I am, once again, backing away from my family for my own sanity—not to mention legal liability. I know way more than I care to. I have a brother that drives a city bus for a living, who has already had a heart attack, and still drinks, smokes and eats everything he wants. If he has an attack on the job and lawyers call me regarding if I knew he had had a heart attack, I will not lie for my family’s protection. I will not volunteer the information, but neither will I withhold it.
When Barry passed, I saw it as an opportunity to “get back into life” and participate in family functions. I went to Florida to visit my parents. I started attending get-togethers at my brother’s place. I had bowed out of the family because of dysfunction and not wanting to watch my brothers self-destruct. Then Barry got sick and I could not participate even had I wanted to. Taking care of him was all-consuming. I desperately wanted to get back into the flow of the real world and not feel so isolated. Seeing other humans felt really good at first.
But very slowly, I started feeling the same old feelings. Being patronized. No safe topics of conversation. Witnessing destruction and being expected to say nothing. And now there is a new generation heading down the same damaging path. I was right back to being the baby in the family. That shit got old thirty years ago. I was right back to having zilch emotional energy. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, my family should have been institutionalized generations ago. Actions that had small consequences thirty years ago are now causing immediate devastation. Like the Celine Dion song said, “It’s all coming back to me.”
The difference today? I’m in my fifties. And I am in a massive stage of transition. I am going from being a wife of almost thirty years to being a single woman. I still wear my wedding ring. I call it my “creep repellant.” Any guy that would hit on a woman with a wedding band is not worth talking to. No desire to date. Can’t even imagine it.
Reading the latest issue of Buddhdharma, there is an article called “Packed and Ready for Whatever’s Next” by Tenzing Wangyal Rinpoche. It is about phowa, a practice of transference of consciousness upon the moment of death. The gist of the article is that everyday has opportunities of transition to practice letting go of something, even just walking into a room.
Here’s the paragraph that really impacted me:
“Often, at times of transition, we behave without awareness. We behave with condition, with pain, with fear. We feel we don’t have a choice. Just knowing we do have a choice can make all the difference. We practice not doing, not saying, not thinking…. Once we have calmed down, we find a new space from which can do and say and think, and what we do and what we say might be different from what we originally would have said or done. One thing that we want to be able to see clearly and to say to ourselves is, “If it’s not good I will not make it worse.” Leave it as it is.” [emphasis mine]
My question: When are we ever not in a state of transition? As individuals, our lives are in a continuous state of flux., like it or not. As a nation, we are transitioning from a more predictable state of politics to one of inciting hatred and violating every imaginable norm and calling that “normal.” Everything changes all the time. That’s what is actually normal.
Problems occur when we try to prevent change. Flow is normal and healthy. It’s when something stops the flow (stagnates) that danger soon ensues. Pretending it is still 1985 is not good. Pretending you are young and healthy when the exact opposite is true is not good. Sitting is the new smoking. Non-movement is far riskier than movement. And while we are not changing, the world goes on without us. We get left behind. I saw that happen when I was a Protestant. When I got out of that world, I was shocked at how far behind I had fallen in terms of intelligence and awareness of the world at large. I had not changed. The world had. Getting left behind is very painful.
And now I am trying to “leave it as it is.” My awareness level has increased. I want to participate with less fear and conditioning, if I do participate. If I re-enter that world, I will do so on my terms or not at all. Just like the lesson I learned while dealing with Barry, if I am exhausted and sick, I have nothing to offer anyone. Self-care is the ultimate lesson. To deal with transitions, we all need some reserves. I am building mine up again.
Once again, I stayed home this past Sunday, as opposed to going to my parents’ house, eating supper, and playing games. And, once again, it was wonderful. Sunday was downright restful.
And then it hit me: I have more energy.
I had been going to their place a lot since Barry passed. And my energy had been declining. I had been spending more and more time with my family and it had been depleting all my emotional resources. I can’t believe I did not connect the two. Once I made the decision to, once again, back away from my family, lo and behold, my energy reserves were gradually restored. Imagine that.
Decades ago, it dawned on me that my brothers and I seemed to rotate as to whom was having the greatest drama. When someone would start to get their life together, a different one of us would suddenly be in crisis. Hmmmmmm……………
As I removed myself from the family, I grew out of touch with what was happening, much to my relief. I simply do not want or need to know about illegal or destructive lifestyle choices. As the years went by, I started feeling guilty about not being part of the family and I started thinking that we were all getting older and maturing. In the past few years, and especially since Barry’s passing, I started deliberately participating more in family functions, much to my detriment. I observed the continuing destructive lifestyle choices and realized that my family had actually been learning nothing. Nada. Zilch. My assumption that they were maturing was false. Unaddressed problems plus time equals much more severe problems and consequences. Alanon is always right. When nothing changes, nothing changes. It is all so simple and obvious. As long as one is not in denial.
Perhaps I can deal with my family in small doses, an hour at a time at most. Someday when I have more more energy. On my terms only.
Now I wonder what will happen as I withdraw again. As I reclaim my energy, it will be fascinating to observe. From a safe distance.
I did not go anywhere today. And it was absolutely wonderful.
I’ve been going to my parents’ house on Sundays and having dinner and playing games. But it was emotionally exhausting me, dealing with my dad’s over-powering and obnoxious personality. Sunday was a day of work–without the pay. So not worth it.
Actions have consequences. I have been draining myself every weekend for months. I’m paying the price. Part of my unwillingness to continue is that I need to work for a living and emotional exhaustion has led me in the past to getting sick and taking a long time to recover. I literally cannot afford that.
I have a friend that thinks I am being harsh with my father. Oh well. She suggested that maybe I go to their place every other month to play cards or whatever. The problem is that I don’t know what I want. I’ve been so toasted that all I wanted to do today was nap.
Actions have consequences. I’m not saying that I will never go back, just that I cannot imagine having the desire to do so at this point. This is a consequence of Dad’s behavior. Am I hopeful he will change his ways? Not even slightly. Learning seldom occurs in my family. The hope is not there.
Actions have consequences. I am willing to provide a chunk of my liver to Bob if I am a match and he lives long enough to even get it. I am always willing to support healthy change. He has stopped drinking. But the only reason this is a remote possibility is that I haven’t done the bad things to my body like they all have. I am not suffering the consequences of decades of liver abuse. That is why I have something to offer.
The lesson I have been learning over and over is that the only way I have anything to offer is to take really good care of myself. I did not learn the lesson with Barry. Being a wife is different than being a friend or daughter. It is something you sign up for. The boundaries are pretty close to non-existent. Till death do us part. And boundaries are anathema to my family. I have had to learn them as an adult and they are a definite weak spot for me. I usually do not know what my limits are–until they are crossed.
I just try to do no harm. I’m not saying that I am great at that, but I am learning that the principle starts with myself.
I am emotionally exhausted.I feel like everyone is dying. I know that that perception comes from Barry’s death combined with my brothers’ health going downhill all in the past couple years.
But when I hear people talking about other humans like they just don’t matter, a whole different part of me freaks out. This feels apocalyptic. There is a tropical storm entering Louisiana right now. Name? Barry. The power went off tonight for about 40k New Yorkers tonight. The lights are going out in this country, literally.
I told my mom today that I wouldn’t be coming over anymore and playing cards. I told her that I felt Dad simply lacked compassion and empathy and that when he started defending the Japanese interment camps, my immediate emotional conclusion was, “OMG. Dad has no soul.” I told her that it was just too exhausting to go over there and that it wasn’t enjoyable for me.
Do I feel guilty and ashamed? A little. But I also feel hugely relieved. I am prioritizing my needs. I would rather feel guilty and ashamed and get some emotional rest than to plod along feeling guilty and ashamed and get even further depleted.
I told Ma that she was the person I felt bad for, watching her sons die. It turns out Mike had a stroke, is paralyzed on his left side, and is now on hospice. His oldest son doesn’t think he has long to live.
I simply cannot feel bad for my father. Narcissists always get their needs met. This is part of how they operate. They push past everyone else’s limits and then when someone has the audacity to set a boundary, they cry foul and say you are hurting their feelings. He can push, push, push,and I am supposed to just suck it up and take it. NOT. I am unwilling to push back. I am just done.
Am I done forever? I don’t know. All I know now is that I am emotionally exhausted and my tolerance for push, push, pushing right now is zero.
I have been watching a disturbing trend. Some of them want to be seen as highly intelligent and are doing complicated mental gymnastics to justify maintaining or reverting back to a status quo that serves the few at the expense of the many. They are asking leading questions that go only to answers that ensure that “undesirables” have no enforceable civil rights.
Here’s the problem: If you add up enough groups, you can end up with a total of close to 100%. People that are scared of everyone not exactly like themselves create problems for themselves and everyone around them.
Let me give an example. I know this lady that went to the Greek Orthodox church with me. One day she told me that she did liked neither the Greeks nor the Work of Christ people. The Work of Christ is a non-denominational community that is self-supporting. These people go to each other’s weddings, open houses, etc. Almost every single non-Greek in the church is a Work of Christ person. I looked her in the eye and said, “Uhhhhhh…. Let me get this straight. You don’t like the Greeks or the Work of Christ people. There really is no third category of people that attend. That pretty much includes everybody. So you’re basically telling me that you don’t like anyone at that church.”
When conservatives don’t like feminists, LGBT’s, Hispanics, Blacks, socialists, Muslims, and poor people, then they pretty much don’t like anyone. Almost everyone I know, outside my family of origin, belongs to at least one of those categories. And some people I know belong to multiple categories because these classifications are not mutually exclusive.
What’s scary to me are the intellectual lengths people will go to just to make sure other people never have rights and to make it sound reasonable. I have heard all the specious arguments. I have been asked the (mis-)leading questions. Questions are important because if you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant. Conservatives are asking a lot of misleading questions, but some of us understand the goals behind the questions. We are not fooled.
Last weekend, I saw my dad. He was his normal conservative, narcissistic self. Then, he started defending the Japanese interment camps during WW II. OMG. I can’t wrap my head around that. We did not inter Americans of Italian or German descent. At one point, German was actually the state language of Wisconsin. Are you going to arrest Wisconsin? Or all the Italians in New York? Bottom line: Italians and Germans are both white and Christian. This was pure racism. Period. Japanese are neither white nor Christian as a whole. Some are Shinto and others are Buddhist.
Back to current reality. I realized that my parents love me because I am theirs. I belong in their microscopic circle of concern. Everyone outside that circle is not their concern. At all.
It gave me the serious creeps. This feeling has been creeping up on me for a while, but it is nauseatingly in-my-face now. I feel like a Jew in Nazi Germany in 1933 or 1934. The winds of change are blowing and I feel something isn’t right.
I found the poem that came to mind: “First they came for the Jews” by Martin Niemoller.
“First they came for the Jews/and I did not speak out/because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the Communists/and I did not speak out/because i was not a Communist
Then they came for the trade unionists/and I did not speak out/because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for me/and there was no one left/to speak out for me”
Conservatives are not bad people. I happen to love a few of them. But lacking basic human empathy and compassion is a problem. I don’t have to be supportive of the politics of people lacking basic humanity. The challenge is to not lower myself to their level. I still love them. I just don’t admire them. Or wish to be like them on any level.
My gut-level reaction is “eeeeeuuuwwwww.” It is well-founded. May I never lose compassion for my fellow humans and become like my parents. Ever.