Category Archives: dysfunction

Aunt Dee was the Spoiled One

Aunt Dee lives far away from home, in Texas, and I am the only relative who still speaks to her.  She was the youngest of the four sisters and she is the only one with more than a high school education–Bachelors, Masters, and PhD.

Aunt Dee received dance lessons, music lessons, new clothes rather than hand-me-downs from the boy next door.  There was money to pay for these things for her because relatives would send money especially for that purpose.  Her father, my grandfather, who had always been self-employed, was old enough to be on Social Security.  This meant that for the first time there was reliably steady income, and that the house was paid-off, having been purchased a couple decades before her birth.

Aunt Dee was the only sister still at home when Aunt Brenda was dying of cancer.  Dee had a bird’s eye view of the ugly side of mortality at the age of fourteen.  And no one actually told her what was going on.  She found out what the deal was when, one Sunday in church, the minister asked everyone to pray for Brenda who was dying.  Aunt Dee had gone to church by herself that Sunday because her parents were home caring for her sister.  She was surrounded by friends, neighbors, and strangers, but no family, when the worst news of her entire life was suddenly announced from the pulpit.  No one knew this had happened to her until recently.  In my opinion, this event was a critical turning point in her development as a human being.

My mother often talked about the inequality between Dee and the rest of them.  She loved her baby sister, but resented their parents for the differing ways they were raised.  Now, though, Dee herself is resented due to her own adult flaws and foibles.

Aunt Dee has always been a remarkably cavalier person when it comes to the feelings and spaces of other people.  For example, she has this thing she does with bathrooms.  When I was younger she stayed with us a couple times during her years of world travels.  She somehow managed to flood our bathroom during her shower every single day of her visit.  My mother had a carpet in there which became soaked with each flooding and it created a ton of clean up work for my mother.  No work for Aunt Dee, though, who would laugh and leave the house rather than help mop up the mess she made.

For several years she rented a very nice apartment in town.  She disliked the landlords and would create floods in her bathroom that leaked downstairs into their home.  She would just stopper-up the tub, turn on the shower full-blast, and leave for the day.  This was funny to her.

She would regularly stay with friends when she moved to other parts of the country.  They all ended up kicking her out and banning her from their homes.

Aunt Dee had a dog for several years that she allowed to piss on other people’s beds and couches.  She would laugh and say, “They’re rich, they can buy a new one!”

She borrows money, never intending to pay it back.

She accuses other people of things that she actually does.

Since I am the only one in the family who will still speak to her, it has become my responsibility to alert everyone if I think she may have gone off the rails and become a danger to the rest of the family.

Aunt Dee was the sister with charm and charisma.  She had opportunities the others lacked.  She often received or just took what she wanted.  I doubt she will change at this stage of the game because the things she does give her the results she desires.  Even if her desires alienate every single person she has ever met or loved, I think it is likely she will live this way until she dies.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under boundaries, bullies, decision making, dysfunction, enemies, family, getting along, human nature, love, Uncategorized

My Aunt Louise

Aunt Louise is the oldest of four sisters.  In her day, she was very beautiful with a beaming smile.  She was also quite awkward in many ways.  As an example, when she graduated high school, her fiance still had a year to go, so she kept going to school and audited classes so she’d have something to do while she waited for him to graduate.  She didn’t feel free and excited and have all these girlfriends to do things with.  She waited for her fiance to graduate high school.

The following year, they did indeed get married.

In the wedding photo she looks quite happy.  He looks kind of bashful.  The article in the paper is typical for 1949 with descriptions of what everyone wore and the several bridal showers she was given, including one given by the office girls of the place she worked.

Her life afterwards turned out to be very, very difficult and sad:  dysfunctional marriage, death of a three-year-old daughter, poverty, divorce, more poverty, then a good husband who died years ago, abusive relationship in her later years, and finally death of another daughter from brain cancer.

I would read the wedding article sometimes and wonder where it all went wrong….

Aunt Louise is due to turn 90 this coming January and my mother recently remarked that she has been quite talkative the last few times they were together.  Louise has said surprising things such as:  the reason she never worked after getting married was because not one person had liked her at the job she had.  She knew it the very first day she walked in the door.  They hated her at first sight.

How strange.  I wouldn’t have guessed that she was hated at her job.  According to her wedding announcement she had worked there for two years and “the office girls” had even given her a wedding shower.

I had always thought she had two lives.  The one before marriage and the one afterwards.  Instead, those “two lives” were part of a familiar pattern.

Her life turned out like all the other women’s lives in this family.  A beginning seemingly full of promise and light, beauty and hope.  Smart, sensitive, active girls who end up as victims on some level wondering where it all went wrong.

I suspect the clues to the future were right there all along.  We just missed them in the quest to do the right thing, please the people around us, be good girls, and basically give away our power until there was no more to give.

There are more women’s stories in my family and I hope I can do them justice.

4 Comments

Filed under anxiety, decisions, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, enemies, family, first impressions, getting along, grief, history, human nature, journey, love, opinion, social phobia, Uncategorized, wellness, work

Princess Stella

Many moons ago I wrote about the cat my sister was giving me, even though I didn’t really want it, but I didn’t really tell her that, so… it was pretty much my own fault I would be taking in a cat I didn’t want.

The cat’s name was Stella and she was a princess.  She came into my house in September and immediately took over.  Other than those first moments out of the cat carrier, her paws never touched the floors.  Instead, she leaped through the air and flew from table top to counter top to buffet top to… you get the idea.

Although I am aware that MY cats occasionally sneak onto these forbidden surfaces, they wouldn’t dare do it in front of me because it is against the rules at my house.

And so my cats were stunned and hurt to see Princess Stella getting away with these shocking maneuvers.  She basically took over the house, all their special spots and hiding places, and she took over me, their human mother.  And she lorded it over them.

Hour by hour, day by day, they became more hurt and dejected.  They started staying outside as much as possible to avoid the princess.  And I felt guiltier and angrier about it by the minute.

I began to see that a pattern from childhood had repeated itself in the present day and I needed to break that pattern.

This cat, that I never wanted in the first place, was clearly not working out.  I had to tell my sister “no” for the first time in my life.  I had to do it fast and I had to mean it.  In spite of the possibly good intentions she had, in spite of the trouble and expense she had gone to, in spite of my almost-out-of-control panic that had been triggered by this situation, I had to say that the princess was just not fitting in and would have to go.

Ah, sweet emotional illness…. I was a wreck.

But I did it!!!  I gave that damn cat back!  It’s kind of funny now, but at the time it was completely stressful and traumatic.

Even now, seven months later, I consider the whole episode to be a significant turning point in my development as a human being with a sense of agency.  It gives me something to build on as I move forward in life.  And it gives me a way to know better what I want for myself and to believe that I deserve to have what I want.

In a strange way, I owe this turning point to a little black and white cat.  Thank you Princess Stella!

8 Comments

Filed under anxiety, boundaries, bullies, decision making, dysfunction, family, getting along, growth, honesty, journey, motivation, peer pressure, progress, self-care, self-respect, stress, Uncategorized

In Defense of Me

I had a little text exchange earlier today.

My sister sent me a picture and two videos of the kitten she is giving me in the fall.  I did not want a new cat as I have three and that is enough.  But my sister cleverly sent a picture first and then asked me if I would like to have a new kitten.  She would pay for all the shots, the spaying, and bring her to me from N. Carolina since they were coming up anyway.  It was a cute cat, and my sister always gets her way, and one of my cats is 19, so how long would I have to wait to be back down to three cats anyway.  So, I said yes.

Now my sister sends regular updates via text, which is considerate, I suppose.

Today I felt compelled to thank her for her efforts which are allowing me to see my kitten grow up even though she is hundreds of miles away.

Instead of responding with a “you’re welcome” she texted back with “You’re welcome to come down and see her and bring her back with you.”

Gahhhhhhh!

Why would I want to drive myself all the way down to Asheville, NC to pick up a cat (that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to) when you’re coming up to New York anyway in September???  In fact, all of this was your idea to begin with.  In fact, about a hundred whyshouldI’s raced through my mind when she responded the way she did.

The safest answer I could come up with was, it wasn’t in the budget to make a big trip this year.

Her answer:  Budget?  It’s a couple of tanks of gas!  We have plenty of room for you.

Gahhhhhhhh!

This convo was exactly like nearly every exchange with my mother.  No matter what I say in answer to any question, large or small, my answer is up for grabs, correction, improvement.  How did these people get so far into my brain?  Why do I have to defend everything all the time????

It’s the boundaries again.  I never learned good boundaries.  Neither did they.  But they are okay with it and I am not.

I can not be okay with poor boundaries.  I will never get better if I don’t firm up the boundaries.

And why am I still thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind an hour later?

I get so stuck sometimes.

I probably should have sucked it up weeks ago and turned down the kitten even though she is super cute.  But I didn’t and now I am entangled.

My answer that shut down the exchange: I would have to fly.  That’s a hell of a drive and I’m not up to it these days.

She had nothing but an “oh, okay” for that one.

Score!

Such small successes in this journey, but I’ll take it.

8 Comments

Filed under anxiety, boundaries, bullies, decision making, decisions, dysfunction, family, getting along, growth, history, honesty, journey, pressure, progress, self-care, self-respect, Uncategorized

Scarred for Life!

I read an article recently that discusses what happens to children who have been traumatized at certain crucial stages of development when they grow up.  The author’s opinion was that trauma during the terrible twos and again during puberty had a permanent effect on the individual.

Awhile back I read a different article about a study.  The study involved a group of children who had been bullied at certain ages and checked in with them at intervals for their entire lives.  The study reached the same conclusion–that particular childhood stages were very vulnerable for psychological damage and that the damage is virtually permanent.  The bullied children as adults tended to remain unsuccessful outsiders throughout adulthood no matter what.

Well, I could have told them that!

It’s kind of nice to know that the way I turned out is not my fault.  I did not choose to hang onto the past and fear the future.  I did not choose to wallow in grief or get lost in worry and anxiety.  Instead, this is basically what I became “made of” due to the timing of events and how those events mixed with my “self” during my childhood and youth.

This means to me that my task is not about weaknesses or flaws.  I don’t need a cure.  I need to accept who I am now.  I need healing and purpose.  My task is to keep finding my way.

2 Comments

Filed under anxiety, bullies, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, grief, growth, healing, human nature, journey, progress, PTSD, self-care, self-respect, stress, Uncategorized, wellness

Christmas Liberation

Christmas is crazy isn’t it?  I don’t know why more people don’t just cry uncle and start doing what they want for the holiday instead of what they think they have to do.  Maybe they just haven’t hit that brick wall yet.  I hit the wall years ago thanks to the Terrible Job.  And now I am slowly building a celebration that makes sense and has a quieter kind of joy to it.

There was a bit of a glitch to deal with last week, though.  My aunt in Texas sent me a second Christmas card which kind of startled me.

Then I opened it and got really pissed off.

Inside was a $25 gift certificate for IHOP.  The Christmas card contained her instructions for what I was to do with the certificate.  She wanted me to enjoy lunch with my mother on her.  She hoped my mother would learn someday that people are more important than things.  As “your wise aunt” has already discovered.

Knowing what I know about the terrible rift in their relationship, I found this to be incredibly condescending.  And I was very resentful that she elected to put me in the middle of it as her peacemaker.  Did she really think I would team up with her against my own mother?

Old me would not have seen this boundary violation for what it is.  Old me would have obediently followed her instructions and then gotten hugely whomped on by my mother who would have been more than happy to vent all the toxins right back on me.  Old me would have been buried in the unhealthiness of both sisters and a rift that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Phew.  Old me is gone.  But new me did not know how to make this into a fun or satisfying mission.  Life is just messy I guess.

I had to think for a couple days about what to say in my note when I sent the card back.  I came up with a benign yet truthful explanation for why I was returning the gift card.  Personally I thought my note was a work of art.

But my aunt was pissed.  She emailed her response to my note.  It contained an interesting mix of charm and aggression–what we call “stroke-slap” at our house.  Stroke-slap is a way of putting someone in their place without totally alienating them.  Sort of  like the Stockholm Syndrome without having to physically hold someone hostage.

Needless to say, the email did not win me over to her “side”.  I am not without a certain amount of understanding of why she would be angry with her sister (who has been my very own mother all these years).  I can understand both sides and I can understand how it all came to be as the inevitable result of being raised by my grandmother who had untreated bi-polar depression.

We ALL need healing.  We ALL need to build a self from the ground up since that process got interrupted very early in life.  And we pretty much each will have to do this individually.

Or maybe parallel-ly would work better.  That should be a word because it is definitely a thing that I am trying to do.  It’s my way of being in relationship with someone who does not understand boundaries WHILE I am building the necessary boundaries.  And hoping that some bit of it will sink in so that the other person can begin to see that boundaries are a thing and that they are good.

Boundaries have the potential to liberate a soul.  And that is what we all want even if we don’t realize it.

My response to the somewhat astonishing email was short and to the point.

And she responded AGAIN with the stroke-slap business.

I decided to let her have the last word which was a smiley emoticon.

If nothing else, I can now see when I am in over my head with people.

Yes, this did bring me down while it was happening.  Luckily I have such low expectations of Christmas that feeling down wasn’t exactly a tragedy for me.  I let it flow and did some comforting self-talk and Voila!  The down feeling gradually receded on its own.  This healing thing is really happening!  It’s taking a long time but it’s happening.

This Christmas just might be a turning point in the journey.

 

4 Comments

Filed under boundaries, dysfunction, family, getting along, honesty, journey, self-care, self-respect, Uncategorized

True Story!

In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic.  So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.

I was so excited.  My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles.  It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.

It was tricky artwork.  I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult.  I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop.  And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.

The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it.  It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.

She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed.  Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won.  I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed.  We made a deal.

She copied my work down to the very last detail.  It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.

I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.

Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize!  It was $5.00!  So, $2.50 for me!!  Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!

When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won.  My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.

What she actually said was, “I did NOT!  You’re just JEALOUS!”

I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face.  It must have been comical.

I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself.  I guess I should have gotten it in writing!!  But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar.  She was the liar.

So here we are in the year 2016.  How has each of us fared since grade five?

I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.

She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job.  She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.

On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale.  She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous.  She looks very happy and I imagine she is.

Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.

We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.

I don’t want the same things she wants or has.  Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.

I can’t be the only person she has treated that way.  I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves.  They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage.  It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.

For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally:  I did not, you’re just jealous.

At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper.  And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons.  And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.

4 Comments

Filed under boundaries, decisions, dysfunction, friends, history, honesty, human nature, injustice, peer pressure, self-respect, Uncategorized