It was not Love but not to Feel Guilty

I was having dinner with Sookie, my high school BFF, now a psychiatrist, in a local restaurant.  Her phone constantly buzzed.   We reconnected a couple years ago after three decades of being out of touch, mostly on my accord.  I moved across the Pacific and I didn’t want to be found by anybody from my hometown.

“It’s my mother,” she said.  “Sorry, but I have to go.”

Sookie was taking care of her mother, who was on a wheelchair, at home.  Although her kids were all grown up, she had a full time job, as a professor and clinician.

“You are lucky.  You left home early,” she said to me.

At that time, I visited my elderly parents once a year.   I spent more time with them than my younger brother who lived in the same country.   I usually got badly depressed before and after the trip.  My original home was toxic to my soul.  I called it a tour of duty.  It’s my duty as a daughter to show my parents I cared, or at least to pretend.

Later, Sookie told me what was going on.  She prepared breakfast and lunch for her mother before she left for work, then she cooked dinner after she came home.  I asked, “Why?”  “My mother only eats what I cook,” she said.  “Once I ordered food delivery service because I was too busy.  I came home and found the food in a garbage bin.  She said it tasted awful.  She didn’t like aids I hired.   She refuses to go to a day care service because she doesn’t want to mingle with “those people.” ”

So Sookie took care of her… as her mother, a perfect housewife, took care of her husband and her children.  Now Sookie’s mother demands the same from her daughter.

Sookie has a younger sister.  She left home and live in another city with her own family.  Sookie’s sister calls her mother once in a blue moon.  They chat and her mother loves her.  Her sister won’t even visit her.  “Don’t you feel it’s not fair?” I asked.  “I do, but that who she is.  I don’t dislike her,” she said.  I didn’t understand.

“Why?”  I asked again.  “Why you have to take care of your mother by yourself?  Why you  accommodate her unreasonable needs?  You have a career and your own family to take care of.”

She pondered for a moment and said, “Not to feel guilty.”   It made a sense.  She was honest.  She didn’t say because she loved her.

I traveled 24 hrs door to door once a year spending thousands of dollars that could have been used for a vacation not to feel guilty.    Sookie cooked for her mother every day juggling her career and family life not to feel guilty.   We were doing the same.

Both my parents and hers did their best to take care of us and at the same time planted the sense of obligation.   It was not love.

I decided to do what I could do for my parents, as long as it wouldn’t destroy my life.  My mother constantly tells me to come home to take care of her.  (She also tells me to come home so that she could take care of me.  I don’t know why she thinks I need to be taken care of.)

No.  I set a firm boundary.  That’s the line for me.  Once a year visit has become three times a year visits since my mother needed my help after my father passed away.  It has wrecked havoc on my financial, physical, and emotional health but hasn’t destroyed me yet and it spared me feeling guilty.

As for Sookie, her mother passed away in a hospital from in-hospital infection and she was feeling super guilty for a long while as if she killed her mother.  (She chose the hospital when she fell ill.)

This is what happens when parents treat kids as their territory.  Colonization doesn't foster love.

If you love your parents, you are the lucky one who experienced unconditional love from them.

We did not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family as a Bootcamp

“It sounds like you were brought up by a pack of wolves,” the teacher said.  “I guess I was,” I said.  I took a semi-private class to explore family dynamics.  We were doing show and tell of old family photos.  I don’t remember which story or photo led to that remark but it made a sense.

Nobody taught me how to be human, how to communicate, how to deal with feelings, how to foster relationships, how to love, etc.  My father taught me how to survive in a hostile world.

It was the world of his construct.

My father didn’t say, “Don’t show your vulnerability.”  He just pounced on me when I was vulnerable.  He was the kind of person who instinctively knew where it would hurt most and push the spot hard.

My father didn’t say, “The best defense is offense”.  I just learned to attack back harder, verbally and energetically– if I were a big man, I would have fought back physically but I was a petite girl — and retreat fast so that my father wouldn’t catch me.  I ran back to my room and block the door with furniture, since the door didn’t have a lock.  He yelled from the other side of the door.   “You have your father’s temper,” my mother said.  I was just defending myself because I didn’t want to be eaten by the wolf.

He never hit me but his verbal attack was violent enough.  “I’m gonna beat the shit out of you!” he yelled from the other side of the door.

“I’ve learned watching you and Dad,” later my younger brother said.  “I just stayed in my room and didn’t talk to Dad.  We didn’t have any interaction.”  I guess he was smarter than me or just adopted a different strategy for survival.

When I got hurt or felt weak, I didn’t cry.  Crying would attract wolves and they wouldn’t come to comfort you.  I learned to lock myself in a cave and wait until I regained strength.  I felt like an injured dangerous animal, licking the wound in a dark cold place, with body tightened, claws out, growling.

My father made sure that I understood the world was out there to get me.  He made sure that I knew I was ugly, unlovable and worthless, so anybody who might offer a hand to me must be trying to get something out of me.   When I was proud of something about myself, he spat at me, “Got a bighead, haven’t you.  Who do you think you are?”

I had beautiful hair when I was a teenager.  It felt like expensive silk threads.  That’s the only part of my body I was sure I could be proud of, because I got compliments all the time.   So I kept it long.  “Your stinking loose long hair is everywhere,” he complained.   I had my hair cut very short.  “What a stupid haircut. You look so ugly,” he said.

Home was not a safe nurturing place for us kids but a bootcamp.  It was as if he was preparing me for being ridiculed and shamed by the world outside of my family.  If he could harden me and toughen me enough, I wouldn’t be beaten down by anybody else.

If you are a wild beast to be afraid of, nobody would come to you to take advantage of you.  Being asked of a favor is in itself the sign of weakness on your part.  Don’t be off guard.  Let them know you are somebody not to be messed with.

My father told me again and again never to be a guarantor of anybody.  Actually it makes a sense since many people he knew lost everything because they trusted somebody and co-signed their debt.

He did a good job.  I grew up a woman who saw everybody a potential aggriever.  When somebody wanted to be friends with me, I thought, “What do you want?”   I didn’t understand that somebody could want to be friends with me just because who I was.

My high school BFF called me a barbed wire.  Somebody I worked for called me a naked blade.  I thought it suited me and that I was satisfied.   The message was loud and clear.  Don’t you dare to come close to me.

My father passed at the ripe age of 86, after suffering several years from Alzheimer’s.  At a nursing home he was slightly paranoid delusional but most of time pleasant old man.   However, once in a while he suddenly yelled, “I’m gonna hit the shit out of you.”   The staff thought it was Alzheimer’s disease that made him say such a violent thing.   “No, it is how he always is,” I said in my mind.

And I grew up to be an angry she-wolf.  At one point I really believed showing my kids having power over the others was the best defense.  I called it a baseball bat strategy.  I imagined myself threatening them with a baseball bat, to make them follow a line.  It was because I loved them.  I had to teach them how to survive.  The threatening energy of my father’s yelling was registered in my psyche as a destruction of a baseball bat blows.

It was fortunate that I just had imaginary kids.

This is how a family trauma is inherited through generations.  I was locked up in the world his negative paradigm shaped.   My father painted over his daughter’s vibrant world with his gloomy palette.  I don’t know what made his world so grim because we didn’t tell stories about ourselves.  But I’m sure he thought his life sucked.

It took me 20+ years of therapy to attain paradigm shift.  The world is not dangerous.  (Fortunately I don’t live in a war zone.)  People just want to be friends with me because they are interested in who I am.

I had to peel the old paint chip by chip to reveal the original vibrant pallet of mine.  I had to demolish the wall that confined me a brick at a time.   Next to me there always was a ghost of my father putting back the brick that I took out.

I had to learn giving up anger wouldn’t make me a victim.  I had to learn I could be open to the world if I knew how to set a firm boundary.  I had to learn acknowledging my vulnerability would make me more strong.  The skillset I learned in the bootcamp would be with me no matter.  And I could be a tough cookie and an emotionally vulnerable person at the same time.

Don't paint your kid's world with your pallet, just teach them skills and let them paint theirs.

 

 

 

 

 

Family as a Cult

“I always wanted to have a mother like yours.  Somebody who is waiting for me coming home from school, baking cookies,” I said.  My mother was a nurse, who worked her entire life.  Nobody ever greeted me when I came home.  My friend’s mother was a stay-home mother and wife of a prominent professor and well-respected surgeon at a local medical school.  They moved from a big city and settled in the small city.  To me her family looked an ideal upper-middle class made for TV family, while I was from a working class one.

“My mother never baked cookies,” Sookie said.

“But you were very close with your mother,” I said.  “You used to talk to her on phone a lot.”  When we were teenagers, every time we were away from home, we called home to let our parents know we were safe.  My phone conversation was short.  “Hi, it’s me.  I’m here. Everything is O.K.  Bye.”  “Is that all?” she asked me when I finished the call.  She chatted with her mum as if she were talking to a close friend.   In my emotionally dysfunctional family, kids were not supposed to be seen nor heard.   Having a conversation was unthinkable.  Every attempt to communicate ended with yelling at each other.   So I learned to keep communication at a bare minimum.

Sookie, my high school BFF, was talking about her difficult relationship with her late mother.  Her mother has become totally dependent on her, who now is a prominent psychiatrist/professor of the same medical school her father taught.  “She turned out to be a mistletoe, a parasitic organism,” she said in an detached tone.

“But she was a perfect professor’s wife,” I protested.  “Yes, she was.  My parents were deeply in love with each other.  They were co-dependent,” she said.  “When my father passed away, my mother chose me as the next host and expected me to provide for her as her husband did.”   As she now had her own family and career to take care of, her mother’s demands were millstone around her neck.

“I always wished to have a mother like yours,” she said.  “Your mum was professional.  I respected her for building up her career up to the head nurse of a major hospital.”

“Yea, all the women in my family had a career,” I said.  “But my mom was a terrible cook.  Our home was always in a mess.  I was always by myself at home.”
“She is independent,” she said.
“Yes, that’s always how it was in my family.  Women need to be independent,” I said.  

I still didn’t understand.  I thought Sookie and her mum had a girlfriends-like relationship, like a pastel colored cotton candy.  “But I remember you loved her when you were a teenager,” I protested.

“I did,” she said.  “I was in a cult.  I just didn’t know it.”

“Then, when did you realize it?” I asked.

She pondered for a moment and said, “After I became a psychiatrist, ” and added, “I realized I could diagnose everybody I know with one or more mental disorder.”

In a nut shell, her mother couldn’t understand her daughter and she were different individuals.  Her daughter was part of her just like her husband constituted her identity.    For Sookie it was a normal family, until she realized it was not.  “She tried to make my son her next host.  I couldn’t let her do that at any cost,” she said.

I was in a cult, too.  My mother didn’t understand I was a separate individual from her.  She still does not understand I have my own life. “Come home,” she says all the time.   Come home to take care of me as I took care of your father.  That’s what I hear.   She doesn’t understand I am home.

Our family is the only family we know.   We grow up believing our family value system is the only one, and often try to recreate it.   We are programmed to act in a certain way.  It could be good for us or it could be inconvenient for us.  If we couldn’t or is not allowed to examine and assess if the value system of our original family is still suitable for the present life, we stay in the cult.

To get out of my family’s version of cult, I had to move across the Pacific.  Now we have thirteen hours time differences (and 20+ years of therapy on my part) between us.

P.S. I grew up in an Asian country when stay-home wives were norm.

Invisible Disability

I thought I was lazy, weak, and useless. When depression closed in, I felt worthless. Once I shut myself in for three months, only ventured out to walk my dog and it was so painful that I thought of jumping in the East River together with my beloved dog. It was my dog who grounded me. I was only worth to live for him.

I spend most of the day and the night in bed, streaming something on Netflix.  I watched the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer twice and moved on to Angel, just to forget I existed.  I was worthless.  Every morning I hoped it would be different and every morning  I found myself drowning in molasses of dark, heavy liquid of depression.  I couldn’t get out of bed to take a shower.  Sometime I manage to go to grocery shopping and bought a combination of food which didn’t make sense.  I survived on a pint of ice-cream at a time.  I was worthless.  

I don’t know how but I managed to finish all the work assignments at hand on time. (I’m a freelance).  I even managed to attend dinners to entertain my clients.  Inside I was hurting as if I ingested shards of glass.  I came home to collapse for days.  

I was not lazy. 

Eventually I came out.  Nobody but close friends noticed that I had depression.  Since then I have been on standard doze of SSRI even when I feel like a million because I accept it is how I am.  And my friends call me a powerhouse.  I am not useless. 

Then I got Ménière’s disease.  I joined a support group and found out that most of the sufferers got depressed with anxiety.  Ménière’s disease robs you of the life as you knew.  I didn’t get depressed.  I decided to fight to manage it.  I am not weak.

When in remission, I am still a powerhouse.  However, when I have flare ups, my life is just like I was depressed.  I can’t go out.  I spend most of the day and the night in bed.  I don’t function.  A small chore exhausts me.  Dizziness caused by inner ear disorder renders me confused.  But I don’t blame myself.  It’s the illness not me.  

One day I woke up and I didn’t have dizziness, but couldn’t feel like getting out of bed.  I wasn’t sure if I was depressed or it was because Ménière’s disease.  I had a bad attack that night so it must have been Ménière’s disease.

People with this disease are real warriors.  They are not weak.  They are not lazy.  They are fighting and enduring for every breath.  They are mothers and fathers.   If you are weak, you won’t survive with Ménière’s disease.

Ménière’s disease is (probably) mechanical disorder.  Depression is chemical.  Both are invisible.  But we are fighting all the time.  So please be compassionate if you are lucky enough not to suffer these afflictions.  And please be more compassionate to yourself if you are a sufferer.

P.S. Ultra low salt diet is required to manage Ménière’s disease.  I love potato chips but can’t take a risk of having an attack.  

A woman sat next to me on a subway and started to eat potato chips.  I understood how the vampires in the Twilight Saga felt when they sat next to humans.  

Unless you experience it, you will never really feel it.  So please don't judge people for what you've never experienced.

I feel I want to die when I have a bad episode.  But I know it will pass.

Jello in a Square Box

When I was a little girl, my grade school teacher called me Jello because I couldn’t stay still. ADD didn’t exist in the national lexicon yet. My old country still had military style education system. A wiggly daydreamer didn’t fit. I was shamed for being Jello and told not to move.

So I put the wiggly Jello in a tight square box, like a Japanese square watermelon. They nicely fit into a cardboard box, and then in a fridge. That’s my parents and teachers wanted: to fit in.

I grew up believing I was a square box, until I found I was not.

I was diagnosed with ADD by a psychiatrist I was seeing for depression. “I don’t have ADD. I have depression,” I protested. “I never be hyperactive.” “You are just highly disciplined. ADD could lead to depression,” he said.

It is usually mild but when it’s bad I can feel my brain is misfiring. Laser beams of multiple colors criss-cross in my brain in an accelerated speed. I can’t sit still and I walk around in a small apartment only to forget why I was in the kitchen or the bathroom. I can’t finish any small task. Noises are amplified in my brain and I need to wear a headset to muffle them. My eyes rove. It requires tremendous effort to focus on one thing.

And I remembered I was Jello. A fabulous rainbow colored Jello. All that I was made to believe I was were lies. I spent almost 20 years working in the same office, sitting at the desk from 9 to 5, doing the same thing and I thought I liked the structured mundane routine. It was a lie.

I was an ADHD magnet. All of my past relationship was with a severe ADHD guy. I thought they were attracted to me because I was still, because I was the person who held a string of floating balloon. I captured them and tried to put them into square boxes. Because I believed it was dangerous to be freaking fabulous multicolored Jello.

Now I know that they weren’t attracted to me. I was attracted to them, because I wanted to move, I wanted to be spontaneous, I wanted to float and bounce. I wanted to be them.

Since I accepted my original state of being, I haven’t had major depression. I am magical rainbow colored Jello, who is happy and dances freely.

Memory of Tenderness

“He was doing better,” my friend said. “He told me he would be o.k.” My high school BFF is a professor of psychiatry. One of her regular clients killed himself while she was away for a couple of days to attend a medical conference and she felt somehow responsible. “When I attended his funeral, I was bracing myself for being blamed by his parents,” she said. “He was a highly intelligent sweet person.” His parents didn’t blame her. Instead they thanked her for being his only life support for a long time. The gentle tortured soul had been barely surviving from one appointment to another. “At his last appointment, he looked much better. He promised me he would be o.k. to skip one appointment.”

I knew it. “He had already made up his mind,” I said. He must have been peaceful once he made up his mind. It turned out that he had been carefully preparing way before her trip. “Everything was perfectly planned. He made sure that his body would be found soon after,” she said. “He was very smart. Still I feel responsible,” she said.

“Nobody can stop a person once they made up their mind,” I said. “If it is so painful to live, how can you tell them to live on,” I asked. She was taken aback by my bluntness. “It was his illness that made him commit suicide, not he,” she explained. I was taken aback. So my illness is a separate entity from me? I’m confused.

I realized the chasm between us. My friend, the prominent psychiatrist in the region, does not know how “it” is. She studied pharmacology before she went into psychiatry and she’s been telling me how the right drug in the right dosage would be effective to alleviate sufferings for both patients and their caregivers. I believe what she says. I even sent my aunt to her to be medicated. My aunt’s “problem” is manageable since.

I told her I’ve been diagnosed as having dysthymia and had suffered episodes of major depression. It seems my coming-out does not register for people who know me as a highly functional energetic person.

So I explained. We can’t separate illness from us. It is not that we want to die. We just do not want to exist because being is unbearable. When it’s really bad, I don’t feel pain. I become pain. I am pain. Breathing is painful. With every breath, it feels like I am breathing in jagged shards of broken glass. We are not even allowed to have skin, which provides the boundary between us and not us. So the air hurts us. Noise doesn’t come from outside and reach our eardrums. It is already inside us. Even light burns us. Every thing hurts. We tighten ourselves up into a small dense ball and become a black hole, where pain and I are one and the same. We just want to stop the unbearable state of being, an affliction of being us.

So how can I tell them to live? I know how it affects people around us. My friend’s son killed himself and I witnessed it devastated him. “It becomes exhausting after some time,” I said to her. “But he was so young,” she said. “How old was he?” I asked. “Barely twenty,” she said. Oh, that’s too young to be sucked into the black hole. She told me that the sweet young man was suffering from multiple heavy stuff. I’m sorry for him. I’m very sorry for him.

What I wanted to say is that she was not responsible for his death. You couldn’t have saved him anyway. It could be scary for all-mighty psychiatrists to acknowledge their own helplessness. But let us share the helplessness with you. That’s how we feel.

I never tried to kill myself and I am glad I didn’t. I knew it would pass. It might come back, but it will pass. I am major-depression-free for several years. I’ll be on meds for the rest of life. I gave up my hypersensitivity for peaceful routines. It is worth to live and to be older. It will get better. What remains will be the memory of tenderness. You remember but it won’t hurt you.

All I can do for the tortured soul is to share the sense of helplessness. I know how it feels. I hope it will get better for you. I really hope so.

Death Becomes Us

For a couple of hours, I didn’t exist. I was under anesthesia during breast biopsy surgery.  I was wheeled into an operating room and started counting.  Then I was no more.  No dream, no memory, no me.  Slowly I came back into being.   It was the most peaceful waking up I ever had.  I smiled.  If death is like this, it’s a blessing.  No dream, no memory, no me, total oblivion, that’s what I yearned for.  I looked for the peacefulness I experienced during the surgery.  I found Ambien provided the similar effect.  When I didn’t take the pill my nightmarish dreamscape came back with vengeance.  Eventually the nightmare started to seep in to my peaceful Ambien coma.  I stopped taking it.

Death was my parasite twin.  He was always with me so long as I remember.   I don’t know if a 5-year-old can have a concept of death. Nevertheless I remember myself telling my aunt that I was considering to “leave” but decided not to because if I left I wouldn’t be able to have my favorite cake anymore.

I’ve never been suicidal.  I was pretty careful about self-preservation.  Still there never was a day I didn’t think of death.  Suicide ideation, DSM V would say.  There is a code for that.  But where did it come from?  I wasn’t depressed when I was 5.

When my father was about my age now, he started have a cough.  His X-ray image showed a legion in the lung and he had a surgery.  Everybody including the doctors were sure that it was lung cancer.  My mom called me to come home to see him.  Everybody thought he was going to die soon.  After surgery, they found it was benign.  Still he had a lobe of left lung removed.   After he recovered, he showed me the long scar proudly multiple times.  We were not close but I visited him at the hospital.  My mother left for some errand and I was alone with him.  He suddenly said, “I thought I was a goner this time,” and he cried.  I didn’t say anything.   Neither of us were used to show vulnerability and neither of us knew how to deal with it.  That day I realized my father was afraid of death.  “So you are afraid of death and your daughter wants to die, Ha,” I thought.  It’s a joke, isn’t it?

He passed away at the ripe age of 86.  I started to understand where his fear came from.  My father was diagnosed to be diabetic when I was about 4 and my mother was pregnant with my brother.  It was early 1960s and a diabetic was not expected to live a long life.  After my father passed, I heard the family history from my aunt.  He lost his father, my grandfather, when he was very young.  My grandfather was diagnosed with diabetic when it was a death sentence.  He quitted his job as a police officer and stayed home doing nothing and lived another 7 years.  My father only knew his father as a sick man waiting to die.  Soon after, his older sister was diagnosed as diabetic.  She was married and had a kid.  When she became ill she came back to stay with her mother, my grandmother.  She soon died from complication when the kid was still young.   My father took care of his young nephew for a while as his little brother.

Now my father found himself diabetic.  He had a 4-year-old daughter and his wife was pregnant.  No wonder he was afraid of dying.  For the first time, I felt sorry for him.  I grew up watching him have an insulin injection every morning.  With every syringe he must have been fending off death.

My younger brother was diagnosed with diabetic when he was in 30s.  Last year I was diagnosed with diabetic.  We are both physically active and not obese.  I’m sure we inherited it from my father, and my father’s father.  Neither of us has kids to bequest the gene or fear of death.

I still occasionally have suicide ideation when I’m depressed.  But most of time I just enjoy my life.  Every day is a beautiful day to live.

Recommended Reading if you are interested in this kind of stuff.
It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
by Mark Wolynn
Link: http://a.co/1lVnzy4

 

German Shepherd Next to Me

“Imagine you wake up in the morning and find somebody lying next to you.  What do you want to see?” my therapist asked.

“A German Shepherd” I said.

My therapist looked as if he were suspended in the mid air.  He didn’t expect the answer.  We were working on my relationship issue and he was trying to prime me for a new relationship.

“What do you expect from a German Shepherd?” he asked.

“He sees me as I am.  No more, no less,” I said.

My therapist seemed to be searching for words, and then said, “I was touched by your strong desire to be seen.”

Almost 10 years has passed since, and now I wake up every morning to find a 12 year old 80lb mutt lying next to me.  I adopted him about 2 years ago.  He is no German Shepherd and not a particularly affectionate type.  He does have a physical presence.  Warmth radiates from his body and I can touch his warmth without actually touching him.  Sometime I wake up in the middle of night and quietly listen to his steady breathing, hear him talk in his dream, feel his paws moving when he runs in his dream, and smell his stinky fart!  His whole physical presence make me feel safe and comforted.

Have you ever felt alone when your loved one is lying next to you?  I have.  That was one of the worst loneliness I had ever felt.  With my dog, I am safe.

Why do you want to feel?

Just like a normal ordinary Americans, I have friends who take anti-depressant.  I, too, take SSRI just as regularly as I take statin.  It’s all for maintenance, baby.  If you have high cholesterol level you take statin.  If you have low serotonin level, you take SSRI.  It’s plain and simple.

“I stopped taking meds,” my friend said. “Why?” I asked.”The meds make me numb and I want to feel,” he said.  “Why?” I asked.  Why do you want to feel?   Then I had exactly the same conversation with another male friend.  They want to feel.

I don’t feel numb.  I feel ordinary.  I feel peaceful and happy.  I admit I avoid to be moved.  I don’t watch emotionally engaging movies.  I only read scientific non-fiction.  Facts, only facts, ma’am.

I worked with my last therapist to build up my tolerance for feelings for several years.  My emotional life was in primary colors, bold and clear.  Anger was the easiest to handle, so every feelings were painted over with anger.  Then I learned there were something called undertone, subtext, and undercurrent.  Sadness, fear, loneliness, shame…vulnerability.  Those undertone colors were dangerous for my survival.

I knew sadness and joy were two sides of the coin.  My therapist (a Zen gestalt guy) taught me if I couldn’t tolerate the sadness of being, I wouldn’t really feel the joy of being.

I think I have built up enough tolerance to live an ordinary joyful life.  I just don’t want to risk my peaceful reverie.  Feelings could be addicting.  I sometime miss the feeling of standing on the edge of a sharp blade, when everything feels immediate and acute.

Then I say to myself,”I spent enough time in pain.  It’s time to allow myself just to be.”

 

 

A Skeleton in the Closet

I grew up believing my family was an ordinary one.  Nobody was particularly out of ordinary, so I thought.  My father was not an alcoholic nor an addict.  My mother was not a chain-smoking suicidal woman.  My brother didn’t smoke pot nor join a band.  I didn’t have an eccentric spinster aunt.  It was a quotidian kind of dysfunctional family.  Then I saw a play,  August, Osage County.  After the curtain, I turned to my friend and said, “That’s a terrible family.” And then I added, “That’s my family.”

Every dysfunctional family I saw on stage had a secret everybody knew about.  They lock it up in the closet and pretend it is not there.  Children born into the family can’t do anything but inherit it.  Adults may think kids don’t know about the skeleton in the closet.  We know. We see the ghosts lurking in the hallway, hear them whisper, and feel the cold air when they pass through us.  We grow up with the ghosts and adults tell us again and again that there is no such thing.  Silly child.  So we start to believe it’s us.  The dark shadows and crazy voices are inside of us.  We become the ghost of the family secret.

So I started to drink early, chain-smoked, cut myself, ate and vomited.  I started to live by myself when I was 18 and moved further and further from my hometown until I reached to the other side of the globe.  I’ve become an eccentric divorcee.

After several decades, funerals started to happen.  Older generation was dying out and they wanted to talk about the skeleton.

The irony is that I knew about it.  Nobody told me but I just knew it.  It’s silly to believe you can keep secrets from a highly sensitive child.  They just didn’t know I knew.  Once they knew I knew, they talked, and talked, and talked.  He said, she said, he said she said, and she said he said.  Everybody told a different version of the story.

So I found out that my family was not an ordinary family.  It could be the one in Yoknapatawpha County, could be in Tennessee Williams’ play, and definitely August, Osage County worthy.

Nothing was wrong with me.  It wasn’t me.

Fortunately, after decades of therapy I was able to be the shaman who could navigate between the worlds of the living and ghosts.  I listened to the stories they told, and returned them a story with a new and much gentler narrative, transformed it into a story where there was no skeleton in the closet.   Adults could talk about their feelings, how they loved and hated, how they got hurt and survived.  The mistake they made and how it affected their lives, lives which are running out ever so quickly.

I am not a ghost anymore.