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

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.

Poem – This is not a Christmas present

not a present

This is not a Christmas present.
This is hatefulness.
This is the exact opposite
of a present at all,
much less one celebrating
the birth of Jesus.
This is pure aggressiveness.
There is nothing passive about it.
The label is superfluous.
It is quite obvious
what he thinks
about his sister
from how he has packaged
his “gift”.

If this were given to me,
I might set it on fire right in front of him.
I might take it outside first.
I might put it under a steamroller.
I might shoot it with my revolver.
I might tie lead weights to it
and throw it into Percy Priest Lake.

Under no circumstances would I open it.
It doesn’t matter what is inside.
Gold bars?
Enough money
to pay off my mortgage?
The key
to my dream art studio?
A contract
for a personal chef and gardener?

No gift is worth this.
Sure, it wouldn’t take long
to cut through these cable ties.
Maybe an hour.
Maybe a few pairs of scissors
would get destroyed
in the process.
That isn’t the point.

My friend,
I’m telling you
this truth:
don’t take any “gift”
that is given
with this much hostility.
It isn’t worth it.
Walk away from it,
and that person.

That is the best present
you can give
yourself.

Tilly and the lawn.

Tilly and the lawn

 

It was a big yard, and somebody had to mow it. 82° in the shade, and there wasn’t much of that to be had, but the grass still needed mowing.

Tilly was pleased with herself. All 7 acres in one day! Maurice said it couldn’t be done, but she did it. All week long he doubted her and it only egged her on. It was years later before she suspected that was his plan – to fire her up to do it by saying she couldn’t.

He was forever getting out of doing things one way or another. He thought he was so clever, but she was the real winner. He spent his whole life making others do everything for him and had never learned how to do anything for himself. Now he was a manager at a forgotten branch office of a small appliance outlet. Upper management had been fooled for years, thinking he did all the work.

When employee after employee quit, the house of cards tumbled down. They’d held it together for a very long time, but there was only so much they could take, watching him get the praise, the bonuses, the requests for motivational speeches. They couldn’t get why nobody else could see through his lies. Finally they left, one by one, and he was left by himself to run the shop. He didn’t even know how to run the cash register. It took the corporate office a week to suspect something was wrong. It took them a month to find an out-of-the-way office where he couldn’t do the company a lot of damage.

They couldn’t fire him, no, that wouldn’t do. Nobody really knew why. It wasn’t like he had tenure, not officially. This wasn’t a college after all. Plenty of half-rate incompetents had slid under the wire in that field. He was likable, in an odd kind of way. Perhaps that was how he could cajole everyone – employees, family, neighbors, into doing things for him.

He wasn’t pushy in an obvious kind of way. He just knew how to put a little pressure here and a little finesse there and before you knew it you’d agree to give up your one day off to work his shift. Somehow, at the time, you forgot you had plans you made weeks ago with friends you’d not seen since September. Somehow, it took several hours into your shift – his shift – to remember, and get angry and even a little resentful.

He was far away by then, and maybe that was part of his magic. The closer he was to you, the more you couldn’t resist, the more you couldn’t say no. Even 30-some-odd feet away at the other end of the building, his influence could still be felt. When he was at home he didn’t have the same power over them. But he sure had it over his wife.

Tilly made less than Maurice, always had. She was fine with that, because she had something he’d never have, something more than money. She had respect. She was respected by her coworkers and her family – people who had to be around her. Her friends didn’t just respect her – they adored her. They were drawn to her charm like a child is drawn to fireflies. They all did what she asked joyfully because she rarely asked – asked only when absolutely necessary, and even then she always said “You can say no”. They never did. Doing for her was like doing for a saint. You felt better after doing it, whatever the task.

Years later Tilly saw the picture of her standing on the front porch and laughed. If she’d only known just a few years later there’d be gas powered motors to speed things up. Just a few years later and there’d be tennis shoes, not loafers, for better grip. Just a few years later and she could have worn a T-shirt and shorts to do this chore, free to choose to wear a dress rather then it be the only option. All these advancements made her mowing accomplishment at the time all the more impressive because she did it without them.

She’d always thought that handicaps were advantages in disguise. They made you work harder, not take anything for granted. They handicapped the athletes who were stronger, didn’t they? Or was it horses? Something about making it a fair match. So being handicapped meant something good to her, meant that she secretly was better, stronger, more capable. Like she had secret powers and had to figure out what they were, hidden under that handicap. She always said that the more you focus on what you don’t have, the more you miss what you do.

Maurice was her handicap, so he was her blessing. Because of him she learned how not to treat others. He gave her so many examples of how not to act that she had a clear road in front of her showing her the way. It was like he’d gone through the test book of life and crossed out all the wrong answers, leaving her with all the right ones. It was an odd way of learning but it was learning nonetheless. It took her years to understand the gift that he given her by teaching her backwards.

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.

Relax. Don’t do it.

I don’t know how to relax. When I take a day off, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I feel like I have wasted a day. If I spend the whole day in my pajamas and I don’t brush my teeth and I don’t go out then I really feel the same as when I did when I was smoking pot. The next day I feel completely behind and that I haven’t done anything useful.

It is like being on a bender. My entropy and lethargy only get stronger and stronger. The next day when I start to pick up the pieces I feel like a big mess. I feel like I’ve just had a huge party in my house where 50 people have shown up and left beer bottles and paper plates everywhere. I feel like my entire job is to clean up after them. But the only problem is there was no them. It was just me.

So I feel guilty taking time off. I feel guilty doing nothing. Perhaps I feel that I don’t deserve it. So I push myself really hard all the time and I double up on my days. I try make sure I have something to do no matter where I am.

Even if I’m watching television I have beads nearby that I can work on and make necklaces. It isn’t like I have commissions or guaranteed sales for them. It isn’t like I’m really making money off this. Yet I still keep busy. When I walk at lunch I write some of this blog using my phone. I don’t look up and see the beauty that is around me.

I’m always doing something. Rarely am I just being. I know that if I do too much I’m going to wear myself out. My desire to not be wasteful of my time will end up wasting my life. I’ll wear myself out and have nothing left.

Even now I’m on the way to an appointment and I’m dictating this into my phone. That way I can copy and paste it later into my blog. It’s a little pathological. The appointment is with a spiritual director. Spiritual directors are concerned with your relationship with God. The right now I’m concerned with my own relationship with myself.

Just like the Sabbath, perhaps I need to schedule my unscheduled time. God knew how busy we’d get, and mandated rest for us. So I need to start seeing rest as holy.

I need to start seeing quiet time as not wasted time. I think the only way for me to do that is to plan it, rather than just let it happen. If I prepare for it by doing my morning routine and making sure I’m caught up on my chores, I won’t feel so far behind when I “return” from my “time off”. Retreats don’t have to be held at a separate location. They can occur in the living room or back yard.

And then again, I need to address why I feel that I have to do it all. How much of that comes from when my parents died, and I had to handle the whole estate by myself? I had to take care of the house sale too, and prepare to move. I had help with the heavy lifting from friends, but all the organization and legal stuff I had to do on my own. My brother, older and in real estate, was not only not helpful, he had proven how untrustworthy he was with other similar situations. I could have let him “help” me and I would have lost more than money in the deal. I’ve seen his version of ethics and morals.

I need to remember that isn’t how everyone acts. I need to remember that bad people aren’t necessarily patterns for all people. I’ve overtrusted in the past and been very hurt. People I should have been able to trust, best friends, have betrayed me and excluded me. I have a hard time trusting and feeling safe around most people. Their ways are not my ways.

I’ve recently learned that feeling betrayed and losing trust are all part of trauma. What you expect to be solid and true turns out to be null and void. I also know that not processing difficult feelings is dangerous. Perhaps that is part of why I fall into pits of “nothingness” and unintentional days off. Perhaps the trauma of my childhood and the recent chaos at work are all connected.

Hidden in plain sight

I think it is interesting how there are some posts that I won’t share on my Facebook feed, but I’ll still write them and post them. There are some people and situations that I want to write about that I feel won’t be received well by my friends or my family, so I don’t share them there. But I do share them with total strangers all over the world.

Perhaps it is a sign to me that I should talk to those people privately about what I see. Sometimes family or friends are doing something that I think is dangerous or stupid or counterproductive. Sometimes I can see that the direction they are going will result in making their lives even more difficult. But instead of telling them, I vent about it here.

But then again, I’ve noticed that people are unwilling or unable to heed advice when they didn’t seek it.

For a while I had a filter, where I would share posts with certain people but not others. I could block out a group. It turned out that group was either family or friends of family. Family tends to get upset when I talk about family. My brother had a real issue with it – something about family honor and pride and name. But if he was so darned interested in family honor and pride and name, he should have acted better.

I was just reporting the facts. Is it embarrassing to be called out for your repeated violations of your own honor code? His lies and machinations finally got to me. It was either my sanity and health or his “honor”.

Then there is my married family. There is quite a bit of unsettled business there, and it is ugly to watch people act like teenagers when they are in their 70s. If lessons aren’t learned when you are young, you will continue to stay at that emotional age.

I got called out for pointing out hypocrisy and lies and maladaptive behavior in my family – birth and married. I got challenged by members, saying that I should just put up and shut up and make peace. It isn’t my place to make peace with someone who has abused me. I am not in the wrong for standing up for myself.

If someone breaks into my house and robs me, I am not the person who should apologize and make things right.

Being mentally harmed by a family member, even after I have pointed out the harm and asked him to stop, is the same as being robbed. My mental peace had been stolen. But for another family member to write me and say I should make peace for the sake of the family is even more insulting, and further harms me. It says that I am the antagonist.

I was attacked for what I wrote about the church too – by members of the parish I went to, and by strangers here who thought I was being divisive and harming the Church. I’m not. I’m showing how we are damaging it. I want it to be stronger, but it can’t be until we remove the weak parts. Like all the parts that Jesus not only didn’t tell us to do, but also all the parts that Jesus told us especially not to do.

I will not be silent anymore. I was silent for many years. But now I’ve found my voice, and I will speak. The more people who try to silence me actually strengthens me, because I see it as a sign I’m on the right path. Just like in aikido, I use my opponents’ energy in my favor.