My recent exchange with my mother awakened in me the exact “nature” of my lifelong experience, as her dependent and child. If I said I was cold, rather than a sweater, snuggle, or blanket, I was offered a reading of the thermostat as proof that I could not feel that way (if I were normal, worthy, and honest). When I reported hunger or need a restroom, similarly, I was reminded of having recently eaten or relieved myself, OR that I was just too fucken much. Support was available only when she shared the sentiment. When my experience differed, I was reported to be equal parts incorrect and troublesome. I literally learned to doubt myself at a cellular level. I was wrong about things, over which technically, I would be the ultimate authority: hunger, exhaustion, fear, sadness, cold, a full bladder. Right?
This is the historical and current response to any call for comfort, listening, or connection by me. (Remember, this is my experience, not my sister’s or anyone else’s) If I share about something or someone hurtful, I am informed of how I have misunderstood or caused some irritation warranting it. I cannot count the number of times I heard a hostile and smug “serves you right” BUT…I can count the exact number of times, on my unicorn horn, that my sorrow, confusion, need, and discomfort were met– with a need to hear more– to understand and to be a source of comfort rather than opposing authority. This disposition and trait, exercised over me, by my sister, mother, and maternal grandmother WAS devastating. I was judged similarly for my inability to lighten up and properly handle my self-imposed tension and insecurity.
More often than I can sometimes bear, my boys report, at length, their cases of injustice. Thanks to the cautionary tale of my upbringing, I do not dismiss them. Instead, I seek more detail and understanding of what it is they need. OR, I listen and say, “I am sorry, that sounds difficult“.
If my experience is different from yours, is one of us wrong or lying? My mother stated her confusion over my claim to feeling unsafe with her/them. I detailed how a family dinner with my ex, his sister, and my children, excluding me left me feeling, to which she responded: A) that “You were invited to the dinner, I remember” (rather than, “wow, I can see how hurtful that would be”) and as a justification for the covert dinner: B) “Yeah, well you tell outright lies on your blog.” By her measure, I am the liar and bully and deserve and imagine all of the things I find to be hurtful. And still she insists on her confusion over why I feel unsafe with them. No examples of my lies or bullying are given. No opportunities to amend, only justification and or denial for their own conduct.
Really??? Does aligning with my ex-husband, whom you had ZERO prior relationship with, seem like action of safe, kind folks wanting healing and unity? Does it? My recovery principles tell me it does not. I am not the reason for anyyyyyyy one’s behavior. And it is all in writing…so I know I have not imagined or misunderstood. I am grateful for the examples of “non-wholesome love” for my boys to witness the contrast. My sons have wholesome love in their daily lives, so they see the difference. I knew of no other way, before recovery. Just your way. Alienate people who feel differently. Diminish them in sneaky ways when necessary, and then defend it with more non- love….and always rally the troops… Fight to the win! Zero-Sum- one winner, one loser.
I thought living this close geographically would do me in. Then, I thought it would destroy me to live this close and not be able to make it work. Futile soul-killing efforts to heal and connect were the problem. Letting go my only sane choice, widening the space between me and people who condone and rely on diminishing others. At first, it humiliated me. Now it just informs my decisions.
Saying “Me too” and “That is rough, will you tell me more?” — those are words of compassion. Compassion and empathy are for badasses. Pity and judgment separate people and positions of those needing to be better than, and unwilling to relate. Today, I may be a little of both. Because I do pity them.
My mother’s memory is not great and my sister is perhaps driven either by some hope for deeper intimacy with my ex or possibly money after my mother passes. I believe she reports things that are untrue to our mother, keeping her confused. Either way, it is not safe for me. I cannot change this, but I can finally grieve it, as it is official. My mother “Wishing me well” is a clear marker that our time together has concluded. Tragic endings are better than tragic continuations. Of this, I am 100% sure. Sad but sure. I wished I could authentically claim to love them and wish them well. But the truth is- for today, I wish them all the joy and peace they have consistently served up and now imposed on my sons.
So, while what we say matters, what we do matters even more. If what say and do are diminishing and/or in conflict, you have work to do. If what we say and do are kind and in sync, that is what I have come to know as serenity.