Facing Voldemort.

Regrettably, it has been a few weeks since my last blog post, but on the positive side: much growth has occurred.

“He knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet . . . he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible. . . .”  – J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter’ series

In a previous post, I spoke about the choices I have recently been confronted with in my relationship with my mother. I made the decision to agree to speak with her over the phone, with my objectives being to clarify the boundaries I’ve set to protect myself as well as to make clear the contingencies that need to be respected if she desires to have a physical presence in my life. Our conversation was successful on this behalf, but not very much so beyond that…

From the beginning of our conversation, my mother insisted upon the fact that she has been doing SO MUCH WORK on herself. She spoke about the past 6 months as if she had resolved all of her childhood issues, adulthood issues and urged me to “forgive and forget” any of her maternal “inconsistencies.” She noted that she has been going regularly to church, to include a Wednesday night Bible Study as well as working one-on-one with a “spiritual adviser.” She expressed that she is now able to understand the Bible and that she uses her understanding to guide her in her everyday life. 

Okay, so…when does the alcoholism and mistreatment get directly addressed?

It didn’t. Because…it doesn’t. Meaning, it won’t. In a 45 minute conversation, my mother spoke about her relationship with her church and spiritual adviser as if she just naturally arrived at this interest. Like she just woke up one day and felt inspired to establish a connection with (Christian) God. As if she just signed up for this Bible Retreat because it seemed promising and *boop* everything damaged within her has become shiny and brand new. This is problematic for two reasons…

For one, her story is not true. She did not embark upon this religious journey because it felt right and she felt intrinsically motivated to do so. She has sought out this religious journey because 1) Ever the narcissist, it looks good to other people. It maintains the desired image she wishes to wield and hopefully makes me appear unreasonable for distancing myself from her, 2) She thinks I will be impressed by it or at least my ‘rebellion (i.e. the decision I’ve made to be direct with her about my childhood pain, her alcoholism and my newly established boundaries for emotional protection)’ will be pacified, and 3) because the man she is currently co-dependently-ever-after with is a religious figure. And since she has successfully meshed both of their identities into one (meaning, his..) she is no longer using her own words or ideas to navigate herself through life. I need a whole nother day to blog about her co-dependent relationship pattern with abusive men and its presence in my childhood…

Secondly, this is problematic because it slaps anyone who has ever genuinely walked the rocky path of recovery hard across the face. Myself included. I might not be recovering from direct alcoholism, though alcoholism played a prominent role in my childhood environment, but I know that 40+ years of alcohol abuse doesn’t just miraculously become resolved in 6 months. Sometimes I think she must still see me as the naive 8 year old that used to clean up her vomit in the middle of the night and change her pajamas for her whenever she got black-out drunk. The same 8 year old who made a game out of playing doctor in the morning and kept a journal of her symptoms when she’d tell me she was suddenly ill (though, as an adult I realize that she was just hungover–I still have that “doctor” journal to this day. It chills me to see how blatant it was then.). But that’s unfortunately what she does…manipulate the other party’s lack of access to knowledge about something by strongly claiming that things are the extreme opposite of what they seem.

Anyone who has genuinely walked the path of recovery knows that it is a lifelong process. You don’t feel the effects of your recovery so immediately. In fact, you spend the first year or so feeling so uncomfortable about all that you are challenging yourself to do differently that you can’t even tell if it’s really working. That’s how I felt in the first year of my own journey in recovery from my childhood. I still continue to grapple with how much I’ve really progressed. Less-so as I get stronger and stronger, but I’ve accepted that the grappling is just something that will constantly play a role in my journey.

So for my mother to get on the phone and claim that everything is perfect and fixed and if I could just get over myself and forget what happened and stop bringing it up into everything and be her best friend, is absurd. I told her that if she is really doing the work that she says she is, that it will naturally manifest in her behavior towards me and furthermore that that would be the “evidence” I’ll require in order to begin building trust. I told her that in the meantime, there is going to continue to be a distance between us, because while I can and have forgiven her, it is impossible to forget what has all happened between us because it has had a major role in making me who I am today. The bad goes right along hand-in-hand with the good. There is no magical delete button that I can press and then all of my deepest fears and anxieties just disappear. Trust me, if it existed I’d have pressed that shit 9 years ago when I left Boston to escape that household. I wouldn’t press it now, though. I have grown an appreciation for all that I’ve been through. It has provided me with a unique lens through which to see the world; interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. 

I made the point to mention to my mother that while it sounds like she is feeling supported through church and her spiritual adviser, it would be valuable to share her alcoholism with them OR to at least seek a form of therapy via Alcohol Anonymous, Al-Anon, or–especially–private professional therapy. I acknowledged the  fact that since alcohol has played such a huge role in her life and her coping mechanisms have been built around it, she would be remiss to leave that out of any dialogue. Her response was that she has too much going on in her life and doesn’t have any time to do anything like that.

What that says to me is that acknowledging her alcoholism and seeking help is not a priority to her. In one sentence she made it very clear to me that while she is doing some things to give the outward impression of progress and growth, she is still protecting her disease. And while she’s certainly got a lot going on, alcoholism stands boldly at the core of her arbitrary issues. Thankfully, I went into our interaction not having any expectations for her to acknowledge or work on her alcohol abuse. I stuck to my guns and to my goals. By the end of our phone conversation, I made it very clear to her that while I can’t control whether she continues to drink or not, that she will not drink around me. If she were to make the choice to drink in my presence (while in the company of other family or otherwise), I would promptly remove myself from the situation and leave from wherever we may be. I also reinforced to her that my wife & I will no longer be staying in a house with her, to maintain a healthy emotional boundary.

It felt really good to assert myself and stand up to the biggest bully of my life. It felt great to protect my emotional and psychological stability and articulate an contingency. Because I can’t tell her how to live her life. I can’t be the person that holds all her shit together for her while she continues to be reckless. I can’t be her emotional punching bag when she’s upset or attack dog when she feels threatened. All I can do is create a safe space for myself and make the best choices I can to maintain that sense of stability and security I yearned for as a child. It’s okay that she could never provide this environment for me, because for once in my life, I realize that I have the power to provide it for myself.

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A Step Towards Healing: Part II

In my first Step Towards Healing, I highlighted a book that sparked an awakening and awareness in me about what I had experienced through childhood and how it had affected me in becoming an anxious and mal-adapted young adult. From that first step, I’ve continued to pick up books and seek out resources to help deepen my understanding and develop a safe & healthy game plan for my recovery as an adult child of an alcoholic family.

The next book I picked up is titled “Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics” by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D. Dr. Ackerman has decades of clinical experience in helping women who have been affected by alcoholism, particularly those who have an alcoholic mother, father–or both. I liked this book because it really digs deep into the psychology of the adult daughter in all of these scenarios. While adult children of alcoholics share have many traits in common (as discussed in Part I), defense mechanisms & coping skills vary depending on who in the child’s life was the alcoholic (mother-only; father-only; both parents) and furthermore how the other parent (if present) behaves in response to their spouse’s addiction.

This book hit me two-fold. First, it gave me some very interesting insight about my mother. I am fully aware of alcoholism’s strong presence in my family history as a whole. My parents have been divorced since before my first memories. I’m sure I will talk about the abusive relationship between my mother and my father in blog posts to come, but the relevant information to share right now is that after my mother left my father, she moved back in with her parents–my grandparents. I was raised in a house with my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather (until he passed). My grandparents are alcoholics.

My grandfather’s alcohol abuse eventually killed him (kidney & liver failure). He was on dialysis and still sneaking drinks until the day he died. In their day, he and my grandmother were perpetual party people and heavy drinkers, often leaving my mother (& aunt) unattended. Thankfully, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my grandfather’s death was a wake-up call for my grandmother. He passed when I was 5 years old, in Kindergarten. In the wake of his death, something clicked for my grandmother and she (successfully) went on her own journey to recover from her many years of alcohol abuse. This of course was too late to “raise” and “rescue” my mother who was already 36 years-old and alcohol-dependent, so my grandmother invested her parental redemption in me. If it weren’t for this, I don’t know where I would be..but I digress.

Perfect Daughters granted me tons of insight in coming to realize that not only is my mother an alcoholic, she is also an adult daughter of alcoholics. The book talks about the coping skills adult daughters develop in response to having two alcoholic parents, as well as discussing their high likelihood of becoming self-harmers and substance abusers. I saw so much of my mother in this book, more than I saw myself, and gained a sense of empathy for her. I was able to release some of the anger I had been walking around with since my teenage years when I realized how much she much be hurting on the inside, too. This did not by any means excuse her behavior, because I realize that our lives are largely a product of the choices we make (after we acknowledge the access to resources & privileges some of us have over others [men v. women; Caucasian v. persons of color; wealth v. poverty; able-bodied v. those living w/handicap, etc]). But Perfect Daughters did help to humanize my mother, in my mind. I remember thinking, I wonder if she would seek help and therapy if she were to read this book. But then also realizing that she would never accept it from me because she would manage to see it as an insult or a pass of judgement.

The other way that Perfect Daughters impacted me was in understanding myself. I found my own mentality reflected within its pages. There is a section in the book called “Childhood Lessons.” This section urges the reader to look back on their life and identify whether or not they learned these unintended lessons within the process of adjusting to an alcoholic family and coming-of-age. Below are the selections from the larger list of lessons that I highlighted because I realized that I had been living these lessons my whole life:

  • If I can control everything, I can keep my family from becoming upset.
  • Whatever happens is my fault, and I am to blame when trouble occurs.
  • People who love you the most are those who cause you the most pain.
  • If I don’t get too close emotionally, you cannot hurt me.
  • Nothing is wrong, but I don’t feel right.
  • Expressing anger is not appropriate
  • I’m unique, and my family is different from all other families.
  • I can deny anything.
  • I am not a good person.
  • I am responsible for the success of a relationship.
  • To be acceptable, everything must be perfect

Dr. Ackerman goes on to write, “These childhood lessons become imprints or beliefs that you have about yourself, and they begin to dictate your expectations of yourself and your behaviors…However, you have survived and somehow you have maintained some balance in your life. Therefore, you must have learned other lessons that have served you well or have allowed you to survive.” The latter section of that quote, I immediately think about my relationship with my grandmother as she played the role of emotionally-available parent in my life.

The book provides profiles for the 8 different patterns of behaviors that develop in adult daughters. I was able to identify my mother within these profiles, as well as discovering myself as  an “Achiever” and “Detacher”. The most valuable part of this book for me was that Dr. Ackerman acknowledges that each type has both positive and negative traits.

In the last part of Perfect Daughters Dr. Ackerman provides tons of information about how an adult daughter (or child) can help their own recovery. I found this to be really valuable because I hadn’t known where to begin in acquiring and building healthy skills for myself before reading this book. When I started reading Perfect Daughters I was still in a place where I was trying to understand if alcoholism really had affected me or was I just hypersensitive & paranoid. Within the first 100 pages, I came to the realization that what I had felt in Part I was very real and that there were most certainly somethings amiss. 

Perfect Daughters helped me to build up the confidence to continue to  go forth in my healing & recovery. It helped me to understand my mother’s behavior on a higher-level and therefore I started to develop more realistic expectations for our relationship (what I deserve v. what she is capable of). Whether you are a daughter or son of alcoholics, I encourage you to see out this book if maternal alcoholism has been present in your life in one way or another. I look forward to sharing my next steps towards healing and the resources that have helped get me here, in the future.

On Loving a Functional Alcoholic.

This post is an elaboration on a response I made to a comment from And Everything Afterwards’ entry titled “Talk to Your Children about Alcohol.”

My mother is the primary, but not sole, alcoholic in my life. She is a high functioning alcoholic. And because there are people in my family who are alcoholics that cannot function as highly, she refuses to believe that she has a problem. I used to believe I was being overly sensitive about her drinking as a kid, because she didn’t look like the drunk-all-the-time, can’t-keep-a-job, beats-their-kids-to-a-pulp alcoholic popularized by USA media. Because those roles are usually reserved for men.

Mothers are multitasking, loving, selfless beings that deserve a drink or two to unwind, is what the media portrays. But what happens when mommy turns into someone else every night after she’s had several glasses of her wine and she’s passing out in the bathroom? What about when I have to help mommy put on her pajamas and tuck her into bed after cleaning up her vomit? As long as you get to school on time the next day and she goes in to work consistently, everything is fine. She might get a little out-of-control now and again, but she most definitely does not have a drinking problem because the bills are paid, you have a roof over your head and food on your plate.

This was very confusing for me growing up. As a matter of fact, it remained confusing for me until very recently (I am now in my late 20s). I knew as a kid that I didn’t like what alcohol did to my mother (and certain other family members). But I also knew that my mother was responsible about getting me to school, herself to work and making dinner every night. I suspect it must be just as confusing for the high-functioning alcoholic as it is for those that love them.

I have made the intentional effort to follow a few WordPress users’ sobriety blogs. I admire their strength. It takes a really strong person to be able to look at their self objectively and say “I have a problem and I’m the only one that can decide to fix it.” I know that breaking an addiction isn’t easy. I know that the resurfacing of issues you’ve done everything to bury and forget is a struggle. I know that no one is perfect and that people fuck up in their recovery sometimes. But I have incredible pride when reading the raw & honest accounts of the recovering alcoholics to whose blogs I’ve subscribed.

My wife says I should rid myself of expectations when it comes to my mother. I shouldn’t expect her to drink and I also shouldn’t expect her not to drink. I agree with her. Investing expectation in someone who has a warped sense of reality is dangerous. It would be like running back into the arms of a physically abusive lover. A relationship with a functional alcoholic[-in-denial] is the same. Of course you love them and you want nothing more than to believe that they will be better this time. But how many times do you have to hope for it to be better this time before you realize you’re playing Russian Roulette and they keep handing you a fully-loaded gun?

You did not sell them the gun. You did not load the gun. You cannot unload it. But you do have the power to stop playing the game. It will be painful–your heart will feel like it is ripping apart. You will feel guilty–who will be there to take care of them? You will bargain–what if I just do something to distract myself next time they drink? But until they make the decision that the gun is hurting them and the people they love, there is nothing you can do to keep them from self-harm.

I haven’t seen my mother in almost 6 months. I haven’t had a conversation with her (other than superficial banter during my wedding) in nearly 7 months. The last real conversation we had was about her last drinking binge and it resulted in her hanging up on me, calling my aunt (her sister) and shouting at her about how I was her “devil daughter.” It is pretty scary the person an addict becomes when you confront them about their addiction. It’s like approaching a caged tiger. All it wants to do is get out of the cage, but the closer you get to the latch, the more violent it becomes. It hates the cage, but it’s the only ‘safety & security’ it knows, so it’d rather hurt you than have to deal with adapting to the ambiguity of a cage-less environment. But the reality is that a tiger is a tiger and it cannot let itself out of a cage. We must stop seeing our beloved as a tiger and realize that they are a human being inside of a cage without a lock, and that they must grant their own freedom.

Some days go smoother than others. Some days I don’t think of my mother at all; on others, many things remind me of her. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but I can feel that I get stronger..little-by-little. I’ll never be invincible, that’s a fantasy. But I will get better and better at dealing with the deep pain of my childhood and the scrapes and cuts I get from time-to-time as an adult. I don’t have to reconnect with her (honestly, she is more avoiding me than vice-versa..), but I believe that I will, in the near future. It seems it would be impossible to go to my hometown to see family and not cross paths with her. So in the meantime, I’m building my strength and working on this whole No Expectations thing.

On Unconditional Love and Being “Good Enough”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”

Yesterday was my first full day back home from an awesome week-long vacation. My wife & I spent the week in Los Angeles with our closest friends (another married couple) at their relative’s house. We hiked the Hollywood hills, hit up a handful of SoCal’s most popular beaches, tried the local cuisine and even got a taste of the West Hollywood nightlife. While away, I implemented a new morning routine based in Mindfulness and Self-Improvement. Perhaps I’ll blog about that later, but for now it is not relevant to my inspiration for this post.

Being back home yesterday was difficult. I am an elementary school teacher currently on Summer Break, so I didn’t exactly have to go back to work, but there are so many things on my Summer To-Do list. I know a lot of people think that teachers have it easy in the Summer, but we are working just as hard, though thankfully at (ideally…) a slower pace. After my wife left for work, I made myself a To-Do list for the day. My list included working within a Professional Development course I am taking for work, doing some of my own school work (I am working towards another degree), making a phone call, unpacking my bags from the trip, going grocery shopping and working out.

These seemed like realistic goals. I’d easily be able to accomplish them on an average Wednesday, but I didn’t account for the fact that I am terribly jet-lagged on top of the usual vacation hangover we all experience to one extent or another after traveling. I felt overwhelmed as the hours ticked-by and I felt more & more exhausted. I wanted to have everything done by the time my wife got home, but it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

This is where I should have said to myself, “It’s okay, you’ve been traveling and your body is still adjusting to being back home. You can go grocery shopping later and if you don’t work out today it won’t be the end of the world. You tried your best and that’s all you could have asked for from yourself.” Instead, I told myself I was lazy, should have gotten up earlier, not shopped for running shoes online (I realized I couldn’t go for a run because I have been desperately needing new running shoes and had retired my old ones in California after taking them on one last rendez vous to the Hollywood sign–kinda like giving a dog all their favorite treats and taking them to the park before their appointment to be euthanized later that day), and just tried harder overall.

This was obviously very negative self-talk. When my wife got home the feeling of being a failure immediately sank in, because I still had grocery shopping and working out staring at me without a Strikethrough in sight. Once she got settled, we took our dog for her evening walk. Evening walks have an obvious benefit for our dog, but it is also a time where my wife & I are able to connect. During these walks, we have some of our best conversations–we process dreams, events that stood out at work, lingering thoughts on our minds, and voice our fears & anxieties. During our walk, I talked about the things I got done, but the conversation kept coming back around to me expressing how unaccomplished I was feeling.

My wife said that it sounded like I’d had some unrealistic expectations and that I needed to adjust my mindset, this was true. She also said that I had done a great deal considering how tired we both are (she called in to work in the morning to say she’d be in late so that she could sleep-in a few hours–much needed) and how much catching-up needed to get done. Since I had made the shopping list and did some meal-planning already, she suggested that once we got back from our walk, we’d just go food shopping together. I suggested that since it was a shorter list (only a half-week’s worth of items) that we could go to the closest grocery store instead of our usual market which is across town.

We agreed and the plan was set. but when she asked me what was on my mind after that, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that I still felt like a failure. Because I couldn’t accomplish my goals for that day on my own, I started freaking out about how I’d never accomplish all of my goals set for the Summer. I was complaining about how the Summer was almost over–which it is not–and that I had barely done anything to show for it–which is not true. We were now back in our house and I was sitting on our couch as she sat on the floor beside me. She stopped me and said all of the things I should have told myself earleir, “It’s okay, you’ve been traveling and your body is still adjusting to being back home. You can go grocery shopping later and if you don’t work out today it won’t be the end of the world. You tried your best and that’s all you could have asked for from yourself. You’ve been doing a lot this Summer–too much at times–and you’ve gotten so many things done or made progress within. I love you and I’m proud of you.”

Just as she said those last words, I realized that I didn’t believe her. Or at least, that I only believed half of it. I believed that she loved me, and I knew that everything she had said before that was true, but I felt a wall go up when she said she was proud of me. I felt I was trapped inside of a glass case and everything she said after I love you was muffled and I felt so alone. I told her that I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t. When she asked me why I felt that I could not believe her, I broke right down into tears because I knew exactly why.

***

When I was in High School, I ran as a sprinter in Track & Field. I was talented enough to be on the Varsity team from the beginning of my Freshman year. In my Senior year, I became Team Captain and managed to graduate with the School Record for having the most School Records. I had also been cast as a lead role in a Theatre production (I pursued acting in the Fall when sprinting season for Track was not active). I was selected by my teachers to take part in a Leadership class and met all credit requirements for early graduation. In order to maintain eligibility to run Track, I opted to partake in an Internship program my school offered in place of traditional classes for early graduation candidates which spanned across my final semester. Colleges were beginning to recruit me and after so many years of struggling to cope with my mother’s alcoholic behavior, I was so ready to leave Boston.

My mother never missed a Track meet. When I was cast in a play, she bought tickets to every show, every night we performed. She would constantly tell everyone how proud she was of me and would tell me in front of everyone how she always knew I could do anything I put my mind to, how I should always reach for the stars and just keep climbing higher and higher. “You are just so awesome and you continue to amaze me. I’m so proud of you, baby,” she’d say to me from within the crowd of my teammates after I stepped down from the podium with my Track medals. We’d come home and she’d put my new medals on the display shelf which sat in our den. This shelf was the first thing people would see whenever they came into our house, so of course they would always marvel over it and my mom would go on & on about how accomplished I was and how everyone should just see me run. Sounds like the ideal life & support system for a hard-working teenager, right?

One night, I had been chatting on AOL Instant Messenger with a friend, a girl. Our conversation had gone from talking about mundane daily things with the usual subtleties of flirting to talking about our fantasies and overtly flirting. You know, racy teenager shit…dry humping and ear-lobe nibbling and such. Anyhoo, it was about 9pm so by now my mom was her usual drunk self. She’d come home every night and open a bottle of wine while she cooked dinner and then would just keep drinking as the night went on until she decided she was drunk enough to fall asleep and not wake up with a hangover the next day so that she could go to work and “be herself” again.

She usually kept to herself (and by kept to herself, I mean she would shut herself in her room after dinner, watch TV and ignore my existence until I came in her room to say goodnight) and the computer was in my room, so I was used to keeping myself occupied either chatting online with my friends or playing video games. Which is why I was caught off-guard when she appeared in my doorway and told me she needed to pay a bill online so I would need to take a break from the computer for a bit. She was quite drunk at this time…unusually drunk for a weeknight…but I didn’t question her logic, because I’d usually try to keep our interactions brief when she was drinking anyway. I found that to be the best way to keep my anxiety low, since I couldn’t escape her altogether. I told my friend I was going to take a shower and I put up an Away Message.

This is the part of the story where you kind of have to have been in-the-know about the interwebs in the early 2000s and were familiar with AOL Instant Messenger and Away Messages. I had put up a message that said something punny about taking a shower, but in my hurried state to get out of the same room as my mother, I forgot to check the box that would hide all chat boxes, even if you received incoming messages, as long as the away message remained active. While I was in the shower, my friend sent me a message. Our chat box popped up on the screen while my mother was on the computer “paying a bill (I’m pretty sure she got on the computer to snoop, anyway..)” and she had read our whole conversation. When I got out of the shower, she confronted me, less-than-gracefully, about the content of the conversation.

“What the fuck is this?! Who is this person? What are doing on the computer that I pay for? Are you stupid? You must be stupid. I know you are stupid. You’re dumb. You’re dumber than Kevin (Kevin is the younger brother of one of my teammates who has Down Syndrome). He’s smarter than you. You’re not going to go anywhere in life. You can’t even get into college (I had yet to receive any acceptance letters from schools, it was still too early in the process) and you won’t. You–“

And that is where, for the first time in my life I went completely OFF on my mother. I interrupted her next sentence and screamed “SHUT THE FUCK UP! JUST SHUT UP. You can’t even stand up straight right now and you’re telling me that I’m dumb?! You’re so drunk that you can’t even speak without your words slurring. You’re always drunk. All you do is drink and then you tell me I’m a piece of shit. Leave me alone! I don’t even want to see you anymore. I HATE YOU. I really mean that I do, I hate you.

She ran down the hallway, into her room and slammed the door behind her. I could hear her crying through her door. I shut the computer off without even looking at it. I don’t even think I shut it down properly, I just hit the power button. I could still smell the Rain scented body wash on my skin. I sat on the side of my bed, in the farthest corner of my bedroom and started to cry, silently. I heard the shuffling of my grandmother’s feet coming up the hallway…she would never pick up her feet fully when she walked in the house, so her slippers made this shuffling noise everywhere she went. She came into my room and sat next to me on the bed.

She had a box of tissues in her hands. She took one tissue out and dabbed it on my face, then handed it to me. We sat there completely silent for a moment or two. The only sounds in the house were the faint sounds coming from the TV in the kitchen and my mother’s sobs coming from behind her door. After I got my breathing somewhat under control, my grandmother took my hand in hers. “Your mother is very sick. She’s not well. She shouldn’t have said those things to you, and you shouldn’t believe her. You are a great person. You work very hard, you’re smart and you’re beautiful.You are going to go so far in your life. I know it. You’re my baby and you always will be. I love you and I’m proud of you.” We hugged, and she shuffled her way out of my bedroom. I listened to her footsteps go down the hall. She never went to my mother’s room. That night when I went to bed, I kissed my grandmother goodnight and walked right around my mother’s room, closed my bedroom door and went to bed.

The next day, it was as if nothing had happened–almost. My mother was cold towards me and very short with her words, but never mentioned what happened that night. Not the next day and not ever again. In fact, we didn’t talk about it for almost a decade until I brought it up nearly a year ago as part of my recovery to say what had gone unsaid and to let her know that that night has always stood out to me in my mind and how terribly hurt I was that she acted like she was the only person hurt during that whole ordeal. She still doesn’t want to talk about it. Again, it is one of those times where I wonder if she was too drunk to remember or if she pretends she doesn’t understand how serious it is so that she doesn’t have to deal with it. Both are the worst-case scenario, so I don’t even know why I wonder to begin with.

***

That night was not the first time my mother had put me down while drunk after praising me all day. It was not the first time I doubted myself or my abilities, but it was probably the most outstanding because it was the first time I spoke up for myself. It was the first time I let my anger towards my mother for her drinking show and it was the first time I said anything without being concerned about whether or not it would hurt her feelings to share my own. But the terrible part is, I hadn’t fully realized until yesterday that I have been walking around believing my mother.

My grandmother’s words were so tender and so kind, just like my wife’s were yesterday. They came from a place of understanding and unconditional love. They are compassionate words and the feelings expressed within are 100% authentic. I realize that now, but when my wife first told me she loved me and was proud of me, I put up that glass case so that I wouldn’t have to believe her.

My wife has never done anything to suggest she’d say one thing, but mean (or be thinking) another. She is actually a very direct person, which is one of the things I love most about her. But after years & years of being told I was great by my mother, only to be cut down by her later, I started defaulting to the belief that I am a failure if I don’t get everything done and then some, all of the time. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by what all needs to get done that I won’t even try…I’ll put it off until I feel like dealing with it. Or I’ll only do one thing a day and then spend the rest of the day trying to distract myself from the fact that I could be doing things, but I’m not because I’m afraid to fail.

When someone commends me for doing a great job or gives me a compliment, I thank them…but on the inside I’m saying to myself “If only they knew what a failure I really am.” And that doesn’t make sense. How could everyone else have such wonderful things to say about me and my efforts, if I am secretly this failure? Where is the failure? I realize that I’ve developed the terrible habit of cutting myself down whenever someone shares something they appreciate about me (even when it’s something as small as saying they like my shoes today) because I’d rather hurt myself–even when it is unnecessary–than allow anyone else to ever hurt me again the way my mother did, so many times.

After talking all of this out with my wife yesterday and allowing myself time to process, I made a promise to myself. I am going to try and deactivate my glass case. I built it a long time ago to protect myself. I needed it and it worked at the time. But I am no longer in that environment. I have sought out a healthy support system in my personal and professional life and no one in my circle would ever cut me down. I’ve got to stop putting up walls when people share something nice about me, only to tell myself I’m an impostor or a secret failure on the inside. I am no longer a child trapped in an abusive household and it’s time I started acting like it within my own mind.