Tag Archives: verbal abuse

I Do Not Have to Be Good

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

I do not have to be good.  I do not have to be nice.  I do not have to  assume your intentions are good when your words are not.  I don’t have to be grateful to you for suggestions I didn’t ask for.  I do not have to be grateful to you for anything, in fact.  I do not have to protect your ego.  I do not have to pretend I’m not hurt and offended when I am.  I do not have to try anything just because it helped you, and I do not have to defend my choice not to.  I don’t have to defend any of my choices to you.  I do not owe you any explanations.  I do not have to agree with anything you say about me that doesn’t resonate with me, especially when it’s about me.  I do not have to defend who I was or who I am now to you.I am doing the best that I can, and I’m struggling severely.  I do not have the energy to take care of other people’s feelings.  I’m generally a pretty nice person–I want to connect with people, and I don’t wake up in the morning scheming about how to hurt their feelings.  I used to do everything I could to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, to avoid making anyone feel badly, because I thought I’d done enough damage in the world already.Eventually I realized I was taking care of everyone else at my own expense.  I was letting people hurt me over and over to avoid the risk that saying no would hurt them.  It was letting everyone I interacted take away a little piece of me, and if I’d kept it up, eventually there wouldn’t have been anything left of me.  I’m not going to do that anymore.  I can’t.  I’ve come to understand that it’s in neither my nature nor my best interest to keep quiet when someone says something that hurts me.  I’m sure most of us don’t want to hurt each other, but how can we know we’ve hurt someone unless they say so?  Sometimes you step on someone’s toes or jab them with an elbow without even realizing.  When someone points out that we’ve hurt them, we feel terrible.  Some of us apologize, but some of us compensate by lashing out, accusing, even bullying.  Luckily, I’ve reached a place in my own healing where I can see that the lashing out isn’t about me.  I can’t say that it doesn’t hurt me or make me angry, and I can’t say that it doesn’t still make my heart rate jump up to 120 and make me feel hot and lightheaded.  But it no longer makes me feel like I have to kill myself, and it no longer stays with me for days or weeks.  I can set it aside because, once I’ve calmed down, I know it’s not really about me.But I can’t let it go without saying something because silence is not something I do anymore.  Silence is what lets people keep trampling over my boundaries and stepping on my toes and jabbing elbows into my ribcage like I don’t even really exist.  I do exist, and I do have a voice.My blog is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is fine.  If you don’t like it, if you don’t like me, feel free to click the little red X in the corner of your screen.  No one’s stopping you.  It’s okay if you want to unfollow me or never follow me in the first place.  You can call me a bitch or an asshole, but don’t be upset when that doesn’t bother me–I say far worse things to myself every day, so your insults will need a lot of work if you want to hurt me with them.  Just don’t assume that I’m going to pretend what you say helps when it doesn’t.  Don’t assume that I will be silent in response to words that hurt.

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I have to.

I think I’m going to have to call my grandparents and ask if I can stay with them for a week for the wedding.  I really didn’t want to do that, but it’s the only way I can afford to go to my sister’s wedding now that I have to buy a plane ticket.  I can’t afford a hotel too.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve barely spoken to my grandparents in the past 8 months.  See, they funded my treatment for a long time–it’s expensive, but my grandfather is the VP of Investments at a major brokerage firm.  They’ve got plenty of money to spare.  I have mixed feelings–I’m grateful that he funded my treatment, but he also interfered a lot and yanked me out of the only program that was really helping me.  And then, at the end of last year, he cut me off.  I went from having an apartment he paid for and treatment where I saw someone every day to basically nothing.  I had to move into a one-bedroom apartment with two other people because the only money I have now is the $700 a month from Social Security.  My treatment team is no more–now all I have is ICM, who’s totally useless.

(BTW, she apparently is on vacation this week and didn’t bother to tell me.)

See, my grandparents think I’m faking my illness for attention and using it as an excuse not to grow up and take care of myself.  By that logic, they assume cutting me off will cure me because I’ll have to stop faking it.  Clearly that’s working great.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my grandparents.  When I was a teenager, I bounced between living with my mother and living with them.  That had a lot to do with their relationship with my mother and my relationship with my mother.  They think she’s a bad mother, and in a lot of ways, they’re right–but I think she got that way mostly because of the damage my grandfather did to her.

See, my grandfather is a narcissist.  He’s very focused on achievement, and it only counts if it’s what HE defines as achievement.  I grew up listening to him mock my mother for being a special ed teacher: “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.”  In front of her children.  He also likes to debate, but she doesn’t, and he bullied her.  She’s one of five children, but he’s always made it clear that she’s the one he doesn’t approve of.  I have a lot of sympathy for that, for her as a child, but I don’t have sympathy for her choices as an adult because she verbally and emotionally abused us and neglected us.

My grandmother, on her own, is very sweet and caring.  But she won’t stand up to my grandfather, never has.  I’m not sure if she even has her own opinions.  Most of her life centers around taking care of my grandfather–cooking for him, cleaning for him, doing laundry for him, ironing his underwear for him (seriously), sewing for him.  She’s never had her own job.  She seems happy with it, though.  But I sometimes want to shake her and scream, “Be your own person!  Have your own opinions!  Have your own life!”

The last time I talked to them was on my birthday, at the beginning of June.  Before that, it had been at least six months.  I figured since they weren’t giving me any money, I was no longer obligated to talk to them.  My grandfather has made it clear that I’m the family fuck-up and have no value in his eyes because I’m not working or achieving anything, so I didn’t really want to deal with it anymore.  When my grandmother called me on my birthday, we talked a little, and then she gave him the phone.  We went from “Happy birthday” to “When are you going to get a job?” in less than three minutes.  I blew it off with excuses about my physical illness, but it really hurt.  He knows how to turn me back into a little girl desperate for approval and love that are extremely conditional, and that pisses me off.

But I don’t have another choice.  There’s no one else in Birmingham I can stay with.  I can’t afford a hotel and a plane ticket.  So I’ll have to put up with the shit from my grandfather and the silence from my grandmother.  They’ll probably think I’m being overdramatic if I need to use my cane or it I’m sick or in pain.  I’ll have to deal with knowing I had to ask them for help again.  I really, really hate this.  I wouldn’t do it for anyone but my sister.

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I Don’t Play the Piano

When I was in seventh grade, my grandfather bought my family a piano.

None of us played the piano.  None of us had indicated any interest in learning how to play the piano.  My grandparents had a grand piano in their living room, but in my entire life, I’d only seen it played when my cousins and I would tap out “Chopsticks” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Still, my grandfather bought us a piano and had it delivered to our house.  My sisters and I took three, maybe four years of lessons, but none of us was very good–probably because we didn’t have much interest in learning to play.  We rarely even practiced.  I tried to be a good pianist because I thought it would make my grandfather happy, but now I know I could’ve gone to Juilliard and still not have been good enough to win his unconditional love.

I told A that story in therapy this morning.  We were talking about my family, particularly my grandfather, in terms of them cutting me off at the end of the year.  I talked about my grandfather’s pride in being uncompromising and his certainty he knows what’s best for everyone in the family, and I felt like I was being unfair, only talking about his meanness.  I said he could sometimes be kind, or tried to be, but it’s like he’s so used to being mean that he doesn’t quite know how to be nice.

“It’s like he’s got all this money, and he’s trying to be nice, so he buys you something–but it’s not something you want or like, but you don’t want to tell him that.  So then you have this piano that’s just there, and you don’t know what to do with that,” I told her.  “But usually the piano is only metaphorical.”

I talked about how my family sees me as this manipulative person who fakes mental illness so she doesn’t have to be self-sufficient and threatens suicide when she doesn’t get what she wants.  They really think that I’m a bad person.  I don’t see myself that way anymore–at least, not most of the time.  But it hurts to know that’s who my family sees when they look at me.  Physical pain like a knife stabbing into my sternum.  That’s not me they’re seeing.  I’m not a bad person, and I don’t play the piano.

Now, after that, I’m feeling sad.  I used to think I had this close, loving family, because that’s what they told me we were.  Even now that I know better, know how toxic it was, I still catch myself idealizing the family I used to have.  I want so badly to have a family that loves me, and it feels unbearable to realize that I never will.  But I finally believe (most of the time) that I’m worthy enough not to go back to my family for the scraps of love I might get along with the emotional abuse.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.

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Round and Round She Goes

Today T accused me of being a Republican.

 

Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’m loudly liberal, but I come from a very conservative family.  I worked on the last Presidential campaign as well as the campaigns of two Democratic senators from my state.  I’m about to start a political organizing fellowship for a liberal lobbying group.

 

“You’re secretly a Republican,” T told me.  “But only in regards to yourself.  You think you don’t deserve any help.”

 

Shit, I thought.  She’s right.  I’m secretly a Republican.

 

She’s right: I don’t accept help well.  I feel like I don’t deserve to have needs at all, so I definitely don’t deserve to have those needs met.  And the worst of all is when I need help to meet those needs.  When I need help, I’m slammed with massive amounts of shame.  I feel worthless, needy, manipulative, incompetent.  I feel like it would be better to die than to need help because if I let myself need, I’ll become a black hole that swallows up everything and turns it into nothing.

 

I’ve gotten slightly more comfortable with having needs.  At one point, I nearly starved myself to death to prove I didn’t need anything.  I pushed everyone away from me and wouldn’t let them care about me.  I took care of everybody else because if I was busy it was easier to deny my needs, and if I was helping other people, it gave me permission to exist (but only a little bit).  I’ve improved and gotten a little more comfortable with my needs–but I’m more comfortable with it in the same way I’m more comfortable with getting attacked by a mountain lion than by a grizzly bear.

 

It’s so tied up in guilt and shame, and it’s now become an endless chicken and egg situation.  In the beginning, though, I think the shame and guilt came first–but the shame and guilt that comes to mind with this is from failing to meet my sisters’ needs, so I’m not entirely sure the guilt and shame came first.

 

With S, my middle sister, who’s 2 years younger than me, the guilt is for not saving her from our father.  I remember a number of times when he abused both of us together or made one of us watch him hurt the other, but the memory I can’t get rid of is from the summer I turned 11.  He wanted me to choose whether he’d hurt S or me.  I couldn’t choose, so he held a gun to my head.  I wanted to tell him to hurt me because then S wouldn’t get hurt, but I was already in a lot of pain and didn’t think I could take anymore.  I chose S.  He made me watch him rape her, and I’ve never forgiven myself.  I know on a logical level that there was nothing I could’ve done, but I still feel like I should’ve saved her somehow.  In my mind, this is THE representation of my father’s abuse, and if I could’ve saved her in this one moment, it would’ve saved her completely.

 

With E, my youngest sister, who’s 6 years younger, the guilt is for not saving her from our mother’s verbal and emotional abuse.  When all three of us were living at home, I was the bad kid, S was the perfect kid, and E mostly got ignored.  When I left, E became the bad child, the focus of our mother’s rage.  My mother put her in a different high school every year, so her GPA was crap even though she was smart, and then my mother sent her to a wilderness “treatment program” because she didn’t accept the way our mother treated her.  E hasn’t told me much about what happened there, but what she has said sounds pretty horrific.  She wasn’t allowed to speak for the first 2 weeks, they took her asthma medication away, she got double pneumonia and was still forced to do a lot of physical activity outside in the winter.  One of the other kids there lost a toe to frostbite.  If I hadn’t left, I would’ve kept being the target.  I spent years shielding her from our mother’s abuse as much as possible, but then I left her there to deal with it all alone.

 

In both cases, I put my needs above theirs.  It’s human nature, the biological imperative for self-preservation, I know.  I would never judge someone else for doing those things, but the rules are different for me.  If I hadn’t prioritized my needs over theirs, they would’ve been safe.  I didn’t abuse either of them, but I feel like I’m not much better than our parents.  In both cases, I knew they’d both be abused, and I let it happen.  Yes, yes, I know I was only a child and probably couldn’t have stopped my parents from abusing them if they wanted to…but I was never really a child.  I had to be the grown-up in our family because my parents sure as hell weren’t being adults.

 

I feel guilty for putting my needs first, so I try not to have needs.  I have needs anyway, which fuels the guilt.  Then I feel even more like I shouldn’t have needs.  Round and round she goes; where she stops nobody knows.

 

And on top of all of that, now I’m a secret Republican!

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