Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Funnier Now

I can only imagine what it looked like for the third officer arriving on the scene. A young mother, breasts hanging loose under her nightgown, words slurring and feet unsteady in her living room as she fails to steadily find her nose with her finger. There on the stair landing is her daughter who is fourteen but looks more like eleven in her white cotton nightgown, cooly smoking one of her mom's Winston lights as she watches the policemen handcuff her mother and take her away.

How do I wrap my head around all the things I'm angry at my mother for? How do I process this rage that has steadily built for the last twenty years? Anger that wrapped it's slippery tentacles around me even tighter after I had children of my own. Watching my mother get a field sobriety test in our living room is the least of it. It's just important because it is one of the memories I have where other people witnessed what I saw, a memory so lucid, my mother could not diminish it with her own version of events. No way to explain away that one I suppose.

My mother was seventeen when she had me. No poor, uneducated country girl, she was a popular girl, from a good middle-class family who I imagine got horny and had sex with my father, somewhere around homecoming. She graduated high school in June, got married in July and gave birth in August. My Great Aunt loves to recount how that summer, every time she went to the mail box, there was another invitation or thank you card from my mom.

My parents stayed married the cliche seven years before my mother jumped ship. I can't blame her, her and my father were badly matched from the beginning. My mother is the eternal optimist, inhabiting a world she views with the rosiest of glasses, a world that bends to her will. Whereas my father played the ever plodding Eeyore, life's perennial victim. She wanted a big house and an audience and he wanted someone to blame. I used to say that my mother could be in a field of daisies with a train coming right at her and she'd be traipsing around, oblivious to the dangerous train careening in her direction. My father could be in his own field, an expanse of nothing but daisies in every direction and he'd be grumbling looking for the nonexistent dangerous train, unable to enjoy the daisies for even a moment. Me? I imagine I smell the daisies for a few minutes, look around for dangerous trains and then continue my appreciation of the flora. Have you ever actually smelled a daisy? I don't know where the expression 'fresh as a daisy' comes from because daisies smell like butt. I clipped some beautiful long ones from my front garden and put them in a vase in my office. Every once in awhile, I got a whiff of ass and eyed each member of my family with suspicion. Finally I figured out that the real culprit was the bunch of daisies I had plucked.

Some days I wonder if I am like a daisy, pretty petaled on the outside but with something more rank underneath. When I find myself getting angry and ugly, I get even angrier because I don't know what to do with this legacy they gave me. I don't know what to do with my crystal clear memories of the bad choices my parents made and the dangerous situations they put me in. I don't know what to do when my rage turns inward on myself or is channeled outward at my husband and children in the form of frustration and impatience. When that happens I get to add shame to the pile of anger and hostility, so yeah, that's awesome.

And somewhere, at my core, I understand that this isn't my fault and that everyone, everyone, has parent inducing handicaps. But I just don't know how to process all this anger. Any small criticisms leveled at my mother just elicit defensiveness at best and war at worst. So getting some resolution with her is unlikely. I know I should go back to therapy but just the idea of it is exhausting. Many days it's fine and I don't think about it, I don't get angry or frustrated or any of it. But here's the thing, I know I could be better, do better. I just don't know where to start.


  1. I don't know where to start either. Therapy of all kinds, 12 steps, putting positive energy into my own life projects - and still sometimes this kind of shit bites me in my daisy smellin' ass. Who knows, Rubes. I sure don't. Sometimes I think the movie title 'As Good As It Gets' really meant something. Sometimes I just want to tell whomever came up with that title to go fuck themselves because, actually, I plan on having more that I've got. I'm just not always sure how to get it. Or, even worse, I'll think I've got it and find out I don't.

  2. And then sometimes that shit seems like it's a million miles away; something that happened to someone else. Bliss.

  3. One of the most powerful events in my life was a therapy session where I sat quietly, closed my eyes in an already dark room and allowed myself to travel back in time - who I am now - and I met her, me, the 11 year old hurting little girl. I told her stories and I listened to her hurt. I let her bleed all over me, then I pulled her up, sat her in my lap and held her, tenderly stroking her long hair while I gently rocked and hummed a comforting, loving, soul filled tune.

    When I came back to myself, I was changed because I changed her.

    Ruby, you need to love that little girl sitting on the stairs.

  4. Bad news: I still don't know what to do with the kind of anger you talk about. I'm starting to suspect that the answer is not resolution but forgiveness - real, deep down forgiveness. I've a long way to go.

  5. What good points. Seriously. I mean, ZM, for you to do what you did didn't you have to, in some form, forgive those who harmed you, stop holding them responsible for your healing and take charge of it yourself.
    And Cat, I can tell you I've believed forgiveness is possible on the deepest levels ever since I began to feel compassion for the man who murdered my Grandpa.

  6. i don't think you have to forgive.

    my dad - well, there's a long story there. but ultimately, after yet another episode of "do i really want to get on this rollercoaster again", something came into my brain that really helped me change perspective completely.

    my pain doesn't come from what he says or does - it comes from wanting him to be different than he is.

    which sounds really trite, but thinking about it in that way helped me a lot. he *is* who he is, and he will never be anything else. there are some good parts and some bad parts, and i can wish and wish and wish him to be different, but he's not. i want him to be less selfish, less myopic, less insensitive, less arrogant. but he's not.

    so. this is who he is. and i can prolong my pain by hoping he'll act differently this time, or be a better person, but all my wishing will not change him.

    i dunno. i'm probably not explaining it well, because it sounds overly simplistic and stupid. but it works for me.

    and i'm sorry for your pain.

  7. Mongo - I'm not sure I can say I ever really forgave them. I do know I eventually realized it was my mom who ended up with most of my anger, even though my dad was the drug addicted abusive one. When I grew up, I realized I needed her to protect me instead of staying with him and allowing chaos to reign.

    Then one day, they invented Prozac. By the time I had my first child in my early twenties, all the sudden my dad was a loving, pussycat. The best grandpa a kid could ever have. So I suppose after living around so much disease, I was able to realize he couldn't help it, and I suppose that is its own form of forgiveness.

    My mom and dad are both dead now. Along with two of my three brothers all due to addiction and depression related issues. The third and final brother is nearing his demise. We don't talk anymore because at some point, I had to simply say enough.

    However, one has to be very careful with leaving things unreconciled in your own soul. For me, the anger toward my mom has cause me to have a repeated pattern of running scared at the first sign of trouble with whomever I chose to marry or date. Big trouble, small trouble, didn't matter. One tiny infraction and I'm thinking I must do what she didn't do. I must not allow this man to hurt me or anyone around me. I've still got some work to do there.

    Man, is this a blog or a big therapy session?

  8. Forgiveness is a loaded word in our societies. It can mean patronising, shallow, holier than thou, etc. The word probably even doesn't exist for what I wanted to say earlier.

    Maybe "accepting" comes closer, accepting that people do what they can within their limitations (and selfishness, irresponsibility and defensiveness are limitations), and accepting that just as you inherited blonde hair or freckles, say, you also inherited the upbringing you got.

    Accepting what it's left you with whilst also accepting responsibility to change what you can and want to.

    Which all sounds very pretty, but like I said, I've still got a long way to go on this and I could be wrong. It's happened before. Maybe you need to burn effigies instead, and stick pins in wax figures :)

  9. Jen I actually relate a lot to what you said. I wish my mom were different. I wish she would have grown up before she had a child, I wish she would have picked a man capable of being a father, I wish she would have made better choices, I wish she wouldn't have tried to push me so hard to be like her, I wish she didn't try to steer my choices so much, I wish she wouldn't have brought a man she hardly knew into our household to victimize me, I wish she would have had forethought to think about what that might mean for her nine year old daughter, I wish she wouldn't have spent the better part of my teen years drunk and unavailable, I wish she didn't...

    She has done good things but maybe it's who I am that sometimes I focus on what she's done wrong. I also think some days I need blood. I want her to acknowledge and hurt for the crap I had to wade thru as an adult. The fact that I still deal with this shit makes me angry that she doesn't have to.

    I feel like I am left cleaning up a mess other people made.

    The other day I told myself today, I am only going to think about the awesome things she's done, the helpful, loving, supportive things, because really, sometimes my mom also gets the brunt of my anger because unlike my dad, she showed up, just by being there she was bound to mess up more. And part of me also totally realizes that one's judgement and capability as a parent at 17 is far different than a parent at 32(not that it's all about age).

    Anyhow, thanks for the input ladies, I am reminded that knowing we all have stuff to work out makes me feel better, kind of like realizing it wasn't all Ward and June in everyone's house but mine:)

  10. i think what i was trying to say earlier is this: as long as you are locked into wishing for something that can never be, you are locked into pain.

    but framing it as something YOU can control - by deciding to accept them with all their faults, all their foibles, all their imperfections - allows YOU to control whether or not you're in pain.

    which may just be a mind game. but feeling like the pain is something that's in your ability to do something about, is much better than feeling like you're always at the mercy of someone inflicting it.

    " I want her to acknowledge and hurt for the crap I had to wade thru as an adult. " again, for me, that comes back to wanting them to be different than who they are.

    anyway. i was totally going to write about my mum, but you've stolen my thunder ;)

  11. Oh, write away, like I said, knowing other people have conflicting feelings about their parents makes me feel a little better.

    You know I really think you're on to something because accepting my father's shortcomings(and he had far more) is something I came to terms with in round 1 of therapy. I rarely get mad or hurt feelings anymore b/c I just know, this is who he is and his actions have almost nothing to do with me and almost everything to do with him. I think it's harder with my mom b/c she was the one I was forced to count on since he wasn't there, therefore my expectations are higher.

    Still, I love the idiom of "expectations are just resentments waiting to happen"

    Sigh, thanks for the therapy friends.

  12. Ruby - you are exactly right. You are holding your mom to a higher power of responsibility, just as I did with mine (even though mine wasn't the abuser) - she allowed it to happen.

    I think when we become mothers ourselves, that's when our anger really begins to eat away at us. Especially when my old stuff comes up and I have a really ugly moment in front of my kids.

    The only difference is, I usually end up realizing it right away and apologizing to them for it. Honestly, I think the best therapy there is, is writing. Keep writing about it. Another therapy thing I did once was to write my "pain" letter to my mother, then I read it to a group, processed it, got it out of me, then burned it, like Cat said, in effigy. It helped a lot.

    Or better yet, sit her down one day and tell her. Even if she can't own up to it, it's better than doing it after they are dead, like I did.

    The longer I live and get to know wonderful women who suffered the same as me, I realize, there were no Ward and Junes or Ozzie and Harriots, more like Ozzie and Sharons or Herman and....what was the munster mom's name again?

    One of my ex husbands was raised in a home as close to Ward and June as you could ever imagine. White picket fence existence in the most pristine sense; however, that fucked him up just as much as the rest of us because he couldn't make his willy work. He was taught too much shame and guilt.

    It's all fucked. It's what we do now with what we were given that matters. The Buddhists believe we chose our parents. Figuring out the reasons why IS our journey.

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  14. I hope anyone who wants to write about their mom will write about their mom. I can't imagine the "mama drama" topic has only one post.

    On the topics of acceptance and forgiveness:
    I absolutely agree with the notion that there is a great deal of relief in simply accepting a person (especially ourselves) as they are; assets, liabilities, abilities, lack of ability, etc...That old saying "Love me where you found me, or leave me where I'm at" seems to apply.
    However, even with acceptance I have often been left with inner turmoil and open wounds that still need attention.
    Essentially, I've come up with the following formula -or- theory:
    Acceptance is when I stop fighting.
    Forgiveness is when I become willing to lay my weapons down.

    My life has not always gone so well as long as I'm still carrying my weapons around - even if I'm not actively using them. It is a mentality that, for me, shows up in my life a lot like this:
    Acceptance does get me into a better place. It causes me to get a handle on the fact that a situation or person "is what it is."
    But still, I will walk around with my old lack-of-acceptance weapons, just waiting for something to happen. Even if I'm in a good enough state that I manage not to use them, they're still there. They breed skepticism and suspicion of pretty much anything and everyone coming my way. They drain me of my time, thought and energy and prevent me from being able to fully enjoy moments of bliss, joy, relaxation and spontaneity.

    Forgiveness is about THAT battle; the one that takes place entirely inside of me. It is the antidote to fear. It is the difference between keeping an exhausted eye on anything and everyone that comes my way
    simply living in the flow of life with a belief that the universe is conspiring in my favor and will absolutely give me the tools I need if something or someone harmful shows up; that I don't have to burden myself with constantly carrying my weapons around.

  15. P.S.
    Another favorite of mine -

    "Resentment is like taking a poison pill and expecting the other guy to die."