I have been watching videos by Dr. Les Carter. OMG. They are so good. Or maybe they just speak to exactly where I am at.
I have always felt like a victim of my dad. I watched him push, push, push, his father to the point where Grandpa would get angry and flustered. I remember wondering, “Why is Dad so mean to Grandpa?” Even as a pre-teen, my dad’s behavior confused me. Now I am 52 years old and he does it to me. And I am DONE.
The video I just watched was all about the predictable things narcissists do and how they are addicted to control. This I can relate to. I have watched my alcoholic brothers ruin their own lives. I have seen the Jellineck charts that show all of the extraordinarily predictable stages of addiction. If you know that A leads to B, which leads to C, which leads to D… and you see B, you do not need supernatural powers to know that C is coming next. The timing may vary, but the timing is the only thing that varies.
Not only is there no need for me to be a victim and simply accept how he treats me, but I also now have the ability to predict the dysfunctional crap he will throw at me. The mystery is gone.
I am going to get political now. This stuff is so relevant for today. People throw around the term “narcissist” very easily and say Trump is a narcissist. This is not “pathologizing” the President. The description is accurate. Trump is a full-on narcissist. He suffers from what Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as “terminal uniqueness.” Only he can solve the problem (that he himself created and takes zero responsibility for). Only he is the “chosen one.” When completely at fault, his strategy is to blame, blame,and blame some more. Once you understand what you are dealing with, you can actually predict what he will do next. That is the narcissist’s blind spot. They delusionally believe they are unique while the reality is that everyone has their number. Everyone. The code he speaks in, everyone already has the accurate translation of, with the possible exception of his more ardent followers.
More dots connected…
I have always thought that I had many problems. I knew I had toxic shame, perfectionism, suicidal tendencies, and odd dissociative periods (is this real?). I have spent my entire life trying to address my many emotional problems. After all, my family always gave me the impression that I was the one with the problems. Everything got projected onto me. I took responsibility, sometimes consciously and sometimes completely subconsciously, for all the issues I encountered.
The problem? These were not all my issues. I had no power then nor now to address other people’s issues. When I was in the sixth grade, I got sent to therapy. Don’t get me wrong. I totally needed help. But look at the bigger picture: all my brothers were getting their girlfriends pregnant, using drugs and alcohol, and getting in trouble with the cops and I got sent to therapy.
And, worse yet, my dealing with my problems only took me out of their equations. I could barely deal with my problems and I knew I had no desire to be blamed for other people’s stuff. So I backed out of the family.My family always thought I should get help. And I did. And it made me at least semi-functional. But the more I understood about myself, the less I had in common with any family member. Knowledge and common sense put me on the outside of my family,much to probably everyone’s relief. Without the inclusion of knowledge and common sense, my family predictably went off the rails. But my marriage to Barry and my support or his sobriety trumped all that. I make no apology for being supportive of a good man.
And now I have reached a new level. I have realized that all of my problems are the exact same issue manifesting in a dozen different ways in a dozen different circumstances. It’s all crippling shame from dealing with a narcissistic father and chemically-addicted brothers. In school, it showed up one way, at work, another. Every situation evokes a different angle. It’s like a ball of string. It’s all knotted up,but it’s all one string. I have hit the core of the onion, where all the previous layers of dysfunction have been stripped off.
After Labor Day, I am contacting an inner child therapist. I believe my dysfunction started before I had language (pre-verbally) to defend myself. I have read hundreds of books and had thousand of hours of therapy. My current therapist is a nice lady, don’t get me wrong, but the things she tells me evoke a “Duh!” reaction within me. I know all this stuff consciously. That’s not the issue. If logic and reason could resolve my problems, I would be perfect by now. Seriously. I am a little Sheldon Cooper-ish. I am almost too logical. The shame is not amenable to logic and common sense. It feels like it is in my bones. That’s what tells me it is pre-verbal. In other words, this crap is sub-conscious.
This sub-conscious stuff is the hardest stuff to address because talking rationally about a sub-conscious issue doesn’t touch the emotional component. Racism is a good example. We can talk 24/7 about how all humans are equal. It makes zero difference. Here are some historical realities no one talks about. Blacks used to be bought and sold like cows, horses, and pigs. In the Constitution (or the Declaration of Independence, I’m not sure), Blacks are to be counted as three-fifths of whites (human beings). In the sub-conscious of many white people, that makes inter-racial sex akin to bestiality. Sensitivity training can never undo the “Eeeeeuuuuwww!” reaction many whites have to inter-racial sex. That visceral sensation is not touched by logic and reason and it never will be.
When Barry died, I wanted to “get back into life” and start a new relationship with my family. I walked right back into all the sub-conscious crap I left thirty years ago. Not a damn thing had changed. And, before I knew it, I once again wanted to off myself. The sub-conscious stuff had gone nowhere. And now it is getting passed on to the next generation, which is even more tragic. I can’t watch the same train wreck twice.
I thought I had all these distinct, discrete problems. No. I have one big problem that manifests according to the situation at hand. Dealing with this is even more important than my job. I can never get a better job or improve my life in any meaningful way until this gets addressed. Period.
This has been a very healing weekend. I feel so loved.
I have been trying to figure out how to deal with a narcissistic father and my lethal shame. I still don’t have a lot of answers, but I know one thing: I am going to try to honor my limits. What can I handle, relationship-wise, with my dad? I don’t know, but my tolerance (and not his agenda) will drive my behavior.
My New-Age-y friends and I tie-dyed tee shirts, walked around a labyrinth, made papier mache suns. It has been so cool and rejuvenating. I am sad to go home in the morning, but this is the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
This place is up by Big Rapids and Ferris State University. They have an actual Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Really weird. I am at the Inn at the Rustic Gate. Rustic is about right. There is no cell service out here! But they have WiFi. People kept hopping in their cars to go try to get cell reception. The place is beyond peaceful. And the food is fantastic. And they own a cat, Einstein. He rules and he knows it.
I even have deepened my relationship with a couple of lesbians who live in Bellingham, Washington, Jen and Miriam. Jen is now a professor out there. She got her PhD at MSU. These women know what it’s like to walk away from family and develop actual healthy relationships. I admire them both.
I am so grateful for this weekend.
Also, it was Linda’s birthday. We all chipped in for her gift. I forgot what it was, but she said this birthday was very special because of all of us. She goes home to her PhD botanist at MSU husband. She is the one that seems to live in a parallel reality and comes to visit earth occasionally. She totally lives in her right brain. I don’t understand her much, but we love each other a lot. She just seems to live a most interesting life.
I know some of the most interesting people.
I’ve been reading a lot about shame. And connecting dots all over the place.
One thing I have read is that toxic shame can cause dissociative experiences. OMG. I have had so many of those experiences that it is creepy. When I am under serious stress, I can be unsure of even my existence.
How did none of my therapists make the connection, ever? Everything I read about toxic shame applies to me.
One of the things about shame I had forgotten was that addiction is driven by shame. One more thing I have in common with my brothers, only I have had to tell my self-loathing stone cold sober.
Buddhism talks a lot about no-self, but this is not what they have in mind. You cannot sacrifice something you were never in full possession of in the first place.
The difference between now and thirty years ago is that I now have the time to focus on myself and deal with this. And deal with it I must. I know viscerally that absolutely no part of my life can work until I deal with this issue. Not career, friendships, work, family, nothing. I thought getting an MBA would give me confidence. Nope. It just doesn’t work that way. I have to deal with this.
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.