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.

Curb Appeal

When i was crying in therapy yesterday, my therapist asked if i wanted the weighted blanket. Instant Nope! because i hate that thing. Then she asked if she could come closer and help me feel better. To maybe put her hands on my bouncing knees. No thank you, because touch is too much. Then she helps me find something i can do to honour and respect how my body is reacting. It doesn’t matter how small, she says. All i can muster is 1 foot, up on its heel – a sign. My body is saying Stay away.

I know i’m not saying stay away to her. I know i’m saying it to people who’re long gone from my life. She stands in their stead for me, knowing how much i need to say No, and I don’t want that, and You can’t do that, and Don’t touch me.

My foot, saying Do not come closer. Stay back.
My knees, bouncing. Let’s get the fuck outta here.
My eyes, always glancing between the window and the door. Avoiding her gaze. But it’s not her read i’m trying to hide from. It’s other prying eyes. Eyes that looked into mine and read me to use me better. My mother, reading every book, attending all the conferences, learning how to get more of what she wanted from people through subtle manipulations. People wanted to open up to her. They wanted to give her what she wanted.

I always opened up to her and gave her what she wanted.
Even my brain was hers to poke around in.
She purposely made some of the parts that live here with me.

So i look away from my therapist and calm myself by looking at the door i can rush out of, or if worse comes to worst, there’s always the window.
She doesn’t take this personally. She lets me set fear-based boundaries because it’s symbolic. It’s healing and empowering for me to say No! and set limits, even unreasonable ones.
Don’t touch me.
Don’t talk to me.
Don’t look at me.

This is the beginning of learning to soothe and comfort and care for myself. And this may be the hardest thing i ever do. (Yeah i know i keep saying that, but JFC, if you could “Strange Days” my current experience you’d understand – this shit keeps amping up!)

I was born to be a receptacle for pain, frustration, rage, sickness, filth.
I was taught it was my job.
I was also taught that i deserved it.

My therapist looks at me with care, her eyes are watery.
She says, “I could wind up and smack you across the face as hard as i could, and you would probably be able to handle that more easily than my offer of kindness and care.”
She asks me questions about how i’m feeling, and all i can come up with is a head shake and an I don’t know. But that’s not quite right. I have thoughts and feelings all jumbled up inside me, and words want to come out, but there’s so many i can’t isolate any one thing in order to make sense. It would just be a big, soupy spew.
So i demure, frustrated, and full of vitriolic froth.

This is my life right now. It’s therapy. It’s my absolute #1 priority. I mete out my spoons, Scrooge-like, becoming more miserly with each passing week.
I cannot care about this right now; i need my spoons for therapy.
I cannot share space with this person right now; i need my spoons for therapy.
I cannot deal with this situation right now; i need my spoons for therapy.

This is gonna have to wait.
YOU are gonna have to wait.
I NEED MY SPOONS FOR THERAPY.

I’m curating my life like i learned to curate my social media exposure.
I won’t be making any new friends or any big decisions (hell, even small decisions).
If there’s something not working in my relationships or my daily routines, it’s all getting stuffed in a junk drawer for now because i’m constantly exhausted and stressed dealing with this stuff and there is no room for anyone else’s feelings or issues or problems.*

There’s a baby in my brain. She’s in a frilly bassinet and i have someone that watches over her. Other parts are allowed to go and visit her, but only if they’re in a good place – or at least good enough not to cause trouble. I’m sorry to say she’s not alive, but she is beautiful, and perfectly preserved. Behind her is a vault, where i keep the toxic waste. I thought that was the best place to keep it, locked to all but me. I’ve been gathering it over the years – slurping it up into tanks in my hazmat suit. Hiding it behind metres of steel and locks only i can open. It’s the stuff that killed me as a baby, and poisoned the rest of us. I thought it would stay there, safe and untouched, forever.

But now i know it’s got to go. And i know how to do it, too.
I made a door at the back of the vault. It opens like a big metal one in a scifi show. There’s an episode of Star Trek: TNG, where the ship accidentally travels beyond space and time, “Where No One Has Gone Before”. Beyond my back door lies this place. It will swallow the tanks and they’ll no longer be capable of bringing harm to anyone. They’ll be timeless, formless – existing and yet, not.
I’m preparing to dump them overboard.

*There are exceptions, for instance my kids, or if someone isn’t asking for too much from me and i want to give them some. “Want to” being the important part. Drama is the onion on my pizza right now – and i pick that shit off, man.

**********

I was getting groceries yesterday, and a lovely woman i know commented on my appearance, and asked me how i’ve accomplished my weight loss. I told her, “I changed one thing about the way i eat, and i did that one thing until it became a part of me. And then i changed one more small thing and did it again.”

And that is exactly how i’ve been chipping away at the 100lbs i’ve been struggling with since around 2009.
Yes, 10yrs. Yo-yo-ing the same 30lbs or so, over and over, with diets and food plans and shakes and pills.
But that entire time, i was learning things. About myself, about food, and about how i used food and how i relate to food, and how all of that is affected and shaped by who i am as a person and the trauma i endured growing up.

So while it may have looked like i was stagnating in my 100lbs-overweightness, i was absolutely not. I was tearing myself down to my foundations and building myself back up: Better. Stronger. Faster. (Like Steve Austin, except i’m Jamie Sommers.)
Yes, it’s taken years. That’s okay with me, because i know that i’ll never be obese, morbidly obese, or knocking on the door of super morbidly obese, ever again. My weight might still fluctuate on occasion, but i have infrangible confidence in my ability to handle it, should a problem arise.

As i’ve moved through therapy and learned about who i am and how i work, i’ve been able to tweak what i eat and how i eat. I no longer become despondent when something doesn’t work. I just try something else. I know that i’m in this for the long haul and i can trust myself to stick with it, and everything… Well, everything is gonna be okay – or at least some version of okay that i can live with while working towards a better okay. Or –what the hell– why not try for better than okay?

Then it hit me. I’ve done the exact same thing with my mental health.
It’s been 15yrs of looking my diagnoses full in the face and working on living with my abusive childhood, all to achieve a better quality of life. I’ve lost treasured relationships and i’ve abandoned even more.
I’ve been judged, whether unfairly or justly, to be too fucked up to associate with by many. I started out being devastated by this, but eventually i learned it was their right, and kind of not my business.
Then i thought i could avoid this by starting each new friendship with a serious, candid warning about how i can be a lot, so honest, open communication is helpful…
Sometimes that’s worked and sometimes it hasn’t.

I must’ve seemed like a freakshow that derailed a train.
Well, i know i did, as some people were kind enough to tell me so. /s
Ah, thanks?

I wasn’t any of that, though.
I was tearing myself down to my foundation so that i could build myself back up with better materials, in a style that suited me. Me. Not them. ME.
I was a bit of a fixer-upper, yes. And the renos have taken a loooooooong time, yes.
But i’m no money pit.
And no, i’m not on the market. I do the odd showing, but most people will just have to admire me from a distance. I’m private property.

I’ve been tweaking myself like i’ve been tweaking my diet and my lifestyle and my relationships. I’m just finally starting to reflect on the outside, all the work i’ve been doing on the inside.

So there.
Neener.
And also, How about that, eh?

Happy Monday.
Love and Peace,
~H~