Tag Archives: writing

Repeating a Cycle . . . For Years . . . Without Knowing It.

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When I was young, I was home alone with my mother during the day while my older brother was at elementary school. Sometimes, I would be home, even if enrolled, because I didn’t wake up on time or for some other reason. As a young child, I was incapable of know the time, a schedule or logistics. That’s what parents are for.

Often, my mother would stay in her room with the door locked.

I would sit outside her room waiting for her to emerge. I waited for food. I waited for acknowledgment, a nod, an embrace, interaction. Something that would break my preschool solitude. Sometimes I would wait all day. Still in my nightgown, bed head, waiting and napping.

I’m not here to abuse my mother’s memory. That’s never been my intention. If you’re still reading, you’re likely wondering what this is about. It’s about confronting raw and long-ignored patterns of behavior that I swore I’d never repeat.

Because I grew up with a mother who suffered from mental illness, substance abuse and alcoholism, I was left to do a lot of growing up on my own. I was also subjected to the surprising and ephemeral bouts of rage or affection she would manifest.

I pledged to my children that I would be present. That I would be aware. That I wouldn’t abuse alcohol. That I would not take prescriptions needlessly. It takes me MONTHS to go through a 60-day supply of extremely low dose Xanax. To give you perspective: my mother could burn through a 30-day supply of 2mg bars in a weekend. I promised them and myself I would be a Good Mom. That I wouldn’t leave them waiting for me after carpool ended, that I would always tuck them in when I was home; that I would greet them in the morning and that I would be real. I pledged that I would be everything she was not and that they would never have to wonder if their mother was ok or sober or alive or coming back. I SWORE THIS.

I was pretty good at it actually. I didn’t have a hard time not getting drunk or stoned. I would run errands when the kids were at preschool and then we’d come home and nap or walk the dog or live life. Was I perfect? I didn’t grind wheat to make bread or spin the cotton I grew to make thread nor shear a sheep to knit their blankets, but I was a pretty damned good mother and I did my best. I was winning. I was doing all the apparent things that brought my children and marriage security. It wasn’t that hard, because these were all the obvious things: get up, shower, dress, coffee, eat, function repeat.

The thing is: most of us play this part REALLY well and no one would ever suspect that anything was amiss. I didn’t. But you and I both know that there are people out there every day, sometimes me or you, that are in a shitty mood and driving around that way. That we are exhausted and driving around that way. That we are ill or have mental distractions or demons which occupy our minds. BUT WE LOOK GOOD DOING IT.

All of this said, I feel pretty confident that if my kids go to therapy, it’s not because I was hammered all the time and freaking out on them. It would be because I tried REALLY HARD NOT TO do those things so much so that it may have become a little bit much. I never shouted “WE DO NOT SCREAM AND YELL IN THIS HOUSE!!!” but I am sure it might have felt that way. I screamed and yelled plenty; I did what I could to get them to be ready to leave with 10-minute warnings, “do you have your homework?,” to put away their dishes, to clean up their rooms, to not be assholes to each other. I also sang and danced and joked and hugged and romped and played, so I hope things are pretty balanced. Still to this day, our home is open to their friends, to their own bad moods and I am utterly available to them so long as they don’t sneak up on me or if they knock first.

It’s the shit that happens to us that we don’t realize has taken a hold on us and kicked us around on the inside where the bruises don’t show. I spent about a dozen or so years believing that they all felt loved, safe, secure and INTENDED. That they all felt safe because I was f l e x i b l e and fun and present and open minded. Why? Because I said it to them and they said it back. Simple as that: “I love you, ___…” response: “I love you too, Mom.”

Done. Right?

Not so fast. I said “I love you” to my mother plenty without meaning a syllable of it. Or maybe I meant it, but I didn’t feel safe. She never asked me that: “Maaally, do you feel safe here? Do you feel as though you have a predictable life and that you don’t worry about your family…?” To that, the answer would have been AW HELL NO.

When I was about 38, I began going through “the change” of perimenopause and pre-menopausal hormone shifts. This is a known medical phenomenon that happens to all women and the symptoms vary as much as sunsets. I’ve written about this humorously and candidly in this blog.

So I’ve established that I was a child of an alcoholic and mentally unstable mother. My father was also a self-professed dry alcoholic who stopped drinking but still manifested all the erratic and mania without the added destabilizing booze. I’ve also established that I the believe I tried to do all the right things.

Here’s where the road completely detours and the GPS starts to twitch. This post is a flawed personal account of the power of epigenetic trauma, genetic addiction and love.

In my research for the blog and while recalling my own issues, I began to manifest what is called “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” which I’ve also written about as humorously as I could. If memory serves, I also believe I wrote about an incident with one of my children during what was PMDD but was unknown to me — it occurred before my diagnosis. When I wrote about PMDD, I also ran across an article stating that there’s a link between higher incidences of PMDD amongst female Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs).

The short of it is that I was suffering radical hormonal swings on a daily to an hourly basis wherein I would go from girl next door to Joan Crawford within the blink of an eye. Add to this, the unresolved pain of living a life where I felt invisible and unheard by the very people who elected to get their groove on and make me. Not only was there the invisible stuff, but then when I was visible, it was mostly as a scape goat or to be yelled at, or as a miracle salvo to some invisible problem and that just my mere presence would FIX EVERYTHING BECAUSE YOU’RE A MIRACLE…. talk about instability.

So enter the evening when I was in my late 30s. I was preparing dinner, likely one that would be rejected by my team. No matter. I was doing what needed to be done. One of my children got my attention in the very deepest wrong way possible. So as a result, I chased him, screaming, raging, blind. This tiny body, those big eyes, that sweet nose and beautiful lips and skin; the entirety of him weighed no more than 40 pounds. His little striped shirt, slippers, overalls swishing to get away from me. I gave chase from the kitchen into another room in the house where he threw himself into a corner, unable to run any farther away, and collapsed, cowering, covering himself as if I was to hurl everything I could find at him. My eyes enormous, my face red, veins popping out of my forehead and neck, my lips curling and my voice murderous. Insults, crazed accusations, venom flying from my crazed mind and mouth at this little kid who only did something age appropriate that rubbed me the wrong way.

I recall his brothers looking at us both. Fear in their eyes as well. I registered that awareness, but it didn’t stop me. Finally, my husband entered the room and had to peel me away from this singular child and the deep caverns of insult I felt at being bothered by him while I was exercising that all-important vow of being the best mom I could be. I felt invisible. I felt inconsequential. I felt worthless and here was this little kid reminding me just how worthless I was because if I’d been doing my job right, I he’d have everything he needs and I would be a great mom. Now add to this that HIS FATHER had to come in to save him from me… who’s going to save me from him...? What about me? When is enough good enough…?

What I had done is renewed the cycle of rage. I created a space >just like that!< that shifted from “I love you you’re the best I want to be the best Mommy ever and you will never feel unsafe” to “you little shit do I not matter do you not see how fucking hard this is???” When all he was doing was being a little kid. He wasn’t misbehaving, likely. Or if he was, he certainly wasn’t doing something that rightfully conjured a response like that. Crying and shaking, his father returned to him. I went to bed, hearing his little voice saying “I’m sorry mommy.”

Fast forward (because that’s how time moves). I am certain I apologized. I am certain I still didn’t understand what happened and as some defense mechanism I managed to downgrade it in my memory. Three days later, I got my period. My mood had completely reverted back to Miss Elaine from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It was also at least a week early and it was karmic payback I guess. I was exhausted and in pain and out of sorts. But I wasn’t a maniac, so that’s good.

Continue to fast forward. This son goes to school. Suffers from anxiety and separation issues. Has trouble concentrating. Has trouble not distracting others in school. His grades are adequate, but he’s SO SMART — we know this, but he’s unable to lock down and get in gear. So he suffers. We get tutors. We get time after school. We have conferences. Thanks to the clarity of hindsight, his story echoes mine so much it’s creepy.

To tie off my PMDD issues, I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2018 and had a radical bilateral total hysterectomy that August. So PMDD is no longer a thing for me because: I ain’t got no more baby maker parts. Now I take a low dose of hormone replacement. Life is good. If I’m an asshole how, I am fully aware.

The reality of this post is that it doesn’t matter when it happened or who is involved. It could be about your family, it could be fiction, but it’s not. I try my best always to protect identities while securing candor. It’s a balance.

I’m still excelling at Operation Good Mom. Sober, clear-headed, still fun and now I’m expanding into practicing yoga, meditating, helping out my elderly parents, raising dogs, making friends, doing it all. ISN’T IT GREAT?! But this beautiful boy continues to suffer slings and arrows. He makes missteps. He’s incredibly talented. He’s really smart. He struggles still, but he’s handsome, charming, funny, intelligent and very lovely.

Years go by. He gets out of bed, he goes to school, he checks all the boxes, but inside: he is UTTERLY DISINTEGRATING. But he smiles. He jokes. He has friends. Deeply wants to be a part of something. BUT YOU’RE A PART OF US! WE ARE THE BEST TEAM!

His friends? They all seem cool, a little aloof and cliquey in middle school, but who isn’t? They also seem to be not what I would consider mutually interested in his friendship. As though it’s an awkward fit. Contrived. He is sweet but he seems so sad. We try more therapists.

As he gets into high school, his friend group shifts from the cliquey jocks to a more kaleidoscopic group — all types of kids. He spends a little time out more than I ever did at his age (and I was a mess), but times are different, so I just watch, while all the while…. hearing the nagging thoughts of “something’s not right… something is wrong.” But he’s so reactive that we don’t bother sometimes addressing his obvious coldness toward us and his defensive demeanor. We chalk it up to adolescent assholicry. Now he is a young man; I am no longer “a parent” in terms of the traditional sense, I am like a counselor, consigliere. So I have to tread softly.

As this goes on, his missteps become greater and more dangerous. The crevasse from doing OK to doing NOT OK is deeper, wider and rocky. I become an asshole and I shift from consigliere to private investigator. I renew my certification from my childhood and resume my filial operations of looking for evidence of wrongdoing. I become an asset. I discover things I shouldn’t. I start snooping and spying. After all, I pay for the technology. I own the house. I bring them up, we have fights. He rages about privacy violations, I tap my toes beneath my crossed arms, purse my lips and raise an eyebrow: I am unimpressed.

Incident after incident after incident. To the point where I am truly wondering, “Do we have a mental disability or illness on our hands? Have the stripes of all our fucked up ancestral genetics come calling on this sweet kid who is spiraling?”

I go back to my understanding of “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACE” scores. But my scores are MY scores, not his… What is the cause here? Did someone molest him? We are still married and a solid family… we have TWO dogs now… I’m not addicted to anything… no one else is… We haven’t moved, no one is in jail or facing a long-term illness… surely it’s NOT US! So what could be the genesis… ?”

Calls to the police’s non-emergency number. I have it stored in my memory, as a contact on my phone. We try visits from the police into the house. I speak to my therapists. Let’s talk about these things. It gets quiet, but I know he’s still up to something. Because he is a minor throughout all of this, we have legal obligations to him which the police remind all of us.

In my head, I am spiraling: this can’t be happening again. This can NOT be the way my story goes. I WILL NOT be the peanut butter and jelly in this fucking addiction and dysfunction sandwich.

Knowing that if we decide this particular person needs some form of professional intervention I can insist on it, but after living with my parents and witnessing that never materialize and watching as much “Intervention” on TV that I can get my hands on, I know that it won’t work because it’s not his idea, I threaten it at least.

Naturally, he declines rejects it. After the third visit which also included some zip ties placed on his wrists to contain his rage and to keep him safe and unarrested, the police leave us with a sheet of paper that has a a certain phone number printed on it and if we need to, we can call it and then refer to another number on the form which will fast track us to a judge to “Baker Act” him: request a three-day psych hold if necessary. But that “Get Into Jail Free Card” is good only for 72 hours.

For the next few weeks we all walk around on egg shells. His brothers are suffering — it’s all too much. But he’s still a minor and evicting my own kid is not my style (plus it might violate my Good Mommy pledge). Over time, things calm down a little and we all sleep and make some changes. Get him into therapy. He improves. But the truth has never been truer: It’s Not His Idea, So It Will Not Stick.

We could throw all the money at therapy. It wouldn’t matter. Buy more gear, it doesn’t matter.

He continues to live, breathing day by day, his heart continuing to beat. Month by month and year by year, he gets up, goes out, eats, comes home, eats, sleeps, wakes up, leaves, goes out with the friends we know of to then go see God knows who to do God knows what until God knows when.

He does this thing, where he lives in zones in the house where no one else is. He’s hiding something. More months, more years…

His prickliness has returned. Did it ever go away? Most recently, he is defensive and emotionally ugly again. His clothes are dirty. All his vanity has disappeared. His teeth look like shit. I used to brag to him about how perfect his teeth were. He never needed braces and they were so perfectly proportioned and healthy. He is falling apart before my eyes. He is plainly, a dick, and very hard to be around. He repels. It’s like living with Trump. Whatever he’s doing is working for him.

He makes requests for things, we honor them so as to help his future professional endeavors because we ARE GOOD PARENTS. We continue to coexist until his disrespect and shitty behavior will no longer be tolerated. This continues for three days which will now be referred to as the Weekend from Hell.

Because of my predilection for rage, nagging and my deep trust issues from being raised by assholes, I don’t let up. We fight like badgers. He tells me and his father, “it’s her or me. I can’t live like this. She ruins everything. She’s the problem.”

His father and I balk at that. I scream, “I’m not the one who ___ or ___ or ___. In fact every time ____ happens, I am a simp: I get you some fucking reward for it because you state you do ___ because you feel unseen in your craft so I buy you what you need to help you with your craft. But it’s all manipulation. It’s all lies. I WILL NOT LEAVE MY HOME. YOU CAN GET OUT, if ___ and ___ mean so much to you.”

He turns into a child and runs away. Literally in the middle of the night. He takes his clothes that he’d recently separated for donations and tosses that plastic bag into a large blanket we have. He takes his phone and a bottle of water. He’s wearing his designer sneakers he bought with his own money. I decide I need to take off. Something has woken in me and it all feels too familiar. I have to get away. So I hop into my car and drive into the next state. I’m about 40 miles away when he calls me. We continue to warp and manipulate and hurt each other with defensiveness, accusations, rage and plain hurt.

As I continue to drive around the beltway, it dawns on me, at 2:15am, that somehow this IS about him and me. It’s not about his siblings, or friends, or cousins or anyone else. That somehow I am deeply involved in this. He only reaches out to me or his father. His brothers are asleep (not likely) in their beds. I continue to drive around. He doesn’t like that I’m out. I am in so much psychic pain. Things: thoughts and feelings and memories are coming at me as fast as I’m driving. I hear his voice, I just want him home. I don’t want to be out here either, but I can’t live there without him. There is still an umbilicus between us. I can not break it. I am broken if he is broken.

What was it my therapist said, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child…”

I sigh. I keep my composure. I hear his voice. How I miss those earlier days when it was so much simpler. When I could pick him up and reroute him with a smile or a hug or a kiss or a piece of chocolate.

The beltway is mostly empty, but I look down and I’m doing 89mph. I phase back in mentally and I hear him from the speaker. He’s calling my name again.

He says, ironically, “it’s unsafe, you belong at home, where you can be safe. I belong out here. If I’m out here I can’t hurt you anymore. I can’t break your rules and you can’t enforce them. It’s best. I will live this way until the pandemic ends. I will get a job and sleep on the streets, I know people who do it. I will be ok, Mom. I will live in the woods. No I will not tell you where I am. TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE. If you go home I will tell you, you shouldn’t be out driving on the beltway late at night alone in your car. You are vulnerable to all sorts of things. Mom, go home. If you go home I will come home. Turn around and I will too.”

I turn around. He calls me again. I tell him I’m turning around. I tell him where I was. He still won’t tell me where he is. We go back and forth. He says he will come home when I come home. He says he will watch for my car on the big street outside our neighborhood and when it goes by in the correct direction he will know I’m returning. I say, “it’s not home with you out there. This is not the way to do this.”

I pull into the driveway. He says he sees me. He says go home and give my phone to Dad so that he will know I’m there. I do. Then he says, “I’m not coming back. I wanted you home. It’s not safe for you.”

I feel like throwing up. I am so sad. This is the worst thing that could have ever have happened to me. My family is being destroyed and I have worked so hard to be present and clean and mindful. I fuck up, sure, but I own it. WHY WON’T HE OWN HIS SHIT?!?!? WHEN WILL THIS GET BETTER?

I get back into my car and scream into the night, “I AM LEAVING. YOU HAVE WON. YOU ARE RIGHT. I AM WRONG.” I decide that I have basically a full tank and I am going to wind up on the doorstep of someone I know when the sun is up. Screw the quarantine. I will just go. New York. Ohio. Maryland. I have masks, I have money, I have GPS. This is for my mental health.

My husband calls. “He’s home. Please turn around. We need to sleep, all of us. I know you are jazzed up, but in an hour or two you might start to falter and wind up in a ditch somewhere. He says he won’t leave again tonight.”

It turns out that my runaway had some technical issues during his jaunt: his plastic bag tore and as he scrambled to stuff his clothes back in his bag, or capture them in the queen size blanket, like a giant kit bag, his water bottle burst all over his clothes and blanket and he needed to come back.

We talk a little and agree to adjourn to our chambers. A few minutes later he comes into our room asking for lotion because he hurt his hand when he fell down and burst his water bottle. I go into my medicine cabinet and I see my bottle of Xanax and I see him see it. I don’t think much more about it. I give him the lotion and he departs.

Because poor sleep was not an option this evening / morning, I resort to my last resort and take .125mg of Xanax. I had maybe 12 whole .25mg pills left amongst a handful of .125mg halves. Luckily I didn’t have to teach yoga in the morning. That evening had started out so nicely too: my husband and I went to a Friday night pasta station at a restaurant and had a fabulous night. I’d fasted all day so I could carb up. We were home from that event by 9:30 and then all hell broke loose because he was stoned or something but refused to do what I’d asked him thrice to do. Video games took priority.

The next morning, it started fairly normally but he continued with his insistence that he get to smoke pot whenever he wanted as long as it was out of the house. His father and I continued to NOT allow that at all. For me, it isn’t the substance, it’s the asshole he becomes when he does things like this, because he gets addicted and it’s awful. We’d been around this before with vaping.

He manages to disclose that he’d actually been smoking multiple times a day for several days for several weeks before we had this blowout on Friday night. So he was pretty addicted to it. Which is his genetic cross to bear.

We have another fight and he leaves again. This time he leaves his phone. But it’s daytime and I’m less concerned. But I’m so tired of this shit. I can not tell you how many times either one of my parents were disgusted with the other or one of us and threatened to leave and never come back or inflict self-harm or kill themselves, or oust the other and never let them back in or get rid of the dog or say we might come home to an empty house. AS A CHILD I heard these things. I literally CAN NOT tell you how many times. I would go to sleep hearing them yell this stuff at each other, calling out to one of us, their children, as witnesses to the charges. At this point, I realize that I was wavering between my personal past and my current present and at times unable to know which emotions were coming from which situation or memory. I make a note to tell my therapist about this.

When he leaves he says he doesn’t want his phone because he wants his body to be discovered by dogs or something and that the only way we’d know it was him was by his dental records. Shit like that. So he takes off. Again: I am reeling and nearly unable to function, but there is this part of me, the Mother Energy that doesn’t give up and that also props me up and snickers about his “found by dogs” comment.

One brother takes off on foot to look for him. Another brother stays home by the phones in case something develops and he can be command center. My husband and I drive our cars looking for him. The other brother comes back and changes up for a bike to search. We are dispersed, looking for this kid who thinks no one cares about him.

Wherever he’s off to now, he has access to email because he sends a note to his father: “NOW WHAT?” Still raging against me and still wanting things his way, with the help of a friend, we manage to triangulate where he could be and where he could have access to email. My husband finds him and they start to talk. He sees my car and tells me to get lost.

No problem. Bye.

I leave him there with his father to disrespect and fight.

I return home and text this friend with an update.

Because I reach out to some friends of his, one mentions a situation that may be bringing my son a fair amount of shame or confusion. This friend agrees that perhaps it would be best to alert the police. That his threats of suicide can no longer go unnoticed (WHAT?!?). So we call the non-emergency number because I honestly don’t know if this is an emergency — because my bearings are off. In the same breath, this friend accuses him of manipulation and then tells me to call the 5-0.

Who are these people he hangs out with?

I explain to the dispatcher everything I know. Physical description, clothes, the last known place I saw him and my husband’s description. I’m crying to her, she’s a mom, she sympathizes. I tell her about the concerning comments, dental records, the secret he is carrying that might be shameful, she says, “OK, I have heard enough. We need to find him. I am putting out an alert to all officers in the area. We will find him, Mom. Don’t worry.”

As I hang up the phone, my husband walks in the doorway, an utter wreck. It did not go well. Their conversations were hostile and circular and defensive and riddled with angst. They were at an impasse and he had to make the hard choice of leaving our son where he was, with him calling after him. The last thing my husband saw in the rearview mirror as he drove away was our son calling out to him and crying. Between guttural sobs and heaves and cries, my husband relays his actions: “I had to do it. He has to hit bottom. If I picked him up we’d just go through this again. I have to let him go. I have to move away, it’s killing me and ruining our family. He doesn’t care. I have to choose us. I just left my son to die or live and I have to do it because it’s killing me to live like this.”

My heart sinks. This generous and gentle man, who comes from his own family with its own stories of upheaval, has had to endure it again in the family he created. He slumps down from the sink, where he was heaving and sobbing, releasing long-held trauma and pain from who knows where and when; on the verge of vomiting, heaves. We cry together, like Karen and Henry Hill in Goodfellas after the FBI raid on our bathroom floor holding one another. This is marriage sometimes.

“Mom, the police are here. Mom.” Says one of my other sons. I get up and go to speak with the female officer at the door. She’s in a mask. I have to turn around and get mine to join her outside our door. She’s asking questions about our son, last known place, last known clothing. I tell her my husband just left him at this location. She radios it in.

My husband joins us on our front stoop. I step inside to read a text. It’s from another friend of his. I tell her about the disagreement between our son and his father. She says she’s going to go look for him. I say, “ok, thanks. Be careful and keep an eye out for the police.”

As we are talking, my son’s friend pulls up the street with a squad car behind her. She has my son in her passenger seat. He gets out and greets the officers. He pulls a mask from his pocket and puts it on. The officer who was interviewing me and my husband excuses herself to speak with our son. At the same time I am both so proud of his composure and respect for the police and enraged that he is putting us all through this again.

Everyone is six feet apart, this all feels like a dream.

He walks to sit between them, gesticulating and explaining things. He makes, loudly, some comment about how marijuana is no longer a criminal offense and that it’s just a $25 fine. The officers agree with him, he looks at me smugly. I already knew this. I can’t believe that I’m being shown up in front of police at my own house.

He’d make an excellent lawyer, I muse to myself.

But I shift back to this situation: “I don’t give a crap. It’s not allowed here. It’s a nonstarter. It won’t be allowed here.” Before I turn away, I throw up my arms, look at the officer with the “THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE” and she said to him, “it’s not your home; their rules.”

She comes back in to inform us of our rights and his rights and to remind us of the executive order in the commonwealth against lawful evictions due to the pandemic. So that’s out. Even so, a lawful eviction requires a 30-day process which includes him being served by a sheriff’s deputy and judges do not look favorably upon parents who want to punt their kids.

Things calm down, he goes to his room and seethes. I go to my bed and seethe. His brothers are walking on egg shells. I go for a run on my treadmill and exhaust myself that way. I call for a family meeting at 6.

It turns out we are all together (this is what he does — he fills space with his energy if he wants to manipulate and turn people off) so I said, “should we just start talking now?” I get a wooden spoon which is meant to be the “talking stick” so that things can be relatively calm or at least orderly. That was a silly idea.

We go ‘round in what’s becoming something on A&E television. We are having an intervention in my family room. One of his brothers COMPLETELY lashes out and tells it like it is. The other says, “I have nothing to to say because he’s laughing at all of us…” so he leaves. I start crying and his father explains to him what it felt like to abandon him early in the day. “I had to do it.”

The bickering and defensiveness is like a cinder block firewall. He rejects everything we say. Refuses to meet us on anything. Mocks us, causes hurt and pain. Then … something cracks.

“I have NEVER FELT loved here. Do you know what it’s like to walk around in the house populated with people who are supposedly your family and feel like you’re a stranger or a distant cousin who causes hushes around the table when he enters a room?

Ever since I can remember, Mom, I have never felt as though you love me. I have never felt safe around you. I have to BUST MY ASS to get a compliment out of you. Do you not think I don’t feel it when you and others have your private jokes or New Yorker cartoons and you don’t even BOTHER to share them with me?

Ever since I was small. When you came after me with a knife and chased me into the playroom yelling at me, calling me names and telling me you’d rather be dead…”

WHAT.

My defenses go up.

“Are you talking about that time when I was preparing dinner and you were pestering your brothers and I had to come in to get you to cut it out?! Are we going over this again? I have apologized to you for this…

A KNIFE?! I never had a knife. Your father had to pull me away from you, yes, I was enraged, but I thought I explained this to you, I had PMDD — an episodic hormonal disorder which changed my moods and is like postpartum depression — and I was having an episode. I thought I went over this with you…”

I am exhausted from having to defend myself again about this story. I have always owned my part in this. My walls start to go up.

He is crying. It is unbearable for me. I resist EVERY urge to be impatient, to get up and be offended. He gets up, with tears in his eyes, streaming down his face, says, “Did you ever love me? Was I a mistake?”

His face contorts into shapes and colors I hope I never see again: wracked with emotional pain, ruby, muscles doing things I didn’t think were capable since his birth, when we spent those first early breaths together. That place where my uterus was aches and contorts as well. My insides are twisting.

I am in a different place now.

I sort of stand up and make room for him on the couch next to me. I take him in my arms. We are one. It is like no one else is in the room and I feel him, his pain, his heart, his breathing and crying. I hold him and I say, “I get this. I get this. I did this to you. I know it now. I scared you. I didn’t meant to scare you and I am so sorry that I did. I knew it must have been frightening, but I thought my explanation was enough. God, I have done it — I undid the very thing I hung up as my credo to be as a mother: a protector and I violated that. I know what it’s like to feel like the blame or reason for your mother’s rage, I know what it’s like to feel unsafe amongst the very people who brought you into this world, who profess to love you unconditionally and without reservation and then make you wonder what’s wrong with you and if you will ever be OK. And I scared you. I make you wonder if I ever loved you or if you would be safe with me. You had to prove and enforce your presence again and again for me: loudly, through action, shouting from the safety of your cave to your MOTHER. The very person who says she loves you — you fear. Why? Because she scared you and you never know if she will be there because if she leaves, you’re the one to blame, so why not fuck up your life? No one loves you, no one has expectations and dreams for you. Why dream? Why try? ‘I’m going to leave anyway, may as well make it sooner rather than later.’ No fun waiting for that other shoe to drop. I get it. Oh my sweet sweet boy. I am SO sorry. I understand it all. And I have done it to you. And in doing it to you, you are my teacher. You are showing me CLEARLY how I —even in the midst of trying not to— have set us on a course for ruin as a unit. You are putting things back together — right now. I love you. I love you more than you will ever know and I am different. RIGHT NOW, I am different. You were NOT an accident or a mistake. I wanted three kids. You fit in here in your own way. Just like I do or your brothers do. No one has straight edges, we connect. We make this beautiful broken mosaic. I love you.”

He was me, waiting outside my mother’s bedroom. Sitting, cold, hungry and I never knew. Was he “keeping me company”? Had I just re-created myself at 5 and let it multiply over and over and over again. We must have held each other for half an hour, crying and hugging and holding each other. I stroked his hair. We had to come up for air and my other son said, “Mom’s not crazy. She’s just a crazy strong mom.”

With runny eyes and a puffy face, I sniffled, “Without going into details, none of you were a mistake. You all know how that goes on, but you were all sought, prayed for and planned. Never anything but a gift.”

Eventually we unpeeled ourselves from one another, snotty, tired and raw. I took a shower. He went to his room. He stayed home that night. Exhausted.

I wish I could say it ended there.

He asked me for half a xanax (.125mg) to help him sleep and I said I’d think about it but that he would likely be ok without it. That moment at the medicine cabinet when he saw my pills the night before jiggered in my head and the notion occurred to me to move the bottle, but I didn’t.

A few hours later he comes to us as we are watching Fargo (trying to have a normal night) and says he’s good — he doesn’t need the Xanax and starts acting all weird and talking about how people just need to get over shit and that he is over everything and that he doesn’t care about what his friends told me and they just have to get over it all.

His father and I look at each other. My radar is up: He’s on something. Again. But I’m exhausted and as long as he’s home, I’m not going to sweat it. Going around the block again with him will do me in. I will commit myself to a facility if I have to go through last night and earlier today again.

We go to bed. I lie down.

I have a suspicion. I go to my medicine cabinet and reach for my Xanax. Four halves remain. Out of the dozen or so full tablets and handful of halves I had not 18 hours before, four halves remain.

“My Xanax is almost all gone.”
“Shit” says my husband.
“I’m not going to make a stink, but he won’t get away with this.”

Because I want to keep the peace in the household for the night and I know that what was remaining was largely low dosage, that if he took it, he would mellow out, but because we’ve moved all the alcohol out to our shed and hidden the liquor cabinet key, if it’s just Xanax, he should be largely ok. But my filial operative mode kicks in again and I won’t let this slide and I go confront him.

“My lawfully prescribed Xanax is almost all gone. I have only four halves from roughly 20 tablets remaining from when I took a half of one before I went to sleep after last night’s shit show circus.”

”I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t do it.” He says, but it’s more like he murmurs, man. Like Jim Morrison is saying it.

I say, “Ok,” and leave for my bedroom. “Whoever took them is in violation of federal law.”

In my mind, I wonder if what I told him a long time ago is on repeat in his mind: “the day I don’t give a shit and fight with you is the sad day for you. That means I’ve checked out. That I am done trying to help you and that you’re on your own.”

Naturally, he starts to follow me. He protests to my accusation, which I didn’t make. His father tells him it’s all good. Go to bed or do your thing…

We sleep.

The next morning I wake up at 4:45. I can’t sleep anymore. I feel powerless and I have to shift myself back into a space where I do not feel like a victim.

I come down here, to this office and open my iPad and start a document that outlines rules for allowing him to stay here. I need something that feels real.

It starts off humbly enough and then I decide, “shit, I may as well just go for it and make some really awesome rules… rules that will turn him off so much he will leave as soon as he gets a job…”

At 6am I wrapped it up. It was deeply therapeutic and I printed it. Brought it to my husband who was beginning to wake. I fell back to sleep.

An hour or so later, I woke up to the sound of my husband putting on loud pants — they’re like warmup pants.

He announced, “I’m taking him to the Lamb Center. He said he can’t do this anymore. That he isn’t sleeping and that he is destroying our family. That he has to leave.”

“Ok.” I say, barely able to speak from exhaustion, drama and hurt.

Our son comes in, asking to say goodbye.

“Goodbye,” I say. Whispering and exhausted. I feel like I looked like a haggard octogenarian in her bathrobe and nightgown under her sheets. My hair a mess, my voice barely audible. Like the elderly woman in Moonstruck when Johnny Camareri is visiting his mother in Sicily on her death bed. Her.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he says.

“Do what?” I ask. “There’s a lot you shouldn’t be doing, so which is it? I won’t fight you anymore; I am depleted. I have given you my A Game. Your life is yours to live however you want it. I will print up the lawful eviction papers on Monday and get that process started, so that if you change your mind, you can’t come back — I won’t ever have another weekend like this again. I will leave all of you if you pull this shit, so you’re right: it’s best you leave.”

I ask his father, who is at his wit’s end to hand him my Magna Carta for living here. Immediately he starts to snort and scoff and balk. “Are you serious?? This is so … OMYGOD. You are like the worst…”

I breathe.

“No. See, these are all optional. You don’t have to do them because you have decided you won’t be living here.”

“Yeah. Right. I know. That’s why I’m leaving. I can’t make demands like ‘it’s her or me’ because you’re Mom — it’s wrong of me and shitty — my brothers don’t deserve this…”

“No, they don’t. You’ve traumatized this family. You’ve held us emotionally hostage many times. I have to make a choice and I have to let you go. I will not let you get high here, and if you continue to smoke, you will have to leave. I grew up with addicts and I WILL NOT do it again. I will not spend my life nursing one more person who has shit buried so deep they refuse to address it.”

He nods.

I’m still so sad about all of this. I can’t believe this is happening. I know that the moment we shared on the couch yesterday was transformative, but he stole from me just hours later — the Xanax. I know he did. In my heart I would do anything to help him, but the only thing that will help him is to not help him. I would be in his way and I know this.

“I need to tell you something,” He says.

“Go ahead.”

He moves to the opposite side of the bed and sits so he is facing away from me. “I did it.” He said.

“Ok, I’ll play. Did what? There’s lots this could pertain to.” I say.

“I mean I took it. I took it.” He said.

“Took what? Again, there are so many options. And if you’re going to admit to something, you know me better: I will NOT help you out by filling in your blanks.”

“I took your Xanax last night.” He said.

“Oh. I know.” I said. “But now you’re going to hear it: YOU STOLE FROM ME A LAWFUL PRESCRIPTION I HAVE TO HELP ME SLEEP WHEN I TUSSLE FROM INSOMNIA — A LOT OF WHICH STEMMING FROM SHIT YOU PULL — FOR MORE THAN 3 HOURS.” I have had that prescription which gets filled twice a year for three years. He stole something from me that was so hard for me to ask for because my mother overdosed on Xanax at least twice in my life.

He started to cry again. I asked “Why? You’re getting what you want now. This should be a good day for you. You get to live with other homeless people who’ve decided their lifestyle, as you call it, is more important than their future, dignity or honor. That despite having all these blessings thrown at you, you’re going to piss them away in a homeless shelter getting high with other people. I’ll be sure to drop off some toothbrushes and socks for you all every few weeks. Keep your phone, but don’t ever leave it anywhere, it will be stolen.”

He’s nodding and crying. He’s shaking he’s in so much psychic pain. But he’s not a child anymore so I can’t assuage his pain, offer him my love, or tell him it will be ok because I honestly don’t know. I don’t know where his boogeyman is.

Something shifts. The energy shifts in the room and I feel as though he’s handing me the reins for a bit.

“Do you want to stay?” I ask him.

“Mmmhmm, yeah.” He says between sniffles. He’s seen the Lamb Center. We have donated food, healthcare supplies and other items to people who go there. People don’t live there — it’s more like a cafeteria with a shower and a locker.

“Do you have any ideas for how that would look? What would you do? I know you hate the rules I wrote, and if I’m being honest, I have drafted so many papers like that which you just piss on, so I did it more for me. So what would continuing to live here look like for you? Does your therapist know about your lifestyle? How you’ve been living? I know for a fact that clients are fired for this behavior, so you might be shit out of luck and try some honesty with them for once.”

He ends up texting his therapist and asks for some time that day due to an urgent matter. We already told them about what happened the day before and the night before that, so odds are good we will get some time in.

We end up having a 28 minute call with his therapist, who is NO DUMMY. Sharp as a tack and he is lucky to be under their care. Rules are put in place, starting with a drug test in two days. Then a session, then back to weekly sessions.

Later that afternoon, I made a conclusion with him: “If you continue to want this smoking lifestyle, you are choosing those people over your family and that’s your choice, but I will not allow you to live here. I have made that clear. You are a totally different person when you are high. If you don’t think you are addicted, you’re confused. Your therapist will help you understand it all. When you get high, you are a smug asshole and disparaging and sometimes caustic. I won’t have it. But if you have to have it, if it’s SOOOO important to you, then you will have to leave. If you do not leave, and you choose to stay, I will also require weekly or random drug tests and you will pay for them.

It’s been three weeks. Things feel decidedly different. He is actively present in his own life. People, opportunities and health have manifested in a way that makes me believe more than I ever have, in the law of attraction, that what we resist persists and what we think about we become.

He made a breakthrough with his therapist yesterday: that he hates being told what to do, and until it’s his idea to do something, he won’t do it. Like anyone else: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it.

He is flawed, because he is human. He is a brilliant teacher. He is patient and loving. He is fierce. His life is his own.

What have I learned? That I needed to get on my own couch to heal my own wounds from my parents before I could help my son(s) heal their wounds from me. No matter how hard we try, we will screw this shit up. We have to be ready for those moments of honest vulnerability to show us our true hearts and let love lead the way.

Thank you.

So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

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So I’ve Figured out This Much… #writing

The vertigo has been helpful, or at least it has pushed me into the direction I mean to head. I have been taking prednisone for it. On Tuesday (three days ago) I got an 80mg shot of it in my ass. From my understanding, that’s a strong dose. My doctor said, as she was seated on one of those round leatherette-upholstered low stools that roll around the linoleum while glancing between me and her computer, “Hmm. Should we just go for it and give you the 80? That would likely do the job… we may as well while we are here…” and she ordered it.

I don’t claim to know the difference between 2mg of prednisone and 100mg of it*.

*“Of it.” That was such a Doug Turnerism. He would say “of it” at the end of sentences… after the sentence had paused, even and we were ready to move on. And he’d just say “of it.” Like an old man. And I guess it’s because he was an old man… but it was like this all-encompassing tie off, so to speak, of what he was expressing… so that I suppose, to him … maybe it was a complete thought? That none of us would wonder if he were done? Or if he’d heard himself? Hard to say. Of it.

Anyway, the prednisone has kept me awake longer — and when I say “awake” I mean staring-at-the-ceiling-maybe-I-should-just-go-do-some-laundry-or-walk-the-dogs-in-the-cold-dark-night-alone-or-join-a-neighborhood-watch-patrol-do-they-even-have-those-anymore-maybe-we-should-get-a-ring-doorbell-but-that’s-an-Amazon-thing-no-better-not-do-that-but-what-will-help-us-stay-safe awake… in other words awake and stupid.

But I was also awake and aware enough to shift gears from thinking about letting Jeff Bezos have any more of my money for things than I’m comfortable with to figure out what to do about my writing at least for now and whereas Miriam, (a reference to my first book) is concerned.

I’m going to keep that manuscript and keep writing for the Unpulled Pin (fiction based on real shit) to flesh that out and because it’s so helpful to me emotionally, and it’s sort of essential to set the framework of her origin story. Then I’d launch into Miriam with a new beginning basically being me:

Miriam wanted to be a writer; and she was good at it, plus there was no getting away from it: it was in her blood for many generations and she sees it in her own children as well. She also wanted to be a good person. She also grew up with some really weird shit going on in her home. While some of it resembled Running with Scissors and it wasn’t as thoroughly dark as August: Osage County, it was haunting like Long Day’s Journey Into Night it was true that it ended ok, because Here She Was.

She knew her story was good enough to fill some pages, especially because she was healthier now, after, during and because of her therapy, yoga and having a family of her own, but she also knew that “tell alls” are for presidents and their lovers.

But this wasn’t going to be a “tell all” — she’s not out for blood anymore; that ship has sailed, but Miriam knew her story was interesting enough to share and be helpful for people who thought they were alone: upper middle class, adult children of well-educated, connected and upwardly mobile alcoholics.

So Miriam was at a crossroads: she could write her book about her story, but she’d have to tell the truth and to her, that “truth” part was at odds with being a good person. People who loved her parents didn’t really KNOW her parents, and while her parents were pretty fucked up people, they also deserved some dignity. But then she recalled what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird,

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Sounds good.

So there’s that. It’s going to be a story about a story. Funny, now that I reflect on the last few days — I’ve been humming “Paperback Writer” to myself, especially the lines “It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job so I want to be a paperback writer…” What I’m doing is a story about a writer who wants to write a book. Pretty meta.

So I have determined that I will channel Miriam with me as my muse and maybe sass it up a bit from time to time to make things seem super outrageous so that people won’t know up from down? I’m not going to sweat the details right now — that’s a way to keep from writing. I’m just going to get going.

In the meantime, Mary Oliver beckons:

Later!

Change… Organic and Otherwise

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We rented a house on the Outer Banks (“OBX”) of North Carolina, which is a place in and of itself accustomed to change despite the earnest and feckless desires of mere mortals who decide to defy Nature by building houses yards from the Atlantic.

We arrived on a cool March afternoon after driving several hours from our roost near Washington, DC. The two younger sons traveled with me and my husband in our giant SUV. They in the back seat enjoying their various iDevices and occasionally participating in conversations as we collectively listened to the entertaining and dubious Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff.

The sky was overcast, the winds pretty fierce and the shoreline was booming as the high tide was due in a couple hours. My youngest son, known as “Thing 3” to anyone who’s familiar with my writing (which has taken a back seat to my 11-times a week yoga teaching schedule) has been renamed “Tech Support” from time to time because of his interest in all things technological. (Don’t confuse “interest” with “competency” as he’s still learning and when I got a new computer a few weeks ago he scrubbed my old one and it took a shit ton of data supposedly stored on the “CLOUD” with it… but it’s only 1s and 0s right?).

When we pulled in to the OBX driveway, he said, “we’re under a storm surge warning which will cause high surf from tomorrow night at 8pm until the following evening at 8pm.” He was correct. The waves were truly the highest I’ve ever seen and the accompanying winds gave me pause to recall my numerous dreams I’ve had wherein I’m in a seafront home and utterly surrounded by sea water. I haven’t had one of those dreams in a while, and as stirring as they can be, I don’t wake destroyed as one might expect.

Back in early March, most of the east coast endured a nor’easter named “Riley” (is it me? When did they start naming winter storms? Are they like the names of Mother Nature’s children? I think we should rename them things like “Scott Pruitt”; “industrial age” and “Valdez”) and what about gender neutral names? “Riley” is safe, I must say, different from “Katrina” or “Hanna” or “Andrew” I believe most storms used to be named after females, but it’s not so far off when we will have a Storm Robert or Nor’Easter Stan… I digress (get used to it).

Riley slammed where I live with 70mph gusts and 40mph sustained winds for an entire weekend. Power went out all over the region, but not at my house. My father stayed with us overnight and that was probably enough for everyone, mostly him. His power was restored the next afternoon. Where I’m from, Buffalo NY, my cousins got slammed with several feet of snow. Boston got hammered … it’s how it goes. But down here, in OBX, it appears that the seas still have not receded. Riley pushed the sands up the shore; buried in-ground pools and turned 6′ privacy fences to knee-high shin scrapers. Pools installed behind some of those now-demolished privacy fences are overcome with sand.

Here’s my view from the deck of the house we rented… the “bush” below is what’s left of the first dune garrison. I’ve marked up the photos immediately following to explain what the what used to be what.

In this next photo, the steps leading up the walkway used to take you to another “bridge” over the first dune garrison and then you would descend a second set of steps to sit access the beach. Locals tell me these steps, walkways and bridges were installed last Easter. Bummer. These first two photos are of the same property; the one immediately to my left (north). You’ll notice that things look relatively normal and typical for a winter recovery. What you won’t notice is the missing dune line because it’s been so completely taken out. Nor would you notice that the shore’s depth to the water is probably 100 feet shallower.These next photos so perfectly depict for me the example of the objective “luck of the draw” that Nature and Fate so deftly provide at every moment. This is the seaside of the house immediately to my right (south). I’ve marked it up to explain what the what used to be what. If you examine closely, in the area marked “pool” and you don’t believe me, you’ll see a set of entry / exit ladder handles for access to that pool (almost in the dead center of this photo). The fence line outside the pool and hot tub used to be 6′ off the ground. I doubt the owners of this property have personally viewed the situation. I can’t say I blame them. Slightly “above” the box marked “pool” is another box that denotes what used to be a pool next door.

This is what used to be the entrance driveway belonging to house to my right (south). The red area denotes a driveway. The green denotes the grass / foliage and the blue is the water that said ” HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!” to all those ideas of driveways and gardens.

While these situations certainly aren’t’ catastrophic and none of these properties are a total loss, these are changes. Most people who own beachfront property usually just have to clean out the cobwebs, freshen up the carpets, steam clean the curtains and wipe down their windows to prepare for the rental season. The owners to my south are probably wistfully recalling those days of such burdens. We met a man one morning during our walks who owns a home several doors south on the shore here. His name was Bob. (For reals.) “It was the most beautiful property on the island,” he said (and I get it, we all think our home is the best or our kids are the smartest and best looking), but even what survived the storm wasn’t terribly impressive to me… it looked pretty weathered and neglected compared to other properties around his house. He had “a gorgeous pool” since surrounded by and filled with sand. Hanging at a 45˚ angle was a woeful five-and-dime “TIKI BAR” sign hanging and flappimg from one nail. Just below it was a faded and operative rainbow-themed windsock that somehow fared better than his obliterated privacy wall. It’s weird what survives these storms. “I’m screwed,” he crowed. I nodded in sympathy even though I didn’t agree with his summary. The house is still standing. He’s not exactly homeless and the lot alone is worth at least $2mm. And it was not t his only residence — he chose this lifestyle to rent their home in OBX to vacationers and then travel by RV the rest of the year. But who am I to decide who’s screwed and who isn’t? Bob was sad, but he was feeling sorry for himself. I heard later from neighbors drinking beers on the 20′ of boardwalk in front of our house that Bob opted to NOT have the maintenance and cedar fortification of his dunes and now he’s reaping that. Walking by Bob’s place a few days later I noticed that all evidence of the pool is gone and the sand is flat where it used to be. It seems that everyone has a Tiki Bar here.

Riley and its ilk are largely organic phenomena. I have little doubt that humanity and our “advances” have greatly sped up the oft-debated climate change process, but by and large, isn’t all change, effected directly or indirectly by humans, thus organic seeing as how we arent’ exactly inorganic to the planet?

I miss writing. I enjoy the yoga teaching, but I really miss the writing. Things have changed so much in my life (as I’m sure it has in yours) in the last several months that at times I feel as though I’ve aged 10 years. In my little tribe we’ve experienced a fair amount of turbulence, but what is life without change? And change without turbulence really isn’t change, it’s just “different.” The short of it is that parenting is not for wimps. The long of it is that it’s been difficult being a parent. Three boys, all teenagers now, and the boundary-pushing, shitty attitudes and straight-out rebellion is exhausting. I’m not so absurd to say that “I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it is a blessing…” because trust me, I’d change plenty. Kids make stupid choices and end up hurting themselves. We all did it and we will all do it again and those of us who managed to get here, this far, I guess are the norm… there are a lot of us still out there, aren’t there? So does that mean that the odds my kids will all make it to 90 with fun and compelling stories but not horrific ones of personal destruction and devastation? I sure hope so. I don’t like change. I don’t like my kids growing up and I don’t like my dad getting older. I can fight it, like an idiot, or I can continue to look for the silver linings (not necessarily the blessings) of even the most crushing experiences, for every experience is a teacher.

Thank you.

Sometimes It’s Just Not Possible

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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. 

Thank you.