************************************Denial covers the pain of the past * A blanket over the world * Lift a corner * Don't be afraid * Your life awaits you*************************************

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Tell or Not to Tell?

To tell or not to tell? That's the questions of the week. At CoDA meetings, after sharing in Story Circle at church, at the ACOA meeting, from friends in my writer’s group with whom I’ve confided, and here in loving comments left on my blog, I have heard the repeated and ever incredulous, “you haven’t told your mother?”

The short answer is, “No.”

This is sometimes followed by dubious looks and the ‘why not’ hangs in the air whether or not it is asked aloud.

At this time, I am strong in my conviction that telling my mother, or any member of my family-of-origin, is the wrong choice for me. I do understand that exposing the abuser has been a big part of healing for many. I would not condemn others for their choice to tell, to shine a light on the demons of their past in order to bring their own truth clearly into the light of day. I see the value of it – for others.

However, it does not feel right for me and I’m going to try to explain my perspective, here, for once and for all. But first, a little history....

For those of you who are not very familiar with American History, the year 1929 may not have a lot of meaning. However, if you lived in the U.S. at that time, this year would flash like a neon sign in your mind the way 9-11 stands out to us, today. It was the year the stock market crashed, the beginning of the great depression.

I can remember my step-grandfather telling me about his life during the depression. One thing he said that stood out to me, as a child was, “You could buy a loaf of bread for a penny. Of course, nobody had a penny.”

My mother’s parents grew up in a small farm community. In 1929, they were fourteen and seventeen years old. The great depression began, nobody had money to buy farm produce, farmers had to sell at a loss and suddenly could no longer support their families. My mother's parents found themselves in a dying community. They eloped and moved to “the city”, which for them was Chicago, to find work.

My mother was born less than a year later. Her parents were teenagers suddenly thrown into a new life, and they struggled as anyone might in that situation. They partied like rock-stars, from what I’ve learned from other ancient relatives, who have mostly passed on, now. They smoked and drank and gambled and left my mother and her brother, who was born when my mother was two, with neighbors and relatives for days and sometimes weeks at a time.

Regardless, my mother had a special relationship with her father. She was daddy’s little girl. To this day, her face lights up when she remembers her childhood times with her father.

Looking at it from the outside, it's easy to see why two children who eloped at such a young age might not be able to make their marriage work. Looking at it from my mother's perspective, it was quite different. When her father left my grandmother for a younger woman, my mother was sixteen years old, and she was devastated.

Then, at seventeen, she met my father. My father was an “older man” of twenty-three, divorced, with two small children of his own. Just in those facts alone, you can see how he was like the father she was replacing. My father can be charming when he wants to be, and he swept her off her feet and filled that need she had for a man in her life in the wake of her father’s abandonment.

This background story may help you understand why my mother has spent her life as she has. She grew up in a dysfunctional home and then was abandoned by her father. Her father went on to have another daughter, whom he cherished, and my mother had no contact with him for decades. Her fear of being abandoned by my father has always been intense, and she learned about denial at a very young age as she accepted her life in a dysfunctional, alcoholic home.

My mother was eighteen when my older brother was born, nineteen when she had my sister. I believe things went along in a fairy-tale way – for a while. They were the perfect family, on the outside, my father teaching school and writing books and even getting published a couple of times, back in the fifties. My mother staying home with her babies. I think they were happy... in their own way.

I’m not sure when the storybook fa├žade began to crack. My father is not stable. He is narcissistic and  lacks empathy, and he is a master manipulator. He actually did his thesis on Dale Carnegie, the author of, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” He brags about moments when he is able to coerce, manipulate and control others. He thinks it's a good thing.

If there is something my father wants, he is ruthless in his efforts to attain it. When there is something he can’t get, he is vicious in his retaliation. I doubt there is any member of my family who would refute these truths, despite the intense state of denial that is still prevalent in my family-of-origin. The usual party line is, “well, his mother was like that.” I don’t understand how this makes it acceptable. Using that logic, my siblings and I should all be that way, as well. Thank God, we are not.

Yes, there was neglect and mistreatment in my childhood. Yes, it was wrong, and it was not my fault. My father was abusive in any way you can imagine, taking out his own repressed feelings on his children and any other defenseless people (or pets) who crossed his path. He used people and still does, if they let him. He was most abusive with me, possibly because he was gone for the first year of my life and therefore never bonded with me the way in a paternal way.

And, yes, my mother is also to blame for what went on in our house. She existed within her fairy-tale view of the world, living in complete denial for her own self-preservation. Her intense fear of abandonment pushed her into putting her relationship with my father above the needs of her children. All of those things were harmful to me and enabled the dysfunction in our house. I know that and I’m angry about it and I intend to take steps to heal and protect myself with whatever boundaries I need to put in place for the future.

Here’s the thing:

My mother is an eighty-year-old woman who has been married to the same man for sixty-three years. Bringing her out of her denial now, would be forcing her to realize that her entire life has been based on a lie. And quite simply - it's not mine to do. Her life, her rules. I'm an adult and can move on in ways that were not open to her decades ago.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ninth Step Revelation

For the last couple of weeks, I've been dealing with the aftermath of newly surfaced memories from the past. As has happened before, these flashbacks have gradually come in and I've been left with disorganized thoughts, disconnected emotions and a general feeling of being broken.

Today, I feel as if I am beginning to put the pieces of my life back together. I’ve been going back through my blog, noticing all the loose ends I’ve left in the wake of this latest wave from the past. I didn’t finish the telling about the CoDA retreat. While the details have begun to fade, there are a few parts of that weekend that I still want to share.

For this post, I’m going to concentrate on one important piece of my personal CoDA puzzle, which I found during the second half of that weekend.

My friend, Rev, is in the same place as I am, in her step work. We are both trying to find our way through the ninth step. I finished my eighth step in May and then I started avoiding my sponsor. I believe Rev has been stalling on this for about as long as I have.

 The ninth step of CoDA is:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
I must have read that a hundred times, over the summer. I read about it in every CoDA book I have, in AA literature, on line, but still I could not get myself to move forward. I couldn't even write an amends, much less make one.

I didn’t really understand why I felt so stuck. If I hadn’t gone to the retreat, I likely still would not understand.

Lucky for me, Rev was diligent in her search for answers. I was with her quite a bit, and several times she took advantage of the wonderful group of people who attended the retreat with us to ask program veterans how they had worked their ninth step. I listened in on these discussions with great interest, each time wishing I’d thought to ask. I think I commandeered the conversations a few times with questions of my own.

Late Saturday night, Rev asked an older couple who seemed to have a lot of wisdom and experience to share. The man admitted he hadn’t worked a formal ninth step. The woman began to talk about her ninth step, years earlier.

She had that calm sense about her that one sees in people who have worked hard to get their lives in order. I wanted that. I wanted to be able to have that serenity. That knowing, composed ability to speak about such things can only come from a deep understanding of what is true in one's self. Hearing her speak spotlighted how stuck I felt in my own inability to work step nine.

I felt a need to rationalize my feelings. I said, "I’m having a hard time doing my ninth step because there are people on my list that hurt me very much. It’s hard for me to imagine making any kind of an amends to them."

She said, "If they hurt you, you probably need to be making an amends to yourself before you do anything else."

In that moment I realized that I’ve been doing something kind of stupid. I had decided that I didn’t want to talk to my sponsor about making amends because I was sure she was going to tell me I had to make amends to people who had hurt me and I didn’t want to do that. The things is, I’d never discussed it with her! I was putting words in her mouth without even asking her what she thought about it. When this woman spoke of making an amends to myself, I realized that my sponsor might have told me the same thing, months ago, if I’d given her the chance.

A few days after I returned from the retreat, I called my sponsor to set up a meeting time. She seemed overjoyed that I had finally called her. When we met, I explained the entire thing to her much as I have in this post. Then, I made an amends to her for putting words in her mouth, and I asked her what I should do next.

Guess what... she did not tell me I had to make amends to people who had hurt me. I walked out of that meeting feeling a thousand pounds lighter. I had let fear keep me from moving forward, and that brought with it an all too familiar sense of hopelessness. It is wonderful to be back on track. I feel as if I am in charge of my future, once again.

So, despite my frame of mind at the retreat, even with the dark and ugly cloud hanging over my head and obscuring so much of the healing I could have found there, I learned something invaluable.

It’s said at meetings that co-dependent people have a tendency to think they can read minds. This real-life lesson demonstrated exactly how that might look. There is no way I could know what my sponsor would say in any situation unless I asked her, but I had defeated myself and stalled my step work for four months because I thought I knew what she would say and I didn’t want to hear it.

In retrospect, I realize that asking could have brought two possible outcomes. I could have heard exactly what I thought I would - that she wanted me to do things I did not feel I could do. In that case I would have had to make some tough choices, one of which might have been to find a new sponsor. Asking did not mean that I was going to be forced to do things I didn’t want to do – that was another false assumption. The choice of how I live my life is still always mine, regardless of what my sponsor or anyone else tells me.

The other possible outcome is that she would have answered in a way that helped me understand what I needed to do so I could make an informed choice about which amends I should make first and which I should never make at all. That is the place I now find myself, in my step work. It's a positive place to be; a place of hope.

.

Monday, September 13, 2010

89,000

A story from my sponsor. I don't believe it's hers... just something that gets passed around twelve-step meetings. If anyone knows who's idea this was originally, please let me know.

What would you do if someone gave you 89,000 dollars tomorrow and you had to use it all tomorrow, but then you would get another 89,000 dollars the next day, and the next and the next for the rest of your life?

You can't keep any of it, you can't invest it or save it, but you are going to have enough to do ANYTHING you want, for as long as you live.

Would you make a down payment on a jet? Take trips to the far corners of the earth? Donate to charities that are close to your heart?

So, just think about that for a few minutes before you read on. Really try to imagine what choices you would make if money was not an issue ever again. What things would become important when money and cost became irrelevant?

Now… here’s the twist.

Why 89,000 you might ask?

There are 89,000 seconds in a day.
Today you were given 89,000 seconds to use up. You can’t save them, get them back or roll them over for the next day, but tomorrow you will get another 89,000 seconds… and the next day and the next day for as long as you live.

We take time for granted. Because it feels limitless, we squander it and can’t appreciate the real gift it is.

What are you going to do with your 89,000 seconds tomorrow?

Co Creation

Co Creation
We create the life we live

Love your inner child...

...for she holds the key...

...to your personal power.
A lesson is woven into each day.
Together they make up the tapestries of our lives.
~Shen