Dancing outside my comfort zone

Gave myself “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood as a treat for getting my work done today.

What I got out of the movie, however, was unexpected and a bit brutal. As I watched the story unfold: the crazy mother who hated her daughter, the daughter who lost the man she loved and had trouble coping with her children and her life, and the daughter who internalizes her mother’s lack of coping skills and blames herself.

But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me assure you that I did not get a pity party out of the movie. Quite the contrary. I found myself wondering if my mother would have had a better shot had she developed lifelong friendships like Vivi did. If she’d had someone there who truly understood her and had her back, no matter how crazy she behaved, would she have been able to overcome the emotional neglect she experienced from her mother, and, as a result, the rest of the family? Would my dad have spent less time just standing back like Shep did and letting her do whatever she felt she needed to do, and been able to share more time giving her the affection and love she actually needed but never learned to accept?

But the biggest question in my mind as I sit and reflect on the movie is “Would she have grown tired of trying to be loved and finally given it up as a bad deal like she did?”

In spite of outward appearances, Life deals us all an imperfect hand.

It is entirely up to us how we play that hand. But having supportive friends and family along the way can sure help in convincing us to keep at least a couple of the cards we were dealt instead of tossing the whole hand away without a second glance. But Mom was dealt an uglier hand than most and maybe, in her case, striking off on her own might have been a better option. She spent years organizing family gatherings and being the one to call and keep in touch with everyone. It pained me when one of my cousins would say something hateful about her, though it wasn’t until years later that I realized they were only parroting their parents. They’d all been taught that my mom wasn’t worth loving when my grandmother cast her teenaged daughter aside in favor of her new husband and daughter. Shuffling a teenager from one aunt to the next where she had to share the leftovers with the cousins who really belonged had to be a really crappy existence. I can see where it would skew a person’s idea of love.

I know she tried her best to show me she loved me in the only way she knew how, or thought she knew how. She was hypercritical, had high expectations, was oblivious to the fact that her expectations and mine were not the same, and had no clue that criticizing a teenage girl in front of her friends was anything BUT an act of love from the girl’s point of view. In short, I believe she took the attention she got from her mother and the rest of the family as expressions of love, rather than the resentment and dislike that much of it was. She was broken, but didn’t realize that what she’d learned had any flaws. It was simply what she knew.

Sadly, while my cousins grew up with sometimes equally dysfunctional mothers but remained close to them, my sister and I allowed our resentment to build, magnifying my mom’s mistakes until there wasn’t even a relationship left to fix.

It also became clear that her relationships with the rest of her family were equally broken because her death put a label on my sister and I. We lost the tenuous relationships we’d had with our cousins, and to my great sadness, never got to see their kids grow up or form relationships with our kids. To them, we’re simply an offhand comment in a Huffington Post article written by a cousin who never even knew us in spite of the fact that our mothers were, at least by birth, sisters, about her crazy aunt who offed herself.

OK, so maybe there’s a touch of pity party here, but it isn’t for myself. I feel so sorry for my mother who never found the one thing she really needed; unconditional love.

It is a mother’s job to love her kids unconditionally, though, heaven knows, many of us really push the envelope, making it a superhuman achievement when our mothers simply continue to love us. Just as I challenged my mother to love me through all of my acting out, one of my daughters has returned the challenge. Do I stop loving her any more than my mom stopped loving me? Heck no! But just as there were times my mom surely did not like me, there are times I surely do not like, at least, the things my daughter does and the way she treats people. But though we do not have a relationship at this moment in time, I feel certain that, like me and my mom, something will bring us back together at some point, because the single tie which binds us together is my unconditional love for her.

In her mind, my mom always forgave me, no matter how horrifically I’d treated her. The trouble was, I hadn’t learned to forgive myself, and tended to blame her for something I didn’t really understand. I can only hope that I learned from the experience and can help my daughter understand when the time comes to re-ignite our relationship.

This is what happens when you bottle things up because you can’t figure out how to express it without sugar coating

I’ve been trying for several years to express some of these feelings, but stopped myself many times because what I was saying sounded too whiny and too much like I was blaming someone. The truth is, the perpetuated behavior goes back farther than I know. I have no real memory of my great-grandparents and certainly don’t know their personal history. Whether my grandmother’s behavior was learned from them, I’ll never know. Whether it began there or started generations back, I’ll never know either. What I do know is that it is up to me to stop the cycle and try to improve things for my own children and grandchildren. As for the rest of the family, it’s out of my control. The sad truth is, I don’t even know them any more.

On the one hand, I found myself, for awhile, resenting them for abandoning my sister and me during a really horrible time in our lives. But on the other, I am grateful that they stayed away because it meant that I could go through the healing process without feeling the need to defend my mom’s memory, especially when I was so conflicted myself. They went on with their lives while I spent a long time just trying to make sense of mine and raise two beautiful little girls. More is the pity that their family didn’t get to see them grow up!

This post got a lot heavier than I’d intended, but the movie allowed me to take the cap off of a bottle which was beginning to fizz so violently, the only remaining options were to release or explode.

I feel that I’ve experienced a catharsis today, and that the Universe chose this particular moment to put that particular movie in front of me. As I said, I’ve been trying for years to figure out how to express what I was feeling without being ugly, resentful and blaming. Today I realized that the words had to come out, naked and unvarnished. Only then would I find my way clear to let go, to forgive and to heal the rest of the way. Losing my mom to suicide was hideous, but letting go of the guilt over the relief I felt has been the hardest part of all. I’m finally learning to accept that she might make me crazy and drive me over the edge, close to cracking myself, but it really was all she knew, and underneath it all, she loved me and I loved her. R.I.P. Mom. I think I finally get it. I hope I haven’t kept you tied to this world too long.

My gratitudes tonight are:
1. I am grateful that I was given a talent for writing. When all is said and done, it is the one thing which has saved me over the years.
2. I am grateful for epiphanies and the triggers which launch them.
3. I am grateful for imperfect hands as they teach us to build a better mousetrap or overcome our challenges.
4. I am grateful for the relationships I have with my daughters, so very different, but so important to my own personal development.
5. I am grateful for abundance: words, thoughts, memories, epiphanies, friendship, love, ideas, harmony, peace, health and prosperity.

Blessed Be

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