Who are you?

Why do we feel a need to change ourselves into something else? White women in America go to a tanning bed to get darker. Women in Thailand and India have bleaching creams to get lighter. Brunettes bleach their hair to be blonde. People with gray hair dye it to be darker. We are forever trying to change ourselves so we look different, but the odd part is that there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. There isn’t some “perfect” we are aiming at. It is simply that we are trying to not be ourselves.

We’ve been taught that we aren’t beautiful the way we are. This applies to men as well as women, but it seems like the pressure is harder on women. Whatever you are, it isn’t good enough. This is how the cosmetic industry stays in business.

We are taught that you can’t be happy unless you look like someone you are not. The only problem is then when you get there you still aren’t happy. It is a lie upon a lie upon a lie. It is too much to have to keep up with.

How about this? You are beautiful exactly the way you are. You deserve respect exactly the way you are.

Lopsided smile, crooked grin, one eye wobbling over out of kilter, splotchy skin, sagging boobs, frizzy hair – celebrate it all. Your differences makes you special.

If we prop ourselves up and fill in our crevices and straighten our hair and bleach our skin we are all making ourselves into Barbie dolls. We are all making ourselves into some artificial version of reality.

Do we do this to make ourselves feel better, or to make other people feel better?

I’ve long been very self conscious about my eyes. They don’t line up right. One goes one way and one goes another way. It looks really weird in pictures. Sometimes if I smile just right with my eyes, or turn sideways a bit you can’t tell. As for me, I don’t notice anything differently from my perspective. I’ve always seen the world like this, so this is my normal. But I’m very conscious about how weird this looks to other people. For years I wore my glasses all the time when I was out in public. This tends to cut down on the problem.

The deal is though that I don’t like wearing glasses, especially when I read. So when I eat lunch out at a restaurant and the waiter comes up to ask me if I need anything, before I look up from my book, I’d pop my glasses back on to reply.

I don’t do that anymore. Why am I trying to change myself to make someone else happy?

Sure, there are plenty of times where we do this and it is a good idea. Being clothed in public is a good idea. Bathing so you don’t stink. Not yelling when you talk to people (except in the event of an emergency). These are all sacrifices we need to make in order to live around other people.

But I think that certain things can go. Shaving legs and pits? I’m still working on that one. There is only so far out there I can go and feel comfortable with it.

But not wearing makeup and not dyeing my hair – easy.

I think real beauty comes from within.

“I don’t read”

There is a lady who comes in the library who only gets movies. She has started to complain that she has seen all the ones we have. We have a very large collection of movies, but she gets several at a time so it is possible that she has seen them all.

But then she’s limiting herself. She isn’t getting any of the TV series. She isn’t getting anything educational. She isn’t getting anything that is foreign and has subtitles.

Just movies. All the time. Every time.

Somehow I can’t comprehend having this much spare time to throw away on watching movies. It totally goes against my philosophy of being mindful and not wasting your life. But it is my philosophy and not hers, and I’m trying to be here, in the moment, trying to see things from her perspective.

I’m not doing very well.

I can’t relate. I’ve suggested she get some books because we have a lot of these and she’ll never run out. Her reply – “I don’t read”. Perhaps she can’t read. Perhaps she has some sort of learning disability. Perhaps she just doesn’t like to read. She wouldn’t tell me why she only wants movies. I want to know because I want to work around it. Maybe I can talk her into audiobooks.

Maybe I’m trying to make her in my own image. Maybe I need to let her be her and not think she is wrong for not being like me.

And isn’t that really the problem when we try to “fix” someone? Tolkein tells us that “Not all who wander are lost” and we think that sounds cool. We use that as a defense when someone is trying to make us conform. But sometimes we forget it when we are dealing with other people.

Or at least I do.

Because to let someone be different, to let her be herself and not be like me is somehow to say that maybe I’m not ok the way I am. Deep down I know this isn’t true, but I feel that is my unconscious motivation.

We either like ourselves or we don’t. We either are comfortable with other people’s differences from us or we aren’t.

We often compare ourselves to others. She’s taller than me, so I’m too short. She has beautiful hair so mine is mousy. She is larger than me so I’m so proud of the fact that I exercise. She is smaller than me so she is too skinny.

See how bizarre this is? Everything is in relation to ourselves. It is as if we are the center of the world.

Remember how in the Middle Ages people thought that the Earth was the center of the solar system and that the Sun went around it? Never mind the fact that the math didn’t work out to prove this was true. The authorities (the Church) said it was true and it wasn’t questioned.

Until it was.

Galileo discovered the truth and he got excommunicated for it. The Church has an issue with truth. But so does any authority system.

Now it is time to do the same to our view of others. Instead of heliocentric, we are egocentric. It’s time to stop comparing ourselves to others and stop trying to “fix” them because they aren’t broken.

Family secrets

I realized that it was very freeing to let go of family secrets in a recent post. I’m not sure why they were given to me to hold on to. When I told the story about my brother’s fake military service credentials I felt a weight come off of me that has been there too long.

There was a lot of lying that I was encouraged to do as a child, and that habit went on too long. I was strong-armed into not telling. Something about “family name” and “honor” and “pride” got mixed into there. After I was about 5, the only trips my family went on were of the guilt variety.

There’s nothing healthy about this, but I went along, because that is what you do as a child. I didn’t know better. Here was my family, teaching me something harmful. I was the youngest member, so I didn’t have any perspective. I didn’t know that what they were teaching me was wrong.

There is a lot of shame tied up in lying. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that you are something you are not. It weighs you down, like the proverbial millstone, like the metaphorical concrete shoes. I was drowning in someone else’s stories. I inherited bags of lies and half-truths.

I was told by my brother to not tell anybody the truth for the sake of our family name. The funny thing is that he changed his name. What name? He modified his last name some time when he was in the Air Force for that one year. Did the lies start then? Or was it when he was having “naps” with his girlfriend in the family home and got her pregnant? Did it bloom into full fruition when he somehow forgot to tell wife number four that she was in fact wife number four, and not number two as he’d told her and the county clerk when they got married? Everything started to crumble when the child from the first marriage showed up on their doorstep, 16, and running away from home. Wife number four didn’t know about any other children. Somehow it seems that the person who needs to be concerned about “honor” and “family name” is him, not me. I don’t have anything to hide. Everybody knows my business.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

He threatened me to never tell his girlfriends about him. He realized after our parents died that I was the only person who knew the truth about him. I was the only person who could kick down that house of lies he had built around himself.

He blamed me for marriage number four falling apart, saying I told her something. I never talked to her. The problem was, neither did he. It isn’t my fault that he forgot to tell her really important facts about himself. But his habit of blaming me for his failure is very common.

And I took this for years. I’m now seeing the lies that I was fed. This may not be pretty to read, but it is very healing for me to write this. I’ve held this in for a very long time. It is like I finally noticed that there was a festering boil, and I’ve lanced it open. A lot of gross stuff is coming out, but better to get it out than keep it in.

He stole money from me on a regular basis when I was a child. I started to notice something was wrong and I started to keep a tally of money in and out in a separate place. When I saw what was happening, I told our Mom. She confronted him and it stopped – but he never apologized and never paid me back.

So he started stealing from me in other ways.

There was a time in my childhood that I remember intentionally forgetting about things. There was something so bad that happened that I made a point of not remembering it. Apparently I was successful, because all I can remember is that I chose to forget. It is like having a spraypaint outline of a stencil. You can see that something happened there, but you don’t have the full picture.

He blamed me for going into debt. A few years ago he was a quarter of a million dollars in debt. The real estate business he was in had taken a nose dive, and he’d borrowed money to start up some get-rich-quick plan. It failed, and he borrowed more money, for another stupid plan. He had to declare bankruptcy and moved into a friend’s green house.

He actually said that he thought that the reason he was a quarter of a million dollars in debt was that I had “prayed for his downfall.”

How’s that for a guilt trip? That’s an express trip to crazytown. If my prayers are that powerful, I’m pretty connected.

He didn’t want to admit that it was the fact that he kept borrowing money for yet another hare-brained idea that got him in the hole he was. Once again he wasn’t taking responsibility for his own actions.

Then his new girlfriend asked to be my friend on Facebook, and he freaked out. I got numerous messages from him begging me to not tell her anything. I said that was his responsibility. I didn’t contact her, but just watched what was going to happen. Then she posted a picture of her engagement ring. So she was going to be wife number 5. I asked him if she knew about the others. He fudged on the answer. I suggested they go to premarital counseling. He got very angry and said how dare I not wish them happiness together. My point was that with counseling there would be a chance of happiness.

You won’t get good fruit from a rotten tree.

And he’s pretty rotten. Time to dig out the root of it all, the reasons for the lies and the deceit. Time to dig down deep and clean things up and out.

Things got pretty ugly there, right after they got engaged and we were still communicating. I was reading a lot of self-help books and ones on better dialogue in difficult situations, but unfortunately he wasn’t. I tried to tell him how I felt, and like always he twisted what I said.

My brother is the kind of person who you can say “It is a pretty day outside.” to and he will reply “What do you mean – are you telling me it is time to mow the yard again!?”

When you are raised with crazy as your normal, it is kind of hard to know what normal is.

I know crazy. I admit that I’ve hospitalized myself twice. Bipolar disorder runs in my family. Both times I knew something was wrong and I asked for help. Both times I needed to get my medications adjusted. I’ve heard it is very rare to realize that you aren’t well mentally and ask for help.

When Ian went crazy, he certainly didn’t know that he needed help. At the time was living just 45 minutes away from where I lived with our Mom. She was dying, and he’d been in denial of it. He’d ignored the fact that we were living on Social Security and disability for one. I’d quit my job so I could take care of her and drive her to her appointments. Dad sent money to us when he could. He was living in Birmingham with his Mom, who had Alzheimer’s. Our parents had separated a few years earlier.

Instead of being a help, he’d send letters to us with clippings from the paper showing how much money he had made off a commission. He’d send a copy of his planner, showing how busy he was, to “prove” why he couldn’t come and help or visit. During the year she was sick, he visited twice. He sent only $100. Most of his energy was devoted to harassing me on the phone, telling me that I “could do more” to help her. I was 24, had quit my job, was buying food with food stamps, and doing all the cooking and cleaning and caregiving. He was 30, and was being a jerk.

When it finally became clear that she was dying, he lost his mind.

He called once and was talking very excitedly. He went away for a little bit and I could hear coughing in the background. He said “Mom is going to feel a lot better now!” When I asked what he meant, he said that he had just coughed up some of her cancer.

This was not helping. This is insane.

A few days later he trapped his girlfriend in their house and took the distributor cap off her car so she couldn’t leave. He painted crosses on the windows with wine. He said that “she was pregnant with the next Christ” and that “demons were going to come to take the baby away.” Now that is off the charts crazy. That is certifiable. That is a danger to others crazy. And so he got committed against his will. A judge got involved. He spent two weeks in. He simply learned what not to say to appear normal, but he didn’t ever admit that he was sick.

Six weeks after Mom died, Dad died suddenly. I had to handle both estates. Ian’s name wasn’t on the will. Turns out Dad created the will after Ian threatened to kill him, and the situation never improved.

Ian insisted on getting the Rembrandt etching that had always hung over the mantelpiece. It was entitled “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” He said that Dad had always wanted him to have it, because it symbolized their relationship. I think I’d have heard about something as earth-shaking as reconciliation between them. I let him have it, because it wasn’t worth arguing about. But in reality, he was just propping up his house of lies. The son had not returned to the father. The son was adrift in a sea of deceit.

Sometime around then I also insisted that we communicate only in written form, because he had that habit of twisting what I said. I’d write letters to him and save a copy for myself. That way when he said “you said this (insert hateful comment)” I could point out that I didn’t.

It is tiring to communicate with someone like this. I wonder how tiring it is to be him, to have to constantly be checking up to see how his lie-house is doing. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is awesome. It is far healthier to admit your mistakes and move on. When you have to lie to cover up a lie, then you are getting into really deep trouble. Maybe one day he’ll figure that out. I’ve had to admit that I’m not the one to help him. I tried, and it only got worse. For my own mental health and for his, I left.

Our last conversation was a message on Facebook. He told me to read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. He told me that I had to read that before I talked to him again. That seemed to make it easy on me – I chose to not read that book. Ever.

I unfriended and blocked him and everyone directly associated with him. I can’t take the lies anymore. I can’t take him or any of his drama. I don’t know what is real about him, and I don’t think even he knows anymore.

So I’ve honored his request. I’ve not told his girlfriend (possibly now wife) about him.

I’ve told everyone.