My Story – Part 9 (Relationships with Family)

Continued from My Story – Part 8 (The Relationship with My Son)

I grew up believing that it was unacceptable to express sadness, hurt, disappointment, frustration, or anger toward anyone or anything that provoked these emotions in me. For that reason alone, resentment built to an intolerable level that fueled my “running away from home” at the age of 19 when I married so young. I was never great at communicating with my family. None of us were. From an early age, I often felt as though I lived in a house of complete strangers who occasionally interacted. Sure, we watched TV together, ate dinner together every night, took trips together, and occasionally had fun as a family; but I often felt like something was missing.

It was like that emotional bond that’s supposed to be there between family members had simply been severed or nonexistent to begin with. No words could really explain it. No matter how hard I tried to make my family proud of me, it just never seemed to be enough. This felt like an impossible task after 1998. I felt like a colossal disappointment after that. I often felt like I did as a child, helpless to stand up for myself against an indifferent family whose expectations were completely contradictory to my own. It took years of therapy and a lot of distancing for me to realize that I’m not here to please my family. I have to make my life count for me.

As I discussed earlier, when I left Tullahoma in 2005, the feelings of rejection and invalidation I experienced at that time strained the relationships with my mother and sister. This was during a period in my life that I was struggling immensely, financially and emotionally. I asked to come home to stay, to live, if for no other reason than to have the emotional support of my family, but also to be closer to my son so that I could be involved in his life. I was told ”no” by both my mother and sister. Mom said she didn’t have the room for me and my sister simply said that I should stay where I was and work out my own problems. I felt rejected, abandoned — an abandonment that I felt so often growing up.

If you could ask anyone in my family, immediate or extended, they would probably tell you that I was an emotional child who demanded nothing less than to be left alone (little has changed in that respect). I remember on more than one occasion either a cousin or my sister would intrude on my “alone time” and bear the brunt of an almost cat-like attack, all claws and screams of rage followed by no less than 15 minutes of bawling my eyes out. These types of meltdowns early in life resulted in my exasperated mother silencing me often with the phrase, “Dry it up!” Nevertheless, by at least mid-way through kindergarten I had learned to control these fits of rage through self-soothing or completely dissociating from my emotions.

Dissociation, of course, is a less than ideal way to handle emotions; however, for the immature mind of a child, it allowed me to cope with emotions and situations that felt completely overwhelming and out of control. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why I so often felt overwhelmed or out of control, just that I did. In most cases, my emotional outbursts as a child were simply too difficult for anyone in my family to process or manage much of the time which left me feeling ignored — abandoned — and fueled resentment that I had no idea how to process myself — a vicious cycle.

The rejection of my pleas for help in 2005 triggered these same feelings and a response that I recognize now as all too familiar, reciprocating rejection. It resulted in me staying out of my mother’s and sister’s lives for the majority of 4 years, only speaking to Mom occasionally by phone. Emails between my sister and me in 2007 were harsh and bitter which strengthened the divide between us. She expressed her own resentment in emails, stating that I was never around when she needed help with either our mother or our father before he died and how stressed she had been that she had to do everything herself while caring for her own family and working a full-time job.

I understood that my sister was stressed and feeling overwhelmed with everything. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed as that feeling has been a constant throughout my life. It’s most certainly not pleasant. She at the very least had most of Mom’s brothers and sisters there to help out and all of her friends to help her cope, as well as her husband and his family. For much of my adult life, I felt completely alone in my struggle to survive; but at the time of these emails, I had one person, KR, who I felt I could trust, count on — and no one else. When you’ve been kicked enough times by people you care about, trust in people no longer comes naturally. I needed her to understand that I had my own stuff to deal with and take care of. I felt like she completely disregarded anything that was going on in my life, considered my struggles insignificant and trivial to her own.

My sister once told me, “I feel like you feel like everyone owes you for something.” At the time I told her that no one owed me a god damned thing and that I didn’t expect anything from anyone else. I didn’t. I knew I was on my own and had been for more quite some time. Maybe I was wrong, though. Now, I feel like I am “owed” certain things. I deserve validation for my emotions. I’m justified in the expectation of compassion and understanding for my experiences. I’m entitled to respect for my boundaries. And I have the right of dignity to live my life any way I see fit without the added pressure of being someone I’m not. These concepts are hard for me to grasp, but I want to have enough self-respect to know when not to sacrifice my own well being for that of others. (Let me clarify here by saying: I don’t expect these things; but I feel I and every other living creature on this planet deserve these things in order to transcend spiritually and live in a civilized society.)

After those emails, we didn’t speak at all until around mid-July 2009 when, out of the blue, my sister called to tell me our mother was in the hospital. A week after that phone call, she called again demanding that I come home to take care of Mom while she recuperated (by this point, I no longer saw East Tennessee as my home; it hadn’t been “home” for more than 17 years).

My best guess is that agoraphobia began taking control of my life as early as May or June 2008. I rarely if ever left our apartment at all, sometimes for a couple of months at a time.

My mother has a lot of health issues from heart problems to Type II diabetes; but this hospitalization was due to bacteria in her stomach causing problems. Since I didn’t own a car at the time, I had to take a bus from Nashville to Knoxville where my sister picked me up. I stayed with Mom after she was released from the hospital for 2 weeks. Traveling in this way as well as the visit itself was stressful; but I felt that I handled it well despite the severe anxiety I felt.

It was a challenge to push the thoughts and memories out of my mind of comments family members said to me during my divorce and after the rapes and throughout my pregnancy with the child I gave up for adoption, let alone the hurt from 2005. Many of these comments made by family members were some of the worst I heard and only confirmed my childhood beliefs that I was worthless and bad. During that visit in 2009, both Mom and my sister simply ignored that they rejected my calls for help in 2005. Typical.

After Mom said she was feeling better, I became antsy to return home, back to Nashville. I stayed as long as I felt I could. The weekend that I decided to come home she was doing well or so I thought. The following Monday she had a doctor’s appointment to have blood work done. Apparently, she took all of her medications on an empty stomach and became violently ill as a result. One of the nurses fussed at her about driving in that condition; so my mother took it to mean that she could no longer drive.

Prior to me leaving from that visit with Mom, my sister began pressuring me to drop my life in Nashville with KR to move in with Mom permanently. I refused. My sister blatantly came out and said that Mom wanted me to move in with her to take care of her. I couldn’t even begin to express how badly this terrified me. I wasn’t even able to take care of myself. I would have NEVER given up my children had I thought I was emotionally stable enough and capable of caring for another person in the way she was asking of me. It made me angry that they would even ask this of me considering they had very little to no involvement in my adult life.

What about KR and my life with him? The fact that KR was unemployed at the time and we were under a great amount of financial stress as a result didn’t help matters any, either. My mother can be horribly judgmental when it comes to whomever I’m dating (or married to as in the case of my ex-husband); so it felt like she was trying to manipulate me into doing what she wanted by insulting not only KR, but me as well. I’m pretty sure KR was struggling with depression during the time he was out of work (though, I doubt he would admit it). I wanted to be there to emotionally support this man, who I loved with all my heart, who supported me emotionally when I needed it most — when NO ONE else would give me that emotional support that I so desperately needed.

But another part of me felt guilty because I felt like I was being selfish and unreasonable for even considering my own life. I felt even more guilt when Mom had a mild stroke a month later in September 2009. I couldn’t have prevented that from happening even had I been there, but the shame I felt was intense. Every time I talked to my mother for the next couple of months, the pressure built as she continued to use guilt in an attempt to manipulate me. She expressed animosity which led me to believe that she felt that if I hadn’t left when I did, she would have never had the stroke.

This was one of those situations where I totally don’t get how psychologists say, “No one can make you feel a certain way. You choose to feel that way.” If I had any choice in whether or not to feel guilty about these events, I wouldn’t have because I knew the stroke wasn’t my fault; but, nevertheless, I still felt guilty. Maybe this was just an example of cognitive dissonance. Whatever it was, it was crazy-making!

A couple of weeks after Mom’s stroke, my sister called to give me an update. Again, the hospital was preparing to release Mom, and my sister was demanding that I be there by Friday or Saturday to stay with Mom for at least the next two or three weeks. I flew into a panic trying to explain to her our situation and how I was feeling about everything. I don’t do well with short-notice. I need time to mentally prepare for a trip. The previous trip pushed my limits way too hard. Financially, my life was a mess at the time; and emotionally, I was a wreck.

My sister said, “I don’t want to hear your sob story!” She ranted on about how stressed she was dealing with Mom’s care, working full-time, caring for her kids and husband. Too late. I was already triggered. I didn’t hear much after that because I pretty much lost it and hung up on her before I screamed every obscenity I could possibly think of at the defenseless phone. I’m sure my upstairs neighbors must have wondered if I had lost my mind or something. My heart was racing. I could literally hear my heart beating in my head, and I was shaking all over. It took me the better part of an hour to calm down with KR’s help.

It was at that point in October 2009 that I decided I’d had enough. Once again, I stopped speaking to my sister after that volatile conversation over the phone; and I began limiting my phone conversations with my mother as well. I chose not to go to Mom’s at that time. I didn’t return there for about a year, not until October 2010 when I finally decided to introduce my mother and son to KR for the first time. We drove to East Tennessee for that day only, had an early dinner with them, and drove back home that night.

Since October 2010, I’ve made it back to Mom’s house a total of 8 times. That’s not a lot considering I live less than 3 hours away. I haven’t been to my sister’s house in many years, probably not since Daddy died in 2004. The issues with my mother’s health are of great concern to me. I worry about her living alone, especially with her being on dialysis now. The worst part is that my mother expressed concerns that she is a “burden.” I don’t EVER want my mother to feel that way. I dearly love Mom, and only want what’s best for her.

I realized quite some time ago that I cannot expect my family of origin to completely understand me, my thoughts, my life, or a lot of what I’ve experienced since I left home at 19. They don’t even know the half of it. I would be too ashamed to tell them much of what I’ve experienced or even thought about (part of the reason for anonymity here on this blog). Maybe it’s too much to expect my family to be emotionally supportive. After all, expectations lead to disappointment; and as my dad so wisely once told me as a little girl — my expectations were always so high that it’s no wonder disappointment followed me wherever I went.

Above all else, I remind myself daily that each and every person on this planet — my family members included — are simply trying to survive in the best ways they know how. It’s not my place to judge or criticize anyone else, just as it’s no one else’s place to judge or criticize me.

Everyone struggles in this life. No one is more worthy or less honorable than another. There’s no reward or punishment in the end other than what we create for ourselves.

To be continued….

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