Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Sisters

When I was a little girl, I was sometimes made to be part of a 'show.'  Mostly the NParents coordinated this as part of a church function, where we would all play a part in the Easter Sunrise Service or the Christmas Eve Celebration, and typically the performance centered around music.

NM played the piano,  ENF had a booming bass voice, I led melodies in my soprano, NOSis was the harmonic alto and GCYB sang high tenor (and later in life low tenor.)  We all had musical ears and I'm sure we presented as a regular Von Trapp family at times.  ENF tended to pastor small, rural churches, so we were often THE entertainment.  I have some memories of this being fun, even.

NOSis and I both loved to sing and our voices blended well together.  Due in part to the structured isolation that the NParents kept us in, we often choreographed our own 'numbers' in the living room together, and I remember more than one occasion where we were asked to share our routines.  The one that's coming to mind right now was a little dance we did as we sang the number 'Sisters' from an old black and white movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, White Christmas.

"Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir
I'm here to keep my eye on her.
Caring, Sharing,
Every little thing that we are wearing...
... All kinds of weather, we stick together
Same in the rain or sun
Two different faces but in tight places,
We think and we act as one!"

It goes on in that vein for some time and I've probably flubbed some of the lines, but that's how I remember it.   I also remember that there was safety in my relationship with my sister.  She's four years older than me, and was far more of a strong female role model at times than my mother was, for sure.  She was one of my best friends, especially as we moved so often that she was typically my only female play mate and the only other girl I knew.  We picked at each other and fought a lot - something that I'm convinced happens in the majority of sisterly relationships, no matter how healthy - but we loved each other.  We did our best to protect each other.  That's how I saw it then, and I believe there's still some truth to that even now as I view it with clear eyes in retrospect.

I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the recipe for a Narcissist is.  Like all personality disorders, mental illnesses and diseases and addictions, there seems to be an ongoing nature vs. nurture argument to varying degrees about root causes.  I tend to believe that there have to be genetic predispositions to certain leanings combined with two other key factors: trauma of some sort and a choice not to fight the leaning toward narcissism (or sadism, or myriad other -isms.)  Either way, like I said, I don't spend a lot of time on it because I'm such a Practical Polly.  It is what it is and I can't change it.  So I spend my energy on me and I move forward.

But, when I think about my sister and the memories I have, it's hard not to wonder how she and I turned out so differently.  That caring, protective sister that I remember from the days of choreographed step-ball-changes is dead or buried so deep that she's never coming out.
Because my sister today, man, she's a raving bitch on toast.

It seems to me that our relationship changed significantly when I was thirteen and revealed in counseling that ENF had sexually abused me.  I didn't know that he'd abused her too, I really didn't.  But my revelations prompted him to admit to abusing both of us.  The metaphorical shit hit the fan in more ways than one over this, but one of the most painful things to me - then and now - was the way in which it changed my relationship with my sister.  I distinctly remember feeling two things when I realized that my sister had been abused too: horror at the thought that she'd felt as awful and violated as I did and relief at the thought that I wasn't alone in this.
But I was, because, although ONSis admitted to the abuse, she became scarily, irrationally angry with ME for revealing it.  I was, she said, trying to ruin her life and everyone else's life because... I was mad that I had to do the dishes.  She physically assaulted me a couple of times, but mostly she just ignored my very existence after that.  I'd once embroidered her a little throw pillow with the message on the front: Time passes and we may part, but sisters will always stay close at heart.  After I brought the sexual abuse to light in our family, she seemed to hate me.  I was devastated by this sudden coldness and hatred from her, but I was only thirteen and was dealing with similar punishments and ostracizations from my parents and little brother, too.  I don't know that I fully understood how to process anything on my planet at that time; I was shell shocked.

There were a lot of intervening years with some pretty far swings in our relationship with each other, sometimes closer than others, but when I made my stand in September of 2007, ONSis really flexed her muscle as the Enforcer in the NFOO.  She was the first to attack and she attacked viciously.  I'd known for some time that she wasn't right - lots of rages and seriously low lows - but I had no idea up to that point that she was so far gone.

And now, she's the leader of the NFOO in a lot of ways, from what I can tell.  She didn't fall into the Lead Narc role, she sought it out, picked it up, put it on and fucking OWNS it.  I guess we all have our different ways of dealing with trauma.

So, I look around me now and I assess - my sister is effectively dead to me, or I to her, doesn't really matter which way that swings as the end result's the same.

I have other sisters.  I have my dear, dear girlfriends who've loved me from near and far throughout the last four years.  I have my AA ladies, who look me in the eye and tell me the truth, even when it stings.  And I have you: the Grizzly Fighters, the Angry Daughters, the Upsi Dancers, Jonsi on the Outside Looking In, the mulderfans and the Ruths and Judys and Lisas the Pollywantanarcissist and the Rings Swinging Forward and the veganstein, Pronoia Agape, and all the Anons and anyone else I can't think of right now and bringing up the manly rear as an honorary sister is LSV.

What's a sister?  Just a girl who understands that sometimes you need to know that it's okay that you're in there underneath your skin even if it feels too tight sometimes.  A friend who knows that you need a hug or you need to hear that you're beautiful.  Just a lady who says, "Hey, Vanci, I believe in YOU."

I lost a sister along the way, and that hurts.
But just look at that incomplete list up there:  my loss of one is a gain of MANY.
I'm so grateful for all of you.


Inferred Pain... and Hair

Ugh.  This is a crappy story and I don't like it.
But it's true and therefore real and as such I feel obligated to post it.

About four and a half years ago, a good friend referred me to a hair dresser.  I am about as low maintenance as a girl gets, and I hate having to mess with hair.  I haven't worn make-up in about fifteen years because I'm just not willing to bother with it.  But, my hair (ironically since I could care less about it) grows super fast.  Cuts, unfortunately, are necessary.  So, I went to see the hairdresser, whom I will call Mimi, and I loved her.  She had great individual style, listened to me well enough to understand that any hair creation that she gave me would have to take a maximum of five minutes for me to fix each morning or I wouldn't do it and gave me a style that worked.  For the first time ever, I had a hair that I would actually style consistently rather than trying it for a couple days then falling back into my ponytail habit.

Because I was still deeply entrenched in the NFOO, I referred NM and NOSis to her.

Six months later, I was dug into the trenches on the front lines of the battle for my sanity with the NFOO and found it necessary to declare no contact (at least outside of a counselor's office.)  And in the meantime, NOSis and NM had stolen my damn hairdresser.  Mimi was a sort of single mom (had a boyfriend but not yet married/living together) and apparently needed help with her daughter, who I believe was about 9 or 10 at the time.  NOSis started watching Mimi's daughter.  Mimi got sucked in.  I took the high road and decided that I didn't want to put Mimi in a bad position, so I stopped making appointments with her.  It's been four years since I've had a decent hair cut.

Fast forward to the present.  I am still friends with the friend who originally referred me to Mimi.  I heard from this friend about six weeks ago that my NFOO had done almost exactly the same thing to Mimi and her daughter that they did to me and mine.  Mimi was aware enough of healthy boundaries to call them out on their violations with both Mimi and her sweet daughter - who was obviously being groomed to be a new scapegoat.  They reacted to Mimi's boundaries by violating them.  Mimi stood her ground.  Violence ensued.

Today I heard from my friend that now, six weeks later, the NFOO - and particularly NOSis - are still attacking.  They're calling and emailing and showing up at Mimi's work to attack her and demand access to her daughter.  Anybody who hasn't lived through this would be flabbergasted by the behavior, as my friend was.  To me, unfortunately, it's a re-run.  I remember the pain of those vicious attacks vividly.  I remember my bewilderment at the actions of people who supposedly cared for me.

I called Mimi and left her a message; I don't know what comfort she's willing to accept, but I can at the very least tell her that she's not alone and that this is about them, not her.  I hope she calls me back.  I hope that she can hear that truth and take it to heart.

And if it goes well, maybe I'll finally have manageable hair again in the near future.

In the meantime, I'm just heartbroken for her and her daughter.  I'm sending happy thoughts their way tonight. If you know what the pain of these kinds of attacks feels like, please send your happy thoughts out for Mimi, too.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1 + 1 = All or Nothing

I've been spending some time pondering the core of my dysfunctional FOO.  It's not an unfamiliar path; much of my pondering in the last four years have leaned in this direction, for sure.

But I've been thinking about the framework, rather than the finished product.  I often refer to the beginning of the Vanci Rebellion of '07 as my 'waking up.'  It's an apt metaphor and that's almost exactly what it felt like; opening my eyes, beginning to see, illuminating minor details, checking back in to reality and so forth.  Like I feel immediately after I've been snatched from slumber, I felt confounded, befuddled, foggy.  It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to what I was seeing and my heart to accept what I was feeling and there was an awful lot to take in.  I was fortunate to have patient and loving support and to have the ability to seek help in understanding the strange new landscape that slowly came into focus.  I doubted everything in this new world, but I kept moving forward, hoping for clarity.

I was lucky enough to have patience with myself and to have others around me patiently rooting for me.  Eventually the mist cleared and I could see the reality (and the wreckage) that surrounded me, and I discovered that - ugly as it was - it was the truth.  And that's when I knew.  Possibly for the first time in my life, I knew that what I was seeing was real, concrete, tangible, honest.  I resolved to stay in truth.  After all, I decided, once a thing is known, to attempt to un-know it is both futile and dishonest.  So I kept moving forward, hoping for understanding.

The harder I worked to understand myself, the more effort I put into comprehending and changing MY behavior - whether that was declaring no contact or attempting to change my explanatory style or simply just parenting my DD's in a healthier manner than I was 'parented' - the more crystal-clear my insight into the tactics of the NFOO.  The stronger I grew, the more transparent they became.  As I've anticipated, observed, deflected and ultimately disarmed each attempt by various members of the NFOO to whip me back into the shape and role they believe I should occupy, their campaign against me has moved from terrifying to laughable.  I grew, even as they stayed pathetically stagnant.

So now I find myself in the luxurious position of NOT having to deal with their attacks on a daily basis, of not having the boogeyman waiting  for me around every corner.  As contact decreased, so did my symptoms of trauma.  So, instead of having to wait for the next phone call, email, drive-by or knock on the door, I can take a look at the actual mechanics of the dysfunctional system.

I'm not so interested anymore in understanding the 'why' of what they do.  I've reconciled their actions in my mind in the same way that I reconcile my drinking.  At the beginning of my sobriety, I asked why a lot: Why am I an alcoholic?  Why can't I drink like a normal person?  Why do I have to deal with this?  Why did I drink like that?  The simple answer that I was able to grasp and understand was:  I drank alcoholically because that's what alcoholics do.  It's oversimplified, I know, but it allowed me to let go of the pervasive WHY.  The Narcs act like evil assholes because they are evil assholes and that's what evil assholes do.  I accepted that, and the WHY became a non-question.  Really, the why doesn't matter to me anymore: I know that I didn't cause it and I can't control it.  That's enough for me.

I am, however, intensely interested in understanding the HOW of the dysfunction, and I've been thinking about the way they system was established in the NFOO.  One of the primary methods of control lies in the communication chain of command, I think, and I'm finally to the meat of this post and the reason for its title.  I can't draw a picture in this simplistic blog format I've established and I'm not anywhere near technologically proficient enough to import or embed a picture, so we're going to have to take a trip to Imagination Land.  I'll do my best to lead the way.

Think of a five-pointed star. Remove the lines and leave the points.  Start at the top point, the pinnacle of the star.  You can now draw a line from that pinnacle point to any other point of the star.  Imagine that each of those points represents a person in a family.  You are the pinnacle point.  You can draw a line - and therefore have a relationship - with each of the other points, aka members of the family, can't you?  You don't have to go through the point farthest to the right to get to the point farthest to the left.  You have equal and equitable access to either or - gasp! - both of them at any given time.  This is the way that healthy communication works.  Every person in the family is allowed to have a direct line to every other person in the family.

There are four points in my FOC's star: me, DH, Oldest DD and Youngest DD.  I am allowed to have a relationship with DH that doesn't involve either DD.  Oldest DD is allowed to have a relationship with Youngest DD or DH that doesn't involve me.  We're not entirely independent of each other, of course, because we love each other and share a lot, but those individual relationships are key and paramount to the greater group relationship as a whole.  It's healthy, I think.  Oldest DD and I talk about school work a lot, but she prefers to talk to Youngest DD about clothes, and she prefers to talk to DH about serious stuff; friends experimenting with drugs and the like.  And that, I think, is awesome.  It's healthy to seek different strengths from different people in our lives.

So, back to the star.  Imagine those five points again, but this time let's add a narcissist to the mix.  And where, do you think, does a narcissist have to be?  In the drawing, as in life, the Narc's going to place themselves where they believe they should be; smack dab in the middle of things.  Now, from your pinnacle point, you  no longer have access to most of the other points of the star without going through the Narc.  Your ability to have a direct line to those other points has been compromised and an individual relationship is turned into a threesome.  The longer it goes on, the bigger the Narc in the Middle becomes, eventually precluding all connection between the other points of the star.  That's dysfunctional communication; ladies and gentleman you are no longer points on a star, you're just a reference in the Narc's overwhelming circle of influence.  The Narc has taken over and infiltrated all the members of the family, all the points on the star, and it's no longer possible to have a healthy individual relationship with any one else in the family because the Narc cannot abide autonomy happening right under their long nosey.

I remember this distinctly.  If I tried to talk to GCYB about the 'situation,' I was stabbed in the back by his running immediately to NM or ENF to report our conversation.  As recently as last April, when I called ENF in order to find out the logistics of DH and I visiting NM in the ICU as she lay dying (but not quite,) he allowed the phone to be taken away from him and NOSis got on the line to rant about how she thought I should behave. When I had my last meeting with NM at my counselor's office, she brought ENF with her into the room, even though both I and the counselor had made it clear that it was to be a 1 to 1 meeting.

And that, I think, is one of the core pieces of HOW the Narcs establish such foolproof systems of control.  They crave omniscience and demand overbearing loyalty at least partially through the limitations they place on individual communication between other family members.

To a Narc, one person in the family having a relationship with another person in the family independent of the Narc's presence (and therefore control) is intolerable.  I think this is part of the reason that they must destroy all familial relationships that don't involve them, such as the bond between siblings.

Either the Narc owns your relationships with others, or they will destroy that relationship before your very eyes.
So,  when it comes to my siblings (and every other person who was associated with me through my NFOO) I wasn't allowed to have relationships with them until I decided to go crawling back to NM.  I didn't and I won't, so they are not allowed to be in my lives at all thanks to NM's overbearing influence.

I can't say I'm pleased to have Nothing, but if the only other choice is All, well, I'm okay with Nothing.  I'm grateful that I don't have to repeat this dysfunctional pattern in my FOC.

And that's not nothing.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Kindness Is Not Weakness

Many moons ago, an acquaintance said to me:
"Vanci, you remind me of the saying, 'Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.'"
I accepted this compliment for what it was and graciously said my thanks.  Then, I moved on with my day.  I've occasionally returned to the phrase over the intervening years and wondered what, exactly, this means.

I am, at my core, very kind.  I always have been; after all this is one of the reasons that I was made the Scapegoat in my NFOO.  By definition, I believe, the Scapegoat has to be kind; we're the most empathetic of the collection of personalities that make up the dysfunctional gene pool.  If we weren't, they wouldn't be able to get what they need from us; a person, even as a child, has to be highly sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of those around her in order to ubiquitously serve the needs of those others.  I was, unfortunately, exquisitely wired to be the kind one.  Sometimes I wonder what joyous miracles this compassion could have created had the Narcs not chosen to take advantage of it, and me.

Alas, as we say sometimes in the recovery community - If you've got one foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, eventually you're going to end up pissing on today.  So, it was... what it was.

Still, when I finally gathered the strength and the resources to jettison myself from that hellish facade of accommodation that I was raised in (and make no mistake, it was I who did all the accommodating,) I had a hard time being 'nice.'  I'd had my natural tendency to nurture, to be kind, to help others taken advantage of for so long that I couldn't distinguish between being 'nice' and being used.  It took awhile to remember that I can absolutely do things that are 'nice' for other people and that I can absolutely choose to be 'nice' without allowing myself to be used up and walked on.

The dividing line seems to lie in my intentions, and that's where I've begun to make a distinction between 'nice' and 'kind.'  More and more I think that being 'nice' means that I'm defining my action by external measurements.  'Nice' is the stiff-necked proper etiquette and corseted action of one who is trying to please those around her.  'Nice' means that I'm trying in my actions to fit into what I think will be acceptable behavior to others.  'Nice' means that I'm trying to do what YOU think is the right thing for me to do.

'Kind,' conversely, comes from an internal source.  I am kind to those around me who need kindness, and there is no expectation of reciprocation or accolade.  When I see a need and fill a need out of the goodness of my generously large heart, I am exercising kindness.  When I take action based on my inherent knowledge that I am doing the right thing, I am being kind.

I can enjoy being kind to others, because I am a fulfilled woman.  It costs me nothing to be kind, usually, and if it does, then I find that I've fallen into the trap of 'niceness' again; typically this happens when I discover that I've been attempting to be kind to a Taker.  Not all Takers are Narcs, I think, but all Narcs are Takers.  The difference for me, now, is that I can step back and see clearly what is happening.  And I can choose to stop being 'nice' and to replace it with kindness, if I feel I should, or to walk away altogether.

There is something very hard and inflexible at the core of my soul, a massive center of strength that I live in.  Like my natural predisposition toward kindness, I believe that I have always possessed this strength.  The Narcs didn't create it, though I've certainly had that core tested over and over again by their abuses.  And my strength has not failed me, has not wavered.  I've  grown stronger.

Strong enough to be kind without being weak.
So, Narcs and Takers of the world beware: Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.  I am stronger than even I know.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Inspiration's Everywhere

This is the calmest time of year for me, when I take a break from a couple of my responsibilities and commitments and try to find time to relax and breathe.  Usually this means that I try to find time to read.  I read all the time, but the material is often instructional or directed in a manner of trying to understand myself and the world around me.  So, trying to remember that all work and no play can make Vanci a very dull, or crazy, girl, this is the season that I try to read for pleasure.  I burned through a couple of novels pretty quickly, re-read a favorite fiction series, and realized too late as I stood in line at the library last weekend that I was out of reading material.

I happened to be standing by the 'new' non-fiction display, so grazed it quickly and picked up two books that caught my eye.  On a quick pick, I ended up with:
The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

Both books concern subjects that I am intensely interested in in roundabout ways.  The Bible as it concerns spirituality and my own particular brand of non-organized religion endorsed connection to a higher power and video games as I have a daughter who would live and breathe by the Playstation game clock if I let her.

I didn't expect to find any questions or answers to my struggle with the NFOO, estrangement, growth or recovery.  Lo and behold.

I read fast.  Crazy fast.  It's a gift I've always possessed and it's served me well.  Typically, I can finish a 700 page novel in my spare time - which is sparse - over the course of a couple of days.  I picked up The Rise and Fall of the Bible  first, and in three days I've managed to make it to page 5.  Five pages in three days.  This is somewhat below my standard reading pace!
I kept having to put it down, I realized, because it is a book that seeks to understand the factual beginnings of the Bible and how it is or came to be perceived as the direct Word of God.  And just that idea of pursuing the course of trying to understand the reality of the book, rather than blindly accepting what I was taught, constricted my chest and made the words blur on the page.  What was I taught?

The.  Bible.  Is.  God's.  HOLY WORD.  Period.  NO questions are allowed, NO discussion is allowed, and in fact, anyone who even remotely thinks about daring to wonder if there might be the possibility of room for even the smallest seed of doubt as to this is going to die a painful death before being sent to the depths of hell to suffer for eternity.  The absolute crazymaking facts that this is what I was force-fed on a spiritual front while being abused on verbal, mental, emotional, physical and sexual bases by the Nparent espousees of such judgmental clop-trop is a sore subject indeed, but not truly my point in this post.  Free thinking, suffice it to say, was not encouraged.

Now, I consider myself to be an open minded, free thinking intellectual woman.  But still, those ingrained patterns of fear and retribution for putting even a toe outside of the controlled environment of the N's religious zealotry, no matter how short lived that phase was for them, is surprisingly strong.  I'm not too wounded by it, but I'm grateful that I was able to acknowledge the existence of the feeling.  Now I can begin the work to acknowledge it and change my patterns.  And I will read every word of the damned book, too, eventually.  The fascinating part is that I don't even know what the book is about at this point, but I do know that my fear reaction is very, very real!

I picked up Extra Lives... once I realized that the Bible book wasn't going to be an easy, pleasurable read due to my frantic emotional reaction, and it's been wholeheartedly enjoyable.  It's a great commentary on how video games are made, what drives the design and marketing and why we see video games as such a large waste of time... but continue to spend oodles and oodles of time and money playing them.  The author spends a lot of time in comparison of video games as a form of entertainment to other forms of entertainment, and on page 39 he says this:

"When I am being entertained, I am also being manipulated.  I am allowing myself to be manipulated.  I am, in other words, surrendering... When I watch a film, the most imperial form of popular entertainment - particularly when experienced in a proper movie theater - I am surrendering most humiliatingly, for the film begins at a time I cannot control, has nothing to sell me that I have not already purchased, and goes on whether I happen to be in my seat.  When I read a novel I am not only surrendering; I am allowing my mind to be occupied by a colonizer of uncertain intent."

He goes on into a detailed analysis of how these mediums compare to each other and others; video games, television, etc.  But what struck me about this passage are the parallels to my upbringing.  Both these descriptions of 'entertainment' are really descriptions of what it is to be held prisoner to something, or someone.

It strikes me as an apt metaphor that my early childhood was a film.  I was placed in the seat and had no control over any of the externals; the N's directed the course of the screening and I was helpless to do anything by try to keep up and follow the story.  I was, in effect, incidental.
It seems, then, that my late adolescence and early adulthood was more akin to the novel.  I willingly allowed my mind to be occupied by a colonizer of uncertain intent.

Eventually, I made a break from the colony, and I think that I was able to do this once I realized the colonizer(s) intent; malicious, evil, abusive and terrible manipulation and control of me.  I like the concept that the Narcs are colonizers because it seems to me that their true intention is to completely and wholly take over the world (of Vanci anyway.)

They've always been that way, you know, it's always been their goal.  I think what changed is that me, myself and I made a break from the authoritative colony's rule.

Long fucking live the revolution!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Utero Scapegoat

The story of my birth is one that I have heard over and over again.  It was the subject of company-for-dinner conversation from as early as I can remember and was dutifully trotted out in ENF's sermons once he became ordained.  He hailed it as proof of a divine miracle.  I recall the legend being told over and over again, growing in length and hair-raising detail over the years.  I can't count how many times I sat through the torturous explanations of what had happened to bring me into the world, they were so many. 

I do remember thinking that it was weird, how eager ENF and NM were to share this story with anyone and everyone who would listen, but I was a little girl and couldn't quite put my finger on what exactly was strange about it.  We do grow accustomed, after all, to believing that our childhood homes are the norm and that our parents are just like every other parent, at least in early childhood.  We've no experience with the rest of the world until we begin to spend time in it.  A child's home really is his or her entire universe in those first few years.  I only began the painful process of seeing that my 'family' was very different from other real families after many, many interactions with those other more 'normal' families many years later.  Sufficient was the pain of these revelations - and the then-certain knowledge that my being aware of the differences would only cause me greater pain as I couldn't change the situation - that I shoved the revelations so deeply into my psyche that it would years of digging to get them back out in the light. 

In a nutshell, the story goes, I almost died being born and my mother almost died in the process.  At full term, the lining of the placenta detached from the wall of NM's uterus.  This is dangerous and happens fairly frequently, but it's often manageable.  Adding to the danger in my/our case, though, the placenta tore away from the uterus at the point where the umbilcal cord was seated in the uterine wall.  Effectively, this cut off my lifeline and caused massive hemoraging for my mother.  ENF rushed us to the hospital, which was a large one with one of the first neo-natal care units in the country.  Through emergency C-section, NM and baby were saved.  End scene.

It's a good story and one that bears re-telling, I think.  It's dramatic and some would say miraculous and there's a good ending to it.  I have to say that I'm awfully glad it didn't turn out differently.  So, hearing about it in one context is pretty regular, I think.  If I'd gone through something like this in delivering my daughters, I'm sure it's a story I would share. 

I've been reflecting on the ways that I heard this story told throughout my childhood and young adult life, and wondering why it keeps popping up for me as a recurring memory.  Why do I keep randomly thinking of the story of my birth?  Today I had a mini-epiphany: in the hundreds of times that I heard this story of my birth, it was never referred to as the story of my birth.  And this is where it gets weird.

This was usually presented by ENF as the story of how his wife almost died giving birth to Vanci.  When he was busily slinging the story about from the pulpit, he told this as the story of the event that made him re-dedicate his life to god.  When he told this story casually, he told it as the heroic tale of how fast he drove to get his wife to the hospital, or of his Datsun car that never ran again or the story of the police escort he was given due to the amount of blood in the car.

When he told it, the story of my birth was about him and what he almost lost, how heroic he was, what my near-death and that of his wife did for him spiritually and - of all things - what happened to his car because of this incident. 

When NM told this story, she talked about her certain knowledge when she stood up thinking that her water had broken and saw blood instead that her baby was dead.  She talked about how it was so lucky that OS was already with grandmother and that ENF had filled up the gas tank of the car.  She talked about her monstrous scar and how she almost died from blood loss on the operating table and how she almost died again from the general anesthesia.  She talked about how they gave her so much anesthesia that she was out for a long time (this part is hazy for me as I've heard different versions - two days, three days, all the way up to a week,) and then has gone on to express how awful it was for her to not be able to  see her baby right away after birth. 

When she told it, the story of my birth was about her and what she almost lost, where my sister was at the time, how heroic ENF was, how much she suffered and how hard it was for her to cope with the after-effects of anesthesia.

I've never, in all those re-tellings, heard either of my parents express how heavy their hearts were with grief as I lay almost-dead in an incubator for a week.  The closest they've ever come within my earshot was to express how upsetting the information they received from the doctors was because they couldn't seem to make up their minds as to whether I'd die, be braindamaged or some other awful fate.  They've said that lack of oxygen was a concern and that I'd lost sixty percent of my blood at delivery.  That I was small and didn't seem to thrive.  That it was a miracle that I survived and that ENF prayed while NM was in surgery and promised his god that he (ENF) would rededicate his life to god if god would just save NM and the baby. 

I'm pretty sure that they think that god saved me because of ENF's prayers.  Maybe he did, who the hell am I to know?  But I'm getting the distinct impression as I re-visit the re-tellings that there were a few common themes to all of the stories:

1.  NM almost died several times laboring to bring me into the world; the implication being that I almost killed her.
2. ENF saved her, whether through proper maintenance of a vehicle or through god, depending on the audience.
3. Even before I had a name, I caused them pain.

I'm pretty sure that I was a scapegoat before I was even born.  How sad.  How very, very sad.  What a heavy burden to lay on a child.

In reading back through what I've written here, I can see that words are failing me.  From an exterior view, this could just be the story of a child who was almost lost in childbirth.  But, taken as a whole and with what would then become future proof of my faults as told by my Nparents, it becomes clear that this story was only the beginning of my scapegoat status.

As a child and a young adult, I also heard the stories of how sickly I was as a toddler.  Apparently I suffered from ear infections and was, to quote NM "so very difficult, you just didn't ever seem to feel good."  I didn't speak until I was three, I've heard, and then just began speaking in full sentences: my first words in order of appearance were 'mama,' 'daddy,' and 'I want a sailboat.'  NM liked to haul this out as proof of my obvious intelligence.  I can't help wondering what I knew and had already learned not to say.

As these memories have appeared more and more frequently to me lately, I've been trying to puzzle together why this story, of all the stories I have from childhood, seems to signify.  Why does it keep popping up to resonate with me?

I've turned to my own experience as a mother, as I often do for clarity and understanding, and I know what I have thought and felt and said when my DD's have asked me about their births.  There's some push inside me to minimize the telling of the amount of pain I went through while in labor with them.  I tend to tell them more about what I did while I was in labor - colored in Scooby Doo coloring books, hey, it helped - than to expound upon the many ways that I hurt or suffered or labored to bring them to the planet.

There's something there, I think, that my psyche's trying to push to the surface.  I think it must have to do with intention.  I wonder if the Nparents intention in telling, telling and re-telling the story of my delivery was to lay the foundation that I would so firmly beat myself with later in life: that I OWED THEM.

What do you think?  I can't quite put my finger on it...


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Holiday How-To

I've always loved this time of year.  Well, truthfully, these last few years I've loved all times of year - there's been so much freedom and growth in my life since I found my path away from the NFOO and, consequently, sobriety, that I've found myself more and more enraptured by the natural world around me.  I find joy in quiet moments in the sun and peace in the sound of rain these days; brief interactions with the world I'd been too busy escaping from to notice before just fascinate me.  But I particularly enjoy watching the world around me change - leaves turning colors and falling, days getting shorter, that crisp feel of a coming frost.  I just love it, and there's something about preparing for winter that just feels right and homey to me.  I like to nest and get ready for the cold, I guess, so I found myself this weekend on a rare trip to the store for new pillows and flannel sheets.

On my way to the housewares department, I couldn't help but notice; the holidays are upon us.  There are costumes aplenty and bins full of little multi-colored dried corn cobs block the aisles.  No matter that it's two and a half months to Christmas, the reds and greens are out in force.  Ah... the holidays.  When everyone gets sentimental for the days of yore and decides that - for at least a few days here and there - family is important.  I've a sneaking suspicion that ACoNs put family first every day of the year - in my former life family took a place of precedence (under duress, I had to take care of the NFOO, don'tcha know,) and since I escaped (for the benefit of my real family, my FOC,) my true family has become of utmost importance.  But the holidays, oh boy, they're a double-edged sword for me. 

I have a different definition of family than most people I know.  Most people define family through DNA and marriage or birth certificates.  That used to be my definition of family, sure, it's the explanation I was given.  And I broke my back and the bank for them, especially around holiday time.  I did it all - the organizing, the driving, the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the hosting, everthing to make the holiday season nice and fun and comfy for everyone else.  I received very little in return, one great example of this being the final Christmas pots and pans episode.  The lack of thanks or reciprocation didn't even cross my mind for a lot of years, and when it did, well... who was I to ask for anything?  I didn't want to be selfish, stubborn, greedy or any of the other bad things I believed I would be if I tried to break free of my indentured servitude to the NFOO and their holiday comfort. 

But then, I woke up.  I changed.  I stood up for myself and my real family, which originally only consisted of me, DH and the DD's.  It was in September 2007 that I issued my decree of NC with the Crazymakers.  Just in time for the holidays.  Grieving, shell shocked, traumatized beyond belief and having NO idea how to do the holidays right with just the four of us, I almost lost it just before the holidays that year.  I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest at times, and I wanted desperately for the pain to stop.  So I made a plan.  It helped.  A lot.  And here I am, going into holiday season number five without the NFOO around, and I have a plan.  It still helps. 

Staring at those greens and reds and little dried corn cobs and pumpkins and costumes last weekend, I couldn't help but think I need to put it out there for you.  Maybe the tips and tricks and plans and advice I've gathered over the last four years of holidays can help you during this holiday season.  I hope so.  So without further ado, I present you with Vanci's Guide to Non-Narc Holidays.

Get through the first year, it will be the hardest.
It's all so new.  I remember that it felt like everything I touched held a painful memory.  The box of Halloween costumes had dresses in it that NM had helped to sew.  Some of the little props - fairy wands and wings - had been made with Narc OS's help.  The princess tiaras were a gift from GCYB.  Every recipe I planned for Thanksgiving had a history, either of coming from NM years prior, or of my having prepared those dishes at the NP's house for everyone in the NFOO.  How on earth am I going to change these dishes that serve twenty people to serve only us, a measley four? I thought.  The ornaments on the tree had history and memories.  There were even some good memories, and those were ever so much harder to deal with.   We want to believe, you know, that things can get better, that maybe this isn't the end of the way that things have always been.  We try so desperately to hold onto that one memory in twenty that was good, or at least not too painful.  Making the best of things is one of the tactics that helped us to survive, after all.  So, in the face of that, knowing that I didn't want to ruin the holidays for my FOC, no matter how small, by allowing the hurt and pain of the 'break-up' to overshadow the family time that we had, I came up with a simple plan:

Don't do anything that you've done before.  
Screw it and screw them, I thought.  I'm not doing the holidays the way that I've been taught.  It didn't work - those holiday traditions that we had didn't make us a good family, a loving family, a kind group of mutually loving people.  Even when I pretended that was the case, it simply wasn't true: those holiday traditions that we had were just another example of the way that the NFOO's dysfunction worked.  NM preened over her potpourri'd house while dropping hints about which of her children would receive special gifts and which wouldn't.  EF bought himself gifts, which he then showed us, making it very difficult to come up with anything we could afford from his very specific and expensive list of desired items.  Narc OS went shopping with EF and pointed out all of the things that she wanted, thereby ensuring that she would receive all of them; some before the holidays and the rest during.  GCYB didn't contribute, but certainly showed up on time to eat and to open all his presents, his many, many presents.  Vanci shopped for gifts for everyone, bought all of the food that she would then prepare, packed up her entire kitchen, all the gifts and her family and drove out to the boontillies to bring the gift of a great holiday to her NFOO.  This went on for years.

So, in year one, I didn't know what to do.  I was at a loss.  So I looked for opposites.
For Halloween, we'd always been obliged to drive our DD's to far reaching family's houses so that everyone could see them all dressed up.  This had been difficult as we live in the North so Halloween is dark and cold.  It's also often on a weekday.  So, after work, we'd get the girls ready, feed them, trick or treat a couple of houses in the neighborhood then start the rounds out to the backwater compound of the Crazymakers.
What's the opposite of that?
Well, we did work, came home, had a snack and got ready and then we drove to a neighborhood where we knew not a soul and trick-or-treated for HOURS randomly.  No one knew us.  We didn't have to make nice with anybody.  The kids got to run wild through the streets till their little princessy legs gave out.  Then we came home and had hot apple cider and sorted candy and watched a movie together with all the lights out.  It was simple and fun and we all had a great time.  And it wasn't like anything we'd ever done with the NFOO.

For Thanksgiving, for the first time ever really, we had a simple meal with a simple day in our own home.  We played out in the yard.  We fried a turkey.  We played card games.  We went for a walk.  We took naps.  We ate mashed potatoes until we were about to explode.  Again, not like the chaos that had reighned over the NFOO Thanksgiving.  No one fought.  No one yelled.  It was awesome and peaceful.

On Christmas Eve, which was traditionally when our presence (and money... and labor...) had been required at the NP's, we stayed home.  We started a tradition of new recipes and we went ethnic, both the DD's helping to meal plan our sweet and sour pork and spicy orange beef that we made from scratch together.  We ate with chopsticks.  We've since done Thai, Indian and Mexican.  My DD's are already talking about what we'll try this year. 
We invited the in-laws over to play board games and they came, bearing a surprising amount of highly thoughtful gifts.  We discovered a new recipe to make - Oreo balls - for Santa, and we left those out instead of the cookies we'd always made before.  On Christmas day we did our regular wake-up, open presents and play with them, but we added a new item: a family gift.  It was a video game that year, and we played together, all four of us for a lot of the day.  This has become a tradition for us... what game will it be this year?
DH made his signature dish for us all, which is a real treat as he only has two dishes he knows how to make.  It was the best Christmas I'd ever had.

You have to leave the old traditions behind sometimes to make room for new ones.  And that is a good thing if you grew up with Narcs - those old traditions aren't friendly.  When the year one holidays were done, DH said, "I've been waiting for those kind of holidays with you for YEARS."

Keep an open mind and a sense of humor.
Letting go of established holiday traditons is hard, coming up with new ones is harder.  Change is hard and new is hard under the best of circumstances, throw a recently recognized lifetime of hurt into the emotional mix and the simple act of putting up the Christmas tree can become overwhelming.  Be patient with yourself.  You're building something from scratch, you know, and you'll make mistakes.  You'll try things that won't work.  It's okay, though, if you can keep it light.  Stretch your wings and take off: make a new recipe, watch a new movie, buy a funky gift for someone, volunteer for something that you didn't have time for before, invite that person that doesn't have anywhere else to go over for Thanksgiving dinner.  Maybe their kid will plug up your toilet with your hairbrush and you'll burn the pie while trying to get the plunger to work.  If it happens, hey, you've just learned who not to invite next year.  And if it happens and you can keep it light and not too serious, well, you'll have a brand spanking new memory and stories to tell in the future about the Thanksgiving That The Plumber Had to Come For Dinner. 

Remember, whether they're good or bad, these new memories and traditions that you're working on will be absolutely awesome if for no other reason than you will OWN them with your FOC.  The N's won't be able to spoil them, and if you're NC, the N's won't even know about them.  So keep laughing, whatever happens and whatever you do, because progress is progress.  If the Bumpous Hounds get the turkey, well, there's always the option of smiling duck at the Chinese food restaurant. 

You're going to be sad/mad/hurt/angry/upset at some point.  Plan for it.
Yes, it sucks to have a crappy family of origin.  It sucks, frankly, ass.  Big ass.  And breaking away for the sake of our sanity and souls is a GOOD thing.  But in the beginning, it can feel like abandoning a sinking ship for shark-infested water.  For awhile, it sucks just as bad to be away from them as it did to be with them, especially when the entire rest of the world is pasting on their happy family holiday faces and signing about heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.   Everyone around you will be talking about their plans, which will invariably involve relatives coming to visit them or vice versa.  They'll be excited about it.  And while you listen to their stories of mirth and joy, you will have a tape running in your head that's playing some version of, "My family sucks, my family hurts me, we're going to be lonely, this is new and wrong, can I be wrong about this, etc, etc, etc..."  You're going to be upset.  Accept it.

I have sacred space in my home where I can go and shut the door and feel everything I need to feel without having to guard my face or my heart for any reason.  I can cry a little there.  I can talk to myself there.  I can pound on things there.  I can breathe there, always.  I can stay there until I am able to reconcile what I feel with what I know and that is this:  I'm mourning what should have been.  I'm mad and angry becuase they hurt me and I let them for far too long.  I'm hurt because they hurt me.  I deserve time and space to heal.  Allow yourself all the time and space you need to process the emotions when they become too much.  Remember that you deserve to be treated well and you deserve to not be hurt.  Don't leave your sacred space until you've said these things outloud.  Don't leave your sacred space until you remember that it's going to get better.  Allow me to repeat this, with emphasis:  Your life is going to get better without them in it.  It might take some time, but hey, if you're like me, you'll have a hell of a lot more time without having to serve the N's anyway. 

What's that?  You don't have sacred space, you say?  I beg to differ!  I've been locking the door, turning on the shower and sitting on the closed toilet lid to deal with my moments of emotional confusion or distress for years.  There's a lot of healing that's happened in my bathroom.  It's a great place for alone time, let's face it.  Nobody really wants to be in there with you anyway!

Initiate a lockdown system.
On our first NC holiday go-round, I carefully shut down my cell phone and placed it in the glove box of my car the night before each major holiday.  I didn't check email.  We didn't have a house phone, so there wasn't a worry there.  We talked to all the in-laws and close friends we had (painfully few on that front) the day before the event and let them know that I would be incommunicado on the holiday, and we told them why.  DH had his (carefully placed on vibrate and completely out of my site) cell phone with him for emergencies, but other than that we fell off the face of the planet on those first holidays. 

It wasn't really a question of whether they were going to contact us or not, we knew they'd try.  It wasn't even a question of what they would say or how they would try to hurt us, we knew that they would find a way.  What it really came down to was self-respect.  I and my FOC deserved to have a nice holiday, that's all.  I couldn't help that they knew where we lived or that they had my number, but I could contol my controllables - I didn't make it easy for them to weasel in and ruin the day. 

They day after Thanksgiving, when I returned to reality and turned on the cell phone, I had messages, sure.  But they hadn't ruined our family's special day; I hadn't had to react to their attempts to contact and was able to put myself in a position to choose when and how I would approach the ugly, if at all. 

I know that we live in a world of constant contact, but have some perspective.  What are holiday's really about?  Celebrating life, enjoying the people who are close to you.  Hopefully all of those people are already there with you, but if they're not and they truly care for you, I can guarantee that they'll be secretly cheering you on when they speak to you the day before or after the holiday.  Shut out the N's capability to reach you and you'll have a much more pleasant holiday.

I know this because I became a little complacent during the holidays of year two: I'd plugged my phone in to charge in the garage and had one of those heart-thumping, blood draining moments of horror when I walked by it to retrieve something and saw that I had a message from NM.  I immediately turned off my phone and moved on, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it had a damper on my day.  (BTW, the message, "Well Vanci, I hope you're having a good day with your family.  That's all I wanted to say.  I love you.  NM."  Emphasis was hers.  LOL.)  So, after that, I've been more precise about making sure my phone's turned off.  Holidays are for family after all, and it's just too bad for them that they don't get to be in mine anymore. 

Those are all of the major points that come to mind right now.  I'll certainly write more as they come to me. 

For now, though, I can hear my new flannel sheets calling...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who's the Brave One?

It's been a busy couple of weeks.  School started and my firm belief that teenagers are the biggest germ-spreaders in the world was confirmed yet again by the arrival of the beginning-of-the-school-year-Monster-cold.  Sigh.  A real butt-kicker, this one was, with congestion and sleepless nights and coughing fits and fevers and fatigue and generally overwhelming malaise.

But still, we took it in rounds so that each party affected was able to rest comfortably in turn, and we've faced bigger battles than a measely cold, no matter how powerful it tried to be.  Thrown into the mix, though, I'd committed to throwing a party at our home for a lady I've spent the last twelve years working with.  She was retiring and, unfortunately, her boss didn't deem it important enough to throw her a party.  I'm a big believer in the creation of rituals to mark events, as I don't feel that we as a fast-moving society have enough of these pauses of recognition.  So, with DH's and the DD's help, we'd decided to turn a negative non-event into a positive celebration. 

Fighting a massive headcold and preparing the house for a party at the same time filled up my plate enough, but then one of the DD's was invited to a birthday party for a special friend as well.  Even though both parties were on the same day, we decided that it was important for DD to go, so I made the time in the day to drive her to her friend's house, leaving DH home to continue making our home presentable. 

After a morning of last minute shopping, cleaning, cooking and sniffling (though I tried desperately not to sniffle in the kitchen,) I saddled up to take DD to her friend's house.  I didn't realize quite how far out of the way the friend's house was until we were thirty minutes into the drive.  Ah, well, I thought, it will all get done.  It always does.  With DD safely delivered, I had just one stop left to make, so I pulled into the nearest convenience store to our home to quickly pick up two bags of ice.

Standing in line, running late, trying to find my wallet, trying not to sniff or cough or sneeze on anyone, I was - to put it mildly - distracted.  I'm not sure what I heard behind me that was familiar, but something made me glance briefly over my shoulder.

In that single look, I recognized GCYB standing directly behind me with Narc OS's son, who is now seven years old.  I can't say that I recognized what happened inside me at the time, but with a little retrospection, I can describe what I felt.

I tensed in anticipation of that familiar gut-dropping, guilt ridden constriction of my chest.  In the past when I've suffered these brief interactions with the NFOO that come as part and parcel of living in the same small town that they do, I've been immediately terrified.  A lifetime of being the scapegoat, the reason for the problem, the cause of all harm does not, after all, disappear in four brief years of LC followed by NC.  I was waiting for that terror for a split second  before I realized that it didn't come.

Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion of my week, maybe it was the fact that I had bigger and better fish to fry at the moment.  Who knows.  But I just really didn't give a fuck who was standing in line behind me.  Joan of Arc come back to life probably would have gotten the same non-reaction.  I needed two bags of ice, and I was damn well just going to get two bags of ice and then drive home to take care of the people who love me.  Damn it. 

I thought for a brief moment of what I would say if GCYB initiated a conversation.  And realized that I would say nothing at all.  I mean, really, who is this person to me?  He's a user and a fraud who claimed to love me but immediately blamed me for all the NFOO's problems as soon as NM was cut off from her access to me as her primary source of narc supply.  He owes DH and I fifteen thousand dollars which he borrowed to start a now-failed business five years ago.  He never paid back a red cent (and yes we - okay, I - shouldn't have lent it to him in the first place, but that was a lifetime ago.)  He got married over a year ago and didn't invite us to the wedding, didn't ever make any effort to contact us.  He's only contacted me twice in four years - both about three years and eleven months ago - once when he passed a message through EF saying that he was too angry with me to talk to me, and once when he sent me a text (knowing full well that I was out of the country) that "your mother had surgery and isn't doing well - thought you should know even if you don't care."

So, really?  Really, really?  I thought as I stood there waiting to get my two bags of ice.  What the hell is there to say?  "Hey fucker, where's my money?  Find a new sister to use lately?"  Nah, I was too tired for any of that.

And then, I heard/saw his reaction.  He moved to the other side of the convenience store counter and got in the longer line over there.  Bwahahahaha!  Coward much?

The impression that I was left with is that of the idea all parents seem to give their children at some point when those young children encounter a particularly gruesome looking insect: they're more afraid of you than you are of them!

And guess what?  It didn't really even change or affect my day.  I got the ice, I drove home, I unloaded the packages and told DH what had happened.  We had a brief laugh over it, I blew my nose for the seven thousandth time that day, washed my hands and made some homemade macaroni and cheese.  All those invited showed up on time and we had a fabulous party for a fabulous lady.  I slept well that night, after sending up a little happy thought/hope/prayer to whatever higher power helped me to survive the NFOO for my little nephew's sake.

Done and done. 
But I learned about me through this little escapade - I learned that Vanci is not only going to be okay, she already is.  She's got her priorities straight these days and she lives be one of her favorite credos:  Never make anyone a priority in your life if they only choose to make you an option in theirs.