I realize I’m treading into some dangerous territory, but I feel compelled to talk about relationships today. There is no getting through this life without them. The moment our body leaves the comfort of our mother’s womb, we are introduced to other people and the opportunity for relationships. Our first relationship is generally with our mother. In the beginning, we look to that person for care and nourishment and warmth. The next one is generally with whoever takes on the paternal role, which is usually our father. Undoubtedly, there is the relationship we have with ourselves. From there, the opportunity for relationships continues to expand. There are siblings and playmates and/or schoolmates, people that are part of our church or spiritual community, friends and neighbors, intimate partners, work colleagues, spouses and/or life partners, and people that aren’t necessarily ‘friends’ but are involved in similar causes. And last but not least, there are the relationships we have with our children.
When I became an adult, I wanted to make sure that I did things differently than my own parents. I wanted my children to know that they were loved and meant the world to me as I didn’t necessarily experience that myself. But I didn’t have a lot of ‘tools in my toolbox’ to work with. I look at things this way, my mom probably only had maybe (if I’m being generous) a saw and a paintbrush and my stepdad had a hammer and a level. When I left home, they handed me those tools to use throughout my life. Along the way, I picked up a couple of other items to add to my toolbox, a measuring tape and a flat-head screwdriver. If you know anything about having adequate tools to do a thorough job, a saw, paintbrush, hammer, level, measuring tape and screwdriver aren’t going to cut the mustard. You can get a lot of things done with those tools but there are going to be some tasks that will require some improvisation because maybe a particular job requires a wrench and if you don’t have a wrench, you just have to make do.
That’s how I look at my abilities as a parent. I had some tools but not nearly enough but I tried to work with what I had. There was a lot of improvisation. Still, I was determined that my kids would have it better than I did. And most of the time, I put myself last. The interesting thing is, despite how hard I tried to do a better job than my parents and have a more loving and open and real relationship with my own children, it appears I have fallen short. The ‘tough talk’ I had with my daughter the other day, along with the one that followed, have helped me to recognize that. And how ironic is that? As much as we try to do things differently, we end up emulating our parents?! All of the things my daughter brought up that cause her pain are the very things that trouble me about my own mom and our relationship. What does my daughter want? She wants ‘more’. Let me be clear, that is not in reference to ‘material things’ but in reference to my effort towards building a better relationship with her and maintaining it.
I have processed this recent conversation and tried to look at it objectively many, many times. It is clear she is disappointed. She wants something from me that I am unable to give. Whether that changes in time, I cannot be sure. What is hard is that I don’t want her to experience emotional pain. The last people I ever want to cause pain are my own children. Will she grieve from the knowledge that I likely will never be able to fully meet her needs in a relationship? I am absolutely certain. And that hurts my heart. She will likely grieve as I did with my own mother, when I recognized she could never fully meet my needs, as my mother likely did with her own mother. Is it possible for this ‘pattern’ to actually end? That’s a tough question and involves many variables. What I can tell you, without a doubt, is that for change to happen, healing is required. I have spent years hating myself and I have to say, I am worn out. It has taken a lot of energy to continually pick myself apart. The rare instances of joy in my life have been fleeting. And the pain? ‘Pain’ likes to stick around and elbow me in the ribs on a regular basis.
Relationships haven’t been easy for me. The people that have been along for the ride and have stayed by my side (through joy and pain and everything in-between) are my mom, my brother Clover, my dear friend ‘M’ that I’ve known since middle school and my husband. Despite her attempts at loving me, my mom has been one of the greatest sources of pain in my life. She’s one of the people I say I can only ‘take in small doses’. Whenever we get together, I feel a wall go up around her and I can never seem to break through it. It has always been this way. My brother Clover has been a source of love and understanding through it all. My dear friend ‘M’ has been mostly a source of love; however, he is always honest with me and speaks ‘the truth’, even if it hurts. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen that often. And my husband? It’s been rather a mixed bag. He’s been both a source of love and pain. Getting married at 20 years of age probably had a little something to do with that. We were both so emotionally immature. For most of our marriage, he has dealt with his ‘demons’ by drinking to excess and I have dealt with mine by eating to excess. We have been quite the pair!
My kidney transplant was like a new beginning for both of us. It was a chance to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Each of us decided at that time, without prompting from the other, to ‘live a better life’. The ‘peace’ we now experience in our home is so unlike anything we experienced in the past. Our relationship has been so much happier and healthier. It’s practically miraculous. But we have been through our share of difficult times, times that I wasn’t sure our marriage would even survive. Yet, here we are. And I am so grateful we still have each other because I’ve lost plenty of people in my life along the way. I’ve been so successful at running people off that there aren’t many left. Years ago, I had an aunt that I had an incredible bond with and she welcomed my calls anytime, night or day. It didn’t matter when I called, she would always answer the phone. I felt a closeness unlike how I felt (and feel) towards my own mother. We could easily talk for hours about anything. I had never experienced anything like it before. However, a couple of decades into the relationship, we had a disagreement. I had expressed how much I wanted to visit her and indicated as such, not once, but several times.
No matter what I said or how I said it, she would respond with a resounding ‘NO’. I was not used to her telling me ‘NO’. She was like a second mom to me. I just couldn’t understand it and it triggered something in me. Before I knew it, I had put my thoughts and feelings down in an email and hit ‘send’. Oh, my friends, that damn ‘send’ button! Of all people, I should know not to do anything when I am emotional and feeling hurt. That little 8-year old that experienced abandonment so many years ago (that still lives inside me to this day), had herself a field day! She was mad and she came unleashed! How did it end? We don’t speak any longer. Obviously, I went too far and my aunt was none too pleased and decided enough was enough. I made efforts to reconcile but she never grabbed for the other end of the olive branch. That has been one of the hardest relationships to get over because she meant so much to me. It’s been nearly 10 years and I’ve never even told my family. I think it’s because of the shame I carry because of the words I expressed that I can never take back.
My therapist at the time tried to explain it in a way that made absolutely no sense. She said it was like when somebody collects stamps. According to her, “She (my aunt) filled up all the pages so she closed the book.” Huh? Do you know what she’s talking about because I sure don’t! My current therapist had a different take on things. After recognizing my abandonment issues from when I was a little kid, she understood why I reacted to my aunt’s rejection as I did. It didn’t mean that how I behaved was ok, but it made sense. Along with my aunt, I’ve lost countless friends. A lot has to do with my inability to accept boundaries as well as carrying around a giant rucksack of self-hatred everywhere I go. I don’t want to continue on this way. It’s not fun at all. Where do I even start if I want to fix this? I can tell you this much, it’s got to start with me. I am responsible for my own life and behavior and feelings, nobody else. If I want change, I have to do the work! My homework? Holy crap, there’s a lot! Trying to change a mindset that I’ve become accustomed to isn’t easy. I’m so used to looking in the mirror and being utterly disgusted with my reflection.
Haven’t I tried numerous times to change my mindset? Oh, please! Why do you think I read the book by Tony Robbins, “AWAKEN the GIANT WITHIN” and even considered paying an ungodly amount to attend one of his seminars (which I didn’t because they’re too expensive). And what about the book by Shonda Rhimes, “The Year of Saying Yes?” Yes, I read that, too. Here’s the problem, they are both extremely well written and for a time, they did motivate me. A key ingredient was missing, however. A key ingredient that I didn’t even know was missing until recently, ‘Grace’. And, no, I’m not talking about ‘Grace’, the neighbor that lives down the street, I’m talking about ‘Grace’ the noun (aka love and forgiveness). ‘Grace’ has been the one thing lacking in my life and now I’m trying to embrace it. It’s kind of like if you chose to never eat green beans because the first time you tried them when you were a little kid, they came out of a can and tasted slightly metallic. And hundreds of times after that first time, people offer them to you but you refuse to eat them. “Yuck! They’re gross!” is your pat answer.
And then one day, someone prepares them slightly different. First, they cook them in boiling water for about a minute and then they ‘shock’ them in cold water. After that, they add a little butter, salt and garlic to a pan. And after that, they add the beans to the butter/salt/garlic mixture and sauté them to utter perfection. Because they look and smell so good, you decide to give them another chance. “Wow!” you think to yourself after the first bite, “These are delicious! Why did I deny myself these mouth watering morsels for so many years?” That’s what I’m working on now. I’m trying to reintroduce or reincorporate ‘Grace’ into my life because it’s been missing for so long and it really is a beautiful thing. ‘Grace’ is something we could all use and there’s plenty to go around! So, yes, I’m working on me. One day at a time. Today has been challenging, I’ve had anxiety all day and while it hasn’t increased since I got up this morning, it hasn’t decreased either. It feels like a large knot in my stomach that appears to be stuck. My hope is that when I wake up tomorrow, it will have dislodged and I will be able to experience a peaceful day.
I plan on doing my homework before I go to bed. It entails reading a bit more from the book, “Changes That Heal”. Each day I learn something new about myself and others and I feel like it’s really helping. I also need to schedule another session with my therapist because she always helps things make sense. On top of that, I’m going to continue working on liking myself. That’s by far the greatest obstacle I face. If I can ‘clear that hurdle’, my friends, that will truly be miraculous! Thank you so much for stopping by. For the folks that are ‘following’ me, I am grateful for you and the continued interest you have in reading about the variety of things I talk about each day. I’m no poet laureate or anyone with significant credentials to speak of but I do enjoy the opportunity to share things about my life and family or to just make simple random observations. I love to write and I try to infuse humor into everything I do, especially when I write. And I hope I was able to make you smile, especially if you had a really crappy day. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.