Today is the first day of June. It’s also the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and like any new camper, I’m terrified. I got an email from a high school buddy offering encouragement and a sorta “go get ’em” note and my heart soared because he’s just that nice. It wasn’t a “sorta” go get ’em note, it was a go get ’em note… I’m inserting sorta because I’m a mess about it. His wife won NaNoWriMo last year and he’s among the most honorable guys in the whole world, including my own husband who is truly the cat’s pajamas. My friend and The BreadWinner would get along well.
I think my soul has wanted me to to be a writer since before I was born, but my brain wanted to be one since I was able to spell.
I’m terrified because I’m totally changing my plans at the last minute. I think I want to write about myself instead of the two books I’ve already got in the hopper.
I talk to a lot of people and I tend to give a lot of advice. Most of it I follow myself, except the one that seems to be doing the most damage to me: living for other people.
I’m 44.7 years old and I’m staring down between the barrels of doing what’s gonna be nice for someone else or doing what’s gotta be done for myself.
So I’ll say this: I read a few blogs yesterday (they’re coming up in a sec) and they spoke to me like nothing else I’ve read lately. I have pain in my heart and those blogs showed me that it’s OK to let it out and to talk about things. Don’t worry: this isn’t a tell-all moment. Don’t expect me to tear the lid off my original family’s golden secrets, but I will say this: I am part of that system and I’m a bit messed up from it. I’ve reacted to stuff and danced on peoples’ heads and whipped around like a viper at people because of my anger.
One of my best friends in the whole wide world (I have 4 that I’m not related to) has told me time and again: if you’re gonna tell a story, better make sure it’s yours. She’s not talking about plagiarism; she’s talking about honor. She’s talking about boundaries. She’s talking about not paraphrasing for others on their behalf without their knowledge, input or consent. That would be wrong. And she’s completely right.
So I have to toe a very fine line here. I try to maintain that line whenever I write and I think I do a pretty good job of it.
I woke up this morning knowing about Camp. I was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of doing anything that I wanted to do for myself on my own behalf. It’s hard to separate yourself from your parents and sibs. Very often when one of us would do something well, we would hear about which parent we got that behavior from – it was never a “God-given gift…” it was definitely from one of them or their parents. As related people in a single unit, this is natural: we all intermingle. But I know without a doubt that my older brother does what he wants because he likes it. I mostly do what I want because I like it, but I also hold back a lot because I’m afraid of disappointing my parents; and that holding back is like a pebble in a running shoe; it’s a small thing, but it really slows me down.
I’m not a fast runner anymore.
I’m 44.7 years old.
I have to remind myself this. Even now. My older brother reminds me of this frequently. It stinks. He’s right.
This whole thing is a stream of consciousness, it’s coming off my fingertips and my recall on earlier related thoughts is profound as hell so I think I’m supposed to keep going.
So, blah blah blah, I was feeling pretty low about myself this morning…. I go in for my annual pap smear exam in about an hour, so that’s gonna suck. I mean, really. I’ll stop there, but let me tell all the men out there, that your mom had to do this too, so before you get all, “man, I don’t wanna hear about that… ” you can go take a very long walk off a very short pier. Your mom had a vagina. You were very likely conceived via it. Many of you were born through a vagina (I said it again). I was not. I don’t know what I was missing, but apparently, it’s a big deal. My not being born via a vagina (again! this is fun!) however does not diminish my Self and before I go on any more about that (which I won’t), I will say this: it doesn’t matter to me. VAGINA VAGINA! OK, I’m done. Hey, let’s meet at Target and walk through the lingerie or feminine hygiene section together…
Anyone (this is about my mom here): who is blessed enough to be able to carry a baby to term two years after a previous son didn’t live past three days and deliver those babies however she can is a rockstar to me. Four years after after she had me, she had another son and he’s still here. I love my brothers, I even love the one I don’t know; (true story): I talk to him sometimes.
My mother’s story is amazingly layered, and it’s not mine to tell. She has seen more loss and more tragedy and kept going to experience more, than I can ever imagine for myself. She is one of the strongest people I know, yet our relationship is fraught, because you can’t go over all those bumps in life without knocking over some people. Y’know what kills me? She’s OK with how things are; I mean, she would like us to be closer (and so would I – I just don’t know how, there’s a lot of stuff there), but she’s OK with it. The bottom line is that I love her and even though my life was hard (read on, you’ll see), she must’ve done a few things right or I’d be dead or in prison.
I woke up feeling like dog doo this morning because I happened upon a blog by a new FB blog acquaintance last night which truly humbled me. She’s great, she’s also very successful at what she’s doing. She’s got a thousand outlets and ads and followers and that’s all because I know she works harder than a bumble bee at it. Her blog is called DeBie Hive, and last night I was totally in awe. I saw her confess to something personal: that she had battled anorexia during a time in her life. I stopped reading it after the plug because frankly, I’ve found that kind of writing, those confessionals, to be sorta blech. It’s probably my borrowed WASP upbringing, a lá “We don’t talk about such things, dear.” I feel like confessions like that are supposed to just do what they do: drive interest and increase readership. But I returned to it and I read it and I’m glad I did because she’s still here here to tell the story and proof that there’s a way out of it all. I also accepted that my inability to deal with her confession means more about me than her: that I couldn’t allow a flaw in something and that denying it was better than allowing it. I had to get out of my head the idea that her confession was like a Jerry Springer show: there were no flying chairs or screaming people or crying babies. This was a simple and elegant statement about her past and I know it did her some good to come out and share it. This writer is a cyclone of energy: she’s a doula (they rock), she makes her own four kids’ clothes, makes meals from scratch, writes, has a lot of blogs, is in the process of writing four books and is well, amazing. I wrote her a note, not about the post, but about my newness to her site and my utter amazement I have with all her abilities.* Sheepishly I admitted to myself that I’ve no problem opening a box to start a meal and buying my kids’ clothes from a store.
*(We bloggers never really know if people read our stuff anyway when we post it unless they comment. We just hope they do. I have reached out to people I simply do not know on more than one occasion to let them know that what they’ve written or shared has touched me. I did it last month when I was writing about Ahimsa. The woman I don’t know, a PhD in music and ballet in Connecticut, wrote me back almost instantly thanking me for telling her how what she wrote, her master’s thesis, inspired me. It’s little things like that, those things I’m perfectly happy to do, that can help everyone have a better day.)
I also read a blog by another great writer who’s got a terrific sense of humor, great timing, a wonderful sense of herself and a completely real outlook on her life. Her blog is called I Want A Dumpster Baby and it’s very funny and poignant stuff. She’s a happily (almost giddy) recovering alcoholic and she’s quite clear about it but there is no muttering and self-woe going on. She very much wants to have a baby with her husband and her blog is about her life with that as a mission. She is very honest about her situation and her overwhelming sense of gratitude about her life now in recovery. She writes every Thursday about gratitude and yesterday’s post was totally refreshing and completely inspiring that she’s so out in the open about it. No shame in recovery. No shame in her past; she is here to tell the story and be proud of who she is and gall dang, if that don’t just beat all, I don’t know what does.
Then I read another blog by a woman who calls herself the “incompetent hausfrau” and she’s funny too. She posted briefly, pointedly and succinctly the other day about her alcoholic mother and the numerous violent and unsuccessful attempts her mother has made on her own life. I read with awe because she said at the end that she knows God loves her mother because her mother is still here and that the takeaway at the end is that God loves us all and that We Are All Meant To Be Here. I sighed and reflected on her post: I have experienced some of what she shared as a witnessing daughter to my own mother’s addictions, but I didn’t have the guts to say so because it’s not my story. But as I sit here and stare at this screen and watch my fingers type these words, I realize that just because it’s not my addiction and my pain that my mother experienced, I was involved; I do have a story. I am part of that story.
I am a survivor of and witness to gut-wrenching family dysfunction and suffering. I wasn’t raped or locked in a basement with no food or light. I wasn’t beaten every night, I wasn’t burned or cut, but I suffered emotionally; I was neglected and ignored, secondary to disorders and addictions and coping skills that never meant me personal harm but that hurt me anyway. The word “incidental” comes to mind; “unintentional grounding” (like in football) or “unforced error” (like in baseball); “benign neglect” is another phrase and these experiences have shaped me and made me efficient, indifferent, cold, hard, tough and strong (sometimes I miss those ways!). There is no getting around the fact that I was an encumbrance to a woman who was suffering mental disorders and a father who coped the best he knew how and did everything he could to keep us afloat financially and that meant working like a beaver every day and into the night. My parents are old now: my dad is 80 and my mother will be 78 shortly. They are both very bright – some of the smartest people I know. Mom has a great sense of humor, a bizarre strength that she draws from to keep her going yet not going enough to really recover and empower herself. Regardless of her disorder, there’s something emotional, spiritual holding her back, always has been because no one with her amount of self interest should not be as artistically silent as she is, and while I don’t know exactly what it is, I fear I have it too. My dad is very bright as well, he doesn’t like to talk about problems, he thinks therapy is for other people; he has a very strong sense of his relationship with God that I can not boast for myself. I am envious of the peace he seems to find in Christ. I know it is available to me, I just don’t feel worthy sometimes of God’s love because I am still so angry inside.
The 1960s and 1970s were not a fashionable time to raise children. Women wanted their independence and men were fighting it. All my life I have heard from my mother that she chose marriage over a career on the stage; that she put everything on hold. That she never submitted her cartoons, some of them brilliant, to The New Yorker. We moved in 1981 to a 10-year-old house in Virginia, “a kleenex box” as my mother calls it from an old victorian in Buffalo, NY. The house in NY is luckier for our departure as my parents are reluctant property maintainers. The fact of the matter is that when my parents moved into our first family house in Buffalo, I have been told that a neighbor told my mother that she’d “rather have clean blacks live next door” than my family. Ahh, the 60s in America. My mother still pines for that house. She still talks about the past and her choices as though some of them are still viable. I’ve had regret over not ordering the cheesecake or buying the red heels instead of the navy flats, but to spend your entire mental existence in the “what ifs” and “I coulda dones” is a recipe for a tumor, yet she continues with it. It’s hard to witness, but I have to figure out a way to let it go.
I have proof of that statement about the tumor. A few years ago, when I was in the midst of ACOA, psychotherapy and other fun spiritual and mental purges, I consulted on the phone with someone some of you might consider a quack. She’s not. Her name is Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz and she’s a medical intuitive: she’s a medical doctor with a practice in neurology and brain trauma and also a gifted psychic. I went to her on the recommendation of a friend after suffering for years with IBS. Part of my condition is genetic and part of it is emotional. I called Mona Lisa in July 2007 and she gave me the straight poop. No pun intended. She only wanted to know my age, my name and my gender and off we went. She did a visual scan of my body, my chakras and zeroed in on my 3rd chakra (I’ll write about chakras sometime later) located in the abdomen, which is our place/home of personal power, sense of self, self respect and addictions. If you don’t wanna know about what’s going on between your spirit and your body, don’t contact her because she will absolutely tell you.
She said she saw irritation, intestinal inflammation but no blockages (“Ya got that right!” I wanted to say). She said she saw pain and cramping and discomfort. I was bowled over (almost typed “boweled” – no joke!); rapt with attention. You don’t interrupt her when you’re with her on the phone, you listen and you write stuff down as fast as you can because this chick’s from Vermont and she went to Brown and she’s very high energy and she could see everything that was going on with me. She said, “I see a little girl with straight black hair and short bangs. I feel sad. She’s in a small room, like a closet, surrounded by and combing through bottles, boxes filled with jars, pills, vials, so much sadness. She’s about five. And she’s all alone, crying, too many bottles. Do you know this girl? Do you have a daughter? Who is this child? She needs help NOW.” It was me. She saw me when I was little. I used to have jet black hair. I have fair skin and green eyes. I looked like a tiny Disney Snow White. People were drawn to me.
I felt dizzy hearing Mona Lisa, her voice was hoarse and she talked so fast with a heavy New England accent. I was trying to keep up with the writing and get it all down. Like she was giving me storyboard for a movie. I had some trouble composing myself. She asked me again, rather urgently, if I knew this child she saw. I “mm-hmm’d” into the receiver and she drew a breath and said, almost accusingly but with some tenderness too, “Oh. I see. That was you.” I said, “Yeah. That was me.” She quickly picked up the pace again, “Whose bottles? Why were you in a closet? Were you in a closet? Why were you there?” I sighed. I couldn’t really talk. I didn’t want to go into it. “It’s private,” I said. She said, “No matter. While you’re not there anymore, and you are a 39 year old female, I can assure you that part of you very much is still there; doing something for someone else.” I said sighing, “I guess so.” To which she very abruptly replied, “And you need to get out or you’re gonna end up in radiation in 10 years.”
She said she saw me surrounded by melancholy. I was: this was at the mid-point of my psychotherapy Work and it was exhausting. I remember my parents telling me the summer I started in 2005 that I’d lost my sense of humor, that I was no longer funny. They sensed I was changing and as my therapist said, “When you change the [family] system, the system changes.” I was no longer hard, tough, cold, efficient. I was exposed, vulnerable, tired and soft. I think my parents hated that. I couldn’t let things roll off the back anymore, I had to put up boundaries, talk about my pain, allow my reactions, my presence as it mingled with memories or then-current experiences to be addressed. The next thing Mona Lisa told me was that I needed to fulfill my destiny to be a writer. I had “to write again,” she said. I said, “What do you mean, again?” and she said, “M. C. I. What is that?” I was in corporate communications for MCI eight years prior. There was no way she knew this. She said I needed to get paid, to feel valued, but I didn’t care so much about the income, and I suppose I still don’t, but, I do need to write. And blogging has opened a new world for me. So here we are.
That was in July 2007. I’ve got five years to go before the ten years is up. I do not hate my parents, I do not despise them. But I do not enable, triangulate, entertain or cover for them, or be codependent with them. It’s HARD. Part of my moving on means I must forgive them. I do. I just wish it all that stuff I grew up with never happened. They say “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I’d be OK with being a little weaker, frankly. The other part of me I’m working on is letting go of the guilt I naturally felt for hating what they did for so long. The guilt does nothing good at all ever.
Then last night I got into bed and started to read the latest book on my Kindle, Kristen Lamb’s “Are You There Blog? It’s Me Writer…” which is great for me right about now because it’s all about using social media to establish and connect as a writer. She says, when you’re filling out an application or paperwork at the doctor’s or someone asks you what you do, you say, “I’m a writer.” You just do. And you’re supposed to repeat that every day for like a gazillion times until it sinks in. I’m on “I’m a writer” #3. Kristen also has a great blog for this kind of stuff too. In fact, the one she posted most recently on perfectionism and living for ourselves has hit me in the solar plexus today, given that I’m trying to come to terms with having a story and not living for my parents. I want to be respectful. I want to be honest. I want to help other people (presumptuous I know) and I want to MOVE ON. I have tried for years to unload the baggage of my resentment and anger and fear and shame but it won’t go. It won’t leave. It’s like a water ring on a wooden table or a stain on the deck and so I think that (as I type this) the way for me to heal is to allow the water ring, allow the stain to just be. Stop trying to change it. I just went through my notes from that call with Mona Lisa and she talked about my hope that my mother will be well. Many things have happened in my mother’s life since that call to bring her to a healthier place and I’m grateful for it; it’s just that I’m still there, back in ’07. I guess I better get with the program.
I’m back from going to third base with my doctor. Apparently everything’s where it should be.
My hands are shaking as I type this and weakly sip from my mug. I tell people to live their truth. To shine their beacons, to come out and be proud of their stories but I’m a farce. I don’t do it for myself and I’m filled with such angst and such fear for doing it — that my dad will be mad (sorry dad) and that my brothers won’t speak to me (sorry guys) and that my mother will cry (sorry mom) but the fact of the matter is that I could relate to EACH and every one of those blogs written by women whom my ego said I shouldn’t. More likely, I wouldn’t relate to them. It requires a ton of humility and a ton of vulnerability to allow myself to relate to each of those stories. The things I wanted to say in their comments would’ve been tantamount to this post and that’s pretty hoggish of me. Plus I was tired. I will bravely link to them all in their comments with this post. I’d give them an award if I could.
But the fact is that I wanted to reach out to all of these women and hold them, selfishly, for a moment to feel something. Feel their promise, their enthusiasm, their optimism. I appreciate and can relate to each of them.
Regarding DeBie’s confession: looks and appearances have been very important to my parents, especially my mother. I had braced put on when I was a pregnant and frumpy 32 year old. When the came off, I went to show my parents. My mother zoned in on my teeth, removed her glasses for a better view and looked at them. She said, “Ahh, very nice. Now do something about your eyebrows.” I couldn’t believe it. Rewind 20 years to high school when I subsisted on ramen noodles and diet cherry 7-Up for about two years as I rode my bike 5 miles a day sometimes two times a day in all manner of weather. Both my parents were 20-30 pounds overweight but they were very interested in my never being overweight. When it got cold, I bought an indoor trainer and worked out that way. I’m 5’4.5″ (the doctor said so today) and I got down to 108 lbs. I had 12% body fat and I lost my period for a bit there. I didn’t tell anyone; I don’t know if anyone noticed. I was very likely at a healthy weight to begin with. I didn’t do the barfing or anything like that, but I abused myself: I told myself I was ugly, fat, gross and a disgusting pig. I saw that my friends who had dates were thinner than I was and my brother who had a girlfriend at college but who lived in the area told me about the diet cherry 7-Up. I can’t remember what made me stop, I think I just got bored with it. I didn’t see myself as “better” than I was before and I missed food.
That’s the odd thing about me: I used to smoke cigarettes, but I seldom bought my own; I smoked my friends’ and they were OK with that; it meant they didn’t have to do it alone. I wasn’t addicted to them, but I smoked them because my friends did. It was stupid to do, I see that now but it’s no mystery to me how people can get addicted.
Regarding I want a Dumpster Baby: As for drinking, yeah, I was definitely into that. I drank like a fish on the weekends starting my junior year in high school and then through college and into my 20s. I never drank during the week because That’s What Alcoholics Did. I drove drunk. I even got pulled over a couple times for it, but I was written for speeding. The drinking coalesced with my weight loss pursuits because when I’d wake from a party the next morning I’d be about 3 pounds lighter from the dehydration. I remember seeing my mom’s myriad AA booklets lying around the house and mentally answering at the questionnaires: yes, yes, yes, yes, no, yes, mmm I dunno, yes, yes, …
I was in trouble, but as typical of me, I skirted the edge just enough to not get worse. At my wedding, I wouldn’t drink because I knew that if I had more than the champagne at the toast that I would be toast. So I drank Snapples and water and Nesteas. I don’t remember a lot of my older brother’s wedding three months after mine in ’94 except getting very sick the next morning and that tears me up. I drank too much a lot. Then I got pregnant and it all stopped like a grand piano crashing on the pavement outside a townhouse in Manhattan. I am grateful for my son for that. I knew, and friends will attest to my saying this: The moment I have children, my life is no longer Just About Me. Some friends seethe when I say it, but the reality is that NO CHILD has ever asked to be born into a crappy home life. I never looked back at alcohol ravenously after my sons were born. I can’t say I never had cravings, I just know I didn’t address them. I am lucky in that I had no biological dependence on alcohol. Now I just have a glass of wine with dinner when we have steak; I don’t much like white wine. I hope and pray and remain vigilant that the rest of my life will be just as stable.
The thing is though (and if you’re still with me, you’re a wonderful person because we’re at almost 4,500 words), just because I don’t have … look, if I compare myself with other peoples’ stories like I almost just did, I’m not learning anything.
My baggage is mine and I appreciate you getting this far with me. I hope it wasn’t too painful and that you were able to pee if you had to after starting. If I press “Publish” on this, there’s no turning back for me. Kristen Lamb says to do something that terrifies you every day. This terrifies me. Heart’s pounding…
I have many friends to thank for their support, specifically friends from 1986 graduating class of Lee High School. And even the long-lost friends from all my paths in life from whom I’m estranged, they matter too. Like it or lump it, they taught me things too. And you new fans and readers, I thank you too. Do you know that I end every post with “thank you” for a reason?: it’s because I’m grateful you’re here.