As soon as i hear the words “you should… ” i’m out.
I remember an old nugget from 12-step that refers to “terminal uniqueness”, and while i understand what they’re getting at, i reject the concept. There literally cannot be another person exactly like me, as i’m not an identical twin, and human cloning isn’t a thing. And since we’re all gonna die… There you go. I’m terminally unique. So what?
I spent my upbringing plus some years after only doing what i was told, and then doing what i imagined other people would want me to do. At 21 i briefly rebelled by having a relationship with a woman for nearly 2yrs. When that ended in disaster and i immediately went out and got myself pregnant, i saw it as confirmation that my way was the wrong way, and i returned to being/doing what i thought was expected of me… Mostly.
Having a child seemed to give me an ability to stand up for things that had to do with him. I defied my family a number of times where he was concerned. I received a few phone calls whenever they discovered that i wasn’t raising him the way they thought i should. I bucked family traditions. Despite still being willingly tied to their toxic religion and having a boatload of hangups and twisted thinking due to its entanglements in my thinking and lifestyle, i did manage not to inflict some of the worst of it on my boys. They were raised with a healthy body image, and in a relatively sex positive household.
I went directly against some of my former religion’s most stridently applied dogma, as well. Once my obsessive and unhealthy relationship with my girlfriend ended, i made sure i only chose partners for whom my feelings were mild and manageable. I was looking for bed partners, for the most part, although i played at being engaged to please my family. When i stumbled across real romantic love for the first time, a friend confronted me with my hypocrisy. I was regularly attending church, and actively involved in anything they did outside of Sunday services. My friend, who was experimenting with a possible return to the faith, pointed out that i would be judged a fornicator by my own purported standards.
She was right, i was convicted, and i promptly asked my boyfriend to marry me.
(SPOILER: He said Yes, and we’re still together.)
Looking back, i can see how dissociation was at play, here. I’d been highly sexualised as a child, and some of my Bits N’ Pieces were created specifically to handle that. They remained a part of my system even after the abuse had stopped, and were definitely the impetus behind some of my sexual behaviours once i became an active adult, i.e. sexual by choice. I was a dutiful young woman, trying hard to be the model of what my religion expected of me. I studied its book, its dogma and tenets, deeply, and at length. I pondered and “meditated” (quotes because my multiplicity has made proper meditation impossible), and yes, prayed on all of it at length – both on my own and in groups led by my church.
I just… i don’t know. It wasn’t a willful or conscious decision. As soon as someone called me on it, i knew i was in the wrong and immediately took steps to set things right. Yet i’d been having sex since i was 21, and i was religious all along. My mind did what it does and glossed over whatever it didn’t want to know. I took my sex life and compartmentalised it, as i’ve been known to do on occasion. Heh.
Other things come to mind, too. Like when my stepfather would tell my son as he was ending a visit, “You take care of your mom now, y’hear?”
I would instantly respond that children don’t take care of adults, and i would reassure my son that it’s my job to take care of him. And that’s weird, because i didn’t talk back to him at that time. (I did some, to him and my mom as a teenager, and have no regrets. I wish i’d said more, but that horse galloped off years ago.)
I also wouldn’t allow anyone to coerce my children into hugs, or physical touch of any kind. Yet i had no touch boundaries of my own, with anyone – especially family. It was less than 10yrs ago that i realised i’m not a very touchy person. Even now, it’s so ingrained in me that i’ll initiate hugs when stressed/dissociated. But no one could touch my kids without their permission.*
And then there’s my extended family.
First though, i must confess. When my 2 older children were both under 5, i was close with my siblings. They’d spend lots of time with me at my house (i’m older than they are, and they have a different father). When i had my second boy, i launched into what i now know was a mild mania. I became obsessed with 12-step programs, and the friendships that i had as a result of that. I used my sibs as babysitters. Some of it was reasonable, like, when one of them was staying with me and not paying room/board. However, as i became more manic, i drifted away from “the program”, started frequenting bars, and began dating my first and only BadBoyBoyfriend (BBB).
He was trouble. My first relationship was a tumultuous one, filled with chaos, some violence, cheating, and general immaturity. I mean, we met at a halfway house, she was a violent alcoholic, and i’d been kicked out of my family because one of them tried to rape and asphyxiate me. We were fucked up kids and both of us acted that way. After that debacle, i only dated people to whom i wasn’t very attached.
Cue BBB. I was manic, and he was a handsome, charming ladies’ man. He pursued me, and i was dazzled. No guy like that had ever wanted me so brazenly. Hit me up for sex when no one else was around/available sure, but want me for a relationship? Aw, hell no. He was on parole for cocaine and beating up cops, and he was *ahem* very experienced, which was new for me. Hindsight makes it clear that i was a naive, overweight girl who’d spend money on him, and he was lonely and broke.
He took me on a number of kooky, fun adventures, and that’s when i really took advantage of my sister and brothers, using them as babysitters too often and for far too long. My heart and my bank account were flat busted when he was done with me, and i’d done irrevocable damage to my relationship with my sibs. Screwed blue and tattooed! as he’d have put it. But hey, i met my husband shortly after that, so it worked out for me in the end. (I’m now comfortably estranged from all extended family, save 1 precious cousin.)
All this buildup is to say that i had 1 more hard rule when it came to my children, a boundary that i didn’t set for myself until yeeeears later. When my sibs would be looking after my boys, they knew not to evereverEVER leave them alone with any other family members. Their secrets are sick and deep, and i knew it firsthand. It’s a long and sordid story why i was still involved with any of them, but we won’t be going there. They’re still alive, still sick AF (in my opinion), and i’m not going into personal crap that they might decide requires a response. The important part of it is that, even though i was still seeking their acceptance and approval, part of me knew they posed a potential threat to my boys, and so i protected them from situations where they might be vulnerable.
I don’t know why i’m writing about this today, or what specific point i’m trying to make, if any. My ability to compartmentalise is something that i’ve been looking at in depth recently, and i guess i just find it interesting.
All the times i said No once we got away from the man i called Daddy, and someone hit me up for sex.
All the times i sniffed out danger and got away. (I didn’t always, but i did often enough for me to feel compelled to examine it more closely.)
How i raised my boys with healthy boundaries, instinctively.
All the times i advocated for them against people i was taught to obey.
How i had no hesitation saying No for them, when i couldn’t for myself.
All the times i avoided the toxic kinds of romantic entanglements i so often saw others who’d been through childhood abuse get into.
How i had the sense to choose a good, kind, gentle, hardworking partner. I chose the absolute perfect person for me. After everything that’d been done to me; how they’d broken me, shattered me, mercilessly crushed me – how in the hell did i do that?!
I’ve come to see it as the gifts being a multiple gave me. The way my brain works enabled me to secrete parts of myself that my abusers must have been sure they’d destroyed.
My body autonomy.
My sense of self.
My ability to mother.
My desire for healthy attachments.
My freedom to choose.
Today i bristle at being told what to do. I can stubbornly stand my ground, even when it’s against people i love or those in positions i was taught to obey and not question. I say No often. I’ve drifted away from toxic people and toxic behaviours. I don’t answer the door when they knock. I’m no longer blindly obedient to anyone or anything. I make up my own mind; no one tells me what to think anymore. And woe to any and all who’d try to “should” me.
Perhaps i’m writing about this because i’m in the process of mending the severed connections between my thoughts, my feelings, and my sensations. Maybe this work is deepening and broadening my insight. I think that maybe, just maybe, i’m feeling not only compassion for myself, but some serious appreciation for how amazing i am. Hell, i might just be Queen Amazeballs of Crazy Island.
If so, i’mma need a crown.
Until next time, y’all hang in as best you can, and i promise i will, too.
Love and Peace,
I am bigger on the inside
But you have to come inside to see me…
We are so much bigger
Than another one can ever see
Trying is the point of life
So don’t stop trying
~ Amanda Palmer
*Unfortunately, while i did set some good protective barriers for my children, i did inflict a lot of religious crap on them. My church promoted homeschooling, so i did that until my oldest was 12 and my middle one was 8. I had NO business doing that. I was ill-equipped, to put it mildly. I lacked the education, the attention span, and the temperament, too. I was descending into mania, and the neglect was undeniable. They were basically not schooled at all.
This is not to say that homeschooling can’t be done well by someone else.