My previous post, written mostly as a way to share a voice to those of us who grew up or are in relationships with people existing in tremendous dysfunction, was not difficult to write (although I was taxed heavily by writing it). It was difficult to share. I have tried to maintain a “code” of sorts in my heart, along with my appeals to Archangel Gabriel, that what I write “do no harm” — at least not intentionally.
I feel as though I did not honor that code as effectively as I would have liked. I was filled with regret, an urge to take down the post, and a feeling of shame after writing it. Those feelings were deeply similar to those I would experience after an argument with someone, as though I’d said something horrible, unforgivable to a person, to my mother.
Those feelings were again familiar. I recalled, and have recalled, numerous times when Mom and I would disagree about the course of things, and how I would suffer emotionally for telling her exactly how I felt.
Regarding that post, my greatest wish, to forgive — to actively forgive! — eludes. It’s like some prison I’m in, but it’s not all day, it’s not a life sentence and it’s open. It’s as though the prison gate is ajar and unlocked; there is no key. Yet I go in. I sit there, with my back to the window, avoiding the light. I do not understand it. I have a great life: a loving marriage; beautiful, healthy children; hobbies I thrive in; activities which fulfill my heart … yet … it eludes.
Like she did. She eluded.
Do you know how tired I am of thinking about this?
“Then don’t. Think about something else,” someone I used to know would say all the time about me or other people whose activities or looping thoughts drove her mad. It’s not that simple, or maybe it is. I used to be like that: super black & white. I could flip a switch and move on.
But then I had kids. It all changed after the kids were born. It’s like the DNA was activated: I joke now, but suddenly I cared about China. Like how an addict’s dopamine response to a certain pleasure-giving stimulus was heretofore asleep. I was always hard on Mom, but I could flip the switch when I was younger: lash out and move on.
But once I became a mother, I had a narrower window of forgiveness. It went suddenly from a case of “I don’t know what it’s like” (and to a degree, I will never actually know her life’s depth, so it still applies) to “I know what this is like, and I choose X.”
So back to my premise: do no harm. I feel like I hurt her again. I feel like I was mean to her again and that the shame and the hairshirt of regret I wore was there, cold, stiff and waiting for me to put on again.
I went to sleep that night, fitfully. I woke around 2:30 with a thought based on a quote from Rumi that I read the night before during yoga:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
I woke with the thought:
Regrets are like bricks that we use to build walls around ourselves to keep love out.
That works. Right? If I stay regretful, then I don’t forgive my behavior which was a reaction to the first behavior. Up goes a brick.
So then I come back to this place of “do no harm” because I am filled with regret about the previous post. Another brick.
But then the comments from readers, and the amount of traffic the post garnered, and I know that people “clicked” to “read” it (about 300 actually) but a few people commented to me privately or on the site (2). Basically, if anyone disagreed with me, they didn’t bother to tell me. Those that were grateful for sharing what I did were extremely supportive and candid and they have my thanks.
So it begs the question: did I do harm? Make no mistake: I loved my mother. Make no mistake, I hated what she became. My dad is largely supportive of me; he’s not driving the bus, but he hasn’t come down on me and that’s just so nice.
It’s like I was still 18. I knew that was kooky, so to do what I could to move forward or investigate my allegations, I decided to open a box I had stored under nondescript stuff and wrapped in tape to supposedly protect it from little peepers since I moved out.
On top of it all was my diary. Which inside it, was another diary.
Many of the items were from high school and college friends. In some moment of haste, I removed most potentially scandalous content. I discovered a letter from an old beau, telling me he didn’t know what to say about the direction of our relationship, and I found the letter to be a perfect example of what I would want my sons to send to a girl should they find themselves in that predicament. It was heartfelt, written in pen without one mistake, and encouraging.
I found some school papers I wrote and was thrilled to see some comments from my teachers: “Tremendous! Your voice is strong, but the run-ons and fragments made what could have been an ‘A’ paper a ‘B-‘…” (run-ons? P’shaw.) and “Deep characterization, such imagery… this would be better as a novella…” Me again: “run-ons?” (I’ll write more about that box later, it was interesting!)
I was hopeful that I would find a warm letter from my brother written the month before my marriage but I couldn’t. I remember several years ago my mother citing that letter from him to me (it was about both our possessions of sharpened steel tongues and that we were both blessed to be marrying people who were soft and kind and “normal”), she paid particular attention to my tendency for verbal evisceration. The letter was not there, she took it. I will likely never see it again.
I looked for evidence of my tumult with Mom. There wasn’t much in the way of play-by-play. This both confused and delighted me. I don’t think I gave her much mind then. Well, there was evidence of her tampering: she’d scrawled a phone number on the corner of that old beau’s letter I mentioned, so that broke my heart a little, again. There was a comment from her in my diary, which was a very hard for me to reconcile. She was who she was. The time with that box went very quickly; it was fun, most of it.
I wrote immediately upon closing it all back up:
I read most of the content in here. The diary is full of ramblings, some funny and insightful but mostly just the neurotic, insecure blather of an American, single, young woman. Ennui, strife, doom — it’s how I got through it all. … The sum is that I had a lot of energy and was a lot of work for my parents. [My license was suspended at least twice for speeding and while I commuted to my university, I lived at home as though I were on campus, coming in at all hours.] There isn’t much of anything about Mom or from her [cards, drawings — likely because I actively disliked her during those years … brick] in here. I’m surprised by that — but I’m also relieved because despite the drama I was pretty resilient and self-absorbed. That, or it was all so ‘par for the course’ with her that I didn’t find much of it remarkable; or that I knew she would read everything, why give her an audience? … I feel lighter, not mad at all about Mom now. I saw my college work and I feel as though I’ve been rinsed delicately but completely, like an old garment. … It’s all OK now, I can let it just be…
And then the next day, that stupid regret came back. Brick… About that “actively disliking her” then, hey: that’s OK. That was part of
my gig our dynamic then. I crossed that “my gig” out because I have to allow that I wasn’t formed in a vacuum; I was a product of an environment, just as we all are, just as my kids are. That as much as the 47-year-old me wants to understand that we are 1) connected, we are still 2) all our own people with our own choices, she has to allow the 16-20 -year-old me some rebellion, separation, and defense.
What I’m realizing as I write is that this “do no harm” code is foolishly not applied to myself. How much of this do we put upon ourselves? I’m guessing about 90% of it.
My mother had won the affections of SO many people from SO many generations and places in life that it made me wonder if I was the crazy one: she was like this silk scarf; a light and fun Daisy Buchanan butterfly to them and it was so different when we were alone. I compare myself to her as a heavy armored beetle.
I wondered, “Didn’t people see something?” It was the 70s. Who knows. The recurring baseline fear was that my memories were just … hijacked and rewritten. I actually considered calling a cousin for back-up, but I asked her to read the post. She did. She validated me. She saw a lot of it.
To properly understand my mom a little more, I watched Gray Gardens from 1976, and it helped so much. I gleaned from it a comment from Big Edie during one of Little Edie’s wide-ranging rants about how she could have made it on Broadway (something I heard a lot of) and her blame at her parents for her failure. Big Edie said something like this, “That’s the problem with the past. If it were right at the time, she would’ve done it. But something in her didn’t do it; I didn’t stop her… but the fact is that if it were right at that time it would’ve happened. You can’t stop fate…” Now, in all honesty, those women were a tangled mess, but I liked what Big Edie said about perception and timing — if it all was aligned and Little Edie wanted to do “it” then, she would’ve. You can’t blame other people for crap you [don’t] do. And I think that’s where I need to Work on me: I screwed up a lot then, but I was also ‘supposed’ to… the thing is though: I don’t know how much room there was in our household for more than one ‘spirited’ female.
But the regret comes back and looms. It’s born of biblical guilt: Honor thy Mother and Father (or whatever it’s supposed to say) and I don’t know of many who did when they were teenagers. Probably Jesus was the only one.
That regret is born of my fear of other peoples’ perceptions because I was such an untamed mare then. I worry so much about how I’m perceived, that I either hold things back or I don’t admit them to myself. When I was younger, I didn’t care… I miss part of that spirit, just not the recklessness.
One of my readers suggested I read Anne Lammot’s Small Victories and the chapter on Anne’s struggle to forgive her mother after her death. In typical fashion I downloaded the book, but I will admit this: I am afraid to read it. I don’t know why. No, wait. I do: because something in me only knows Mom one way, in this one-dimensional way, that refuses to let her evolve and refused to allow her other aspects. That is not “do no harm” to anyone. I know it’s a knee-jerk reaction: you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. But I’m supposed to be evolving. And Mom’s gone… so what the what? It’s like that open prison…
So it’s a lot. I’m tired of this wall building.
It’s nearing the end of the first month of the year. I need to make a change I think, in my writing, if just for a little while. I’m thinking mostly fiction for February. I think I’ll read some of those old stories I wrote and share some, updated and cleaned up. See where that goes.
I bought a new set of technical pens, based on the one I found in the box. I started doodling immediately last night. Here’s my first mandala for the year.
I say things like that “would like to” because I fear I won’t keep the commitment. But how hard is it to doodle every day? I guess I will find out.
One of the writing people I subscribe to is Jill Jepson. She has a blog, “Writing a Sacred Path” and she got me thinking about this “do no harm” thing most of all, or rather as I believe, it came to me right on time. I needed something to bring me back to center. I was flinging around so much blame that I was leery of becoming toxic. For the month’s final post on January 26 (it’s not up yet today), she wrote about the concept of writing generously and what it meant. And smack in the middle of the post was this:
To be fair, she also wrote that we don’t have to write sweetly and kindly all the time either or else there’d be no satire or horror. But that’s where my bricks are lately: in that “do no harm” concept. It’s been such a whirly 18 months for me that I guess I can see how I’ve both wanted to dodge some bullets while fire some at the same time.
So there is an in-between; and maybe I’ve struck it, in a lot of what I write. Maybe I struck it in the previous post — maybe I can just move on and stop it already. I think I’ve figured it out (I took an hour away to make chili): I regret the way it all went down. I think I just really have the saddest heart about how my mother and I treated each other and how our family had to cope. That’s a big brick, but I hope it’s the keystone. So I need to let it drop so the wall comes down…
So that’s it… I have to get off this bus, and start something new. The only way to do something different is to do something different. Start some fiction writing again or at least less posts about Mom and anger and shitty experiences. Air out my feathers and have some fun. Fiction or bust. Fiction and mandalas are from the land of Do No Harm. Right?
I always read. I always empathize. I always want to comment, but sometimes all I can muster is to nod as tears splash onto the keyboard. You nail it, Molly, all the time.
Growing up in a family that didn’t talk about things that weren’t “nice,” I threw away my mythical broom in protest when I moved out at 20, refusing to sweep anything else under the rug. I wrote 35,000 words of a memoir that got lost somewhere in a crashed hard drive. Hard, mean, pointed and poignant words fraught with pain and undealt with memories. It may have been a blessing that it got lost; my words would have hurt lots of people.
If anyone takes your words, your work, your memories personally, that’s on them. No one else had the relationships you had or the experiences you did.
Keep working it out, carrying on and carving your own path. And please…keep inviting us along.
Thanks Mary. You’re a loyal (masochist) friend. Snort.
I am feeling drawn down by these posts; a sense of resignation can’t be too far off can it? Thank you gor sharing your story: it tells me that if I were as healthy as you were when I was 20 that I woukd have left and never gone back too. It doesn’t matter, that was another thing that occured to me as I settled this one down today, because it doesn’t. My truth is all it is. I have no agenda anymore, the one I suppose I could claim would be to shine a light, to throw cold water on the lies people tell themselves: that just because I was super-spirited and very adroit that I wasn’t suffering, that I was going to be Just Fine. And I think that’s where I’m stuck or looping… I think I really need to shift, somehow unearth from it all.
I’m very grateful for your kindnesses.
Go easy! On yourself, sister. I get it. When I became a mother, I was aghast at all the things I realized about my mother. It was sad. And when she died, it was tough. But you’re not supposed to be a saint. And you came into this world, choosing that mother, to work through all the bits you’re now working through. You will get to the other side of guilt. I promise. And that’s when the real growth begins . . . I wish that for you, like a speeding train.
Thsnk you thank you thank you. I am grateful, obviously! Ha! Remembering that deal our souls made a long time ago helps take away some of the sting. I have no idea why it’s coming at me right now, the way it is, but if it gets it over sooner, I’ll buckle in.
*sigh* ok here I go, I hope you know that I do follow your blog, though I don’t always comment on it , here is what I think in regards to this post:
As I read your words from today and from the 27th here’s what comes to mind in no specific order (perhaps some of it could help). Some are my insights, some are things I have read and some are things that have been told to me and most, you probably already know, so at the risk of sounding redundant here I go:
* Perimenopause, the great equalizer, it doesn’t care what you think you have going for you, every unresolved issue from the past is patiently waiting for you to deal with it in the recess of your subconscious and since it is subconscious, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IS THERE! OR EVEN THAT IT IS THERE!
* You at 47 are entering a phase of profound change and the changes that need to me made are from the inside out…that is why the house, the husband and the kids make little difference in respect to your internal turmoil.
*You seem to be looking for validation to your feelings from people that don’t have it to give, who cares? at the end of the day all it matterst is that you are convinced, what happened , happened and how your perception is your truth, the only one that counts for you and your experience.
*Alcoholics (wet or dry) and narcissistic and victims and victimizers have great powers, so much so that your mother still owns you from the grave.
*None of this is about your mother, it is all about you, “Just you” and the course you chose to take “this time around” to find your true identity, beyond name and form.
*I also hear the good old Catholic guilt, that shit is corosive and poisonous and insidious and cunning, baffling and powerfull, just like alcohol.
*In my years of struggle with my own mother and the little perspective I have gained, one thing that has given me some peace is to accept to myself that I love my mother, BUT I DON’T LIKE HER!, nor will I choose her as my mother if I had the chance…although those Spiritually advance say that I did choose her for MY LESSONS!
* Much more to write, but enough for now, I don’t know if you do this already, but I highly recommend you find an ACA group in your area and attend the meetings, what happens in there can boggle this little mind of ours that think we have something figure out because we THINK SO MUCH! but we don’t think so much, we just think the same shit in a loop with different fancy words.
I love you much,
keep on writting, if someone gets offended by your truth, that’s none of your business , you are responsible for your feelings and yours alone.
T – thank you and yes. it is about me. but i’m not there yet to just allow that entirely. i simply can’t absolve her from her shit and horrid parenting. i think that’s where i’ve gone toxic to myself: i’ve decided that while she was fucked up, that i should be more OK with that and as i said, i’m just not there. maybe this is where the book comes in, where i actually unearth and write about things as they happened and as she went about her life. i can’t (and i get it although i stumbled on it a few weeks there) be responsible or worry about what other people think of the truths i share. “my filter, get your own” is what i want to say. i went seriously into a lot of self-doubt and it sucked. i realized that i’m still quite “broken” and that the tools i’d developed for years to protect myself are no longer working, so … now what.
i’ve had a crazy 19 months. it’s really been a lot of change; just the yoga retreat on its own would have been enough on its own, but then death, a social betrayal and then another death, all while i’m trying to lump along.
so it’s like life interrupts grief. ha.
i think that’s part of it. being angry at my mother lets me keep that part of her alive, no matter how unseemly. so i know i’ve a lot of work to do.
i’m heading back to The Couch; no ACOA for me right now… i know i don’t have the capacity to hearing other peoples’ stuff while trying figure out my own. i like the “loop with different fancy words.” you nailed it.
write some poetry, will you???
well, it is no secret that you and I can write back and forth (almost in a loop…LOL) and apparently not run out of stuff so in a way is “therapeutic”, I think. A few clarifications to your statements:
“i simply can’t absolve her from her shit and horrid parenting.” ….no one is telling you or expecting you to do that, and if somebody is,…well with all due respect, they can go and fuck themselves. The forgiveness is for You,, for your soul, for your Highest Self. Her behaviour needs not be condoned, she did what she did at the level of awareness she was at in those moments, (again, telling you shit that have helped with my war with my mother,NOT TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO).
“i’ve decided that while she was fucked up, that i should be more OK with that and as i said, i’m just not there.”……..like they say , Stop shoulding all over yourself
“i realized that i’m still quite “broken”…….I think you’re quite HEALING and the fucker hurts…until it doesn’t anymore.
“and that the tools i’d developed for years to protect myself are no longer working, so … now what”……now the healing continues or the unlearned lessons repeat, your call
“being angry at my mother lets me keep that part of her alive, no matter how unseemly”……also being angry for me, hurts less than being deeply, profoundly SAD, at the way life should’ve been and wasn’t
i’ll leave you with my love and with a quote I have taped on my dresser and read every time I feel in the letrine (I don’t know who wrote it, I read so much, It might’ve been even from you!)
“Judging things by how they seem in this moment is pointless, we can’t see what’s ahead, we can’t see how this crappy time, may hold a gift greater than we’d imagined. We can’t see how our seemingly lousy decisions provide a stage for great courage, compassion, love and learning. We don’t realize that things are changing on the inside. We simply can’t see the full picture . Forget all the noise and the headlines, they’re not real anyways. Hang on, the ride is not over yet.”
ps: as soon as poetry comes again, you will be the first one to know 🙂
I love all that you’ve written to me here. It’s dense and rich and it makes a great salve. I have lots of good coming my way and I will lift out of this fog.
I know that forgiveness is for me, I have to allow it; likely it’s part of the Catholic shame loop.
Shoulding. It’s stupid stuff. I will get there when I’m ready, how’s that? And I don’t have to be ok with her condition.
It’s a loop. I’m aware of it. It’s maddening. I think the fiction, if I write any, will be a nice break.
You have helped me. Thank you.
You looney toon!made me laugh and all with the poetry thing…I’m starting to think this might’ve been a one time thing…who knows?
Did I share this with you? http://www.alanrappoport.com/pdf/Co-Narcissism%20Article.pdf — I just added it to the post. I also sent you something on email from the NYT.