Sunday, June 24, 2018

Truth, and How I Learned To Tell It; Coming Clean (Part 2)

(Continued from Part I)

At this point I've been unleashed onto the world, and I have no idea how to admit to making a mistake.  I have never made a mistake that wasn't punished harshly.  I've never NOT been yelled at, criticized, called stupid for making mistakes I didn't know existed.  

"Never put metal in a microwave!"  Cool, daddy-o.  Do you think you could have told me that when we got the microwave?  

"I shouldn't have to tell you how this works!"  Um, why not?

"You should know better!"  I heard this approximately four zillion times.  I could never figure out how I should know better, since no one had ever explained anything to me.  

So any time I was in a position to say, "Oops, sorry," I couldn't.  I froze.  I was terrified of being yelled at.  I didn't know what to do.  It's been twenty years since I attended college, but I can think of three classes off the top of my head that I could have gotten credit for taking if I'd gone to the professors and said, "Um, I'm having trouble with the material.  Can you help me?"  A single five minute conversation, and I would have known what to do.  Instead, I let it build until it was too late, and then just ghosted the final class.  I loved the schoolwork, I loved classes, but when I got stuck, I didn't know how to handle it.  In my brain, it was always my fault, and I had to pretend I knew what I was doing in order to be accepted.  After I bailed on the last class, I would avoid that professor for the rest of my life because I knew they hated me now.  

Super healthy, right??

All that to say, not so much with the whole admitting-I've-made-a-mistake dealio.

I worked a crappy temp job after college.  I did a great job, and the boss kept saying she'd hire me as a regular employee, but it kept not being true.  We always had a ton of work, and she was happy to authorize overtime for me to catch them up with different tasks.  I was hired through a temp agency, so I filled out a little carbon postcard timesheet every week, and my boss signed it and we mailed it to the agency.  One Saturday, I forgot that I'd put down overtime hours for that day, and didn't come to work at all.  I panicked when I arrived on Monday and saw my timesheet.  I thought I would just skate by, but my boss called me into her office.  I told her I'd worked the hours, and she asked me what times.  I didn't know what else to do, so I said I'd worked in the afternoon.  She let me go back to my desk, and then called another employee to see her.  Then my coworker went back to her desk.  I tried to concentrate on work, but I was panicked.  I could see this activity from my desk, playing out moment by moment.  My boss called me back in, and said that my coworker had worked during the afternoon, and I wasn't there.  

I was terrified that she would yell at me, that she would fire me, that she would tell me I was a horrible person and didn't deserve to have the job.

She asked me what had happened, and why I said what I did to her.  I told her what happened, that I was really scared, and that I could make up the hours during the week.  She said that we'd fix the timecard and that there wouldn't be any more overtime after that.

That was all.

There wasn't any yelling.  There wasn't any blame.  She even served as a reference for me when I applied for and got a regular position in another department.  She didn't hate me.  It was a mistake, and she probably chalked it up to my inexperience in the workplace.  That's what I would do now, as a manager.  I would probably do a little more behavioral coaching than she did, but that's how I roll.  

What I don't do these days is lie, or hide, or look around for cover or plausible deniability.  I learned from my mistakes.  (No, that wasn't even close to the only one!)  I've developed a healthy relationship with the truth, and, as malleable as the world around us may be, I do my best to see my behavior clearly.  When someone accuses me of doing otherwise, I check myself, and then I look carefully at them.  

That's what life with my mother taught me.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Truth, and How I Learned To Tell It; Or, As You Reap, So Shall You Sow, Dammit. (Part 1)

You may have gleaned that I grew up in a crooked house with weird ways, and my body and soul formed with a permanent list to one side.  I didn't know who I'd find when I walked down the stairs into the kitchen each morning; would it be Affable Dad, or Angry Bastard?  Would it be Neutral Mom, or Critical Angryface?  They say you should choose wisely.  If I'd had a choice, I would have!  Any choice I had was strictly in the land of The Lady or the Tiger, and just as dangerous.

I was always on edge, holding my face in neutral until I found the lay of the land.  I was always going to be at fault, blamed for whatever might happen that day.  My brother would start hitting my sister, I would pull them apart, and I was yelled at.  I was constantly in trouble, or on trial for just being me.  "Can't you fix your hair!"  "Why don't you change into something NICE for a change!"  "What is WRONG with you!"  All non-questions posed as questions, later explained as "Well, I was just trying to HELP.  You said you wanted to make more friends; maybe if you looked better, more kids would want to be friends with you."  Even years later, when I repeated her words back to her, hoping she would apologize, the only response I got was this gem:  "Well you know what I MEANT."

I learned to hide at an early age, to do my best to obscure any- and everything I could.  Any facial expression, any betraying gesture, any word spoken --- they were all calculated for the least possible impact, with no revelation of my actual emotions.  Every one of my reactions was modulated to within an inch of its lives.  

I find myself tap-dancing around the subject at hand, because I can anticipate the voices that still live in my head.  If I say that I learned to become a liar in order to survive, then here comes the onslaught:  "The LIE is that you were mistreated!  I can't believe you would tell all these LIES about our family!  You've always been so overdramatic, and now you're ADMITTING that you lied all along!  You've always been so DIFFICULT."  (If you'd been raised in that house, you'd hear the all caps, too.  #funnynotfunny)

It's taken me a long time to reconcile my life in that house, and understand why I behaved as I did.  For decades, I was broken, I was wrong, I was stupid, I was ugly, and I was their albatross.  ("'Way I remember it, albatross was a ship's good luck, 'til some idiot killed it."  Yes, I'm a geek.)  I could not do anything right.  With nowhere to hide, I hid in plain sight.  I pretended a lot.  And yes, I lied to my mom to survive.  If I felt cornered, I would look her straight in the eye and lie to her.  

I mean, of course I did.  I was a kid.  I didn't have any other option.  I was trying to make my life bearable.  Sometimes that meant dodging the truth, but other times, I just flat-out lied to make things easier.   

I needed to survive.  But I also watched my mother operate for decades.  My mother knew how to put herself in the most favorable light possible; she preened under the spotlight, loved the attention, and bathed in adulation.  And if someone called her behavior into question, Katy bar the door.  The world might still end before she admits to any wrongdoing; I know I won't see that day.  I watched her bend the truth, I watched her break it, I watched her run circles around people until they didn't know which way was up.  I kept telling myself that she loved me, she couldn't be lying to me, and I was an ungrateful daughter who didn't deserve the roof over her head.  Indoctrinated, sure.  But I also learned her methods:  how to squirm around the question until you were answering a different question entirely.  And maybe the question had only changed in your own mind, not the questioner's.  

Backwards engineering the question was one of her favorites.  If you could change the question to ask for the information in front of you, you could change the entire interaction in your favor.  

So let's say, for example, you've made a bet with someone about a television show, and the answer to the question is back at your place.  They drop you off, you run to the source of the information, you check it out, and find the answer.  

Normally, someone would see it, and figure out whether they were right or wrong.  

My mother would look at the information, and figure out how to make herself right.

(End of Part 1.  Part 2 forthcoming.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rage, Rage, Rage: Medical Facts and Learning the Truth, Part 1

Asking for help, especially from an authority figure, is one of the hardest things to learn as a child of dysfunctional parents.  But I've been going to the doctor and dentist when I have something wrong with me lately, saying, "Yes," every time I ask myself the question, do I need to get help.  Silencing the voices that say I'm not worth it, it's too much trouble, it's my own fault for taking up space --- these voices are all lies.  I'm learning, making progress, taking small steps.  Ironically, some of those steps involve my literal feet.  (Please forgive the puns that follow.  I can barely, um, stand them.)

About three years ago, I discovered I'd been wearing shoes too small for me for probably twenty years, and about that time, I figured out that I had ingrown toenails as well.  So I'd had consistent pain in my feet for most of my life, so what?  I just thought that's the way things were.  

You can collect similar stories from a lot of people who grew up in dysfunctional households.  You don't know anything's wrong until you start comparing with normal people.  But you can't compare with anyone because you don't know how to connect in a functional way for a long time.  And even once you become functional, you aren't around normal people because they don't feel right to you for even longer.  So it takes a long time to understand what the normal people experience actually is.  If that makes any sense.  

To sum up:  What does a normal foot feel like?  Apparently, not mine.

So I decided to go to a foot doctor to try to get this fixed.  

There were many, ahem, steps to this process.  Each of them took some time and deliberation.  I got a recommendation from my doctor.  I had to calm down from doing that and agree that yes, I was worth the time and money and investment to get this done.  I called to make an appointment.  Again, I had to calm down from that freakout and talk myself into not cancelling; yes, I am worth taking time off work to make this happen.  

I had to go to the doctor and evaluate him as trustworthy and make sure I wasn't overriding my instincts with a fit of classic child-of-narcissists urge-to-please.  (I did not want to get stuck with a horrible doctor and end up getting re-traumatized, which is a real risk for people like me.)  I had questions I had to make sure I asked, with notes on paper so I wouldn't forget.  I had to make an appointment for the minor surgery, take time off work, make sure my husband took time off to drive me home.  

The first appointment was the hardest.  It's tough for me to walk into any unknown situation, to face people I've never met, and wonder what judgement lies beyond the door, what they will think of me.   I had the recommendation of someone I really trusted, and I knew that if I wanted to walk away, I could do that.  During the appointment, Mr. Kind Podiatrist looked at my toes and wiggled them around, confirmed that I have ingrown toenails, and started talking about options.  But amongst his kind and gentle poking and prodding of my big toes, he noticed my weird second toenail on my left foot.

There's a pretty good story to go with this toenail, and believe me, you do not want a picture of that toenail!  My parents used to have these super dangerous lawn chairs from the 70s.  Here, let's see if I can find a picture of the chair at least:  

My siblings and I were making forts with the three lawn chairs, piling them on top of each other, trying to get them to stay upside down, having variable amounts of success.  Per usual, my dad wandered by at one point with a drink in his hand and yelled at us to stop doing that, and we stopped for as long as he was in range, and then started up again as soon as he couldn't see us.  Kid stuff.  

Suddenly, one of the chairs collapsed, and one of the hinges grabbed my second toe and pulled out the toenail.  I screamed and there was blood everywhere.  My dad came running and the first words out of his mouth were, "I told you kids not to do that anymore, goddammit!"  He grabbed me and ran into the bathroom, put me on the counter, and ran cold water over my bleeding toe.  It hurt like hell, and I cried and screamed sitting on the counter.  He held my foot under the water until it stopped bleeding, telling me to knock it off, I should have listened since I was the oldest.  I don't remember the band-aid or anything, but when my toenail grew back, it was a quarter inch thick and cloudy like a goat's hoof.  My dad said that was my toenail's reaction to getting pulled out.  My whole family made fun of it for years, and my parents said it's what I deserved for disobeying.  I couldn't really trim it very well, and it sometimes snagged my tights when I got older.  

When Mr. Kind Podiatrist saw my blunt little stubby toenail, I was ready.  I had my story prepared as a pre-emptive strike, isn't this funny, ha-ha! and told him my story about the lawn chairs and how the toenail got ripped out and that's why my toenail is that way and isn't that funny!

"Oh no," he said.  "That's a fungus."

"What."  I said.

"That's a fungus," he said.  "We can clear that right up.  Just takes a little medicine."

"Really."  I said.  

[Let us pause here.  No.  Really.  Let's.]

Reader.  Oh Reader.  It took every ounce of self-control I had to not pick up the entire exam table, crack it in half, and throw it through the wall.  I just kept thinking, forty years.  For almost forty years, I've been living with this toenail, letting my family make fun of me, blaming myself, letting them blame me, filing it down, being ashamed of it, of myself, when all it is is a fungus?  

In that forty years, where were my parents?  Why didn't they ever take me to a doctor to ask the question?  Six words!  "Is there anything we can do?"  Nope, too much work.  Too much effort.  Too much trouble.  It's her fault - never mind that they were the parents, I was the child.  She should have minded - never mind that I was seven years old and just being a kid.  This follows the pattern:  Didn't do your job as a parent and you feel bad about it?  Blame the scapegoat child and never admit you did anything wrong!  Problem solved.  

"It's just a fungus."

I got through the rest of the appointment the way I do everything else in my life.  I shoved my angry, terrified, or difficult feelings into a box and pretended with all of my highly tuned acting skills that everything was perfect.  I worked out all of the details of the upcoming procedure.  I was present, and contained my fury until I got home.  Driving home was tough.  Every once in a while it threatened to swell up around the edges, but I knew I might drive into another car if I started screaming so I didn't think about it.  I got home safely, played computer games, and zoned out with a cat on my lap until my husband got home and started making dinner.  I perched on our table and tried not to rip things apart as I told him what happened.

My friend Karrie Higgins has written extensively on her medical issues and what requesting her medical records has revealed to her.  I've considered doing the same thing just to see what else comes up.  

I keep reminding myself that this will happen over and over.  I wrote about this before in my Law & Order sound effect blog post.  (Jung Jung!)  There will always be something new that strikes me in a different way, or that I'm seeing with new eyes.  Or someone will tell me a story about my parents that I've never heard before, and I'll listen and gain a perspective that sheds light in dark corners.  

Knowing it will happen again doesn't keep it from being infuriating.  The anger is fresh each time.  If there were an Academy Award for Not Hulking Out in a Public Place, I would have twelve of them on my imaginary mantle.  But it's worth the anger.  It's confirmation of what I instinctively believed when I started this journey, and what I now know to be true.  My parents chose to blame me for an accident that could have happened to any child, and when it happened, they sought no medical treatment for the next eleven years.  In addition, they teased me about it, and never thought that I was worth the trouble of mentioning it to a doctor.  That's not good parenting.  That's not parenting.

I may find more surprises around other corners.  Will I take care of them myself?  The answer is YES.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Childhood Trauma: How What We've Experienced Shapes Us

I'm not gonna lie:  None of this is easy to deal with.  I may be able to tell some of these stories with a calm demeanor, but that's hard fought and not easily won.  I've ranted and raved and screamed into a bonfire a few times, mourned the energy wasted and potential lost as I spun my wheels for years and years asking the wrong questions.  "What's wrong with me?  Why am I broken?  Why am I doing all of the wrong things?  Why am I such a horrible person?"  

As a child of crappy parents, these were the questions I was trained to ask.  Every time I did something that my mom didn't like, or made her uncomfortable, she turned it around and asked me, "Why did you do that?  Why are you like that?  What's wrong with you?"  

Even these days, I still flinch if I think someone's going to judge me.  I still anticipate the possible blow.  I instinctively avoid doing or saying something if I can predict what they will say.

Let me pick apart that last sentence for you, and show you how limiting it can be.

"I instinctively" = the instinct is there, implanted.  I have been trained to immediately react in a certain way, and must train myself to stop, think, and react in a different way.  Anyone who has studied childhood knows how hard it is to retrain learned behaviors.

"avoid doing or saying something" = I'm stopping myself, not being limited by someone else, but by myself.  

"if I can predict what they will say." = Ooo there's a lot there.  "if I can predict"  NO ONE can predict.  I'm assuming a lot here.  "they" is the big one.  I'm taking my experiences with my parents, which were pretty horrendous, and projecting them onto whoever I'm with, and predicting that "they" whoever they are, will treat me in the same way that my parents did.  

And then self-limiting based on that assumption.

That's not good.  You can see that, right?

First of all, the general public will never treat me as poorly as my parents did.  I know that for a fact.  I've experienced it daily since I moved out of my parents house.  Twice.  

Second, even if they do, I know that they shouldn't be treating me that poorly.  No one should ever treat me that poorly and my parents shouldn't have in the first place.  Righteous indignation FTW.  

So what I'm doing in that beautiful sentence is presuming that everyone I meet is going to treat me horribly, and that I should not be myself around them because of how they are going to treat me when I do.

If I speak my truth, people will treat me badly.  Because I'm broken.  There's something wrong with me.  That's the lesson of my childhood.  

But no one can stuff themselves down for their entire lives.  Especially not me.  So I finally reveal myself to someone, and if something goes wrong, I'm left with those questions.  "What's wrong with me?  Why am I broken?  Why can't I ever do the right thing?"

These have never been the right questions to ask.  

When I approach it from this other angle, it makes sense.  What happened to me?  I was raised in a house where no one took care of me.  I was never acknowledged as who I was.  I wasn't supported as a person.  I was fed and clothed, but I was derided and chided and nagged and ignored but praised in public.  I never knew if I was coming home to happy parents or angry parents.  There was no safe haven, just the possibility of danger.  The car in the driveway dictated your fear level.  

I'm not broken.  Someone tried to break me.  

But I'm not broken.  I'm still here.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Deserving Better

I started writing this blog with a purpose.  I wanted to share my story with people just like me, who needed to hear that they weren't the only ones whose parents had tried to break them.  I knew there were others out there who were suffering as I had because they didn't know that their trouble in relationships, with money, jobs, food, friendships, with feeling good enough ---- that all of these things could be linked back to their childhood experiences.  They didn't know that what they went through wasn't normal, and it wasn't their fault.

I was excited when people started reading my blog.  I could see the hits start piling up, and every now and then I could see when someone really dug in and read every single page.  I know those were My People, the people who really needed to hear what I had to say.  That excited me.  But I hit 500 page views, and my excitement started curdling.  I would report my numbers to my husband.  "550 views.  Oh my gosh."  His support never wavered.  "That's great, isn't it!"  "I guess so," I would shake my head.  He never pressed, but I could hear his question.  If my intent was to reach people, why wasn't I happy that I was succeeding?  

This got worse as the numbers grew higher.  The last time I checked about a month ago, I had 900 hits on my blog, and I was so uncomfortable, I stopped writing completely.  I also had foot surgery, so I had another reason to stop and take care of myself (which is another thing that children of narcissists are NOT good at, but more about that later, oh so much more).  

I let it go.  I know enough about myself to know that sometimes if I push on something too hard, I'm going to break it instead of fix it.  I had to let it incubate.  I worked on other things, other personal issues in therapy, books I'd been meaning to read, and let my mind wander.  And it occurred to me as I was falling asleep one night that my problem was exactly the same in my work life as it was in my blog life.

In my childhood, I was given very little love and attention, very little of what I needed overall - school clothes, books that fed my soul, even basic hygiene instruction.  I learned to make do with whatever I was given.  It made me a really good survivor in deprived circumstances.  I am excellent at handling terrible situations.  I can thrive in horrible environments and just get things done regardless of whatever is being handed to me.  

So I'm accustomed to those situations, in work, in relationships, everywhere.  I'm built to handle whatever.  I know what I'm doing in those worlds.  They're my jam.  I get it.  I buckle down, I manage, I make it great.  But that doesn't mean that I don't deserve better.  That doesn't mean I should stay in a crappy situation.

As my blog started gaining a readership, I became increasingly uncomfortable.  Yes, my intent was to reach people, but my old feelings about not deserving any attention came flooding back.  I was doing what I do best - writing well, communicating the things I know best, and helping people along the way.  But it still made me massively twitchy to be seen doing it, to know that others were acknowledging my skills and enjoying my work.  

I've been lucky enough to have friends who are supportive of my work here; they've given me positive feedback on this blog, and I've received other feedback as well, saying it seems like I know what I'm doing, I've come so far from where I was, handled so many issues so well, and I seem so together.  I always smile graciously and try to tell them basically:


You never really get away from being in a dysfunctional home.  You work on it as long as you breathe.  You make HUGE progress, and the first step is knowing where you really came from.  Once you realize your true origins, you can start moving away from home, literally and figuratively.  You can rebuild yourself from scratch.  But you will always find another piece, or the same piece, of shame, or guilt, or weird feelings hiding within you somewhere.  The good news is that it's smaller every time.  And you know how to deal with it this time.  You've been here before.  

I had to share this.  I've been here before.  You can get through this.  I promise.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Love Letter to My Inner Critic

Dear Inner Critic,

I wanted to write you a letter and let you know how much you've meant to me for all these years.  For so long I've treated you like a burden, like a horrible secret that needed to be hidden away.  I've realized lately how much you've done for me, and I wanted to thank you for helping me get through the toughest times in my life. 

In my earliest childhood years, I really didn't need you, and whether you knew that or I was just too young to criticize myself properly, you hung back and let me soak in all of the adulation that came from being the newest baby in a large extended family that had suffered terrible losses.  You let me believe what they said --- that I was cute and smart and funny --- and you knew that I would need the memory of that pride and approval and love to sustain me through the next long, lonely decades. 

When my mother's pride turned into anger and her smile turned to stone, you emerged from behind me with a shushing sound.  You taught me to hold my tongue quietly in my mouth, to watch the language of the bodies around me, to be wary of feeling comfortable enough to speak freely.  You showed me the traps laid for me to fall into, the pits in my path, the slipperly slides down the hill that would capture me if I strayed.  You covered my mouth before I spoke and showed me how she would see my words --- as daggers aimed at her, not the innocent musings they were.

Sometimes I ignored your warnings.  I couldn't help but break through and try to be myself.  When I was punished for it, you repeated your warnings, and showed me that hiding was the only way to live through my childhood.

Your reprimands kept me safe at school as well.  You held me back from always having the answer, or at least volunteering it, and from thinking that my intelligence meant anything to the world.  You instilled in me a sense that I would never be enough, and that kept me striving for more, more knowledge, love, and skills, for a very long time.  Any time I started feeling complacent, your relentless nagging kept me from standing still.  My thirst for knowledge was born from your dissatisfaction with my achievements, whatever those happened to be.  Thanks to you, I have learned and experienced so much that I might have otherwise missed.

Did I mention that you saved my actual life?  I have no doubt that without your constant warnings, I might have been killed, physically or spiritually, by either one of my birth parents.  Their volatile personalities, addictions, and sheer bottled rage could have exploded on me at any time, without your constant criticism to remind me that I was not measuring up to their impossible standards, and they might lose their temper at any moment.

I carried you with me to college and beyond, hearing your voice, the voice of fear, in my head any time I showed my true personality.  You said my parents wouldn't like that, they wouldn't stand for it, they might slap or threaten or punish me for who I am, for who I was showing to the world. 

I hated you for a long time.  But I needed you in order to get here, to where I am today.  I have a new life, and a new name, and no one has ever said hateful things about this new name, this new person that I am today.  I'm stepping out into the light as my true self, and I don't need you to protect me anymore.  Thank you for saving my life, for keeping me safe, but I'm okay by myself now.

You can rest now.  I'll always remember you.  Goodbye.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Movies I Watch on Repeat II: Recovery Edition

This one needs a little more 'splaining, Lucy, because it took me a while to understand exactly why I was so drawn to these movies.  I've never been in rehab.  I don't think I've ever been addicted to anything illegal.  But I've longed for escape, escape from the pain and fear that were instilled by my family from childhood, and I get it.  I understand what it's like to never want to feel like that again, to not care what you have to do to avoid it.  I've chosen to stay in relationships just so I would feel loved --- even though I was being abused on a daily basis, I would have done anything to avoid being alone, to avoid hearing that voice in my head:  No one will ever love you.  Where does that fall on the irony meter:  A women's studies major in an abusive relationship?  You have to laugh!  You have to laugh or it swallows you whole.  So I smile now, because it's ridiculous, and it's been decades now.  I know now that I'm not unlovable.  I know that because I love myself.  I don't need anyone else to do it for me.

All that to say, I know what that feels like, to do anything at all not to feel.  Before I pinned that down (through a whole lot of self-reflection and counseling and work, yes I say that a lot, WORK), I just knew that I loved these movies.  They spoke to me on a cellular level.  So here's the list, and again, I'll keep the spoilers as light as I can.

This movie is split into two separate plotlines, centering around an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  The main character Jim, played by Richard Lewis, is a recovering addict, who is setting up for the meeting.  He's something of an example for the rest of the attendees, but halfway through the meeting he bolts, and immediately starts drinking his way through the night, moving through progressively harder drugs.  This is intercut with footage of the stories told at the meeting by the attendees about their lives and how they got to this point in their lives. 

I watch this one about once every six months.  Jim's descent into complete horrifying drugged stupor is pretty intense.  The other stories are pretty awful, but I get a lot from their self-reflection and how they realized or were forced to realize how far they had fallen over the edge.

I have a Demotivational postcard someone gave me as a joke at work that says, "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."  In some ways, that's how I feel about these movies.  If I don't do the work, if I don't watch my motivations and make sure that I'm not lying to myself about why I do the things I do, I could easily slip down that rabbit hole and disappear.  I know it could happen.  If I want to be who I'm meant to be, I have to be careful.  I have to be vigilant.  That's part of the attraction.

It's also what I always hoped my mother would do.  I can see her in these stories.  I know what her home life was like growing up.  I know how she was treated.  I can see it in how she treated me, in how she acted, in her behavior every moment I was growing up.  And she knew I could see it, and she hated me for it.  Nobody likes the truthtellers.  (That's another blog post altogether.)  And I always hoped she would realize how her background affected her, and try to do better than that.

But she didn't.  She chose as her mother did.  Wall it up, and move on.  She never dealt with the past, left it in a huge mess in a room in her mind, to fester and leak out into her dealings with her family every day.  She didn't realize it, but it poisoned everything around her.  Including me.  As William Faulkner said, "The past isn't dead; it isn't even past."

Rating:  20 viewings, but a big impact.

28 Days
Not to be confused with 28 Days Later (an excellent zombie film), this film centers around Gwen, played by Sandra Bullock, a trainwreck of a woman.  In the first few minutes, she shows up wasted and an hour late to her sister Lily's wedding, stumbles through the ceremony, at the reception dances directly into the wedding cake, then steals a limo to go find another cake, crashing the car into a house. 

Like I said, trainwreck.

After being placed into rehab for 28 Days (hence the title) in lieu of jail time, she proceeds to judge everyone and everything around her, correcting pronunciation, rolling her eyes at the chanting of the serenity prayer, refusing to participate in anything, and trying to find drugs immediately.  Her boyfriend visits and slips her some drugs, she uses, and her counselor sets up a transfer to jail.  Still in denial, she insists that she could stop using if she wanted to, saying she's a writer and they all drink, she likes to have a good time, she's not an addict, that's for those other people.  Out of stubbornness, she throws the drugs out the window, then tries to shimmy down a tree to get to them.  After injuring herself, she realizes the extent of her addiction and breaks down. 

The rest of the movie involves her journey as she throws herself into treatment, participating in everything, trying to gain back everyone's trust, and reaching out to Lily for help in talking about family issues.  One of the scenes that will always, always bring me to tears is when Lily talks about wishing she had helped Gwen when they were younger.  Using her newly found knowledge from the program, Gwen says, "Well, I never asked for help, so."  Lily replies, "But you needed it, didn't you?" 

Everyone needs help in this world, at one time or another.  Of course I was raised to believe that I didn't deserve help, and so I couldn't ask for any because no one would help me.  You're reading this; you've probably already read something earlier so that's already a given.  But even if I did get the courage to actually ask for help, I faced a huge wall of resistance.  My mother would flip out, giving me all of the reasons that there WAS no help to give.  No money available, no time to do what I was asking for, no way that it could be done.  If it was something I valued, but it didn't line up with presenting to the world the image of her as a perfect mother, it just couldn't happen.  Impossible.

So I learned.  I learned not to ask, that help didn't exist.  And I worked around that void for decades. 

I had to start small, and ask for little things before I could believe that it would work.  Any setback was a huge setback, and I had to start from zero many times.  But eventually I was able to ask for help without feeling like a huge imposition, like I was asking too much, taking up too much space, being greedy when I should be giving instead of taking. 

One of my friends said something a long time ago that reframed the situation for me.  She asked me if I liked helping people, and how it made me feel.  I said I loved helping people, and it made me feel good, and useful, and like I was needed.  She said, why would you want to keep someone else from feeling that way?  Wouldn't you want to allow someone else the pleasure of feeling that way if you had the chance? 

Digression again.  That's just one of the pieces of this movie that meant so much to me.  Watching these characters deal with their past, and learn from their mistakes helped me figure out how to do that myself.

Rating:  300 viewings, at least.  I could probably recite this one, easily. 

I don't know that I'll ever fully recover from the childhood I had.  I'll probably always be in recovery.  But these movies gave me hope that I wouldn't have to use food or books or other people to hide from my feelings about my past forever.  Instead, I could move through my feelings and step up into a new life, one where I could acknowledge where I came from, but live as myself without letting my past dictate who I would become.