this is going to be extremely long and rambly and boring and personal and of course emotional. sorry.
do you ever feel that as you get confident or healthier or otherwise improve, some people who knew you when you were insecure or sick or otherwise (for lack of a better term) worse resent you? Like they took a photograph back then and now that you don’t match it they have to force you to, and if you refuse, they think the worse of you?
I try to be vague when talking about things that involve other people in my life because they aren’t given a chance to share their side here, and they may not WANT to share their side, or for me to share my views on what happened. I try to talk it out without bringing them into it at all, as much as I can, in order to protect them, not hurt them, not invade privacy. But I don’t know how to do that anymore, at least not with this.
I’ve been reading some YA books by Maggie Stiefvater, a werewolf series. I hated the first half of the first book but I really enjoyed the other two series I read by her (though each new series I’ve liked less, so I’m glad I started with the Raven Cycle, which is awesome and I might not have gotten to it if I went in a different order) so I kept going and by the time I finished I was interested enough to continue on. The main character is a high school student (duh, YA almost always focuses on teens) whose parents are fairly absentee. They care, but they are sort of scattered and she’s been pretty damn capable of caring for herself (and them, honestly) so they don’t put much effort in. To give you an idea, When she was a kid she was dragged off into the woods by wolves and suffered several bites from them. A few months later her dad left her locked in a car for hours on a hot day and she nearly died. These didn’t happen due to malicious negligence, but they’re negligent parents nonetheless. It’s not until she’s 17 and gets involved with a boy that they start parenting her. She makes the meals, they’re gone before she leaves for school and often don’t come home until she’s already in bed. Even when they’re home, they’re doing their own things, rarely asking the main character about her day or life. But when the boy enters the picture they become overbearingly protective and retake their parental roles with a vengeance, grounding her, taking away her phone, insisting on controlling her every moment.
Growing up, my mom was like Grace’s post-boy parents and my dad was like the pre-boy parents. He was in the military, gone up to 6 months at a time, and even when he was around he wasn’t entirely there. My mom loves to tell the story of when he was babysitting me and was watching the football game on tv. I wandered into the laundry room and he discovered me playing with an open bottle of bleach. (I didn’t drink any but apparently spilled it on myself.) Or the story of when he let me, as a toddler, eat doritos. My mom was always more in control, and didn’t like it when she couldn’t be. This got much worse as we all aged, so I don’t have examples from when I was smaller, but she stopped flying (as a passenger in airplanes), wouldn’t let my dad drive when she was to be in the car, etc because she wasn’t the one in control. When I was a junior in high school, my group of friends going to prom together planned a post-dance sleepover. The hostess’s parents would be there the whole time, and none of us had any interest in having prom night sex anyway, but my mom refused to let me go. I tried to compromise, asked to host instead, and she was fine with it. But then on prom night, after an hour or so of friends at my house, my mother told the boys they had to leave because she was going to bed. This wasn’t something she talked to me about beforehand, or I would not have had my friends over at all and let them have fun on their own after prom. They ended up going to the original hostess’ house (minus my date, who was from another school, and me, obviously) because my mom had to exercise her power over me. (The fact that that summer and the next school year I went to a number of coed sleepovers/sleepover cast-parties very strongly suggests that this was about exerting power and not protecting my virginity at all.)
My mom is an alcoholic. I have suspicions as to why, which aren’t pertinent to this and won’t be shared here. They’re related to her need for control, which is why I mention it at all. When I lived at home, before leaving for college and then again after leaving college and restarting at Mason, I had to develop ways of coping with my parents, particularly my mom (my dad was no longer in the military after I left school in NC, but he was still traveling often for work). Much of that meant finding ways to let her control me on my terms (to this day, if someone tells me to do something I instinctually want to refuse, or find a way to subvert it. I generally don’t, but I want to SO MUCH.) I’d get told to take out the garbage and I’d put it off until a commercial break (back before there were DVRs!) I’d load the dishwasher in a way that was inefficient because it made my mom mad. I’d have to do it again, I knew I’d have to do it again, but that was okayish because I got mine, too. When I was in my 20s, I wasn’t allowed to sleep in a bed with my boyfriend, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have sex with him, it just meant it happened at his house, or when my parents weren’t home. Standard stuff. Attempting to control me didn’t actually make me “behave,” it just made me sneakier and more willing to find ways around rules. And that was fine with them. When I would visit my NC school boyfriend during holidays, my parents were fine with that, because they either assumed I was sleeping in the guest room or were ostriching, doing a “what I don’t know about isn’t happening.” Same with other boyfriends. As long as I was in my own bed, alone, when the sun came up, it was okay. My mom’s alcoholism has gone on long enough to affect her memory. If I don’t have my dad present to back me up when she doesn’t remember, things that happened were, to her, things that never happened. She doesn’t remember it, it didn’t happen. She trusts my memory to be stronger when she is telling stories about things that happened recently (I can quote conversations verbatim for days, weeks afterward, and she would rely on that when reporting events involving them to my grandmother on the phone) but accused me of lying when I remember telling her things she doesn’t remember hearing. When I was dating a lad from Canada, I told her weeks before I a visit that I would like to go, gave her the dates, and then purchased the tickets. The day of my flight to Pierson International, I woke her up to say goodbye and she didn’t remember I was going, so threw a tantrum, telling me I never talked to her about the trip, initially refusing to let me leave the house, and then called the guy’s house several times while I was in the air to make sure that’s where I was really going. It’s only gotten worse since, and while the memory is always pretty malleable, it’s always been more so for her, and now she remembers things that never happened. Her memory for the first decade or 15 years of my life, and of many things prior to that, are good, at least for negative things. (She holds on to slights, real and perceived, like they were the only things keeping her from drowning.)
One of the side effects of finding ways to cope was a strong sense of self loathing and thus insecurity. I was rebelling in the tiniest of ways, so pathetic. No one else could really like me because I didn’t like me, and I didn’t like me because in order to handle the heavy hand of my mother and the mostly absent but occasionally heavier (and at those times, scarier) hand of my father, I did things that made me not like myself. I didn’t stand up for myself in any meaningful way, I went along to get along as much as I could stand. I never did any real rebeling (though I planned how I’d get out of my house should I ever need to, I never actually did it, nor did I have a plan to get back in. The point was to go and not come back, not to sneak out and back in), I didn’t drink, or smoke (anything), and most of my indiscretions were pretty minor. (I lied and said I was staying after school for school stuff but often did it just so I could skip taking the bus home, or go to the mall across the street with my friends before returning to campus to ask for a ride home from mom. slacked in school a bit. generally put off chores as much as possible. didn’t consider the future/consequences. the usual.) I internalized my disappointment in myself and my parents’ disappointment, too, (or perceived disappointment–they’d never tell me I was a disappointment, but I definitely saw myself as one) until in February or March of my senior year I ate 40 or so advil with no water (because the coating made them sweet and easy to swallow, and because I knew that the less water you drink with pills the more damage you do to your internal organs) because I thought I wasn’t going to get into a college. I was going to be a disappointment and be stuck at home, unable to live my life as I wanted, and I couldn’t stand the thought. When I told my parents what I had done, it was not because I realized it was stupid (it was,) or that life is worth living (it is,) or that it would hurt other people (it would,) but that I might miss out on some things I hadn’t yet experienced and wanted to experience. So I told them, and we went to the hospital and I drank charcoal and got a tube shoved through my nose to my stomach and a referral to a psychologist. I didn’t know how to talk about these things then, so my sessions were not very fruitful, but they were one more hoop I had to jump through so I did. I got into two colleges, but I my parents didn’t want me to go to one of them (it was in New Orleans, which was the epitome of licentiousness and crime apparently) and I let them steer me towards the other (we only visited the one in NC, which had a freshman orientation/enrollment thing during my high school’s spring break, and my dad took me and got me enrolled in classes and the professor who would be my advisor through my freshman year was a very cool guy so I allowed myself to be steered. Sometimes I’m glad I did (I met lots of awesome people and got to grow as a person) and sometimes I wish I didn’t (how would things be different if I had at least insisted on checking out the other school? Would they be better? Worse? The same?) but I can’t do anything about it now. I was generally aimless there, and eventually left and returned home, and it was even harder to return to those coping skills I had developed, it rankled more after a touch of freedom (fairly restrictive freedom, since it was a religiously affiliated school, but more freedom than at home with my mom) so things were more tempestuous, and I hated myself more for giving in, and I hated having to be there, and I hated how long it would take for me to get out. And I hated me for putting myself in that situation again, and staying in it for so long. And later, after I was out of it, for needing to put myself back in it. I never got as close to suicide again, but I had a plan (I still do, probably always will) and it is only my own determination that has kept me from implementing it several times over the past 17 years, my reaching out to friends when I felt like it was the only option left. I’ve been this way for a long time. (finally returning to the topic at the start)
In the midst of my 2 years of unemployment, once the Affordable Care Act made it possible, I saw a therapist. I had seen two different ones during grad school, and learned more about how to talk about this stuff, so when I saw this therapist, I actually made some progress. (I had with the others, too, but much more with this one.) In the past year I’ve made a lot of progress in understanding my feelings, talking about them, not just to my therapist but to other people in my life. I’ve learned more about picking my battles (something I was terrible at when I lived with my parents) and why to pick certain ones and why to let others go. And how to forgive myself when I screw up.
So it’s all the more frustrating that when I do pick my battles,when I choose not to enable or encourage bad behavior, I am seen as being stubborn, childish, selfish, and unable to pick my battles. That I am trying to prove I am right instead of trying protect myself from reverting back to that person who hated who she was and didn’t care if terrible stuff happened to her, as long as it didn’t hurt too long, too much, as long as it didn’t inconvenience them. I’m sorry you don’t like me when I like me, when I am doing something other than complying in order to experience less hurt. I’m not sorry I’m not allowing myself to be hurt anymore. I like liking who I am, and while I don’t do it to hurt you I’m not going to stop if it does.