30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 11: #voicemail #memories #warped #courage


Welcome to Day 11 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” I’ll be honest… these are starting to get on my nerves. It’s all courage blah blah vulnerability blah blah truth blah blah…courage …  I am getting Brenéweary. I am Browning out. Here’s today’s quote:

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. ― Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Just so you both know: it’s hard to write every day about something like this.

It’s hard to fall out of bed, crawl in the darkness to my bathrobe, pull it off the hook without tearing it, roll around on the floor to put it on, crawl into my bathroom to brush my teeth, slither over to my son’s room, wake him up without actually waking myself up, make him get dressed and eat food and be nice, walk him to school and smile and nod at people I barely know, drop him off and come back home and sit here and write about Brené Brown and her vulnerability research.

Writing this post reminds me of the prep scenes in “Rocky” waking at 4am, drinking raw eggs, putting on dirty sweats, going out into the cold Philadelphia darkness and running for no reason and punching at shit that wasn’t there. I feel like I’m whiffing all over the place with these quotes.

Indulge me: Someone I know in flesh and blood said that she looked forward to my writing about Brown’s stuff because Brown has a tendency to REPEAT HERSELF CONTINUOUSLY.

I know, there are people (sssh, they’re everywhere) of all ages who are completely asleep and have no clue about their personal train wrecks, but I think it’s time for Brené to write about something else.

I’d like to totally give up on this quote but I won’t. I am a fighter. I’ve got this.

The book cited, Daring Greatly, does have to do with parenting which is so important and so hard to do. So I’ll keep on keeping on. I learned how to parent as a child.

While it’s easy to screw up at parenting, it’s also easy to make up for that screw up. Kids are forgiving but they’re not stupid.

All you have to do is own it.


Fix it and change.

Speaking of apologies, I have a message on my cell phone from my mother on the day after my 45th birthday. I can’t remember how she got my number because I tried to never call her from it because she would then call it incessantly and I’d never get a moment’s peace. No joke. I once had to block her.

yes. all true.

yes. all true.

Do you know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who calls you constantly and obsessively about shit that you couldn’t even beGIN to care about?

And when you tried to talk about the things YOU cared about, you were dismissed or fought with?

Of course you do, you’re still here.

Look, no one is perfect, we’ve got that. But … ok, back to that message.

I’m fairly certain the birthday phone call started with her pretending to be Marilyn Monroe when she sang to JFK and then I said, “Thank you, thank you. Please stop now… thank you…heh heh <nervous laugh> please Mom, stop now.”

Then she would say what she always said to me (but I learned on Thanksgiving that she never said to to my brother), “It’s my birthday too because I did all the work!”

I’d laugh and my stomach would hurt from the nausea and bile.


for leslhugs.

Then she’d conjure a fictional memory so as to make my past seem less chaotic. Or, she would cull a true chaotic memory and somehow rationalize it. I’m pretty sure the conversation went pear-shaped from there.

If patterns hold true, I likely said something about the recollection being inaccurate and thanked her for calling. Nice but with a jab.

Then she would’ve likely said, “You’re mistaken. It happened the way I said it did…” or “You’ve lost your sense of humor,” or “That’s too bad you don’t remember the good times…” and then my blood would boil (at newly 2 5 8 9 10 11 13 14 16 17 19 20 22 26 32 33 34 36 40 41 43 45).

Then I’d grow fangs. I’d say something like, “You do what you need to do to insure your happy brainwaves. I will hold on to my memories unadulterated by your fiction” (we really loved each other, I swear).

And then she would groan and say something like, “Oh Maaally. Well, I’m sorry you don’t remember it that way. I’m sorry I was such a failure. I’m sorry I was such a disappointment. I’m sorry you don’t see the good times and I suppose that’s my fault too because I didn’t work hard to help you remember them; you only remember, Maaally, what you want to remember and that can be the way you cope… I’m sorry for whatever it is you said I did, OhhhhKAAAAAY?  … Maaally.”

‘Help [me] remember them…’ Mmmmkay.

Then I’d lose it and we’d have a nail slicer of a fight and I’d end up having to get off the phone because I was about to break something and she was so passive “My, you’re quite worked up.” Or she would say, “Well, it’s too bad you don’t understand how it was for me…..” -about it all or “You’ll be sorry you said that when I’m dead…” -kind of thing (she said that all the time) and then we’d disconnect. Only this time on the phone.

I’m sure she called me back to try to bridge one of the many crevasses. So what started out as some sort of olive branch eventually morphed after the first 30 seconds into a back-handed apology: “I think you’re a little emotional because it’s your birthday and I really don’t take a lot of what you say very seriously…” and she’d fade out or the TV volume would increase and that was the message.

I still have that message.

My father wants me to delete it. I don’t think I will. I can’t really. Why? Because I need it to remind me that despite my sadness over her death, she was really, an incredibly difficult person to be around and that I need to keep it for balance during my bouts of false guilt. I also need it because I really miss her voice, it was a lovely voice, full of depth and range. I can hear it now… saying nice things.

There were times when it wasn’t always so bad, I do know this. But even then, I felt like she wasn’t always listening to me. That’s the part that hurts. That’s when I do my best to suppress the fangs.

Her self-absorption was another entire entity. Seating for me and her at a café (which never happened) would require three chairs and a bag of salt.

Gah, I’m all over the map today. Those memories hurt. I can’t believe I’m actually sharing it. That’s part of the stuff that’s going to go in my memoir, which I’m 10 pages into.

So, yeah, as a parent and as a human being, I’m showing up, listening to others. I’m doing my utmost to break some sick cycles. I’m letting myself be seen. Are you?

As for the memoir, I’m not speaking ill of the dead; I’m just reporting. It’s a goal, that if I ever publish it, to help other people who’ve grown up in a world similar to mine. There isn’t a lot of content about this from the surviving child perspective. A lot of it is clinical and self-helpish. Sometimes people just want to know they’re not alone and sometimes they need to laugh to remember they can. I know I can do that for people.

In the end, I came to accept her more, expect less of her, see her more three-dimensionally just before she died. The last time I saw her was so different from all the others. There was a softness to her that was reassuring and foreboding. That acceptance of her is what matters to me. I wonder about the timing of it all… that that was what she was supposed to teach me: learn to see limitations, not to expect so much of things and then have it slip away >poof!< like that. I dunno. I could do this all day…. bore you to tears with my meanderings. Save it for the memoir…

Back to Brown: show up and be seen. The inverse: stay back and be invisible.

Thank you.

4 responses »

  1. I love your sketch, thank you!

    Okay, I’ve read this piece three times and I get more questions each time I read it. The quote itself is trite: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” We all start out being ourselves, vulnerable and open, it’s abuse and harm that makes us shield and hide. So is it courage to show up again to be be hurt again when the person who did the initial damage hasn’t changed at all? It’s not so simple.

    Don’t delete the voice mail, make a copy and keep it safe. I don’t know if it’s good to refresh the pain or not, but I think it’s good to have.

    As a Daughter and a Mom I’ve said things I regret and had hurtful things said to me that should have been regretted by those who said them. What do we hang on to what do we let go?

    • yes, the quote is trite and i’m trying not to be over her. you are correct; i come from the yogic point of view (not Christian) that we are all made of energy and light and love; that our essence is pure (whereas Xtianity says we are all born of sin – i reject that completely). when we are exposed to darkness or made to feel its grip of judgment, oppression and pain, then we are yes: showing up. as child all i did was show up and show up. is it courage? or dependency? i think it’s dependency because as a child, it’s the devil you know (even though you don’t really know it yet as comparisons are hard to make when your world is small). as a sentient adult, i think you and i and just about everyone would agree that it’s NUTS to show up again and again and expect the damage to reduce or be absent. that’s what happened when i turned 19 and then again at 21 … i’m reading a new book, “Mothers Who Can’t Love” and it’s blowing my mind. Don’t read at bedtime. I couldn’t doze until 4:30 this morning. yikes. i am seeing the patterns, and it feels oddly “good” (and scary as hell) to see i am not alone and that i’m not imagining it.

      i will keep the Vm. it’s a fantastic capture of her own conflicts.

      when i err, i really try hard and swiftly to own it. some people can’t handle that — maybe because they don’t want to admit the pain of what i’ve done; that accepting the apology means i got to them. it sure is twisty.

      and you’re welcome. thanks for being so supportive! 🙂

  2. So first–Brene. Love her, but I get it. I usually like Oprah’s “finds” but after awhile, I want to shout: “I get it already.” And re: your mom. I had a tough mom. Many issues before and after her death. She came along for some lessons–yours, hers and everything in between. I think it’s part of what makes us write. And that’s a good thing:)

    • yeah, Brene… i might bail. i hate saying that, but unless i come up with some better quotes, and i’ve looked… they’re starting to all be plexiglas versions of the beginning, so i’ll spelunk for some others… Oprah. it’s funny you mention that / her. i had a paragraph i took out where i rant at Brené and I said, “is it not enough, Brené? all the books and the videos and the books and the Deepak and the blog and the books and the TED talks and the books and the Oprah?? do you NOT feel seen? do you feel inadequate?” sometimes people forget that “visionaries” like Deepak and Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay aren’t poor… they’re sharing age-old concepts in new shiny wrappers… content that isn’t theirs to begin with … and they’re making money hand-over-fist.

      anyway… i have really started to turn a corner. i am midway through another book, “Your Soul’s Plan” and it’s a little chunky, a little too heavy on the anecdotes, but the premise is this: that our souls made arrangements with one another to pair up and to teach one another things in this lifetime. the more i think about that premise between myself and my mother (and others, for sure), the more authentic if feels, as though i could touch it. that helps me feel like i’m not such a chump. (i know, that’s harsh, but it’s how i’ve felt at times about her and other people i run into. as long as i can ascribe some form of lesson to it, then i feel better for it.) and that’s where yes! the writing comes in!

      thanks! 🙂

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