“Control is never achieved when sought after directly; it is the surprising result of letting go.”
~ James Arthur Ray
“Control is never achieved when sought after directly; it is the surprising result of letting go.”
~ James Arthur Ray
All around you, all the time, is language that is absorbed into your brain. Advertisements telling you “you’re lacking, buy this” or “you’re unhappy, buy that.” The voices of your parents, alive or as ghosts. Those are particularly hard to ignore. They adhere to your insides, leach into your bloodstream. Contaminate. The voices in your mind. The echos in the very back. The broken records that blend in with background noise. That we don’t even realize are there, are guiding our boat, are triggering the storms. So many intrusive messages you didn’t choose, you never had a say in.
But what about the ones you do get to choose. The facebook group posts. Are they angry? Are they distraught? All of their voices march into your head. Onslaught. Their cries of pain, their desperation, your brain soaks that in. What messages are you letting in? The company you keep. The friends and the ‘friends.’ Do they complain constantly? Are they victims of life? Or do they have hope? Do they believe in humanity? Do they seek out ways to improve, to help others, to evolve? Look around you. Make conscious choices. You might not have had any control over the world around you as a child. But you are no longer that child. You get to decide your habitat. You pick the decorations, the furniture, the art on the walls of your mind.
The anchors you cling to from familiarity, only you get to decide when to let go. The knives you’re squeezing in your hands. Only you get to pick when you’re ready to set them down.
What are you going to choose?
I am so, so, so, so sorry. There are no words that can possibly ever come close to describe how sorry I am. Our mom says we were monsters. I was a monster. I expertly studied and executed what our father demonstrated. When it came time to engage, the lever that controls all emotion was pulled down to the off position. I was calculating, cruel and efficient. I analyzed your weak spots and sliced with precision. I was good at it. I enjoyed it, the skill and expertise. I did not think about the consequences. I acted, concluded, then went back to whatever I was working on before. I was actually surprised, and somewhat annoyed, by how long it took you to “get back to normal.” I had no idea what I was doing to you. I didn’t actually understand you. I never bothered to try. I only knew my boundaries, and operated with those in every situation. It took years of confusion, of making people uncomfortable, and of offending people, before it suddenly dawned on me that other people have different boundaries.
But that’s not what this writing piece is about. This is about two girls trying to establish order after the tyrant was exiled. Two strong and stubborn leaders fighting for dominance and control. Two rulers angry over the non-compliance of the other. We were children (she 10, me 12) taking on adult roles, using the tools our parents taught us. And those tools were violent and sadistic.
This is about accepting responsibility for my actions. This is about guilt, and figuring out how to release it. I was awful. But I was a child.
This is about reframing. I have happily looked down on my sister as an example of all the things I have overcome and decided not to be – victim, martyr, high on justified anger and anxiety, drama seeking, pathetic. But it’s not that simple. She is a strong, capable human being who is using different tools to survive. And truthfully, at this point, after over 5 years of little to no contact, she’s a stranger. Think about how much I’ve changed in the last 5 years, I am a completely different person. She is too. It has been so easy to make her the bad guy. It’s so easy to make people the bad guys. And so much more complicated to see them as they really are, complex creatures worthy of love and respect.
I peel. I peel off the skin on my cuticles. I peel off the skin around the sides of my fingers. I find an uneven spot and dig in and pull strips of skin away. Sometimes it’s little pieces at a time. Sometimes it’s a big chunk of skin. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t peel. Over the years my fingertips have lost more and more sensitivity. Most of the time it doesn’t bleed. But when it does, it’s time to stop, those are my rules. I peel when I’m stressed. I peel when I’m bored. I peel when I’m watching tv, when I’m taking a shower, when I’m in the car driving. Sometimes it’s intentional. I’m inspecting my fingers to find spots that need to be peeled. Most of the time I don’t even realize I started doing it until it starts hurting. I get in a trance. Fingers feeling a long other fingers searching for uneven surfaces. My fingers are on autopilot, alien ants working industriously with no apparent leader. I peel to try and create smoothness, which is the exact opposite result I always get. I peel to escape the present. The tactile experience is soothing, comforting. So is the pain. It’s never too painful, it’s just the right amount of soreness, a welcome sensation to focus on, to disappear from the now. Once I start, I can’t stop until I’m done. But what is done when there is always more uneven spots that need to be peeled. I find a place in my mind that is good enough, and force myself to focus on something else. I need to stop. But I don’t want to. I don’t know how to stop. I won’t let myself stop. I’ve never told any of my doctors about it. Intentionally not peeling creates an intense level of anxiety and the inability to focus on anything else. I’m not ready to stop. But I have to, I must. My child is peeling too. She learned it from me. The guilt I feel is crushing. I tell her to stop. What a hypocrite I am. But I also tell her to stop me if I’m doing it. I do my best not to do it in front of her. I’ve made that a new rule, and I’m struggling to follow it. Even just writing about this makes the urge so strong. Here I go again.
This burning anger. She’s keeping me waiting again. She doesn’t respect me. She is actively insulting me with her behavior. She’s pissing me off! It’s not my mom, this time. It’s my 5 1/2 year old child. She’s driving me crazy…being developmentally appropriate. I have mapped my childhood years of neglect and rage onto my baby. How do I stop? How do I not get pissed when she stalls or procrastinates or ignores me or refuses to do what I tell her to? I try to remind myself, “she’s 5, she’s only 5.” That helps, a little. But I still have this timer in my head, this schedule. I feel like I’m always failing to follow it, to keep up with it. My husband gently suggested allowing more flexibility into the schedule. “We don’t have to eat right at 6pm.” He’s right. My schedule times are kind of arbitrary. Self-imposed requirements. I picked them, so I can adjust them. What happened to my ability to be flexible? I had it when I was teaching. “Overprepare, but be flexible,” was my motto. But with my child I just want to get through each item on the checklist. Check it off, move to the next item, efficient. Except that it’s not working. I’m not enjoying any of the to-do’s. And I’m sure she can tell, sense it. How do people enjoy these lather, rinse, repeat duties? I guess maybe they can recognize how fleeting this is in the long run. Before I know it, I won’t get to nag her to get in the bath already. I won’t get to cradle and rock her in her towel afterwards. She’ll be showering all on her own. Before I know it, I won’t be arguing with her at bedtime over which books to read and which songs to sing. She’ll wave to me, “goodnight,” and head upstairs on her own. She’s only this sweet, adorable age for a little while. This is what I need to remember. Also, she’s not my mother.
I’m holding it together. But only just.
The words are back – the liars. They’re telling me, I’m telling me, that I’m a failure as a parent. I’m so mean to my little girl. That voice, I cut her open with contempt. All she wants is a mother’s love. I’m her mother. But I forget. Just do what you’re supposed to do. What I want you to. Obey. But she’s 5. She’s supposed to be her own person. And I crush her. She bounces back. But what damage have I done. What scar tissue am I generating under that beautiful, soft skin.
How do I stop.
Please let this be hormones – this depth of this
suffering crying guilt.
Does this mean I’ve failed. That I need to go back onto antidepressants.
I’m so tired. The mantra of my life.
Door slams shut inside. Feel nothing feel nothing feel nothing. Maybe if I hold really still, this will go away.
I got as a gift a necklace with a religious symbol. Wearing it I feel exposed. It’s so different than it was 10+ years ago. I had that same symbol, a larger one actually, proudly displayed around my neck. I was an in your face kind of gal. I wrapped myself up in all sorts of layers of my identity. And I hid behind them all. It was a construct. A construct I believed in, but a construct no less. I felt safe and powerful. Fast forward 10+ years and I no longer wish to display who I am. I no longer want that kind of attention, or any kind of attention really. And wearing that symbol makes me feel naked. It’s no one’s business what religion I am. My religion is private, personal and I want to decide when and with whom I share that information. I can’t really do that with it hanging around my neck.
I hate you. But I know we are so much alike, that the hatred is really for myself. When I fell apart, when I wasn’t present, in the very beginning, you were here loving my daughter with all your heart, taking sleep shifts with my husband, preparing food, cleaning, and you know, running my household. Well I’m not broken anymore, may I please have my household back? My feelings of gratitude for what you did are tangled up with my guilt and shame and self-hatred. You are good at what you do, running everything. I remember the first time I went to visit for Xmas, you had so many events well-coordinated, herding everyone from one place to another, probably like you ran your classrooms when you used to teach. I was impressed. Now that you’re retired and an empty-nester, I do understand that the skills and desire to organize and control others still exists, worse, is building under the surface like a volcano. But please don’t reorganize my daughter’s clothes. I especially didn’t enjoy that you hid the clothes you didn’t like, which I only came across long after when looking for something else. I’m really trying to run my own home. And when you come and take over, I have to wrestle all over again with my feelings of inadequacy as a mother and a wife. I know you think you’re helping, but you’re actually not. When you first started visiting every 2 months, I let you do your thing. It’s only 4 days, I told myself, as I’d bite my tongue. I especially didn’t appreciate when you’d tell strangers that you were the mom, not I. Oh, ha ha. I get it, my daughter, with her red hair and blue eyes, doesn’t look like me. I get it, okay. And it hurts every time you point it out. Because it grinds into a scabby, leaky part of my underbelly that remembers that I didn’t want her and didn’t love her, for which I will always feel so much shame and guilt. So, again, I respectfully ask, can you just please stop? I know that you love her very much, and that you feel like in your short visits you have to squeeze in as much happy memories as possible. But when my daughter hears that you’re visiting, all she wants to know is what did you buy her. I wish you would think about the values you are teaching her, rather than settling for the short term gratification.
And one more thing, the most important, stop feeding my daughter CRAP.
I get it, you were raised eating a certain way. But that way doesn’t work for my daughter. Every time after you leave, she deals with very painful constipation. Both my husband and I have tried being nice about it, but to be honest, we haven’t been the least effective. At first, we didn’t tell you. Maybe twice, three times, was an anomaly. Well now, after your visits, and even on weeks like this when you haven’t visited, my daughter will decide she that pooping hurts and refuse to do so, for days. Well as you can imagine, this exacerbates the problem. And now, instead of just a physical issue, it’s a psychological one. Think about it, for the last couple years, every two months pooping becomes extremely painful for her. And it’s my fault. I didn’t have the guts to stand up to you. I was afraid of making you mad. And I am so angry at myself. This is my child, I should be able to protect her no matter what. But I didn’t. And now I’m paying the price…no, she is. If this was as simple as abuse, I would have no problem risking my safety to protect her. But too much ice cream and crackers? How do I make you understand just how much damage you do by changing my daughter’s diet? How can I get you to listen to me?? You argue with me about every decision I make every step of the way, and you always have an answer for every thing I tell you. You are arriving in 6 days. I’m ready to be the bad guy. You can hate me all you want. You can tell all your friends about what an awful daughter in law I am. But I am not leaving you alone with my child. I won’t let you hurt her anymore.
Every day I listen to the same guided meditation. Nermala says to take a deep breath, and as I exhale, let go of one non-nourishing behavior. Let go. There are so many things I need to let go of. My two favorites are guilt and shame. Every day I try to let go of them. Yesterday I tried to let go of control. If I could really let go of control I would be free of my anxiety. Control is the noose around my neck. Control is sister to my mean, punishing thoughts. They hold hands and skip together as I crumple, crumble and cry. They dance together on my face, my heart, and my soul. I’d love to be rid of you, control. You’re a nasty habit. You’re a tightness and tension in my shoulders and neck. You’re a bed of nails. If I could let you go, I could enjoy my time with my daughter. That is something I would like most of all. To fully experience and appreciate her delight, creativity, enthusiasm and love. I want to be close with her, to connect with her. Control is the wall separating us. It’s cold and barbed, it’s so self-assured. It insists it’s right where it belongs. But it’s not. It’s not necessary, and it’s definitely not wanted. F*** you, control. I want you gone! Of course, pushing it away just makes the grip stronger. It won’t budge, it digs its heels in. So how do I get rid of you. Let go. How do I let go. I take a deep breath…and I let go. I don’t need you, control. I’m just going to relax over here (for as long as I can). And every day I will take more deep breaths, and let go. One of these days it’ll work, I know it. I can create new habits that don’t involve control. It took me 30+ years of wielding control as a habit, I give myself permission to take a while – a long while, if necessary – to let go of control. No, you’re not gone yet. But that’s ok, little by little we will part ways. Every day I will wander a little further away from you.