Characterizing Mother

When I was about to leave for the Peace Corps, my mother would call and read me rape and murder statistics. I find this funny now, but at that time, not so much. Now I understand that it’s because she was scared and didn’t want me to go. If I didn’t leave the country, then nothing bad could happen to me. Flawed logic at best.

When I think of my ideal mother, I most certainly do not think of someone reading rape and murder statistics. I wish that situation would have been handled differently. I wish I could have told her I was already scared to go, but I had to go because if I didn’t, I knew I would live the rest of my life regretting it. However, emotions that relayed any kind of vulnerability were always seen as a way to undermine my decisions. I knew I couldn’t tell her I was scared. So, I didn’t, and I went.

This story stayed pinned in my mind as I spoke to my therapist. I didn’t talk to her about it, but instead about how chaotic and lonely my childhood was. I found myself downplaying how difficult my childhood had been. How unstable it had been. Now, I realize the difficulty came from adults downplaying traumatic events throughout my childhood. Whether it was the many partners I was introduced to by my parents, domestic violence, or the nights I spent alone. The “this is really bad and scary” feeling was always there, but I was told it wasn’t a big deal. I learned to push that feeling into the back of my mind and eventually, I stopped hearing my own voice.

I couldn’t remember parts of my childhood because of how traumatic they had been. After a few months of therapy, I was finally able to trust my therapist. I got to a place where I was willing to explore the trauma in my childhood. The trauma felt like dark corners where monsters lurked. I came to realize that the things in the dark were not monsters. They were beasts that had gotten trapped in the dark. They were scared too and now; I had the tools to lead us both to the light. To say goodbye to them or to learn how to live with them. To slowly heal them. To befriend them.

I wanted to move on, and I wanted to heal. In some ways, I was scared to let go. These feelings had been with me since I was little, so it was like saying goodbye to good friends. Dysfunctional friends, but very reliable friends. They always showed up. If I healed these traumas, who knows what I’d feel. Who knows what would show up.

So began the process of “remothering.” I had no idea what this was. Luckily, the blogging community is great and my therapist recommended a helpful resource:

I started by thinking about what I was provided as a child. What were the good things I was given? This way I’d have something to hold onto if I felt out of control. I could ground myself in the things I was given. Here are a few examples:

  • I always had a roof over my head
  • I always had food
  • Religious freedom
  • Material goods

The important thing was to make a true list of what I did have in childhood. What I was given.

Then, I began defining what a mother was to me. This is what I wrote:

  • Calm
  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Safe
  • Playful
  • Proud
  • Patient
  • Protective
  • Caring
  • Spend time together
  • Stable
  • Freedom
  • Guiding
  • Well-rooted in relationships and community
  • Not always talking about themselves
  • Listens

This is my personal list of what I would like out of a mother. Slowly, through therapy, some of my anger towards my mother started to melt away. Looking at this list now, I realize it’s my job to fulfill myself in these ways and not my mother’s. Perhaps part of the reason I remained angry for so long was to avoid giving myself what I needed. That seems like a lot of work.

As I’m in therapy talking about the anger that’s always seemed to be there, my therapist says, “sometimes we’re afraid to let go of an emotion because it ties us to people.” That’s partially it. I am afraid to let go of my anger because it ties me to my mother, but also because it ties me to my former self. Somehow it feels like a betrayal of my younger self to heal. To forgive. Letting go of the anger I’ve had since I was small feels like I’m telling myself those feelings aren’t valid.

I remember what is was like to be angry and to have no one listen. To be lonely and to have no one comfort me. To be surrounded by adults that don’t have their shit together. Mostly, I remember what it feels like to see adults make toxic decisions that negatively impacted me as a child. I didn’t understand why they ignored the impact of these decisions on my life. Now, I realize my parents refused to address their negative choices because they had difficulty addressing the root causes. How could they accept the added layer of hurting their child? And you know what? I no longer have to think about it. I realize that their decisions are on them. The reasons they made those negative choices has to do with their own trauma—generational traumas cascading down from generation to generation unhealed—not my character. I’m just in charge of cleaning up the emotional wreckage and trauma in my own life to prevent transmitting it to the people I love; to heal fully and to finally feel at home in my own skin.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

Early Days Of Therapy

The thought of booking a therapist was emotionally overwhelming. Just the thought alone. Let alone the act. I knew I needed to, but I was already so tired. It felt as if I was being dragged down. I tried to use logic to reason with myself, but it was an illogical predicament. I was too emotionally drained to call a therapist, but I’d never feel better if I didn’t call a therapist. It came down to one thing: I wanted change more than I wanted to stay the same. So, I sat down and went on my insurance portal. I printed out all of the therapists accepting new patients within a 20-mile radius.

I started calling. I wanted a therapist immediately. I had many people call me back to tell me my schedule didn’t work with theirs’. Some told me they couldn’t help me. I spent a fair amount of time crying in my car because of the rejection. I was frustrated with our healthcare system. I needed help. I thought calling would get me help in a timely manner. I was wrong. The appointment I booked was three weeks out. When you’re trying not to drown, three weeks feels like an awfully long time to try and stay afloat.  

In the time before therapy, I focused on caring for myself in ways I could. I had depleted so much of myself trying to care for my partner that I didn’t know where to start. My partner and I separated. I guess, that was a starting point. I figured there had to be a book about my situation. Someone must have had a similar experience to me. Combing the internet, I found many books, but I wanted something that had self-reflective exercises. I started reading Melody Beattie’s Codependency No More and How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.

During this time, I forced myself to read and complete the exercises in Codependency No More. It was hard. It was scary. But it was helpful. I often found myself shutting down during exercises because of the pain. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. In one of the exercises I was asked to examine how I feel about change. Below is what I wrote, unedited (except I removed the name of my partner):

“I’m really nervous about changing, but I would really like to. As of right now, I promised myself I would stay separated from [my partner] for 1 month to try and figure out what I want and what I’m going to do. I struggle with keeping this commitment because I miss having someone pay attention to me. I’m also extremely worried that I’m going to want a divorce and that’s really difficult for me.

I’m committed to changing so I’ll become a better more open person. I want to be in a healthy relationship with myself where I can trust myself. In order to do that I need to stay committed to change even though I’m scared. I have everything to lose by not changing. I’m not pleased with how out of control I feel a lot of the time which leads to bad behaviors.”

I wrote this for myself. It’s not well written, but it’s honest. This helped me realize that therapy was the only way I was going to get better. What I was doing wasn’t working and I didn’t have the tools to change. So, I needed to do something different. I needed someone to give me the tools to change in the ways I wanted. If a construction site didn’t have the equipment needed to complete a job, the foreman would go out and get the equipment. I was basically a foreman, but also the construction site… and a mess of one too. I didn’t want to look like a demolished 1970’s kitchen anymore with drab mustard yellow wallpaper and broken appliances.

I didn’t know how to give myself what I needed because I had lost track of my voice. The voice I heard in my head was destructive. It often told me that wanting, and needing were the same. I wanted to be with my partner, but that’s certainly not what I needed. I wanted to eat 1,000 peanut butter cups, but again, that’s definitely not what I needed. Although, I think I could have made a pretty convincing argument for the latter.

Eventually, the day of the appointment came. Fortuitously, I was placed with a therapist who specialized in addiction, trauma, and helping spouses of addicts. Many of my initial appointments were filled with frustration. I would babble on about all of my partner’s wrongdoings. At the time, I needed this. Everything felt confusing. I didn’t know what role I had played, I felt responsible for my partner’s addiction, and I didn’t know what the future would look like. Slowly, with each session, I began having small breakthroughs. Things began to shift and to become clear. I kept track of a few of those breakthroughs on a doc:

  • I have no control over whether [my partner] does the things I need [my partner] to do to be in a relationship. I can only control what I need to do on my end.
  • Until [my partner] is in therapy trying to have a discussion with [my partner] will result in the same end.
  • I feel uncomfortable for large parts of the day. I have an urge to seek out immediate comfort like calling [my partner] or going on YouTube. I have fantasies of [my partner] giving me a hug
  • I think a large part of my codependency comes from my childhood.

My brain felt so hazy that it was often difficult for me to see the ways in which I had grown. However, this practice of tracking my realizations allowed me to see growth in concrete ways.  When I would have a hazy day, I’d look back at this word doc and feel a sense purpose. At the time, I didn’t realize I’d be taking a deep dive into my childhood…that I’d be committing future appointments to healing traumas that had existed since childhood. Fun right?

I won’t lie and say that therapy is easy because it’s not. It has never been easy for me to allow myself to feel my emotions. They have always been scary to me and overwhelming. However, I look forward to a day when I know it’s safe to feel without being told I’m wrong. To having the strength to know my feelings are valid and so is my viewpoint. Lately, this seems less farfetched.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

A Return to Therapy

We were standing in my parents’ dining room. They were away on a weekend trip and we were staying at their place. We were in a heated argument about our past and simultaneously our future. It wasn’t going well. In anger, my partner yelled, “you need to go to therapy!” It clicked. I did need to go to therapy. Not as a punishment, but to figure out how I got here.  

When I started seeing my therapist, I assumed I would calmly explain why my partner was out of control and why I had absolutely no responsibility. I wasn’t forcing my partner to drink, therefore the feelings I felt were on him. It was a simple logic puzzle. He drank. I felt. His fault.

I gave this a valiant try. It was not fulfilling. It was, in fact, the opposite of fulfilling. My sessions, much like my thoughts, were taken up completely by my partner’s behavior. I hated that my thoughts were consumed by someone that I had absolutely no control over. It was as if a news ticker was lodged in my brain; a constant feedback loop of negative self-talk involving my partner. This constant loop began creating a haze filled with thoughts like:

  • If I was loved enough, my partner would stop drinking and lying.
  • If I was respected, my partner wouldn’t lie.
  • I must be a bad person because my partner has a drinking problem.
  • My partner is drinking to escape me.

It seems silly written down, but I truly believed these thoughts. I believed these thoughts because society tells us “love heals all.” So, in my mind it was a simple solution: Problem + Love= Healing/ Solution. If we love the broken people around us enough then our love will heal them.It’s just not true. What I find to be more fruitful is: Problem + Selflove & Respect= A Healing Solution. But it’s just simply more complex than that. People have to choose to love themselves. That’s the hardest thing to do for most of us.

The thoughts that racked my brain were negative and unrelenting. I knew I could fix the situation if I just figured it out. I knew that my partner would stop if I was just better.  Yes, my partner was engaging in destructive behaviors that began eroding our marriage. However, so was I. The more we secluded ourselves from the world, the bleaker our outlook became. The more I wanted our marriage to work and the more I fixated on it, the worse I became.

I felt completely alone, and worst of all, I lost myself. I was so busy worrying about my partner, I never stopped to worry about me. I’m not sure when, but eventually I began to realize I was in charge of the negative news ticker. I had allowed the haze to form in my brain. Not my partner. So maybe it was actually my problem to fix after all. I started analyzing my thought pattern.  

I wasn’t purposefully thinking these negative thoughts. It just sorta happened. I thought I was very self-confident and in some ways I was. However, I was willing to accept someone treating me poorly. I was willing to accept my negative thought patterns. And I was willing to behave in ways I didn’t admire. So, all of these realizations lead me to reexamine where I came from.

What did I do to help deconstruct these thoughts? Therapy. I’ll get more into that and the specific tools I used to get just a little bit better in later posts.  

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…