Poem for a not-so-happy Mothers’ Day

If Mother’s Day is hard for you –
because your Mother has died,
because your Mother didn’t know how to love you,
because you always wanted to be a mother but couldn’t,
because you are a Mother and your children are dead, or cruel,
Then take today to rest and restore your soul,
to re-Mother yourself,
to show yourself that You are valuable.
Do something in honor of the Idea of Motherhood –
be creative, and kind, and selfless, and giving
to someone else
especially if they are hard to love.

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What it’s like (art journal page)

what-its-like

A meditation on being estranged from my brother. I have only one sibling, and our parents are dead. I do not talk to him by choice because he is abusive. Even his apologies are abusive. He somehow is able to make it sound like it is my fault that he is abusive to me.  Then, after that, he starts doing the same abusive behavior all over again.  I have given him multiple chances.

I had not planned on working on this topic again – I’ve written about it a lot. But then I was cutting out some pictures and words from magazines for a project at work and came across the one at the top – about how awkward it is to have a sibling you don’t talk to. It isn’t normal or expected. I was initially upset about these words (I felt it in my gut) and thought it too personal to make an art journal page about. But then I realised that is exactly why I needed to do it.

Sometimes it takes a long time for wounds to heal. Sometimes it takes a lot of different ways to do it, too.  Sometimes it doesn’t ever heal, and that is OK too – to sit with the wound and let it be filled with something else, something better.  But first you have to see it, and clean it out all the way.

detail
what-its-like2

I have dashes under the “all of the fun, none of the” collage piece for “fill in the blank”. I’ve written a list of words – good and bad, about what it means to divorce your sibling. I’ve used washi tape to affix it to the back of the page. I use only one side of each page in this journal so that I can cut out and frame / sell / give away a page and so that the ink / watercolor / Sharpie doesn’t bleed through or smear and mess up the other page.

Words that are there  –

(things I’ve lost because I don’t have a sibling I can trust)

Friendship trust history promises future reliability cooperation resource dependability traditions insights help failsafe backup hope

(things I have lost because I’ve gotten rid of an abusive person in my life)

narcissism psychopath being used arrogance delusions subterfuge bullshit megalomania psychological abuse hidden harm manipulation gaslighting lies hypocrisy

———

The craziest thing is that a relative wrote me after a blog post I wrote once about how abusive my brother is.  The relative begged me to make peace with my brother because we were the last relatives that he had on this side.  As if it is my fault that the damage is there.  As if it is up to me to apologize and make amends.  That too is abuse – to expect the victim to “make things right”.

People say “But do you forgive him in your heart?” They are usually Christian.  They think there is some magic formula.  If I “forgive him in my heart” then I’m off the hook.  This is crazy-making.  Sure, I forgive him in the way that I understand a shark can’t help being a shark.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to go back in the water and let that shark bite me again.

———-

Created around 1/2/17 – Strathmore art journal, magazine clippings (many from Cosmo), gesso, Distress ink, colored pencil

The hidden stress on female caregivers.

So many people are embarrassed to admit that being a caregiver is not part of who they are. That makes the whole experience that much harder. They labor along under the expectations of society, meanwhile taking care of someone who is very ill.

Women are expected to selflessly drop everything to take care of a sick relative, regardless of ability, interest, or skill. Simply being female doesn’t mean that you are also a cook, a nurse, a counselor. These are skills that must be learned. You don’t suddenly know how to care for someone who is terminally ill. Nor do you suddenly have the desire to, just because it is expected of you.

What about your income in the meantime? You don’t still get to take in a paycheck when you quit your job to care for a relative. There is the Family Leave Act – but that only ensures that your job can’t fire you for going on leave. They have to give you a job back. It may not be the job that you had, however. It also does not mean that you will get paid in the meantime. It is leave without pay.

The caregiver’s closeness to their relative is irrelevant. The mother is abusive? Father raped her? Brother stole, lied to her? Mother and father in law are dismissive and treat her like she is stupid? Doesn’t matter – your duty is to tend them, because you are a woman.

This is unreasonable.

There is a reason that my “Death Guilt” post always gets a lot of hits. People don’t talk about this stuff. We should.

When a man is well enough to go home from the hospital but not well enough to take care of himself, he’s sent home if he has a wife there. When the same thing happens with a woman, she’s sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It is assumed that the wife will know how – and be able to (mentally and emotionally) take care of him. It is assumed that a man will not. This is insulting to both sexes.

I’ve heard from people who work in nursing homes that they judge a family that doesn’t visit. They think they are selfish. They don’t know the history of the relationship. They have no way of knowing how abusive (mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically) the person was to their family members. The effects of this abuse remain even when (if) the abuse stops. They may never go away.

Sometimes the abuse stops because the person is no longer able to be abusive – not because they don’t want to. It is far harder to hit someone when you have Parkinson’s disease. It is far harder to insult your children when you have dementia and can’t even remember that they ARE your children.

Being a caregiver should be a gift, not a demand. It should be because you want to, not because it is expected.

Just because your parents gave you life does not mean that you have to take them into your home and care for them when they get old. They chose to have you. You did not choose to have them. This is an unequal relationship.

When you marry, you marry that person – not their family. You make a legal statement that you will stay with them regardless of their health. You do not make the same promises to their parents. There is nothing about the marriage vows that obligates you to sacrifice yourself to take care of them. This is an unspoken assumption that is damaging and must be called out.

Contract

While writing a story yesterday, I realized that I am / was expecting something of my brother that he did not agree to. I expected the “Hallmark” family and instead I got an abuser as my role model. I now suspect that he did not want to be anybody’s brother. Perhaps he wanted to be an only child. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his time or toys, didn’t want to share our parents attention and energy.

Basically, I’m accusing him of violating the contract he didn’t sign. He didn’t agree to having a sister, so he never said he would act like a brother.

This is the very same thing I’m saying that my sister-in-law is doing to me. She is mad that I wouldn’t help out with our in-laws estate, when I never said I would. In fact, I told my husband (the only person I need to tell) that I wouldn’t, because it was his task to do with his brother. I had done the same task, alone, at 25. Perhaps she has a script that says “daughters-in-law should take care of all family matters”, like I have a script that says “brothers should not abuse their sisters”.

I’m coming to understand that it is best to start with a clean slate, to not be prejudiced for or against situations / people / experiences.

Free pass

Many years ago I was in a group of friends who lived in Atlanta. One girl kept making snarky comments to me one day. She would say something rude or condescending about everything I said or did. Either she didn’t usually speak to me or I didn’t notice her comments, but that day I did.

I finally worked up the courage to speak up. I said this to her with our friends present. Bullies have a hard time when there are witnesses. “Are you a bitch all the time, or is today just a special day?” She was silent. I continued. “Because all you have done all day is cut me down and I can’t think of any reason for it. If I’ve done something wrong, let me know.” She never answered, and she has never spoken to me again.

It was very hard for me to do this, but I had to. I was shaking inside, but I knew I had to say something. Verbal abuse is exactly the same as physical abuse, and must be stopped as soon as it is noticed or it will get worse. If you ignore it, you are allowing it to happen.

I once had a coworker who thought it was acceptable to walk up behind me and hit the back of my head several times a day.

I have relatives – blood and in-laws – who think it is acceptable to slander me, steal from me, and lie to me.

I am here to tell you that nobody is ever allowed a free pass to abuse you. Nobody. This includes but is not limited to managers, bosses, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, ministers, and strangers on the street.

Nobody has permission to harm you in any way.

First, let them know how their actions make you feel. They may not realize that they are being a bully. If they sincerely apologize and never do it again, then let it go. If they do it one more time, walk away. You do not need people like this in your life. It does not matter who they are. Nobody gets a free pass at harming you.

You are valuable. You are a child of God. You are unique and precious. If they cannot recognize that, then that is their loss. You cannot make blind people see.

Rumi says in “The Way That Moves as You Move” (rendered by Coleman Barks)
“You have read about the inspired spring. Drink from there. Be companions with those whose lips are wet without water. Others, even though they may be your father or your mother, they are your enemies. Leave, before they kill you.”

Jesus says:
“You assume that I have come to bring peace on earth, and you are mistaken. I have come to set fire to the world, and how I wish it was already burning! I have a mission that I am called to, and it will overwhelm me until I have completed it. I’m not here to join people together but to divide them. Families will turn against each other in their households. I’ve come to bring a sword, cutting old family ties. I’ve come to turn sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be members of your household. Anyone who loves their family more than me cannot be my disciple.” (MT 10:34-37, LK 14:25-26, LK 12:49-53 – Condensed Gospel version)

We must follow the Truth,
regardless of others around us,
regardless of their authority
or connection to us.
If they are harmful to us,
we must walk away and cut all ties.

Only God is above us, not them.

It is better to be lonely than with someone who abuses you.

Like water off a duck’s back

I know a lady who is teaching her daughter to be a battered wife.

She doesn’t think that this is what she’s doing, of course. She says she’s teaching her to let things roll off her “like water off a duck’s back”. She wants her to not get riled up by things that happen to her. This is a good idea, but how she is going about it is disturbing.

Her way of teaching this lesson is to tap her daughter repeatedly in the face. The taps aren’t quite slaps but they are close. It is at least ten at a time. The daughter will say “quit it” or try to pull away and the mother will keep doing it. The daughter is about eight. The mom can easily tap her again when she pulls away, so the abuse continues.

I knew something was disturbing about this when I saw it but I couldn’t give words to it. Now I’ve figured it out. What she’s doing is teaching her daughter that she should just accept it when anybody abuses her.

How perfect it will be for a man with low self-esteem to find this girl who has been shaped for him. She will not complain or stand up for herself because her own mother, the person who she supposed to learn from, who is supposed to teach her healthy ways of taking care of herself, has taught her that she is supposed to be abused, and that this is just part of life. Her mother, her authority figure, is teaching her that people will try to harm her and that her only acceptable response is to let it happen.

Stuck

I had a boyfriend who was 20 when was 17. His birthday was coming up and he wanted to celebrate it with his parents at his house and he wanted me to come. However, this involved a trip across the country in a plane. We flew from Chattanooga to Seattle, and then drove to some little town about two hours away. I was stuck at his house, in his town, with his parents. I had no way out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became really obvious very soon that I was in trouble.

Having never made any moves on me before then, he attempted to have sex with me that very first night. I resisted and eventually managed to survive the week still a virgin. I broke up with him immediately upon returning home and didn’t speak with him for many years afterwards. He was deeply confused as to what had gone wrong. Even after I explained it to him he didn’t really understand.

I suspected something was wrong from the very beginning of the stay with his parents, when I was greeted by his parents at their house and his father was wearing only an undershirt and tight shorts. I was clued in to more when I learned that my boyfriend’s “rebel” earring wasn’t rebellious at all – his dad had one, and his brother had one. I also figured out that something was wrong when his parents matter-of-factly put my luggage and his luggage in the same room.

The alarm bells kept going off – there was a lot of smoke, but I didn’t have an escape plan. Worse, I’d been taught to ignore these alarm bells by the very people who should have taught me better.

What were the alarm bells? My parents would have never greeted a guest wearing their underwear. They would never even be seen in front of anyone, even family, like that unless they were sick. They certainly wouldn’t have put a non-married couple in the same room together, and much less if one person was a teenager.

For his parents to treat me like that was a warning that I was not in a “normal” house – and I certainly wasn’t safe. He proceeded to try to “pick my locks” as the Pink Floyd song goes every night that week, and I was terrified.

How could I leave? I had no car. I had no spare money. He had the tickets – he’d bought them.

Perhaps I could have called home and gotten my parents to wire me money for a new plane ticket – to leave right away. Perhaps I could have gotten a taxi and just left.

I didn’t. I felt trapped, and I had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior. I had no way of knowing how to act.

But in a way I did. My brother abused me in many ways throughout my childhood, and my parents did nothing. He beat me and stole from me and when I told them they didn’t make it better. They didn’t punish him at all. He eventually became a full-blown narcissistic psychopath, and they didn’t nip this in the bud. He learned early on that he could get away with manipulating people any way he wanted. He learned early on that he could treat people like things and get away with it. Since my parents didn’t defend me, I learned to be passive. This was how I was supposed to be treated, apparently.

My trips to the dentist as a child also taught me passivity. He didn’t use anesthesia because he thought the needle would scare me. I learned that pain was to be endured, especially pain at the hands of an authority figure. My parents were paying for it, so this must be normal. Suck it up.

While I’m angry at myself for not standing up and defending myself, I also have to forgive myself. I didn’t know better. I wasn’t taught well. I learned to accept bad behavior quietly until I could find a way to remove myself safely. I’m angry at them for not teaching me how to take care of myself at all. I’m angry at them for their ineptness. But I also need to remember that they, like all parents, are amateurs.

I went to a therapist once who thought I should just hang out in the “angry” place and not forgive or excuse bad behavior, but it isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t just one or another, but a range of them. I can be angry and forgive at the same time. I can understand and empathize, but also be sad at people’s bad choices.

While I think that boyfriend and my family “should” have known better, I’m putting my value system on them. I’m forgetting that they don’t have to do things my way. I’m forgetting that they have their own ways of doing things, and if I feel that they are wrong – for me – then I must get away from them. They don’t have to stop doing what they are doing – they just have to stop doing them to me. Their actions are their own, and the consequences of their actions are their own.

This all reminds me of how nobody told me how to use the brakes on a bike when they taught me to ride. I got very badly hurt, and it was totally avoidable.