Tag Archive | family gatherings

Horrible Holidays – part 2 – How to cope

An amazing therapy session today. I feel empowered to handle some of the holiday stress now. She found my ruby slippers – ‘you’ve had the power all along dear’. Except when I click my slippers, I will be transported to a mental happy home.

So I explained all of my issues regarding holidays. We decided to tackle the gatherings at MIL’s house first, and scheduled 3 more sessions to work on the issues of my own family of origin’s parties.

So I told her I don’t enjoy these long days of family hoopla. She asked what I’ve already tried.

Well I said, I have 3 choices here.

  1. Go and plaster on my smile and pretend all is well
  2. Go and be authentic and stir up trouble as I speak my mind
  3. Don’t go at all

She says I have a 4th choice. Something I never considered.

 

4. Go and be authentic to myself

 

COPING SKILL 1 – IMAGINE

At first I didn’t understand. She says I am to use my amazing inner world to supplement my outer one. Like I do in business meetings ALL OF THE TIME. I was still confused. I said what about being mindful? She said yes I want you to be mindful, be aware of your stress level, and when it approaches the red zone, maybe even when it is orange or yellow, I am to mentally back out of the situation and imagination a different ending.

I’m thinking Ally McBeal style.

So when anyone starts saying something negative, attacking, selfish, snobby, etc – I will picture them as hippies dancing through a field of flowers and delivering fresh baked goodies to the homeless. Or their big egos inflating their heads like balloons. Or them holding the coveted glowing iphone as angels sing and circle.

I don’t wish to force my values on anyone, and I don’t enjoy judging these people that I should accept as family. I have already tried the path of greatest resistance – I have already spoken up multiple times and they know my stance on these issues as well as I know theirs. So if they insist on speaking about politics, education, or how great the latest iphone is, I will not consider it my duty to scold them, and will instead IMAGINE the conversation taking a different route.

She said just make sure I don’t use it as an escape – it should only be a minute as needed to lighten my own mental mood. I do this when speaking to my boss, but had never considered doing this for my inlaws. I asked my therapist “Is this really healthy?” “Isn’t the same as pretending?” She said no. I will be true to my inner self and wisely choose which battles need fighting. Having the same argument is draining for me, and no net gain will ever be had. I’d be better off arguing my points to the rocks outside, at least then I’d have some fresh air to go along with the futility.

 

COPING SKILL 2 – Breathing Breaks

She said no one has to know I doing deep breathing and counting and feeling my belly rise and fall. I don’t even need to leave the room – which can actually cause more stress as people ‘search’ for me and ask if I’m ok when they find me sitting alone in the dark. A whole house full of extroverts – I’m alien to them. Sitting around the dinner table with one hand in my lap, it will be easy to focus on my breathing and keep my heart rate down and stress levels at bay without causing unnecessary alarm or drawing unwanted attention to myself.

 

COPING SKILL 3 – DIVERSIONS

She said to bring something to do. Busy people are usually left alone. She suggested my camera. If they see me out snapping pics they are less likely to worry or intrude on me. I actually did this last time, practicing my macro skills and playing with lighting – I took 50 shots of her blooming Christmas cactus, some very artsy, and some very standard. And then I share my favorites with them, so my antisocial break turns into a positive social later. win-win. She also suggested I take my sketch pad and some pencils, or some games or crafts to play with the kids.

 

COPING SKILL 4 – BOUNDARIES

I have already set the boundary that we will not spend the night at MIL’s on these occasions. I am trying to also limit how long we spend there – does it need to be 8-10 hours? If so, I need to be afforded extra quiet time before and after the visit to prepare and recover. Some of this is simply giving myself permission for this, not any changes that need to happen other than my own inner critic allowing me to be tired and being gentle with myself.

 

COPING SKILL 5 – CHANGE IT UP

If yz always seem to happen after x – try starting with Q! If MIL always complains about having to make all of the food, but refuses to let anyone in her kitchen to help – tell her ahead of time we’d really like to bring some special dishes this year. Make them in our own kitchen, with whatever bowl or spoon we choose, and bring it along to lighten her load. If certain conversation always lead to arguments, throw out new topics and see what happens – Say did you know anglerfish has bioluminescent bacteria residing in side of them to make the glowy bobber? I’m pretty sure no one will have a strong or caustic opinion about that. Always in trouble for showing up late? Go for breakfast this year. Tradition is one thing – but a rut is a rut.

 

So to sum this up – she does not feel there is any danger or harm in exhausting myself at MIL’s house as long as I take care of myself too. She thinks that it would be harmful to avoid it, both for my own peace of mind and guilt, feeling of belonging – as well as for my kids. She said if nothing else, go and be a part of this wild group a few times a year to model how to do it for my kids. Grumble grumble yes I thought she would say that. pout. FINE.

Actually I am looking forward to trying out my new skills and seeing if I can carve out an introverted niche in the extroverted wild kingdom. Use my powers for good! Let this family get to know me, and love me. Understand I am actually loved and missed if not there. Understand that strong personalities zap my energy, but not my soul. No dangers here, turn off the red alert.

I’ll try.

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so hard to go home – triggers everywhere

Holidays and dysfunctional families. It seems to me that every family has some level of dysfunction, but only a few are truly toxic or unhealthy. It impossible to have so many different beings, different ages, different personalities in one room without some conflict or clashing.

I am still working on enforcing my newly found boundaries and each holiday brings an onslaught of new decisions as I keep myself safe and also expand into the uncomfortable to keep growing.

I had a strained, but not terrible time at my inlaws for Easter. I had some honest conversations with them, which was nice, being able to be me there. I spoke of my AF’s poor health and did not have to feign much sadness over it. I only spoke of it because they asked about him. But some of the other conversations could have been from “Mean Girls'” with all the back stabbing and two-facedness going on. My FIL thinks my SIL kids are overweight, ridicule them and blame SIL completely. They offer all kinds of ways to fix the problem  – but not to her face. Then they attack her for making the family late to this gathering because she always has to go overboard with her baking. MIL said she doesn’t need anything fancy, just wants the grandkids to get together. She made her feel guilty for having to hold ‘dinner’ past 12:30. No time was ever given to us, no time is EVER given to us, but whoever is last is late and made to feel guilty. As soon as SIL re-enters the room, the topic is changed. I chose to stay silent for that one. (I did ask SIL later about the fancy breads she baked, they were all done the day before, and she was not the reason they came later, but that’s an entirely different story. I asked her why she worked so hard – did she enjoy it or did she feel she ahd to go overboard to be ‘supermom’ or get inlaws approval? She said she truly enjoys baking and feels happiest in the kitchen and the only time she allows herself to get creative is for holidays.)

I can’t argue every out of line comment. I’d wear out in less than an hour. Besides I needed strength to battle the next ones.

Next they asked about my brother, who has been in the divorce process for over a year now. His wife left him and the kids and is living with her boyfriend. They speak of her like a less than human whore. What she did was heartbreaking, but she does not deserve their judgment, they didn’t live with my brother or grow up in her shoes. MIL said something like, “well your brother better hurry and make that divorce final or she may decide she is bored with the boyfriend and want to come back home.” Then FIL said “can she go stay with her parents?” I said “no, she is happy with the boyfriend, and she would never go live with her parents, because she hasn’t forgiven her dad, and her parents are divorced, he was an angry drunk that used to beat her and her sister, and her mom is a messed up piece of work. I remember the bruises in high school, and she basically lived at my mom’s house all during high school”

Thinking that was the end of it, until FIL said, “Well you know some women like that. ”

The whole room was silenced and open mouthed.

“What do you mean?” I said. He said, “Some women get off on being dominated, some men too, and they do crap to get themselves beaten.”

I said, “you obviously don’t know what you are talking about, and should go read 50 shades to see how domination works. Her dad would drink and beat anything that came in the room, and then would hunt them down and beat them if they didn’t come in the room. He was mean and scary and hurt his entire family. No one wanted it or made it happen, he was out of control. None of those girls deserved what happened, it was not their fault.”

FIL said, whatever, MIL told him to shut up, he sounded like an idiot. I felt very sad.

What happened in that generation of men? FIL is a good man. He has never hurt his family. And yet he believes that most men hurt women ‘for a good reason’. I was done, I can’t change his mind. No more energy wasted that day, I went off to work on the computer and avoided any more conversations.

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Next day I was thinking it would be nice to see my own mother. I hadn’t heard if my family was gathering for Easter, they still keep me out of the invitations at my own request. I don’t want to feel obligated or hurt them when I’m not up to going. Not yet. So I called my mom in the morning and said we were going to a park near her house and would like to stop over for short visit. I told her what time and made sure she had my cell number.

Now it was gorgeous sunny, 70 degree day and we went to a state park with amazing cliffs, ledges, and huge stony outcroppings. I had not been there since I was a child on a school field trip. I could not believe as we pulled in that I remembered the path I took with my friends almost 30 years ago. It was such an amazing feeling reliving a HAPPY childhood memory. And even better seeing my kids having just as much fun being mountain goats, exploring mini-caves, crevices, and climbing the rocky path as I did. I was thrilled to discover I had enough strength in my weak leg to do some easier climbing along with them. I couldn’t keep up, but they would go ahead, find a great scenic spot to rest and wait for me. It was pure joy. Exhausting – yes for sure, we were all sweating tired and hungry at the end of it.

So we eat our picnic lunch, and head to my mom’s house. We get there and my brother that lives with her says she is not home, that everyone is having Easter dinner at my other brother’s house. So decision time. Do I go over there?

No one had called me. I later found out she had emailed me this information, even though she knew I was going to be out all day, not at home checking emails. I thought maybe I could do it and we started driving towards my bother’s house. As we got closer, the panic grew. I started shaking, and picturing the room and the lock on the door that used to hold in my AF. He’s only been gone a month or so. I did not want to gather in that house, see the marks on the wall where his scooter scratched everything, see the missing door lock, see any sign that he used to live there. I decided it was too soon and we headed home, knowing it would be impossible to make an escape with the kids with us. If they saw the cousins on the trampoline, how could we leave?

So I got home to another series of emails from my mom. Sigh. Old habits, she had to lash out a bit because she was hurt that I did not visit her.

First email: Sorry I missed you. (That’s all it said)

Next email: If you let me know you were there I would have driven to meet you alone.

Next email: We had a nice dinner at your brother’s, salmon and chicken on the grill. the kids all played on the trampoline and swingset. I got to see all of my other kids and grandkids at least.

Next email: Here’s a photo of my cousin’s Easter gathering, all of her kids came to see her.

I did not respond to any of those emails. They were meant to hurt me and cause guilt. I am the only child that did not come to see her. I’m keeping her grandkids from her. Even her cousins get to see all the grandkids. Yes I get the point. I felt a prick of pain, but I only allowed the point of the sword to touch me, I did not allow it to plunge too deeply, because I know better.

I think I need to start with lower pressure, non-holiday visits. It is just too triggering and difficult still. But I hate keeping my kids away from the cousins. One day, it will happen. I am not rushing this one.

I asked Hubby why my brother with schizophrenia is not given guilt trips for staying home. Hubby said, “He avoids all social situations, and for you it appears you are only excluding them, so it hurts them.”

OH! That made sense. I am functional in every other social area now, I only avoid my mom and brothers, and their houses. I feel afraid of them. Too much I can’t control. Too many triggers and memories still floating around. I do love them though, and I appreciate that they don’t hate me, and mostly support my decision to avoid them. They want me healthy, but they also want me to join in the family fun. And maybe these events are not scary anymore, without AF in attendance. I don’t know.

All I know is I’m all good, I think I made the right decision this time, and will take the next step when I feel prepared for it.

 

 

 

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wise hermit, or hermit crab

English: Caribbean hermit crab (Coenobita clyp...

is my role to be a wise hermit or just a hermit crab, only time will tell(Coenobita clypeatus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s poem was in response to my thought process as I pre-worry about social events (casual family events, not black tie or huge crowds or anything crazy like that) and try to make the best choices. I am new to this notion of even having a choice, and I struggle with the process, struggle with pros and cons, and lasting effects.

The one I am pre-worrying about is my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party. It will be fairly small, just her kids and grandkids. About 12 people total. I know everyone really well. And although she has done so much for me over the years, helping to watch kids and help with household chores, she causes me great stress. Hubby’s whole family is a high energy – and way too often it is a high negative energy – bunch. They are strongly opinionated and express those opinions loudly.

They all have good hearts, and I care about each one, but all of their energies in one room gets to be a bit too much for me every time. every word is something complaining or arguing, and they yell, have quick tempers, and fuss and nit-pick. I know it will be just a few hours but it will take me a day to recover. So I never know if causing them concern over me not being there, or all of the questions and having to re-explain why I am not without being hurtful,  is worth it or not. Plus, I do care about her and do want to see her enjoy her birthday. So I will probably go, and join in for well wishes, and then isolate myself with a book and pretend I can’t hear the conversations around me. Or if I am up to it, I may try to join the kids and play games, avoiding the adults. But then I don’t want to seem like a party pooper or like I don’t care about them. If they needed something, and it was something I could do, I would be there in an instant. And maybe that is part of the trouble, is I have a difficult time discerning real troubles from their long list of complaints. Are they asking for help? Just venting? Or is this their party persona speaking?

I am most afraid they will ask my opinion and I will actually give it. I don’t have much energy for a filter these days, and I’m honestly wondering if those social filters should even exist. I have worked so hard to be real with myself and Hubby and it seems hypocritical, and honestly quite triggering, to put on my happy happy pretend smile.

So I will spend the next few days worrying about the worst case scenario, and realize it won’t be THAT bad, try to focus on the good in each of these people. In reality life is hard for everyone and we all choose a path that seems to make sense at the time of choosing. Just because I am on this path, it doesn’t make it right for everyone. Some people don’t want to change, and I guess it isn’t my job to try to make them think about their choices.

Maybe I am like the wise old hermit up in the cave, that only helps those that come to him, because offering help to those that don’t want it is a frustrating and fruitless venture. Now I actually feel more like a hermit crab than anyone with wisdom to offer, but that’s a different point entirely.

 

If you’d like to learn more about the people who will be at this party, keep reading below for a short bio of each one.

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His mom is a true matriarch, and has ruled on her throne for many years. She is strong and amazingly talented and creative. She has one of those voices that you can hear above everyone else. When meeting her at busy trade shows, one only has to listen to know where she is, because she is that loud, and always talking. Always. I have never seen that woman just sit and think. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen her just sit. She may actually have ADHD, at least compared to laid back me, she is like the Tasmanian devil swirling about me as I try to absorb what she is saying and find she has already moved onto something else. She is so busy, working on hundreds of things at once, remodeling her house, making products for her small business, gardening and landscaping (her yard is beautiful, acres of carefully planned flowers, trees, and veggies), and cleaning. Her knee replacement surgery hardly slowed her down at all.

Her oldest daughter, hubby’s sister, is very much like her, hard working, always busy, speed talking, and obsessed with material things, but lacking any confidence or decision making skills. She still calls her mom several times a day for advice, and calls me or her siblings if she can’t reach her mother. They spend so much time shopping and hunting for deals for the next time they go shopping. They buy things (imo) that they don’t need just because it was on sale. They never let coupons go to waste. I told them one time they would save more money by not buying anything in the first place, that 100% off was better than 50% off, and well, they did not like that. So usually I just listen and say how wonderful all their new things are. And then this gets tricky, because we do business with this sister and she often owes us money, but can’t pay, and has a million reasons why, but her new ipad/iphone/clothes/car/curtains/plane tickets/movies are never included in those reasons. It is hard to listen to all the nice things she has, when I have delayed paying my electric bill again this month. I know this is my choice not to use credit cards and only spend money I actually have and so I try not to judge others harshly for how they spend money. But when she owes me money, it is very difficult to listen with a smile.

Then there’s her daughter, my oldest niece on that side of the family, the most spoiled teenager ever created. Her parents divorced when she was 4, so for the last 10 years they have each bought her anything and everything to make up for splitting up the family. She is an only child, and gets everything: expensive clothes and haircuts, expensive private lessons for sports and music, expensive vacations (she is bored of Disneyworld, can’t we go somewhere else?). My daughter gets many of her hand-me-down outfits, and I am grateful for that. We also got her old ipod when she got a new one. And her bikes, because she had 3 at one point. This girl rarely smiles and still screams and stomps to ger what she wants, and it always works. The 2 of them live in a 5 bedroom house so full of stuff you would think a huge family lived there. I try not to be jealous when I think of my family crammed into our tiny house. Or deflect the sting when my kids ask why she has an imac/iphone/ds/trampoline/American girl dolls and every accessory/etc. I know my kids don’t need all of that, but it is hard for my kids to understand why this girl gets everything in the world.

Father-in-law accepts his place as low on the totem pole. He seems happy and I often wonder how it can be so. MIL criticizes and publicly ridicules him, calling him an idiot and lazy in front of the grandkids. If anything goes wrong, you can bet it was Grandpa’s fault. MIL is never wrong, never late, never forgets, and never rests. But Grandpa seems to know Grandma needs him to have this role, and so he fills it without complaint. Usually. Every once in a while he will fight back, and then things get ugly. Name calling and yelling and slamming doors. But get Grandpa alone and he is gentle, has great stories, and great love for all of us. He seems to know and love that he lives with a wildebeest.

Hubby’s brother and wife are similar to us financially, having more kids than space, more bills than income. But they are caught up in the PTA and church world and continually trying to be more than they are. They drive their kids to a school in an upscale neighborhood and try to keep with the Joneses. Hubby’s brother is his identical twin, but they are worlds apart. My kids call him Uncle daddy which is so cute. He is a good guy, but it appears has followed in his dad’s footsteps and is ruled by his wife. A few years ago when my marriage was crumbling, I reached out to this SIL for support. She loved hearing about all the problems and shared similar issues with the brother. But we went to counseling, tried a healing separation, talked, worked and fought to get back to each other – and we did. I now have a partner, an equal. Well, she no longer wanted to listen to me, and I’m not sure why, other than misery loves company so it hurts to see us happy? I have tried over the years to be a friend to her, ask her to lunch or a movie, and the answer is no unless I want to go complain about husbands. She suffers from anxiety and panic, takes something occasionally. She is smarter and more talented than she’ll ever believe, her own dysfunctional childhood robbed her of that. So she does not try to better herself and accepted a job cleaning toilets even though she has a college degree. They made it through infertility, adopted 2 amazing kids, but I think she feels like something is missing, like it was her fault. But we can’tr discuss these things. She is a strong perfectionist, and I’m afraid I know the pain of trying to be perfect. I think she talks big and feels small. Her sister is the reason that the other SIL got divorced. A true family affair, despicable, and puts so much tension in the air, because she went to her sister’s wedding and supported her, not knowing what else to do. So I cringe any time she speaks about her or her parents, that knew about the affair and kept it secret. Her kids are the same ages as my kids, and the cousins always have a great time playing together. We don’t live that far from each other, but rarely get together.

 

 

 

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Dances With Pedophiles

Get ready for a post full of pain.  I’m angry and hurting and not quite sure what to do with it, or how to find peace again. I’m still struggling with what is right.

I made it to my niece’s wedding. (See this old post )

The day itself was lovely. My niece was so obviously happy and in love, full of hope for her future. It was amazing to share her special day. I just wish I didn’t have to share it with two known pedophiles.  Yes two. This family has two abusive grandfathers, one is my father, and the other is my sis-in-law’s father.

I was prepared for my own abusive father to make an appearance. I was feeling strong and knew I could handle it. I was completely taken aback to see the other grandfather there, and seemingly welcome. Just 2 years ago, he was caught touching a few of my nieces. They stopped talking and visiting at that time. I guess they asked the bride not to invite him, but she did anyway – since the grandfather had never violated her and she had nice memories of him and missed him.

So let’s paint the picture. It was nice small wedding, in a tiny chapel, and then a fairly small reception hall. My own abusive father did not attend the wedding (I personally think he fears the lightning bolt may strike him down if he dares enters a church) but the other guy did – all smiling and proud like he owned the place and nothing was ever wrong. I felt like a hand was gripping and crushing my heart when I saw him there. But I focused on the ceremony and how happy the young couple looked, and how much in awe my own children were since this was their first wedding. (I did not like the old churchy phrases in the vows of her submitting and obeying her husband, but I didn’t dwell on that)

After the ceremony we had a couple of hours before the reception, so we explored the quaint college town. After a stop at McDonald’s, we visited a tiny candy shop with many flavors of popcorn, a cool antique shop, and an art gallery/store with many amazing handmade items like wooden boxes, felted creatures, mobiles, candles, etc. We were all truly enjoying our time there. I was not feeling nervous at that point. (Although the interesting and over-friendly shop owners in the small town made me wonder if I was actually in a Stephen King novel at one point)

We knew in advance that this would be a dry reception and had made the necessary preparations. Hubby bought a dozen little airplane or mini-fridge sized bottles of whiskey. We dosed our sodas before going in, and filled my purse and his pockets with extra bottles. Not that we couldn’t make a few hours without drinking, it was for the fun of it. We felt like we were in college and sneaking a drink became a fun distraction for us. We’d sneak off to the restroom and have a secret shot, and giggle together while the pastor and best man spoke of the evils of drinking.

After the long, way too long, toasts and introductions, I heard a waiter say they needed to make room for a man in a wheelchair. They were making room at the table next to mine, right behind my seat. Yup, you guessed it. In came my abusive father on his motorized scooter, with his mini oxygen tank. His emphysema makes him unable to stand any more. I looked out the window and at my kids across my table as I heard the scooter behind me. I did not turn around. Hubby put his chair closer to mine and sat with his arm around me.

Somehow we had our dinner, with a pedophile directly behind us, and another a few tables away. My daughter asked “Is that Grandpa?” and pointed behind me. I said yes without turning around. She looked away and went to talk with her cousin, completely uninterested in him. My boys didn’t even ask. My youngest doesn’t even know who he is. I felt so good that they would never be a part of his world, never miss him, and never know him. So happy I was able to do that for them. Even if he is still alive, there will be no confusion about wanting him invited to special events.

Then my little guys needed a potty visit. I went with all 3 kids out to the lobby. As I waited outside the Men’s room for the boys to finish up, I saw my abusive father, my brother and his youngest son heading outside. I was curious but not worried since my brother was there. When I got back to my seat, my mom said she overheard my abusive father asking the little boy to go out to his van! She said she told my brother right away and he went along with them. No idea what that was about, and I’m not letting my thoughts wander too far about it. Needless to say that brought me up to high alert level and made me question if we should stay, but everyone else was having a good time, so I should be as well, right?

Dinner was over and the happy couple had their first dance. It was so sweet and tender, I was bursting with joy for them. And then it was time for the father-daughter dance. I saw my brother head out onto the dance floor, but then my mind turned him in to my own father, and I was immersed in a flashback. Instead of my brother and my niece, I saw my father and I dancing at my own wedding. I felt my father’s hand on my back as we danced. I felt the crowd watching us, so few of them knowing our secret. But the ones that did, let me dance with him, so I took my cues from them. And then I was back to current time, the flashback passed, but I was afraid I was going to scream, cry or vomit. I told Hubby I had to get out of there. We rushed out of the room and went to sit in our van for a while. My vision restored, my fear passed, and was replaced with a deep seated anger – nearly rage – that I was out here suffering while the pedophiles were in there having a grand time. So I steeled my nerves, downed another mini-whiskey, and went back inside.

Like anyone raised as prey, the first thing I did upon re-entering the room was locate my children and the two predators. I realized I shouldn’t have left them and felt so guilty. They were fine, more than fine, dancing with their cousins and not even aware I had left the room. My Mom was watching them and motioned for me to join her. I wasn’t ready for that and shook my head as I scanned the room for the predators – the scooter-bound one was taking picture after picture of the children dancing (vomit rose in my throat as I thought about them lustfully viewing those pictures later) and the other was on the dance floor, twirling one of my nieces (She was 18 and seemed to miss her Grampa). Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and only I was suffering or worried. Although I am used to this now, it is still surreal to feel like the crazy one. The only one with problems, why can’t I just relax and have fun? That’s what they say to me, not to let these creeps have power over me, to ruin my day. I tried to eat the wedding cake and convince myself that we were all OK and safe, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t take my eyes off those men for a second.

My other brother brought his new girlfriend over to meet me, and I cringed. I didn’t want to meet her, and I had no energy left for small talk. She started asking questions and demonstrating ownership of my brother, with her hands all over him, and telling him where to sit and stuff. I don’t like her, and view her as manipulative, though I don’t really know her. But I’m an expert at spotting fakes. I was ready to leave, and about to leave soon, and told the kids just a few more dances. They were having a great time and hadn’t seen their cousins in nearly a year. To them – nothing was wrong. I so much wanted for them to have this wonderful memory and begin thinking about falling in love some day.

But then something was terribly wrong. I felt it before I saw it. The other grandfather left the dance floor, and walked over to one of my nieces (about age 13) that was holding my youngest niece (about age 2) who had fallen asleep in her arms after making her pretty dress twirl and twirl the hour before on the dance floor.  Her grandfather held out his arms and though I could not hear him, obviously asked to hold the littlest one. I watched in horror as my niece easily handed over the tiny sleeping girl and went off to dance, never looking back, never thinking twice, never viewing any harm or threat in the situation.

I lost my mind. It’s a good thing the music was very loud, because I screamed, “Oh hell no!!” and then “I can’t fucking do this any more, I have to get out of here!” and I ran out of the room blinded with rage. Hubby followed me again, made sure I was OK, and then went back in to tell my brothers and my mom.  I paced around the lobby liked a caged lion ready to attack, so full of adrenaline that it felt like my heart was thumping in my head instead of my chest. It took every ounce of energy I had to remain outwardly calm and not cause a scene. I just needed to feel safe, and to know those little girls would be safe.  And to stay grounded in reality. Why was no one else upset? Why?

My brother and sis-in-law were shocked when I went back in there, pointed at the grandfather holding the little girl, and said very clearly, “This is not OK. I can’t pretend that this is OK. I love you, but I have to go now. Please keep your kids away from him. Please.” I walked around the room, fists clenched, my fingernails digging in my palms to keep me grounded and present, and hugged everyone and said goodbye with the best smile I could still manage. Luckily everyone was so busy chatting or dancing, and the music was so loud, I don’t think anyone noticed a problem. It made sense for us to go, we had a long drive home.

I went back out to the lobby while Hubby gathered our kids and belongings. My mom came out to wait with me, and kept rubbing my arm and telling me it was all OK, that everyone was watching the Grampas and no one would let anything bad happen here. She insisted they were safe. Every time she touched my arm I had to control an urge to punch her or her push her right through the door. I was so sickened that everyone was more concerned about appearances, that they actually thought it was OK for that man to hold that sweet little girl. And what about the girls he touched? What were they thinking? I’m sure they were minimizing what happened, and thinking it must not have been so bad if Mom and Dad allowed him to dance with them now. Those mixed messages are so dangerous and can open the door for that man to contact those girls in the future. They listen to him because he is an adult. Even though that teenage niece knew what he had done, she didn’t think twice about giving her little sister to Grampa. It’s just Grampa. Yes he’s weird, but that’s just Grampa.

———————–

And now I’m so confused. I spoke with my brother the day after the wedding, and he said he felt he didn’t have a choice here, not a good one anyway. He said his adult daughter invited the grandparents even though he asked her not to. He said he had everyone on high alert and was shocked at first that his daughter listened to Grampa so easily. But then again we weren’t shocked. Children rarely defy adults, we’re just not wired to do so. He said Grampa was watched much more closely after I left, but that they could not tell him to stay away from the children. They said he is angry and unpredictable and would have no problem making a scene and ruining the wedding. So for fear of a scene, a toddler was held by a pedophile. Because it was ok, calm down, everyone was watching, so nothing bad could happen. Why am I the only one that thinks something bad already happened? Why do they allow these people to control them, to do things they know is wrong, to avoid a scene, and actually protect the abuser? Should they have put their foot down and demanded the Grampas not be invited? And then he said that my own father had no formal invitation, that he showed up anyway. I’m not sure I believe that. I think the young bride acted the same way I did, and wanted an image of a perfect wedding, which for her needed to include grandparents. For me, at my wedding, it had to include my father or I would have had to tell hundreds of people why he wasn’t there, and I was unable to do that yet. My delusional world of denial was the the only thing that kept me alive at that point.

But now, me now, would I have done the same for my own daughter’s wedding? Would I have allowed this man to touch my youngest daughter to keep things going smoothly for my oldest? No. Never. If it were my own daughter in his arms, you better believe there would be a scene. Even if it made me look like the crazy one. Maybe they’d accuse me of being drunk. Whatever. It’s bad enough that these creeps get to enjoy viewing children. No way would I allow them to get within arms reach.

But for them – I played along. I can’t change them, I can’t protect every child, and it isn’t up to me to scream pedophile. No one would believe that charming man, smiling, laughing, and dancing with his grandkids was actually plotting out ways to get them alone. At least this man will go back to his own state and leave us all alone. But I still feel responsible and like I let down my nieces some how. Like I should have done more.

Damn these men for putting this burden on us. Damn them.

 

Handling Family and Initial Reactions

A distressful thought crossed my mind earlier this week. My niece is planning her wedding, and I am happy for her, and looking forward to the event. Until something made me wonder if my father, her Grandpa, would be invited.

I was surprised by my own reaction to this thought. I’ve been feeling so strong and peaceful lately, which has been indescribably wonderful and different from most of my life. I know some of this peace has come from me finally knowing I am worth something, and that my feelings do matter. This past Christmas was the first one where I requested not to have to see my father. So I think I have not seen him now since the Christmas before. I have not spoken to him since even longer than that.

So I was surprised at the jump in my heart, the fear inside at just the thought of being in the same room with him. Why is it so scary now? Because my cloak of denial is gone. I know who I am. I know who he is.

I emailed my brother, this niece’s Dad, about my concerns. I said I am not trying to control anything, and the niece is allowed to invite anyone she wants (she does know about our past, she can make her own decision), but I asked to be warned if my father might be coming. I’m not sure I would decide not to go, but I wanted to have that choice.

My brother’s response was soothing to me, mostly because he understood. I was not alone in this. He said that he would be surprised if my father was still alive by the time the wedding comes around. He is in the final stages of emphysema, unable to stand. (his funeral is a topic for another day – will I go to that? How will his death affect me and my family?) And that he has been disrespectful to all of them lately, insulting and angry, and may come if not invited, and may not come if invited, and that I should not allow him the power to keep me in hiding from such a beautiful family event.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Then I examined my initial reactions further. What is the fear? I broke it down. I’m afraid I will be triggered into having a flashback or panic attack. So what if I do? I have them at home without my father here. I know what to do now. I know how to get through them. Am I afraid of being embarrassed? Maybe a little. Am I afraid to take attention away from the bride and groom? Maybe a little. Am I afraid I will have a complete breakdown and lose myself again? Yes, that is the one. I haven’t known Me very long, and I’m afraid I will resort to hiding and pretending and resume all my old bad habits again.

So what? If that is the worst case, well, I found my way out once, I can do it again. I will not let fear drive my decisions. So I attacked my initial reaction, reached out to my brother and my husband for support, and found that I am strong – outside of my castle. No need to hide. My father has no power over me.

Repeat.

My father has no power over me.

Holiday Aftermath

After any family gathering, I am left with an empty feeling, a deep ache that is difficult to explain. It is part regret. It is part sadness. It is largely grief. Each time I see them. I must remember that my parents don’t love me, not really, not the way they should.

I survived 2 dinners at my Mom’s house this year – Thanksgiving and Christmas. I requested that for the first time ever, we don’t invite my Dad, the one who molested me nearly daily from ages 3-16. I never thought I was worth the trouble to make different plans. I never loved myself enough to care about the pain it caused me to sit and eat face to face with a man I both feared and loathed.

So this year, that one element was removed, but the remnants of our dysfunctional family are a sad substitute for love.  My eldest brother insists on walks down memory lane every time I see him. I have told him that I don’t have any memories that are not somehow skewed by Mother’s narcissistic tendencies and my Dad’s straight up emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy that walk of nostalgia, and instead end up with PTSD triggers that take days of recovery. My Mom flits about from person to person seeking attention, approval and affection and proving to everyone that she is in charge and loved. My other brother is the gentle, peace-making clown. He exists only to make others smile and deny reality. He is the one that allowed my ill, feeble Dad to move in with him. Avoid conflict at all costs. He gets panic attacks, GERD, migraines, and chest pain bad enough to land him in the ER on more than one occasion last year. His conflict is attacking his own body, but all he does is smile and make goofy jokes to the outside world. My other brother live with my Mom, and has Schizophrenia. He lives in a world that walk the line between reality and a horrible, gruesome fantasy world that he can’t escape. Mom takes care of him, and makes sure we all know what she has sacrificed to take care of him. So we know how good of  a Mom she is. See – she feels so guilty for never helping me all those years, just standing by and ignoring my abuse, that she either has to prove her worth now, or feel worthless.

Angel with mobile phone

phone calls with Mom often make feel on edge (Photo credit: Akbar Sim)

So, being the good daughter that I am, and playing the perfect daughter role that I still can’t quite shake – I called to comfort my Mom the day after my visit with her. I F-ing called her to apologize for being so late and distant while there. I wanted her to know that it was my anxiety and panic attacks that delayed me, so she would understand and forgive me. Here’s a bit of our phone conversation. It lasted about 3 hours, so only putting a few bits here that stand out to me.

—————————————————————————————————–

Me: Hey Mom, just wanted to thank you for throwing a nice dinner for us all and let you know I’m sorry for being so late.

Mom: I know it was terrible. I’m done with Christmas. We have no family any more. Just no point to trying to do this any more, no one ever talks to me, or helps me, and I work so hard and my fibro (myalgia) will flare for days but I do all this so you kids have a place to get together, and no one cares.

Me: (pause – shock – huh? ) Umm, well I just wanted you to know the reason I was so late. Dealing with everything and all the stress has me very anxious and I had to wait for the panic to settle down.

Mom: I just thought you were having a good time without me and didn’t want to come.

Me: Nooo, it literally took me 4 hours to stop the panic, Mom. I was shaking and could hardly breathe. I came as soon as I could.

Mom: Well we just shouldn’t even try to get together any more then if it is so terrible.

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: Work has been so terrible, so busy and the shoppers are so nasty and I get so tired and the pain is almost too much each day from being on my feet. I shouldn’t have to work at my age, and I don’t see a day when I can stop. No retirement for me. I have to support your brother. I’m proud that I can get up each day and go to work, even with the pain, but it is all too much lately. Life is too hard.

Me: Sorry to hear that Mom. I know it must be hard working there.

Mom: (endless stories of how terrible work is for the next hour? They all blend together. She never waited for my input. Just talked and talked about how miserable she is even though I was initially calling her to reach out to say I was suffering)

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: You know, your niece M____ asked when Grandpa was coming. I told her he wasn’t coming this year. She asked if he was sick, and I told her he wasn’t invited. She asked why, and I told her he did the same things to you that her Grandpa tried to do to her. (In the amazing mind-blowing way that my life seems to work out, my Sis-in-Law was also molested by her father. Difference is, they chose to believe that Grandpa was safe and caught him grooming/fondling a few of their girls. Nothing criminal had happened yet, just on the edge of creepy, but she made the decision to cut him out of their life just 2 years ago)

Me: (OK, breathe. this is actually good, right? Everyone knows. This shame I am feeling is not mine. I did nothing wrong. ) Wow. I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m glad you were able to speak openly. But how sad that she has a similar experience. All this innocence lost.

~~~~~~~~ another part of conversation~~~~~~~

Mom: No one wants to be with me. None of my kids want to be with me. (I had established some boundaries with her last year, some distance that I am still enforcing to protect myself) Brother 2 said he was going to get me another season pass to the amusement park. I said, No, Don’t bother. He has his new girlfriend now, he doesn’t need me any more. (Mom had been babysitting for him when his wife took off and left him with the boys all on his own over 2 years ago. She liked being needed by him and now feels jealous I think) And Brother 1 never calls or invites me over. I hardly hear from you and you barely make it to our dinners. (once – one time I was late, because I was looking out for me for once) And then Brother 3, even though he lives with me he never talks to me either. He always chooses to go out to dinner and casinos with your Dad, but if I ask him to go to dinner with me he always says No. Just like when you chose to live with dad when we got divorced. It just hurts too much and I don’t want to try any more if no one wants me.

Me: (Did I just get slapped? Why does it feel like an elephant is sitting on me? What did she just say?) I did not CHOOSE to live with him. He made me. Surely you know that. I was a child. He made me sign those papers just like he made me do everything else. I will never forget that day. He picked me up from school, took me to his lawyer’s andmade me sign the papers.  [the whole story as I recall but did not tell anyone ever –  (I usually took a bus, and he should have been at work) I got in his car, because he was my dad. He took me on a long drive, to the big downtown city. I was familiar with this city from my back doctor. The orthopedic surgeon was near here. He took me in this huge (and I had time to think – awesome and beautiful) stone, marble, granite oversized building near the courthouse. (sign said Courthouse – never seen it before) A secretary led us to an office, where a youngish man for a lawyer, but very old looking to me with dark hair shook hands with me while staring in my eyes, then putting both hands over my hands to stay a bit, and said, “Wow you were right, she really is a looker.” And then he winked at me and asked me to sit down at a huge desk. (yes he really said that – will NEVER forget that. Apparently my dad told him I was pretty? I always wondered what else that creepy lawyer knew about) On the desk were several documents. The lawyer sat on the edge of the desk, so his rear was nearly on the documents. He said something like “Your daddy wants you to be safe, so we need you to sign your name here and everything will be OK. OK?” So I read the document quickly, and saw that it was a custody agreement. It said I the undersigned choose to live with my father blah blah blah. He F-ing made me sign a legal document saying I belong exclusively to him. I’m angry now, but back then, it didn’t really phase me that much. I just signed it because he told me to. I didn’t feel or care much about anything then. I was 12. In our state, the marvelous legal system thinks the age is 12 is considered mature enough to make a decision like this – to forever say to one parent, I did not choose you. I hated my Mom at that point in my life, and so was not too concerned about how she would take the news. )

Mom: Well I didn’t know he made you

Me: Of course he did. I was a child.

Mom: I guess. It just proves my point though that no one ever tells me anything. I don’t matter to anyone. It’s like I don’t have a family.

Me: No Mom, you do have a family. All those Moms in Connecticut? They had no one to hug this Christmas. All of our cousins fighting overseas? They had no one to hug this Christmas. We were all there, in person, to hug you. All my Christmases as a child? I never got to hug a grandparent. Maybe our family isn’t perfect, but you can NOT say you don’t have a family.

——————————————————————————————–

I think that’s enough. My point here was to share a bit more of my past, and how it still affects my present. But mainly, I wanted to point out my growth. That I was able to have that entire conversation – as me. I never lost myself – never caved in. I hung up feeling the same as when I called, well a bit peeved of course, but not devastated as could have happened. I didn’t fall into any of her guilt traps, and I was even able to offer her some comfort. I felt like I had grown up a bit more.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Dysfunctional Family Disorder

I’ve been nearly hibernating for about 2 weeks now. I do this every year, and I have always been diagnosed with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I used to take a multitude of antidepressants to help, but it never helped much. I think I’m seeing now some patterns.

I think my responses this time of year are more related to stress than any type of cyclical affect. It starts in the Fall as school starts and my schedule fills up. I have to get up earlier than my body wants to. I am a natural night owl, despite many attempts to change this – mornings do, always will – suck. Then each evening we cram so many to-do’s into a few hours: homework headaches, dinner, extra-curriculars, bathtimes, bedtimes. I know every family handles this, and I’m pretty sure every family feels this same stress.

And then we start Holiday planning. Well, this year I made sure one stress was removed. This was the first year in my 36 years of life that I requested to have Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Father present. I never knew I could ask for that. My family never thought to  do this for me. (Can’t dwell on the ‘why’ of that one) And even though he was not there in person, he was still there in spirit, and I nearly lost my mind after Thanksgiving dinner. I was sent to such a deep dark place I nearly ended my marriage. I felt so unsafe that I even pushed away Hubby. Again. We worked on many issues, made me feel safe again, and Hubby has been back home and generally being wonderful. (Way too much to post here about the marriage – another time)

So the panic attacks prior to Christmas dinner were phenomenal. I nearly did not go. Thankfully Hubby talked me through them. We nearly did not go at all, and made it there at 7pm rather than 2pm as promised.

When we got there, my Mom was visibly annoyed at us being so late, and not knowing the reason, and says “Did you meet ____?”

“No  . . .  who?”

She points to a cheerful, maybe 12 year old girl, then smiles at my nephew David and says, “She’s going to be David’s sister” (David is not his real name, but it made no sense without a name)

————————————

It took me a second, but then I figured it out. This was my brother’s new girlfriend’s daughter. Oh my. I had no idea he was getting so serious with her. A few more conversations with another brother and I find out this new girlfriend has already moved in with my brother. And my Dad. My Dad sold his house and moved into this brother’s house when his wife left him 2 years ago.  With my nephews. My psyhopathic, pedophilic monster of  a father lives with my nephews. Despite my warnings, despite my efforts. My brother insists he has enough control over the situation, that he never allows the boys home alone with my Dad, that it is ok. I had to deal with fact, because I can not change this situation. But hearing that a young girl has now moved into this house too, well that was too much. I felt like I was punched in the stomach and would never take a full breath again.

Photo of an open fortune cookie

Leave it to my Mom to make fortune cookies dysfunctional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then in comes my Mom, in a deranged effort to make our dinner fun, she brings out fortune cookies, and requests all children (all grandchildren, not her children) to leave the kitchen. She wants us “grownup” kids to play the fortune cookie “in bed” game. (In case you don’t know this game, you read aloud the fortune followed by the phrase ‘in bed’ to make interesting, naughty fortunes) Let alone this is awkward to play with your Mom instead of friends with drinks, it was so awkward to abruptly ask the kids to leave. I should point out that there are 15 grandkids in attendance, so they keep coming in for cookies and drinks and she keeps getting angrier, but that cold, tight-lipped anger, and asks them all to leave the room. Instead I do. I go out to the front porch for a literal cooling down.

Hubby follows me out there, and we talk a bit, and I tell him I want to leave. He asks if he can talk to my brother for me. I say Yes, and so he does. I felt so supported, by at least one person in this craziness. And I focused on playing with the kids – the whole reason I go to these events, to get to see my nieces and nephews. Much later, Hubby and my brother emerge from a bedroom, neither looking too upset. We went back outside, and he told me that the girlfriend knows about the dangers of my Dad, and that they have lots of rules in place. I don’t feel much better, but at least I feel less responsible. I did my duty to warn anyone who comes in contact with this evil man. What they do with the information is out of my control. (I so much want to feel good about that, and let it go, but it is soo, so hard not to worry about those children) My brother thinks my Dad is no longer a physical threat, due to his emphysema, as he can no longer stand, and moves about only with an electric scooter. He actually said he encourages the kids to make crazy wild messes in their rooms, feeling secure that the scooter could not traverse the messy floor and grant access to sleeping children. I of course think this is bullshit. But I have to let it go. I see nothing else I can do. But pray those children remain untouched.

Why? Why does my brother allow this monster to live with him? Is it a sense of obligation? Unresolved guilt? Does he get something from it? I actually wondered if he thought of my Dad as a prisoner, and is getting off on the feeling of controlling him. I just don’t know. I barely talk to my family, and basically only see them for the Holidays.

So this year, my SAD, seems to be SDFD (Seasonal Dysfunctional Family Disorder). (Yes this is my attempt at humor to make the best of a crappy situation) Panic is in full swing. I am having trouble showering (just not thinking of it) every day, and forgetting what I was up to in the middle of tasks. I have been extremely anxious and jumpy. If the kids get too excited and speak too loudly too quickly, it feels like a gunshot in my head. I have had terrible nightmares, nearly every night. They are so gruesome that I avoid going to sleep some nights. I have found myself staying up all night play Sim games instead. It seems if I sleep in 3-4 hour batches, I avoid the nasty scenes. I have panic attacks in my sleep too, unrelated to dreams. I wake up feeling like I am choking.

My vitamin D level is normal now. I have a daylight therapy lamp. I have a weekly dance class. I go outside everytime the sun shines (twice here in the last month-ugh) and try to build a snowman or something with the kids.  I am not suicidal, and not even thinking of giving up. I am not depressed. I am not manic. I am just not me. I am anxious and exhausted. So very tired. I am waiting for my system to return to normal from all that stress. I am trying not to eat everything in sight. Trying. Keeping going.

Hubby is wearing thin, taking on too much again. I am sorry for this, but accepting that it just has to be this way until I recover again. I’m doing what I can. It isn’t fair, but I never promised fair. Just need to control my wicked tongue. I say hurtful things when I don’t feel well about myself. The inner critic turns outward. Sorry Hubby – I truly am, and I will try to be more gentle to all of us, including me.

Christmas in my own house, with my own Hubby and kids was magical, beautiful, and so entirely wonderful. I will hold on to that forever, just hold tight.