Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Amateur Geology

I thought I should address the title of my blog, just in case you're wondering what rocks have to do with scapegoating, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and recovery from childhood abuse.

I'm a sober alcoholic and have been active in recovery for a few years.  The split with my FOO happened prior to my sobriety, but in retrospect I can see clearly how one event spurred on and created the momentum for the other in my life.  A large part of my early recovery path involved my learning how to let go of people, places and things that had never been my responsibility in the first place.

Letting go is hard for alcoholics.  Here's one of my favorite recovery jokes: Question: How does an alcoholic let go of something?  Answer: With claw marks!

Letting go is also hard for those of us who've been trained to function as family scapegoats.  I learned from an early age that it was my job to take care of my NM, EF and siblings.  If I did a good job taking care of them and they thrived or succeeded in something, it was then my job to step to the side and allow them to soak up the limelight and applause.  If they failed, however, it was because I had failed at taking care of them or I hadn't supported them correctly which meant that it was then my job to take the blame.

I lived for over thirty years believing this, and eventually this idea and my choice to believe it helped to speed me along in my hard dive toward rock bottom.  I found recovery before I started sleeping under any bridges, thank goodness, but for a while there I was just a quivering mess of tangled, complicatingly knotted and confused emotion.  I'd stopped self-medicating, but I couldn't let go of my imprinted belief that I wasn't worth very much.  A lot of my feelings of uselessness came from my subconscious perception (helped along by the conscious smear campaign and hateful words that members of my FOO were spreading around our small town,) that when I'd separated myself from the FOO, I'd stopped doing my job.

The other sober alcoholics who helped me through would tell me to 'just let go and let God.'  To my credit, I never acted on my impulse to react to this simple suggestion with physical violence.  I smiled and nodded and found quiet places in which I could shake and cry by myself.  I couldn't let go of the notion that I had somehow failed at my job.

I was in a meeting of sober alcoholics one day and a lady came in who had years of experience with crazyness.  Susan talked a mile a minute and would often say things like, "I woke up crazy this morning!"  By the gleam in her eye, she meant it.  I had a hard time following her usually, but this day what she said was entirely clear.  In talking with her sponsor, she'd identified an unwillingness to let go of something that wasn't hers in the first place.  What her sober sponsor told her, she said, was, "Look at that rock!  Does it say Susan on it?"  Of course the huge boulder that she was pointing at didn't have 'Susan' spray-painted on it.  "Well," said her sponsor, "if it doesn't have your name on it, then don't fucking pick it up!"

Ding!  The fog lifted for me.  I am responsible for my actions, and my actions alone.  I can't change anyone else's circumstances, I can't make or break anyone else's exploits.  I can control - and therefore be responsible for - what comes out of my mouth, what I do with my day, how I live my life.  And that's about all I can control.  It was a major turning point in my sobriety and my life.  I started looking at problems and situations from the perspective of ownership; if it said Vanci on it, well, I'd do my best to carry it.  If it didn't say Vanci on it, well, I kept walking on by.

My NM wanted me to fix her and 'make her feel better.'  My EF, OS and YB accepted and purported that it was my job to fix mummy dearest as well as each of them.  Even when I was a single mom working three jobs, EF would show up at job number three to 'borrow' money from me, with only a sketchy repayment plan that might or might not pan out. It was part of my job to loan it to him, whether I had it or not. 

When I removed the Crazymakers from my life, it was the first step in my realizing that I didn't have the responsibility or the capability to fix those problems or people.  That the members of my dysfunctional, heartbreaking, crazymaking family were responsible for their own lives and that I wasn't tied to an obligation to take care of them. 

It took a while, but after a while I started to realize that their problems didn't have my name on them, so I could finally let go and say, "Hey, it's Not My Rock."


Who am I? Why am I here?

Tongue slightly in cheek, I'll try to answer those questions in this post. 
I keep thinking that I should start at the beginning and tell my story from there... but that's a whole lotta words and time and, frankly, some pretty painful memories that could easily go off in the direction of a rant.  I'm not ready for that, so I've decided to start with today, instead.

I'm a mid-thirties (really?  how did that happen?  I was just in my mid-twenties I swear!) woman.  I'm a wife to an incredibly big-hearted man who has stood  by me through all the wars played out on my emotional landscape, and even fought along with me a few times.  I'm a mother to two teenage daughters, who just so happen to be my favorite people on the face of the planet.  I'm a friend to many and co-worker to some, and I love my day job.  I own a small hand craft business on the side that takes up a lot of my 'extra' time, of which there is little.

I'm a voracious reader and a fledgling writer and a shower stall singer.  I like to cook and garden, and I'm a collector of stories - both mine and other people's.  I'm a listener and a helper and I spend a lot of time solving problems (if I am asked to solve them,) both big and small. 

And that's all the good stuff about me that jumps from the top of my brain on to the page.  But none of that is what this blog is about, so on to the ugly...

I've been estranged from my family of origin for almost four years; this includes my mother, father, older sister and younger brother.  For ease of typing, that's NM (Narcissistic Mother,) EF (Enabling Father,) OS and YB from here on out.  I called for no contact four years ago after a rapidly escalating series of personal attacks and an ever-widening smear campaign against me by the people I grew up with became too much for me to bare.  I made a simple request - that if any of these family members wanted to contact me (specifically NM as she was the one spearheading the charge,) they would need to do so through my therapist. 

After several months of each of them in their own way trying to find a way around this boundary without complying with it - YB preferred to text me, OS preferred to call my cell phone at around 1 AM and leave long, rambling messages about how I was "killing our mother," and NM sent letters, gifts, left messages on my voicemail and called my work repeatedly.  She just wanted to talk, she said, but she didn't want to do so through my counselor as she "didn't feel comfortable around him."  EF was often the delivery boy of the letters, gifts (for my children, not for me,) and messages.  His only contributions at the time were primarily one liners designed to guilt me into action; "I will always love you, but I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive you for what you're doing to your mother."  You know, those types of gems. 

And at this point in my life, I can easily see in retrospect, I did something that I had never done before, something that was so new, so different, so absolutely unacceptable to my FOO (that's Family of Origin,) that I often think of this action when I see video about volcanic/earthquake activity and plate tectonics.  {I'm a bit of a documentary junkie.} 

I stood my ground. 

I had set a reasonable boundary for myself when it came to my abusive family, and I held it against every assault, against all the odds.  And it cracked the planet.  Who knew that such a simple act could create such a difference? 

Well, I'm pretty sure my therapist knew as he worked with me to help me understand that I have an absolute right to defend myself, particularly against the people who had been taking advantage of me and turning me into their scapegoat for my entire life.  I always thought it was particularly fitting that my therapist, who holds not one but two doctorates, by the way, referred to my FOO as "The Crazymakers."

I've been holding those lines for four years now, and the more aggressive attempts to violate them have lessened.  I rarely receive accusatory phone calls in the middle of the night anymore.   I don't receive letters that say, "you're mistaken Vanci, that never happened," or "well, I don't remember that, but I'm awfully sorry for anything I might have done."  Meanwhile, the more passive and manipulative attempts to violate my reasonable boundaries have grown.  My YB and OS started sending friend requests to my daughters as soon as they each (my girls) got FB accounts.  My OS instructs kids that she knows who attend school with my girls to say things to my girls like, "I know your aunt, and if you ever want to send her a message, you can do it through me."  NM has backed off significantly as she's fallen further and further into narcotic addiction and illness (that story will have to be a separate post, this is getting longish,) and EF really only does what he's told these days, so he's slacked off on the inappropriate contact attempts, too.

They do; however, run a constant smear campaign against me in the small town that we all still live in.  I routinely have people that I used to maybe kind of sort of know in my former life as the family scapegoat just walk up to me in the grocery store and tell me that they 'heard' about how I've 'treated my family.'  There is always some moral high ground that they feel they are speaking from, and I can't really blame them; my FOO is comprised of master manipulators and liars.  They will all say exactly what they need to say to get exactly what they want from whomever they happen to be talking to at the time.  I respond to these proxy attacks by smiling and saying either, "well, it's been nice to see you," before I walk away or, if pressed, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested in discussing this with you."  Now there's a conversation stopper!

And at the end of each day, no matter the attacks, no matter the accusations, no matter anything under the Sun ~ I and my little family are happier because these people and the chaotic pain they bring aren't around. 

So, this is my tale of pain and heartbreak, all sorts of abuse, victimization, blame, guilt, lies, manipulation and other horrors.
But it's also my story of growth, recovery, joy, serenity and peace; of attainable comforts and great, deep, real unconditional love - both of myself and others.

I'm putting it up here for all the world to see because I need to affirm my own voice.  If you can hear me and you're looking for your voice too, I hope it helps.