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.
paranoid much? When you have a situation like I did, with a parent who clearly had self-esteem issues and who mishandled a lot of parenting due to the management of those issues, there is going to be a lot of espionage. She wanted my assessments of things, but she didn’t REALLY want my assessments of things, y’dig?
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 would like to do one a day. I would like to run out of ink doing them.
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:
boom. thank you, Fate. I don’t if I’ve told secrets that weren’t mine to tell. I’ve certainly been harsh. I don’t know about cruel, but I know I’ve been angry enough to be vindictive, but I don’t know. It’s a delicate balance: where does one story end and the other begin?
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?