one titan T
I began this year with a promise to myself that I would spend the whole year concentrating on me: getting to know me; working on my inner work issues (as needed); and exploring and developing myself.
I’ve been surprised at how hard it’s been to keep this commitment.
When stuff happens in my extended family — and something did happen last week — I want to write about that. Or I start thinking about contacting someone in my extended family, and before you know it, I’m mentally composing long letters to them. Sometimes blog posts grow out of thoughts I want to discuss with a relative, but I know I can’t. So I explore our relationship (or lack thereof) in a blog post.
But I realized earlier today that I don’t really focus on me. So I tried doing it just then, and I panicked right away. Thinking about my two aunts or even my mother slid immediately into my consciousness — even though all three of those topics are painful — but somehow they seemed more compelling to write about. Although not to me. That is, for the first time, I realized that the initial panic and subsequent topic switch were strategies that I have been using as long as I remember. Which means they are not part of my essence. They are actions that made sense for long-ago reasons, but they’re not part of my personality.
David Richo, in his book, When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage Our Relationships, writes about “the 5 A’s of adult love: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing us to be ourselves” (p. 17).
We should’ve gotten all five of these things from our parents or caregivers, so that we know how to both give and receive them with adult partners, friends, etc.
The only one that I got from either parent was ‘affection’, well, sort of. That was my mother, but it was based in her own needs — it had nothing to do with who I was — and it engulfed me.
The most-major issue in my entire life has always been attention. How can I catch the attention of this Important Person? How long do I have before they turn away, or walk away? Scant minutes, it turns out.
I became a writer partly because my parents and other important adults would read things I wrote when they would not listen to me talk. They might even remember things that I wrote. They might do something, based on what I wrote. But in person, face-to-face, they would not listen. They would not remember and they would not care about my needs.
But whatever I write has to be short, or else they get bored. (I think three sides of a page is the most they have been willing to read.)
And just because they read something I wrote, there’s no guarantee that they will respond, at all. I may spend weeks or months or even years wondering if the letter/note/email ever arrived.
Sometimes they ‘respond’ months later by not addressing anything I said. Or by attacking me for daring to say it.
But if they respond at all, that means I got their attention, so I won… something. Right?
It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone who rarely responds, and when they do, it’s only with non sequiturs or insults.
This actually describes pretty much every conversation I’ve had in my entire life with my father, my godmother, and any other adult I looked up to. My mother added a twist: relentless pressure to do something, invariably something that was utterly toxic, and so I refused to do it. The longer I held out, the more likely it became that every single conversation would work its way back to that one topic. And she never ran out of topics.
Whenever ‘too much time’ goes by during which I haven’t heard from any extended family member, unconsciously I find myself wanting to contact one of them. Even though that will mean stirring up trouble. I would actually rather talk about pleasant topics, but if I do, I turn into wallpaper. When I succeed, when I’m happy/joyous/exuberant/creative, I’m invisible, or just disdained. I’ve often thought I would probably enjoy being in the spotlight, if I’d ever had an experience of doing so where people weren’t jeering at me and eagerly waiting for me to screw up so they could tease me about it for the rest of my life. It’s only when I’m a spectacle (in a bad way) that I garner attention.
Looking at the rest of Richo’s list – acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing us to be ourselves — I literally cannot even imagine how those concepts could apply to me (in a healthy way) in the context of my family of origin.
- I’m ‘accepted’ as a freak of nature that nobody really likes but ‘blood is thicker than water’ so we are stuck with her.
- I’m ‘appreciated’ in the sense that everyone else is glad they’re better than I am.
- (I’m going to skip ‘affection’ because everything I can think of hurts too much.)
- I’m not ‘allowed to be myself’ or anything close; I’m only allowed to be what everyone else needs from me.
Reading this book, my whole torso tightened up and burned, such that I didn’t just wonder if I was having a heart attack, I actually felt like I was dying. But if I put the book down, and empty my mind, I feel fine.
Spouse would say, “Then stop reading the book. Just don’t think about these things! Then you will feel better!”
Except that I won’t. Slowly, slowly, I’m starting to heal enough that I can face these things without flying apart. It seems that I owe myself doing this hard work. Because ignoring it, repressing it, has not led to a secure, worry-free life. Instead, I’m in chronic pain most of the time, and new pains keep starting. I feel despair regularly. I wonder if there’s any point in starting anything new. Why bother going on, if it’s just going to hurt more? There is hardly anything that I even can get excited about anymore. Some thing(s) is/are horribly wrong.
And I would rather change things up — even if it’s really difficult and painful — then just lie down and die (which, emotionally or psychically, I feel like I’m on the verge of).
I think everything cycles back around to focusing on myself. I need to find a way to apply the 5 A’s to myself. Loving whoever that is. Not judging or criticizing.
So there was a program I was planning to do in a few months that I’ve decided against. There is an application process, and if you’re accepted, you have to pay to get in. I started working on the application, but got stuck early. Lately I noticed whenever I thought about the program itself, the whole thing seemed like a chore that I needed to talk myself into wanting to do. Thinking about the application was even worse.
I think it was another unconscious attempt to get a credential, so people would ‘have to’ pay attention to me.
I applied for a writing job at a local newspaper recently, but no one responded. (The first job I’d applied to since 2010.)
It’s exhausting trying to find new reasons that someone, anyone, should pay attention to me. And most of them don’t work, which is even more discouraging.
Two of the four classes I signed up for at the community college were canceled. Tuesday, I’m going to see if I can substitute a third class.
I think my increasingly desperate attempts to find a way to ‘save the world’ are just more distractions that prevent me from getting to know who I actually am. I have a hunch that means that I’m not going to turn out to be particularly similar to some of my heroes. Now that I think about it, many of them were rather single-minded, which I am not.
Maybe I could try not looking for mentors and models. Just exploring who I am, without comparisons.
No focusing on the future. No worrying about jobs. No feeling hopelessly inadequate.
Breathe. Feel. Observe. Play. Explore.