ve no idea why it took me so long to write this post.

Anyway, here’s my first memory:

I don’t remember why I woke up, I image I had a bad dream or heard something. I don’t know. All I know is that I was about 2 or 3 years old and I had woken up in the dark. I remember that I was scared and crying and that I pulled myself up in my crib by the slats until I could rest my chin on the top rail. I have an image of my darkened room with a small sliver of light illuminating the floor, but I’m not sure if that is real or if it’s something I’ve added over the years imaging the scene.

I know I cried for what seemed like forever. I don’t know if it was just a few minutes or a few hours. All I know is that eventually I stopped. Not because I stopped being terrified. Not because I was tired. Not even because I ran out of tears. I stopped because I knew, from the bottom of my pajama’d foot to the top of my towhead, that no one was coming. I was alone and I had to deal with whatever it was by myself. And that I’d have to do that for everything for the rest of my life.

So I sat myself down, crossed one leg over the over, hugged a pillow and rocked forward and backward until I fell asleep. I fell asleep that way until I was in my mid-teens.

No this isn't me.

No this isn’t me.

The thing is, there was probably someone home at the time. My brother, my parents, someone. But they didn’t come and likely wouldn’t have. Back then it was believed that if a child wasn’t hungry, sick or wet, you let them cry; it was thought that you were teaching them how to comfort themselves. Well, I guess in a way it did teach me to comfort myself. The problem was that my family’s particular dysfunction combined with my innate way of being ended up giving me problems similar to children brought up by neglectful parents. My parents weren’t neglectful, weren’t bad people; they were doing the best they could at the time. What they didn’t know is that some of the choices they made and some of the ways our family did things would end up giving me more problems than solutions.

As an adult, I logically know that I don’t have to deal with everything by myself. And for the most part, I don’t. If my car breaks down, I talk to a mechanic. If I can’t figure out how to do something on a computer, I ask someone. But if I need help with something I can’t touch, a decision, a feeling, a fear, I hesitate. Especially if it’s something I think is important, I keep whatever it is to myself until I get to some sort of impasse. It isn’t until I’ve chewed the problem to pieces inside my head that I take it to someone else.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: When I went back to college, I had to choose a foreign language. I took a look at how my schedule would be structured and realized I had about five or six choices, which I then narrowed down to two equally good choices. I then spent months, and I do mean months, trying to decide which one to take. This one was more practical, that one sounded like more fun. This one was harder to get into, that one was something I’d thought about taking since I was 12. And on and on. It wasn’t until I had to make a choice that I went to a friend and talked about it out loud. She took one look at me and said “you already know which one you’re going to take.” And she was right; I just didn’t realize that I’d even made the decision until I said it out loud.

Now I imagine a lot of people have similar ways of going over a problem. I just imagine that it doesn’t take them months to get to the point at which they talk to someone about it. Imagine if I had talked through the problem with my friend when I first became aware that I needed to make a decision. I could have saved myself months of dithering over the issue. And I could have used that time and energy thinking about something much more interesting during those months.

I do this with all kinds of problems, both important and trivial. Should I buy that DVD? Should I go to Grad School now or in a few years? What car should I buy? Should I have a brownie or ice cream with dinner? Should I kill myself with pills or by hanging? (Don’t worry, that’s not a current deliberation.)

I honestly think that my problem with asking for help, with trying to take care of everything by myself, can be traced back to that first memory.

And, what might be worse, I think that first memory is when I first started to distrust people. After all, if people aren’t there for a baby, a toddler, why would they be there for a kindergartner, a pre-teen, a teenager, an adult? If a baby can’t depend on anyone to be comforted, why on earth would anyone depend on someone else to comfort them for anything?

So I learned to keep people at a distance very early. I don’t trust people to comfort me. I don’t trust them to do much of anything. This early experience wasn’t the only time people let me down, but it was the first.

Coming up next post: more of my history that caused me to have some sort of issue. Anything in particular you’d like to hear about? Please comment below.