I was speaking the other day to my husband about my writing, about how I’m feeling stalled and repressed and my son happened to be within earshot. I said, “I’m trying to come at real stories and topics from a place of peace so I can share them with love rather than continuing a pathetic narrative of how life has done me wrong or how old habits and patterns of codependency float back to the surface and I end up feeling sorry for myself or victimized. I hate feeling victimized; I hate that narrative.”
Funny. I said “hate” more than I said “love” just now. D’ja see that?
My husband always has something balanced to say, and I didn’t really count on my son chiming in, but he did. He basically said that sometimes there are people out there who are so unhealthy and so entrenched in their patterns that they don’t act with love or with peace and so even through I’m trying to learn a lesson from it, to find the wisdom in it, sometimes it’s just not possible — other than to distill it through my own wishful thinking filter, which is really hard to do sometimes — to come up with any reasonable or balanced justification for the way people treat other people. Sometimes, he summarized, people are just full of hate and fear.
“Sometimes, Mom, people are just really messed up and it’s not for you to sugar coat their behavior; that only rationalizes it. And more importantly, that’s not who you are. You’re not a sugar-coaster, Mom. You’re not a sledgehammer [anymore, I added], but you’re no spinmaster when it’s just too plain and obvious…”
He’s right and I know that I haven’t been writing with my intention of it coming from a place of peace because that would be inorganic. How can I try to find the love in an experience when love is absent and fear is the engine that created it?
I was just talking to a dear friend from college. She and I share similar stories of our lives. She was talking about how she needs to say “no” more often; about how it’s ok to opt out and not do things for other people, especially if your heart isn’t in it. We talked about how sometimes we have to / end up doing things we’re not especially proud of or invested in because we happened to be there at the right time and while most of those experiences were inocuous in their own right, over time in the aggregate, they add up to a lot of “regret pebbles” that we end up carrying around. They encumber us and they unconsciously set us up for more similar experiences and repeated behaviors.
I listened to her describe some of these experiences. I was patient and when it was right, I chimed in and she laughed in her usual way because she knew I was coming at this from the opposite corner. Not that I’ve figured it all out, but that I do believe that reframing (optimism is my ambition) helps us out. A lot. When we don’t know what to do.
“Instead of coming at this from an aspect of saying ‘no,’ Bipsy, can you reframe it to include yourself instead of excluding others? Can you come at it from a place of ‘yes to myself’ instead of ‘no to you’?” We both laughed harder because we knew what I was proposing was basically inverting the entire paradigm of how we’ve been conditioned all our lives — because when we say “no” the whole world falls apart; people die; people suffer — to be hyper-vigilant, mistrustful, self-deprecating, and sarcastic… all these behaviors to cover the pain of being raised in a state of chaos by adults who really weren’t the best at “adulting.”
We, as codependents, tend to have an issue / conflict with saying “no” to people because we want to be liked. But we see now that saying no is essential to our survival as healthy people with healthy boundaries. “Oddly, we were conditioned to say ‘yes’ to people who almost always communicated ‘no…'” I said and we both laughed again. Sort of. And then sighed at the same time. We were almost 3,000 miles apart at the time, but we were in the same space.
I have no problem saying “no” to someone when my children or my husband or dear relations are at stake. Sometimes, however, it’s those same people I’m protecting that sometimes need to hear “no” from me. Or “yes” to something else. Compromises are the sweet elixir of the recovering codependent. We put that elixir on our ice cream. We indulge in it as liquid courage during difficult conversations. One of the best types of comments I’ve learned from my father to say to someone or about something that we just can’t see ourselves doing is to say, “That sounds like a good idea” — because it does, it’s a good idea to someone, but that’s it.
I saw a person I used to know several months ago at an event of mutual interest. Our friendship break-off was sudden and horrid. We both chose our children over the other. That’s fine with me. I never will forget this person’s friendship and meaning in my life when we were fast and furious friends, but that time is over and that ship has sailed winded by an unforgivable act of betrayal. I decided at this months-ago event to just bite the bullet and say hello. Chances were very high that we would encounter each other at least half a dozen times in hallways or at the water fountain. We caught up in a superficial way and I dialed in and told her that it was nice to see her and catch up and that I will always hold her and our experiences dear in my heart. She said she missed me and that the ball was in my court about resuming our relationship.
That was when I had to go with my gut. As much as I meant all the things I said to her in that moment, I didn’t have to say them. I felt like saying them because it’s what I was trained to do: take a shitty situation and make it better. I sipped from the elixir and I shouldn’t have. When I remembered why she and I were in this state of non-relationship it became clear again as to what happened and why. So I simply said, “Yeah. This is where we are. I loved you, but I don’t see it changing ever. My kids need to feel safe.” And that was that.
It’s never to late to start to say no.
I feel strong as a parent when I say no or choose us / me. Saying ‘yes’ to health and intelligent living doesn’t have to look like ‘no.’ It doesn’t have to feel exclusive. Because it’s not. You’ve weighed the options and decided to follow a certain decision.
Take drinking, for instance. I don’t drink at all like I used to. Rarely do I have more than one glass of wine and if I happen to have two, that’s it. Socially, I will have a beer or a wine or a G&T and generally that’s it. This is at home, too. I’m not stupid: I’m genetically fucked. I’m primed to be a world-class alcoholic and if the way I feel — lighter, warmer but not hot, relaxed & easy like a Sunday morning, smooth in the muscles, sign here and everything will be taken care of to your liking, I’ll take another with a straw this time — less than 2 minutes after drinking a beer or a halfway into a glass of wine are not an indication that I’m playing with fire, nothing is.
So I drink less. Or not at all. I try to stay present. I don’t let people pour for me without my awareness anymore. I don’t like waking up and feeling like shit. I don’t like not being able to fall asleep because it’s too hot it’s too dry it’s too hard it’s too soft it’s too much. Nothing –to me– is worth that feeling anymore. Will I slip up? Will I have three glasses of X? Yes, rarely but yes, and man, I tend to feel like a newborn the next morning. You’ve seen newborns, straight from the womb?
So instead of saying “no” to my friends or the booze, I say yes to a restful sleep. I say yes to remembering the evening. I say yes to acting responsible. I say yes to not terrifying my children. I say yes to my peace of mind. Should I falter, I have been very good though about no longer emotionally beating the shit out of myself. What’s done is done. You can’t nursing a bell, says Dr. Phil. I realize that beating myself up for something I can’t undo is a complete waste of time and mental bandwidth.
But beating ourselves up sure keeps us in the spotlight, don’t it? So stop. For everyone’s peace of mind: stop flaggelating yourself. It’s embarrassing. It’s cyclical.
I’m losing my train here. The point of this was to share that it’s hard to write or approach things from a place of love when you’ve been hurt. I try to paint a lot of stuff with rose tint but I think that’s more codependency at play.
I saw a Mary Oliver quote the other day and it took my breath away. It was in a post at a blog I follow, “Adventures in Overthinking” titled Crescent Moons and Critical Morons.
What is it that we plan to do with this one wild and precious life?
I am going to be kinder to myself and write things the way they present themselves to me and I’m going to be ok with not always arriving at a conclusion that makes it all ok. Because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes when you’re treated like crap by people who are supposed to be your family, the anger is too much and it all feels waaaaaaaaay too familiar. As though you’re on a treadmill of your childhood’s worst possible moments because these are more people who have told you to count on them, despite all the flake flags you’ve ignored for years.
So you try to talk to them about conditions, the situation, but you’re frequently interrupted by your host’s constant narrative of victimization and drama; the imprisonment of the golden handcuffs. They say they “hear” you and that they are your soft place to fall, yet instead after driving 460 miles they make you or your child sleep on the hard floor for three nights in a row. You cycle in your head about how they strung you along for months preceding the event, constantly changing the agenda — and they connect with you about their time in Hawaii when their baggage was lost and they had to sit on the beach outside their condo for hours waiting for it to arrive.
You try to discuss their reactivity, how the cellular reception is wonky and that you waited almost three hours for them to show up but yet they expected you to read their minds and you hear back from them that they bought all this expensive organic and healthy and non-GMO and locally produced food that’s gonna go to waste because you never showed up (because you were never instructed to). You try with love to listen sympathetically to their monologue about “bad” friends and betrayal by lovers in favor of those friends yet you remember watching them all open two bottles of Veuve Cliquot at 9am outside the window of your room.
You then try to walk around the challenges of how they put drug-addled near-strangers ahead of you because they’re afraid of losing their love interest with the healthy investment portfolio (oh yeah, it’s getting real right now) and how they somehow managed to accuse you -hissingly- to third parties of taking their children to dinner, as if it’s a war crime. And how on your final night of “we can’t take it anymore” they somehow thought it ok to place their hand in the face of North America’s Kindest Man, my husband, when he tried to smooth things over — because that’s what he does, he’s The Smoother — and then drive away in a Neiman-Marcus grade huff of self-righteous indignation and fury, leaving their children -again- for you to shuttle back to Hotel California. But woe upon you, family relation: when you lose the endurance of The Smoother, may God have mercy on you. Because that’s when I get involved.
I got involved because I’m done. Because as I mentioned in my post about our cat being stolen, that when I step in, you can almost count on it going nuclear and being totally FUBAR. I was ready because I was not going to do this again.
This person made my husband swear and say, “That’s it. If it weren’t 11:45 at night and we had somewhere to go, we’d be #)C%!>@ leaving right now.” I unleashed the shitstorm of reality that people like me (tired of sipping the elixir of codependency and expecting different results) unleash. The results of unleashing that shitstorm can never be predicted because when you start your conversation, no matter how challenging, no matter how uncomfortable the details of how it all went pear-shaped (because very little of it had to do with me, it was a lot of projecting, looping and recycling of weird childhood feelings this person has NOT resolved), it’s very possible that you’ll be left standing amidst a cloud of gravel dust and disbelief in a driveway watching the driver of a European station wagon haul ass to Mommy.
The Mommy who enrages them. The Mommy who doesn’t “get” them. The Mommy up the road.
Those are just the highlights.
But I won’t bore you with this story despite your pleas. I’ll incorporate it into my memoir or a “fiction” instead.
Suffice it to say that this summer we opted to surround ourselves with people we love and people who love us and we hightailed it to North Carolina for an absolutely beautiful experience. While I was there I had two dreams about my mother. In one of them this relation and the father of this relation appeared at an event I was apparently hosting and serving a well-known (to my family) classic meal. I was approached and admonished by this father whose boisterous persona when alive was just as unfettered in my dream. He shouted at me in the dream the same strange, tribal id-chant he used shout when things got out of control to him. He was red-faced and utterly furious with me for behaving the way I did toward his child, reprimanding me for and accusing me of picking a fight…. I remember seeing my mother in the dream and she made fists and her jaw became set and she stared at him from behind with squinted, wild eyes. She was maybe 70. I said in the dream, “[TRIBAL CHANT] BACK TO YOU, MORTIMER! And what the hell are you doing here? You’re DEAD! You don’t belong in this dream!” And my mother (who is also dead) stood up and shook her fist and her signature bangles and said, ‘Great! Get ‘im, Maaal!” He bellowed at me, “This is not how you treat family!” And I bellowed back, fearless, “If you knew the whole story, you’d be on a different team, I promise you that, Morty.” My eyes darting between him and my mother, “We were NOT treated like family … or [hissing on my own now] maybe WE WERE…” and he and my mother both vaporized. They knew when to bolt.
I’ve been told that it’s gossipy, uncouth and coarse to write about impolite things. But what if what you write about is people who treat people horribly? Doesn’t the story deserve venting? Doesn’t the fault lie more with the precipitating jerk than it does the person who decides to share the crappy behavior and end the delusion? What about when the person who recites the martyr narrative about the luggage in Hawaii and the expensive baby-dandelion-fed veal burgers is really the Veuve Cliquot-sipping despot? An inverse narcissist? Don’t roll your eyes.
I can’t not write because I’m afraid of upsetting people. I read recently in Mother Land by Paul Theroux (awesome thick tome which reminds me of my mother and of the aforementioned relation): “At the end of his memoir, Family History, John Lanchester comments, ‘Once my mother wasn’t able to read my books, I finally began writing them.'” Theroux also continues to write about Miller, Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence, and others about how they dealt with their families’ and friends sentiments of their writing. It is empowering and it brings me back to Mary Oliver… what are we going to do with this wild and precious one life?
I think the first thing we do is stop saying “no” and say “yes” instead. Yes to things that quicken our pulse. Yes to things that scare us. Yes to things we’ve not done before. Yes.
This is it! This is the moment we’ve been waiting for! If you’re not there yet but you want to be, we can do it together. We just have to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel while we wave at the moon.