November 20th, 2012 by admin
It’s that time again. Time for me to get divorced.
This happens on a semi-regular basis. Like a serial killer, the period of refraction between overwhelming urges (to separate not murder) is becoming shorter over time. Unlike a serial killer’s compulsion, I don’t know if my building anxiety is a sign of health or sickness. (Dexter aside, let’s just assume that killing people for pleasure is wrong.)
After 25 years, it’s become apparent that I married a person that takes advantage of the same weakness engrained and exploited by my original family: my willingness, nay-insistence, on blaming myself for anything and everything. In an oddly convoluted way, blaming yourself for everything is kind of narcissistic. How can anyone be responsible for everything, good or bad? They can’t. But that doesn’t stop my inner voice from revving up its blame-thrower anytime I sense unhappiness or displeasure in those around me.
Growing up, I learned that the way to earn love was to anticipate another’s needs and then meet them, ideally before the other person was even aware of the “need”. If I was unable to prevent disappointment or discomfort, I was overwhelmed with shame and anxiety. My mind could come up with some pretty twisted rationales for how my parent’s problem was caused by me.
Organizing the world in relation to oneself is developmentally normal for a small child. Once s/he realizes s/he and the mother are not one, s/he has to figure out how to relate to the world. Upon developing a more realistic understanding, thanks to brain development, most people learn that tons of shit goes on that has nothing to do with her/him.
I think a couple of things got in the way of me making that cognitive leap. 1) Separation from my mother was seen as a betrayal, rather than healthy growth; and, 2) As honest-to-God narcissists, my parents also never moved past their “center of the world” mindsets. My sisters and I are not separate individuals, so much as extensions of them, built and programmed to meet their needs and expectations.
I’m grown up now, with years of therapy under my belt and vastly more life experience than my six year-old self. So what’s the problem? 1) The parental manipulation is ongoing, even spreading to one of my sisters who is particularly vested in maintaining the status quo. 2) I unconsciously seek out others to play the parent role so I can reprise the role most familiar to me, even though it makes me completely miserable.
Too heavy? Take a break from our regularly scheduled programming:
Today was a red letter day because I got my first comment! It was pretty exciting to log in and see someone actually responding to my blog. I was considerably less excited upon seeing that my commenter only wanted to share her enthusiasm for a UK jacket discounter. Is this like seeing your name in a crossword puzzle – proof you’ve reached a certain level of pop culture recognition? Nah. Probably just a spider. What this means for you is that you still have the opportunity to be my first real commenter! Blogging is lonely, and even though I’m socially retarded, I crave interaction. Break my blog cherry and I’ll tweet your comment (with your permission). Back to today’s post…
Early this Summer, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. (During Mom’s appointment with her surgeon, when she received her full diagnosis and surgical plan of attack, my Dad took the opportunity to state that he thought he also had breast cancer. I am not making this up.) Following surgery, she was to start chemotherapy, which meant she could not travel to California to stay with my youngest sister (by 21 years) who was expecting her first child. Since my sister and her boyfriend could be fired and/or prosecuted if their relationship was revealed, he was not going to be at the hospital for the delivery, or otherwise tangibly supportive.
I was torn: stay near my mother so I could advocate for her with the medical professionals and her self-absorbed husband? (I lived through cancer surgery and radiation treatments 18 years ago, and I have a lot of hard-won experience to share.) Or travel cross country to care for my sister, whose concept of interpersonal relationships can best be described as “What have you done for me lately?”
This was happening at the same time as the command-vacation in Wyoming. Originally my husband’s mother wanted to go somewhere exotic which would involve a long flight, compulsory ass-kissing and a willingness to endure her drunken tirades on a nightly basis. In what I thought was an ingenious move at the time, TGIAM came up with a better plan. We couldn’t avoid the ass kissing and abuse, but we didn’t have to fly 28 hours roundtrip for the experience!
The fresh air and beauty of the Grand Tetons sounded wonderful, especially since my mother-in-law said she wanted to stay somewhere with a first-class spa. This is important to me because, the treatments that kept my tumor from returning have also caused Ischemic Necrosis of the Sciatic Nerve. Basically, reduced blood flow over time has resulted in nerve death, pain, numbness and “drop foot”. Since the week’s activities would revolve around ropes courses and hours-long car rides (which I hated even before they became painful), there would be something for me to enjoy.
My mother generously insisted that I vacation with my family. (Was this a trap? If I went, would my thinly veiled selfishness be incarnate for all to see?) After all, she had my father’s undivided attention, except for when his eye was hemorrhaging (I’m not making this up) or when he had to run choir practice (like the night she got her biopsy results via phone).
Originally, Wyoming seemed like a good idea because if my sister went into labor, I would be that much closer to California. However, over the course of her pregnancy, it became apparent that impending motherhood was not producing vast sea-changes in her priorities or personality. She lied to me about things important and trivial; railed at me if I responded to her in ways other than fawning and applauding; and, applied for public assistance, even as she reaped the benefits of her employer’s increased and generous pregnancy-linked stipend. (Apparently in CA, you don’t have to count your housing, food, health care or other allowances when applying for WIC.) My care-taker self image was doing serious battle with the nauseating prospect of descending into Jerry Springer World.
I was paralyzed. Where did my loyalties lie, and which of my family’s major life events deserved at least a temporary lease on my energies?
As time drew near for my husband and younger sons to meet my oldest son and mother-in-law out West, I asked my husband again and again to give me the name of the resort he had booked and their flight information. His response was variations of “I can’t remember”, “I’ll email it to you” and “Teton something.” Already feeling ricocheted by matters of life and death, his behavior seemed deliberately elusive. This meant only one thing to me – I wasn’t wanted. Even I know that inserting myself where I’m not wanted is not likely to result in an enjoyable experience for anyone. So I scratched “vacation with family” off my list of options for the first week in July.
Being hugely psychosomatic, my sister’s impending due date was making me physically ill. I did not want to go to California. I did not want to see this new baby born into such a broken and sickening environment. I did not want to keep my mouth shut while watching people behave with a breathtaking lack of integrity and responsibility. Fortunately, my other sister stepped in. Somehow being surrounded by raving lunatics doesn’t bother her. I honestly don’t know how she maintains such equanimity. Anyway, she works part time and her employer would give her time off. She agreed to go if I would pay for her trip. Done.
This left my last chance at redemption as a decent human being: my mother and her cancer. I am ashamed to tell you I didn’t take care of her either. She was recovering from surgery at her home about forty minutes from me. I went with her to her medical oncologist appointment, but that wasn’t until the others were back from Wyoming. Instead I chose to abide her urgings to take some “me time”. I have wicked ADD which means my house and life are in constant states of disorganized flux. A week of uninterrupted organizing time was an extremely rare opportunity. Every day I worked morning to night. I filled dozens of trash bags and set out loads of new and barely used electronics, books, toys, etc., under a FREE sign in front of the house. It is amazing how much I got done without anyone else to feed, drive or pick up after.
I was feeling pretty accomplished as I sorted old mail and bills that last night, until I came upon a single piece of paper that literally took my breath away. It was a memo in lieu of pay stubs, indicating that my husband had not taken a salary for six month of the last year. Some of you may be wondering why this is a big deal. I’ll tell you why: because he had done exactly the same thing the year before.
When I found out months after he made this decision the first time, we had many difficult and emotional conversations where I tried to explain how his unilateral, secretive decision involving our financial stability affected our relationship and my ability to trust him. We talked and talked and cried and talked and talked and talked and cried and talked and talked. We used every weapon in the arsenal of interpersonal communication. He apologized. He swore to never do something like this again. He cried that he had hurt me so deeply – that I felt betrayed, that I thought his actions showed contempt for me and a lack of respect for our union. He explained that his manly need to keep the organization where he worked afloat drove him to take drastic action. I understood, but reiterated that the most damage was not caused by the action, but by the secrecy and failure to discuss such a major decision with his wife. We rebuilt. We soldiered through and came out on the other side with deeper intimacy and a greater tensile strength that can only anneal by fire. Then,
HE DID THE EXACT SAME THING SIX MONTHS LATER.
Back to when I found out about the second time: I actually heard a rushing in my ears and my knees liquefied like sandy ground in an earthquake. I thought I must have read it wrong. I called my husband’s cell phone and left a message asking him if he had stopped taking a salary. I’ve never been any good at subtle. I called his work cell phone to leave the same message. I texted him on both phones. Nothing.
My rising panic fought with that part of my brain that goes into slo-mo when faced with a crisis. I could see both sides arguing for control of my body and psyche. I don’t actually remember how I finally reached him. I may have called one of my sons’ phones. He gave me some story about one son having a fever and trying to find a thermometer and said child’s miraculous recovery which allowed them to go to dinner, blah, blah, blah. He asked if we could talk about this when he got home. And then he admitted that he had indeed unilaterally and secretively stopped taking a salary for the past six months.
I was calm. I was cool and collected. Then the panicky side beat the shit out of the calm, cool and collected side, and I started screaming like the banshee he knew lived inside me. I provided a technicolor picture of the shrew he avoided when he chose not to talk to me about what I thought should be a joint financial decision.
It’s hard for me to convey how this has devastated me. It feels like he had an affair.
I plunged into a profound depression. I’ve lost my place in the world. I am homeless, because my home was with my husband – a man who apparently existed only in my imagination. I’ve lost my sense of purpose. I’ve spent over 20 years raising our kids, creating a family, building a warm haven, safe from the unpredictable and unkind forces outside my loving arms. And it was all bullshit.
I exchanged autonomy for joint decision making, control for compromise. I gave up choices, options and an unknowable, alternate future. I gained financial security. I birthed and raised three amazing people. Whenever something didn’t seem right, I blamed myself. When my husband was distant or condescending or negligent or unloving, I blamed myself. This mostly worked well for nearly a quarter century. The problem is that no matter how hard I try, I can’t construct a scenario where my husband’s actions are my fault.
“Oh, totally my fault. I should have been clear. I don’t want you to have an affair with anyone. Fucking Janet is not okay, because it wasn’t fucking Mary that was the problem. It was fucking someone other than me!”
He would be totally within the ground rules replying,
“You should have said that. Now I get it. Terribly sorry. It won’t happen again.”
I would kick myself for not doing a better job of explaining my feelings and expectations and he would come away unscathed because the misunderstanding was so clearly my fault. Except that he fucked Mary twice! So it wasn’t my fault for not speaking plainly. I left no rock unturned in my efforts to impress on him the problems his actions created. Even if the reason he didn’t discuss it with me the second time is because I am an ugly, quarrelsome bitch, that doesn’t really get him off the hook. If that’s his reason, it makes him look like a spineless weasel, afraid to have a conversation with his wife because it might be uncomfortable.
Need another break? Vaguely related aside #2:
I read this book called WTF Are Men Thinking? It seems to me that the answers to questions women submitted revealed two primary truths. 1) The most important thing to men is that they not be seen as weak, feminine or inferior in any way. 2) The second most important thing is to avoid conflict of any type with anyone as much as humanly possible. Now, I can’t be the only one to feel that if men would just stop lying, acting sneaky and making excuses for bad decisions and consequences, women (and other men) would see them in a much stronger, more masculine, generally superior light. Worry less about avoiding conflict/discomfort, and you won’t have to worry so much about appearing unmanly. A third impression I formed reading this book is that the majority of the men who responded see themselves as more moral, faithful and devoted than the average male portrayed by our American media. My recent personal experience leads me to believe that they are probably full of shit, magically able to see themselves as knights in shiny armor, even as they lie, cheat, apologize, repeat. Where can I get me some of that compartmentalization?
The one coping device that I could rely on to make sense of a confusing world has utterly and completely failed me. I truly don’t know what do in a bad situation if I can’t figure out how to blame myself for the failure. This is obviously insane. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less real or confounding to me. I’m 46 years old and I this is the first time I have been unable to construct a “viable” reality in which I am the bad guy and everyone else gets plausible deniability. I am rudderless.
But I can’t help thinking this might be a gift. A searingly painful, way-late-coming, fertile growth-inducing gift. I have realized that I have no one with whom to shelter from the storm; no protection from caprice’s harsh ray; no soft, feathered nest in which to rest my weary head. There is only one place from which to draw strength – from within. I have no doubt that I will evolve from this experience. I just wish I wasn’t so mentally and physically depleted when this epiphany landed like a fat, flightless quail, smack-dab in the middle of my life.
I’m scared. I’m alone. I’m a speck of dust in the vast cosmos. But I was all those things before. Not knowing it doesn’t make it any less true.