Just curious, show of hands, how many of you are still battling demons dealt to you in childhood? I’m guessing it is all of us, or most of us. Or maybe you’re just in denial that a phrase repeated to you from a young age is still a problem for you, even after nearly 30 years of therapy? That’s me. Every time I think I have that toxic message kicked to the curb it pops the fuck back up in my life. And nothing pisses me off more than the fact that my parents are still fucking with me beyond the grave.
I still remember the relief when my mom died that I would no longer feel responsible for her. Ha what a fucking joke…. I felt just as fucking responsible for everything that came after. I felt responsible for all of her belongings and having them dispersed in the way she would have wanted. I felt responsible for all the in-fighting with my siblings even though I begged them to step up and just act like big brothers for once. I felt responsible for being the one to sign the DNR and for being the one to officially make the decision not to prolong her life. I felt responsible for keeping up her graveside even though I have only visited it a handful of times in the 9 years since she died (I suppose this is my one victory, that I stopped going and I stopped sending flowers after just a few years). And now I feel fucking responsible for the way my family of origin has broken apart. That I didn’t do enough to hold it together. That it must all be my fault. And I know, that if she saw my life now, I’d be the biggest disappointment ever. Nothing I did was ever good enough. Even though she told me it was, it didn’t matter. The fact that she told me repeatedly as an adult that it wasn’t my job to make her happy could not erase the damage done to my 5 year old mind.
Because this is what happened. My mom was hospitalized in the early 1980s for depression. I was probably about 4 or 5 years old. And the refrain around our house at this time was, “don’t upset mom.” And this refrain was repeated over and over again, especially a few years later when I would catch my dad smoking (he swore he quit after his lung collapsed). I was told that he only smoked when he was upset. So now it was my fucking job to prevent my mom from attempting suicide and prevent my father from having his lung collapse by being a good girl. Because that’s just what every child needs is the weight of the world thrust upon them.
This is one of the main reasons I don’t want kids. Not just the inevitability that people fuck up their kids with even the purest of intentions and that I feared I would do the same….but the fucking idea that it would actually be my legitimate job to keep someone happy and safe and healthy and sane. I already did that. My mom would have told you, if she were here, that I still did what I wanted. That I didn’t change that much of my life for her. And there is some truth to that. I still rebelled, I just hid it really well. But what mattered and still matters is what that message does to a person, to a child, inside their mind. What matters is that anytime someone else is hurting that I internalize it and blame myself. And I shut down. Because it’s better to be silent and not rock the boat, because if you upset someone they could die. It doesn’t matter how fucking ridiculous that statement looks or sounds when I see it or hear it. I can’t fucking erase the message. It’s like it’s coded in my DNA now. So now I avoid conflict, because at least I’m not actively saying or doing the wrong thing.
And the kicker is, what I just learned in therapy a few weeks ago, is that not only do I think people can’t handle their own emotions or problems, but I don’t think I can either. So not only do I now avoid everyone else’s issues now I just avoid my own feelings, because feelings are scary things.
So I’ve been working on it the past few years. I stopped being the one to initiate contact with my family members. I stopped trying to coordinate ever fucking family get together. I stopped trying to save the family. And I’m finally starting to finally realize that I don’t have to even pretend that we are the family that we were 10-15 years ago, much less a year ago. I am finally realizing that my family of origin really doesn’t need me. I don’t need to keep trying to save something that has simply evolved. I can’t prevent my brother from getting divorced. I can’t make his kids talk to me. I can’t make my other brother and his family be any less crazy. What I can do is redefine family. What I can do is make my own traditions. What I can do is to continue to maintain my boundaries, and my sanity, even if that is hurtful to others….because I am not responsible for someone else’s happiness, and I never have been.