Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Bad Heart

I recently realized what the "bad heart" my father's family suffered from meant.

I'd worried I'd inherit their cardiology issues - my N Grandma, SG aunt, and NF all had "bad hearts."

Except that my N Grandma spent several decades trying to fill the black hole in her heart with junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes and died of a fourth heart attack, after she had used her "bad heart" to manipulate her husband and children into quivering obedience.

Except that my aunt never had heart issues - when she claimed she did, she was just blind drunk. When she claimed she couldn't have kids because of her "bad heart," she just meant that her evil mother had forbidden her to have any other children to care for but her and that she had made her abort the child she'd conceived with the man she loved but wasn't allowed to marry. She died of cirrhosis of the liver after several decades of trying to fill the black hole in her heart with alcohol and cigarettes on an empty stomach.

Except that my NF just suffers from manageable high blood pressure after several decades of trying to fill the black hole in his heart with junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes. He's actually surprisingly healthy for his age, activity level, and diet.

The bad heart transmitted in my family is a metaphor. It's the heartlessness of the parents and the broken hearts of the children. None acknowledged, none made conscious, none properly mourned.  


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Almost Alive

After being able to cry and feel about my childhood a bit - nothing too dramatic, but still a huge step for me - I spent the next several days very happily doing my job and thinking I'm good at it and then spontaneously singing and playing the guitar at a party - in front of people, unabashedly well. And I felt so happy and alive.

My first reaction: I must be running away from feeling the bad stuff.

When I thought about it: I'm living life, actually. Enjoying the good stuff freely and without shame and guilt. I wasn't looking for it, it just happened.

Both feeling sad about the bad stuff and feeling free to enjoy the good stuff were forbidden in my home. I mistrust both.

I'm now slowly starting to allow myself both - any they come in a package, or so it seems.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Poor Little NF

I have my father's childhood photo album. He is not interested in having it, I am.

One of the first pictures shows him as a chubby, happy, smiling baby. In the next picture, he's pouting. In the last, he's weeping.

The cute story behind it? He was such a happy baby and always smiled. They had no photos of him crying. So they shouted and yelled at him and told him he was a bad boy until he broke into tears.

So cute, right?

In the next several pictures, his smiling grandpa is letting Little NF ride him. When I asked NF about his grandpa, looking at these photos, all he had to say was, darkly, "He was a strict man." It sounded eery. Wasn't he a darling, playful, sweet old guy? I mean, look at the pictures! Apparently, far from it.

He had lots of people to teach him how to stage a perfect family photo shoot. How to manipulate reality and emotions. They started when he was an innocent little baby.

He was sweet then, you know. I feel perfect love and empathy for that poor little baby in that old photo.

Revisiting Mother. Again.

When I first started this blog, I had a black-and-white world in my mind. I was horrified at what I'd discovered about my father, and idealized my poor dead mother - although I could feel and remember very little about her.

Then I started remembering some things slowly. Now I feel the need to reassess some of the things I'd written before.

I remembered that, contrary to what I said in The Torture Chamber for Babies, my mother never took that incriminating comic - in which babies were being brutally beaten and whipped to teach them not to cry - to her colleagues. My poor brain imagined that one.

This is what happened: I drew it while I was at her work. I remember that distinctly now. I suppose I felt safe enough, at a public place full of psychologists, to create a cry for help, however veiled. The scene that I remembered came after this: slightly concerned looks, and complimenting my drawing abilities - and that was that. I'd given my mother too much credit. Of course she wouldn't have shown this voluntarily to anyone.

When my father slapped me repeatedly for "offending" him when I was 8 - and the physical part of it was actually minimal: the look of disgust, hatred, and contempt that was behind the dropped mask was the scary part - I told my mother "Now I love you more." I guess it was a plea: "Please accept me, please be on my side, I realize he's insane, won't you show to me that you do too?" She rejected this plea. She looked scared, anxious, guilty. Later, I heard her feebly say to him "You may have gone too far," and he just told her to shut up. And that was that.

She betrayed me. She showed me I could never count on her, I was always to be on my own.

And when I was 20 or so, and she said to me "You're growing up to be a really decent person" - well, that wasn't the whole scene. I censored it the first time I wrote it down. She said: "I was so worried for you, but you're actually growing up to be a really decent person after all." I had no idea what that meant, but it made me uncomfortable at the time. Why was she worried? Because she knew I was growing up amid dysfunction? Or because I drank a lot as a teen - she complained about this to my aunt at the time, worried about me? And how did she know I was becoming a decent person? That also made me uncomfortable at that moment. What did she know about me, apart from the fact that my grade average was good and I was the student representative? Nothing.

Right now, I'm angrier at her than at my father. She Saw something was wrong, but was too weak to protect me. Instead, she sacrificed me and used me as a shield.

She told a colleague I'd "saved" her from having to visit her awful MIL every night, and she was happy my father, her husband, now finally seemed more interested in his FOC.

I wasn't born to save anyone or any marriage.

I wasn't born to live silently on a shelf at home and perform for others in public as the happy, vivacious, spoiled rotten child. No wonder I was sometimes too loud and sometimes too shy - I had no idea what was expected of me and how to accomplish just that.

I was born to live.

My doll and me

This is the four-year-old me, holding my poor Nameless Doll.

It is one of the rare photos my father took in which I'm not posing for him with a dutiful happy smile. I'm being me, unaware of being photographed. I wonder why he took this picture and why he scanned it and gave it to me. Perhaps to prove how happy I was with the doll he'd bought for me.

This is the doll I hated for being so dull and needy. The one I brutally spanked but then held in sorrow and despair. I remembered her again and wrote this:

A sad doll
Plastic, cloth, and dullness
Too hard, too soft
Stuck up and cold
Weepy and needy
Whipped, beaten, kicked
Then thrown away
She stays there all alone

Picked up again

Because I have no one else
To hold

If I could have that doll again

I remembered, in the past several days, the delicious solace of hugging an inanimate object. It is a comfort I don't remember being able to get from my parents.

I finally made a real connection between the doll and myself. I used to feel so sorry for what she had to go through, but felt nothing for the child - who probably went through the same - because the child was boring, annoying, whiny, needy, unlovable (and had it coming) and she was also cold and tough (and could easily endure it).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Connecting the dots. And finding my way.

I did it. I'm in.

I've been able to feel and cry for two days now. I have cried for the little girl who was never loved and was never allowed to even understand and feel that simple fact. I have cried for the frightened, terrorized, and abused child who had to play the role of the happy, grateful daughter, even to herself. I have cried for the adult who is still largely living in this hell and will forever be left with this black hole. 

I was able to do this after I connected all the dots of why I didn't allow myself to feel my feelings.

I realized it wasn't fear of pain, or mere detachment, or simple protection of myself. We ACoNs can take pain. We're not wimps. It really was not about that.

It was the opposite. It was the compulsion to be strong.

It was fear and obligation and guilt. The terror of betraying my parents by proving, through my feelings, that they hurt me. What I was never allowed to do as a child.

I remember being told "You're so ugly when you cry" and "Don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about" and I remember that the moral of the comic I drew - described in The Torture Chamber For Babies - was that if you severely beat your children because they cry, they will cry more. Crying was forbidden because it made them look bad and because it annoyed them.

The only moral defense I ever had was not reacting to any way they hurt me at all.

Crying and feeling hurt by them is the ultimate betrayal. It proves it was real. And once I realized this, I wanted to rebel more than ever.

And I feel real now. I've taken a huge step that cannot be undone. I've felt more for everything and everyone, too.

I even feel more empathy for my parents - like feeling truly sorry for them as children, too. And it's the opposite of excusing anything. They excused and idealized and obeyed their parents.

It didn't drown me and the world didn't come crashing down. There's pain, but I've never been afraid of that, and it feels much better than being dead. It's everything I'd hoped it would be.

It's a first step of many, and I know I have a long way to go still, but it feels like the most important breakthrough for me yet.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What I didn't have

More homework I got: list the things you never had as a child. And try to feel it, too.

1) I didn't have a strong, supportive, gentle mother. I didn't have a mother who really loved me or liked me or seemed interested in me or talked to me or supported me emotionally in any way.  Instead, I had an absence, a weak woman who might have had some feelings for me at some point, but I'll never know because she betrayed me and sacrificed me to her extremely narcissistic husband for the sake of peace.

I didn't have a mother I could trust or feel safe around or look up to or feel warm about.

I can now imagine people like my aunt or Ruth or Tundra Woman in this role and tear up at the recognized difference. Now I don't have a mother who might talk to me and offer advice, wisdom, support; who might be a good grandmother to my kids and babysit and help out sometimes. I don't know if this would have happened had she stayed alive, but somehow I just can't really imagine it.

2) I didn't have a kind, understanding, wise father. I didn't have a father who really loved me for who I was or was interested in finding out who that might be. Instead, first I had an insanely controlling father who demanded nothing short of worship from me while appropriating all my achievements, and then I had a totally rejecting father who had had enough of me and couldn't show me off any more and discarded me before I could reject him. Now I don't have a father I can count on to want me good and not harm me or my family if it should happen to suit him. He will sometimes give us money or material things.

I didn't have a father I could trust to love and protect me and be proud of me and one I could be proud of.

I now allow myself to imagine all the older men I've liked and respected over the years in the role of my father. Crazily enough, I sometimes even "accused" myself of having a crush on them - although it wasn't actually true - because that was safer than realizing I was looking for a good father figure because the original sucked.

3) I didn't have unconditional love from my parents - the safe knowledge that whoever I was and whatever I did, my parents wouldn't stop loving me. In fact, withholding love was my father's favorite weapon, and I never even thought my mother loved me. My mother had many problems with how different and unladylike and awkward I was, while my father had problems whenever I wasn't interesting, original, or smart enough to impress the commoners all around us. Either way, I couldn't win and the pressure was high, but I still chose my father's rules because it meant I could be dark and eccentric and drink.

4) I didn't have ownership over my own body and possessions. And no right to privacy, if they didn't feel like it. My diaries were read, my room searched. If they felt like it, however, I could be alone in my room reading for hours every day. Or out until 5AM drinking. Bliss. It depended on their current mood.

5) I didn't have permission to express or even feel my own feelings. I was forbidden to cry as a child because it a) showed their parenting in a bad light and b) bothered and irritated them. If I cried, I'd be given something to cry for, and then I a) again wasn't allowed to cry and b) realized the only way to "win" and find a semblance of peace and freedom would be to never react to anything in any emotional or "weak" way. I believe my father stopped beating me with a belt when I stopped showing any reaction to it.

6) I didn't have unconditional support for any good thing I might choose to do with my life. I had lots of open "support" in public places where my father could show off (taking me to classes, being at recitals, school board, thesis defense) and little outside of that.

7) I didn't have permission to attach to other, sane people. My father, who was utterly incapable of even faking closeness and love, was insanely jealous of me loving anyone else. Luckily, while he was at work, my mother's stepfather often took me out to tag along with him, at the behest of my grandma, who was the one officially babysitting me - but she was also quite narcissistic and grew tired of me quickly. He didn't. He kind of liked me. And I adored him. I even had the courage to list him as the person I loved best when people asked that silly question. I seem to recall my father shooting a look of hatred at my grandpa on one such occasion.

8) I didn't have warmth growing up. From anyone. Those who could have given it to me weren't allowed to.

9) I didn't have permission to share anything negative about my family with anyone. Including myself. This made me detach from myself. This prevented forming actual honest relationships with others.

10) I didn't have the right to be myself. Not only were they unable to love me for who I was, but, as they had no idea who I really was, I was constantly treated and talked to as someone else - weird, inexplicable characters accused of weird, inexplicable flaws, thoughts, and feelings. I remember constantly feeling shocked at who they seemed to think I was - and this changed in a matter of seconds.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stuff that always made me cry

I was given this homework assignment by my therapist as I can only afford therapy once a month: think about the music/films/books that make you cry and connect that with what you never had as a child.

(I had admitted that I can cry at music and films, but not about my own life)

These are the first few things that come to mind:

The Cranberries: Ode to my family

Why: The lyrics "My mother ... she'd hold me ... My father ... he liked me"

What it has to do with what I never had: My mother wasn't allowed to hold me - at least once I was old enough to remember. This part leaves me cold, to be honest; anything pertaining to mothers tends to; but "my father ... liked me" just blows me away. It's so beautiful and simple and real. No one liked me. They doted on me, loooved me, did so much for me, but it was so damn obvious they didn't like me.

I think my mother's stepfather liked me. I still cry when I remember him. I also think another distant relative did - the one I thought was my biological father. This idea of him as my biological father moved me emotionally too. These two older men liked me and seemed interested in me and seemed to have been able to have a conversation or two with me. This in itself is incredible.

Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah

Why: There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah


I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

What it has to do with what I never had: I was never allowed to be ordinary, imperfect, human, or just wrong. It's amazing to me that God doesn't require perfection or holiness - brokenness and truth are all I have right now, too. And that's fine.

Schindler's list

Why: Pretty much anything involving concentration camps deeply moves me on a seemingly too personal level. I'm not just talking about the general human reaction to other humans being inhumanly treated - it's more than that and it's personal.

What it has to do with what I never had: It may sound crazy, but I'm sure other ACoNs will understand: a narcissistic family is a bit like a concentration camp. The golden children are the capos, the scapegoats are all the others. You are afraid and insecure and vulnerable all the time. You are someone's property. Your basic humanity is denied. You are (often) physically deprived and hurt. Your owners get to define reality in which you're somehow to blame and they're just defending themselves. And there's no way out.


Why: From Schindler's list to a Disney cartoon... yeah, I know. The scene where Rapunzel's hair is cut off and she is liberated from being loved for what she can do for others is incredibly cathartic to me. It made me sob the first time I saw it.

What it has to do with what I never had: I still don't have the guts to trust my family of choice to love me for who I am instead of what I do. If I don't make enough money and buy everyone's favorite food, I'm afraid I just won't be worthwhile to them. This is not always true and I'm working on it, but I sure wish someone could just fix me in one fell swoop like this.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Why: Maggie invests a great deal of time and energy into suppressing her immoral feelings, while still not managing to avoid the wrath of everyone she loves without really ever having done anything wrong. Finally, the river Floss floods and she drowns rescuing her brother.

What it has to do with what I never had: Wow, I sobbed while reading this book ages ago and never made any connections with anything at all - I just saw myself as a sentimental girl. I still wasn't sure what it had to do with anything until I wrote the above description.

I suppress my immoral feelings towards my parents too, and still, just by virtue of not thinking about them as wonderful and perfect, I constantly risk incurring wrath. It's easy to forget that I have never done anything wrong to my parents - really, truly, I haven't. I have merely questioned their actions and mindsets and have felt a few fleeting negative feelings towards them - much less than most normal kids do.

Water will not be put down. The river will flood. My feelings will not be suppressed forever. I hope they don't drown me.

Buried feelings

I had the first session with the new therapist last night and I noticed an interesting thing.

When I talked about my parents and my childhood, my throat sometimes squeezed and my voice wouldn't come out. It's like I knew there was an emotion under there somewhere, but I couldn't really feel it or express it or even identify it.

It felt like wading through murky waters and tripping over something without knowing what it is.

Did I feel anything back then, when I was 4, or 6, or 8? Or was I already burying everything? Are these grief, anger, pain that I felt or normally would have felt if I hadn't emotionally detached from myself?

My therapist encouraged me to express my feelings freely and I just couldn't. I tried going back to the words that I had trouble pronouncing, but it was already gone. I did have several thoughts, though (these are always easier) on why I can't express my emotions:

"I can't be weak. When you express hurt and pain and anger, you're weak. If you cry, you're very weak and you're admitting someone can hurt you and thus has power over you." (my therapist said the opposite is true - you exorcise your parents' power over you when you acknowledge what you needed from them but never got. I like the sound of this, but can't make the leap to applying it)

"I can't be needy. If I'm needy, I'm boring and inconvenient, not only to my parents, but to everyone else too." (my therapist said the need of a child to be loved is a very real and legitimate need. I like the sound of this, but can't make the leap to applying it)

"I can't be emotional. This is not me. I'm not one of those emotional people." (not necessarily true, as I have no idea who I really am, and most likely a result of projection, but still the word "emotional" sounds dirty to me)

These are the things I said in session. Later, I tried more to release my feelings, and I started feeling increasingly anxious.

Then I had one of the worst anxiety nightmares ever in which all the possible catastrophes I could imagine happened (from war and destruction and the bombing of our neighborhood to being late to pick up my kid at preschool and having to buy her neeew shooooes before the next paycheck and crying about it and being gossiped about because of it).

It's like I'm deadly afraid of expressing my real feelings about my parents and my childhood, so I'm stuck at "numb." There's a scab on my heart and I wonder what's underneath, but am afraid to pick at it. Perhaps for good reason. Perhaps not.

If I express my buried feelings,

it will be real. it can't be undone. they hurt me and were bad parents and I had a bad childhood.

I will have really betrayed them. really disobeyed them. horrible punishment will ensue.

I somehow know, feel it, that this was the ultimate betrayal when I was a child. To show to them or anyone else that they were less than perfect parents. I showed it by crying, being emotional, being sad, being hurt, being angry in reaction to their actions. I distinctly remember being told I'd be given something to cry for if I don't stop and feel it in my bones that this really wasn't just an empty threat.

Crying and feeling the proper reaction to their treatment is the ultimate treason and that's probably why I still can't do it.

But I might if I start thinking about it as the ultimate rebellion as well.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"It must be"... but it isn't, and that's my biggest problem

One thing I don't quite know what to do with in my communication here is receiving normal, empathetic reactions from normal, empathetic people out there. Very often, when I share something my parents did or said or just a fact concerning my FOO, like that they have never loved me, people say things like "It must be hard" or "That must be so painful" and I freeze, because, frankly, yes, I know, it must be, but it's really not. And that's a problem.

I don't really feel these insights and memories concerning my parents. I'm intellectually aware of them - much like I had to be intellectually aware of the fact that my parents were perfect and absolutely above reproach, but all I felt was just the need to be far, far away from them.

In a way, I feel fake not replying to every decent person offering empathy that no, actually, I don't really have those feelings of sadness, grief, whatever, concerning my parents. It's not painful to know they never loved me - it's liberating. It's not hard for me to know I can never have an authentic relationship with my father - it's a relief to know it's not my fault I've not wanted one since I was tiny.

I do have some emotions towards some people in my life - notably, my FOC - but the emotional part of me that had anything to do with my parents is dead, lost, blocked - search me, I don't know what happened to it. My main reason for going into therapy is trying to discover it - or at least its corpse or ghost. I can't seem to do this on my own.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Halloween Special

On Halloween, I saw my NF for the first time again after over 6 months of Extremely Low Contact. How appropriate.

He goes away for 6 months out of each year with his girlfriend. During the time they're away, we might exchange a short, meaningless text message every couple of weeks or so. Thankfully, he very obviously doesn't care about (fully controlling) me or my family per se. It might be because he found a new victim, or because my husband frightens him, or because we're not really giving him what he wants.

When he's in town, however, he's all over the map. Sometimes, he'll call almost every day. Then he won't call for a long time. (I never call him.) He'll often call when I'm away and question DH about my work schedule - we're both deliberately vague about it, just because he seems so obsessed with knowing it (I now believe he has some OCPD traits along with serious NPD ones).  When his girlfriend doesn't have her language lessons near our home, they barely ever visit, and have invited us to their place exactly twice. When she has her lessons is the only time our lives get disturbed, as he jealously has to drive her to and from these classes, just so she doesn't cheat on her way home. So he waits in our home. He just calls and informs us he'll come later "to see us," or he just drops by. It hasn't come to that yet this year. Last year, she only had these classes for a couple of months anyway, so we saw him perhaps a dozen times in those 6 months.

Every year, I react to his return and his potential droppings-in differently. Two years ago, after I'd just discovered NPD, I was still both scared of him and very argumentative around him. A year ago, when I thought he wasn't my biological father, I allowed myself to also feel physically revolted by him, and found it draining to even be in the same room with him.

This year, I find so much has changed. I feel merely amused around him. Like Jane Goodall around the chimps - or insert a less offensive analogy here depicting a person interested in others' behavior on a detached, scientific basis.

Earlier, I wouldn't accept anything from him. I didn't want to owe him anything. This year, he bought us all expensive shoes. I don't know why - possibly the rush of being able to tell the shop assistant "It's all on me. Don't worry about the price." I said "Thank you" and that was it. It's his choice, his idea, it has little to do with me and I don't owe him anything. I feel like I'm doing him a favor - I'm allowing him to express in the only way possible to him what he mistakenly believes is love.

Of course, I also believe I'm a cold, cruel bitch, who still can't find it in herself to feel anything for this man or his late wife, my mother. Maybe a twinge of sadness, a bit of irritation, a touch of nausea, at best. This is what I'll be seeking therapy for. There's got to be REAL sadness and anger there, right? REAL grief at love not received that I must have felt at least as a child? Love for one's parents that I hope I felt as a child - or I'm a psychopath/sociopath.

I've been thinking about No Contact again, and how, in my case, I can't even see how it could ever come to that. There's no honesty, no sharing, no openness, no confrontation, no drama, no ACTUAL contact between us. Cold civilities for the last decade or so. (He's not even capable of pretending there's more - he doesn't know the language required for this pretense.) Much, much less since I found out about NPD and stopped getting angry and defensive and argumentative around him.

I no longer feel guilty for not going NC. This ACON blogging thing is NOT about satisfying the criteria for an elite social club. It's about expressing my reality and knowing there might be BS in there, but still exposing it to everyone out there.