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This is not my garden,
i’ve tarried here too long
I cannot keep it,
it does not rise to my touch

This is not my garden,
its fruit does not sustain me
The taste is bland and unripened,
the sun too rare

This is not my garden,
nothing here will grow
No verdance, no smell beckons me,
It’s time for me to go

This is not my garden…
It never was

Image: Gardens of the Dying Light, by QueenOfRohan

The Gift of Estrangement

Hello.

Sleep left me hanging around 3:30 this morning*, so here i am.
I did the few dishes left in the sink from last night while i brewed some freshly ground beans in my French press – because fancy! I thought i’d treat myself to peanut butter ice cream for breakfast, but i haven’t got the taste for it. It’s sitting beside me, melted, so i guess i’m tossing it when i get up next.

I’m so fucking tired. Like, all the time. Staying present takes so much focus and commitment, it takes all my energy. Even when i do nothing, i’m tired. I wish i could go back to bed, but i know how that’ll go, and my husband doesn’t get many opportunities to sleep in, so i won’t subject him to my frustrated restlessness.

I don’t speak about family that’s living. That’s because if i did, they might get the idea that they can contribute some thoughts or opinions, some counter arguments, to my own. I’m comfortably estranged from them, and have no desire to go and mend any fences or let go any bygones.
Today though.
Today, how do i not think of family?
Perhaps i wouldn’t if i still celebrated this infernal holiday, but i don’t. My day would be busy with celebratory activities, and i’d be too busy to think. Wonder. Ponder.
But as it stands, my children are grown, i’m an atheist and the conspicuous consumption and crass commercialism all turn me off. I don’t feel the need to tear down other people’s enjoyment and celebration, but this is my blog, so it seems okay to me to put it here.

This is the third year we haven’t decorated, exchanged presents, had a huge meal, watched holiday programming or listened to festive music. I’m more convinced each year that it was a wise and self-loving decision. It’s too much for me.
My expectations, my perceived expectations of others, the money spent, all the obligations, the places i must go, the people i must see, and i must bring tasty things. The heightened danger on the road because of the office party tipsies and the revelling chronic drunks, and no one is paying attention to their driving or the road because their minds are filled up with ALL THE THINGS. So many brittle smiles and everyone looks like they’re desperately in need of a decent night’s sleep.
And if i heard Santa Baby one more time i was gonna drop my packages on the department store floor and just start screaming…

I know it’s not that way for everyone.
It was that way for me.
My blog, my experiences, and my thoughts about them.
I’m happy for anyone who enjoys this season.
I enjoy it, too.
Now.

I’ve found that one of the most effective ways to limit, or better control my stress and anxiety levels, is to eliminate the things causing them to rise. Maybe as i get healthier and more functional, i can bring some things back. I Hallowe’ened with my BFF this year, for the first time in 5 or so years, and it went okay. Perhaps one day i’ll Christmas again. I leave room to grow and to change and to become capable of handling more if i want to. For now, i have this, and it suits me well.

I didn’t so much make a decision to cut my family out of my life as i decided i wasn’t going to work at it anymore. I was tired of being told what i could and couldn’t do. I was tired of the gossip and backstabbing. Most of all i was tired of all the fakery. Going to family gatherings and pretending that there weren’t sick and dangerous people there. People who’d done serious damage to me. People who’d gravely harmed me. Pretending i was one of them because i wanted so badly to belong to someone. To be claimed by someone. And then pretending i didn’t see and feel what was really happening behind the facades. It was clear i wasn’t one of them. I was merely a religious feather in their ridiculously large caps.
(For reference, watch Carlin’s bit on the religious and their hats.)

It took years to figure it all out, like it sometimes does for me. As i increased the distance i saw more and more clearly. I pulled away because i was beginning to listen to what my system was saying, and i was trying to pay attention to emotions and respond with something other than dissociation. I felt anxious and depressed and exhausted after family associations. I felt like i wasn’t good enough. I felt unloved. I felt hurt and lonely and left out.

So the pulling away was a direct response to the symptoms. It took some time before i started a full examination of my family situation. I sought the cause of my malaise.
I was right. I wasn’t one of them – never was.

I think when i was young it was different, because there was hope i could still be molded into someone more acceptable. However, as i grew into adulthood, i became too different. I strayed too far from the fold. Maybe i was too much like my mother? I don’t know. Beyond our looks and intelligence level, i don’t see that i have much in common with her. I can be scary when i’m pissed off, like her, but i never got pissed off at them. I was only ever scared of losing them – of not being accepted. I was terrified they’d reject me, as i was taught so well to be.

I’d be invited to big celebrations, like the holidays, or the head of the family’s birthday. If i wanted to get together for lunch or shopping or a cup of tea and some connection, i had to make the call. They seemed to enjoy those kinds of things like i did, i just wasn’t on their call list. I’d hear about all the casual get-togethers they’d enjoyed with each other at big holiday celebrations. I’d see pictures and hear funny stories that i wasn’t invited to be a part of. The chatter at the supper table let me know they were always in contact with each other.

Maybe i was a trophy? A sign of how well they lived their religion. Their holiday oblation.
Look how generous and forgiving and pious we are, to have this orphan, this urchin, this weird, loud, awkward woman in our midst. See how we treat her like family when she’s clearly not one of us.

Their smiles looked like grimaces.
Their children avoided me like i had a communicable disease.
But i bashed about these gatherings like a moth on a light bulb, completely unaware. Spastic AF. Trying so hard to be liked and loved, accepted and wanted. I think the truth is i was merely tolerated. I was their charity case. I was the pat on their back that reassured them that they’re good people. (Spoiler: They’re not.)

Just dodged a bullet. I was 2 deep and into my third example of how they’re not good people. That’s an invitation. They aren’t welcome here, and i have nothing to prove. I get to feel and think whatever i want about them, even if i’m wrong. And it’s not like i talk shit about them. I don’t talk about them much at all, except to my therapist or my husband if something comes up for me, like a bad memory or a nightmare.
They’re fake and sick and toxic to me. To me.
Anyone else’s opinion is their right to have and not my business. All i know for sure is that i felt noticeably better about myself and the world when i stopped associating with them, and that’s increased over time.
When i let go and stopped begging for love and chasing them for belonging, it was one of the quickest lessons i’ve learned. The relief was immediate, and the pain of separation, not that bad.

It was last year around this time when a family member sent me a gift. It was a card with the Footprints poem thingy on it, and instead of signing with the name that i’ve called them since i was 11, they signed it with their proper, “Christian” name.
Message received. It was passive-aggressive, hypocritical, petty, and mean-spirited.
I’m genuinely grateful, because it helped me stop looking back and wishing. It showed me who i was dealing with, and confirmed that i’d done the best thing for me.

I’ve spent today with my husband, one of my children, 2 doggos, 1 kitty cat, and my BFF.
It’s been calm and low-key and relaxing. We only listened to one holiday tune, and it was totally perverted. There has been laughter and junk food. I haven’t felt for one single second like i have to be anyone other than myself. I haven’t felt like i’m not enough or i’ve done anything wrong. (Except i burnt the breakfast sausages on one side, and i told my brain that no one would care – and no one did.) We played games, and drank coffee, tea, and ginger ale with cranberry juice in it, because again – FANCY! One son spent the day crafting and making jokes, one son went to work and made double time and a half, woohoo! There were naps, and i had time and space to write. There was music and chatter and hugs.

I think today i’ve written the final chapter on my association with a group of people that aren’t my people. They don’t need to like, love, agree with, or understand me. I never needed anything from them, and now i don’t want anything, either. Here today, i see that i’ve triumphed over not just one family’s lies, but two. All their threats and emotional blackmail, all their cozening ways – none of it stuck. One side of my family died, and it felt so good, a part of me wondered if it wouldn’t feel just as good to be rid of the other side.

It did.
It does.

If you’re reading this and you have tumultuous, painful, difficult relationships with your family, i’m truly sorry for you. What i’ve written here is for me and about me. If you’ve made the decision to suck it up and remain connected to them, i don’t condemn you. I don’t think you’re weak or dumb. I support you in your process, in doing what you think best. Your journey is yours. I hope you have safe people that you can talk to about it; people that you trust who will tell you the truth and support you while you try to navigate the minefield of familial relationships.

The best thing for me was to let go and walk away.
I don’t know what the best thing is for you. If you’ve gotta slap a smile on your face and act like you’re enjoying yourself, then maybe you could do something you enjoy with someone you love after. You know, to wash the stink off you and recharge your batteries.
Hear me though, when i say that there’s no shame in trying something else when what you’re currently doing isn’t working.

All i did initially was to take some time away, because i couldn’t think straight when i was around them. So many of my actions and responses were pure reflex. I’d act instinctually. I found quiet and safety away, and once there, i felt so much better that i never wanted to go back. They don’t miss me and i don’t miss them.
Your mileage may vary.
Do what you want, do what you will.
But if i’m any indication, there aren’t as many MUSTs as we’ve been raised and trained to think there are.
I’m not lonely and i’m not dead.
In fact, i’m quite happy sometimes, and if i keep dropping deadweight like this, i think there’s at least an outside chance i might fly.

Enjoy Your Holiday If You Can,
~H~
*Yesterday, Christmas morning.

Firm Footing

Nights and days came and passed
And summer and winter
and the rain.
And it was good to be a little Island.
A part of the world
and a world of its own
All surrounded by the bright blue sea.
~ Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island

Being raised alone with my mother for the first 8 or 9yrs of my life, means there are some questions i have that will almost certainly not be answered. Considering my age, most perpetrators are dead or close to it, and the best evidence is either gone, or held in places i wouldn’t go looking. I’ve done the best i can to figure out what happened to me; some stuff i know, some i’m pretty sure, and the bits that are experience/intuition based i mostly keep to myself. I puzzle over it all with my husband and my therapist, (and my Peanut Gallery, of course) but if i’m not reasonably certain, it stays between us.

That being said, i don’t know if my birth was accidental or planned. My mother lied as easily as she breathed (and nearly as frequently), so the circumstances aren’t ever going to be clear for me. My first decade or so was spent believing my father was a Canadian volunteer soldier/POW in Vietnam. Sometime around 12 or 13, she changed her story, and told me that i was actually the child of a man who raped her on their first date. When i was 21 and looking for answers, i had 2 sources tell me she came back from a 2yr stint in Quebec, pregnant and heartbroken because the Jewish man she’d fallen for wouldn’t marry outside of his faith (although screwing shiksas was apparently fine). And i had 1 source tell me that on rare occasions a wealthy, not-Jewish businessman would pick me up instead of my mother.

So, 4 possibilities at least. It was only a few years ago that i felt capable of handling a light search for answers. I got my DNA tested this year, and based on results, the second and fourth choices are the most likely, and the third is an unequivocal nope. I have memories of a wealthy businessman that i called Daddy, except when we went to church and then he sat with another family and i wasn’t allowed to go near him or speak to him.* I know his name and it matches my ethnicity, but so does the name my mother gave me of the man who allegedly raped her. It’s as far as i’m likely to get, as i have zero desire to track down either of these hideous human beings (1 who might not even exist), and they’re probably dead anyway.

I’ve mentioned a number of times that i was born for a purpose. I don’t mean that in a religious way. I’m not 100% certain what that purpose was, but there are quite a few possibilities, whether i was planned or not, and it all revolves around my mother:

-she wanted attention/love from someone/me,
-she wanted attention/love from someone other than me (parents, man, friends),
-i could be molded into someone she could always use,
-i could provide income,
-i could be a receptacle for her rage and pain,
-i could keep people from leaving her (parents, man, friends).

I know absolutely that once i was born, i had a job, and that was to do what i was told, at all times, no matter what. Understand that i didn’t see any of this then – i was just a little girl who loved her mommy and wanted to be good for her. I only see it with time and distance, that i was born to be obedient. To serve. She had me so indoctrinated, so gaslit, that the 2 or 3 times i remember being angry at her, i remember forcing myself to put it away inside my body somewhere, and i’d physically contort with the effort it took to do so. She told me to do something and i did it. She told me not to do something and i didn’t. If a stranger came to the door and she said, Go with him and do what he tells you, i did that. If she dropped me off at a public park at night and said someone would be coming to babysit me for the weekend, i knew i had to do whatever they told me to do, too.

I was so good at taking abuse and thinking i’d caused it, that even after she died i continued the practise with other people i loved. I was easily used and emotionally controlled by family and friends alike. As i went through therapy and the process of learning who i am and how to live my best life with how my brain works continued, i whittled away the people around me who used me or those i just didn’t feel good around. (Some whittled me tbh, and that’s just fine. They saved me the trouble.) I’m now comfortably estranged from any family, save 1 cousin, plus the man i married, the children i made, and my child’s family. And the only long term friends i have (15+yrs), are ones i made online. I have 1 real life bestie. The rest of the RLers i like and am friendly with, but we’re not close.

But the one thing i was born to do was to take people’s shit and like it. And if i didn’t like the shit then my next thought was that it’s my fault i’m getting the shit – i deserve/earned/brought on the shit. Which is some super fucked up shit to be sure, but it dies a hard death. It slithered, slowly and insidiously back into my life. It quietly ate away at a love relationship, until i was stripped nearly to the bone emotionally and mentally. I was reenacting my relationship with my mother, to an extent. Trying to avoid anger and upset. Trying to please and appease. Subjugating my thoughts and my feelings to their moods, and eventually, their whims. It eroded my safe space until there was nothing left, becoming a constant burden.

I couldn’t fully give myself to the work i was doing in therapy because of it, but i couldn’t stop the therapy either. That was a snowball rolling downhill and about to become an avalanche. I gave so much energy to handling my crumbling relationship that i had nothing left over to properly manage my system. To stay present in my body and feel my feelings was a continuous struggle – one that i frequently lost.

And then one day, things came to a head in my relationship. The volcano erupted despite my best efforts, and i was so sick and tired of it all that i pulled away and took care of just myself: my system, my feelings, my body, my thoughts. Only myself.
I stood up, planted my feet firmly on the ground, and said, No more. This stops NOW.
I took my space back.
I set boundaries and laid out conditions for how the relationship could continue.
I refused to allow guilt or worry or anyone else’s opinion to sway me from taking care of myself and reestablishing my safe space.
I picked up the pile of shit they’d laid at my feet and gave it back to them.
This is not my shit. This is your shit.

It was a kind of liberation.

The world didn’t end. Everyone didn’t hate me. I wasn’t alone. I received acknowledgement and support, and my conditions were met and my boundaries are being respected. And i have a place where i feel safe and protected again; a place that feels like it’s mine and i belong there.
I said NO to someone i love and refused to take their shit and something fundamental has shifted inside me.

Those other family and friends? I didn’t sit them down and have a discussion. I didn’t write them a letter. I didn’t have a huge emotional explosion and vomit up all my thoughts and feelings about them and our relationship… I just let them go. It was easy. No one asked me why or even seemed to notice. I stopped calling, i stopped hanging out, but it transpired without remark. People like that can always find another human bin for their trash. I was imminently replaceable. It hurt some, but it was simple. I was ready to stop and there was no fight involved.

This relationship is with someone i love and i am not willing to let go. But i would walk away, give it time and distance, and come back and fight for it later. I was ready and willing to take a break. I was already restocking my spoon drawer and polishing up my arsenal to come back and fight after i’d taken some much needed rest.

The first day after i woke feeling lighter and calmer than i’d felt in months. A massive weight was gone from me. My anxiety level fell so low it was barely a blip on my radar. During my check-in with my system and my body, i found a strange thing inside.
Solid ground. A little piece of something firm to stand on. An island with enough on it to feed and sustain me. Quiet. Safe. It’s mine and it’s me at the same time. All that dirt from digging up the bodies of my past, watered by my tears. All the work, all the sweat, all the ache, all the holes where people used to be. An ocean of tears has filled them in and i’ve built me an island.

I won’t ever sacrifice myself over shit that isn’t mine again. I may stumble a bit, as this was my life’s purpose, but i’ll figure it out and i’ll put a stop to it.

Whatever is coming will come.
I’m ready.

Love and Peace,
~H~
*Gee, i wonder what that could mean.
<insertmassiveeyerollhere>