Very Black Friday

Listen, even though I’m living with mental illness, I’m trying to improve, millimeter by millimeter.  I’m trying to carve out a modest existence.  I get dressed every day.  I keep myself clean.  I take my medicine.  I exercise.  I have a service dog who makes sure, by her very existence, that I actually get out of bed to take care of her needs, and that I go on living, because she loves me so, and because I love her so.  I am a creature that lives only because of love.

It might seem silly that I felt blindsided by the family Thanksgiving celebrations,  the ones I was not invited to.  Why should that come as a surprise?  It’s been clear that my mother has recruited her family in her retaliation campaign.  

Yes, I know it’s textbook Narc reprisal.  I have been working to increase the distance to one that’s tolerable for me.  I stopped ending phone conversations with “I love you,” because I don’t.  I don’t hug her, because her touch is abhorrent.

Her style is “love me or fear me.”  I expected widespread destruction.  She’s been working on polarizing the extended family for some years.  And she loves to try to “Cinderella” me, by, for instance, tricking me into taking care of her cats while she goes on vacation with my cousins.  I stopped that.

I do still keep in touch with my mother.  I’m trying to help her find a way to move into appropriate housing.  She’ll be 90 soon, and the house she and my late father lived in for most of their married lives is not a good place for a very elderly person.  She’s very willing to accept my help, because, you know, “I owe her.”

But she is just now on a scorched-earth campaign of fiery vengeance, so instead of returning my calls she sent me a text on Wednesday, announcing that the entire surviving M__ family would be gathering around the Turkey Table…”well, almost!”  She added, just to make sure I got it.

Nice one, Mom.  Hope it brightened up your holiday!

Last year’s Turkey Day was also a bust.  Several years ago, when my dad was still living, I convinced my son that it really wasn’t fair that he spent ALL of the holidays with his father’s family.  Couldn’t he come to his grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving?  

Ugh, that even sounds bad when I read it, but I can’t whitewash it.  This is my blog, for heaven’s sake!  I’m supposed to be brutally honest, and so I shall be.

The first couple of years were pretty good.  He even used a picture of the two of us furiously cooking together as his Facebook profile picture!  And he got to know some of his cousins on my side.   And it was good for him to be with his grandpa, even though the latter, who I nicknamed “The Doormouse,” retreated into slumber after greeting the guests, and stayed there until it was safe to wake up.  A good strategy!

The downside was that he also got to witness my mother “disciplining” me for one or another perceived outrage.  Name-calling, belittling, mockery, silent treatment…oh, she loves to show off!   I was mortified, and unable to just shake it off, I told him how upset I was that she was doing this in front of him.  Another nail in my coffin, all of that.

When my father died, Thanksgiving broke up.  My mother’s absolute savagery toward my father in his last years acted as an absolute repellant!   The moment he died, I wanted to be out of there.  Nothing more to bind me!

Thanksgiving 2014 arrived just three weeks after my father’s death.  I spent it with my son, his girlfriend, and a swirling cloud of their friends, who dropped in for eats and smokes and beers.  I lay on the couch in a stupor of grief and allowed myself to be fed and cared for.  It was very much needed and appreciated.  

Then that woman exited his life.  Things might have been different had she stayed.  Who knows?

T.G. ’15 arrived.  Again, I didn’t want to be around my mother.  I tried to interest my son in inviting people for a potluck, or any sort of a gathering, at his house.   Or perhaps we could go to his friends who were making dinner?  No, he wanted to dine together, the two of us, alone.  I thought that was very strange, but if that’s what he wanted….

I went.  He was furious, and fed me his roast duck, and I slept in my camper in his parking lot.  The next morning he insisted I leave.  I felt as if I had been yanked in and beaten.  And I had been!  I don’t know why.

I called him last week.  He knows I’m in Arizona, no danger of my intruding on his East Coast safety zone.  He texted me, “I’m crazy busy.  Can we talk next week?”  Which is, of course, this week.

But no life-sign from him this week.  Not even a “Happy Thanksgiving!” text.  And that generally means he’s with his dad.  That is perfectly fine.  I don’t expect him to keep up with me.  He’s made it very clear that he’s not interested in sharing any part of my life, unless it’s the part where I give him money.  He doesn’t have to go all silent in order to avoid telling me that he’s reestablished his status quo, enjoying all of his holidays with his father.

What I can’t figure out is exactly why my son is so deeply angry with me.  I wish I could see and experience things through his eyes, his mind, his heart.  What do I do that so profoundly triggers him?

On the other hand, he has always made sure to get his way.  He is the master of the Battle of Wills game.  I was often the villain, because I refused to let his terrorist tactics ruin plans for hiking, skiing, swimming, horseback riding, barbecues, camping, dancing, and anything else that might potentially be spoiled by a child refusing to participate, scowling, stubbing up/going silent, and generally attempting to disrupt any fun that might be brewing.   Refusal to enjoy life!  And determined to take me down with him.  I refused.  I still refuse!  

In essence, I have spent half my life trying to teach my son how to enjoy life, and he has spent all of his resisting me.  Well, now he’s an adult, with a PhD even, and just as I shun my mother and her family shuns me, my own son and his extended family shun me.   Will this circle be unbroken?  God in heaven, how I’ve tried to break it!  But it keeps rebuilding itself: the hoop snake, with its tail in its mouth, spreading poison from one generation to the next.  Dare I hope it stops, one way or another, with his?

It all seems like a surreal mistake.  My mother raised me by threats and fear, violence and withholding.  I tried very hard to use only positive reinforcement (love and praise), but the child I got gave me a fortnight of newborn bliss, then erupted into rage-and-resistance personified.  How can a baby be enraged practically from birth?  I loved him so completely.  

The truth is, I don’t know what it’s like to live with me.  Consider the evidence!  Not so good.

Then what shall I do about this?  This life.  When I look into the future, I see muddy brown dust.

My world is spinning down.  It’s consolidating into a dense blackness.  I’m too dulled out to even feel, let alone care.  

I tried to get drunk yesterday, in order to be fully and righteously dysfunctional.  But I forgot about my drink and instead knocked it over into my bed.  I have never got the hang of drinking.  Just as well–wouldn’t want to add that to the list.  But now I’m sounding maudlin.  Must stop.

The Silent Treatment (again)

My mother has always derived a particular vengeful pleasure in giving the object of her wrath “the silent treatment.”  She has often gleefully boasted about her prowess in this particular art form.  In the 16 years I lived under her roof, I watched her use it on many people, listening to her crow about how she would make them crawl back to her.

I think one reason she hates me is that I never would crawl.  I did go as far as asking what I did to set this thing in motion, but getting no answer, went about my business.

I know why I’m getting the silent treatment now.  After my father died two years ago, I no longer had to protect him from her rages, so I stopped doing several things I had done before, which I had been doing only to shield him from her wrath.

One of them was to tell her “I love you.”  I don’t love her.  I loved her desperately as a child, and all I got was curses, insults, belittling, mocking, and, of course, the silent treatment.  So, once my dad was safely dead, I simply stopped lying.  I never said “I despise you,”  “I can’t stand you,” “You make me sick to my stomach,” or any of the other endearments she showered upon me when she had the chance.  I simply don’t lie anymore.

To complicate matters, I was supposed to have visited a month or so ago, but I came down with the flu and had to cancel.  She of course thought I was lying in order to get out of visiting (she is a prolific liar herself, so she assumes the same for me.  I can’t lie to save my life.  I’m no good at it.)  

I really do need to communicate with her regarding some family business, but after two phone calls where she’s been so phenomenally “cool,” as she puts it (another way to punish someone: be cool and distant), in the two phone calls I’ve tried since I cancelled my visit, I’m beginning to think it’s not worth the emotional effort to try to help her.  Maybe I should just back off and let her manage as best she can.

I have to remind myself of the times I visited when I lived in Israel.  I would fly to America, 14 hour flight, rent a car, and drive the three hours from the airport, arriving completely done in, wanting nothing more than a hot shower and a bed.  Well, there was a bed, but no sheets, and the bedspread full of cat hair (and fleas).  So, fresh from a trip literally halfway around the world, I had to clean the bed and find some decent sheets and put them on before I could lie down to rest. 

Why could she not have a bed made up for me when I traveled so far to visit?  She always scurried to make up a bed for my cousin, who lives two hours away.  Why not me?

The answer, I believe, lies in one of her favorite pet names for me, her term of endearment:

“Your Lowness.”

It is as if God gave her an only child to despise at her whim.  

Love?

Children MUST love their parents, she has screamed at me.

Monkey see, monkey do, and I did not see anything resembling love from her.

My parental love died with my father**.  All that is left now is my Biblical duty to make sure that her physical needs are provided for.

“And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love/You make”–The Beatles

**And of course a good deal of her biliousness toward me has to do with the extremely close relationship I had with my father, who was in no way any sort of angel, but was generally kind and always honest, and never played stupid games or called me names or cursed me.  So she has always been jealous of my open love for him, and treats me like a rival.  Sick.

Shame

While I’m waiting for this case of flu to blow over, I may as well write something.

I had a dreadful experience in the Land of Cleve, which I will write about as soon as I get un-triggered enough to be capable of writing more than ba-ba-baaaa-baba-baaaaa…see what I mean?

And the root of it all is shame.

Shame that after surviving a childhood of violence, confusion, loneliness, and fear, surviving rape, prostitution, homelessness, and fear, pulling it together and getting successful in art, music, and medicine, shame that after all those shooting star successful years, I’m still broken, more broken even than before.

Shame that at the age of 63 I am homeless.

Don’t think for a moment that my fancy camper van and my (to quote my dear mother) “fat disability check” means I am not homeless.

“Don’t say homeless, say house-free,” sage advice from just another such as me.

Don’t believe it.

I know what it’s like to have a home.  I’ve had them, from time to time.  They just don’t stick.

I can’t stay anywhere, because she will find me.  She will drag me out from under the bed where I am hiding…so I have to move.  I have to run.

I can’t stay anywhere, because he will hit on me, he will sell me to his friends while I am knocked out on Angel Dust that he put in my joint…I can’t stay here, because the cops will find me.  You don’t have to be pretty for the cops to like to play with you but it helps, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not…

Such a shame, she’s got all these degrees and doesn’t use them, just sits on her ass all day….

Shame can drive you to despair, makes you want to disappear, but where?

If I were well, I’d go back to work

Settle down

Volunteer

Publish my books

Find some friends

Get a life

If I were well, there’s a lot I could do.

Now it has to be good enough just to deal with the stares.

Yes, it’s that bad.  I try to fix myself up so I don’t look so crazy as all that, but lately (I think it’s the limp now, from the sciatica, it’s killing me) I’m noticing…maybe I should buy some new clothes.  I hate throwing out perfectly good clothes.  OK, they have holes, and when you live outside, you’re bound to get dirty.  

Maybe I should cut my hair.  Even when I braid it, it ends up all wispy and wild.

Maybe I should….

I hope this doesn’t last too much longer.  

Malignant Narcissistic Abuse – Understanding the Enemy’s Devices

NOTE: This is a reblog of a reblog.

In order to understand what my comments here are about, please click on the original link, which you will find at the bottom of these paragraphs, read the original author’s post, then make sure to look at the meme collection. It had my mouth hanging open, it is so affirming of my own lived experience of being an ACoN (Adult Child of a Narcissist).

One thing in the meme collection that I must take issue with is the statement that taking on narcissistic traits, if one grows up in such a home, is voluntary. It is not. If the only coping mechanisms you have ever known are drama, tantrums, accusations, the silent treatment, etc, it takes time to figure out that these are dysfunctional and abusive. And since Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs) often are drawn into adult relationships with narcissists, the story tends to perpetuate itself down the generations. After all, when we meet someone who “feels like we have known them all our lives,” well, we probably have, because they “feel like home,” our family of origin.

The first thing we must learn is insight: it isn’t our fault, we are not defective, we do not deserve to be treated like a mouse being tortured by a cat.

Some people are fortunate to realize that something is very wrong–usually after multiple failed relationships, suicide attempts, or other catastrophic life events–and seek help, sometimes from the right person, like a good therapist, and sometimes from….someone who “feels like home,” claiming that they want to help, but really being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as we unfortunately see with some religious leaders. I have even had a narc therapist! She had a hand in destroying my marriage. I sat there mesmerized while she smiled and preened, not realizing what it was about her that was so familiar (she was like my mother, who used to court my boyfriends), until it was too late. She stood up, announced that it was her opinion that we should divorce, and left us sitting on her couch looking at the floor.

Memoir Notes

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Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them

Such an incredibly important article for those of us who grew up in emotionally abusive households, and especially for Adult Children of a Narcissist (ACoN).

Taking breathing time for yourself, just to feel who you actually ARE and not live in the prison of the Narcissist’s defined role they’ve assigned you, can give you a taste of the freedom you’ve lacked, perhaps all of your life.  Then you’re going to have to face the incredibly tough question, “Now what am I going to do?”

 

This is where your therapist comes in.  Having the right therapist is vital, because you are going to literally be reborn when you cut the cord that binds you to your abuser.  Make sure your support system is in place, and prepare yourself for the possibility that until you begin rebuilding your life, your only support might be your therapist–because the Narcissist will make sure all your family and friends think you are a lowlife creep who abandoned them.  And since a Narcissist thrives on praise and adulation, they often occupy positions of high responsibility in their communities, are always the first to jump to the aid of extended family members in need, and are generally idolized by all.  Their position of power makes it easy to demonize anyone who defies their dominance.  This is what keeps so many of us locked up in the prison of great, the fear of the consequences of being ourselves.

 

But in order to actualize ourselves, break away we must.  This article, and the resources it quotes, will help you get started on your journey to your genuine self.

The article comes from the incredibly helpful website, The Invisible Scar, which is directed toward adult children of emotionally abusive parents.

 

Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them.

Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower.  I avoid going there now, if she is at home.  There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s.  It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory!  Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted.  This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something.  “My memory.”  Always “My memory.”

I confronted her.  I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room!  And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story.  And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead.  As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.”  So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree.  That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So.  She was an out-of-control drunk.  She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife.  That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything.  So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why?  Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.”  I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true.  Next time it happens I will point it out.”  Psychology 101.

“You just do that!”  Conversation over.  If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing.  It takes up several hours.  Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible!  What nerve!  I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.”  It was Friday night.  When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights.  I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say.  So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied.  “I thought it was Thursday.  Guess I lost a day.  Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

The Narcissist Files, Part Two

“I’m sorry, it just worked out better for me this way.  You know, it’s an hour and a half instead of two hours, it’s only $5 a day to park my car instead of free, I don’t have to stay overnight in a motel [with you]….”

This might be the only time in my life that I’ve heard my mother say “I’m sorry,” but in fact it was simply a figure of speech meaning, “I changed my mind.”

Originally, we were both supposed to fly from Charlotte on the same day, she to help install her sister in a nursing home up North, and I to go to Michigan to pick up my RV.  Since I am flying one-way and eventually coming back in another vehicle, it is problematic for me to get to the airport in Charlotte without a car.  If I were to drive myself to the airport and leave my car there, then how could I retrieve my car?  A bit complicated.

But since she was driving to the airport anyway, that seemed to be a moot point, as I could ride along with her.  There are inexpensive hotels that will keep your car without charge, if you only stay one night, and have shuttle service to the airport.  So the plan was for us to share a room, and fly our separate ways the following day.  When she got back (date unknown), her car would be waiting for her, free of charge.

For some reason known only to her, she changed plans in midstream and decided to fly from the airport that is only half an hour closer.  Her flight from the nearer airport would, in fact, take her only to Charlotte, where she would then board the original non-stop flight that I had found her.

“But there will be plenty of time between flights, and I’m only taking a carry-on.  And you can take the transport from here.  It shouldn’t be any trouble.”

There is a transport that one can book to get from here to the airport, if one reserves it several days in advance.  It’s only $45.  However, it will not take you anywhere except to the airport itself, and I need to stay in a hotel the night before, since it’s an early flight and the shuttle from here can’t start until 8 am.  So I will have to get myself from the airport to the hotel, via the hotel shuttle, with all my luggage and dog, and then kick my heels until the following morning, and take the shuttle back to the airport.  No trouble at all.

This goes against my nature.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up having to please Mrs. Narc or face the terrible consequences, that I am super-conscious of making every effort to make other people’s lives easier.  I would much rather inconvenience myself than someone else.  My therapist feels that this bending-over-backward to please others is pathological.  I only agree with her partway.

Being thoughtful of others is one of the supposed signs of empathy that makes humans different from animals, although recent studies of primates and even non-primate species are proving that other animals have empathy and even exhibit altruism, the act of giving without expecting anything in return.  That is the highest form of giving, and has been the measure of character from time out of mind.

The thing about a true narcissist is that they don’t consider the needs of anyone but themselves.  Their inconsiderate acts are not necessarily malicious–it’s just that if they perceive something to be more convenient for themselves, well, that’s the choice they make.  And if someone else is inconvenienced by their acts, well….

“Sorry, you’ll have to make your own way.  I’ve made other plans that suit me better.”

Validating My Need For Validation

My father’s death on Yom Kippur (November 2, 2014), and the years leading up to it, launched me into a journey of self-awareness.  It’s the journey I’ve been seeking all of my life.  It’s the journey of validation of the soul, of becoming aware of my physical and personal boundaries.

Until these times, everything I’ve done has been for the purpose of seeking validation from others.  Which others?  Others, just others.  Friends, employers, patients, staff, partners, spouses, my child…

My father gave me lots of validation.  He was careful to pay attention to what I was doing and give me praise, really specifically as in, “The way you make use of line and space in this drawing is stupendous,” or, “This is an absolutely scrumptious omelette!  You’ve really outdone yourself, Laurie!”

His critiques could hurt, though.  He was always honest, but never brutal; and yet, since I hung on his every word, a negative critique either on my work or on something I had done in life stung, and I would go and cry privately.  I knew that he was right….except when he was defending my mother’s rages.

“She isn’t feeling well, you know.”

“She has her period.  She’s always a bit testy when she has her period.  You just have to cut her a wide berth.”

When he did that, I felt betrayed, abandoned, and so, so alone.

It confused me terribly when he started scolding me for standing up to her.  For one thing, she began to scream and call me names right in front of him.  When I told her that what she was doing was abusive, they both screamed back at me that it was their right to abuse me because they were my parents.

Stunned, I said, “Are you telling me that because you are my parents, that gives you the right to do or say anything you want to me?”

“That’s right!” they both shouted, in unison.

Over the next few months it became clear to me that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, in which the captive, in an effort to save himself, comes to idolize the captor.  Dad’s illness caused him to become increasingly dependent on Mom for his physical care; his self-preservation became dependent on siding with her, flattering her, doing what she wanted when she wanted it…and being her whipping-boy.

He had always been able to deflect her tantrums by simply leaving and going to his studio to work, coming back late at night, giving her a chance to get over her “mad” and simmer down into petulance.

On rare occasions, if she goaded him sufficiently, he would blow up and yell at her, reducing her to tears.  She would run to their room, throw herself on the bed and sob.  He would go to his studio and work, and the next day he would bring a peace offering, a bouquet of wildflowers, dinner out, chocolates.  And then back to status quo.

I confused validation with appeasement.  I overturned every rock looking for something that would bring lasting acceptance from my mother.  Praise would have been wonderful, but simple acceptance would have been enough.  Gifts, vacations, floral arrangements, expensive meals out, elaborate meals made at home…all of these garnered momentary praise, but felt to me exactly the same as the Mother’s Day cards I made for her, the valentines, all the childish surprises I made for her, in hopes that this time she would really love me…

Look at all the things I’ve done.  I won’t list them, but just know that I have accomplished many things in my life that should have been just for me, or because they were fulfilling dreams…but at the bottom of it all, I was seeking validation from my mother.  “My daughter, the doctor….”

I wasn’t just seeking approval.  Approval is very important, but it’s temporary and tied to the deed that provoked it.

Validation is a much deeper thing.  Validation is approval on the level of the soul.  The Inner Approval.

According to Jewish law, parents are partners with God in Creation.  God utilizes the special blend of the parents’ souls and bodies (the body being a temporary dwelling for the soul) to create a new person.  It is for this reason that we are commanded to “Honor your father and your mother.”

But what happens if the parents are legitimately abusive?  Are we commanded to honor them?  Can honor be legislated?  If so, what form would that honor take?

When I first became Jewishly religious, I went into a panic about this.  It didn’t help that my mother loudly and offensively mocked my new clothes, the fact that I had chosen to cover my hair, the fact that I prayed three times a day and kept Shabbat according to Jewish Law.

On one of my trips to Israel, prior to moving there permanently, I ran to the most famous Orthodox Jewish bookstore in Jerusalem and asked if there was a book on honoring parents.  There was: “Sefer Kibud Avot.”  The Book of Honoring Parents.  It was in Hebrew.  I had just barely learned to laboriously read a little Scriptural Hebrew.  Somehow, the words of this book flew off the pages into my mind.  I swear it was a moment of Divine Inspiration.

The book said that if parents were abusive, the child still had to honor them.

But in that case, asked the book, what does “honoring them” mean?

It gave a number of examples of exceptional people whose parents abused them terribly, yet they continued to take the abuse.

For instance, one of the Rabbis who lived during the time of Jesus was sitting teaching a group of his students, when his mother came into the room and spat in his face.  He did not remark upon the incident, but continued teaching, and she went away.

There are many lessons in this story.  I have thought about this a lot.

But getting back to what Sefer Kibud Avot had to say about this incident:  Rabbi Ploni (“Ploni” is a Talmudic term for “Whoever”) was a saint.  We are mostly not saints.  If a saint could be expected to behave like that, how are we non-saints suppose to act?

The book then defined what the term “Kibud Avot (honoring your parents)” means in the case of abusive parents:

1) Make sure they have a roof over their heads

2) Clothes to cover their nakedness and for warmth

3)  Food sufficient for their nutritional needs.

In other words, according to Jewish Law we are only responsible for their basic physical needs.

The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not to purposely harm ourselves.  We are not to do anything that puts us in harm’s way.  According to Sefer Kibud Avot, this includes abusive parents.  We are not to expose ourselves to abuse from any source, and that includes from parents.  We are to distance ourselves from evil.  Willingly exposing ourselves to evil is like doing evil ourselves.

Yikes.  Validation!

That revelation came down to me in 2005.  There is actual discussion of the issue in Jewish books of law!  I was not the only one who had to deal with this problem of how to honorably take care of one’s abusive parents, without feeding the continual abuse!  Validation that I am not “imagining things,” as my mother likes to say.  (The term for this type of invalidation of another’s lived experience is gaslighting.  You can find much more on the topic of gaslighting on the blog The Invisible Scar.)

I have wrestled with this since my father became ill and I left Israel in 2011 to be with him in his final years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, breaths.  I found ways of dealing with my mother’s insanity on my own terms, yet it tore me apart to watch her mocking and belittling and publicly shaming him.

I’ve had a lot of help during these years.

Giving credit where credit is due, I have a wonderful advisor in the form of my therapist, with whom I have worked on and off since 2000.  She has saved my life many times.

I have also learned an enormous amount and garnered tremendous validation from the site The Invisible Scar.  The site is about surviving emotional abuse, with a focus on Adult Survivors of Narcissists (ACoN).  If anyone here feels that they have suffered at the hands of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, I highly recommend that they visit The Invisible Scar.

The Invisible Scar is run by a Christian organization, although it maintains religious neutrality.  However, I highly recommend the Christian ministry site that is its source.  Here you will find an extensive questionnaire that will result in your knowing whether or not you have been pillaged by a narcissist in your life.  I found myself going down their list going, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, nope, uh-huh….my life has been parasitized by my narcissistic mother, enabled by my passive father.   Jeez.

If you are a Christian, or are interested in the Christian perspective on what to do if you discover that you are being abused by a parent or significant other, I cannot imagine a better place to find diagnostic tools, validation, and advice, backed up by Scripture that applies universally to any ethical system or religion.  I am clearly not a Christian, but I know wisdom when I encounter it, and this is down-to-earth, straight-to-the-core, cut-to-the-chase wisdom.

Here’s a gift from The Invisible Scar that showed up in my inbox a couple of days ago:  two professors from the University of Georgia have asked The Invisible Scar to help recruit volunteers to take a survey on the parental communication skills of Adult Children of a Narcissist.  If you’re like me, you might be anxious (in my case, obsessed) about not repeating history–in other words, not passing on the terrible heritage of the emotional abuse that you suffered at the whims of the Narcissist in your life.  If you’d like to participate in the survey, go here. It only takes a few minutes.

You might find it validating!

Holy Shit

It happened.

What I was waiting for, and dreading, and avoiding, and otherwise side-stepping.

The confrontation with my mother.

She started it.  She wanted to know if she had said or done anything to offend me, since of late I have seemed to be avoiding her.

She got that right.  All of it.

The only reason I am camping out in my father’s former studio, complete with no facilities, is that I gave up my gorgeous, wonderful life in Jerusalem to come and be with Dad in his last years.  I am immensely happy that I did that.  It gave a richness to Dad’s and my already very deep relationship that left a delicious taste when he departed, enhanced by the salt of my tears.

So, he having gone to his Place, I no longer have a reason to be here.  I am making plans to leave, and soon.

And when my mother asked a second time if I was avoiding her for some reason, the answer was “yes,” but of course I said “no,” because I knew what sort of scene would follow if I said “yes.”  So I said, “of course not,” while avoiding the laser gaze.

“How about a cup of tea?” She asked.  I obliged, and she made tea.  We sat down, and I wondered what in the world we were going to talk about.

“Well, are you still planning to…go galavanting around?”  She smirked.

“Are you talking about the RV?”  I am in the process of buying a small motorhome and living in it for who knows how long.  I have been a virtual gypsy all of my life, so I’d like to see what happens if I do it on purpose, with intention.

“If you’re talking about the RV, it’s in its final stages of the purchase.”

We chatted about the whole RV thing, and I allowed as how I would be back through here every 3 months or so, to check on her and see how things are going.  I didn’t tell her that the truth is, she’s showing signs of dementia, and I want to keep my finger on that pulse.

Oh, no, that isn’t necessary, to come all the way across the country to check on her.  She’ll be just fine, she says.

“Yes,” I said, “And I’ve also got a son…”  Didn’t get to finish that sentence.

“Oh, and where was he last week?  I thought he was supposed to come here for the weekend.”  My parents have always had this thing about my son, that he never took it upon himself to call or visit them.  They took it very personally.  God knows, if I took it personally that he never calls me either, I’d drive myself crazy.  That’s simply who is is: he’s an Aspie like his mom and dad, and if I want to talk to him I give him a buzz; he may or may not answer depending on what’s happening at the time.

“He’s at his father’s family reunion.”

“Oh yes, his father always made sure that he went to HIS family reunions.”  Not that WE ever had a family reunion.  No, I’m wrong.  Last year they had one, the family of my mother’s generation, but the children and grandchildren, all of whom are adults, were not invited.  By that I mean, they were explicitly told they were unwelcome.  Me too, and I thought it was a shame, but I don’t like to go places where I am not welcome, so I let that go.  BUT her side HAD had a family reunion, and none of us cousins and grandchildren were welcome.  So what’s to argue about?

Then came a volley of accusations on my part regarding whether my parents had bothered building a relationship with him, and of course she said they did, but I know for a fact not much. Perhaps she forgot how he came on birthdays, holidays, art show openings, and every other important happening on my side of the family.

Plus, I reminded her, he has a lot of cousins on his father’s side, and they are such a large family that having reunions is part of their tradition.

“Yes, of course HIS FATHER makes sure he has a good relationship with his family.”  Meaning, clearly, that it was MY fault that my son did not have a close relationship with THEM.

Then she started in on him in general, how he’s just inconsiderate, selfish, etc. etc.

That’s when I lost it.

I unloaded on her with both barrels, so to speak.  How she had no right to insult my son.  How the reason he doesn’t come around is because she belittles me right in front of him, and he won’t see his mother abused.

“Stop screaming,” she said, using her smooth persuasive courtroom voice (she is a guardian ad litem, which in her case means she specializes in taking children away from their parents).

By that time I was in a state I have never been in before.  Part of the gall that I have carried around with me for 61 years came pouring out.  I thought I was going to vomit.

“I am not screaming!  Every time I open my mouth you attack me with your sarcasm, your mocking, your belittling–you want to know why I avoid you, that’s why!”  My head felt like it was about to blow up.  My brains would spatter all over the spotlessly clean furniture.  Ever since my dad died she’s been compulsively cleaning the house, trying to rid it of his former presence.

“You stop your fucking screaming!”  She screamed, casting a furtive glance upward, worried that the three carpenters who were in the act of replacing the roof had heard.  I don’t know how the could not have.

“That’s it!  I’m done!  Good-bye!”  And I picked up my walking sticks, my dog behind me, and stomped though the gravel back yard, spewing obscenities that I’m sure the carpenters heard.

I made my way down the path to the studio, watching out for the knees of rhododendron roots that stick up out of the path, waiting to trip the novice or the careless.  I got “home,”–every time we move I tell my dog, “This is Home now,” so she will know to go “home,” if we get separated for any reason.  I guess this is more “home” than any of them, because it is my dad’s and he gave it to me.

I wonder if she’ll think of the motorhome as a home that has changes of scenery fairly regularly.  I guess that’s how it’s been for her anyway, except that she will get all territorial about this new home on wheels.

I grabbed half a joint and a little bit of wine, and sat out on the deck with my dog and watched the river for a while.

Talking Shop

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I’ve noticed, that I haven’t been posting.

Lord knows I’ve wanted to.

Blogging serves many purposes for me, as I’m sure it does for you: catharsis, self-expression, connection, community, dialogue, intellectual challenge, exercise and sharpening of one’s writers’ craft teeth, etc.

But: things around here have been less than peachy.

Dad had another stroke a week ago, was in a coma for a couple of days.  Then he began his struggle back into This World.  He’s not quite as “with it” as he was before–and he wasn’t too “with it” then either–but sometimes he knows where he is.  Thankfully he still knows who I am.

While we thought he was dying or about to die, there was a certain amount of drama (really?!) on the part of my mother, who actually hugged me and wept on my shoulder for an uncomfortable while.  I do feel sorry for her, but not that sorry.  But it’s not as if I would push my mother away while she’s having a dramatic sad moment, or a sadly dramatic moment, being about to lose her husband of sixty-six years.

Life is now a patchwork of caregivers and nurses coming in and out of the house.  That’s good, because I cannot help with physical needs other than the food-related ones.  I can prepare food, and help him eat it; and if he’s too “out of it” to get his food into his mouth, I can feed him.  Some days he’s able to feed himself, and some days he’s just too exhausted.  He’s hungry, but he just can’t manage the eating part.  I never realized how complex the act of eating is, until this experience of watching Dad’s stepwise loss of the mechanical ability to manipulate food, even with his hands, let alone utensils.

Once it’s in his mouth he can usually chew it up and swallow, but sometimes he needs his food “blenderized” and sometimes he just can’t eat at all.  I know that’s part of dying.  And sometimes he absolutely refuses to eat, and that’s part of dying too.

We try to keep him hydrated, at least.  He’s on a medicine that decreases the fluid in his blood, taking some stress off his heart, which does make him feel better but causes increased urination, so getting the fluids into him is important.  I know, it seems paradoxical: on one hand, taking the fluids out, on the other, shoving them in.

The other day we were sitting alone together, watching the afternoon coming in through the brilliant greens of the forest canopy, and he said:  “You and I need to go up into the woods and talk shop.”

I know what he meant.

We have always been best buddies, even when times weren’t so good, even though he served as my own private “Flying Monkey” who tried to explain away my mother’s evil ways.  I always came back, for my dad.  Here I am!

Just about every night, starting from…when?  Maybe after I got back off the road, when I was seventeen–every night when I was visiting and would be staying over, my dad and I would sit up late drinking whiskey and “talking shop.”  We would solve the world’s problems, solve problems for worlds that were entirely theoretical at the time but in fact exist now, and dig deep into authors, poetry, philosophical genres, the nature of human existence, art (of course), artists (same), relationships of all sorts….and now and then my mother would stick her head down the stairway to ask us to please “keep it down.”

I do salute her for allowing us those times together and not throwing a monkey-wrench into things, which she is quite capable of doing.  She knew that those late-night rap sessions were sacred.

The only time my dad and I ever got into a shouting match was oh, around 3 am when we were both three sheets to the wind, and somehow or other we fell into the topic: “Does God have a sense of humor?”

He staunchly and solidly maintained that God does NOT have a sense of humor.  The Holocaust.

I equally stubbornly held that God DOES have a sense of humor, because WE exist and that is the ridiculous proof!

Neither of us would budge, and having put a good dent in a fifth of Bourbon whiskey, the volume worked its way up until we were actually shouting at each other in earnest.  Luckily my mother yelled down the stairs for us to “knock it off down there.”  We sheepishly toasted “to Life” and stumbled off to our respective beds.  We never did resolve that point.

So, we need to go up into the woods and talk shop.  Some more.  Soon.