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.

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.

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!