I wanna be big and let go of this grudge

Don’t you just hate it when you spend years helping someone you love escape an abusive relationship (and protect her, and care for her kids, and scoop her off the floor and dry her tears) and just when she starts to feel whole again, she reconnects with her abuser? I would hate that too…if it wasn’t me who did it.

In the fall, I dropped by my parents’ apartment one day while I was driving by. I hadn’t seen them in 3 years. I was in a deep depression, feeling very alone and really needed someone to be really happy to see me. They were.

Since then, I’ve met my mom for coffee, introduced her to my kids, and started talking to her on the phone once in a while. At first, I was able to set and maintain very clear boundaries with her. I just ignored the potentially hurtful things that she said and focused on the positives. But I feel that my boundaryis beginning to slip. I feel I am being pushed too close to her spider’s web.

The borderline witch persona inside my mother peaked her head out last week. I shouldn’t have been surprised… but it really gets me every time.

I was hurting and asked her to help me in a way that I needed, rather than the way that she wanted to be seen helping. This triggered her rejection sensors. From there, she went into survival mode and (as always) kicked me when I was down. #storyofmylife.

I desperatly want to repair my relationship with my mom. I want to help her feel less alone, less lost. But she hasn’t changed. The behaviours that pushed me away (and tore me apart) are still engrained in her. I know now that it’s not her fault, that she has a serious mental illness and that her motivation is self-protection and not directly intent to hurt, but that doesn’t make the slaps sting less.

By going back to my mom, letting her into my new life and into my head, I think that I may have hurt the people who have really been there for me throughout these impossible years. I imagine that they feel frustrated, used and see me as ungrateful. They all worked hard with love to help me escape my abuser just to have me turn around and jump back into the lion’s den.

The people who were there for me- I can count you on one hand and I don’t thank you enough. IJ, HB, SA, SJ and (of course) OA, you kept my life together while I fell apart. You all became a team with a mission to save my kids and protect me from myself. You made sure that I had a life to come back to. For that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.

I didn’t mean to choose between hurting you and trying to heal my mother. But at first, it felt so good to see her. It felt good to be kind to her. It helped me see that there were good things that I learned from her and could share with my kids (reading, academia, traditions, cooking badly). Her superficial good lured me in and I forgot why I had pushed away.

I began to feel guilty for abandoning her. I began to feel responsibility to help her heal, to teach her to be the person she thought she was. I felt a need (an urgent, pressured need) to ‘fix’ our family and bring all of my siblings back together with her. I thought that they were all just waiting for me to come around (they weren’t).

I see now that the strength and empathy that I felt towards her was actually only possible because I had cut her out of my life and my head for so long. Her absence made me forget that she is a dangerous and manipulative person to be around.

I want so badly to be a good person who can be kind to her old, sad mother. But she just won’t let me – she can’t keep the witch at bay.

As always, Alanis Morisette articulates my deep feelings:
“I want to be big and let go of this grudge that’s grown old. All this time I’ve not known how to rest this bygone. I want to be soft and resolved, clean of slate and released. I want to forgive the both of us.”

maleficent makeup

Quiet the mind

At some point before I completely stopped talking to my mother, I realized that I needed to stop listening to her. I mean that I had to completely ignore every word that came out of her mouth.

She just didn’t make any sense. She didn’t keep her word. She was manipulative. Her reactions were too intense and too urgent. And she always changed her mind anyway. There was just no point listening to her words.

Lately, I’ve started feeling the same way about my own thoughts. They are always coming and going, with varying intensity. They change and then they change again. What seemed so right one moment, is clearly so wrong the next. It seems there’s just no point in giving my own thoughts any consideration.

They say, “Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” But I don’t want to hear my soul either. I can’t trust anything I tell myself. Hmmm… I have a new goal to take “quiet your mind” to a whole new level. If I sense a new idea coming, I’ll try to snuff it out before it peaks my interest. (Oh shit. Not listening to ideas is really just another idea that I’ll probably render useless tomorrow, if not by the time I finish writing this.)

I’ll stop writing quickly (idea) lest I change my mind (idea) about not having ideas. This really isn’t working. I guess I can’t actually ignore all those words in my head. I’m doomed to dance with them forever. Breathe in. Breathe out.

flower heads

If a tree falls…

If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?

I’m noticing that I have a lot of trouble when I’m alone lately. (not alone in a room, alone in a house.) I struggle to eat, sleep or do things that feel good. It’s like I go into hibernation mode where I don’t have the same basic needs.

It’s like who I am when people are around goes on hold. I go into suspended animation.

This is possibly related to that little girl alone that I mentioned but I’m still not sure that I’m ready to go there…

But I have to dig this up so that I can move on. It’s like a big rotting root stuck in the ground where I’m trying to grow new grass.

Once upon a time, there was an 11 year old girl. Her mom had to go to work in the city during the summer so she stayed home alone at the cottage all day. 3 days a week for 3 weeks.

She ran wild in the neighborhood, playing with friends all day, watching too much TV and eating the dessert her mom left her before eating the lunch that was in the fridge.

It was a glorious time… But, that’s not my story. In my story, the girl didn’t play with any friends (she was scared to go outside), she didn’t watch any tv (there wasn’t one), and there was no lunch in the fridge for her.

She just wandered around the empty living room. She listened to a Sarah Mclachlan cd (Solace). She tweezed hair off her legs. She looked out the window and thought about sitting outside by the lake.  She ate an Oreo and then brushed her teeth. She tried to read a book. She alphabetized the bookshelf. Sometimes she made herself ‘Kraft dinner’ and ate the whole box. Sometimes she’d leave a frozen bagel on the window sill to defrost in the sun and then eat it with cheeze whiz. She played card games like ‘war’ and ‘go fish’ against herself. Sometimes she had a good cry.

At night, her mom would come home and the girl would jump up like a puppy excited to see her. They would swim and play card games with each other and eat a warm dinner. It was wonderful.

But one night her mom had a late meeting in the city so mom planned to spend the night in the city. The girl’s teenage sister was told to be home from her work by 10pm so that the (11 year old) girl wouldn’t be alone all night.  That night, dinner was actually arranged for the girl. She was to go to grandma’s for dinner. And then grandma would take her home to be alone and hope sister returned.

It was 11pm, sister wasn’t home yet. The girl couldn’t sleep. She was scared. Alone. She couldn’t relax to let sleep come. So she dragged her blanket to the couch and sat there trying to be brave. Trying to stay awake. Stay on guard.

Then, a noise. The screen door opened and someone was fidgeting with the door knob. Terrified, the girl tiptoes to the door and stretches up to peak through the peep hole. Relieved to see grandma’s nightgown, she opens the door.  Grandma says she was worried about her on her own (finally) and decided to sleepover. The girl feels loved (?) and safe and goes to sleep.

A bit later, sister comes home and the girl wakes up. Sister was 17 and had been out with her friends. She is angry that Grandma is there and mad at the girl for getting her into trouble for being late.

They’d both been set up to fail that night.

22 years later, I’ve been through so much. I’ve purged so much of that garbage… Why do I still find myself keeping a late night vigil until an adult comes home and gives me peace to stop fighting sleep?

That summer wasn’t the only time I was home alone for too long. It happened that way for a few summers (with a new CD each year). And then, once I was 16 and my parents bought a year-round cottage, they would go up alone on weekends and I was home alone in the winters, in a big house with an empty fridge. I had a tv this time- but it was much more than 8 hours alone.

Those endless days and nights alone… like an unwilling hermit… those days were quiet. I learned to turn off and wait for someone to come home and reanimate me. I try not to think about that time as real. I’ll write about that another time.

At least I had a boyfriend so that I didn’t have to sleep alone on Saturday nights. #thankgodforbirthcontrol

I’m done writing about this for now.

The purpose of this digging of shit I don’t want to look at was to try to figure out why I seem to have so much trouble doing things that are healthy (eating, sleeping) when I’m alone?

It begs the question, “If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?” and maybe the deeper question, “If I sleep and no one is there, do I disappear?

girl in window dali

addendum:
I realize that sometimes parents have to work and there are no childcare options and they do what they have to do. This was not the case. Here are several other options that could have been arranged instead of me staying alone at the cottage all day:
1. My grandparents’ cottage was three blocks away. They were there all day.
2. My sister was riding her bike to work at a day camp nearby. I could have joined her there.
3. We had several friends who were around during the day. I could have gone there.
4. I could have driven into the city with her and been dropped at any of my friends’ houses for the day.
5. My aunt was around either in the city or at my grandparents’ cottage with her baby. If she’d known I was alone, I probably could have been with her.
Maybe I’m grappling for other options here but I suppose 1 or 2 should have been sufficient.

*Questions: Have you had a similar experience? Was this common? Am I just being overly sensitive? Tell me.

A big black box

There’s a blockage. I’m hiding something and I know it.

I don’t want to write. How can I write if I don’t want to hear what I have to say?  I don’t want to pick up the pen or open my heart because I know what is sitting there waiting to come out. I’ve done so much hard work to heal myself but there is one more dusty corner in my heart that’s starting to clog my arteries. I’ve ignored it for long enough. It’s shouting to be heard.

It’s a sad story. I haven’t told this story yet.  I haven’t even told it to myself. It’s a story about a little girl who was always left all alone without any food. She would shut off her body and her mind until someone would come to tell her it was time to raise the curtain and act alive for a bit. Then repeat. It’s my story. (this is hard to admit). I guess it’s my truth.

Those who were there know the basics. I was alone often and didn’t eat much. It’s true. But the shame, the blockage, the days, the part that I’m hiding because it hurts too much. The truth is that the duration and extent of the deprivation was more profound than anyone realized. And if I allowed myself to feel at those times, I would have been consumed by loneliness and hunger. I shut off to survive. And I am ashamed of all of this.

Growing up, I learned a valuable survival lesson that would have been helpful in a concentration camp: Convince yourself that you don’t really need food or love and you will be able to survive the deprivation. The problem was, I didn’t grow up in the war (and neither did my parents or grandparents). I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood where our bank account was as full as everyone else’s fridge.

There is a lot more to say here but I’m not ready to peel it back right now. These wounds and secrets are buried deep and they are going to bleed when I take them out. So I’ll put the bandaid back on for today and take another quick look tomorrow.

Much love,

xoxo Lyla.

If you fall, I will be there. - floor.

Good grief

In my younger days, I kept some Charlie Brown comic books stashed in the bathroom. I loved the bathroom. It was the only door in the house that had a lock on it. I also liked the Charlie Brown books. I could identify with Charlie Brown’s depression…

There’s a running gag where Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown and then pulls it away as he kicks. The worst part is that she acts as though she did nothing wrong and keeps convincing him to trust her again.

Charlie Brown comic strip of the football prank.

My brother sent me a very long email on Sunday (mother’s day – of course). Apparently he’s beginning to suspect that there may actually be something wrong with our mother. (shocking!) He wrote me to tell me that he’s finally read the book that I gave him over a year ago (Understanding the Borderline Mother) and he’s taking the first steps on his journey to finding himself…baby steps.

I guess I’m happy for him but I’m not really sure why he felt the need to tell me about this. Does he want a gold star? Shall I buy him a cake?

It’s not like I’ve been sitting at home waiting for his call. He ignored me and shamed me when I actually needed him so I figured out my own way. I built my own family. I’d love it if he’d invite my kids to play with their cousins, but that’s pretty much all I’m waiting for.

He wrote, “I am sorry it has taken me this long to get here, but I am here to talk with you, on your terms, whenever you are ready.”

Here we go, Charlie Brown. I'll hold the ball, and you come running up and kick it...

The email itself was benign. Just as benign as Lucy offering to play football. But I’ve been invited to this game and I knew what was coming next.

I tried to put it aside and even managed to make pancakes for breakfast (#momoftheyear). But later in the day, the emotions from his message caught up with me and, in the middle of my mother’s day dinner, in the bathroom of the sushi restaurant, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Big ugly heartbroken tears.

I wasn’t sure exactly how or when the burn was going to come. But I knew it would sting. I knew that he’s been speaking to my sisters and it made me question the security of my boundaries. Have I shared too much? Is my openness going to be used against me?

I needed to understand what he wanted. Why he sent that and what he was planning next.

That evening, I called him. He didn’t answer, which is fine. Then, an hour later (9pm), I get this text:

“Just saw that I missed your call. I do want to talk but I am exhausted and done for the night. Can we try for some time later this week?

Charlie Brown saying Oh no, not again while Lucy holds a football

Then I cried more. Why the fuck did he get to randomly interrupt my nice Sunday to make me cry? And worst of all, when I reached out to him for some answers, something to soothe my fears (that he caused), why does he get to just back out and be “done for the night”? Of course he’s not going to understand how hurtful his subtle rejection is.

Charlie Brown falls as Lucy pulls the football away

The next day… I woke up with red eyes (from crying myself to sleep) and a big black dog of depression laying on me. My husband and I worked together to push him off and get me into work. (My husband never gets to be “done for the night” either.) It was a huge accomplishment that I managed to get into work, not eat a box of cookies, and stay there for the entire day. I tried, but couldn’t get any work done.

No word from my brother.

I was getting more and more worried that my brother was going to violate my boundaries with my parents in a misguided effort to help our family reunite. I had to make sure he knew not to do this.

So I phoned him right after my work day. He answered and before saying hello, he told me what a busy day he had at work and how he still had more work to do that evening.  “Could we do this some other time this week?” …sure…rejection #2…but I had something I needed to say now.

So I told him in a vague way that my personal life and struggles are not his to share with anyone else. He told me “of course, I wouldn’t talk about you with anyone.” I’m not sure if I feel completely reassured but at least I made my wishes clear.

Then, we had this conversation:

Brother: I emailed you because I would absolutely love to please speak with you more whenever you are ready.
Me: Ok. We can talk a bit now.
Brother: I’m just so busy from work today.
Me: Should we get dinner on Thursday night?
Brother: I’m…uh…. I’m not sure if I have something that night.
Me: Ok. Or another night.
Brother: Yes. Whenever you are ready, I’m here to talk.
Me: Ok. Let me know if you are good for Thursday.
Brother: I don’t think Thursday will work.
Me: [waiting for him to propose another day… or suggest getting back to me with availability.]
Brother: But I’d really love to speak with you. Whenever you are ready.

I SAID OKAY!!

Either be there for me or don’t. I don’t care anymore! Just leave me out of your decision making process.

What is with these people and interrupting my barely stable life to pledge their love and support, beg me to see them and then renege on their offer as soon as I show interest?

Charlie Brown football gag where the whole gang is trying to trick him.

Dear people who deserted me when I needed them most: if you’d like to see me, invite me to see you. I’ll probably say yes. If you’d like to feel like you are helping me, I don’t need your emotional support anymore. You can send cash or cheques. Otherwise, please stop inviting me to play football…and shove your guilt up your ass. Thank you very much.

comic of Charlie Brown football gag where Lucy makes him feel guilty and then tricks him again.