Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dissection of the Nasty

I'm feeling analytical today, so thought I'd break down the email from Uncle Minion that I referenced in yesterday's post Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!  I've decided to break it down line by line into what I believe I was supposed to feel (Intention) and what I came to feel within the framework of a healthy mind instead (Response.)  For your reading pleasure, I'm cutting up this dead frog of a nasty-gram for good.

Somehow I don't think it's going to survive the dissection.  Too bad!

Intention: It starts right off the bat - every other email or letter I've ever received from this man has been addressed with a term of endearment, i.e. Dear Vanci or Cher Vanci.
Response: Well, fine then.  If I am not Dear now because I have not met the expectations that you've set for me to fulfill in order to be loved by you, then I am sincerely grateful that I know where you stand and don't have to try to live up to those unreasonable expectations anymore. 

When I talked with (your brother) last week and found out that you had not called or gone by to see (your mother), I was extremely upset.  She was in such pain, and she needed you, and you let her down.
Intention:  Pretty simple - Vanci, it's ALL YOUR FAULT.  It's your job to be there for her, you didn't do what she wanted, you are therefore wrong and you are a disappointment.
Response: Huh.  Given my lack of a medical degree OR a pouch full of magical knee-healing pixie dust, I'm a bit unclear on how it is that NM needed me.  To what?  Wish away her pain?  Cause her flesh to mend?  Prevent infection with the magical antibiotic properties of my saliva?  I'm not responsible for NM's pain after surgery, nor am I responsible for Uncle Minions being 'extremely upset.'  He asked me to go see her, I told him I would think about it.  I did.  It wasn't a good idea, so I didn't go.  And therein lies the rub - Minions support the Narc Leader - what the Narc wants, the Narc gets and if she doesn't, it's the Minion's job to pushback.  Sigh.  What an exhausting life that must be.
No hurt you could possibly have suffered from any family member can justify the unhappiness you have brought to everyone's life. 
Intention:  Your pain, whatever it is, is irrelevant, and your selfishness in not giving NM what she wants is hurting 'everyone' (which implies, of course that I am NOT a part of 'everyone.')  Again, it's YOUR FAULT.
Response: I love this line.  It's so... classic.  First: Diminish, Second: Doubt  (No hurt you could possibly...) Third: Isolate (I'm not part of the 'family members' he's referring to here), Fourth: Blame (protecting myself from the FOO makes me responsible for everyone's unhappiness, shit, for everyone's life!  I guess I'll be taking on peace in the Middle East next, since I'm so all powerful!  Wow!)
You have deprived (your husband) of (your brother and brother in law's)friendship, you have deprived (your nephew) of (your daughters') company and them of his, you have alienated a sister that could have been a life-long support, and you have removed from your girls' young lives the guiding and love your parents can offer. 
Intention: You are responsible for all loss - your husband's losses, your nephew and daughter's losses, your loss of a sister (who is obviously so much better than you that she could have supported you throughout your life) and you've taken your parents away from your daughters - your parents who have so much love and guidance to help you be a better parent.
Response: It's fascinating how, when Narc Clans decide that you're the bad guy, no one else's input matters.  DH practically danced a frickin jig when I started finally drawing lines and holding them.  They're my FOO, so, yeah, it was ultimately up to me, but Christ he'd been waiting for YEARS for me to remove myself from them.  So, no, DH was responsible for the termination of those friendships, cause DH is a crazy smart guy who knows how to get the hell out of Crazy Town!  My nephew was welcome in my life anytime and in my girls... until his mother, my 'sister that could have been a life-long support' started teaching him at two years old to walk up to me and say, and yes this is verbatim, "Why you gotta be such a bitch Aunt Vanci?"  And in fact, he's still welcome in my life, sans his Mom.  That was not my call.
Ah, my sister who could have been a life-long support... how?  By calling me at 1 AM and leaving messages that said, "I fucking hate you!" or by telling my daughters that their mother was crazy and trying to hurt NM?  Support? No. Tyrant? Yes and no thank you. 
That last line is my favorite part.  NM's a narcissistic, lying, hypochondriac drug addict who cares only about herself.  EF is an abusive, angry pedophile.  Love?  Guidance?  To what?  The loony bin?
And you have done so much damage to yourself in creating all this misery that I doubt you will ever be able to atone for it.
Intention: And even after all you've done, you really only hurt yourself.  See how much we care about you?  Blame, blame, blame, blah, blah, blah, blah, you should ask for forgiveness, but you won't get it, cause it's still going to be ALL YOUR FAULT!
Response: I am not damaged, now.  I was, but I got away, and I'm healing up from all the damage you've caused.  I've created joy and sanity, even though I was handed misery.  I have nothing to atone for.
But most of all, you have behaved toward your mother without conscience, and I will never forgive you for that.  She remains the best person I have ever known, and you have quite literally shortened her life.
Intention: You are responsible for your NM, you are wrong not to ask "how high?" when we tell you to jump and if anything 'bad' happens to NM, you will be the cause. 
Response: Who knew that I am secretly God?  Now that I have all this power over people's life-spans, boy are there going to be some major changes around this planet!  It's so ludicrous, it's like something out of a bad, bad, bad soap opera.  I have a slightly different definition of my actions toward my mother - I didn't 'behave without conscience' toward her.  I just finally woke up and realized how absolutely toxic she is, and I chose to follow my conscience that was screaming at me to RUN!  Protect!  Get away from the bad!  I wouldn't ask for forgiveness for my actions anymore than I would ask forgiveness for donating money to charity. 
I honestly believe you are seriously disturbed mentally-- so much so, in fact, that I don't think you are even capable of realizing it.
Intention:  It's your fault and you're wrong!  And now that I'm declaring you incompetent, I don't have to listen to anything you have to say!  Nee ner nee ner nee ner!
Response: Wow, just, wow.  Talk about a low blow.  This man knows that I'm: intelligent, capable, highly functioning and always have been.  He's just stabbing aimlessly at this point.
I loved you specially, and it hurts me to lose you, but I consider it done.
Intention: You WERE special, but now you're not.  As noble as I am, I am willing to suffer the pain of 'losing you,' in order to get my point across.  So there.  Fini!
Response: In healthy relationships, love is never used as a negotiating chip.  Love is never put on the table if it is real in the first place.  Ever.  Like?  Yes.  Love?  No.

Uncle Minion
See note re: greeting...

Good riddance to bad rubbish, says I. 
And what do we do with rubbish?  It goes in the bin with all the other dirty kleenexes and poopy diapers and old, stinky banana peels.  And stays there, where it belongs, with all the other rotting things.

Thank goodness I don't have this person in my life anymore. 


Again with the Comment Problems!

Grrrr.  Blogger is making Vanci angry!
I cannot respond to comments on my own blog and cannot comment on anyone else's.  I'm sorry for that.  I've been working on the technical side of it and trying to resolve the issue, but so far I'm not having any luck.  My time to work on it is limited, so I'll keep trying as I can.
In the meantime, I'm feeling like a bad hostess.  Your comments mean the world, and I thank you for them.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!

I'm working my way around to the full story of the past few months, which will take a while for many reasons; least of which is that I tend toward verbiose. :)  I've also been allowing myself the space to slowly process events, and I've been thinking about how to approach it, because it's been a series of events that have required a lot of thought and patience while I watch the big picture unfold.  In the recovery world we have a catch phrase; "more will be revealed."  I've always taken it to mean that when I don't know what to do, how to handle a situation that seems overwhelming or that I just can't quite grasp my part in, my job is to remain open and objective... and wait until my internal processors reveal the truth.  I've been waiting and a resolution is at hand.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about safety and what it means to be safe.  I had such a skewed definition of safety in my childhood, adolescence and younger adult life under the omnipresent cloud of my FOO.  Safety meant, in that clan context, that I had to stay within the lines that they drew for me.  Step out of the family mandate and WHAM! pay the price.  From small things - choosing a different political view than the FOO, even a weak one, to large - revealing the sexual abuse perpetrated by my father, I was taught early on that any time I acted outside of the 'best interests' of The Family, I would suffer for it. 

It was logical - if I kept doing what they told me to do, kept being who they said that I was, they didn't lash out.  Sure, they attacked me in subtle ways and eroded my sense of self on a daily basis, but as long as I didn't take a real stand against them, they didn't excercise that ultimate of dysfunctional family WMDs: banishment.  Safety became defined by this framework for me.  It was all about what they said was good for me, what they said I could or couldn't do, even who they said I was

I was told repeatedly as a child that I was 'clumsy.'  So I was.  In the last four years of NC, I've noticed that I hardly ever drop anything, fall down or run into walls anymore.  I was told as a teenager that I would 'always be heavy,' and I became very large indeed.  As a young lady and after the birth of my first daughter I worked all the time to support her and became thin.  They told me that I 'looked sick.'  And I was.  Amazing what our minds can turn into beliefs and how our bodies translate that into reality.

So, safety  became a misconceived perception for me.  It meant the ultimate maintainance of the status quo and sacrifice of anything (and sometimes everything) in order to simply keep my role in the family.  I could only be loved by them when I stayed in the mold that they'd cast for me.  If I needed any further proof of this, well, look what happened when I did finally make a stand; violence and eventually ostracization ensued. 

Fast forward four years.  I've maintained healthy boundaries and learned how to protect myself and my FOC.  I've not only learned a true definition of safety; I've learned how to create safety.  I'm happy.

In April, I took a rare, rare, rare day off from work.  DH and the DD's were in work and school and I had some of that most precious commodity - time.  Enjoying my day at home, I received a phone call from a number that I didn't recognize, but it wasn't local, so I didn't think to screen it.  It was one of the Minions of NM, her brother, my uncle.  Here's the last communciation that I received from him, almost four years ago, prior to the April phone call:

When I talked with (your brother) last week and found out that you had not called or gone by to see (your mother), I was extremely upset.  She was in such pain, and she needed you, and you let her down.
No hurt you could possibly have suffered from any family member can justify the unhappiness you have brought to everyone's life.  You have deprived (your husband) of (your brother and brother in law's)friendship, you have deprived (your nephew) of (your daughters') company and them of his, you have alienated a sister that could have been a life-long support, and you have removed from your girls' young lives the guiding and love your parents can offer.  And you have done so much damage to yourself in creating all this misery that I doubt you will ever be able to atone for it.
But most of all, you have behaved toward your mother without conscience, and I will never forgive you for that.  She remains the best person I have ever known, and you have quite literally shortened her life.
I honestly believe you are seriously disturbed mentally-- so much so, in fact, that I don't think you are even capable of realizing it.
I loved you specially, and it hurts me to lose you, but I consider it done.
Uncle Minion

When I received this email - almost four years ago - I didn't respond.  It seemed pretty clear that responding would be akin to finding a brick wall and beating my forehead against it.  (A little background - NM had just had surgery on her knee, Uncle called me to say I should go see her - I told him I'd think about it and took a week to try to figure out how I could visit her and say, "Hey, get better, but don't violate my boundary and contact me even though I'm violating that same boundary right now..." and then I opened my email in box and saw this.)

Needless to say, I was very shocked when I answered the phone and it was Uncle Minion.  He was calling to tell me that NM was in ICU in the hospital with double pneumonia and failing kidneys and that she probably wasn't going to make it.  I'll leave the discussion of what fourteen years of narcotic painkiller abuse does to one's kidneys for another day, and just say that it was apparent that her condition was grave.

I talked to DH and did some soul searching, and ultimately decided that it would by in my best interests to make the effort to go visit her.  I didn't want to leave a stone unturned that I would regret later on.  We made it as safe as possible; DH went with me and we visited very late in the evening ("thinning out the herd," was what DH called that tactic,) and stayed only a short while.  Ultimately I felt good about having done what I felt was the right thing.  She recovered, and other events have taken place since, but I told you all that so that I could tell you this for now.

On the day we were planning to make the trek to ICU and confront possible, probable, crazyness, my counselor asked me this question: "Vanci, what are the safe places in your life now?"

I immediately started rattling off the list; my home, my work, my friends, my DH, my DD's, my in-laws... every relationship that I have.  Every place that I willingly spend time.  Every repose I have is restful and safe.  None of those people or places choose to intentionally try to hurt me on any kind of regular basis, none of them want me to be anything other than the Vanci that I am.

What a shift, eh?  With that new and improved and true definition of safety tucked in my heart, I was able to saddle up and take myself into - and out of - a potentially dangerous situation.  Unscathed.  Why?  Because I had all those safe little loving memories and pieces of joy with me all the time.

I am truly blessed.  And safe!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Little Moments of Reward

I just got back from a four day camping trip with DH and the two DD's.  Dirty, disheveled and exhausted, we rolled back into home today and cleaned up the mess, watched a little television and then all declared it an early bed night.

I expected to be long asleep by now, but I keep thinking about these shining little moments that we had together and comparing them to the moments that I had with my FOO when I was about DD's ages...
What a difference. 

I try not to compare my childhood to my daughters', for a lot of reasons, but primarily because that type of comparsion is something that I've watched NM use over and over again against me.  Even in our most recent 'counseling' session, when I insisted that we speak about the truth of our relationship, which involves myriad forms of abuse toward me from them (NM and EF) beginning in my childhood, here was NM's response:

"I know what it is to have your childhood taken away from you Vanci!  I had mine stolen from me!"

Dumbfounded, I was.  Never an inkling in her Narc-y mnd that the difference between my 'stolen' childhood and hers is that she 'stole' mine.

So, yeah, I try not to compare my past too much with my daughters' present other than to do quick checks and balances (i.e. - am I being fair and consistent with my rules?  I know very well what unfair and inconsistent looks like, I'm not doing that am I?)

But it was hard not to compare on this camping trip, because I had been camping at this particular campground with the FOO when I was... oh, 12 or so.

I remember very little - funny how those defensive mechanisms work so efficiently sometimes - but the good times that I do remember involved pockets of freedom from the FOO.  I went for walks all by myself and thought whatever I wanted to, sometimes even out loud.  Somehow it happened that NM wasn't with us, so the trip consisted of EF, OS and her boyfriend, YB and his best friend... and me.  I don't know if I wasn't allowed to bring a friend or if I just didn't have any at the time.  One of the more damaging actions that the allegedly responsible adults in charge of my childhood made was to force our family to move every 9-14 months.  Really. 

I'm not talking moving houses within the neighborhood - these were big, life changing, landscape altering moves every time.  To pack up one life, move 400 or 2000 miles and start over even once is difficult.  To do so with such frequency in childhood that I never attended the same school two years in a row until high school was awful. 

At any rate, I had the awesome opportunity to watch on the camping trip this week and see the difference between my level of comfort in my own skin at 12 and my daughters' level of acceptance and joy.  One of the things I noticed over and over again was the way in which - with ipods, video games, cell phones, Facebook and all other tech tools unavailable - my girls would walk up to me or to DH and say, "Hey, I'm kind of bored... you want to go for a walk with me?"  At one point my 15 year old challenged her dad to a scooter race around the loop we were camping on.  Being a racing freak, he accepted and we all cheered and laughed as DH made the best of his quads on a child's Razor scooter through the middle of a crowded campsite.  Of course, she's fifteen years old and in far better shape than DH, so she smoked him.  And he congratulated her, then spent the rest of the week telling everyone he struck up a conversation with how she'd beat him. 

The first thing she did when we got home was to post her 'scooter times' on Facebook.  I just don't have memories like that, you know?  If there had been an interaction that I was allowed to fully participate in as a child, I certainly wouldn't have been allowed to win, to come out on top, to have a good time doing it. 
All my good memories in that campground have to do with getting away.  It seems that a lot of my DD's good memories in that campground have to do with sticking together. 

I am so, so grateful for that.  I'm so grateful to DH for being the husband and the father he is, and I'm so happy that my lovely DD's will have a much deeper pool of family memories to draw from than I do.  I know that this wouldn't be possible if the FOO was still lurking around, so I'm grateful that I've been able to hold the correct NC boundaries, too. 

Talk about rewards; what an awesome FOC I have!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Funny Technical Limitations

Somehow I have set myself up on my own blog so that I can post, manage and edit my own blog, but I cannot comment on my own posts on my own blog.  LOL. 
I'll figure it out, I'm sure... but in the meantime, to dear Upsi and Jonsi:

Upsi - thank you for reminding me that I can be grateful for the inner strength it took to exit the 'dance.'
Jonsi - thanks for all your great comments!  Sorry I've been out of touch camping with my FOC for a few days, so I missed a few of them.  It means the world to connect with other folks experiencing some level of the Narc craziness. It means the world to knowt that I am not alone.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Perfect Vision

We have a seasonal creek on our property that's fed primarily by snowmelt.  When the water's found a happy medium between torrential and trickling, I like to watch it; the calm flow of snow melt filtered through mountain rocks has a luminescent quality.  The cold pools magnify and enchance the smooth pebbles on the stream bed to the point that every striation, ever color in the rocks can be seen.  The light that filters through the creekside birch and cedar trees to reflect off the mirror surfaces has that special soft glow that I associate with ocean horizons at sunrise. 

The clear, pure water - for that brief window of time between the rock jumping currents and the dry mossy bed - provides a perfect lens.  I like that.

I've spent so much of my life struggling for clarity.  Trying to understand.  Wanting to be what I thought I was supposed to.  I used to wonder if there was an instruction manual that somebody forgot to give me.  Everybody around me - mostly Narcs - seemed to have a better idea, better direction than I did.  Conditioned from the start to mistrust my own self and judgment, to concede always to others' obviously far superior intellect, experience, wants, wills, I felt... Lost.  Ashamed.  Small.  Unworthy.  Unlovable.  Dirty.  Gross.  Ugly.  Repellant.

So I did what they wanted me to, what they demanded.  In my desperation to be something to somebody, I tolerated abuse on all fronts and gave little pieces of myself away as cheap party favors.  I sacrificed my time, my financial security, my outside relationships, my stability, my sanity to the ever changing demands that NM, EF and eventually OS and YB made of me.  By the end, I'd gotten so good at meeting their needs that they barely had to ask me to at all.  I intuitively knew that it was my job to fix NM's addictions, hide EF's abuse, cover for OS's rage, support YB's failures by pretending they were successes.  No one can live in truth while bearing the responsibility for so many others' illnesses, especially when the Narc's reaction to a Scapegoat's job well done is to point out the flaws and demand more attention to detail next time...which is of course right  around the corner.

Eventually I broke, and then I started learning how to break the cycle.  But I was so confused a lot of the time, because I just hadn't ever had the opportunity to learn how to be anything other than what they'd made me.  It took a lot of stop and starts to gain any traction, and it's been a journey of exhausting introspection.

Now, though, I feel like I can see myself through that crystal clear stream.  I'm a pebble on the river bed, and all my colors shine bright and proud for the entire world to see.  I'm beautiful, kind, and strong as a rock, baby. 

Clarity feels like such a gift.  I spent so long in the muddied up eddys before, boy is it nice to see me, be me and feel absolutely okay with me.

Who'd have thunk it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Surrendering the Outcome

I've been meditating a lot lately on the concept of 'surrender.'  In recovery, this is a word that I hear thrown around a lot - one of those omnipresent buzzwords that enters into conversation through many different doors.
I hear people talk about surrendering to a higher power, surrendering their faults (or character defects if one prefers to church it up,) surrendering a drink or a pill or a joint and surrendering their will.  That last is, in my mind, both overused and terrifying; to surrender one's will is to give up, as I see it, and to embrace powerlessness as a state of being rather than a spritual or emotional pain point that can result in growth.

Twelve-step programs are rife with amateur phraseology, and I think that most of it can be helpful.  It's never caused me pain to think an action through all the way to the outcome, which is what is the action that the old-school slogan 'Think, Think, Think,' is intended to prompt.  'One day at a time,' another cue that's been around seemingly forever, reminds me that I don't have to spend today wallowing in the unchangeable past or stuck on the scary possibilities of tomorrow. 
HALT - an acronym for Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? means to me that when I find myself in a particularly sour frame of mind - or with an overwhelming desire to escape my life with a mind-altering dose of self-medication - I have the ability to pause and to take this quick needs assesment.  It's simple.  Hungry?  Eat something.  Angry?  Find out why and do some work on the root cause of the feeling in order to acknowledge the truth of why I'm feeling this feeling.  Lonely?  Call someone.  Tired?  Take a nap.  All of these pauses take me out of my head and into the real world of nourishment, tangibility, interaction, rest.  Often, the pause provides me with as much course correction as the ensuing self-care action does.

So, to use another common phrase, we 'take what's good and leave the rest.'  The word surrender triggered a hot-button reaction from me for a long time, because I could only understand the definition of it as one of retreat, giving up, giving in and throwing in the proverbial towel.  Eventually I talked to enough people and gained enough experience in my internal bullshit-o-meter to hear with my heart the best definition of true surrender that I know:

"Surrender doesn't mean that we quit trying to do anything, Vanci.  It just means that we decide to continue to take the right actions in our life while giving up control of the outcome of those actions."

Wow.  This gem was handed to me by a good friend who happens to give off these powerful Zen calm, peaceful vibes.  When he walks into the room, I think... Ahhhhhhhh.  So, naturally, I want what he has, which means that when he talks, I listen.

In the context of my Crazymaking FOO, this concept of surrender was a tough one for me to apply.  My experience with all of them has been, to varying degrees, that what they do when they don't get exactly what they want from me is to apply massive pressure from any angle they can find.

As an example, several years ago, OS and YB lived elsewhere from the town that I lived in.  NM and EF lived about 15 miles from me.  The parents decided to take a trip to visit my siblings, and it was expected that I would watch their three dogs.  No one asked, mind you, they simply told me when they would be gone and told me that they'd leave the house unlocked.  It was spring, which meant that their extremely rural driveway was impassable.  My two daughers were in 2nd and 4th grades, and school was in session.  DH and I both worked full time jobs.  There was no way that we could pack up our entire day-to-day lives and move the 15 miles out to the clan compound for a week, and, frankly, no normal person would expect this from a busy young family such as mine was.

I told NM and EF that I wouldn't be coming to stay at their house, but that I would make the 30 mile round trip drive each day - on my dime, of course, compensation for this was never a question - to check on their dogs.  The pushback began immediately.

I received a phone call from OS in which she berated me for my selfish actions.  I received a phone call from NM and EF asking me why I was making it so difficult for them to go visit OS.  Was I jealous?  Couldn't I find the time to do as I was asked for these people who had sacrificed so much for me?  YB wanted to know why, just because I couldn't understand the bond that the parents had with their dogs, couldn't I help them out just this one time.  The over-riding sentiment was that if I didn't buckle, didn't  'decide' to do exactly as I was asked, either NM or EF would have to stay home.  This would, of course, be my fault. 

I can't remember how that particular spiral of multi-faceted abuse and pressure ceased, but I'm fairly certain that DH - ever the voice of reason and as an outsider, he was always treated by a better code of behavior than I was - intervened and calmly asserted that A) the dogs would be fine and B) the negotiations were closed and if there was further talk about the situation it would be along the lines of which kennel the dogs could go to.  We ended up driving the 30 miles round trip daily and checking on the animals, who were, in the end, fine.

In retrospect, this was part of the pre-pre-pre-Vanci rebellion.  For about three years before I finally took real, tangible steps onto a path of healing, I made these tiny little forays into independence.  I was beaten into submission every time, but with each little step toward freedom I gained valuable knowledge.  Even the half-assed compromise that I made in the Great Dog Watching Rebellion - I mean after all I did spend a good 90 minutes each day for two weeks saddling up and driving out to the boon tillies to check on the dogs - was a step forward for me.  Previously under the same circumstances, I wouldn't have even questioned that I was intuitively fulfilling an inappropriate expectation.  They said jump...

Those little wins didn't feel great to me, and in truth my inconsistent here-and-there small scale balking against the puppet master's strings created a lot of conflict in the short term.  I knew I didn't want to be their whipping girl any more, so I tried not to be.  But I didn't yet know how to be anything else; I certainly hadn't re-connected with any part of my true self yet.  So all I really knew in that time was that I didn't want to be what I'd always thought I was.  It was an empty and lonely time, but those baby steps were crucial as the very beginning steps in building what would eventually become a strong foundation to a new, healthier life.

As I continued to take one step and then another on the ever-widening path to mental health and freedom from fear, I learned slowly and sometimes painfully about the concept of release through surrender.  As I sought out and took the right actions - over and over and over again - I built up a play list of examples that eventually helped me to identify patterns.
A problem would arise.
It was my job to fix it.
I'd do everything within my power to do the right thing.
It still wasn't good enough for them, especially of my idea of the right thing varied from their idea of what I needed to do for them.
I'd apologize and cave in to complete whatever chore they had in mind for me in the way they wanted it done.
It would still be wrong.

And then...
A problem would arise.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  Endlessly.

At some point the pattern became clear and I stopped apologizing.  I stopped giving in.  I started making little stands here and there.  The issues that I stood on got bigger.  I got stronger.  Wham-o.

Now I embrace surrender, with the understanding that comes from acknowledging that I am responsible for me.  That is all.  Just me.  When I do the right thing, I'm freeing myself from responsibility for any one else's reactions or feelings on the matter.  I'm giving it up.  Sometimes even the right actions create pain, and that is when I now know that I can use that.  I can look at that pain and use it as a touchstone for growth.

When I am aware enough to identify those sore spots as areas that I need to tackle, work on, strengthen, it quickly leads me to gratitude.  How lucky am I that I can see and feel these sick cycles and constructs that I was given for the awful bullshit that they really are?  And how lucky am I that I have the tools now to recognize those nasty people, places, things for the festering wounds that they are and take action to clean them out so that I can move on with my life? 

Damn lucky, that's how much.  Damn lucky.

Holding Boundaries

I was inspired by a recent post on Upsi's "You Don't Have to Dance for Them" blog to document my often-used process for making and keeping safe boundaries.  In the four years that I have been NC with my entire FOO, I've had to get very, very good at drawing, keeping and holding boundaries with them.  Apart from the pervasive Narc tendencies to push, then push, then push the Scapegoat some more, I also live in the same small town (about 7,000 people) that NM, EF, OS and YB and their anciliaries do.  With no geographical distance between us, my safe boundaries are part of the protection that I put on every morning before I go out into the world; keys? check, undies? check, boundaries? check.  I am in public most of the day and any one of my FOO Crazymakers can find me if they choose to at any time, so I keep my emotional tool belt stocked. 

My boundaries keep me safe and also give me the ability to know myself, even in the face of sudden direct or proxy attacks.  Should NM or one of her minions surface, internal knowledge of my safe, sane and reasonable boundaries is one of the tools that give me the immediate, intuitive knowledge of how to keep myself safe.  It's one of the ways that I know right away that I am being violated, disrespected and treated poorly and that I have every right to defend myself by choosing not to engage.

Having boundaries firmly in place allows me to say, calmly and with dignity, "As I've said, I have no interest in discussing this with you," and to head for an exit.

I'm a thinker and a system-designer in everything I do.  I see organizational layers where other people see messes, so it follows that I've condensed this very important part of my life (or my defense system, really) into a few bullet points.

When faced with a situation that screams for boundaries to be set, I ask myself these questions:

1. Is this a reasonable boundary?
Reasonable or unreasonable isn't an issue of how I feel about it, how comfortable I am with it or, in the early days, how I thought it would be received.  It's really a logistical question.  For example, my primary boundary with NM has been for some time, "I will only meet with you in the presence of a therapist(s)." 

NM's proven over and over again that without a third party observer present, she lapses into blaming me for her faults, gaslighting, revision of history and just plain makin' shit up.  It's unsafe and unproductive to even try to have a convo without a referee.  So, there must be a witness, and that's a reasonable request.  I use my therapist because it's one of the things I pay him for and he's a safe ally to me.  She's welcome to bring her therapist too, if she wants to make it more neutral.  Reasonable, right? 

It would be unreasonable of me to set this boundary if I didn't have a therapist available.  It would be unreasonable of me to say, "I will only meet with you on the sixtieth Tuesday of years in which the bluest lagoon on the planet has turned red."  If I find that I want to set an unreasonable boundary, I have to stop and consider that I'm not quite sure of my intentions.  If my intention is to make it difficult for NM to meet with me, then, really, I need to consider that my boundary should be something along the lines of, "I won't meet with you."  If my boundary is reasonable, I move on to number 2...

2.  Will I be able to maintain this boundary?

Clarity has been key for me in boundaries over and over again.  When dealing with a Narc, particularly the one who managed to get her claws into me when I was still pre-verbal, I've found that my first learned/instinctive reaction when I make a choice to 'defy' the Narc is one of confusion... followed by shame... followed by more confusion and self-doubt.  This is, after all, what I was hard-wired to do.  That's one of the reasons that it's so important for me to be clear - to make sure that I have at the ready a correct 're-learned' healthy response prepared ahead of time.  If I've been clear with myself that my boundary is reasonable, safe and that I deserve to have it respected, I don't fall back into my old patterns of acquiesence and acceptance of blame for defending myself like I used to. 

When I set a reasonable boundary that I fully undersand and can without a doubt stand behind, I am prepared for whatever the Narcs pull out of their crazy arsenal and throw at me. 
For example, using the above 'therapist-present' boundary, I can easily maintain it; it's clear, tangible, black-and-white.  Either NM makes an appointment to meet at the therapy office and we have a conversation, or we don't talk/meet/speak/write/etc.  An example of a non-maintainable boundary would be:
"I won't meet with you unless you're going to be nice/honest/kind/etc."
Those words are subjective, and pliable language is like modeling clay to a Narc; they can make it whatever they want it to be.  And they will, oh, yesssssss, they will.  And it will be my fault by the time they're done, so, if my boundary isn't clear enough to maintain, I have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to provide more clarity.
If I find that my boundary is reasonable, clear and maintainable, I move on to 3...

3. Am I willing to accept the consequences of this boundary, no matter what they are and even if I don't like them?
Here's the thing about Narcs: they do absolutely what they want to do, regardless of the cost to others, period.  They blame, they shift, they manipulate, they lie, they dodge, they justify, they rationalize, they reinvent reality and they selectively listen and remember in order to suit their needs, wants and desires.  Trying to pin a Narc down with the truth or reality is like trying to staple jello to a tree.

So, when I've set a clear, maintainable and appropriate boundary, I've created safety and sanity for myself.  My Narcs don't want me to have safety or sanity; if they did, they wouldn't abuse me in the first place.  It is ALL, really, ALL about them.

When I don't give them what they want, the reaction is overwhelmingly, violently, huge.  HUGE.
To have a relationship with a narcissist, one must abide by the narc's rules, which are really quite simple: what the Narc says is the truth; what the Narc does is right; the Narc's needs are met first, middle and last; the Narc gets credit for the good; the Narc takes no responsibility for the bad.

Boundaries that deny the Narc any of those things (which really means any boundary at all, doesn't it?) are game-changers.  Narcs don't like that.  So they attack.

When I set the original 'therapist-present' boundary, NM told me that she wouldn't abide by it.  She couched this, of course, in her manipulative statement that "mothers never give up on their daugters," which really meant that she would contact me however the hell she pleased.  I told her that was unacceptable to me and that I wouldn't answer her calls or notes, but if that's what she wanted, she could have it.  I hung up the phone.
So she had OS call me.  She had EF call me.  She had YB text me.  Uncle emailed me.  NM had OS drop off 'presents' for my DD's at my place of employment.  I gave them to charity.  She mailed me a package (more presents for DD's) with no return address.  I mailed them back with a letter reiterating my boundaries and clearly stating, again, that they were absolutely non-negotiable.  She called me the next day 'to talk about it.'  I told her that if she wanted to talk, she could respect my boundaries and make an appointment with the therapists.  She told me that she couldn't do that because she was 'uncomfortable' with my therapist.  I told her that we wouldn't be talking then and hung up the phone.

After another few rounds with all the minions, I was stressed enough to declare the same boundary with all of them.  I didn't want to have to do that; I'd held out hope that I could have some kind of normal relationship with at least OS and YB, but NM took my line in the sand and declared war, using her other children and EF as her army.  I drew a line.  They chose. 

Is that what I wanted?  Not neccesarily, but I had to be prepared to accept the outcome of my right action.  If I'm not ready to handle the outcome regardless of what it is, well, I'm not yet ready to set the boundary and I need to reinforce my support.  In this case, I was ready and I defended myself and through that process, I learned a lot. 
Specifically, I learned that the people who care about me care about my boundaries; they care about me, my thoughts, my feelings, my heart, my soul and my spirit.  And they show me that they care by supporting me in keeping myself safe.  If I had doubts about who those people are, well, boundaries create a clearer picture of who's who, when they work. 

I've managed to stay safe and sane for a long time now using this process as one of my tools.  I hope it helps someone else, too.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

So That's Why They're Called Wisdom Teeth

When I was nineteen years old, I was scheduled to have my wisdom teeth removed.  It had been necessary for some time as there had never been room in my mouth for the extra molars and they'd caused me discomfort.  It was bad timing, as I was about to marry - as it would happen, I was conceding to my family's wishes and marrying the man of whom they approved, rather than man whose child I'd just delivered into the world, but that's a longer story for another day.  The marriage precipitated the push for me to finally have the teeth taken out, though, as I wouldn't be eligible for my NM's dental insurance after they'd 'given me away.' 

So, I was sent to the family dentist and told that he'd only be taking two of the four teeth in the first appointment.  He was an old-school dental doc, which means that there was no gas or anesthesia beyond localized novacain.  My mouth was crowded enough that the teeth had barely erupted and had sideways-looking roots.  It was, to be concise, awful.  Half a day in the dental chair later, I had two gaping holes in the back right side of my gums, and was sent home with a scrip for painkillers that I couldn't use as I was nursing my oldest daughter at the time.

It was a horrible enough experience that I cancelled the appointment to have the left side teeth removed.  I got married and lost dental coverage, but I didn't care. No amount of love or money could have gotten my butt back into that dentist's chair of horror. 

A few weeks later, my newly minted spouse and I moved across the country and transplanted ourselves to the deep South.  I was sitting at the kitchen table looking forward to a nice big bite of the fresh tomato sandwich I'd anticipated enjoying while my baby girl napped.  I opened up my mouth wide and snap!  My jaw cracked hard on the right side and locked up with my mouth open.  I can't remember how badly I freaked out, but I know it hurt and it scared me.  My jaw has cracked like that ever since - every time I open my mouth wide enough to take a bite of a sandwich or apple, snap! 

I've adapted and learned over the years how to position my jaw just so to avoid the loud crack and how to keep my jaw from locking up.  I'm sure there's a way to get rid of the problem entirely, but I don't really notice it much most of the time so this particular issue in my life tends to be constantly shifted to the bottom of the priority list.

The only time it truly hurts, though, is after I've spent a fair amount of time in the dental chair.  Repeatedly opening wide causes some discomfort, mostly after I've departed the dental office and been home for a while.  I think it stresses out my delicate jaw and I clamp down as a defense afterward. 

My dentist, whose office I've been loyal to for many years, recently sold his practice to a young dentist who moved into our area to assume the business.  This meant that a couple of the dental assistants left and were replaced.  Dr. New Guy and the DA's weren't familiar with my jaw, so witnessing their reactions over the last few visits has been amusing.  Every time I open my mouth and that snap! happens, they flinch and squirm in their chairs.  "Doesn't that hurt?" they ask every time.  As I'm usually sitting there with my jaw cracked open awaiting the pokes and prods, I generally just shake my head in a silent 'no.'

The last time I was in, though, and we went through the 'does it hurt?' routine, Dr. New Guy, who is pretty young and outspoken for a dentist, lowered his mask and replied in all sincerety, "Well, it should hurt!"


He's right, you know, it should.  And if I'm honest in the truest sense of the word, well, it does hurt.  As much as pounding a nail through my hand?  No.  As much as being raped?  No.  As much as... well, the list could increase exponentially and I'd still be able to say that, no, cracking my jaw doesn't hurt as much as a lot of things that have happened to me.  But... it should, and it would without the intense conditioning against expressing any type of pain that I received as a small child. 

My ability to bear pain was one of the prime character traits that I possess that made me such a well-suited scapegoat in my FOO.  I was, from the start, the strongest of all the members in the sense of the load I was able to carry. 

I remember NM and EF bragging to other adults that 'poor Vanci had ear infections constantly for the first two years of her life, but she was always such a love and she hardly ever cried.'  It's taken me a couple of decades to process that and other statements, and some of my breakthrough on it is directly related to the dentist's chair and my damned popping jaw. 

In a nutshell; it should fucking hurt, and I should be able to fucking cry when it does. 

Maybe next time I go to the dentist and they ask the question, I'll bob my head the other direction and ask what can be done to fix the problem once and for all.