I have two hands Of my very own Both are strong Able to lift and squeeze And both are weak Too soft to do all That they need. Yet they … Continue reading My Two Hands
I’ve been pondering the way our personal narratives and sense of identity shape our actions and our inactions. Most of us have an idea in our heads and hearts of … Continue reading On the Importance of Questioning Our Personal Narratives
During my commute yesterday morning, I listened to the audio of the Shorenstein Center’s 2016 Theodore H. White Seminar on Press and Politics, and it made me really think about this idea … Continue reading Are We Living in a ‘Post-Factual’ or ‘Post-Truth’ World?
Pacing the floor To soothe That neurotic itch To get a few steps more For the FitBit lift But the floor is a maze A Labyrinth worth pacing A veritable … Continue reading The Maze of a Modern Mom
To start off, I’ve been reading a new book on cognitive therapy entitled “Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.” To say it’s life altering is something of an understatement, especially for people like me, who have borne the nickname “Worry Wart” and “Guilt-Monster” for almost two decades. I beat myself up over EVERYTHING. Did I say something that could be interpreted wrong and hurt someone’s feelings? What if that thing that seemed so innocuous at the time causes something horrible to happen in the future, and it will be my fault when everyone I love dies?
A high school friend used to joke, “Yes, Rambler. The mere fact that the sky is blue is your fault. When the sky finally falls, everyone will look around and say “Rambler?! Where is she? It’s all her fault!”
I take errors on my part very seriously, in part, because I always want to improve myself and be a better person – the person I believe I owe it to my mother to be. I don’t want to be the person who discourages someone from achieving something great – I don’t want to be that mental roadblock that makes someone feel bad about themselves. I make mistakes. Errare humanum est. So what? Prior to reading this book, I would have fretted over every mistake. I would have made a checklist of doom, ensuring my own defeat, because my checklist of “ALL THE THINGS I SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT DO” is endless. Impossible to memorize, but very possible to beat yourself up over if you fail and remember the failure, and then create a mantra of all your failures as a “reminder” to do better in the future. Sure, that’s gotten me by until now.
But, this book has opened my eyes to my guilt-laden ways of thinking. While talking to my sister earlier this afternoon about love, marriage, and a more positive worldview, I mentioned how funny it was that I often talk to people who will say things like “I loved that post about x” and I look at them confused because not a single person hit “like” on the FB post. The world is crazy busy and not everyone is an obsessive compulsive FBer like me. I recognize and understand this. But if you’re able to take the time to tell someone you like something, why are you so hesitant to do so online?
On some level, it comes down to privacy. Online, there is no guarantee that something you “like” will be private. When you’re online, you have to be cautious, you have to be wary of saying the wrong thing, lest prying eyes discover something you don’t want them to know. Or, perhaps it’s become the new popularity game.
Personally, I think it’s the same thing that keeps us timid, and keeps us from saying the positive things we think about other people private. When we say something nice, we expose something of ourselves, which in turn means we open ourselves up to some form of attack or critique. Part of this discussion really comes from a post my sister wrote about Mr. N, my 4th grade teacher. Mr. N was my lesson in telling people honestly all the nice things he thought about people. It didn’t matter that my mom was an impoverished single mother of four, who worked two jobs, lived on foodstamps, and whose kids often wore threadbare clothes from Goodwill or clothes drives… Mr. N always had something nice to say to my mom. And not just to her – about her, in front of other parents at Parent’s Night. In a world where my mother felt like nothing but a failure, he took the time to simply be kind. And that shaped not just her world, but mine. I wouldn’t be who I am if Mr. N hadn’t taken the time to recognize and see my mom. I can only imagine how tough it must have been for a teacher in an alternative school comprised of mostly well-off, extremely educated parents. But that’s who he was. And it’s who I want to be. My mom wrote Mr. N a letter when I was 17, because Mr. N continued to be an amazing role model in my little sister’s life. I may post the entirety of the letter at some point, because it shares so much of my mother’s soul, her pain, and how much those few kind words can go to help someone when they are hurting and alone… But until then, here’s an excerpt my sister posted.
I know that I will be eternally grateful to Mr. N not only for sharing his memories of my mom at parent’s night, but for sharing that letter with me. I cried the first time he showed it to me. When he gave me the original and two copies, I was so extremely touched that I didn’t know what to say.
I think, when it comes down to it, the issue is that we’re afraid. We’re afraid of opening ourselves up for attack or criticism. We’re always looking for the right thing to say, whether it’s at work, online, to our friends or to our family. In this age of easily accessible words, most people think “less is more”… They’ll only “like” things if they are unafraid of any potential repercussions. Which is fine – the internet, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc, they’re all there for self-expression. And can I really blame folks? I mean, in the age of celebrity mishaps, it’s difficult not to learn from the impulsive, knee-jerk trends on the internet and reality TV.
But as I read this book, I realize just how important it is to take those simple steps to ignore the voices that keep telling you that you need to be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. You will eventually say the wrong thing. You will do the wrong thing. You will probably fuck up horribly quite a few times while walking this mostly green and blue earth. And you know what? That’s okay. Because, to err is human, and, as the saying goes, “to forgive is divine.” I told this to my mom before I went to Cambridge, when she asked me to forgive her. I told her I had nothing to forgive, and that she had my love. I can’t remember my exact words, but I know I had just read Paradise Lost, and told her that to forgive is divine, and that included forgiving herself. She seemed to think about it, but I don’t know if she knew how, in the face of the laundry-list she kept of all the things she thought she had done wrong.
So, as a note to myself, I’m throwing away my own laundry list. I’m going to hit “like” on anything that makes me smile, laugh, or just generally moves me to hit “like”. I am also going to forgive myself when I say or do the wrong thing. I will own my mistakes without being burdened by them.
In the end, saying the right thing really just means saying something. Acknowledge the beauty, the positive, and the light. Fight the urge to be negative, because it does affect you and everyone around you. It pushes people away, keeps them at a distance, whereas letting yourself say the wrong thing on occasion? Well, that just helps you see who your real friends are. 🙂
Okay, I had intended this blog to be solely my writing blog, something to help keep me motivated in my endeavors to write… But after quite a few responses offline and conveyed to me by TMiYC (The Monster In Your Closet) about my previous post (When you know a friendship is toxic), I now realize that there may be some merit in actually posting my own personal musings. Or perhaps all that internal dialogue may be useful to others… (And, yes, I used “dialogue” intentionally – it would be a monologue if it was one voice, instead of a myriad clammering simultaneously:”Why did you say that?” “Why did you x?” “Should you have done y instead?” “What if this choice has z effect?”)
Perhaps this blog can help quell those doubt-filled voices in my head. Or air them out to dry, so they’re out in the open and I can see them for what they are and not let those niggling doubts drag me down. Especially since I am a mom and my choices now effect that precious squealing ball of happiness that is currently napping spread-eagled in her crib.
Since I posted about NPD, I have felt as if this huge weight has been lifted from my chest. But that has more to do with my being open and acknowledging that I have negative feelings about someone. And that’s okay. For some reason, I have always hated speaking negatively about anyone. Whether they deserve it or not. I do want to be really clear about something – the friends I have, the real ones who are not NPD? You will never meet a more amazing, loving, thoughtful group of people. These are the people who banded together to bring me and my family food when my mom was dying, who took me to coffee, went on long walks, or just hugged me and let me cry during that period and YEARS before that when I finally confronted the fact that my mom was struggling with a mental illness that could no longer be ignored. Some of these friends may be a generation or two older than me, but that age difference does not change the fact that they have my admiration, love, and respect. Nor does it change the fact that they rock my socks off.
My discomfort about “rocking the boat” was really my fear of making a messy, awkward situation for my friends. Combine that fear with my discomfort saying anything negative about others? There is so much darkness and drama in the world, and I hate to cause any drama unnecessarily.
Perhaps it may help if I laid all my cards on the table. I was the victim of abuse. Sometimes, it seems so long ago and far away, I feel like it happened to a different person. A different little girl.
I watched my dad beat my mom on several occasions. I hid under the bed when he broke the bedroom door down to get at her. On one occasion, my cheek got cut when my mom tried to grab a wire hanger from the closet to defend herself (and she didn’t realize I was hiding in the closet at the time). I witnessed her get beaten while she was pregnant, and only later learned that I would have had one more brother had it not been for that attack. I am 32 years old and I still cringe when I hear people raise their voices in anger.
Add that to watching my mother slowly lose her battle with a mental illness that made her increasingly paranoid such that I often lost friends because they looked at her wrong… Well, you can bet that I will probably be the last one to speak up if something is bothering me. I am so used to compartmentalizing, because, heck, how the hell was I supposed to know what was normal growing up? I got used to playing the peacekeeper with mom – stepping in and telling her that her long-time friend and my godmother was not trying to insinuate she was a second class citizen by saying or doing x, y, or z. No, the pastor didn’t intentionally look at her at x point in the sermon. He was looking at everyone. It was gut-wrenching stress for a child, but it was what I knew.
Then there was the other thing – the thing I used to never mention for fear of people finding out just how broken I was. Starting in the 3rd grade, I was molested by a family friend. For years, I told the court and my mother that he had threatened to hurt my mom and siblings, and that’s why I didn’t tell anyone that it was happening. This man came into my mother’s house (before the mental illness had really even done more than make her unpredictably irritable) and pretended to be a friend to her while assuming the role of the gentle father to me. My mom was elated. Finally, a father figure was taking interest in her second daughter ! The daughter whose actual father never remembered her (the same father showed up on her 7th birthday to take the older, favored daughter shopping for My Little Ponies. (Thank you, TMiYC for sharing them with me!). This guy, hereafter dubbed “Pervert” (as an homage to my mom who yelled this loudly while pointing at him whenever she ran into him on the street, in the library, or at a restaurant), used my mom’s brokeness against me. After that first time, when he touched me (and I knew it was a “bad touch” because my mom had told me about it), he asked what it would do to my mom if she knew what he’d done? How would she feel if she knew just how unwanted she was, that he chose me over her? Wouldn’t it hurt her, break her to know what she had let happen to her child?
I was very good at putting on a game face. My mom didn’t suspect a thing for years. Pervert and mom drifted apart naturally, and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to be a kid and do kid things without feeling like I was living double lives. My mom had finally kicked my dad to the curb, and he had finally been forced by the State to pay child support, so my mom wasn’t terrified of losing the house.
It wasn’t until I was 10 and at the Country Fair when Mom went to go get me lemonade and returned to find me sitting cross-legged on our blanket, looking up at someone with absolute terror etched across my face. She dropped the lemonade and dragged me and all our things immediately back to the car with no more than a “Get away from my daughter” as a greeting to the Pervert. Over a course of several days, she asked me repeatedly and quietly, “What did he do to you?” When I insisted he didn’t do anything, she refused to believe me. I had no idea what to say – what was I supposed to say? When I was 7 I started lying because I was afraid to hurt you? You were happy for the first time, and dad wasn’t hurting you anymore and all I wanted was for you to laugh and smile, because when you were laughing and smiling the world could be whatever we dreamed it could be?
In the end – I broke. I told her everything, with the slight tweak on my own little lie. And I watched with a broken heart as her world crumbled and shattered around her. She had given up everything, worked multiple jobs at the same time, buckled under her own feelings and accepted food stamps (she hated charity), pushed to get each one of us into alternative schools so we could have every opportunity, and then this. The Pervert was right. Where Dad had failed, he had won. She broke and she broke hard. Did she hit me when I finally confessed, like somehow the D.A. convinced her she had? Hell, no. She held me, cried and said “I’m so sorry, my poor baby” over and over again. The crying didn’t stop for several weeks. The number of times I heard “I’m a terrible mother” coming from her room, sometimes punctuated by a dull and rhythmic thud as she hit her head against the floor, well… That broke me. For many many years, I carried a guilt around with me. I blamed myself, not the Pervert. I should have told her after that first time, my so much smarter ten-year-old self tried to tell my seven-year-old self. It was the years of letting it happen that was what destroyed her. I had broken my mom where my dad had failed. Little me and my big lies.
Counseling helped, and boy did my mom choose a good counselor. But nothing helped quite so much as the entry into my life of one person who believed in me so fully, and whose gentle support and guidance helped me learn to believe in myself. I don’t know how a 17 year-old boy possessed the wisdom, grace, humor, and comfort to bring the solitary Rambler out of hiding, but he did. I am forever grateful to the love of my life, my husband, for that.
As a sidenote, I never did tell my mom about that big/little lie. Even as I held her hand and she breathed her last breath., there was always that lie between us. The guilt created a huge gap that I didn’t know how to bridge. Right before she succumbed to a three year bout where she gave in to her mental illness completely, and barely recognized us, my mom had walked up to me and begged me for forgiveness. I blithely hugged her, laughed and told her she didn’t need my forgiveness. She was my mom, I loved her, and she had done nothing that needed forgiveness. She looked at me with such sorrow, that it haunts me still. She begged that someday I would find it in my heart to forgive her, and everyone who hurt me, because forgiveness was so important. I wish I had said the words she so needed to hear. I didn’t understand what she wanted me to forgive, but she needed it. How hard is it to say “I forgive you”?
Anyways, this is a rather dark post because I have, like so many people out there, lived through some dark times. It has made me who I am. Am I emotionally scarred? Sure. We all have our scars, whether we choose to hide them, bare them, or flaunt them. I used to cling to positivity like a lifeboat. I had to believe people could change. I hated how much people talked about my mom, and rather than lending a helping hand, they pulled her down with criticism. I hate to feel like I could be one of those people, standing on the sideline and judging someone as they struggle. It just feels ugly to dwell on anything negative. Add to that all the doubt of “is this just me being sensitive because of all this baggage?” The simple truth of it is that there is ugliness out there. Just as I try to deal with in my novel, there is darkness out there. It hides within us all, and we get to choose how much of it we let in and influence who we are and who we will be. While I may often choose not to comment on those glimpses of shadows I may observe in others, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. It doesn’t change the fact that I know it’s there.
I know now that speaking about it won’t make me a worse person. If anything, it makes me a stronger person.
– The Rambler laid bare