The Path to Welcome

You can build a mansion but you just can’t live in
You’re the fastest runner but you’re not allowed to win
Some break the rules
And live to count the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won’t get lost
~ No One Is To Blame, Howard Jones

I want/need to talk about family, but i have to do it cautiously. As i’ve stated before, identifying certain people who are still living might seem like an invitation to share their thoughts and feelings. They might feel justified or even obligated to share their opinions about me, with me. I’m not interested and they are not welcome here, and so i tread with care.

They’re sick with secrets, tainted with criminals who’ve not been held to account. Their crimes have been covered up and excused by those around them, with not even an apology to those they’ve harmed, because their god forgives them.

It can take me a while to get there, but once i’m done, no one cuts dead weight like a dissociative. I still have deep love for some of them, but it’s not my job to reach/fix them. It’s my educated guess that they don’t think they need any anyway, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t be coming to me. You see:
I asked for what i got.
I made a big deal out of nothing.
[The abusers] have been through a lot – what about them?
[Other victims] have gotten past it. Just let it go – get over it already!
Everyone knows i’m a liar.
I’m not even really related.

I thought i’d found acceptance there, and it did start out being an experience of family that i was desperately missing. It wasn’t long though, before the cracks started showing, and the sick bled through onto me. I was already up to my eyeballs in abuse, so i didn’t recognise it as bad, it was just the way things were. If i was looking for confirmation that my upbringing was normal (i was fully indoctrinated, so i wasn’t), the way this family worked confirmed it all.

My connection to this family is truly sick and twisted, as my mother played the long game with them when they were children. She reconnected with them years later, tapping into the power she’d wielded over them then to revictimise those of her choosing when they were almost and barely adults. She scooped one out of the nest and made babies with him.
She lost all her remaining friends when she did, and spent the rest of her years eating herself up to super-morbid obesity and cranking out children. Her mask had slipped and so she became mostly a shut-in. She sat down in front of the television around 1980, and rarely got up to do much of anything except beat us and get more food, until her death less than a decade later. The house was a pigsty, the children that came after me were skeletally thin, and she just kept getting fatter.

I tried my best to help the others, but i was ill-equipped and dealing with my own abuse. When i finally got out on my own, i didn’t give them much thought. I didn’t give anything much thought, as i didn’t know how to think. I didn’t know i was abused, and i didn’t understand that my siblings were still stuck there, living in trauma. I didn’t know that subconsciously, i was relieved to be away. I didn’t mark the lessening of stress and anxiety, i didn’t feel the softening in my guts, and i didn’t notice that i never went home or called or wrote.

Years later, when i’d awakened to the truth of how i was raised, i convicted myself of the crime of abandoning my siblings. I beat myself with guilt while drowning in shame. I tried to help but i still didn’t know how. I didn’t have enough information; i lacked the emotional connection necessary to reach them, and i think they did, too. We’d been raised with the divide-and-conquer mentality. We’d been taught to scapegoat. And they’d been filled with stories of my blacksheepness, probably from the moment i left home.

I had children and got married and began the agonising process of falling completely and utterly apart. We were all so broken and so much damage had been done. We all coped in our own ways with varying levels of success, but the scapegoating remained. My parents had always visited the harshest abuse upon the oldest child. When i left, it fell to the next. The trend continued after my mother’s death; as each one of us ran, the rage and the blame would be visited on the oldest of those who remained, until there was only one.

In my mind, things were going to be fine because my mother was dead, but they weren’t. And i tried to help, but providing food and shelter wasn’t enough. I was spiraling down, and i didn’t give much thought to them or what they needed. I often used them as babysitters and housekeepers, to my shame. I thought i was doing well because i wasn’t beating them, but i was still using them, as my mother had modeled so well for me. They were breaking down as well, filled with anger and pain and so many unmet needs.
Despite being more than a decade older, i wasn’t parent material. I could barely care for my own children, and my siblings were high needs.
As i became less and less functional, it became easier to scapegoat me – and they most certainly did.

Eventually, i gained enough insight, inner strength, and self-love to walk away. I did my best and it wasn’t enough, but it wasn’t for lack of caring or trying. I’d been a child then too, and there came a point where i had enough of being treated like just another parent who’d failed them. That point came when it was made clear to me that i was only a half-sister. Then i was told not to speak ill of my mother. My gears started cranking hard, and i brought it to my therapist.
As we picked over it all, i gleaned some shiny nuggets that i put in my pocket for later.
Like, i’d never been thanked for any of my efforts. Like, i only ever heard about the ways i’d done them wrong. Like, i wouldn’t be invited to certain family events.
One day i was taken aside and told my kids were awful people.
Shortly after that i learned that my husband and i were terrible parents.

So i decided to stop trying to win acceptance and approval. I stopped calling and inviting. We all did. There was never any big blow up, or serious discussion. No one threw down a gauntlet or made any grand pronouncement or even slammed a door on their way out. I was just done, and i guess they were, too. It’s sad, and it still hurts when i think about it, but the relief was immediate. The pressure release inside me was palpable. I will never not love them, but i won’t participate in my own scapegoating any longer. I won’t pretend everything’s fine and i won’t keep family secrets. I won’t be an emotional punching bag.

The line of responsibility is difficult to draw, so i don’t bother. I blame them and i don’t. They’re grownups but they were kids. It’s their business to deal with their shit or not, as they will. It’s not my job to fix them, or mend fences. It would be terribly unwise for me to expose my soft underbelly, because they will kick a dog when it’s down.
It’s prudent for me to love and want the best for them from over here.
It’s easier and safer.

I don’t know what kind of shit this may stir up, if any. They may never give me a second thought. I’ve been estranged from them for so long now that i’m completely out of touch. And i’m at peace with that.
What i know is that i must clear away the wreckage of my past, to make room for potentially better things. I must deal with the pain of my old family relationships, so that i might better show up for the family i’m building today.
I need to make space for more.
I’m clearing a path to my door, and laying out the welcome mat.

Hello, won’t you come in and sit a spell.
Tell me who you are and i’ll believe you.

No one, no one, no one ever is to blame
No one ever is to blame
No one ever is to blame

Seriously

WARNING: References to suicidal thoughts.

**********

Love and boundaries. FML.

I was raised to have none.
All the better to enslave you, traffic you, and just generally abuse you, my dear.
~ My mother the wolf

Whatever people wanted to do to me, i generally let them. Sex stuff was strictly controlled by my system, which saved me from sexual abuse by peers, but adults could get away with anything, and school-aged kids could humiliate and torture me at will. I did nothing. I never fought back. I would try to avoid, to stay away, but once some bully had me cornered, they could say or do whatever they wanted, as long as sex wasn’t involved. Somewhat strange, is that i was never beaten up physically at school, or after, although i was often followed and threatened and hurt by harsh words. I think my size (Amazon) was intimidating.

Over the years i’ve learned to stand up for myself. Despite the years of screaming and yelling that came from other parts of me, i myself am not violent. When my system was basically unleashed on the world around me due to a severe bipolar mania, i broke a lot of shit. Dishes, glasses, i kicked holes in doors and slammed them off their hinges. I threw things at walls, and one time i threw a chair through a front window. And even worse, there were times during this first, years-long bout of madness, where my people would confuse my partner for a past abuser. I couldn’t control them, and he didn’t know how to handle me switched, so there were times when he pushed for communication too hard, got in too close, and they would scratch and bite at him, and even pull out his hair.
I’m fortunate he stuck with me through that.
He would have been well within his rights to have me arrested and charged.
He saw me as sick and forgave my physical acting out.

It wasn’t long after i was first in therapy with the person i’m working with again now, that i was able to regain control of myself enough to stop the violence. It’s been a decade since i fought him off like a wet cat, and at least a half dozen since i’ve broken or otherwise destroyed anything (although i can still occasionally slam the shit out of a door).

The world’s current system of criminal justice, levied against my childhood abusers would have been nice. I’m in my 50s now though, and my primary abuser is long dead, some of the others that i have names for are either dead or dying, and there were many whose names i cannot recall, if i ever knew them in the first place. I’ve never thought about revenge towards them. Not even my mother. Oh, i’ve reimagined what i might say to her as she lay dying in her hospital bed, only days from the coma that would cradle her to her death.

I had my girlfriend drive me when i went to visit her. I’ve always been a crappy driver.* I’ve got too much going on in my brain to pay proper attention i think, and even back then i knew i was too emotional to get behind the wheel and not have an accident. This time i asked her to take me to see my mom because i’d made her a cassette with music on it (yes, i’m mix-tape years old) and wanted to talk to her. The song list was gross. It bore witness to me years later of how sick and twisted my relationship with her was, as it was filled with love songs, e.g. Without You, by Badfinger.

“I can’t live, if living is without you… “

And i begged her to love me with T’Pau’s Heart and Soul. Yeesh.

I went to her room and she graciously received me (/s), and i gave her my little gift, and then proceeded to apologise for being such a bad daughter. I told her how her accident made me realise how lucky i was to have her for a mom, and how desperately sorry i was for all the difficulties she’d had because of me.
Seriously.

She raised her arms up off the bed and spread them open to either side of her, splaying her fingers wide. She shrugged and nodded and with lips slightly pursed, she magnanimously (/s!) forgave me. I wept with gratitude.
Seriously.
Of course she didn’t say sorry back.

(My mother said sorry to me once in my life. I was 3 or 4 and i said “Fuck” while playing with my dolls. She slapped me across the face so hard i fell off my chair and later couldn’t see out of one eye. She did a lot worse things than that both before and after though, so i don’t know what moved her that day.)

At least she died a week or so later.
Of sepsis.
She rotted from the inside out.
Damn right it’s poetic.

Raised with no boundaries and to take the blame for everything.
I come from a country that’s made gentle fun of for saying Sorry a lot. Take my cultural influences and my upbringing, and i’ve said sorry countless times. Every day, multiple times a day. My first response to so very many situations and happenings is, Sorry! I know that sometimes i drive my husband and sons batty with my constant apologising. It’s not just, Sorry, i oversalted the soup.
It’s, Sorry you have a headache (because i’m annoying and needy and do stupid shit).
And, Sorry kids, i know between the nature and the nurture i’ve completely fucked up your lives forever.
When we used to watch team sports on television and our team was losing, i’d say sorry and leave the room because i felt like it was my fault.
Seriously.

After years of counselling i’ve been able to tone it down quite a bit, but a new close friendship i have has made it clear i have a ways to go. She’s told me a number of times to stop saying sorry for things that aren’t my responsibility, have nothing to do with me, or were due to circumstances i couldn’t have helped. She lets me see the love and the frustration on her face when she says it, too. So i know i still have a problem.

I know now that i have an overblown, highly developed sense of blame, and i’ve been working hard over the years to temper it. To be honest though, i struggle. I’ve hermitted a great deal over the last number of years, because i’m just not well enough or together enough yet to do a lot of peopling. It’s too complicated and too fraught with emotion for me. It takes so much effort and energy to be present and conscious and stay in the face while being around others. Now i do it in small chunks, almost always with just 1 or 2 people. If it’s a group, i don’t last more than 3hrs, except for a wedding i went to this summer where i lasted just over 4 – but i was switched for the last hour and some, so yeah, 3 hours, tops.

I put my personal growth in this area to the test a few months ago, when i stopped taking the blame for a loved one’s problems, and removed them from my safe place. It was incredibly difficult, it took years of poor treatment for me to do it, but it was an empowering experience. I now know i can say Stop, and No, to a loved one, and i’m not bad and i won’t die.
The problem is, that was just a dress rehearsal for what i’m facing today.

Today i say Stop, and No, and draw a boundary around myself that’s been decades coming. It’s a big deal, the biggest, and i might pay dearly for it. The cost may very well be losing the relationship. I have to do this though, or there’s a good chance i won’t make it through the therapy i’m currently in. I’m afraid i’ll just stop it and walk away. I’m afraid i’ll get sick and locked up. I’m afraid i’ll get overwhelmed, lose control, and end the relationship myself, in an unhealthy way. I’m afraid i’ll fold in on myself, and those soft, suicidal whispers i’ve been hearing lately will get louder and start suggesting a plan**…

Right now as i’m writing, i’m reminding myself that this person’s reaction to my boundary will be their own. I cannot control it, and more importantly, i won’t even try. They get to think what they think about it. They get to think whatever they wish about me, and whether what i’m doing is right or wrong. They get to question my motives and even come up with an answer that i think is incorrect. They get to misunderstand and get as hurt and/or angry as they want to get.
I’ve written down what i want to say, because i know my Bits N’ Pieces are going to be active and talkative in my brain, so i’ve made sure i don’t miss anything that i think is important. I want to chicken out and not do this, but i can’t. This ache in my belly will consume me, and i’ll lose myself for who knows how long? I want to send the words by text or email, because it’s going to be brutal for me -i’ll probably cry my face off while reading it out loud- but this relationship deserves a face-to-face.
I
I
I
I deserve a face-to-face.
Seriously.

I know this is a little vague, but as i’ve embraced a more rational and critical method of thinking, i’ve learned that i’m the kind of person who prefers the unvarnished truth. You don’t need to sugarcoat it, and you can be as blunt as you’d like. I would just rather know what’s real and what’s not. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible – even if it hurts and changes my worldview or drastically alters my circumstances.

Maybe i’ll write about that sometime soon.

Sorry this is a bit of a downer for the holiday, but it’s the truth.
Sorry.
Heh.

Love and Peace,
~H~

*I quit driving a long time ago, don’t worry.

**I’m doing all the things i know to do when i have suicidal thoughts. There is no current plan, but i’ve stepped up the frequency of my therapy appointments, and i’ll be sharing this uptick in invasive thoughts with her this week. I’m maintaining my house and my personal hygiene, but eating and sleeping are difficult. My BFF is spending the day with me tomorrow, and that will put a spoon or 2 back in my drawer for later. My thoughts do not determine my actions so much as my conscious awareness of them facilitates better choices and decisions. I’m not at the place where a higher level of care is required. I assure you that if it was, i’d go get it.

Friendship

I’ve developed a close friendship for the first time in many years. The kind of friend i check in with most days and hang out with every week.
She’s seen me switched, and had to deal with some of my shenanigans. It’s horribly embarrassing to me, but it’s also been good. She hasn’t walked away, and she hasn’t hurt me. I’ve lost some treasured friendships to bipolar disorder and multiplicity, and the way i coped was by keeping people at arm’s length, and hermitting in my Little Crooked House. I reached out to her for more friendship because i thought the cavalcade of crazy was pretty much over. Blargh.
She’s handled it better than anyone has, ever. Having a friend who accepts me exactly as i am is great, and having a friend who doesn’t treat me any differently after she’s seen my particular brand of cuckoo has been relaxing and healing and freeing. I’ve experienced the silent reaction (pretending the conversation never happened), the bullshit reaction (you are lying, that isn’t real), and the sideshow freak reaction (wow, how many alters do you have, what are their names, can i talk to one, what happened to make you that way).* Her reaction is relatively new. It’s a bit meh, and it’s nice.

Friendship has been a loaded issue my whole life. I’ve wanted connection, but the first half of my life i was running blind, and after that i pulled myself out of the race.
I’ve always been able to draw people in, i can make friends quickly and easily when i’m settled inside. Where i have trouble is building something deep and hanging on long term.

For the years since i accepted my diagnosis and began working on how to live with multiplicity, i’ve shouldered the blame for all my failed relationships.
I’m not easy to get to know.
It’s hard to get close to me.
I can be unreliable.
I’ve disappeared for weeks, even months, with no contact.
I can be histrionic and chaotic.
I can be emotionally unavailable, cold even.
I can be so focused on my own stuff, that i’m clueless about anyone else’s problems.

That’s not so much the case anymore, but back when i had a number of dear friends, those descriptors fit me rather well. I needed to know myself better in order to be able to function more effectively, and i studied it all, good, bad, or indifferent. I looked under every rock i found. It’s a tricky bit of business, trying to find the balance between being understandably broken because of how i was raised, and taking responsibility for the wreckage of my life. I wasn’t much of a success at life, beyond surviving. Don’t misunderstand me though, this is a balance thing, as i stated. I don’t believe in miracles, but the fact that i lived through my childhood and managed not to be a shitty human is as close to one as i’ve ever seen. I’m amazing, and i know it. I should either be far less functional and barely living, or a high-functioning, horrible person. But i’m not. I’m a likable, lovable woman who’s getting a little bit more awesome every day.

What i’m talking about here is an appropriate, adult level of personal responsibility.
And when it came to all the people i’ve lost, i took all the blame. I truly thought it was mine.

Recently, my new close girlfriend told me she’d been reading my blog, and bluntly stated that i’m too hard on myself. A couple of days later, someone who doesn’t know me but reads my blog offered up some similar commentary. I immediately bristled with my friend, but i noticed that i did, and so i went home and thought about it. By the time i received the second comment, i was more receptive, and more still when an online friend who’s known me for 15+yrs shared some lovely thoughts she had about my last piece. She also implied that i’m a harsh critic of my own work.

I’ve been pondering this for a week or 2 now, and i think it’s a valid criticism. I’m too critical of myself. (There’s a joke in there somewhere, but my current headache won’t let me find it. Pfft.) This is difficult for me to accept, as it runs contrary to my upbringing. I was the family scapegoat. I was bad, i was wrong, and i screwed it all up. My every move was scrutinised, and regularly and soundly criticised. I never met my mother’s expectations, nothing i did was good enough. There is constant chatter in my head from my Peanut Gallery, and someone is always picking at me: how i look, how i talk, how i cook, how i clean, how i write, how i mother, wife, friend… They sound like my mom.

I want to deal with this inner critic issue, but i have enough on my plate already. I do counter the voices quite often when the subject is how i look.

System: You look ridiculous in that outfit.
Me: I feel pretty, so it’s staying on.

I realise now that i don’t deal with the other stuff, though. I’ll try countering those voices where and when i can, but i won’t be pushing too hard right now. However, i do want to do one thing, it’s been percolating in my brain since that day in the car with my friend.

It’s not all my fault that i’ve lost the friends i’ve lost. Some of them naturally faded away, but a few were toxic to me in one way or another. The truth is they were shitty to me, and did me a favour by leaving. I was taught loyalty is all, and crappy treatment is to be expected. I didn’t see the behaviours until they were long gone, nevertheless i still saw the blame as mine.

But they used me, and i just loved them the best way i knew how, and when they weren’t getting enough from me to tolerate how sick i was getting, they left. I desperately needed help, and they left.

So there, i said it. I have a bowling ball in my belly and i feel like puking, but it’s out there. I may have sucked, but they also sucked.

There is my bit of growth for the day.
I’m not the bad guy, i’m the good guy. I also think i might be a pretty decent friend. It’s their loss, and they can kiss my pale, fallen ass.
Heh.

*I don’t particularly have a problem with any of these reactions. If it’s too much or you just don’t have the spoons to deal with my stuff, that’s okay, we can pretend i never said anything. I’m not lying, it is real, but i don’t blame you for thinking it’s a load of crap. I thought the same thing for most of my life. It’s cool to be curious, too. Feel free to ask me anything you’d like, just be aware that i might choose not to answer; some things i don’t share.