Ricochet

I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away

(song lyrics from ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta featuring Sia)

As I think about the past years of blogging, I realised that the majority of posts are not about my mother (NM).  After all, she is the reason why I am here today (in more than one sense of the word).  And it feels appropriate, oddly enough, to come back to her after some time.

My tired, tumultuous relationship with her may have begun on my birthday but my long, difficult and rewarding journey began about four years ago.  Short in comparison with my actual age.

After going No Contact for five years, I broke it in the summer of 2012 (due to finding out my father was really ill).  Breaking it was easier than I thought it would be.  Something I hadn’t expected.  I guess ‘easy’ is a nice way of saying I survived it.  It didn’t kill me, it only lead to the flu the night before seeing her and then, walking pneumonia after (none of these sicknesses claimed DH).  My body survived and my mind eventually healed.  My soul is a work in progress.

“You can spend too long on a one-sided love.”  Mrs. Patmore (Downton Abbey)

Since that summer I have seen her on each of my visits to the US.  Here’s a summary:

2012 (summer) – NM was dismissive; ignoring me, only addressing the questions from DH.  She was hospitable and polite to him and never asked anything about us.

2012 (winter) – NM started out with her usual silent treatment.  At one point she made an abusive comment about me to my father and lied about something I had done.  I waited for one of her friends (that she had conned into coming over while I was there) to leave and asked her to go for a walk in the cold December air.

I chose my words, careful not to attack her.  I wanted to tell her I was hurt when she said this and why.  And within my first sentence she started her overt narcissism.  She started attacking me.  She steered the conversation to the past instead of discussing the two behaviours I was adressing and although I didn’t name call or attack her, I got angry.  I addressed all the past behaviours about me she brought up – like the fact that I went No Contact.  It wasn’t what I had wanted but I had made progress.  I hadn’t fallen so far down the hole that I couldn’t get out.  I stopped the conversation walked back to their house and said Goodbye to my father and left.

2013 (summer) – This visit included yet another ‘surprise’ guest (always a different person: a neighbour, a friend, a cousin) and she continued to return to her state of dismissiveness.

When I reflected on the past visits and wrote out the summary, I realised my mother treated me exactly how she did during my childhood.  She treated me with constant ebbs and flows of silent treatment and verbal abuse.  There was nothing surprising or different about her behaviours, nothing had changed except the years and me.

Before our recent visit, DH had never been witness to the awful things NM had said to me.  In fact, he was privileged to a different mother.  He saw through this and having learned so much about narcissism he could see that she failed to show actual warmth or caring or concern towards me.  She never asked the question: How are you?.

2013 (winter)

NM can so easily toggle between covert narcissism to overt that it seems that it should be accompanied by a Mozart movement.  It wasn’t until this colder December, DH was introduced to my mother’s overt narcissism.  I guess she had had enough of changing masks or maybe she saw it as a chance to point out what an awful daughter I am in front of DH, feeling righteous, as now her gun was loaded with enough ammunition.

As we (DH, my father and I) were sitting in the family room drinking coffee my mother walks in to join us.  An odd move as during my visits DH and I are left alone with my father (when there is no ‘surprise’ guest).  I ask her ‘How are you doing?’ hoping to have a peaceful, short visit before continuing to see friends six hours away by car.

In response to ‘How are you doing?’ she fired away with:

‘Anyway, do you know what I heard from your aunt* this morning, she was hesitating to tell me but she felt she should tell me.’

Her tirade was about the fact she didn’t know that DH and I had gotten married (DH and I got married December 2012).  It may seem weird but the only salvation I had in this was that DH knew it wasn’t my intention to not tell her (no wedding bands were hidden).  I was planning on telling her during the winter 2012 visit or during the summer 2013 visit.  There wasn’t a moment to tell her, the only time she sat with us is when there was an audience (of people I barely knew).  Then, our fight and her ignoring me didn’t seem like the ideal moment to say: btw, we are getting married.  I thought about telling my father but my father with his illness goes in and out of dementia.  He isn’t with it (most of the time) and when he seems to be, it is difficult for him to answer: ‘How are you?’.

To paraphrase, she stressed her words almost yelling:

‘How could you not tell me, I mean, isn’t it normal to tell your parents that you are getting married; (to DH) did you tell your parents that you got married?  I had to find out from your aunt and you didn’t even have the courtesy to tell us.  This is something that parents want to hear and parents would be happy for their children getting married.  I am sure you would want our blessing, everyone would want their parent’s blessing, of course, we would give you our blessing.’

After never saying ‘Congratulations’ and she got down from her soapbox, I said: ‘I am sorry I did not tell you.’  It was hard for even me to believe but I genuinely felt sorry I hadn’t told her.  She dismissed me and uttered that it is all well and good to be sorry and walked out.  My guess, having to reload her gun.  She had used up her first round.

It seemed like a good time to leave.  I wasn’t upset with what she had said nor did I feel she was right in behaving this way.  If she was hurt she hadn’t expressed it or happy about our marriage – she hadn’t expressed that either.

I sat there for about five minutes thinking about what had happened.  I was taken aback a bit by, well, the lack of emotional response to her words.  I had read from many of fellow blogger’s experiences that it hurts less.  And I wasn’t sure this would be the same path for me.

I said Goodbye to my father and said I would be back in the summer.  I checked my bulletproof vest and prepared for battle – not with a weapon like NM’s – but with a different one – my voice.

xxTR

*The aunt she heard the news of my marriage from is not the same aunt I wrote about in the post (The Sport of Paradoxing).

Related posts (words that came to me):

Caliban’s Sisters: Incapacity, Refusal, Acceptance

Through the Looking Glass: Name that Feeling: the Amygdala Hijack

The Project: Me by Judy – Stank on the Rock on FB

 

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How Not to Be Wrong

I am good at being wrong.  My mother often tells me I am, I have to be wrong so she could be right.  She criticises me every chance she gets and loves to tell me that I’m wrong and I learned how to be wrong – to her advantage.

Her harshness and black and white approach to right and wrong taught me a lesson – how to take feedback.  I take it well, yes, it initially stings but I consider the feedback and try and make an improvement.  The opposite is also true, I take it so well even when someone is being cruel and doing so for narcissistic supply, like my mother.  This is why I’ve always gotten the feedback from my managers that I take it well – I totally get that now.

What happens to me when I know I did something wrong (hurtful, etc.) – I feel bad and then, I self-destruct.  I decide, myself, that I should be punished for doing/saying/thinking something horribly.  Like Tori Amos, I crucify myself.

Recently, I was wrong about an old university friend of mine, a good friend and roommate.  She contacted me after an 8 year period of not being in contact with each other (see post: When They Come Back).  To sum up, her e-mails have been sporadic with no real dialogue or exchange and she blew me off when we tried to meet up during a visit home last year.

On my birthday in October, I received an e-mail from my aunt and my old friend, Cari.  This sparked a huge amount of anger.  I was sick and tired of this.  E-mails that are nothing, no substance at all.  I would walk away from an exchange thinking WTF!  I was pissed, I had just started to enjoy celebrating my birthdays.  Ns have ruined my birthdays in the past – my mother, my friends and just when I found joy again in this celebration – here were two e-mails that sent me through the roof.

It lead to an explosion, okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  I swore a little, okay, a lot and there was some name-calling.  I mostly spoke out loud all the thoughts in my head, DH was present but he was a sounding broad letting me talk until I was tired.  Here is a paraphrasing of what I said –

Why the FCK is she e-mailing me?  Seriously, she doesn’t know one single thing about me, she doesn’t ask, it isn’t a dialogue, there is no FCKing point to this, is there? (DH responds – No).  I ask: Why do they bother?  Wasn’t it better when we didn’t talk to each other?  What is the point?  What do you think the point is? (DH: I have no clue.)  Either do I, I should FCKing ask them.

And that was it, right there, in that moment of me swearing was my answer: I should ask them.

And that is exactly what I did with my aunt and Cari.  The e-mails to my aunt were posted in The Sport of Paradoxing and for those following the e-mails I added her follow-up.

Here is the e-mail exchange with Cari:

Dear Cari,

Based on our sporadic e-mails since August of 2011, I am interested in better understanding what the purpose is of our interactions in an effort to have healthier relationships with family and friends.  I would like to clarify and better understand your intentions with regard to our contact since August 2011.  What has been your purpose of our e-mails?

Kind regards,

TR

Hi TR,

Over the years I have missed hearing from you and seeing you. We had been such great friends and it ended so strangely. I was excited when I found you were on LinkedIn and surprised to learn you moved so far away. Life gets so busy so it is hard to keep up the emailing, but I would like to stay in touch and maybe visit with each other at some point. If you have moved on from our friendship, I can respect that and will stop emailing you. If you’d like to keep in touch, I would like that.

Cari

Cari’s e-mail was thoughtful and I appreciated her response – it was a contrast to my aunt’s response.  DH found it so interesting to see the two responses side by side.

After taking in Cari’s words I started to feel awful about my feelings from our e-mails since August of 2011.  I had misjudged her intention and that was wrong.  My natural default setting* in this situation is to try and make it up to the person for how I felt initially.  This translated to giving too much and letting someone walk all over me because I deserved this because I judged someone harshly.  I was wrong and I needed to pay for it.  I learned how to be wrong – to everyone else’s advantage.

What was surprising is that my natural default setting didn’t kick-in right away.  I had some moments to breathe.

Perhaps, the second best part of this was the fact that after I listened to Cari’s words, I then listened to how I felt about the e-mail.  I did appreciate what she said and how she felt.  It meant a lot.  However, it didn’t nullify her past behaviours.  Her actions don’t reflect her words.  I understand she is busy and e-mails can get dropped.  It happens.  It doesn’t happen that consistently over and over again over a two year time span.

The single best part of this was I learned How Not to Be Wrong.  Before, I would let my boundaries get crossed and allow myself to be taken advantage of as punishment for my bad behaviours or inappropriate thoughts.  Being wrong does not mean that Cari has a free-pass to cross my boundaries or not listen to my voice.  Even when I have behaved terribly towards someone or misjudged them initially – this is not a way for me to cancel out my own bad behaviours or thoughts.  Punishing myself for behaving in a way I don’t value means: I apologise and then Mind the Gap more carefully next time.

I went back to her e-mail after a few hours and looked closer.  My intention is not to pick apart her words and dissect it further because overall it was a thoughtful e-mail.  I tried to find how I felt about it and in the end, I felt “I’m still a little cautious”.

I am no where near ready to meet her face to face like before.  To re-establish this connection, there needs to be authenticity behind it.  I do not feel that a connection has been established through our e-mails.  The next part is letting her know that this is my voice – we are building a new connection regardless of having had a 10 year friendship.  Our friendship was unhealthy (‘strangely’ is a euphemism for unhealthy), we were cruel to each other and I needed to share with her my feelings – ultimately, my voice in all this.

I thought about a million ways to word it.  This is how I responded:

Hi Cari,

Thank you for responding.  We were good friends and I have missed our friendship and it did end strangely.  In a way, since 2011, we are starting over – not from scratch but nonetheless where we are getting to know each other all over again.  I would like to continue to stay in touch and re-connect with you and learn more about each other and our new stories as I can imagine we have changed and a lot has happened in 10 years.  I welcome your e-mails and I hope to be able to exchange more of our stories in the coming time.

Have a great Halloween with the family.

xxTR

After this Cari responded with what they were up to for Halloween and she asked me what I was doing for it.  I will send her an e-mail during Thanskgiving and see how it goes from there.

After dealing with both my aunt and Cari my body reacted.  I was uneasy and anxious and not able to sleep well.  When I was writing this post and connecting the links I saw that the song Crucify by Tori Amos was from her album: Little Earthquakes.  That is exactly what it feels like when disrupting the pattern that is automatic for me – my natural default setting*.  They are like little earthquakes.

xxoo TR
*Please note the term natural default setting is a term David Foster Wallace used in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College in Ohio.  I enjoyed the speech, click here to view.