Saturday, June 5, 2010

The road to here

Life started out OK, or at least it seemed that way to me. I was born a year after the college sweethearts moved to California. They had been married for two years at that point. My mother chose to be a SAHM until I was three. There were baked goods, dinner on the table at six and quality time with mom that included sitting on her lap while she read various books to me. She knit sweaters and made wonderful Halloween costumes for me. It was many years later when I found that my mother was a pretty skilled artist and besides the textile arts, she does a decent job with drawing and painting. But that was at a point at which the world had already shifted quite a bit.

I remember all of this clearly since my memory starts sometime between ages two and three for me. Really. But there are about two years missing from my memory that I know I will never be able to retrieve. As an adult, I now know that this lapse starts about the time at which my parents' marriage began to disintegrate. But it's not all gone. I can tell you about school during that time period. Just don't ask me about home.

I can tell you why my parents split. They started telling me the why of it all when I was about ten, I believe. (They divorced when I was eight but the deterioration of their relationship started when I was about six.) I know that my mother was not satisfied with being a SAHM. I know that my dad felt that in his role as the provider, there was no need for his wife to work. As such, why did she insist upon working? It had been fine for his mother after all. Then the divorce happened and we began our journey on becoming the people we are today.

My mother while loving her job felt empty. She filled the emptiness with daily shopping. Dinner was no longer on the table at six. Instead I was often told that I was on my own. I often dined with my "real parents." And I would escape to Jade's house.

My father tried to adjust to being single and along the way dived into the bottle. By the time I was 12, I was able to figure out that someone who can kill a fifth of whatever in a single afternoon had a problem. He would drink and tell me how he had failed as a husband and how it pained him. That's about the time I stopped the biweekly visits. It's not like he was showing up on the doorway, beating it down and demanding his visitation rights anyway.

And me? I felt alone but slowly figured out how to get through it all. But every now and then I wanted them to listen to me. And so I'd do something self-destructive. That is our dynamic. They can only hear me when I have done something completely fucked up.

In looking back, I realize that it all began much earlier than I had previously thought. At age 11, my best friend and I proclaimed that we were tired of getting straight A's. Apparently our teacher overheard us and shared this with my mom at a parent-teacher conference. The adults were concerned because getting A's had always come easy to me; getting anything less took conscious effort. And so I just stopped doing the work.

By the next school year, I found myself in for a conference with both my parents and my English teacher. My decision to stop turning in work had earned me a D. I was allowed to make up the work and so received a C instead. It could have been higher if I had actually completed all of the make-up work.

This is what I remember most though. I remember sitting at the kitchen table at my mom's house while both my parents lectured me on how this just was not acceptable. They may have even asked why I did it. And I sat there in silence. Finally they asked what I wanted. "You wish you were somewhere else, don't you?" I looked them in their eyes and calmly said, "I wish I were dead." There was a great deal of fussing about how I should never say that. And so I never said the words again.

Instead I quietly skipped meals. Because at 5'9" and 110 pounds, I had decided that I was fat. When I looked in the mirror, I'm not sure that there was anything about myself that I liked. Why should I? The message that I got at home was that I rarely got anything right. Or it was, "You can't say or act that way because your behavior is a reflection upon me. I will not have people talking about how I am not doing things right because of how you act." Those may not be the exact words but that was the gist of it. And I now know that this is when I learned to lock away little bits of myself, how to let others see only what I thought they wanted to see.

It all started to eat away at me though. By junior year of high school, I was clearly depressed. I felt very alone in the world save for a handful of friends. These wonderful people are still my friends today. Besides my friends, the other thing that kept me going was knowing that I'd go to college soon and have a chance at freedom.

Somehow it all came to a head in my college years though. I spent a great deal of my 20s in and out of therapy. I would try to talk to my parents but they just couldn't hear me. And so there were the suicide attempts that would finally make them listen if only for a few days. My first therapist recognized what was I doing. She told me, "You don't really want to die. You just want people to pay attention, to listen. You don't know how to get them to listen otherwise. I'm just afraid that one of these days in trying to get them to listen, you'll actually succeed in killing yourself."

I spent a year with another therapist after my last suicide attempt. She's the one who made me go through all the self-esteem exercises. She reiterated what the previous therapist -- and the ones after both of them -- have said. In order to save myself, I might one day have to let go of certain people.

I was well into my 30s before the thought of suicide finally was no longer an option in my mind. I promised myself then that I would never go down that road again. I now knew how to recognize the early signs. This is what I have seen over the last couple of years -- that I was no longer going forward, but instead was moving backward.

Why write this now? Because yesterday I let my guard down a little too much. First there was the phone call from my "real dad." I have been talking to his wife over the last week or so. She understands. He on the other hand has heard my dad crying, whining, whatever about how he didn't understand why I no longer want to speak to him. Real dad wanted to mediate things. Problem is that in my mind there just isn't anything to mediate. There was nothing that I could say to my dad that I haven't said before. I said I was tired of the lies, the false promises. I just can't go down that road again.

And then I got a visit from my dad's oldest brother and his wife last night. They wanted me to patch things up with my dad -- because that's what family does. There was talk about how sometimes you swallow things to prevent discord in the family. Oh, and that they accept me as I am. This was in response to my saying that I feel like I get lost along the way in the whole family dynamic, that friends who have seen me around them say that I stop being me. I won't be talking to them any time soon.

That's why I can share this now. To help you to understand something that they never will. That to go back into all of this now feels like it would just kill me. I can talk myself blue in the face yet they will never get it. And I just can't ever go back to that place again. Mostly because I kind of enjoy rediscovering who I really am.

If you haven't guessed yet, this is something I wrote for me. Something to make sense of it all.


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