Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gifts That Matter

I love this time of year; hanging with the kiddos, seeing generosity and random kindness on the street, dwelling on gratitude, the overall wind-down of yet another year and the reflection and memories that come with that, and the anticipation of a bright, shiny new one.  Man, those are the things I live for.

But I am beginning to be oh-so-tired of some of the parts of this season.
Holidays are celebrations, to me, ceremonies to mark the passage of another chunk of this great big ball of life.  This hasn't been the best year in the casa de Vanci, on the surface.  We've had lots of sickness, lots of issues to deal with, lots of pain (both the good, growing kind and the bad, I can't fix this kind.)  We've also had some goodness, sure, but a lot of the goodness that's come our way has been of the silver lining variety, so it's been bittersweet.  That's okay, it's all just part of being messy human beans, and I like that about us; we don't have to pretend to be anything other than we are.

I learned long ago to take the sweet however it comes and to make it my own.  I grew up in a world where there was never a good feeling without strings attached, there was never even a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, there was very little kindness or compassion and what limited amount there was certainly wasn't freely given to me.  In fact, I provided a lot of that care for others, whether I wanted to or it was taken from me.

It's hard for me to find balance between my natural inclination to reach out to those around me and show them that they matter to me and my overwhelming desire to isolate and insulate myself from the world at large.  I'm not depressed and I'm not afraid of people, but I'm starting to become... well, disgusted is the word for it, with the people around me and their bastardization of this lovely season.

I cannot count how many times I have been asked this week, "Are you ready for Christmas?"
I respond the same way every time, "Sure I am.  Why can't it be tomorrow?"  And I smile.
And I'm stared at because this has become a weird answer to that question in a society that values price-tags over time spent.
The PC and correct answer to the question above, of course, is to launch into a monologue about how many gifts I have left to purchase, and to bitch about how expensive everything is.  I hear this exchange all day long.  And I don't get it.

As a group my co-workers and I decided that we wanted to do something for our boss.  There was an email chain circulating for quite a while with suggestions for this single, well-off, fifty year old woman who happens to be intensely private with her personal life.  A wine basket?  A cheese basket?  A chocolate basket?

Really?  Why not just collect the money, shred it up into confetti and give her that?  What's she going to do with yet another basket of crap?  She can afford her own wine, cheese and chocolate, trust me folks.
So I suggested that we make a charitable donation in her name.
Which was like the frickin' shot heard round the world for a couple of minutes there.  Dead stop.  Then everybody chimed in about what a great thing that would be.
Like it was a new idea, like no one had ever (gasp) done it that way before, like such a thing was unheard of.    So that's what we did and she was touched to tears by it.  It mattered to her that we had found a charity we knew she would support, and that we'd thought to do something for her and for others.

It's not lost on me that my focus on gifts that matter is born, at least partly, of my upbringing as an ACoN.  N's in general suck at gifts, and Nparents tend to use gift-giving as yet another weapon against their children, golden and scapegoat alike.  They use gifts like they use everything, to their benefit.  Growing up, the quantity and quality of gifts given to one child or another was in direct proportion to that child's conformity to their allotted role in my house.  When I was a good little scapegoat, a quietly acquiescent of the abuse victim, I got nicer things, or at least larger piles of middle of the road things.  When I began to speak out, stand up, make waves, the piles of things got smaller and the gifts I received became things that Nsis wanted or that GCYB had asked for - except that I'd get the generic brand or the size too small.  On one notable occasion, ENF gave me a giant box of his used pots and pans (dusty and wrapped in newspaper,) as my only Christmas gift.  This was at the last Christmas we spent with them, and was after I'd started making too much noise about what needed to change in the Clan.  Point taken.  At some point during a lifetime of this type of abuse, gifts stopped mattering much to me, no wonder.

And they don't count for much now, except that the gifts I receive now from the real people in my real life of a loving family of choice are often things that show how much I mean to the people around me.  DH and the DD's always get me things like sweatpants and soft blankets and warm socks and slippers.  On the surface that might not seem like much, but it's incredibly thoughtful as I am always cold.  (Right now it's snowing.  Again.  Nineteen inches accumulated in twenty-four hours.  TW, come take your weather back!)  My BIL and SIL always get me something that speaks to me; a book, a magazine subscription that supports one of my hobbies, etc.  They are gifts that say, Vanci we know you and we think you'll like this!

I try to do the same for all the people in my life, too.  I spend time thinking about them and what I know of them and trying to envision what will make them feel just a little more special or let them know that I see them, hear them, support them, love them for their very own skin and everything it holds in.  That's what makes the gifts matter to me, not the price tag or the trend du jour or what the Jones's have.   That's what takes the crassness out of the commercialization of the generous season, I guess.

So that's what I keep coming back to, what are the gifts that matter?

For me, the greatest gift I've ever been given was the support of the people around me as I've extricated myself from the Crazymaker Clan and stayed out.  They don't really get it, most of them, what it's like to live through that and to get away from that, but they don't have to.  They just love and support me anyway, even when they don't understand.

And the greatest gift I've given myself?  The peace of No Contact, of course, and permission to enjoy it.
So am I ready for Christmas number six without the Narcs and Minions?
Oh yessirree Bob.  Let's move it up to tomorrow.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Hard-Won Knowledge

I talk a lot about what I think and what I've come to believe.
I'm an idea person; as DH sometimes alludes to as he walks away, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, "Always thinking, just always thinking."

And I am.  I'm a curious kitty, though I've been nicknamed a 'bulldog' more than once in my life by more than one person.  I dig and I scratch and I pull and I push and I wiggle in from behind to see what the underlying essence of a thing is; what's at the core.  I've learned not to look for understanding so much as to seek to know a thing.  I want to find the shape, smell, the texture of that thing at the core, whatever it is, and to know if for what it is, even if I can't understand its why.  I want the truth.  No, scratch that, the Truth.  I want to know it and to never attempt to unknow it again.

These are a few of the things that I know, a few Truths I've collected along the way.  Thoughts are malleable, as they should be.  Beliefs are changeable, as they should be.  Show me a man or woman who is incapable of changing their beliefs or thoughts and I will show you at best an un-well person, at worst a narcissist, a psychopath, a sociopath.  But Truths?  They remain.  They don't change.  The are.

What's the Truth, as Vanci sees it?

The source of pain has to be acknowledged in order for the pain to be lessened.
Skeletons in closets are always noisy.
Vulnerability and weakness play on opposite teams.
I am the only person in the entire universe who can create safety for myself.
My actions are always my responsibility, and if I don't like them, changing them belongs to me too.
Evil exists.
So does love.

Stephen King said it best,
"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too.  They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

But this is a truth too; sometimes they lose. 
That's a Truth that I hold onto tightly.


Monday, December 3, 2012


I was raised in a torture chamber - and I mean that in both the literal and metaphorical senses, depending on the particular day of my childhood, early adolescence and young adulthood that I'm discussing.  Like the senator's daughter at the other end of Buffalo Bill's basket full of lotion, I shouldn't have been able to get out of the carefully crafted pit my Nparents (and later on, their minions in NSis, GCYB and others) held me prisoner in.

But I did get out.  Sometimes I had help; ropes to safety lowered by people who were willing to save me by helping me to save myself.  Sometimes I didn't have any help at all, sometimes I was all alone in the darkness, and then I had to fight to stay alive, to stay sane, to stay focused on that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  I've discovered that a large part of healing has to do with finding the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other with an idea of that light as a goal.  I never stopped trying, and if I can credit myself with any part of my escape, it is that; I never stopped trying to find the way out.

I also got lucky, though, and to forget to acknowledge that feels criminal.

A lot of us don't get out, a lot of us don't make it.  I had many aborted and failed attempts at freedom before I found myself in the perfect storm of will, thought and circumstance that helped to propel me out of the hole.  I think that it's a chicken-or-the-egg question to wonder if I created all those ingredients or if I was simply blessed with their presence at the right time and the the right place, and it's one that I don't spend a lot of time looking for an answer to as the end result is the same; I'm out.  Well and truly out.

So I come here to write about that; what it was like and how it changed and how it is now.  I am as open as I can be in the real world and here about these things, but there are certain facts of my life that don't fit well into polite conversation while waiting in line at the grocery store or bank, that I don't drop casually into conversation at my daughters' sporting events or choir concerts.  I will talk about it if it's called for, but it rarely is.  My survival of the NFOO sadists and abusers is the focus of my conversation here, though, and I talk about the path of that survival a lot here.

So, tonight, a question that I don't often address; was it worth it?
All that struggle, all that pain of infinite change and chain-breaking, all the discomfort of prying open sealed closet doors and dragging moldy skeletons out into the light - is the life that I have now, in comparison to the life that I had before, worth all of that work?  I mean, I talk so much about what I've lost, what I no longer have, what I never had in the first place and what I may never have again.  What about the life that I have now; was it worth it?

Well, here's what I got out of it, ladies and gentlemen, here's an abbreviated list of the payouts.

At the point that I escaped from the NFOO, I had an almost failing marriage.  DH and I, we were okay in the sense that we both recognized that the DD's needed stability and we could provide that.  We didn't want to disrupt their lives any more than they already had been, so we had a mutual and unspoken agreement that we'd just ride this shitheap of a relationship out.  As I'm sure most ACoN's know, it's not easy to have a relationship of any kind when you spend every minute of every day lying to yourself in one way or another.

Now, though, DH and I are fantastic.  I'm realler than real, and he digs the real me.  I can see who he really is and I genuinely like the guy.  We are, ahem, in love.  More in love than we ever have been and we love spending time together; we have an awesome time just being in each other's company.  We are strong together and we both take time to seek understanding and joy in our relationship.  We're not perfect, but we merrily acknowledge our flaws and choose the ways in which we'll grow together.  My marriage is one of the highlights of my days, and that's been going on for several of the (NC) years.

My relationship with my DD's was pretty fragile at the end of contact with the NFOO.  The Girls (as they are affectionately known in our household) had been hurt by the N's, too, particularly in the sense that all the N's spent a healthy dose of energy undercutting the Girls' relationships with their mom and dad (DH and me.)   We're talking about giving them secret diaries to communicate behind my back with, leading them with questions about what they would do if their mom ever forbade contact, telling them stories about how fucked up I was as a teenager and planting the seeds to imply that they couldn't trust me.  Just your basic Narc arsenal stuff.

Now, though, the relationship between the Girls and me is good.  They're teenagers, so there's always something going on in their hormone fueled and developing brains and actions, but our relationship is normal by basic mother-teenaged daughter standards and dynamics.  I set boundaries - they test them.  We discuss.  They sometimes step out of those boundaries, and depending on the type of boundary it is, we either discuss expanding the boundaries (curfews) or we talk about the reason that their misstep just made the boundary tighter (not being where they are supposed to be or keeping in contact about their location.)  Either way, no matter what, love is never a card that gets thrown on the table.  Their self-worth isn't up for grabs.  They're learning how to be responsible for themselves, and I'm learning how to let them.  Pretty freekin' normal, I think.

When I escaped from the NFOO, one of my primary fears was the loss of relationships that I felt that I couldn't be without: mother, father, sister, brother, uncle.  I couldn't imagine a world in which I didn't have these family ties.  It felt scary to even contemplate their loss; like walking a tight rope with no safety wires or nets.

I did lose these relationships, but the gift of these losses was two-fold; first, I realized in that temporary void of those ties that the relationships I'd had in those categories were painful relationships that I didn't want to repeat.  Second, I realized that I could form a better version of these types of relationships with people who didn't share even a portion of my genetic code.  I have several close sister-like, brother-like and even mother-and-father-like relationships now with members of my family of choice; people that define these family roles as they should be, by their loving actions.  I reciprocate, too.

Even on the material front, I had suffered so many losses at the hands of the NFOO's training.  GCYB still, to this day, has not repaid a single red cent of the several thousand dollars that DH and I loaned him to start his business.  That was seven years ago and the business (from what I can tell) is now defunct.  We've long since paid off the loan that we took out for those funds for him, though, and without the additional financial burdens inherent in my Scapegoat role (paying NSis to 'watch' my children when she chose not to work, paying for every meal out ever eaten with them, paying for every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, paying for all the emergency needs that they always seemed to have, etc,) DH and I will be completely debt free (apart from mortgages) in the next month or so.

My drinking is my responsibility and I accept that.  In the struggle to get free, though, toward the end, my drinking escalated severely and any semblance of normal drinking melted utterly into my alcoholic spiral toward devastation.  My health, sanity and overall well-being were sincerely compromised.  I am only sober today because of NC with the NFOO.  They NEVER would have allowed my sobriety if they were still in the picture, and would have spent loads of time and energy sabotaging my sobriety if they'd been around.  Sober Vanci is a clear-thinking Vanci after all, and that's the LAST thing the Narcs want from their previously well-trained Scapegoat.

Due to my sobriety and the work that I needed to do on myself - which was made so incredibly apparent by the decision to go NC - I was able to land in a job/career that suits me to a T, in which I am appreciated, adequately compensated and valued.  This would not have happened when I was part of the NFOO; too much of my energy was being vamped away on a daily basis for me to pay attention to my job.

So, a quick wrap up list of the things in my life that are awesome without the NFOO in my life (that otherwise would not be so:)

My awesome marriage.
My fantastic relationship with my daughters.
My incredible group of supportive friends and FOC.
My fiscal well-being.
My ability to stay sober.
My fitting career and pleasure in my job.

Somehow, I think I got the best of the deal.