forging new family bonds #recovery

June 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

After our coffee and walk yesterday morning —

Brother4Wife wrote:

I really enjoyed our coffee together.

I replied:

Me too!

Thank you for your kindness and listening. It felt like we forged new bonds and for that I am extremely grateful.

Feeling a sense of belonging in our families is so very important, and so blessedly difficult when we don’t have the words or routines for addressing challenging situations.

It seems counter-intuitive, but when we talk about the things that have hurt us, or disappointed us, or discouraged us, and we can share those experiences with empathic family members, we actually build stronger relationships where the capacity for love and joy are increased. I think the fear in my family is that talking about past trauma or current hurts is going to drive family away. When, in fact, it brings us closer together because we have a deeper understanding of what is affecting us, what we need, and what we can offer each other to show our love and care.

I don’t know any of us that gets through even a day without facing some sort of challenge to our beliefs, interpretations, and conclusions. The more we can talk our way through these things, shedding light on those dark corners where the hairballs collect, the more we can clean them out and unburden our hearts and souls from the weight of carrying them alone.

Love you guys!

and she replied:

Right on!

It feels good to confront the seemingly sacred family taboos about communicating and then finding a kindred spirit just waiting to make the connection.

 

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building new family relations one coffee at a time #aa #na #slaa #alanon #oa #recovery #familysystems

June 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

I just came from morning coffee with Brother4 and Brother4Wife. We are definitely breaking new ground and growing new relationships. So much to talk about, so little time.

First, I have clarity about something that has perplexed me throughout my adult life. What is my relationship to my in-laws? When I fall in love with someone, do I also fall in love with their family? What about my family members and the loves they choose? Do I also love their partners because they are loved by my sibling or parent? From hard experience I know that I cannot shut out the partner of any of my family members. It cannot be done without damaging my relationship to that family member. So what is my relationship with these in-laws? It appears to be much closer than I realized.

I am recalling my recent trip to visit Ex-BrotherinLaw and Ex-BrotherinLawWife. Ex-BrotherinLawWife is dying of cancer and I took my sons on a weekend expedition to visit. At the outset of the trip, I had considered Ex-Husband and his in-laws as not part of my family, but part of my son’s family. I figured I was doing something respectful by making the trip, I cared about Ex-BrotherinLawWife and I felt compelled to visit, perhaps for the last time.

What was revealed to me during that trip was that these people are still my family. Even Ex-Husband is still my family. I choose to keep my distance from him because I do not feel safe anywhere near him, but he is still family because he is my son’s father. I realized I still felt a great depth of bond to Ex-BrotherinLaw and Ex-BrotherinLawWife. That bond extended to their grown son and his wife. When I visited my son’s grandparent’s graves, I felt a wave of grief at their passing, as I got in touch with the reality that they are my family. They always were my family. When they had passed on I had lost family members.

I think these bonds of family are much more powerful and sustaining than I had previously realized. When I resorted to escape fantasy as a teenager and young adult, my thoughts and actions were symptomatic of the depth of pain I was experiencing at the loss of kinship with my family. It wasn’t that I wanted to move to the north woods and subsist on natural plants and animals alone. It was the only thing I could imagine that I could do with my life because I no longer felt part of my family. And because my family was not talking about the catastrophic events that had befallen us, I interpreted this silence as a form of not caring about me, about not caring whether I was part of the family or not. The pain of thinking no one in my family cared whether I was in the family or not was so strong that I consumed book after book about surviving in the wilderness. Even to this day I have camping gear close at hand, in case I need to make a run for it.

I was able to talk to Brother4 and Brother4Wife about my thoughts and feelings about being a member of a family that does not show any interest in me but expects me to show up at family events and act as if nothing had happened. I was able to tell them about the mental and emotional anguish that invitations cause me, when another family event looms on the horizon and I have to figure out if I am going to attend or not. How my mind goes through extreme contortions and gymnastics trying to figure out whether I should go or stay away.

It was great to spend quality time with these people and realize how much closer we are than any of us had realized. It felt like we forged new bonds and relationships. It was pretty simple. We went out for coffee and walked the dogs. But new family relationships were born.

don’t talk don’t tell: family crazy-making systems #aa #na #slaa #alanon #mental illness #mentalhealth

June 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

I was out for a drive with my friend last evening. I was explaining my deepening understanding of why I am reluctant to attend family gatherings even as I yearn to attend family gatherings and feel that bond of kinship.

I described those idyllic music nights at my family home during childhood. My memories are always of summer evenings, and the wonderful feeling of hiding in the long grass playing hide and go seek, and the sound of clarinet, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums drifting overhead.

As my mother descended into the depths of her mental illness my anxiety and confusion increased. I remember there was this expression she would get on her face, an otherworldly stoniness in her face and especially her eyes. It was like her eyes were black coals staring hard at an unseen enemy. Her facial expression was unsmiling and hard, like an immobile mask of suppressed rage. When she was in this state of mind it was as if her body was radiating alienation and a force field pushing people away. At first these episodes were few and far between, but over time they became more commonplace. They never lost their powerful potency to inspire distress in all those around her.

Mom’s worsening mental illness coincided with fewer and fewer jazz jam sessions, until finally Dad’s friends no longer came to the house. After that, it seemed to me Dad started to go out more, he was away from the house on weekend nights playing music elsewhere. Eventually it seemed like he was away every night. He took a job playing music at a Shaky’s pizza parlour. When I think about it now, I wonder how he could have chosen playing dixieland music at a pizza parlour over taking care of his children and getting his wife the help she needed, but that is a separate line of inquiry. What I remember is that I used to wait for Dad to come home. I used to listen for the crush of gravel in the driveway signalling his arrival. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting, with mounting panic that he would not come home. At this point my Mom was very ill.

No one ever talked about this change in our family circumstances, the transformation of our home from a centre of music, creativity, and fun, to a place ruled by madness and terror. No one ever talked about how Dad went from reading us a chapter from the Hobbit every evening on the couch in the living room to his not coming home every evening until long after we were in bed.

It is this absence of putting things into words that has been such a driving force in my life. The absence of words describing these experiences meant they lived in my experience and memory as shadows, ghosts of a presence that haunted my every waking moment, but wordless, vague, chimera of dread. We never talked about any of it. Perhaps that is why I need to talk about it now.

For me, family gatherings have become worse over time. First, my efforts to build authentic connections have been rebuffed and I feel alienated and isolated from my family even though they put emotional pressure on me to show up for family photos. Second, there have been more unpleasant experiences at family gatherings even up to recent years that also never get discussed or resolved. I feel two forces of resistance to attending family gatherings – I am realizing my pain and suffering is less important than any family member feeling bad because I refuse to attend; I never know when I am going to be sandbagged with a comment or behaviour that indicates a profound lack of caring for me as a person. Hmmm. Is it possible these things are related?

Even as I write this, I am having a thought come up in the back of my mind that I am always the one who has some unpleasant topic or statement to make to my family members. Why can’t I just get along and be happy with them? Why do I always have to be the one who wants to talk about the ‘bad’ stuff or just not attend at all? What is wrong with me that I can’t just join the family and leave all that stuff behind me?

So there you have the tracings of crazy-making. Don’t talk about anything real that would actually build true bonds of kinship, and, don’t even think about not attending a family gathering or other family members feelings will be hurt.

Feel that? Feel that tension? That is what drives my obsession and compulsion to keep thinking about what to say or do about my family relationships.

Onward.

mutually reflexive needs triggering trauma #family #familysystems #recovery #selfcare

June 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face in our intimate family relationships is this situation: our needs trigger our loved ones and vice versa.

In my family relationships I have a need to be [i]known[/i], to be understood. But the very thing I need my family to know about me is the very thing that triggers them and shuts them down. It is excruciatingly painful to continue to sort through this dilemma. I want to be close to my family, or at least be able to attend family gatherings, but the prospect of having to put on a mask to cover up my real mental/emotional condition triggers me into weeks and months of obsessing about family relationships.

Until recently I was baffled by this situation because I could not understand why invitations to family events caused me so much mental obsession and emotional anguish. I am only really putting my finger on it as I write this post. I have a deep yearning to feel connected to my family, to each one of my family members. The pain of disconnection feels like a physical reality, like it is taking a toll on my physical body to cope with it. However, being at family events does not sate this yearning for connection, if anything, it amplifies it because I feel the disconnection even as I am attending the very event that my family places such a high value on attending to keep the sense of family alive.

My truth is that I have been profoundly impacted by the condition of my various family members’ mental health and behaviours toward me. I have been traumatized multiple times by various family members since I was a child. The impacts of this trauma are not difficult to see: I did not complete high school, I went back to get my undergraduate degree at the age of 45, I have lived in poverty most of my life, I was married to a psychological and emotional abuser for 18 years, staying with him even after it was revealed that he had molested my daughter on more than one occasion, each of my children struggle with varying mental health issues and their own truncated education and poverty. These are all objective realities of the consequences of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

Perhaps the greatest damage, however, has occurred in the last 18 years since I came into recovery and started to make concerted efforts to rebuild my family relationships. It is almost 20 years now that I have been attempting to establish some degree of honesty and integrity in my connections to various family members. These efforts have been painfully unsuccessful. Although I might be talking more to a few of my siblings, and I may be learning to stand up for myself in the face of their abuses, I do not feel any closer to any of them, I do not feel any safer to be a member of this family.

I have found avoiding them altogether too difficult to endure. I just can’t seem to maintain the entire emotional cut off. Bonds of love are like piano wire. They do not dissolve with disuse, nor do they disappear by wishing.

a dreaded invitation has arrived #aa #na #slaa #codependence #alanon #familyrelations

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have to get to work but I can’t move forward with my life without starting the process of coming to terms with this latest email from Brother1:

Hi Sister [cc to me]
Just wanted to let you (and all [bi-coastal] family) know that Brother1Wife & Brother1Son & I finally made a [family vacation property] plan and booked flights for [Summerdate1] to [Summerdate2]. Yay! Our plan is typically tight as usual as we have [homecity] work stuff on [thedaybeofre Summerdate1] & [thedayafter Summerdate2]!!!! Boo (hoo)!
Anyways we fly in Sat morning at 10:30 AM, and will come to your house in [Sistercity] for visit & gathering. We would leave the party in time to catch 5:45 pm reservation on the ferry.
We are looking forward to seeing everyone at your house!

Xo

Brother1
I will do a close reading through this text to bring to the surface the myriad of thoughts and emotion triggered by this event announcement.
What came to my mind this morning during the dog walk as I was mulling over my reaction is I was asking myself why I have this recurring problem with family gatherings. I have finally identified that I have deep feelings of distress and distrust associated with attending family gatherings.
One idea came to mind during my walk. During my childhood my mother and father hosted jazz jam nights at our house on the weekends. A few of my father’s best friends would come over and they would play dixieland jazz music. In the summer the doors and windows would be thrown open and the music would drift out over the entire neighbourhood. Us kids would play out in the yard until it was too dark to see: prisoner’s base, hide and go seek, crack the whip, run sheep run, etc. All the neighbourhood kids would come and join us. We had a 1/4 acre yard of fruit trees, long grass, and humps and hillocks to hide behind. It was so much fun.
My mother sang with the band and, to my ears, was a wonderful singer. Everyone had a jolly time. Slowly, my mother’s mental illness took hold. There were a few of these nights where her attitude and behaviour were so unpleasant for my father’s friends that the jam session nights stopped happening.
My family never, ever talked about what happened to end the jam sessions.
Now, my siblings love to arrange for family gatherings and everyone plays music. I dread these events, and I wish I could both join them without any hesitation and I wish I could avoid them entirely. I yearn for the love and fun reminiscent of those jam sessions, and I dread the alcohol, anxiety, depression, emotional incest, bullying, alienation, and addiction that everyone brings to the events today.
If I don’t process this invitation I will have it on my mind every waking minute driving me crazy.

 

June 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

I did go back to work and I did have a great day at work. Both of my co-workers were cordial and respectful toward me. I was friendly and respectful of them. It looks like we have gotten past the incident yesterday. Both of my co-workers were sorry for the effect of their words, and they both realized that that kind of talk could get them fired.

I am proud of myself for speaking up. I was proud of myself for standing up to each one of them and telling them how I felt, what effect their words had had on me.

It appears that I am getting better at confronting unacceptable behaviour. It sucks having to be vigilant for these kinds of transgressions, but it does feel like the world is a little safer this evening for my effort.

Rape culture and self-censuring women

June 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Decompressing in a coffee shop after dealing with a bad situation at work. Yesterday a simple joke about a cistern in the basement of the house we are renovating spiralled in to revenge fantasy about my co-worker’s soon to be ex-wife. When one of the other workers chimed in with mentioning a well known date rape drug I reacted by shutting down the conversation.

I didn’t think anything more of it for the rest of the day but this morning I woke up from a 10 hour sleep and I did not want to go to work. As I recounted the incident to my husband this morning I realized how upset I was feeling. I didn’t want to go into work. I realized I was going to have to confront both of these co-workers about how in appropriate their conversation was. I dreaded that almost more than having the original experience.

I reported the situation to my boss and he was upset and going to talk to these workers. He has not arrived on site yet as I write this.

I am taking a break to collect myself and get to work. My feelings are multi-layered and complex. They are complex because, even as I write about one aspect of the experience, new feelings come up that shade what it is possible for me to know about the incident and the interpretations I put on it.

The main point that I must deal with immediately is that I feel betrayed and my trust has been eroded with these co-workers. We work on a construction site and we need to trust that we are all paying attention to each other’s safety as we work through the different projects.

Now I need to get back to work but I no longer feel safe or trusting with these co-workers. I am afraid that the fact that I spoke up is the problem rather than the fact of their inappropriate conversation. Rape culture. Silencing women through millennia.

The point is that it was my responsibility to speak up because otherwise they would not have known how disturbing their conversation was to me. Top everyone, men and women, wee are only going to raise awareness one conversation at a time.

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